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Mallett shows why Ravens were so eager to play him

Posted on 28 December 2015 by Luke Jones

It was a baptism by fire starting their fourth quarterback in six weeks against their biggest rival on Sunday, but the Ravens clearly wanted to see what Ryan Mallett could do.

Less than two weeks after being signed, the talented but troubled quarterback responded with the biggest game of his NFL career and made his mark in Ravens lore by completing a season sweep of the Pittsburgh Steelers and putting their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

“I know what it’s about now. I like it,” said Mallett after the 20-17 upset victory. “What Steve Smith said, ‘big-boy football,’ right?”

There is no quarterback controversy in Baltimore for 2016, but Mallett showed exactly why the Ravens envision him being their backup to a healthy Joe Flacco. Possessing a strong arm and a 6-foot-6 frame, the 27-year-old is similar to Flacco physically, which is what you’re typically looking for in a backup quarterback.

It was apparent from the beginning of Sunday’s game that Mallett is more talented than Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen, but the 2011 third-round pick also played smart football and didn’t look like someone with less than two weeks working in offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s system.

Mallett turned in the first turnover-free performance by a Ravens quarterback since Nov. 1, a stretch that included Flacco’s final two starts of 2015.

“To operate the way he did, change plays at the line the way he did, I think it says a lot about him, but it says a lot about our coaches as well,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Just a great effort. This kid was in there 24-7. This kid was in the staff meetings at night.”

Mallett has made an excellent first impression with his new team, but he must continue to show that the concerns about his maturity and commitment that led to his demise in Houston are behind him for good. Showing ability and fire that inspired his teammates on Sunday, Mallett should benefit from working with the even-keeled Flacco in the coming months.

With quality quarterback play at a premium around the NFL, you can’t ask for much more than Mallett offered on Sunday as he threw for a career-high 274 yards, completed 68.3 percent of his passes, and threw a touchdown pass on his opening drive. A quality backup effectively runs your offense and gives you a solid chance to win some games with your regular supporting cast when the starter is out for a short period of time.

Mallett more than looked that part on Sunday.

“I want to thank the Ravens organization for bringing me in and giving me a shot and giving me a workout and coach Harbaugh,” Mallett said. “Just being here, I don’t even know what to say right now. It’s an emotional time, but it’s fun.”

Allen bounces back

After being benched for losing a fumble for the second straight game last week, rookie running back Buck Allen bounced back with one of his best performances of the year as he collected 114 yards from scrimmage and the first rushing touchdown of his NFL career against Pittsburgh.

His six carries for 26 yards over the final 6:24 of the fourth quarter don’t jump out on the stat sheet, but that sequence proved the Ravens hadn’t lost confidence in Allen from a ball security standpoint while only holding a three-point lead. The fourth-round rookie didn’t disappoint as he protected the ball against a Steelers front that was desperate for a turnover.

“Last week hurt to go out there and fumble and change the momentum of the game,” Allen said. “That’s all on me — nobody’s fault but mine and I took full responsibility. I knew coming into this game that I couldn’t make that mistake. The coaching staff believed in me and kept feeding me the ball. I just want to thank them for doing that.”

Upshaw redemption

Courtney Upshaw’s offside penalty that wiped away Jimmy Smith’s 101-yard interception return for a touchdown felt like it would be the turning point and the latest misfortune in a lost season.

But the outside linebacker responded emphatically on the following drive by sacking Ben Roethlisberger to set up a second-and-long situation and then hit the Steelers quarterback again on the fourth-down incompletion that ended Pittsburgh’s last real drive. Upshaw said he still owed Smith after the game, but his pressure prevented Roethlisberger from orchestrating his late-game magic.

“That’s just how you do it. I was on the bench, and I was like ‘I’ve got to make up for that,'” Upshaw said. ” I had the opportunity to go in and apply some kind of pressure. I ended up getting a sack — me and [Elvis Dumervil] — and then on that last one, get a hit on Ben. At the end of the day, we come out here and we try to fight for the win together.”

Mallett to… Matthews?

It wasn’t as synonymous with Ravens football as Flacco to Steve Smith, but Mallett’s run in Baltimore officially began with a pretty touchdown pass to… Chris Matthews?

