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After suggesting change, Yanda excels at new position for Ravens

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A week ago, the Ravens weren’t sure if five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda would play again this season.

Instead, he made his first career start at left guard on Sunday, performing very well in the 27-17 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys. After suggesting the change to coaches to better protect his injured left shoulder, Yanda earned the highest grade of any Ravens player in Pro Football Focus’ Week 11 grades.

Though the position change isn’t quite as drastic as a right-handed hitter trying to swing from the left side, head coach John Harbaugh noted the challenges of switching to the opposite side of the offensive line. From dropping his opposite hand and leg in the three-point stance to his play responsibilities being flipped, the transition isn’t easy to make on the fly, especially when you’re less than 100 percent physically.

“I was weary of it early in the week,” Harbaugh said. “I was just watching him in individual [portions of practice] and seeing how he moved, but he did look natural doing it. I think he’s been on the left side at times during college and things like that. It just shows you what a phenomenal athlete he is and how determined he is and really what a good football player he is.”

In addition to starting at right tackle in the past — including the entire 2010 season and in the 2014 postseason — Yanda has occasionally practiced at center in the past to be prepared in the event of an emergency situation on game day. Former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak once quipped that Yanda was so versatile that he could probably handle the quarterback position in a pinch.

After missing three of his previous four games, Yanda appeared to make it through the game without suffering any further damage to his left shoulder. He is wearing a harness to protect it during practices and games after initially injuring it in the Oct. 9 loss to Washington.

“He got out of [the game] well. I talked to him this morning, and he felt really good, felt strong,” Harbaugh said. “He got a lift in this morning, so that was a good sign. He got out of it 100 percent.”

J. Smith, Dumervil status up to medical staff

Harbaugh was noncommittal regarding the Week 12 status of cornerback Jimmy Smith (back) and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), who both sat out Sunday’s loss to Dallas.

While it was the first missed game of the season for Smith, Dumervil has appeared in just two of Baltimore’s 10 games this season in a slower-than-expected recovery from offseason foot surgery. Cincinnati is dealing with its own injury issues, but the Ravens would certainly like to have two key defensive cogs back in action.

“We will see. I don’t really know,” Harbaugh said. “It is up to the doctors.”

Dumervil was shut down after two nondescript performances against Oakland and Washington early last month. He returned to practice as a full participant last Wednesday and Thursday, but the medical staff elected to hold the 32-year-old out after a five-week absence from the practice field.

Harbaugh said Dumervil looked good in those practices and did not suffer a setback, making it possible that he could play against the Bengals. The Ravens could certainly use a healthy version of the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher coming off the edge, but it remains to be seen what he will offer after such a lengthy and frustrating rehab process.

“I have no expectations. I am hoping he gets out there and plays, and I hope he has 10 sacks,” Harbaugh said. “That is what I am hoping for. I am hoping he just lights it up and dominates. I am hoping he is the difference. I just don’t have the answer for it. If he is out there, I expect him to play great.”

Boyle back

Second-year tight end Nick Boyle will return to practice this week after serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, the second ban of his brief career.

“He will be back practicing this week. We will see how he looks,” said Harbaugh about the 2015 fifth-round pick from Delaware. “He has not been here for 10 weeks, so it has been quite a while.”

The Ravens could use the depth with veteran Dennis Pitta and converted wide receiver Darren Waller being the only healthy tight ends on the active roster since the bye week. Crockett Gillmore has missed the last three games with a thigh injury, which has prompted offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use reserve tackle James Hurst as a blocking tight end in certain situations.

It’s quite a change from the start of training camp when the Ravens had an abundance of talent at the position, but they lost Benjamin Watson (Achilles tendon) and Maxx Williams (knee) to season-ending injuries and Daniel Brown was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Bears in October. Gillmore’s absence has left Baltimore without a quality blocking tight end, which hasn’t helped an inconsistent running game.

“It has not been ideal,” Harbaugh said. “We had a number of tight ends to start the season, and we ended up being thin there the last four or five weeks. I feel like Darren has done a good job; he has actually blocked pretty darn well. We just play the guys we have and go win games with the guys we have.”

