Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

Ravens cornerback Smith out for year after undergoing foot surgery

Tags: , , , , , ,

Ravens cornerback Smith out for year after undergoing foot surgery

Posted on 06 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens received a crushing blow to the remainder of their 2014 season with cornerback Jimmy Smith undergoing season-ending surgery on Thursday.

The fourth-year defensive back was playing at a Pro Bowl level before injuring his left foot on the opening drive of the Ravens’ Week 8 game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 26. Head coach John Harbaugh said a day later that the No. 1 corner was expected to miss a few weeks with a mid-foot sprain, but Smith had been using crutches with his left foot in a protective boot since the injury.

“The plan for Jimmy was to do more testing once the swelling subsided in his foot, and that was done this morning,” Harbaugh said through a team spokesman Thursday afternoon. “With this exam this morning, the doctors decided that he needed surgery and they repaired the injury. That means Jimmy is finished for the season, but will recover for our offseason program.”

With many regarding Smith as the player the 2014 Ravens could least afford to lose other than quarterback Joe Flacco, the news couldn’t be worse for a pass defense currently ranked 24th in the NFL. The Ravens cut cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks earlier this week, claimed veteran Danny Gorrer off waivers, and promoted rookie free agent Tramain Jacobs from the practice squad.

Will the Ravens make the playoffs after Thursday's news of Jimmy Smith being out for the year?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Baltimore allowed six touchdown passes against Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in last Sunday’s 43-23 loss to the Steelers.

The hope had been that Smith might return after the Week 11 bye when the Ravens travel to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees and the Saints’ potent passing game, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees will now need to figure out how to make a patchwork secondary survive without its best cornerback for the remainder of the season. Lardarius Webb — who’s still working his way back to full form following a summer back injury — and Gorrer are expected to start with Jacobs serving as the No. 3 corner against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

The 28-year-old Gorrer was most recently with the Detroit Lions and previously appeared in 11 games with Baltimore during the 2011 season. Mostly a special-teams player during his career, Gorrer was cut by the Ravens at the end of the 2012 preseason as he was behind Smith, Webb, Cary Williams, and Corey Graham in a deep group of cornerbacks.

With two career starters under his belt, Gorrer will now be expected to play a far more significant role than he ever did in his first run with Baltimore.

“It takes one game to turn things around,” Gorrer said on Wednesday. “Win this weekend, [and] nobody will even talk about what’s been going on. That’s my job and that’s the team focus right now — to get back on track to winning football and playing Baltimore football. That’s everybody’s main goal, and that’s everything everybody has been talking about in meetings right now.”

Asa Jackson remains on injured reserve-designated to return, but the third-year defensive back isn’t eligible to come back until Week 14 at the earliest when the Ravens play the Miami Dolphins. He suffered a serious turf toe injury against Indianapolis on Oct. 5.

With Smith in the final year of his rookie contract, the Ravens have already exercised their fifth-year option worth $6.898 million for the 2015 season, but the 2011 first-round pick has now dealt with a substantial injury in three of his four NFL seasons. Including the remainder of the 2014 season, Smith will have missed 17 games in his pro career.

 

 

Comments (0)

Ravens right tackle Wagner earning attention in ways few expected

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens right tackle Wagner earning attention in ways few expected

Posted on 05 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens coaches offered similar sentiments over and over as second-year right tackle Rick Wagner was trying to secure his spot as a starter during spring organized team activities and summer training camp.

They’d say they hadn’t really noticed him on tape and not much was being said about him, which are compliments to a young offensive lineman in the same way you prefer an umpire or a referee to not stick out while officiating a game. But plenty of doubt was expressed from everyone else as the Ravens needed to replace right tackle Michael Oher after he departed in the opening days of free agency to sign a four-year, $20 million contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Instead of drafting an offensive tackle in the early rounds of May’s draft or adding a veteran familiar with Gary Kubiak’s system such as Eric Winston, the Ravens appeared content with Wagner competing against other in-house options such as Jah Reid and Ryan Jensen to take Oher’s place. The rest would be up to the 2013 fifth-round pick to prove them right.

