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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 12 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Beginning their eighth season with head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco leading the way, the Ravens once again have high expectations as they travel to Denver on Sunday.

Playing the Broncos in Week 1 for the second time in three years, Baltimore hopes to wipe out the memory of the 2013 opener in which Peyton Manning threw an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes in a 49-27 loss. Of course, much has changed for both teams since then with players coming and going and former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak taking over as head coach of the Broncos this season.

It’s time to go on record as the Ravens play Denver for the 11th time in the all-time regular-season series and each team owns five wins. Baltimore carries a 1-4 regular-season record in Denver, but Harbaugh’s team did win its only playoff game against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Ravens are 2-0 against Denver in their playoff history.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens open their 20th season and try to improve to 6-2 in season openers under Harbaugh …

1. Steve Smith catches a long touchdown pass to exploit former teammate Darian Stewart in coverage. Knowing how underwhelming the ex-Ravens safety was playing the deep ball in 2014, Baltimore would love to have rookie Breshad Perriman’s speed to stretch the field against the weak link in the Broncos secondary, but the first-round pick hasn’t even practiced since spraining his knee on July 30. The Ravens will try to go vertical using the 36-year-old Smith, who is still capable of using a double move to blow past his man and catch a long bomb from Flacco against the right coverage. He’ll do exactly that against Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and Stewart will be late with over-the-top coverage.

2. Lardarius Webb will not be able to keep up with Emmanuel Sanders while Jimmy Smith does his best to lock down No. 1 wideout Demaryius Thomas on the opposite side. It’s fair enough to wonder what we’ll see from Smith coming off last October’s season-ending foot injury, but at least the 27-year-old was able to play in the preseason. Webb has practiced for the last couple weeks and Harbaugh said he looks like the “old” Webb after dealing with a hamstring injury in August, but you can only hope the coach meant a better version than what we witnessed a year ago. Webb has a lot to prove and Sanders was a 2014 Pro Bowl selection. He’ll be good for a touchdown catch and 85 receiving yards.

3. Terrell Suggs will collect two sacks and get the best of Denver rookie Ty Sambrailo off the edge, but pressure up the middle will be scarce. The 13th-year rush linebacker should be licking his chops going against the second-round pick, but the key to disrupting Manning is pressure up the middle, making the expected absence of Timmy Jernigan problematic. Last year, the Ravens used a combination of Pernell McPhee, Haloti Ngata, and Jernigan for their inside rush, but none of them will be on the field for Sunday’s game, putting a lot on rookie Za’Darius Smith and run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams. Broncos center Matt Paradis is inexperienced, but the Ravens won’t have enough to exploit him in passing situations, leaving space for Manning to get the ball away quickly.

4. Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown will struggle to gain separation as the Broncos bring heat off the edges to disrupt Flacco’s timing. While Stewart might be a liability, the Broncos have a stout trio of cornerbacks in Talib, Harris, and the young Bradley Roby. Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can use either Harris or Roby inside, which gives their defense the ability to show different looks in coverage. The Ravens have expressed confidence in Aiken as a starter, but I’m not convinced that he’s ready to be more than a No. 3 option, especially without a deep threat on the field. He and Brown will only combine for 50 receiving yards as the Broncos play tight man coverage and relentlessly try to bring outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware off the edges.

5. The Denver defense will be the biggest factor as the Ravens offense struggles to move the ball consistently in a 26-16 loss to the Broncos. As much as Manning has dominated the pre-game conversation, Denver’s real strength is its defense with few weaknesses at any level. Baltimore will do a decent job establishing the run, but Flacco will be too dependent on Smith to make plays through the air, which will stall a couple promising drives. Ultimately, I see the Broncos taking a step back this season, but they’ll be too much to handle with a top 5-caliber defense and a healthy Manning early in the season. If this one were to be played later in the year, I’d like the Ravens’ chances a lot more, but Denver will score late to put a close one out of reach.

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Predicting the Ravens’ 2015 season week by week

Posted on 11 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Expectations are high as the Ravens begin their 20th season in Baltimore on Sunday.

Having made the playoffs — and won a postseason game — in six of the last seven years, the Ravens simply expect to be playing football in January and 2015 is no different despite fair questions on each side of the ball.

These predictions aren’t an exact science, of course, but it’s a fun exercise to envision how Baltimore fares over the course of the season. The writer also reserves the right to adjust his weekly predictions at any point during the year based on injuries and other currently-unknown variables.