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Loss doesn’t change Ravens’ outlook all that much

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The 27-17 loss to Dallas was disappointing, but the outlook for the Ravens’ season really didn’t change all that much on Sunday.

A mediocre team hung tough throughout the first half before the superior Cowboys seized control over the final 30 minutes. The final result certainly didn’t make the Ravens or their fans happy, but isn’t that what’s supposed to happen when a .500 team plays on the road against one of the best teams in the NFL?

If we’re being honest, what did we learn about the Ravens at AT&T Stadium that we didn’t already know?

Sure, we can calm down with the discussion about where this defense ranks among the best groups in franchise history. The NFL’s top-ranked run defense may have fared well against Ezekiel Elliott early, but the Cowboys’ No. 1 rushing attack ultimately won that marquee battle with 118 yards on the afternoon.

Though still a very good defense statistically, the Ravens have now twice shown — the first instance being the second half of the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants — that they can’t stop a potent passing attack with an elite receiver without Jimmy Smith on the field. Sunday was also one of the few occasions all year in which the defense was exposed for not having a consistent pass rush as rookie quarterback Dak Prescott was hardly touched after the opening quarter.

This defense may not be special, but it’s still good enough to keep the Ravens in games against virtually anyone. A group that has forced turnovers and consistently gotten off the field on third down all year could do neither on Sunday, which tells much of the story of the game.

The Cowboys proved why they’re one of the best offenses in football by controlling the line of scrimmage.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore offense started fast with an impressive six-play, 90-yard touchdown drive on its second possession before punting on four of its next five possessions. Over that time, the Cowboys turned an early 7-0 deficit into a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Again, that script is nothing new for a Ravens offense that’s failed to score 20 or more points in five of 10 games this season.

Quarterback Joe Flacco completed plenty of short passes and had a solid day statistically, but he went 0-for-4 on passes traveling at least 20 yards through the air. The Ravens offense could neither consistently make big plays — outside of Steve Smith — nor sustain drives to keep the Dallas offense off the field.

Seventeen points just isn’t going to get it done when you’re playing a top five offense on the road in today’s NFL.

And, of course, yellow flags crushed the Ravens in all three phases of the game as they finished with a season-high 136 yards in penalties. From center Jeremy Zuttah’s three backbreaking penalties to stall drives to Matt Judon’s offside infraction on a fourth-quarter kickoff that would have backed the Cowboys up to their own 10, Baltimore shot itself in the foot repeatedly.

But we know that’s nothing new once again.

Fans don’t want to hear it after the Ravens fell to 0-4 against teams currently holding winning records, but they do look better than they did a month ago, even if only because of improved health. Chalk it up to good fortune because of a down year in the AFC North, but the Ravens remain in solid position tied with Pittsburgh for first place with six games remaining.

The Steelers aren’t going anywhere and may face an easier path on paper, but the Ravens will now prepare for Cincinnati, who is suddenly looking closer in quality to the Cleveland Browns than to the top two teams in the division. The Bengals fell to 3-6-1 on Sunday while losing five-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green and shifty running back Giovani Bernard to long-term injuries, leaving no excuse for the Ravens not to snap their five-game slide against Cincinnati dating back to 2013.

You never want to lose, but the Ravens were playing a non-conference team better than them and appeared to escape Dallas without any serious injuries.

I suppose it’s deflating if you believed Baltimore’s second-half explosion against Cleveland to be a breakthrough, but playing the worst team in the NFL at home is a lot different than venturing down to “Jerry’s World” these days.

The Ravens are what their record suggests they are — not a very good football team — but a division title is still within their sights.

Sunday’s loss did very little to change that, especially if you were being realistic to begin with.

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Ravens-Cowboys: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 20 November 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated 12:40 p.m.)

The irresistible force against the immovable object.

The NFL’s top-ranked run defense takes on the No. 1 rush offense as the Ravens travel to Arlington, Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys, owners of the best record in the NFL.

