Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

Daniels, Canty return to practice as Ravens prepare for Pittsburgh

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Daniels, Canty return to practice as Ravens prepare for Pittsburgh

Posted on 29 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A couple days after news came of cornerback Jimmy Smith being sidelined for at least a few weeks, the Ravens welcomed back tight end Owen Daniels and defensive end Chris Canty to the practice field on Wednesday as they prepared for Sunday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Daniels underwent a cleanup procedure on his left knee only last week and missed last Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, but head coach John Harbaugh indicated at the time that the veteran tight end could return to play against Pittsburgh. His limited participation on Wednesday indicated a swift return is quite possible if his knee responds favorably.

“It could actually be next week,” Harbaugh said last Friday. “We’ll just have to see how that goes. That’d be an optimistic approach, but it could happen. That’s where we’re at on that.”

Canty’s return to practice came after the veteran defensive end had missed the last four games due to surgery for a staph infection in his wrist. The Ravens have used third-year lineman DeAngelo Tyson in Canty’s place.

The 31-year-old was cleared to begin heavy activity last week, but his biggest obstacle will be getting back into live-game shape after a month layoff. He was a full participant during Wednesday’s practice.

“Chris is back around the team. He’s coming around,” Harbaugh said last Friday. “He was cleared today, as a matter of fact, to start training heavily. It’s just a matter of now how fast he can get back in shape.”

The Ravens were without linebacker Terrell Suggs (neck), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shin), guard Marshal Yanda (knee), running back Justin Forsett (ankle), wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring), and Smith during the open portion of practice. Smith is expected to miss a few weeks and Campanaro’s hamstring is a concern, but none of the others are believed to be a major concern at this point in the week.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb worked out without pads on the sideline during the special-teams portion held in the team’s field house, but he received a veteran day off during the outside portion of practice in the rain.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh gave days off to defensive end Brett Keisel and safeties Troy Polamalu and Michael Mitchell while cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) practiced on a limited basis. Taylor hasn’t played since breaking his forearm in Week 3, but the veteran defensive back returned to the practice field on a limited basis last week.

Below is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), RB Justin Forsett (ankle), DT Haloti Ngata (shin), CB Jimmy Smith (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (neck), CB Lardarius Webb (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Owen Daniels (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Chris Canty (wrist)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Brett Keisel (non-injury), S Michael Mitchell (non-injury), S Troy Polamalu (non-injury), TE Matt Spaeth (hamstring), S Ross Ventrone (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Ike Taylor (forearm)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Marcus Gilbert (concussion), DT Steve McLendon (shoulder), LB Ryan Shazier (knee), S Shamarko Thomas (hamstring)

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Trade deadline passes without any Ravens activity

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Trade deadline passes without any Ravens activity

Posted on 28 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The NFL trade deadline came and went Tuesday without the Ravens making any moves as they prepare for a key Week 9 game in Pittsburgh.

The news is hardly surprising with activity at the NFL’s deadline paling in comparison to the other major sports historically. In fact, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the only team to sell off players Tuesday by trading safety Mark Barron to the St. Louis Rams and linebacker Jonathan Casillas to the New England Patriots in exchange for draft picks.

The Ravens completed their first in-season trade in franchise history last season when they dealt fourth- and fifth-round picks in the 2014 draft to Jacksonville for current left tackle Eugene Monroe on Oct. 1, 2013. Baltimore followed that with another trade later that month by sending benched tackle Bryant McKinnie to Miami for a seventh-round pick.

This year, general manager Ozzie Newsome explored possibilities at the cornerback position in the wake of the mid-foot sprain suffered by Jimmy Smith in Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati, but the reality is that all teams value quality cornerback play and aren’t willing to part with it cheaply. With Smith expected to be sidelined at least until after the Week 11 bye, the Ravens only have three healthy cornerbacks on their 53-man roster — Lardarius Webb, Dominique Franks, and Chykie Brown.

Baltimore could turn to the open market for another option, but such a move would be no more than adding a warm body and the Ravens have a number of safeties who can play the nickel position including Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks, and Anthony Levine. Quality defensive backs just don’t grow on trees in this pass-happy, offense-driven era of professional football.

