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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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Ravens unlikely to have starting left side of line against Atlanta

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Ravens unlikely to have starting left side of line against Atlanta

Posted on 17 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are likely to be without the starting left side of their offensive line for the second straight week after tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele were both listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Neither lineman participated in Friday’s practice after both worked on a limited basis Thursday, meaning the Ravens are likely to go with the rookie combination of James Hurst and John Urschel for the second consecutive game. There had appeared to be some optimism that Osemele would return after missing last Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay since he had been a limited participant on Wednesday and Thursday, but he will need at least another week to recover from the hyper extended knee he suffered against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 5.

Ideally, head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens would like to have Monroe and Osemele back in the lineup for a key road game against the Cincinnati Bengals next week, so the fact that both were able to get on the practice field this week bodes well for their status.

To no surprise, defensive end Chris Canty (wrist surgery) and defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi (ankle) were officially ruled out for Sunday’s game.

The Ravens listed five players as probable to play against Atlanta, including rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus surgery), who could be playing for the first time since injuring his knee on Sept. 11.

In remains unclear whether the Ravens will elect to activate safety Will Hill from the reserve-suspended list or defensive tackle Terrence Cody from the reserve-physically unable to perform list after both players practiced fully all week. Harbaugh would not tip his hand whether either would be moved to the 53-man roster by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline to make them eligible to play against the Falcons.

“It depends on some other things. There’s a domino effect to some of that,” Harbaugh said. “But they’re both capable of playing, physically. They’re both ready. They had a good week of practice, and they showed that they’re ready to play.”

Atlanta officially ruled out wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot) and listed six other players as probable for Sunday’s game.

Carl Cheffers will be the referee for Sunday’s game against the Falcons.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for sunny skies with temperatures in the low 50s and winds up to 15 miles per hour.

Baltimore will don its black alternate jerseys for the second time this season and the 18th time in franchise history. The Ravens hold a 12-5 record when wearing the black jerseys and are 9-2 under Harbaugh. Earlier this season, the Ravens won 38-10 when they sported their all-black uniforms against the Carolina Panthers.

Here is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DT Christo Bilukidi (ankle), DE Chris Canty (wrist)
DOUBTFUL: T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)
PROBABLE: WR Kamar Aiken (concussion), WR Marlon Brown (pelvis), TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury)

ATLANTA
OUT: WR Harry Douglas (foot)
PROBABLE: DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee), G Justin Blalock (back), WR Devin Hester (hamstring), WR Julio Jones (ankle), LB Prince Shembo (knee), LB Nate Stupar (knee)

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Monroe returns to practice as Ravens continue to get healthier

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Monroe returns to practice as Ravens continue to get healthier

Posted on 16 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It remains unclear whether Eugene Monroe will play in Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, but the Ravens left tackle took a significant step in his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery by returning to practice on Thursday.

The 27-year-old worked on a limited basis for the first time since undergoing surgery on Sept. 24. In his absence, the Ravens have turned to rookie free agent James Hurst to handle a starting role with Baltimore going 2-1 over that stretch.

It would be ambitious to assume Monroe will be ready to play against Atlanta after a three-week layoff, but his return to the practice field bodes well for his status in next week’s key AFC North road meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Four players on the 53-man roster did not participate Thursday as defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi (ankle), defensive end Chris Canty (wrist surgery), tight end Owen Daniels, and linebacker Daryl Smith were listed on the official injury report. Daniels and Smith each received a veteran day off after practicing without incident on Wednesday.

Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day, an encouraging sign for his availability against the Falcons. The third-year lineman missed last Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay after hyperextending his knee in the Week 5 loss to Indianapolis.

The Ravens used Hurst and fifth-round rookie John Urschel on the left side of their line in the 48-17 win over the Buccaneers. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak couldn’t recall every playing a game in which two rookies were starting and entrusted to protect the quarterback’s blindside.

“Never been around that. That was something else,” Kubiak said. “But, boy, you have to be proud of them. They worked really hard, and I think the guys around them played hard. Usually when you have a young guy step in, it’s about everybody else playing a little bit better, so you have to give the whole group credit for the way they stepped up.”