Despite that being the marquee matchup of the afternoon, the Ravens were dealt a major blow to their pass defense with cornerback Jimmy Smith being deactivated for Sunday’s game. Smith is dealing with a back injury and was listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

His absence means defensive coordinator Dean Pees will lean on the likes of Tavon Young, Jerraud Powers, and Shareece Wright to try to slow two-time Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant and the Dallas passing game. Keeping seven defenders in the box to slow rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott won’t be easy without that clear option in Smith to lock down Bryant.

Wright is making his return from a three-game absence with a hamstring injury and was working as a starter opposing Young during warmups. However, it wouldn’t surprising to see the Ravens use defensive back Anthony Levine as a hybrid defender against the run and pass in certain sub packages.

As expected, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) is also inactive despite returning to the practice field this week. He was a full participant on Wednesday and Thursday, but the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher hadn’t been on the field in over five weeks as he continues to work his way back to full strength from offseason too surgery. Dumervil has appeared in only two games all season.

Starting left guard Alex Lewis (ankle) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) were already ruled out on Friday.

The good news for the Ravens on Sunday morning was the activation of Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. Both were listed as questionable to play with shoulder injuries this week.

In an interesting wrinkle, Yanda was working as the starting left guard during pre-game warmups with Vlad Ducasse again working at right guard where he started last week. It would Yanda’s first NFL start at that position as the Ravens will now use their seventh different starting combination of the season on the offensive line.

There were no surprises among the Dallas inactives as cornerback Morris Claiborne (groin) and safety Barry Church (forearm) were officially ruled out on Friday. Veteran quarterback Tony Romo (back) is active and will serve in his new role as rookie Dak Prescott’s backup.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be John Parry.

The roof will be closed at AT&T Stadium, making this the first indoor game for the Ravens this season.

Baltimore will wear purple jerseys with white pants while the Cowboys sport white jerseys with silver pants.

Sunday marks the fifth regular-season meeting between these teams with Baltimore holding a 4-0 advantage. Dallas is the only team not to have beaten the Ravens in the 21-year history of the latter franchise.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Jimmy Smith
CB Asa Jackson
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro
LB Elvis Dumervil
OL Ryan Jensen
OL Alex Lewis
TE Crockett Gillmore

DALLAS
QB Mark Sanchez
CB Morris Claiborne
RB Darius Jackson
S Barry Church
LB Mark Nzeocha
OT Chaz Green
DE Benson Mayowa

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Ravens-Cowboys: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are trying to prove they belong.

Two straight wins have moved them to the top of a bad division, but a road victory over Dallas would propel them into the conversation of compelling teams in the AFC. Baltimore’s No. 1 run defense is also trying to impose its will against the Cowboys’ top-ranked rushing attack in the marquee matchup of the game.

Meanwhile, the surprising Cowboys own the NFL’s best record at 8-1 and are coming off an emotional road win over Pittsburgh. That victory coupled with a big Thanksgiving meeting with NFC East rival Washington would appear to leave Dallas in danger of an emotional letdown against a 5-4 team on Sunday.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore tries to remain perfect in the all-time regular-season series against the Cowboys. The Ravens are 4-0 against Dallas, but only one of those was on the road, a 33-24 victory that closed old Texas Stadium on Dec. 20, 2008.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown on the day he reaches 1,000 career receptions. The 37-year-old needs only three catches to reach that special mark and tie Hines Ward for 13th on the all-time list, but Smith will be determined to put on a show in a game in which most are expecting Dallas to win. The Cowboys secondary is without cornerback Morris Claiborne and will play plenty of Cover 2 to account for the speed of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, which will leave room for Smith to work the middle of the field. Joe Flacco has so much trust in Smith in a big game and will look his way early.

2. Dez Bryant will exploit a vulnerable Ravens secondary for a 100-yard receiving day. Even if Jimmy Smith plays after being listed as doubtful with a back issue, you can’t like his chances against the talented 6-foot-2 receiver. His expected absence is a big loss because the Ravens don’t have anyone else who matches up well against Bryant and it’s dangerous to take a defender out of the box against the Cowboys running game. Don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Dean Pees uses Anthony Levine extensively as a dime back to defend the pass and provide help against the run.

