Tag Archive | "Lardarius Webb"

Short-handed Ravens secondary has no time for excuses against Steelers

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Short-handed Ravens secondary has no time for excuses against Steelers

Posted on 30 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There’s no hiding from the danger of Jimmy Smith being absent in the Ravens’ secondary, especially when you’re facing Ben Roethlisberger and a Pittsburgh Steelers passing game that threw for over 500 yards last week.

They won’t find an easy fix for a pass defense that ranks 22nd in the NFL and has looked vulnerable even with the Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback in the secondary. But the Ravens have no time to feel sorry for themselves as they look to improve to 6-3 in an ultra-competitive AFC North with all four teams currently sporting winning records.

“I don’t think the Steelers are feeling really bad about it, so we can’t feel really bad about it,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Smith’s foot injury expected to keep him out at least until after the Week 11 bye. “We just have to go with the next guy. [We] have to do what we can do to try to get the guys in the best position we can put them in as a coaching staff to give them success and go with it.”

But who is that next guy opposite Lardarius Webb, who is still working his way back to pre-injury form himself?

Is it Dominique Franks, who recently found his way into the nickel package after being signed to replace the injured Asa Jackson in early October? He was on the free-agent market at this time last month after being deemed not good enough by Baltimore at the end of the preseason.

Then there’s Chykie Brown, who entered training camp as the favorite to be the No. 3 cornerback behind Smith and Webb before struggling so dramatically that he was a healthy inactive the last two weeks. Safety Anthony Levine has also practiced at the cornerback position since the summer, but he’s played only five defensive snaps all season.

The Ravens could promote Tramain Jacobs — a rookie free agent from Texas A&M who impressed during training camp — from the practice squad, but a move such as that would likely see him serving on a special-teams role and as an insurance policy behind the others.

None of the aforementioned options opposite Webb inspire confidence, and that’s assuming Pees uses one of the Ravens’ safeties at the nickel position as he has for large stretches of the season.

“We’ve got to find somebody to step up,” strong safety Matt Elam said. “We know it’s going to be hard to do the things Jimmy’s been doing, but we need somebody to step up and do whatever it takes to help the team win. We’ve still got [time] to prepare and get right so we can execute. Just do whatever it takes to get a [win].”

It’s easier said than done against an offense sporting arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown as well as emerging young wideouts Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Pees spoke Thursday about the challenge of not being able to put all their focus on slowing Brown with Roethlisberger suddenly having more options to throw to at the wide receiver position.

Needless to say, the pressure to contain Brown is likely to fall on the shoulders of Webb, whose own status many were questioning just a few weeks ago after a back injury had wiped out his entire summer as well as much of the first month of the season. The 5-foot-10 Brown isn’t physically imposing, which is good news for the similarly-statured Webb if he’s to shadow him all over the field.

Now would be a great time for Webb to regain the form he enjoyed prior to his second ACL injury in 2012 when he was on the verge of becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the AFC. His style is a major contrast to the 6-foot-2 Smith, who uses a combination of speed and physicality.

“Webb is more [of] a quicker guy and a lot smaller, more fluid, [and has good hands],” said Brown, who leads the NFL with 60 receptions on a staggering 87 targets in eight games. “Smith is a bigger, stronger guy who they like to put on the line of scrimmage and be disruptive at the line of scrimmage.”

The good news for the Ravens defense is the overall familiarity the coaching staff and veteran players have with the Pittsburgh offense. There are few surprises between these teams and the Ravens were certainly able to harass Roethlisberger in their Week 2 win in Baltimore when they held the Steelers to only six points.

But the Ravens know the pass rush must be on point in not only disrupting the signal-caller’s timing but in keeping him in the pocket as head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged no one is capable of the “extend the play thing” better than Roethlisberger. It’s a scene all too familiar in watching the Pittsburgh quarterback escape pressure to eventually find an open receiver breaking away from downfield coverage.

The challenge is always there for a coordinator to strike the right balance between sending extra blitzers — leaving fewer in coverage — or playing with more defenders in the back end and relying on a four-man rush, but Pees will need to be more creative than ever with the shortage at cornerback. How the secondary will look is anyone’s guess as the Ravens may go back to Elam playing the nickel position as they’ve frequently done this season or they could turn to another such as the intriguing Will Hill or rookie Terrence Brooks, who played some nickel in the preseason.

