Tag Archive | "Jimmy Smith"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 win over Indianapolis

Posted on 26 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their first winning season since 2014 after a 23-16 victory over Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Critics say this defense hasn’t been very good when it hasn’t forced turnovers, but isn’t that true of many units? Sure, there’s been some variance in the overall performance, but give me the group more dynamic taking the ball away over a more “consistent” unit that’s ordinary in that department.

2. The offense continues to play at a higher level in December, but the Ravens have scored just three touchdowns in seven trips inside the red zone the last two weeks since going 4-for-4 against Pittsburgh. Justin Tucker field goals in that area aren’t going to cut it in January.

3. Both Alex Collins and Michael Campanaro put the ball on the ground against the Colts, but the Ravens have committed only two turnovers in the last six games since the bye. That’s strong evidence supporting the notion that this offense was way too conservative through the first three months.

4. Maurice Canady saved the day with his fourth-down pass breakup to preserve a one-score lead, and his emergence sure gives the Ravens some good cornerback depth moving forward. Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Canady are all under contract for 2018.

5. Jack Doyle didn’t put up monster numbers, but he was the latest tight end to give the Ravens issues in coverage. It’s tough not to be nervous about that deficiency with a potential matchup with Kansas City’s three-time Pro Bowl selection Travis Kelce looming in the wild-card round.

6. I understand frustration and even boos when a player isn’t performing, but the Bronx cheers for Breshad Perriman’s 8-yard reception in the third quarter felt a little too mean-spirited for my taste, especially since the guy has barely played since the bye anyway.

7. Speaking of disappointing early picks, Maxx Williams caught his first touchdown in over two years. He’s done a solid job as a blocker this year, but that’s not exactly what Ozzie Newsome had in mind when he traded up in the second round of the 2015 draft to take him.

8. Buck Allen has averaged an ordinary 3.7 yards per carry overall, but he’s done a solid job in short-yardage situations despite not being a bruising back. He was initially stuffed on fourth-and-1 on the opening drive and reached for the first down with second effort.

9. Remember when some wondered if Kamar Aiken might eventually develop into a poor man’s version of Anquan Boldin after leading the Ravens with 75 receptions in 2015? He has 14 catches on 42 targets with Indianapolis this season and a combined 43 catches in 30 games since that campaign.

10. Frank Gore was never viewed as the best running back in the NFL at any point, but the 34-year-old is closing in on 14,000 career rushing yards in an era when backs increasingly have a shorter shelf life. Longevity is an underrated quality, especially in this sport.

11. The Ravens could end up making a January run, but their strength of victory ranks 13th of 16 AFC teams and would still be 10th if you remove the two wins over 0-15 Cleveland. Even after their early injuries, not making the playoffs with this schedule would be extremely disappointing.

12. Baltimore surprisingly broke out its black jerseys despite having already worn the alternate tops two other times this year. The black-on-white look — the Ravens’ seventh different uniform combination of the season — is an underrated one.

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Painful loss to Pittsburgh should still bring hope for Ravens

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — No matter the circumstances or stakes, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers is about as painful as it gets for the Ravens.

That’s the burden of a tremendous rivalry as the sting of Sunday’s heartbreaking 39-38 defeat will linger throughout the week and possibly a little longer. Suffering their first regular-season sweep at the hands of the Steelers since 2008, many players were despondent in the locker room after squandering a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, conjuring memories of last year’s defensive collapse on Christmas.

Baltimore was one stop or one drive away from a huge victory at Heinz Field, but we know close only counts in horseshoes, right? Terrell Suggs was among those who didn’t want to hear about any moral victory of the Ravens giving Pittsburgh everything it could handle and then some as they led by nine points with less than seven minutes to go.

Coaches, players, media, and fans alike understand giving up 19 points in the final 13 minutes is inexcusable as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards — 228 in the fourth quarter — and Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards, but there’s a critical difference with this one compared to last season’s Week 16 collapse. That loss left the Ravens to think all offseason about how close they came before Brown extended the ball over the goal line and eliminated them from playoff contention with that dramatic last-second touchdown.

Sunday certainly hurt, but the loss only narrowed the margin for error the rest of the way as they try to secure a wild-card spot and their first trip to the playoffs since 2014. A division title would have remained a long shot even with a win, so the task is clear for the Ravens as three wins against three sub-.500 opponents will still guarantee them some January football.