In other words, don’t take these premonitions too seriously and don’t bother keeping track over whether my Week 12 or Week 15 or Week 17 pick during the season matches what you see below. None of us really know what’s going to happen, and that’s what makes it fun, right?

Without further ado, here are my game-by-game predictions of how the Ravens’ 2015 season will play out:

Sunday, Sept. 13 at Denver Broncos – 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens may be be drawing the 39-year-old Peyton Manning at the wrong time, but the offense not being at its best against one of the NFL’s best defenses will be the difference in the opener.
Prediction: Denver 26, Baltimore 16

Sunday, Sept. 20 at Oakland Raiders – 4:05 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The arrivals of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack give the Raiders more hope than they’ve enjoyed in years, but this team still won’t be very good early in 2015.
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Oakland 16

Sunday, Sept. 27 vs. Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: After the long trip out west, the Ravens will be hungry to play in front of their home crowd and, more importantly, to exact some revenge on the Bengals for beating them in the 2014 opener.
Prediction: Baltimore 27, Cincinnati 16

Thursday, Oct. 1 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – 8:25 p.m. (CBS/NFL Network)
Synopsis: After two straight years of Pittsburgh playing in Baltimore on a Thursday night, the Ravens return the favor and won’t quite be able to keep up with one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 33, Baltimore 27

Sunday, Oct. 11 vs. Cleveland Browns – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens will be coming off extra rest and Cleveland will be playing its second straight road game after a trip to San Diego the previous week, so this one could get ugly.
Prediction: Baltimore 34, Cleveland 13

Sunday, Oct. 18 at San Francisco 49ers – 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The 49ers still might have the talent to be tough at home, but ex-Ravens Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin won’t have enough help as Baltimore comes away with an ugly victory on the road.
Prediction: Baltimore 22, San Francisco 16

Monday, Oct. 26 at Arizona Cardinals – 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Synopsis: Making their first trip to Arizona since 2003, the Ravens will face a team that won’t be as good as it was a year ago, but a prime-time road game at the end of another long trip out west spells trouble.
Prediction: Arizona 26, Baltimore 17

Sunday, Nov. 1 vs. San Diego Chargers – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: Playing on a short week after a Monday night road game often signals danger, but the Ravens won’t allow Philip Rivers and San Diego to beat them in Baltimore for a second straight year.
Prediction: Baltimore 31, San Diego 23

Sunday, Nov. 8 — BYE
Overview: Considering the Ravens play five of their first seven on the road, you would have to think head coach John Harbaugh would be quite pleased with a 5-3 record midway through the season.

Sunday, Nov. 15 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: Jacksonville will be improved this year — especially as the season progresses — but the well-rested Ravens will handle their business with ease unlike last year’s closer-than-expected meeting.
Prediction: Baltimore 33, Jacksonville 16

Sunday, Nov. 22 vs. St. Louis Rams — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Synopsis: St. Louis has a tough defense, but there’s little reason to think Nick Foles and the Rams offense will pose much of a threat in one of the most hostile environments in the NFL.
Prediction: Baltimore 23, St. Louis 13

Monday, Nov. 30 at Cleveland Browns – 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Synopsis: While this game will likely serve as the Browns’ Super Bowl, the Ravens are prone to one or two clunkers on the road per season and this will be one of those nights in Cleveland.
Prediction: Cleveland 24, Baltimore 16

Sunday, Dec. 6 at Miami Dolphins – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens turned South Florida into M&T Bank Stadium South in each of the previous two years and will do it again in an important road victory to begin the final month of the season.
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Miami 23

Sunday, Dec. 13 vs. Seattle Seahawks – 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
Synopsis: This one will be hyped as a potential Super Bowl preview, but the defending NFC champions will use an exceptional defensive performance to hand the Ravens their only home defeat of 2015.
Prediction: Seattle 17, Baltimore 13

Sunday, Dec. 20 vs. Kansas City – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens haven’t lost to Kansas City in over a decade and Harbaugh will get the best of mentor Andy Reid in battle between two playoff contenders.
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Kansas City 14

Sunday, Dec. 27 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
Synopsis: The Pittsburgh defense will continue to struggle away from Heinz Field late in the season as the Ravens earn the season split over their AFC North rival in another close game.
Prediction: Baltimore 27, Pittsburgh 21

Sunday, Jan. 3 at Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 p.m. CBS)
Synopsis: In an AFC North title game, the Ravens will fall short to Cincinnati in their fourth straight loss at Paul Brown Stadium, forcing them to settle for a 10-6 record and the AFC’s No. 5 seed.
Prediction: Cincinnati 26, Baltimore 23

