Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"


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Zuttah placed on IR, West promoted to 53-man roster

Posted on 18 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It was another day and another roster move for the Ravens as starting center Jeremy Zuttah was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a partially-torn pectoral muscle on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old initially suffered an injury to the area in the Week 8 win over San Diego, but he suffered further damage in Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville. Zuttah has started 65 consecutive games and hasn’t missed an NFL contest since the 2011 season, but second-year lineman John Urschel will now step into the starting center role.

“The decision has been made to get that repaired right away,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They can’t say 100 percent that it would heal like they want it to if we took time and waited, so we’re going to go ahead and get that done.”

Acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay in the spring of 2014, Zuttah was key in turning around the Baltimore running game a year ago as he replaced ex-Raven Gino Gradkowski at the center position. Urschel made three starts as a rookie last season, but he will be making his first career start at center against St. Louis.

Having filled in for Zuttah late in the Chargers game, Urschel struggled with his shotgun snaps, but he has performed well as a blocker, including two starts in the postseason as a rookie. Quarterback Joe Flacco acknowledged that it will be a challenging transition that he hasn’t experienced often in his NFL career.

“Losing the center is definitely a tough thing,” Flacco said. “Since I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve played with a backup center other than a couple snaps here and there. Guys have stayed pretty healthy. Jeremy has stayed pretty healthy. That’s definitely a big blow — not because of who we have coming in. John’s going to do great. You’ve seen he can get in there and do a great job for us. He’s going to make all the calls. He’s going to do great, and he has done great for us at guard and other positions.”

Baltimore promoted former Towson running back Terrance West to the 53-man roster to take Zuttah’s place. The 2014 third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns was signed to the practice squad last week a few days after being waived by the Tennessee Titans.

Now officially on his third 53-man roster in just over two months, the maligned second-year back would stand to benefit from the tutelage of veteran starter Justin Forsett. It’s a role the 30-year-old is more than willing to take on with any of the team’s young running backs.

“I think I’m the oldest guy in the room by a little bit, so I try to take all of them under my wing a little bit and try to pour as much into them as I can,” Forsett said. “I’ve been in his situation before, where he’s been on a couple of teams [his] first couple of years in the league, so as much as I can pour into him, I will.”

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Ravens place first-round pick Perriman on injured reserve

Posted on 17 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Another disappointing chapter was added to the story of the 2015 Ravens on Tuesday as rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman was placed on injured reserve, ending his season before it ever started.

The first-round pick from Central Florida sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp, an injury initially diagnosed as a bruise that would only keep him out for a day or two. After making very slow progress, Perriman briefly returned to the practice field in late September before pulling up lame in a pre-game workout at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 27.

A few days later, Perriman visited renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews and underwent arthroscopic surgery and received a platelet-rich plasma injection to help speed the recovery process. Shortly after the procedure, head coach John Harbaugh called the injury “one of the all-time slowest-healing sprained PCLs ever,” and Perriman never appeared to get close to returning to practice before Tuesday’s decision.

“Breshad has worked hard to come back from his injury,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement, “but after discussing his current condition with our medical staff and Breshad, we have decided that putting him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season is our best course of action.”

The 26th overall pick of April’s draft and the first receiver selected in the first round by the Ravens since Mark Clayton in 2005, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Perriman was expected to immediately fill the void of Torrey Smith after the speedy veteran signed with San Francisco in the offseason. Instead, Perriman becomes the first first-round pick in Ravens history to miss his entire rookie season.

Though acknowledging the clock was ticking on the rookie receiver for this season, Harbaugh had expressed hope earlier this month that Perriman would be able to play in the final four games, which would have given the Ravens the opportunity to evaluate him despite being on track to experience their first losing season since 2007. Now, they’ll have to wait until next year.

“It’s a huge disappointment not being able to play my first year in the NFL, but I will come back harder than ever,” Perriman wrote on Twitter. “Thanks to all of the Ravens fans for the support.”

With Perriman remaining an unknown and veteran receiver Steve Smith announcing his intentions to retire before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury on Nov. 1 — though many feel the injury could prompt him to return in 2016 — the wide receiver position couldn’t be in worse shape as the Ravens must also renegotiate quarterback Joe Flacco’s contract this offseason.

The Ravens made several other roster moves on Tuesday, cutting wide receiver and return specialist Jeremy Ross and cornerback Asa Jackson. On Sunday, Ross lost a fumble on a punt return for the second time in the last three games while Jackson committed two 15-yard penalties on special teams in the 22-20 loss to Jacksonville.