A narrow loss to Pittsburgh — the expected outcome in the eyes of most observers entering Week 14 — shouldn’t meaningfully alter anyone’s outlook for the final three weeks. If you don’t believe in the Ravens’ ability to beat Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati, were you honestly expecting a competitive game against the Steelers in the first place?

A deep breath and 24 hours bring some needed perspective for the long-term outlook.

Had Chris Boswell missed the 46-yard field goal in the final minute or the Ravens simply made one more game-changing play down the stretch, euphoria undoubtedly would have replaced disgust and the focus would have been on a strong offensive showing for the second straight week rather than the terrible defensive performance. Concerns about the defense still would have been warranted had the Ravens figured out a way to escape western Pennsylvania with a win, but that wouldn’t have been the primary topic of discussion.

A signature win would have helped the eyeball test, but it wouldn’t have suddenly made Baltimore the new favorite in the AFC. A return trip to Heinz Field next month would have still labeled the Ravens as the underdog against the Steelers. This remains a flawed team, and a win wouldn’t have changed that if we’re being honest.

The silver lining from Sunday is that the offense was able to duplicate last week’s impressive production against Detroit. It’s no secret that this group has been the Ravens’ biggest weakness, but scoring a combined 82 points the last two games brings more optimism down the stretch. Alex Collins continues to look like a difference-maker while Joe Flacco has thrown for 538 yards and four touchdowns the last two weeks, marked improvement from what we’ve seen most of this season.

We knew this offense needed to improve if the Ravens were going to pose any threat in a potential trip to the postseason, and it’s finally showing signs of progress.

On the other hand, the defense is fairly being criticized after being carved up by Roethlisberger and giving up 59 points in its last six quarters of action, but the Ravens will now play three bottom-10 offenses to try to make necessary corrections and better adjust to life without top cornerback Jimmy Smith. Sunday certainly brought validation to the criticism regarding the lack of elite offenses on the schedule and the group’s ability without Smith on the field, but this defense has been good enough over the course of the season to at least envision better results on that side of the ball if the teams were to meet a third time.

It was only three years ago that the Ravens were blown out by the Steelers in their first full game without Smith and returned to Heinz Field two months later to win in the opening round of the playoffs. Regardless of how it ended Sunday night, a one-point road loss to an 11-2 team shouldn’t prompt any fear if given the chance to roll the dice again, and there isn’t much more you can ask for beyond that.

It’s fair to be ticked off about such a frustrating loss for the Ravens. Harbaugh and his team certainly are.

But it didn’t end their season this time around, and there was enough good to take away from the performance to ponder the possibilities of a third meeting sometime next month.

That is, if the Ravens handle their business between now and then.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 09 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t really need to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

A one-game lead for the final wild-card spot, a strong tiebreaker profile, and three remaining games — two at home — against teams that are a combined 20 games below .500 make Baltimore’s chances to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 very strong already. But a victory would bring the elusive signature win that would make the doubters — and perhaps John Harbaugh’s team itself — start to believe the Ravens are capable of being a legitimate threat in January.

Meanwhile, the Steelers hope to extend their seven-game winning streak, but a defeat would still leave them within striking distance of New England, who will visit Heinz Field next week with the upper hand for the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line. The immediate incentive for Pittsburgh to win Sunday would be to clinch the AFC North title, but its three-game advantage with four weeks to go leaves quite a margin for error in the division race.

In other words, the renewal of this intense rivalry lacks the same stakes as last year’s Christmas Day affair that essentially served as a division championship game.