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus surgery) practiced fully for the second straight day and could make his return to game action since injuring his knee in the win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 11.

Safety Will Hill and defensive tackle Terrence Cody continued practicing after making their respective returns to the field Wednesday. The Ravens have a one-week exemption to decide Hill’s status after his six-game suspension expired this past Sunday, and many have pondered whether he’ll eventually emerge as the starting free safety in the secondary.

“We expect him to be a very, very good player back there,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think he’s very smart. He’s really kept up on everything. I think he’s done a good job the few days he’s been back practicing. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses, but we think he’s the real deal.”

Meanwhile, the Falcons continue to be banged up at the wide receiver position as Harry Douglas remains sidelined with a foot injury and wideouts Julio Jones (ankle) and Devin Hester (hamstring) were limited participants for the second consecutive practice. Douglas has missed Atlanta’s last three games with a deep bruise.

Here is Thursday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Christo Bilukidi (ankle), DE Chris Canty (wrist), TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Kamar Aiken (concussion), T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Marlon Brown (pelvis), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee)

ATLANTA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Harry Douglas (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Devin Hester (hamstring), WR Julio Jones (ankle), LB Prince Shembo (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee), G Justin Blalock (back), LB Nate Stupar (knee)

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Ravens’ blowout win over Tampa Bay more fun than educational

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Ravens’ blowout win over Tampa Bay more fun than educational

Posted on 12 October 2014 by Luke Jones

If you missed the Ravens’ 48-17 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, don’t feel bad.

So did the Buccaneers.

Earning their largest road win since a 31-point victory in Cincinnati in 2008, the Ravens responded exactly how you’d like after a disappointing defeat at Indianapolis in Week 5. There may not be such a thing as a statement game against what looked like the worst team in the NFL, but it was encouraging seeing Baltimore win so impressively on the road after struggling so often away from M&T Bank Stadium over the last couple seasons.

The Ravens’ 48 points were the second-highest single-game total in franchise history as they moved the ball with no resistance from the league’s 30th-ranked defense, particularly in the first half. It doesn’t get much better than that.

“It’s not going to always be like that, obviously, but you chase perfection,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s nice to see a reward like this for the guys.”

Beyond that, there probably isn’t anything earth-shattering to glean from Sunday’s win as the Buccaneers are now 1-5 after entering Week 6 with the second-worst point differential in the NFL. The 4-2 Ravens just reinforced the idea that they’re a good team that dominated a really bad one in sparsely-filled Raymond James Stadium.

Quarterback Joe Flacco tied Tony Banks’ single-game franchise record with five touchdown passes and did it in just over 16 minutes, the quickest to accomplish the feat in one contest since the NFL-AFL merger. But we already knew Flacco can be brilliant when his offensive line protects the pocket — even with rookies James Hurst and John Urschel blocking on the blindside — and he has sufficient weapons to throw to.

The seventh-year signal-caller continues to have one of the best seasons of his career after completing 21 of 29 passes for 306 yards and a 146.0 passer rating, which was also a personal best to go with the five touchdowns he threw. Through six games, Flacco has thrown 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions and has appeared a natural fit for Gary Kubiak’s system.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from Sunday’s performance was struggling wide receiver Torrey Smith catching two touchdown passes in the first six minutes of the game as he twice beat the Buccaneers secondary on inside routes. The fourth-year wideout said earlier in the week that he remained confident despite his slow start to the season, but it was tough not to wonder how his psyche was holding up after only 11 receptions and one touchdown through the first five games of 2014.

“That’s how I expect to play every week; it just doesn’t happen,” Smith said. “It’s important to build some positive momentum for myself to get going for our team. The better I play, the better situations our team will be put in. I understand that I have a major role on this team, which I love and embrace. It’s important for me to play at a high level all the time.”

The early lead allowed the Baltimore defense to pin its ears back as the pass rush swarmed overwhelmed Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon, sacking him five times and registering an incredible 15 quarterback hits. Tampa Bay managed just 101 total yards and no points in the first half as the game was over by the end of the first quarter.