Wild Card Round at Cincinnati Bengals
Synopsis: Playing Cincinnati in consecutive weeks, the Ravens atone for their Week 17 loss by handing Andy Dalton and the Bengals a first-round playoff loss for the fifth consecutive year.
Prediction: Baltimore 26, Cincinnati 17

Divisional Round at Indianapolis Colts
Synopsis: The Ravens will give the No. 1 seed in the AFC everything it can handle, but it will be Andrew Luck’s time and Baltimore loses a nail-biter in the closing seconds.
Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Baltimore 23

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Ravens trying to erase memory of last trip to Denver

Posted on 10 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Everyone remembers what happened the last time the Ravens visited Denver two years ago as the defending Super Bowl champions to begin the 2013 season.

A franchise record for points allowed and an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes thrown by Peyton Manning in a 49-27 demolition. Many forget that the Ravens actually led 17-14 at the half before the 30 minutes from hell that cornerback Jimmy Smith and many of his teammates say they’ve erased from their minds.

“My memories of the last one? I forgot; I’m a corner,” said Smith while smiling. “Let me really think about this. Is that the one he put up seven on us? I did forget about that. I did.”

Of course, much has changed on both sides as players have come and gone over the last two years. The Broncos have a new head coach in Gary Kubiak after he spent last season as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator.

Even Manning quipped this week that the 2013 season opener had “passed the statute of limitations” for discussion. The likes of Julius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker may be gone, but the Broncos have two 2014 Pro Bowl receivers — Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders — and former Ravens tight end Owen Daniels to add to the mix.

And Manning’s mind is as dangerous as ever with two more years of experience under his belt since that last meeting.

“It’s a chess match out there. You give him one look, he’s going to check to a different play,” said veteran newcomer Kyle Arrington, who faced Manning many times while playing for the New England Patriots. “Shoot, it might be a dummy check. He might run the same play that he has called, and then our ‘quarterback’ on our defense, Daryl [Smith], is out there doing the same thing. It’s going to be a good matchup.”

After finishing 23rd in pass defense and enduring a slew of injuries in the secondary in 2014, the Ravens know their secondary will be under the microscope with Smith and Lardarius Webb coming back from injuries and a new safety duo in Will Hill and veteran newcomer Kendrick Lewis on the back end of the defense. General manager Ozzie Newsome also added depth at cornerback in the offseason with the free-agent signing of Arrington and the fourth-round selection of Tray Walker.

The group will face one of its toughest tests right off the bat, with Ravens holdovers hoping for a much better showing against Manning and the Broncos this time around.

“Obviously, [there’s] a lot of eyes on our group back there,” Smith said. “But we have a sense of urgency just to be that voice on defense as a unit — as a group. Going into this game, it’s a big game for us just to make sure all our communication is down and that in our first game, we actually look like the unit we want to be.”

There’s plenty of unknown on each side.

Is Smith fully recovered from a Lisfranc injury that short-circuited what was shaping up to be a Pro Bowl campaign last October? If so, is he ready to shadow the explosive Thomas all over the field?

Will Webb be ready to play at a high level after missing the entire preseason with a nagging hamstring injury, the latest ailment to plague him over these last few years? Can the combination of Hill and Lewis stop the revolving door we saw at the safety position a year ago?

The Broncos offense might be more of a mystery with Kubiak attempting to marry his West Coast offense with his future Hall of Fame quarterback’s strengths — and obvious limitations — at age 39. The offensive line features new ingredients and is without Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in May.

The last time we saw Manning in a meaningful game, he looked old and was playing with a torn quadriceps in a home playoff defeat to Indianapolis. It was a performance that made nearly everyone wonder if one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history was washed up as he struggled to push the ball down the field to even a moderate degree.

But the Ravens aren’t buying into the idea that Manning is finished after watching him this preseason.

“He’s wearing No. 18. He’s patting the ball. He’s making checks,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s under center a little more than he has been in the past, but we don’t know what we’re going to get in terms of scheme. We’ve just have to anticipate and play our game and play the way we want to play. He looks as good as ever from the reps that I’ve seen.”

Even as he enters his 18th year in the NFL, Manning still carries an aura that can grab hold of a defense trying its best not to let him deliver the knockout blow. But that thinking could prove dangerous in Kubiak’s system that always employs a strong running game.

The Ravens hold the longest active streak in the NFL by not allowing a 100-yard rusher in 26 consecutive games. It’s a stat that was even mentioned by Manning in his conference call with the Baltimore media, making you wonder if Kubiak and Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will spread the Ravens out before trying to gash them in the running game.

