Tag Archive | "Hayden Hurst"

juju

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 03 November 2018 by Luke Jones

Rarely has a Week 9 game felt so important for the Ravens.

A win over Pittsburgh snaps a two-game slide and leaves Baltimore in solid shape in the AFC North entering their much-needed bye week. A loss leaves the Ravens under .500 at the bye for the fourth straight year and needing to win five of their final seven games just to finish with a 9-7 record — familiar territory — while outside talk of wholesale changes will only grow louder in the off-week.

They understand what’s at stake, but focusing too much on the big picture is a slippery slope, especially when playing against the Steelers.

“When you worry about the outcome of things before it has actually happened, that’s when you start making mistakes,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “That’s when you start playing tentative.”

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals meet for the 50th time — counting the postseason — with Pittsburgh owning a 27-22 advantage. Including the playoffs, the series is tied 12-12 in the John Harbaugh era with 17 of those contests decided by a single possession. A victory would give the Ravens their fourth season sweep of the Steelers in their 23-year history.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. First-round rookies Hayden Hurst and Lamar Jackson will each score a touchdown. Hurst grew up a Steelers fan and was drafted by the Pirates, making him eager to make his mark after sitting out the first meeting. The Ravens must start seeing a return for their first pick in this year’s draft, and Pittsburgh has struggled to defend tight ends this season. Meanwhile, a good Steelers run defense and multiple injuries along the offensive line should compel offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use Jackson more than usual to gain yardage on the ground and keep some pressure off Flacco.

2. Flacco will be sacked a season-high five times behind a patchwork offensive line. The 11th-year quarterback has played some of his best football against Pittsburgh over the years, but the absence of Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst leaves the Ravens in a tough spot against a defense that has 24 sacks in 2018. Baltimore will use plenty of max protect, but that will allow the Steelers to devote more attention to John Brown. The key to moving the ball will be quick throws over the middle of the field, but Pittsburgh rushers T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Bud Dupree will still be licking their chops.

3. The Baltimore defense will force its first second-half turnover since Week 4. The consensus message from players and coaches this week was that the takeaways will come, but the Ravens have only seven through their first eight games and really could have used one trying to protect a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against New Orleans or to spark a comeback against Carolina. Wink Martindale’s defense did a good job confusing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first meeting and will need more of the same to set up a struggling Baltimore offense on a short field.

4. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald will catch touchdowns for the Steelers. Much like the Steelers defense, the Ravens are most vulnerable over the middle, which is problematic against Smith-Schuster in the slot and a capable pair of tight ends in McDonald and Jesse James. That area of the field is even more concerning as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Tony Jefferson deal with injuries. A returning Marlon Humphrey makes you feel better about keeping Antonio Brown from wrecking the game, but the linebackers and safeties must rebound from a poor showing in Carolina.

5. The banged-up Ravens will suffer their third straight loss in a 23-17 final. Harbaugh expressed confidence Friday that his offensive line is healthy enough to win the game, and I fully expect his team to battle after last week’s clunker against the Panthers. However, Jermaine Eluemunor being trusted to block Flacco’s blindside is a scary proposition, and this offensive line hasn’t been effective enough in the run game to alleviate pressure in the pocket. On the flip side, the Ravens defense is also banged up and facing a Pittsburgh offense averaging just under 30 points per game. Playing at home will help, but 10 of the 24 Ravens-Steelers contests since 2008 have been won by the visitor and these teams have been moving in opposite directions since Week 4. I just haven’t seen enough of an “it” factor from the Ravens to believe they’ll overcome their current injuries and get the job done against a tough foe.

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saints

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-23 loss to New Orleans

Posted on 23 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 4-3 in their 24-23 loss to New Orleans, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith played poorly in his first start with Marlon Humphrey sidelined, but some criticism was over the top. Being suspended didn’t change the reality of him coming back from a torn Achilles, an injury that takes time for someone to return to previous form. Michael Thomas is also terrific.

