Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

alexlewis

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Ravens rookie guard Lewis in concussion protocol

Posted on 26 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lost in the final hectic minutes of the Ravens’ 19-17 win over Jacksonville on Sunday was the absence of rookie left guard Alex Lewis.

The 2016 fourth-round pick was not on the field for the final 10 offensive plays of the fourth quarter and is in the concussion protocol, according to head coach John Harbaugh. Reserve Ryan Jensen took Lewis’ place for the final three offensive drives.

“I thought he played well. Ryan goes out there, and he always gives you a spark,” Harbaugh said. “He played really well. He’s physical and played well. One of the things that we feel really good about is we have some depth in our interior offensive line.”

Lewis did not return to the game after taking a hard shot from Jaguars linebacker Dan Skuta on safety Tashaun Gipson’s interception return with less than six minutes remaining.The Nebraska product was slow to get up before leaving the field for the change of possession.

Should Lewis not be cleared to return in time for the Week 4 contest against Oakland, third-year lineman John Urschel or Jensen would be the leading candidates to start at left guard. Urschel has been listed as a full participant in practices for three weeks after suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason, but he has been inactive for the first three games.

For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus has graded Lewis 50th overall among qualified NFL guards through the first three weeks of the season. He sports a solid pass-blocking grade (26th overall) and a poor run-blocking mark (62nd overall).

The first injury report of the week will be released on Wednesday as Baltimore prepares for a home contest against the Raiders.

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young

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No matter how it’s looked, Ravens in great position early in 2016

Posted on 25 September 2016 by Luke Jones

You don’t have to buy into the 3-0 Ravens after a sloppy 19-17 win over Jacksonville on Sunday.

They’ve defeated three teams that are a combined 1-8 so far this season. Baltimore has won each of those games by a single possession and trailed in the fourth quarter of the last two.

Quarterback Joe Flacco spoke the truth after the game despite the Ravens being off to their best start since 2009 and standing alone in first place in the AFC North.

“You don’t want to have to be winning these games the way we are,” said Flacco, who threw two fourth-quarter interceptions after a whopping 21 straight completions earlier in the game. “I think it makes us tougher as a football team. At the same time, you’re not going to be able to get away with this when you’re playing really, really good teams in January.”

The mere fact that Flacco could mention January says it all, however. That possibility was already looking bleak after an 0-3 start last year.

The Ravens may not be a great team, but they’re in a great position with a perfect record through the first three weeks. Since 1990, teams starting 3-0 have made the playoffs 75.6 percent of the time.

The odds look even better with the Ravens now playing consecutive home games against Oakland and Washington. A 5-0 start hardly appears out of the question, and that would be welcomed when you consider what the rest of the schedule looks like after that.

The offense has managed only four touchdowns in three games. The running game has largely been a non-factor at a meager 3.3 yards per carry. The passing game has impressed at times, but then there are moments such as Mike Wallace’s drop in the end zone on the opening drive of the third quarter on Sunday that throw the rhythm out of whack for an extended period of time.

Still, you see plenty of reason for optimism with Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta looking more and more like their old selves, Wallace providing a needed vertical presence, and young receivers such as Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore flashing potential. The offensive line has been an obvious concern, but there were always going to be growing pains with two rookies starting on the left side.

In other words, there’s reason to think the group can improve markedly. That’s why a 3-0 record feels that much better, regardless of the quality of opponents.

“I think we’re a team that’s kind of growing as we’re moving along here,” Flacco said. “We have a lot of moving parts and a lot of guys who haven’t played with us before. At some point, we might see that we’re building up, building up, building up and all of a sudden it turns over very quickly. That’s kind of what I’m looking for — for it to turn over very quickly and for us to explode as an offense and really take off.”

The most impressive part of the Ravens through the first three weeks, however, has been a defense that’s allowed only 14.7 points per game. That’s including a 20-point nightmare of a first quarter in Cleveland, meaning the defense has been even stingier in its other 11 quarters of action.

