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Ravens have taken holiday spirit too literally in 2015

Posted on 23 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s better to give than to receive, right?

Perhaps the Ravens have taken the spirit of the holiday season too literally in 2015 as they enter Sunday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers holding the second-worst turnover ratio in the NFL at minus-15. It’s a major reason why Baltimore has long been out of the playoff race and needs one win in the final two weeks of the season just to avoid tying the worst record in franchise history.

“You don’t win football games when you turn the ball over,” head coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday’s loss to Kansas City in which his team committed three turnovers. “If any team this year should understand that, it’s the Baltimore Ravens. Until we learn that lesson, we can play as hard as we want, we can be as physical as we want, we can be as tough as we want, we can play some pretty darn good football. But if you turn the ball over, you’re not going to win.”

The Ravens have committed 26 turnovers, the second-highest total of the Harbaugh era with only their 2013 total (29) being higher. It’s no coincidence that those are the Ravens’ only non-playoff seasons under their eighth-year coach.

But the inability to create turnovers from the opposition has been a much greater problem for the Ravens in 2015. With just 11 takeaways in 14 games, they’re on pace to shatter the franchise-worst mark of 22 set in 1996 and matched last season.

The current Ravens can only dream of forcing 49 turnovers like the 2000 team that won Super Bowl XXXV or the 2006 squad that forced 40 on the way to the best regular-season mark (13-3) in franchise history. The Baltimore defense of old feels light years away as its old rival comes to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

“To be able to play like [that], you’ve got to get the lead,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “We just shoot ourselves in the foot when we don’t get [the lead] early. It’s always harder to play behind versus with the lead. I think that’s a valuable lesson we’re all learning this year.”

Though the Ravens have held a lead in 10 of their 14 games this season, those advantages have often been brief as they’ve led at the conclusion of just 14 of 58 quarters of play (counting two overtime periods) all season. The game-winning points in all four of their victories have come on the final play of the game.

We know that the Ravens lack dynamic, game-changing talent on the defensive side of the ball, but it isn’t easy to set the tempo and attack opposing offenses when they’re always on their heels and taking the punches.

“It’s being in the right place consistently, creating a little momentum [and] probably creating pressure on quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said. “Getting the lead has a lot to do with turnovers, especially interceptions. I think you’ll find – if you look at the analytics – that when you have the lead and you force quarterbacks to be a little more desperate in some of their decision-making, they’ll throw you the ball quite a bit more. We have been behind most of the season, so I think that factors into it.”

Yanda in exclusive company

After being named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl on Tuesday, right guard Marshal Yanda became the sixth Ravens player in franchise history to be named to at least five Pro Bowls, joining Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata.

Having played with all five of those individuals in his nine-year career, Yanda realizes he’s entered special company as he quietly carves out his place as one of the best players in Ravens history.

“It’s awesome. It’s a great honor, obviously, to be mentioned with those guys,” Yanda said. “Those guys are Hall of Famers, and it’s just awesome, and I feel fortunate to be able to stay healthy at the right time and be able to play on a good team, good organization.

“I understand a lot of that stuff sometimes has to help, too, [with Pro Bowl selections]. Obviously, you see that other teams are having a really good year [and] more guys get voted in. When you’re having a tough year, less guys get voted in.”

The Ravens have made the playoffs in six of Yanda’s nine seasons.

New England reunion

The Ravens are trying to get quarterback Ryan Mallett up to speed with their offense as quickly as possible, but one of his new teammates was already familiar with him.

Before spending the last two seasons with the Houston Texans, Mallett spent three years backing up Tom Brady in New England where he practiced with a current Ravens wide receiver on the scout team.

“I know Mallett pretty well,” said Kamar Aiken, who spent time with the Patriots in 2012 and 2013. “I’ve been catching balls with him when I was in New England, so I’m pretty comfortable with him and everybody else. He’s a really talented guy. He has to get the offense.”

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Dennis Koulatsos weighs in on Ravens embarrassing loss to Kansas City

Posted on 22 December 2015 by WNST Audio

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Groundhog Day continues for Ravens at quarterback

Posted on 22 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If you listened closely, you can almost hear the strains of “I Got You Babe” in the background as Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked about his starting quarterback for Week 16.

