Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

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Playing Willy Wonka in America for a week for the German man who saved my wife’s life with bone marrow

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

Now that it’s taken me a few days to recover from my mystery surprise vacation, it’s time to come clean on how all of the elements of the #NielsInTheUSA tour came together during his epic, whirlwind week of travel across the continent in search of Dirk Nowitzki.

The more we posted pictures from various places and with many friends, celebrities and people involved in Jenn’s fight for her life in battling leukemia, the more questions folks had about the journey.

All of it was a secret for him. It was designed that way because he told us he loves surprises. It was also his dream trip to America – the first time he’d traveled outside of Europe.

It all began with his initial letter, which we received on August 7, 2014 – just 42 days after he anonymously donated his bone marrow to Jenn from Germany that saved her life on June 26, 2014. Read the letter here: http://wnst.net/wnst/jennstrong-receives-the-greatest-life-and-love-letter-ever-written-from-germany/

WARNING: If you do not click on the above link and read the letter, you’ll miss the whole point of everything you’re about to read and you’ll never understand what you witnessed in pictures earlier in November. Please read it before you proceed…

(Yes, really!)

You’ll be glad you did…

***

German law states that donors must wait two years before they can be introduced to a survivor. We knew in August 2014 that Jenn would have to survive and thrive for the next 22 months in order to meet him.

As many of you know, Jenn’s leukemia returned last September and she needed her still-anonymous initial donor to once again give his lymphocytes to save her life on Nov. 19, 2015. This was our best shot to cure her cancer through an awful process known as “graft vs. host disease,” which she has spent much of this calendar year experiencing most of the gruesome aftershocks of her survival last winter.

On the afternoon of June 30th, we received an email from our John Hopkins transplant coordinator with the name of the angel who saved her life.

For two years we only knew that he was male, from Germany and 21 at the time of his donation of bone marrow to save a stranger’s life in America. All he knew was that it was a 41-year old woman in America he was trying to save with his blood.

His name was Niels Domogalla, now 23, and he lives in Witten, Germany. Despite having his email address, Jenn and I dove onto the internet and she found him on Facebook within 30 seconds.

She friended him. I friended him. We both began to write short letters of introduction but before we could finish them he had already friended us both back and had commented on our walls.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon in America. It was 10:30 in the evening in Germany.

And, so, a unique friendship was berthed.

And what, exactly, do you say to a person who saved your life?

 

***

 

It didn’t take us long to realize that this was a special and unique young man in Germany. First, he really was concerned about the quality and the grammar of his English. He speaks parts of four languages and his English is about 96% perfect, which is better than …

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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: 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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Flacco surprised by Lewis’ criticism, but message itself nothing new

Posted on 18 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Those hoping for a “passionate” response from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to former teammate Ray Lewis’ criticism were probably disappointed on Friday.

A day after Lewis criticized Flacco’s passion for football and sideline demeanor, Flacco said it’s nothing he hasn’t heard before despite not expecting the latest source of criticism to be the future Hall of Fame linebacker who retired at the end of the 2012 season.

“It’s a little surprising coming from Ray, but it’s been something I’ve dealt with [since] probably back before high school and even in high school,” Flacco said. “It’s just part of my personality. When things are going good, it’s [treated] as if it’s a good thing. When things aren’t going as well as you might like them to be, it’s always a question as to whether my personality is that of one that fits what an NFL quarterback should be. It’s not anything I’m not used to, but it is a little bit different coming from Ray.”

While many have blasted Lewis for failing to acknowledge Flacco’s dynamic role in helping him retire with a second NFL championship, the 31-year-old quarterback made no mention of his historic postseason run that included 11 touchdowns and no interceptions that culminated with an MVP performance in Super Bowl XLVII.

Outside observers may not be able to completely dismiss Lewis’ perspective since the two played together for five seasons, but it was apparent in the Baltimore locker room on Friday that the future Hall of Famer’s comments did not sit well with Flacco’s current teammates. Veteran safety Eric Weddle went as far as asking if Lewis had forgotten that Flacco won him a Super Bowl and suggested he should have something better to talk about than tearing down an old teammate.

The Ravens are in the midst of their fourth season since Lewis’ retirement.

“He hasn’t been, but he was here for a while,” Flacco said. “You want to be able to listen to what he says and all that. I know he hasn’t been here for a while, but we want him to feel part of this place and we want him to come around. I don’t know how much that plays or doesn’t play into it.”