Dean Pees’ unit didn’t maintain the same intensity level in the second half as the pressure waned and the secondary allowed Glennon to finish the game with 314 yards, but the Ravens didn’t need to take as many chances with such a comfortable lead.

Sunday’s win may not prove that the Ravens are a championship-caliber team just yet, but it was a fun afternoon in which Harbaugh’s team executed a game plan to perfection in the first quarter in another team’s stadium. Nothing really mattered after that, even as they continued to play well against a defeated team.

“It was nice to bounce back after a tough week,” said Flacco about his record day. “All that stuff really doesn’t matter. Really, anything we did after the first three touchdowns didn’t really mean too much at the end of the day. It was all just stats. That stuff feels good and looks good and it’s great and all that, but it really doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about winning the football game. That’s what we came here to do, and that’s what we did.”

And they had a blast doing it in convincing fashion.

 

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Mosley beginning to make game-changing impact for Ravens defense

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Mosley beginning to make game-changing impact for Ravens defense

Posted on 06 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The highlights were few and far between for the Ravens in Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, but rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley was seemingly all over the field.

Whether he was getting lower than lead blocker Jake Doyle to blow up a fourth-and-1 run by Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw on the opening drive of the game or maneuvering through blockers to minimize the damage on several short passes, there was a certain familiarity in watching the 2014 first-round pick make plays everywhere at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was almost — almost –  reminiscent of a certain inside linebacker who famously did it better than anyone for the vaunted Baltimore defense.

Mosley has a long way to go to routinely even be mentioned in the same breath as future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, but the sheer fact that many fans and media alike watching Sunday’s game made the comparisons spoke to how well he played in Sunday’s defeat. Finishing the game with 14 tackles, an interception, a quarterback hit, and a pass breakup, Mosley at least looked the part of the rookie version of Lewis in leading the defense in tackles and making several impressive plays throughout the afternoon.

“He had three screens out there where he made the tackles pretty much single-handedly,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “The posse was coming, but he was the guy there and weaved through blockers and made tackles. He tipped passes. He had [quarterback hits]. C.J. is playing really, really well.”

Mosley’s feel for the game has been praised from the moment the Ravens selected him with the 17th overall pick of May’s draft, but his game speed only gets better each week as he leads the team in tackles through the first five games of his NFL career. No, the University of Alabama product is not a finished product as he was beaten in coverage by tight end Dwayne Allen for a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but Mosley has quickly justified why general manager Ozzie Newsome elected to draft another inside linebacker with an early-round pick after taking Arthur Brown in the second round a year ago.

For a defense in transition and in need of game-changing youth with five key members of the front seven over the age of 30, Mosley appeared to be playing at a faster speed that everyone else on the field attempting to slow the Indianapolis offense.

“It’s all about knowing what you have to do, doing your job, and watching film,” Mosley said. “When you know what you’re doing, you can play fast like that.”

The Baltimore defense is still finding its way this season, trying to get more from its aging pass rush while also dealing with health issues and deficiencies in the secondary. Investing a plethora of high draft picks on the defensive side of the ball in recent years, the Ravens have seen mixed results with only Jimmy Smith emerging as a consistent game-changing player to this point.

It appears that Mosley is on his way to joining the top cornerback in that category, which is good news with perennial Pro Bowl players Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata nearing the end of their run as standout players. Coaches and teammates view Mosley as the kind of player who will never be satisfied with reaching a certain level of play, always expecting more from himself.

It’s a mindset that sounds awfully familiar as well.

“He’s not a guy that’s going to sit there and say, ‘OK, I had a couple good games, and I’ve arrived,’” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to want to stack that success and build a body of work up behind him. And that’s probably why he’s as good as he is right now. That’s how he looks at it.”

Having already impressed veteran teammates by cracking the top of the depth chart next to fellow inside linebacker Daryl Smith early in training camp, Mosley has been everything the Ravens expected as a three-down player only getting better as he gains more experience.

The Ravens’ overall play in Indianapolis was forgettable as they dropped their first road game of the season, but it was a standout performance by the rookie that will be remembered. And his showing against the Colts had teammates feeling the urgency to step up their own game to match him.

