Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

Other than Flacco, who is most indispensable on 2014 Ravens?

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Other than Flacco, who is most indispensable on 2014 Ravens?

Posted on 28 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With Ravens head coach John Harbaugh announcing Monday that cornerback Jimmy Smith would be sidelined a few weeks with a mid-foot sprain, the news sparked a debate many fans might not want to think about.

Other than quarterback Joe Flacco — there’s no disputing that he tops the list — who is the one player the 2014 Ravens can least afford to lose in the middle of the season? We’re not talking about pondering offseason changes or considering who will become a free agent, but it’s merely a question of which player other than Flacco is most indispensable to the Ravens’ fortunes between now and the end of the season.

When you take into account the Ravens’ lack of depth at cornerback and the struggles they’ve already had in the secondary this season, Smith tops my list as he was the only defensive back playing well enough to significantly limit an opponent’s passing game. It’s difficult to find quality cornerbacks in the modern NFL that’s driven by offense, but Smith has been graded as the fourth-best corner in coverage by Pro Football Focus this season.

Even though fellow starting cornerback Lardarius Webb has improved from where he was a month ago, you’re still not seeing the kind of play from him that we saw prior to his second ACL injury in 2012. And the options beyond him, Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown, clearly aren’t starting-caliber players, making Smith’s loss one that will cause restless nights for Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

The Ravens aren’t necessarily doomed, but they’re going to need a robust pass rush in the coming weeks for that secondary to hold up without Smith.

Of course, the Ravens have a handful of others whose loss would be a significant blow.

Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is having his best season in a few years and provides so much versatility in being able to play multiple techniques on the defensive line.

What more can be said about veteran wideout Steve Smith, who leads the Ravens in receptions and receiving yards by a wide margin?

You might be able to find a serviceable kicker to fill in for Justin Tucker, but his range from beyond 50 and pinpoint accuracy inside that mark are skills that shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially in games when your offense isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Veteran Jeremy Zuttah was the only significant offseason addition to an offensive line that was a disaster in 2013. Would the Ravens hold up with Gino Gradkowski or John Urschel filling in at that critical center position?

And the man next to Zuttah, three-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, has only graded out as the best guard in the NFL by PFF with the Ravens running more effectively to the right side all season.

Would running back Justin Forsett receive your vote with Bernard Pierce struggling mightily and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro the only other option?

The Ravens saw firsthand Sunday what it was like to be without tight end Owen Daniels with only rookie Crockett Gillmore and former practice-squad member Phillip Supernaw behind him, and we know how offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak values the position.

Would Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil be your choice even though outside linebacker is the deepest position on the roster for the Ravens?

Beyond Flacco, who is the player the 2014 Ravens can least afford to lose? Be sure to consider roster depth at any given position as this isn’t a simple question of who is the best player.

Vote in our poll and leave a comment below if I’ve overlooked someone entirely.

Other than Joe Flacco, which player can the 2014 Ravens least afford to lose?

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 25 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Two teams seemingly going in opposite directions will meet in a key midseason AFC North matchup as the surging Ravens travel to Cincinnati to take on the struggling Bengals.

Baltimore is looking for its third straight victory and sixth in seven weeks while the Bengals haven’t won a game in over a month as their season-opening win against the Ravens and 3-0 start feel like distant memories. In going 0-2-1 since its Week 4 bye, Cincinnati has been outscored by 53 points in the last three games.

Health is a key storyline entering this contest as Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is unlikely to play due to a lingering turf toe injury and Ravens tight end Owen Daniels is out after undergoing a cleanup procedure in his left knee this week. However, the Ravens will benefit from the return of the starting left side of their offensive line as Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele are probable to play.

Who will win in Cincinnati on Sunday?

  • Ravens by seven or more (50%, 32 Votes)
  • Ravens by fewer than seven (38%, 24 Votes)
  • Bengals by fewer than seven (8%, 5 Votes)
  • Bengals by seven or more (4%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 64

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Sunday marks the 38th all-time meeting between these division rivals with the Ravens holding a 20-17 edge. However, the Bengals are 11-7 against Baltimore in Cincinnati and have won three of the last four in the series.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to improve to 6-2 for the fourth time under head coach John Harbaugh …

1. With the Ravens hurting at the tight end position, fullback Kyle Juszczyk sets career highs in receptions and receiving yards. Quarterback Joe Flacco targeted his tight ends 20 times in the Week 1 meeting with the Bengals, but Dennis Pitta and Daniels won’t be on the field Sunday and rookie Crockett Gillmore is more of a blocker. This will lead to a bigger role for Juszczyk, who will see targets out of the backfield as well as when he occasionally lines up at a tight end spot. Flacco is likely to look Steve Smith’s way even more with Daniels sidelined, but Juszczyk could be a wild card against the league’s seventh-ranked third-down defense. The second-year fullback’s best game as a receiver came against Cleveland in Week 3 when he caught three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.