Last week’s serious back injury suffered by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has been on the minds of both teams as the former Pro Bowl selection’s future on and off the field remains unclear. With many Pittsburgh players planning to wear cleats paying tribute to their injured teammate, how the Steelers respond emotionally playing at home could certainly be a factor for at least the beginning of Sunday night’s game.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North rivals meet for the 44th time in the regular-season series with the Steelers holding a slight 23-20 advantage to go with a 3-1 edge in postseason encounters. Pittsburgh has won the last two meetings and is in search of its first regular-season sweep of the Ravens since 2008. Including the playoffs, 16 of the 22 showdowns with the Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by a single possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

1. Danny Woodhead will have his best game as a Raven with 60 receiving yards and a touchdown. The focus on Shazier’s injury has rightly been on his health and not on football, but the Steelers will miss his presence in pass coverage as he recorded an interception and four breakups against Baltimore’s underneath passing game in Week 4. With Cam Heyward and a strong Pittsburgh front dominating the line of scrimmage in that first meeting, Joe Flacco may have to rely on more short passing and less of Alex Collins and the running game. With outside linebacker Arthur Moats filling in on the inside, this is the game Woodhead and the Ravens need to exploit an advantageous matchup.

2. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell will finish with 115 total yards of offense. It’s no secret the run defense has been superb since Brandon Williams’ return in late October, but Bell’s huge game in Week 4 was more about the inability to set the edge on outside runs and to handle the Steelers’ pulling interior linemen on counters than struggles inside as he averaged just 2.2 yards per carry between the tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens will be hellbent to slow Bell as a runner, but linebackers C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor have been vulnerable in pass coverage and this is where Bell will find more of his success. He’ll extend a streak of 57 or more receiving yards to four straight games.

3. Mike Wallace and Martavis Bryant will catch long touchdowns for their respective teams. With Steelers cornerback Joe Haden still out and their safeties inclined to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage to help the inside linebackers in coverage, there should be some opportunities for the Ravens to take deep shots and Wallace has been playing his best football of the year since the bye. On the flip side, Baltimore will do whatever it can schematically to prevent Antonio Brown from killing a secondary without Jimmy Smith, but that will leave Marlon Humphrey or Brandon Carr occasionally on an island matched up with Bryant, who is still dangerous despite a disappointing season.

4. Joe Flacco will be efficient and play turnover-free football for the third straight week. The 10th-year quarterback is coming off his best game of the year and needs to play more like that down the stretch if the Ravens are to become a realistic threat in the AFC. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler will do more to try to confuse Flacco and mix up coverages than Detroit did a week ago, but his fourth-ranked defense ranks a pedestrian 14th in the NFL in takeaways. Pass protection needs to hold up better than it did in the first meeting between these teams, but Flacco will effectively find Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin in the short-to-intermediate area of the field.

5. The Ravens will pull off the upset for their first signature win of the season in a 23-20 final. Perhaps I’m drinking too much purple Kool-Aid, but the Steelers are coming off a short and emotional week following a Monday night road game and have trailed in the second half of four of their last five games, illustrating how vulnerable they’ve looked at times despite a terrific 10-2 record. Baltimore has one last chance to earn a signature win and needs to build on its strong performance from a week ago to build confidence that the offense can be productive enough moving forward to have a real chance in the playoffs. The Steelers are the better team overall, but this week’s circumstances set up favorably for the Ravens to steal a road win in Pittsburgh and further improve their playoff positioning.

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Humphrey’s time arrives for playoff-hopeful Ravens

Posted on 06 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey will be playing at Heinz Field for the first time Sunday night, but he has an idea of what to expect against Pittsburgh.

Facing the NFL’s fourth-ranked passing attack in his first start in place of the injured Jimmy Smith, the first-round rookie knows he’ll have a bullseye on his back as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger surveys a Baltimore secondary now without its top corner. Humphrey acknowledges this in a matter-of-fact way without a hint of intimidation or even all that much excitement in his voice.

It’s not the first time he’s been under the microscope on a big stage, of course, as it was just two years ago that he was a redshirt freshman starting for a national championship Alabama team.

“I’m sure if there’s a weak link they have to pick out, it would definitely be me,” said Humphrey, referencing the big plays he gave up against Detroit last Sunday. “Big Ben likes to throw it up. He’s a great quarterback, so I’m sure if he has to take those shots, it’ll probably be at me.”

The six-foot, 197-pound cornerback struggled as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford targeted him frequently after Smith suffered a torn Achilles tendon late in the second quarter, but it’s not as though Humphrey hadn’t already shown enough for the Ravens to be confident in him. It was just a couple weeks ago when many began wondering if Humphrey was on the cusp of earning a starting position before a thigh issue limited him to seven defensive snaps in Week 12.

