Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"


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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 27 September 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Playing their 20th home opener in Baltimore, the Ravens have entered uncharted territory under eighth-year coach John Harbaugh with an 0-2 record to begin the 2015 season.

For a team entering the season with Super Bowl aspirations, the urgency couldn’t be greater in Week 3 as the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals try to bury the Ravens before October. Since 1990, only three 0-3 teams have rebounded to make the playoffs and the prospects of an 0-4 start would be alarming with a Thursday game in Pittsburgh looming in just a few days.

Surprisingly, the Ravens deactivated veteran pass rusher Jason Babin for a second consecutive week after citing his lack of familiarity with the defensive system as the reason he sat against the Raiders a week ago. With the current concerns over the pass rush, Babin being inactive doesn’t speak well for the Ravens’ confidence in him to be able to contribute off the edge.

Baltimore had already ruled out rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee), defensive end Chris Canty (calf), and left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion) on Friday. Perriman practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday and went through another pre-game workout on Sunday morning as he tries to work his way back from a sprained knee suffered on the first day of training camp in late July.

Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) was active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week.

Cornerback Rashaan Melvin will make his 2015 season debut after dealing with a hamstring injury dating back to the preseason. Given how well he performed in training camp and how much No. 3 cornerback Kyle Arrington struggled in Oakland, Melvin would be a good bet to see playing time in the nickel defense against the Bengals.

Acquired from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a 2016 seventh-round pick earlier this week, cornerback Will Davis was inactive as he continues to learn the Baltimore defensive system. With Melvin returning to action, the Ravens had less of a need to activate Davis. Rookie Tray Walker was also inactive for Baltimore.

These teams are meeting for the 39th time with the Ravens holding a slight 20-18 advantage and 13-6 mark in Baltimore. However, the Bengals have won three straight and four of the last five in the series after completing a season sweep in 2014.

The forecast called for cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 70s, a 15 percent chance of rain, and winds up to 11 miles per hour.

Referee Walt Anderson and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with white pants while Cincinnati dons its white tops with black pants.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

WR Breshad Perriman
CB Tray Walker
CB Will Davis
LB Jason Babin
OT Eugene Monroe
DT Christo Bilukidi
DE Chris Canty

WR Greg Little
WR Mario Alford
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
TE C.J. Uzomah
DL Marcus Hardison
DL Pat Sims
DL Margus Hunt

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 26 September 2015 by Luke Jones


It’s a word unfamiliar to the Ravens at this early stage of a season under eighth-year head coach John Harbaugh as they find themselves 0-2 for the first time since 2005. Not only must they beat the Cincinnati Bengals to avoid the first 0-3 start in franchise history, but a Thursday road game at Pittsburgh awaits just four days later.

In other words, the Ravens know their season could be all but doomed before Columbus Day if they don’t answer the bell for these next two games. The Bengals, however, would like nothing more than to continue their recent success against the Ravens while improving to 3-0 in the young 2015 season.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Cincinnati for the 39th time in franchise history as they own a 20-18 mark. Baltimore has lost three straight and four of the last five to the Bengals, who last year handed the Ravens a season-opening loss at M&T Bank Stadium and swept the season series for the first time since 2009.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 46-11 in home games under Harbaugh, the second-best mark in the NFL since 2008 …

1. As Jimmy Smith tries to lock down A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard will present matchup problems with a combined 125 receiving yards and a touchdown. Last week was a forgettable performance for the Ravens’ top cornerback, but he will bounce back to prevent Green from singlehandedly wrecking the game. The third-year tight end Eifert is emerging as a dangerous weapon and strong safety Will Hill is dealing with a knee ailment, a worrisome combination. Eifert and Bernard matching up against Ravens linebackers will favor Cincinnati and the pair will help Andy Dalton move the chains on several occasions on Sunday.

2. The Ravens will get their running game on track as Justin Forsett rushes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Through two games, Baltimore has averaged just 2.1 yards per carry in under-center formations as Forsett has largely been bottled up. The Ravens have gained 91 yards on 13 carries from the shotgun, but that’s not a viable long-term plan, putting pressure on the offensive line to open running lanes. The Bengals defense gave up 5.2 yards per carry a week ago, and you can bet that Harbaugh wants the Ravens to get back to their roots in all phases of the game after an 0-2 start. That means heavy doses of Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Buck Allen, and more running room will be there.

