Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 10 November 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Do what you’re supposed to do.

That’s the message for the first-place Ravens as they welcome winless Cleveland to town for Thursday Night Football, the first prime-time game played in Baltimore since Sept. 11, 2014. Baltimore is looking to move back over .500 in its second game in five days while Cleveland is trying to avoid falling to 0-10, which would be the worst start in franchise history.

As expected, the Ravens will be without five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who was listed as doubtful and has now missed three of the last four games with a left shoulder injury sustained on Oct. 9. Though he returned to action and did not miss a snap against Pittsburgh on Sunday, Yanda once again being sidelined is a significant concern for an offensive line struggling to perform at a high level in 2016.

After starting two games in place of Yanda earlier this year, reserve Ryan Jensen was a healthy scratch. Based on pre-game warmups, it appeared that veteran Vlad Ducasse would receive his first start with the Ravens at right guard. Ducasse was cut by Baltimore at the conclusion of the preseason and then re-signed on Oct. 11 as injuries on the offensive line piled up.

The 29-year-old has made 22 starts in seven NFL seasons with previous stops with the New York Jets, Minnesota, and Chicago.

This marks the sixth different combination that the Ravens have started on the offensive line this season. That’s not as crazy as Cleveland’s run on quarterbacks this year, but it’s hardly ideal, a major reason why the Baltimore offense has struggled so much in 2016.

There were no surprises among the Ravens’ other inactives after linebackers Elvis Dumervil (foot) and Kamalei Correa (thigh), cornerback Shareece Wright (hamstring), and tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) were already declared out on Wednesday. Wright’s absence has opened the door for rookie Tavon Young to seize control of the starting cornerback job opposite veteran Jimmy Smith.

The Browns ruled out starting cornerback Jamar Taylor on Wednesday, leaving the NFL’s 23rd-ranked pass defense with less depth in the secondary.

Thursday’s referee is Jerome Boger.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday forecast in Baltimore calls for clear skies and temperatures in the low 50s with winds up to five miles per hour.

As part of the NFL’s “Color Rush” initiative for Thursday games, the Ravens are wearing special purple jerseys with gold numbering as well as purple pants and purple socks for the first time in franchise history while the Browns don white tops with white pants and white socks. Some of the gold number is difficult to ready, but anything’s better than the mustard-colored pants worn last season, right?

Thursday marks the 36th meeting between these AFC North foes with Baltimore enjoying an overwhelming 26-9 lead in the all-time series. The Ravens are 13-4 at home against the Browns and are aiming for their 11th season sweep over the AFC North opponent.

Below are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
G Marshal Yanda
LB Elvis Dumervil
CB Shareece Wright
TE Crockett Gillmore
LB Kamalei Correa
OL Ryan Jensen
DL Willie Henry

CLEVELAND
QB Joe Callahan
CB Jamar Taylor
LB Corey Lemonier
OL Gabe Ikard
OL Jonathan Cooper
WR Jordan Payton
DL Xavier Cooper

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Thursday

Posted on 09 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens must build on what they accomplished in Week 9.

As veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs reminded in the post-game locker room on Sunday, a win over Pittsburgh means nothing if the Ravens stub their toe against 0-9 Cleveland on Thursday night. Of course, that stubbed toe would feel more like an amputation against a team that hasn’t won a game since before last Christmas.

A win would not only give the Ravens a half-game lead in the AFC North entering the weekend, but they would also move back above .500 for the first time since mid-October. On the flip side, the Browns are a loss away from their worst start in franchise history, a dubious possibility in a nationally-televised game.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore tries to avenge a rare home loss to Cleveland last season and complete the season sweep in 2016. The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series by a 26-9 mark and are 13-4 against the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Cleveland has lost 15 of the 17 games played in this series during the John Harbaugh era.

Below are five predictions for Thursday night:

1. Steve Smith will shine in prime time with his second touchdown reception of the year. Thursday marks the first night game of the season for the Ravens, meaning the 37-year-old wide receiver will be eager to prove to a national audience that he’s still playing at a high level despite last year’s devastating Achilles tendon tear. Mike Wallace has had a strong season, but Smith is still the one who really makes the passing game go, evident by how mightily the Ravens struggled without him last month. He’ll take advantage of the league’s 23rd-ranked pass defense to find the end zone.