2. The Bengals will make a better effort to get the ball to running back Giovani Bernard than they did last week and he will crack 75 receiving yards. Cincinnati failed to get the ball to the impact back in its shutout loss to Indianapolis as Bernard received only nine touches. That will change Sunday as offensive coordinator Hue Jackson must find creative ways to involve Bernard with his top two receivers — Green and No. 2 wideout Marvin Jones — both out. Top cornerback Jimmy Smith could be used to shadow leading receiver Mohamed Sanu, which would leave quarterback Andy Dalton with few downfield weapons. Cincinnati will use screens to try to neutralize a pass rush growing more confident by the week, and Bernard will give the Bengals some much-needed production.

3. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth will keep Terrell Suggs in check, but Elvis Dumervil will pick up a sack and several pressures working against right tackle Andre Smith. The Bengals have only allowed Dalton to be sacked five times this season, but the emergence of interior rush specialist Pernell McPhee creates a problem for the Cincinnati offensive line that must account for Suggs and Dumervil on the edges. Smith has been dealing with a shoulder issue and has allowed three sacks in his last two games while Dumervil has 3 1/2 sacks over the last two weeks. The Bengals must offer the interior line help with blocking McPhee, which will give Dumervil some 1-on-1 chances to run around Smith and get to Dalton in the pocket. Dalton will get rid of the ball quickly to counteract the rush, but the Ravens will get more pressure than they did in Week 1.

4. Safety Will Hill will receive more playing time than last week and will record his first interception on a tipped pass. The 24-year-old made his 2014 debut last week and immediately found himself in the mix by playing 22 defensive snaps. He was effective close to the line of scrimmage, but Hill has good range in coverage and could find himself in a starting role sooner rather than later. With Green likely out, the Bengals won’t have many vertical options, so Hill will again be used closer to the line of scrimmage and will continue taking away snaps from Darian Stewart and Matt Elam, especially if Cincinnati can’t get its running game going. He will record his first interception as a Raven on a tipped pass intended for Bernard and will make a strong claim for a starting role in the defense.

5. The Ravens will use an effective running game and good field position to grind out a 23-16 win over Cincinnati. These teams are trending in different directions, but the Bengals are better than what they’ve shown over the last three weeks and Baltimore will miss Daniels in the middle of the field. This will add up to a tighter game between AFC North rivals, but the Bengals just haven’t shown enough firepower without Green to consistently move the ball and put up enough points against a defense getting better every week. The Ravens will use a balanced attack through three quarters before leaning heavily on the running game in the fourth as the Bengals’ front seven wears down and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak controls the clock with a lead. The Ravens improve to 6-2 with their biggest road win of the season.

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens staked their claim as the best team in the AFC North with a 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday to move into first place ahead of Cincinnati.

With their fourth 5-2 start in the last five years, the Ravens have put themselves in prime position to return to the playoffs as they approach the midway point of the 2014 season. But how much does that mean as we approach the final week of October?

“Meaningful in Week 7, so, it’s good to be there in that situation at this time,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But you have to build on it, you have to keep getting better. We’re not a good enough team to do the things that we want to do right now, so we have to keep improving.”

Baltimore may not be a flawless team — there’s no such thing in the modern NFL — but it’s difficult to look at the numbers and not be impressed with what Harbaugh’s group has done through the first seven weeks of 2014. Even with 14 teams having played only six games at the end of business on Sunday, the Ravens have allowed the fewest points (104) and own the best point differential (plus 89) in the NFL.

Yes, they appear to have drawn the right year to play the woeful NFC South — a division where 3-3-1 Carolina currently sits in first place — but you can’t control which teams are on the schedule. The Ravens are not only beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, but they’re throttling them, which doesn’t often happen in the parity-driven NFL.

Already securing four wins of 20 or more points, the improved Ravens offense has received much of the attention, but the defense is taking major strides with its second straight game collecting five sacks, the first time that’s happened since the 2006 season. It was no surprising feat to limit the hapless Tampa Bay offense last week, but holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ third-ranked unit to just seven points was an impressive task.

With the pass rush coming alive and the play of the secondary stabilizing, the confidence on the defensive side of the ball is growing. Several defensive players spoke after the game about the speech linebackers coach Ted Monachino offered Saturday night, challenging a talented group of outside linebackers to raise its level of play to where it belongs.

It’s safe to say the message was received on Sunday as Ryan was hit nine times a week after Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon was hit 15 times.

