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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 win over Houston

Posted on 28 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back over .500 and into the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race with a 23-16 win over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was ugly, but Monday was the first time the Ravens have won a game in which they trailed all season. After wilting in some late-game situations earlier this season, the defense forced Tom Savage turnovers on Houston’s final two possessions. That’s how you finish off a close game.

2. Compliments for Terrell Suggs are regularly attached to some acknowledgement of him not being the player he once was, but it’s time to recognize this being the best he’s played in years. He was the best player on the field and is now quite possibly cementing his spot in Canton.

3. I’m running out of ways to describe this passing game that was facing a bottom-10 pass defense entering Week 12. Awful. Joe Flacco needs more help, but I struggle more each week to recognize what he’s bringing to the table. He committed no turnovers, but he misfired on countless throws.

4. What does it say for the offense that the punter turned in the best pass of the night? Sam Koch and Chris Moore executed nicely on the fake punt that swung the momentum, but credit Jerry Rosburg. His special teams units are exceptional every year and make a real difference.

5. Running the ball and stopping the run is this team’s formula for success. Baltimore averaged 4.5 yards per carry to bounce back from some recent lackluster performances and allowed only 2.6 yards per carry. The defense ranks third in the NFL in fewest yards per carry allowed since Week 8.

6. A mere look at his torn jersey said all you needed to know about the fits DeAndre Hopkins gave Ravens cornerbacks. Jimmy Smith has played at an All-Pro level this season, but Hopkins made even him look bad several times.

7. Marlon Humphrey played just seven snaps because of a leg injury, which meant Smith saw his highest volume of snaps since Week 6. That’s something to monitor with the Ravens getting ready for Detroit on a short week and the veteran already missing practice time every week.

8. Give the coaching staff and the offensive line credit for making adjustments against Jadeveon Clowney, who dominated in the opening quarter. He had a quiet second half and wasn’t nearly as disruptive as the Ravens effectively used double teams and chip blocks.

9. Penalties were a problem with seven — all but one against the defense — for 89 yards, but that was only the fourth time this year the Ravens have had more than 60 yards in penalties. That’s a major improvement from where they’ve been in recent years.

10. The two-minute offense at the end of the first half was hardly a thing of beauty, but the drive resulting in a 53-yard field goal was probably one of the better ones we’ve seen this season. That’s not saying very much, but at least Justin Tucker continues to be money.

11. After Flacco broke his second knee brace in two seasons, he admitted that he’s thought about not wearing one. Seeing him move around without it makes me think it could be worth the risk for improved mobility within the pocket if nothing else.

12. Speaking as someone who doesn’t pay to attend games and wouldn’t tell others how to spend their money, it was still sad seeing thousands of empty seats for the first Monday night home game in over five years. Games like that used to be a big deal in this town.

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Ravens-Texans: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 27 November 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — For the first time since the 2012 season opener, Monday Night Football has come to Baltimore with the Ravens trying to move above the .500 mark against Houston.

Much has changed for John Harbaugh’s team since that last Monday home game as just six players on the current 53-man roster took part in that contest, but the Ravens have no time for nostalgia with fellow AFC wild-card contenders Buffalo, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and Oakland all winning in Week 12. Baltimore is trying to secure back-to-back wins for the first time since Weeks 1 and 2 in September while the Texans are hoping to avoid a fourth defeat in five games and keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

There were no injury-related surprises on the list of scratches, but maligned wide receiver Breshad Perriman is active after being a healthy scratch for the first time in his career in Green Bay last week. The 2015 first-round pick has been a major disappointment this season with just seven catches for 54 yards in eight games, but Harbaugh made it clear during the week that the organization still has high hopes for Perriman.

To seemingly make room for Perriman on the 46-man game-day allotment, the Ravens surprisingly deactivated wide receiver and return specialist Michael Campanaro, who was not on the injury report this week and had a 28-yard punt return in Green Bay last week. Campanaro ranks second in the NFL among qualified players in punt return average, but that apparently wasn’t enough to play against the Texans.