Groundhog Day continues for the Ravens as Harbaugh wouldn’t even commit to veteran Matt Schaub being his starter if healthy enough to play, a departure from the last two weeks that were already filled with uncertainty. With the 34-year-old dealing with a chest injury, Jimmy Clausen has started each of the last two games for Baltimore.

Who will be under center for the 4-10 Ravens against Pittsburgh on Sunday is anyone’s guess.

“I just don’t want to put any parameters on it right now,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a unique situation right now that we’re in, obviously. It’s different than normal. We’ll see how it plays out. We’re probably not going to say anything. We’ll see who the guy is. I don’t know who the guy is going to be right now at this stage, so we’ll see.”

As if there wasn’t enough discussion about whether Schaub or Clausen would start the previous two weeks, the recently-signed Ryan Mallett figures to now enter the discussion over these final two games of 2015. Signed through next season on a contract that doesn’t include any guaranteed money, the troubled Mallett is an obvious candidate to be a healthy Joe Flacco’s backup in 2016.

In addition to finding out if the 27-year-old has learned from the mistakes that led to his dismissal in Houston, the Ravens would probably like to see Mallett play before the season concludes if he’s up to speed with the offense to a reasonable degree.

“We’ll see how that goes. He has done a good job,” Harbaugh said. “He has been here since Tuesday, so he has done a good job. He has been here practically 24-7 learning the offense. We’ll see where it goes this week. Obviously, the clock is ticking. If we want to see him this year, we’re going to have to put him out [there] pretty quick, but that’s a matter of whether he’s ready to play. We also want to do justice to our chances to win the game, too.”

Given the lack of a supporting cast on offense, none of their three options at quarterback would appear to give the Ravens a good chance to beat either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. But at the very least, Clausen’s performance should propel him into the conversation for the backup job next season, especially considering he’s spent just a month with the organization. In two games with the Ravens against quality defenses, Clausen has completed 57.6 percent of his pass attempts for 555 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions.

A solid backup quarterback should give a team a chance to win a couple games in the short term if he has a good supporting cast around him. Of course, it’s only been two games, but Clausen has played well enough to make you think he could do that if the Ravens weren’t already so depleted on offense.

With Flacco expected to be sidelined until training camp — and not guaranteed to be ready for those first practices in late July — the Ravens would be wise to have two viable backup options for the spring and summer. Why not allow Clausen and Mallett to battle it out for the backup job in the preseason?

Many have already anointed Mallett the backup for 2016 without knowing whether he’s learned his lesson and is finally committed to putting his talents to good use and realizing his potential. With Mallett’s contract guaranteeing nothing but a chance, Clausen should also be re-signed if he doesn’t receive a more attractive opportunity elsewhere.

But given the lack of starting quarterbacks around the league, let alone backups, other quarterback-needy teams may come calling with an opportunity to potentially compete for a starting job, something that wouldn’t happen in Baltimore.

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Ravens thoughts on Aiken, Pittsburgh, injuries, Pro Bowl

Posted on 22 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Kamar Aiken is one of the last men standing in the Ravens offense.

In a lost season on so many levels, the Central Florida product has established himself as a productive NFL receiver and an important piece moving forward. His 62 catches for 802 yards — already the 24th-highest single-season receiving yardage total in franchise history — and five touchdowns would make for a good season without accounting for the two games he still has to add to those totals.

In the six games since Steve Smith suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 8, Aiken has caught 37 passes for 469 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers put the 6-foot-2 receiver on pace for a 98-catch, 1,250-yard season over a full 16 games. Of course, the Ravens currently don’t have a whole lot besides Aiken in terms of viable pass-catching targets — Torrey Smith’s production similarly ballooned in 2013 — but he’s also played with three different quarterbacks including the last two games with Jimmy Clausen, who’s been with Baltimore for all of a month.

It’s been impressive work from the former practice-squad receiver who had never made an NFL reception before last season. But Aiken’s emergence shouldn’t make general manager Ozzie Newsome feel he’s set at wide receiver this offseason.

