Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

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Ravens offense finally provides real hope for stretch run

Posted on 05 December 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens had talked about the potential of their offense all season.

From John Harbaugh and Marty Mornhinweg to Joe Flacco and Mike Wallace, the word “close” had been uttered so many times in describing the unit’s pursuit of a breakout performance. But potential is meaningless without substance, especially when you’ve reached the month of December.

We’d seen decent stretches here and there this season, but never anything close to a full 60 minutes — not even in two wins over the lowly Cleveland Browns. That’s what made the 38-point, 496-yard explosion against the Miami Dolphins so uplifting on Sunday.

With three of their final four coming on the road — including games at New England and Pittsburgh — the Baltimore offense needed to prove it was capable of playing at such a high level after talking about doing it for months. Snapping Miami’s six-game winning streak in blowout fashion is one thing, but beating the Patriots in Foxborough would be another entirely.

It’s a task that appears more reasonable, however, after the Ravens’ highest scoring output in more than two years and their biggest margin of victory since 2012.

“I think it gives the guys a lot of confidence to see it and have done it,” Flacco said. “Now, we have to go up into a hostile place in New England that we really enjoy playing [at]. It’s going to be another important game in December up there.”

So, what was the difference on Sunday? After all, it’s not as though the Ravens offense just decided it would wait until Week 13 to magically shift into a higher gear. There was much discussion this week — including an animated debate between Mornhinweg and Flacco in the quarterbacks meeting room — about the offense needing to be more aggressive, but execution has to accompany that mindset.

The numbers didn’t lie on Sunday as Flacco turned in his best performance since Gary Kubiak was in charge of the offense two seasons ago, throwing for four touchdowns and 381 yards. His 36 completions were a single-game franchise record as he repeatedly carved up the middle of Miami’s zone defense.

“The guy who was throwing the ball,” wide receiver Steve Smith. “He was playing lights out. We go as he goes. When he does a great job, we all look better.”

The newfound stability of the offensive line has steadily made Flacco look better as well. Using the same starting five for the third straight week — the first time the Ravens could claim that since the first three games of the season — reaped the rewards of a clean pocket as a talented Miami front registered no sacks and just two quarterback hits on the day.

The offensive line paved the way for Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon to combine for 106 rushing yards on 16 carries, but it was the group’s work in pass protection that allowed Flacco to shine on Sunday. Eleven different Ravens caught passes with five registering at least 40 receiving yards.

“It starts up front. When he has time, he is a dangerous quarterback and we know that,” said tight end Dennis Pitta, who caught his first two touchdowns since Dec. 8, 2013. “We have a lot of weapons offensively and we always talked about the potential we have, but we weren’t quite there. Today, we recognized that potential and put it together.”

The Ravens hope this is the turning point for Flacco and an offense that’s underachieved all season. It had been far too long since we’d seen it, but Sunday reminded us how good the ninth-year quarterback is capable of being when he gets on a roll.

The timing couldn’t have been better with the Ravens likely needing to win three of their last four to secure a trip to the playoffs. This is the time of year when Flacco has often played some of his best football, and the Ravens will need him to be playing his best to prevail over Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

A trip to Gillette Stadium next Monday will provide a good indication whether the Week 13 performance was merely a tease of what many thought this offense could be in 2016 or the start of something exciting.

Were the Dolphins just that bad on Sunday or can the Ravens really be that good?

“We’ll see next week if it’s a launching point,” Smith said. “We want to say yes, but sometimes you guys discredit the other team.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 29 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens topping Cincinnati in a 19-14 final on Sunday to remain tied for first place in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t know what else there is to say about the excellence of Justin Tucker, but I sure hope he receives an opportunity one of these days to attempt a 65-yard field goal to set the NFL record. And then gets another chance to kick an even longer one.

2. The Ravens have more field goals (27) than anyone in the NFL, but they rank ahead of only Houston and Los Angeles with 19 touchdowns. That combination has earned them a 6-5 record, but it’s not a formula that will work against upper-tier teams.

3. Coming off his second Achilles injury in a four-year period and currently playing with a torn biceps, Terrell Suggs played a season-high 61 snaps and had two strip-sacks. Though not the consistent force he was in his prime, he’s earned even more respect as a player this season.