It won’t be easy against the league’s fourth-ranked passing game, but anyone knows not to dwell too much on the numbers in this AFC North rivalry in which 10 of the last 13 regular-season meetings have been decided by three or fewer points.

“We have the guys we need. Every team faces some kind of a situation at some position,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve had injuries all year in different positions, and you just have to step up. It’s not something we talk about. We don’t make a big deal about it. It’s not a point of emphasis for us. It’s just we’re the team; it’s the Ravens’ team. And whoever is part of it goes out there and plays and does their best.”

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Jimmy Smith sidelined “a few weeks” with mid-foot sprain

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Jimmy Smith sidelined “a few weeks” with mid-foot sprain

Posted on 27 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after a disappointing road loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens received troubling news about the status of cornerback Jimmy Smith’s injured foot.

Smith exited Sunday’s game with a left foot sprain on the first drive of the game and didn’t return. A magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday confirmed the fourth-year defensive back will be sidelined at least until after the Ravens’ bye week, but head coach John Harbaugh is remaining optimistic that the injury isn’t as bad as some feared.

“Jimmy’s going to be out for a few weeks. It’s not a Lisfranc deal, which was speculated,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a mid-foot sprain, and he’ll be out for a few weeks, but he’ll be back soon.”

The Ravens are currently ranked 22nd in pass defense and now have just three healthy cornerbacks on the 53-man roster. With struggling fourth-year cornerback Chykie Brown inactive the last two weeks, defensive coordinator Dean Pees used Dominique Franks in Smith’s place opposite fellow starter Lardarius Webb. Safety Matt Elam was used in the nickel position as he was earlier in the year when Webb was still working his way back from a back injury.

The NFL’s trade deadline falls at 4 p.m. Tuesday, but the Baltimore coach did not sound optimistic about being able to add a quality corner, whether through trade or the free-agent market. General manager Ozzie Newsome re-signed Franks on Oct. 8 after the Ravens cut him at the end of the preseason.

“We don’t have to [add someone]. If we can find the right guy, we would do that,” Harbaugh said. “They’re scarce. If you’ve got a name for me, I’m willing to hear it.”

There’s no understating the loss of Smith, who is ranked as the fourth-best coverage cornerback in the NFL in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Regarded by many as the best player on the Baltimore defense this season, Smith has collected 28 tackles, an interception, and eight pass breakups in eight games.

The timing couldn’t be worse for an already vulnerable pass defense that will now face Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Week 9 after he threw for 522 yards and six touchdown passes against a highly-regarded Indianapolis defense on Sunday. The Ravens also have post-bye games in late November against New Orleans and San Diego, two teams with Pro Bowl quarterbacks and passing games currently ranked in the top 10.

Even though the Ravens have already exercised their fifth-year option on his rookie contract, Smith has now been stricken with substantial injuries in three of his four NFL seasons. As a rookie in 2011, Smith suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him sidelined for four games. In his second year, the former first-round pick missed five games after undergoing sports hernia surgery.

Smith started all 16 games for the Ravens in 2013 and was a bright spot for a defense in transition.

After many pointed out their lack of depth at the cornerback position throughout the offseason, the Ravens have now seen Webb, Smith, and third-year defensive back Asa Jackson miss time with injuries this year. Jackson is currently on injured reserve with the designation to return after suffering a toe injury against Indianapolis on Oct. 5.

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Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith exits Sunday’s loss with foot injury

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Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith exits Sunday’s loss with foot injury

Posted on 26 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The most concerning development stemming from the Ravens’ 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday may have been the injury to top cornerback Jimmy Smith.

The fourth-year defensive back sustained a sprained left foot on the opening drive of the game and did not return. Smith initially jogged off the field with a pronounced limp before being carted to the locker room for further examination.

The Ravens announced Smith’s return was doubtful late in the first half, but he did not play the rest of the way.

