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Harbaugh won’t hesitate to make roster changes to get better

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Harbaugh won’t hesitate to make roster changes to get better

Posted on 21 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Entering the bye week with the Ravens sporting a losing record this late in the season for the first time in his six-year tenure, it was clear head coach John Harbaugh wasn’t in a jovial mood while meeting with reporters on Monday.

Offering short answers with little elaboration on several occasions, Harbaugh made it clear that the Ravens need to improve in every phase of the game after a 3-4 start to the season. After the Ravens traded the recently-demoted left tackle Bryant McKinnie to the Miami Dolphins earlier in the day, the Baltimore coach said his team will explore every channel — internally or externally — to turn around a season that now includes a two-game deficit with AFC North-leading Cincinnati.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll trade guys. We’ll cut guys. We’ll sign guys. We’ll coach guys. We’ll change schemes. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to find a way to get better. That’s the business we’re in.”

The issues with the running game and offensive line are well-documented through the first seven weeks of the season, but Harbaugh was critical of a running game that surrendered 141 yards on the ground in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their AFC North foe entered Week 7 averaging just 61 rushing yards per game, but the Ravens gave up at least 140 yards on the ground for the third time in four games.

Harbaugh was even more critical of Jerry Rosburg’s special-teams units after reserve safety Jeromy Miles was offside on Justin Tucker’s failed onside kick attempt with 13:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the kickoff team lost outside containment on Steelers returner Emmanuel Sanders 44-yard kickoff return to set up Pittsburgh at its 37 to begin its final drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal. Realistically speaking, the Ravens could make a few changes to impact their special teams more easily than finding impact players on the offensive or defensive side of the ball.

Disappointing free safety Michael Huff was one of several players who failed to hold outside contain on that final kick return and was limited to just five special-teams plays on Sunday after he was initially signed to a three-year, $6 million contract to serve as the team’s starting free safety. He was benched after the season opener and has made little impact on special teams while playing sparingly in the Ravens’ dime package.

“We’ve got to play better on special teams; we’re going to go find some guys that want to play special teams,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not going to have guys out there letting the ball run outside of them; that’s unheard of. We’re not going to run a surprise onside kick and not know what we’re doing; we’ll go to work on that. If it means changing people out, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Like last year, the Ravens will enjoy their bye during Week 8, but their 3-4 record has prompted plenty of frustration. Baltimore didn’t exactly enter last year’s bye on a high note after the Houston Texans dismantled them in a 43-13 final, but a 5-2 record was easier to swallow.

Players will continue to put in work at the team’s Owings Mills facility through Wednesday afternoon before being dismissed for four straight days off as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.

“The biggest difference between last year and this year right now is that we’ve lost the close games,” Harbaugh said. “Last year, we won the close games. We’ve got to get hot a little bit and win some close games. It’s going to be a long season, and we have an opportunity going forward. We’ve just got to become a good football team.”

Osemele playing through back ailment

Struggling left guard Kelechi Osemele told Sports Illustrated after Sunday’s game that he is dealing with a disc problem in his back that will require surgery in the offseason, prompting questions about the second-year lineman’s health.

Osemele missed most of the Ravens’ Week 5 win over Miami as he dealt with back spasms that surfaced during pre-game warmups, but the 2012 second-round pick appears to be pushing through the injury for now.

“Most players in the league have something along those lines that way, so he fights through it,” said Harbaugh, who was initially dismissive of the report but didn’t firmly address whether surgery would be in order. “He had the same issue last year [and] he fought through it last year. All the guys have things like that. All those things get addressed in the offseason if it needed to be addressed. We looked at it last year — it wasn’t addressed that way. Maybe this year it will be, but I really don’t know.”

An exchange between Osemele and another Twitter user last week prompted further suspicion, but trying to draw conclusions based solely on a social media site is difficult. Both Osemele and the Ravens declined comment in requests made by WNST.net and portions of the conversation have since been deleted on the player’s verified Twitter account.

“I respect [that] K.O.’s tough. All those guys are,” Harbaugh said. “Anybody in this league that plays in this league with the physical demands that this game puts on you, you have to respect, especially those guys in the trenches. He’s no different than most of the guys that way.”

Positive review for McClain’s return

Harbaugh praised linebacker Jameel McClain’s effort in making his return to game action for the first time since suffering a spinal cord contusion on Dec. 9 of last season.

Filling in for the injured Josh Bynes, who underwent surgery on an infected finger late last week, McClain played 30 defensive snaps and collected five tackles while also serving on some special-teams units. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said last week that McClain would be the team’s weakside inside linebacker upon being activated, so it will be interesting to see how both McClain and Bynes fit into the defensive plans when they’re both healthy.

“Given the circumstances, [he] probably played really well,” Harbaugh said. “[He] hadn’t played for a long time, hadn’t practiced much, was throw into a situation because of Josh’s situation where he had to play quite a few snaps. He did a solid job, and he’s only going to get better from here on out. He came out of it healthy, so that’s important. He’ll really benefit from the next couple days of work.”