“I think he played phenomenal. We’ve all got to catch up to him,” Suggs said after Sunday’s loss. “He was out there making a lot of plays. We knew the kid was special coming in, and that’s why we brought him in and Ozzie drafted him. He had a hell of a day [Sunday].”

 

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Jackson out indefinitely with toe injury, Canty sidelined after wrist surgery

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Jackson out indefinitely with toe injury, Canty sidelined after wrist surgery

Posted on 06 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day that veteran Lardarius Webb saw his most extensive action of the season, the Ravens lost cornerback Asa Jackson indefinitely with a major toe injury suffered in the second half of Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Head coach John Harbaugh said Jackson has “a very severely sprained toe” that has him in a walking boot and will keep him out for a number of weeks. The third-year cornerback is likely to be placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, which would keep him sidelined for a minimum of eight weeks.

“Ozzie [Newsome] will decide that. I’m pretty sure that will happen,” Harbaugh said. “Again, until it happens, something might change. That’s where we’re at with that right now. We’re looking at our corner options there.”

With Webb still working his way back to full strength from a back injury that sidelined him for all of training camp and the preseason, Jackson started four of the Ravens’ first five games, recording 19 tackles and a pass breakup. He played 42 of 82 defensive snaps against Indianapolis before exiting the game in the second half.

Harbaugh also announced the Ravens would also be without defensive end Chris Canty for a couple more weeks after he underwent surgery for an infection in his wrist. The veteran missed Sunday’s game against the Colts with what was listed as an illness and was hospitalized over the weekend after having the procedure.

“[His thumb and wrist] swelled up on him last week,” Harbaugh said. “They didn’t know what it was; they thought it might be gout or things like that. It turned out to be an infection [and] he had to have surgery on it. He’s going to be [out] a couple weeks with that. That takes a while.”

The Ravens coach expressed satisfaction with how newcomers Christo Bilukidi and Lawrence Guy played in the defensive line rotation as Canty and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus) were both inactive for Sunday’s game. Third-year lineman DeAngelo Tyson started in place of Canty and made five tackles while playing 38 snaps.

However, Baltimore will look to add depth at the cornerback position even though Webb saw his most extensive action of the season in playing 44 snaps against the Colts. He was targeted often by Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, who completed seven passes for 91 yards on nine pass attempts his way.

Even if Webb is ready to assume a full-time role in time for this Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, the Ravens will once again be looking at either using strong safety Matt Elam in the nickel position or Chykie Brown as their No. 3 corner, two options defensive coordinator Dean Pees would like to avoid moving forward.

“We’ve been pushing [Webb] hard. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to go,” Harbaugh said. “He looked better in practice, and he went out there and played pretty darn well. It’s only going to get better. He’s only going to improve physically — he knows how to play. He’s not there; he’s not 100 percent, but he’s on his way.”

Harbaugh provided positive news on the health of left guard Kelechi Osemele (hyperextended knee) and Elam (shoulder contusion). Both players were sore Monday, but neither player’s status is in doubt after returning to Sunday’s game despite their ailments.

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Harbaugh expects Hoke to be Michigan coach for “long time to come”

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Harbaugh expects Hoke to be Michigan coach for “long time to come”

Posted on 29 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As Baltimore fans watched the Ravens improve to 3-1 with a 38-10 thumping of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, a report stated the University of Michigan could be targeting the services of head coach John Harbaugh.

With the Wolverines off to a disappointing 2-3 start and current head coach Brady Hoke’s status in severe doubt, the NFL Network reported that the program prefers the Ravens coach over younger brother and 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, whose future in San Francisco remains uncertain beyond this season. This isn’t the first time the Harbaugh brothers have been linked to the Michigan football program as John graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor and Jim played quarterback for the Wolverines before going on to play in the NFL.

Their father, Jack Harbaugh, served as an assistant under legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler in the 1970s.

According to The Sun, John Harbaugh is not interested in the job, but the head coach did not go out of his way to confirm or deny potential interest when asked Monday about once again being linked to Michigan. In addition to being under contract as one of the highest-paid coaches in the NFL through the 2017 season, Harbaugh has remained close with Hoke after they coached together at Western Michigan in the mid-1980s.