“After I found out he was leaving, that was the first thing on my mind: ‘I have a great opportunity to take over the right side,’” Wagner said. “I was just thankful that the coaches trusted in me.”

That trust has certainly paid off with Wagner not only taking full control of the job but blossoming into an above-average right tackle who’s now garnering attention for his strong play instead of simply trying to blend in. In fact, Wagner has outperformed the man he replaced as he’s graded out as the best right tackle in the NFL this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, Oher has struggled in his first year with the Titans, ranking 49th among the 51 tackles who’ve played at least 443 offensive snaps this season, per the same website.

Wagner has also committed only one penalty all season — a false start in Week 8 — after infractions were a frequent issue with Oher in his five years with Baltimore.

In the last week, Wagner was named to mid-season All-Pro teams by CBSSports.com and PFF, a reflection of how he’s more than just holding the job for the Ravens’ improved offensive line and how he’s slowly turning heads around the league. Head coach John Harbaugh said he had no idea when asked whether Wagner was playing at a Pro Bowl level, but the question alone reflects what great strides the second-year tackle has made in 2014 after playing just 131 snaps as a rookie when he was primarily used as an extra blocking tight end in the jumbo package.

After a 2013 season in which offensive line coach Juan Castillo drew plenty of criticism for the play of his unit, Wagner has been the assistant’s greatest success story in Baltimore.

“The thing that jumps out at me is his consistency. Rick is very consistent,” Harbaugh said. “He executes the techniques exactly the way that the scheme calls for. He gets it right most all the time. If he does get beat — like anybody does at times — it’s physically. And that doesn’t happen very often.”

A quiet but imposing 25-year-old with a 6-foot-6, 310-pound fram, Wagner is admittedly uncomfortable speaking with media — he joked that he was more at ease playing in Pittsburgh last Sunday than he was at the podium in Owings Mills Wednesday — but he’s taking the high praise as a confidence boost in his first full year as a starter.

Playing next to three-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has certaintly helped Wagner’s development as the two share Big Ten roots — Yanda at Iowa and Wagner at Wisconsin — and have formed plenty of sizable running lanes for the league’s 10th-ranked running game. Despite being appreciative of the recognition, it’s clear Wagner prefers talking about the overall improvement of the offensive line rather than his individual contributions.

“I think pass protection has been pretty [improved],” said Wagner about how his game has improved since his rookie season. “Run blocking as a whole [offensive] line, we’ve been pretty good. It’s great playing next to Yanda. He really helps me out. It’s phenomenal playing next to him. The communication, the double-teams we have together — it makes my job easier.”

Wagner is the only Ravens player not to miss an offensive snap all season and doesn’t recall even missing a practice. It’s the kind of durability that commands respect and praise from teammates, both young and old.

There’s nothing fancy about him as veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs nicknamed Wagner “The Salesman” in reference to his ordinary name and a belief that he’d be good at selling “a lot of good stuff” despite his quiet demeanor. But there’s been nothing common about the tackle’s play as what was once a concern entering the season is now a position of strength for the Ravens.

“He has been working his tail off, and I think that’s a feel-good story,” Suggs said. “He showed that he can hold his own, and he has been playing phenomenal for us. You have to tip your hat to a guy that shows up to work. Those guys [are] in there in the trenches. They don’t really get a lot of credit for the things that they do, but he has definitely been a big part of our success.”

And it’s about time he’s being noticed for it.

Comments (0)

Will Ravens find spot to activate defensive tackle Cody?

Tags: , , , , ,

Will Ravens find spot to activate defensive tackle Cody?

Posted on 04 November 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens move on from the disappointment of their 43-23 loss to Pittsburgh, they now face a roster decision regarding defensive tackle Terrence Cody.

The fifth-year lineman began the season on the reserve physically unable to perform list while continuing to rehab from offseason hip surgery. However, Cody has been practicing since Oct. 15, meaning his 21-day practice window — which allows him not to count against the active roster — is coming to an end and the Ravens must make a decision on his status. Baltimore is faced with three options: place him on the 53-man roster, send him to injured reserve, or waive him.