Reports persist that Steve Smith is likely to return if his rehabilitation goes well, but he will also be 37 next year and coming off a serious injury that impacts explosiveness. It’d be foolish to doubt such a fierce competitor’s desire to return and be productive in 2016, but expecting him to come back as a No. 1 option like nothing ever happened would be unrealistic — and unfair.

Breshad Perriman will be back, but the Ravens haven’t seen their 2015 first-round pick play as much as a snap in a preseason game. He will need to prove his knee is healthy and that he can contribute as an NFL wide receiver before anyone signs off on him as the No. 1 receiver of the future.

With a plethora of needs on both sides of the ball, the Ravens may not need to draft a receiver in the first round this spring, but another wideout should firmly be on Newsome’s radar in the first few rounds of the draft. Otherwise, Baltimore will once again enter a season with too many questions at a position that’s been an Achilles heel for much of the 20-year history of the franchise.

At the very least, Aiken is shaping up to be a dependable possession receiver — a poor man’s Anquan Boldin — and the one commodity at the position that the Ravens can really trust while shaping their 2016 roster this offseason.

Bracing for Pittsburgh

Based on the number of Seattle and Kansas City fans that made their way to M&T Bank Stadium over the last two weeks, Steelers fans may make Sunday’s game feel like it’s being played at Heinz Field, which would be a disheartening conclusion to a home schedule that has already included five losses — most in franchise history.

I’ll never judge fans for selling their tickets — personal seat licenses and season tickets are a heck of a financial commitment for mere entertainment — but you’d like to see Ravens fans protect their home turf against their biggest rival if at all possible. I wrote about this topic earlier this season, but I also won’t fault fans trying to make some money around the holiday season as the injury-ravaged hometown team is barely recognizable at this point.

To add insult to injury, the Steelers can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a New York Jets loss against New England on Sunday. And, oh yeah, Pittsburgh has scored 30 or more points in six straight games and will be facing a pass defense that has offered little resistance all season.

Optimists will call it a rivalry game in which anything can happen, but it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for Ravens fans to brace themselves for it to get ugly two days after Christmas.

Injury excuse

With the preseason feel of recent games that have followed the loss of quarterback Joe Flacco, the narrative surrounding the 2015 Ravens — particularly from a national perspective — now centers around their numerous injuries.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore became the 21st Ravens player to officially be lost to a season-ending injury when he was placed on injured reserve with a back ailment on Monday, but many of the significant names on that list went down after the season was already in the dumpster. Below is a look at the Ravens’ Week 8 starting lineup when they sported a 1-6 record and welcomed San Diego to Baltimore:

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My point?

Injuries are certainly part of the story — particularly the early losses of Terrell Suggs and Perriman — but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that’s the only — or even the most — significant explanation for the team’s failures this year. It was apparent early in the season that a number of problems unrelated to injuries contributed to this nightmare season.

The loss of players like Flacco, Smith, and Justin Forsett merely turned a lost year into a punchline with players now on the field whom fans have needed to google on a weekly basis.

Pro Bowl picks

The NFL will announce its Pro Bowl selections Tuesday night and while no Ravens players won the fan vote, coaches and players account for two-thirds of the voting.

My picks would be guard Marshal Yanda, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and punter Sam Koch.

Yanda has shown no signs of slowing down as he should be in line for his fifth straight Pro Bowl invitation. Meanwhile, Williams has proven himself as the top run-stopping nose tackle in the NFL and has steadily received more praise around the league this season, leading you to believe he has a solid chance to have his name called. But even as Haloti Ngata learned several years ago, players are sometimes deserving of the Pro Bowl a year or two before they are finally recognized to go.

I’m pulling for Koch to finally earn a trip to the Pro Bowl as he is leading the NFL in net punting for the second straight year and is the longest-tenured Ravens player behind only Suggs. Now in his 10th season in Baltimore, Koch has routinely been one of the better punters in the NFL and has brought innovation to the position that should be recognized with a trip to Honolulu.