Denver feels so good about its ground attack led by starter C.J. Anderson and backup Ronnie Hillman that 2013 second-round pick Montee Ball was cut over the weekend. The Ravens’ front seven will carry the burden of not only putting pressure on Manning but making sure the Broncos don’t run all over them on Sunday.

“It’s always going to be Gary’s offense,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “It’s always going to be Gary’s philosophy that they’re going to have a good running team. Even [if you] forget Gary, even back when the Colts had Manning and you think clear back to when he was in Indianapolis, they still could run the ball.”

The schedule-makers did the Ravens no favors with five of their first seven games coming on the road in 2015, and they’re likely to see Manning at his best from a physical standpoint on Sunday. With his well-documented neck surgeries and struggles playing in cold weather, there’s no disputing that teams have better odds against Manning later in the season. The Ravens exploited that reality when they won in Denver in a double-overtime thriller in the 2012 divisional round en route to their Super Bowl XLVII title.

Since signing with the Broncos in 2012, Manning has thrown 47 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 14 home games played in September and October compared to only 23 touchdowns and six interceptions in 10 regular-season home games played in the second half of seasons.

But the Ravens can’t dwell on the timing of the matchup. They have too much to prove in putting the memory of two years ago behind them as well as getting the 2015 season off on the right foot.

“He’s going to be dangerous. He’s still Peyton Manning, no matter what,” Smith said. “All the hoopla about him in December compared to September, obviously, it’s real. But that’s none of my concern. I know we’ve got him Week 1, and he’s going to be ready Week 1. That’s all of our concern.”

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Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (L) talks to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) prior to the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

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Ravens need offensive stability to survive early-season peril

Posted on 09 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens and their fans have annually fed off a perceived lack of respect from prognosticators and pundits.

That’s what makes the start of the 2015 season — the Ravens’ 20th in Baltimore — so unique as more than one national media outlet has picked John Harbaugh’s team to win the Super Bowl. It’s not a position in which many players are used to being despite six trips to the playoffs over the last seven years.

“That’s the kiss of death to us,” veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You don’t want to start at the beginning of the season at the top. You want to finish the end of the season at the top. That really doesn’t mean anything to us.”

Many love how Baltimore looks on paper, but are things quite that rosy when you take a closer look at the roster? After twice holding a 14-point lead to New England in the divisional round last January, the Ravens are a chic Super Bowl pick to many, but they also lost a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, a starting wide receiver, a starting tight end, an impact pass rusher, and another offensive coordinator.

Yes, the puzzle pieces fell into place during the 2015 draft as the Ravens addressed virtually all of their positional needs on paper — there’s that phrase again — but how quickly will those young players be ready to make significant contributions, particularly on the offensive side of the ball? Relying on inexperienced players can be a dangerous proposition, especially when first-round rookie receiver Breshad Perriman missed all of training camp with a knee injury and is not expected to play in Sunday’s opener.

The preseason discussion centered around the upside of a passing game in transition, but Torrey Smith will be nowhere to be found and Owen Daniels will be lining up for the opposing side when eighth-year quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens take the field in Denver. Beyond the ageless Steve Smith, the Ravens don’t have a single receiver who made more than 24 catches a year ago and none of those options stand out as a vertical threat in Perriman’s absence. Their trio of young tight ends have a combined total of 10 catches in the NFL, which equals Dennis Pitta’s output in last year’s season opener.

No one can really know what to expect at the beginning of the season.

As if those realities weren’t unsettling enough, playing five of their first seven games on the road could mean a hell of a second-half climb to the postseason if the Ravens start slowly in 2015. Only six times in franchise history have the Ravens won more than four road games, but it will be critical for Harbaugh’s team to come out of those first seven with at least two victories away from M&T Bank Stadium to hold no worse than a 4-3 record.

The first two months won’t be easy, no matter how much you like the Ravens going into 2015.

“Who cares? Nobody cares. Nobody cares what our issues are,” said Harbaugh, citing how every team faces challenges with the schedule every year. “As a matter of fact, our opponents are looking and our enemies are looking very favorably upon our challenges, and they’re hoping that our challenges will bring us down. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Even with a franchise quarterback they have every reason to trust, the Ravens will lean heavily on the play of their offensive line, the best unit they have on either side of the football. In addition to create running lanes for 2014 Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett, the line will need to give Flacco — and his receivers and tight ends trying to create separation — plenty of time in the passing game.

