Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

Flacco quietly continuing finest regular season of career

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Flacco quietly continuing finest regular season of career

Posted on 16 December 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Houston Texans face the prospects of using their fourth quarterback of the year on Sunday, the Ravens haven’t even carried three quarterbacks on their active roster since 2009 due to Joe Flacco never missing an NFL game.

It’s been a peculiar season for Flacco under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak as a revamped rushing attack ranks fifth in the NFL and has taken much of the attention away from the veteran quarterback. But that hasn’t stopped the 29-year-old from quietly having the best season of his career with the Ravens in position to secure their sixth trip to the postseason in seven years as early as this Sunday in Houston.

Set to make his 111th consecutive regular-season start on Sunday — he’ll be opposed by Thad Lewis or Case Keenum — the durable Flacco is on pace to set career highs in a number of categories including completion percentage (64.2 percent), passing yards, touchdown passes, and passer rating (94.8). He’ll set a career low in interceptions if he can refrain from throwing one in his final two games, and his 7.4 yards per attempt average would match his career-best mark set in 2010.

Flacco set a career high with five touchdown passes in a 48-17 win over Tampa Bay in Week 6, setting an NFL record by throwing those five scores in the first 16:03 of the game.

Even the chic ESPN Total Quarterback Rating metric lands Flacco fifth in the NFL for the 2014 season, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, and Tom Brady and ahead of the likes of Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan.

His critics will point to his poor performance in consecutive road losses against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh — he threw two touchdowns and three interceptions in those games — as a reason why Baltimore is currently not in position to win the AFC North, but the 2008 first-round pick has found more consistency than in the past and is on the verge of guiding the Ravens back to the postseason after a one-year absence.

The differences in his game have been noticeable in Kubiak’s West Coast attack as his six completions of 40 or more yards would be the lowest single-season total of his career with the Ravens relying on more short-to-intermediate passing this year. But Flacco has been as efficient as ever, especially since the bye week as he’s completed 66.7 percent of his passes in three of four games.

His weapons are better than they were a year ago with the free-agent arrivals of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, but the season-ending injury to tight end Dennis Pitta in Week 3 has negated some of their impact and you still wouldn’t hold the Ravens’ pass-catching targets in the same regard as other top offenses in the league. Of course, the emergence of Justin Forsett in the running game has provided much more balance than the Ravens had with their disastrous ground game last season.

And that’s where we acknowledge arguably the biggest factor in Flacco’s strong season — the offensive line.

In addition to opening running lanes for the NFL’s No. 1 running back in yards per carry, the unit has protected Flacco better than ever as he’s been sacked just 16 times all season. His previous career low for being sacked occurred in 2011 when he was dropped 31 times.

Kubiak’s tutelage includes making quick decisions and getting rid of the ball, factors also reflecting the low sack total. Flacco owns a 110.2 passer rating when dropping back in the pocket for 2.5 seconds or less, which Pro Football Focus says is the fourth-best mark in the NFL. In contrast, his 72.5 passer rating when standing in the pocket 2.6 seconds or longer ranks 20th in the NFL.

Flacco is at his best with an effective running game and with a simple approach that allows him to make swift choices, two variables that have been in place all year.

It’s largely gone unnoticed with the black cloud of the Ray Rice saga still hanging over the organization and other headlines such as the improved running game and the struggling secondary garnering more attention, but Flacco has bounced back nicely from the most difficult season of his career.

And it’s a major reason why the Ravens are once again on the cusp of an invitation to play in January.

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On rough day, Ravens lean on biggest strength to pull through

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On rough day, Ravens lean on biggest strength to pull through

Posted on 14 December 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens were predictably complimentary of the Jacksonville Jaguars following an uncomfortable 20-12 victory on Sunday.

Head coach John Harbaugh and his players spent plenty of time after the game praising the Jaguars despite their 2-12 record, but Terrell Suggs said it best after the Ravens struggled throughout the day against one of the NFL’s worst teams.

“It would have sucked if we lost,” said Suggs, who admitted to having flashbacks to the last-second home loss to San Diego two weeks ago. “It would have been very unfortunate. But you’ve got to commend this whole team — offense and defense alike — for putting it away this time.”

Nothing felt quite right on Sunday for the Ravens, from the sparser-than-normal crowd at M&T Bank Stadium with little to cheer for throughout the day to an uninspiring performance from a team in the midst of a tight playoff race. But there are no style points for winning pretty in the NFL as the Ravens prevailed in throwback fashion, relying on a dominating front seven that sacked Blake Bortles eight times and registered 15 hits on the Jacksonville quarterback.

Suggs finished with 2 1/2 sacks, rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan added two, Pernell McPhee had 1 1/2, and C.J. Mosley and Elvis Dumervil added one apiece.