Suggs’ ‘state of emergency’

Five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs provided the greatest sense of alarm following the 19-16 loss to the Steelers, describing the Ravens as being in “a state of emergency” as they enter the bye week.

Harbaugh didn’t express agreement with those words but echoed the sentiment he shared last week in which he thought some frustration to get better was a positive for his struggling team. Suggs said he was very concerned and that the Ravens could no longer kid themselves over the seriousness of their problems in every phase of the game.

“All the guys have a right to say whatever they think,” Harbaugh said. “If that is how Terrell sees it, then that’s good. A sense of urgency is a good thing.”

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Suggs sums it up well with his “emergency” commentary

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Suggs sums it up well with his “emergency” commentary

Posted on 21 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

Terrell Suggs called it a “state of emergency”.

I love it.

That’s why he’s a champion.

Only in Baltimore would two consecutive losses translate to an emergency situation, but that’s the scenario facing the Ravens now as they start the season 3-4 heading into their annual bye week.

I watched Suggs in the locker room after Sunday’s loss in Pittsburgh.  He really was, as he said, “disgusted” with the loss to an obviously struggling Steelers team.  It wasn’t acting.  Suggs was truly aggravated.

More players should take the Ravens-Steelers rivalry personally like he does.

Then again, there are only a handful of guys left on the roster who have served the entire Harbaugh-Flacco era and “been there, done that” with regard to the Ravens-Steelers showdowns we see twice – sometimes more – a season.  The games against Pittsburgh over the last six seasons have been wildly memorable.  Some of have ended the Ravens season.  A couple have been so improbable you wished the two teams would play every other week.

There’s nothing worse than losing to the Steelers, particularly when they’re not very good.

That, all by itself, constitutes a state of emergency, I suppose.

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I’m always amazed at how folks who are relatively intelligent and played sports (I assume) as a youth or adult suddenly become stupid when discussing the Ravens.

Time and time again, and it’s going to happen a lot today and this week, watch and see, folks want to pin a loss on ONE person.  They’ll take one play, one moment, one decision, one “thing” and weave that into an outrageous theme that “xxxx cost us the game”.

If you know anything at all about sports, you know that’s just not the way it works.

But, people in Baltimore will gather ’round the water-cooler today and blame Sunday’s loss on Harbaugh – as an example – for calling for an onsides kick with thirteen minutes left in the game.  They’ll conveniently forget how the Steelers previously-horrible running game gashed the Ravens defense for 141 yards.  They’ll dismiss the fact that Elvis Dumervil had two huge penalties on one drive that squarely put Pittsburgh in easy field goal range.  They’ll elect to not remember the kick-off return with 1:58 to play that set-up the game-winning field goal by Shaun Suisham.  And, of course, they won’t give any credit at all to the Steelers, who, as we know, also have players on scholarship — just like the Ravens.

People who aren’t very smart just LOVE to pick out one person and play the blame game.  They did it with Billy Cundiff a couple of years ago in the New England playoff game…when, in fact, it was Lee Evans who cost the Ravens the game with his end zone drop. (See what I did there?)

Citing one person or one play is about the dumbest thing you can do as a sports fan.

I guess the joke’s on me — I’ve been doing this radio thing for twelve “seasons” now.  You assume at some point I’d just figure out that people watch sports, know sports and love sports…but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can opine smartly about sports.

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I hope I’m wrong on this one.

I’ll be very happy if I am.

Kelechi Osemele won’t finish the season.

His back, which he admitted after Sunday night’s game will need post-season surgery, isn’t going to hold up much longer.  A lot of national experts have talked about his poor play this season as a connector to the Ravens woeful running game.  That’s fair, I guess, since one of his strengths a year ago was run blocking.  But, his poor play is more about health than anything else.  His back is really bothering him and week by week it’s starting to show more.  The problem?  There’s no one else to throw in there right now.  So, he just keeps on playing.

I hope he’s playing in late December.

But, I don’t see how he will be.

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For those wondering – and it’s a VERY fair question – the game plan was for Justin Tucker to kick the ball out of play on the kick-off that led to the game-winning drive by the Steelers.

He lost his footing on the turf as he drove into the ball, just as he did on the opening kick-off, which almost went of bounds.

That sort of “event”, while unplanned, simply can’t happen in a tight game where you’re trying to pin the opposition on their own 20-yard line.

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Indianapolis, this season, now has wins over San Francisco, Seattle and Denver.

Enough said.

 

 

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Ngata, J. Jones, Osemele among 11 Ravens players questionable for Sunday

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Ngata, J. Jones, Osemele among 11 Ravens players questionable for Sunday

Posted on 11 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After he missed the first two practices of the week while dealing with a hip injury, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata returned to practice on Friday and was listed as questionable with 10 other Ravens players for Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

There was no indication over the course of the week that Ngata’s injury was serious, and his presence during Friday’s workout was a positive development as the Ravens try to improve to 11-0 at home against NFC opponents in the John Harbaugh era. No injury for Ngata was reported by the Ravens in the immediate aftermath of their Week 5 win in Miami last weekend.