More than any excitement about Perriman or second-year tight end Crockett Gillmore or any of the other young offensive players should be the continuity that the Ravens enjoy on their offensive line with all five starters and their top two reserves returning from last season. We saw in 2013 what happens to an offense with questionable playmakers when the offensive line doesn’t perform.

It wasn’t pretty.

Harbaugh can only hope the stability up front allows the Ravens to navigate the early-season peril while their young pass-catchers gain their bearings.

“I would always argue that football starts in the trenches,” Harbaugh said. “It probably ends with playmakers making plays to make the difference in the game, but if you’re not good upfront on both sides, it’s hard to overcome that. Your playmakers and your quarterback and your cover guys have to be so good, that it’s just hard to play that way. We’d always want to start and build our team inside-out.”

A strong offensive line will go a long way, but the questions will remain about the cast of young receivers and tight ends until they prove otherwise.

Drafted to replace Torrey Smith and to stretch the field, Perriman hasn’t shown the Ravens what he can do since spring workouts when the threat of contact wasn’t there. Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown were nice complementary pieces in 2014, but are either ready to fill bigger shoes? Will Michael Campanaro stay healthy enough to contribute in the slot and can the 6-foot-6 Darren Waller become a much-needed threat inside the red zone?

The organization loves the potential of tight end Maxx Williams, but even the best tight ends in the NFL such as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham didn’t break out in their rookie seasons.

The Ravens can only pray that Steve Smith fights off Father Time for a final season while Flacco develops the necessary rapport to win with the other options behind the 36-year-old wideout. If anything is certain, the Ravens should feel confident that their quarterback will help the young receivers and tight ends be as good as they can be.

It’s just unclear whether that will be good enough.

“We have guys that can do it, and it’s all about going out there and playing,” Flacco said. “That’s part of being in the NFL. Some guys are going to pop up, and you’re going to make players out of guys, and guys are going to prove that they are players. That’s just what it’s all about. It’s not about going out there and having a bunch of proven guys on your team who are all 38 years old.”

Harbaugh has reminded us on more than one occasion that Sunday is just the beginning of a long season.

The Ravens certainly look like a team that could be very dangerous in December and January, but that may not be enough in Week 1 against the Broncos, who have Super Bowl aspirations of their own. It won’t be easy on Sunday, just like it won’t be easy over the first several weeks of the season.

But Baltimore hopes it has enough offensive stability in the right places to come out of the stretch in position to make a strong second-half run.

“You put so much work into building up to the first game, the first regular season game,” Harbaugh said. “It seems like a pinnacle — it seems like an end — and you’re wondering what kind of a team you have, and you’re looking forward to seeing it. I know the fans are, and we are, too. Then, you sit back and you realize it’s just the first game. There’s going to be a whole journey after that, too, so this begins it.”

The Ravens hope that journey will end where many are predicting.

But there are plenty of questions that still need to be answered.

“You really don’t know. We can talk about how good we are all we want,” Flacco said. “That’s why I’m not really big on doing that. We have to go out there and play well.”

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Perriman not expected to play in season opener

Posted on 08 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh spelled it out as clearly as he could without ruling rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman out for Sunday’s season opener in Denver.

The 2015 first-round pick is not expected to play against the Broncos as he once again missed practice on Tuesday and hasn’t participated in a team workout since injuring his knee on July 30. After he said over the weekend that Perriman “has a chance” to play in Week 1, Harbaugh elected to clarify the sentiment when asked for injury updates as the Ravens returned to the practice field after a two-day respite.

“I saw the reports [that] ‘he has a chance’ and was like, ‘Yeah, he’s got a chance,'” Harbaugh said. “I think I was pretty clear it’s probably not a real big chance because he hasn’t practiced. I don’t have a time frame from the doctors. I don’t think it’s tremendously far down the road or we would have done something else with him as far as his status. When he comes back to practice, that will probably be a pretty good indicator that he’s going to be in the lineup pretty soon.”

With Perriman having missed nearly six weeks of action already, it remains to be seen how much practice time he would need to not only reestablish himself in the Baltimore offense but to also get into football shape.

Starting defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) was not present during the first few minutes of practice open to media as his status remains in question for the opener. Other players missing from Tuesday’s practice included cornerback Rashaan Melvin, running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee), and linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Daryl Smith. It was unclear whether the latter three were receiving a veteran day off or were late arrivals to the field.

Rookie tight end Maxx Williams was not wearing the red non-contact jersey he’s donned during practices over the last two weeks, a good sign for his availability against the Broncos. He did not play in the final two preseason games due to an upper body injury.