The pass rush once again masked a secondary further decimated by injuries in Week 15 as rookie safety Terrence Brooks and third-year cornerback Asa Jackson both left the game with serious knee injuries. To his credit, the previously unknown Rashaan Melvin was thrown into starting duty in his first action of the season for the Ravens and finished with five tackles — one for a loss — and a pass breakup.

The strong defensive effort was needed as the Ravens’ stout running game was nowhere to be found for much of the game and was held to just 31 yards on 13 carries before finally finding more room in the fourth quarter. Baltimore finished with 93 yards on 26 carries, averaging an underwhelming 3.6 yards per attempt.

And a special-teams group that’s been one of the finest in the NFL — and started the game with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown — had its worst game of the year as the Ravens fell for an onside kick and a fake punt, missed two field goals, and committed several key penalties and coaching gaffes.

If nothing else, the uneven performance was a group effort, but the Ravens still found a way to walk away with a victory to improve to 9-5 on the season. There isn’t much to take away beyond that.

“We didn’t play smart all the time,” Harbaugh said. “We had too many mistakes, too many errors that kept us off the field or put our defense back on the field — those kind of things. But I’ll tell you what, Jacksonville did a great job. It’s December football. You take every win you can get, and we’re proud of the victory.”

Yes, the Ravens would have been in serious trouble with a similar effort against many other teams in the NFL on Sunday, but the Jaguars were the opponent and no one else. And despite a valiant effort with nothing to play for, the Jaguars self-destructed just enough in crucial spots.

The good news is the Baltimore pass rush was at its best once again, illustrating how much a team can overcome with an ability to collapse the pocket. It’s the reason why the Ravens shouldn’t be counted out if they make the playoffs in spite of the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense.

We didn’t learn much about the Ravens on Sunday that we didn’t already know as they’ve struggled offensively when unable to run the football and the issues in the secondary aren’t going away. After a close call, they can only exhale before moving on to Week 16.

While remembering to thank a ferocious pass rush once again.

“We can’t really worry about too much other than going out and winning next week,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who tossed a third-quarter touchdown to Owen Daniels and finished with an efficient 221 yards against the Jaguars. “We know what’s in front of us, and we’ve just got to make sure we take care of one piece at a time. Nothing is really new this week than last week. We know what we have to do. We’ve just got to go do it.”

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 13 December 2014 by Luke Jones

There’s no big secret to Sunday’s game between the Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If the Ravens are the playoff-caliber team they’ve shown themselves to be for much of the 2014 season, there won’t be any drama as they try to improve to 9-5. It’s difficult to call this one a trap game when 2-11 Jacksonville hasn’t won a game on the road all year and the Ravens win the games they’re supposed to — especially at home — in the John Harbaugh era.

The Ravens know they’re guaranteed a playoff spot by winning their final three games, but Sunday is the closest they’ll get to a sure thing the rest of the way with a challenging trip to Houston next week and a season-finale against Cleveland that will likely carry plenty of pressure. Meanwhile, the struggling Jaguars are now dealing with the season-ending loss of starting running back Denard Robinson due to a sprained foot.

It’s time to go on the record as these old AFC Central foes meet for the 18th time in regular-season history with the Jaguars holding a 10-7 edge. However, the Ravens are 5-4 in Baltimore and have won seven of the last nine meetings. Jacksonville won the last regular-season game between these teams, a 12-7 final on Oct. 24, 2011.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to move a step closer toward securing a playoff spot …

1. Terrell Suggs will pick up 2 1/2 sacks working against Jacksonville tackle Luke Joeckel. Opposing offensive lines haven’t been able to slide protection because of the pressure the Ravens have created from both edges this season, but you wonder if the Jaguars will pay more attention to Elvis Dumervil, who last week set the single-season franchise record in pushing his sack total to 16. Despite being the second overall pick of the 2013 draft, Joeckel has struggled mightily in his sophomore season and Suggs will take advantage to try to close the gap in the sack department. The Ravens shouldn’t have any trouble making rookie quarterback Blake Bortles uncomfortable with the 12th-year linebacker leading the effort.

2. With Torrey Smith limited, Marlon Brown will catch his first touchdown of the season. The Ravens surprisingly listed Smith as probable on their final injury report, but they’ll try to limit throwing him into the fire as much as possible on Sunday to rest his sprained knee, which will mean more opportunities for Brown and Kamar Aiken. It’s been a disappointing season for Brown after a surprising rookie year, but he’s been more involved with the offense since the bye week, a trend that will continue against the league’s 18th-ranked pass defense. Justin Forsett and the running game figures to be featured heavily, but quarterback Joe Flacco will find Brown in the red zone for a score.

3. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts will rein in a score in a rare highlight for the Jaguars on Sunday. If Jacksonville can find even a little time for Bortles in the pocket, it’s no secret that the Baltimore pass defense is vulnerable and ranked 31st in the NFL. The Jaguars figure to be throwing the ball a lot if they fall behind like most would expect, and defensive coordinator Dean Pees will play soft coverage in the back end as the game goes on. Bortles has shown flashes of promise when he hasn’t been annihilated in the pocket — Jacksonville has allowed an incredible 54 sacks this season — and he’ll orchestrate a nice scoring drive finished off with a short touchdown to Shorts.

4. Lardarius Webb will secure his first interception in what’s been a difficult season. The sixth-year cornerback is healthier now than he was earlier in the season, but it’s been a disappointing year for Webb as his future with the Ravens is in question due to his $12 million cap figure in 2015. However, the Jaguars don’t have any receivers that should scare the Ravens, and Bortles has thrown 16 interceptions in 379 pass attempts. The Ravens secondary hasn’t been able to create many turnovers this season, but the Jaguars are tied for 26th in the NFL with a minus-8 turnover margin. Webb will pick off his first pass of the season to set the Ravens up on a short field.

5. The Ravens will emphatically handle a team they’re supposed to beat in a 31-13 final. Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, but this one is as close as it gets with an opponent having nothing to play for coming to M&T Bank Stadium to face the Ravens, who have very little margin for error as they try to make it back to the playoffs after a one-year absence. Short of something catastrophic such as a multiple-turnover performance or an injury to Flacco, the Ravens just aren’t going to let the lowly Jaguars beat them. It won’t be a flawless performance — the Ravens never seem to make it quite as easy as they should in these spots — but the home crowd will ultimately go home happy after the win.

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Harbaugh’s bold move sets attitude for Ravens’ season-saving win

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Harbaugh’s bold move sets attitude for Ravens’ season-saving win

Posted on 07 December 2014 by Luke Jones

John Harbaugh may not be a prophet, but he offered a glimpse into a head coach’s mindset for making difficult in-game choices six days prior to the Ravens’ season-saving 28-13 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

That decision-making process played out again early in the third quarter Sunday as the Ravens trailed 10-7 and faced fourth-and-1 at their own 35-yard line. Instead of sending his punting unit onto the field as most coaches would do in such a spot, Harbaugh decided the Ravens would go for it and threw caution to the wind.

And that’s where his response last Monday when questioned about using a timeout before kicking a late field goal in the disappointing loss to San Diego rang loud and clear.

“‘In retrospect,’ you’d always like to do something different if it doesn’t work out,” Harbaugh said. “But in the heat of battle, you do the best you can, you make the decision that you make — the one that you think is best at the time.

“We did the best we could; it wasn’t good enough. I didn’t do well enough making those decisions enough to win the game in the end. And that’s the reality — just take responsibility for it and move on.”

There’s no doubt that Harbaugh would have been facing a mountain of criticism had quarterback Joe Flacco been stuffed at the line of scrimmage and the Ravens not moved down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown and eventually win the game. Numbers-savvy fans and statistical analysts will tell you going for it in such a situation isn’t the risk it seems, but they’re not the ones on the sideline and potentially facing the wrath of the owner, general manager, media, and fans if the decision blows up in their face.

It’s a risk many wouldn’t have taken — especially when Baltimore was stuffed on two short-yardage situations in the first half — but no one knows the Ravens’ pulse in Week 14 better than Harbaugh following a difficult defeat to the Chargers last Sunday and this week’s news of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being suspended for the rest of the regular season. After weathering a miserable start in the first half and his Ravens only trailing by three, Harbaugh’s bold move made it clear he didn’t want to surrender the momentum gained with a touchdown late in the second quarter and the Dolphins punting on the opening possession of the third quarter.

In a game the Ravens described all week as a must-win affair, Harbaugh’s decision illustrated the desperation of the day. And perhaps it was the lift his team needed to put a trying first half in the rear-view mirror.

The fourth-down conversion to continue the drive that culminated with Flacco’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Kamar Aiken set the attitude for a dominating finish and a crucial victory in Miami.

Of course, the Ravens had begun to awaken before Harbaugh’s fourth-down gamble as Flacco bounced back from throwing one of his worst interceptions of the season to lead the Ravens down the field for a 97-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown to Steve Smith with two seconds left in the first half. That connection came after Smith had dropped a perfectly-thrown pass in the end zone a play before Flacco’s ugly turnover.

The Baltimore signal-caller was superb after his end-zone miscue midway through the second quarter, completing 18 of 23 passes for 200 yards and two touchdown passes the rest of the way as he finished with 269 yards.