Interception perspective

Not only do the Ravens rank last in the NFL with just four interceptions, but 10 players around the league have more than four this season. The previous franchise low for interceptions in a season was 11 set in 2005 and matched last season.

Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed collected more than four picks in a season seven different times in his career.

Baltimore has just one interception in its last 11 games.

Where have you gone, Ravens defense of old?

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Harbaugh explains Ravens’ new pants

Posted on 21 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even after the Ravens had suffered a 34-14 defeat to Kansas City on Sunday, many fans were still discussing it on social media.

What the heck was with the new gold-yellow-mustard pants John Harbaugh’s team was wearing?

“That was a nod to the tradition a little bit,” Harbaugh said. “The players like it. They like something different. I don’t know. I didn’t take a vote to see who liked them or who didn’t like them, but they were excited to be out there in a little different look.”

A simple search on Twitter shows that the new looked was panned by virtually all fans and observers. It was the first time in franchise history that the Ravens had worn uniform pants that weren’t white or black.

Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders always liked to say, “If you look good, you feel good; if you feel good, you play good.” If that’s the case, the Ravens may have never stood a chance against the Chiefs.

Many had speculated that the look make have been mandated by the NFL and Nike, but Harbaugh said the new pants were in the works since last season and likely would have been worn earlier in the year had the Ravens gotten off to a better start.

“Maybe we should do a contest for our third pant-color combination with the fans, so we can have them weigh in and we could wear them,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s fun. Uniforms are fun. They should be fun. We want to be traditional. We have a look that we’re proud of in Baltimore. It stands out, and we want to build on that. But if we can be creative in there somewhere, hey, I’m all for it.

“I want to play well. It doesn’t really matter what color the pants are to me. If the players like it, I like it.”

If I were to make my own uniform suggestions, I would adjust the Ravens’ black uniform pants by adding a white and purple stripe on the sides, which would be similar to what the team wore in 1997. Some say the Ravens look like they’re wearing tights or pajamas when sporting the solid-black pants, and this change would help remedy that.

As for a third set of pants — to ensure that Sunday’s pants never again see the light of day — I’d suggest purple ones to be worn with the black alternate jerseys to replace the tired “blackout” look that many teams now have. College programs such as TCU and Northwestern have pulled off this look quite effectively in recent years.

Have no fear, I’ll go back to the occasional #FashionTweets hashtag on Twitter and stick to football now.

 

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Gillmore to IR, J. Smith has “good chance” to return Sunday

Posted on 21 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ injured reserve list grew once again on Monday as tight end Crockett Gillmore will officially miss the rest of the season.

The 2014 third-round pick was in his first season as a starter and had been sidelined with a back injury since Dec. 6. Gillmore also missed two games earlier this year with a calf injury, meaning he will have missed a total of six games in 2015.

Head coach John Harbaugh said last week that Gillmore appeared unlikely to play again this season.

“It’s not working out. His back flared up again,” Harbaugh said last Wednesday. “He also has the [sore] shoulder. It’s not looking good for Crockett right now.”

The Ravens now have 19 players on IR, which doesn’t include tight end Dennis Pitta being on the physically unable to perform list or linebacker Zach Thompson, who was released from IR after receiving an injury settlement earlier this month.

While many fans lamented the free-agent loss of Owen Daniels, pondered the status of Dennis Pitta, and looked forward to the arrival of rookie draft picks Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle in the offseason, Gillmore immediately grabbed hold of the No. 1 tight end job over the summer and caught 33 passes for 412 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games. Used mostly as a blocking tight end as a rookie, the Colorado State product proved he was capable of being a reliable target as a pass-catcher.

Able to break tackles with a massive 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame, Gillmore has drawn comparisons to former New York Giants tight end Mark Bavaro with his impressive physicality.

The loss of Gillmore was expected, but the Ravens hope to have No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith back in action against Pittsburgh this coming Sunday. Smith injured his hamstring on the opening series of Sunday’s loss to Kansas City and did not return.

With the postseason-hopeful Steelers sporting the league’s fifth-ranked passing game, the struggling Ravens will need all the help they can get in the secondary.