4. Don’t forget that Sam Koch’s safety went down as a run for minus-23 yards in the final statistics. Otherwise, the Baltimore running game gained 115 yards on 29 carries, a respectable average of just under 4.0 yards per attempt compared to the official 3.1 mark.

5. It’s difficult to recall a defensive line batting down four passes on a single drive, let alone doing it on the final series of a one-score game. It was a brilliant way to offset an inconsistent pass rush for much of the afternoon.

6. Nothing illustrated the up-and-down nature of the offense more than its third-down conversion rate against the Bengals. After going a strong 5-for-10 in a 16-point first half, the Ravens were 0-for-6 after intermission. Baltimore ranks last in the NFL with a 33.3 percent conversion rate on the season.

7. The decision to call an end-around hand-off to Mike Wallace on the final drive was questionable at best, but I applaud any extra attempts to get him the football otherwise. His explosive speed needs to be utilized as much as possible.

8. It came down to the numbers game with Elvis Dumervil returning, but Za’Darius Smith being a healthy inactive illustrates how much finding an edge pass rusher remains a priority this offseason. Rookie Matt Judon flashes potential, but Smith’s second season has been a disappointment.

9. Kamar Aiken caught a pass to move the chains on a key third down on each of the first two scoring drives and wasn’t targeted again after that. No one expected him to be Baltimore’s leading receiver again this season, but he shouldn’t have fewer receptions than Kyle Juszczyk.

10. I’m still surprised how reluctant some have been to embrace this defense. It may lack much star power, but this has been a top 5 unit all year. If your standard is the 2000 Ravens or you’re waiting for the next Ray Lewis to appear, you’ll never be satisfied.

11. Many are clamoring for the Ravens to use the no-huddle offense even more, but it bogged down after a fast start against Cincinnati. This group hasn’t shown the kind of precision or communication required to run it exclusively, but it can still be used plenty.

12. Coaches always receive criticism when teams lose, but John Harbaugh deserves praise for the way he handled the game-ending safety. He said all teams have that strategy in their special-teams playbook, but I highly doubt that.

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Ravens secondary trying to hold on without Jimmy Smith

Posted on 28 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens bent but didn’t break without cornerback Jimmy Smith this time.

After Dallas rookie Dak Prescott threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns in Baltimore’s 27-17 loss to the Cowboys last week, the secondary fared better against Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, who needed 48 pass attempts to throw for 283 yards and only one touchdown. Of course, the Bengals not having Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green helped immensely while the Ravens played their second straight game without Smith, who continues to deal with a back issue.

The results weren’t perfect, but head coach John Harbaugh will always sign up for his defense allowing 12 points — the Bengals’ other two points came on the game-ending safety — in a 19-14 victory. It sure beat what happened against the Cowboys and in the second half of the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants after Smith left the game with a concussion.

“I thought our defensive backs did a much better job in man-to-man coverage than the week before,” Harbaugh said. “They had been doing a good job at times throughout the course of the season — for most of the season — playing man coverage, but yesterday they really stepped it up and had some good reps out there.”

The Ravens hope to see Smith return this week as the Miami Dolphins come to town sporting a six-game winning streak, their longest in over a decade. The Dolphins offense is built around surprising star running back Jay Ajayi, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill works with a trio of receivers in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills each with at least 480 receiving yards this season.

After revealing late last week that Smith’s back injury is a muscular issue, Harbaugh said Monday that the sixth-year defensive back continues improving. Whether that means a Week 13 return is unknown.

“I was hopeful he would get back [against the Bengals],” Harbaugh said. “He ran again on Saturday, and he tried to see how well he ran on the ground, and it was better, but it was not good enough to play. That is where we’re at. He is close. He has been able to run for about a week, so we’ll see.”

The Ravens have moved Shareece Wright back into the starting lineup in Smith’s absence over the last two weeks, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees interestingly used different combinations in the nickel package on Sunday. Perhaps a reflection of his recent struggles against Dallas, veteran slot corner Jerraud Powers played only 25 of 75 defensive snaps against Cincinnati. It was his lowest snap total since suffering a groin injury in the Week 6 loss to the Giants.

