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Stanley’s return lone bright spot at Ravens’ Thursday practice

Posted on 13 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are dealing with a plethora of injuries to key players ahead of their Week 6 meeting with the New York Giants, but they did receive a shred of good news on Thursday.

After missing the last two games with a lingering foot injury, rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned to practice for the first time since Sept. 23. It remains to be seen whether he’ll play against the Giants, but that is an encouraging development for an offensive line that was without right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and right tackle Rick Wagner (thigh) for the second straight day.

“This is part of what we do,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “We won’t know [who is playing] possibly for a little while. But the guys we have playing will do a good job.”

Baltimore adding guards Vlad Ducasse and Billy Turner over the last two days didn’t appear to be positive signs for the status of Yanda and Wagner for Sunday’s game.

The Ravens also continued to practice without wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle) and linebackers C.J. Mosley (hamstring) and Elvis Dumervil (foot). Smith and Mosley left the Week 5 loss to Washington with their respective ailments, but Dumervil resurfacing on the injury report is a clear concern after he played an unremarkable 45 snaps over the last two games, his first action of 2016 after undergoing offseason foot surgery.

“Some guys can come right back right away; some guys can’t,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “There’s nobody that knows their body better than the veterans. He knows if he’s ready or not ready. We just keep talking about it all the time, along with [trainer Mark Smith] and coach [John] Harbaugh. We’ll just see where it goes. On his behalf, the guy has just been a great player. If he’s not playing at that [level], it’s just because he’s not ready yet. He’s hurt. No other reason.”

Veteran return specialist Devin Hester (thigh) was also missing from Thursday’s practice after working on a limited basis a day earlier.

During the portion of practice open to reporters, safety Kendrick Lewis left the field with what appeared to be some sort of injury.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace (ribs) practiced with a red non-contact vest over his jersey for the second straight day.

Meanwhile, the Giants welcomed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (groin) back to practice after missing Wednesday’s workout.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), RS Devin Hester (thigh), S Kendrick Lewis (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), WR Steve Smith (ankle), OT Rick Wagner (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Ronnie Stanley (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), WR Mike Wallace (chest), CB Shareece Wright (back)

NEW YORK
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Eli Apple (groin), S Nat Berhe (concussion), WR Dwayne Harris (toe), OT Marshall Newhouse (calf), S Darian Thompson (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Jerell Adams (ear), RB Rashad Jennings (thumb), LB Devon Kennard (concussion), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (groin), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin), DE Olivier Vernon (wrist)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Larry Donnell (concussion)

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Seven Ravens starters missing from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 12 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Turning the page with new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg after a two-game losing streak, the Ravens were without seven starting players for Wednesday’s practice.

Wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (hamstring), offensive tackles Rick Wagner (thigh) and Ronnie Stanley (foot), outside linebackers Terrell Suggs (non-injury) and Elvis Dumervil (foot), and guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) were absent during the portion of practice open to reporters on Wednesday morning. Suggs received a veteran day off and was available to reporters on Wednesday.

How many will be available for the Week 6 meeting with the New York Giants remains to be seen.

“As far as any of the injury stuff, I’m sure you guys saw who was practicing and who is not and all of that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m just not going to get into any of that right now. There are various reasons for different guys.”

Smith, Mosley, and Wagner all left Sunday’s game against Washington with injuries. The reappearance of Dumervil on the injury report has to be a concern after quiet performances in his first two games since making his return from offseason foot surgery.

The newly re-signed Vlad Ducasse was working with an offensive line group that was without three starters during the workout. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens might line up against the Giants should Stanley miss his third straight game and Wagner not be able to play. In the second half of Sunday’s loss to Washington, Yanda shifted to right tackle with Ryan Jensen entering the game at right guard when Wagner could not continue after halftime.

Concerns about the injured offensive linemen only grew in the late afternoon when the Ravens claimed former Miami guard Billy Turner off waivers. Baltimore released linebacker Chris Carter to make room on the 53-man roster.

As he did last week, Stanley expressed optimism that he could make his return this week, but the 2016 first-round pick acknowledged he would need at least a little bit of work on the practice field before Sunday.