“Jimmy has a good chance,” Harbaugh said. “I just talked to him and I think he’s got a good chance to play, so we’ll see how it goes this week.”

To take Gillmore’s place on the 53-man roster, the Ravens signed former Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Chris Carter. Also a former member of the Steelers, Carter is a five-year NFL veteran who had 10 tackles in 13 games for the Bengals this season before being waived last week.

Carter was selected by Pittsburgh in the fifth round of the 2011 draft out of Fresno State.

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Allen’s benching a head-scratcher in lost season for Ravens

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens’ performance on Sunday matched their new uniform pants.

Ugly.

Of course, we’re used to this by now as the 4-10 Ravens clinched just the fifth campaign of double-digit losses in franchise history with the 34-14 defeat against Kansas City. For the second straight week, it was a Buck Allen fumble in the first half transforming a close game into a lopsided affair.

This time, however, head coach John Harbaugh had seen enough and benched the rookie fourth-round pick for the remainder of the game after Chiefs safety Tyvon Branch returned the fumble 73 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter.

“You play the best players. At running back, the best players don’t fumble,” said Harbaugh, who added that the benching “probably” won’t continue next week. “Fumbling — it is what it is. You have to hold on to the football. He knows that. I have a lot of love and respect for Buck. No way is Buck going to be banished by any stretch. He has done a lot for us. He has a great future for us.”

Allen took the demotion in stride and said himself that fumbling is unacceptable, but what is really accomplished by benching him for the rest of the game, especially when you’re 4-9 and in evaluation mode for the rest of 2015? If you’re still in playoff contention and are afraid of him putting the ball on the turf again, then, fine, go in a different direction if you have a better option.

But what did Harbaugh hope to gain by keeping Allen out for the remainder of the game with just two weeks remaining in a lost season?

Benching him for the rest of the first half and using Terrance West — a former third-round pick with his upside of his own — as the No. 1 option would have been a reasonable punishment, but making the rookie sit for nearly 48 minutes of action and giving former practice-squad member Terrence Magee his playing time only created a bigger headline and more embarrassment for the lone bright spot of a disappointing rookie draft class in 2015.

Ball security is of the utmost importance — no one is saying it isn’t. But even the best running backs fumble sometimes as the great Adrian Peterson has seven this year. Allen has fumbled twice all season, hardly making this an epidemic despite one in each of the last two weeks.

“You have to hold on to the football,” Harbaugh said. “That football belongs to everybody in the organization, every fan, everybody that cares about the Ravens, and it’s a precious commodity. You don’t win football games when you turn the ball over.”

The eighth-year coach is correct, but you don’t win when players commit foolish penalties, either.

That begs the question why second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan wasn’t disciplined in a harsher manner for an inexcusable late hit on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on a third-and-11 play that extended Kansas City’s opening drive. Instead of punting from their own territory, the Chiefs scored on a 38-yard run by Charcandrick West three plays later to give them a 7-0 lead.

In Week 2, Jernigan committed a senseless roughing-the-passer penalty on Oakland’s game-winning touchdown drive with less than two minutes to go, proving his talent has been overshadowed by a lack of discipline on more than one occasion. He was also flagged for unnecessary roughness in last week’s loss to Seattle.

“I took him out for a play and put him back in,” said Harbaugh when asked about Jernigan’s penalty after he had just explained Allen’s benching. “I don’t need to justify that. Timmy Jernigan is a guy that I’ve talked to about that. He understands where we’re at. I made the decision to keep him in the game.”

But has the 2014 second-round pick gotten the message?

It didn’t sound that way after the game.

“If he’s going to run along the sideline, I’m going to hit him every time,” Jernigan said. “I’m not going to apologize for that one any time. I was running to the ball, and I saw the quarterback running along the sideline.

“To me, it doesn’t look like the guy is noticeably slowing down and running out of bounds. If you’re along the sideline, I’m going to hit you. I don’t care who you are unless you make it obvious that you’re going out of bounds. If you’re running along the sideline, and you don’t go out, I’m going to have cameras in my face asking me why I didn’t hit you. And then the quarterback runs for an 80-yard touchdown. I feel like I’m just doing what I can to help the team.”

