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Perriman calls injury “hardest thing I’ve ever been through”

Posted on 19 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Walking to the podium to address the media for the first time since injuring his knee on the first day of training camp in late July, Ravens receiver Breshad Perriman cracked a smile.

There hasn’t been much for the 2015 first-round pick to be happy about this season as he was officially placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, ending his rookie campaign before it ever began. Perriman’s partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament wound up being a microcosm of the 2015 season for Baltimore.

Much worse than anyone thought.

“It has been probably the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, honestly,” said Perriman, who is still wearing a brace on his right knee that is “healing very well” now. “It’s just a huge disappointment for me, and I feel like I’m letting them down as well, because I feel like I do have a role on this team. I don’t know how much I can help, but I know that I can help somewhere.”

Drafted to be the replacement for speedy veteran Torrey Smith, Perriman had impressed in spring workouts and was considered more advanced than Smith was as a rookie in 2011. The Ravens were so confident in Perriman’s ability and potential that general manager Ozzie Newsome did not add another veteran to pair with the 36-year-old Steve Smith, a mistake that’s come back to haunt them in the midst of a 2-7 season.

Injuring his knee in the final 30 minutes of the first full-squad practice on July 30, Perriman was initially told he would only miss a couple days of practice. However, a closer look revealed a PCL sprain — which is defined as a partial tear — that would keep him out longer than expected.

With head coach John Harbaugh not providing many specifics along the way, fans and media questioned what was really going on with Perriman’s knee and some began questioning his tougness. Meanwhile, the 22-year-old was struggling with the reality of not being able to contribute to the team that selected him 26th overall in April.

“I didn’t really see it coming, so once it happened, I shut everyone out,” Perriman said. “I wasn’t really talking to anybody. Finally, my parents noticed it, because I wasn’t even picking up their calls. Finally, they came up here for the weekend, and they really noticed my feelings and my reaction to all this stuff. They gave me words of encouragement about all the stuff that I’ve been through and all of the things that other people have been through that is way worse than this.”

His knee finally feeling good enough to return to the practice field on a limited basis on Sept. 24, Perriman experienced a setback a few days later in a pre-game workout at M&T Bank Stadium. Admitting that he “overdid it” working out with wide receivers coach Bobby Engram on the morning of the Cincinnati game, Perriman felt a “pop” in his knee, which would prove to be the fatal blow to his chances of playing this season.

Head coach John Harbaugh denied any knowledge of a setback when asked a few days later, but Perriman visited renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who discovered that the tear was worse than what it was originally. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound receiver received a platlet-rich plasma injection in addition to having the knee scoped, but the Ravens’ lack of transparency created more skepticism without any confirmation that he had re-injured his knee.

Even after the setback, the Ravens hoped Perriman would be able to return before the end of the year, but the rookie never appeared close to returning to practice as his teammates began realizing it looked like he wouldn’t be playing in 2015.

“As the season went on, it’s kind of like, ‘OK, this is going to be tough for him to really come in and contribute,'” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Yes, you obviously feel for the kid. At the same time, it’s tough to really think too much about that, because we’re all in the midst of our own little thing and our own little battles.”

Harbaugh acknowledged during the bye week that the clock was ticking for a potential return, but Perriman said the collaborative decision was made to for him to go on IR this week because he would not have enough time to rebuild quadriceps strength and get back into football shape to realistically be able to play before the end of the season.

Despite his obvious disappointment of missing the entire season, Perriman said doctors haven’t shared any concern about the knee being a chronic or long-term problem.

“Not at all. They never expressed that to me, so that’s not [part] of my worries at all,” said Perriman, who also confirmed that the injury was unrelated to the Osgood-Schlatter disease that plagued him when he was younger. “They basically told me once I get this thing back 100 percent, that I’ll be good, and I should be fine throughout the rest of my career. It could potentially happen again, but the odds of that probably are slim.”

Even if Perriman is fully healthy moving forward, questions remain about his ability going into a critical offseason. At the time they drafted him, the Ravens hoped he would be their No. 1 receiver of the future with Steve Smith entering his 15th NFL season. Now, the latter is recovering from a torn Achilles and hasn’t yet announced whether he will follow through with his original plan to retire.

Trying to find a silver lining in a disappointing rookie year, Perriman feels confident about his mental approach to the game after learning all receiver positions in the offense, saying he’s at “a very strong point in the playbook.”

Despite his physical and emotional challenges dealing with the injury, coaches see a player with a strong commitment to the game.

“It’s difficult to continue to talk about the same subject, so we talk about other things,” offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. “I think football’s really important to Breshad. I think being a Raven is really important to him, and he wants to get back here as quickly as he can. I know he’s working with the people who are trying to help him do that. He loves football, and he wants to be a part of this.”