Reserve safety and former first-round pick Matt Elam played a season-high 27 snaps while starting safety Lardarius Webb moved down to the slot in the nickel package, a position where he thrived early in his career. Harbaugh wouldn’t disclose whether we’d see more of that alignment moving forward.

“Those are different packages that we had in,” Harbaugh said. “Some of the packages are more passing. Some of them are more running. Some of them have to do with pressures. Some of them are more base calls. We’re just trying to have guys out there for what they do best and try to get our matchups as best as we can. That’s really what it was. We try to put guys in positions to do what they do best.”

No matter who else is out there, the Ravens secondary will only be at its best down the stretch with a healthy Smith back on the field.

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Ravens take care of business using same flawed formula

Posted on 28 November 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens did what they needed to do to snap their five-game losing streak against Cincinnati.

No matter how depleted the current Bengals might be, you don’t take a victory for granted when you haven’t beaten the division rival in over three years and you need to win. The 19-14 final drew Baltimore even with Pittsburgh for first place with the calendar turning to December this week.

The Ravens couldn’t ask to be in better position, especially when you recall where they were a month ago.

But several offensive starters lamented the inability to build off a fast start that included a Joe Flacco 14-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman and a field goal on their first two drives of the game. Leading 16-3 at halftime, the Ravens went 0-for-6 on third down and managed only one field goal the rest of the way, which gave the Bengals a chance to tie the game before Elvis Dumervil’s strip-sack and Lawrence Guy’s recovery with just over a minute remaining.

Yet again, a good defensive performance and a perfect Justin Tucker played the leading roles in the win while the offense spun its wheels after some early success.

“I’m confident in my ability to play games like this and win down the stretch and do the right thing with the football,” said Flacco, who was a relatively efficient 25 of 36 for 234 yards and an interception to go with the opening-drive score. “But in order for us to take that next step and be the kind of team that we want to be and be a championship football team, we’re not going to survive week in and week out doing things like this. We’ve got to keep the foot on the gas and learn how to put teams away.”

The ninth-year quarterback offered the same sentiment after the Week 3 win in Jacksonville two months ago. Fortunately, the offense has recovered from its miserable — and injury-plagued — October, but Flacco’s words reflect the lack of overall improvement from the opening month of the season until now.

The Ravens have scored just 19 touchdowns this season, ranking 31st of 32 teams in the NFL. The offense certainly deserves credit for the work required to put Justin Tucker in position to go a league-best 27-for-27 on field goal tries, but 18 were from 40 yards or longer, meaning the Ravens haven’t exactly been all that close to the end zone on most of those drives.

Baltimore has managed more than one offensive touchdown in just five of 11 games and has scored fewer than 20 points six times. The Ravens have scored 25 or more in just three games with two coming against winless Cleveland.

It’s scary to think where they might be without Tucker, who is rapidly cementing himself as the league’s best kicker and is an impressive 7-for-7 from 50 yards and beyond after converting three from that range in the first half on Sunday. He’s been to the Ravens what All-Star closer Zach Britton was to the Orioles this past season, the difference in making them a playoff contender despite other flaws.

For now, the offense can only continue working to improve, pointing to the recent stabilization of the offensive line and the steady emergence of rookie running back Kenneth Dixon as reasons for optimism.

“I know that we’re getting better on offense,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think we’re doing a good job, but we’re striving for more than that. Our guys are going to tell you, we want to put a lot more points up than that. That’s what we’re working towards.”

The most encouraging development from Sunday’s game may have come on the opposite side of the ball with the return of Dumervil, who was rusty in his first action in seven weeks until the final defensive play when he blew past Bengals right tackle Eric Winston to strip quarterback Andy Dalton of the football inside the red zone. The turnover sealed the victory for the Ravens defense, who buckled but didn’t break against a Cincinnati offense lacking its best player in wide receiver A.J. Green.

The Ravens need top cornerback Jimmy Smith to return from a back injury that’s sidelined him for the last two games, but a healthy Dumervil could work wonders for an edge pass rush that’s relied heavily on fellow veteran Terrell Suggs, who collected two strip-sacks of his own on Sunday. It was just the third game of the season for Dumervil, who’s dealt with a frustrating rehab from offseason foot surgery.