2. The Ravens secondary will victimize Browns rookie Cody Kessler with two interceptions. The rookie third-round pick from USC has played surprisingly well in his first six NFL starts, throwing for five touchdowns and only one interception while posting a 96.1 passer rating. However, you have to wonder how he responds on a big stage against a defense playing at a high level. After dropping multiple interceptions against Ben Roethlisberger in Week 9, Baltimore will be motivated to catch the ball to add to its total of nine picks on the season.

3. Terrelle Pryor will continue his strong season for Cleveland with 75 yards receiving and a touchdown catch. The 6-foot-4 former quarterback bounced from team to team for a couple years before finding a home with the Browns. Pryor has emerged as a play-maker with 46 catches for 579 yards and four touchdown catches despite a carousel of quarterbacks playing for the Browns. The return of rookie first-rounder Corey Coleman from a broken hand gives Cleveland another matchup problem, which will help Kessler find his top receiver for the Browns’ lone touchdown of the night.

4. Baltimore will eclipse 100 yards rushing for the first time since Week 5. After so much hand-wringing about the running game before Marc Trestman’s firing, the Ravens have been even worse on the ground since his exit, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry over the last three games. With Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda not expected to play and rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley struggling mightily in his return last week, it’s in the Ravens’ best interest to be able to run the ball and the Browns are giving up 4.6 yards per carry this season. This team must find a solid ground game to stay in the playoff hunt.

5. Joe Flacco and the offense will be steady but unspectacular in a 20-12 win that looks like a typical short-week game. These NFL Thursday games are a terrible product and this one involves the worst team in the league and another that hasn’t blown anyone out in two years, a combination that doesn’t create the highest expectations. We know the Ravens have been a mess offensively for quite some time, but the Browns rank at or near the bottom in multiple defensive categories. Improved third-down efficiency and two touchdowns shouldn’t be too much to ask if the offense is going to start showing improvement. The Ravens will be in control, but a late Cleveland score results in another one-possession final.

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Ravens “haven’t done anything” to be able to take Cleveland lightly

Posted on 09 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are playing the worst team in the NFL at home on a short week and are coming off a critical win over their biggest AFC North rival that moved them into a first-place tie.

Yes, the woeful Cleveland Browns haven’t won a game in nearly 11 months, but we’re also talking about a Baltimore team that’s lost four of its last five games and has made several below-average defenses look exceptional over that time. The Ravens also haven’t beaten a team by more than one possession in nearly two years and have seen 22 of their last 24 games decided by a single score.

There’s also that matter of what happened in Week 2 if there were any lingering question of whether the Browns had the Ravens’ attention. That’s why any thoughts about a potential letdown are being met with a different response than the one you usually hear from a team in first place.

The Ravens aren’t good enough themselves to take any team — even the Browns — lightly.

“We haven’t done anything yet. We’re 4-4,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We sit at the top of the division, but one loss and you’re out. This is a division game, a rival. They were up 20-0 on us and easily could have beaten us, so we can look at many factors to remind ourselves that we can’t take anything for granted.”

It’s easy to dismiss the Browns, who are 0-9 and own the worst point differential in the league at minus-105. First-year head coach and former Ravens assistant Hue Jackson knows what he’s dealing with as he spoke just this week about finding a way to avoid going 0-16.

The Browns do have a handful of talented players such as nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, and young wide receivers Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman, but the problem is the rest of the roster that resembles an expansion team.

They have been competitive at times, starting with their surprising performance against the Ravens in which they jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter before Baltimore scored 25 unanswered points the rest of the way. The Browns forced overtime at Miami the following week and held a second-half lead on the road against Washington in Week 4. They even held a 20-7 halftime lead over a New York Jets team that had beaten the Ravens just a week earlier.

“If you watch the tape, they are making a lot of really good plays,” head coach John Harbugh said. “This is a very formidable challenge. It was the first time we played them this year. It was both games last year. It was both games the year before that. It always is that way, so our guys understand the rivalry that we have with Cleveland. We understand how tough a game it’s going to be. We don’t put any stock in that [winless record].”