You’d really like to give Jernigan the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t see a replay of his obvious infraction before talking to reporters. But if he did see it and failed to recognize that Smith was obviously out of bounds when he hit him, it just reinforces the lack of discipline the Ravens have shown all season as they entered Week 15 ranked 25th in penalties and 29th in penalty yards.

Either way, benching Allen for the remainder of the game was excessive, especially after Jernigan came away with what amounted to barely a slap on the wrist. It’s not as though the latter is an established veteran or multi-time Pro Bowl selection beyond reproach.

The Ravens repeatedly hurting themselves on Sunday was nothing new in this disappointing season.

But Harbaugh abruptly sending a rookie to the doghouse was a head-scratcher.

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Ravens-Chiefs: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 December 2015 by Luke Jones

The questions run rampant for the Ravens’ Week 15 meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Who’s starting at quarterback?

What will the secondary look like?

Does Sunday represent the Ravens’ last best chance to win another game before the most disappointing season in franchise history mercifully comes to an end?

Meanwhile, Kansas City comes to town having won seven in a row to erase a 1-5 start and enter Sunday holding the first of two wild-card spots in the AFC. Simply put, the Chiefs are exactly what the Ravens wanted to be after the worst start in franchise history, but it simply hasn’t happened for the latter.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Kansas City for the seventh time in their regular-season history with the series tied 3-3. Baltimore has lost three of the four meetings between the teams at M&T Bank Stadium, but the Ravens won the last of those home contests back in 2009. Counting the postseason, the Ravens have won their last four meetings with the Chiefs.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to avoid the first five-loss home schedule in the 20-year history of the franchise …

1. The Chiefs will hold a plus-two turnover advantage in a microcosm of the season for both teams. Though their list of injuries isn’t quite as extensive, the Chiefs lost star running back Jamaal Charles for the season in October and has been without All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston since late November. Andy Reid’s team has kept ticking by forcing turnovers on defense and committing few with an efficient offense. Meanwhile, the Ravens rank 30th in takeaways (11) and 24th in giveaways (23). Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith won’t wow you with ability, but he’s thrown just four interceptions all year. Baltimore will be turning to Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen, who both struggle to protect the football. If both teams follow their 2015 scripts, the Chiefs will capitalize on the Ravens’ mistakes.

2. Elvis Dumervil will exploit former teammate Jah Reid for two quarterback sacks. As bizarre as it was to read that Reid received a three-year contract extension earlier this week, Pro Football Focus has graded the former Raven 73rd of 77 offensive tackles in the NFL this season. On top of that, the first overall pick of the 2013 draft, left tackle Eric Fisher, has graded only 37th overall, according to PFF. This should help Dumervil, who has been limited to just six sacks without a viable edge rusher playing on the opposite side. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to run some stunts to take advantage of an offensive line that’s allowed 41 sacks, fourth worst in the NFL. The Ravens defense ranks 20th in the league with only 28 sacks, but Dumervil will turn in a 2014-like performance on Sunday.

3. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will catch a touchdown pass and collect over 80 receiving yards. Kansas City sports the league’s 27th-ranked passing game, but Smith has effectively used his tight end to the tune of 59 catches for 749 yards and four touchdowns this season. Whether trying to use linebackers or safeties, Baltimore has struggled to cover tight ends and Kelce will effectively move the chains to continue drives for the Chiefs. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens try to cover Kelce as inside linebacker Daryl Smith has been replaced more and more by Zach Orr in the nickel in recent weeks. And with Lardarius Webb now factoring into the rotation at safety, you wonder if even more communication issues are inevitable. Kelce will be ready to take advantage on Sunday.

4. The Baltimore secondary will offer new looks, but Alex Smith will throw for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Head coach John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that it was time for young defensive backs such as 2015 fourth-round cornerback Tray Walker, second-year safety Terrence Brooks, and former Houston Texans cornerback Jumal Rolle to receive more opportunities. While it will be important to evaluate the aforementioned players in the final three weeks of the season, the results probably won’t be pretty for a defense that has repeatedly failed to be on the same page even with veterans on the field. Smith carries the dreaded “game manager” label, but he will take advantage of Baltimore mistakes to find Kelce and top receiver Jeremy Maclin for several big plays on Sunday.