The little-used receiver who earned fame for a 100-yard performance with Seattle in last year’s Super Bowl caught the first regular-season touchdown pass of his NFL career to put the Ravens on the board in the first quarter. Matthews was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Dec. 12 and had just two receptions for 27 yards in his first two games with Baltimore.

“We were just looking for a certain defense,” Matthews said. “They came out in that two-shell and we wanted to exploit it. I was the single man down the middle and I’m 6-foot-5, so you can’t really miss that. Ryan threw an amazing ball and I went up there and caught it.”

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Upset proves Ravens-Steelers rivalry not going anywhere

Posted on 27 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After receiving a season’s worth of coal, the Ravens handed some to Pittsburgh two days after Christmas to put their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

The 20-17 victory over their arch rival doesn’t wipe away the disappointment of a lost year, but a season sweep and potentially knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs?

That sounds pretty sweet to the Ravens, especially when few gave them a chance against an offense that had scored 30 or more points in six straight games. And as much as they tried to downplay it during the week, the Ravens wanted nothing more than to prevent their AFC North counterpart from clinching a playoff berth at M&T Bank Stadium.

“If we can’t get in there, then you can’t get in, either,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “Exactly that’s how we want it.”

We know misery loves company, but Ravens fans have heard for years about “tainted” victories over the Steelers on several occasions when Ben Roethlisberger was out of the lineup. Pittsburgh fans taunted them when graybeard backup Charlie Batch led the Steelers to a December victory in Baltimore in 2012 — even if the Ravens still went on to win the Super Bowl two months later.

On Sunday, Pittsburgh was facing a Ravens team without quarterback Joe Flacco and 19 other players who were officially out for the season. And the Steelers lost to Baltimore’s fourth starting quarterback of the season as Ryan Mallett will now go down in rivalry lore, especially if the New York Jets win at Buffalo next week to officially knock Pittsburgh out of the playoffs.

Yes, the Ravens are still 5-10 and hurt their draft position with Sunday’s win, but simply holding a lead for four quarters — they had led at the conclusion of just 14 of 58 periods of play this season entering Week 16 — was a pleasant diversion in a frustrating season. The fact that it came against the Steelers made it that much sweeter.

“The lead is important. I think we had maybe 10 points on turnovers,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who directed the Ravens to the third season sweep of Pittsburgh in the 20-year history of the franchise. “We didn’t give up any points on turnovers. That’s winning football. That’s the way we want to play, and to me, that’s a blueprint for us going forward. Now we have to try to replicate that blueprint.”

What this win really means for the future is anyone’s guess. As impressive as Mallett’s performance was less than two weeks after signing a contract, the Ravens hope the Week 17 finale in Cincinnati will be the last time he’ll have to play if Flacco is healthy for the start of the 2016 season.

You hope that young players like Buck Allen and Za’Darius Smith learned valuable lessons from the upset victory, but many players involved in Sunday’s game are unlikely to be in the picture moving forward.

If nothing else, it was a fun three-hour diversion from a nightmare season. This time, the Ravens were able to create a nightmare for someone else.

“It definitely feels special today,” wide receiver Kamar Aiken said. “Keeping them out of the playoffs, and just being able to sweep them this year. They didn’t get a win this year. It’s always good when you beat Pittsburgh.”

Sunday’s upset reminded us that Ravens-Steelers isn’t going anywhere. It’s true that the rivalry has lost some luster in recent years, but how could it not with future Hall of Fame players like Ray Lewis and Hines Ward and Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu no longer in the picture?

As division rivals playing at least twice a year, the Ravens and Steelers have proven over and over again that anything can happen, regardless of what the numbers tell you before they meet. Counting the playoffs, Baltimore has won five of the last six games between these teams, but 12 of the 16 regular-season meetings in the Harbaugh era have been decided by three or fewer points.

With the Ravens long out of playoff contention, more Steelers fans than normal made their way into the stadium on Sunday, but that only challenged the home fans to be louder than they’d been all year, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of high-stakes meetings of the past.

It may no longer be the hottest matchup in the NFL, but Baltimore-Pittsburgh has become a legacy rivalry that will endure those rare times when one or both teams are down. The organizations are two of the best in the NFL, making a win over the other special no matter what their records might be in a given season.

The Ravens hope that Sunday’s win will be a springboard into better fortunes in 2016.

“To sweep Pittsburgh is a very valuable thing,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a very meaningful thing. And this team accomplished that. When you have failure in life, sometimes woven into the failure are great successes and great wins.”

