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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 13 December 2014 by Luke Jones

There’s no big secret to Sunday’s game between the Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If the Ravens are the playoff-caliber team they’ve shown themselves to be for much of the 2014 season, there won’t be any drama as they try to improve to 9-5. It’s difficult to call this one a trap game when 2-11 Jacksonville hasn’t won a game on the road all year and the Ravens win the games they’re supposed to — especially at home — in the John Harbaugh era.

The Ravens know they’re guaranteed a playoff spot by winning their final three games, but Sunday is the closest they’ll get to a sure thing the rest of the way with a challenging trip to Houston next week and a season-finale against Cleveland that will likely carry plenty of pressure. Meanwhile, the struggling Jaguars are now dealing with the season-ending loss of starting running back Denard Robinson due to a sprained foot.

It’s time to go on the record as these old AFC Central foes meet for the 18th time in regular-season history with the Jaguars holding a 10-7 edge. However, the Ravens are 5-4 in Baltimore and have won seven of the last nine meetings. Jacksonville won the last regular-season game between these teams, a 12-7 final on Oct. 24, 2011.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to move a step closer toward securing a playoff spot …

1. Terrell Suggs will pick up 2 1/2 sacks working against Jacksonville tackle Luke Joeckel. Opposing offensive lines haven’t been able to slide protection because of the pressure the Ravens have created from both edges this season, but you wonder if the Jaguars will pay more attention to Elvis Dumervil, who last week set the single-season franchise record in pushing his sack total to 16. Despite being the second overall pick of the 2013 draft, Joeckel has struggled mightily in his sophomore season and Suggs will take advantage to try to close the gap in the sack department. The Ravens shouldn’t have any trouble making rookie quarterback Blake Bortles uncomfortable with the 12th-year linebacker leading the effort.

2. With Torrey Smith limited, Marlon Brown will catch his first touchdown of the season. The Ravens surprisingly listed Smith as probable on their final injury report, but they’ll try to limit throwing him into the fire as much as possible on Sunday to rest his sprained knee, which will mean more opportunities for Brown and Kamar Aiken. It’s been a disappointing season for Brown after a surprising rookie year, but he’s been more involved with the offense since the bye week, a trend that will continue against the league’s 18th-ranked pass defense. Justin Forsett and the running game figures to be featured heavily, but quarterback Joe Flacco will find Brown in the red zone for a score.

3. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts will rein in a score in a rare highlight for the Jaguars on Sunday. If Jacksonville can find even a little time for Bortles in the pocket, it’s no secret that the Baltimore pass defense is vulnerable and ranked 31st in the NFL. The Jaguars figure to be throwing the ball a lot if they fall behind like most would expect, and defensive coordinator Dean Pees will play soft coverage in the back end as the game goes on. Bortles has shown flashes of promise when he hasn’t been annihilated in the pocket — Jacksonville has allowed an incredible 54 sacks this season — and he’ll orchestrate a nice scoring drive finished off with a short touchdown to Shorts.

4. Lardarius Webb will secure his first interception in what’s been a difficult season. The sixth-year cornerback is healthier now than he was earlier in the season, but it’s been a disappointing year for Webb as his future with the Ravens is in question due to his $12 million cap figure in 2015. However, the Jaguars don’t have any receivers that should scare the Ravens, and Bortles has thrown 16 interceptions in 379 pass attempts. The Ravens secondary hasn’t been able to create many turnovers this season, but the Jaguars are tied for 26th in the NFL with a minus-8 turnover margin. Webb will pick off his first pass of the season to set the Ravens up on a short field.

5. The Ravens will emphatically handle a team they’re supposed to beat in a 31-13 final. Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, but this one is as close as it gets with an opponent having nothing to play for coming to M&T Bank Stadium to face the Ravens, who have very little margin for error as they try to make it back to the playoffs after a one-year absence. Short of something catastrophic such as a multiple-turnover performance or an injury to Flacco, the Ravens just aren’t going to let the lowly Jaguars beat them. It won’t be a flawless performance — the Ravens never seem to make it quite as easy as they should in these spots — but the home crowd will ultimately go home happy after the win.

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Harbaugh’s bold move sets attitude for Ravens’ season-saving win

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Harbaugh’s bold move sets attitude for Ravens’ season-saving win

Posted on 07 December 2014 by Luke Jones

John Harbaugh may not be a prophet, but he offered a glimpse into a head coach’s mindset for making difficult in-game choices six days prior to the Ravens’ season-saving 28-13 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

That decision-making process played out again early in the third quarter Sunday as the Ravens trailed 10-7 and faced fourth-and-1 at their own 35-yard line. Instead of sending his punting unit onto the field as most coaches would do in such a spot, Harbaugh decided the Ravens would go for it and threw caution to the wind.

And that’s where his response last Monday when questioned about using a timeout before kicking a late field goal in the disappointing loss to San Diego rang loud and clear.

“‘In retrospect,’ you’d always like to do something different if it doesn’t work out,” Harbaugh said. “But in the heat of battle, you do the best you can, you make the decision that you make — the one that you think is best at the time.