On Monday, Harbaugh criticized both players for their performances in Sunday’s game.

Dealing with an ankle injury, Jackson was given the waived-injured designation and would revert to injured reserve if he clears waivers.

To fill the three open spots on their 53-man roster, the Ravens signed veteran cornerback Cassius Vaughn, tight end Chase Ford, and rookie wide receiver Kaelin Clay. Vaughn was with Baltimore during the preseason while Clay and Ford were signed off the practice squads of Detroit and Minnesota respectively.

After being cut by the Ravens in early September, Vaughn hasn’t been with another team, but he owns 138 career tackles, 24 pass breakups, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery in his five NFL seasons.

Ford has played in 20 career NFL games (five starts), producing 34 catches for 391 yards and a touchdown. Clay has yet to appear in a game, but the Utah rookie is considered an intriguing option in the return game after being drafted in the sixth round of this year’s draft.

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Ravens running game continues to be forgotten under Trestman

Posted on 17 November 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have lost their way.

That statement carries many connotations these days as Baltimore holds a 2-7 record for the first time since 2005, but it’s especially true when examining the disappearance of the running game after the Ravens finished eighth in the NFL with 126.2 rushing yards per game under Gary Kubiak a year ago. Despite maintaining that it was in the Ravens’ DNA to run the football when they hired pass-happy offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, head coach John Harbaugh has seen his rushing attack plummet to 23rd in the NFL with just 98.1 yards on the ground per game. The Ravens rank 18th in the league at 4.0 yards per carry after averaging a healthier 4.5 yards per attempt in 2014.

The running game again wasn’t a major factor in Sunday’s 22-20 loss to Jacksonville as the Ravens carried 21 times for 89 yards while Joe Flacco attempted 45 passes.

“We’d like to run the ball more; there’s no question,” Harbaugh said. “On the other hand, if you look at the defenses [the Jaguars] were playing, there were eight guys within four or five yards of the line of scrimmage at all times, pretty much, and even then, we had some really good runs. We had some nice runs in the second half. We weren’t able to finish in four-minute [drill] like we would have wanted to; we were close to popping a couple of those runs.

“In the first half, we weren’t getting much. If we could have converted a couple more first downs there, you would have seen more runs. It’s something we had planned on doing. We were going to run it at them anyway, but we just didn’t get the opportunities that we wanted to.”

It’s fair to note that the Jaguars entered Sunday ranked seventh in the NFL in run defense, but the Ravens barely even tried in the first half with just four designed runs compared to 29 drop-backs for Flacco in his first game since No. 1 receiver Steve Smith was lost for the season. As for Harbaugh’s explanation, the Ravens picked up 11 first downs in the first 30 minutes of action, which wasn’t indicative of a team struggling to get on schedule with moving the chains.

Asked if Flacco checked out of a high number of plays at the line of scrimmage because of the Jaguars stacking the box, Harbaugh said that there were only a couple instances when the original play was changed, leading one to conclude that Trestman was responsible for the out-of-whack ratio. The pass-happy attack may have found success to the tune of 14 points and 223 yards of offense in the first half, but the approach backfired in the third quarter with Flacco turning the ball over on the first three possessions after intermission.

The Ravens carried 16 times for 70 yards in the second half.

“We knew we had some opportunities in the passing game, but we always look to run,” said running back Justin Forsett, who finished with 53 yards on 14 carries. “It’s just tough that we didn’t get it going faster. If we had, we would’ve been able to run the ball a little bit better. At the end, we just didn’t finish well.”

It’s easy to point to the opponent to defend Trestman’s approach on Sunday, but the Ravens also ran six times — one was a quarterback kneel — for 15 yards in the first half against San Diego, a run defense that currently ranks 27th in the NFL. Not counting plays resulting in sacks, the Ravens rank 26th in the NFL in running the ball just 37.29 percent of the time in 2015.

Last year, Baltimore ran the ball 44.67 percent of the time to rank 11th in the league.

Is it understandable to expect more passing in 2015 with the Ravens trailing in more games? Absolutely, but Baltimore has trailed by more than one score in the second half of just four games this year and one of those was the comeback win at Pittsburgh when the Ravens ran for almost 200 yards in an overtime victory. It’s difficult to say you’re committed to the running game when it wasn’t even allowed to find a rhythm in the first half of each of the last two games when they never trailed by more than seven points.