After his frustrating and bizarre rookie season, fans will remain skeptical until Perriman proves that he is fully healthy and ready to contribute in 2016.

He can look no further than to a receiver the Ravens recently played — San Diego’s Keenan Allen — for inspiration. Having suffered a Grade 2 PCL tear in late October of his final season at Cal, Allen was slow to recover throughout the pre-draft process, which contributed to him falling to the third round of the 2013 draft.

Allen went on to catch 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games as a rookie that fall. Perriman and the Ravens can only hope his career follows a similar path after a trying first year.

“This was a difficult point in time for me. I was in — I would probably say — like a dark hole for a good period of time,” Perriman said. “But I feel like next year — when next year comes around once I finally get healthy — I’m going to be hungrier than ever. I feel like I’m going to come back harder than I ever have.”

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Ravens running game continues to be forgotten under Trestman

Posted on 17 November 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have lost their way.

That statement carries many connotations these days as Baltimore holds a 2-7 record for the first time since 2005, but it’s especially true when examining the disappearance of the running game after the Ravens finished eighth in the NFL with 126.2 rushing yards per game under Gary Kubiak a year ago. Despite maintaining that it was in the Ravens’ DNA to run the football when they hired pass-happy offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, head coach John Harbaugh has seen his rushing attack plummet to 23rd in the NFL with just 98.1 yards on the ground per game. The Ravens rank 18th in the league at 4.0 yards per carry after averaging a healthier 4.5 yards per attempt in 2014.

The running game again wasn’t a major factor in Sunday’s 22-20 loss to Jacksonville as the Ravens carried 21 times for 89 yards while Joe Flacco attempted 45 passes.

“We’d like to run the ball more; there’s no question,” Harbaugh said. “On the other hand, if you look at the defenses [the Jaguars] were playing, there were eight guys within four or five yards of the line of scrimmage at all times, pretty much, and even then, we had some really good runs. We had some nice runs in the second half. We weren’t able to finish in four-minute [drill] like we would have wanted to; we were close to popping a couple of those runs.

“In the first half, we weren’t getting much. If we could have converted a couple more first downs there, you would have seen more runs. It’s something we had planned on doing. We were going to run it at them anyway, but we just didn’t get the opportunities that we wanted to.”

It’s fair to note that the Jaguars entered Sunday ranked seventh in the NFL in run defense, but the Ravens barely even tried in the first half with just four designed runs compared to 29 drop-backs for Flacco in his first game since No. 1 receiver Steve Smith was lost for the season. As for Harbaugh’s explanation, the Ravens picked up 11 first downs in the first 30 minutes of action, which wasn’t indicative of a team struggling to get on schedule with moving the chains.

Asked if Flacco checked out of a high number of plays at the line of scrimmage because of the Jaguars stacking the box, Harbaugh said that there were only a couple instances when the original play was changed, leading one to conclude that Trestman was responsible for the out-of-whack ratio. The pass-happy attack may have found success to the tune of 14 points and 223 yards of offense in the first half, but the approach backfired in the third quarter with Flacco turning the ball over on the first three possessions after intermission.

The Ravens carried 16 times for 70 yards in the second half.

“We knew we had some opportunities in the passing game, but we always look to run,” said running back Justin Forsett, who finished with 53 yards on 14 carries. “It’s just tough that we didn’t get it going faster. If we had, we would’ve been able to run the ball a little bit better. At the end, we just didn’t finish well.”

It’s easy to point to the opponent to defend Trestman’s approach on Sunday, but the Ravens also ran six times — one was a quarterback kneel — for 15 yards in the first half against San Diego, a run defense that currently ranks 27th in the NFL. Not counting plays resulting in sacks, the Ravens rank 26th in the NFL in running the ball just 37.29 percent of the time in 2015.

Last year, Baltimore ran the ball 44.67 percent of the time to rank 11th in the league.

Is it understandable to expect more passing in 2015 with the Ravens trailing in more games? Absolutely, but Baltimore has trailed by more than one score in the second half of just four games this year and one of those was the comeback win at Pittsburgh when the Ravens ran for almost 200 yards in an overtime victory. It’s difficult to say you’re committed to the running game when it wasn’t even allowed to find a rhythm in the first half of each of the last two games when they never trailed by more than seven points.

Whether because of a lack of commitment or production — or both — a ground game that returned the same starting running back and same starting offensive line from a year ago continues to be a significant disappointment under Trestman. It’s made life even more difficult on Flacco, who is trying to succeed with arguably the most underwhelming group of pass-catchers in the NFL.

The Ravens rank ninth in the NFL with 263.6 passing yards per game, but they’re 25th at 6.7 yards per attempt. For the second time in three years, the offense has fallen on Flacco’s shoulders despite a substandard cast of receivers around him.