“We’re dangerous, and we’re real serious. We’re coming out playing with an attitude,” said rush specialist Pernell McPhee, who added two more sacks on Sunday to continue his strong season. “Our [secondary] needs us, and I know we need them. I think [defensive coordinator] Dean Pees is doing a great job of calling the plays and setting us up to get the sacks. We’re just focusing in and trying to play ball.”

Much credit should go to Pees, who has shown various looks up front by moving around Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and McPhee to cause confusion while using a safety-by-committee approach in the secondary. Matt Elam and Darian Stewart started the game, but rookie Terrence Brooks and the returning Will Hill also saw extensive action at the safety position.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was known for bringing “organized chaos,” but Pees’ decision to substitute so frequently in the secondary reminded the 65-year-old coordinator of his college coaching days at Miami of Ohio when he used various personnel looks in a 1986 upset win over a top 10 LSU team in Baton Rouge. Of course, Baltimore didn’t face that kind of a talent disadvantage Sunday, but it illustrates the creative lengths used to help mask what’s been a deficiency of the defense to this point in the season.

Time will tell whether the safety rotation will continue, but the best weapon to neutralize a shaky secondary has been the major heat in the pocket. It’s also created more opportunities for turnovers as defensive backs got their hands on several Ryan passes despite not coming away with any interceptions.

“Those dudes are our best friends,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the pass rush. “They get in there, they disrupt things, they cause havoc, they make quarterbacks panic and throw the ball in the air. And on our end, we have to do a better job of coming up with some more turnovers. We’ve had a lot of opportunities, and we have a lot of drops.”

Unlike last season’s 8-8 team that remained static with issues on each side of the ball showing up on a weekly basis, these Ravens appear to be improving as the year progresses. Their only loss since Week 1 came on the road two weeks ago against Indianapolis, a team that’s won five straight games and only beat them by seven points at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It’s true that no one should confuse Tampa Bay or Atlanta for juggernauts, but the Ravens have a tremendous opportunity to not only seize commanding control of the AFC North but to make an emphatic claim as one of the best teams in the NFL if they can take care of business in trips to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the next two weeks. It won’t be easy playing on the road against their two biggest rivals, but the Ravens have looked like the class of the division through seven weeks while the Bengals have gone 0-2-1 since their bye with two road losses of 26 or more points.

The Ravens continue to show improvement on both sides of the ball while stacking wins as they now have a chance to pay back Cincinnati for its Week 1 win in Baltimore.

“We have everything that we want to do right in front of us,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We just have to go out there and continue to play well. We have a tough opponent next week that we didn’t play necessarily good against, at least for a half, in the first game. We have to come back out there and prove ourselves. They’re a good football team, and they’re going to be hungry, and we’re [playing] there. It’s going to be a tough test; I can’t wait for it.”

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Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 18 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Facing an opponent that’s moving in the wrong direction for the second straight week, the Ravens should feel good about their return home to play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.

Baltimore has a chance to improve to 5-2 with critical road games looming against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the next two weeks while the Falcons have dropped three straight and could find themselves out of the NFC South race if they don’t turn around a 2-4 start quickly. Atlanta is 0-3 on the road and has lost those games by an average margin of 12.3 points with a defense that ranks 31st in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Ravens offense sits in the top 10 in most categories and the Baltimore defense has allowed only 16.2 points per game, good for third in the league through the first six weeks of the 2014 season. The Ravens secondary will also have the services of free safety Will Hill after he was activated on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see how the former New York Giant is worked into the defense in his first action of 2014.

Sunday marks the fifth time these teams have met in their regular-season history with the Ravens and Falcons each owning two wins. Atlanta won the last game between these teams in a 26-21 thriller at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 11, 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to begin the season 5-2 for the fourth time under head coach John Harbaugh …

1. Both Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan throw for over 300 yards in a battle of 2008 first-round draft picks. The Falcons have allowed 24 or more points in five of their six games this season and are allowing 277.7 passing yards per game and will now face Flacco, who is coming off a career-high five touchdown passes in last week’s win at Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s passing game hasn’t had problems this season in ranking third in the NFL. The debate between Flacco and Ryan — the first two quarterbacks selected in the 2008 draft — has become a tired one as the former enjoys a clear edge in postseason success while the latter puts up better fantasy numbers, but both should have strong afternoons against less-than-stellar secondaries.

2. Justin Forsett goes over the 100-yard rushing mark for the second straight week. You keep waiting for some semblance of a market correction for the 29-year-old running back, but he keeps shredding opposing run defenses to the tune of 6.4 yards per carry. Flacco will have a strong day to give the Ravens a lead in the second half, which will open the door for Forsett and his fellow backfield mates to gain big yardage. With James Hurst and John Urschel expected to be blocking the blindside again, Forsett will continue to receive extensive reps due to his pass-blocking ability and that will lead to him receiving more carries than Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro.

3. Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi will be a rare standout in an otherwise listless pass rush. A second straight week of starting two rookies on the left side of the offensive line will make Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak nervous, but the Falcons haven’t been able to put any consistent heat on quarterbacks this season. The one player who’s offered something as a rusher has been Massaquoi, who leads Atlanta with two sacks and has graded out as one of the better outside pass rushers in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He’ll beat Hurst to pick up a sack at some point, but the Ravens should have few problems keeping Flacco upright as long as they shade help to the left side and he’s quick in getting rid of the ball.

4. With Jimmy Smith locked on Julio Jones, Atlanta wideout Roddy White will catch a touchdown and pick up 85 receiving yards. There’s no reason to think Smith won’t shadow Jones, who already has 44 catches and 620 receiving yards (third in the NFL) through six games. However, White is still a receiver to be careful with and it’s difficult to feel too confident in the rest of the Baltimore secondary as the Ravens rank 27th in pass defense. The addition of Hill gives the Ravens an intriguing option to work in at safety, but as long as Matt Elam continues to handle nickel duties, they’re vulnerable to giving up yards. White will be a thorn in the Ravens’ side while Smith holds Jones to a modest level of production for his high standards.

5. On a day when both offenses have success, the Ravens will make a few more defensive stops en route to a 34-20 win to improve to 5-2. Baltimore needs to be aware of the explosiveness of the Atlanta offense, but the Falcons are way too soft on defense to seriously threaten the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. In the only opportunity to play at home this month, the Ravens will take care of business and put themselves in great position as they face the Bengals and the Steelers in consecutive road games. Unlike last season, the Ravens are giving themselves some margin for error in terms of the playoff race and a relatively comfortable win over Atlanta will be the latest statement for the case that they’ll be playing in January.

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Ravens’ blowout win over Tampa Bay more fun than educational

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Ravens’ blowout win over Tampa Bay more fun than educational

Posted on 12 October 2014 by Luke Jones

If you missed the Ravens’ 48-17 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, don’t feel bad.

So did the Buccaneers.

Earning their largest road win since a 31-point victory in Cincinnati in 2008, the Ravens responded exactly how you’d like after a disappointing defeat at Indianapolis in Week 5. There may not be such a thing as a statement game against what looked like the worst team in the NFL, but it was encouraging seeing Baltimore win so impressively on the road after struggling so often away from M&T Bank Stadium over the last couple seasons.

The Ravens’ 48 points were the second-highest single-game total in franchise history as they moved the ball with no resistance from the league’s 30th-ranked defense, particularly in the first half. It doesn’t get much better than that.

“It’s not going to always be like that, obviously, but you chase perfection,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s nice to see a reward like this for the guys.”

Beyond that, there probably isn’t anything earth-shattering to glean from Sunday’s win as the Buccaneers are now 1-5 after entering Week 6 with the second-worst point differential in the NFL. The 4-2 Ravens just reinforced the idea that they’re a good team that dominated a really bad one in sparsely-filled Raymond James Stadium.

Quarterback Joe Flacco tied Tony Banks’ single-game franchise record with five touchdown passes and did it in just over 16 minutes, the quickest to accomplish the feat in one contest since the NFL-AFL merger. But we already knew Flacco can be brilliant when his offensive line protects the pocket — even with rookies James Hurst and John Urschel blocking on the blindside — and he has sufficient weapons to throw to.

The seventh-year signal-caller continues to have one of the best seasons of his career after completing 21 of 29 passes for 306 yards and a 146.0 passer rating, which was also a personal best to go with the five touchdowns he threw. Through six games, Flacco has thrown 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions and has appeared a natural fit for Gary Kubiak’s system.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from Sunday’s performance was struggling wide receiver Torrey Smith catching two touchdown passes in the first six minutes of the game as he twice beat the Buccaneers secondary on inside routes. The fourth-year wideout said earlier in the week that he remained confident despite his slow start to the season, but it was tough not to wonder how his psyche was holding up after only 11 receptions and one touchdown through the first five games of 2014.

“That’s how I expect to play every week; it just doesn’t happen,” Smith said. “It’s important to build some positive momentum for myself to get going for our team. The better I play, the better situations our team will be put in. I understand that I have a major role on this team, which I love and embrace. It’s important for me to play at a high level all the time.”

The early lead allowed the Baltimore defense to pin its ears back as the pass rush swarmed overwhelmed Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon, sacking him five times and registering an incredible 15 quarterback hits. Tampa Bay managed just 101 total yards and no points in the first half as the game was over by the end of the first quarter.

Dean Pees’ unit didn’t maintain the same intensity level in the second half as the pressure waned and the secondary allowed Glennon to finish the game with 314 yards, but the Ravens didn’t need to take as many chances with such a comfortable lead.