Veteran Lardarius Webb is listed behind Campanaro on the team’s official depth chart and is expected to handle punts from seven-time Pro Bowl selection Shane Lechler.

As expected, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (ankle) and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (concussion) are both active and will start despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Mosley deemed himself ready to go after returning to practice Saturday while Stanley cleared concussion protocol Friday after a one-game absence. Stanley’s return will allow James Hurst to return to his normal left guard position after he struggled mightily at left tackle in Green Bay.

Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (ribs) is inactive after officially being declared out on Saturday.

Monday’s referee is Brad Allen.

According to Weather.com, the Monday forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 40s with winds up to 15 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their all-black uniforms for the second time this season and will look to improve their all-time mark to 16-7 when wearing their alternate black tops. Houston will wear white jerseys with navy blue pants.

Monday marks the first meeting between these teams since 2014 with Baltimore holding a 6-2 advantage in the regular-season series and a 4-0 mark at M&T Bank Stadium that includes a 20-13 victory in the 2011 postseason. The Ravens will also aim to continue their league-best nine-game winning streak in prime-time home games.

Below are Monday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Michael Campanaro
RB Terrance West
CB Jaylen Hill
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
OL Maurquice Shakir
DE Bronson Kaufusi
DE Chris Wormley

HOUSTON
WR Will Fuller
WR Cobi Hamilton
RB Andre Ellington
LB Lamarr Houston
OL Greg Mancz
OT Julien Davenport
DT Chunky Clements

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Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 26 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The schedule couldn’t set up much better down the stretch, but consistency is a must for the Ravens.

After winning in Green Bay last week to move into the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race, Baltimore seeks back-to-back victories for the first time since the first two weeks of the season, a reflection of how inconsistent the 2017 campaign has been for John Harbaugh’s team. The Ravens will be facing a Houston Texans squad that’s lost three of its last four, however, and is still reeling from the loss of rookie quarterback sensation Deshaun Watson at the beginning of the month.

With rookie offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor expected to be their only injury-related scratch on Monday night, the Ravens arguably have their healthiest 53-man roster since early in the season, an important factor for a team trying to make the playoffs for the first time in three years. Four of the final six games are at home with only two contests coming against teams currently owning winning records, factors leaving Baltimore with no excuse not to be playing in January.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to move above the .500 mark for the first time since early October by improving their all-time regular-season mark to 7-2 over Houston. The Texans have won two of the last three meetings between the teams, but Baltimore is 4-0 against them at M&T Bank Stadium, which includes a victory in the 2011 postseason.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Joe Flacco will eclipse 235 passing yards for just the second time this season. Houston has the NFL’s 26th-ranked pass defense, but this prediction is more about the Texans ranking seventh in run defense and allowing just 3.7 yards per carry. The Ravens have struggled to run the ball in recent weeks, averaging under 3.4 yards per rush in three of their last four games. Teams are keying on Alex Collins, meaning Flacco and the passing game should have more opportunities to push the ball down the field. It won’t be all that efficient, but the Ravens will find some modest success through the air.

2. Jeremy Maclin will find the end zone for the third time at home this season. Veteran Kareem Jackson has been the weak link in the Texans secondary and will line up as the slot cornerback in sub packages, which should bode well for Baltimore’s best receiver. Maclin appeared to be finding his stride with Flacco before the bye, but he took a step back last week with just 34 receiving yards against the Packers. The Ravens will need to move the chains on some third-and-intermediate situations, and Maclin is the right man to handle that situation and will catch his fourth touchdown as a Raven.

3. Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins will catch a touchdown in a mostly-quiet night. Houston quarterback Tom Savage has targeted Hopkins a whopping 39 times over the last three games, which equals Mike Wallace’s targets for the season. Hopkins usually lines up on the same side of the field as Jimmy Smith, which is great news for the Ravens as the veteran corner is enjoying the best season of his career. It will be interesting to see if Texans coach Bill O’Brien moves Hopkins around formations to get him away from Smith, but his production will be modest, regardless of how often he’s targeted.