5. The Ravens will rebound cosmetically from the Week 14 blowout loss, but Kansas City won’t provide enough help in a 23-14 defeat. Even while carrying a louder tone of resignation this week following an embarrassing loss to Seattle, Baltimore will return to its pattern of competing more like it did in the first 12 games of the season that were all decided by one possession. However, the injury-ravaged Ravens aren’t talented enough to beat a quality team without substantial help from the opposition. The Chiefs won’t figure to provide that assistance as they’ve committed just 12 turnovers all season, third fewest in the NFL. Either Jimmy Clausen or Matt Schaub will facilitate a couple scoring drives against the NFL’s 15th-ranked pass defense, but a couple Ravens mistakes will be the difference.

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Schaub probable, but Harbaugh mum on starter for Sunday

Posted on 18 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked if he could settle a bet among reporters about whether he’d name his starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against Kansas City, Ravens coach John Harbaugh answered in predictable fashion on Friday.

“There are probably high odds in one direction,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “I’m probably not going to name a quarterback today. That’s probably all I have to say on the matter.”

After practicing fully on Thursday and Friday, veteran Matt Schaub was listed as probable on the final injury report of the week, but it remains to be seen whether he will resume starting duties. Harbaugh stated earlier in the week that he felt the Ravens had two good options in Schaub and Week 14 starter Jimmy Clausen.

The latter took at least half of the starter reps on Wednesday and Thursday, according to offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. Though Schaub appeared to be laboring at a couple different points during the viewing portions of practices this week, the “probable” designation makes it clear that Harbaugh’s decision over who starts will be more about performance than health for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.

“He looked good,” Harbaugh said. “I won’t say he’s 100 percent, but by Sunday he has a chance to be 100 percent. He looked good. He’s a tough guy. He worked hard this week.”

To no surprise, starting tight end Crockett Gillmore (back) was officially ruled out for Sunday’s game after Harbaugh said he wouldn’t be able to play this week and could be lost for the rest of the season. Linebacker Albert McClellan (ankle), cornerback Kyle Arrington (back), and wide receiver Marlon Brown (back) were all listed as doubtful to play after missing all three practices this week.

After being limited by a calf injury on Thursday, running back Terrance West missed Friday’s workout and is questionable to play. The Ravens added rookie Terrence Magee to the 53-man roster earlier this week, and he would serve as the No. 2 running back behind Buck Allen if West cannot play.

Four-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda is probable to play despite missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle issue. He was a full participant in the final workout of the week.

With Schaub listed as probable, it would seem highly unlikely that the newly-signed Ryan Mallett would receive any playing time on Sunday, but he has made a good first impression with the organization, according to his offensive coordinator.

“He’s taking this very seriously,” Trestman said on Thursday. “He has been here 24-7 the last three days doing everything he can to soak up as much of the offense as he can, and what has impressed me most — and we all see his assets, his physical ability — but he has football intelligence. He has picked up some verbiage very quickly. We’ve thrown him in there in practice the first days he was here; we put him in there. He has had six to 12 plays working with the guys.”

Meanwhile, the Chiefs officially ruled out All-Pro outside linebacker Justin Houston (knee), but fellow Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali (knee) is probable to play.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Jeff Triplette.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-40s and winds up to five miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: TE Crockett Gillmore (back)
DOUBTFUL: CB Kyle Arrington (back), WR Marlon Brown (back), LB Albert McClellan (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Terrance West (calf)
PROBABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (non-injury), G Kelechi Osemele (knee), QB Matt Schaub (chest), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (ankle)

KANSAS CITY
OUT: S Husain Abdullah (concussion), LB Justin Houston (knee), WR De’Anthony Thomas (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: OL Jeff Allen (ankle), RB Spencer Ware (rib)
PROBABLE: QB Chase Daniel (toe), DE Mike DeVito (concussion/shoulder), LB Tamba Hali (knee), TE Travis Kelce (groin/quad)

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Kansas City’s turnaround reflects bizarro season for Ravens

Posted on 18 December 2015 by Luke Jones

It wasn’t long ago that the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs were in the same spot as the Ravens.