“It seems like it’s kind of there. I don’t really know why,” said Harbaugh about being linked to Michigan. “Brady Hoke’s a guy that we believe in. The Harbaughs believe in Brady Hoke. He’s a great coach; he’s done it anywhere he’s ever been. He believes in Michigan. I believe in what they’re doing there. I think they’re going to get it turned around.”

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has served in the same capacity under Hoke since 2011, another link between the two. Rumors have also persisted that Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon could be on his way out, which would certainly complicate any potential search for a new head football coach in Ann Arbor.

On Saturday, the Wolverines fell to Minnesota for just the third time since 1967. This season marks the first time in its 135-year football history that Michigan has sustained three losses before the start of October.

“The team should be galvanized right now,” said Harbaugh, who has a 65-35 regular-season record in seven NFL seasons and guided the Ravens to a win in Super Bowl XLVII. “I would expect them to come out like a bunch of wounded lions and go to work, because they love Brady and they love those coaches. They’ve just got to [play]. I’m interested in Brady Hoke being the coach at Michigan for a long time to come.”

Webb’s status still mystery

Even though he didn’t appear on the injury report last week for the first time all season, cornerback Lardarius Webb was ruled inactive prior to the 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, creating even more uncertainty regarding his status.

Harbaugh acknowledged Webb’s struggles against Cleveland played a major role in deciding he still wasn’t ready to rejoin the Ravens’ starting defense. The head coach is hopeful that changes this Sunday as Baltimore travels to Indianapolis to take on the 2-2 Colts.

“I’ll probably have a pretty good idea after watching practice,” Harbaugh said about Webb’s status for Week 5. “I probably won’t let anybody know until Sunday. But it will be based on how he practices and how he looks in terms of getting his acceleration and his burst back — the things that everybody saw that weren’t quite there.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees continues to use strong safety Matt Elam in the nickel position, but rookie Terrence Brooks saw extensive action with 32 defensive snaps playing free safety in the nickel package against the Panthers. The 2014 third-round pick was inactive in Week 3 but fared well against Carolina, according to the head coach.

Harbaugh said the health of Webb’s back is no longer a concern after the cornerback didn’t practice from July 25 through the end of training camp.

“They tell me that he’s healthy now, and he says he feels healthy,” Harbaugh said. “But it’s just a matter of that strength and quickness and burst, which should come back fast. Anybody that has ever trained [knows] if you’ve been in great shape, you get back in shape pretty quickly, in terms of strength and burst and things like that. You just have to do it. He’s working really hard at it, and it very well could be this week.

“I’m sure hoping it’s this week. I want to see it this week, and we’ll be shooting for that.”

Two receivers going in different directions

After what was unofficially his fifth dropped pass of the season against the Panthers, struggling wide receiver Jacoby Jones finished the game having taken only seven offensive snaps, his lowest total of 2014.

Jones also made an ill-advised decision to field a punt at his own 2-yard line before returning it to the Baltimore 20. Harbaugh reiterated that the 30-year-old continues to work extremely hard in practice and is simply trying too hard to make a play.

“He catches the ball in practice. Sometimes I think he’s pressing,” Harbaugh said. “I really do. Jacoby has a lot of pride, and he’s made big, big plays in this league before, and he wants to pick up where he left off. [That] hasn’t happened for him, but the thing he has to know — just like Torrey [Smith], just like anybody – is that the key is persistence. You just keep hammering and you don’t get down on yourself, and focus on the fundamentals and the details, and it’ll work out.”

With Jones playing poorly, second-year wide receiver Marlon Brown has suddenly reemerged in the Baltimore offense after making three receptions for 31 yards and playing 31 offensive snaps, his highest total since Week 1.

The 6-foot-5 Brown gives the Ravens another appealing option in the red zone and on third down after tight end Dennis Pitta was lost for the season last week in Cleveland.

“He was in there on the first three-wide group,” Harbaugh said. “He did a good job, made a couple plays — third-down conversions that were very important. [He is a] big target, gets off press really well and blocks, and he did a good job in special teams. He played well. It kind of goes back to what we were saying as far as guys stepping up at different positions.”