“We did the best we could; it wasn’t good enough. I didn’t do well enough making those decisions enough to win the game in the end. And that’s the reality — just take responsibility for it and move on.”

There’s no doubt that Harbaugh would have been facing a mountain of criticism had quarterback Joe Flacco been stuffed at the line of scrimmage and the Ravens not moved down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown and eventually win the game. Numbers-savvy fans and statistical analysts will tell you going for it in such a situation isn’t the risk it seems, but they’re not the ones on the sideline and potentially facing the wrath of the owner, general manager, media, and fans if the decision blows up in their face.

It’s a risk many wouldn’t have taken — especially when Baltimore was stuffed on two short-yardage situations in the first half — but no one knows the Ravens’ pulse in Week 14 better than Harbaugh following a difficult defeat to the Chargers last Sunday and this week’s news of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being suspended for the rest of the regular season. After weathering a miserable start in the first half and his Ravens only trailing by three, Harbaugh’s bold move made it clear he didn’t want to surrender the momentum gained with a touchdown late in the second quarter and the Dolphins punting on the opening possession of the third quarter.

In a game the Ravens described all week as a must-win affair, Harbaugh’s decision illustrated the desperation of the day. And perhaps it was the lift his team needed to put a trying first half in the rear-view mirror.

The fourth-down conversion to continue the drive that culminated with Flacco’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Kamar Aiken set the attitude for a dominating finish and a crucial victory in Miami.

Of course, the Ravens had begun to awaken before Harbaugh’s fourth-down gamble as Flacco bounced back from throwing one of his worst interceptions of the season to lead the Ravens down the field for a 97-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown to Steve Smith with two seconds left in the first half. That connection came after Smith had dropped a perfectly-thrown pass in the end zone a play before Flacco’s ugly turnover.

The Baltimore signal-caller was superb after his end-zone miscue midway through the second quarter, completing 18 of 23 passes for 200 yards and two touchdown passes the rest of the way as he finished with 269 yards.

But Flacco wasn’t alone as a running game playing with a hobbled Justin Forsett came alive in the fourth quarter, rushing 14 times for 107 yards in the final 15 minutes. Forsett finished with 71 yards, Bernard Pierce chipped in three carries for 50 yards in the fourth quarter, and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro added 35 more yards on the day.

A Baltimore defense that surrendered 10 points in its first two series settled down and began swarming Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the pocket to the tune of six sacks and nine quarterback hits, much of that pressure coming in the second half when Miami managed just three points. Elvis Dumervil collected 3 1/2 sacks to set the Ravens’ single-season record with 16 through 13 games, eclipsing Peter Boulware’s mark set in 2001.

Despite some leaky run defense early, the Ravens hardly seemed to miss Ngata as the Dolphins ran for only 63 yards on 16 carries.

A secondary that lost reserve cornerbacks Anthony Levine and Danny Gorrer to injuries will remain a concern for the rest of the season, but the unit wasn’t nearly the same liability with the Ravens consistently collapsing the pocket and harassing Tannehill.

The Ravens answered the bell without the services of a healthy Torrey Smith, who was held without a catch in limited action. With the fourth-year wideout’s knee swelling up during pre-game warmups, Aiken contributed six receptions for 65 yards, Marlon Brown caught three passes for 30 yards, and even the recently-promoted tight end Phillip Supernaw added a 29-yard reception to set up a Forsett touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

It was a team effort as the Ravens awoke from a painfully slow start to dispose of the Dolphins and move just a half-game behind first-place Cincinnati in the AFC North.

There’s no way of knowing whether the Ravens would have won had Harbaugh elected to punt early in the third quarter or if they’d failed to convert on fourth-and-1, but Baltimore didn’t look back from the point Flacco surged forward to move the chains.

Whether you viewed it as the prudent choice or a foolish risk, Harbaugh’s bold move worked out and set the tone for the remainder of the game.

The Ravens responded by dominating the rest of the way to earn a critical win in the AFC playoff landscape.

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Ravens-Cowboys preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Cowboys preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 15 August 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will try to build on an encouraging performance in their preseason opener as they travel to Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys in their second preseason game of the summer.

Observers were abuzz over an impressive 10-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown in the starting offense’s only work of the night against San Francisco, but the Ravens have acknowledged throughout the week that they can’t put too much stock into one possession. Even with plenty of strides already taken throughout training camp to grasp new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system, there is plenty of work remaining before the Ravens kick off the regular season against Cincinnati on Sept. 7.

“You have an opportunity to really see progress,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You’re in a crucible, and every single day, it’s all you do. It’s wall-to-wall football. It’s morning to night. You go to sleep and you wake up, and you’re back at football. There’s no escape. There’s nowhere to hide, [and] there’s nowhere to run. It’s all football all the time, so you make progress rapidly, but you have to because you have a long way to go.”

Harbaugh confirmed starters are expected to receive more playing time against the Cowboys than they did against San Francisco, but the first units will receive their most extensive work against Washington in the third preseason game next weekend.