In his absence, the Ravens had only two active cornerbacks in fellow starter Lardarius Webb and veteran Dominique Franks, who was forced into starting duty for the rest of the game. Struggling cornerback Chykie Brown was a healthy inactive for Sunday’s game.

Baltimore will hope Smith is healthy enough to return to action next Sunday as they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for an incredible 522 yards and six touchdowns in a win over Indianapolis on Sunday.

Wide receiver Michael Campanaro also left the game with a hamstring injury and didn’t return.

Offensive linemen Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, and Marshal Yanda and wide receiver Torrey Smith also left the game at various points before returning to action.

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Jackson out indefinitely with toe injury, Canty sidelined after wrist surgery

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Jackson out indefinitely with toe injury, Canty sidelined after wrist surgery

Posted on 06 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day that veteran Lardarius Webb saw his most extensive action of the season, the Ravens lost cornerback Asa Jackson indefinitely with a major toe injury suffered in the second half of Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Head coach John Harbaugh said Jackson has “a very severely sprained toe” that has him in a walking boot and will keep him out for a number of weeks. The third-year cornerback is likely to be placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, which would keep him sidelined for a minimum of eight weeks.

“Ozzie [Newsome] will decide that. I’m pretty sure that will happen,” Harbaugh said. “Again, until it happens, something might change. That’s where we’re at with that right now. We’re looking at our corner options there.”

With Webb still working his way back to full strength from a back injury that sidelined him for all of training camp and the preseason, Jackson started four of the Ravens’ first five games, recording 19 tackles and a pass breakup. He played 42 of 82 defensive snaps against Indianapolis before exiting the game in the second half.

Harbaugh also announced the Ravens would also be without defensive end Chris Canty for a couple more weeks after he underwent surgery for an infection in his wrist. The veteran missed Sunday’s game against the Colts with what was listed as an illness and was hospitalized over the weekend after having the procedure.

“[His thumb and wrist] swelled up on him last week,” Harbaugh said. “They didn’t know what it was; they thought it might be gout or things like that. It turned out to be an infection [and] he had to have surgery on it. He’s going to be [out] a couple weeks with that. That takes a while.”

The Ravens coach expressed satisfaction with how newcomers Christo Bilukidi and Lawrence Guy played in the defensive line rotation as Canty and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus) were both inactive for Sunday’s game. Third-year lineman DeAngelo Tyson started in place of Canty and made five tackles while playing 38 snaps.

However, Baltimore will look to add depth at the cornerback position even though Webb saw his most extensive action of the season in playing 44 snaps against the Colts. He was targeted often by Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, who completed seven passes for 91 yards on nine pass attempts his way.

Even if Webb is ready to assume a full-time role in time for this Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, the Ravens will once again be looking at either using strong safety Matt Elam in the nickel position or Chykie Brown as their No. 3 corner, two options defensive coordinator Dean Pees would like to avoid moving forward.

“We’ve been pushing [Webb] hard. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to go,” Harbaugh said. “He looked better in practice, and he went out there and played pretty darn well. It’s only going to get better. He’s only going to improve physically — he knows how to play. He’s not there; he’s not 100 percent, but he’s on his way.”

Harbaugh provided positive news on the health of left guard Kelechi Osemele (hyperextended knee) and Elam (shoulder contusion). Both players were sore Monday, but neither player’s status is in doubt after returning to Sunday’s game despite their ailments.

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Ravens-Colts: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Colts: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 05 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens appear ready to give cornerback Lardarius Webb his second look at game action this season as they take on the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

For just the second time this year, the sixth-year defensive back is active after not being listed on the injury report for the second straight week. After missing all of training camp and the preseason with back spasms, Webb is continuing to work himself back into better playing shape in terms of explosiveness and flexibility, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

The Ravens would certainly benefit from a healthy Webb against quarterback Andrew Luck and Indianapolis’ top-ranked passing game, but it remains to be seen how much action the veteran cornerback will see at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin) is active and will play despite missing two practices this past week and only working on a limited basis on Friday. However, defensive end Chris Canty (illness/knee) and third-string tight end Phillip Supernaw (thigh) were both listed as inactive for Sunday’s game.