Colts’ Landry suspended

The NFL announced Monday afternoon that Indianapolis safety LaRon Landry has been suspended four games without pay for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy.

His suspension begins this week as the Colts’ 21st-ranked pass defense will now be without its hard-hitting safety.

He is the younger brother of former Ravens safety Dawan Landry.

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Offensive line becoming major asset for Ravens at quarter mark

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Offensive line becoming major asset for Ravens at quarter mark

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On a day in which Steve Smith and Joe Flacco understandably owned the spotlight in the Ravens’ dominating 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, John Harbaugh was asked after the game how rookie free agent James Hurst fared in his first start at left tackle.

The head coach’s answer applied as an appropriate assessment of the entire offensive line through the first quarter of the season. After a nightmarish 2013 in which the group stood out on a weekly basis for all the wrong reasons, the Baltimore offensive line hasn’t been a major topic of discussion because of how consistently well it’s played.

Even after losing standout left tackle Eugene Monroe to knee surgery, the Ravens didn’t appear to miss a beat with Hurst, an offensive lineman many didn’t think would make the 53-man roster at this time a month ago.

“I didn’t notice him, so that must be a good thing, right?” Harbaugh said. “I can’t wait to see it on tape, but it seemed like he played well. We ran the ball well. We did a good job across the board, I think, blocking as a group. The unit has played exceptionally well. We have to keep building, but it’s nice to have some depth in there.”

It’s no secret that veteran members of the offensive line took last year’s criticism to heart after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda made it clear during organized team activities last spring that he had no interest in rehashing the struggles of a running game that averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry in 2013.

In the eyes of the offensive line, it was a different year with a new system installed by new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. There was also new personnel, including the arrival of veteran center Jeremy Zuttah and the promotion of second-year lineman Rick Wagner to the starting right tackle spot. Of course, the improved health of left guard Kelechi Osemele and Yanda also figured to pay major dividends after both dealt with ailments last season.

And it’s led to the previously-loud criticism of offensive line coach Juan Castillo becoming all but silent at this point.

“It’s obviously going to be different with a new offense,” said Zuttah, who’s stabilized the middle of the line that struggled with Gino Gradkowski at center a year ago. “Coach Kubiak is one of the better offensive minds in this league. You watch that Houston Texans running game for years, and they were at the top of the league every year. I think guys came in with a chip on their shoulder and an attitude and a willingness to get better.”

The Ravens’ improvement with the zone-blocking system starts inside where Zuttah said he’s flanked by the “best set of guards in the NFL” in Osemele and Yanda. Through the first four weeks of the season, the two have played at a Pro Bowl level, earning the highest cumulative grades of any Baltimore offensive players, according to Pro Football Focus.

Whether opening lanes for the running back trio of Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Bernard Pierce or protecting quarterback Joe Flacco, the offensive line continues to make the 2013 season a distant memory as the Ravens are off to a 3-1 start.

Since Flacco was sacked three times in the season-opening loss to Cincinnati, the offensive line hasn’t allowed one in three straight contests. It’s the first time the Ravens have done that since the 2006 season in which they finished 13-3.

“Those guys have been holding up big time when we do the play-action, when teams come after us, and when we’re dealing with really good defensive lines,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve got a lot of good guys up front, and they’re communicating very well, and they’re being really physical. We’re allowing them to play very physical and get really confident, so it’s been a good run.”

That physicality has paid major dividends in the running game as Forsett and Taliaferro combined to run for 127 yards on 30 carries against the Carolina defense. Averaging 4.5 yards per carry through their first four games, the Ravens have followed through on the promise to return to their roots as a physical, run-first team.

That success has led to a more-efficient Flacco, who is currently on pace to throw a career-high 28 touchdowns and is completing 63.4 percent of his pass attempts. The arrival of the veteran Smith and the revamped running game have allowed Flacco to play more like the signal-caller we saw in the 2012 postseason and less like the man who had to try to do it all by himself last year.