And through that surprising Week 16 success, the Ravens could take joy in handing the Steelers some failure that could doom their own season.

Petty or not, that’s what a great rivalry is all about.

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Mallett to make first Ravens start against Pittsburgh

Posted on 27 December 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 11:35 a.m.)

BALTIMORE — A new wrinkle will be added to an already-bizarre season for the Ravens on Sunday.

Ryan Mallett will become the fourth quarterback to start a game for Baltimore in 2015 as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to M&T Bank Stadium for a Week 16 tilt. The Ravens have never started more than three quarterbacks in the same season in the 20-year history of the franchise.

The news was originally reported by NFL Network early Sunday morning.

Despite being signed less than two weeks ago, Mallett has been praised for his effort in learning the offense. Head coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal about who his starting quarterback would be earlier in the week, but offensive coordinator Marc Trestman made it clear Thursday that the former Houston Texans quarterback had learned enough of the offense to be ready to play if called upon.

Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen have started two games apiece since franchise quarterback Joe Flacco suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 22. After working him out earlier in the month, the 4-10 Ravens signed Mallett to a contract through the 2016 season, making it preferable to take a look at him in live-game action before going into an offseason in which Flacco will be rehabbing his surgically-repaired left knee and isn’t expected to be ready before training camp.

“He has had enough reps that if John decides to play him, and we decide to go that way, we feel he could manage the game,” Trestman said. “The most significant part of the week has been the way the three of them have handled the situation and worked together to try to optimize the understanding of our game plan and getting it accomplished.”

Jettisoned from Houston for missing a team flight in late October after concerns already existed about his maturity and committment, Mallett would be making his seventh career start and has thrown five touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 53.1 percent of his passes. He was originally a third-round pick of the New England Patriots in 2011 and served as a backup to Tom Brady for his first three seasons before being traded to the Texans prior to the 2014 season.

Mallett, 27, was already familiar with Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken, who spent parts of two seasons with the Patriots.

“I’ve been catching balls with him when I was in New England, so I’m pretty comfortable with him and everybody else,” Aiken said on Wednesday. “He’s a really talented guy. He has to get the offense. I guess whoever’s out there is out there.”

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Groundhog Day continues for Ravens at quarterback

Posted on 22 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If you listened closely, you can almost hear the strains of “I Got You Babe” in the background as Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked about his starting quarterback for Week 16.

Groundhog Day continues for the Ravens as Harbaugh wouldn’t even commit to veteran Matt Schaub being his starter if healthy enough to play, a departure from the last two weeks that were already filled with uncertainty. With the 34-year-old dealing with a chest injury, Jimmy Clausen has started each of the last two games for Baltimore.

Who will be under center for the 4-10 Ravens against Pittsburgh on Sunday is anyone’s guess.

“I just don’t want to put any parameters on it right now,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a unique situation right now that we’re in, obviously. It’s different than normal. We’ll see how it plays out. We’re probably not going to say anything. We’ll see who the guy is. I don’t know who the guy is going to be right now at this stage, so we’ll see.”

As if there wasn’t enough discussion about whether Schaub or Clausen would start the previous two weeks, the recently-signed Ryan Mallett figures to now enter the discussion over these final two games of 2015. Signed through next season on a contract that doesn’t include any guaranteed money, the troubled Mallett is an obvious candidate to be a healthy Joe Flacco’s backup in 2016.

In addition to finding out if the 27-year-old has learned from the mistakes that led to his dismissal in Houston, the Ravens would probably like to see Mallett play before the season concludes if he’s up to speed with the offense to a reasonable degree.

“We’ll see how that goes. He has done a good job,” Harbaugh said. “He has been here since Tuesday, so he has done a good job. He has been here practically 24-7 learning the offense. We’ll see where it goes this week. Obviously, the clock is ticking. If we want to see him this year, we’re going to have to put him out [there] pretty quick, but that’s a matter of whether he’s ready to play. We also want to do justice to our chances to win the game, too.”

Given the lack of a supporting cast on offense, none of their three options at quarterback would appear to give the Ravens a good chance to beat either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. But at the very least, Clausen’s performance should propel him into the conversation for the backup job next season, especially considering he’s spent just a month with the organization. In two games with the Ravens against quality defenses, Clausen has completed 57.6 percent of his pass attempts for 555 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions.