3. Kenneth Dixon will receive more touches than starter Terrance West. The rookie had a career-high 80 total yards against Cleveland and matched his career high with 11 touches. Meanwhile, West averaged 3.1 yards per carry in Week 10 and has totaled just 96 rushing yards over the last three games. With the Cowboys ranking third in the NFL in run defense, the Ravens aren’t likely to open many rushing lanes and should utilize Dixon as a receiver out of the backfield. Philadelphia successfully unleashed the shifty Darren Sproles against Dallas in Week 8, which could be a blueprint for Dixon.

4. Ezekiel Elliott will have more rushing yards in the final quarter than the first three combined. The fourth pick of the 2016 draft and the Cowboys offensive line are special talents, but the Baltimore run defense has been just as impressive and will turn some heads. The Ravens will do all they can to take away the run and make rookie Dak Prescott beat them, but their own struggling offense as well as the absence of Jimmy Smith will leave too small of a margin for error on the afternoon. That will lead to some fatigue, which will allow Elliott to find some space for meaningful yardage late in the game.

5. The offense will once again be the Ravens’ primary downfall in a close 23-16 loss. Everyone has talked about the Ravens defense going up against the Cowboys offense, but the real key will be whether the Baltimore offense can do enough to keep up in this one. The Ravens scored a season-high 28 points against the worst team in the NFL last week, but that also included an ugly first half consisting of just two field goals. Optimists are talking about the second half of that one being the breakthrough for Flacco and the Ravens offense, but left guard Alex Lewis is out and right guard Marshal Yanda is far from 100 percent on an offensive line that has been the Achilles heel all year. Dallas lacks a strong pass rush and doesn’t have a great defense, but worse units have been able to shut down the Ravens this season. The defense will keep it close, but one good half against the lowly Browns isn’t enough to convince me that this offense is ready to do what it takes to beat a team like Dallas on the road.

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J. Smith, Dumervil doubtful to play against Dallas on Sunday

Posted on 18 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Despite optimism about their status earlier in the week, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil were designated as doubtful to play against Dallas.

Earlier in the week, head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the significance of Smith’s back ailment and had said he expected the sixth-year defensive back to play against the Cowboys on Sunday. Smith was a limited participant on Friday after missing the previous two practices, but Harbaugh offered a different tone when asked again about his status for Week 11.

“He was out here today. Obviously, it’s a walk-through, so it’s not as physical, but he was out here today,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just wait and see what the doctors tell us. His back tightened up a little bit. We’ll just have to see how it [responds] — whatever the doctors say. He wants to play, and we’ll know. The fact that he was out here today I think is a good sign.”

It’s worth noting that the Ravens haven’t listed a single player as doubtful who ended up being active for that week’s game all season, but the revamped injury report designations for 2016 provide more wiggle room than in the past. The “doubtful” label used to mean a player had no more than a 25 percent chance of playing, but it now means only that an individual is “unlikely to play” in that week’s game.

Smith’s absence would spell bad news for the Ravens’ efforts to slow down two-time Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant. Under normal circumstances, Baltimore would likely ask Smith to shadow the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bryant in pass coverage.

Dumervil being listed as doubtful was less surprising considering he had missed more than five weeks of action since last playing on Oct. 9. The 32-year-old has appeared in only two games this year after a slow recovery from offseason foot surgery, but he participated fully in workouts on Wednesday and Thursday before being listed as limited in Friday’s walk-through.

The work pattern appears similar to what he did in Week 3 when he practiced on a limited basis for two days before being listed as questionable and ultimately sitting out the Jacksonville game. He made his season debut the following week.

Dumervil told reporters after Thursday’s practice that he felt “really close” to being his old self after a frustrating rehabilitation filled with two setbacks since the start of training camp.

“He responded well. I don’t think he had any problems after the two workouts,” Harbaugh said. “He looked good. He looked quick and explosive, which is what I was looking for. I know Elvis wants to play, and I know I want him to play. It will be up to the doctors whether they allow him to play or not, but he sure looked good in practice.”