Sunday’s win may not prove that the Ravens are a championship-caliber team just yet, but it was a fun afternoon in which Harbaugh’s team executed a game plan to perfection in the first quarter in another team’s stadium. Nothing really mattered after that, even as they continued to play well against a defeated team.

“It was nice to bounce back after a tough week,” said Flacco about his record day. “All that stuff really doesn’t matter. Really, anything we did after the first three touchdowns didn’t really mean too much at the end of the day. It was all just stats. That stuff feels good and looks good and it’s great and all that, but it really doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about winning the football game. That’s what we came here to do, and that’s what we did.”

And they had a blast doing it in convincing fashion.

 

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Join Us Thursday Night with #89 Steve Smith!

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Join Us Thursday Night with #89 Steve Smith!

Posted on 08 October 2014 by WNST Staff

We’ll be hanging out with Ravens standout WR Steve Smith Thursday night as we’re back with the good folks at Greenmount Station in Hampstead. Kickoff is at 7:30pm!

We’ll chat with Steve about his experience thus far after the first five weeks of the regular season here in Baltimore. How did it feel going against his former team? Is Steve happy with where the Ravens sit, currently at 3-2 heading into Tampa Bay?

Also, There Goes My Hero will be in the house as we continue our mission of swabbing as many people as possible and adding them to the bone marrow donor database. Thus far, we’ve raised over $20,000 and have swabbed over 1,100 people since April. We hope to crush those numbers this fall and beyond. If you haven’t been swabbed, it’s easy and painless. Click here for more info on the swabbing process and any restrictions. THANK YOU to everyone who has donated and/or swabbed for us and #JennStrong. We can’t thank you enough and we hope you’ll continue to spread the word.

As always, each and every one of our live shows are presented by Freedmont Mortgage. If you’re looking to buy or refinance a home, don’t make a 30 year mistake by choosing the wrong lender. Visit freedmont.com to learn more. Also big thanks to Enoch Office and Rugenix for their continued support!

UPDATE FROM WNST STAFF: Ravens rookie LB C.J. Mosley is expected to join WNST and host Steve Smith on Thursday night after his standout performance on Sunday. We hope to see you all in Carroll County!

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Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones

A 3-1 record through the first quarter of the season has made a statement that the Ravens are a playoff-caliber team, but a road win against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday would scream they belong among the NFL’s elite.

Despite an offense that was ranked 29th in the NFL last season, the Ravens bring a revamped unit to Lucas Oil Stadium that’s ranked sixth in total yards and tied for seventh in points per game, which could lead to a shootout against an Indianapolis offense ranking first in total yards and averaging a league-leading 34.0 points per game. Of course, the Colts’ numbers benefited from playing two woeful teams, Tennessee and Jacksonville, in their last two games while the Ravens have only played one game away from M&T Bank Stadium so far this season.

The Baltimore secondary has faced much scrutiny this season and will face its biggest test in quarterback Andrew Luck and the NFL’s top-ranked passing game. The Ravens rank 24th in pass defense, but a stout run defense has often made opponents one-dimensional and the pass rush finally showed up in a convincing 38-10 win over Carolina last Sunday.

Sunday marks the 11th all-time meeting between the Ravens and Indianapolis in the regular season with the Colts holding a 7-3 advantage. Baltimore is winless in four regular-season trips to Indianapolis. The good news for the Ravens is they got the best of the Colts in their only meeting against Luck that came in the 2012 postseason, which also served as their only playoff win against Indianapolis in three tries.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to begin a difficult stretch of four of five games on the road with a win on Sunday …

1. The Baltimore running game wins the time of possession battle as Justin Forsett is the leading rusher in an attack that goes over 125 yards on the ground again. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak always prefers establishing the run, but it will be even more critical in a game with such a prolific offense on the opposing side. Indianapolis is allowing 4.4 yards per carry, which indicates the Ravens should be able to move the ball effectively on the ground to set up play-action passes. The recently-injured Bernard Pierce will see some action unlike last week, but Forsett will still lead the Ravens in rushing yards in what will be a three-back timeshare.

2. Indianapolis uses a no-huddle attack to keep the Ravens’ pass rush on its heels and to help a very shaky offensive line. Even with a big lead, the Colts pushed the tempo against Tennessee last week, and they’ll use a similar style to keep the Baltimore front on its heels and to protect an offensive line that’s already surrendered 13 quarterback hits and 22 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s no secret that three-step drops limit any defense’s ability to get to the quarterback, but the Ravens have been especially vulnerable to this over the last couple years and a quicker tempo will make the defense too flatfooted in the second half, especially with Chris Canty unlikely to play and Terrell Suggs less than 100 percent.