“I believe one would be fine enough for me,” Stanley said. “It’s really all mental, especially at this level figuring out what the guy that you’re going against likes to do and his tendencies and what not and really the whole defensive scheme. That’s just through studying and film work.”

Wide receiver Mike Wallace (ribs) was practicing on Wednesday, but he was wearing a red non-contact vest over his jersey. He took a hard shot to the chest area on the Ravens’ final offensive play against the Redskins.

“I’m a little sore, but that’s football,” Wallace said. “I’ll be alright for the game though. That’s normal — a normal week’s work. Sometimes you get hit hard in some games more than others, but I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go Sunday.”

The Giants are also feeling the effects of a number of injuries with four starters not participating in Wednesday’s practice. That list included two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who is dealing with a groin injury.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), WR Steve Smith (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), OT Rick Wagner (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RS Devin Hester (thigh), WR Mike Wallace (chest), CB Shareece Wright (back)

NEW YORK
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Eli Apple (groin), S Nat Berhe (concussion), LB Devon Kennard (concussion), OT Marshall Newhouse (calf), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (groin), S Darian Thompson (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Larry Donnell (concussion), WR Dwayne Harris (toe), RB Rashad Jennings (thumb), CB D. Rodgers-Cromartie (groin), DE Olivier Vernon (wrist)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 5 loss to Washington

Posted on 11 October 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 3-2 after a 16-10 home defeat to Washington on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There’s no real rivalry with Washington despite how the fans might feel, but it’s quite a coincidence that the Ravens have now fired an offensive coordinator after their last two losses to the Redskins. That sounds like something straight out of a college rivalry, doesn’t it?

2. Much has been made about the lack of rushing attempts, but the Ravens didn’t even have a tailback on the field for 27 offensive snaps. They view fullback Kyle Juszczyk has their best pass blocker, but that makes an offense awfully predictable if he’s never going to carry the ball.

3. Rookie Tavon Young has impressed at the nickel all season, but injuries pressed him into action as an outside cornerback in the base defense. Despite being only 5-foot-9, Young held up well against an above-average passing game and finished with three tackles.

4. Going from Marc Trestman to Marty Mornhinweg at offensive coordinator won’t matter if the Ravens can’t get their offensive line healthy and straightened out. According to Pro Football Focus, Baltimore surrendered a league-worst 23 quarterback pressures on Sunday. Playing with backups or not, that’s unacceptable against a bad defense.

5. After missing the first four games with a knee injury suffered in the preseason, rookie Kenneth Dixon touched the ball on all four of his offensive snaps in the first quarter and didn’t play after that. One only hopes that was a coaching decision and not another physical setback.

6. Anyone else reminded of Jacoby Jones in 2014 when watching Devin Hester? He’s put the ball on the ground twice in five games and isn’t playing with the confidence of a Hall of Fame returner as he twice made questionable decisions to let punts bounce in the final quarter.

7. Zach Orr missed a tackle on the return touchdown and C.J. Mosley fumbled his interception return through the end zone, but the inside linebacker play has been much better in 2016. Orr forced a fumble and recovered it in the second quarter while Mosley leads the team with three interceptions.

8. There were worse decisions, but the Ravens showing shotgun on fourth-and-2 from the Washington 8 before taking a delay of game to begin the second quarter was puzzling. Why not show a heavy formation and use a hard count to try to draw Washington offside there?

9. Despite being initially praised for addressing so many needs, the 2015 draft class hasn’t been much of a factor. Breshad Perriman has 10 catches, Maxx Williams and Carl Davis are on injured reserve, Za’Darius Smith has offered little as a pass rusher, and Buck Allen is barely seeing the field.

10. It’s a far cry from the 2000 Ravens, but this defense has been underappreciated so far. The offense and special teams have put a ton of pressure on Dean Pees’ group, but the Ravens rank seventh or better in total defense, run defense, pass defense, scoring defense, and third-down defense.

11. Making the defensive success more remarkable is how little the Ravens have gotten from their edge pass rushers. Terrell Suggs has four sacks and still flashes, but the 34-year-old isn’t a consistent force anymore. Meanwhile, Elvis Dumervil and Smith have been virtually invisible so far.