His talent was evident from the first day of organized team activities when he was still two months shy of his 21st birthday. Humphrey didn’t look much like a rookie in the spring and summer as he practiced press coverage and displayed the kind of polish you expect from a cornerback with at least a couple seasons under his belt.

This past Sunday was arguably the first time the moment has looked too big for him since he was selected with the 16th overall pick in April’s draft, and he still recovered in the fourth quarter to intercept a Stafford pass to help preserve the win.

“He has good composure on the field. He has God-given speed,” 10th-year cornerback Brandon Carr said. “The ability he has, he can make up for a lot of things that he hasn’t learned yet as far as technique and the ins and outs of the receivers. But he has a knack for just going out there and making plays.”

The Ravens would surely prefer having Smith on the field against the likes of All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown and deep threat Martavis Bryant in a nationally-televised prime-time game, but it’s not as though they’re throwing Humphrey to the wolves as an untested commodity. He’s already logged more than 300 defensive snaps this season — including 55 against an Oakland offense that included wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper — after frequently spelling a banged-up Smith and replacing Carr when he struggled to slow down Green Bay’s speedy receivers late last month.

According to Pro Football Focus, Humphrey has graded a respectable 41st among qualified cornerbacks and is allowing a passer rating of just 52.3 when targeted. He has collected 25 tackles and two interceptions to go along with eight pass breakups. The latter stat ranks second on the team and reflects how quarterbacks had already tried to test the rookie with little success before Stafford’s last Sunday.

Prior to Smith’s injury, coaches had boasted that they had three starting corners on the league’s third-ranked pass defense, and the numbers support that idea as Humphrey has played 18 or more snaps seven times this season.

“I think it’ll help a lot,” Humphrey said. “Coaches have given me a lot of time to play for me [being] a backup corner. It’ll definitely help that I’ve got some game experience.”

Of course, the apprenticeship is now over as Humphrey will start opposite of Carr and the Ravens will try to avoid their second straight late-season collapse following an injury to Smith. There’s no safety net as the next men up on the depth chart are also inexperienced in Maurice Canady, Jaylen Hill, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.

Frankly, this exact scenario with the oft-injured Smith is why general manager Ozzie Newsome passed on prospects at other positions of need to select Humphrey. Some growing pains are likely or even inevitable down the stretch, but his talent and even-keeled personality are major reasons why the Ravens believe they can endure Smith’s absence this time around after it was their fatal flaw last December.

“If a ball is completed on him, it’s not ‘sulk and go in the tank’ like some rookies can do,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Humphrey early last month. “Every defensive back that is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame has gotten beat — every one of them. It is just a matter of the ones that are really in there are the ones that could forget that and go play the next play.

“I’m certainly not putting him in that category yet, but he has that quality.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 44-20 win over Detroit

Posted on 05 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens securing their first three-game winning streak since the start of last season with a 44-20 victory over Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Where has this offense been all year? While recording season highs in points and yards while committing no turnovers, the Ravens were aggressive and effectively used play fakes. The group’s response after Detroit made it a one-score game late in the third quarter was the best drive of the season.

2. Joe Flacco was superb with active feet in the pocket and his most accurate passing of the season. His best throw was the 23-yard back-shoulder connection to Mike Wallace as he was being hit. Flacco would have eclipsed 300 yards if not for four drops by receivers.

3. The key to the offensive success was first-down productivity as Baltimore averaged 7.7 yards on first down and still came in at 5.8 if you want to take away the outlier of Wallace’s 66-yard catch. Marty Mornhinweg deserves credit for mixing up tendencies to help keep the offense on schedule.

4. Eric Weddle got off to a rough start this season, but his strip-sack led to excellent field position for a touchdown in the second quarter and his interception returned for a touchdown capped a dominant fourth. The secondary needs his leadership more than ever with the Jimmy Smith injury.

5. There’s no overlooking his rough performance against the Lions, but Marlon Humphrey had already done enough as a rookie to inspire confidence moving forward. Offenses will be looking to attack him now, but he has a good demeanor and all the talent he needs to contribute in Smith’s place.

6. Wallace was in the slot on the 66-yard bomb from Flacco, an example of personnel shuffling within a formation to create a favorable matchup against a safety. Mornhinweg also used a trips bunch formation to get Jeremy Maclin free on a crossing route. The Ravens need more of this.

