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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 24 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face a desperate team on Sunday.

After entering the season with much optimism about a talented core of young players, the Jacksonville Jaguars have stumbled out of the gate to an 0-2 start and were thoroughly outplayed in a 38-14 defeat in San Diego last week. Meanwhile, the Ravens have taken advantage of two below-average opponents to start 2-0 for the first time since 2009.

Facing the challenge of a second consecutive road game, the Ravens certainly hopes to start faster than last week when Cleveland took an early 20-0 lead and forced them to enter catch-up mode.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore seeks its first win in Jacksonville since 2001 when the teams were rivals in the old AFC Central. The Jaguars lead the all-time regular-season series with an 11-8 mark, but the Ravens have won eight of the last 11 meetings dating back to 2000. This marks the third straight year in which the Ravens and Jaguars have met with Jacksonville prevailing in a controversial 22-20 finish at M&T Bank Stadium last year.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will fail to score a touchdown in the first quarter for the third straight game. Slow starts have been too common in the brief Marc Trestman era, which hasn’t helped to jump-start the running game going back to last season. Baltimore should be aggressive early with vertical shots against a banged-up Jaguars secondary, but Trestman has been reluctant to do so in the opening quarter. An early touchdown would go a long way in frustrating an 0-2 opponent and killing what little home-field advantage exists at EverBank Field, but Jacksonville will play hard with its 2016 season already in peril.

2. Tavon Young will intercept a Blake Bortles pass to set up a Baltimore score. The Ravens intercepted two passes last week, which doesn’t sound out of the ordinary until you remember they only had six all last season. A unheralded contributor to a revamped secondary has been the rookie Young, who hasn’t played like a final-day draft pick so far. He made a couple key tackles on Cleveland’s final drive last week and has held up well in slot coverage. He’ll come away with his first career pick defending Marqise Lee to give the Ravens offense a short field.

3. Allen Robinson and Julius Thomas will catch touchdown passes for Jacksonville. The potential return of Elvis Dumervil would certainly help, but Baltimore will need to get more pressure off the edges against Bortles, who has plenty of weapons at his disposal despite his underwhelming performance through two games. Robinson and Allen Hurts are challenging enough to handle, but Thomas is healthy and has put up good numbers early. The Ravens have done a solid job against tight ends so far, but the memory of last year’s struggles covering that position is still too fresh.

4. Breshad Perriman will catch the first touchdown of his NFL career. It’s no secret that Joe Flacco has mostly thrown to Mike Wallace, Dennis Pitta, and Steve Smith as the trio of accounted for 43 targets out of 78 total passing attempts. However, Flacco would have connected on a long touchdown to Perriman against Cleveland’s Joe Haden had the pass been thrown more to the middle of the field. Since the 2015 first-round pick played his college ball a little over two hours away, Jacksonville feels like an appropriate place for him to finally hit pay dirt.

5. The home team feeling more urgency and needing a win will edge the Ravens in a 23-20 final. This game feels like little more than a coin flip, but Jacksonville can’t afford to lose this one whereas John Harbaugh’s team is playing with a little bit of house money after the largest road comeback win in franchise history last week. Baltimore can make a strong statement by improving to 3-0, but the Jaguars will prove they’re better than they were a week ago by making just a couple more plays than the Ravens to prevail in a close game. If this were a home game for the Ravens, I’d pick them instead.

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dumervil

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Dumervil questionable to play after sitting out Friday’s practice

Posted on 23 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh celebrated his 54th birthday on Friday and would welcome the present of a returning Elvis Dumervil for Sunday’s game in Jacksonville.

Despite not participating in Friday’s walk-through practice, the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher was listed as questionable to play after working on a limited basis in previous workouts this week. Dumervil told reporters on Thursday that he hoped to play, but he’s not yet 100 percent physically after undergoing offseason foot surgery and suffering a setback a few days into his initial return to practice in late August.

Harbaugh indicated that Dumervil’s availability against the Jaguars would be a game-time decision after he practiced for the first time in nearly a month.

