Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

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Nine Ravens players absent from practice on Wednesday

Posted on 19 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Already dealing with a litany of injuries, the Ravens added starting quarterback Joe Flacco to the list as they continued preparations for their Week 7 meeting with the New York Jets.

The 31-year-old signal-caller was absent from Wednesday’s practice as he deals with a right shoulder injury. He played all 83 snaps in Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the New York Giants, but the veteran appeared to be banged up in the post-game locker room after the game.

Flacco said he did not feel any discomfort during the game and only felt “a little something” in the post-game locker room on Sunday.

“We’re just going to see how the thing goes during the week,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He has a chance to play. I don’t know what the percentage is. No one gave me a percentage on it. I believe he has a legitimate chance to play.”

The Ravens were also without wide receivers Steve Smith (ankle) and Devin Hester (thigh), right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), outside linebackers Terrell Suggs (biceps) and Elvis Dumervil (foot), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (hamstring), and cornerbacks Shareece Wright (thigh) and Jerraud Powers (groin) on Wednesday.

Harbaugh said Monday that Suggs and Yanda are unlikely to play until after next week’s bye, but he didn’t rule out the former trying to play against the Jets if his arm were to improve.

“Last time he [tore his other biceps], he played the game after the first game,” Harbaugh said. “If he comes up and says he can play, then we’ll put him out there. He’s not a long-term deal, either.”

The good news for Baltimore was the presence of cornerback Jimmy Smith (concussion), who was practicing with a red non-contact vest over his jersey. His limited participation would mean he’s reached the penultimate step in the concussion protocol before being cleared to return to full action.

Wide receivers Mike Wallace (ribs) and Breshad Perriman were also practicing with red vests during the open portion of practice, but they were not listed on the injury report.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) and right tackle Rick Wagner (thigh) were both present and working during practice, a good sign for their availability against the Jets. Stanley was a full participant in practice for the first time since Week 3 while Wagner wasn’t even listed on Wednesday’s report.

As expected, running back Lorenzo Taliaferro and cornerback Asa Jackson were both practicing. Taliaferro has begun his 21-day practice window after beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list while Jackson is currently on the practice squad and could be an option for depth with the current injuries in the secondary.

Meanwhile, the Jets officially named Geno Smith their starting quarterback for Sunday’s game with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick struggling mightily in the midst of a 1-5 start.

Left tackle Ryan Clady (shoulder), center Nick Mangold (knee), and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle) were absent from Wednesday’s practice for New York.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), QB Joe Flacco (right shoulder), RS Devin Hester (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), CB Jerraud Powers (thigh), WR Steve Smith Sr. (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (biceps), CB Shareece Wright (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Ronnie Stanley (foot)

NEW YORK
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OL Ryan Clady (shoulder), LB Darron Lee (ankle), OL Nick Mangold (knee), OL Brent Qvale (neck), CB Buster Skrine (non-injury), DL Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Braeden Bowman (knee), LB Bruce Carter (foot), RB Matt Forte (knee), LB David Harris (hamstring), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DT Steve McLendon (back), DB Darryl Roberts (shoulder), OL Brian Winters (knee)

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Ravens just can’t seem to escape malaise of mediocrity

Posted on 17 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens just couldn’t shake it in a 27-23 loss to the New York Giants, another winnable game that wasn’t won.

Yes, the injuries are piling up and the rest of the AFC North is conveniently a mess, but those factors only deflect from the reality that’s becoming more apparent every week, especially after three straight losses to cancel out a 3-0 start.

The Ravens are stuck in a malaise of mediocrity that’s rapidly becoming their identity. Truthfully, it’s what they’ve mostly experienced since Super Bowl XLVII, going just 26-28 with one playoff appearance over that time. Their 2014 campaign that included a postseason win and a trip to the divisional round used to be the norm, but it’s been Baltimore’s ceiling since raising the Lombardi Trophy four years ago.

Look no further than Sunday being the Ravens’ 20th game decided by a single possession since the start of 2015. They’re not terrible, but they’re not particularly good, either. Especially after last season’s 1-6 start, the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” routine is starting to fall on deaf ears with close games becoming the norm in the NFL.

The Ravens are what their record says they are.

“We’re a .500 team. We’re 3-3 in tight games,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We’ve won some, we’ve lost some. You could easily say we could be 5-1, 6-0 or we could be 0-6 or 1-5.”

Everyone deserves blame, from the coaching staff to the players to the front office.

The Ravens entered Week 6 tied for 22nd in the NFL in penalties before adding 15 more for 111 yards against the Giants, several of those short-circuiting offensive drives like we’ve seen all too often this season. Coaches and the players themselves need to be accountable for the weekly routine of shooting themselves in the foot.

Baltimore entered Sunday ranked fifth in pass defense and held the Giants to just seven points and 133 yards in the first half, but the absence of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith led to Eli Manning throwing for 296 yards after halftime, most of that going to Odell Beckham Jr. Losing Smith obviously hurt, but allowing passing plays of 75, 43, and 66 yards in one half is inexcusable.