Preparing for his biggest challenge of the season to date in playing on the road against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Flacco made the right choice in taking the high road to prevent the controversy from becoming an even bigger story. Even if Lewis’ comments were unfair, Flacco is still in the midst of one of his worst seasons and likely wouldn’t come across well getting into a war of words with the best player in franchise history.

That being said, Flacco didn’t seem concerned about clearing the air when asked if he might give Lewis a call to try to clear the air.

“Probably not. Me and Ray are going to cross paths again,” Flacco said. “It might be brought up; it might not. Who knows?”

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Ray Lewis criticizes Flacco’s passion for football

Posted on 17 November 2016 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is having one of the worst seasons of his career.

Former teammate and future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis apparently has taken notice, labeling his play as inconsistent and questioning Flacco’s passion for the game in a conversation with Jason Whitlock on FOX Sports 1 on Thursday. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Lewis has criticized Flacco for not being more of a vocal leader.

Lewis was asked why the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player has been so inconsistent this season.

“I can’t tell you that,” Lewis said. “I’ll tell you what I do know. There is something called talent, and you see it a dime a dozen. Then, there’s something called being passionate about what you do — about really what you do. And me being around it … Gifted? Absolutely. Passionate about what he do? I’ve never seen that. I don’t know what that looks like.

“When you watch, sometimes he’s always isolating himself to go sit on the bench, never talking to anybody after a big play, bad play, whatever it is. Teammates figure out how to create this core that we all get along. Then, there’s a fact, right? Some people will be co-workers, some people will be teammates, and then some people you may call friends. I call Joe Flacco a teammate. We won a Super Bowl together.”

Having played with Flacco for five seasons, Lewis certainly has more perspective than an outside observer and there could be some level of truth in what he says. However, it’s a very poor look for Lewis to only mention in passing the fact that they won a Super Bowl together. Flacco’s historic play in the 2012 postseason was the biggest reason why Lewis was able to ride off into the sunset holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the second time in his 17-year career.

I’m guessing Lewis wasn’t worried about Flacco’s passion when he threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions over those four postseason wins culminating with a title in New Orleans. Perhaps the former Raven is still a little sore about the quarterback poking fun at his sometimes-incoherent speeches a few years back.

Whitlock suggested that Flacco might have a little “Jay Cutler” in him, a comparison that Lewis didn’t go out of his way to refute.

“When you think about mentality, when you watch him, I don’t know how many times you will hear somebody go out on a limb to defend [and say], ‘He’s the greatest teammate I’ve ever had,'” Lewis said. “I don’t know how many times you would hear that. Maybe it’s because his personality just isn’t that personality. He’s not a ‘rah-rah’ guy. He won’t say much.

“But I still [think], in the game of football, there has to be some burning fire behind you. There has to be something that’s bigger than me. Like, ‘This is us. This is the core.’ And whether you understood everything that I used to do or why I used to do it, sometimes I didn’t rah-rah for me. Sometimes I rah-rahed because my boys needed the rah-rah. Sometimes I stepped in the huddle and said things and stood in the gap for them.”

Regardless of other circumstances such as an injury-riddled offensive line and an inconsistent running game, Flacco’s play is certainly deserving of criticism this season. But Lewis attacking his passion for the game and not offering anything else of substance about what has — or hasn’t — been happening on the field this season is a low blow.

Even if it hasn’t happened in 2016, Flacco has shown countless times that he can play at a high level without the kind of personality Lewis believes he needs. Having a different temperament doesn’t necessarily mean a guy lacks passion.

Maybe Lewis will remember that the next time he glances at his second Super Bowl ring.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win over Cleveland

Posted on 12 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back above .500 after a 28-7 victory over winless Cleveland on Thursday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Watching Terrell Suggs get the best of nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas was special. He’s playing with one arm and isn’t the consistent game-wrecker he used to be, but the 34-year-old turned in a vintage performance with a strip sack and a pass defense leading to an interception.

2. He recovered nicely to throw three touchdown passes, but Joe Flacco looked jumpy and frenetic in the pocket throughout the first half. The Ravens can only hope his second-half rebound is a sign of better things to come, but that third-quarter interception in the end zone was ugly.

3. Marty Mornhinweg should continue using the crossing routes and slants we saw in the second half against the Browns. There’s no reason not to use the speed of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman while letting Flacco get rid of the ball quickly.