“I thought he looked good. He’s worked really hard, and he’s put a lot of time in,” Harbaugh said. “It’s just a matter of you get to that point and decide whether it’s going to give you the best chance to win or not based on where he’s at physically. We know what kind of player he is and what he’s capable of, and that’s the decision that will just have to be made.”

As expected, the Ravens officially ruled out running back Kenneth Dixon for the third straight game as he continues to work his way back from a left knee injury. However, the rookie was doing some running on the side field during the open portion of practice and was moving pretty well despite wearing a brace.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) and interior offensive lineman John Urschel (shoulder) were both listed as questionable to play against the Jaguars. After missing Wednesday’s practice, Stanley was a full participant on Thursday and Friday and is fully expected to start. Urschel has now been a full participant in practices for three straight weeks, but he was inactive for Baltimore’s first two games.

Center Jeremy Zuttah was not listed on the final game status injury report of the week, but he was absent from Friday’s walk-through for a non-injury reason. This typically indicates a player is either receiving a day off to rest or to deal with a personal matter, but Harbaugh did not give an explanation for Zuttah’s absence.

“That’d be a good question for Jeremy, but there’s no injury there,” Harbaugh said. “Jeremy’s fine.”

Zuttah was not available for comment during Friday’s open locker room period for reporters. The 30-year-old has struggled over the first two games of the season, leading some outsiders to speculate whether the Ravens should turn to another option such as Urschel or Ryan Jensen.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars will be without their starting left tackle as Kelvin Beachum was ruled out for Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion in Week 2. Former first-round pick Luke Joeckel is listed as his primary backup.

Jacksonville listed five other starters as questionable with two of them — cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) and defensive end Jared Odrick (triceps) — not practicing all week.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with temperatures reaching the high 80s, winds up to 10 miles per hours, and a 60 percent chance of precipitation.

The Ravens announced Friday that they will wear “CB” decals on their helmets for the remainder of the 2016 season in memory of longtime defensive line coach Clarence Brooks, who died of esophageal cancer last Saturday.

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

BALTIMORE
OUT: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), G John Urschel (shoulder)

JACKSONVILLE
OUT: OT Kelvin Beachum (concussion), TE Ben Koyack (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), S Tashaun Gipson (hamstring), RB Chris Ivory (general medical), C Brandon Linder (knee), DE Jared Odrick (triceps)

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Stanley expects to play in Jacksonville despite missing practice

Posted on 21 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley expects to play against the Jacksonville Jaguars despite being absent from Wednesday’s practice with a foot injury.

The 2016 first-round pick hesitated to discuss specifics related to the ailment, but he dismissed any notion that he was in danger of missing the Week 3 contest. Stanley’s strong play and durability throughout his collegiate career at Notre Dame were factors prompting the Ravens to take him sixth overall in April’s draft to replace veteran Eugene Monroe, who missed 17 starts in his last two seasons.

“It’s going to take a lot for me to miss a game,” said Stanley, who couldn’t recall the moment when the foot issue surfaced in the Week 2 win over Cleveland. “I haven’t missed a game [going back to] all my college career.”

Third-year lineman James Hurst is listed as the backup left tackle on the Week 3 depth chart released by Baltimore’s public relations staff, but rookie left guard Alex Lewis also worked extensively at left tackle during training camp.

Running back Kenneth Dixon remains sidelined while recovering from a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee, but he is nearing the end of the original timetable of a four-week recovery set when he sustained the injury on Aug. 27. The Ravens are averaging only 3.0 yards per carry so far this season, making the talented rookie an intriguing option once healthy again.

“He’s working hard, and he’s getting closer,” Harbaugh said. “It’s one of those injuries [that takes time]. Everyone knows what the injury was, so you have a timeline on that. He seems to be on schedule. I’m looking forward to getting him back.”