The pass rush hasn’t been as consistent as defensive coordinator Dean Pees would like, but it has stepped up when needed, sacking Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles four times in the fourth quarter after failing to register one in the first three quarters on Sunday. You’d like to see more pressure off the edge, but veteran Terrell Suggs came alive with two quarterback takedowns in the final period and the Ravens will hope to welcome back Elvis Dumervil in Week 4. The interior rush has been more consistently disruptive with Timmy Jernigan leading the way with three sacks in the first three games.

But the biggest difference from last year’s defense has been the ability to force turnovers. The Ravens intercepted three passes against the Jaguars to give them five for the season, just one shy of their franchise-worst 2015 total.

On Sunday, Baltimore picked off Bortles twice in the final five minutes. Last week, it was a C.J. Mosley interception in the final minute that preserved a 25-20 victory. These were the game-changing plays that were largely absent against both good teams and bad teams a year ago.

Despite their imperfections on Sunday, the Ravens had two distinct advantages over the Jaguars that Suggs identified after the game. And they’re huge reasons why Baltimore should feel even more optimistic about a 3-0 start.

“You want a quarterback with ice in his veins,” Suggs said, “and you damn sure want a kicker with ice in his veins as well.”

Justin Tucker proved the latter with a 54-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining to complete a 4-for-4 day. He has now connected on all three of his tries from at least 50 yards, an area where he struggled last season.

The Ravens may not be the best 3-0 team in the NFL, but they’ll take that over being called the best 2-1 team like Pittsburgh or a good 1-2 squad like Cincinnati. Sure, you can argue that the Ravens haven’t beaten anybody, but they haven’t lost to anybody, either.

A 3-0 start leaves less work to do later and more leeway to figure things out in the coming weeks as the Ravens will hope to be ready to step up their play against the better teams looming later in the year.

Maybe even in January.

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jagsravens

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 24 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face a desperate team on Sunday.

After entering the season with much optimism about a talented core of young players, the Jacksonville Jaguars have stumbled out of the gate to an 0-2 start and were thoroughly outplayed in a 38-14 defeat in San Diego last week. Meanwhile, the Ravens have taken advantage of two below-average opponents to start 2-0 for the first time since 2009.

Facing the challenge of a second consecutive road game, the Ravens certainly hopes to start faster than last week when Cleveland took an early 20-0 lead and forced them to enter catch-up mode.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore seeks its first win in Jacksonville since 2001 when the teams were rivals in the old AFC Central. The Jaguars lead the all-time regular-season series with an 11-8 mark, but the Ravens have won eight of the last 11 meetings dating back to 2000. This marks the third straight year in which the Ravens and Jaguars have met with Jacksonville prevailing in a controversial 22-20 finish at M&T Bank Stadium last year.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will fail to score a touchdown in the first quarter for the third straight game. Slow starts have been too common in the brief Marc Trestman era, which hasn’t helped to jump-start the running game going back to last season. Baltimore should be aggressive early with vertical shots against a banged-up Jaguars secondary, but Trestman has been reluctant to do so in the opening quarter. An early touchdown would go a long way in frustrating an 0-2 opponent and killing what little home-field advantage exists at EverBank Field, but Jacksonville will play hard with its 2016 season already in peril.

2. Tavon Young will intercept a Blake Bortles pass to set up a Baltimore score. The Ravens intercepted two passes last week, which doesn’t sound out of the ordinary until you remember they only had six all last season. A unheralded contributor to a revamped secondary has been the rookie Young, who hasn’t played like a final-day draft pick so far. He made a couple key tackles on Cleveland’s final drive last week and has held up well in slot coverage. He’ll come away with his first career pick defending Marqise Lee to give the Ravens offense a short field.

3. Allen Robinson and Julius Thomas will catch touchdown passes for Jacksonville. The potential return of Elvis Dumervil would certainly help, but Baltimore will need to get more pressure off the edges against Bortles, who has plenty of weapons at his disposal despite his underwhelming performance through two games. Robinson and Allen Hurts are challenging enough to handle, but Thomas is healthy and has put up good numbers early. The Ravens have done a solid job against tight ends so far, but the memory of last year’s struggles covering that position is still too fresh.