“You get a guy and add that to the defense that we already have, it just opens up the possibilities of being even better than what we are right now,” safety Eric Weddle said. “It was huge. He practiced outstanding the last two weeks. We knew it was going to give us a boost, and adding him across from [Suggs] and our other rushers and [to] our game plans, we’re going to be a tough team to stop.”

The Ravens keep hoping for their offense to improve, but maybe the current formula can be enough. After all, it’s earned them a 6-5 mark to this point, which is good enough for a first-place tie with a Steelers team sporting a very good offense but a below-average defense.

Baltimore plays two of the next three at home against Miami and Philadelphia, who are formidable teams but hardly juggernauts. The surprising Dolphins have won six straight, but the last five have been by a single possession and they rely heavily on their running game, a favorable matchup for the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

Whether the Ravens will find enough wins over the final five games to make the playoffs remains to be seen, but Sunday was another reminder that it will probably look the way it has all season — a good defense, a frustrating and below-average offense, and the best kicker in football.

“If it ain’t tough, it ain’t the Raven way,” Suggs said. “I really wish we could have got off the field instead of scaring everybody and having Elvis make a fantastic play. But that’s the Raven way. It ain’t pretty, but we’ll take it.”

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Cincinnati bearing strong resemblance to last year’s Ravens

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The 2016 script for the Cincinnati Bengals should sound familiar to the Ravens.

A heartbreaking playoff loss the previous January.

The departure of a popular offensive coordinator and the loss of several key free agents.

A difficult early-season schedule that included four of the first six games on the road.

And a growing list of injuries.

At 3-6-1, the Bengals find their season all but ruined without a miraculous turnaround. The injuries to Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and shifty running back Giovani Bernard felt like the final nails in the coffin last Sunday, but consecutive post-bye losses by a total of five points have dropped Cincinnati out of serious contention in a mediocre AFC North.

It all sounds a lot like the Ravens’ circumstances a year ago that resulted in a 5-11 season, the franchise’s worst in nearly a decade. At the same point last year, Baltimore was 3-7 and already out of playoff contention.

“We haven’t won close games,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve had opportunities in the fourth quarter of football games. We’ve had leads. We’ve had opportunities, and we haven’t closed the games out.”

Of course, the Bengals’ woes guarantee nothing for the Ravens, who haven’t made things easy on themselves all season. Three of their five wins have come against the two worst teams in the AFC — Cleveland and Jacksonville — and just one of their victories has been by more than one score.

And don’t forget about that five-game losing streak against the Bengals, a drought dating back to the 2013 season. The Week 16 rematch with Pittsburgh is the most crucial game remaining on the schedule, but two games against Cincinnati — Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium and then the regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium — will be critical in determining the Ravens’ fate.

“We have to find a way to beat them,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If we do not start beating the Bengals, then we are not going to win any division championships. That is especially true this year. To me, the whole thing goes through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. We are going to have to win a couple other games, too, but it is the division. This is a division game. It is as simple as that.”

Starting fast is a goal every week, but the Ravens are facing a team that has one victory — against the winless Browns — since late September and will be without its best player. If ever there were a time for Baltimore to come out of the gate trying to step on the neck of an opponent, Week 12 is it.

The Bengals are down and know they likely need to win out to have any chance of extending their string of five consecutive trips to the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Ravens know they need to win these next two home games — including next week against Miami — to keep pace with the Steelers and put themselves in good position for a brutal final quarter of the season that includes road games at New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.

On Sunday, the Ravens can’t afford to give hope to a struggling team that still has some talented players on both sides of the ball.

“We want to continue to build and get better,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, whose 19 career interceptions against the Bengals are the most he’s thrown against any team. “I think it is huge to get going just to get our crowd in it and to get everybody excited — to get our guys excited. These guys have played us well. We have not beaten them in a long time. It is definitely going to be a tough game, but early on will be a big part.”