Despite what the coaching staff has said at numerous times this season, there doesn’t appear to be much urgency to get the ground game going after the latest soft showing against Jacksonville.

“The run game is something to talk about,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “We were looking at it hard this morning, this afternoon with the coaches. Early in the game, we’re a block here and a block there away from popping runs. But a block here and a block there doesn’t get it done. We did a lot of things with scheme. We had a lot of formations. We protected our edges with tight ends and with seal blocks coming back and sift blocks coming back the other way. We did a good job of protecting our edges. But inside of all that, they had a couple of little changeups with their linebackers that gave us a little trouble that we sorted out toward the end of the game, [and we] had some better runs.”

Entering 2015, the running game was supposed to be the rock-solid commodity for a Ravens offense that experienced plenty of change in the offseason. Instead, it’s become just another of the many problems plaguing a 2-7 football team.

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In last stand, Ravens fail to change losing tune

Posted on 15 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday represented the last stand for the 2015 Ravens.

After their win over San Diego two weeks ago, players and coaches talked about making a second-half run to climb back into an underwhelming AFC wild-card race. Coming off their bye, the Ravens had an extra week to make mid-season adjustments and to prepare for a 2-6 opponent that hadn’t won a road game in nearly two years.

Their most optimistic fans believed there was at least a small chance for the Ravens to turn around their season starting with a win over the lowly Jaguars. But that dream vanished with Elvis Dumervil’s face mask penalty with no time remaining, setting up Jason Myers’ 53-yard field goal to hand the Ravens a stunning 22-20 defeat.

Head coach John Harbaugh called it “as tough a loss as you’re ever going to see” as Baltimore fell to 2-7, but it was just the latest crushing defeat in the most disappointing season in franchise history. The Ravens are just bad enough to find new ways to lose close games on a weekly basis.

“I felt like we lost the game way before that,” said wide receiver Kamar Aiken, citing the Ravens’ slew of other mistakes and his own dropped passes. “It should have never gotten to that point.”

Dumervil’s penalty was just the last of several miscues over the final four minutes of the game after Jacksonville punted the ball back to the Ravens with 3:57 remaining.

The first play of that drive was a Joe Flacco pass to Kyle Juszczyk that resulted in six yards before the fullback ran out of bounds — stopping the clock. After then moving the ball to the Jacksonville 43, the Ravens elected to take a timeout on fourth-and-5 instead of letting the play clock expire and taking a five-yard penalty for a delay of game.

Arguably the best punter in the NFL this season, Sam Koch punted the ball into the end zone for his first touchback of the season, giving the Jaguars the ball at the 20 instead of inside their 10 with 1:06 left and no timeouts remaining.

The decision seemed inconsequential at the time, but how crucial did that extra second and field position turn out to be for the Jaguars?

On second-and-15 from the Jacksonville 40, Ravens safety Kendrick Lewis dropped what would have been the game-clinching interception. That missed chance came just two plays before Dumervil’s critical mistake on a play in which virtually everyone on the field had stopped playing except for Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and the Pro Bowl outside linebacker.

But the Ravens had other failed chances and errors — including four second-half turnovers — that put them in position for the final bizarre play to matter. There may have been some new post-bye wrinkles with more three-tight sets on offense and new personnel groups on defense — the previously-missing 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown even played — but the same mistakes came at critical times as the Ravens committed nine penalties for 121 yards.

It used to be that the Ravens had to play poorly and a team like Jacksonville would need to be nearly perfect to have a real chance to win in Baltimore, but let’s not pretend that the Jaguars were a juggernaut with their collection of dropped passes, a 26-yard field goal miss, and questionable play-calling throughout the day.

Sunday was 60 minutes of mediocre football played between two bad teams, with the Ravens blinking hardest at the end.

“We’re just not the type of team that’s finding ways to win right now,” said Flacco, who committed three turnovers in the third quarter despite three touchdown passes on the day. “We’re not good enough to [win] football games at the end. You can look at how crazy it is no matter what. We have chances to close those games out. We’re just leaving room for stuff like this to happen.”

You can keep pointing to closes losses and dwelling on misfortune.

Instead of turning a corner after their bye week and making a statement that the second half of 2015 would be a different story, the Ravens played the same losing tune in the end. And it wiped out what faint hope might have remained in their lost season.

M&T Bank Stadium used to be a place where the Ravens were almost invincible, but they’re now 1-3 at home with losses to Cleveland and Jacksonville, perennial doormats of the AFC. There’s just no explanation for it other than being a bad team, even if the Ravens and their fans might feel like the football gods were conspiring against them on that final play.

“We are not catching those breaks,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “It’s a flag here, dropped picks, and [missed] opportunities, and we’re not coming up with them.

“It’s not the universe; it’s us.”