But Flacco wasn’t alone as a running game playing with a hobbled Justin Forsett came alive in the fourth quarter, rushing 14 times for 107 yards in the final 15 minutes. Forsett finished with 71 yards, Bernard Pierce chipped in three carries for 50 yards in the fourth quarter, and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro added 35 more yards on the day.

A Baltimore defense that surrendered 10 points in its first two series settled down and began swarming Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the pocket to the tune of six sacks and nine quarterback hits, much of that pressure coming in the second half when Miami managed just three points. Elvis Dumervil collected 3 1/2 sacks to set the Ravens’ single-season record with 16 through 13 games, eclipsing Peter Boulware’s mark set in 2001.

Despite some leaky run defense early, the Ravens hardly seemed to miss Ngata as the Dolphins ran for only 63 yards on 16 carries.

A secondary that lost reserve cornerbacks Anthony Levine and Danny Gorrer to injuries will remain a concern for the rest of the season, but the unit wasn’t nearly the same liability with the Ravens consistently collapsing the pocket and harassing Tannehill.

The Ravens answered the bell without the services of a healthy Torrey Smith, who was held without a catch in limited action. With the fourth-year wideout’s knee swelling up during pre-game warmups, Aiken contributed six receptions for 65 yards, Marlon Brown caught three passes for 30 yards, and even the recently-promoted tight end Phillip Supernaw added a 29-yard reception to set up a Forsett touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

It was a team effort as the Ravens awoke from a painfully slow start to dispose of the Dolphins and move just a half-game behind first-place Cincinnati in the AFC North.

There’s no way of knowing whether the Ravens would have won had Harbaugh elected to punt early in the third quarter or if they’d failed to convert on fourth-and-1, but Baltimore didn’t look back from the point Flacco surged forward to move the chains.

Whether you viewed it as the prudent choice or a foolish risk, Harbaugh’s bold move worked out and set the tone for the remainder of the game.

The Ravens responded by dominating the rest of the way to earn a critical win in the AFC playoff landscape.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 06 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Critical.

No word better describes what’s at stake as the Ravens travel to Sun Life Stadium to take on the Miami Dolphins.

The winner of Sunday’s game isn’t guaranteed a playoff spot in a crowded AFC wild-card picture, but losing in Miami would be a critical blow to either team. After the Ravens lost to the current No. 5 seed San Diego last Sunday, they can hardly afford to be on the wrong end of another head-to-head tiebreaker should they lose to the Dolphins.

In addition to having the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense, the Ravens took a major blow up front with Thursday’s announcement of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being suspended for the remainder of the regular season due to a performance-enhancing drug violation. It’s just the latest trial for a 7-5 Ravens team that’s faced much adversity on and off the field.

Sunday will mark the 10th time these AFC teams have played in the regular season with the Dolphins holding a 5-4 edge and a 4-2 record in Miami. However, the Ravens are 4-0 against the Dolphins in the John Harbaugh era, which includes a 27-9 wild-card round win at the end of the 2008 season.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 8-5 in their quest to return to the playoffs …

Who will win Sunday's game in Miami?

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1. Miami defensive end Cameron Wake will pick up a sack, but Rick Wagner will hold his own against the talented pass rusher. The second-year right tackle will face one of his biggest challenges of the season in trying to hold his own against the three-time Pro Bowl selection, but Wagner shouldn’t be counted out as he is the highest-graded pass-blocking — and highest-graded overall — right tackle in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Miami possesses a formidable pass rush, but the Ravens have held up very well in pass protection this year with quarterback Joe Flacco only being sacked 15 times. They’ll need another strong performance Sunday, and it will start with Wagner on the right side.

2. Justin Forsett will not run for 100 yards, but the Ravens will still gain 150 on the ground against the Dolphins defense. The 29-year-old and the team have downplayed the significance of his knee injury, but it has to be a concern that his limited participation in Friday’s practice was his only on-field work of the week. The good news is the Dolphins’ run defense has dropped to 21st in the NFL and has given up 478 yards on the ground in the last two games against Denver and the New York Jets. We’ll see more of a committee approach than the Ravens have used in weeks as backups Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro will pick up some slack, but Forsett will still finish as the leading rusher on Sunday.

3. Dolphins slot receiver Jarvis Landry will catch a touchdown and lead his team in receiving yards on Sunday. The Ravens hope the return of cornerback Asa Jackson will help a struggling secondary, but Miami has too many weapons in the passing game to not be concerned. We’ll see Jackson line up inside in the nickel package, but he won’t have much luck slowing Landry, who has been very impressive in his rookie season with 57 catches for 518 yards and five touchdowns. Ryan Tannehill will try to get rid of the ball quickly in the face of an imposing Baltimore pass rush, which means quick outs and slants to Landry will be in order throughout the day and he’ll be the go-to target for Miami.