2. Especially with the Saints down to their third-string left guard during Sunday’s game, you’d like to see the pass rush manage more than one sack and three quarterback hits. It’s very tough to beat a great offensive team without more disruption in the pocket or a game-changing turnover.

3. I’m all for trying to keep opponents guessing, but eight different Ravens running the ball at least once Sunday says plenty about the current state of a ground attack that ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per carry. The only team worse (Arizona) just fired its offensive coordinator.

4. Of the 16 times running backs carried the ball, 10 went for two or fewer yards and only one netted a first down. I’d be much more interested in upgrading the offensive line before the trade deadline, but exploring other running backs should be a consideration as well.

5. Both Drew Brees and Sean Payton talked about the 20-play opening drive setting the tone and allowing the Saints to jump ahead in time of possession despite not scoring. The Ravens defense surrendered only seven points through three quarters, but that long series took a toll later in the game.

6. Of course, that drive would have ended quickly had the special teams stopped a fake punt attempt after what looked like an initial three-and-out. I’m a big Jerry Rosburg guy, but there have been too many lapses with multiple special-teams units this season.

7. Coming off two quiet games, John Brown made seven catches for 134 yards — season highs — and a touchdown. Considering he caught all seven targets, why not go to him even more, especially in the first two fourth-quarter drives when he was thrown to just once for 17 yards?

8. Mark Andrews caught a touchdown Sunday, but tight ends have combined for 11 receptions for 84 yards over the last three games. Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are helping offensive tackles in pass protection, but you want more when dressing four tight ends. Hayden Hurst needs to be more involved.

9. Lamar Jackson’s usage continues to be debated, but it was good seeing him pass in a third-down situation, something the Ravens must be willing to do if he’s going to play. His first NFL touchdown on a read-option run was a great example of how to properly use him.

10. I agreed with kicking the extra point, but there would have been at least an argument to go for the win if the Ravens had a running game. I wouldn’t have loved their chances in overtime after Brees had carved up the defense on three straight drives. Challenge traditional thinking.

11. The Ravens are 8-13 in games decided by a single possession since the start of 2016 and dropped to 0-2 this season. Common sense would tell you a playoff-hopeful team should be .500 or better in this department. Fourth quarters like Sunday’s have loomed large.

12. The debut of the purple-on-purple uniform — non-“Color Rush” edition — was the sixth different combination used by the Ravens since the start of the preseason, and they haven’t even worn their black alternates or the aforementioned purple tops with gold numbering yet. Watch out, Oregon.

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mariota

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 13 October 2018 by Luke Jones

A stretch of three consecutive road games concludes Sunday with the Ravens having the chance to position themselves favorably in the AFC and put last week’s ugly loss in Cleveland behind them.

A win puts Baltimore at 4-2 with four of the next five games coming at home — albeit against some tough competition — but a loss creates more doubts about this year being any different from the last couple in which Baltimore fell short of the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as these onetime AFC Central rivals meet for the 20th time in the all-time regular-season series with Tennessee holding a 10-9 advantage. The Ravens are 2-3 against the Titans in the John Harbaugh era — counting their dramatic 13-10 road win in the 2008 postseason — and Tennessee won last year’s Week 9 meeting at Nissan Stadium, a 23-20 final.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will set a season high in rushing yards in a workmanlike effort. The Tennessee defense ranks eighth in the NFL in yards per play and tied for third in points per game surrendered, but the Titans are banged up at linebacker and are vulnerable to the run (4.4 yards per attempt allowed) when opponents have shown some patience. The Ravens must be more consistent getting positive yards — eight of the 20 carries split between Collins and Buck Allen went for no gain or worse last week — but Marty Mornhinweg can’t be so quick to bail on the running game.

