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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: 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 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 Ravens thoughts following 23-0 win over Green Bay

Posted on 21 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens getting back to the .500 mark with a 23-0 victory at Green Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Sunday marked the third time in 2017 that the Ravens defense has forced five turnovers in a game. That’s quite a change from two years ago when the group ranked 30th in the NFL with 14 takeaways for the entire season.

2. Jimmy Smith intercepting a pass in the end zone on the opening drive was the latest example why the cornerback has been the team MVP. You wonder how different this one might have been if the Packers finished that drive with a touchdown or at least a field goal.

3. The offense coming away with a total of three points off three turnovers on the Packers’ first three possessions sure doesn’t say much for the work put in by Marty Mornhinweg’s side of the ball during the bye week.

4. Brett Hundley was awful for Green Bay, but credit the Ravens defense for confusing the inexperienced quarterback with an abundance of looks. Eight different defensive backs played 18 or more snaps as defensive coordinator Dean Pees employed various sub packages.

5. Whether rushing the passer, setting the edge, or dropping into coverage, Matt Judon is steadily improving and was arguably the best player on the field with two sacks and a forced fumble. His development is encouraging with the still-dependable Terrell Suggs now 35.

6. Joe Flacco had an OK day despite being under duress, but his interception on a pass intended for Danny Woodhead was baffling. He wasn’t pressured on the throw, and at no point did Woodhead separate from Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That can’t happen when approaching the red zone.

7. It was refreshing to see Mike Wallace grab a one-handed touchdown for a quarterback who hasn’t gotten enough help from his receivers. This isn’t the Big 12 where you can expect to get open with no one within 10 yards in coverage. Contested catches are a must to be successful.

8. Willie Henry is rapidly becoming a big part of sub packages as an interior rusher and even dropped into zone coverage on at least one occasion against the Packers. It’s crazy to think how important he’s become to the rotation when many wondered if he’d even make the 53-man roster.

9. Yes, Flacco should have been granted a timeout on the play, but Ryan Jensen still can’t snap the ball three feet over the quarterback’s head to torpedo a promising drive. The center has enjoyed a breakout season, but his shotgun snapping was also shaky in Tennessee.

10. We may have witnessed the changing of the guard as Marlon Humphrey replaced Brandon Carr as a starting cornerback in the first half. It’s a good problem to have as Carr has played admirably, but it grows more difficult every week to keep the rookie first-round pick off the field.

11. Much focus was on James Hurst’s problems replacing Ronnie Stanley, but Austin Howard also had real difficulty against the Packers. He isn’t listed on the injury report, but he’s recently been wearing a harness on his left shoulder and hasn’t looked 100 percent. That’s something to monitor.

12. Anyone dismissing the defense’s accomplishments because of the poor quarterbacks they’ve faced this season should note that the 2000 Ravens’ four shutouts came against Kent Graham, Scott Mitchell, Tim Couch, and a broken-down Troy Aikman in his final season. Regardless of the opponent, give this 2017 unit credit.

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Stanley listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game in Green Bay

Posted on 17 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — For the first time all season, the Ravens haven’t ruled out a single player on their final injury report of the week, but that wasn’t grounds for a celebratory feeling Friday.

Despite practicing all week on a limited basis, left tackle Ronnie Stanley was designated as doubtful to play in Sunday’s game at Green Bay. Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed Stanley sustained a concussion near the end of the Week 9 loss to Tennessee, but the 2016 first-round pick being on the practice field all week had been interpreted as a positive sign for his status.

Should Stanley miss his first game of the season — he missed four games as a rookie with a foot injury — Baltimore would presumably move James Hurst out to left tackle with either veteran Luke Bowanko or rookie Jermaine Eluemunor filling in at the left guard spot. It would be Hurst’s first start at left tackle since Oct. 2, 2016 against Oakland.

Stanley’s absence would give the Ravens their fourth different starting offensive line combination of the season, but that doesn’t include several other in-game adjustments due to injuries.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles) headlines a list of six players officially designated as questionable to play against the Packers. Smith was the only Baltimore player to miss practices this week for an injury-related reason, but he was a limited participant on Friday and hasn’t missed a game all season despite dealing with Achilles tendinitis since early in the season.

Running back Danny Woodhead’s status remains in question, but he completed another week of practice and appears to have a solid chance to be activated from injured reserve. Since Woodhead is not currently on the 53-man roster, the Ravens haven’t been required to include him on the injury report.