4. Jacoby Jones returns a kick deep into Miami territory to swing the momentum of the game in the second half. There’s no disputing how disappointing this year has been for the wide receiver and return specialist, but you hope Week 13 was a preview of bigger things to come down the stretch for Jones. His two catches for 35 yards as a receiver were nice, but his 72-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter set the Ravens up at the San Diego 30 before the offense had to settle for a field goal. Miami ranks 28th in the NFL in kick return coverage and 24th in punt return coverage, which should have Jones and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg licking their chops. A big return will set up a touchdown in the second half.

5. On a day when both quarterbacks have strong days, the Ravens find a way to secure their biggest win of the season in a 24-20 final. It’s tough to get a read on this one considering how up and down both teams have been throughout the year. You wonder if the Ravens will get off the mat after a tough loss to the Chargers and the suspension of Ngata while the Dolphins aren’t experienced in these kinds of high-stakes games. Flacco and Tannehill will both throw for over 200 yards, but the Dolphins are coming off a short week following a Monday night road win and that run defense is already wearing down significantly. That will be the difference as the Ravens pick up a crucial win in keeping their playoff hopes alive.

 

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Ravens must be sharper seeing red to survive pass defense pains

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Ravens must be sharper seeing red to survive pass defense pains

Posted on 30 November 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — What else can be said about the Ravens’ pass defense following a 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday?

The final result was surprising considering the Ravens’ sterling reputation for winning home games over the years, but they haven’t stopped potent passing games all season. Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers picked apart the Ravens secondary to the tune of 383 yards and three touchdown passes, two coming in the final four minutes of the game.

Baltimore has allowed at least 321 passing yards in three of the last four games and 27 or more points in four of the last five. The pass defense simply isn’t getting better with the current personnel and while the coaching staff and players will continue to look for ways to improve, observers are better suited throwing up their hands and acknowledging it as the Ravens’ Achilles heel — if not their fatal flaw — for the remainder of the 2014 season.

Expecting the Ravens to stop any top quarterback is an effort in vain at this point.

After acknowledging the shoddy pass defense as the biggest reason why the Ravens squandered a golden opportunity to improve to 8-4, you can look at other areas that might have made the difference Sunday. It’s in these facets where the Ravens needed to be sharp and they weren’t as 14 penalties for 98 yards painted just one example of the sloppy play.

You’d be hard pressed not to look at what was a productive offense Sunday and still wonder if the unit could’ve done just a smidgen more. Sam Koch only punted once as the Ravens moved the ball up and down the field all afternoon, but seven red-zone trips resulted in only three touchdowns, leading to the Chargers still having a chance late in the game.

It was especially worrisome in the first half when the Ravens were only 1-for-4 in scoring touchdowns on trips inside the 20, leading to San Diego trailing by just six at intermission. San Diego entered the game ranking 26th in the NFL in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 64.5 percent of drives moving inside the 20.

The Ravens didn’t take advantage.

“It was the difference in the game,” said wide receiver Torrey Smith, who caught two touchdowns in Sunday’s loss. “We wouldn’t have had to worry about them scoring at the end if we had scored more touchdowns at the end of the game. The defense wouldn’t have been under pressure like they were, and we have to take responsibility for that.”

Players on both sides of the ball took accountability after the game for what they could have done better, but the offensive players know the truth as 33 points should have been more than enough to win. They have the better overall unit and will need to carry the heavier load down the stretch if the Ravens are to advance to the playoffs and make any noise when they get there.

It’s just reality.

The Ravens entered Week 13 ranking in the top 10 in total yards and points scored, but their 16th-ranked red-zone offense is a major factor holding them back from being a truly great unit. Baltimore would benefit from another reliable receiver to use inside the red zone — the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta continues to be felt — but mistakes and mishaps inside the 20 hurt Baltimore on Sunday.

Just before the two-minute warning in the second quarter, left tackle Eugene Monroe was called for illegal use of the hands, wiping out a first-down completion and instead creating a second-and-19 from the 26 at the two-minute warning. The Ravens had to settle for a field goal for the third time in the half.

And even after twice scoring touchdowns in their first two red-zone trips of the second half, the Ravens were set up on a short field following a 72-yard kickoff return by Jacoby Jones late in the fourth quarter. They owned a three-point lead and had the ball on the San Diego 30 with just 3:40 remaining in the game.

A touchdown would have sealed the win. Instead, the Ravens managed only one first down and the Chargers used their timeouts to force a third-and-4 at the 13-yard line when Joe Flacco threw incomplete to fullback Kyle Juszczyck with 2:32 remaining. After the game, the question was asked whether the Ravens should have run the ball in that spot, which would have at least guaranteed the clock running down to the two-minute warning.