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 14 November 2015 by Luke Jones

This isn’t a “homecoming” game for the Ravens.

Scoff as much as you’d like over the notion of the 2-6 Jacksonville Jaguars winning a road game for the first time in nearly two years and earning a victory at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since Bill Clinton was in the White House (1999), but the 2-6 Ravens have no room to be taking any opponent lightly these days. That’s especially true when one of the Jaguars’ greatest strengths — the NFL’s 11th ranked passing game — matches up against Baltimore’s 29th-ranked pass defense.

Head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have spoken all week about Sunday providing the opportunity for a fresh start and the first of many steps toward climbing back into an underwhelming AFC playoff race, but they’ll first need to show they’ve put some of their first-half struggles behind them.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and Jacksonville meet for the 19th time in the regular-season history and for the second consecutive year at M&T Bank Stadium. The Jaguars hold a 10-8 advantage in the all-time series, but that can be attributed to Jacksonville winning the first eight all-time meetings between the teams from 1996-1999 when they were old AFC Central foes. Dating back to 2000, the Ravens have won eight of 10 against Jacksonville.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win consecutive games for the first time all season …

1. The team that performs better on third down will win on Sunday. This is a boring talking point often used by the unimaginative, but I only bring it up because both teams are so poor in this area, a major reason why they sport matching 2-6 records. The Ravens rank 24th in third-down offense and dead last in the NFL in third-down defense while Jacksonville is 19th in third-down offense and 29th in third-down defense. Baltimore will be challenged to find success running the ball in early-down situations against the league’s seventh-ranked rush defense while the Jaguars want to avoid putting the mistake-prone Blake Bortles in third-and-long spots. This will be critical factor in a close contest.

2. The Ravens secondary will snap Allen Hurns’ touchdown streak, but Allen Robinson will post over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. Hurns is questionable to play with a foot injury, meaning he will be less than 100 percent if he does find his way to the field on Sunday to try to continue a streak of six consecutive games with a touchdown reception. However, the 2014 second-round pick Robinson is emerging as one of the better big-play threats in the NFL and will create problems for Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. The Ravens should be fine if they can limit one of Jacksonville’s two impact receivers, but Robinson is just too good for the Baltimore secondary to stop at this point.

3. Kamar Aiken will have an encouraging day as the No. 1 receiver, catching six passes for 80 yards and a score. After two weeks to prepare and to talk a good game, the Ravens will now face the reality of life without Steve Smith the rest of the way. The good news for Baltimore is that Jacksonville sports the league’s 25th-ranked pass defense and has struggled to create pressure on quarterbacks this season, which should allow time for Aiken and Chris Givens to gain separation. Jacksonville’s starting cornerbacks, Davon House and Aaron Colvin, are solid, but No. 3 option Dwayne Gratz is a liability in the nickel, which will create a good matchup for Aiken on a touchdown pass.

4. Bortles will throw a costly interception midway through the fourth quarter. Counting the postseason, the Ravens have created four or more turnovers in a game 51 times in franchise history, but they have just four total takeaways in eight games in 2015. That trend just has to change at some point, right? Bortles has shown plenty of promise and has played at a high level at times this season, but he hasn’t been able to avoid critical mistakes like he made against the New York Jets last week. In a tight game, the Ravens will force their first turnover since Week 3 to end a scoring threat and preserve a narrow lead. The five-game streak without a takeaway has to end — even if it’s by accident.

5. Efficiency will be the theme of the day for Joe Flacco and the Ravens in a 28-23 win over Jacksonville. I feel for the Ravens quarterback, who has been given inferior weapons to work with in two of the last three seasons, but you never hear him complain about the factors regularly working against him. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens offense functions the rest of the way with Steve Smith out and the running game being a disappointment to this point. But Flacco will consistently make plays to move the chains and take a few deep shots to Givens in the process. The Ravens found a way to score 30 points without Smith in Week 5, and they’ll find ways to score enough against Jacksonville.

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Pitta, Ravens make difficult — and right — decision in end

Posted on 11 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dennis Pitta desperately wanted to return to the football field this season.

Still loving the game and feeling a sense of obligation to the Ravens after signing a long-term contract last year, the 30-year-old tight end rehabbed rigorously to return from the second serious hip injury suffered in a 14-month period. But the skilled route-runner known for finding open windows in coverage couldn’t separate from the memory of him collapsing to the ground without being touched after making a simple catch in Cleveland on Sept. 21, 2014.

As difficult as the decision was, he and the Ravens made the right one in the end as he will remain on the reserve physically unable to perform list for the rest of the season.

“Obviously, I’m extremely disappointed that I won’t be out there this season,” Pitta said. “It’s something that I’ve been working hard to be able to do. I’ll continue to rehab and do everything I can to make sure I’m healthy and put myself in the best position that I can.”