He hasn’t played in a game since re-injuring his left hamstring on the first drive of the season opener on Sept. 10. Woodhead would become the second and final Ravens player to be permitted to return from IR this season after second-year cornerback Maurice Canady was activated earlier this month.

“He went through most of everything we did. I thought he looked pretty good,” said Harbaugh of Woodhead. “It’s just going to come down to the doctors and trainers making their decision. We have until Saturday [at 4 p.m.] to make that part of the decision, then really, we have until an hour and a half before the game to really determined whether he will be out there.

“We’re ready if he goes, and we’re ready if he doesn’t go.”

Tight end Nick Boyle (toe), wide receiver Michael Campanaro (shoulder), running back Terrance West (calf), and rookie outside linebacker Tim Williams (hamstring) were all listed as questionable after being full participants in practices all week. Campanaro missed the final two games before the bye while West and Williams have missed four consecutive contests apiece.

Meanwhile, the Packers officially ruled out starting running back Ty Montgomery (ribs) and starting safety Morgan Burnett (groin), two significant losses for Sunday. Rookie running back Jamaal Williams is expected to start against the Ravens with Montgomery and fellow rookie Aaron Jones (knee) currently sidelined.

Williams rushed for 67 yards on 20 carries in last week’s 23-16 win over Chicago.

“This kid from Brigham Young — he’s the real deal,” Harbaugh said. “He runs hard, he has [good] feet. I think he closed the game out for them last week in four-minute [offense], which is very impressive. We’re treating him like he’s Jim Taylor as far as we’re concerned.

“We have to be ready to stop the run. This is a good running team. These guys run the ball very well.”

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Green Bay calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching 32 degrees with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Nick Boyle (toe), WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), S Chuck Clark (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), RB Terrance West (calf), LB Tim Williams (thigh)

GREEN BAY
OUT: OT Bryan Bulaga (knee), S Morgan Burnett (groin), RB Aaron Jones (knee), RB Ty Montgomery (ribs)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Ahmad Brooks (back), DT Quinton Dial (chest), CB Kevin King (shoulder), G Lucas Patrick (back)

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Five Ravens predictions for rest of 2017 season

Posted on 14 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The next seven weeks could be the most pivotal stretch for the Ravens in a decade.

A strong finish — perhaps just an OK one — would send Baltimore to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and at least temporarily calm concerns about the long-term outlook of the organization. A poor finish would mean missing the postseason for the fourth time in five years and bracing to see how owner Steve Bisciotti might react after exercising much patience with head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome in recent years.

It’s difficult to predict who the Ravens really are with all four of their wins coming by multiple scores and each of their five defeats including double-digit deficits at some point during the contest. On the bright side, the Ravens face only three more opponents currently owning winning records, meaning they won’t be able to point to a difficult schedule if they’re on the outside looking in come early January. However, none of Baltimore’s four victories this season have come against teams currently above .500.

Below are five predictions for the remainder of the 2017 season:

1. Jimmy Smith will be named team MVP and be invited to his first Pro Bowl. Injuries have always prevented the 2011 first-round pick from reaching and sustaining greatness, but the veteran cornerback is in the midst of the best season of his career. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith carries the NFL’s lowest opponent passer rating in coverage and has graded as the fifth-best corner in football. You only hope the bye week was beneficial for the Achilles tendinitis he’s battled for much of the season, but he’s continued to play at an elite level despite that ailment. He’s been the Ravens’ best player.

2. Alex Collins will become Baltimore’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett in 2014. With a passing attack ranking last in the NFL in yards per game and yards per attempt, the Ravens must rush at a high level to win and the surprising Collins has been substantially better than anyone else carrying the ball with 521 rushing yards. Even with his lighter 210-pound frame, the second-year back should be poised for a heavy workload down the stretch after carrying the ball only 93 times so far this year. Collins won’t continue to average 5.6 yards per carry, but he’ll remain a major contributor.

3. Breshad Perriman will be a healthy scratch at some point down the stretch. The Ravens desperately want to see their 2015 first-round pick pan out, but it isn’t happening and he has regressed to the point that he’s hurting the team when the ball is thrown his way. After catching an underwhelming 50 percent of his targets last season (33-for-66), Perriman has caught just seven of the 27 passes thrown his way, a major reflection of a dysfunctional passing game. Unlike Chris Moore and Michael Campanaro, Perriman doesn’t contribute on special teams and isn’t playing with any confidence.