3. Elvis Dumervil will pick up his first sack of the season, but the pass rush will remain largely ineffective. The Ravens hope that Jason Babin can bring some life to a front seven missing Terrell Suggs, but putting consistent pressure on the quarterback will be an issue for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the Bengals offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack yet this season and the Ravens only sacked Dalton twice in two games last year with Suggs and Haloti Ngata having one each in the second meeting. Dumervil will slip by Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth for a takedown, but this is not a good matchup for a group trying to find its way and going against a passing game that gets the ball out quickly

4. Rookie Maxx Williams will catch his first career touchdown. The offense took some encouraging steps forward last week in Oakland with Crockett Gillmore catching two touchdowns and Kamar Aiken adding 89 receiving yards to shake off a brutal first-quarter fumble, but the Ravens need their 2015 second-round tight end to become a bigger part of what they do in the passing game, especially with limited speed at the receiver position. The Bengals’ otherwise-stout defense is average at the linebacker position and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will try to create favorable matchups for the talented but raw Williams. He’ll take advantage with a touchdown inside the red zone.

5. Joe Flacco will fight off the demons of past Cincinnati performances to lead the Ravens to a much-needed 23-21 win. These are the desperate times in which you lean on your stars, but Flacco has thrown more than twice as many career interceptions against the Bengals than any other team, making this one difficult to predict. Cincinnati is the more balanced team on paper and the early-season results for both teams speak for themselves, but Flacco plays better at home and will play an efficient game with minimal mistakes to lead the Ravens to a win. It won’t be pretty as the defense will bend plenty without breaking and the offense will struggle to finish off a few drives, but the Ravens will make just a few more plays than the Bengals to earn their first win of 2015.

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Ravens cancel second extended stay on West Coast

Posted on 25 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Several days after acknowledging the Ravens were reconsidering a second extended stay on the West Coast, head coach John Harbaugh said Friday that those plans have been scrapped.

Citing a longer week between their Oct. 18 contest in San Francisco and the Oct. 26 Monday night game against Arizona as the primary reason, Harbaugh said the Ravens will use a more conventional travel schedule for both games. The Ravens would have left for San Francisco two days early and would have spent a total of 11 days away from home had they elected to stay out west.

“That was a big part of it,” Harbaugh said. “That was the main part of it. It’s just a long week.”

Of course, the results of their first extended stay on the West Coast likely made the decision easier as the Ravens lost games to Denver and Oakland to begin a season 0-2 for the first time since 2005. The team stayed in San Jose last week ahead of the surprising 37-33 loss to the Raiders.

With Harbaugh acknowledging Monday that the Ravens were reconsidering their travel plans and coordinator Dean Pees expressing displeasure with how his defense practiced before the Oakland game, it appeared all but guaranteed that a second extended trip would not happen. Earlier in the week, Harbaugh thanked owner Steve Bisciotti and the entire organization for putting in the work to make the first long-term trip possible.

“I would have loved to reap the benefits of that and been able to stand up here and talk about what a plus that was in winning two football games,” Harbaugh said. “But we’re not able to do that because we didn’t get the job done. But from the effort — the work effort — we can stand on that foundation going forward.”

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Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees listens to a reporter's question at a news conference after an NFL football training camp practice on Saturday, July 26, 2014, in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Defensive pride on line for Ravens against Cincinnati

Posted on 24 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — First, it was Ravens head coach John Harbaugh suggesting his defense didn’t play with the level of effort it needed in a shocking 37-33 loss in Oakland.

On Thursday, defensive coordinator Dean Pees went further in criticizing his unit’s performance as the Ravens now try to avoid the first 0-3 start in franchise history when they welcome the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals to town for the home opener. Not only are the Ravens trying to escape an early-season hole, but pride is on the line for a defense that’s been the identity of one of the most successful franchises in the NFL for the better part of two decades.

Playing their first game without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Terrell Suggs since 1998, the Ravens turned in one of their worst defensive performances in recent memory against the lowly Raiders.