His disappointment is understandable after playing in just seven games since dislocating and fracturing his right hip the first time in practice on July 27, 2013. Pitta returned to play in the final four games of that season, catching 20 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

The healthy return prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to sign the 2010 fourth-round pick to a five-year, $32 million contract that included $16 million guaranteed. But Pitta injured his hip a second time in Week 3 of the 2014 season and hasn’t played since.

Returning to practice last month after beginning the season on the PUP list, the Brigham Young product acknowledged hearing conflicting opinions from those close to him — including his concerned wife, Mataya —  about whether he should resume his playing career. According to head coach John Harbaugh and teammates, Pitta looked like his old self making plays against the Baltimore defense in practices, but the stability of a twice-repaired hip wouldn’t allow his safe return at this time.

“It didn’t quite respond the way we had hoped,” said Pitta, who added that there were things on and off the field that weren’t “quite right” with the hip. “Sitting down with doctors over the last couple of days, we decided that it was certainly too much of a risk at this time and too unsafe to take the field. That was a decision that we made collectively.

“At the end of the day, we can’t ignore what sound medical science has to say.”

Pitta said Wednesday that he still hopes to continue his career and isn’t yet ready to announce his retirement, but it’s difficult envisioning what would change doctors’ minds next season after he’s already spent 14 months rehabbing from the second injury. Whether the Ravens will keep Pitta on the roster to find out is another story as his guaranteed $5 million salary for 2015 made it a no-brainer for both sides to explore his potential return this season.

Next year, his $5 million salary is not guaranteed and Pitta is scheduled to carry a $7.2 million salary cap figure. Cutting him in the offseason — possibly with a post-June 1 designation — would save cap space and not leave the Ravens on the hook for his 2016 salary in the event of another injury.

Having drafted two rookie tight ends — Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle — this spring after selecting Crockett Gillmore last year, the the organization prepared this offseason as though Pitta would not be able to return to the field.

Even so, the layers of frustration are apparent for both Pitta and the Ravens in the midst of a 2-6 season.

“It’s been kind of a roller-coaster ride,” said Harbaugh, recalling the memories of both injuries. “You have hopes. I was hoping that he’d be able to play. To see him come out here and perform well [in practices], that part of it was a plus. But the other thing that overrides all of that is the fact that you want what’s best for the player. His safety and going forward as far as his quality of life overrides all of it.”

In parts of five seasons in Baltimore, Pitta has caught 138 passes for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end added three more touchdown catches in the 2012 postseason run that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, a game in which he caught four passes for 26 yards and a 1-yard touchdown.

No one will ever forget Jacoby Jones’ 70-yard touchdown catch in the divisional-round game in Denver that January, but that game-tying play still may not have mattered if not for Pitta’s catch on third-and-13 from the Ravens’ own 3 in the first overtime period. Baltimore didn’t score on that drive, but the 24-yard reception flipped field position and allowed Sam Koch to eventually punt the ball deep into Denver territory instead of being forced to kick from deep in his own end zone and potentially set the Broncos offense up on a short field.

That critical conversion is easily one of the most underrated plays in franchise history and likely allowed the run to an eventual championship to continue. The spectacular pitch and catch epitomized quarterback Joe Flacco’s trust in his close friend and teammate on the field.

“It’s great to have a guy that you know you can go to and you know what he’s going to do,” Flacco said. “He’s going to be in the right spot, he’s going to win, and he’s going to catch the ball at the end of the day. To have a guy like that on the field with you, it makes your job a little bit easier. He was definitely a big part of that.”

Pitta said Wednesday that he doesn’t want his final play in the NFL to be the one in Cleveland that resulted in him being carted off the field. The Ravens didn’t want that, either.

But both made the right decision not to take the risk of that happening again.

Even if it marks the end of Pitta’s career with the Ravens.

“I’ll continue to work,” Pitta said, “and hopefully that won’t be the end of the story.”

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Clock ticking for Pitta, Perriman to help Ravens in 2015

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Two talented pass-catchers are potentially at opposite ends of their careers with the Ravens.

Each with the clock ticking.

Sixth-year tight end Dennis Pitta faces a Wednesday deadline to determine whether he will attempt to come back this season from the second devastating hip injury of his career suffered more than 13 months ago. Meanwhile, head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Monday that time is running out if injured first-round receiver Breshad Perriman wants to see the field in his rookie season.

Two weapons, if healthy, who could help quarterback Joe Flacco, but both are surrounded by more questions than answers as the Ravens returned from their bye to begin preparations for Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

After beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list, Pitta returned to practice on Oct. 21, triggering a 21-day window to determine whether he would return to live-game action this season. The 30-year-old hasn’t played since dislocating and fracturing his right hip for the second time in a 14-month period on Sept. 21, 2014.