2. Running back Dion Lewis will lead the Titans in receptions. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota appears to be over his early-season elbow injury, but he’s averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt and will need to be selective in his attempts to push the ball down the field against a pass defense allowing an NFL-low 5.9 yards per attempt. That will lead to opportunities for Lewis, who has 21 catches on the season. The Ravens will try to counter that by frequently using Anthony Levine in the dime package, but Lewis will find some room against Baltimore linebackers underneath and in the flat.

3. The Baltimore defense will force two turnovers to frustrate Mariota and the Tennessee offense. Trying to poke too many holes in a defense that allowed only 12 points in 70 minutes of play last week is unfair, but the Ravens surprisingly have only six takeaways through their first five games after leading the league last year and only forced one against a rookie quarterback last week. Mariota will try to force some intermediate-to-deep throws to former first-round pick Corey Davis, but Jimmy Smith now having a game under his belt makes the Ravens secondary that much more dangerous.

4. Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey will collect a sack and be disruptive much of the day. Casey is easily Tennessee’s best defensive player and is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, meaning the Ravens better be prepared to give Alex Lewis and Matt Skura as much help as they can. Baltimore will run away from Casey and roll the pocket away from him at times, but he’s fully capable of taking over like Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins did in Week 2. Space on inside runs will certainly be at a premium, but the Ravens have had more success running to the perimeter anyway. 

5. A late Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst will be the difference in a 20-13 win. What better way to win against Dean Pees than to break through in the fourth quarter against his strong Titans defense? Flacco is excited to involve the first-round tight end in the offense as he’s a fan of Hurst’s skill set, and the rookie should be more comfortable in his second NFL game. Ravens defenders said all the right things about their former defensive coordinator this week and hold no animosity, but they’re motivated to show they’re better than ever with more freedom and flexibility under Wink Martindale than they had with Pees. This is an AFC separator game the Ravens could really use, and they’ll get the job done despite it not being all that pretty at times.

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higgins

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 12-9 overtime loss at Cleveland

Posted on 09 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 3-2 following the ugly 12-9 overtime loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore has had past performances like Sunday’s at FirstEnergy Stadium, but the difference was you could always count on a lousy football team to “Brown” it up at the most critical moment. The Browns were far from perfect, but Baker Mayfield clearly makes them a better team.

2. You hate criticizing a group that surrendered only 12 points, but the two-minute defense left a lot to be desired, allowing a 78-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half, a 38-yard drive in the final minute of regulation, and the 65-yard game-ending drive in overtime.

3. Had anyone heard of Derrick Willies before his 39-yard reception on third-and-8 in overtime? The rookie free agent caught a combined 40 passes in three collegiate seasons at Texas Tech and Iowa and hadn’t caught an NFL pass before the fourth quarter.

4. Arguably worse was Duke Johnson’s 15-yard run on the next play that put the Browns at the Baltimore 28. It was a less-than-stellar showing from Tyus Bowser and C.J. Mosley on that run since Cleveland kicker Greg Joseph wasn’t inspiring any confidence that he’d make a longer kick.

5. I’ve written extensively about the running game this week, but Lamar Jackson leads the team in yards per carry (min. 15 rushes), making it understandable why the Ravens want to keep him involved. Still, bringing him on the field for an inside rush on first-and-16 in overtime made little sense.

6. The defense recorded five sacks and a total of 27 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens allowed Mayfield to escape the pocket a few times, but the pass rush bounced back from a quiet performance in Pittsburgh. Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith were particularly good in that area.

7. Joe Flacco was among those complaining about the illegal block in the back call on Chris Moore that wiped away Alex Collins’ 17-yard run in overtime, but it was avoidable just like Matt Judon’s that canceled out a touchdown against Denver. You have to see what you’re hitting.

8. Anthony Levine continues to play terrific football after recording three pass breakups for the second straight week. He’s a good example of how using creativity with sub packages can work to your advantage. Levine isn’t a pure safety, linebacker, or cornerback, but he’s a good football player.

9. John Harbaugh acknowledged not planning to use Willie Henry for 39 defensive snaps in his return from August hernia surgery, but he played well, registering a sack and another tackle. He provides another inside pass-rushing option to rotate with Smith and Brent Urban.