“We did not play with energy,” said Pees, who also hinted that his defense hadn’t practiced well in San Jose, Calif. last week. “When you don’t play with energy, you end up with six penalties, numerous missed tackles and several big plays, and that was the whole bottom line. For whatever reason, we didn’t play with energy. The players are responsible for that and so are the coaches. It’s up to us to get them to play with energy and play at a high level, and it’s up to them as players to produce at a high level.

“Sometimes, we have to take the role of leaders as coaches, and we have to do some things and just expedite the process a little bit and get them to play harder.”

The poor performance has been discussed ad nauseam, but hearing Pees question the energy and leadership of his defense lends credence to the notion that the Ravens would sorely miss Suggs after the 13th-year linebacker suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1.

A return to M&T Bank Stadium should automatically lift the energy level for a Ravens defense that has allowed the fewest points per home game (15.3) in the NFL since Harbaugh’s arrival in 2008. Baltimore will need to build on its 45-11 home record since 2008 to remove the sour taste of the first two road games, but the Ravens will play a Bengals team that handed them a home loss in last year’s season opener.

“We don’t want to be 0-2, but it’s still early in the season and our urgency will go up,” said linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who has collected 16 of his 26 1/2 sacks with the Ravens at home. “We just have to keep stacking practices. We just have to go get a win. That’s what it’s all about. We all just have to play our ‘A’ game.”

The Ravens defense believes it more closely resembles the group that held Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos without an offensive touchdown in Week 1 than the unit that was torched by second-year quarterback Derek Carr in Oakland, but they have to prove it against a Bengals offense that has scored a total of 57 points in its first two games.

A week after stuffing the run, playing mostly-sound pass coverage, and consistently pressuring the pocket, the Ravens couldn’t get out of their own way, making everyone wonder about a defense without Suggs or offseason departures Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee. The Jekyll and Hyde profile of the first two weeks has led everyone to question which is the real Baltimore defense.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘OK, are we good, or are we bad?’” Pees said. “We have to improve. We have to play like we played in the first week all the time. Every day, every practice, every game — that’s the intensity we have to play with, and if we don’t, it’s our fault as coaches.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Ravens have had poor defensive performances from time to time over the years, but the head coach and the defensive coordinator both questioning the group’s effort and energy after Sunday’s loss is largely uncharted territory with such dynamic on-field leadership over the years. It’s a sentiment that only highlights the narrative of the veteran players no longer residing in the defense.

Facing their first 0-2 start in a decade, the Ravens must lean on its young defensive standouts such as cornerback Jimmy Smith, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and nose tackle Brandon Williams to not only make plays but to emerge as leaders.

“Losing a player like Suggs is hard, and that’s one less player someone else has to worry about,” Williams said. “But at the same time, someone else needs to step up, whether it be me or anyone else on the line to step up and just make plays.”

Of course, you’re only as good — or bad — as your last game. Asked whether Sunday’s performance against the Raiders had damaged the confidence he has in his defense, Pees recalled his tenure in New England in which the Patriots would use the 2003 season opener — a 31-0 beating they took at the hands of the Buffalo Bills — as a reminder to never take too much away from one performance.

After that embarrassing loss, the Patriots won 17 of their next 18 games to win the Super Bowl that season.

“One game never defines you — good or bad,” Pees said. “It didn’t define us after Denver. It won’t define us after Oakland.”

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BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 20: Coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens (L) and coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals shake hands after an NFL game at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens won, 31-24. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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Bengals bring much continuity to Baltimore on Sunday

Posted on 23 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have stumbled out of the 2015 gate with a pair of losses following an offseason filled with change while the rival Cincinnati Bengals have steadily plugged away with a 2-0 start to take the early lead in the AFC North.

Their well-documented postseason failures aside, the Bengals have returned 21 of 22 starters from a year ago and have had the opportunity to settle in with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, both in their second year in those posts. It’s the kind of continuity that the Ravens likely envy as they just began their fourth straight season with a different offensive coordinator and seemingly replace important players on both sides of the ball every offseason.

Head coach John Harbaugh raised a few eyebrows with his praise for the Bengals during his Monday press conference, but the reaction reflects the heavy attention paid to the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason while Cincinnati largely flew under the radar.

“I do believe it is the most talented team in the league,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve seen that over the years. We have great respect for them, for their coaches, [and] the way they play. Obviously, it starts with A.J. Green, but the whole cast of characters there on offense is very talented and gifted.”