Third-year defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson is expected to get the start in place of Canty, and the recently-acquired Lawrence Guy is active for the first time after being claimed off waivers from San Diego two weeks ago. The former Chargers and Colts defensive end will likely back up Tyson at the 5-technique spot.

As expected, left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee surgery) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus) remained out with their respective injuries.

For Indianapolis, defensive tackle Arthur Jones was inactive after already being ruled out on Friday. The former Ravens lineman hoped to be able to play against his old team, but the high ankle sprain he suffered a few weeks ago has yet to fully heal.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Walt Anderson.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with black pants while Indianapolis dons blue tops with white pants.

The roof will be opened at Lucas Oil Stadium with temperatures in the mid-50s with cloudy skies and winds up to 12 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Sunday marks the 11th all-time meeting between the Ravens and Indianapolis in the regular season with the Colts holding a 7-3 lead in the series. Baltimore is without a win in five total trips to Indianapolis and is 1-2 in postseason play against the Colts.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
DE Chris Canty
LB Arthur Brown
LT Eugene Monroe
G John Urschel
TE Phillip Supernaw
DL Timmy Jernigan
WR Michael Campanaro

INDIANAPOLIS
CB Jalil Brown
LB Chris Carter
OL Khaled Holmes
OT Jamon Meredith
DT Kelcy Quarles
G Jack Mewhort
DT Arthur Jones

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Ravens-Panthers: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Panthers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens hoped they were moving closer to getting their full secondary back a week ago with the season debut of Lardarius Webb, but the moments leading into Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers provided a different outlook.

After practicing fully all week and not even being listed on the injury report, the sixth-year cornerback was ruled inactive for Week 4 as he continues to try to improve his flexibility and quickness from a back injury that sidelined him for all of training camp. Playing only four snaps against Cleveland last week, Webb appeared slow in his backpedal and was unable to quickly change direction, prompting defensive coordinator Dean Pees to keep him on the sideline for most of the game.

Considering Webb has practiced for nearly a month, the Ravens may need to take a long look at how quickly he can get himself back to an acceptable level of play to help a struggling secondary. Third-year cornerback Asa Jackson is expected to take Webb’s place in the starting lineup once again.

Defensive end Chris Canty (knee) is active after missing practice all week and being listed as questionable on the final injury report. He was the only other Ravens player whose status appeared in doubt after left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee surgery) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) were officially ruled out on Friday.

As expected, running back Bernard Pierce (quadriceps), linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee/ankle) are active after being listed as probable on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Panthers will be without two key players on Sunday as running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) and outside linebacker Thomas Davis (hip) were both ruled inactive after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. However, Carolina will have the services of starting running back DeAngelo Williams (thigh) after he missed the last two games.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Craig Wrolstad. He’s a new referee this season after serving as an NFL field judge prior to the promotion.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures around 80 degrees with partly cloudy skies, no chance of precipitation, and winds up to five miles per hour.

The Ravens will be wearing black jerseys and black pants for the first time this season on Sunday while the Panthers will wear all white.

Former Ravens tight end Todd Heap will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday’s game, becoming the eighth Ravens player to receive the honor.

Baltimore and Carolina will be meeting for the fifth time in the all-time regular-season series with the Panthers holding a 3-1 edge. The Ravens lost the only meeting between these teams at M&T Bank Stadium with wide receiver Steve Smith having a big day against his future team in a 23-21 final on Oct. 15, 2006.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Lardarius Webb
WR Michael Campanaro
LB Arthur Brown
LT Eugene Monroe
G John Urschel
DT Timmy Jernigan
DE Lawrence Guy

CAROLINA
QB Joe Webb
RB Jonathan Stewart
S Tre Boston
RB Fozzy Whittaker
LB Thomas Davis
OL Andrew Norwell
TE Brandon Williams

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Ravens secondary still waiting on Webb to get up to game speed

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Ravens secondary still waiting on Webb to get up to game speed

Posted on 25 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After much anticipation for the 2014 debut of Lardarius Webb last Sunday, the Ravens only needed to see Andrew Hawkins easily shake free from the veteran cornerback to realize the time wasn’t yet right.