10. The Ravens lead the NFL in scoring defense and rank in the top five in a number of other categories, but they’ve recorded just six takeaways in their first five games after having 10 in the first two contests last year. I suspect that’s going to change sooner than later.

11. Browns cornerback Denzel Ward was responsible for taking as many as 10 points off the board from the Ravens with his goal-line interception and field goal block. He, Mayfield, and defensive end Myles Garrett sure look poised to make Cleveland an interesting team over the next few years.

12. Watching a 9-9 contest in the final seconds of overtime brought memories of the only tie in Ravens history, which came against Philadelphia at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 16, 1997. I recall leaving that day as fans from both teams argued over which team stunk more. Both finished 6-9-1.

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crabtreedrop

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Critical question comes into focus during Ravens’ ugly loss

Posted on 07 October 2018 by Luke Jones

Michael Crabtree had the chance to rewrite the story of a poor performance for both him and the Ravens offense in Cleveland on Sunday.

His third-down drop on the opening drive of the game had cost the Ravens a chance at a long field goal or a fourth-and-short situation inside the 40-yard line. On the next drive, he dropped a slant on a second-and-3 that would have put the offense inside the red zone and instead led the Ravens to settle for a field goal two plays later. Those were just two of many mistakes made by an offense that arrived at FirstEnergy Stadium flying high after a 3-1 start to 2018.

Still, with a minute to go in regulation and the Ravens trailing 9-6, Crabtree could have made it all better.

Signed to a three-year, $21 million contract in large part for the 25 touchdowns he’d caught over the previous three seasons in Oakland, Crabtree dropped a perfect pass from Joe Flacco in the back of the end zone on third-and-10 from the Cleveland 14. Instead of taking a 13-9 lead and likely stealing an ugly road win, the Ravens settled for the game-tying three points before eventually falling 12-9 on a Greg Joseph 37-yard field goal with two seconds left in overtime.

As much as last week’s win in Pittsburgh looked like a potential breakthrough for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014, Sunday felt like an all-too-familiar story for an offense that couldn’t live up to its end of the bargain. And it brought a lingering question about the Ravens’ passing game into sharper focus.

So much had been made about the balanced production for Baltimore’s wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs with eight or more players having caught passes in each of the first four games. Entering Sunday, eight players were on pace to catch 30 or more passes after only five Ravens made 30 or more receptions a year ago. Spreading the ball around is great when you’re clicking like the Ravens did over the season’s opening month, but it won’t always be that easy as we witnessed against an improved Browns defense.

When you’re struggling as Flacco and the offense did on Sunday, you need that safety net — “old reliable” if you will — to bail everyone out at the most critical moment. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Smith fit that description to varying degrees over the last decade, making the play no one else was able to make at the most critical times. After not having that guy last season — Mike Wallace did his best down the stretch — the Ravens tabbed Crabtree to be that go-to target on third downs and inside the red zone. He didn’t need to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but they wanted him to handle the dirty work.

Instead, he entered Week 5 tied for the league lead in drops before adding three more against the Browns. He’s caught just 24 of his 46 targets in five games, the lowest percentage of his 10-year career. The slow start comes after Crabtree caught 58 passes for 618 receiving yards last season, his lowest totals since an injury-abbreviated 2013 campaign.

That’s not to say he won’t regroup to fill that intended role, but Flacco needs someone on which to lean in crunch time of close games. The speedy John Brown has been his most productive receiver, of course, but he’s more home-run hitter than the guy you’re targeting on third-and-7, at least based on how the Ravens have used him to this point. If it isn’t Crabtree, perhaps slot receiver Willie Snead or even rookie tight end Hayden Hurst eventually becomes that guy to make contested catches and move the chains when it matters most.

Someone has to do it if the Ravens expect a different result the next time they’re fighting for their lives late in a game. It’s a position they weren’t in during their three double-digit wins, but they’re sure to be in that tight spot again sooner than later.