“We gave Haloti a few days [off]. He had little tweaks and strains and things like that,” coach John Harbaugh said after Friday’s practice. “We gave him a couple days, but he looked good today. He’s going to play. He should be fine.”

Wide receivers Jacoby Jones (knee), Marlon Brown (hamstring), and Brandon Stokley (groin), offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele (back) and Ryan Jensen (foot), running back Bernard Pierce (thigh), and defensive tackle Marcus Spears (knee) were all listed as questionable after practicing as limited participants on Friday. Of that group, Jensen is the most unlikely to play after only returning to the practice field on Thursday for the first time since late July. All others practiced on a limited basis for the entire week, giving them favorable odds to play against the Packers.

While defensive players practiced their customary jersey swap for Friday’s practice, cornerback Chykie Brown (thigh) was absent from the workout. He was added to Thursday’s injury report as a limited participant, which could be an indication that an injury occurred during that day’s practice. The third-year cornerback was also designated as questionable for Sunday’s game.

Linebacker Albert McClellan (shoulder) and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (knee) were not practicing for the third straight day. Cody was listed as doubtful and is expected to miss his third straight game while McClellan — deemed questionable — played against the Dolphins last Sunday despite having not practiced at all in the week leading up to that contest in Miami.

Safety Michael Huff is also questionable for Sunday’s game after being added to the injury report as a limited participant on Friday.

Harbaugh offered a positive report on Jones, who completed his second week of practice and told reporters earlier this week that he intended to increase his activity level in hopes of playing for the first time since the season opener on Sept. 5.

“All the guys who practiced looked good. Jacoby comes to mind,” Harbaugh said. “He looked good, so [we’re] encouraged.”

Meanwhile, the Packers have already ruled out five players for Sunday’s game, including Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews and inside linebacker Brad Jones.

Here is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: DT Terrence Cody (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Chykie Brown (thigh), WR Marlon Brown (thigh), S Michael Huff (back), C Ryan Jensen (foot), WR Jacoby Jones (knee), LB Albert McClellan (shoulder), DT Haloti Ngata (hip), G Kelechi Osemele (back), RB Bernard Pierce (thigh), DT Marcus Spears (knee), WR Brandon Stokley (thigh)

GREEN BAY
OUT: CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), LB Brad Jones (hamstring), LB Clay Matthews (thumb), RB James Starks (knee), G/C Greg Van Roten (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Jarrett Bush (hamstring)
PROBABLE: LB Sam Barrington (hip), LB Andy Mulumba (ankle), DT Ryan Pickett (hand)

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Osemele practicing; Ngata sidelined on Wednesday

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Osemele practicing; Ngata sidelined on Wednesday

Posted on 09 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Faced with the challenge of the Green Bay Packers coming to Baltimore on Sunday, the Ravens are cautiously optimistic to find themselves healthier this week than they’ve been at any point since the start of the season.

Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele (back spasms) returned to the practice field on a limited basis after he was sidelined for most of this past Sunday’s win over the Miami Dolphins. The second-year lineman said prior to Wednesday’s practice that a soft hotel bed was a factor in the back spasms he developed during pre-game warmups that forced him out of the game after the first offensive series.

Defensive tackles Haloti Ngata (hip) and Terrence Cody (knee), linebacker Albert McClellan (shoulder), and offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot) did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. Ngata’s hip injury wasn’t reported after last Sunday’s game, so there’s a fair possibility that Wednesday was more of a day of rest than any serious condition.

Ngata took part in 35 of 58 defensive snaps, which wasn’t an unusual number considering how much Miami was throwing the football.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley wasn’t spotted during the portion of practice open to the media but was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday’s injury report after the Ravens re-signed him to the 53-man roster on Tuesday. Stokley has been dealing with a groin injury for nearly two weeks and hasn’t played since the Ravens’ Week 3 win over the Texans on Sept. 22.

Wide receiver Jacoby Jones was back on the practice field after being ruled inactive for the fourth straight game last Sunday. The Pro Bowl return specialist eased his way back into practices last week and plans to step up his participation level this week in hopes of playing in a game for the first time since suffering a sprained right MCL in the season opener on Sept. 5.

“I’ve been like a punished child that can’t go outside and do anything,” Jones said of his time rehabilitating the injury. “You sit in your house and keep begging your mama, ‘Please, let me go outside. I want do it again!’ I just want to get out there and play.”

Wide receiver Marlon Brown (hamstring) and defensive tackle Marcus Spears (knee) also returned to practice on Wednesday after being sidelined for Week 5.

New left tackle Eugene Monroe expressed optimism that he’ll be ready to make his Ravens debut at M&T Bank Stadium against the Packers after spending long days and nights absorbing the Baltimore playbook. Monroe was ruled inactive for the Miami game after he was only able to log two days of practice time upon the trade from Jacksonville being officially completed last Thursday.