Will the Ravens make room for Cody?

“We’ll let you know. That’s certainly something we’d like to be able to do,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “We have to figure out how we’re going to do it if we can. Terrence has done a good job. He looks good. He’s healthy. But we have to figure out the roster spot for that. We don’t have that answer right now.”

Under NFL rules, a team must make a decision by 4 p.m. the day after the 21-day window has concluded, which would presumably mean the Ravens must choose what to do with the 2010 second-round pick by Wednesday afternoon. General manager Ozzie Newsome re-signed Cody to a one-year, $730,000 contract in early April, but it became apparent last season that the 345-pound tackle had fallen out of favor as he played only 240 snaps, his lowest total since his rookie year when he was backing up longtime nose tackle Kelly Gregg.

A few weeks ago, there would have been more of a need for Cody as defensive linemen Chris Canty and Timmy Jernigan were sidelined with injuries, but both have made their returns to the field. Canty’s return would appear to make reserve defensive end Lawrence Guy expendable, but one could argue that the Ravens could make better use for that roster spot — such as potentially finding another cornerback — than adding another run-stopping tackle with the way Brandon Williams and Haloti Ngata have played this season.

Harbaugh was pleased with Canty’s performance as he played 30 snaps against Pittsburgh following a four-game absence due to surgery for a wrist infection. The experience left Canty unable to do much of anything for a few weeks as the staph infection needed to be addressed.

“He wasn’t in the greatest shape,” Harbaugh said. “He couldn’t do anything until this week, and he played 30-plus snaps and he was fine. He played really well. That’s a big plus for us.”

Comments (0)

Harbaugh looking for members of Ravens secondary to step up

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Harbaugh looking for members of Ravens secondary to step up

Posted on 03 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There was plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the ball in the Ravens’ forgettable 43-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.

Turnovers, penalties, poor pass protection, and the lack of a consistent pass rush all contributed to the humbling defeat, but it was the play in the secondary that conjured memories of the likes of Corey Ivy, David Pittman, Ronnie Prude, Derrick Martin, and the Ravens’ nightmarish Monday night defeat in Pittsburgh in 2007 in which Ben Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes in the first half of a 38-7 final. It’s no surprise that the absence of top cornerback Jimmy Smith hurt what’s already been a vulnerable secondary in 2014, but allowing six touchdown passes to Roethlisberger and the Steelers signaled a complete collapse in the back end not seen against Pittsburgh in the John Harbaugh era.

The head coach discussed the secondary’s struggles on Monday after defensive coordinator Dean Pees used seven different players at cornerback and safety against Pittsburgh, but they’re finding no answers at the moment as they shuffle options on and off the field. Perhaps the best example of how uncertain the Ravens are with the state of the defensive backfield was the decision to deactivate rookie safety Terrence Brooks against the Steelers after he appeared to be on the verge of securing a starting job in playing 67 percent of the team’s snaps against Atlanta only two weeks ago.

“When some player expresses himself as being the best player by how he plays, he’ll be out there permanently,” said Harbaugh about the secondary rotation. “Until that happens, nobody’s given anything. I think guys have played OK at times, well at other times, and there have been a few bad plays back there.”

Though there have been far more than a few bad plays in the secondary, Harbaugh wasn’t far off in saying the secondary had held up enough when Smith was still in the fold — the Ravens had allowed only seven touchdown passes in their first eight games — even though they’d had their fair share of lapses and had surrendered plenty of yards. But the “bend, but don’t break” philosophy officially shattered at Heinz Field.

Veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb hasn’t been the same — quarterbacks have posted a 105.0 passer rating against him this season, according to Pro Football Focus — since coming back from the back injury that cost him the entire summer and the first few weeks of the regular season. Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown simply aren’t good enough to play meaningful defensive snaps, and the Ravens originally agreed as Franks was on the free-agent market a month ago and Brown was relegated to the inactive list due to his immense struggles that started in training camp.