“We don’t have to [add someone]. If we can find the right guy, we would do that,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “They’re scarce. If you’ve got a name for me, I’m willing to hear it.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will need to be creative in not only dialing up consistent pressure up front to aid the secondary but in finding the right formula for coverage in the back end. Webb is improving but hasn’t looked like the force he was prior to his ACL injury in 2012 while it’s difficult to label Franks and Brown as anything but liabilities based on what we’ve seen so far in 2014.

The solution — or some semblance of one — will likely fall in how effectively Pees uses his safeties with Will Hill as the biggest wild card at this point. Baltimore has employed Elam as a nickel back for much of the season, but the 2013 first-round pick has struggled in coverage, making you wonder if Hill or or even the rookie Brooks might be a better fit for that role. Using a safety in the nickel spot can certainly provide an edge playing against the run, but enough range and ability in pass coverage are obvious requirements for it to work.

The Ravens need to find answers quickly as the Steelers’ fourth-ranked passing game awaits Sunday, but they didn’t find any help with the deadline passing on Tuesday afternoon.

 

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Jimmy Smith sidelined “a few weeks” with mid-foot sprain

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Jimmy Smith sidelined “a few weeks” with mid-foot sprain

Posted on 27 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after a disappointing road loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens received troubling news about the status of cornerback Jimmy Smith’s injured foot.

Smith exited Sunday’s game with a left foot sprain on the first drive of the game and didn’t return. A magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday confirmed the fourth-year defensive back will be sidelined at least until after the Ravens’ bye week, but head coach John Harbaugh is remaining optimistic that the injury isn’t as bad as some feared.

“Jimmy’s going to be out for a few weeks. It’s not a Lisfranc deal, which was speculated,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a mid-foot sprain, and he’ll be out for a few weeks, but he’ll be back soon.”

The Ravens are currently ranked 22nd in pass defense and now have just three healthy cornerbacks on the 53-man roster. With struggling fourth-year cornerback Chykie Brown inactive the last two weeks, defensive coordinator Dean Pees used Dominique Franks in Smith’s place opposite fellow starter Lardarius Webb. Safety Matt Elam was used in the nickel position as he was earlier in the year when Webb was still working his way back from a back injury.

The NFL’s trade deadline falls at 4 p.m. Tuesday, but the Baltimore coach did not sound optimistic about being able to add a quality corner, whether through trade or the free-agent market. General manager Ozzie Newsome re-signed Franks on Oct. 8 after the Ravens cut him at the end of the preseason.

“We don’t have to [add someone]. If we can find the right guy, we would do that,” Harbaugh said. “They’re scarce. If you’ve got a name for me, I’m willing to hear it.”

There’s no understating the loss of Smith, who is ranked as the fourth-best coverage cornerback in the NFL in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Regarded by many as the best player on the Baltimore defense this season, Smith has collected 28 tackles, an interception, and eight pass breakups in eight games.

The timing couldn’t be worse for an already vulnerable pass defense that will now face Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Week 9 after he threw for 522 yards and six touchdown passes against a highly-regarded Indianapolis defense on Sunday. The Ravens also have post-bye games in late November against New Orleans and San Diego, two teams with Pro Bowl quarterbacks and passing games currently ranked in the top 10.

Even though the Ravens have already exercised their fifth-year option on his rookie contract, Smith has now been stricken with substantial injuries in three of his four NFL seasons. As a rookie in 2011, Smith suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him sidelined for four games. In his second year, the former first-round pick missed five games after undergoing sports hernia surgery.

Smith started all 16 games for the Ravens in 2013 and was a bright spot for a defense in transition.

After many pointed out their lack of depth at the cornerback position throughout the offseason, the Ravens have now seen Webb, Smith, and third-year defensive back Asa Jackson miss time with injuries this year. Jackson is currently on injured reserve with the designation to return after suffering a toe injury against Indianapolis on Oct. 5.

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Controversial call shouldn’t forgive Ravens’ late-game shortcomings

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Controversial call shouldn’t forgive Ravens’ late-game shortcomings

Posted on 26 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The fallout from the Ravens’ 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday centered around the controversial offensive pass interference call that wiped out what would have been an 80-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith in the final minute.