The Jaguars were without a number of players during their Wednesday workout, a list that included wide receiver Allen Robinson (illness), left tackle Kelvin Beachum (concussion), and defensive end Jared Odrick (triceps). Beachum was carted off the field in Jacksonville’s loss to San Diego on Sunday and was hospitalized overnight.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G John Urschel (shoulder)

JACKSONVILLE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), OT Kelvin Beachum (concussion), S Johnathan Cyprien (knee/triceps), DE Jared Odrick (triceps), WR Allen Robinson (illness)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Chris Ivory (general medical issue), OT Jeremy Parnell (groin)

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Rick Ballou: Jags could take Tunsil if still on board at #5

Posted on 25 April 2016 by WNST Staff

Rick Ballou covers the Jaguars and joined Nestor on WNST to discuss their draft plans as they are due to pick one slot ahead of the Ravens as they hold the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Who does Rick think the Jaguars will select, and will they snag someone that the Ravens really would like to grab at number six?

To catch Rick Ballou’s full conversation with Nestor, click here:

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Dumervil believes Ravens “taken advantage of” by officiating

Posted on 09 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the stand-up leaders of the Ravens locker room, Elvis Dumervil has faced the music throughout the most disappointing season in franchise history.

When his facemask penalty allowed Jacksonville to kick the game-winning 53-yard field goal with no time remaining in Week 10, the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker took full responsibility for his gaffe. Dumervil continued to take the high road even after the NFL admitted a day later that a dead-ball penalty should have been called that would have ended the game before his foul ever occurred.

But after witnessing several critical calls go against the struggling Ravens this season, the mild-mannered veteran spoke his mind on Wednesday. Asked a question about the high number of injuries his team has experienced in 2015, Dumervil stated that every team has players who get hurt before he abruptly changed the subject to the quality of officiating.

“It’s been one of the most bizarre seasons I’ve ever seen,” said Dumervil, finishing his 10th year in the NFL. “For us to not get [any] holding calls, there’s a lot of things that I feel like we’re being taken advantage of, for sure.”

It was clear that Dumervil wanted to get his feelings off his chest as he was referencing the fact that Ravens opponents have been called for offensive holding on passing plays — all 454 of them — just once all season and that occurred in Week 2.

With Terrell Suggs suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the season opener, Dumervil has been the Ravens’ only reliable pass rusher from the edge, allowing teams to focus most of their attention on slowing him. That development and a heavier workload have factored into the 31-year-old collecting just six sacks after he registered a franchise-record 17 last season.

With that in mind, you can understand Dumervil being miffed over the lack of holding calls as John Madden used to famously say you could call the infraction on nearly every play.

Though the end of the Jacksonville game headlines the list, the Ravens have also been on the short end of controversial calls in close losses to Oakland (a defensive holding call that negated what could have been the game-saving interception), Arizona (Chris Johnson’s 62-yard run after his forward progress appeared to be stopped), and, most recently, Miami (Daniel Brown’s 52-yard touchdown pass wiped away due to a phantom offensive pass interference call).

Many have debated the merits of NFL officials becoming full-time employees — some players in the Baltimore locker room weren’t even aware that they only work part time — and being more accountable in the public eye, but Dumervil didn’t offer any theories why it’s been such a problem this season.

“I don’t have [any] reasons,” Dumervil said. “It’s just not going our way this year.”

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forsett

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Ravens running game continues to be forgotten under Trestman

Posted on 17 November 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have lost their way.

That statement carries many connotations these days as Baltimore holds a 2-7 record for the first time since 2005, but it’s especially true when examining the disappearance of the running game after the Ravens finished eighth in the NFL with 126.2 rushing yards per game under Gary Kubiak a year ago. Despite maintaining that it was in the Ravens’ DNA to run the football when they hired pass-happy offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, head coach John Harbaugh has seen his rushing attack plummet to 23rd in the NFL with just 98.1 yards on the ground per game. The Ravens rank 18th in the league at 4.0 yards per carry after averaging a healthier 4.5 yards per attempt in 2014.