3. Colts cornerback Vontae Davis and bracketed coverage finally make Steve Smith look human, but Torrey Smith catches a touchdown and posts a season-high 105 receiving yards. After collecting 429 receiving yards in four weeks, the elder Smith will finally receive consistent attention befitting a No. 1 receiver as Davis will shadow him and receive extra help whenever possible. Steve Smith will still have a presence, but it will be Torrey Smith with a dynamic performance against an Indianapolis defense ranking 21st in pass defense. The fourth-year wideout will catch a long score on an effective play-action fake that makes new starting free safety Sergio Brown — filling in for the suspended LaRon Landry — bite.

4. A secondary that’s been shaky all year finally crumbles as Luck throws for 350 yards and three touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees stood up for the play of his pass defense this week, but the Colts have too many weapons for top cornerback Jimmy Smith to account for and no one else inspires enough confidence to slow such a passing game. Cornerback Lardarius Webb wasn’t listed on the injury report for the second straight week, but it’s impossible to have any expectations for him until he finally takes extensive snaps in live-game action. An improved pass rush against Carolina helped mask issues in coverage, but the Ravens won’t be able to do the same with Indianapolis using an up-tempo attack, which will lead to a long day for the back end of the defense.

5. Quarterback Joe Flacco has another strong afternoon, but the Baltimore offense can’t quite hang with Indianapolis in a 30-24 loss to snap a three-game winning streak. At the start of the season, I wouldn’t have given the Ravens much of a chance to win this one, but a stronger-than-expected Baltimore offense and the Colts’ less-than-impressive offensive line will make this a close one. In the same way that the Colts’ two wins have come against less-than-stellar competition, I can’t be convinced that a shaky road win over Cleveland is enough evidence that the Ravens can carry over performances on the road like what we saw against Carolina last week. Flacco will play at a high level against a very ordinary defense, but the Baltimore defense won’t force enough stops against Luck and the Colts to pull out the road upset.

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 5

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 5

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is rising and falling …

STOCK RISING

Steve Smith
Skinny: The former Carolina Panthers wide receiver has impressed since the first day he arrived in Baltimore, but he became the oldest player in NFL history with more than 400 receiving yards in his first four games of a season last Sunday. It’s apparent that Smith has become Joe Flacco’s most-trusted target as the second touchdown the pair connected on against the Panthers came after the quarterback dropped a snap and threw the ball up for grabs in Smith’s direction. He’s unlikely to continue a 1,600-yard pace, but it’s difficult envisioning Smith not blowing past 1,000 receiving yards, assuming he stays healthy.

Joe Flacco
Skinny: Any lingering doubts about the seventh-year quarterback’s ability to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s system are all but gone after Flacco posted a franchise-record 137.4 passer rating in the 38-10 win over Carolina. As if 327 passing yards and three touchdown passes weren’t enough, Flacco was particularly deadly when the Panthers tried to blitz, going 7-for-9 with two scores and 149 yards. After feeling like he had to do it all by himself a year ago, Flacco is once again showing what he’s capable of accomplishing with a good offensive line and strong running game supporting him. 

Terrence Brooks
Skinny: After being inactive in the Ravens’ Week 3 win in Cleveland, the 2014 third-round pick saw the first defensive action of his career against the Panthers, playing 32 snaps and finishing with two tackles while serving as a safety in the nickel package. With the entire secondary in flux beyond No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, Brooks has an opportunity to carve out a role and was complimented by head coach John Harbaugh on Monday. Starting free safety Darian Stewart has struggled in coverage through four games and could be pushed by Brooks or Will Hill when he returns from suspension next month.

STOCK FALLING

Jacoby Jones
Skinny: The veteran wide receiver was mentioned on this list a couple weeks ago, but his struggles are now impacting his playing time as Jones saw just seven offensive snaps while Marlon Brown played 31 and Kamar Aiken saw 14 against Carolina. In addition to another drop, Jones fielded a punt from his own 2-yard line, which is rarely ever a wise choice. It’s painfully obvious that Jones is pressing and his struggles are in his head, so you wonder how much patience Harbaugh and Kubiak will have and if his limited number of snaps against the Panthers is a sign of things to come.

Darian Stewart
Skinny: The veteran had another rough game against Carolina as he was late reacting in Cover 2 to prevent rookie Kelvin Benjamin from catching a 28-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. You can understand strong safety Matt Elam’s struggles when realizing he’s being asked to play the nickel corner spot, but it’s become apparent that Stewart is not the center-field option the Ravens need in the back end of the defense. It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Dean Pees awards Brooks more opportunities at safety whenever Lardarius Webb returns and Elam can remain at strong safety.