Frustration was understandable as Smith and safety George Iloka jockeyed for position on the deep ball before the veteran receiver’s hand made contact with the defender’s jersey, and, well, the rest was open to interpretation. Whether you saw Smith pulling the Bengals defensive back to the ground or Iloka doing a fine acting job, it was the kind of play that would have made the Bengals and their fans just as angry had the touchdown stood without any penalty, but we’ve all seen the direction of the NFL in recent years with more flags being thrown in the passing game and offensive pass interference being a proverbial “point of emphasis” this season.

Let’s not forget we’re also talking about the Ravens needing an 80-yard prayer to pull out the victory in Cincinnati, which speaks to the shortcomings on both sides of the ball leading up to that moment.

Was offensive pass interference on Steve Smith's 80-yard touchdown the right call?

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Yes, injuries were a significant storyline for the Ravens in Week 8 as they missed the short-to-intermediate presence of tight end Owen Daniels as well as the Pro Bowl-caliber play of Jimmy Smith in the secondary after the cornerback exited in the first half with a sprained left foot. Baltimore was also missing a number of other players at various times in the game as offensive linemen Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, and Marshal Yanda as well as wide receivers Torrey Smith and Michael Campanaro received varying degrees of medical attention.

But the story could have been much different had the Ravens gotten more from either side of the ball in the final six minutes of the game and not put it in the hands of an official making a questionable call.

It was a bad day for Flacco as he threw two interceptions and completed only 50 percent of his passes, but the Ravens offense had its second straight possession off a turnover after safety Matt Elam stripped a pass away from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and the ball landed in the arms of linebacker C.J. Mosley with 6:12 remaining and Baltimore leading 21-20. With the ball at the Cincinnati 43, the Ravens had the opportunity to add to their lead while running down a huge chunk of the clock, but they were unable to pick up as much as a first down and instead settled for a 53-yard field goal for Justin Tucker.

Though the Ravens came away with points, a few first downs and a touchdown would have made it a 28-20 lead and left little time on the clock for the Bengals. Instead, Tucker’s field goal went through the uprights with 3:59 still remaining.

And that’s when the defense followed its two biggest plays of the game — game-changing turnovers created by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and the combination of Elam and Mosley — with a letdown drive in which the Bengals ultimately won it. A secondary forced to rely on cornerback Dominique Franks in a starting role was in position to steal the win in Cincinnati before rookie safety Terrence Brooks lost Sanu in coverage for a 53-yard completion on third-and-10. Instead of the Bengals punting deep in their own territory and needing to use their timeouts in hopes of getting the ball back, the Ravens were burned on third-and-long and Cincinnati moved inside the Baltimore 30 with less than four minutes remaining.

Baltimore surrendered another third-down reception to Greg Little to move the Bengals inside the 10 before quarterback Andy Dalton crossed the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 57 seconds to go.

The Ravens couldn’t make a stop when they needed it, instead allowing Dalton and the Bengals to drive 80 yards on 10 plays in just over three minutes.

Dwell on the interference call if you’d like, but the Ravens had their chances to protect their late lead.

Of course, there were earlier moments on which the Ravens can look back such as the decision to throw a fourth-and-goal pass from the 1 to Kamar Aiken that netted zero points on the opening drive of the game or the fact that running back Lorenzo Taliaferro was Baltimore’s leader in receiving yards with 42, illustrating receivers’ inability to get open down the field. Flacco’s pair of interceptions led to 10 points, which put the Ravens in an 11-point hole early in the second half.

And the defense allowed Dalton to complete 75 percent of his passes as the secondary was bending throughout the game before finally breaking late.

Did the Ravens receive the short end of the stick on the interference call that wiped out the last-second touchdown to Steve Smith?

Perhaps.

But needing an 80-yard miracle wasn’t exactly how you draw it up before that little yellow flag was ultimately thrown.

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Forsett content surprising people on way to career season

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Forsett content surprising people on way to career season

Posted on 22 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The highlights were few and far between in the first half of the Ravens’ season-opening 23-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last month.