The running game again wasn’t a major factor in Sunday’s 22-20 loss to Jacksonville as the Ravens carried 21 times for 89 yards while Joe Flacco attempted 45 passes.

“We’d like to run the ball more; there’s no question,” Harbaugh said. “On the other hand, if you look at the defenses [the Jaguars] were playing, there were eight guys within four or five yards of the line of scrimmage at all times, pretty much, and even then, we had some really good runs. We had some nice runs in the second half. We weren’t able to finish in four-minute [drill] like we would have wanted to; we were close to popping a couple of those runs.

“In the first half, we weren’t getting much. If we could have converted a couple more first downs there, you would have seen more runs. It’s something we had planned on doing. We were going to run it at them anyway, but we just didn’t get the opportunities that we wanted to.”

It’s fair to note that the Jaguars entered Sunday ranked seventh in the NFL in run defense, but the Ravens barely even tried in the first half with just four designed runs compared to 29 drop-backs for Flacco in his first game since No. 1 receiver Steve Smith was lost for the season. As for Harbaugh’s explanation, the Ravens picked up 11 first downs in the first 30 minutes of action, which wasn’t indicative of a team struggling to get on schedule with moving the chains.

Asked if Flacco checked out of a high number of plays at the line of scrimmage because of the Jaguars stacking the box, Harbaugh said that there were only a couple instances when the original play was changed, leading one to conclude that Trestman was responsible for the out-of-whack ratio. The pass-happy attack may have found success to the tune of 14 points and 223 yards of offense in the first half, but the approach backfired in the third quarter with Flacco turning the ball over on the first three possessions after intermission.

The Ravens carried 16 times for 70 yards in the second half.

“We knew we had some opportunities in the passing game, but we always look to run,” said running back Justin Forsett, who finished with 53 yards on 14 carries. “It’s just tough that we didn’t get it going faster. If we had, we would’ve been able to run the ball a little bit better. At the end, we just didn’t finish well.”

It’s easy to point to the opponent to defend Trestman’s approach on Sunday, but the Ravens also ran six times — one was a quarterback kneel — for 15 yards in the first half against San Diego, a run defense that currently ranks 27th in the NFL. Not counting plays resulting in sacks, the Ravens rank 26th in the NFL in running the ball just 37.29 percent of the time in 2015.

Last year, Baltimore ran the ball 44.67 percent of the time to rank 11th in the league.

Is it understandable to expect more passing in 2015 with the Ravens trailing in more games? Absolutely, but Baltimore has trailed by more than one score in the second half of just four games this year and one of those was the comeback win at Pittsburgh when the Ravens ran for almost 200 yards in an overtime victory. It’s difficult to say you’re committed to the running game when it wasn’t even allowed to find a rhythm in the first half of each of the last two games when they never trailed by more than seven points.

Whether because of a lack of commitment or production — or both — a ground game that returned the same starting running back and same starting offensive line from a year ago continues to be a significant disappointment under Trestman. It’s made life even more difficult on Flacco, who is trying to succeed with arguably the most underwhelming group of pass-catchers in the NFL.

The Ravens rank ninth in the NFL with 263.6 passing yards per game, but they’re 25th at 6.7 yards per attempt. For the second time in three years, the offense has fallen on Flacco’s shoulders despite a substandard cast of receivers around him.

Despite what the coaching staff has said at numerous times this season, there doesn’t appear to be much urgency to get the ground game going after the latest soft showing against Jacksonville.

“The run game is something to talk about,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “We were looking at it hard this morning, this afternoon with the coaches. Early in the game, we’re a block here and a block there away from popping runs. But a block here and a block there doesn’t get it done. We did a lot of things with scheme. We had a lot of formations. We protected our edges with tight ends and with seal blocks coming back and sift blocks coming back the other way. We did a good job of protecting our edges. But inside of all that, they had a couple of little changeups with their linebackers that gave us a little trouble that we sorted out toward the end of the game, [and we] had some better runs.”