Jeromy Miles
Skinny: After serving as the free safety in the nickel package in consecutive games, the special-teams standout didn’t receive a single snap with the defense in Week 4 as it appears the coaching staff has seen enough of him in the secondary. The Ravens have struggled to find answers for their pass defense, so you never know when Miles’ name might be called again, but he didn’t do anything to make a noticeable impact. At this point, you get the impression that the Ravens are trying to throw anything they can against the wall in hopes of something sticking.

 

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Offensive line becoming major asset for Ravens at quarter mark

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Offensive line becoming major asset for Ravens at quarter mark

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On a day in which Steve Smith and Joe Flacco understandably owned the spotlight in the Ravens’ dominating 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, John Harbaugh was asked after the game how rookie free agent James Hurst fared in his first start at left tackle.

The head coach’s answer applied as an appropriate assessment of the entire offensive line through the first quarter of the season. After a nightmarish 2013 in which the group stood out on a weekly basis for all the wrong reasons, the Baltimore offensive line hasn’t been a major topic of discussion because of how consistently well it’s played.

Even after losing standout left tackle Eugene Monroe to knee surgery, the Ravens didn’t appear to miss a beat with Hurst, an offensive lineman many didn’t think would make the 53-man roster at this time a month ago.

“I didn’t notice him, so that must be a good thing, right?” Harbaugh said. “I can’t wait to see it on tape, but it seemed like he played well. We ran the ball well. We did a good job across the board, I think, blocking as a group. The unit has played exceptionally well. We have to keep building, but it’s nice to have some depth in there.”

It’s no secret that veteran members of the offensive line took last year’s criticism to heart after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda made it clear during organized team activities last spring that he had no interest in rehashing the struggles of a running game that averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry in 2013.

In the eyes of the offensive line, it was a different year with a new system installed by new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. There was also new personnel, including the arrival of veteran center Jeremy Zuttah and the promotion of second-year lineman Rick Wagner to the starting right tackle spot. Of course, the improved health of left guard Kelechi Osemele and Yanda also figured to pay major dividends after both dealt with ailments last season.

And it’s led to the previously-loud criticism of offensive line coach Juan Castillo becoming all but silent at this point.

“It’s obviously going to be different with a new offense,” said Zuttah, who’s stabilized the middle of the line that struggled with Gino Gradkowski at center a year ago. “Coach Kubiak is one of the better offensive minds in this league. You watch that Houston Texans running game for years, and they were at the top of the league every year. I think guys came in with a chip on their shoulder and an attitude and a willingness to get better.”

The Ravens’ improvement with the zone-blocking system starts inside where Zuttah said he’s flanked by the “best set of guards in the NFL” in Osemele and Yanda. Through the first four weeks of the season, the two have played at a Pro Bowl level, earning the highest cumulative grades of any Baltimore offensive players, according to Pro Football Focus.

Whether opening lanes for the running back trio of Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Bernard Pierce or protecting quarterback Joe Flacco, the offensive line continues to make the 2013 season a distant memory as the Ravens are off to a 3-1 start.

Since Flacco was sacked three times in the season-opening loss to Cincinnati, the offensive line hasn’t allowed one in three straight contests. It’s the first time the Ravens have done that since the 2006 season in which they finished 13-3.

“Those guys have been holding up big time when we do the play-action, when teams come after us, and when we’re dealing with really good defensive lines,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve got a lot of good guys up front, and they’re communicating very well, and they’re being really physical. We’re allowing them to play very physical and get really confident, so it’s been a good run.”

That physicality has paid major dividends in the running game as Forsett and Taliaferro combined to run for 127 yards on 30 carries against the Carolina defense. Averaging 4.5 yards per carry through their first four games, the Ravens have followed through on the promise to return to their roots as a physical, run-first team.

That success has led to a more-efficient Flacco, who is currently on pace to throw a career-high 28 touchdowns and is completing 63.4 percent of his pass attempts. The arrival of the veteran Smith and the revamped running game have allowed Flacco to play more like the signal-caller we saw in the 2012 postseason and less like the man who had to try to do it all by himself last year.

He can thank his offensive line for not only keeping him clean but opening running lanes for whichever running back is carrying the ball. The cohesiveness has impressed the 28-year-old Forsett, who had plenty of experience running in zone-blocking systems in Seattle as well as in his one season with Kubiak in Houston.

Behind a revamped line, the Ravens have rushed for at least 125 yards in three straight games, a feat they hadn’t accomplished since the first three weeks of the 2009 season. Through four games, they’ve also collected six runs of 20 or more yards, one more than they had all last season.

“The offensive line has been gelling really fast,” Forsett said. “I’ve been in this scheme for a while now and to be doing this well this early, it’s a good sign.”

As encouraging as the start to the season has been, the Ravens will now enter a daunting stretch of four road games over the next five weeks. They’ll need that strong offensive line play we’ve seen at M&T Bank Stadium to continue against the likes of Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh in the coming weeks.