12. I felt all along that the Ravens needed to be 5-2 entering the bye with a second-half schedule including four games with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and trips to Dallas and New England. It can still be done, but it won’t be easy with back-to-back road games at MetLife Stadium.

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Ravens-Raiders: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 02 October 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Trying to jump-start the NFL’s 26th-ranked running game, the Ravens have shaken up their backfield for Sunday’s Week 4 meeting with Oakland.

Veteran running back Justin Forsett has been deactivated, meaning Terrance West will make his first start with the Ravens since joining the team midway through last season. Forsett was averaging just 3.2 yards per carry through three games while West gained 45 yards on 10 carries against Jacksonville last week, a sign that he was beginning to gain more trust in the running game.

Second-year running back Buck Allen is active for the first time this season and will serve as West’s backup.

Rookie running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was inactive for the fourth straight game after returning to practice on a limited basis this week. Still wearing a brace on his left knee, the 2016 fourth-round pick worked out on the field before the game and continues moving closer to a return.

The revamped backfield will not have the services of rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who was deactivated after being listed as doubtful with a lingering foot injury. The first-round pick did not practice all week and is expected to be replaced by James Hurst at left tackle, a concerning development with Pro Bowl defensive end Khalil Mack waiting across the line of scrimmage.

Rookie left guard Alex Lewis is active despite going through the concussion protocol and missing most of the week of practice, but Ryan Jensen was working as the starting left guard during pre-game warmups. Third-year interior lineman John Urschel is also active and will make his 2016 season debut after missing a significant amount of the preseason with a shoulder injury.

As expected, five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil (foot) is active and will make his 2016 season debut. It will be interesting to see how much he plays against the Raiders after missing the entire preseason and the first three games in his return from offseason foot surgery. Rookie outside linebacker Matt Judon was deactivated with Dumervil returning to the mix.

Veteran cornerback Jerraud Powers will also make his 2016 debut after missing the first three games with an ankle injury.

There were no surprises in the list of inactives for the Raiders as safety Nate Allen (quadriceps) and offensive tackles Austin Howard (ankle) and Menelik Watson (calf) had already been ruled out on Friday.

The Ravens and Oakland are meeting for the ninth time ever in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 6-2 advantage and 5-0 mark at home. However, the Raiders won the last meeting between these teams, a 37-33 final in Oakland last season.

Baltimore will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while the Raiders don white tops and silver pants for Sunday’s game.

Sunday’s referee is Ed Hochuli.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore called for cloudy skies with temperatures reaching 70 degrees, calm winds up to four miles per hour, and only a slight chance of precipitation.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
RB Justin Forsett
OT Ronnie Stanley
CB Sheldon Price
RB Kenneth Dixon
CB Will Davis
DT Willie Henry
LB Matt Judon

OAKLAND
QB Connor Cook
S Nate Allen
RB Taiwan Jones
CB Antonio Hamilton
OT Menelik Watson
OL Matt McCants
OT Austin Howard

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Ravens-Raiders: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 01 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens continue to hear the talk about whether or not they’re for real.

Their first 3-0 start since 2009 certainly hasn’t come against the most formidable opponents, but the Oakland Raiders are a team many tabbed to take a significant step forward into the AFC playoff picture this season. The Ravens will face their biggest challenge to date on Sunday, but it represents an opportunity to silence the critics doubting just how good they really are.

A 4-0 record would give Baltimore its best start since 2006 and a significant boost in trying to get back to the postseason after missing the playoffs in two of the last three seasons since Super Bowl XLVII.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens look to remain undefeated against Oakland at home in their all-time history. Baltimore holds the 6-2 advantage in the overall regular-season series — and won the only playoff meeting at the end of the 2000 season — despite the Raiders prevailing 37-33 in a Week 2 contest in Oakland last year.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Elvis Dumervil will collect a sack and play roughly 20 snaps in his 2016 debut. Expectations should be tempered after Dumervil missed virtually the entire summer and the first three games of the season coming back from offseason foot surgery, but the Raiders are a mess at right tackle due to injuries and will likely start seventh-round rookie Vadal Alexander. Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will have their work cut out for them against the rest of a terrific Oakland offensive line led by ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele, but Dumervil will slip by Alexander for a sack.