“He did look good in practice. We had a tough time covering him,” said Harbaugh, who stated that an announcement would not come before Wednesday. “He was doing stuff from the ‘look’ team and made a bunch of plays out there and just kind of looked like his old self out there.

“But don’t construe that as saying that he’s ready to go, because it’s not about that. It’s going to be about he and the doctors. The doctors are going to take a hard look at that and help him decide, ‘Is this really safe?’”

Pitta’s return wouldn’t necessarily fill a positional need with the Ravens having selected three tight ends in their last two drafts, but the 2010 fourth-round pick was a favorite target of quarterback Joe Flacco, catching seven touchdowns in his last full season in 2012. Pitta caught three more touchdowns that postseason in helping the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Though he’s received positive reviews from teammates and coaches in his return to practice, Pitta acknowledged last month that there were conflicting opinions from those close to him on whether he should return to the football field after his second serious injury, which occurred without him being hit. He also said that retirement would be a distinct possibility if he would not be able to return to the field in 2015.

“Dennis is going to play if he can,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no doubt in my mind based on what I’ve talked to him. If it’s safe and he feels like he can get out there and the hip is responding well, he’s going to play. And if it’s not safe, then he’s not going to play.

“I’m sure Tuesday — it is an off-day — we’ll sit down [and] have a pow-wow on it and figure out if that’s what we’re going to do and what the doctors and he say is the best thing.”

While there isn’t as much long-term concern with Perriman, Harbaugh said Monday that he’d like to see the 26th overall pick of this year’s draft be able to play in even the final four games of the season, but he would need to return to the practice field soon in order for that to happen. The 22-year-old sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp on July 30 and briefly practiced in late September before a setback prompted arthroscopic surgery and another lengthy absence.

With No. 1 receiver Steve Smith out for the rest of the season and previously intending to retire, Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome would love to take a look at what they have with the first receiver selected in the first round by the organization since Mark Clayton in 2005. The Ravens have carried Perriman on the 53-man roster all season.

“The clock is ticking if he can’t get out there and practice soon,” Harbaugh said. “I’d love to get four games out of him, just so you can see him and he can develop for four games. But that means now we need four weeks of getting him ready to play four games, and I haven’t been told that he’s going to practice this week.

“I think that’s a conversation that the doctors and Ozzie need to have, and we need to make a determination on that real soon.”

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Five Ravens predictions for rest of 2015 season

Posted on 07 November 2015 by Luke Jones

No one expected this.

Even if you wondered why the Ravens were receiving so much preseason love after enduring a number of substantial offseason departures, a 2-6 record at the midway point could haven’t been predicted based on the history of the John Harbaugh era. Now, Baltimore must simply crawl back to respectability before any thought of playoff contention can seep back into the psyche.

If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic, the Ravens have four remaining games against opponents who entered Sunday with losing records and two others against teams with only .500 marks. After playing five of their first seven on the road to begin 2015, Harbaugh and his team will relish the opportunity to play five of their next seven contests at M&T Bank Stadium.

While inviting you to mock my preseason prophecies for the Ravens from a couple months ago, I offer five new predictions for the second half of the 2015 season …

1. Joe Flacco will remind the Ravens that reworking his contract won’t be cheap this offseason. Simply looking at the numbers won’t tell the story as you can’t expect Flacco and this group of pass-catching targets to excel with Steve Smith out for the rest of the year. That said, the eighth-year quarterback will find a way to make the offense work and play at a respectable level. With Flacco scheduled to carry a $28.55 million cap figure in 2016, both sides knew all along that his six-year, $120.6 million contract signed in 2013 would need to be reworked this offseason. Flacco will play well enough to remind Ozzie Newsome that he can lead the Ravens to the top, especially if the general manager assembles an acceptable group of talent around him unlike two of the last three seasons.

2. Jimmy Smith will start playing more like the cornerback the Ravens signed to a long-term deal last spring. Already lacking playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Ravens could hardly afford to have the fifth-year cornerback play at an underwhelming level coming off last year’s Lisfranc surgery, but Smith has at least played better of late. The surgically-repaired foot should continue to improve as the season goes on, and that will help Smith’s confidence after defensive coordinator Dean Pees recently described his play as “tentative” this season. With other recent deals such as the ones with Eugene Monroe and Dennis Pitta not working out, the Ravens need Smith to look like a No. 1 corner averaging eight figures per year. He’ll begin regaining that form in the second half.