We know this is a flawed Ravens team expected to once again be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, but their problems don’t run as deep as those of the Bengals, whose penalty-riddled collapse against Pittsburgh last January now looks like the moment their window of opportunity slammed shut. Baltimore is trying to show its own window is still open despite going 10-16 since the start of last season.

There’s no excuse not to beat the struggling Bengals if the Ravens want to be taken seriously the rest of the way. A loss would drastically change their outlook for their five remaining games.

Peppered with questions from the Baltimore media this week about how the losses of Green and Bernard impact his struggling team, Lewis said the Bengals still plan on showing up at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. No matter how Cincinnati might look right now, the Ravens can’t afford to take their AFC North rival lightly.

“Five straight is five straight. Numbers don’t lie,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They have kind of had our number. We are going to see what we can do to change that.”

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Dumervil questionable, J. Smith doubtful to play against Cincinnati

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens may welcome back a key member of their defense against Cincinnati, but another is expected to be absent for the second straight game.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) is listed as questionable to play against the Bengals on Sunday while cornerback Jimmy Smith (back) is doubtful after missing practices all week. Dumervil was a full participant all week after returning to the practice field last week and could see his first live-game action since Oct. 9 against Washington.

Dealing with a frustrating recovery from offseason foot surgery, Dumervil has appeared in just two games all season, failing to register a statistic in 45 total snaps. The 32-year-old collected a total of 32 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons with the Ravens, who have struggled to mount a consistent pass rush this season.

“I think he looked good in practice. Again, it’s going to be up to the medical people to determine [if he plays],” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s always been a medical issue. It’s good to see him out there at practice taking a good number of reps. He didn’t take every rep, but took a good number of reps in the rotation. We’ll just have to see when the time comes whether he’ll get cleared to go.”

With Smith not expected to play, the Ravens are fortunate that five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green will not suit up for the Bengals. Green injured his hamstring in last Sunday’s loss to Buffalo and was officially declared out on Friday afternoon.

The Baltimore defense has struggled without Smith on the field, but the Bengals’ lack of a high-impact receiver without Green should lessen that concern. The Ravens started rookie Tavon Young and returning veteran Shareece Wright at the starting cornerback spots against the Cowboys last week as Smith continued to nurse his back issue.

“I think they have a better handle on exactly what it is right now specifically,” Harbaugh said. “They have a good handle on it. It’s more muscular, so that’s good news. If it clears up and he can go, he’ll play. If it doesn’t and he can’t be close to 100 percent, we’ll just have to wait until next week. But we’re confident in the guys we have as well.”

The Ravens officially ruled out guard Alex Lewis (ankle) and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh). Tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) sat out Friday’s workout and is doubtful, meaning he will likely miss his fourth consecutive game.

Baltimore listed guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and defensive tackles Timmy Jernigan (shoulder) and Brandon Williams (back/hand) as questionable, but all three are expected to play on Sunday.

In addition to ruling out Green, the Bengals listed starting strong safety Shawn Williams (hamstring) as doubtful to play in Week 12.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Clete Blakeman.

The Ravens will wear its black jerseys on Sunday, the first time this year the alternate top has been worn.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching 53 degrees and winds up to 12 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: G Alex Lewis (ankle), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
DOUBTFUL: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (back)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder), DT Brandon Williams (back/hand), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

CINCINNATI
OUT: WR A.J. Green (hamstring)
DOUBTFUL: TE C.J. Uzomah (calf), S Shawn Williams (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: LS Clark Harris (groin), S Derron Smith (thigh)

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After suggesting change, Yanda excels at new position for Ravens

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A week ago, the Ravens weren’t sure if five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda would play again this season.

Instead, he made his first career start at left guard on Sunday, performing very well in the 27-17 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys. After suggesting the change to coaches to better protect his injured left shoulder, Yanda earned the highest grade of any Ravens player in Pro Football Focus’ Week 11 grades.

Though the position change isn’t quite as drastic as a right-handed hitter trying to swing from the left side, head coach John Harbaugh noted the challenges of switching to the opposite side of the offensive line. From dropping his opposite hand and leg in the three-point stance to his play responsibilities being flipped, the transition isn’t easy to make on the fly, especially when you’re less than 100 percent physically.