Entering 2015, the running game was supposed to be the rock-solid commodity for a Ravens offense that experienced plenty of change in the offseason. Instead, it’s become just another of the many problems plaguing a 2-7 football team.

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Harbaugh critical of Ross, Jackson for mistakes in Sunday’s loss

Posted on 16 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On Monday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh dissected plenty that went wrong in the 22-20 loss to Jacksonville, but the criticism was particularly strong for special-teams players Jeremy Ross and Asa Jackson.

Ross’ fumbled punt early in the fourth quarter led to a go-ahead touchdown for Jacksonville and was the return specialist’s second lost fumble in the last three games. It was Baltimore’s fourth turnover of the second half after quarterback Joe Flacco threw two interceptions and fumbled in the third quarter.

“The muffed punt killed us. It was one of the four turnovers that shouldn’t happen,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged that the Ravens will need to decide whether to replace Ross at punt returner. “It wasn’t an easy catch. The ball was moving from left to right and behind him, but it’s still a catch that you have to make in that situation for sure.”

Harbaugh’s words were even more critical for Jackson, who cost the Ravens a combined 30 yards in penalties on a low block in the first quarter and an unnecessary roughness foul in the third period. Jackson committed another unnecessary roughness penalty against Arizona in Week 7.

It’s clear the lack of discipline is wearing thin on the Baltimore coach after Jackson was already waived once at the end of the preseason for ball security issues in the return game.

“There’s no place for that,” Harbaugh said. “There’s absolutely no reason to leave your feet [on the first penalty]. I don’t care if you are slipping or not. You might be slipping, but if you are out of position to make the block, you don’t make that block, and you certainly don’t throw yourself back into a guy’s legs on a kickoff return. That’s blatantly illegal. And then blocking a guy after the ball is down and dead — that’s just foolish. That’s what we call a foolish penalty.

“For one guy to have three personal foul penalties in a season — in a career, let alone a season — let alone two in a game, is unacceptable.”

Webb at safety

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees revealed several new wrinkles after the bye week with the most interesting being cornerback Lardarius Webb lining up at safety for a number of plays in the nickel package.

Webb and starting free safety Kendrick Lewis swapped positions several times, often waiting until right before the snap in an effort to confuse Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles. The seventh-year defensive back also secured Baltimore’s first takeaway since Week 3 with a second-quarter interception while playing cornerback.

“We felt like he could be a factor in the back end, as far as chasing balls and being a ball hawk, and he may be kind of a natural that way,” Harbaugh said. “We tried him there on Tuesday and Wednesday of the bye week; he looked good.

“We built a couple packages for him, and we were able to play him at three different spots at least throughout the course of the game. They had a tougher time knowing where he was going to be, and I really think that’s something we can build on going forward.”

Arthur Brown sighting

All but forgotten as the Ravens’ 2013 second-round pick, inside linebacker Arthur Brown saw his first defensive snaps since the end of his rookie season on Sunday.

Brown was part of the nickel package for eight plays, but he did not register a defensive statistic. The Kansas State product was active for each of the first eight games of 2015 while only seeing action on special teams.

“He played fast and was excited to be out there,” Harbaugh said. “He ran to the ball, made a couple plays — nothing spectacular, but nothing that made you concerned, either. He had done a really good job in practice, and Arthur deserved a little more playing time. He did well with it.”

Urban could return this week

Starting his second week of practice, second-year defensive end Brent Urban is moving closer to making his NFL debut and could be activated in time to play St. Louis on Sunday.

“There’s a chance,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not something we’ve talked about yet, but I think physically — based on what I’ve seen physically — he’s ready to go. But again, we’ll talk about this week as we go.”

Urban was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return at the start of the season after suffering a torn biceps in early August.

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NFL admits officiating error at end of Ravens’ loss to Jacksonville

Posted on 16 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The NFL admitted Monday to a late officiating error that allowed Jacksonville to kick the game-winning field goal in a 22-20 win over the Ravens on Sunday.