To be clear, the Ravens wasted other opportunities as an ugly Flacco interception at the goal line cost them points in the second quarter, a Justin Tucker field goal was blocked at the end of the first half, and a Buck Allen fumble led to a Cleveland field goal midway through the third quarter. Baltimore didn’t really deserve a win after playing so poorly on the offensive side of the ball, but no play was bigger than Crabtree’s last-minute drop that could have made all those missteps — including the veteran receiver’s own — disappear.

There was other blame to go around, but that was the exact moment for which Baltimore had signed him in March.

Instead of escaping Cleveland with a victory, the Ravens offense took a step back and left a critical question unanswered for the coming weeks.

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hurst

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 07 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aim for their best five-game start since 2012 and will do so with first-round rookie tight end Hayden Hurst making his NFL debut in Cleveland.

The 25th overall pick of the 2018 draft underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his foot on Aug. 24 and is active after missing the first four weeks of the regular season. Hurst returned to the practice field on Sept. 26 and is apparently ready to go despite still being listed as a limited participant all week. Hurst’s arrival further strengthens a tight ends group that surprisingly ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (321) and second in receptions (31) through the first four weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.

After being activated on Saturday, cornerback Jimmy Smith will make his season debut after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Smith is also making his return from last year’s torn Achilles tendon and will see his first action since Dec. 3. With rookie cornerback Darious Williams being waived to make room for Smith and rookie Anthony Averett again out with a hamstring injury, the Ravens will have just four healthy cornerbacks against the Browns, but dime back Anthony Levine and reserve safety Chuck Clark are capable of playing the nickel in certain packages.

The bad news is the deactivation of defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who suffered a setback with a lingering foot issue late in the week and missed practice on Friday. Pierce sat out Week 3 with a foot injury before playing against Pittsburgh last Sunday night. His absence is not an encouraging development with the Browns ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

With Pierce out, defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) will make his season debut despite only returning to practice on a limited basis this week. Comments from coaches this week suggested the Ravens likely would have preferred holding him out one more game, but Pierce’s health certainly forced the issue.

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (hamstring) is active after being listed as questionable on the injury report, but he didn’t appear to be 100 percent during Friday’s practice, which is something to monitor during Sunday’s game.

There were no surprises among the Cleveland inactives as reserve linebacker James Burgess (knee) was ruled out on Friday. Starting safety Damarious Randall (heel) and starting outside linebacker Christian Kirksey (illness) will play after being designated as questionable.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Clay Martin.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Cleveland calls for cloudy skies and temperatures near 70 degrees with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and a 20-percent chance of rain.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with white pants while Cleveland is donning its all-brown “Color Rush” look previously seen for Thursday Night Football in Week 3.

Sunday marks the 39th all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 29-9 advantage. The Ravens have won five straight meetings and are an overwhelming 18-2 against the Browns in the John Harbaugh era.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
OLB Tim Williams
OL Hroniss Grasu
DL Zach Sieler
DL Michael Pierce

CLEVELAND
QB Drew Stanton
WR Damion Ratley
CB Denzel Rice
CB Tavierre Thomas
LB James Burgess
OL Earl Watford
DL Chad Thomas

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jimmysmith

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Seven Ravens players designated as questionable for Cleveland game

Posted on 05 October 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Saturday 1:30 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have designated seven players as questionable and ruled two others out for Sunday’s AFC North meeting with the Cleveland Browns.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams and cornerback Anthony Averett won’t play after missing practices all week with hamstring injuries while the list of questionable players is headlined by defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot), outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (hamstring), and rookie first-round tight end Hayden Hurst (foot).

Pierce hadn’t been included on the injury report all week before missing Friday’s practice, a concerning development since he missed the Denver game two weeks ago with a foot injury. Smith practiced on a limited basis on Friday, but he didn’t appear close to 100 percent during the media viewing portion of the workout, leaving Baltimore’s depth at outside linebacker potentially vulnerable. Hurst was still only a limited participant in practices all week, leaving some question as to whether he’ll be active against the Browns after missing the first four games of the season.