A solid backup quarterback should give a team a chance to win a couple games in the short term if he has a good supporting cast around him. Of course, it’s only been two games, but Clausen has played well enough to make you think he could do that if the Ravens weren’t already so depleted on offense.

With Flacco expected to be sidelined until training camp — and not guaranteed to be ready for those first practices in late July — the Ravens would be wise to have two viable backup options for the spring and summer. Why not allow Clausen and Mallett to battle it out for the backup job in the preseason?

Many have already anointed Mallett the backup for 2016 without knowing whether he’s learned his lesson and is finally committed to putting his talents to good use and realizing his potential. With Mallett’s contract guaranteeing nothing but a chance, Clausen should also be re-signed if he doesn’t receive a more attractive opportunity elsewhere.

But given the lack of starting quarterbacks around the league, let alone backups, other quarterback-needy teams may come calling with an opportunity to potentially compete for a starting job, something that wouldn’t happen in Baltimore.

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Loss in Miami reminds Ravens just how much Flacco missed

Posted on 06 December 2015 by Luke Jones

There isn’t much worth remembering when looking back at the Ravens’ 15-13 loss to Miami on Sunday.

Rookie wide receiver Daniel Brown fell victim to one of the worst offensive pass interference calls you’ll ever see, but that was barely a drop in an ocean of poor officiating around the NFL in 2015. It’s a problem the league desperately needs to address in the offseason if it cares about maintaining any semblance of integrity with players, coaches, and fans.

But even after the baffling call that wiped out a 52-yard touchdown pass, the Ravens still had 50 minutes to overcome the misfortune that occurred when the game was still scoreless in the first quarter.

On the positive side, rookie Buck Allen continues to look like he’s more than capable of being a No. 1 running back after collecting 170 total yards and 12 receptions, one shy of the franchise’s single-game record for catches. The 2015 fourth-round pick has become the Ravens’ best offensive option — which admittedly isn’t saying much with the current group of weapons — and is doing everything he can to spark an interesting discussion about the future of veteran Justin Forsett in the offseason.

Beyond that, Sunday’s slop-fest between two bad teams only brought a reminder of just how much the Ravens and their fans should appreciate Joe Flacco when he returns to the field next season. As lousy as Miami’s fourth-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill was for the better part of 60 minutes, his turnover-free performance was preferable to the 30 seconds from hell turned in by Matt Schaub late in the first half that turned out to be the difference in the game.

Two interceptions — one serving as a catalyst for a 38-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker and the other returned for a touchdown — and 15 points, which were all the Dolphins needed against an undermanned Baltimore offense. Those turnovers overshadowed what was a strong performance by a Ravens defense that has steadily improved against a pedestrian group of opponents over the last month.

Sunday brought final confirmation that the concerns expressed by “amateur evaluators” about Schaub throughout training camp were more than fair. The longtime Houston Texans quarterback just can’t shake the nightmare that began in his final season as a starter in 2013.

The Ravens simply cannot expect to win with the 34-year-old quarterback at the helm. And how could he do it with such a depleted group of weapons around him? His wide receivers on Sunday would be no better than No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 options at best on most teams, and starting tight end Crockett Gillmore became the latest offensive weapon to go down when he left the game with a back injury.

Last week’s win in Cleveland came thanks to two special-teams touchdowns that made up for an interception returned for a touchdown and another ugly pick thrown in the final minute. On Sunday, there was no hiding Schaub’s inability to protect the football.

The Ravens may not have been winning much with Flacco in 2015 — he admittedly wasn’t playing his best football — but the last two weeks have offered a reminder to anyone ever trying to undersell just how important the eighth-year quarterback is to Baltimore’s success. Regardless of where he ranks among NFL quarterbacks, Flacco has proven that he can win you a championship with a good group of weapons around him.

That’s more that you can say about Schaub or Tannehill after watching both quarterbacks flounder on Sunday.

There isn’t much else to say about the 4-8 Ravens, who have now clinched just the second non-winning season of the John Harbaugh era. Another week and another game decided by a single score, but we again watched a team not good enough to overcome back-breaking turnovers, untimely penalties, poor officiating, and a plethora of injuries that have decimated the roster.

You can pick apart the minutia of another loss as much as you’d like, but nothing else really matters when you don’t have a quarterback.