John Harbaugh said it was “pretty obvious” that the Jaguars offensive line wasn’t set as quarterback Blake Bortles snapped the ball with one second remaining and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil pulled him to the ground by the face mask, eliciting a 15-yard penalty and an untimed play that resulted in Jason Myers’ 53-yard field goal with no time remaining. The NFL issued a statement acknowledging that a false start should have been called, which would have resulted in the play being blown dead and a 10-second run-off to officially end the game.

“The correct call in this case would have been to penalize the offense for a false start because all 11 players were not set, and whistle to stop the play,” league spokesman Michael Signora said. “The ensuing 10-second runoff should have ended the game.”

Of course, the Ravens had 59 minutes, 59 seconds of action to play better and not allow the game to come down to an officiating mistake, but that’s what happens when you’re 2-7 and in the midst of the most disappointing season in franchise history. A high number of calls — many of them important — are missed throughout the course of 60-minute contests every week, with some benefiting and others hurting any given team.

Officiating in the NFL is a problem, but that’s nothing new and won’t change Sunday’s result.

Any number of plays from the final few minutes could have changed the final outcome, ranging from Sam Koch not punting the ball into the end zone for the first time all season to Kendrick Lewis successfully coming away with the game-clinching interception just a couple plays before the final one. Even after the officials missed the false start, Dumervil would be the first to tell you he cannot commit a facemask penalty in such a critical spot, which may have been the only scenario in which the Jaguars could have still won since most players on both teams had already given up on the play.

However you want to slice it, shoddy officiating at the end of the game still doesn’t excuse the Ravens for not playing well against a bad team at home with an extra week to prepare.

“There’s nothing we can do about it now,” Harbaugh said. “It’s unfortunate. It’s disappointing. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s just the way it goes.

“But in the end, we have to overcome all that stuff. I don’t care about officiating. I don’t care about weather. I don’t care about field conditions. I don’t care about our opponent. That’s the way our guys look at it. It does not matter.”

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Ravens-Jaguars: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 15 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A fresh start.

That’s what the Ravens hope Sunday brings as they return from their bye week to welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars to M&T Bank Stadium.

Sporting as healthy of a 53-man roster as they’ve enjoyed in quite some time, the Ravens look to improve to 7-1 in games immediately following their bye week under head coach John Harbaugh. They’re also looking for back-to-back wins for the first time all season after a disappointing 2-6 first half.

Despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report and only returning to practice on Friday, starting center Jeremy Zuttah is active and will play after suffering a left shoulder injury two weeks ago against San Diego. Left tackle Eugene Monroe (shoulder) is also active after missing the Chargers game, giving the Ravens their entire starting offensive line for just the fifth game this season.

The list of inactives was headlined by the healthy scratch of second-year safety Terrence Brooks, who has recovered from a thumb injury that cost him three games before the bye week. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) was already ruled out on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars will have the services of second-year wide receivers Allen Hurns (foot, thigh) and Marqise Lee (hamstring), who were both listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Jacksonville sports the 11th-best passing attack in the NFL, which will pose quite a challenge to the Ravens’ 29th-ranked pass defense.

Pete Morelli will be the referee for Sunday’s game.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys and white pants while Jacksonville dons its white tops with black pants.

The Sunday afternoon forecast calls for sunny skies with temperatures in the low 60s and winds up to 15 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Sunday marks the 19th all-time meeting between the Ravens and the Jaguars with Jacksonville owning the 10-8 advantage after winning the first eight all-time meetings between these old AFC Central foes. Jacksonville hasn’t won a road game since Dec. 1, 2013 and is seeking its first win in Baltimore since 1999.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Breshad Perriman
WR Joe Morgan
CB Tray Walker
S Terrence Brooks
OL Ryan Jensen
DL Kapron Lewis-Moore
OT De’Ondre Wesley

JACKSONVILLE
LB Dan Skuta
RB Toby Gerhart
S James Sample
DT Michael Bennett
C Luke Bowanko
RB Joe Banyard
DE Chris Smith

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 14 November 2015 by Luke Jones

This isn’t a “homecoming” game for the Ravens.