4. Tony Jefferson will return a takeaway for a touchdown. I’ve predicted a Jefferson interception three other times this season, so I naturally decided to quadruple down on that as a guest on Ravens Unscripted this week. The starting safety has received grief from teammates for not having a pick — especially after rookie Marlon Humphrey came away with his first in Week 11 — but Jefferson has played better in recent weeks after a disappointing start. Playing behind a bad offensive line and timid against a strong defense, Savage will have a pass tipped at the line with Jefferson taking it the other way.

5. The Ravens defense will mostly dominate and the offense will mostly stay out of the way in a 20-10 win over Houston. Expecting another shutout from Baltimore would be unfair, but this Texans offense hasn’t been the same since Watson’s injury and won’t find very much success against a defense-strong team playing its first Monday night home game in over five years. Meanwhile, Flacco and the offense will have its challenges while managing to do just enough against a Texans defense that’s a shell of its former self without J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. It won’t be pretty and won’t prompt ESPN to be clamoring for more Ravens home games moving forward, but the victory is all that matters.

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Mosley, Stanley questionable, but expected to play against Houston

Posted on 25 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ prayers on inside linebacker C.J. Mosley were answered.

After an initial plea for divine intervention on the sideline and then downplaying the severity of Mosley’s sprained right ankle late in last week’s 23-0 win at Green Bay, head coach John Harbaugh proved to be right as the standout defensive player returned to practice as a full participant Saturday and will play against Houston on Monday night.

Mosley is officially listed as questionable on the final injury report after missing workouts earlier in the week, but he left no doubt regarding his status against the Texans.

“I’m playing, so I’m not worried about that,” Mosley said. “It wasn’t a high ankle sprain, so that’s what the doctors feared most [initially]. After we found out it wasn’t that, it was just about trying to get as much treatment as possible and rest.”

Mosley said the plan was for him to sit out practice through most of the week and wanted to return to the field Saturday for peace of mind more than anything else. The Ravens not playing until Monday night certainly helped in the recovery process.

A reflection of how good he’s feeling two days prior to Monday Night Football, the two-time Pro Bowl selection even took a playful jab at fellow inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor for his indirect role in the injury occurring just before the two-minute warning at Lambeau Field.

“I didn’t even see who landed on me. I was just trying to make a tackle,” Mosley said. “I blamed it on ‘Peanut’ since he wasn’t on the field. We [only] had 10 men, so I was about to call timeout, but I just let the play go on. It was probably his fault.

“It could have been bad because I was getting blocked back while I got landed on. Luckily, it was a minor sprain. I felt pretty decent out there today.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is also listed as questionable against Houston, but he will return to action after being cleared from the concussion protocol on Friday. He and right tackle Austin Howard (knee) — who was also designated as questionable — have been hampered with injuries recently, but the Ravens will have their normal offensive line on the field to try to slow standout pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney.

That continuity is of the utmost importance after Stanley’s absence against the Packers last week forced starting left guard James Hurst to left tackle and reserve Luke Bowanko into the starting lineup, leaving the Ravens weaker at both blindside positions.

“It’s good to have your guys, your starters out there,” Harbaugh said. “They’re the starters for a reason. And we’ll be going in there full strength Monday night, and we’re excited about that.”

As expected, starting cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) returned to practice as a full participant Saturday after missing workouts earlier in the week and is officially listed as questionable. The veteran has regularly missed practice time with tendinitis since early October and was also listed as questionable in each of the last six games before playing in them all, leaving very little doubt about his availability.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been slowed by an ankle injury this week, but he is expected to play despite being listed as questionable. He received his usual veteran day off Saturday to conclude the practice week.

Baltimore officially ruled out rookie offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor with a shoulder injury. With only one of their seven game-day scratches in line to be because of injury, the Ravens arguably find themselves in the best shape from a health standpoint that they’ve enjoyed since the start of the season.