The Ravens listed right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (shoulder), cornerback Shareece Wright (hamstring), and linebackers C.J. Mosley (hamstring) and Kamalei Correa (thigh) as questionable for Sunday’s game. Despite serious doubts about Yanda’s status for the rest of the season only a few days ago, the five-time Pro Bowl lineman was a full participant all week, putting him on track to play against Dallas.

Jernigan is the only other real concern among the remaining names as he missed the final two practices of the week. He was a full participant on Wednesday, making one wonder if he suffered an injury in practice.

Baltimore officially ruled out left guard Alex Lewis (ankle) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) on Friday.

As expected, the Cowboys officially ruled out cornerback Morris Claiborne (groin) and safety Barry Church (forearm) for Sunday’s game. Though he is still expected to play, Bryant was added to the injury report on Friday with a back issue and is listed as questionable.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be John Parry.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday afternoon forecast in Arlington, Texas calls for sunny skies with temperatures reaching the mid-60s and winds up to 12 miles per hour. Of course, AT&T Stadium has a retractable roof should the forecast change over the weekend.

Below is the final injury report for the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), G Alex Lewis (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (back)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Kamalei Correa (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), CB Shareece Wright (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

DALLAS
OUT: S Barry Church (forearm), CB Morris Claiborne (groin)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Dez Bryant (back), OT Chaz Green (foot/back), DE DeMarcus Lawrence (back), QB Tony Romo (back), OT Tyron Smith (back/hip)

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J. Smith, Jernigan absent from Thursday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 17 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Moving closer to their big Week 11 encounter with the Dallas Cowboys, the Ravens were without seven players during Thursday’s practice session.

Headlining the list was No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, who missed his second straight workout with a back issue. Head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the ailment on Wednesday and expressed confidence that Smith would be able to play on Sunday.

Harbaugh also said that he expected Smith to practice this week, making his status for Friday’s workout worth monitoring. Assuming he is able to play, the sixth-year defensive back will likely be trusted to match up with two-time Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (shoulder) was a new absences on Thursday after not being listed on the injury report a day earlier.

Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh), and left guard Alex Lewis (ankle) were also missing from Thursday’s practice. Taliaferro was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday, making it likely that he suffered the injury during practice.

The Ravens also gave linebacker Terrell Suggs and center Jeremy Zuttah the day off. Zuttah played through a mild ankle sprain in last week’s win over Cleveland while it’s no secret that Suggs is playing with a torn left biceps.

For the second straight day, right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) were present and working as full participants. Dumervil wouldn’t confirm Thursday whether he would play against Dallas, but he believes he’s “really close” to being his old self from a physical standpoint after being shut down just over five weeks ago.

“Just the strength [is better],” said Dumervil, who has appeared in only two games this year after undergoing offseason foot surgery. “I think last time, as a competitor, as a winner, you just want to go out [and play]. Sometimes it is good to listen, and I learned that.”

Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith (back/hip) returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out on Wednesday.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder), G Alex Lewis (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (back), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Kamalei Correa (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), CB Shareece Wright (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

DALLAS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Barry Church (forearm), CB Morris Claiborne (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Chaz Green (foot/back), DE DeMarcus Lawrence (back), OT Tyron Smith (back/hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Tony Romo (back)

 

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Dumervil, Yanda return while J. Smith misses practice for Ravens

Posted on 16 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing for their toughest challenge of the 2016 season, the Ravens welcomed back some much-needed reinforcements to the practice field on Wednesday.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) and right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) returned as full participants in practice as Baltimore gets ready for a Week 11 contest at Dallas. Dumervil last played against Washington on Oct. 9 while Yanda has missed three of the last four games.

Despite major concerns about the health of his left shoulder, Yanda is trying to push through the pain to help a struggling offensive line that lost starting left guard Alex Lewis to a high ankle sprain in Week 10. Prior to last month, Yanda hadn’t missed a game since the end of the 2012 regular season.

“I’m a team guy. If I can play at a high level and help the team, I’m going to be out there no matter what,” said Yanda, who has declined to discuss details of the injury. “It’s one of those things that I pride myself in, and I feel like I owe it to the team and the guys in the locker room to be out there if I can. If I’m not out there, yeah, it’s a tough deal. I try to never let it happen, but you can’t control things sometimes.”