Asked about the uncertainty with the return game, Harbaugh acknowledged that he has an idea about who will handle kickoffs and punts, but he unsurprisingly would not reveal those plans to the media. For what it’s worth, second-year receiver Michael Campanaro was listed on the Week 1 depth chart as the only punt and kickoff returner, but cornerback Lardarius Webb and wide receiver Steve Smith both have experience as returners earlier in their careers.

“We have options. Certainly, all options are on the table and we’ll see going forward,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think we’re in a position to make any announcements exactly yet. Like I said, we have more than one guy capable of going back there and doing it, and some of them might be situational as well. We’ll have a plan come Sunday.”

Veteran defensive end Lawrence Guy is now wearing No. 93, the jersey number previously worn by DeAngelo Tyson before he was waived on Saturday.

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Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs celebrates after intercepting a pass attempt by Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Breaking down Ravens’ initial 53-man roster after final cuts

Posted on 05 September 2015 by Luke Jones

No real surprises accompanied the Ravens’ final cuts as they formulated their initial 53-man roster for the 2015 regular season on Saturday afternoon.

Of course, questions still remain after general manager Ozzie Newsome waived fourth-year cornerback Asa Jackson to leave the kick returner job a mystery a week away from the opener in Denver. The Ravens also parted ways with both Terrence Magee and Fitz Toussaint to leave the current roster with just two healthy running backs — Justin Forsett and rookie Buck Allen — while Lorenzo Taliaferro continues to recover from a knee injury.

The Ravens appear set to place injured defensive end Brent Urban on injured reserve with the designation to return with the second-year player remaining on the 53-man roster on Saturday. They are permitted to use the designation as early as Sunday, which would then open an additional roster spot.

The roster will remain fluid in the coming days as Newsome scans the open market for potential additions to enhance the talent already assembled. Baltimore will also put together a 10-player practice squad with a number of players who were cut over the weekend potentially returning to the organization.

Below is a look at the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening with some early impressions:

QUARTERBACKS (2) — Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub
Analysis: Schaub was far from impressive in the spring and summer, but $2 million in guaranteed money eliminated any chance of Bryn Renner unseating him for the backup spot behind Flacco. As is the case every year, the Ravens will pray that they never have to use their backup quarterback with Flacco never having missed a game entering his eighth season.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4) — Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Kyle Juszczyk
Analysis: With the rookie Allen averaging just 2.5 yards per carry and Taliaferro sidelined for at least a few more weeks, you would think the Ravens are searching for another back to add to the mix on at least a temporary basis. Once a roster spot opens up with Urban going to I.R., a running back with some return experience would be an ideal addition before the start of the season.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6) — Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Darren Waller, Breshad Perriman
Analysis: In a perfect world, the Ravens would add a receiver who can bring speed on the outside with Perriman’s status in doubt for the start of the season, but that’s easier said than done at this point. Projected to be the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers respectively, Aiken and Brown only registered 24 catches apiece last season, making it difficult for Flacco to trust anyone in this group beyond Smith right now.

TIGHT ENDS (3) — Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle
Analysis: It’s easy to like the upside at this position, but Gillmore caught only 10 passes in his first season and the rookie second-rounder Williams was banged up for much of the summer and has been sporting a red non-contact jersey in practices over the last couple weeks. The Ravens aren’t planning on Pitta being able to return this season, but there’s always the small chance that he makes it back.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, John Urschel, James Hurst, Ryan Jensen
Analysis: This is the Ravens’ best unit on either side of the ball, and this group will need to be at the top of its game to offset questionable running back depth and real questions facing the passing game. With Yanda and Osemele scheduled to become free agents after the season, Urschel is not only critical to current depth, but he’s an important piece for the future at either center or guard.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Canty, Carl Davis, Lawrence Guy, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Christo Bilukidi, Brent Urban
Analysis: The decision to keep both Lewis-Moore and Bilukidi could be an indication that Jernigan’s status is in doubt for the season opener as he’s recovering from a knee injury sustained in the third preseason game. Davis has easily been the Ravens’ most impressive rookie and is in line to start at the 3-technique spot should Jernigan miss early action.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Albert McClellan, Zachary Orr, Arthur Brown
Analysis: The Ravens still saw enough potential in Brown, their 2013 second-round pick, to keep him on the roster despite McClellan and Orr being superior special-teams contributors. Smith and Mosley are one of the finest inside linebacker duos in the league, but an injury to either would leave a significant hole in the middle of the defense with questionable options behind them.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw, Za’Darius Smith
Analysis: Dumervil is 31 and Suggs will be 33 in October, but the pass-rushing duo remains dangerous coming off the edge if they can stay healthy. Upshaw consistently plays the run well, but he doesn’t offer much ability to get to the quarterback, putting much pressure on the rookie Smith to fill the void of free-agent departure Pernell McPhee as a hybrid situational rusher.