Of course, a pass rush that continues to be nonexistent beyond the occasional flash from the now-injured Terrell Suggs hasn’t helped one bit. With Suggs and Elvis Dumervil both sidelined, the Ravens continue to wait for their young pass rushers to step up.

With three starters missing on Sunday, the offensive line played about how you’d expect, but opposing defenses aren’t going to feel sorry for the Ravens. They’ve got to figure out a way to make it work in the meantime.

On Sunday, John Harbaugh received too much criticism for going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to begin the fourth quarter — that was the correct decision in a game in which his pass defense was rapidly falling apart — but he’s deserved plenty of blame for bizarre choices in recent weeks. During a losing streak, a head coach needs to find solutions and not be part of the problem as has been the case over the current three-game slide.

The coaching issues go beyond simply firing offensive coordinator Marc Trestman last week.

Even Joe Flacco — who generally receives too much blame during tough times — played his worst on the final drive of Sunday’s game when the Ravens still had a chance to win, missing a wide-open Mike Wallace and making some questionable decisions with the football. The franchise quarterback isn’t high on the list of current problems, but he’s only been OK and not much better than that this season, which isn’t good enough from the highest-paid player on the roster.

It’s certainly not helping Flacco that we’re again asking who the play-makers are on this roster, something that’s become an annual question for longtime general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office. Steve Smith still being the Ravens’ best receiver is both a compliment to the 37-year-old and a clear indictment of the front office.

The Ravens received much praise for the Weddle signing this offseason, but even that came after wasting early draft picks and making bad free-agent signings at the safety position over the last few years.

The Odell Beckhams of the league don’t grow on trees, but when are the Ravens going to find a special player or two — on either side of the ball — to make the difference in these one-score games? Ed Reed had a Hall of Fame career of doing exactly that, allowing Baltimore to snatch numerous victories from the jaws of defeat.

The Ravens’ current list of injured players includes five over the age of 30. This is an aging roster short on high-impact young players, which is why the Ravens find themselves stuck in neutral.

They’re springing too many leaks to inspire much confidence, especially with a difficult second-half schedule looming. Even when they begin fixing an issue such as the special teams playing better in Week 6, another pops up elsewhere with the defense collapsing in the second half of a winnable game.

Yes, there’s plenty of football to play and the AFC North is wide open with Cincinnati two games below .500 and 4-2 Pittsburgh losing Ben Roethlisberger to a knee injury for the time being, but that doesn’t change the truth about the Ravens.

From top to bottom, it just feels too mediocre.

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Ravens-Giants: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 15 October 2016 by Luke Jones

Two teams already at a potential crossroads in the 2016 season.

After their first 3-0 start since 2009, the Ravens have lost two straight and fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman on Monday. Meanwhile, the New York Giants have dropped three in a row after a 2-0 start to their season.

Injuries are a major story as six key Ravens players are listed as doubtful or worse for Sunday’s game, but Baltimore doesn’t have time to waste with two straight road games before the Week 8 bye and Marty Mornhinweg trying to breathe life into the NFL’s 22nd-ranked offense. The Giants won’t feel sorry for the Ravens as first-year head coach Ben McAdoo needs a win to reverse his own team’s fortunes.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play the Giants at MetLife Stadium for the first time ever. Baltimore is 3-1 in the regular-season history and won the last regular-season meeting between these teams, a 33-14 blowout at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 23, 2012. Of course, the Ravens also defeated the Giants by a 34-7 margin in Super Bowl XXXV.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will rush a season-high 30 times with Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon each gaining at least 50 yards. Everyone has clamored for Baltimore to run more, and Mornhinweg will do just that with a banged-up offensive line going against the league’s 17th-ranked defense. The Giants will key on West with his 5.0 yards per carry average, so this might be the time to show different looks with Dixon, who didn’t play after the first quarter against Washington. The Giants have allowed only 3.5 yards per carry this season, but the Ravens have to stick with the run if this game is close.

2. The Giants will match their full season total by sacking Joe Flacco four times. Five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley are inactive, and Rick Wagner is no sure bet to start even if he’s active on Sunday. Even if the Ravens commit to the run and use designed roll-outs and waggles to keep Flacco away from the pass rush, the Giants still have the tandem of Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon that will create problems for Alex Lewis and James Hurst. If Baltimore falls behind and needs to throw, it could get ugly in this department.

3. Mike Wallace and Odell Beckham Jr. will each catch a touchdown of 30 or more yards. If they run as much as we expect, the Ravens should find some opportunities to take more shots down the field as so many offensive players wanted under Trestman. The Giants will also be without starting free safety Nat Berhe, which will give Wallace a greater chance to shake free. The Ravens secondary has held up well, but there were coverage breakdowns last week that Washington failed to exploit in windy conditions at M&T Bank Stadium. Beckham shaking free will result in a different outcome.