3. Rookie Buck Allen will emerge as a viable offensive weapon coming out of the backfield. It’s easy to say that the Ravens need an inexperienced group of receivers to step up in Smith’s absence, but how much can you reasonably expect from a group of former rookie free agents and castoffs? Baltimore will lean more on its running game and Allen needs more than the 4.6 carries he’s averaged in his first eight NFL games. Justin Forsett will remain the primary ball carrier, but the 2015 fourth-round pick has more explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield and can help an undermanned passing game. To keep Forsett fresh and to determine whether Allen can at least be a strong No. 2 option, Marc Trestman will give the rookie more opportunities and he will take full advantage.

4. Chris Givens and Terrence Brooks will become starters by the end of the season. Envisioning Givens as a starter isn’t going out on a limb since he played more snaps than Marlon Brown in the San Diego game, but the fourth-year wideout plays with a chip on his shoulder after plummeting down the depth chart in St. Louis and gives Flacco a speed option he lacked at the start of the season with Breshad Perriman sidelined. Givens isn’t a long-term starter, but he will make enough plays to warrant keeping him around as an option to use in three- and four-wide sets in 2016. Meanwhile, veteran Kendrick Lewis has disappointed at safety, and it’s time for the Ravens to see whether Brooks can be a viable starter moving forward. At the very least, he’ll wrestle away the job from Lewis.

5. The Ravens will finish with a 6-10 record to earn a top 10 pick in the 2016 draft. Predicting a dramatic second-half turnaround just isn’t realistic given Baltimore’s lack of overall talent and injuries, but a favorable remaining schedule will translate to more wins for a group that’s continued to compete every week under Harbaugh. Even with two of their three remaining away games coming against teams with losing records, the Ravens shouldn’t be considered a good bet to win on the road. A 6-10 record would have had the Ravens picking as high as eighth or as low as 10th in this spring’s draft. A return to championship contention in 2016 isn’t impossible, but hitting on a couple higher draft picks in the first and second rounds would be a heck of a shot in the arm for a roster lacking elite players.

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Luke Jones on the acquisition of Joe Morgan

Posted on 04 November 2015 by WNST Staff

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S. Smith injury makes Sunday’s win feel like loss for Ravens

Posted on 01 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens and their fans deserved to feel good after Sunday’s 29-26 win over the San Diego Chargers.

Only their second win overall and first at M&T Bank Stadium in 2015, the Ravens at least had a modest reason to smile and exhale going into their bye with thoughts of transforming a 2-6 record into a respectable second half with a favorable schedule that includes five home games.

That was until the official news came regarding Steve Smith.

With the 36-year-old receiver suffering a torn Achilles tendon late in the third quarter, we’re now left wondering if we’ve seen the last of Smith, who moved past Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter into 10th place on the NFL’s all-time list for receiving yards on Sunday. Despite recently reconfirming his plans to retire at the end of the 2015 season, the fierce competitor may not want to end his career in such heartbreaking fashion.

In the meantime, reality has yet set in for the Ravens as they try to enjoy their first win in a month and some much-needed rest this coming week. Already lacking playmakers on both sides of the ball, Baltimore just lost its best one as well as one of its most respected leaders on the field and in the locker room.

“I don’t think we’ve felt the full effects of it yet,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “I look up to the guy. It’s sad, for the moment, that he not just goes out like that [but] just for him to go down [for] the season. He’s meant so much to this team, just his leadership and the guy who he is.”

Describing any injury as crippling is difficult when you’re already 2-6 and going nowhere in terms of the playoff race, but Smith’s ability and passion are not easily replaced in the second half of the season.

As they have all year with all eight of their games decided by one possession, the Ravens will continue to compete with head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco leading the way. But much like when they lost six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs in the season opener, the Ravens can’t simply use the “next man up” mantra in response to Smith’s injury.

He’s too important.

“It’s going to be an emotional thing just to lose players like that at any point,” Flacco said. “I’m not afraid to say — when you have a guy like that — what he means to this team, this organization, myself. What he’s done and just the kind of competitor he is, it’s probably a little bit tougher when you lose a guy like that.”

How the Ravens replace Smith’s production will likely keep offensive coordinator Marc Trestman awake at night over the bye week as the 15th-year wideout entered Week 8 with more receiving yards and touchdown catches than every other Baltimore receiver combined. Kamar Aiken will become the No. 1 receiver by default — complete with all 49 of his career receptions — but finding another starter from a group including Marlon Brown, Jeremy Ross, Chris Givens, and Jeremy Butler is a sobering challenge.

The season-long absence of first-round pick Breshad Perriman now becomes even more frustrating with Smith out of the picture and the Ravens not having the opportunity to see how the rookie would fare as the No. 1 receiver, the long-term role they envisioned for him when he was chosen with the 26th overall pick this spring. Harbaugh said last week that Perriman has a “shot” to play this season, but what that means is anyone’s guess after three months of frustration stemming from the 6-foot-2 wideout’s knee injury sustained on the first day of training camp.