7. Seeing Willie Henry scoop up a fumble and run 16 yards was amusing enough, but the second-year defensive tackle diagnosed a screen to make a tackle for a loss and registered a quarterback hit. “Big Earl” continues to be a significant contributor in the rotation.

8. Patrick Ricard registered his first touchdown since high school Sunday, but the converted defensive lineman also delivered several impressive blocks and matched a season high with 18 offensive snaps. The rookie is making more of an impact at fullback recently.

9. Maurice Canady appears to have overtaken Lardarius Webb as the primary nickel. In addition to five tackles and the hit on Jake Rudock’s interception to Weddle, Canady recovered Michael Campanaro’s fumble. He plays with much confidence and aggression for someone with such little NFL experience.

10. I’ve been clamoring for Tyus Bowser to receive more opportunities in this defense, but the rookie whiffing when he had a straight path to Matthew Stafford in the second quarter isn’t going to help his cause in the short term.

11. He only missed a couple plays after passing concussion screening, but C.J. Mosley suffered a stinger for the second straight week. You hope there’s no underlying cause for those because the Ravens can’t afford to be without him.

12. The Lions had nine players on the field for Flacco’s key third-down throw to a wide-open Chris Moore on the touchdown drive early in the fourth. That summed up the uninspiring football Detroit played for large stretches of a game they needed to have in a crowded NFC playoff race.

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Jimmy Smith suspended four games for PED violation

Posted on 04 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The aftermath of Jimmy Smith’s season-ending Achilles injury took on a different tone Monday as the Ravens cornerback was already facing a suspension.

As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Smith has been suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. The seventh-year defensive back had been appealing the ruling, but he will now serve the ban while on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

It remains unclear what substance Smith tested positive for or whether any usage may have been in response to the Achilles tendinitis he’d been dealing with for more than two months. With the 2011 first-round pick tearing his left Achilles tendon in Sunday’s win over Detroit, some have questioned whether he should have been playing in the first place, citing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman sustaining his own Achilles rupture last month after experiencing pain in the weeks leading up to the injury.

Of course, it’s easy to feel that way after the fact and there’s no way of knowing if more extensive rest would have been beneficial or would have only delayed the inevitable.

“The doctors will tell you that you just can’t predict that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If you have the tightness or the soreness, it doesn’t [always] lead to a [tear], you know? Doing it for all of these years, I’ve seen them not tear, and I’ve seen them tear. Obviously, that’s what you kind of suspect, but that’s not what the doctors tell us, so that’s why guys continue to play.”

It’s possible that Smith could have been dealing with a partial tear, but former Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil played with a partially-torn Achilles two years ago and was even named to the Pro Bowl playing all 16 games that season. Partial tears still run the risk of a full rupture and frequently require the same reconstruction surgery and lengthy recovery and rehabilitation of a full tear.

Harbaugh’s assessment of the Ravens’ handling of Smith was in line with the reaction from Dr. David Chao, the former team doctor of the San Diego Chargers who now writes about sports injuries at ProFootballDoc.com.

“There is no reason for him to have not been playing,” Chao wrote Sunday. “There is a higher rate of rupture with antecedent Achilles pain, but the majority of players with Achilles tendinitis do not suffer tears.”

Unlike past instances when Smith was out of the lineup, Baltimore has greater depth in the secondary and will hand his starting job over to rookie first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, who ranks 45th among qualified cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system this season. Humphrey shook off a rocky performance to intercept Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter of the 44-20 win.

With Humphrey and veteran Brandon Carr now serving as the starting outside cornerbacks, second-year nickel back Maurice Canady will likely see more practice time on the outside and will serve as their primary backup. A healthy scratch for the last three weeks, rookie Jaylen Hill could also be in the mix and turned heads during training camp to earn a roster spot before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out for the first six weeks of the season.

The Ravens could also elevate cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste from their practice squad upon placing Smith on IR.

“Our secondary is the strength of our team, so we’re not going to sit back and be sorry for ourselves,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Maurice is back. Marlon’s got to step up. Jaylen’s got to step up. That’s why we have so much depth.

“Will the guys be as good as Jimmy? No, but we’ll step up and play well in his absence.”