4. Matt Judon will collect his first career sack despite the Ravens not getting enough pressure on Eli Manning. Elvis Dumervil is out and head coach John Harbaugh didn’t make it sound as though we’ll see the veteran again until after the bye, meaning the Ravens must start getting pass-rush contributions from younger outside linebackers. Judon has been inactive for the last two games, but he posted three sacks in the preseason while second-year linebacker Za’Darius Smith hasn’t shown much so far. The rookie fifth-round pick will flash, but creating enough pressure off the edge will remain an issue.

5. The injury-depleted Ravens will compete, but the Giants will prevail in a 25-17 final. The change at offensive coordinator was already challenging enough for Sunday, but the Ravens are likely to be without top receiver Steve Smith and as many as three starting members of the offensive line on the road. Meanwhile, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is doubtful to play, which will compromise a run defense that’s been superb in 2016. The Ravens still have a reasonable chance to win considering the Giants aren’t very good, but there’s too much unknown and too many injuries to pick them this week.

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Energized Ravens offense knows pressure is on to produce

Posted on 12 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens players reacted differently to the firing of Marc Trestman than they did to Cam Cameron’s removal four years ago.

Cameron’s firing was shocking to players with just three weeks remaining in the 2012 regular season. Despite the annual outside complaints and speculation about his job status, Joe Flacco and the Ravens had found much success with Cameron guiding the offense for nearly five full years. What happened in the seven weeks that followed would make history, but the change served as a jarring wake-up call for the entire offense in the midst of what had already been a 9-4 season to that point.

With Trestman, however, the Ravens had won just eight of 21 games, never finding any meaningful stretch of prosperity in his brief tenure. Following Sunday’s 16-10 loss to Washington, the frustration in the locker room was apparent as the tone had seemingly shifted from “if” to “when” in terms of a potential firing.

Two days after John Harbaugh officially replaced Trestman with quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg, players expressed kind words about their former coordinator as a person and as a coach, but their opinion of the change was crystal clear. And nobody sounded surprised.

“It was difficult to see him go, but I think it was something that this offense needed,” said tight end Dennis Pitta, who experienced the Cameron firing and isn’t known for being overly critical. “We were in kind of a bad place. It didn’t seem like we were getting out of it. Hopefully, this will spark us. Marty is a great coach, and we have a lot of faith in him. He brings an energy and an excitement to our offense that we needed. Hopefully, we’ll be able to put it together and play much better going forward.”

“Energy” and “excitement” were the buzzwords uttered by multiple players about Mornhinweg during Wednesday’s media session. Trestman’s questionable play-calling was evident to even the casual observer, but it sounded as if his personality wasn’t inspiring an offense ranking 22nd in total yards and tied for 22nd in points per game entering Week 6.

Wide receivers Mike Wallace and Kamar Aiken immediately smiled when asked about their first impressions of the promoted Mornhinweg, citing his energetic personality. But that feeling will be fleeting if improved results don’t accompany the change.

Players predictably cited improved commitment to the running and taking more shots down the field as the anticipated changes in a system that can only be tweaked and not overhauled in the middle of a season. How it will play out on game day remains to be seen.

“It is just up to him as a play-caller and getting into the rhythm of the game and feeling when you do those things,” said Flacco, who was much more guarded than his teammates in discussing the change on Wednesday. “Obviously, you aren’t just picking things off the call sheet and calling them. There is a rhythm to it, and there is a reason for it. That is the biggest thing.”

Even if players weren’t surprised by the decision, one only hopes they still took a long look in the mirror on Monday.

Trestman wasn’t committing costly penalties to blow up drives on a weekly basis.

He wasn’t failing to block for Flacco.

And the 60-year-old certainly wasn’t dropping passes in critical situations.

Identifying Trestman as the problem is fair, but only if the remaining group — Harbaugh, Mornhinweg, and the players — finds the solution and fast. The training wheels are off, and it’s time for the offense to pedal faster down the street or fall into the bushes.

If it’s the latter, maybe this group just isn’t as good as we thought it could be and it will be unfortunate that Trestman had to take the fall.

“I think we just need to do what we keep doing, but just turn it up a notch,” Wallace said. “We’re in every single game. It’s just a matter of making one play here, one play there. We just need to get over the top. That’s what the coaches are trying to do to get us there. You have to explore every single situation. Unfortunately, that means some people lose their jobs. I’ve been there before myself.

“That’s football. It’s the business we’re in. Everybody knows it when you sign up, so nobody’s hanging their head or anything like that. It’s unfortunate, but everybody knows.”

And the Ravens know it’s now on them with their biggest excuse officially out the door.

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Will Mornhinweg provide spark Ravens offense needs?

Posted on 10 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Based on their own history, the Ravens should be optimistic about the decision to make a change at offensive coordinator on Monday.

Of course, that feeling is relative as John Harbaugh’s decision to fire Marc Trestman wasn’t made lightly with the offense ranking in the bottom 10 in multiple categories, but the ninth-year head coach only needs to look at his Super Bowl ring to see what impact Jim Caldwell made in replacing Cam Cameron late in the 2012 season. In 2006, head coach Brian Billick parted ways with Jim Fassel after an offense-challenged 4-2 start and took over the play-calling for the duration of what would become the best regular season in franchise history at 13-3.