4. We’ve talked plenty about Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young, but nickel cornerback Jerraud Powers turned in a strong performance. He broke up a pass the only time a Cleveland quarterback threw his way and intercepted another that was knocked up into the air.

5. You could tell how relieved John Harbaugh was to be able to smile and exhale over the final few minutes of Thursday’s 21-point win. Twenty-two of your previous 24 games being decided by a single possession will take a toll.

6. Jeremy Zuttah has had his struggles this season, but he’s the only Baltimore offensive lineman to start all nine games. Give the center credit for pushing through back and ankle issues to play 72 of 82 offensive snaps, especially after left guard Alex Lewis left with an ugly ankle injury.

7. It’s looking more and more like the offensive line problems aren’t going to be fixed this season. Lewis had looked good at left guard the last two games while the status of five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda remains in question. Those are crippling losses.

8. Some of the gold numbers were difficult to read, but I give the “Color Rush” uniform a passing grade, especially compared to those of other teams. I’d like to see the striping on those purple pants added to the Ravens’ black pants that are too dull.

9. Every time Michael Pierce turns in another strong performance, I can’t help but think it pushes pending free agent Brandon Williams a little further out the door. The rookie free agent recorded a tackle for a loss and batted a pass at the line of scrimmage.

10. Josh McCown had past success against the Ravens, but Hue Jackson’s decision to bench Cody Kessler was still baffling. Kessler wasn’t great, but that was a quick hook for a rookie who had outplayed Flacco to that point and orchestrated a touchdown drive in the first half.

11. They can’t do it exclusively, but the no-huddle offense needs to become a bigger part of what the Ravens do after it led to two touchdowns in the second half. It could put some strain on the defense, but you have to do whatever it takes to get Flacco going.

12. Watching Steve Smith’s eyes light up when asked about doing the Ray Lewis dance reminds us how much the 37-year-old still feels like a kid. After getting permission from Lewis to do the dance, Smith watched some YouTube videos to make sure he got it right. Having fun matters.

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Youthful contributions offer hope for Ravens in second half and beyond

Posted on 11 November 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It may well have been only fool’s gold against the worst team in the NFL, but the Ravens could still feel good about themselves after scoring a season high for points in a 28-7 win over Cleveland.

After an ugly first half in which they managed only two field goals, the second-half explosion was a confidence boost that a struggling offense desperately needed. After weeks of producing so little against mediocre-to-poor units, Baltimore was finally able to make a bad defense look, well, bad.

The first-place Ravens hope they can build off their 22-point output against the Browns in the second half, but it was the contributions of three young offensive players that offered the most excitement in Thursday’s win. Now preparing for a daunting seven-game stretch to conclude the 2016 regular season, the Ravens need more contributions from Breshad Perriman, Kenneth Dixon, and even Darren Waller like they received on Thursday night.

Veterans such as Steve Smith, Mike Wallace, and Dennis Pitta will continue to be the primary options for Joe Flacco in the passing game, but any successful offense needs meaningful contributions from others in any given week, especially against formidable opponents. After a season and a half of frustration primarily stemming from injuries, Perriman made a terrific adjustment on a 27-yard touchdown catch to cap off a 12-play, 90-yard drive in the fourth quarter.

The score was a long time coming for the 2015 first-round pick, who finished with three catches for 64 yards. Two of those receptions came on that scoring drive to put Cleveland away for good.

“For Breshad to go up and get that ball and adjust his body, it was fantastic,” said Smith, who finished with five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. “That is dramatic. As your first career touchdown, that is as dramatic as you want it to be. That is a keeper.”

The Ravens can only hope that touchdown is a springboard for Perriman to truly become a keeper, but he wasn’t the only young player to impress against the Browns. Dixon, a fourth-round rookie from Louisiana Tech who turned heads in the preseason, finished with a team-high 80 yards from scrimmage on just 11 touches and flashed the ability that prompted some analysts to rate him as high as the second-best running back in this year’s draft behind only fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott.

Terrance West has proven himself to be a capable starting back through the first half of the season, but the 212-pound Dixon shows a combination of speed and surprising physicality — he broke at least two tackles on Thursday — that makes you think he can be more of a big-play option in the backfield. Injuries have been his biggest challenge as he is just now starting to look as explosive as he did in a strong preseason before suffering a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

Through his first four NFL games, Dixon averaged just 1.5 yards per carry and caught only five passes for six yards, but he looked like a different player against the Browns.