4. Breshad Perriman will catch the first touchdown of his NFL career. It’s no secret that Joe Flacco has mostly thrown to Mike Wallace, Dennis Pitta, and Steve Smith as the trio of accounted for 43 targets out of 78 total passing attempts. However, Flacco would have connected on a long touchdown to Perriman against Cleveland’s Joe Haden had the pass been thrown more to the middle of the field. Since the 2015 first-round pick played his college ball a little over two hours away, Jacksonville feels like an appropriate place for him to finally hit pay dirt.

5. The home team feeling more urgency and needing a win will edge the Ravens in a 23-20 final. This game feels like little more than a coin flip, but Jacksonville can’t afford to lose this one whereas John Harbaugh’s team is playing with a little bit of house money after the largest road comeback win in franchise history last week. Baltimore can make a strong statement by improving to 3-0, but the Jaguars will prove they’re better than they were a week ago by making just a couple more plays than the Ravens to prevail in a close game. If this were a home game for the Ravens, I’d pick them instead.

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dumervil

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Dumervil questionable to play after sitting out Friday’s practice

Posted on 23 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh celebrated his 54th birthday on Friday and would welcome the present of a returning Elvis Dumervil for Sunday’s game in Jacksonville.

Despite not participating in Friday’s walk-through practice, the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher was listed as questionable to play after working on a limited basis in previous workouts this week. Dumervil told reporters on Thursday that he hoped to play, but he’s not yet 100 percent physically after undergoing offseason foot surgery and suffering a setback a few days into his initial return to practice in late August.

Harbaugh indicated that Dumervil’s availability against the Jaguars would be a game-time decision after he practiced for the first time in nearly a month.

“I thought he looked good. He’s worked really hard, and he’s put a lot of time in,” Harbaugh said. “It’s just a matter of you get to that point and decide whether it’s going to give you the best chance to win or not based on where he’s at physically. We know what kind of player he is and what he’s capable of, and that’s the decision that will just have to be made.”

As expected, the Ravens officially ruled out running back Kenneth Dixon for the third straight game as he continues to work his way back from a left knee injury. However, the rookie was doing some running on the side field during the open portion of practice and was moving pretty well despite wearing a brace.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) and interior offensive lineman John Urschel (shoulder) were both listed as questionable to play against the Jaguars. After missing Wednesday’s practice, Stanley was a full participant on Thursday and Friday and is fully expected to start. Urschel has now been a full participant in practices for three straight weeks, but he was inactive for Baltimore’s first two games.

Center Jeremy Zuttah was not listed on the final game status injury report of the week, but he was absent from Friday’s walk-through for a non-injury reason. This typically indicates a player is either receiving a day off to rest or to deal with a personal matter, but Harbaugh did not give an explanation for Zuttah’s absence.

“That’d be a good question for Jeremy, but there’s no injury there,” Harbaugh said. “Jeremy’s fine.”

Zuttah was not available for comment during Friday’s open locker room period for reporters. The 30-year-old has struggled over the first two games of the season, leading some outsiders to speculate whether the Ravens should turn to another option such as Urschel or Ryan Jensen.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars will be without their starting left tackle as Kelvin Beachum was ruled out for Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion in Week 2. Former first-round pick Luke Joeckel is listed as his primary backup.

Jacksonville listed five other starters as questionable with two of them — cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) and defensive end Jared Odrick (triceps) — not practicing all week.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with temperatures reaching the high 80s, winds up to 10 miles per hours, and a 60 percent chance of precipitation.

The Ravens announced Friday that they will wear “CB” decals on their helmets for the remainder of the 2016 season in memory of longtime defensive line coach Clarence Brooks, who died of esophageal cancer last Saturday.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday’s game:

BALTIMORE
OUT: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), G John Urschel (shoulder)

JACKSONVILLE
OUT: OT Kelvin Beachum (concussion), TE Ben Koyack (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), S Tashaun Gipson (hamstring), RB Chris Ivory (general medical), C Brandon Linder (knee), DE Jared Odrick (triceps)

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dumervil

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Ravens hoping this could be the week for Dumervil’s return

Posted on 21 September 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated 11:30 a.m.)