With Ray Rice suspended — and about to be released the following day — and fill-in starter Bernard Pierce managing just 17 yards on six carries as the Bengals led 15-0 at halftime, the Ravens began feeding the ball to their 5-foot-8 veteran newcomer considered little more than a temporary placeholder for Rice at the time of his signing. Baltimore fell short that day but discovered one of its greatest reclamation projects in recent years as Justin Forsett finished the afternoon with a game-high 70 yards on 11 carries.

He hasn’t looked back since as he not only leads the Ravens with 503 rushing yards on 87 carries but tops the NFL with a 5.8 yards per carry average through the first seven weeks of the season. Not bad for a 29-year-old who’s played for five different teams in seven years and is entering a stage of his career when most running backs are slowing down considerably.

Forsett smiles when asked about the constant disbelief expressed by media and fans while he continues to rack up yards for the league’s seventh-ranked running game.

“I’m OK with surprising people,” said Forsett, who’s currently on pace to break the franchise’s single-season yards per carry average. “A lot of guys didn’t know I was still in the league. I just take that in stride. It’s all fun.”

Not even the Ravens could have anticipated this much from Forsett, who was signed to a one-year contract on April 4 to serve as an insurance policy for Rice’s unknown status at the time and to bring a veteran presence to help teach new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system. Forsett had averaged 5.9 yards per carry in his only year with Kubiak in Houston in 2012 and owned previous experience working in a zone-blocking system in his four years in Seattle.

Most expected Forsett to be the odd man out once Rice returned from suspension, but that, of course, changed when the three-time Pro Bowl running back was cut on Sept. 8. Even now, there remains a feeling of how long Forsett can keep up this type of play as his 503 yards in 2014 are only 47 fewer than his rushing total from his previous three seasons combined.

Coaches love his ability to pass block — something that hasn’t been taken for granted with the injuries to left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele — and his 23 receptions rank third on the team behind wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels.

“He gets the most out of his ability,” said Kubiak, who knew Forsett’s character was a perfect fit for head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he does a great job in pass protection. He’s a three-down player, so he’s a guy that you can keep on the field all the time in what you’re doing. The thing he’s doing right now [is] he’s finding a way to make a big play every week. I think that’s the key.”

Many have been quick to point to the resurgence of the offensive line to explain Forsett’s impressive numbers after the group couldn’t open any holes last season when the Ravens ran for a franchise-worst 3.1 yards per carry. But the veteran has run with a confidence and decisiveness that Pierce and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro haven’t shown on a consistent basis.

The younger backs are more impressive physical specimens with ideal size for interior runs, but Forsett’s average of 6.63 yards per carry running between the guards is the highest rate in the NFL for backs with at least 20 carries, according to Pro Football Focus. His yards per carry average is substantially better than that of Pierce (3.6) or Taliaferro (4.5), which also illustrates his superior vision in Kubiak’s one-cut system.

A humble man of Christian faith, Forsett is more interested in complimenting the men blocking for him than accepting praise for himself after years of less-than-ideal opportunities.

“I think it’s the offensive line,” said Forsett when asked how to attribute his success. “They’re doing a heck of a job going out there and executing, getting those guys cut backside and stretching a defense. I’m just able to find holes. I just thank God for the opportunity, and the guys are just working for me.”

The Ravens’ biggest concern at this point might be trying to keep the veteran fresh as he ran a career-high 23 times against Atlanta last Sunday and is only 31 rushing attempts shy of his highest total in any season. Listed at 197 pounds, Forsett has a good frame for a back of his stature, but his current pace would have him approaching 200 carries by the end of the season.

Forsett was incredibly durable throughout his career until turf toe and a stress fracture in his foot limited him to nine games with the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago, making him confident that he’ll continue to hold up with an expanded workload in his seventh NFL season. He says he’s always prepared physically to be a starting back, even if the opportunity hasn’t been there for most of his career.

“I’ve always taken care of my body, because I had great veterans when I came into the league like T.J. Duckett, Maurice Morris, and Edgerrin James,” Forsett said. “They taught me early on, no matter if you’re playing special teams or running and busting the wedge, take care of your body, because that’s one thing that can get you out of the league. I stay on top of that, so it’s not that bad.”

Signing on the same day that the Ravens added Daniels, Forsett told reporters at the time that he carried a chip on his shoulder “the size of Texas” to prove he still had plenty of good football ahead of him. It was the kind of message you typically hear from a veteran cast aside by his former team, but perhaps his career 4.88 yards per carry average entering 2014 suggested he deserved a better opportunity than the ones he’d received in recent years.