The Achilles tear and suspension are the latest frustrating chapters of Smith’s career that’s been marred by injuries. This will mark the fifth time in his seven seasons that the Colorado product will have played in 12 or fewer games.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound corner was garnering serious Pro Bowl consideration and had arguably been Baltimore’s best player this season, leading the way for the NFL’s second-best pass defense entering Week 13.

“I know he’s going to be back,” said tight end Benjamin Watson, who suffered an Achilles tendon tear last year. “Jimmy’s a fighter, and Jimmy’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever been around. There’s no doubt he’ll be back soon.”

Smith has two years remaining on his current contract and is set to make $9 million in base salary next season. His 2018 salary cap figure is a hefty $15.675 million, but cutting him would save only $2.37 million and leave more than $13 million in dead money on the cap.

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Smith’s injury reiterates Ravens need more of what they did Sunday

Posted on 03 December 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday’s performance by the Ravens felt very familiar.

Joe Flacco and the offense turned in their best performance of the season against Detroit nearly a year to the day after they blew out Miami, a playoff contender turned away at M&T Bank Stadium to begin the final month of 2016. The 44-20 win over the Lions lifted the Ravens to 7-5, the same record they owned after their 38-6 victory over the Dolphins last Dec. 4.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself again when cornerback Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles tendon late in the first half, ending the best season of his career and leaving the defense without arguably its best player. It was Week 14 last year when the Ravens lost Smith to a high ankle sprain, an injury that torpedoed what had been the league’s top-ranked defense at the time.

That injury preceded three losses in the final four weeks as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. The schedule is certainly more favorable this time around with just one game remaining against a winning team — next Sunday in Pittsburgh — and the final two contests coming at home.

Still, there’s no underselling the loss of Smith, especially for a team that’s relied so heavily on its defense all season.

“It’s different than it’s been before,” said head coach John Harbaugh, citing his defense’s struggles without its top corner in 2014 and last year. “We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of good, young players. We’ll step up, and we’ll still play at a really high level in the secondary. I’m very confident of that.”

The Ravens are better equipped to carry on without Smith after signing reliable veteran Brandon Carr — who’s amazingly never missed a game in his 10-year career — and drafting the talented Marlon Humphrey in the first round this past spring. Turning over a starting job to Humphrey is quite an improvement from a year ago when Shareece Wright stepped in for Smith opposite rookie Tavon Young.

But there will still be some drop-off, evident by Humphrey’s difficulties in coverage against speedy Lions receiver Marvin Jones. The Alabama product may eventually be as good as Smith — or even better — but expecting that immediately would be unfair and unrealistic.

That makes it even more critical for this Ravens offense to look more like it did Sunday the rest of the way.

Veterans Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle admitted after the game that the defense was feeling deflated after officially learning of Smith’s fate at halftime. Two touchdown drives orchestrated by Lions quarterback Mathew Stafford in the third quarter transformed a comfortable 20-0 lead into a one-possession game, but Flacco and the offense fought right back with a nine-play, 74-yard drive ending with a 7-yard touchdown run by Alex Collins to make it a 27-13 lead early in the final quarter.

Given the importance of the game and the way it was trending, that touchdown drive may have been the offense’s best and most important of the year to this point. The Ravens then answered a Stafford touchdown pass with another drive resulting in a field goal to put them up by multiple scores for good with 6:54 remaining.

“Well, we have to do our part at some point, right?” said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who finished with 116 yards on five catches. “The offense, we have to come up. Our defense has been incredible. Our special teams have been incredible. The offense, not so much.

“Today, we made strides. This game is about peaking at the right time, so hopefully we can do that.”

The convincing win tightened the Ravens’ grip on the No. 6 seed as they own a one-game lead as well as tiebreakers over the top three teams chasing them in the AFC wild-card race, but building on this performance will be of the utmost importance. Baltimore will be an underdog against the Steelers next Sunday night, but a good showing from Flacco and the offense for a second straight week would create more optimism about this team being able to make noise in January.

The defense should still be more than good enough that the Ravens won’t need to put 44 points on the board every week like they did Sunday, but any expectation of this unit continuing to carry an inept offense likely vanished as Smith collapsed to the ground with 4:21 to go in the second quarter. That unbalanced formula may still be good enough against a soft remaining regular-season schedule, but it certainly won’t fly in the playoffs.