Meanwhile, the Texans officially ruled out second-year wide receiver Will Fuller as he continues to recover from cracked ribs. Star wideout DeAndre Hopkins will play despite being slowed by a foot injury in practices earlier in the week.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: OT Austin Howard (knee), LB C.J. Mosley (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion), LB Terrell Suggs (ankle), RB Terrance West (calf)

HOUSTON
OUT: OT Julien Davenport (shoulder), WR Will Fuller (ribs), OL Greg Mancz (shoulder)

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Ravens left tackle Stanley clears protocol, expects to play Monday

Posted on 24 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After dealing with what he labeled the most significant concussion of his football career, Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley is expected to return against Houston on Monday.

The second-year offensive lineman officially passed concussion protocol Friday and was a full participant in practice, paving the way for him to start against the Texans. Stanley said he expects to play, but he reiterated that the final decision will be made by the coaching and medical staffs.

“It feels great just to be back on the field and be with my teammates. It feels like it’s been a really long time,” Stanley said. “That was probably the most impactful [concussion] that I’ve had in my career, but I feel fine now.”

The 2016 first-round pick said he sustained the head injury on the same play on which he hurt his right shoulder in a third-quarter collision with Tennessee linebacker Wesley Woodyard. He temporarily left that Nov. 5 game and returned for the final play of the third quarter and played the entire final period until the Ravens’ last offensive play from scrimmage with under one minute remaining. It’s unclear whether Stanley self-reported his concussion symptoms at that point as the focus had been on his right shoulder, which he had initially hurt the previous week against Miami.

It was not made public that Stanley has suffered a concussion until the Ravens returned from their Week 10 bye and he appeared on the injury report. The standout tackle practiced on a limited basis all last week before ultimately sitting out the 23-0 win in Green Bay as normal starting left guard James Hurst filled in for him on the outside.

Stanley’s return comes at the perfect time as the Ravens will attempt to slow 2016 Pro Bowl outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who leads the Texans with eight sacks this season and is tied for 17th among all edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ grading system.

“He’s a big challenge. Everyone in the league knows Jadeveon and what he brings to the table,” said Stanley about the first overall pick of the 2014 draft. “Speed, athleticism, power, and there’s not going to be an easy snap against him.”

Starting right tackle Austin Howard also practiced fully Friday after missing practice time earlier in the week with a knee injury. The veteran lineman struggled against Green Bay and appeared to be hobbled at a few different points, but he deemed himself ready to go for Week 12.

Howard also recently began wearing a harness on his left shoulder, the same one tsurgically repaired this past offseason.

“I feel like it’s Week [12],” said Howard, who added that that he was “100 percent” about playing. “With that being said, that’s one of those things where you get nicked here and there a little bit and you have to play through it. That’s 100 percent of the league right now, 100 percent of the players. Everybody has something, so it’s just a matter of managing it and getting back out there.”

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Ravens still without Mosley, J. Smith for Friday’s practice

Posted on 24 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens continue to be without inside linebacker C.J. Mosley as they move closer to their Monday night meeting with Houston.

The two-time Pro Bowl selection sprained his right ankle late in last Sunday’s win at Green Bay, but head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the severity immediately after the game, saying it didn’t look serious “at all” in his post-game press conference. Mosley has yet to practice week, so doubts surrounding his status would increase if he’s unable to return to take part in Saturday’s workout.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) was absent again on Friday as he continues to battle tendinitis. The standout defensive back missed two practices last week before working on a limited basis in the final workout of the week and ultimately playing 58 of 68 defensive snaps against the Packers, recording an end-zone interception on the game’s opening drive.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley was upgraded to full participation on Friday after being cleared from concussion protocol, meaning he’s expected to be ready to play against the Texans. Since sustaining a concussion on Nov. 5, the 2016 first-round pick had practiced on a limited basis the last two weeks and did not play against Green Bay.

Right tackle Austin Howard (knee) practiced fully after missing Wednesday’s workout and being listed as a non-participant on the estimated injury report for Thursday as the Ravens had off for Thanksgiving. Howard struggled against the Packers and appeared less than 100 percent for much of the game, but he said Friday there’s no doubt that he’ll be ready to play Monday night.

Veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was limited Friday with an ankle issue, but he was present and moving around without incident in the locker room after practice.