Whether because of a lack of commitment or production — or both — a ground game that returned the same starting running back and same starting offensive line from a year ago continues to be a significant disappointment under Trestman. It’s made life even more difficult on Flacco, who is trying to succeed with arguably the most underwhelming group of pass-catchers in the NFL.

The Ravens rank ninth in the NFL with 263.6 passing yards per game, but they’re 25th at 6.7 yards per attempt. For the second time in three years, the offense has fallen on Flacco’s shoulders despite a substandard cast of receivers around him.

Despite what the coaching staff has said at numerous times this season, there doesn’t appear to be much urgency to get the ground game going after the latest soft showing against Jacksonville.

“The run game is something to talk about,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “We were looking at it hard this morning, this afternoon with the coaches. Early in the game, we’re a block here and a block there away from popping runs. But a block here and a block there doesn’t get it done. We did a lot of things with scheme. We had a lot of formations. We protected our edges with tight ends and with seal blocks coming back and sift blocks coming back the other way. We did a good job of protecting our edges. But inside of all that, they had a couple of little changeups with their linebackers that gave us a little trouble that we sorted out toward the end of the game, [and we] had some better runs.”

Entering 2015, the running game was supposed to be the rock-solid commodity for a Ravens offense that experienced plenty of change in the offseason. Instead, it’s become just another of the many problems plaguing a 2-7 football team.

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Harbaugh critical of Ross, Jackson for mistakes in Sunday’s loss

Posted on 16 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On Monday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh dissected plenty that went wrong in the 22-20 loss to Jacksonville, but the criticism was particularly strong for special-teams players Jeremy Ross and Asa Jackson.

Ross’ fumbled punt early in the fourth quarter led to a go-ahead touchdown for Jacksonville and was the return specialist’s second lost fumble in the last three games. It was Baltimore’s fourth turnover of the second half after quarterback Joe Flacco threw two interceptions and fumbled in the third quarter.

“The muffed punt killed us. It was one of the four turnovers that shouldn’t happen,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged that the Ravens will need to decide whether to replace Ross at punt returner. “It wasn’t an easy catch. The ball was moving from left to right and behind him, but it’s still a catch that you have to make in that situation for sure.”

Harbaugh’s words were even more critical for Jackson, who cost the Ravens a combined 30 yards in penalties on a low block in the first quarter and an unnecessary roughness foul in the third period. Jackson committed another unnecessary roughness penalty against Arizona in Week 7.

It’s clear the lack of discipline is wearing thin on the Baltimore coach after Jackson was already waived once at the end of the preseason for ball security issues in the return game.

“There’s no place for that,” Harbaugh said. “There’s absolutely no reason to leave your feet [on the first penalty]. I don’t care if you are slipping or not. You might be slipping, but if you are out of position to make the block, you don’t make that block, and you certainly don’t throw yourself back into a guy’s legs on a kickoff return. That’s blatantly illegal. And then blocking a guy after the ball is down and dead — that’s just foolish. That’s what we call a foolish penalty.

“For one guy to have three personal foul penalties in a season — in a career, let alone a season — let alone two in a game, is unacceptable.”

Webb at safety

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees revealed several new wrinkles after the bye week with the most interesting being cornerback Lardarius Webb lining up at safety for a number of plays in the nickel package.

Webb and starting free safety Kendrick Lewis swapped positions several times, often waiting until right before the snap in an effort to confuse Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles. The seventh-year defensive back also secured Baltimore’s first takeaway since Week 3 with a second-quarter interception while playing cornerback.

“We felt like he could be a factor in the back end, as far as chasing balls and being a ball hawk, and he may be kind of a natural that way,” Harbaugh said. “We tried him there on Tuesday and Wednesday of the bye week; he looked good.

“We built a couple packages for him, and we were able to play him at three different spots at least throughout the course of the game. They had a tougher time knowing where he was going to be, and I really think that’s something we can build on going forward.”

Arthur Brown sighting

All but forgotten as the Ravens’ 2013 second-round pick, inside linebacker Arthur Brown saw his first defensive snaps since the end of his rookie season on Sunday.

Brown was part of the nickel package for eight plays, but he did not register a defensive statistic. The Kansas State product was active for each of the first eight games of 2015 while only seeing action on special teams.

“He played fast and was excited to be out there,” Harbaugh said. “He ran to the ball, made a couple plays — nothing spectacular, but nothing that made you concerned, either. He had done a really good job in practice, and Arthur deserved a little more playing time. He did well with it.”