The fifth-year tackle revealed he even spent some time at the team’s Owings Mills facility during his day off on Tuesday to go over plays with starting center Gino Gradkowski.

“It’s been a grind, but it’s part of the job,” Monroe said. “It’s also been fun integrating into a new system like this. It’s definitely different, especially not playing next week. That’s just part of the deal here and I’m ready to go now.”

Meanwhile, incumbent left tackle Bryant McKinnie was largely an observer during offensive line work during the portion of practice open to the media, a strong indication that Monroe is expected to take his spot in the starting lineup beginning this Sunday.

The Ravens are in much better shape health-wise than Green Bay as starting linebackers Clay Matthews (thumb) and Brad Jones (hamstring) and running back James Starks (knee) have already been ruled out for Sunday’s game.

Here is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Terrence Cody (knee), C Ryan Jensen (foot), LB Albert McClellan (shoulder), DT Haloti Ngata (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marlon Brown (thigh), RB Shaun Draughn (ankle), WR Jacoby Jones (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (back), RB Bernard Pierce (thigh), DT Marcus Spears (knee), WR Brandon Stokley (thigh)

GREEN BAY
OUT: LB Brad Jones (hamstring), LB Clay Matthews (thumb), RB James Starks (knee), G/C Greg Van Roten (foot)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jarrett Bush (hamstring), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), LB Andy Mulumba (ankle)

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Ravens’ health improving heading into Sunday test against Packers

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Ravens’ health improving heading into Sunday test against Packers

Posted on 07 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Facing arguably their most difficult home test of the season when the Green Bay Packers travel to Baltimore on Sunday, the Ravens appear to be moving toward the healthiest state they’ve experienced since the start of the season.

Coach John Harbaugh said that left guard Kelechi Osemele felt better on Monday after back spasms forced him out of Sunday’s game in Miami after the Ravens’ first offensive series. Osemele was replaced by backup center A.Q. Shipley in the starting lineup as he rested his back in the 26-23 win over the Dolphins.

Wide receiver Jacoby Jones will practice for the second straight week and could see his first game action since suffering a medial collateral strain in his right knee in the season opener on Sept. 5. The Pro Bowl return specialist practiced on a limited basis all last week, but the Ravens elected to hold him out for Week 5 while bringing him back slowly.

Trying to determine Jones’ role will be an interesting decision for Harbaugh and the Ravens as wide receiver Tandon Doss has handled punt return duties admirably while speedy wideout Deonte Thompson provides a compelling option for kickoff returns. Their versatility may allow Baltimore to use Jones primarily as a wide receiver while he works his way back to 100 percent or the veteran could see a diminished role offensively with other young receivers such as Thompson making recent progress.

“That’s the question we’re asking ourselves right now,” Harbaugh said. “It probably depends on  how he looks during practices. If he looks really good, we’d be willing to put him out there. But if we feel like we need to protect him, then we will.”

In addition to Jones, Harbaugh said he expects rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown to return to practice as early as Wednesday after he was held out of Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.

Defensive end Marcus Spears continues to receive treatment for a knee injury that flared up late last week before he was ruled inactive for Week 5. Harbaugh confirmed there is no structural damage and described the veteran defensive lineman as “day to day.”

Harbaugh also provided favorable reports on cornerback Lardarius Webb (hamstring) and rookie linebacker Arthur Brown (pectoral strain), who both played in Miami and experienced no setbacks in the process. Running back Ray Rice continues to get better as well in his second game back from the hip flexor strain suffered on Sept. 15.

Meanwhile, the Packers are dealing with a serious injury concern as linebacker Clay Matthews is expected to miss the next month with a broken thumb, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. This would certainly aid the Baltimore offense in trying to keep up with Green Bay’s high-octane offensive attack in a game in which the Ravens will likely need to score significant points.

Harbaugh noncommittal on Monroe-McKinnie status

All signs point to newly-acquired left tackle Eugene Monroe to take veteran Bryant McKinnie’s place in the starting lineup this week, but Harbaugh wasn’t tipping his hand on Monday afternoon.

Monroe was ruled inactive for the Miami game after having just two days of practice time after the trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars was completed on Thursday. McKinnie’s poor performance against the Dolphins didn’t do him any favors in keeping his job, and it would be surprising if Monroe wasn’t playing after more than a week to improve by the time Sunday’s game rolls around.

“We’re in wait-and-see mode right now. We’ll see what happens over the course of the week,” Harbaugh said. “[We] don’t really know for sure right now. [Monroe] looked good last week; he looked really good. We’re just going to have to see how it plays out. This is uncharted territory for us, it really is. We’ve never been down this road before.”

It remains unclear whether the Ravens would seriously consider trading McKinnie, because one of the big concerns prior to the acquisition of Monroe was the lack of depth on the offensive line, a problem that would continue to exist should the 34-year-old lineman be moved elsewhere.

No decision on Stokley yet

A second media report Monday suggested that the Ravens will re-sign veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley this week after he was cut on Saturday to make room for veteran tight end Billy Bajema.