What can the Ravens expect from Marty Mornhinweg after two straight home losses that have threatened to derail a promising start to the 2016 campaign?

Unlike with Caldwell four years ago, Mornhinweg brings extensive experience as a play-caller after serving as an offensive coordinator for San Francisco (1997-2000), Philadelphia (2004-2012), and the New York Jets (2013-2014) in his long NFL coaching career. He guided multiple top 10 offenses with the talent-laden 49ers and Eagles, but he fared about as poorly in New York as you’d predict knowing how Geno Smith ultimately turned out as an NFL quarterback.

As you’d anticipate with any in-season coaching move, the Ravens aren’t about to tear up their playbook.

“It’s experience in this system — basically, the West Coast [offense] terminology,” Harbaugh said. “He fits right in. I know there will be some things that he will tweak, but the basic system is not going to change. The way we adjust some routes maybe or the way we organize our protections or some of our play-action passes, that’s all of the stuff that Marty has to do the way he believes it should be done. But the basic system terminology [and] the way we operate remains the same.”

It was a similar story for Caldwell, who replaced the man who had overseen the Ravens offense for nearly five full seasons. The change wasn’t a magic potion, but Caldwell welcomed more input from players, used the middle of the field more effectively in the passing game, and had a better feel for the utilization of the no-huddle offense as Joe Flacco would respond to the change by playing the best football of his career in a historic playoff run.

The 2013 season showed that Caldwell wasn’t a miracle worker as personnel losses and a broken running game led to a disappointing 8-8 record for the defending Super Bowl champions, but he was able to provide that spark in 2012 for a talented group to find its way. Harbaugh can only hope that Mornhinweg will have a similar effect this time around.

The job will start with unleashing a running game that’s looked better over the last two weeks despite continuing to be underutilized by Trestman. With an offensive line currently battling injuries and a young running back in Terrance West averaging 5.0 yards per carry, there’s just no reason for Flacco to be throwing the ball 45 or 50 times per game unless the Ravens are behind by multiple scores.

“We are improving. That is the tug-of-war you always have in there,” said Harbaugh, citing a conversation he had with offensive line coach Juan Castillo about the ground attack on Monday. “We all have a lot of pride, and we want to find a way to keep improving it within that. Next week is a new week. It is getting better. I do like the way Terrance is running, and I like the way the other guys are running, too. I expect to see more of those guys, also. More carries for everybody would be good.”

Perhaps Harbaugh — the longtime special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles before being hired in Baltimore — recalled the work Mornhinweg did for the Eagles in 2006 when head coach Andy Reid handed over the play-calling duties after a blowout loss to Indianapolis in Week 12. With Mornhinweg placing more emphasis on the running game, the Eagles — led by backup quarterback Jeff Garcia — won six games in a row to advance to the second round of the playoffs that season.

No matter how much frustration there might have been with Trestman, this change can’t be viewed as a magic fix as there are issues going beyond the play-calling.

The offensive line must get healthy and perform at a higher level than we’ve witnessed through the first five games.

Wide receivers other than the 37-year-old Steve Smith must show better hands and more consistency, and it will then be up to Mornhinweg to find the vertical passing game envisioned by many throughout the offseason and summer.

The trio of young running backs will need to take advantage of the increased number of carries expected to come their way.

And despite being lower on the list of concerns, Flacco must still play better than he has so far in 2016.

If players don’t take these challenges into their own hands, the promotion of Mornhinweg will only be a footnote in a season suddenly moving in the wrong direction.

“We just need to get better,” Harbaugh said. “I didn’t feel in my gut that — going the way we were going — it was going to change [and] it was going to be able to get better. Not that everybody wasn’t trying. Everybody was doing everything they could do. I just think we need different chemistry in there right now to get to where we need to go.

“Marc Trestman’s the guy that’s going to suffer the most at this time, but it’s all of our responsibility that this happened. It’s all of our responsibility to get it right.”

And it will be all of their responsibility if history is to repeat itself for the Ravens.

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Ravens not good enough to overcome coaching errors

Posted on 09 October 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman deserved a pass last season.

With a lack of speed at the skill positions and a run of injuries that made the offense look like a preseason unit over the final two months, how could you fairly critique the assistant in his first season in Baltimore?

But the red flags were there. The running game lacked productivity or commitment — or both — and the passing attacked often lacked rhyme or reason. A year later, the same problems persist as the Ravens offense turned in an embarrassing performance in being blanked over the final 44 minutes of a 16-10 loss to Washington, who entered Sunday ranked 29th in the NFL in total defense and 26th in points allowed.

It looked so promising early with a nine-play, 75-yard opening drive that resulted in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Crockett Gillmore. In the first quarter, the Ravens went 3-for-5 on third down, rushed 11 times for 74 yards, and accumulated 146 yards of offense.