The shifty receiver completely turned around Webb on a simple out route that went for 24 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter to put Cleveland in Baltimore territory, and it all but ended Webb’s day as he played only four defensive snaps in the eventual 23-21 win for the Ravens. Three weeks of full participation in practice hadn’t compensated for Webb missing nearly all of training camp after being sidelined with back spasms on July 25. Since returning to practice at the end of August, Webb has needed to knock off rust and improve his flexibility in bending for the critically-important backpedal that all cornerbacks need.

“We found out really quick,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Webb’s performance in Cleveland. “And I had a great talk with him on Monday, and he understands. When I saw it [coaching] in the press box, I said, ‘He’s not there yet.’ And game speed is faster than practice speed. There’s no way to simulate it. But he has to keep practicing, and he has to feel very confident that he can do it. That’s half the battle playing the back end; you better feel confident that you can do it.”

The secondary has struggled without a healthy and effective Webb as the Ravens’ pass defense is ranked 24th in the NFL and is allowing 262.3 passing yards per game. The combination of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown hasn’t inspired confidence when either has played opposite Jimmy Smith in the base defense, and the Ravens haven’t received good play at safety where Matt Elam and Darian Stewart have struggled.

Webb hasn’t been listed on the injury report this week as the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s meeting against the Carolina Panthers, which suggests he could see an expanded role from what we saw in Cleveland. The 6-foot-2 Smith is likely to match up with 6-foot-5 rookie Kelvin Benjamin — who leads the Panthers with 19 catches for 253 yards — but the rest of the Panthers’ group of wide receivers doesn’t inspire fear beyond tight end Greg Olsen, who has caught 16 passes for 224 yards through three games.

Pees has tinkered with various alignments in the back end of the defense including the use of Elam as a slot corner, which reflects how little depth the Ravens have had at the cornerback position. A healthy Webb, who is at his best playing inside in the nickel package, would give Pees some flexibility to show different looks since Jackson is also capable of playing the nickel position. However, the Ravens need to finally see a version of Webb ready to play 60 to 70 snaps per game at a high level before making any decisions about the makeup of the secondary.

“We would be fortunate if we had both those guys, because each one of them could play [inside],” Pees said. “The other guy would go outside. We have to make that determination once he’s back.”

Even with Webb’s absence taken into account, Pees isn’t pleased with how his pass defense has performed, even acknowledging Thursday that he needs to do a better job of mixing coverages and pressures as the Ravens have relied heavily on a mostly-ineffective four-man rush and soft zone coverage through the first three weeks of the season.

Elam and others pointed to miscommunication being a problem after Sunday’s game as Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer threw for nearly 300 yards last Sunday, but Pees bristled at the suggestion, perhaps implying that he wants to see defensive backs take more accountability for mishaps. The signature play of the secondary’s problems came in the fourth quarter when Elam was beaten by Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 70-yard reception that included the second-year safety looking back at Jackson instead of touching the wideout down before he got up from the ground to gain extra yardage.

“‘Miscommunication’ would not be one of the words I would have used,” said Pees in evaluating the pass defense. “I would have said very poor technique in the back end. There are a couple of them [where] there wasn’t any communication [needed]. Just line up and play and play your position. We were beat on a three-deep coverage that I don’t know what communication is there other than, ‘Get your [butt] deep.’”

Three-headed monster

The Ravens have a three-headed monster shaping up at the running back position that they haven’t enjoyed since 2008 when Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice combined to rush for 2,027 yards in John Harbaugh’s first year as head coach.

Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce, and Lorenzo Taliaferro have all made major contributions to the league’s eighth-ranked rushing attack in the wake of Rice’s release, so it isn’t easy predicting who will receive the biggest workload moving forward. Pierce practiced fully on Wednesday and Thursday, but the Ravens continue to monitor his improvement from a quadriceps injury that sidelined him for last Sunday’s game.

Taliaferro’s 91-yard game in Cleveland has led many to conclude he should be the starter moving forward, but the Ravens have maintained all along that they’ll go with the hot hand in the backfield. And they figure to have another good opportunity Sunday with the Carolina defense allowing 145.3 yards per game on the ground.