4. Joe Flacco will avoid full-season career lows in passing yards and touchdowns — barely. I’ve been critical of the handling of the offense since Anquan Boldin was traded and believe the organization has repeatedly failed to provide enough help for Flacco, but coaching and the personnel around him can’t fully explain him being one of the league’s worst statistical quarterbacks. He’s on pace to throw for 2,757 yards, fewer than both his rookie year and 2015 when he missed six games. He’ll pick up his production, but it’s tough not to feel Flacco is a broken product of his environment and injuries.

5. The Ravens will finish 8-8 for the second straight year and will hope other wild-card contenders in the AFC continue to struggle. The schedule is favorable, but John Harbaugh’s team hasn’t secured a three-game winning streak since the first three games of 2016 and has only one over the last three seasons combined, a reflection of the Ravens’ inability to sustain success. With one of the worst offenses in the league and a good defense that hasn’t yet found a way to be consistently great enough to carry the load, Baltimore isn’t built to stack win after win and will look back at the Week 6 home loss to Chicago with particular regret. Don’t be totally shocked, however, if the Ravens or another team sneaks into the AFC playoffs with an 8-8 record. Yes, the conference is that bad beyond the top few teams.

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Pondering Flacco-Harbaugh comments, Woodhead, J. Smith, Jernigan

Posted on 10 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Joe Flacco expressing a desire for the Ravens offense to be more aggressive is nothing new.

The 10th-year quarterback has made similar claims in past seasons with different offensive coordinators. And with Baltimore sporting a losing record and the NFL’s 30th-ranked offense, something has to give over the final seven games.

“We need to go after it. We can’t sit back and just expect us to not lose football games,” Flacco said. “There is always a part of that come late in games and depending on the nature of the game, but we have to go and attack. We’re a 4-5 football team. You always look at teams in these positions and say, ‘Man, they have nothing to lose.’ And we should feel that way. We have to go out there and leave it all out there.”

John Harbaugh appeared to take exception with Flacco’s assertion that the offense hasn’t been playing to win. The retort came two days after the head coach was asked to justify Marty Mornhinweg remaining as his offensive coordinator moving forward.

It’s apparent Harbaugh doesn’t want the assistant taking all the blame for the offense’s shortcomings.

“I can’t speak for Joe. That’s what we try to do every single week,” Harbaugh said. “We open up the offense. We run schemes with our run game. We’re getting after people on defense. We try to win every single game. Players have to go out there and play great. They have to execute. If you’re talking about offense, we need to complete passes, we need to run the ball well, we need to protect our quarterback, we need to go up and make catches, we need to execute, we need first downs, we need to score points.

“It’s not about play-calling. It’s about all of us together going out there and playing winning football in all three phases.”

The difference in opinion is even more interesting in light of the recent comments made by former tight end — and Flacco’s close friend — Dennis Pitta to WBAL indicating that the quarterback has only one read in the passing game before being instructed to check down. It’s obvious that Flacco continues to rely more on short passes while attempting fewer intermediate passes than ever and struggling to connect on deep balls this season.

No matter what Harbaugh says, no one can honestly watch the Ravens offense and classify it as an aggressive unit, but the real question is if that’s by design to protect Flacco, who struggled in Marc Trestman’s more complex system. Even if the Ravens coaching staff is deliberately trying to shield the quarterback from himself, Flacco being tied for third in the NFL with 10 interceptions suggests the strategy isn’t working anyway.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle as the veteran signal-caller has certainly left plays out on the field and the play-calling has been less than inspiring for much of the season.

Woodhead effect

There’s much excitement about the expected return of running back Danny Woodhead after the bye, but it’s fair to wonder if his presence could be counterproductive to an offense needing to be more aggressive throwing the ball down the field.

It’s great to cite his three catches for 33 yards on the opening drive of the season in Cincinnati as evidence for how he can help, but that’s still a small sample size for a player who’s now missed 35 games over the last four seasons. You hope Woodhead can stay healthy enough to pick up more yards after catches than understudy Buck Allen, but Flacco relying too heavily on the 32-year-old could further stunt the other areas of the passing game that need improvement.

It’s great to have more options, but the Ravens will need much more than Woodhead’s presence to make meaningful improvement on the offensive side of the ball.