Dumervil has appeared in just two games this season while dealing with a slow recovery from offseason foot surgery. His healthy return would be a major boost to an edge pass rush that’s relied too heavily on Terrell Suggs this season.

The Ravens are hoping the additional five weeks away from the field allowed Dumervil to recapture the explosiveness and strength he lacked playing against Oakland and Washington.

“He came back out here before and teased us a little bit. I guess he let us get to second base,” said Suggs as he laughed, referring to Dumervil’s brief return to action early last month. “He let us get to second base, but hopefully we get him out there [all the way].”

It remains to be seen whether Yanda or Dumervil will play against the Cowboys, but their full participation was certainly a good sign for the first-place Ravens.

The bad news on Wednesday was the absence of top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was listed as dealing with a back issue. Head coach John Harbaugh expressed optimism about his status, which was good news since the Ravens need his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame to contest with Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.

“I don’t anticipate it being a concern,” Harbaugh said. “He should be out there Sunday. I expect him to practice here this week.”

A day after promoting Asa Jackson to the 53-man roster, the Ravens also saw cornerback Shareece Wright (hamstring) return to practice after missing the last three games. Linebacker Kamalei Correa (thigh) also returned to practice for the first time since the bye week.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore remains sidelined with a thigh injury that surfaced during the bye.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys were without starting left tackle Tyron Smith (back/hip) and starting cornerback Morris Claiborne (groin). Injured in the Cowboys’ Week 8 win over Philadelphia, Claiborne is not expected to play against the Ravens.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), G Alex Lewis (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Kamalei Correa (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), CB Shareece Wright (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

DALLAS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Barry Church (forearm), CB Morris Claiborne (groin), OT Tyron Smith (back/hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Chaz Green (foot/back), DE DeMarcus Lawrence (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Tony Romo (back)

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 10 November 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Do what you’re supposed to do.

That’s the message for the first-place Ravens as they welcome winless Cleveland to town for Thursday Night Football, the first prime-time game played in Baltimore since Sept. 11, 2014. Baltimore is looking to move back over .500 in its second game in five days while Cleveland is trying to avoid falling to 0-10, which would be the worst start in franchise history.

As expected, the Ravens will be without five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who was listed as doubtful and has now missed three of the last four games with a left shoulder injury sustained on Oct. 9. Though he returned to action and did not miss a snap against Pittsburgh on Sunday, Yanda once again being sidelined is a significant concern for an offensive line struggling to perform at a high level in 2016.

After starting two games in place of Yanda earlier this year, reserve Ryan Jensen was a healthy scratch. Based on pre-game warmups, it appeared that veteran Vlad Ducasse would receive his first start with the Ravens at right guard. Ducasse was cut by Baltimore at the conclusion of the preseason and then re-signed on Oct. 11 as injuries on the offensive line piled up.

The 29-year-old has made 22 starts in seven NFL seasons with previous stops with the New York Jets, Minnesota, and Chicago.

This marks the sixth different combination that the Ravens have started on the offensive line this season. That’s not as crazy as Cleveland’s run on quarterbacks this year, but it’s hardly ideal, a major reason why the Baltimore offense has struggled so much in 2016.

There were no surprises among the Ravens’ other inactives after linebackers Elvis Dumervil (foot) and Kamalei Correa (thigh), cornerback Shareece Wright (hamstring), and tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) were already declared out on Wednesday. Wright’s absence has opened the door for rookie Tavon Young to seize control of the starting cornerback job opposite veteran Jimmy Smith.

The Browns ruled out starting cornerback Jamar Taylor on Wednesday, leaving the NFL’s 23rd-ranked pass defense with less depth in the secondary.

Thursday’s referee is Jerome Boger.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday forecast in Baltimore calls for clear skies and temperatures in the low 50s with winds up to five miles per hour.

As part of the NFL’s “Color Rush” initiative for Thursday games, the Ravens are wearing special purple jerseys with gold numbering as well as purple pants and purple socks for the first time in franchise history while the Browns don white tops with white pants and white socks. Some of the gold number is difficult to ready, but anything’s better than the mustard-colored pants worn last season, right?