“That was a consideration. We were trying to get the first down though,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We wanted to be aggressive and try to get the first down and try to close the game out if we could. That’s what we tried to do there. You can look at it both ways. You can play it completely towards clock management. They were bringing everybody. We might’ve popped the run anyway, but we felt like we had a good [play] call.”

Good decision or not, it didn’t work and was a disappointing finish to an otherwise productive day for the offense. And it put the Ravens’ fate back in the hands of the defense to do something it hadn’t been able to do most of the day — stop Rivers.

The defense couldn’t do it.

With four games remaining and their pass defense one of the worst in the league, the Ravens will only go as far as Flacco and their offense will take them. And even with a horrendous defensive performance on Sunday, just one more touchdown would have gotten the Ravens over the hump to secure a win.

Divide the blame however you’d like, but the collective effort resulted in the Ravens falling to 7-5 overall and 6-1 when leading after three quarters this season.

“When your offense is able to put up points like they did today, we expect to close out games, finish, and make the plays at the end to help our team win,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “We were not able to hold up our end of the bargain today. It stings a little bit. This was a pivotal game, a great opportunity for us, and we let it get away.”

Did the offense deserve a much better fate with a 33-point performance? Absolutely.

But regardless of what had occurred over the first 57 minutes of the game, neither side of the ball could finish off a win on Sunday.

And it has the Ravens in an uncomfortable position entering the final quarter of the regular season.

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 29 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Playing their final game of November, the Ravens welcome the San Diego Chargers to M&T Bank Stadium for a meeting with critical AFC playoff ramifications.

Both teams enter Week 13 with a 7-4 record, but the Chargers face a tall order in trying to become the first West Coast team ever to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. Of course, it’s no secret that West Coast teams flying east for 1 p.m. kickoffs generally don’t fare well as the Chargers were blanked 37-0 at Miami to begin the month of November.

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In addition to simply keeping pace in the very competitive AFC North where all teams in a division are three games above .500 for the first time in NFL history, the Ravens desperately need to improve a 3-4 conference record that can often be crucial in determining playoff spots at the end of the season. Of course, that record will take care of itself if Baltimore simply continues to win down the stretch.

Sunday marks the 10th time these teams have ever met with the Ravens holding a 5-4 all-time advantage and a 2-0 record in Baltimore. The Chargers will be playing in Baltimore for the first time since the 2006 season when Steve McNair threw a last-second touchdown to Todd Heap to give the Ravens a dramatic victory.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 8-4 in their quest to return to the postseason …

1. Brandon Williams will have another big game as San Diego struggles to run the ball between the tackles. The second-year nose tackle probably hasn’t gotten as much credit as he deserves in his first season as a starter and played his best game of the season in the win over New Orleans. Meanwhile, the Chargers have sent three centers to injured reserve this year and are now relying on rookie Chris Watt at the position. The third-round product from Notre Dame played well in his first start against St. Louis last week, but Williams and Haloti Ngata will make it a long day for a line that won’t be able to open running lanes for running back Ryan Mathews. San Diego will run for less than 85 yards on the day.

2. Chargers receiver Malcom Floyd will catch a touchdown pass matched up against one of the Ravens’ undersized cornerbacks. The Baltimore secondary gave up a slew of passing yards in New Orleans, but the unit was able to make plays when needed as was the case with safety Will Hill’s interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter. The 6-foot-5 Floyd presents a matchup problem without the more physical Jimmy Smith on the field. The 33-year-old has stayed healthy this year and is having one of the better seasons of his career with over 600 receiving yards. He’ll catch a touchdown in the red zone as the Chargers take advantage of his size advantage.

3. Justin Forsett will go over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. San Diego’s defense is its biggest strength, but the Chargers are allowing 4.4 yards per carry, ranking 21st in the NFL. With the way the offensive line has blocked and Forsett has been able to find seams in the defense, how can you pick against the Baltimore running game at this point? The 29-year-old needs 97 yards on the ground for 1,000 on the season and he’ll reach that mark in the fourth quarter. The Ravens will establish the run early to set up play-action opportunities down the field against a strong secondary and the league’s sixth-ranked pass defense.

4. San Diego left tackle King Dunlap will not be able to stop Terrell Suggs, who will pick up two sacks on the day. It hasn’t been a poor season for the veteran linebacker, but you know he’d love to narrow the gap between his six sacks and Elvis Dumervil’s team-leading 12 1/2 in 2014. Suggs will have a great opportunity against Dunlap, who has struggled in pass protection and is much more effective as a run blocker. After crossing the 100-sack threshold for his career last week, Suggs will add two more to his total as the Chargers focus on giving right tackle D.J. Fluker more help in blocking Dumervil. The inability to run the football will leave San Diego with plenty of difficulty protecting the pocket all day.