Fortunately, it’s only temporary pain for the Ravens, but it’s a reminder of where this franchise stood for years when it squandered a number of championship-caliber defenses as the likes of Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright tried to play quarterback before Flacco finally came along in 2008.

It’s unlikely to be a fun final quarter of the season with the Ravens facing four teams with winning records and firmly in the race for postseason spots.

So, as you brace yourself and try to take consolation in knowing that losses like Sunday’s only improve their 2016 draft position, just remind yourself how good the Ravens have had it for so long with Flacco at the helm.

And try to erase the memory of Schaub’s ugly interceptions as much as you can.

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Matching records aside, Ravens quite different from Miami

Posted on 03 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Matching 4-7 records reflect that the Ravens and the Miami Dolphins have failed to live up to expectations as AFC playoff contenders this season.

But as the tough-luck Ravens have set an NFL record with their first 11 games each being decided by one possession, the Dolphins have experienced more embarrassment as six of their seven losses have come by 10 or more points and four have come by 16 or more. Only three of Miami’s 11 games have been decided by one possession, making the Dolphins the anti-Ravens in some regards.

Aside from their first two games under interim coach Dan Campbell — blowout wins over Tennesee and Houston in October — the Dolphins have rarely even been all that competitive, leading you to wonder about the future of an organization that hasn’t made the postseason since 2008. It’s one thing to lose big at New England on a Thursday night, but this is a Miami team that lost a home game to Buffalo by 27 points in late September.

You can doubt their talent, discipline, or football IQ, but the Ravens have rarely made you question their effort in a string of heartbreaking losses in 2015. Though not a good football team, Baltimore has shown up to play hard every week, which reflects a locker room not giving up on head coach John Harbaugh and the coaching staff.

The final score of the Dolphins’ 38-20 defeat to the New York Jets this past Sunday doesn’t fully illustrate how poor and listless the performance was that led to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor being fired on Monday, almost two months after head coach Joe Philbin was dismissed. Needless to say, 2015 has been a lost season for Miami like it’s been for the Ravens in this pass-fail business.

So, what exactly has gone wrong for a Miami team that ranks 27th in total offense and 28th in total defense?

We know that the Ravens’ well-documented injuries are a major factor — not the only one, but still a significant one — in one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history as 18 players currently reside on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list. That group includes their Super Bowl XLVII MVP quarterback, their No. 1 receiver, their starting running back, the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year and six-time Pro Bowl linebacker, their starting center, and a former starting tight end.

But Miami has only two players on IR this season, though it’s important to note that one is four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake. For a team with attractive pieces on both sides of the football, that level of health should typically put you in position to make a push for the postseason.

Instead, the Dolphins have floundered for most of the season due to poor coaching or a poor response to coaching — mostly likely both.

Miami has more talent than these current injury-ravaged Ravens and may show up to beat a team that’s led by veteran backup quarterback Matt Schaub on Sunday. But the Dolphins are just as likely to go through the motions and lose by double digits like they have too often in 2015.

Their records are the same and that’s all that matters in the end.

But only one team is deserving of respect.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 29 November 2015 by Luke Jones

What do two bad teams with headaches at the quarterback position need more than anything?

A national audience for Monday Night Football?

Much to the chagrin of ESPN and NFL executives, the Matt Schaub era begins Monday night with the 3-7 Ravens traveling to Cleveland to take on the 2-8 Browns. It’s never a good thing when a primetime game holds far more draft implications than influences on the playoff race, but head coach John Harbaugh will try to navigate his team to a win in his first-ever regular-season game without Joe Flacco under center.

Of course, Flacco is just one of many injuries that have gutted a team that entered the 2015 season with Super Bowl aspirations. Now, it remains to be seen whether the Ravens will even win another game over their final six weeks.

Meanwhile, the Browns are rested coming off their bye week, but controversy surrounds their football team with the latest off-field concerns leading to second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel being benched.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Cleveland meet for the 34th time in their regular-season history and the Browns look for their first regular-season sweep of Baltimore since 2007. The Ravens hold a 24-9 advantage in the all-time series and are 11-5 playing in Cleveland.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win its second road game of the season …

1. Buck Allen will surpass 135 total yards in his first NFL start. The rookie is the most compelling Ravens player to watch for the remainder of the season, and he’ll be facing the NFL’s 32nd-ranked run defense. Of course, Baltimore is far from 100 percent along its offensive line, and the Browns are likely to use eight men in the box to try to take away the run and force Schaub to make plays through the air. This will keep Allen from piling up huge numbers on the ground, but he’ll be a favorite receiver out of the backfield for his 34-year quarterback making his first start in almost two years.