In fairness, his size doesn’t scream feature back and the label of being a special-teams player is often difficult to shake. Maybe the Ravens knew they had a diamond in the rough, but even they continue to be surprised with how much Forsett has brought to an offense on pace to be one of the most productive in franchise history.

No one may have blinked when he was added in the offseason, but Forsett’s play has led many to rub their eyes in disbelief through the first two months of the 2014 season.

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “I’m surprised that he’s even here right now. I feel like he’s a guy that could be the lead guy anywhere. I’m glad he got his shot here, and he’s able to showcase his talent.”

 

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Ravens walking tightrope with Jacoby Jones’ struggles

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Ravens walking tightrope with Jacoby Jones’ struggles

Posted on 21 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens trying to improve to 6-2 as they travel to Cincinnati for a key AFC North showdown on Sunday, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player having a worse season than Jacoby Jones.

The return specialist and wide receiver fumbled his second punt in three games in Sunday’s 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons and has virtually disappeared from the offensive game plan with more dropped passes (five) than receptions (four) through the first seven weeks of the season. Head coach John Harbaugh has said on a couple occasions that he feels Jones is pressing as he’s coupled his mishandling of the ball with questionable decisions such as catching a punt at the 2-yard line against Carolina in Week 4.

Asked if he still felt OK with Jones as his returner following his latest fumble, which took place late in the first half when the Ravens were only holding a 14-0 lead, Harbaugh didn’t go out of his way to provide a ringing endorsement on Monday.

“I do.”

The Falcons did not attempt another punt after Jones fumbled at his own 40 and kicker Matt Bryant missed a 57-yard field goal to hand the ball back to the Ravens late in the first half, so it will be intriguing to see how short of a leash — if any — remains for the Pro Bowl return specialist. Harbaugh’s terse answer doesn’t signal the end of Jones as the returner — he’s not going to tip his hand whether the Ravens will make a change or not — but it doesn’t mean we won’t see others such as rookie Michael Campanaro or safe punt returner Lardarius Webb more involved in the return game as early as Sunday in Cincinnati.

Jones took only four offensive snaps against Atlanta, so it’s clear that coordinator Gary Kubiak is looking elsewhere for complementary receivers behind starters Steve Smith and Torrey Smith. Dropped passes can certainly be drive killers, but turnovers can dramatically change a game when you’re counting on a possession after making the opponent punt or the opponent has just scored.

The 30-year-old signed an extension with the Ravens this past offseason, agreeing to a four-year, $12 million deal that included $3.5 million in guaranteed money.

Counting the postseason, the former Houston Texans has five returns for touchdowns in his three-year run with the Ravens, but that big-play potential only goes so far when you’re unsure if he’s going to secure the ball. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg hasn’t hesitated in the past to make a change as he replaced speedy kick returner David Reed with a more sure-handed option in Tom Zbikowski in 2011.

The Ravens reaped the benefits of Jones being a game-changer on the positive side in his first two years in Baltimore, but he’s been a different kind of game-changer altogether so far in 2014. And it’s a tightrope act that’s feeling more and more perilous to navigate for a team currently leading the AFC North and heading into two key divisional road games.

 

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Ravens casting wide net for solutions at safety position

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Ravens casting wide net for solutions at safety position

Posted on 20 October 2014 by Luke Jones

NFL teams are no strangers to using different personnel up front, but it was the Ravens’ frequent substituting at the safety position that garnered attention in their 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Injuries at the cornerback position earlier this season sparked plenty of shuffling in the secondary, but the return of Lardarius Webb and the emergence of veteran Dominique Franks have helped stabilize the position. In contrast, safety became a mix and match with starters Matt Elam and Darian Stewart and reserves Terrence Brooks and Will Hill all playing extensive snaps against Atlanta’s high-powered passing game.

“Everybody’s got a role,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Everybody has something they do a little bit better, so I’m trying to put them in those roles. They’re starting to understand how we’re trying to play it. They keep practicing the same stuff and getting after it.”