If only the game had ended after Justin Tucker’s 31-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 10-6 lead to begin the second quarter.

Over the last three quarters, Baltimore went 0-for-10 on third down and ran the ball eight times, one of those a fourth-down scramble by Flacco on the final drive. Instead of continuing to try to gash the Redskins with the run, the Ravens appeared to go away from the ground game whenever they could as Flacco threw the ball 46 times for just 210 yards. The ninth-year quarterback has now thrown a whopping 98 times over the last two games for just 508 yards, an anemic 5.2 yards per attempt.

If the opponent is truly adjusting to take away the run, then the passing game is hopelessly broken to not be able to take advantage. There’s no excuse to fall apart after the 37-year-old Steve Smith exited the game late in the first quarter with a sprained ankle.

But as the passing game languished, Terrance West averaged 8.6 yards per carry on 11 rushes on Sunday.

Eleven.

He was responsible for the two longest plays of the game for Baltimore with runs of 35 and 27 yards while Flacco dropped back to throw 50 times and had nothing longer than a 15-yard completion on the day.

“We didn’t get first downs,” said head coach John Harbaugh when asked about the disappearance of the running game. “Eight rushes [after the first quarter] and how many three-and-outs? How many runs do you want? That’s the bottom line. You have to move the ball, you have to get first downs. We have to have more plays. How many plays did we have if you’re not going to count the two-minute drive? You just have to look at how many plays we had in those situations.

“I didn’t think we abandoned the run. I would’ve liked to have seen us score. Once we got the turnover down [in the red zone in the second quarter], we threw it and got nothing there. Maybe we could’ve run it there if I was going to look back.”

The weekly excuses for not running the ball are wearing thin, and the frustration was apparent in the post-game locker room. Trestman isn’t solely to blame as the offensive line is banged up, receivers are dropping too many passes and struggling to gain separation, and Flacco isn’t playing at his best. Players must execute and the opponent is also competing, but even the most even-keeled observer has to question whether the maligned coordinator is able to put this offense in the best position to succeed at this point.

Do changes need to be made?

“I’m not going to get into all that. We’re not playing well enough,” said Flacco, who added that it was “embarrassing” to play that way in front of a disenchanted home crowd. “We’re not making plays. Yeah, there’s probably only a couple plays, we’re only giving ourselves a couple of plays to be made, but when they’re there, we’re just not making them. We are running off the field way too much. Definitely, definitely not fun to be out there today after the first series.”

Of course, the offense wasn’t the only problem on Sunday.

The special teams continue to struggle as the Redskins scored their first touchdown on an 85-yard punt return by Jamison Crowder in the first quarter. A bad Sam Koch punt early in the third quarter set up Washington at midfield for its eventual second touchdown.

On defense, the secondary buckled too much in the third quarter and linebacker C.J. Mosley’s fumble through the end zone on what looked like a game-changing interception was a back-breaker, but too much pressure is being placed on a much-improved unit that allowed only 10 points on Sunday.

But it was another coaching gaffe in the second quarter that stood out in the six-point defeat.

After linebacker Zach Orr forced and recovered a fumble inside the red zone, the Ravens failed to pick up a first down on three plays and lined up to try a 35-yard field goal to push the lead to 13-6. However, the Ravens called for their kicker to throw a pass despite the windy conditions at M&T Bank Stadium. Unsurprisingly, the pass to Gillmore was underthrown and fell incomplete.

Tucker said after the game that they had practiced the trick play — which included him initially lining up as a left-footed kicker — over the last five years, but there had been no discussion on the sideline about the crosswind potentially impacting the ability to run the fake. He maintained that the wind was not a factor on his throw and suggested that Gillmore may have slipped on the play, but the failure was neither of those players’ fault.

How you call a play for a non-quarterback to throw the ball in less-than-ideal conditions is baffling. We don’t know how the game might have changed if the Ravens had successfully kicked there, but they would have only needed a field goal to tie the game on their final drive if the score had been 16-13.

“You can second-guess it, but I’m not second-guessing it,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve stood up here for nine years and said we’re going to be aggressive. People are going to have to defend fakes, they’re going to have to defend us going for it on fourth down. That’s just the way we’re going to continue to play, because that’s what we believe in. We believe in giving our players a chance to make plays, and we’re going to keep doing it. We’re not apologizing for that.”

The head coach’s answer was predictable, but there’s really no defending the call.

Plenty went wrong in the loss and players must take their share of the responsibility, but the Ravens just aren’t good enough to overcome the type of coaching errors that were made on Sunday.

Harbaugh and Trestman needed to be better in what was a very winnable game.

Now, the Ravens are left to rebound from two straight home losses that have all but washed away the good vibes of a 3-0 start.

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Ravens-Redskins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 08 October 2016 by Luke Jones

No matter what local fans might wish, the Ravens don’t have any real rivalry with the Washington Redskins.