CORNERBACKS (5) — Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, Kyle Arrington, Rashaan Melvin, Tray Walker
Analysis: This group is in better shape than it was a year ago, but the Ravens have to feel uneasy about Webb as a starter and Walker, a 2015 fourth-round pick, doesn’t appear ready to be a real contributor just yet. Melvin has dealt with a hamstring issue off and on over the last month, so you wonder if Newsome will take a flier on a veteran corner on the open market to add some depth.

SAFETIES (5) — Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Terrence Brooks, Anthony Levine, Brynden Trawick
Analysis: Defensive coordinator Dean Pees hopes Hill and Lewis can put a stop to the revolving door that existed at the position a year ago, but Brooks is coming off a serious knee injury and is the only backup with real upside as a defensive player. Levine and Trawick remain mainstays on special teams, but neither brings much in the secondary.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
Analsysis: This trio is as reliable as any group of specialists in the NFL, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg has to be concerned about kickoff returns with no clear solution at the moment. Campanaro will likely return punts, but questions about his ability to stay healthy could force the Ravens to use Steve Smith or Webb in the return game, something they’d really like to avoid.

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Ravens uncertain about Perriman’s status for season opener

Posted on 05 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Just a week before the season-opening game in Denver, the status of Ravens rookie receiver Breshad Perriman remains uncertain as he recovers from a sprained knee.

Injured on the first day of full-squad practice on July 30, the first-round pick hasn’t practiced since and has only been spotted doing light work without any running involved. It’s unclear whether Perriman will return to the practice field this coming week to keep his availability — even on a very limited basis — in play against the Broncos.

“I don’t know. I really don’t have the answer for that,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Saturday. “I think he has a chance, yes. But to what degree, that’s wide open right now. I don’t know.”

The Ravens cut second-year receiver Jeremy Butler on Saturday and have six wideouts on the initial 53-man roster: Perriman, Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, and Darren Waller.

Aiken is expected to start opposite Smith with Brown serving as the No. 3 option to begin the season. With Perriman currently sidelined, the Ravens lack a speedy receiver on the outside to stretch the field, an obvious concern for an offense needing to replace free-agent departure Torrey Smith.

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Ravens trade rookie center Easton to San Francisco

Posted on 05 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As they counted down to Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline to pare the roster to 53 players, the Ravens returned to the practice field with all healthy members of their 70-man roster on Saturday morning.

But before practice had concluded, Baltimore traded rookie free agent center Nick Easton to the San Francisco 49ers for an unspecified draft pick. As the media viewing portion of practice was wrapping up, head coach John Harbaugh was speaking with the undrafted free agent as ESPN first reported the Ravens were working on a trade. Easton played well in the preseason — grading out as Pro Football Focus’ top center in the NFL — but Baltimore’s numbers on the interior line made him a long shot to make the 53-man roster.

“Nick could have made our team, too, if we didn’t have as much depth,” Harbaugh said. “I think [the 49ers] might have had an injury at center. We have guys like that. Those are the type of guys you try to develop first and foremost for your team. When you have a need, they’re there for you, and we want to develop those guys.”

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee), cornerback Rashaan Melvin (undisclosed), offensive lineman John Urschel (undisclosed), defensive linemen DeAngelo Tyson (shoulder) and Micajah Reynolds (undisclosed), linebacker Zach Thompson (concussion), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee), and defensive end Brent Urban (biceps) were not present during the portion of practice open to media. Urban remains a clear candidate to be placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, a move that cannot happen until Sunday at the earliest.

Tight end Maxx Williams (upper body) continued to practice in a red non-contact jersey after Harbaugh said earlier in the week that he is expected to be ready for the season opener in Denver on Sept. 13.

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Five questions pondering Ravens hype, running backs, pass rush, more

Posted on 04 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or is Sports Illustrated picking the Ravens to win the Super Bowl a reflection of an AFC without a dominant team? Before you call me Lambasting Luke, I’m still betting on John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco to lead Baltimore to its seventh postseason appearance in eight years and I’ll buy that the Ravens could be very dangerous come January. But this is also a football team that lost a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, starting wide receiver, starting tight end, and impact pass rusher in the offseason, and their replacements are currently injured, unproven, or a combination of both. The secondary still lacks depth to make you feel comfortable and the return game is an absolute mess. To be clear, all teams have issues and question marks every season, but starting the season with five of their first seven games on the road isn’t a comfortable proposition with so much early uncertainty. Looking at it objectively, Ravens fans have no reason to feel slighted by the national media this summer.