2. Paul Kruger and Armonty Bryant will combine for three sacks against a battered Baltimore offensive line. As if life wasn’t difficult enough for Schaub without Steve Smith and Justin Forsett, Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele are doubtful to play and James Hurst and Ryan Jensen will be entrusted to protect his blindside. This spells trouble for someone who is already going to be readjusting his live-game clock after minimal playing time over the last two years. For all of the justified complaints about Monroe’s durability, Hurst is a major liability and Flacco paid the price for it last week.

3. Gary Barnidge and Crockett Gillmore will each catch touchdowns for their respective teams. The Browns tight end had eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland’s Week 5 win over the Ravens and will follow that with another strong performance on Monday. Meanwhile, Gillmore will make the Browns pay for using a strong safety in the box by beating man coverage for a red-zone touchdown. Considering Schaub doesn’t have a particularly strong arm and his receivers have little experience, Gillmore will now become an even bigger part of what the Ravens do through the air.

4. Brent Urban will bat down a pass and collect a tackle in his NFL debut. Not even the Ravens know exactly what to expect from Urban, who has yet to play as much as a preseason game snap in his two years in the NFL. But this is the time for the organization to start to find out about the 2014 fourth-round pick. At 6-foot-7 and 295 pounds, Urban should be an intriguing inside rusher in passing situations and will provide another option at the 5-technique defensive end spot. The Ravens thought enough of Urban to use the designation to return, so it will be interesting to finally watch him play.

5. Josh McCown will outplay Schaub in a listless 20-16 win for Cleveland. Neither of these teams are any good, but you generally side with the team who has the better quarterback and the Ravens likely would have preferred Manziel to start instead of McCown, who threw for over 450 yards in the Week 5 game at M&T Bank Stadium. Unless the Schaub from circa 2010 shows up — not the guy who has struggled mightily since 2013 — the Ravens just aren’t going to be a great bet to beat anyone for the rest of the season. There’s always a very real chance that the Browns self-destruct at a critical point in the game, but the Ravens have been just as guilty of doing that in this nightmare season.

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Future now all that matters for 2015 Ravens

Posted on 28 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are facing the Cleveland Browns in arguably the most irrelevant nationally-televised game in franchise history.

Perhaps ESPN Monday Night Football broadcaster Mike Tirico said it best last week when he asked analyst Jon Gruden if he loved football and followed that by saying, “We’ll test you and see how much all of you love it out there.”

Not only are these AFC North foes playing out the string with their playoff hopes having already been dashed weeks ago, but the Ravens will be competing in their first-ever contest without any of Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, or Joe Flacco, who are arguably the five most significant players in their 20 years in Baltimore.

But ask head coach John Harbaugh if he cares about the outside perception of his injury-depleted team and of Monday night’s game between two of the worst teams in the AFC.

“We want to go win a football game. It’s a fight out there,” Harbaugh said on Saturday. “We’re not sitting there saying, ‘Oh, I wonder what everybody thinks about me.’ I’m not worried about [that]. We’re not in seventh grade here. ‘I wonder what they think of me. What are they texting about us? What does Snapchat say?’

“We don’t care what they think. We’re going to go out there and be our best, do our best and try to accomplish everything we can accomplish.”

It’s the right attitude for the Ravens to have as there’s no such thing as tanking the remainder of the season with a slew of players — and, frankly, several coaches — fighting for jobs in 2016 and beyond. But when your current starting offense — aside from four-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda — more closely resembles one for a fourth preseason game, there’s no hiding from the truth.

Wins and losses do not matter as it relates to the context of the 2015 season. The end result only affects where the Ravens might pick in next April’s draft as the organization is in desperate need of impact talent. In that way, they’re better off losing as many of their final six games as possible.

And if we’re being honest, the Ravens aren’t equipped to win with what remains of the original 2015 roster — no matter how hard they try. The loss of Flacco was the final straw in that regard.

That’s why it’s important for the organization to get an extended look at younger players the rest of the way. The list is headlined by rookie running back Buck Allen, who will be making his first NFL start after veteran Justin Forsett suffered a season-ending arm injury last week.