But that doesn’t mean Sunday’s game isn’t important for Baltimore with two straight road games looming ahead of the Week 8 bye and a difficult second half of the season. The Ravens don’t want to lose a second consecutive home game and all semblance of momentum after a 3-0 start.

Washington has shaken off an 0-2 start at home to win its last two contests and will try to improve to 2-0 on the road behind the NFL’s eighth-ranked offense.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens welcome Washington to M&T Bank Stadium for just the second time ever in the regular season. Baltimore is 3-2 in the all-time series, but the Redskins won the last regular-season meeting between these teams, a 31-28 overtime finish in Landover on Dec. 9, 2012.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Rookie Alex Lewis will shift outside to left tackle to help stabilize Baltimore’s pass protection. With Ronnie Stanley expected to miss his second straight game, Lewis will get the call to play tackle and will be an upgrade from the overmatched James Hurst. It helps that Washington lacks an explosive pass rush and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is questionable to play with an elbow injury, but the Ravens could still have their hands full with edge rusher Trent Murphy, who already has four sacks. Washington will collect two sacks, but Joe Flacco will deal with a cleaner pocket than last week.

2. Washington tight end Jordan Reed will find the end zone against a shaky red-zone defense from the Ravens. The Baltimore defense is one of the best in the NFL despite opponents going 7-for-8 scoring touchdowns in trips to the red zone, but Washington ranks 30th in red-zone offense so far this year. The Ravens have been very good against tight ends all season, but the linebacker coverage showed some cracks against Oakland last week and Reed is the best tight end they’ve faced all year. He’ll finish off a long drive with a touchdown catch against Baltimore.

3. Kenneth Dixon will flash in his debut, but Terrance West will lead the way against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. After facing a shoddy Oakland defense last week, the Ravens will find plenty of room against a group allowing 4.9 yards per carry this season. Dixon will receive a handful of touches as a change of pace, but West deserves to carry the load after rushing for a career-high 113 yards last week. He may not reach that mark again, but Baltimore will commit to the run early and gain 135 yards to move the chains and keep Flacco from having to throw it 40-plus times again.

4. The Ravens defense will force Kirk Cousins to throw more than 40 times and pick him off at a critical moment. Baltimore ranks fifth in run defense and is allowing 3.7 yards per carry despite giving up an 85-yard touchdown run in Week 2. Meanwhile, the Washington offense thrives with an effective running game and would like to limit Cousins’ attempts from the pocket. The Ravens will come up on the winning end in this battle as they’ve allowed 2.7 yards per carry on non-Isaiah Crowell touchdowns this season. Washington’s reliance on the pass will lead to a crucial fourth-quarter turnover.

5. The Baltimore offense will be more balanced and efficient while the defense will bend without breaking in a 24-19 win over the Redskins. It’s impossible to expect anything but a close game on Sunday as the Ravens haven’t won a game by more than one possession since the 2014 postseason and 18 of their last 20 regular-season games have been decided by one possession. However, the Washington defense ranks 29th in yards allowed and will be without starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland. The Redskins will move the ball with an effective passing game, but the Ravens will make the adjustments to clean up their red-zone defense this week, which will be the difference in a close game.

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Ravens offense lacking direction, confidence in early going

Posted on 03 October 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The final numbers looked good for the Ravens offense despite the 28-27 loss to Oakland on Sunday.

The 27 points, 412 total yards, 130 rushing yards, and 25 first downs were season highs, but they conceal the truth through the first quarter of a season that’s still off to a promising 3-1 start for Baltimore.

This Ravens offense is lacking direction and confidence in what it does.

The decision to deactivate running back Justin Forsett in favor of Terrance West and Buck Allen was the right one, but it was a difficult choice and one that was understandably deflating to a veteran. Head coach John Harbaugh’s explanation that the Ravens were looking for a “spark” was sound in theory.

“You’ve got to try to do something,” Harbaugh said. “You try to do all the things, and then sometimes you try to do something else, too. That’s what we tried to do this week.”

So, why then did West receive only five carries in the first half? His 21-yard run with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter was Baltimore’s longest of the season, but the third-year back carried the ball on the next play and didn’t touch it again until the third quarter.

Why did offensive coordinator Marc Trestman have quarterback Joe Flacco throw 29 times in the first two quarters behind a backup left side of the offensive line that was no match for Khalil Mack and the Oakland front? Why make the bold move to bench Forsett in favor of West and not even try to run the ball until the third quarter against a rush defense that entered Week 4 ranked 29th in the NFL?

The early strategy looked even sillier as West ran for 87 yards on 16 carries after intermission. The Ravens hope that success wasn’t an aberration against a poor run defense, but the improved commitment to the run must continue moving forward.

The passing game again relied on too many short throws and hesitated to stretch the field vertically with the likes of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman. Pass protection was unquestionably a major problem on Sunday with James Hurst at left tackle and Ryan Jensen at left guard, but Baltimore has been reluctant to throw the ball downfield for large stretches of its first four games. You can only use the two-deep safety excuse so much for not taking vertical shots, especially when you don’t attempt to establish the run early in the game to force the opposition to put a safety in the box.