Despite those polite comments, the Ravens know they have no excuse not to win Thursday’s game.

The Browns rank 31st or 32nd in the league in total defense, run defense, points allowed per game, third-down defense, and red-zone defense. If Joe Flacco and the offense can’t get going against this miserable group, then it’s difficult to think they ever will this season.

The Ravens defense continued to earn more respect after overwhelming Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers for most of this past Sunday’s contest and will now have a chance to make life miserable for rookie Cody Kessler and an offense ranked 19th in total yards and 29th in points per game.

It likely won’t be the prettiest performance as we’ve come to expect for any Thursday night game, but it’s an opportunity to move back over .500 that the Ravens cannot afford to squander. Amazingly, a Browns loss could officially eliminate them from playoff contention this weekend depending on what happens elsewhere, but Baltimore is only concerned with taking care of its own business in the second of four home games over a five-game stretch.

“We haven’t played as well as we wanted to yet, but we’ve positioned ourselves to this point,” said Flacco, who threw for 302 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions against Cleveland in Week 2. “Our goal over the next month will be to put ourselves in a position to play meaningful games in December. If we can get ourselves to the point where we’re playing meaningful games in December, then that usually leads to playoff games where anything can happen.

“We have a lot of room to get better.”

That starts with doing what they’re supposed to do against a woeful opponent on Thursday.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 05 November 2016 by Luke Jones

Two rivals coming off their bye week and needing a win on Sunday.

The stakes are clear for both the Ravens and Pittsburgh when they meet for the 41st time in their regular-season history. Having lost four straight games in October, Baltimore is trying to turn its season around and pull even in the AFC North with the Steelers, who have dropped two consecutive games themselves.

Health is a hot topic for both teams as the Ravens expect to welcome back several key starters, a list including linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley. Meanwhile, the Steelers appear likely to have starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back under center less than three weeks after knee surgery.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens attempt to win their fourth straight game against Pittsburgh, which includes their victory in the 2014 postseason. The Steelers lead the regular-season series by a 21-19 edge, but Mike Tomlin’s team hasn’t won a game at M&T Bank Stadium since 2012. Counting the playoffs, Baltimore has won five of the last six meetings with its biggest rival.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Dennis Pitta will catch his first touchdown of the season while Darren Waller will make his first catches of 2016. Who would have guessed with the well-documented depth entering training camp that Pitta would be the only tight end to play in all of the Ravens’ first eight games? His production has slowed since surpassing the 100-yard receiving mark in Week 2, but he poses a problem for Pittsburgh linebackers who are weak in coverage. With Crockett Gillmore out, Waller is now the No. 2 option and is an imposing physical specimen offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg should utilize.

2. Le’Veon Bell will not do much against the Ravens on the ground, but the Pittsburgh running back will burn them in the passing game. The Baltimore run defense is for real and allowing just 3.5 yards per game, but a returning Mosley — and his hamstring — will face a heck of a test in coverage with Bell’s ability to separate as a pass catcher. With the way Matt Forte had success as a receiver against the Ravens in Week 7, Roethlisberger won’t hesitate to look for the explosive Bell out of the backfield to help keep the Steelers on schedule despite little production in the running game.

3. Suggs will collect a sack to add to an impressive mark, but Baltimore won’t get enough heat on a hobbled quarterback otherwise. Suggs poked fun earlier this week at the injury drama often surrounding Roethlisberger, the kind of trash talk bringing back memories of the prime of this rivalry. The six-time Pro Bowl linebacker has backed up the talk over the years with 16 1/2 career sacks against the Pittsburgh quarterback. However, an improved Steelers offensive line won’t have too many issues against a pass rush that’s been largely unproductive without Elvis Dumervil this season.

4. The Ravens secondary will fare respectably against Antonio Brown, but the big-play receiver will still catch a second-half touchdown. As tremendous as Brown has been for several seasons, Baltimore has surprisingly done a commendable job against him, holding him to just one touchdown reception. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens defense approaches Brown as Jimmy Smith has traveled with him at times in past meetings. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will likely mix up coverages against Brown, but the Steelers wideout will still find a way to the end zone on Sunday.

5. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense will show some signs of improvement, but it won’t be enough in a 24-20 loss. The Steelers are the better football team, but the Ravens winning wouldn’t be surprising after Ryan Mallett’s heroics in the most recent meeting between these teams last December. You never truly know with this rivalry. Improved health on the offensive line should help the offense, but John Harbaugh’s team just isn’t inspiring enough confidence and Pittsburgh is also feeling plenty of urgency with higher expectations for the season. The Steelers have better play-makers, and that will be the difference in a narrow defeat for the Ravens that will only add to the frustration level in Baltimore.

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S. Smith, Mosley questionable to play against Pittsburgh

Posted on 04 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If Steve Smith says his right ankle is ready to go, the Ravens will welcome the veteran wide receiver back to action for Sunday’s critical AFC North meeting with Pittsburgh.

The 37-year-old participated in practice for the second straight day on Friday and was listed as questionable to play against the Steelers. Head coach John Harbaugh told reporters that Smith only worked on a limited basis as he did the previous day, but he was officially listed as a full participant for the walk-through practice.

Smith was not present for the portions of practices open to media on Thursday or Friday, making it difficult to gauge where he is health-wise or just how many reps he took. He hasn’t played in a game since spraining his right ankle in the first quarter of the Week 5 loss to Washington on Oct. 9.

“We’ll just see where he’s at,” said Harbaugh about the injury that’s sidelined Smith for nearly three full games. “I didn’t have any expectations for it beforehand. I just wait for the trainers to say [he’s ready] and the player, of course. It’s that type of a thing, too. When everybody says the player is ready to go, we put him out there. That’s how we do it.”

The 16th-year receiver was not in the locker room after Friday’s practice to speak with reporters.

The Ravens also listed inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (hamstring) as questionable after he took part in practices on a limited basis all week. He was upgraded to full participation on Friday and appears to be a good bet to make his return after a two-game absence.

Baltimore officially ruled out linebackers Elvis Dumervil (foot) and Kamalei Correa (thigh) as well as tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) after all three missed the entire week of practice. Cornerback Shareece Wright is doubtful to play as he continues to nurse a hamstring injury that kept him out of practices on Thursday and Friday.

Despite being full participants in practice all week, linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps), offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (left shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (foot), safety Lardarius Webb (hamstring), and cornerback Tavon Young (concussion) were all designated as questionable. All five are expected to play against the Steelers, however.

It remains to be seen whether Baltimore will activate safety Matt Elam in time for Sunday’s game. Elam has taken part in all practices over the last two weeks, but a roster move would need to be made by 4 p.m. on Saturday for the 2013 first-round pick to play against Pittsburgh.

To no surprise, the Steelers listed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (left knee) as questionable after he practiced on a limited basis all week. Reports this week have indicated that he will start against the Ravens despite undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus less than three weeks ago.

Backup running back DeAngelo Williams (knee) and cornerback William Gay (foot) were also designated as questionable by Pittsburgh.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be John Hussey.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies with temperatures reaching the mid-60s and winds up to 11 miles per hour.

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

BALTIMORE
OUT: LB Kamalei Correa (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh)
DOUBTFUL: CB Shareece Wright (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), WR Steve Smith (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (biceps), S Lardarius Webb (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Tavon Young (concussion)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: C Cody Wallace (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB William Gay (foot), QB Ben Roethlisberger (left knee), RB DeAngelo Williams (knee)

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Ravens not buying uncertainty surrounding Roethlisberger’s status

Posted on 02 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Longtime Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs says he’s seen this Ben Roethlisberger movie before.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith quipped that he has “no question” in his mind that the Pittsburgh quarterback will play unless his leg literally isn’t intact.

Despite undergoing surgery on the torn meniscus in his left knee less than three weeks ago, the 34-year-old Roethlisberger has returned to practice on a limited basis and the early reviews of how he’s looked have been favorable. Since an early Sunday morning report casting doubt about his status for Week 9, more signs are pointing to what the Ravens believe to be the obvious outcome after witnessing him overcome past injuries to return to action sooner than anticipated.