Cincinnati certainly wishes for the Ravens’ success in January after first-round exits in each of the last four years, but the Bengals have won four of the last five meetings between the teams, including a season sweep a year ago. They also matched Baltimore with 40 regular-season wins from 2011-2014, one more than Pittsburgh’s 39.

But unlike the Ravens under Harbaugh and the Steelers under Mike Tomlin, 13th-year head coach Marvin Lewis is feeling heat over the Bengals’ failure to simply earn their first playoff victory since 1990, let alone win a Super Bowl to match their AFC North rivals. For that reason, continuity only goes so far if the Bengals don’t break through this season.

“We’ve been able to continue to grow our guys from the ground up, and that’s an important part [of] the program here,” Lewis said. “We’ve been fortunate to have coaches and so forth in place, but the main thing is — hopefully, throughout this whole thing — you’ve got to keep getting better as a football team.

“Continuity is not very good if you’re not good enough.”

The questions begin and end with fifth-year quarterback Andy Dalton, who is off to a strong start in 2015 with five touchdown passes and no interceptions. Despite being named to two Pro Bowls in his career, Dalton has never inspired enough confidence to make you think he’s capable of leading a team to the Super Bowl. In the Bengals’ four playoff losses, he’s thrown one touchdown and six interceptions.

But those postseason shortcomings haven’t stopped the Bengals from topping the Ravens in the regular season as they scored a combined 50 points in their two wins in 2014. In preparing for Cincinnati for the 39th time in franchise history, the Ravens will see the same faces who have given them plenty of trouble in recent years.

“It is surprising to see that in the salary-cap era,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “They have that continuity and they’ve been able to have a lot of success with that core group of players. That presents a challenge for you. You have to understand they’ve been running a system for a long time and now that system has been allowed to take the next step because they’ve been able to keep that group of players together for so long. That only makes them better, so we have to be prepared for everything they throw at us on Sunday.”

More troubling than the Bengals’ offensive success against Baltimore is how effectively their defense has frustrated Joe Flacco over the years. The eighth-year quarterback has thrown an ugly 18 interceptions in his 14 career games against Cincinnati, more than twice as many as he’s thrown against any other team over the course of his career.

In a pair of losses last season, Flacco threw three interceptions to just one touchdown. On Sunday, he’ll see virtually the same defense that will also include returning defensive end Michael Johnson, who spent 2014 in Tampa Bay.

“They play aggressively, they have good corners, they have a good front, and they get after the passer,” Flacco said. “They have a group that has played together for a pretty long time now. They feel confident with each other; they know what they’re doing.”

The Ravens are clearly desperate for a win as they don’t want to fall to 0-3, a hole that only three teams have escaped to make the playoffs since 1990.

Standing in their way is a team that’s received plenty of criticism in January but has matched them blow for blow in the regular season over the last several years. The Bengals would love nothing more than to extend Baltimore’s early-season nightmare while maintaining a strong start of their own to 2015.

“It’s not often there is an opportunity to go up — after three games — by three games on a team in your division,” said Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who has led Cincinnati with 153 receiving yards to provide another offensive weapon. “We’ve definitely noticed that, and we want to go in there and play well and get a win.”

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Harbaugh: “Our defense has to step up and play like the Ravens play”

Posted on 21 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — John Harbaugh didn’t mince words in assessing a defense that allowed 37 points in Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Oakland Raiders to drop the Ravens’ record to 0-2.

The performance was out of character for a franchise known for its defensive tradition over 20 seasons in Baltimore. The eighth-year head coach put his players and coaches on notice that the defense needs to be fixed quickly as the Ravens now try to become the 25th 0-2 team to bounce back to make the playoffs since 1990.

“If we’re going to have a chance to be a successful football team, our defense has to step up and play like the Ravens play,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the expectation. That’s where the bar is set, and we’re going to have the guys out there that do that. And it’s on us as coaches to put the right guys out there, teach them to do the right things, and have the right schemes in place.”

Not only were the Ravens playing an Oakland offense that was shut out by Cincinnati through three quarters the previous week, but they was feeling confident about a defense that didn’t allow an offensive touchdown against future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and a talented Denver offense in the season opener.