The play at safety hasn’t been any better as the Ravens now rank 26th in the NFL in pass defense. The Baltimore defense has faced the third-most pass attempts in the league while ranking 22nd in the NFL with only five interceptions. To make matters worse, only one of those picks has been secured by a defensive back — defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker C.J. Mosley each have two — when Smith intercepted a pass from Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon in Week 6.

Many aspects of Sunday’s game were ugly, but unlike other areas in which the Ravens have players with proven track records where you can expect improvement, there doesn’t appear to be much they can do in the secondary beyond hoping that Smith is ready to return after the Week 11 bye with upcoming games against New Orleans and San Diego. And the disappearance of the pass rush following a sequence in which they sacked Roethlisberger on three straight plays in the second quarter did the pass defense no favors as the game progressed.

It’s become painfully clear that the Ravens need more from their front seven if their secondary is to survive against any formidable passing attacks over the final two months of the season.

“We’re not disciplined back there in technique like we need to be,” said Harbaugh, who spent 2007 as the Philadelphia Eagles defensive backs coach before becoming the head man in Baltimore a year later. “Our eyes aren’t in the right spot all the time like they need to be. When you’re in the back end – just like on the offensive line – your footwork’s got to be right, your eyes have to be right, your leverage has to be right, and then you’ve got to play the ball well.”

There’s only so much coaching you can do when you don’t have the proper talent.

To no surprise, Harbaugh indicated that the Ravens had several busts in coverage as well as plays in which defensive backs were beaten physically. And even when defenders were in position to make a stop, they often misplayed the ball or missed tackles. Particularly at the safety spot where the Ravens used Will Hill, Darian Stewart, Jeromy Miles, and Matt Elam at different times on Sunday night, one could argue the lack of continuity has hurt performance, but the head coach downplayed that being an issue.

Without throwing his secondary under the bus entirely, Harbaugh didn’t shy away from the need for someone — anyone — to start making plays in pass defense. It’s clear the Ravens have plenty of areas to improve following their humbling loss to the Steelers, but you wonder if the secondary is something that they’re going to be able to fix this year.

“We’re looking for the right combination, but I think that’s a little overrated,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s the best players. If you want to play in that secondary, step up in practice and play well and step up in the game and makes plays and be in the right spot. That’s what we’re looking for guys to do.”

The Ravens can keep looking, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that they’re not going to like what they see.

Comments (3)

High stakes return for Ravens-Steelers, even if same bite hasn’t

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

High stakes return for Ravens-Steelers, even if same bite hasn’t

Posted on 31 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The infamous lyrics are piped through the speakers as the Ravens offense huddles up for its next play.

Oh, Mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law… 

Only it’s not a critical fourth-quarter moment against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field as the Styx song is instead sounding as the Ravens go through a Wednesday practice in Owings Mills. A number of Ravens players have admitted over the last couple years to liking “Renegade” as the Steelers’ anthem has become a fixture on the playlist used at practices in Owings Mills.

It’s a sentiment that was unlikely to be uttered by Ravens players a decade ago, but perhaps it speaks to the way the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry has evolved in recent years. Sunday marks the 41st overall meeting between these AFC North foes with the stakes as high as they can be in early November with the Ravens and Steelers right on the heels of first-place Cincinnati.

But you can’t help but feel something has been lacking from Ravens-Steelers recently. The games have remained close with the Ravens’ 26-6 win over Pittsburgh earlier this season being the only one of the last five to be decided by more than three points, but the same bite hasn’t quite been there.

A rivalry in which the pre-game trash talk and bulletin-board material once rivaled the car-crash play on the field from an entertainment standpoint no longer fills reporters’ notebooks in the same way as even the once-brash Terrell Suggs has been more subdued in recent years. Former players and coaches such as Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, and Bill Cowher have provided the only inflammatory commentary in recent weeks by labeling Pittsburgh “soft” on defense, but you rarely hear such critiques from either side anymore as most vocal disdain has been replaced by mutual respect, which isn’t a bad thing, mind you.

The truth is these teams are different than the longstanding idea of the Ravens-Steelers mystique that fetches words such as bloodshed and old-school football.