“I still go out there just as I did since I got here,” Taliaferro said. “Just make sure I do my job and compete. Even though it’s during the season and not so much of camp now, we’re still competing not just for each other’s job, but to make each other better.”

A rush-by-committee approach is nothing new for offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who guided a number of rushing attacks years ago in Denver where unknown names such as Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary would suddenly emerge as 1,000-yard backs.

Pierce and Taliaferro bring more power and physicality in their rushing style while Forsett is more of a change of pace on third down, but Kubiak also pointed out other differences such as ability to pass protect and the special-teams contributions made by Forsett and Taliaferro that factor into the overall distribution of playing time.

“Lorenzo and Justin are three-down players that play in pass-protection situations, nickel situations, and those types of things,” Kubiak said. “That’s where Bernard needs to keep coming as a player, in my opinion, but he’s working at it and doing that.”

Of course, the biggest reason for the dramatic improvement of the Ravens’ running game has been the offensive line where running lanes have been created consistently unlike last season when the running game averaged only 3.1 yards per carry.

And their strong performance makes the debate over who will carry the ball less significant.

“I think we’re really confident in our running game, and I definitely think that starts with our offensive line,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “They have done a great job in this system, and they really lead the way. And I think you can see that [because] we had three different backs all have big days.”

Replacing Pitta

The offseason arrivals of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels have eased the season-ending loss of Dennis Pitta a bit, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains within the Baltimore offense.

Of course, the Ravens are more equipped to handle Pitta’s hip injury than they were a year ago, but they will still depend on Daniels and rookie Crockett Gillmore to pick up the slack for one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets. Phillip Supernaw was promoted from the practice squad to take Pitta’s place on the 53-man roster, but it remains to be seen what kind of role he can carve out for himself beyond special teams.

“It does make you stop in some of your preparation,” Kubiak said. “‘What happens in the game if this guy goes down? Now what do I go to? What personnel [groups] do I want to be in?’ Those are some things that you have to look at a little bit differently when you have these types of things happen.”

Juszczyk is another option who could see some more opportunities as the fullback has the ability to line up at tight end. He caught three passes for 54 yards and his first touchdown against the Browns last Sunday.

His emergence in the short passing game would be a welcome addition with Pitta no longer an option.

“I don’t think my role will change too much,” Juszczyk said. “I think I’ll be doing a lot of the same stuff I’ve been doing, but maybe more of it.”

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Ravens stock watching entering Week 4

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Ravens stock watching entering Week 4

Posted on 23 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is rising and falling …

STOCK RISING

Lorenzo Taliaferro
Skinny: Even if I could have run through a couple of the huge running lanes opened by the offensive line, the rookie took advantage of the Bernard Pierce injury by rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Cleveland. Taliaferro drew some comparisons to Jamal Lewis on his 31-yard run in which he showed impressive downhill speed. The starting job might not be his just yet, but there’s little debate that the fourth-round pick is firmly in the backfield equation now and the heat will be on Pierce to play at a high level. 

Kyle Juszczyk
Skinny: Just a week after appearing in the “falling” category, the second-year fullback’s strong performance against the Browns that included a 9-yard touchdown catch lands him back in the good graces of the coaching staff. The season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta will likely create more opportunities for Juszczyk to catch passes in the flat as the Ravens will need someone to complement veteran tight end Owen Daniels. His Lebron James chalk throw celebration earned him style points, but Week 3 was a step in the right direction for Juszczyk. 

Rick Wagner
Skinny: The second-year right tackle continues to be consistently solid in his first year as a starter and earned the third-highest grade among offensive players for Week 3, according to Pro Football Focus. Wagner and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda were able to open some sizable running lanes for Taliaferro and veteran Justin Forsett against the Browns defense as they did late in the Pittsburgh game. In fact, Wagner has been more consistent than left tackle Eugene Monroe, who has struggled in two of the first three weeks of the 2014 season. 

C.J. Mosley
Skinny: Aside from two unnecessary roughness penalties in the first three weeks, it’s easy to see why the Ravens were excited to draft Mosley with the 17th overall pick of May’s draft. The Alabama product finished with six tackles (one for a loss) and registered a hit on Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer on Sunday. Mosley would be the first to tell you that he’s left some plays out on the field, but his aggressiveness and instincts put him on track to be an impact player as he gains experience and more strength over the next year or two. 