5. Philip Rivers will throw for more yards than Joe Flacco, but the running game will control the tempo in a 26-14 win for the Ravens. The Chargers quarterback will play admirably, but the lack of a running game will have him running for his life far too often. In contrast, the Ravens’ ability to run the ball will limit Flacco’s opportunities, but the seventh-year quarterback will be efficient and cautious against a talented secondary. The Ravens will control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and have allowed just 10.6 points per home game this season. If this game were being played in San Diego, the result might be different, but the Ravens will be in command from the start on their way to a relatively comfortable win.

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Ravens built for strong finish in tight AFC playoff picture

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Ravens built for strong finish in tight AFC playoff picture

Posted on 25 November 2014 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — The Ravens spent much of the spring and summer insisting they weren’t going to entertain thoughts of last season when they missed the playoffs for the first time under head coach John Harbaugh.

But linebacker Terrell Suggs wanted his teammates to remember exactly what happened a year ago as they returned from their bye this past week with a crucial road game at New Orleans staring them in the eye. It’s safe to say the Ravens responded to the veteran’s message with a crucial 34-27 win over the Saints to improve to 7-4, keeping pace in a combative and tight AFC North.

“Down this stretch, this is important,” said Suggs, who pressured quarterback Drew Brees into throwing an interception returned for a touchdown by safety Will Hill to give Baltimore the lead for good in the third quarter. “Last year, this is where we kind of lost ourselves, we kind of lost our way. Unfortunately, we were left out of the playoffs on the outside looking in. We don’t want to feel like that this year.”

Over the years, the Ravens have taken pride in saying they’re built for December and January, but the label didn’t fit last season as they couldn’t run the ball and struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks down the stretch. Needing only one win in their final two weeks to secure a playoff spot, the Ravens lost their final two games by a combined 51 points.

If Monday night’s win was any indicator, the Ravens are primed to finish strong and make it back to the postseason — even with a very tight playoff picture. And it begins with Justin Forsett and the improved play of the offensive line under new coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Rushing for a career-high 182 yards and two touchdowns, Forsett continues to be one of the best stories of the 2014 season as his 5.8 yards per carry average leads all NFL running backs by a sizable margin. The offensive line consistently opens running lanes and the 29-year-old keeps finding daylight as he did repeatedly against New Orleans Monday night.

It’s the kind of style that should hold up nicely down the stretch for three more cold-weather games in Baltimore and whatever January could bring.

“Justin — awesome job, obviously, all year,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who was very efficient in completing 18 of 24 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown. “The work he’s putting in, the results he’s getting and what he’s doing for this team was huge. Our offensive line’s doing a good job, and they’re creating those seams. He’s got good vision. He’s not letting the guy tackle him in the hole with his arms or anything like that. He’s breaking those little things.”

Defensively, the numbers looked ugly Monday as the Ravens surrendered 525 total yards, but the eyeball test was far more acceptable. Aside from Joseph Morgan’s 67-yard run on the second play from scrimmage, the Saints only ran for 59 yards on 20 carries.

The Ravens put plenty of heat on Brees as Elvis Dumervil collected two of four sacks total and the pass rush recorded eight quarterback hits in all. The secondary continues to be an area of concern and will likely remain that way for the rest of the season, but the emergence of Hill gives coordinator Dean Pees at least one defensive back with some playmaking ability and a consistent pass rush goes a long way in hiding vulnerabilities on the back end.

Much of the success of a 7-4 start can be attributed to the Ravens’ ability to win at the line of scrimmage, whether talking about their offensive line or the front seven’s ability to stop the run and wreak havoc on quarterbacks. It’s cliched to talk about dominating the trenches, but Baltimore has a great chance to punch its ticket to the playoffs by continuing to do just that.

How would the Ravens stack up against the likes of high-powered offenses like New England or Denver in the playoffs? They have to worry about getting to January first playing in a division where all teams are three games above .500 — the first time that’s happened in NFL history, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

“You’re going to have to win a lot of games to win the division,” Harbaugh said. “You’re going to have win a lot of games to make the playoffs in our conference. It’s just a fact. You’re going to need every win you can get.”

The Ravens appear well equipped to play into January with a strong running game and one of the best front sevens in football. It’s a profile that holds up well against most opponents, home or away.

And it allows them to overcome their weaknesses, something they were able to do Monday night in one of their biggest road wins in recent memory.

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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Monday night

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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 23 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Fresh off their bye week and trying to complete a 2014 sweep of the NFC South, the Ravens return to the site of Super Bowl XLVII to take on the reeling New Orleans Saints Monday night.