Urban could return this week

Starting his second week of practice, second-year defensive end Brent Urban is moving closer to making his NFL debut and could be activated in time to play St. Louis on Sunday.

“There’s a chance,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not something we’ve talked about yet, but I think physically — based on what I’ve seen physically — he’s ready to go. But again, we’ll talk about this week as we go.”

Urban was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return at the start of the season after suffering a torn biceps in early August.

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In last stand, Ravens fail to change losing tune

Posted on 15 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday represented the last stand for the 2015 Ravens.

After their win over San Diego two weeks ago, players and coaches talked about making a second-half run to climb back into an underwhelming AFC wild-card race. Coming off their bye, the Ravens had an extra week to make mid-season adjustments and to prepare for a 2-6 opponent that hadn’t won a road game in nearly two years.

Their most optimistic fans believed there was at least a small chance for the Ravens to turn around their season starting with a win over the lowly Jaguars. But that dream vanished with Elvis Dumervil’s face mask penalty with no time remaining, setting up Jason Myers’ 53-yard field goal to hand the Ravens a stunning 22-20 defeat.

Head coach John Harbaugh called it “as tough a loss as you’re ever going to see” as Baltimore fell to 2-7, but it was just the latest crushing defeat in the most disappointing season in franchise history. The Ravens are just bad enough to find new ways to lose close games on a weekly basis.

“I felt like we lost the game way before that,” said wide receiver Kamar Aiken, citing the Ravens’ slew of other mistakes and his own dropped passes. “It should have never gotten to that point.”

Dumervil’s penalty was just the last of several miscues over the final four minutes of the game after Jacksonville punted the ball back to the Ravens with 3:57 remaining.

The first play of that drive was a Joe Flacco pass to Kyle Juszczyk that resulted in six yards before the fullback ran out of bounds — stopping the clock. After then moving the ball to the Jacksonville 43, the Ravens elected to take a timeout on fourth-and-5 instead of letting the play clock expire and taking a five-yard penalty for a delay of game.

Arguably the best punter in the NFL this season, Sam Koch punted the ball into the end zone for his first touchback of the season, giving the Jaguars the ball at the 20 instead of inside their 10 with 1:06 left and no timeouts remaining.

The decision seemed inconsequential at the time, but how crucial did that extra second and field position turn out to be for the Jaguars?

On second-and-15 from the Jacksonville 40, Ravens safety Kendrick Lewis dropped what would have been the game-clinching interception. That missed chance came just two plays before Dumervil’s critical mistake on a play in which virtually everyone on the field had stopped playing except for Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and the Pro Bowl outside linebacker.

But the Ravens had other failed chances and errors — including four second-half turnovers — that put them in position for the final bizarre play to matter. There may have been some new post-bye wrinkles with more three-tight sets on offense and new personnel groups on defense — the previously-missing 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown even played — but the same mistakes came at critical times as the Ravens committed nine penalties for 121 yards.

It used to be that the Ravens had to play poorly and a team like Jacksonville would need to be nearly perfect to have a real chance to win in Baltimore, but let’s not pretend that the Jaguars were a juggernaut with their collection of dropped passes, a 26-yard field goal miss, and questionable play-calling throughout the day.

Sunday was 60 minutes of mediocre football played between two bad teams, with the Ravens blinking hardest at the end.

“We’re just not the type of team that’s finding ways to win right now,” said Flacco, who committed three turnovers in the third quarter despite three touchdown passes on the day. “We’re not good enough to [win] football games at the end. You can look at how crazy it is no matter what. We have chances to close those games out. We’re just leaving room for stuff like this to happen.”

You can keep pointing to closes losses and dwelling on misfortune.

Instead of turning a corner after their bye week and making a statement that the second half of 2015 would be a different story, the Ravens played the same losing tune in the end. And it wiped out what faint hope might have remained in their lost season.

M&T Bank Stadium used to be a place where the Ravens were almost invincible, but they’re now 1-3 at home with losses to Cleveland and Jacksonville, perennial doormats of the AFC. There’s just no explanation for it other than being a bad team, even if the Ravens and their fans might feel like the football gods were conspiring against them on that final play.

“We are not catching those breaks,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “It’s a flag here, dropped picks, and [missed] opportunities, and we’re not coming up with them.

“It’s not the universe; it’s us.”

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 14 November 2015 by Luke Jones

This isn’t a “homecoming” game for the Ravens.