Why not roll Flacco out a little more and move him away from pressure while allowing receivers to get open down the field?

Steve Smith had the standout performance with 111 receiving yards and a 52-yard touchdown, but Kyle Juszczyk was second with 56 receiving yards on Sunday. He’s a good player and certainly capable of contributing in the passing game out of the backfield, but a fullback shouldn’t be your second-leading receiver when you throw the ball 52 times in a game.

“We’re just not there,” said Flacco, who averaged only 5.7 yards per attempt on Sunday. “To come out and only put up six points in the first half and get off to that start, dig yourself a hole like that, and then you have to play a perfect game. Then you have to go out there and you have to score and you have to move the ball and you have to go, go, go, go, go. When you do that, you have to convert third downs and you have to play that perfect game. It just makes it very tough.”

The Ravens not only lacked direction with the offense in the first half, but they lacked confidence throughout the game.

Trestman’s play-calling is under scrutiny and penalties have stalled too many drives, but two second-half decisions by Harbaugh showed a lack of trust in the offense.

After Flacco scored a touchdown on a quarterback sneak with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter to make it a 14-12 deficit, Harbaugh elected to go for a two-point conversion that was unsuccessful. The decision to chase points with more than 17 minutes to play was indicative of a coach unsure that his offense would put together another scoring drive.

A few minutes later, Harbaugh accepted an unnecessary roughness penalty on a third-and-1 play in which his defense stuffed Latavius Murray for a loss of five at the Baltimore 25. Instead of conceding a 43-yard field goal attempt to Sebastian Janikowski — one of the better kickers in NFL history — the Ravens coach elected to give Oakland a third-and-17 play from the 36.

“You try to back them up and make it a tougher kick from an angle perspective,” Harbaugh said. “I wanted to keep it as a field goal game. Looking back on it, it wasn’t the right decision. I didn’t really believe — I didn’t really have a sense — that that many points were going to be scored down the stretch. It didn’t seem like it was going to be played that way.”

There’s no excusing the defense allowing a 16-yard completion and committing an offside penalty on the next two plays to give the Raiders a first down and an eventual touchdown to make it a 21-12 game, but Harbaugh’s acceptance of the penalty was another example of lacking faith in his offense. He doubted the Ravens’ ability to overcome a five-point deficit if he’d just declined the penalty and Oakland had kicked the field goal with more than 13 minutes to go.

That’s a real problem.

The good news is that the Ravens are still 3-1. They were beaten by a quality opponent on Sunday and shouldn’t panic after suffering their first loss of the season.

But the offense is a concern as the same problems have persisted week after week. The healthy returns of left tackle Ronnie Stanley and left guard Alex Lewis will help stabilize the shoddy pass protection witnessed in Week 4, but the slow starts, the penalties, the running game, and the overall philosophy remain issues.

The Ravens offense needs clear direction and more confidence if it’s ever going to take off.

“Everything that we do right now is just probably a little bit tougher than it needs to be,” said Flacco, who threw four straight incompletions when the Ravens needed 10 more yards to get into Justin Tucker’s field-goal range in the final minute on Sunday. “We need to find some ways to get some easy ones. I think our run game got some chunks today for us. I think that got going a little bit and helped us out when it did get going. Hopefully, we can find some more of that.”

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Ravens-Raiders: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 01 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens continue to hear the talk about whether or not they’re for real.

Their first 3-0 start since 2009 certainly hasn’t come against the most formidable opponents, but the Oakland Raiders are a team many tabbed to take a significant step forward into the AFC playoff picture this season. The Ravens will face their biggest challenge to date on Sunday, but it represents an opportunity to silence the critics doubting just how good they really are.

A 4-0 record would give Baltimore its best start since 2006 and a significant boost in trying to get back to the postseason after missing the playoffs in two of the last three seasons since Super Bowl XLVII.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens look to remain undefeated against Oakland at home in their all-time history. Baltimore holds the 6-2 advantage in the overall regular-season series — and won the only playoff meeting at the end of the 2000 season — despite the Raiders prevailing 37-33 in a Week 2 contest in Oakland last year.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Elvis Dumervil will collect a sack and play roughly 20 snaps in his 2016 debut. Expectations should be tempered after Dumervil missed virtually the entire summer and the first three games of the season coming back from offseason foot surgery, but the Raiders are a mess at right tackle due to injuries and will likely start seventh-round rookie Vadal Alexander. Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will have their work cut out for them against the rest of a terrific Oakland offensive line led by ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele, but Dumervil will slip by Alexander for a sack.

2. Khalil Mack will pick up two quarterback takedowns in exploiting a vulnerable Baltimore offensive line. The Ravens are dealing with offensive line issues of their own with rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley doubtful to play with a foot injury and rookie left guard Alex Lewis questionable after suffering a concussion. That’s bad news as Mack has yet to collect a sack in 2016, but it’s only a matter of time before the 2015 Pro Bowl selection breaks out. The Ravens will use tight ends to aid in pass protection on the left side, but Mack and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin will be a problem.