Stokley has been dealing with a groin injury that sidelined him in Week 4 and prompted the Ravens to let him go with an understanding that he would still be in their plans moving forward. However, you have to wonder how secure his spot will be moving forward with the Ravens getting much healthier and deeper at wide receiver than they’ve been since training camp.

Harbaugh wasn’t in a position to comment on Stokley’s status during his Monday press conference.

“I don’t know how that’s going to shake out,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see.”

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Osemele sidelined with back spasms early in first half

Posted on 07 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

A Ravens offensive line already struggling through the first quarter of the season played a man down for much of their 26-23 win over the Dolphins on Sunday as left guard Kelechi Osemele was sidelined with back spasms.

Osemele played in the Ravens’ opening offensive series before being removed for the remainder of the game. The team did not announce an injury for Osemele during the contest, but coach John Harbaugh offered clarity on his status following the win at Sun Life Stadium.

“He was tightened up in pre-game and we tried to get him in the game,” Harbaugh said. “We had already set the 46-man roster. He went the first series. He couldn’t go, and that’s why we made the change to A.Q. Shipley.”

The injury left the Ravens with just one healthy reserve lineman — rookie tackle Rick Wagner — as newly-acquired left tackle Eugene Monroe and third-year lineman Jah Reid were among the inactives in Week 5.

The Ravens were also shorthanded at the wide receiver position as both Jacoby Jones (knee) and Marlon Brown (hamstring) were out with injuries. This meant there were only three healthy wide receivers available: Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, and Deonte Thompson.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb played on Sunday without experiencing a setback with the hamstring strain suffered in last week’s loss at Buffalo.

Beyond Osemele, there were no other new injuries reported by the Ravens following Sunday’s win.

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Pain plaguing Ravens offense starts with running game

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Pain plaguing Ravens offense starts with running game

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

To see the Ravens offense struggle through the first three weeks of the 2013 season isn’t surprising — or at least it shouldn’t have been.

There’s no underselling the losses of tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Anquan Boldin — the pillars on which quarterback Joe Flacco relied last season — and how they would impact the passing game in the early stages of the season. Growing pains were expected as Flacco is still developing chemistry with every pass-catching target not named Torrey Smith, but the Ravens figured they could rely on their running game more heavily, especially in the early stages of the season.

But the results haven’t been there. In fact, the Ravens have one of the worst running games in the NFL through the first three weeks of the season in averaging just 2.6 yards per carry, ranking 31st in the league and only ahead of 0-3 Jacksonville. With Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, highly-regarded backup Bernard Pierce, and Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach in tow, there’s simply no excuse for the overall lack of production.

“It’s going to be important, and we have the people to do it,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve got some big, strong, tough offensive lineman, and we have really good backs. Our fullback [Vonta Leach] is the best blocking fullback in the league. The run game is something that has to happen for us.”

But it hasn’t and there have been a number of factors working against the Ravens through the early stages of the season. It would be unfair to overlook the fronts the Ravens have played as Denver, Cleveland, and Houston all rank in the top 5 in rushing yards per attempt surrendered. Expecting Baltimore to be gashing opponents in the running game would be unreasonable, but it still doesn’t excuse such an ineffective ground attack.

The absence of reliable targets in the passing game has prompted opposing defense to often play an extra defender in the box, creating problems when it comes to the simple number of blockers against defenders. Whether attempting to run to set up the pass or to throw to open up the running game, the Ravens have been spinning their wheels more often than not with an offense ranking 30th in total yards and 20th in passing yards. It’s the old chicken-or-the-egg question in which the Ravens are trying to figure out whether their passing game can breathe life into the running game or vice versa.

The Ravens are working with a new center in second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski, who replaced the retired Matt Birk and is responsible for making the calls for blocking assignments at the line of scrimmage. Besides the void in leadership, the Ravens have also been challenged up the middle by beefier defensive linemen against the undersized Gradkowski.

And Baltimore is even dealing with a new voice on the coaching staff as run-game coordinator Juan Castillo is running the show for the offensive line and the implementation of his inside zone blocking schemes appears to be a mixed bag at best thus far.

But the Ravens’ problems in the running game run deeper than the aforementioned variables as even reliable run blockers such as Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher have struggled more than you’d typically expect so far.

“We do feel like we understand it and we’re working on it,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that it can be corrected. We’re not getting the production from the run game that we should, but we also feel like we’re on our way to getting that done. We just have to do it; you just have to go out there and get it done.”

A look back at the Ravens’ performance in the running game against Houston makes it difficult to pinpoint one specific problem above the rest. All five starting linemen missed assignments at different points, Pierce missed several running lanes, the Texans stacked eight men in the box on occasion, and backside pursuit was even a problem as defenders dragged down ball carriers from behind on a few occasions. Whether it was running to the strong side or the weak side of the line, it didn’t seem to matter as Pierce’s run off right tackle for 25 yards to end the third quarter was the only real bright spot for the ground attack.