On top of the departure of a number of outspoken figureheads including Lewis, Ward, Ed Reed, and LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011 and last year marked the first time since 2002 that these teams played a game in which both entered with sub-.500 records. After Pittsburgh and Baltimore were near the top of every defensive category for more than a decade, both teams now lean more on offense — the Ravens do rank second in points allowed this year — with defenses in transition and possessing vulnerabilities.

By no means is the rivalry dead — far from it — but the narrative that once centered around two soul-crushing defenses now focuses on quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger. And we’ll see if Sunday’s higher stakes pump new life into a Ravens-Steelers rivalry that’s seen more bizarre — journeyman quarterback Charlie Batch beating Baltimore in 2012 and Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin interfering with Jacoby Jones’ sideline return last Thanksgiving night — than instant classic over the last couple years.

It’s an opportunity for new names to be made in the same way that wide receiver Torrey Smith entered his into Baltimore-Pittsburgh lore three years ago in catching the game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds of a Sunday night game at Heinz Field. That 2011 win was the difference in the Ravens clinching the AFC North title and a first-round bye and the Steelers losing a first-round game at Denver as both teams finished 12-4 with Baltimore’s season sweep being the tiebreaker.

After more than a decade of fighting high-stakes wars and spewing venom at one another, the annual meetings may not be the hottest thing going in the NFL anymore, but Ravens-Steelers has become a legacy rivalry, which is a tribute to how long these teams have beaten the hell out of each other. Many of the Ravens’ youngest players were only in elementary school when the Pittsburgh-Baltimore rivalry first took off at the start of the new millennium, which is difficult to believe for a franchise still less than two decades old.

It may lack the history of Packers-Bears or Cowboys-Redskins, but the rivalry isn’t going anywhere with at least two games guaranteed every year and each fan base holding more disdain for the other than even the teams do. And young players on each side want to make their own mark after watching from afar and listening to veteran teammates talk about the battles of yesteryear in Pittsburgh.

“These guys all know it. They’ve watched it. They’ve grown up with it,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “C.J. Mosley and I were talking, and he said he has been watching Ravens-Steelers since he was a little kid. For him, that’s about as long as the Ravens have been around. That goes to show you his whole life has been Ravens-Steelers.

“People talk about us being a young franchise, but for that generation we’ve been around for as long as any other franchise. This rivalry dates back for those guys that play for us that are young.”

Even if the rivalry has changed, the NFL still sees it as a major attraction with both Ravens-Steelers games landing in prime-time slots this season and at least one annual game being a nationally-televised affair since 2007.

The high stakes are back on Sunday with each team sporting a 5-3 record.

It will be fun to see what they have in store for one another.

And you know the Ravens won’t blink when they hear those familiar lyrics sound through the Heinz Field speakers at some point in the fourth quarter.

Comments (0)

Short-handed Ravens secondary has no time for excuses against Steelers

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Short-handed Ravens secondary has no time for excuses against Steelers

Posted on 30 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There’s no hiding from the danger of Jimmy Smith being absent in the Ravens’ secondary, especially when you’re facing Ben Roethlisberger and a Pittsburgh Steelers passing game that threw for over 500 yards last week.

They won’t find an easy fix for a pass defense that ranks 22nd in the NFL and has looked vulnerable even with the Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback in the secondary. But the Ravens have no time to feel sorry for themselves as they look to improve to 6-3 in an ultra-competitive AFC North with all four teams currently sporting winning records.

“I don’t think the Steelers are feeling really bad about it, so we can’t feel really bad about it,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Smith’s foot injury expected to keep him out at least until after the Week 11 bye. “We just have to go with the next guy. [We] have to do what we can do to try to get the guys in the best position we can put them in as a coaching staff to give them success and go with it.”

But who is that next guy opposite Lardarius Webb, who is still working his way back to pre-injury form himself?

Is it Dominique Franks, who recently found his way into the nickel package after being signed to replace the injured Asa Jackson in early October? He was on the free-agent market at this time last month after being deemed not good enough by Baltimore at the end of the preseason.