One player not listed on the injury report who will make his 2018 season debut on Sunday is cornerback Jimmy Smith. The Ravens officially elevated Smith to the 53-man roster on Saturday as he’ll officially make his return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

“He obviously did a really good job of staying in shape [and] worked hard over the period of time that he was away,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That was good to see. He’s getting in football shape; I think he mentioned that. That’s part of it. You have to play the game to play the game. But I feel good about where he’s at and anticipate him playing on Sunday and playing well.”

Baltimore waived rookie cornerback Darious Williams to make room for Smith on the active roster, leaving the Ravens with four healthy cornerbacks against the Browns. Williams appeared in three games and would seem to be a logical candidate for the practice squad if he clears waivers.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring), and running back Alex Collins (knee) were all full participants on Friday, leaving little doubt about their status for Week 5. Collins wasn’t even listed on the final game status injury report, backing up Harbaugh’s Friday assertion that the starting back was fine.

After practicing all week on a limited basis for the first time since undergoing hernia surgery in late August, defensive tackle Willie Henry was listed as questionable for Sunday.

“He looked good. Willie hasn’t done quite as much because of the nature of his injury,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see about that and see how he responds to practice today and things like that. Really, the other part of that is going to be the roster and where we’re at with the 46-, 53-[man roster] numbers and the injuries and things like that. That will all kind of play into that decision. He probably could go. Whether he will or not, I’ll probably know within 24 hours.”

Starting left guard Alex Lewis was a late addition to the injury report after being limited with a shoulder issue on Friday. Whether it’s the same shoulder that was surgically repaired last August is unclear, but Lewis was listed as questionable.

Meanwhile, the Browns officially ruled out reserve middle linebacker James Burgess with a knee injury and designated starting outside linebcker Christian Kirksey (illness) and starting safety Damarious Randall (heel) as questionable.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast for Cleveland calls for partly cloudy skies with scattered thunderstorms and temperatures reaching the mid-70s. There is a 40-percent chance of rain with winds five to 10 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday’s game:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), LB Tim Williams (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Carr (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot). DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Za’Darius Smith (hamstring)

CLEVELAND
OUT: LB James Burgess (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Christian Kirksey (illness), S Damarious Randall (heel)

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jimmysmith

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J. Smith, Henry back at practice as Ravens rest several others

Posted on 03 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens officially welcomed cornerback Jimmy Smith back to the practice field after the expiration of his four-game suspension to start the 2018 season.

Smith took part in Wednesday’s workout and could be active as soon as Sunday’s game in Cleveland, further strengthening the NFL’s fourth-ranked pass defense. Head coach John Harbaugh said his staff will evaluate Smith throughout the week as he is also returning from last year’s torn Achilles tendon and will need to show he’s ready for live-game action. The 30-year-old played sparingly in the preseason, appearing in two of Baltimore’s five exhibition contests in August.

“We’ve been playing really well without him, and having him back is just a major plus,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “Jimmy, when I first got here [last year], that was kind of the guy I kind of connected with being from California and all that. We all love ‘Jimbo.’ Happy to have ‘Jimbo’ back. He’s going to obviously help improve our team.”

As expected, defensive tackle Willie Henry practiced on a limited basis for the first time since having surgery for an umbilical hernia in late August. The 2016 fourth-round pick appeared on the verge of earning a starting role this summer and started the first three preseason games before being sidelined. The Ravens hope Henry can build on his successful 2017 season in which he emerged as a viable interior pass rusher, finishing with 3 1/2 sacks and five batted passes at the line of scrimmage.