2. Khalil Mack will pick up two quarterback takedowns in exploiting a vulnerable Baltimore offensive line. The Ravens are dealing with offensive line issues of their own with rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley doubtful to play with a foot injury and rookie left guard Alex Lewis questionable after suffering a concussion. That’s bad news as Mack has yet to collect a sack in 2016, but it’s only a matter of time before the 2015 Pro Bowl selection breaks out. The Ravens will use tight ends to aid in pass protection on the left side, but Mack and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin will be a problem.

3. Terrance West will become the first Ravens running back to score a touchdown in 2016. Oakland sports the NFL’s 29th-ranked rush defense and has given up 5.1 yards per carry, leaving no excuse for offensive coordinator Marc Trestman not to get his running game going. Veteran Justin Forsett is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, but he is the Ravens’ best back in pass protection, complicating matters for an offense leaning on the pass. West will receive the bigger load and will find the end zone, but Baltimore will still be looking ahead to Kenneth Dixon’s potential return next week.

4. Joe Flacco and Derek Carr will both throw for over 275 yards and two touchdowns. The Raiders have been successful running the football with multiple backs, but they will find more success in the air as Carr gets the ball out quickly to neutralize the Ravens’ A-gap blitzing and overall pass rush. Meanwhile, Flacco will come out throwing against a defense that improved in Tennessee Week 3 but has given up 340 yards per game through the air. The Ravens will mix in a few more deep shots while continuing to work the ball to Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith in the short-to-intermediate passing game.

5. The Ravens offense will finally break through to be the difference in a 30-27 win over Oakland. This one will be somewhat of a shootout with Baltimore being more exposed in coverage than it was over the first three weeks, but the defense will still make a few stops when needed. A passing offense that has looked quite promising at times will finally play a more complete game. The Raiders are a talented team more than capable of winning on Sunday, but they’ve lost 18 of their last 19 games played in the Eastern time zone dating back to 2009 and are playing a long-distance road game for a second straight week. The Ravens are better than many of us thought and will show it with a “style-points” win.

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Ravens list Stanley as doubtful to play against Oakland

Posted on 30 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens do not expect to have their starting left tackle for Sunday’s meeting with Pro Bowl pass rusher Khalil Mack and the Oakland Raiders.

Rookie Ronnie Stanley was listed as doubtful for the Week 4 contest after missing practices all week with a lingering foot injury. Prior to the release of the final injury report, head coach John Harbaugh did not express concern that Stanley’s injury was a long-term issue even though he also missed a day of practice with the ailment last week.

“I don’t see it that way from what I’ve been told,” Harbaugh said. “I still think he has a chance for Sunday. You’ll see the [injury] report coming out later, but we’re not going to rule him out.”

Assuming Stanley does not play, it will be interesting to see how the Ravens proceed at left tackle with rookie left guard Alex Lewis (concussion) only returning to practice on a limited basis on Friday. With Lewis playing left tackle at Nebraska and seeing extensive time at that position in the preseason, many have concluded that he would serve as the true backup to Stanley at left tackle. However, Lewis’ absence during most of the practice time this week could lead to third-year tackle James Hurst receiving the start.

Lewis, a 2016 fourth-round pick, was listed as questionable on the final injury report.

Veteran outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil will make his 2016 season debut after missing the first three games while continuing to work his way back from offseason foot surgery. He was officially deemed to be questionable, but even Harbaugh acknowledged that the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher would play against the Raiders after practicing fully all week.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how he does,” Harbaugh said. “He hasn’t played in a long time — no preseason. Who knows? Maybe he’ll come out there like gangbusters or maybe he’ll have to knock some rust of. We’re just going to have to find out.”

To no surprise, rookie running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was listed as doubtful after only practicing on a limited basis this week. He would figure to have a good chance to make his season debut against Washington next week if his knee responds well to more practice time.

The Ravens listed defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) and wide receiver Kamar Aiken (thigh) as questionable, but both were full participants in practice on Thursday and Friday. Return specialist Devin Hester (thigh) is also questionable after being listed as a limited participant all week.