Rookie offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder) was absent from Friday’s practice.

Below is the full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder), LB C.J. Mosley (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (achilles)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Terrell Suggs (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Austin Howard (knee), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion), RB Terrance West (calf)

HOUSTON
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Julien Davenport (shoulder), WR Will Fuller (ribs), DE Joel Heath (illness/knee), C Greg Mancz (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Alfred Blue (hamstring), OT Chris Clark (knee), OLB Jadeveon Clowney (ankle), WR DeAndre Hopkins (foot), CB Kevin Johnson (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Jeff Allen (hand), ILB Dylan Cole (hamstring), WR Bruce Ellington (ribs), S Andre Hal (knee), CB Kareem Jackson (shoulder), ILB Jelani Jenkins (hand), WR Chris Thompson (knee)

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Mosley, Howard, J. Smith absent from Ravens practice

Posted on 22 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was one of three starters missing from practice Wednesday as the Ravens shift their attention toward the Houston Texans.

Mosley suffered a sprained right ankle seconds before the two-minute warning in Green Bay, but head coach John Harbaugh said the injury didn’t “look serious at all” immediately after the 23-0 win, even making light of his initial reaction as a star defensive player limped off the field late in a blowout victory.

“We’re on the sideline and he comes limping off and I’m not happy about it,” Harbaugh said. “I wasn’t really pointing the finger at myself. I’m not responsible for every substitution. I did say, ‘If he’s hurt, we’re the dumbest coaching staff in America.’ I think I might have mentioned that.

“The coaches didn’t say much, but I know that they were praying.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) and right tackle Austin Howard (undisclosed) were also missing during the portion of Wednesday’s workout open to reporters. Smith’s absence was not surprising as he’s missed practice time on a weekly basis since early October, but Howard recently began wearing a harness on his surgically-repaired left shoulder and looked hobbled in an underwhelming performance against the Packers on Sunday.

With Baltimore not playing until Monday, the first injury report of the week will not be released until Thursday.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (concussion) was present and working, but he was a limited participant in practices all last week before ultimately being declared out against Green Bay. Harbaugh said Wednesday that the 2016 first-round pick remains in the concussion protocol. Starting left guard James Hurst moved out to Stanley’s spot in Week 11 and struggled to keep quarterback Joe Flacco clean against the Packers front.

“The first thing is obviously you have to switch guys around and you have to take guys out of their position and ask them to do a little bit more just because they’re in a different spot on the field,” Flacco said. “Then, you couple that with the fact that your first-round draft pick-type talent isn’t out there. It definitely all adds up.”

The Ravens will wear their black jerseys and black pants for their first Monday night home game since the 2012 season opener. They own a 16-7 all-time mark when wearing their popular alternate jersey, but Pittsburgh prevailed 26-9 in Week 4 when Baltimore wore its all-black uniforms for the first time this season.

Outside linebacker Matt Judon was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after collecting two sacks and a forced fumble against the Packers.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 9-7 win over Houston

Posted on 23 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles salvaging the finale of a three-game set in a 9-7 win over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was a long time coming, but Zach Britton set a new American League record with his 55th consecutive save conversion and first since April 14. If he is indeed traded before the Orioles return home next Monday, it was a fitting final appearance for him at Camden Yards.

2. A balanced offensive attack was the difference as seven different Orioles collected an RBI. The offensive showing could have been even better if not for grounding into four double plays in the first six innings.

3. Dylan Bundy will continue receiving extra rest when off-days allow it, but he’s now posted a 7.85 ERA over his last seven starts after surrendering a career-high seven runs. He handled quite a workload over the first 2 1/2 months, and you wonder how much fatigue is factoring into his struggles.

4. Houston hitters were able to work their way back from multiple 0-2 counts as Bundy wasn’t able to finish them off. The walk to Alex Bregman preceding Nori Aoki’s game-tying three-run home run in the sixth was particularly frustrating for the young pitcher.