He can thank his offensive line for not only keeping him clean but opening running lanes for whichever running back is carrying the ball. The cohesiveness has impressed the 28-year-old Forsett, who had plenty of experience running in zone-blocking systems in Seattle as well as in his one season with Kubiak in Houston.

Behind a revamped line, the Ravens have rushed for at least 125 yards in three straight games, a feat they hadn’t accomplished since the first three weeks of the 2009 season. Through four games, they’ve also collected six runs of 20 or more yards, one more than they had all last season.

“The offensive line has been gelling really fast,” Forsett said. “I’ve been in this scheme for a while now and to be doing this well this early, it’s a good sign.”

As encouraging as the start to the season has been, the Ravens will now enter a daunting stretch of four road games over the next five weeks. They’ll need that strong offensive line play we’ve seen at M&T Bank Stadium to continue against the likes of Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh in the coming weeks.

Even with the early-season success, members of the offensive line haven’t expressed any sense of satisfaction or an air of “I told you so” after hearing last year’s criticism and the doubts leading into this season.

Averaging 25.75 points per game, the Ravens still offer the impression that they can get even better upfront.

“We did pretty good today, but there were some yards we left out there,” Zuttah said. “I think we’re going to go back in there and be tough on ourselves in the film and see what we can do to get all the yards that we think we missed.”

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope to hit the quarter pole of the season on a winning note when they welcome the Carolina Panthers to Baltimore on Sunday afternoon.

Most focus has understandably centered around wide receiver Steve Smith playing against his former team this week, but the Ravens will be playing their first game since losing tight end Dennis Pitta for the season and left tackle Eugene Monroe for at least the next few weeks. And they face an imposing stretch of four of their next five games on the road following Sunday’s contest at M&T Bank Stadium, making this a game the Ravens would desperately like to win.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are trying to recover from an embarrassing home loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday night while overcoming a number of injuries in their offensive backfield. Expected to have one of the more potent rushing attacks in the NFL this season, the Panthers currently rank 29th in run offense with just 72.3 rushing yards per contest.

Sunday marks the fifth meeting between these teams as Carolina holds a 3-1 edge. However, the Ravens won the only game against the Panthers of the John Harbaugh era, a 37-13 final in Charlotte in 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their first ever home game against the Panthers …

1. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown pass and be flagged for a 15-yard penalty against his old team. The 35-year-old has tried to downplay the significance of playing the Panthers after spending the first 13 years of his career in Charlotte, but there’s no escaping the prediction of “blood and guts” he made shortly after signing a three-year contract with the Ravens in March. To say Smith will be fired up is an understatement considering how fiery he is on game days anyway, but he’ll bring a little extra passion that will draw a 15-yard penalty for either unnecessary roughness or taunting at some point. He’ll make up for it, however, with a touchdown catch to beat Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason.

2. James Hurst will struggle as a run blocker, but his pass blocking, with help from tight end Crockett Gillmore and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, will keep Joe Flacco clean. If you’re looking for the silver lining with the left tackle situation, Monroe wasn’t playing well before undergoing knee surgery this week, meaning there may not be much of a drop-off with the undrafted rookie. The overall impression of his play in the preseason was that Hurst was a capable pass blocker with good technique, but his blocking ability in the running game left much to be desired. Baltimore will use help on his side to help contain the pass rush from the likes of Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, and Wes Horton and keep Flacco safe. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will also call more running plays inside and to the right to stay away from Hurst’s struggles whenever possible.

3. With Jimmy Smith locked on rookie Kelvin Benjamin, veteran Jerricho Cotchery catches a touchdown from Cam Newton against the Baltimore secondary. The 6-foot-5 Benjamin will pose a problem for any Ravens cornerback other than Smith, so defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have his top defensive back mirror him as much as possible. Veteran Lardarius Webb wasn’t listed on this week’s injury report, so he’s expected to have a bigger workload than the four defensive snaps he took in Cleveland, but it’s still difficult projecting what to expect from him in terms of performance. Carolina’s weapons in the passing game aren’t imposing beyond Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, but the savvy Cotchery is familiar with the Ravens defense from his days with Pittsburgh and will shake free against zone coverage for a red-zone touchdown.