The Raiders officially ruled out offensive tackles Menelik Watson (calf) and Austin Howard (calf), which likely opens the door for rookie Vadal Alexander to start at right tackle.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Ed Hochuli.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday calls for mostly cloudy skies, temperatures reaching the mid-70s, and only a slight chance of precipitation with light winds.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), CB Sheldon Price (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), RS Devin Hester (thigh), G Alex Lewis (concussion), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), G John Urschel (shoulder)

OAKLAND
OUT: S Nate Allen (quad), OT Austin Howard (ankle), OT Menelik Watson (calf)
QUESTIONABLE: C Rodney Hudson (knee), RB Taiwan Jones (knee), OT Matt McCants (knee)

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Suggs tips hand about Dumervil returning for Ravens this week

Posted on 28 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are off to a 3-0 start without Elvis Dumervil, but his defensive teammates have surely missed the Pro Bowl pass rusher.

So much so that fellow outside linebacker Terrell Suggs appeared to tip the Ravens’ hand about Dumervil’s status for Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders. Asked about the reason for the defensive improvement from a year ago, Suggs cited good health while adding that the group would welcome another player back this week.

“It was tough not having him in there, but we get him back,” Suggs said. “It’s going to be good. Let him get in there and knock some rust off.”

Sidelined since suffering a setback just a few days after his return to the practice field on Aug. 22, Dumervil worked on a limited basis for two days last week and was listed as questionable on the final injury report for Week 3. However, he did not play against Jacksonville as the Ravens decided to give him another week in working his way back from offseason foot surgery.

Head coach John Harbaugh declined to say how close Dumervil was to playing against the Jaguars.

“He was fighting to do it,” Harbaugh said. “He just didn’t quite get there.”

Dumervil was a full participant during Wednesday’s practice, the first time that’s happened since the surgery.

The Ravens enter Week 4 ranked second in the NFL in total defense and fourth in scoring defense, but the pass rush would receive quite a boost from the presence of Dumervil, who collected 32 1/2 sacks over the last three seasons.

Baltimore is tied for seventh with nine sacks with Suggs and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan leading the way with three apiece. However, the defense will face its toughest challenge yet on Sunday against the Raiders’ second-ranked offense.

“We’ve got all our guys back,” Suggs said. “We’ve got all its working parts. We get another guy back this week, so that’s going to help us out. I think everybody is just committed to getting better every week. That’s huge for us.”

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Rookie running back Dixon returns to practice for Ravens

Posted on 28 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Struggling to get their ground attack going despite a 3-0 start, the Ravens are moving closer to welcoming back a talented rookie who could provide a lift.

Running back Kenneth Dixon practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday for the first time since tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Aug. 27. Wearing a knee brace, the fourth-round pick was working off to the side during the portion of practice open to media, but Dixon turned heads in the preseason by averaging 4.9 yards per carry, leading many to believe he might be Baltimore’s best back.

The Ravens enter Week 4 ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 30th in yards per carry at just 3.3, but head coach John Harbaugh is trying not to place unreasonable expectations on Dixon.

“He’s a rookie, so I think a lot of what he can provide is yet to be determined,” Harbaugh said. “He showed flashes in the preseason, which was exciting. I think we’re all excited about what he might do. We’ll just have to see. That will be fun to see.”

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) was a full participant in practice after missing his third straight game on Sunday. The 32-year-old was a limited participant in workouts last Wednesday and Thursday  before ultimately sitting out against Jacksonville.

A good week of practice would put him in position to make his return against Oakland in Week 4.

Seven players were missing from Wednesday’s practice: wide receivers Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken (thigh), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee), and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda, Jeremy Zuttah, Alex Lewis (concussion), and Ronnie Stanley (foot).

The organization confirmed that Smith, Yanda, and Zuttah were attending the funeral of longtime defensive line coach Clarence Brooks in Massachusetts on Wednesday. Assistant coaches Don Martindale, Chris Hewitt, and Drew Wilkins were also at the funeral. A team spokesman said a number of other coaches and players went to the viewing for Brooks on Tuesday as Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti chartered a plane for members of the organization to attend the services.