“He got back from the knee about four weeks ago and has steadily looked better,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I told him this week, I said, ‘This is your breakout game. You look like you’re ready.’ He did a great job.”

Waller isn’t someone who was on many people’s radar as the Ravens entered the season with extensive depth at tight end, but injuries have led to an increased role and it was his four-yard touchdown that put Baltimore ahead early in the third quarter. A converted receiver drafted in the sixth round out of Georgia Tech a year ago, Waller has a 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame and the kind of speed that could make him a significant matchup problem as he matures.

Entering the night ranked 24th in red-zone offense, the Ravens would be wise to continue to look his way in that area of the field where they’ve lacked an option to go up and get the ball.

“Darren’s a big guy that runs well, has great hands. He’s a real talented guy,” said Flacco, who shook off two interceptions to throw for 296 yards and three touchdown passes on Thursday. “I think getting him involved and showing himself that he can do it [is important]. He’s another guy that once he gets out there and gets more playing experience, he’ll start to really understand things. I think he’s got a great guy to watch in Dennis, in terms of running routes and stuff like that.”

The Ravens merely did what they were supposed to do against a team that hasn’t yet won a game, so it would be unwise to boldly proclaim Thursday as a turning point for an offense that’s disappointed all year. Nine games into the season, we know this team leans heavily on a strong defense that was once again sensational in limiting the Browns to just one touchdown and 144 total yards.

But seeing Perriman, Dixon, and Waller stand out was not just an encouraging sign for the playoff run over the final seven games. The Ravens need young players such as these to step forward for a brighter future.

“Any time you’re a young guy, and you do those things, it’s good in the long run,” Flacco said. “You feel a part of the team. And when you go out there, in order to really feel part of the team and feel great about it, it’s all about going out there and making plays and showing your teammates that you can do it.”

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Thursday

Posted on 09 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens must build on what they accomplished in Week 9.

As veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs reminded in the post-game locker room on Sunday, a win over Pittsburgh means nothing if the Ravens stub their toe against 0-9 Cleveland on Thursday night. Of course, that stubbed toe would feel more like an amputation against a team that hasn’t won a game since before last Christmas.

A win would not only give the Ravens a half-game lead in the AFC North entering the weekend, but they would also move back above .500 for the first time since mid-October. On the flip side, the Browns are a loss away from their worst start in franchise history, a dubious possibility in a nationally-televised game.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore tries to avenge a rare home loss to Cleveland last season and complete the season sweep in 2016. The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series by a 26-9 mark and are 13-4 against the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Cleveland has lost 15 of the 17 games played in this series during the John Harbaugh era.

Below are five predictions for Thursday night:

1. Steve Smith will shine in prime time with his second touchdown reception of the year. Thursday marks the first night game of the season for the Ravens, meaning the 37-year-old wide receiver will be eager to prove to a national audience that he’s still playing at a high level despite last year’s devastating Achilles tendon tear. Mike Wallace has had a strong season, but Smith is still the one who really makes the passing game go, evident by how mightily the Ravens struggled without him last month. He’ll take advantage of the league’s 23rd-ranked pass defense to find the end zone.

2. The Ravens secondary will victimize Browns rookie Cody Kessler with two interceptions. The rookie third-round pick from USC has played surprisingly well in his first six NFL starts, throwing for five touchdowns and only one interception while posting a 96.1 passer rating. However, you have to wonder how he responds on a big stage against a defense playing at a high level. After dropping multiple interceptions against Ben Roethlisberger in Week 9, Baltimore will be motivated to catch the ball to add to its total of nine picks on the season.

3. Terrelle Pryor will continue his strong season for Cleveland with 75 yards receiving and a touchdown catch. The 6-foot-4 former quarterback bounced from team to team for a couple years before finding a home with the Browns. Pryor has emerged as a play-maker with 46 catches for 579 yards and four touchdown catches despite a carousel of quarterbacks playing for the Browns. The return of rookie first-rounder Corey Coleman from a broken hand gives Cleveland another matchup problem, which will help Kessler find his top receiver for the Browns’ lone touchdown of the night.