4. Bernard Pierce will start in the backfield, but rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will lead the Ravens in rushing for the second straight week. A national audience watched the Steelers gash the Panthers defense for 264 rushing yards in a 37-19 final in Charlotte last Sunday night, which continued the early-season trend of Carolina struggling to stop the run. Kubiak will look to run early and often to control the tempo of the game and will defer to the returning Pierce at the start of this one. However, the jury is still out whether the 2012 third-round pick is a great fit in the Ravens’ zone-blocking scheme as he’s often looked indecisive in hitting running lanes. The Ravens will lean heavily on Taliaferro in the second half to wear down the Panthers’ front and the rookie will make another emphatic statement that the starting job belongs to him.

5. The injuries to Pitta and Monroe are concerning, but the Ravens will still have enough to handle Carolina in a 26-17 final. The Panthers are still trying to find their bearings on the offensive side of the ball with Newton still not 100 percent and the backfield in disarray with the long-term injury to fullback Mike Tolbert and the uncertain status of Jonathan Stewart. On top of that, the Carolina defense hasn’t been the imposing unit it was last year without defensive end Greg Hardy in the picture. The Ravens will use an effective running game and an improved defensive effort to win in relatively comfortable fashion to begin the season 3-1 before starting what looks to be the most difficult stretch of their regular-season schedule with only one home game over the next five weeks of action.

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Ravens left tackle Monroe sidelined after undergoing minor knee surgery

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Ravens left tackle Monroe sidelined after undergoing minor knee surgery

Posted on 24 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Just a few days after losing starting tight end Dennis Pitta for the rest of the season, the Ravens learned they would be without their left tackle for a few weeks after Eugene Monroe underwent minor knee surgery on Wednesday.

Head coach John Harbaugh made the announcement following practice as rookie free agent James Hurst is expected to start in Monroe’s place against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. It remains unclear how long Monroe will be sidelined after his knee limited him in practice last week and during the Week 3 win over the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, but Harbaugh said it will be “some number of weeks.”

“To not have him is going to be different, but it’s honestly something that I try not to pay too much attention to,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I think Hurst is going to come in to fill in and do a great job. And that’s all I can really do is go back there and have confidence that we’re going to do everything in our power to play well, and he’s going to play well. I have all the confidence in the world in him.”

It had become clear that Monroe’s knee was impacting his play as he graded out poorly against the Browns. According to Pro Football Focus, Monroe received the lowest grade among the Ravens’ five starting linemen through the first three weeks of the 2014 season.

Undrafted from the University of North Carolina, Hurst saw his draft stock plummet after he suffered a broken fibula in the Tar Heels’ bowl game in late December. Prior to the leg injury, many draft pundits envisioned him as an early- to mid-round pick who had an impressive performance against eventual No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney in North Carolina’s 2013 season opener against South Carolina.

Hurst said Monroe informed him of the news on Wednesday morning and that the veteran offered to do anything he can to help him prepare in the coming weeks. Though acknowledging butterflies about making his first career NFL start, Hurst pointed to the veteran experience on the offensive line as well as position coach Juan Castillo to help him out.

“I think if you’re not nervous, you don’t realize what’s happening,” Hurst said. “It’s a big situation. I’m excited about it. There are going to be nerves. Everybody has nerves. It’s just a matter of going out there and knowing that you prepared and you’ve done everything you can for that opportunity.”

Hurst would become become the first rookie to start at left tackle for the Ravens since Michael Oher in 2009.

Asked where Monroe’s injury left the Ravens at the left tackle position, Harbaugh hesitated in answering before acknowledging Hurst as the listed backup for the spot. Instead of moving left guard Kelechi Osemele outside or flipping right tackle Rick Wagner to the opposite side, the Ravens appear content in maintaining continuity with the rest of the line and will likely offer as much help as they can to Hurst’s side.

“Next man up like it always does,” said Harbaugh about what the injury meant for the offensive line. “That’s the depth chart. It’s pretty straightforward. I mean, it’s obvious.”

Monroe signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract to remain in Baltimore this offseason after he was traded by the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Ravens for a fourth- and a fifth-round selection last October.

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