Against the Raiders offense, however, everything went wrong as second-year quarterback Derek Carr threw three touchdown passes and Oakland accumulated 448 yards of offense. The Ravens collected just one sack and Pro Football Focus credited them with 11 missed tackles, their highest total since last year’s Week 9 blowout loss in Pittsburgh.

“We had missed tackles. We had missed assignments. We had breakdowns in coverage. We had missed alignments,” Harbaugh said. “We played about as unsound as you can play in a lot of different ways. We had effort for the most part, but I’ll even say we didn’t have the kind of effort we need to have on defense — the kind of all-out, flying-around effort that we expect from a Ravens’ defense.”

Playing without the injured Terrell Suggs, the Ravens struggled to create any semblance of consistent pressure on Carr as Elvis Dumervil played his highest number of snaps (62) since his days with the Denver Broncos and Courtney Upshaw didn’t capitalize on more opportunities to rush. As a result, Carr had a career day through the air with his 351 yards.

Harbaugh was quick to point out that Oakland designed plenty of short passes to neutralize the rush, but he did not forgive the inability of linebackers and defensive backs to neutralize those throws.

“When a team is determined to get the ball out fast, then you’re not going to get a lot of quarterback hits and you’re not going to get a lot of sacks,” Harbaugh said. “What you have to do is defend those quick throws, and we didn’t defend the quick throws as well as we need to because of the missed tackles and some of the missed alignments.

“If you force those throws to be no-gains, one gain, minus-2, 3-yard gains, when the ball is coming out fast, then you force them to hold the ball a little bit longer and to gain some yards and you get to the quarterback. That’s the No. 1 issue there.”

Though there’s truth to Harbaugh’s point, the Ravens didn’t get to Carr when he took deeper drops either, further making the decision to deactivate veteran newcomer Jason Babin puzzling after he was signed to provide more depth behind Dumervil, Upshaw, and rookie Za’Darius Smith.

Against an underwhelming offense, the Ravens showed no sign of being close to figuring out their pass-rush equation without Suggs.

“I think he had way too much time on the [bootlegs],” Harbaugh said. “He was able to stand back there on the keepers and boots almost forever and throw the ball. We have to figure out how to get that changed. But from a pass-rush standpoint, those are the two situations — the quick throws and the boots.”

Penalties on final drive

Two critical penalties hurt the Ravens on Oakland’s game-winning touchdown drive as defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan committed a senseless roughing-the-passer foul that marched the Raiders into field-goal range and safety Will Hill was flagged for holding before he made what looked to be the game-clinching interception with under a minute remaining.

Harbaugh offered a strong opinion on each one, with one player being chastised and the other forgiven.

“The Timmy Jernigan one was a foolish penalty — really inexcusable,” Harbaugh said. “There was no reason for that whatsoever at any time during the game, but especially in two-minute. But that was just a way late hit, and I don’t understand that one. It hurt us.

“The other one, I’m still looking for it. I don’t see it on tape, so I’m not sure what to tell Will on that. It looked like a good play to me.”

Second long trip out west being reconsidered

After previously saying they planned to stay out west for the week between their Oct. 18 game at San Francisco and Oct. 26 contest at Arizona, the Ravens are now reconsidering those plans.

Harbaugh said it would be a “no-brainer” to stay in Phoenix if the week were shorter between games — the second game takes place on a Monday night — but critics will understandably wonder how much the results of their first extended trip between the Denver and Oakland games will factor into a decision expected to be made in the next few days.

“If we stay [out there], it’ll be because we and the players feel like it would be the best thing,” Harbaugh said. “And if we don’t, it would be because we’d rather get back here and be in our home confines. [We’ll decide] which is best, especially in a long week.”

No word on Perriman

Injured rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) was seen doing some light running during his pre-game workout on Sunday, an increased level of activity shown from previous weeks when he was restricted to making catches from a stationary position.

The Ravens coach added no clarity when asked whether that was a sign of the first-round pick being close to finally returning after he sprained his knee on July 30.

“Not that I’ve been told,” Harbaugh said. “I have no update on it.”

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Ravens acquire former third-round cornerback Will Davis

Posted on 21 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Trying to augment a thin secondary that was torched by the Oakland Raiders in Week 2, the Ravens acquired cornerback Will Davis from Miami on Monday.