Thursday marks the 36th meeting between these AFC North foes with Baltimore enjoying an overwhelming 26-9 lead in the all-time series. The Ravens are 13-4 at home against the Browns and are aiming for their 11th season sweep over the AFC North opponent.

Below are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
G Marshal Yanda
LB Elvis Dumervil
CB Shareece Wright
TE Crockett Gillmore
LB Kamalei Correa
OL Ryan Jensen
DL Willie Henry

CLEVELAND
QB Joe Callahan
CB Jamar Taylor
LB Corey Lemonier
OL Gabe Ikard
OL Jonathan Cooper
WR Jordan Payton
DL Xavier Cooper

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 9 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 07 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having snapped their four-game losing streak in a 21-14 win over Pittsburgh to move into first place in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith and rookie Tavon Young could be the best cornerback duo the Ravens have had in a while. Smith is finally playing like he did before his foot injury two years ago, and the 5-foot-9 Young is making a strong case to be more than just a slot corner.

2. His broken brace earned attention, but a first-quarter sequence from Joe Flacco was inexcusable. After snapping the ball before his receivers were set — with 10 seconds still on the play clock — to negate a third-down conversion in the red zone, he then threw across his body for an ugly interception.

3. When Mike Wallace signed his two-year contract, it was mostly viewed as a one-season deal with a scheduled $8 million cap figure for 2017. He’s caught four of Flacco’s six touchdown passes and is on pace for 1,200 yards. The Ravens are cheapskates with their receivers, but shouldn’t be here.

4. Earning his first career interception in the third quarter, Timmy Jernigan fell to the ground after previously coughing up a fumble return deep in Baltimore territory in Week 7. It was good seeing him learn from a mistake and to be able to laugh, quipping how he’s a fast learner.

5. What are the odds of a rookie scoring his first two career touchdowns in consecutive games as a member of the punt return team but not as the actual returner? Chris Moore has certainly been in the right place at the right time.

6. He didn’t put up monster numbers with just five credited tackles and a dropped interception, but the difference in the Ravens defense was tangible with C.J. Mosley back in the middle. He was a major reason why Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was a non-factor on Sunday.

7. Remember how the running game was trending upward despite Marc Trestman’s hesitancy to commit to it before his dismissal last month? The Ravens have averaged 2.4 yards per carry in three games with Marty Mornhinweg in charge.

8. With Flacco often checking down and Kenneth Dixon not showing the same explosiveness he had before his knee injury, why not give Buck Allen more chances out of the backfield? He struggles between the tackles, but he did catch 45 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.

9. Speaking of Allen, the second-year running back provided the Ravens their 12th blocked kick since 2014 and their league-best fourth this season. When you lack dynamic play-makers, these types of special-teams plays are of the utmost importance.

10. I’m not concerned about his long-term prospects, but Ronnie Stanley committing four penalties on Sunday and acknowledging his foot was still “a little sore” after a four-game absence weren’t encouraging developments for the remainder of his rookie season.

11. I admittedly don’t spend a great deal of time discussing Justin Tucker because there’s only so much to say about his excellence. He’s a perfect 20-for-20 on the season and has silenced concerns about his accuracy from 50 yards and beyond. He’s been worth every penny of his contract.

12. How long had it been since the Ravens last won a game before Sunday’s victory? The Orioles had won four contests more recently despite their season coming to a bitter end more than a month ago. Maybe John Harbaugh just needed to call Zach Britton for some relief.

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Slowing Pittsburgh play-makers tops priority list for Ravens

Posted on 04 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The biggest difference between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers comes down to two players.

Baltimore has the better defense while the Steelers possess a more stable offensive line. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is better than Joe Flacco, but we know the latter is capable of playing at a high level with enough good pieces around him.

Pieces more like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, who are the biggest obstacles in Baltimore’s attempt to snap a four-game losing streak and pull even with the Steelers in the AFC North. Counting the 2014 postseason, the Ravens have won their last three games against Pittsburgh, but one of Roethlisberger, Brown, and Bell missed each one of those games.