Scoff as much as you’d like over the notion of the 2-6 Jacksonville Jaguars winning a road game for the first time in nearly two years and earning a victory at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since Bill Clinton was in the White House (1999), but the 2-6 Ravens have no room to be taking any opponent lightly these days. That’s especially true when one of the Jaguars’ greatest strengths — the NFL’s 11th ranked passing game — matches up against Baltimore’s 29th-ranked pass defense.

Head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have spoken all week about Sunday providing the opportunity for a fresh start and the first of many steps toward climbing back into an underwhelming AFC playoff race, but they’ll first need to show they’ve put some of their first-half struggles behind them.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and Jacksonville meet for the 19th time in the regular-season history and for the second consecutive year at M&T Bank Stadium. The Jaguars hold a 10-8 advantage in the all-time series, but that can be attributed to Jacksonville winning the first eight all-time meetings between the teams from 1996-1999 when they were old AFC Central foes. Dating back to 2000, the Ravens have won eight of 10 against Jacksonville.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win consecutive games for the first time all season …

1. The team that performs better on third down will win on Sunday. This is a boring talking point often used by the unimaginative, but I only bring it up because both teams are so poor in this area, a major reason why they sport matching 2-6 records. The Ravens rank 24th in third-down offense and dead last in the NFL in third-down defense while Jacksonville is 19th in third-down offense and 29th in third-down defense. Baltimore will be challenged to find success running the ball in early-down situations against the league’s seventh-ranked rush defense while the Jaguars want to avoid putting the mistake-prone Blake Bortles in third-and-long spots. This will be critical factor in a close contest.

2. The Ravens secondary will snap Allen Hurns’ touchdown streak, but Allen Robinson will post over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. Hurns is questionable to play with a foot injury, meaning he will be less than 100 percent if he does find his way to the field on Sunday to try to continue a streak of six consecutive games with a touchdown reception. However, the 2014 second-round pick Robinson is emerging as one of the better big-play threats in the NFL and will create problems for Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. The Ravens should be fine if they can limit one of Jacksonville’s two impact receivers, but Robinson is just too good for the Baltimore secondary to stop at this point.

3. Kamar Aiken will have an encouraging day as the No. 1 receiver, catching six passes for 80 yards and a score. After two weeks to prepare and to talk a good game, the Ravens will now face the reality of life without Steve Smith the rest of the way. The good news for Baltimore is that Jacksonville sports the league’s 25th-ranked pass defense and has struggled to create pressure on quarterbacks this season, which should allow time for Aiken and Chris Givens to gain separation. Jacksonville’s starting cornerbacks, Davon House and Aaron Colvin, are solid, but No. 3 option Dwayne Gratz is a liability in the nickel, which will create a good matchup for Aiken on a touchdown pass.

4. Bortles will throw a costly interception midway through the fourth quarter. Counting the postseason, the Ravens have created four or more turnovers in a game 51 times in franchise history, but they have just four total takeaways in eight games in 2015. That trend just has to change at some point, right? Bortles has shown plenty of promise and has played at a high level at times this season, but he hasn’t been able to avoid critical mistakes like he made against the New York Jets last week. In a tight game, the Ravens will force their first turnover since Week 3 to end a scoring threat and preserve a narrow lead. The five-game streak without a takeaway has to end — even if it’s by accident.

5. Efficiency will be the theme of the day for Joe Flacco and the Ravens in a 28-23 win over Jacksonville. I feel for the Ravens quarterback, who has been given inferior weapons to work with in two of the last three seasons, but you never hear him complain about the factors regularly working against him. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens offense functions the rest of the way with Steve Smith out and the running game being a disappointment to this point. But Flacco will consistently make plays to move the chains and take a few deep shots to Givens in the process. The Ravens found a way to score 30 points without Smith in Week 5, and they’ll find ways to score enough against Jacksonville.

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Zuttah absent, Monroe returns to practice on Wednesday

Posted on 11 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Conducting their first full practice since returning from their bye, the Ravens welcomed back a starting member of their offensive line while being without another.

Left tackle Eugene Monroe (shoulder) was a full participant in Wednesday’s workout, but center Jeremy Zuttah continues to recover from a left shoulder injury suffered in the Week 8 win over San Diego. Monroe had missed the Nov. 1 game against the Chargers, but head coach John Harbaugh had previously expressed optimism that he would return after the bye week.