General manager Ozzie Newsome traded a 2016 seventh-round pick to the Dolphins to complete the trade.

The 25-year-old cornerback was a third-round pick in the 2013 draft, but he never lived up to his potential and had been inactive in each of the Dolphins’ first two games this season. Davis appeared in 15 games in his first two seasons, collecting 25 tackles and two pass breakups.

His 2014 campaign was cut short by a torn ACL that sidelined him for the final six games.

The Ravens are currently thin at cornerback behind their top trio of Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, and Kyle Arrington with Rashaan Melvin missing two games with a hamstring issue and rookie fourth-rounder Tray Walker lacking the experience to truly be trusted. Of course, the performance of the entire secondary left much to be desired Sunday as Oakland quarterback Derek Carr threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-33 loss to drop the Ravens’ record to 0-2 for the first time since 2005.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Davis doesn’t sport a track record that suggests he’ll make a major impact, but his addition probably also serves as a message to the incumbents in the secondary that Sunday’s performance was not acceptable. A year ago, the Ravens cut cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks after a Week 9 loss in Pittsburgh in which Ben Roethlisberger threw for 340 yards and six touchdown passes.

Davis played his college football at Utah State before being selected by Miami with the 93rd overall pick in 2013.

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An 0-2 start all that matters for hodge-podge Ravens

Posted on 21 September 2015 by Luke Jones

All we really know about the Ravens right now is that they’re 0-2 and in last place in the AFC North and that’s what matters.

The defense isn’t as bad as it played in Sunday’s 37-33 loss to Oakland, but it’s probably not as strong as it looked in Denver, either.

The offense isn’t as poor as it looked in Week 1 — really, it couldn’t have been much worse — but scoring 33 points against a bad Raiders defense isn’t the best barometer to conclude that all is fine with Marc Trestman’s unit.

Optimists will say John Harbaugh’s team was two plays away from being 2-0 in two road games out west despite playing poorly. They’ll maintain that the Ravens will be fine if the Week 1 defense and the Week 2 offense can simply show up at the same time.

Pessimists will tell you Baltimore couldn’t win against a Peyton Manning-led offense that was completely out of sync in the opener or even beat one of the worst teams in the NFL in Week 2. And they’ll remind you again that just 24 of the 205 teams that have started a season 0-2 since 1990 have made the playoffs — roughly one team per year.

Contrary to the sentiments shared by much of a frustrated fan base, the season isn’t over as the aforementioned statistic includes plenty of bad teams that never had a good chance to make the playoffs long before the season began. Indianapolis started 0-2 a year ago before advancing to the conference championship game and Steve Smith’s old team — the Carolina Panthers — lost its first two games of 2013 before making it to the divisional round that January.

Even the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks are in the same boat as the Ravens right now.

But the Ravens are in danger of having the season spiral out of control before Columbus Day if they don’t get to work immediately. On Sunday, they return home to play an undefeated Cincinnati Bengals team that’s won three of their last four meetings and then travel to Pittsburgh four days later to play the Steelers on a short week.

If you think 0-2 is quite a hole to escape, an 0-4 start would be the Grand Canyon.

Two weeks in, we just don’t know what to make of this Ravens team other than the clear stigma of an 0-2 record. Is it the offense, the defense, or both? Is this just another Harbaugh-led team that struggles on the road and wreaks havoc on opponents at M&T Bank Stadium to ultimately land in the playoffs like six of the last seven years?

A defense that carried much promise a week ago looked every bit the part of a unit playing its first game without Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, or Ed Reed — the trinity of Ravens defensive excellence — since 1998. The pass rush was nonexistent, the coverage in the secondary was abysmal, the tackling was even worse, and Dean Pees’ coaching adjustments didn’t work.

Some media and fans tried to argue that the loss of Suggs would not be that severe, but the Ravens defense looked like a group sorely missing his play and leadership in Oakland. Even so, the outside linebacker’s absence alone can’t explain — or excuse — the poor performance throughout the defense.

The lack of the pass rush coupled with a 2014-like performance from the secondary will create much concern about the Ravens’ ability to stop opposing offenses, especially after second-year quarterback Derek Carr and the lowly Raiders picked them apart to the tune of 351 passing yards and three touchdown passes.