Scoff as much as you’d like over the notion of the 2-6 Jacksonville Jaguars winning a road game for the first time in nearly two years and earning a victory at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since Bill Clinton was in the White House (1999), but the 2-6 Ravens have no room to be taking any opponent lightly these days. That’s especially true when one of the Jaguars’ greatest strengths — the NFL’s 11th ranked passing game — matches up against Baltimore’s 29th-ranked pass defense.

Head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have spoken all week about Sunday providing the opportunity for a fresh start and the first of many steps toward climbing back into an underwhelming AFC playoff race, but they’ll first need to show they’ve put some of their first-half struggles behind them.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and Jacksonville meet for the 19th time in the regular-season history and for the second consecutive year at M&T Bank Stadium. The Jaguars hold a 10-8 advantage in the all-time series, but that can be attributed to Jacksonville winning the first eight all-time meetings between the teams from 1996-1999 when they were old AFC Central foes. Dating back to 2000, the Ravens have won eight of 10 against Jacksonville.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win consecutive games for the first time all season …

1. The team that performs better on third down will win on Sunday. This is a boring talking point often used by the unimaginative, but I only bring it up because both teams are so poor in this area, a major reason why they sport matching 2-6 records. The Ravens rank 24th in third-down offense and dead last in the NFL in third-down defense while Jacksonville is 19th in third-down offense and 29th in third-down defense. Baltimore will be challenged to find success running the ball in early-down situations against the league’s seventh-ranked rush defense while the Jaguars want to avoid putting the mistake-prone Blake Bortles in third-and-long spots. This will be critical factor in a close contest.

2. The Ravens secondary will snap Allen Hurns’ touchdown streak, but Allen Robinson will post over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. Hurns is questionable to play with a foot injury, meaning he will be less than 100 percent if he does find his way to the field on Sunday to try to continue a streak of six consecutive games with a touchdown reception. However, the 2014 second-round pick Robinson is emerging as one of the better big-play threats in the NFL and will create problems for Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. The Ravens should be fine if they can limit one of Jacksonville’s two impact receivers, but Robinson is just too good for the Baltimore secondary to stop at this point.

3. Kamar Aiken will have an encouraging day as the No. 1 receiver, catching six passes for 80 yards and a score. After two weeks to prepare and to talk a good game, the Ravens will now face the reality of life without Steve Smith the rest of the way. The good news for Baltimore is that Jacksonville sports the league’s 25th-ranked pass defense and has struggled to create pressure on quarterbacks this season, which should allow time for Aiken and Chris Givens to gain separation. Jacksonville’s starting cornerbacks, Davon House and Aaron Colvin, are solid, but No. 3 option Dwayne Gratz is a liability in the nickel, which will create a good matchup for Aiken on a touchdown pass.

4. Bortles will throw a costly interception midway through the fourth quarter. Counting the postseason, the Ravens have created four or more turnovers in a game 51 times in franchise history, but they have just four total takeaways in eight games in 2015. That trend just has to change at some point, right? Bortles has shown plenty of promise and has played at a high level at times this season, but he hasn’t been able to avoid critical mistakes like he made against the New York Jets last week. In a tight game, the Ravens will force their first turnover since Week 3 to end a scoring threat and preserve a narrow lead. The five-game streak without a takeaway has to end — even if it’s by accident.

5. Efficiency will be the theme of the day for Joe Flacco and the Ravens in a 28-23 win over Jacksonville. I feel for the Ravens quarterback, who has been given inferior weapons to work with in two of the last three seasons, but you never hear him complain about the factors regularly working against him. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens offense functions the rest of the way with Steve Smith out and the running game being a disappointment to this point. But Flacco will consistently make plays to move the chains and take a few deep shots to Givens in the process. The Ravens found a way to score 30 points without Smith in Week 5, and they’ll find ways to score enough against Jacksonville.

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