The Ravens are off to their first 2-0 start in seven years despite being without their best pass rusher, but that could change against Jacksonville as Elvis Dumervil returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.

Head coach John Harbaugh did not refute a recent ESPN report saying that the Pro Bowl outside linebacker was aiming to make his return in Week 3 from offseason foot surgery last month. Activated from the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 22, the 32-year-old only practiced on a limited basis for a few days before suffering a setback and once again being sidelined.

“You’ll know [he has a chance to play] if he practices, in all honesty,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “He has to practice. It’s really in Elvis’ hands. It’s going to be kind of a feel thing for him. There’s soundness there from what I’m told. He feels it. It’s just a matter of whether he feels the strength is there, and the explosion, and everything he needs to go out there and compete.”

With Dumervil out, Albert McClellan has served as the starting strong-side outside linebacker in the base defense opposite veteran rush linebacker Terrell Suggs. Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon have received more opportunities in pass-rushing situations, especially with Suggs not yet playing at his pre-injury level in returning from last season’s Achilles injury.

The Ravens have mostly relied on their interior pass rush and blitzing to create pressure, but their edge rushers have yet to make a dynamic impact in disrupting the pocket. A healthy Dumervil would figure to change that after accumulating 32 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons with the Ravens.

“I feel like I’m getting close, but I don’t know what close means yet,” Dumervil said last week. “We’re working hard, working with the guys here. I’m really getting better, so looking forward to really soon.”

Baltimore is also hoping to welcome back rookie running back Kenneth Dixon sooner rather than later. The fourth-round pick suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Aug. 27 and was still wearing a brace as of last week. He was expected to miss around four weeks at the time of the injury.

Beyond those preexisting conditions entering the start of the season, the Ravens have remained healthy through their first two games. It’s quite a contrast from this time last year when they’d already lost Suggs for the season and two other starters — Eugene Monroe and Chris Canty — to multi-week injuries.

“We just have to keep work on getting healthy,” Harbaugh said. “We have a few guys that are trying to get back right now.  I’m very hopeful, very hopeful to get those guys back soon. We didn’t have anything serious — it doesn’t look like — coming out of that [Cleveland] game. We are very grateful for that.”

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pitta

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 2 win in Cleveland

Posted on 19 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens completing the second-largest comeback in franchise history with a 25-20 victory at Cleveland on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After a quiet performance in the opener, C.J. Mosley came up with the game-saving interception in the closing seconds, but he also added six tackles — two for losses — and a quarterback knockdown. This was the kind of high-impact performance we didn’t see from Mosley last season.

2. You had to feel good for Dennis Pitta having that kind of game in his return to the place where he suffered his second career-threatening hip injury. He took full advantage of the defense respecting the Ravens’ speed and effectively worked underneath against Cleveland.

3. It will be interesting to see how Kenneth Dixon fares when he returns, because the running game hasn’t been getting it done. Averaging 3.0 yards per carry, the Ravens need better blocking from their offensive line, but neither Justin Forsett nor Terrance West looks like a true No. 1 back.

4. His return for a defensive two-point conversion grabbed the attention, but Tavon Young is quietly playing at a high level for a rookie fourth-rounder. Sharing time with Anthony Levine as the slot cornerback, Young made two key open-field tackles on the final defensive series of the game.

5. Never one to shy away from being aggressive, John Harbaugh forgoing a 45-yard field goal try to go for a fourth-and-2 to start the second quarter was a panic move, especially with a running game that’s been abysmal in those spots. Take the points from your high-paid kicker that early.

6. Others have played well, but Timmy Jernigan has been Baltimore’s best defensive player through two games. The 2014 second-round pick leads the team with two sacks, four tackles for a loss, and five quarterback hits and has provided a much-needed interior rush presence.

7. The presence of veterans Steve Smith and Mike Wallace figured to impact the production of Kamar Aiken, but the leading receiver last season has been an afterthought so far with just two receptions on three targets. The Ravens would certainly like to get him more involved.