“I was weary of it early in the week,” Harbaugh said. “I was just watching him in individual [portions of practice] and seeing how he moved, but he did look natural doing it. I think he’s been on the left side at times during college and things like that. It just shows you what a phenomenal athlete he is and how determined he is and really what a good football player he is.”

In addition to starting at right tackle in the past — including the entire 2010 season and in the 2014 postseason — Yanda has occasionally practiced at center in the past to be prepared in the event of an emergency situation on game day. Former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak once quipped that Yanda was so versatile that he could probably handle the quarterback position in a pinch.

After missing three of his previous four games, Yanda appeared to make it through the game without suffering any further damage to his left shoulder. He is wearing a harness to protect it during practices and games after initially injuring it in the Oct. 9 loss to Washington.

“He got out of [the game] well. I talked to him this morning, and he felt really good, felt strong,” Harbaugh said. “He got a lift in this morning, so that was a good sign. He got out of it 100 percent.”

J. Smith, Dumervil status up to medical staff

Harbaugh was noncommittal regarding the Week 12 status of cornerback Jimmy Smith (back) and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), who both sat out Sunday’s loss to Dallas.

While it was the first missed game of the season for Smith, Dumervil has appeared in just two of Baltimore’s 10 games this season in a slower-than-expected recovery from offseason foot surgery. Cincinnati is dealing with its own injury issues, but the Ravens would certainly like to have two key defensive cogs back in action.

“We will see. I don’t really know,” Harbaugh said. “It is up to the doctors.”

Dumervil was shut down after two nondescript performances against Oakland and Washington early last month. He returned to practice as a full participant last Wednesday and Thursday, but the medical staff elected to hold the 32-year-old out after a five-week absence from the practice field.

Harbaugh said Dumervil looked good in those practices and did not suffer a setback, making it possible that he could play against the Bengals. The Ravens could certainly use a healthy version of the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher coming off the edge, but it remains to be seen what he will offer after such a lengthy and frustrating rehab process.

“I have no expectations. I am hoping he gets out there and plays, and I hope he has 10 sacks,” Harbaugh said. “That is what I am hoping for. I am hoping he just lights it up and dominates. I am hoping he is the difference. I just don’t have the answer for it. If he is out there, I expect him to play great.”

Boyle back

Second-year tight end Nick Boyle will return to practice this week after serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, the second ban of his brief career.

“He will be back practicing this week. We will see how he looks,” said Harbaugh about the 2015 fifth-round pick from Delaware. “He has not been here for 10 weeks, so it has been quite a while.”

The Ravens could use the depth with veteran Dennis Pitta and converted wide receiver Darren Waller being the only healthy tight ends on the active roster since the bye week. Crockett Gillmore has missed the last three games with a thigh injury, which has prompted offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use reserve tackle James Hurst as a blocking tight end in certain situations.

It’s quite a change from the start of training camp when the Ravens had an abundance of talent at the position, but they lost Benjamin Watson (Achilles tendon) and Maxx Williams (knee) to season-ending injuries and Daniel Brown was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Bears in October. Gillmore’s absence has left Baltimore without a quality blocking tight end, which hasn’t helped an inconsistent running game.

“It has not been ideal,” Harbaugh said. “We had a number of tight ends to start the season, and we ended up being thin there the last four or five weeks. I feel like Darren has done a good job; he has actually blocked pretty darn well. We just play the guys we have and go win games with the guys we have.”

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Playing Willy Wonka in America for a week for the German man who saved my wife’s life with bone marrow

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

Now that it’s taken me a few days to recover from my mystery surprise vacation, it’s time to come clean on how all of the elements of the #NielsInTheUSA tour came together during his epic, whirlwind week of travel across the continent in search of Dirk Nowitzki.

The more we posted pictures from various places and with many friends, celebrities and people involved in Jenn’s fight for her life in battling leukemia, the more questions folks had about the journey.

All of it was a secret for him. It was designed that way because he told us he loves surprises. It was also his dream trip to America – the first time he’d traveled outside of Europe.