5. Mark Trumbo reminded us why he only plays sparingly in the outfield, but he made up for it with the game-tying home run in the last of the seventh. He was one of three Baltimore hitters to collect their 50th RBI of the season on Sunday.

6. Trey Mancini drove in two runs and improved his average with runners in scoring position to a whopping .431. You keep waiting for him to start looking more like a rookie at the plate, but it hasn’t happened.

7. Jonathan Schoop saw his streak of five straight games with multiple RBIs come to an end, but he’s had at least one in seven consecutive contests. His three-hit afternoon raised his season average to .307.

8. Jose Altuve’s greatness is hardly breaking news, but he collected four hits to finish off a .500 batting average for the series. He sure is something special to watch.

9. A move to the leadoff spot has sparked a recent surge for Adam Jones, who had four hits and passed former teammate Nick Markakis to move into sole possession of sixth place on the Orioles’ all-time hit list. He’s been in the middle of plenty of scoring rallies of late.

10. The sixth inning is a separator in today’s game as teams need starters capable of getting through six innings or an incredibly deep bullpen to survive. The Orioles gave up 11 runs in the sixth frame over this series.

11. Much was made about Dan Duquette’s trade deadline comments Saturday, but remember he was addressing season-ticket holders as players were within earshot. His actions, not his words, are what matter over the next week.

12. Had the Orioles gone 7-3 or better on this homestand to get back to .500, I could maybe understand not selling, but they have no more than six wins in any 10-game stretch since May 9. Winning five of seven isn’t enough to overlook 2 1/2 months of .379 baseball.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-4 loss to Houston

Posted on 28 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their 13th loss in 16 games in an 8-4 final at Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You mean removing Ubaldo Jimenez from the starting rotation wasn’t going to cure the Orioles’ many problems? As manager Buck Showalter likes to say, this, too, shall pass, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch until it does.

2. Alec Asher deserved an opportunity to start, but the 42 pitches he threw in the second inning alone were more than he’d thrown in any outing since May 7. His stuff and command weren’t close to being good enough against the red-hot Astros.

3. If you’re desperate for a silver lining, the Orioles took their first lead since Monday in the first inning. The drought felt like it had been that long, too.

4. After loading the bases with one out, the Orioles managed only one run in the third inning to take a short-lived 3-0 lead. This offense entered Sunday ranked 18th in the majors in runs per game and deserves as much blame as the pitching, at least relative to expectations.

5. Asher’s poor start only adds insult to the void now left in the bullpen that he’d filled quite nicely over the last few weeks. Then again, the Orioles haven’t had many late-inning leads to protect recently.

6. Jonathan Schoop is one of the few Baltimore regulars who hasn’t underachieved so far in 2017. His two-run home run in the first and RBI single in the second accounted for the Orioles’ only meaningful run production.

7. The pitch wasn’t quite as high as the one he hit off Washington’s Gio Gonzalez earlier this month, but Mark Trumbo hit a solo homer on one up around the letters from Astros reliever James Hoyt. That’s not easy to do.

8. Chris Davis isn’t the only one struggling right now, but he looks completely lost at the plate, swinging at pitches out of the zone and taking ones down the heart of the plate. He struck out three more times in the series finale, two of them looking.

9. Even with his good six-inning performance to preserve the rest of the bullpen, Jimenez pitching in relief now leaves the Orioles’ with a dead roster spot for at least the next couple games since you can’t option him to the minors. It’s just not sustainable.

10. Joey Rickard collected a single in the ninth inning, but he made an error in center field for the second straight day and now has a .617 on-base plus slugging percentage. He’s not offering much off the bench.

11. The current seven-game slide is the longest losing streak for the Orioles since 2011, the last time they had a losing season. You hope that’s not a sign of things to come, but this is easily their worst stretch since losing 12 of 13 in late August of 2015.

12. The Orioles aren’t as bad as they’ve looked over the last 2 1/2 weeks, but that 22-10 start is looking more and more miraculous as time passes. The starting pitching is bad and their long-standing strengths — the bullpen and the offense — have been very mediocre. That’s not a winning formula.