Jimmy Smith’s health

Jimmy Smith has arguably been the Ravens’ best player this season and currently ranks fifth among qualified corners in Pro Football Focus’ grading system.

But seeing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman tear his Achilles tendon on Thursday Night Football made me wonder how Smith will hold up down the stretch. Sherman told reporters after the game that his Achilles had been bothering him for most of the season before it finally ruptured, which should make you take pause since Smith has been dealing with what he’s described as Achilles tendinitis for much of the year.

There’s no way of knowing how similar Smith’s situation might be to Sherman’s or if he’s in great danger of suffering the same fate, but you’d hate to see the best season of his career derailed by another injury.

Jernigan receives lucrative contract

Former Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is off to a good start in Philadelphia, but who predicted him getting a reported four-year, $48 million extension with $26 million guaranteed just nine games into his Eagles career?

The 2014 second-round pick ranks 16th among qualified interior defensive linemen by PFF and has flourished playing next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, but I’d still be leery of paying him that much, especially considering how badly he faded down the stretch in his final season with the Ravens.

I suppose it’s a risk the Eagles can take when having one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL playing on a rookie contract.

Unleash Bowser

Linebackers coach Wink Martindale believes rookie Tyus Bowser is going to be a “star” while Harbaugh wants to see the second-round pick play more after strong practices in recent weeks.

Since a standout Week 2 performance in which he intercepted a pass and collected a sack, however, Bowser has played a total of 54 defensive snaps in seven games. With the Ravens still searching for more pass-rushing production off the edges, the Houston product and fellow rookie Tim Williams need to be more in the mix down the stretch.

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wallace

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Wallace out of concussion protocol, poised to return against Tennessee

Posted on 02 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace has passed concussion protocol and is on track to play against Tennessee despite a lingering back issue.

In fact, the veteran wideout could have played in last week’s win over Miami instead of missing only the second game of his nine-year career. Wallace revealed Thursday that he was medically cleared to play against the Dolphins, but he didn’t feel comfortable doing so just four days after taking a penalized hit from Minnesota safety Andrew Sendejo, who was suspended one game by the NFL.

The 31-year-old said he wanted to play, but the risk of taking another blow to the head in such a short period of time prompted him to err on the side of caution after much deliberation.

“It’s always a possibility when you step on the field, and I don’t want to be out there second-guessing anything,” said Wallace, who also cited his family’s concerns about returning to action so soon after sustaining a concussion. “I want to feel comfortable, feel like myself. I just went with that decision. Coach [John Harbaugh] supported me and we won 40-0, so that’s always great.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco practiced fully for the second straight day and will start against the Titans after passing concussion protocol earlier this week. Defensive back Lardarius Webb also practiced fully Thursday after apparently suffering a concussion against the Dolphins.

Tight end Nick Boyle (toe) remained absent Thursday, making it unclear whether he will play Sunday. He played 55 of 65 offensive snaps in Week 8 and finished the game without any visible incident, but missing two days of practice after the three-day break last weekend creates cause for concern.

Defensive tackle Michael Pierce has also missed two practices in a row with an undisclosed illness.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles) was back on the practice field after receiving a day off as the Ravens continue to give their top defensive back rest for lingering tendinitis. The 29-year-old is arguably having the best season of his career despite being hampered with the ailment. Smith has scored two defensive touchdowns this season, and Pro Football Focus has graded him as the NFL’s seventh-best cornerback through Week 8.

“He has always had that type of big-play mentality,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “He’s made those plays over the years, but the injuries kind of just lingered on him, whether it caused him to miss some games or he just played through it. That is kind of the mentality he has. No matter what it is, he always is going to try to play through it.”

The Titans were without tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) for the second straight day, creating more concern about his availability for Sunday coming off their bye week.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (toe), WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), S Chuck Clark (thigh), WR Chris Matthews (thigh), DT Michael Pierce (illness), RB Terrance West (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Ryan Jensen (shoulder), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), TE Vince Mayle (concussion), OT Ronnie Stanley (shoulder), WR Mike Wallace (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (concussion), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), DB Lardarius Webb (concussion), TE Maxx Williams (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)

TENNESSEE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Jack Conklin (illness), LB Nate Palmer (ankle), G Quinton Spain (toe), WR Taywan Taylor (non-injury), TE Delanie Walker (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Jonathan Cyprien (hamstring), WR Corey Davis (hamstring)

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