Flacco will do what he can to try to maximize this offense, much like he did when the Ravens managed to score 30 points against the Browns with Smith on the sideline. The running game and their trio of young tight ends will become even more important than they already were with an underwhelming group of receivers behind Smith.

With two home dates against Jacksonville and St. Louis following the bye and only two of their eight remaining games against opponents currently holding winning records, the Ravens should be able to find at least a few more wins before the season from hell comes to an end.

But losing Smith is a sickening punch to a gut already too tender from six one-score defeats in eight games and a list of other injuries.

“Obviously, it makes it a little bit tougher than we’d like,” Flacco said, “but we’ve played a game this year without him and I think our guys did a great job stepping up. We were able to put some offense up, put some points on the board. The next guy steps up.

“It’s not like we’re just going to be playing with a ghost out there.”

But it feels that way right now.

And Smith’s injury made a much-needed win feel too much like a loss on Sunday.

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 31 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Both the Ravens and the San Diego Chargers entered 2015 with high expectations, making their records halfway through the season among the biggest surprises in the NFL.

Now, these struggling teams meet with their playoff hopes all but gone, but the 1-6 Ravens aim for a win to feel good about as they enter next week’s bye. Meanwhile, the Chargers sport the top-ranked passing game in the NFL, but they’ve been a difficult team to figure out after losing by just seven to undefeated Green Bay at Lambeau Field two weeks ago and then falling behind 30-3 to Oakland in the first half of a home loss last Sunday.

With some time off and a chance to escape a miserable season looming, it remains to be seen how focused the Ravens will be as they’ve lost two of their last three games going into their bye week under John Harbaugh.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and San Diego meet for the second consecutive year at M&T Bank Stadium. The teams have split 10 all-time meetings in the regular season with the Chargers winning two of the last three. The Ravens are 2-1 against San Diego in games played in Baltimore.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win its first game in three tries against an AFC West opponent this season …

1. The Ravens defense will finally force a turnover after a four-game drought. It’s been more than a month since Elvis Dumervil stripped Andy Dalton of the football and C.J. Mosley picked up the fumble and ran for a touchdown in the Week 3 loss to Cincinnati, which was the last takeaway for Baltimore. Sporting just four takeaways in their first seven games, the Ravens are on pace to shatter the franchise-worst mark of 22 set in 1996 and tied last season. With 18 periods of football having passed without a Ravens takeaway, I won’t bother with specifics, but the defense will come away with one against a San Diego offense that will be throwing a lot and has had its own issues protecting the ball.

2. Chargers receiver Keenan Allen will catch 12 passes for over 130 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-2 wideout is off to an incredible start with a whopping 62 catches for 690 yards and three touchdowns in seven games, and there’s not a single Ravens cornerback — including Jimmy Smith — playing with the confidence to slow Allen down right now. With the Baltimore secondary so concerned with giving up the big play, Allen will feast in the short-to-intermediate portion of the field while the Ravens give him plenty of cushion. In the Chargers’ 34-33 win over the Ravens last season, Allen caught 11 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns and he will post similar numbers on Sunday.

3. Joe Flacco will throw two touchdowns to tight ends against a banged-up San Diego defense. With Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle and starting inside linebacker Manti Te’o both out with injuries, Flacco should find room in the middle of the field for Crockett Gillmore and his two rookie tight ends to move the chains and make plays. The Chargers are allowing a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry and will stack the box trying to stop Justin Forsett, which should open the seam for Flacco to find Gillmore for a few chunk plays. With emerging second-year cornerback Jason Verrett matched against Steve Smith, the Ravens will need their tight ends to make plays in the middle of the field and they will.

4. Philip Rivers will become the second quarterback to throw for over 400 yards at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Considering journeyman Josh McCown passed for more than 450 yards against the Ravens in their last home game, there’s little reason to think a struggling defense will slow the NFL’s leading passer after Rivers nearly threw for 400 yards in last year’s win over Baltimore. With the Ravens only able to generate pressure using the blitz, Rivers will get rid of the ball quickly against a secondary reluctant to play press coverage. This will result in a long day for a Dean Pees defense that ranks dead last in the NFL in third-down defense.

5. Baltimore will not be able to overcome a short week and the league’s top-ranked passing game in a 30-24 loss. At first blush, I was inclined to pick the home team against a 2-5 opponent that was embarrassed at home by the Raiders a week ago, but coming off a short week is a bigger challenge than many think with the Ravens sporting a 3-5 record in games immediately following a Monday road game under John Harbaugh. Until the Ravens prove otherwise, I just can’t see them beating one of the top quarterbacks in the league when their own offense is so mediocre. We haven’t seen the Ravens make enough big plays on either side of the ball, and that will be the difference again in another close loss to a team that just isn’t a great matchup for them, especially with less time to prepare.

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