The last time the dynamic trio played against the Ravens resulted in a 43-23 blowout at Heinz Field on Nov. 2, 2014 in which Roethlisberger threw six touchdown passes with Brown and Bell each catching one. It was a rare occasion in which Brown went off against the Ravens, catching 11 passes for 144 yards and a 54-yard touchdown.

Despite averaging an incredible 102.2 receiving yards per game in 55 contests since the start of the 2013 season, the four-time Pro Bowl receiver has eclipsed the century mark in only two of his last seven contests — one in the playoffs — against the Ravens and has only one touchdown reception in his career against Baltimore.

“It is a rivalry game. We know each other,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the Baltimore defense keep Brown in check on so many occasions. “We know what they are trying to do to us. They know what we are trying to do to them. It is one of those games that, fortunately, at times, we come out on the better side or get going against them. Some of the game plan is obviously directed towards him, so we are doing what we are supposed to do if we keep him with minimal yards and catches.”

Conventional wisdom suggests Smith — the Ravens’ top cornerback — would match up with Brown wherever the 5-foot-10 receiver lines up, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees has employed different strategies in recent meetings. In Week 2 of the 2014 season, Smith traveled with Brown and held him to seven catches for 90 yards on 12 targets, but the sixth-year defensive back stayed on one side of the field in two meetings last year as the Ravens held the Pittsburgh receiver to a total of 103 receiving yards and no touchdowns.

In a conference call with the Baltimore media this week, Brown said he prefers when the opposition matches one cornerback against him because it leads to more 1-on-1 opportunities. The star wideout has faced plenty of press coverage with safety help over the top in recent games.

“There are so many factors you take into account and your defensive calls [such as] if you’re going to play more zone or you’re going to play more man,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about the decision to have a cornerback travel with a specific receiver. “All of a sudden, you’re going to try to teach a defensive back that’s in the slot how to play zone in the slot as opposed to [playing outside]. It’s easier [to travel in man coverage], because you have the man. Every time I line a guy up there and that same DB lines up there, they look at it and say, ‘If that guy lines up in the slot, they’re in man coverage.’

“You have to be able to mix and match zones and mans. There’s a lot more to it than just easily stating, ‘Let’s put our best DB on their best receiver.'”

Bell could serve as an even bigger factor on Sunday with Roethlisberger still not 100 percent less than three weeks after knee surgery. The Ravens rank fourth in the NFL in run defense, but Pittsburgh would love to unleash the star running back early to ease pressure on the hobbled quarterback.

In 2016, the 24-year-old Bell is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 7.5 receptions per game since returning from a three-game suspension.

“I tell him before every game that I’m excited to see what he is going to do,” Brown said. “You know what he brings in the running game; you know what he brings in the passing game. That is the type of guy you want to have on your team — a guy who comes to work every day, displays a good work ethic, and is a big-time player.”

The biggest key in trying to slow Bell will be the anticipated return of inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. Besides being the leader of a defense that gave up too many big plays in the middle of the field in his absence, Mosley is the Ravens’ best linebacker in pass coverage and leads the team with three interceptions.

In 39 career games, Bell has caught 182 passes for 1,634 yards and three touchdowns.

Injuries and off-field issues have hindered the start of his career, but Bell possesses a rare combination of patience and downhill ability that makes him dangerous every time he touches the ball.

“Guys can’t guess. If you have a gap to control, you have to control that gap,” said Pees, who labeled Bell one of the best running backs he’s faced in his long coaching career. “You have to stay on your blocker and be patient. When you get a runner like that, you have to be very disciplined on defense, too. Like I tell everybody, when he gets the ball, everybody on defense is at the point of attack because he could go anywhere at any time.”

These dynamic play-makers are the reason why the Steelers are considered the favorite to win a division consumed with mediocrity in 2016. They’re the type of special players Baltimore lacks right now.

If the Ravens want to begin turning their season around on Sunday, they can’t allow Brown and Bell to explode.

“He is one of the biggest challenges in the NFL,” said Smith about the Pittsburgh receiver. “You know what he does. We all know. It is going to take a lot to contain him and No. 26.”

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