It didn’t help that untimely penalties doomed the defense on Oakland’s final scoring drive as a senseless roughing-the-passer foul by Timmy Jernigan put the Raiders in field goal position and a defensive holding penalty on Will Hill wiped out what would have been the game-clinching interception. Those types of mistakes, particularly the Jernigan penalty, aren’t indicative of winning teams.

If you’re looking for the silver lining, the offense made strides on Sunday with tight end Crockett Gillmore catching two touchdowns and wide receiver Kamar Aiken bouncing back from an early fumble to help back up Smith’s 10 catches and 150 receiving yards. Yes, an otherwise-strong Joe Flacco misfired on a few throws that could have led to more points — including one to a wide-open Steve Smith that would have meant a touchdown instead of a field goal on their penultimate drive — but you should beat the Raiders 100 times out of 100 when you score 33 points.

Trestman’s decision to throw on second-and-8 from the Oakland 13 on the play before Flacco’s errant throw to Smith was baffling as an incompletion stopped the clock with 2:19 remaining, but we knew all along that the offense would be a work in progress and the group did its job for the most part on Sunday.

Everything we’ve witnessed in the Harbaugh era suggests the Ravens are better than their 0-2 record indicates, but they’ve hit uncharted territory under the eighth-year coach as the franchise has lost its first two games for the first time since 2005. It’s in rough patches when Harbaugh is generally at his best, but he sees exactly what we’ve all witnessed over the first two weeks and can’t feel good about it.

A horrendous performance by the offense and a strong defensive effort in Week 1 followed by a good offensive showing and a nightmarish game from the defense in Week 2. You just don’t know what to expect at this point from either side of the ball.

Will the real Ravens step forward? They’re better than their 0-2 record, right?

Or, maybe they are a hodpe-podge group with the latest offseason of substantial changes finally catching up with them.

If they really are this bad, we’ll find out quickly with their two biggest divisional foes looming over the next 10 days.

If the Ravens are better than this, they have no choice but to start proving it immediately.

Because 0-2 tells you all that matters.

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Ravens-Raiders: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Ted Marchibroda was their head coach, Eric Zeier their quarterback, and Bill Clinton was the president of the United States the last time the Ravens played a game without any of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Terrell Suggs on the field.

Sunday will mark the first game since Oct. 11, 1998 that the Ravens will compete without any of the three greatest defensive players in franchise history, signaling a new era for a Baltimore defense that still possesses much talent. More importantly, Baltimore is trying to avoid its first 0-2 start since 2005 after a disappointing showing in Denver last week. Since 1990, only 24 of 205 teams to begin a season 0-2 have made the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Oakland for the eighth time in the all-time regular-season series as they own a 6-1 record. Baltimore carries a 1-1 regular-season record in Oakland, but the Ravens won their only playoff game at O.co Coliseum in topping the Raiders in the 2000 AFC championship game. The Ravens have won four straight over the Raiders with their only loss coming in 2003.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 29-10 in games immediately following a loss under John Harbaugh, the second best mark in the NFL since 2008 …

1. Steve Smith and Crockett Gillmore will catch touchdown passes against a banged-up Oakland secondary that won’t be up to the task. The Raiders pass defense isn’t very good anyway, but the unit will be without safety Nate Allen and fellow safety Charles Woodson’s status is in question with a shoulder injury. Oakland cornerbacks won’t be able to hang with Smith, who will use a double move to catch a long touchdown. Gillmore will split the safeties down the seam to catch a touchdown on the same route we saw in the third preseason game before the score was negated by a penalty. It won’t be a record-setting day for the passing game, but Joe Flacco and his pass-catchers will make progress.

2. The Baltimore offensive line will provide more room in the running game, but pass protection will remain a concern. This unit can’t be any worse than it was last week, and they’ll pave the way for 100-plus rushing yards. But the absence of left tackle Eugene Monroe will still present a problem as James Hurst will be overmatched against the likes of Justin Tuck, Khalil Mack, and Aldon Smith coming off the edge. Unlike last week, Marc Trestman will use more max protect to help Hurst — or right tackle Rick Wagner — and to avoid Flacco being pressured on every two of three snaps like last week. However, the Raiders will still harass Flacco too often and will sack him three times.