Baltimore hopes that a Week 11 bye coupled with the Saints’ two-game losing streak will create enough momentum to snap New Orleans’ 14-game winning streak in prime-time home games. The 4-6 Saints are trying to find some semblance of consistency in a division in which no team has made a strong claim as a viable playoff contender.

The Ravens are 5-1 in games coming off their bye week in the John Harbaugh era and will attempt to win their third road game of the season. While they were able to find success against an underwhelming Tennessee offense in Week 10, the Baltimore secondary will have its hands full against the league’s third-ranked passing attack.

Monday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 4-1 advantage. This is the first contest between these teams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since the 2006 season — which resulted in a 35-22 win for Baltimore — but the Ravens are obviously familiar with the surroundings after winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans two years ago.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 7-4 to keep pace in the AFC North …

1. Will Hill will draw the bulk of the assignment against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who will catch a touchdown and eclipse 80 receiving yards. Much was made about Cincinnati’s physicality last week in limiting the All-Pro tight end to just three catches for 29 yards, but the Ravens haven’t exactly been imposing in the back end of the defense aside from Terrence Brooks’ big hit on Tennessee’s Delanie Walker two weeks ago. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to mix it up as much as possible against Graham, but Hill is the best fit with his 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame and ability in coverage. The Ravens have held tight ends in check for most of the season, but they haven’t encountered a talent like Graham and he will bounce back from a tough week against the Bengals with a strong game in Week 12.

2. Steve Smith and Marlon Brown will catch touchdowns passes against a banged-up New Orleans secondary. A week off and a meeting with an old foe he tormented year after year as a member of the Carolina Panthers are just what the doctor ordered for the 35-year-old Smith whose production has declined in recent weeks. The Saints are down to their third-string free safety and top cornerback Keenan Lewis has been dealing with a knee issue, which will lead to the veteran wideout finding the end zone for the first time since Week 6. Looking to boost their 19th-ranked red-zone offense, the Ravens will rediscover Brown as a viable option inside the 20 as the 6-foot-5 receiver will rein in a pass in the back of the end zone for his first touchdown of the 2014 season.

3. The Ravens will contain top rusher Mark Ingram, but a returning Pierre Thomas will create problems as a receiver out of the backfield. After a very slow start to his NFL career, Ingram has emerged in 2014 with a 4.5 yards per carry average to take over the feature back role for New Orleans, but the Baltimore defense has allowed only 3.4 yards per carry and won’t have an issue keeping him in check. The return of Thomas — who hasn’t played since Week 7 — will be critical for a passing game that will miss the injured Brandin Cooks, who was becoming the Saints’ second-best receiver behind Graham as a short-to-intermediate target. With the secondary providing plenty of cushion and linebackers paying close attention to wherever Graham is, the Saints will slip Thomas free out of the backfield repeatedly to move the chains.

4. C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith will both collect sacks as the Ravens use inside blitzing to try to get to Drew Brees. Pees knows his defense must create pressure in the pocket against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but Saints tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief have been the strengths of their offensive line, meaning it won’t be a given that Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs will create enough heat. The best way to pressure Brees is up the middle where center Jonathan Goodwin and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs have struggled in pass protection. Smith and Mosley have both been effective as A-gap blitzers, making it a good bet that the Ravens will try to ambush Brees up the middle. The strategy will pay off with each inside linebacker collecting a sack on Monday night.

5. Joe Flacco and Brees will each throw for over 250 yards, but the veteran will be a little better in a 31-23 win for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, it would have been tough to give the Ravens much of a chance in this one following the injury to Jimmy Smith on top of the Saints’ reputation for playing so well at home. But New Orleans is difficult to figure out with two straight losses at home that came after blowing out mighty Green Bay less than a month ago. On the other hand, a solid performance against the Titans isn’t enough to ease concerns that the Ravens secondary will be able to prevent the Saints from passing up and down the field all night. Flacco and the offense will put together one of their better road performances of the year, but it won’t be quite enough to put the Ravens over the top on Monday night.

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Flacco, wife expecting third child in January

Posted on 21 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope to return to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, but quarterback Joe Flacco will have something else on his mind right around then should it happen.

According to the team’s official website, Flacco and wife Dana are expecting their third child in January and the quarterback hopes they won’t be stopping at three. Their first son Stephen is 2 years old while Daniel was born last season.

“I’d be satisfied with five,” Flacco said. “Kids are a lot of fun. It would be cooler to have more, but if we got to five and that was it, I’d be cool with that. I’m satisfied now, but I want as many as I could have.”

If not for the circumstances of their second son being born the morning of last year’s home opener against Cleveland, many would wonder if Flacco’s availability could come into question should the Ravens advance to the playoffs, but the quarterback started on that day and led the Ravens to a win. He did skip a minicamp practice to be present for the birth of his first child in 2012.

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