Again, the Ravens have played talented defenses this season, but the sum of their talented parts hasn’t added up to even marginal success in most cases. Even in the fourth quarter when many credited the Ravens for wearing down Houston, they managed only 28 yards on 13 carries and needed to rely on Flacco’s arm for third-down conversions.

“One guy here, one miss there, one bad target in another place, each time that’s what holds you back,” Harbaugh said. “Their safeties do a great job of tackling, so they limit you from the big runs. Our run game is not where it needs to be. We’re going to go to work on that — we have been working on it. We’ll continue to do so, and we need to make that important. One thing we’ve seen that, philosophically, we’re going to stick with it.”

Of all the factors working against the Ravens in the running game, perhaps the most surprising has been the play of the left side of the offensive line. While veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie has never been known as a strong run blocker, left guard Kelechi Osemele has looked nothing like the blocker we saw in last year’s postseason when many thought he had the potential to be a Pro Bowl lineman.

Harbaugh wasn’t willing to place blame on any one player or unit in explaining the running game struggles Monday, but it’s apparent the offensive line hasn’t been on the same page. And even when it has been, running backs haven’t made the proper zone reads.

“All of our guys are going to point the finger right back at themselves,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the kind of guys we have. I would characterize it more of being in sync, more in terms of working together more efficiently – combination blocks going to the right guy with the right technique at the right time. Those things – it’s not just a matter of just one-on-one knocking somebody off the ball. That’s not the way it works. It’s way more complicated than that up front.

“There’s a precision to the run game, too. It’s something that we don’t quite have ironed out yet against good fronts, and we’ve got to get there. That’s what we’re working on.”

Whether it’s a matter of still adjusting to Castillo or simply getting used to Gradkowski over the veteran Birk, the Ravens must improve with their ground attack to alleviate the pressure on Flacco and an undermanned passing game. On paper, the personnel is simply too good to be so unproductive — even against talented front sevens.

The real gauge for how severe the run problems are will come on Sunday when the Ravens travel to Buffalo to take on a Bills defense that’s surrendering 4.3 yards per carry and 155 yards per game on the ground. Even if Rice misses his second straight game with a left hip flexor strain, there’s no excuse for the Ravens not to make substantial progress with their running game against an underwhelming opponent.

To their credit, the Ravens haven’t abandoned their commitment to run — their 88 rushing attempts rank 10th in the league — but that only goes so far when you’re gaining minimal yardage on first and second down and putting Flacco and the passing game in difficult third-down situations. They know it needs to be an important part of their identity in 2013, but the production on the field hasn’t backed that up.

“It’s something that we think is important,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to be able to run the ball here. It is a part of our DNA, and it is part of who we are as a football team.”

And it’s a side of the Ravens they need to start showing if their offense is to make strides as the season progresses.

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Osemele returns to practice field on limited basis Monday

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Osemele returns to practice field on limited basis Monday

Posted on 29 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens saw a key member of their starting offensive line return to the practice field Monday as left guard Kelechi Osemele practiced for the first time since late last week.

The second-year lineman strained his right hamstring in the first full-squad workout of the summer on Thursday and was sidelined through the weekend. Only right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) remains out of action among the projected five starters along the line, but the two-time Pro Bowl selection passed his physical over the weekend, a sure sign that he is moving closer to returning to practice after offseason shoulder surgery.

Osemele took part in a very limited capacity, only working during positional drills before sitting out the team portions of practice.

“It’s still early. We just want to make sure we have everybody healthy,” Osemele said after practice. “We don’t want to lose any of our starters right now. Today went well, it felt great. It was good to be out there with the guys again and get all the mental things going on.”

Others missing from Monday’s workout in Owings Mills included offensive linemen Ramon Harewood (knee) and Ryan Jensen (leg), wide receivers Tommy Streeter (heat-related), Marlon Brown (knee), and LaQuan Williams (arm), and linebacker Spencer Adkins (undisclosed).

According to The Sun, the sixth-round linemen Jensen suffered a broken foot and will undergo surgery to repair the damage. This development will presumably land the Colorado State-Pueblo product on season-ending injured reserve, which would be a convenient way for the Ravens to keep Jensen in the organization.

Linebacker Jameel McClain (neck) was absent and remains on the physically unable to perform list along with Yanda while rookie defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee) was present but not working while remaining on the non-football injury list.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata tweaked his knee during an 11-on-11 session at the end of practice, but coach John Harbaugh confirmed that it wasn’t a concern after the Pro Bowl lineman was seen flexing his left knee on the sideline. Ngata walked to the sideline gingerly after appearing to be rolled up by another player in the offensive backfield.

Tight end Dennis Pitta, of course, has been ruled out for the season after suffering a dislocated hip.

Inside linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) and fullback Kyle Juszczyk (foot) were both practicing despite being nicked up in Sunday’s workout.

Pitta MRI yields positive results

As the Ravens accept the reality of Pitta being lost for the season, an MRI on the tight end’s surgically-repaired dislocated hip revealed good news for his long-term prognosis in making it back to the field.