The Ravens held out eight players from Wednesday’s workout with defensive backs Brandon Carr (knee), Anthony Levine (hamstring), Anthony Averett (hamstring) headlining the list. Carr and Levine were limited last week with the same ailments before playing in the win over Pittsburgh while the rookie Averett may miss his third straight game this Sunday. Harbaugh gave four veteran players the practice off for non-injury reasons.

Tight end Hayden Hurst said before practice that he would be “full go” this week after practicing on a limited basis all last week and sitting out against Pittsburgh, but he was again listed as limited on Wednesday as he works his way back from a stress fracture in his foot. Starting running back Alex Collins was also limited with a knee issue.

The Browns held out starting wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway with knee soreness on Wednesday while starting safety Damarious Randall was sidelined from practice with a heel injury.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), LB Tim Williams (hamstring), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Chris Board (concussion), RB Alex Collins (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB James Burgess (knee), WR Antonio Callaway (knee), WR Jarvis Landry (knee), S Damarious Randall (heel)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DT Trevon Coley (wrist), DE Myles Garrett (wrist), QB Tyrod Taylor (back)

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johnbrown

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-14 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning their first road victory of the season in a 26-14 final over Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You can’t harp on the Ravens not being able to beat an elite quarterback on the road and not give proper credit when they do — without Jimmy Smith. That was their best win since the 2014 playoffs and puts them in the conversation as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

2. Despite a 96.9 season passer rating, Joe Flacco was annoyed about the offense squandering opportunities to score more points Sunday. Tell me again that his improvement is all about Lamar Jackson — which implies he didn’t care before — and not about the organization putting better talent around him.

3. John Brown already has a team-best six catches of 20 or more yards, which would have ranked second behind Mike Wallace’s 11 for the entire 2017 season. His 22.5 yards per catch average is third in the NFL. He’s fun to watch, and his chemistry with Flacco can still improve.

4. The biggest criticism of the defense in recent years has been the inability to close in critical games. Anthony Levine was responsible for ending all three of Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter drives by breaking up a third-down pass to force a punt, intercepting another, and batting away a fourth-down attempt. Clutch.

5. Too much is usually made about halftime adjustments, but Wink Martindale’s defense has yet to allow a touchdown after intermission in four games — allowing just nine points total — and pitched a second-half shutout at Heinz Field. He’s clearly doing something right.

6. John Harbaugh wisely expressed confidence Monday that Alex Collins will improve his ball security as he did last year, but his goal-line fumble completely changed a game that was bordering on becoming a blowout. The running game remains a concern, but the Ravens must stick with Collins’ upside.

7. Kenny Young played 24 defensive snaps compared to Patrick Onwuasor’s six, signaling a shift in the competition for the inside linebacker job next to C.J. Mosley. That said, both must improve in coverage or we’ll continue to see Martindale use Levine (28 snaps) as a dime more frequently.

8. The third-and-1 completion to Maxx Williams to extend a long fourth-quarter drive drew praise — and controversy — because of his alignment. Flacco said after the game they’d practiced that play for two years, and it was the first time Williams had gotten through the line of scrimmage unscathed. Interesting stuff.


(Screen capture courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

9. My guess is the Ravens continue to carry four tight ends with the anticipated return of Hayden Hurst this week. However, with Williams and rookie Mark Andrews playing so well, you wonder if Nick Boyle would be the most vulnerable if a move needed to be made there.

10. Sunday night was an example of how to play strong defense without much of a pass rush as the Ravens faked blitzes, effectively disguised looks, and covered very well. Baltimore is tops in the NFL in yards per play allowed at just 4.4.

11. Tony Jefferson hasn’t made as many splash plays as you’d like after the Ravens gave him a four-year, $34 million contract, but his strip and recovery against Vance McDonald on Pittsburgh’s opening drive was spectacular. He fairly noted after the game how that could have been ruled an interception.

12. If you didn’t hear Harbaugh’s post-game press conference on Sunday night, take a listen at the 2:45 mark HERE. Kudos for recognizing the memory of Bobbi Engram, the daughter of wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, and giving her a game ball. Powerful stuff.