8. I was impressed with Browns rookie Corey Coleman, who caught two touchdowns and went over 100 receiving yards. With Josh Gordon coming off suspension, Cleveland could have had a fun little passing game if not for the left shoulder injury to Josh McCown that’s believed to be serious.

9. For a team that regularly says it takes pride in being physical, the Ravens sure like to use shotgun formations and run outside in short-yardage situations.

10. It’s no secret that third-down defense was an issue on Sunday, but Dean Pees’ unit deserves credit for settling down midway through the second quarter. After the Browns converted six of their first seven third downs, the Ravens made stops on six of the final eight.

11. Not lost in victory was poor clock management late. First, Forsett ran out of bounds with 3:00 left. The Ravens proceeded to take their final timeout, throw an incompletion, and kick a field goal with 2:53 remaining instead of forcing Cleveland’s final timeout or taking it to the two-minute warning.

12. We always talk about Joe Flacco having an even-keeled personality, but you could tell how fired up he was after the win, complimenting his teammates for being a “bunch of freaking men” in coming back. No matter their deficiencies, the Ravens always have a chance with him at the helm.

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buckallen

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 18 September 2016 by Luke Jones

It’s a new week, but the same list of inactives for the Ravens as they face Cleveland in their second game of the 2016 regular season.

Despite missing practices all week with a lingering ankle issue, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was indeed active for Sunday’s game against the Browns. With five-time Pro Bowl selection Elvis Dumervil out for the second straight week, the Ravens will need Smith to serve in a pass-rushing capacity opposite veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

It will be interesting to see how many snaps Smith will play after he led all Baltimore outside linebackers in that department against Buffalo.

Third-year offensive lineman John Urschel was inactive for the second straight game after head coach John Harbaugh declared him ready to play earlier in the week. Rookie Alex Lewis will start again at left guard and appears to have secured the job until he proves incapable of handling it.

Urschel has been a full participant in practices over the last two weeks after dealing with a shoulder injury during training camp. His deactivation meant the Ravens had only two reserve offensive linemen available against Cleveland.

Running back Buck Allen was also a healthy scratch for the second straight week, creating more questions about his status once rookie Kenneth Dixon returns from a knee injury. In the last meeting with the Browns last November, Allen ran for 55 yards and caught four passes for 29 yards and a touchdown in a 33-27 win.

Despite missing Wednesday’s practice with a calf injury, wide receiver Breshad Perriman was among the actives for Sunday’s game. He participated fully in workouts the rest of the week.

Cornerback Jerraud Powers (ankle) practiced fully on Thursday and Friday, but he remained inactive after being listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week.

There were no surprises among the Cleveland inactives as the Browns prepared for their home opener.

Sunday’s referee is John Hussey.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday afternoon forecast in Cleveland calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-70s with winds up to nine miler per hour. However, the previous threat of scattered thunderstorms has disappeared.

The Ravens will wear purple jerseys with white pants while the Browns don white tops with brown pants.

Sunday marks the 35th meeting between these AFC North foes with Baltimore enjoying an overwhelming 25-9 advantage. The Ravens are 12-5 at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Jerraud Powers
RB Kenneth Dixon
CB Will Davis
RB Buck Allen
OLB Elvis Dumervil
OL John Urschel
DT Willie Henry

CLEVELAND
DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun
DB Marcus Burley
LB Scooby Wright
OL Shon Coleman
WR Jordan Payton
DL John Hughes
DL Gabe Wright

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pitta

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Winning on the road isn’t easy in the NFL.

Even in John Harbaugh’s first five seasons that included a Super Bowl title, three AFC championship game appearances, and at least one playoff victory each year, a 21-19 road mark in the regular season was solid but hardly sensational. However, an 8-16 record away from M&T Bank Stadium over the last three seasons is a clear reflection of a team having only made the playoffs once over that stretch.