Harbaugh reiterated that nothing has changed in terms of Pitta being sidelined for the entire 2013 season, but he could begin the rehab process in six to eight weeks.

“Basically, the ball was pushed out of the socket and pushed backwards,” Harbaugh said. “It’s an injury that happens a lot of times in car accidents. He got his knee caught up under him in an awkward way when he fell. I think there are only eight documented cases of this injury in football that I’ve read about.”

With the memory of former Los Angeles Raiders running back Bo Jackson suffering a similar injury and developing avascular necrosis, which is the premature cellular death of bone components due to the interruption of blood supply. It resulted in Jackson needing to have his hip replaced, which ended his NFL career prematurely.

The vigilant decision to get Pitta to surgery and the details offered by Harbaugh provide a positive outlook that Pitta will be able to continue his career next season after an extensive rehab process in the coming months.

“The good news is that there’s a fracture, but it’s in the back part of the bone,” Harbaugh said. “It’s in the big part of the bone, and it’s a very tight fracture. So, it didn’t move at all. There’s no ligament damage, no cartilage damage. It’s a clean break if you want to use that term.”

Camp highlights

The starting defense continued the early-camp trend of dominating over the offense as quarterback Joe Flacco once again played behind a makeshift offensive line missing Yanda and Osemele. Jah Reid and Antoine McClain served as the first-team guards with Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley splitting time at the center position with the first unit.

Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil put pressure on the Baltimore signal-caller several times as the offensive line struggled to hold up at the point of attack and receivers struggled to consistently gain separation.

One of the highlight plays of the afternoon came from rookie safety Matt Elam, who nearly intercepted a Flacco pass intended for Tandon Doss in the end zone while showing good athleticism to make a leaping deflection.

Tight end Ed Dickson made a sparkling 25-yard catch down the middle of the field for one of the lone offensive highlights of 11-on-11 drills.

Defensive players were rewarded with ice cream after winning Monday’s battle as two ice cream trucks drove onto the field in the closing minutes of the afternoon practice. Nose tackle Terrence Cody offered the memorable quote of the day to Osemele, using his best Forrest Gump voice while saying, “K.O., ice cream!”

The Ravens are off on Tuesday before returning to the field for a full-squad workout on Wednesday afternoon.

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Pitta done for season with dislocated hip

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Pitta done for season with dislocated hip

Posted on 27 July 2013 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens suffered a major blow during practice Saturday.

“Dennis (Pitta) has a dislocated hip” head coach John Harbaugh announced following practice. “We’ll have to take a look at that and see exactly what it is. It’s a serious injury. He’s going to be out for awhile, he will not be in the Denver game (Week 1). We’ll just have to play it from there to see how long it goes.”

ESPN reported Saturday night that Pitta, who was transported to a local hospital and underwent surgery immediately, is expected to miss the entire season.

The injury occurred after the tight end collided with S James Ihedigbo on a pass play in the back of the end zone. Saturday’s practice was the first padded practice of this year’s Training Camp.

The injury is a major blow for the Baltimore Ravens, who traded WR Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason. Pitta had been hoped to build on his 2012 season (61 catches, 669 yards, seven touchdowns) to help replace Boldin.

Ed Dickson, Billy Bajema and rookie Matt Furstenburg all saw snaps with the first team offense after Pitta’s departure. Free agent TE Visanthe Shiancoe (Morgan State) visited the Ravens’ facility earlier in the week but did not sign. Rookie FB Kyle Juszczek could also be asked to help out in the process, especially if the Ravens were to re-sign current free agent FB Vonta Leach as the Newark Star-Ledger reported Thursday night they are expected to do.

Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell suggested the Ravens would continue their “next man up” mentality.

“Somebody’s going to have to step up and we do have some capable guys. All across the flanks we do have some weapons. We’re just going to have to have some guys make some plays for us.”

Dickson-a fellow fourth year tight end-moves to the top of the tight end depth chart in Pitta’s absence. Dickson told WNST.net “it’s on me to go out there and build chemistry with (QB) Joe (Flacco) and to do the things that I do to the best of my ability.”

Dickson also told WNST.net he sent Pitta a text after practice saying “Keep your head up…the injury’s not going to hold you down. We need you. Praying for you…I’m holding down the fort for you.”

Dickson’s 2012 numbers were disappointing as he fought through injuries. The tight end played in just 13 games and caught 21 balls for 225 yards without a touchdown grab. “Ed has been playing and performing extremely well” Caldwell said. “He’s had a good camp thus far. He’s moving well, he’s catching the ball for us, he has a lot of big play potential. Ed is a very capable guy. We’re going to have to have some other guys step up as well.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, a dislocated hip usually takes upwards of 2-3 months for recovery and rehabilitation.

Making matters worse for the Ravens is their lack of depth at receiver as well. Without Boldin, only Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones have more than even 123 career receiving yards. Doss has those 123, David Reed 66, Deonte Thompson 51, LaQuan Williams 46. Neither Tommy Streeter nor rookie Aaron Mellette has ever played in a NFL game.