The Ravens appear optimistic about Zuttah’s chances to be ready for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.

“We’re anticipating — we’re hoping — that Jeremy will be out later in the week to practice,” Harbaugh said prior to Wednesday’s workout, “but he won’t be out [on the field] today.”

Rookie cornerback Tray Walker (concussion) participated fully in Wednesday’s practice after missing the San Diego game. Though still on injured reserve with the designation to return, defensive end Brent Urban (biceps) also took practiced with his 21-day participation window having opened on Monday.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) remains sidelined from practice.

Wednesday also brought the practice debut of former Towson running back Terrance West, who was signed to Baltimore’s practice squad a day earlier. Jettisoned by both Cleveland and Tennessee in the last two months, the Northwestern High grad hopes a return home will be the key to getting his once-promising NFL career back on track.

Harbaugh said he spoke with wide receiver Steve Smith following his successful Achilles tendon surgery in Charlotte, N.C. on Monday.

“He’s in great spirits,” Harbaugh said. “He’s looking forward to the rehab, and he was pretty fired up about the way [the surgery] went.”

Meanwhile, the Jaguars were without two starters during their Wednesday workout as standout second-year receiver Allen Hurns (foot/thigh) and outside linebacker Dan Skuta (groin) were non-participants.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Breshad Perriman (knee), C Jeremy Zuttah (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Eugene Monroe (shoulder), CB Tray Walker (concussion)

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Michael Bennett (hamstring), DE Chris Clemons (non-injury), WR Allen Hurns (foot/thigh), LB Dan Skuta (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marqise Lee (hamstring), S James Sample (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Zane Beadles (knee), RB Toby Gerhart (groin), WR Rashad Greene (thumb), TE Julius Thomas (abdomen)

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Pitta, Ravens make difficult — and right — decision in end

Posted on 11 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dennis Pitta desperately wanted to return to the football field this season.

Still loving the game and feeling a sense of obligation to the Ravens after signing a long-term contract last year, the 30-year-old tight end rehabbed rigorously to return from the second serious hip injury suffered in a 14-month period. But the skilled route-runner known for finding open windows in coverage couldn’t separate from the memory of him collapsing to the ground without being touched after making a simple catch in Cleveland on Sept. 21, 2014.

As difficult as the decision was, he and the Ravens made the right one in the end as he will remain on the reserve physically unable to perform list for the rest of the season.

“Obviously, I’m extremely disappointed that I won’t be out there this season,” Pitta said. “It’s something that I’ve been working hard to be able to do. I’ll continue to rehab and do everything I can to make sure I’m healthy and put myself in the best position that I can.”

His disappointment is understandable after playing in just seven games since dislocating and fracturing his right hip the first time in practice on July 27, 2013. Pitta returned to play in the final four games of that season, catching 20 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

The healthy return prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to sign the 2010 fourth-round pick to a five-year, $32 million contract that included $16 million guaranteed. But Pitta injured his hip a second time in Week 3 of the 2014 season and hasn’t played since.

Returning to practice last month after beginning the season on the PUP list, the Brigham Young product acknowledged hearing conflicting opinions from those close to him — including his concerned wife, Mataya —  about whether he should resume his playing career. According to head coach John Harbaugh and teammates, Pitta looked like his old self making plays against the Baltimore defense in practices, but the stability of a twice-repaired hip wouldn’t allow his safe return at this time.

“It didn’t quite respond the way we had hoped,” said Pitta, who added that there were things on and off the field that weren’t “quite right” with the hip. “Sitting down with doctors over the last couple of days, we decided that it was certainly too much of a risk at this time and too unsafe to take the field. That was a decision that we made collectively.

“At the end of the day, we can’t ignore what sound medical science has to say.”

Pitta said Wednesday that he still hopes to continue his career and isn’t yet ready to announce his retirement, but it’s difficult envisioning what would change doctors’ minds next season after he’s already spent 14 months rehabbing from the second injury. Whether the Ravens will keep Pitta on the roster to find out is another story as his guaranteed $5 million salary for 2015 made it a no-brainer for both sides to explore his potential return this season.

Next year, his $5 million salary is not guaranteed and Pitta is scheduled to carry a $7.2 million salary cap figure. Cutting him in the offseason — possibly with a post-June 1 designation — would save cap space and not leave the Ravens on the hook for his 2016 salary in the event of another injury.

Having drafted two rookie tight ends — Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle — this spring after selecting Crockett Gillmore last year, the the organization prepared this offseason as though Pitta would not be able to return to the field.