The strategy helped contribute to a convincing win in which the Baltimore defense limited quarterback Matt Ryan to 228 passing yards on 44 attempts as the Falcons didn’t score until midway through the fourth quarter.

Stewart and Brooks received the most playing time as they each participated in 44 of 66 total defensive snaps while Elam and Hill played 22 each. Despite using such an unconventional platoon system, the Ravens appeared relatively seamless in their communication with the rookie Brooks and the just-activated Hill on the field for long stretches of time.

“We were on the same page for the most part,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “There were three or four things. There are going to be things that we have to anticipate going forward, because people watch you, they attack you, they cause problems for every unit. The technique, the fundamentals, the eyes, the communication were all very good in the back end.”

After being moved to the 53-man roster on Saturday, the 24-year-old Hill made his 2014 debut and collected two tackles while mainly playing close to the line of scrimmage. The University of Florida product made a tackle for a loss and registered one of the Ravens’ nine quarterback hits on Sunday.

Despite his off-field transgressions that have included three suspensions in his first three years, Hill earned a reputation with the New York Giants as a safety with range and the ability to excel in coverage, skills most Ravens safeties haven’t displayed to this point in the year. Pees has spoken glowingly of Hill’s potential, so it wasn’t surprising to see him receive extensive playing time.

“I know they have a great deal of confidence in me now,” Hill said. “My coaches kept coming to me after every drive I was in there and let me know if I did something wrong. They were pretty satisfied with my play.”

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the division of playing time was Elam playing only 22 snaps against the Falcons. The 2013 first-round pick has struggled in pass coverage in his brief career, but it’s been difficult to evaluate him since he played out of position at free safety last year and was forced into nickel duties due to injuries at cornerback earlier this season.

With Brooks appearing to be gaining confidence as a deep safety in obvious passing situations and Hill quickly being thrown into action after such a long layoff, Elam may suddenly find himself competing with Stewart just to remain on the field on a consistent basis.

For now, both coaches and players appear to be on board as the Ravens were able to stop an offense that ranked third in the NFL in total yards entering Sunday’s game. Opponents will adapt and look for patterns, so it remains to be seen how long the safety platoon lasts.

But it’s difficult to argue with the results of a convincing win.

“It’s going to be great,” Elam said. “With the help up front and keeping guys fresh in the back end, we can run around and knock people off [the ball]. We feel like the sky’s the limit.”

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Ravens sign former 49ers long snapper McDermott

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Ravens sign former 49ers long snapper McDermott

Posted on 20 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens wasted no time replacing injured long snapper Morgan Cox by signing former San Francisco 49ers snapper Kevin McDermott on Monday afternoon.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam confirmed a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in Cox’s right knee suffered in the Ravens’ 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons. It was the second ACL injury he’s sustained in his five-year career after hurting his left knee late in the 2010 season.

McDermott played all 16 games with San Francisco last year before being cut at the end of the 2014 preseason. The 24-year-old UCLA product was signed to the Denver Broncos’ practice squad in early September.

“He’s a guy that we’re very familiar with. [Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg] had a chance to work out him and Patrick Scales this morning,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Patrick’s a guy who was with us in training camp twice [and] who we had a lot of respect for as well. Both of those guys had excellent workouts, and we feel like either one of those guys would fit us really well. But we chose to go with Kevin.”

Considered to have one of the better special-teams units in the NFL, the Ravens will now hope McDermott can be brought up to speed quickly as long snapping is a thankless job that’s only noticed when something goes wrong.

Harbaugh praised Cox for his willingness to help McDermott get acclimated as the veteran snapper deals with the personal disappointment of his 2014 season coming to an end. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata filled in to snap for the final extra point try of Sunday’s game after Cox was injured in the fourth quarter, but the Ravens hope McDermott can pick up where Cox left off in not being noticed by the outside world.

“He’s kind of pledged his time and effort as he’s rehabbing to get with [McDermott] and help him understand what we’re doing and the nuances of the position,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a lot there. We do a lot with our snapper in terms of mental responsibilities and different techniques that we use. We’ll have to see how Kevin fits that, but Morgan will be there to help him all the way. It shows you what kind of guy he is.”

Cox was officially placed on season-ending injured reserve on Monday.