“He’s going to act like, ‘I am not playing; I don’t know. I did individuals today; I threw a little bit. I still don’t know,'” said Suggs, who has sacked Roethlisberger 16 1/2 times over more than a decade of competition. “Then he’s going to walk his big ass on out there. I’ll be like, ‘How you doing, Benjamin?’ He’ll be like, ‘What’s up, Sizzle?’ Then, it’s on. Don’t fall for that.”

Ironically, Roethlisberger has missed more games against the Ravens (seven) in his career than he has against fellow AFC North foes Cincinnati and Cleveland combined (two). The Steelers are just 1-6 against Baltimore without their franchise quarterback under center since he became their starter early in the 2004 season. The Ravens are 7-9 in regular-season games started by Roethlisberger and 1-2 in the playoffs.

Both teams have plenty at stake at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday with just a game separating them in the division standings. Desperate for a win after an 0-for-October that crushed the good vibes of a 3-0 start, the Ravens are playing a 4-3 Steelers team that’s dropped two straight games and is struggling defensively despite being in first place in an underwhelming AFC North race.

“This is not an ideal situation to go into, especially against a team like this,” said Smith, referencing the Ravens still carrying a four-game losing streak out of the bye. “It’s not going to make or break our season, but we obviously have to have this win.”

The pre-game narrative centers around the status of Roethlisberger and the overall health of both teams, but the aura of this longstanding rivalry often supersedes what can appear to be a mismatch on paper. Last December, it was the recently-signed Ryan Mallett leading an injury-ravaged Ravens team to an upset win over the playoff-bound Steelers. In 2012, 37-year-old backup Charlie Batch led Pittsburgh to a comeback victory that snapped the 15-game home winning streak of the Ravens, who would then win Super Bowl XLVII two months later.

Whether Roethlisberger plays or not, you can expect a close game with 13 of the 16 regular-season games played between these teams in the John Harbaugh era decided by a single possession. That seems appropriate with the Ravens’ current stretch of 21 of their last 23 regular-season games being decided by eight or fewer points.

It’s no secret that Baltimore is below .500 and has just one playoff appearance since its last championship four years ago, making it all the more interesting that the Ravens have won five of the last six overall meetings with the Steelers.

“I’m talking to our young guys like, ‘These games will define you — hate or not,'” said Suggs, who missed both games with Pittsburgh last season due to a torn Achilles tendon and will attempt to play with a torn biceps on Sunday. “There was a time here where we couldn’t get over that Steeler hump, and you had to become a different kind of player when you played them. I love this game.”

The Ravens are searching for that killer instinct to which Suggs referenced as they try to stop the bleeding from October and avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years. They hope to welcome some of their own reinforcements back to the field, a list including Suggs, wide receiver Steve Smith, linebacker C.J. Mosley, and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley.

And despite the uncertainty expressed by the Steelers and the outside world, the Ravens’ minds are made up that Roethlisberger will be out there trying to continue their 2016 misery.

“I am telling my boys that ‘7’ is playing,” Suggs said. “Not only that, he’s going to try and light our ass up, so prepare.”

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Trade deadline passes without any action from Ravens

Posted on 01 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The NFL trade deadline passed without the Ravens — or any other team — making a deal of significance on Tuesday.

After Monday’s surprising trade of New England linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland, the final hours leading up to the 4 p.m. deadline were unsurprisingly quiet. With just under $3 million in salary cap room, Baltimore wasn’t in a great position to make a significant move.

Former Raven Torrey Smith was rumored to be on the trading block in recent days, but the San Francisco wide receiver and University of Maryland product is staying put with the 49ers, who are off to a 1-6 start.

All attention now moves to the practice field with the Ravens welcoming Pittsburgh to town for a critical AFC North tilt on Sunday. Baltimore hopes to welcome several injured players back to game action this week, a list including linebackers Terrell Suggs (biceps) and C.J. Mosley (hamstring), wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle), and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (foot).

The first injury report of the week will be released on Wednesday.

The big story for the Steelers is the status of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee on Oct. 17. The 34-year-old practiced on a limited basis on Monday and did some light on-field work during Pittsburgh’s bye week.

“I thought it was generally positive,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. “We hadn’t spent a lot of time analyzing it or talking about it at this juncture. Really, it’s been giving him the work and him taking the work. And he’s done a really good job with it.”