It all began with his initial letter, which we received on August 7, 2014 – just 42 days after he anonymously donated his bone marrow to Jenn from Germany that saved her life on June 26, 2014. Read the letter here: http://wnst.net/wnst/jennstrong-receives-the-greatest-life-and-love-letter-ever-written-from-germany/

WARNING: If you do not click on the above link and read the letter, you’ll miss the whole point of everything you’re about to read and you’ll never understand what you witnessed in pictures earlier in November. Please read it before you proceed…

(Yes, really!)

You’ll be glad you did…

***

German law states that donors must wait two years before they can be introduced to a survivor. We knew in August 2014 that Jenn would have to survive and thrive for the next 22 months in order to meet him.

As many of you know, Jenn’s leukemia returned last September and she needed her still-anonymous initial donor to once again give his lymphocytes to save her life on Nov. 19, 2015. This was our best shot to cure her cancer through an awful process known as “graft vs. host disease,” which she has spent much of this calendar year experiencing most of the gruesome aftershocks of her survival last winter.

On the afternoon of June 30th, we received an email from our John Hopkins transplant coordinator with the name of the angel who saved her life.

For two years we only knew that he was male, from Germany and 21 at the time of his donation of bone marrow to save a stranger’s life in America. All he knew was that it was a 41-year old woman in America he was trying to save with his blood.

His name was Niels Domogalla, now 23, and he lives in Witten, Germany. Despite having his email address, Jenn and I dove onto the internet and she found him on Facebook within 30 seconds.

She friended him. I friended him. We both began to write short letters of introduction but before we could finish them he had already friended us both back and had commented on our walls.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon in America. It was 10:30 in the evening in Germany.

And, so, a unique friendship was berthed.

And what, exactly, do you say to a person who saved your life?

 

***

 

It didn’t take us long to realize that this was a special and unique young man in Germany. First, he really was concerned about the quality and the grammar of his English. He speaks parts of four languages and his English is about 96% perfect, which is better than …

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Loss doesn’t change Ravens’ outlook all that much

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The 27-17 loss to Dallas was disappointing, but the outlook for the Ravens’ season really didn’t change all that much on Sunday.

A mediocre team hung tough throughout the first half before the superior Cowboys seized control over the final 30 minutes. The final result certainly didn’t make the Ravens or their fans happy, but isn’t that what’s supposed to happen when a .500 team plays on the road against one of the best teams in the NFL?

If we’re being honest, what did we learn about the Ravens at AT&T Stadium that we didn’t already know?

Sure, we can calm down with the discussion about where this defense ranks among the best groups in franchise history. The NFL’s top-ranked run defense may have fared well against Ezekiel Elliott early, but the Cowboys’ No. 1 rushing attack ultimately won that marquee battle with 118 yards on the afternoon.

Though still a very good defense statistically, the Ravens have now twice shown — the first instance being the second half of the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants — that they can’t stop a potent passing attack with an elite receiver without Jimmy Smith on the field. Sunday was also one of the few occasions all year in which the defense was exposed for not having a consistent pass rush as rookie quarterback Dak Prescott was hardly touched after the opening quarter.

This defense may not be special, but it’s still good enough to keep the Ravens in games against virtually anyone. A group that has forced turnovers and consistently gotten off the field on third down all year could do neither on Sunday, which tells much of the story of the game.

The Cowboys proved why they’re one of the best offenses in football by controlling the line of scrimmage.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore offense started fast with an impressive six-play, 90-yard touchdown drive on its second possession before punting on four of its next five possessions. Over that time, the Cowboys turned an early 7-0 deficit into a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Again, that script is nothing new for a Ravens offense that’s failed to score 20 or more points in five of 10 games this season.

Quarterback Joe Flacco completed plenty of short passes and had a solid day statistically, but he went 0-for-4 on passes traveling at least 20 yards through the air. The Ravens offense could neither consistently make big plays — outside of Steve Smith — nor sustain drives to keep the Dallas offense off the field.

Seventeen points just isn’t going to get it done when you’re playing a top five offense on the road in today’s NFL.

And, of course, yellow flags crushed the Ravens in all three phases of the game as they finished with a season-high 136 yards in penalties. From center Jeremy Zuttah’s three backbreaking penalties to stall drives to Matt Judon’s offside infraction on a fourth-quarter kickoff that would have backed the Cowboys up to their own 10, Baltimore shot itself in the foot repeatedly.