After their Week 1 victory against Buffalo, the Ravens take their show on the road for the first time in 2016 against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore seeks its eighth win in the last nine trips to Cleveland. The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series with a 25-9 mark and are 12-5 at FirstEnergy Stadium dating back to the year it opened in 1999. The teams split a pair of games in 2015, but the Ravens have won 14 of the 16 games played in the series during the Harbaugh era.

1. The defensive line will pay tribute to the late Clarence Brooks by holding Cleveland to under 3.0 yards per carry. Coming off a 2015 season in which they rushed for an average 4.0 yards per attempt, Cleveland averaged 5.7 yards per rush against Philadelphia, snapping off four runs of 16 yards or more. That said, Brandon Williams and the Ravens front were stout against Buffalo in giving up only 2.7 yards per carry and will surely want to honor the memory of their longtime defensive line coach, who died Saturday. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson will find little room throughout the afternoon.

2. An ineffective pass rush will lead to a long touchdown pass to Browns receiver Corey Coleman. The defense will be without Elvis Dumervil and possibly Za’Darius Smith, once again leaving defensive coordinator Dean Pees little choice but to blitz to generate pressure. It won’t be easy for a rusty Terrell Suggs going up against nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, either. The Ravens know they must disrupt Josh McCown in the pocket after he threw for over 450 yards in a game against them last year, but he’ll get too much time at some point and the speedy Coleman will shake free for a big score.

3. The Baltimore running game still won’t click fully, but Terrance West will lead in rushing against his old team. West received more carries than veteran starter Justin Forsett in the opener, but the former found little running room, averaging only 2.7 yards per pop. With a one-possession lead in the second half, offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will lean on West to wear down an inexperienced Cleveland front. The average still won’t be where the Ravens want it, but West will run for 65 yards to help protect the lead with Forsett chipping in 50 of his own against the Browns.

4. Dennis Pitta will catch his first touchdown in 33 months. The veteran tight end downplayed his return to the place where he sustained his second hip fracture and dislocation two years ago, but there wouldn’t be a more appropriate place for him to make his first touchdown reception since Dec. 8, 2013. After surprisingly playing 82 percent of the offensive snaps against Buffalo while making a key 27-yard reception, Pitta will build on that solid performance with a red-zone score. Concern about his health will remain in observers’ minds, but you have to be happy for the 31-year-old in his comeback.

5. Joe Flacco will play how he usually does against the Browns in a 23-13 victory. In 15 career games against Cleveland, the 31-year-old has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions while averaging roughly 215 passing yards per game. Trestman won’t ask Flacco to take many chances in this road game, but the quarterback will be efficient while, most importantly, protecting the football. Some will complain about another grind-it-out performance lacking style points, but the Ravens will happily leave Cleveland holding their first 2-0 start since 2009.

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harbaugh

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With heavy hearts, Ravens need to keep it simple in Cleveland

Posted on 17 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The tenor of Sunday’s game in Cleveland has understandably changed for the Ravens with the passing of longtime defensive assistant Clarence Brooks after his yearlong battle with  cancer.

As beloved as the 65-year-old was by the entire organization, it’s fair to wonder how head coach John Harbaugh’s team will respond playing a game a little over 24 hours following his death. The predictable cry will be to rally behind his memory, but these are human beings with feelings that stretch far beyond the football field. Not acknowledging that reality would be to trivialize Brooks’ life.

Still, the Ravens understand they have business to handle in their second game of the young season. The approach doesn’t change despite it being an emotional weekend.

Keep it simple against the Browns.

With an active roster currently including 17 rookies — nearly one of every three players — Cleveland is the consensus worst team in the NFL, especially on the heels of a blowout loss to rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and Philadelphia last week. But let’s not ignore the fact that the Ravens are coming off a 5-11 season themselves and haven’t had a winning road record in a season since 2010.

As a reminder to any fans and media predicting a laugher, some of Harbaugh’s best teams haven’t exactly blown out Cleveland on the road.

Think what you want about the lowly Browns, but this is their home opener and a statue of the legendary Jim Brown is being unveiled before the game as part of an alumni weekend for former players. You’ll find little optimism along the Cuyahoga River for 2016, but Cleveland has to be viewing a home contest against the Ravens as one of the few games on the schedule that could be winnable.