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens staked their claim as the best team in the AFC North with a 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday to move into first place ahead of Cincinnati.

With their fourth 5-2 start in the last five years, the Ravens have put themselves in prime position to return to the playoffs as they approach the midway point of the 2014 season. But how much does that mean as we approach the final week of October?

“Meaningful in Week 7, so, it’s good to be there in that situation at this time,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But you have to build on it, you have to keep getting better. We’re not a good enough team to do the things that we want to do right now, so we have to keep improving.”

Baltimore may not be a flawless team — there’s no such thing in the modern NFL — but it’s difficult to look at the numbers and not be impressed with what Harbaugh’s group has done through the first seven weeks of 2014. Even with 14 teams having played only six games at the end of business on Sunday, the Ravens have allowed the fewest points (104) and own the best point differential (plus 89) in the NFL.

Yes, they appear to have drawn the right year to play the woeful NFC South — a division where 3-3-1 Carolina currently sits in first place — but you can’t control which teams are on the schedule. The Ravens are not only beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, but they’re throttling them, which doesn’t often happen in the parity-driven NFL.

Already securing four wins of 20 or more points, the improved Ravens offense has received much of the attention, but the defense is taking major strides with its second straight game collecting five sacks, the first time that’s happened since the 2006 season. It was no surprising feat to limit the hapless Tampa Bay offense last week, but holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ third-ranked unit to just seven points was an impressive task.

With the pass rush coming alive and the play of the secondary stabilizing, the confidence on the defensive side of the ball is growing. Several defensive players spoke after the game about the speech linebackers coach Ted Monachino offered Saturday night, challenging a talented group of outside linebackers to raise its level of play to where it belongs.

It’s safe to say the message was received on Sunday as Ryan was hit nine times a week after Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon was hit 15 times.

“We’re dangerous, and we’re real serious. We’re coming out playing with an attitude,” said rush specialist Pernell McPhee, who added two more sacks on Sunday to continue his strong season. “Our [secondary] needs us, and I know we need them. I think [defensive coordinator] Dean Pees is doing a great job of calling the plays and setting us up to get the sacks. We’re just focusing in and trying to play ball.”

Much credit should go to Pees, who has shown various looks up front by moving around Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and McPhee to cause confusion while using a safety-by-committee approach in the secondary. Matt Elam and Darian Stewart started the game, but rookie Terrence Brooks and the returning Will Hill also saw extensive action at the safety position.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was known for bringing “organized chaos,” but Pees’ decision to substitute so frequently in the secondary reminded the 65-year-old coordinator of his college coaching days at Miami of Ohio when he used various personnel looks in a 1986 upset win over a top 10 LSU team in Baton Rouge. Of course, Baltimore didn’t face that kind of a talent disadvantage Sunday, but it illustrates the creative lengths used to help mask what’s been a deficiency of the defense to this point in the season.

Time will tell whether the safety rotation will continue, but the best weapon to neutralize a shaky secondary has been the major heat in the pocket. It’s also created more opportunities for turnovers as defensive backs got their hands on several Ryan passes despite not coming away with any interceptions.

“Those dudes are our best friends,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the pass rush. “They get in there, they disrupt things, they cause havoc, they make quarterbacks panic and throw the ball in the air. And on our end, we have to do a better job of coming up with some more turnovers. We’ve had a lot of opportunities, and we have a lot of drops.”

Unlike last season’s 8-8 team that remained static with issues on each side of the ball showing up on a weekly basis, these Ravens appear to be improving as the year progresses. Their only loss since Week 1 came on the road two weeks ago against Indianapolis, a team that’s won five straight games and only beat them by seven points at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It’s true that no one should confuse Tampa Bay or Atlanta for juggernauts, but the Ravens have a tremendous opportunity to not only seize commanding control of the AFC North but to make an emphatic claim as one of the best teams in the NFL if they can take care of business in trips to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the next two weeks. It won’t be easy playing on the road against their two biggest rivals, but the Ravens have looked like the class of the division through seven weeks while the Bengals have gone 0-2-1 since their bye with two road losses of 26 or more points.

The Ravens continue to show improvement on both sides of the ball while stacking wins as they now have a chance to pay back Cincinnati for its Week 1 win in Baltimore.