YANDA REMAINS OUT: Despite being removed from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list Friday, OL Marshal Yanda (shoulder) was not present Saturday, but is expected to return shortly. S Anthony Levine (shoulder) was on the practice for a second straight day after being removed from the PUP list. LB Jameel McClain (back) remains on the PUP list and did not practice Saturday.

OT Bryant McKinnie (conditioning) left practice early Friday as coach John Harbaugh had concerns for how he’d hold up in the heat, he was back on the practice field Saturday afternoon. OL Kelechi Osemele (hamstring) and Ryan Jensen (leg) were not present for Saturday’s practice. WR LaQuan Williams (arm) and Marlon Brown (knee) were not present as well.

DL Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee) remains on the non-football injury list and is not expected to practice during Training Camp.

OTHER PRACTICE NOTES: S Omar Brown appears to have switched jersey numbers, going from number 38 to number 31.

K Justin Tucker stood out during Saturday’s practice, including makes from 60 yards and 65 yards out. After the make from 65, Tucker let out an exclamation of “Come on!”

LB Terrell Suggs had the quote of the day. After making a tackle on a goal line stop against the first team offense, Suggs yelled out “Where the f*ck is Vonta Leach when you need him?”

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Early Injuries Shuffle the Ravens Offensive Line in Camp

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Early Injuries Shuffle the Ravens Offensive Line in Camp

Posted on 26 July 2013 by Brett Dickinson

Day 2 of Ravens Training Camp held some big storylines, especially concerning the Offensive Line. The team’s Super Bowl run in 2012 was predicated on the blocking emergence of a unit that was shuffled all season long. With Bryant McKinnie reinserted into that core, Baltimore seemed to find the best fit for its five lineman; as Kelechi Osemele moved to Guard and Michael Oher transitioned back to RT.

The team already had concerns at Center, with the retirement of Matt Birk, but it was expected Gino Gradkowski would be handed the starting job. Though, with the acquisition of former Colt, A.Q. Shipley, the competition seems to be in full swing. Both split time throughout drills on Friday, yet Shipley was in place with the first team for most of the 11-on-11 portion of practice. Shipley also saw some time next to Gradkowski, filling in at Guard. You can hear Gradkowski’s thoughts on the competition here, in a interview with Glenn Clark, on the Reality Check, after Friday’s practice.

The key concern for the next couple weeks will be the health of both starting Guards, Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele. Yanda was placed on the PUP list, but passed his physical on Friday, making a return in the upcoming days likely. On the other side, Osemele was held out of Thursday’s 2nd practice and was a no-show on Friday, with concerns of a hamstring injury.

In the place of the those two standouts, were several combinations of players varying in experience. Jah Reid took the most snaps at LG (Osemele’s position) with the first team, while RG was a mixed bag of former practice squad players and rookies. Ryan Jensen, a 6th round pick out of Colorado State-Pueblo, initially spent time with the first team, until he was shook up with a leg “tweak,” during running game drills. As mentioned before, A.Q. Shipley filled in at one point, but Ramon Harewood covered the position, while Shipley played Center. Jack Cornell and Antoine McClain also rotated in that spot at points during practice.

It may not be an actual injury, but there still has to be concern at the LT position as well. Though Bryant McKinnie was cleared to practice on Friday, after being sat down Thursday for “conditioning issues,” he did not see much time on the field. He was involved in all position drills, but was held out in most the team exercises (7-on-7, 11-on-11, Two Minute). Rookie fifth round pick, Ricky Wagner (from Wisconsin), settled in with the first team, while McKinnie was on the sidelines. He performed admirably against Elvis Dumervil, but did struggle against the former Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs.

The key acquisition for the line may be having Offensive Assistant, Juan Castillo, around for an entire season. He not only brought an intensity to practice, but was pulling players aside between plays. Castillo was recognized as one of the best Offensive Line coaches in the league, while in Philadelphia (before his failed experiment calling defensive plays), where he utilized big men in the trenches to control the defensive front 7. He has plenty of size on this roster to play with and can be a real asset in developing some of the younger players on the team.

By the end of practice, the first team Offensive Line looked as follows: LT-Wagner, LG-Reid, C-Shipley, RG-Harewood, RT-Oher. That is vastly different than last season’s Super Bowl winners and the expectation for the starters, come Week 1.

Side Notes:

The defensive rookie class of Matt Elam, Arthur Brown and Brandon Williams all worked with the second team, even though there is high expectations for that trio.

Chykie Brown worked in with the first team, essentially holding down Lardarius Webb’s spot until he is ready to participate in practice.

Torrey Smith had to leave the field at one point, during 7-on-7 drills, with an apparent lower leg/ankle/foot injury. He did have a noticeable limp for the rest of practice, but continued to participate, until the end.

The defensive line showed some versatility, during Two-Minute drills, where OLB Courtney Upshaw and DE Pernell McPhee lined up inside at the DT spots; Dumervil and Suggs held down the DE positions, in that alignment.

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