3. Jason Babin will collect a sack in his debut with the Ravens. It will be fascinating to see how Dean Pees goes about replacing Suggs’ snaps and production, but the 35-year-old Babin is in good shape and will get on the board early with a quarterback takedown in the first half. The biggest overall concern will be how an increased workload impacts Elvis Dumervil, who has been terrific as a situational player but isn’t as effective against the run as Suggs. The front seven is too good against the run to allow the Raiders to exploit the transition on Sunday, but creativity will be a must to maintain an effective pass rush and to set the edge, the latter being an underrated part of Suggs’ weekly contributions.

4. Derek Carr will find Michael Crabtree for a touchdown pass, but the Raiders quarterback will struggle to consistently move the ball. The Baltimore secondary was quite impressive a week ago, but I’m not convinced that their problems from 2014 are long gone either and Oakland will find some gaps in the pass defense from time to time despite little room to run. Rookie Amari Cooper has all the tools to be an impact receiver, but Crabtree also has something to prove this year after lukewarm interest from teams in free agency. He’ll slip by veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb in the red zone for Oakland’s only touchdown of the afternoon.

5. The Ravens will make more plays to maintain control in a 24-16 win over the Raiders. Oakland has more talent at the top end of its roster than it’s had in quite a while, but Baltimore is a much better football team. That being said, the Ravens rarely dominate on the road and own a total of three wins by more than one possession away from M&T Bank Stadium over the previous three seasons. The Ravens offense will be better, but they have a lot of work to do to become the kind of unit that can dominate a team on the road. The Ravens will lead the entire way, but the offense will lack the consistency to pull away as some fans will grumble about an underwhelming win.

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Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Jason Babin (58) against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

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Harbaugh on Babin: “We like the way he plays”

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Wednesday 5:30 p.m.)

Aiming to fill the void left behind by injured six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, the Ravens agreed to a one-year deal with veteran pass rusher Jason Babin on Tuesday.

The team officially announced the deal on Wednesday afternoon while sending Suggs to season-ending injured reserve. The 35-year-old outside linebacker was on the practice field in San Jose on Wednesday as the Ravens continued preparations for their Week 2 game in Oakland.

Babin spent 2014 and this year’s preseason with the New York Jets before being released earlier this month. The 6-foot-3, 267-pound edge rusher accumulated just two sacks in 16 games (two starts) last season, but he received the third-highest overall grade from Pro Football Focus among Jets defensive players, receiving positive marks against the run and as a pass rusher.

“He’ll provide us another player at that position who’s a very good player,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We like the way he plays, like his style, like his mentality — tough, smart, hard-playing guy. I think he said it best — his résumé is the tape. He was playing for the Jets in the preseason, and we watched that very carefully, and he looked like he’d fit us well.”

The 2004 first-round pick has accumulated 64 1/2 sacks in his career while also spending time with Houston, Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. Named to Pro Bowls in 2010 and 2011, Babin collected 12 1/2 sacks with the Titans in 2010 to earn his first invitation to Hawaii before signing with the Eagles and racking up a career-high 18 sacks the following season.

Of course, the Ravens aren’t expecting Babin to fully replace Suggs as Elvis Dumervil is slated to assume the rush linebacker spot while Courtney Upshaw will remain at the strong-side backer position. However, Baltimore wanted to add a veteran to the rotational mix with rookie fourth-rounder Za’Darius Smith, who was inactive for the season opener.

The Ravens would likely be happy if Babin could give them 25 to 30 snaps per game as a situational pass rusher to help ease the burden on their incumbent linebackers. He averaged roughly 30 snaps per game with the Jets a year ago, but that included four starts in which he played more extensively.

“You’re not going to change everything you do, obviously,” said Harbaugh when asked about making adjustments to the defense without Suggs. “You try to get a player that fits what you do, and to me, that’s the smartest way to do it. It makes for the least amount of changes, and Jason fits us really well.”

The Ravens worked out Babin as well as 34-year-old outside linebacker Shaun Phillips on Tuesday in San Jose, Calif., where they are preparing for Sunday’s Week 2 matchup with the Oakland Raiders. Unlike other veteran pass rushers such as Phillips and Dwight Freeney, Babin being with another team during the preseason likely brought more confidence that he was in good football shape.

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