But we know that’s nothing new once again.

Fans don’t want to hear it after the Ravens fell to 0-4 against teams currently holding winning records, but they do look better than they did a month ago, even if only because of improved health. Chalk it up to good fortune because of a down year in the AFC North, but the Ravens remain in solid position tied with Pittsburgh for first place with six games remaining.

The Steelers aren’t going anywhere and may face an easier path on paper, but the Ravens will now prepare for Cincinnati, who is suddenly looking closer in quality to the Cleveland Browns than to the top two teams in the division. The Bengals fell to 3-6-1 on Sunday while losing five-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green and shifty running back Giovani Bernard to long-term injuries, leaving no excuse for the Ravens not to snap their five-game slide against Cincinnati dating back to 2013.

You never want to lose, but the Ravens were playing a non-conference team better than them and appeared to escape Dallas without any serious injuries.

I suppose it’s deflating if you believed Baltimore’s second-half explosion against Cleveland to be a breakthrough, but playing the worst team in the NFL at home is a lot different than venturing down to “Jerry’s World” these days.

The Ravens are what their record suggests they are — not a very good football team — but a division title is still within their sights.

Sunday’s loss did very little to change that, especially if you were being realistic to begin with.

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No apparent relief in sight for Ravens offensive line

Posted on 14 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are alone in first place in the AFC North this late in a season for the first time since 2012, but the state of their offensive line is once again moving in the wrong direction.

And it doesn’t appear that any relief is in sight.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced Monday that starting left guard Alex Lewis will miss an estimated six weeks with the high ankle sprain sustained in the 28-7 win over Cleveland. The Ravens remain hopeful that the rookie fourth-round pick can still return this season after an estimated six-week recovery. Television replays showed his right ankle bending in a gruesome way, an injury that led to medical staff putting his leg in an air cast before he was carted off the field.

The Lewis news was bad enough, but Harbaugh’s comments regarding the status of right guard Marshal Yanda prompted even more concern on Monday. The five-time Pro Bowl selection missed two games in October with a left shoulder injury and had returned after the bye week to play against Pittsburgh, but he was once again sidelined for Week 10, leaving obvious concern for his status moving forward.

“We’ll let you know as we go,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see how he progresses.”

Widely regarded as the best guard in the NFL and the leader of the Baltimore offensive line, Yanda hadn’t missed a game since the end of the 2012 regular season before hurting his shoulder against Washington on Oct. 9. He was attempting to play through the injury by wearing a harness, but the shoulder clearly didn’t respond well from playing 70 snaps against the Steelers.

Veteran Vladimir Ducasse started in place of Yanda against Cleveland and third-year lineman John Urschel took over for Lewis at left guard in the second half, but the Ravens had hoped their offensive line was finally getting healthy after the bye week. Their original starting five played together against Pittsburgh for the first time since Week 3, but the Ravens were forced to use their sixth different starting combination along the offensive line in Week 10.

Their seventh different combination is now expected to start against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

With their line in disarray for much of the year, the Ravens have struggled to run the ball and consistently protect quarterback Joe Flacco, who is having one of the worst seasons of his nine-year career. Baltimore currently ranks 28th in the NFL in averaging just 3.5 yards per carry while the passing game ranks 31st at just 6.3 yards per attempt this season.

Fortunately for Baltimore, rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley bounced back from a rough performance in his return against the Steelers to fare much better against the Browns last Thursday. The sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft missed four games with a foot injury that sidelined him for the entire month of October.

Center Jeremy Zuttah is the only Ravens offensive lineman to start all nine games this season, but the veteran played through back and ankle issues in the Week 10 win.

In other injury-related news, Harbaugh said outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is getting closer to returning to practice after he was shut down last month in his return from offseason foot surgery. The five-time Pro Bowl selection has appeared in just two games this season and last played on Oct. 9.

“He is getting closer. I am hoping it is very close,” Harbaugh said. “We will just have to see. When he starts practicing, you will know. It should be right there.”

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