“It was just really a great moment in terms of seeing the family that ‘C.B.’ had around him and the family that he built in so many ways,” Harbaugh said. “We see how he affected us every single day here and the lives that he impacted — guys who are here and guys over the years — but it was cool to see the impact he had in his own town and with his own family.”

Brooks died on Sept. 17 at the age of 65 from esophageal and stomach cancer.

Oakland was without two starting members of its offensive line on Wednesday as center Rodney Hudson (knee) and right tackle Menelik Watson (calf) were both absent from practice.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), G Alex Lewis (concussion), WR Steve Smith (non-injury), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), RS Devin Hester (thigh), CB Sheldon Price (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), G John Urschel (shoulder)

OAKLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Austin Howard (ankle), C Rodney Hudson (knee), RB Taiwan Jones (knee), OT Menelik Watson (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Nate Allen (quadriceps), OT Matt McCants (knee)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 3 win in Jacksonville

Posted on 27 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 3-0 for the first time since 2009 with a 19-17 victory at Jacksonville on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Much praise has already been offered to the fourth-quarter performance of the Ravens defense, but the numbers were just sensational. Jacksonville ran 17 plays for four net yards while Baltimore collected four sacks, two interceptions, and two batted passes. That’s how you finish games.

2. Mentioning last week how methodical the Jacksonville defense has forced the Ravens to be, Joe Flacco threw 40 times with only completions of 20 or more yards. The Jaguars used deep safeties and an underwhelming running game didn’t help matters, but the Ravens must take more vertical shots.

3. Speaking of the running game, many want Terrance West to receive the bulk of the carries, but the Ravens don’t trust him as much in pass protection, which can’t be overlooked in a pass-happy offense. Still, you hope rookie Kenneth Dixon can eventually give a sputtering ground attack a spark.

4. John Harbaugh quipped that rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa needs extra work on the JUGS machine after dropping an interception that could have been a touchdown, but it was good to see the second-rounder make on impact with his first defensive action. Now he needs to build on that.

5. I had concerns after his Week 1 performance in which he had only 19 receiving yards on eight targets, but Steve Smith looked like his old self against Jacksonville, gaining yards after the catch and making four receptions in the fourth quarter. Maybe Jalen Ramsey did him a favor?

6. Many have criticized Shareece Wright after two rough games in a row, but shouldn’t Jimmy Smith be traveling with a receiver as talented as Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson? Wright does need to be better in coverage, but the Ravens gave Smith a big contract for those types of matchups.

7. Just 8-for-19 on tries from at least 50 yards in the previous two seasons, Justin Tucker is living up to a fat contract by nailing all three tries from that range so far, including the game-winning 54-yarder in Jacksonville. He’s easy to take for granted, but he shouldn’t be.

8. It’s ironic that Flacco’s franchise record of 21 consecutive completions ended on his best throw of the day that was dropped in the end zone by Mike Wallace. It wasn’t the best day for the veteran receiver or Breshad Perriman, who also dropped a couple of passes.

9. One of the big differences in the defense has been the improved pass coverage from the inside linebackers. C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr are getting better depth in their drops, and both came away with interceptions on Sunday.

10. Brent Urban gave the Ravens’ their 10th blocked kick since 2014, which proved to be the difference in the game. Special teams can be a great equalizer in overcoming deficiencies on offense or defense, and blocks have swung momentum two weeks in a row.

11. Alex Lewis did leave Sunday’s game with a concussion, but the Ravens listing the same seven inactives for the third straight week illustrates how healthy they’ve remained since the start of the regular season. They need Elvis Dumervil and Dixon to return, but they should feel fortunate otherwise.

12. Harbaugh says he isn’t superstitious, but his gray T-shirt worn on the sideline two weeks in a row will apparently be donned again against Oakland. It’s a more relaxed look for the ninth-year coach than we’re used to seeing, and it reminds a bit of Bill Belichick with the hoodie.

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No matter how it’s looked, Ravens in great position early in 2016

Posted on 25 September 2016 by Luke Jones

You don’t have to buy into the 3-0 Ravens after a sloppy 19-17 win over Jacksonville on Sunday.