Even so, the layers of frustration are apparent for both Pitta and the Ravens in the midst of a 2-6 season.

“It’s been kind of a roller-coaster ride,” said Harbaugh, recalling the memories of both injuries. “You have hopes. I was hoping that he’d be able to play. To see him come out here and perform well [in practices], that part of it was a plus. But the other thing that overrides all of that is the fact that you want what’s best for the player. His safety and going forward as far as his quality of life overrides all of it.”

In parts of five seasons in Baltimore, Pitta has caught 138 passes for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end added three more touchdown catches in the 2012 postseason run that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, a game in which he caught four passes for 26 yards and a 1-yard touchdown.

No one will ever forget Jacoby Jones’ 70-yard touchdown catch in the divisional-round game in Denver that January, but that game-tying play still may not have mattered if not for Pitta’s catch on third-and-13 from the Ravens’ own 3 in the first overtime period. Baltimore didn’t score on that drive, but the 24-yard reception flipped field position and allowed Sam Koch to eventually punt the ball deep into Denver territory instead of being forced to kick from deep in his own end zone and potentially set the Broncos offense up on a short field.

That critical conversion is easily one of the most underrated plays in franchise history and likely allowed the run to an eventual championship to continue. The spectacular pitch and catch epitomized quarterback Joe Flacco’s trust in his close friend and teammate on the field.

“It’s great to have a guy that you know you can go to and you know what he’s going to do,” Flacco said. “He’s going to be in the right spot, he’s going to win, and he’s going to catch the ball at the end of the day. To have a guy like that on the field with you, it makes your job a little bit easier. He was definitely a big part of that.”

Pitta said Wednesday that he doesn’t want his final play in the NFL to be the one in Cleveland that resulted in him being carted off the field. The Ravens didn’t want that, either.

But both made the right decision not to take the risk of that happening again.

Even if it marks the end of Pitta’s career with the Ravens.

“I’ll continue to work,” Pitta said, “and hopefully that won’t be the end of the story.”

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Crazy or not, Ravens striking right chord after bye week

Posted on 10 November 2015 by Luke Jones

An 8-0 finish?



The chatter among players began moments after the win over San Diego and has only been amplified with a bye week to rest their bodies and minds. Despite a 2-6 record that has them standing 13th out of 16 teams in the AFC entering Week 10, the Ravens still have their sights set on the playoffs as they trail current No. 6 seed Pittsburgh by 2 1/2 games.

Few outside the Baltimore locker room think qualifying for the postseason is anything but crazy talk, but that’s perfectly fine with the Ravens.

“That’s why it’s going to feel so much greater when we finally make it,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “Coming back from this type of record and this season and the first eight [games], it’s going to feel that much greater when we make the playoffs. Let’s make some history.”

Unrealistic? Absolutely. Insane? Perhaps.

But I still like it.

Recent Ravens teams haven’t exactly oozed swagger like those from yesteryear, and that was even before they lost their two most demonstrative leaders — Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith — to season-ending injuries in the first half. Players know the odds are wildly against them, but believing you’re good enough fits into that winning equation — whether you actually are or not in the end.

Doubting talent and coaching is fair, but questioning the effort of these Ravens doesn’t mesh with all six of their losses coming by just one possession and a combined 30 points. A team that’s mailed it in doesn’t compete on a weekly basis, making the post-bye confidence an encouraging sign for better results with a more favorable schedule in the second half.

Of course, how much better is the real question, and that can only be answered on the field.

“We have to earn our way to have that conversation for sure,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But I expect our guys to have high expectations. The standard here has been high. We’ve set a high bar here for a long time, and we’re proud of that. We have high expectations, so we’re not going to let those expectations go. We’re not pleased with where we are — just like the fans aren’t pleased, coaches aren’t pleased, players aren’t pleased. Nobody in the organization is pleased with where we are, and we’re very determined to turn it around.”

We’ve all heard how the Ravens could be better than their 2-6 record. Given the small margin of defeat in those six losses, it’s fair to acknowledge the possibility, but let’s not forget those two victories could have easily turned into defeats as well. The eternal optimist would be stretching further to say the Ravens could be 6-2 or better than the pessimist would be in pointing to the possibility of a winless record through eight games.

Even if you believe that the Ravens were unlucky in the first half of the season, that doesn’t mean a run of good fortune is on the way. With Baltimore having a poor defense and an average offense lacking reliable pass-catchers — even before Smith’s Achilles injury — for Joe Flacco, predicting much better than a .500 record in the second half of the season would be based more on blind optimism than what we watched in the first half of 2015.