3. Terrance West will become the first Ravens running back to score a touchdown in 2016. Oakland sports the NFL’s 29th-ranked rush defense and has given up 5.1 yards per carry, leaving no excuse for offensive coordinator Marc Trestman not to get his running game going. Veteran Justin Forsett is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, but he is the Ravens’ best back in pass protection, complicating matters for an offense leaning on the pass. West will receive the bigger load and will find the end zone, but Baltimore will still be looking ahead to Kenneth Dixon’s potential return next week.

4. Joe Flacco and Derek Carr will both throw for over 275 yards and two touchdowns. The Raiders have been successful running the football with multiple backs, but they will find more success in the air as Carr gets the ball out quickly to neutralize the Ravens’ A-gap blitzing and overall pass rush. Meanwhile, Flacco will come out throwing against a defense that improved in Tennessee Week 3 but has given up 340 yards per game through the air. The Ravens will mix in a few more deep shots while continuing to work the ball to Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith in the short-to-intermediate passing game.

5. The Ravens offense will finally break through to be the difference in a 30-27 win over Oakland. This one will be somewhat of a shootout with Baltimore being more exposed in coverage than it was over the first three weeks, but the defense will still make a few stops when needed. A passing offense that has looked quite promising at times will finally play a more complete game. The Raiders are a talented team more than capable of winning on Sunday, but they’ve lost 18 of their last 19 games played in the Eastern time zone dating back to 2009 and are playing a long-distance road game for a second straight week. The Ravens are better than many of us thought and will show it with a “style-points” win.

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Ravens, Raiders both trying to make statement on Sunday

Posted on 01 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens and the Oakland Raiders are both trying to prove they belong among the AFC’s contenders.

Despite a 3-0 start, the Ravens have beaten three below-average opponents by only a combined 13 points and are still trying to shake any lingering odor from a 5-11 campaign a year ago. Meanwhile, 2-1 Oakland has two road wins and was a sexy pick to make the playoffs despite lacking a winning season since 2002, but the league’s 32nd-ranked defense hasn’t inspired much confidence through three weeks.

Sunday’s featured matchup will be Baltimore’s second-ranked defense taking on the Raiders’ No. 2 offense. Something will have to give.

“You hear the numbers; there is no shying away from that,” inside linebacker Zach Orr said. “They are definitely top two or top three in the league offensively. It will be a great challenge to see where we stack up. Statistically, we are one of the top defenses in the league right now. It will be a great battle.”

The Ravens must avoid a repeat of last year when quarterback Derek Carr threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-33 win for Oakland, but this defense looks and feels different in 2016. After collecting only six interceptions all last season, Baltimore has five in its first three games, a few coming at critical junctures of close games.

Slowing the talented receiver combination of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree won’t be easy, but the Ravens are now faster, healthier, and smarter on defense. Welcoming back five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil will also help a pass rush that’s been disruptive inside but could use another impact rusher off the edge opposite 14th-year veteran Terrell Suggs.

“We kind of got the deck stacked,” said Suggs, who is tied with defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan for the team lead with three sacks. “We have all our guys back. We have all our working parts. We get another guy back this week. That is going to help us out. I think everybody is just committed to getting better every week, and that is huge for us.”

Getting better will be critical for a Baltimore offense that’s managed only four touchdowns in three games and currently ranks 25th in the NFL in total yards and 24th in points per game. Quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game have shined at times, but the aerial attack has too often been bogged down by a running game averaging a meager 3.3 yards per carry.

The anticipated absence of rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley makes for an uncomfortable matchup with Oakland defensive end and 2015 Pro Bowl selection Khalil Mack, but the Ravens still couldn’t ask for a much better matchup to finally get their offense rolling, especially playing at home for the first time since Week 1. Knowing there’s a talented offense on the other side, Baltimore will need to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals as has often been the case over the first three weeks.

The Ravens keep saying they’re close to breaking out offensively. It needs to come against one of the worst defenses in the league so far this season.

“We feel like we are ready to burst onto the scene,” Flacco said. “We have a lot of moving parts, a lot of guys catching passes. I think if we get our run game going a little bit and clean up the little things like penalties, some drops and a couple missed throws —  stuff like that — I think we will be going.”

Sunday represents Baltimore’s greatest challenge to date as Oakland has more talent than any of the first three opponents of 2016. A win gives the Ravens their best start in the John Harbaugh era and provides further validation for a return to being a dangerous team in the AFC after a one-year hiatus.

Of course, a loss doesn’t decide anything just a quarter of the way through the season, but it would give ammunition to the critics doubting just how good the Ravens really are after a soft schedule the first three weeks.

This one should be fun as both teams have something to prove.

“It is going to be a great matchup, a great game, and physical,” safety Eric Weddle said. “You have to have your ‘big-boy’ pads on and get ready for it.”

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