Many saw that as the Ravens’ reality anyway, but losing an elite defensive talent brings it into sharper focus.

The offense stepped up to do the heavy lifting when the defense suddenly found itself on the ropes Sunday.

The coming weeks will determine whether that was merely an aberration or the start of the offense more consistently pulling its own weight.

The latter would make for a more interesting January.

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Ravens’ health looking up ahead of Sunday’s game with Detroit

Posted on 01 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh declared the injury report a personal record for 2017 ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Detroit.

Reserve offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder) was the only Baltimore player to miss more than one practice this week and be ruled out against the Lions. Five others were designated as questionable, but the chances of all being on the field appear strong.

“We’re heading in the right direction with that,” said Harbaugh, who had just one unhealthy scratch in Week 13. “We need all of our guys. We need to have everybody up and rolling. We have to make some tough decisions, which is a good problem to have. I feel bad for a few guys that really want to play and deserve to play, but aren’t going to get to play. That’s different than what we had the rest of the year, so we feel good about that.”

Running back Alex Collins (calf) missed practice on Wednesday, but he was a full participant the rest of the week. The starting tailback sprinted from the field to the locker room at the conclusion of Friday’s workout, which should remove any lingering concerns about the health of his lower leg.

Despite being limited to only seven snaps with a thigh issue in Monday’s win over Houston, cornerback Marlon Humphrey took limited part in practices all week, a good sign for his availability against the Lions. It’s worth noting that Baltimore conducted only walk-through practices on Wednesday and Thursday, so that leaves a bit more uncertainty regarding his “questionable” status than the others.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (ankle), cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) were also listed as questionable, but all are expected to start on Sunday. This was the first time since late September that Smith took part in every practice of a game week.

Meanwhile, the Lions did not list quarterback Matthews Stafford (ankle) on the final injury report after he practiced in full all week. However, starting center Travis Swanson (knee) was ruled out while starting right guard T.J. Lang (foot) and starting running back Ameer Abdullah (neck) were both designated as questionable after only returning to the practice field Friday.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-50s and calm winds.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Alex Collins (calf), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee)

DETROIT
OUT: CB Jamal Agnew (knee), C Travis Swanson (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Ameer Abdullah (neck), G T.J. Lang (foot)

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Ravens defense preparing for rare quarterback test with Stafford

Posted on 29 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have heard the same story over and over this season.

The NFL’s second-ranked pass defense has faced a backup or rookie quarterback in seven of its 11 games and in six of the last seven. The best quarterback Baltimore has beaten all year was Andy Dalton, whose offensive coordinator was fired just five days after that season-opening shutout in Cincinnati.

The underwhelming slate of signal-callers has been both a blessing and a curse as no team would turn down such good fortune over the course of a season, but it’s led many to question just how great this pass defense truly is. That changes this Sunday with Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions coming to town.

“He’s one of the best, so we’ve got to defend that,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “People are giving us all kinds of flak like it’s our fault we had to play against the second-string quarterbacks, but we’ll get to go out and play against a really good one and hopefully show you what we’re capable of doing.”

The Ravens can’t control their schedule or who’s been under center for the opposition and shouldn’t apologize for it. Regardless of the opponent, Baltimore leading the league in both interceptions and takeaways and posting three shutouts are superb feats and reflect the improved talent and good health in the secondary this season. But it is fair to wonder how that translates against upper-tier quarterbacks, especially with the playoff-hopeful Ravens receiving so little help from one of the worst offenses in the league.

Seven members of the secondary have played at least 150 defensive snaps this season with second-year cornerback Maurice Canady also averaging 24 snaps per game since being activated from injured reserve earlier this month. Such a distribution of playing time is usually a product of injuries, but Canady is the only meaningful contributor in the secondary to miss any games if you exclude Tavon Young, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the spring. Smith has missed practice time and some snaps within games due to lingering Achilles tendinitis, but he’s avoided missing a single game, an enormous development for the Pro Bowl-caliber corner and a secondary that’s too often slipped because of his absence in the past.