Should Roethlisberger not play, backup Landry Jones would make his second straight start. Head coach John Harbaugh said Monday that the Ravens would prepare this week as though the starter would play and added that the Steelers offensive system doesn’t change dramatically with Jones under center anyway.

On Tuesday, the Ravens released running back Stephen Houston from their practice squad. With Lorenzo Taliaferro being activated in Week 7, Baltimore has four running backs on its 53-man roster, diminishing the need to keep Houston in the organization.

After placing star running back Jamaal Charles on injured reserve, Kansas City worked out former Ravens running back Trent Richardson on Tuesday, according to ESPN. The former first-round pick of the Browns was released by Baltimore early in training camp after struggling to stay healthy this spring and undergoing knee surgery.

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Fresh off their bye, Ravens have no choice but to get well quickly

Posted on 31 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens returned to work Monday aiming to start anew.

Using a much-needed bye week to get their bodies and minds right after a winless October, they won’t have long to wait to set the tone for the second half of the season. Playing two games in a five-day period is always a challenge, but those contests are against familiar AFC North foes — a de facto first-place Pittsburgh team that could be without Ben Roethlisberger followed by winless Cleveland — both at M&T Bank Stadium.

It certainly could be worse from a scheduling standpoint with the Ravens able to get a head start on the game plans for both opponents during the bye.

Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the good timing of the condensed stretch, but the urgency is clear if the Ravens want to make something out of the remainder of the 2016 season.

“I want to knock some of this disappointment off,” said Harbaugh as Baltimore still carries a four-game losing streak. “This is something you carry around with you. It’s not what you want. It is not the goal. The goal is to win these games and have the kind of record that you think reflects how hard you have worked.”

Despite falling to 3-4 after a 3-0 start in September, the Ravens and their fans have cited the wide-open nature of the division with the Steelers sporting the only winning record as reason for optimism. A win on Sunday propels Baltimore into a first-place tie with a chance to then move back over .500 against the woeful Browns just four nights later.

It gets tougher after that for the Ravens, however, while the schedule softens for both the Steelers and second-place Cincinnati.

Baltimore’s remaining nine opponents sport a .522 winning percentage with the four road foes — Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati — owning a combined .683 mark. The challenging second-half schedule was why so many opined that the Ravens needed to win at least five of their first seven games, but that potential margin for error is long gone.

Meanwhile, the Steelers’ remaining schedule sports a winning percentage of just .396 with their five road opponents a combined 13-25-1. After a Nov. 13 meeting with the NFC East-leading Cowboys at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh has just one more game on its schedule against a team currently above .500.

If the Steelers can tread water until Roethlisberger returns to good health — a big if with three of their next four games on the road — they are the consensus favorite to win the division, making Sunday’s game even more crucial for the Ravens.

The Bengals have stumbled out of the gate to a 3-4-1 start, but their eight remaining opponents have combined for a .458 winning percentage and their four road opponents are just 12-18. Cincinnati hasn’t looked nearly as formidable as it did a year ago, but each of its four losses has come against a first-place team.

Winning the division is always the goal, but that’s especially true in a year in which the AFC West currently holds three teams with just two losses each, making that division the mid-season favorite to claim the two wild-card spots. Of course, there’s plenty of football to be played across the league, but counting on enough mediocrity elsewhere to sneak in as a 9-7 wild card could be a particularly tricky recipe this season.

That’s why the Ravens must win the next two games to not only eliminate the foul taste of October from their palates but to begin stacking enough wins ahead of a brutal final month that features road games against New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. The last two road defeats to the New York Giants and New York Jets were painful enough, but Harbaugh made it clear on Monday how critical the next two contests in the Ravens’ home building are.

“We need to win these games,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t care where they are being played. We needed to win the two on the road the last two weeks; we didn’t. We need to win these at home.”

The remainder of the season depends on it.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering Week 8 bye

Posted on 27 October 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having dropped four straight games going into a much-needed bye week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It’s admirable that Ozzie Newsome stays out of the spotlight when the Ravens are thriving, but is it fair that John Harbaugh faces all of the heat from media when there are so many questions about this roster? As it stands, we won’t hear from the general manager until January.