Even with the early-season success, members of the offensive line haven’t expressed any sense of satisfaction or an air of “I told you so” after hearing last year’s criticism and the doubts leading into this season.

Averaging 25.75 points per game, the Ravens still offer the impression that they can get even better upfront.

“We did pretty good today, but there were some yards we left out there,” Zuttah said. “I think we’re going to go back in there and be tough on ourselves in the film and see what we can do to get all the yards that we think we missed.”

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope to hit the quarter pole of the season on a winning note when they welcome the Carolina Panthers to Baltimore on Sunday afternoon.

Most focus has understandably centered around wide receiver Steve Smith playing against his former team this week, but the Ravens will be playing their first game since losing tight end Dennis Pitta for the season and left tackle Eugene Monroe for at least the next few weeks. And they face an imposing stretch of four of their next five games on the road following Sunday’s contest at M&T Bank Stadium, making this a game the Ravens would desperately like to win.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are trying to recover from an embarrassing home loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday night while overcoming a number of injuries in their offensive backfield. Expected to have one of the more potent rushing attacks in the NFL this season, the Panthers currently rank 29th in run offense with just 72.3 rushing yards per contest.

Sunday marks the fifth meeting between these teams as Carolina holds a 3-1 edge. However, the Ravens won the only game against the Panthers of the John Harbaugh era, a 37-13 final in Charlotte in 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their first ever home game against the Panthers …

1. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown pass and be flagged for a 15-yard penalty against his old team. The 35-year-old has tried to downplay the significance of playing the Panthers after spending the first 13 years of his career in Charlotte, but there’s no escaping the prediction of “blood and guts” he made shortly after signing a three-year contract with the Ravens in March. To say Smith will be fired up is an understatement considering how fiery he is on game days anyway, but he’ll bring a little extra passion that will draw a 15-yard penalty for either unnecessary roughness or taunting at some point. He’ll make up for it, however, with a touchdown catch to beat Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason.

2. James Hurst will struggle as a run blocker, but his pass blocking, with help from tight end Crockett Gillmore and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, will keep Joe Flacco clean. If you’re looking for the silver lining with the left tackle situation, Monroe wasn’t playing well before undergoing knee surgery this week, meaning there may not be much of a drop-off with the undrafted rookie. The overall impression of his play in the preseason was that Hurst was a capable pass blocker with good technique, but his blocking ability in the running game left much to be desired. Baltimore will use help on his side to help contain the pass rush from the likes of Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, and Wes Horton and keep Flacco safe. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will also call more running plays inside and to the right to stay away from Hurst’s struggles whenever possible.

3. With Jimmy Smith locked on rookie Kelvin Benjamin, veteran Jerricho Cotchery catches a touchdown from Cam Newton against the Baltimore secondary. The 6-foot-5 Benjamin will pose a problem for any Ravens cornerback other than Smith, so defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have his top defensive back mirror him as much as possible. Veteran Lardarius Webb wasn’t listed on this week’s injury report, so he’s expected to have a bigger workload than the four defensive snaps he took in Cleveland, but it’s still difficult projecting what to expect from him in terms of performance. Carolina’s weapons in the passing game aren’t imposing beyond Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, but the savvy Cotchery is familiar with the Ravens defense from his days with Pittsburgh and will shake free against zone coverage for a red-zone touchdown.

4. Bernard Pierce will start in the backfield, but rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will lead the Ravens in rushing for the second straight week. A national audience watched the Steelers gash the Panthers defense for 264 rushing yards in a 37-19 final in Charlotte last Sunday night, which continued the early-season trend of Carolina struggling to stop the run. Kubiak will look to run early and often to control the tempo of the game and will defer to the returning Pierce at the start of this one. However, the jury is still out whether the 2012 third-round pick is a great fit in the Ravens’ zone-blocking scheme as he’s often looked indecisive in hitting running lanes. The Ravens will lean heavily on Taliaferro in the second half to wear down the Panthers’ front and the rookie will make another emphatic statement that the starting job belongs to him.

5. The injuries to Pitta and Monroe are concerning, but the Ravens will still have enough to handle Carolina in a 26-17 final. The Panthers are still trying to find their bearings on the offensive side of the ball with Newton still not 100 percent and the backfield in disarray with the long-term injury to fullback Mike Tolbert and the uncertain status of Jonathan Stewart. On top of that, the Carolina defense hasn’t been the imposing unit it was last year without defensive end Greg Hardy in the picture. The Ravens will use an effective running game and an improved defensive effort to win in relatively comfortable fashion to begin the season 3-1 before starting what looks to be the most difficult stretch of their regular-season schedule with only one home game over the next five weeks of action.

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