“We have everything that we want to do right in front of us,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We just have to go out there and continue to play well. We have a tough opponent next week that we didn’t play necessarily good against, at least for a half, in the first game. We have to come back out there and prove ourselves. They’re a good football team, and they’re going to be hungry, and we’re [playing] there. It’s going to be a tough test; I can’t wait for it.”

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Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 18 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Facing an opponent that’s moving in the wrong direction for the second straight week, the Ravens should feel good about their return home to play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.

Baltimore has a chance to improve to 5-2 with critical road games looming against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the next two weeks while the Falcons have dropped three straight and could find themselves out of the NFC South race if they don’t turn around a 2-4 start quickly. Atlanta is 0-3 on the road and has lost those games by an average margin of 12.3 points with a defense that ranks 31st in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Ravens offense sits in the top 10 in most categories and the Baltimore defense has allowed only 16.2 points per game, good for third in the league through the first six weeks of the 2014 season. The Ravens secondary will also have the services of free safety Will Hill after he was activated on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see how the former New York Giant is worked into the defense in his first action of 2014.

Sunday marks the fifth time these teams have met in their regular-season history with the Ravens and Falcons each owning two wins. Atlanta won the last game between these teams in a 26-21 thriller at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 11, 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to begin the season 5-2 for the fourth time under head coach John Harbaugh …

1. Both Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan throw for over 300 yards in a battle of 2008 first-round draft picks. The Falcons have allowed 24 or more points in five of their six games this season and are allowing 277.7 passing yards per game and will now face Flacco, who is coming off a career-high five touchdown passes in last week’s win at Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s passing game hasn’t had problems this season in ranking third in the NFL. The debate between Flacco and Ryan — the first two quarterbacks selected in the 2008 draft — has become a tired one as the former enjoys a clear edge in postseason success while the latter puts up better fantasy numbers, but both should have strong afternoons against less-than-stellar secondaries.

2. Justin Forsett goes over the 100-yard rushing mark for the second straight week. You keep waiting for some semblance of a market correction for the 29-year-old running back, but he keeps shredding opposing run defenses to the tune of 6.4 yards per carry. Flacco will have a strong day to give the Ravens a lead in the second half, which will open the door for Forsett and his fellow backfield mates to gain big yardage. With James Hurst and John Urschel expected to be blocking the blindside again, Forsett will continue to receive extensive reps due to his pass-blocking ability and that will lead to him receiving more carries than Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro.

3. Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi will be a rare standout in an otherwise listless pass rush. A second straight week of starting two rookies on the left side of the offensive line will make Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak nervous, but the Falcons haven’t been able to put any consistent heat on quarterbacks this season. The one player who’s offered something as a rusher has been Massaquoi, who leads Atlanta with two sacks and has graded out as one of the better outside pass rushers in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He’ll beat Hurst to pick up a sack at some point, but the Ravens should have few problems keeping Flacco upright as long as they shade help to the left side and he’s quick in getting rid of the ball.

4. With Jimmy Smith locked on Julio Jones, Atlanta wideout Roddy White will catch a touchdown and pick up 85 receiving yards. There’s no reason to think Smith won’t shadow Jones, who already has 44 catches and 620 receiving yards (third in the NFL) through six games. However, White is still a receiver to be careful with and it’s difficult to feel too confident in the rest of the Baltimore secondary as the Ravens rank 27th in pass defense. The addition of Hill gives the Ravens an intriguing option to work in at safety, but as long as Matt Elam continues to handle nickel duties, they’re vulnerable to giving up yards. White will be a thorn in the Ravens’ side while Smith holds Jones to a modest level of production for his high standards.

5. On a day when both offenses have success, the Ravens will make a few more defensive stops en route to a 34-20 win to improve to 5-2. Baltimore needs to be aware of the explosiveness of the Atlanta offense, but the Falcons are way too soft on defense to seriously threaten the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. In the only opportunity to play at home this month, the Ravens will take care of business and put themselves in great position as they face the Bengals and the Steelers in consecutive road games. Unlike last season, the Ravens are giving themselves some margin for error in terms of the playoff race and a relatively comfortable win over Atlanta will be the latest statement for the case that they’ll be playing in January.

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