Having completed a stretch of four of their first six on the road and lost star running back Jamaal Charles to a season-ending knee injury a week earlier, Andy Reid’s team was 1-5 after a 16-10 loss at Minnesota on Oct. 18. It was the same day Baltimore fell to San Francisco to drop to 1-5, the worst start in the 20-year history of the Ravens.

Two months later, Kansas City is in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and is in line to become the first NFL team since the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals to rebound from a 1-5 start to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Ravens need to win one more game just to avoid tying the worst record in team history.

It’s only fitting that the Ravens meet a bizarro version of themselves in this difficult 2015 season.

“We’re playing the hottest team in football coming in here, coached by a great coach,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They have a bunch of great players. They’re plus-12 [in] turnovers. I don’t think they ever turn the ball over. They’re doing the things they need to do to win football games. They’re doing what we hoped to do after a slow start.”

When 12 of your 13 games have been decided by a single possession like the Ravens have experienced this season, you need to be good at protecting the football and limiting your opponents’ scoring chances to win those tight contests. Of course, 4-9 Baltimore hasn’t done that in ranking 31st in turnover ratio (minus-12), 30th in takeaways (11), and 24th in giveaways (23).

Kansas City ranks second in the league in turnover ratio in addition to having a top 10 defense and rushing attack.

The Chiefs are everything the Ravens want to be right now.

“Giving them away and not taking them away. That has been the story that has not helped us and [has] helped other teams,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “If I can pinpoint something, I would say defensively, it’s turnovers and big plays. That’s a huge part — interceptions and fumbles and forced fumbles, turnovers in general, being a stingy defense, taking that ball away.

“Giving our offense more opportunities [and] cutting other offenses’ opportunities short. That would have gone a long way this season for us.”

If it weren’t enough to look around the league and see Michael Oher starting at left tackle for the undefeated Carolina Panthers and Tyrod Taylor shining in Buffalo — two players often maligned to varying degrees by Ravens fans — Thursday may have brought an even better example of this bizarre world. Heavily criticized as a third-round bust in his four years with the Ravens, Jah Reid signed a three-year extension with the Chiefs on Thursday as he’s held down the starting right tackle job.

Strange times, indeed.

High school reunion

Sunday will be a proud day for Colton High School in California as not only will Ravens cornerbacks and high school teammates Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright play their ninth game together, but they’ll look to the opposing sideline and see another familiar face from those days — Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen.

“It’s pretty cool. Danny Sorensen, he was a young kid when I was at Colton — me and Shareece,” Smith said. “He was our safety. He comes from a long line of talented football players. His brother, actually, is Brad Sorensen, who was my high school quarterback, and he was the backup for San Diego a few weeks ago [when we played]. It’s kind of a cool thing.”

Daniel Sorensen was signed by Kansas City as a rookie free agent out of Brigham Young last year.

Pitta named Ed Block winner

After suffering two serious right hip injuries in a 14-month period, tight end Dennis Pitta was named the Ravens’ recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award this season.

The 30-year-old returned to the practice field in late October, but he was not cleared to return to live-game action and has remained on the physically unable to perform list. While his football future remains in doubt, Pitta has continued to serve as a mentor and an additional coach to a young group of tight ends throughout the 2015 season.

Thursday’s injury report

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Kyle Arrington (back), WR Marlon Brown (back), TE Crockett Gillmore (back), Albert McClellan (ankle), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Terrance West (calf)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (non-injury), G Kelechi Osemele (knee), QB Matt Schaub (chest)

KANSAS CITY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Husain Abdullah (concussion), LB Justin Houston (knee), WR De’Anthony Thomas (concussion), RB Spencer Ware (rib)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OL Jeff Allen (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Mike DeVito (concussion/shoulder), LB Tamba Hali (knee), TE Travis Kelce (groin/quad)

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