That depth has allowed defensive coordinator Dean Pees to be creative with his personnel as he’s rotated three outside cornerbacks in the base defense and used three others in nickel and dime packages in addition to Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson manning the starting safety spots. The ability to employ various sub packages and to disguise coverages has frequently overwhelmed lesser quarterbacks, but the Ravens hope those same traits can make a long day for Stafford, who is fourth in the NFL with 21 touchdown passes and ranks eighth in yards per attempt this season.

With the 6-5 Lions ranking 30th in rushing yards per game, there’s no secret to how they try to win.

“[Stafford] has the keys to the offense. He runs the show,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “He has a lot of confidence in his throws, a lot of confidence in his receivers. He throws the ball around the yard. All those guys are capable of making big plays and great catches.”

Stafford may lack the monstrous target he enjoyed throwing to for years after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson two winters ago, but wide receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate both rank in the NFL’s top 20 in receiving yards with Jones ranking ninth in yards per catch (16.6) and Tate fifth in yards after the catch (398). Even No. 3 receiver TJ Jones has only three fewer receiving yards than Jeremy Maclin, which probably says much more more about the state of the Baltimore offense than the Lions’ top-10 passing game.

Detroit ranks sixth in the league in pass plays of 20 or more yards and second with 10 completions of 40 or more yards. That’s a different ballgame than facing the likes of Matt Moore, Brett Hundley, and Tom Savage in recent weeks.

A defense priding itself on forcing quarterbacks into making mistakes will face one who’s thrown only six interceptions despite ranking fourth in the NFL in pass attempts.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge. We are excited about it, obviously,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Every week presents challenges, offensively, schematics, players, etc. But Stafford is one of the best. He can make all the throws. He commands the offense, checks at the line, presents different challenges that we’ve seen in the past.”

The defense is the overwhelming reason why the Ravens have improved to 6-5 and currently hold the No. 6 spot in the mediocre AFC, but that doesn’t mean it’s been perfect. Baltimore hadn’t allowed a 100-yard receiver all season before Green Bay’s Davante Adams and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins reached that benchmark catching passes from backup quarterbacks the last two weeks, which could be viewed as at least a mild sign of caution with matchups against Stafford and then Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger looming.

If there’s been one area to attack the pass defense this season, it’s been the middle of the field, which could spell trouble with Tate’s ability working from the slot.

Make no mistake, the Ravens defense deserves a ton of credit for putting the offense on its back and working with such a small margin for error all season. Sunday presents a substantial test and an opportunity to quiet those who’ve scoffed at the list of opposing quarterbacks faced.

A strong performance and a win over Stafford and the Lions would both fortify the Ravens’ playoff chances and further validate what the flashy numbers already suggest about this defense.

“It’s going to be a good challenge for us in the back end,” Carr said. “This is why we play the game. It’s a great opportunity to play some December football at home again against a high-powered pass attack and see what we can do.”

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Ravens running back Collins misses practice with calf issue

Posted on 29 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Starting running back Alex Collins did not participate in Wednesday’s walk-through as the Ravens continued preparations for their Week 13 showdown with Detroit.

The second-year back finished Monday’s game without any apparent incident, but he is dealing with a calf injury, according to Wednesday’s injury report. Collins rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in the 23-16 win over Houston and was on the field for the final series of the contest.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee), and linebacker C.J. Mosley (ankle) were listed as limited participants in the walk-through practice. The rookie Humphrey was limited to just seven snaps against the Texans and missed time in the preseason because of a hamstring injury.

“He had a little tweak in there. He has been battling some leg issues,” said head coach John Harbaugh after Monday’s game. “I just decided let’s play it safe. That’s the good thing about having some depth, but we want him out there.”

Meanwhile, the Lions listed standout quarterback Matthew Stafford as a full participant, which should eliminate any remaining doubt about his status for Sunday. He hurt his ankle in his team’s Thanksgiving loss to Minnesota, but he was able to return to the game.

Detroit running back Ameer Abdullah (neck) and recently-added pass rusher Dwight Freeney did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.

Below is the first full injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Alex Collins (calf), OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee)

DETROIT
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Ameer Abdullah (neck), CB Jamal Agnew (knee), DE Dwight Freeney (non-injury), G T.J. Lang (foot), C Travis Swanson (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Matthew Stafford (ankle), RB Dwayne Washington (hip)

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