Then there’s Chykie Brown, who entered training camp as the favorite to be the No. 3 cornerback behind Smith and Webb before struggling so dramatically that he was a healthy inactive the last two weeks. Safety Anthony Levine has also practiced at the cornerback position since the summer, but he’s played only five defensive snaps all season.

The Ravens could promote Tramain Jacobs — a rookie free agent from Texas A&M who impressed during training camp — from the practice squad, but a move such as that would likely see him serving on a special-teams role and as an insurance policy behind the others.

None of the aforementioned options opposite Webb inspire confidence, and that’s assuming Pees uses one of the Ravens’ safeties at the nickel position as he has for large stretches of the season.

“We’ve got to find somebody to step up,” strong safety Matt Elam said. “We know it’s going to be hard to do the things Jimmy’s been doing, but we need somebody to step up and do whatever it takes to help the team win. We’ve still got [time] to prepare and get right so we can execute. Just do whatever it takes to get a [win].”

It’s easier said than done against an offense sporting arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown as well as emerging young wideouts Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Pees spoke Thursday about the challenge of not being able to put all their focus on slowing Brown with Roethlisberger suddenly having more options to throw to at the wide receiver position.

Needless to say, the pressure to contain Brown is likely to fall on the shoulders of Webb, whose own status many were questioning just a few weeks ago after a back injury had wiped out his entire summer as well as much of the first month of the season. The 5-foot-10 Brown isn’t physically imposing, which is good news for the similarly-statured Webb if he’s to shadow him all over the field.

Now would be a great time for Webb to regain the form he enjoyed prior to his second ACL injury in 2012 when he was on the verge of becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the AFC. His style is a major contrast to the 6-foot-2 Smith, who uses a combination of speed and physicality.

“Webb is more [of] a quicker guy and a lot smaller, more fluid, [and has good hands],” said Brown, who leads the NFL with 60 receptions on a staggering 87 targets in eight games. “Smith is a bigger, stronger guy who they like to put on the line of scrimmage and be disruptive at the line of scrimmage.”

The good news for the Ravens defense is the overall familiarity the coaching staff and veteran players have with the Pittsburgh offense. There are few surprises between these teams and the Ravens were certainly able to harass Roethlisberger in their Week 2 win in Baltimore when they held the Steelers to only six points.

But the Ravens know the pass rush must be on point in not only disrupting the signal-caller’s timing but in keeping him in the pocket as head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged no one is capable of the “extend the play thing” better than Roethlisberger. It’s a scene all too familiar in watching the Pittsburgh quarterback escape pressure to eventually find an open receiver breaking away from downfield coverage.

The challenge is always there for a coordinator to strike the right balance between sending extra blitzers — leaving fewer in coverage — or playing with more defenders in the back end and relying on a four-man rush, but Pees will need to be more creative than ever with the shortage at cornerback. How the secondary will look is anyone’s guess as the Ravens may go back to Elam playing the nickel position as they’ve frequently done this season or they could turn to another such as the intriguing Will Hill or rookie Terrence Brooks, who played some nickel in the preseason.

It won’t be easy against the league’s fourth-ranked passing game, but anyone knows not to dwell too much on the numbers in this AFC North rivalry in which 10 of the last 13 regular-season meetings have been decided by three or fewer points.

“We have the guys we need. Every team faces some kind of a situation at some position,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve had injuries all year in different positions, and you just have to step up. It’s not something we talk about. We don’t make a big deal about it. It’s not a point of emphasis for us. It’s just we’re the team; it’s the Ravens’ team. And whoever is part of it goes out there and plays and does their best.”

Comments (0)

Daniels, Canty return to practice as Ravens prepare for Pittsburgh

Tags: , , , , ,

Daniels, Canty return to practice as Ravens prepare for Pittsburgh

Posted on 29 October 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is Wednesday’s injury report:

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

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

Comments (0)

Trade deadline passes without any Ravens activity

Tags: , , , , ,

Trade deadline passes without any Ravens activity

Posted on 28 October 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Comments (0)

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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

Posted on 27 October 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments (0)

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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

Posted on 26 October 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps.

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

Comments (4)