It’s the first home game for new Browns head coach Hue Jackson, a one-time Baltimore assistant who is very familiar with the AFC North after serving as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator the last two years. The Ravens need to be prepared for anything on Sunday and should certainly remember that Browns quarterback Josh McCown lit them up like a pinball machine in Baltimore last season.

“We are expecting Hue to throw the kitchen sink at us,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs of Jackson’s offensive innovation. “We are preparing for everything. They have a receiver over there who was once a quarterback, so we are expecting everything. Some Wildcat, Polecat offense — we are expecting everything. Don’t be surprised if they come out there with that ‘Little Giants’ formation [or] the Flying V.

“They have something up their sleeve for us. We just have to be able to prepare for it and react for it.”

Gadgetry still shouldn’t matter because the Ravens have the better and more experienced roster.

Protect the football, don’t commit foolish penalties, and take advantage of mistakes that an inexperienced team is bound to make on both sides of the ball over the course of 60 minutes.

On offense, be aggressive, but don’t try to be too cute to build an early lead before controlling the tempo with a ground game that needs to improve from Week 1. Defensively, the pass rush will be a concern without Elvis Dumervil, but the secondary cannot allow speedy receivers Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor to shake loose for big plays.

The plan doesn’t sound all that complicated, because it’s not against a team short on talent and building for the future.

“You have to pay attention,” wide receiver Steve Smith said. “You can’t go in there and say, ‘Well, with their record [last year] and their circumstances, this is going to be an easy day.’ You can’t go in there and think that or presume that because you will embarrass yourself if you do that.”

The last three games between these AFC North teams in Cleveland have each been decided by a single possession. Performances at FirstEnergy Stadium over the years have rarely been pretty, but the Ravens just need to come away with a win.

We still wonder how good Baltimore can really be in 2016, but much optimism goes out the window if you lay an egg and lose to a team that some have even discussed possibly going 0-16. If you can’t win this road game, which ones are you feeling good about the rest of the way?

On Sunday, the Ravens’ biggest opponent is themselves. They don’t need to play their best football to win, but they must be good enough.

And especially with heavy hearts on top of the normal challenges of playing on the road, the Ravens need to keep it simple and smart.

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stevesmith

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Harbaugh expects Suggs, S. Smith to only get better as year progresses

Posted on 13 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens veterans Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith already silenced some critics simply by making their returns to the field for Sunday’s season opener.

Well into their 30s and coming off Achilles tendon injuries last season, Suggs and Smith started and contributed in Baltimore’s 13-7 win despite neither putting up gaudy numbers against Buffalo. Of course, whether they can fully recapture their pre-injury form is a fair question as that type of injury has a debilitating effect on explosiveness for athletes even much younger.

Suggs made two tackles and did collect a fourth-quarter sack after Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor couldn’t find an open receiver on a key third-down play while Smith caught five passes for 19 yards on nine targets.

“I only expect them to get better, but they played well,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They both played well. They were both key factors in the game. [They were] probably not up to their standards for themselves, because it is a pretty lofty standard for those two guys. That makes me feel good that they feel like they can play even better, but I thought they played well.”

It will be interesting to see how their workload evolves as the season progresses and the Ravens continue to work young players into the mix while maximizing the veterans’ effectiveness.

Smith played 45 of the 68 total offensive snaps, the most of any of the five Baltimore receivers active on Sunday. Suggs has been a three-down linebacker for most of his 14-year career, but he played just 31 of 49 defensive snaps while Za’Darius Smith and Albert McClellan each registered more playing time at the outside linebacker position.

Of course, neither veteran saw much action over the summer as Suggs played only a handful of snaps in the third preseason game and Smith logged just a couple weeks of practice.

“It’s definitely coming. First live action in a year, you know,” Suggs said. “Can’t really count the preseason games because I only got a couple series, so this is my first real live action in about a year. You know I’ll just continue to chop wood.

“You can always get better. It’s my first game and I feel really good about it.”

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