They’ve defeated three teams that are a combined 1-8 so far this season. Baltimore has won each of those games by a single possession and trailed in the fourth quarter of the last two.

Quarterback Joe Flacco spoke the truth after the game despite the Ravens being off to their best start since 2009 and standing alone in first place in the AFC North.

“You don’t want to have to be winning these games the way we are,” said Flacco, who threw two fourth-quarter interceptions after a whopping 21 straight completions earlier in the game. “I think it makes us tougher as a football team. At the same time, you’re not going to be able to get away with this when you’re playing really, really good teams in January.”

The mere fact that Flacco could mention January says it all, however. That possibility was already looking bleak after an 0-3 start last year.

The Ravens may not be a great team, but they’re in a great position with a perfect record through the first three weeks. Since 1990, teams starting 3-0 have made the playoffs 75.6 percent of the time.

The odds look even better with the Ravens now playing consecutive home games against Oakland and Washington. A 5-0 start hardly appears out of the question, and that would be welcomed when you consider what the rest of the schedule looks like after that.

The offense has managed only four touchdowns in three games. The running game has largely been a non-factor at a meager 3.3 yards per carry. The passing game has impressed at times, but then there are moments such as Mike Wallace’s drop in the end zone on the opening drive of the third quarter on Sunday that throw the rhythm out of whack for an extended period of time.

Still, you see plenty of reason for optimism with Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta looking more and more like their old selves, Wallace providing a needed vertical presence, and young receivers such as Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore flashing potential. The offensive line has been an obvious concern, but there were always going to be growing pains with two rookies starting on the left side.

In other words, there’s reason to think the group can improve markedly. That’s why a 3-0 record feels that much better, regardless of the quality of opponents.

“I think we’re a team that’s kind of growing as we’re moving along here,” Flacco said. “We have a lot of moving parts and a lot of guys who haven’t played with us before. At some point, we might see that we’re building up, building up, building up and all of a sudden it turns over very quickly. That’s kind of what I’m looking for — for it to turn over very quickly and for us to explode as an offense and really take off.”

The most impressive part of the Ravens through the first three weeks, however, has been a defense that’s allowed only 14.7 points per game. That’s including a 20-point nightmare of a first quarter in Cleveland, meaning the defense has been even stingier in its other 11 quarters of action.

The pass rush hasn’t been as consistent as defensive coordinator Dean Pees would like, but it has stepped up when needed, sacking Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles four times in the fourth quarter after failing to register one in the first three quarters on Sunday. You’d like to see more pressure off the edge, but veteran Terrell Suggs came alive with two quarterback takedowns in the final period and the Ravens will hope to welcome back Elvis Dumervil in Week 4. The interior rush has been more consistently disruptive with Timmy Jernigan leading the way with three sacks in the first three games.

But the biggest difference from last year’s defense has been the ability to force turnovers. The Ravens intercepted three passes against the Jaguars to give them five for the season, just one shy of their franchise-worst 2015 total.

On Sunday, Baltimore picked off Bortles twice in the final five minutes. Last week, it was a C.J. Mosley interception in the final minute that preserved a 25-20 victory. These were the game-changing plays that were largely absent against both good teams and bad teams a year ago.

Despite their imperfections on Sunday, the Ravens had two distinct advantages over the Jaguars that Suggs identified after the game. And they’re huge reasons why Baltimore should feel even more optimistic about a 3-0 start.

“You want a quarterback with ice in his veins,” Suggs said, “and you damn sure want a kicker with ice in his veins as well.”

Justin Tucker proved the latter with a 54-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining to complete a 4-for-4 day. He has now connected on all three of his tries from at least 50 yards, an area where he struggled last season.

The Ravens may not be the best 3-0 team in the NFL, but they’ll take that over being called the best 2-1 team like Pittsburgh or a good 1-2 squad like Cincinnati. Sure, you can argue that the Ravens haven’t beaten anybody, but they haven’t lost to anybody, either.

A 3-0 start leaves less work to do later and more leeway to figure things out in the coming weeks as the Ravens will hope to be ready to step up their play against the better teams looming later in the year.

Maybe even in January.

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