2. The comparison made between Timmy Jernigan’s fumble with C.J. Mosley’s in the Washington game is off-base. Mosley was inches away from scoring, whereas a defensive lineman was trying to imitate Ed Reed on his own goal line. They were both costly mistakes, but Jernigan’s was worse.

3. There was excitement about the return of Kenneth Dixon, but he’s received just nine touches for 16 yards in his first three games. You hope the bye allows his knee to get stronger, because he hasn’t shown the explosiveness he had in the preseason and the Ravens need that spark.

4. Count me in as wanting to see both Terrell Suggs and Ben Roethlisberger return for the Ravens’ critical Week 9 meeting with Pittsburgh. There aren’t many players left from the prime of the bitter AFC North rivalry that isn’t what it used to be.

5. Few things have gone well offensively, but Mike Wallace has been everything the Ravens could have reasonably hoped for. His 490 receiving yards lead the team, and he’s served as a productive deep threat. He’s not a No. 1 receiver, but he’s been more dependable than any other Baltimore wideout.

6. Harbaugh said in June that Elvis Dumervil underwent a “preventative procedure” to the foot area in the offseason. The pass rusher has been vague about specifics, but it would be interesting to know exactly what he’s been dealing with and how much the coach may have undersold the surgery.

7. I’m glad to see Breshad Perriman healthy enough to play, but he’s done little to quell pre-draft concerns about his route-running ability and inconsistent hands. He’s essentially still a rookie just seven games into his career, but catching just 41 percent of his 34 targets isn’t nearly good enough.

8. They’ve both taken their lumps in recent games, but Tavon Young and Alex Lewis have done a commendable job living up to the hype surrounding the fourth-round haul in this year’s draft. Despite both being forced to play out of position, they look like legitimate NFL players.

9. It isn’t a good look for offensive line coach Juan Castillo that his group has been a substantial problem in three of his four seasons with Baltimore. The lone exception was 2014 when Gary Kubiak served as the offensive coordinator and implemented his effective zone-blocking scheme.

10. The Ravens were excited to move Lardarius Webb to safety, but he’s appeared slow to react and hasn’t taken good angles as a tackler. The decision to carry his $9.5 million cap figure — second highest on the team — looks no less questionable now than it did in February.

11. It was a moot point in Week 7 since the offense never reached the red zone, but I’d like to see Crockett Gillmore and Darren Waller more involved in that area of the field. The Ravens need to use more size and physicality inside the 20.

12. I’d be fascinated to know what Steve Bisciotti is thinking as the Ravens take the weekend off. Does he see more failure from the coaching staff or the effects of an undermanned roster as the primary reason for Baltimore’s struggles?

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Truth about Flacco lies somewhere in between in 2016

Posted on 27 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s complicated with Joe Flacco.

Quarterbacks regularly receive too much credit when teams win and too much blame after losses. Needless to say, the Ravens experienced too much of the latter in a winless October in which offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was fired and replaced by Marty Mornhinweg. An offense with high hopes entering the season currently ranks 24th in the NFL in yards per game and tied for 25th in points per game entering a much-needed bye week.

The numbers have been even uglier for Flacco, who currently ranks 30th among 32 qualified quarterbacks in yards per attempt, 29th with a 75.4 passer rating, and 21st among qualified quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. His career-worst 5.96 yards per attempt and career-high 44 passing attempts per contest reflect a passing game high in volume and short on results. The most concerning aspect of his performance has been how poorly he’s fared late in games, posting a 63.0 passer rating and throwing five interceptions in the second half of contests compared to a more respectable 86.0 rating with one pick in the first half of games.

Some have tried to place all blame on Flacco while barely acknowledging the many issues on the offensive line, a mostly-down running game, and the inconsistent play at receiver, but the ninth-year quarterback hasn’t been an answer for the struggling Ravens, either. That’s a major problem when you’re the team’s highest-paid player.

“I’m obviously not playing good enough,” Flacco said. “We’re not a good offense, and it starts with the quarterback. I’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be more precise, and that starts with me. Just [being] more consistent overall. They’re the issues — just being precise and consistency.”