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Wild-card weekend drives home key points for Ravens

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Watching wild-card weekend from home for the third time in the last four years, the Ravens had to be thinking what might have been.

They have no one to blame but themselves after losing three of their last four games to finish a mediocre 8-8, but a survey of the wild-card round field only reinforced the lack of high-quality teams in the NFL this year and in most seasons. As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are, but you could argue that Baltimore was better than a few of the playoff teams if going off the eyeball test.

Oakland deserves a pass with the unfortunate injury to Derek Carr, but the Ravens would have certainly put up a better fight against Brock Osweiler and a Houston offense that was abysmal all season. The Texans finished minus-49 in point differential this season — Baltimore was plus-22 — and took advantage of a lousy AFC South with a 5-1 division record.

No one should have been surprised to see the Pittsburgh offense steamroll Miami after the Ravens scored 38 points against that same group last month. The Dolphins deserve credit for beating the teams they were supposed to under first-year head coach Adam Gase, but they registered only one victory against a team that finished with a winning record this season.

The Detroit Lions were a good story with so many exciting finishes, but they lost three straight to close the regular season, beat only one team that finished with a winning record, and finished with a minus-12 point differential.

The Ravens might have been an Antonio Brown tackle away from entering Week 17 atop the AFC North, but the defining stretch of the season was their winless October in which they lost to a non-playoff team at home (Washington) and dropped a 24-16 road contest to the woeful New York Jets. A single victory over that 0-4 stretch would have changed the dynamics of the final two weeks of the season.

Of course, being able to measure up to a few playoff squads doesn’t mean John Harbaugh’s team is close to being back at a championship level. Looking beyond the Texans’ lottery-winning draw of a Carr-less Raiders team on Saturday, the other three winners of the weekend — Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay — each possess dynamic playmakers, a truly special quarterback, or both.

The Ravens have a respectable collection of quality players — including the league’s best kicker and the top guard in the NFL — but they have nothing that measures closely to the impact provided by five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown and two-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell, who combined for four touchdowns and just under 300 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers’ 30-12 victory over Miami. And Joe Flacco didn’t come close to playing at a special level this year, either.

With Flacco arguably having more job security than anyone in the entire organization after signing a contract extension last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome better find him a playmaker or two if the Ravens’ fortunes are to markedly change for the better any time soon. It’s been a talking point for a few years now, but that makes it no less true after another non-playoff campaign.

** The four games had an average margin of victory of 19.0 points, making it the most lopsided wild-card weekend since 1981. Most expected all four home teams to prevail, but it was quite a contrast between Super Bowl contenders and pretenders this weekend.

** I couldn’t help but feel for the Raiders as they played in their first playoff game in 14 years without the benefit of their young franchise quarterback under center. Oakland should be back with such a talented group of young players on which to build, but return trips to the postseason can’t be taken for granted.

** It’s great to see Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney finally showing off the ability that warranted him being selected first overall in the 2014 draft after two disappointing seasons. He finished with an interception, two batted passes, and four quarterback pressures in a terrific performance against overwhelmed rookie quarterback Connor Cook.

** Even if Ben Roethlisberger wearing a walking boot after Sunday’s win was much ado about nothing, why in the world was the Pittsburgh quarterback and several other key starters still in the game so late in the fourth quarter?

** Can you imagine how long their fans would have been screaming about the Packers’ failed fourth-down run from the their own 42-yard line in the third quarter if it had resulted in the turning point of a New York Giants win at Lambeau Field? I suppose having a future Hall of Fame quarterback helps to cover up a bad coaching decision as Rodgers was sensational on Sunday.

** No, I don’t believe the Monday trip to Miami made by Odell Beckham Jr. — and several of his teammates — was the reason why the Giants lost to Green Bay, but it did fairly call his focus and priorities into question just days before the biggest game of his young NFL career.

Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is highly respected around the league and summed it up nicely via his Twitter account. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should, and Beckham certainly fueled the flames of the story by turning in a lousy performance.

Maybe he should have asked Tony Romo if a pre-playoff vacation is worth the potential backlash.

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