4. Baltimore will eclipse 100 yards rushing for the first time since Week 5. After so much hand-wringing about the running game before Marc Trestman’s firing, the Ravens have been even worse on the ground since his exit, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry over the last three games. With Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda not expected to play and rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley struggling mightily in his return last week, it’s in the Ravens’ best interest to be able to run the ball and the Browns are giving up 4.6 yards per carry this season. This team must find a solid ground game to stay in the playoff hunt.

5. Joe Flacco and the offense will be steady but unspectacular in a 20-12 win that looks like a typical short-week game. These NFL Thursday games are a terrible product and this one involves the worst team in the league and another that hasn’t blown anyone out in two years, a combination that doesn’t create the highest expectations. We know the Ravens have been a mess offensively for quite some time, but the Browns rank at or near the bottom in multiple defensive categories. Improved third-down efficiency and two touchdowns shouldn’t be too much to ask if the offense is going to start showing improvement. The Ravens will be in control, but a late Cleveland score results in another one-possession final.

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Ravens “haven’t done anything” to be able to take Cleveland lightly

Posted on 09 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are playing the worst team in the NFL at home on a short week and are coming off a critical win over their biggest AFC North rival that moved them into a first-place tie.

Yes, the woeful Cleveland Browns haven’t won a game in nearly 11 months, but we’re also talking about a Baltimore team that’s lost four of its last five games and has made several below-average defenses look exceptional over that time. The Ravens also haven’t beaten a team by more than one possession in nearly two years and have seen 22 of their last 24 games decided by a single score.

There’s also that matter of what happened in Week 2 if there were any lingering question of whether the Browns had the Ravens’ attention. That’s why any thoughts about a potential letdown are being met with a different response than the one you usually hear from a team in first place.

The Ravens aren’t good enough themselves to take any team — even the Browns — lightly.

“We haven’t done anything yet. We’re 4-4,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We sit at the top of the division, but one loss and you’re out. This is a division game, a rival. They were up 20-0 on us and easily could have beaten us, so we can look at many factors to remind ourselves that we can’t take anything for granted.”

It’s easy to dismiss the Browns, who are 0-9 and own the worst point differential in the league at minus-105. First-year head coach and former Ravens assistant Hue Jackson knows what he’s dealing with as he spoke just this week about finding a way to avoid going 0-16.

The Browns do have a handful of talented players such as nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, and young wide receivers Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman, but the problem is the rest of the roster that resembles an expansion team.

They have been competitive at times, starting with their surprising performance against the Ravens in which they jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter before Baltimore scored 25 unanswered points the rest of the way. The Browns forced overtime at Miami the following week and held a second-half lead on the road against Washington in Week 4. They even held a 20-7 halftime lead over a New York Jets team that had beaten the Ravens just a week earlier.

“If you watch the tape, they are making a lot of really good plays,” head coach John Harbugh said. “This is a very formidable challenge. It was the first time we played them this year. It was both games last year. It was both games the year before that. It always is that way, so our guys understand the rivalry that we have with Cleveland. We understand how tough a game it’s going to be. We don’t put any stock in that [winless record].”

Despite those polite comments, the Ravens know they have no excuse not to win Thursday’s game.

The Browns rank 31st or 32nd in the league in total defense, run defense, points allowed per game, third-down defense, and red-zone defense. If Joe Flacco and the offense can’t get going against this miserable group, then it’s difficult to think they ever will this season.

The Ravens defense continued to earn more respect after overwhelming Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers for most of this past Sunday’s contest and will now have a chance to make life miserable for rookie Cody Kessler and an offense ranked 19th in total yards and 29th in points per game.

It likely won’t be the prettiest performance as we’ve come to expect for any Thursday night game, but it’s an opportunity to move back over .500 that the Ravens cannot afford to squander. Amazingly, a Browns loss could officially eliminate them from playoff contention this weekend depending on what happens elsewhere, but Baltimore is only concerned with taking care of its own business in the second of four home games over a five-game stretch.

“We haven’t played as well as we wanted to yet, but we’ve positioned ourselves to this point,” said Flacco, who threw for 302 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions against Cleveland in Week 2. “Our goal over the next month will be to put ourselves in a position to play meaningful games in December. If we can get ourselves to the point where we’re playing meaningful games in December, then that usually leads to playoff games where anything can happen.

“We have a lot of room to get better.”

That starts with doing what they’re supposed to do against a woeful opponent on Thursday.

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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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