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Ravens dealing with “good problems to have” as J. Smith, others return

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens had just secured one of their biggest road wins in years as head coach John Harbaugh met with general manager Ozzie Newsome on the post-game bus in Pittsburgh.

Not only had they just beaten an elite quarterback on the road for the first time in over three years, but the Ravens were on the verge of welcoming back their top cornerback, a 2018 first-round pick, and an important member of their defensive line rotation. The thought of a 3-1 team getting even better is certainly exciting for an organization that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2014, but those returns will impact both the 53-man roster and which 46 players are active for games, leading Harbaugh and Newsome to discuss their plans in the aftermath of the 26-14 win over the Steelers.

“We have some tough decisions to make, but those are good problems to have,” Harbaugh said. “When you’re not going to be able to activate a really good, productive player, as hard as that is — especially on the player — it’s probably a good thing for your team. It means you’ve got some depth and you’re healthy.”

Headlining the list of returnees is veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith, whose four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy expired on Sunday. The 30-year-old reported to Owings Mills Monday morning and is expected to practice this week and play at Cleveland on Sunday. The Ravens currently have an exemption for Smith that allows them to delay making room on the 53-man roster until later in the week.

How Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will distribute the snaps at cornerback remains to be seen as current starters Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr have played well over the first quarter of the season. Humphrey, Baltimore’s 2017 first-round pick, brings the most upside of the group and is considered the No. 1 cornerback of the future, but Carr — one of the most respected players in the Ravens locker room — has started an incredible 164 consecutive games in his career and has played some of his best football in years with Pro Football Focus grading him as the NFL’s 19th-best corner through Week 4.

Of course, the Ravens dealt with a similar challenge last year with Smith nursing a sore Achilles tendon that ultimately gave out in early December. The trio shared snaps for a large portion of the 2017 season, but Baltimore also has slot cornerback Tavon Young to consider now, meaning it isn’t as simple as moving Carr into the nickel role as the organization did occasionally last year.

“It’s a good problem to have, the fact that we’ll have another really good player playing corner and we’ll have the chance to put another guy out there that can cover people,” Harbaugh said. “I think who starts and all that is one thing, but really, they’re all going to play. They’re going to play a lot, and that’s good for the Ravens.”

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst is likely to make his NFL debut this week, which will complicate the current tight end rotation of Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, and 2018 third-round pick Mark Andrews. At the start of the season, the outsider consensus was that Williams would have been the odd man out if Hurst had been healthy, but the 2015 second-round pick has already exceeded his receiving yardage total from last season and is second on the team in catches of 20 or more yards (three). Williams has caught all 12 of his targets for 119 yards and six first downs.

Even if the Ravens manage to keep four tight ends on the 53-man roster, it would be unlikely for all to be active on game days, creating a tough decision between blocking-minded veterans in Boyle and Williams and the two rookies carrying more upside as receivers. After a quiet summer, Andrews has been one of the biggest surprises of the young season with eight of his 10 catches going for first downs and an 11.9 yards per catch average.

Hurst was listed as questionable to play against Pittsburgh before ultimately being held out for a fourth straight game. The South Carolina product expressed optimism that he was ready to go last week, but he was only a limited participant in practices.

“I don’t think the docs and the trainers were comfortable with just the one week back,” Harbaugh said. “I’d have probably been more comfortable than they were, but it was smart. We’ll just have to see how he does this week. Obviously, he has a good chance to play, but he has to get through full practices and be ready to go.”

Harbaugh said defensive tackle Willie Henry will also return to practice this week, potentially giving the Ravens another inside pass-rushing threat to put pressure on Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield on Sunday. Henry appeared in line to secure the starting 3-technique spot this summer before undergoing surgery for an umbilical hernia in late August. His return would impact the playing time of Chris Wormley the most as the 2017 third-round pick has manned the 3-technique position in the base defense and is second behind only Brent Urban for most snaps among Baltimore defensive linemen this season.

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