The Ravens are expected to continue giving running back Ray Rice first-team reps along with top backup Bernard Pierce before focusing more on the latter next week with Rice suspended for the first two games of the regular season.

“Normally, in the second preseason game you get a quarter, maybe a little more than a quarter,” Harbaugh said. “Some of that will be individualized for different players; we’ll have some play counts for a few guys, including Joe [Flacco] and some of the defensive players. We’ll see how it goes, but basically, about a quarter is what you’re looking at — maybe more. It could get close to a half; it could even be a half for some of the starters.”

Saturday will be the first preseason meeting between the Ravens and the Cowboys, but Baltimore owns the 4-0 edge in the regular season and will be making its first visit to AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Ravens are 43-29 all-time in the preseason and have a 16-9 preseason mark in the Harbaugh era.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Saturday night’s game against Dallas.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. This list, of course, will not include any veterans who may be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference. Cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play in the second preseason game as he’s been sidelined with a lower back injury since July 25.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: CB Lardarius Webb (back), G Will Rackley (head), DT Terrence Cody (hip), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles tendon), DE Brent Urban (knee)
DOUBTFUL: CB Asa Jackson (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Owen Daniels (unspecified)
PROBABLE: LB Daryl Smith (groin), S Brynden Trawick (back), OL Ryan Jensen (leg)

Five players to watch Saturday night

1. C Jeremy Zuttah

While many pointed to the success of right tackle Rick Wagner in the first preseason game, the new Baltimore center appeared to make calls at the line successfully as the starting offense ran the ball effectively and protected Flacco. Zuttah isn’t dramatically bigger than 2013 starter Gino Gradkowski, but he’s held up well physically as a run blocker and in pass protection. The offensive line will remain under heavy scrutiny through the early portion of the series, but the reviews for Zuttah have been positive and the overall concern at the center position last year at this time appears to be a distant memory.

“The thing about Jeremy, he is a professional in every way,” offensive line coach Juan Castillo said. “He is smart, and he studies the game. For him, too, it’s a different technique, and he’s been working very hard at the fundamentals and trying to do the things the way we do it here in Baltimore.”

2. S Terrence Brooks

It was no secret that Brooks was lagging behind in the competition at free safety due to concerns with him grasping the intricacies of the defense, but injuries to Webb and Jackson at the cornerback position have prompted the Ravens to take a look at the Florida State product in the nickel spot, a position he played with the Seminoles. The shift is more of a reflection on how shallow the cornerback depth is at this point, but Brooks may find the nickel and dime packages as his best chance to see the field for meaningful defensive snaps to start his rookie season.

“Everybody is an option right now. We’re just trying to find guys,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees on the No. 3 cornerback spot. “We’re moving guys around a little bit. We have two more games to experiment with where we want to put guys and see where they fit getting ready for the season. The first two games are [about] playing everybody [to] see what we have, and then after that, we have to start honing in. But we’ll move a bunch of guys around. Terrence is playing well; he’s playing hard. He’s a multi-position guy like all of our guys really are. It’s a possibility.”

3. WR Kamar Aiken

The 2013 practice squad member has turned plenty of heads and certainly took advantage of his opportunity in the preseason opener with four catches for 46 yards on six targets and 29 offensive snaps. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound wideout appears to be competing closely with Deonte Thompson for a potential roster spot, but Aiken has outplayed the incumbent member of the 53-man roster and can further improve his chances by building on what he did against the 49ers. Of course, special-teams contributions will play a major part in determining whether Aiken finds himself on the active roster.

“He is explosive and he’s big,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “I tell you, in all my years in the league, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen as competitive a situation as we have at receiver right now. I would have no chance telling John [Harbaugh] which five or six I would want right now, and that’s a good thing as a coach.”

4. DL DeAngelo Tyson

The 2012 seventh-round pick has been a steady member of the defensive line rotation in his first two seasons, but season-ending injuries to young defensive ends Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore may force the Ravens to use Tyson more exclusively at the 5-technique spot to spell veteran Chris Canty. The University of Georgia product can play multiple spots on the defensive line, so it will be a blow to their overall versatility in the trenches if Pees must use Tyson outside, but his presence has become much more important with the overall depth taking a hit this summer.

“The next guy will be up, and we’ll find a way to do it,” said Harbaugh about the injuries to Urban and Lewis-Moore. “There are always going to be injuries. You adapt, you adjust and you fill out your positions.”

5. TE Crockett Gillmore

The Ravens insist the veteran tight end Daniels isn’t injured, but it’s clear there are some physical concerns with him missing two straight practices following an off-day and not showing great separation while running routes in practices. These factors could open the door for Gillmore to receive more opportunities with the starting offense against Dallas and beyond. It’s been an inconsistent summer for the Colorado State product as a blocker and as a receiver, but that’s to be expected from a third-round pick who will be counted on to be used to some degree with neither Daniels nor starter Dennis Pitta considered particularly strong blockers.

“Crockett is a good football player,” Pitta said earlier this summer. “He’s a tough kid and he’s big and physical and a great blocker at the point of attack. I think that’s what stood out the most this early on. He’s going to be a valuable asset for this offense moving forward.”


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