You can’t expect everything to be perfect around Flacco, but much has worked against him this season and he’s wilted too much under those conditions. He’s played behind five different starting offensive line combinations over the last five games — the last four being losses. It’s tough to trust your pass protection when you don’t even know who will be lining up in a given week.

The commitment and effectiveness of the running game have been called into question over and over. Those problems were major factors in Trestman’s dismissal, but the Ravens gained an embarrassing 11 yards on 11 carries in Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets. You just can’t be that one-dimensional and expect to beat anyone consistently, especially when playing on the road.

Even with the presence of vertical threats Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, it’s clear that Flacco still depends heavily on the 37-year-old Steve Smith, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Without him, the Ravens lack a dependable receiver to run precise routes in the short-to-intermediate portion of the field as others have struggled to get open or catch the ball consistently.

No, Flacco’s play hasn’t been good enough this season, but the coaching staff and his teammates haven’t provided many reasons for him to play well.

“I’m a Joe Flacco guy. I believe in Joe,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Joe is one of the most important keys for us, if not the most important key. Certainly, on offense, he’s the key to the whole thing. Joe Flacco is a great football player. Joe Flacco is the key to our success. We need to all do everything in our power [to ensure] all of the things are falling in place for him. He can play. He can throw it. He can make decisions. He can score touchdowns for us. He can do all of the things we need to do. We need to make sure that we give him a chance to do that.

“Joe will take care of what he needs to do. I’m not worried about Joe taking care of what he needs to do. That’s something that we all go to work on. Joe works on it harder than anybody, cares about it more than anybody. We need to protect him. We need to run routes. We need to create confidence in our passing game. We need to run the ball well. We need to do the things we need to do to make the offense work, and Joe will make the offense work.”

The Ravens can only view the bye as a chance to reboot physically and start fresh as an offense. No matter how ugly the eyeball test has looked throughout the season, Harbaugh’s team remains in solid position in the AFC North with just a one-game deficit behind first-place Pittsburgh.

The time off will allow Flacco to rest a sore right shoulder and Smith to work his way back from an ankle sprain. In the meantime, Mornhinweg will have a chance to briefly catch his breath after taking over the coordinator job less than three weeks ago and can search for ways to jump-start a stagnant offense.

The biggest key for a turnaround will be the health of the offensive line, however, with rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda both targeting a Week 9 return. Stanley was Baltimore’s earliest first-round pick in 16 years and had been progressing nicely until a foot injury sidelined him for the last four games. Of course, Yanda is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, but the linchpin of the offensive line returned to practice this week.

Straightening out the offensive line would go a long way in trying to figure everything else out.

“Building a good team always starts up front, and it starts with those guys,” Flacco said. “We are going to try to overcome anything we can, but those guys are a huge part of our success. Having everybody be healthy goes into that. Obviously, everybody deals with little things here and there, and each team has their own issues with that. It will definitely be a big part of it.”

The biggest problem for Flacco at this point might be his confidence as the unrest along the offensive line has wreaked physical and mental havoc on his play in the pocket. This was on full display against the Jets as the veteran quarterback displayed sloppy footwork and reacted to phantom pressure that wasn’t even there on multiple occasions.

According to Pro Football Focus, Flacco was pressured 11 times by the Jets, which is far from great but isn’t so outrageous when dropping back to pass 46 times in a game. When he wasn’t pressured in Week 7, he still managed only 6.6 yards per attempt and a 72.6 rating.

It’s a two-way street with a quarterback trusting his offensive line and the unit needing to give him enough reason to have that confidence. After a long offseason of rehabbing his left knee and a frustrating start to the season, perhaps a few days off is exactly what Flacco needs to clear his head.

“Right now, we just have one guy here and there doing something that is a little bit off — myself [included] – and it halts a whole drive,” Flacco said. “When that happens throughout the course of the game and you have a good amount of those, it leads to what we have been dealing with, which is not putting any points on the board and not giving ourselves really any opportunities to put any points on the board.”

With better health and plenty of fine-tuning, the Ravens hope to create more scoring opportunities in the second half of the season.

And they’ll need their franchise quarterback to be ready to take advantage of them if there’s any hope of righting a season moving in the wrong direction.

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