But players and coaches certainly don’t have to feel that way.

“The mindset is 1-0. Take care of what we have to take care of this week,” said running back Justin Forsett, who “definitely” thinks the Ravens can still make the playoffs. “We’ll just do our part and control what we control. Hopefully, at the end, we’ll be where we want to be.”

Even if the Ravens were to somehow run the table to finish 10-6, there’s no guarantee of even that being good enough as they needed help in Week 17 a year ago to make the playoffs with that same record. Rebounding from 2-6 is an incredible long shot, but who said the Ravens or their fans need to be grounded in reality, especially with eight games to go?

Does Harbaugh think the Ravens can make history as the first team to start 1-6 and make the NFL playoffs under the current format?

“Of course we can. We’re planning on it,” Harbaugh said. “We’re very optimistic about what’s in front of us, our future. We love our players, love the way they work, love the enthusiasm that they had today coming back and getting ready for Jacksonville.

“We’ll take it one day at a time, one game at a time.”

That’s all the Ravens can do, but some extra bravado can only help their near-impossible cause.

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Clock ticking for Pitta, Perriman to help Ravens in 2015

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Two talented pass-catchers are potentially at opposite ends of their careers with the Ravens.

Each with the clock ticking.

Sixth-year tight end Dennis Pitta faces a Wednesday deadline to determine whether he will attempt to come back this season from the second devastating hip injury of his career suffered more than 13 months ago. Meanwhile, head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Monday that time is running out if injured first-round receiver Breshad Perriman wants to see the field in his rookie season.

Two weapons, if healthy, who could help quarterback Joe Flacco, but both are surrounded by more questions than answers as the Ravens returned from their bye to begin preparations for Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

After beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list, Pitta returned to practice on Oct. 21, triggering a 21-day window to determine whether he would return to live-game action this season. The 30-year-old hasn’t played since dislocating and fracturing his right hip for the second time in a 14-month period on Sept. 21, 2014.

“He did look good in practice. We had a tough time covering him,” said Harbaugh, who stated that an announcement would not come before Wednesday. “He was doing stuff from the ‘look’ team and made a bunch of plays out there and just kind of looked like his old self out there.

“But don’t construe that as saying that he’s ready to go, because it’s not about that. It’s going to be about he and the doctors. The doctors are going to take a hard look at that and help him decide, ‘Is this really safe?’”

Pitta’s return wouldn’t necessarily fill a positional need with the Ravens having selected three tight ends in their last two drafts, but the 2010 fourth-round pick was a favorite target of quarterback Joe Flacco, catching seven touchdowns in his last full season in 2012. Pitta caught three more touchdowns that postseason in helping the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Though he’s received positive reviews from teammates and coaches in his return to practice, Pitta acknowledged last month that there were conflicting opinions from those close to him on whether he should return to the football field after his second serious injury, which occurred without him being hit. He also said that retirement would be a distinct possibility if he would not be able to return to the field in 2015.

“Dennis is going to play if he can,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no doubt in my mind based on what I’ve talked to him. If it’s safe and he feels like he can get out there and the hip is responding well, he’s going to play. And if it’s not safe, then he’s not going to play.

“I’m sure Tuesday — it is an off-day — we’ll sit down [and] have a pow-wow on it and figure out if that’s what we’re going to do and what the doctors and he say is the best thing.”

While there isn’t as much long-term concern with Perriman, Harbaugh said Monday that he’d like to see the 26th overall pick of this year’s draft be able to play in even the final four games of the season, but he would need to return to the practice field soon in order for that to happen. The 22-year-old sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp on July 30 and briefly practiced in late September before a setback prompted arthroscopic surgery and another lengthy absence.

With No. 1 receiver Steve Smith out for the rest of the season and previously intending to retire, Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome would love to take a look at what they have with the first receiver selected in the first round by the organization since Mark Clayton in 2005. The Ravens have carried Perriman on the 53-man roster all season.

“The clock is ticking if he can’t get out there and practice soon,” Harbaugh said. “I’d love to get four games out of him, just so you can see him and he can develop for four games. But that means now we need four weeks of getting him ready to play four games, and I haven’t been told that he’s going to practice this week.

“I think that’s a conversation that the doctors and Ozzie need to have, and we need to make a determination on that real soon.”

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