2. Is it just me or should we probably not be surprised about the concern at the wide receiver position beyond Steve Smith? I’m as guilty as anyone for buying into the hype of a young group of receivers competing for roster spots this summer. No one predicted the knee injury to first-round rookie Breshad Perriman to linger so long, but the receivers behind him failed to quell concerns that Smith would be Flacco’s only trusted target entering the year. Perhaps we need to be more realistic in looking where these players came from when projecting how much impact they can bring. Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Jeremy Butler were all undrafted, and Michael Campanaro (seventh) and Darren Waller (sixth) are late-round picks. Yes, teams are uncovering more and more gems who are drafted late (Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in the sixth round) or undrafted entirely (Victor Cruz of the New York Giants), but the Ravens have always struggled to draft and develop useful receivers.

3. Is it just me or could the Ravens’ consideration for giving Brent Urban the designation to return reflect vulnerabilities with their pass rush? The organization remains high on the 6-foot-7 defensive end’s potential, but we’re still talking about someone who’s never played as much as an NFL preseason game. The Ravens hope that rookie Za’Darius Smith can step into the hybrid role formerly occupied by Pernell McPhee, but they were hoping Steven Means could bring pass-rush impact before a groin injury ruined his summer. Teams do often use their I.R.-designated to return spot for role players — Asa Jackson received it last year, for example — but that typically occurs a few weeks into the season when you’re getting to a point where you won’t be able to use it waiting any longer. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are still forces off the edge and Timmy Jernigan shows rush ability when healthy, but the Ravens may view Urban as a high-ceiling — and necessary? — wild card later this year.

4. Is it just me or is it scary to think the Ravens’ only sure thing at running back is currently Justin Forsett? Rookie fourth-round Buck Allen has shown good hands catching passes out of the backfield, but the USC product averaged just 2.5 yards per carry in the preseason and is now the No. 2 running back with Lorenzo Taliaferro out with a sprained MCL. Terrence Magee and Fitz Toussaint had a few solid moments this summer, but neither are the type of back who inspires confidence, making you wonder if Ozzie Newsome needs to explore the market for a veteran addition in the coming days. Taliaferro’s injury was the last thing the Ravens needed with so many questions at receiver and tight end, but the good news is that they should feel confident in finding a veteran to run behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Still, who would have imagined a year ago that Forsett would not only be coming off a Pro Bowl season, but he would represent the only sure thing in the backfield entering 2015?

5. Is it just me or are halftime interviews completely worthless? Harbaugh drew plenty of criticism for his halftime interview in the third preseason game and rightly so as he needs to be better than that with both media and — more importantly — the fans with which he’s indirectly speaking in the process. The coach’s unkind words for Comcast SportsNet’s Brent Harris prompted many to compare him to brother Jim, who is clearly viewed as the more surly Harbaugh. With those sentiments understood, can you recall a time when a halftime interview brought anything memorable besides similar meltdowns by coaches or players? We live in an age where we want as much access as possible, but it seems counterintuitive to ask a coach or player to reflect meaningfully in the midst of competition. Perhaps a compromise would be to interview a coach just before the start of the second half after he’s addressed his team and has calmed his emotions from the first half, but the next halftime interview I hear bringing anything but bland coach speak or an unflattering exchange will be the first one.

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Ravens begin trimming roster down to league-mandated 53

Posted on 04 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Less than 24 hours after their final preseason game in Atlanta, the Ravens continued reducing their roster ahead of Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline by waiving five players.

Wide receivers Daniel Brown and Tom Nelson, cornerback Quinton Pointer, inside linebacker Andrew Bose, and offensive lineman Blaine Clausell were the first cuts announced by Baltimore on Friday afternoon. Those moves leave the active roster with 70 players, meaning 17 more moves must be made to get down to the league-mandated 53 players.

A punt block and a touchdown catch in Thursday’s loss to the Falcons weren’t enough to land the 6-foot-5 Brown a roster spot, but head coach John Harbaugh said after the game that the James Madison product had made a good case for a role on the practice squad. Nelson, a former NFL safety, had been in the mix as a returner, but he never distinguished himself as an option at wide receiver.

Pointer stood out during spring workouts and the early part of training camp, but the 5-foot-9 defensive back faded after that, making it apparent that he wasn’t going to be in strong contention to make the team.

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