“We’re excited to put the ball in Buck’s hands and see what he can do and give our other guys an opportunity to play, and that’s the nature of our league,” offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. “The next guy has to be ready to help us. It can happen during the course of the game — which it did — and it happens week to week. That’s an expectation that we have that they’ll play well for us.”

Regardless of how many games they win or lose the rest of the way, the Ravens would love to see Allen look the part of a starting running back for the future after selecting him in the fourth round this past spring. Learning more about other little-used players such as safety Terrence Brooks, defensive end Brent Urban, and the forgotten 2013 second-round linebacker Arthur Brown could go a long way in trying to revamp the roster in the offseason in hopes of once again being a playoff contender next season.

Harbaugh won’t say it publicly, but identifying pieces for the future and making decisions about dead weight on the roster must be the top priority. Other than determining whether he can play at a level warranting a return to back up Flacco next season, it’s just not compelling to see how Matt Schaub — or any number of other known commodities — will fare against the Browns in front of a national audience.

It’s an unfamiliar place in which the Ravens find themselves, but all eyes need to be on the future for the final six games of a nightmare season. They’ll show up and play to the best of their ability, but these Ravens are firmly in evaluation mode.

Any other thinking would be shortsighted.

“Everything you do you have to be thinking about the short term and the long term, so we try to do both,” Harbaugh said earlier this week. “Definitely from a coaching perspective, your focus is most certainly on the short term — and your players and your coaches — and getting ready for the next game. But there is an awareness of the long term, for sure.”

The long term is the only intrigue remaining in a lost season that — unfortunately — will be on display for the football world to see on Monday night.

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Clausen claimed by Ravens to back up Schaub at quarterback

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Needing a backup quarterback for new starter Matt Schaub, the Ravens were awarded veteran Jimmy Clausen off waivers from the Chicago Bears on Tuesday.

The injured Joe Flacco (knee) was officially placed on injured reserve to make room on the 53-man roster for the 28-year-old Clausen, who now reunites with former Chicago head coach and current Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. The 2010 second-round pick from Notre Dame had spent the last two seasons with the Bears after beginning his career with the Carolina Panthers.

Trying to add a No. 2 quarterback on short notice, the Ravens preferred someone with knowledge of Trestman’s offensive system, which would accelerate the learning curve with only several days to get ready for Monday night’s game in Cleveland.

“I think that would be a plus if we had that guy available,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the search for a new backup quarterback on Monday. “Someone who has some experience would be a plus.”

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Clausen has played in 19 games (12 starts) in his six-year career with most of that coming in his rookie season with Carolina. He has completed 53.2 percent of his passes for 1,965 yards, five touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in his career.

On Monday, Schaub will become the first player other than Flacco to start at quarterback for the Ravens in a regular-season game since Troy Smith on Dec. 30, 2007. Counting the postseason, Flacco had started 137 consecutive games for the Ravens.

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Cleveland benches Manziel ahead of Monday’s game with Ravens

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t be the only team with a different starting quarterback for Monday’s game in Cleveland.

After videos and photos surfaced of Johnny Manziel partying over his bye week, the Browns announced Tuesday that veteran Josh McCown would start against the Ravens in a prime-time game featuring two of the worst teams in the AFC. A 2014 first-round pick and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, Manziel had recently been filling in for an injured McCown, who began the season as the Cleveland starter.

Browns head coach Mike Pettine had only announced last week that the 22-year-old would start the final six games in an effort to evaluate whether he could be the starting quarterback moving forward, but Manziel now becomes the team’s No. 3 quarterback behind McCown and Austin Davis.

The Ravens would have likely preferred to face the inexperienced Manziel on Monday night after McCown threw for a whopping 457 yards and two touchdowns in Baltimore in Week 5. The Browns won 33-30 in overtime to win their first game at M&T Bank Stadium since 2007.

Of course, the Ravens now have quarterback problems of their own after losing eighth-year starter and Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco to a season-ending knee injury in Sunday’s win over St. Louis. Veteran Matt Schaub will make his first start since the 2013 season on Monday night after serving as Flacco’s backup for the first 10 games of 2015.

On Tuesday, Baltimore claimed former Chicago quarterback Jimmy Clausen off waivers to back up Schaub.

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