STOCK FALLING

Matt Elam
Skinny: Elam is only three games into his second year, but we’re still waiting to see what the Ravens saw in him as a first-round pick as he misses too many tackles for a player with a reputation for physicality and has been exposed in pass coverage too often. Sunday was probably the worst game of his career as a long reception to Taylor Gabriel was made even worse when Elam was focused on the miscommunication in the secondary instead of bothering to touch the receiver who was on the ground. In fairness, Elam was out of position at free safety last year and has had to play the nickel this year, but he hasn’t impressed.

Jacoby Jones
Skinny: Head coach John Harbaugh opined that the veteran wide receiver is pressing through the first three weeks of the season, but Jones has been a non-factor with only three catches for 20 yards and has dropped several passes, including one that could have gone for a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter Sunday. Jones is a dynamic return specialist and there’s no reason not to put him on the field to run a few verticals per game, but his ability as a receiver is very limited beyond that. With Pitta out for the season, the Ravens need more production from the No. 3 receiver spot, whether it’s Jones or someone else.

Lardarius Webb
Skinny: Sunday was supposed to be a good day for the secondary with the long-awaited return of the veteran cornerback, but Webb played only four defensive snaps and looked like he was in quicksand trying to cover Andrew Hawkins on an out route. You hope it was just rust and not evidence of a lack of flexibility from the back injury, but Week 3 only raised concerns about Webb, who had practiced fully for the last three weeks leading into his season debut. It’s painfully clear that the Ravens need help in the secondary and what we saw from Webb against the Browns wasn’t close to being the tonic. 

Bernard Pierce
Skinny: Sunday was the first game Pierce had missed in his three-year career, but a thigh injury is just the latest ailment to hobble the starting running back, which led to Taliaferro making an emphatic statement in Cleveland. Pierce’s Week 2 stats (96 yards on 22 carries) were a bit deceiving as he was indecisive through three quarters before finally finding room against a tired Pittsburgh front. It’s too early to suggest Taliaferro has supplanted Pierce as the starting running back, but the 2012 third-round pick will need to play at a high level and stay healthy to hold off the rookie.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 21 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will attempt to go 2-1 in finishing their AFC North run to begin the season against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, but they’ll have to do it without a key cog in their offense.

Running back Bernard Pierce (thigh) was ruled inactive and will miss the first game of his NFL career. The third-year back was added to the injury report as a limited participant on Thursday before participating fully and being listed as questionable on Friday.

The Ravens promoted rookie running back Fitz Toussaint from the practice squad and cut wide receiver Deonte Thompson on Saturday, a clear indication that Pierce’s status was in doubt. Veteran Justin Forsett is expected to start in Pierce’s place, and he will be spelled by two rookies — fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro and the undrafted free agent Toussaint — who have yet to record a carry in the NFL.

The good news is that cornerback Lardarius Webb will make his long-awaited 2014 season debut after missing the entire preseason and the first two regular-season games while recovering from a back injury suffered on July 25. The sixth-year defensive back practiced fully over the last three weeks, but the Ravens wanted to be careful that his back did not flare up again.

As expected, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is inactive as he continues to recover from a knee injury. He was listed as doubtful on the final injury report of the week. This means the Ravens could lean on recently-claimed defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi to play some reps in the rotation as he is active for Sunday’s game.

Rookie third-round safety Terrence Brooks is inactive for the first time this year and 2013 second-round linebacker Arthur Brown is a healthy scratch for the third straight week, developments that aren’t exactly ringing endorsements for the last two draft classes.

Meanwhile, the Browns will have the services of tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder) and linebacker Barkevious Mingo (shoulder), who are both active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Cleveland’s starting running back Ben Tate (knee) is out once again, paving the way for Towson product Terrance West to make another start.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while the Browns don white jerseys and white pants at home.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Cleveland calls for temperatures right around 70 degrees with winds up to 18 miles per hour and partly cloudy skies.

The Ravens are 22-8 in the all-time series against the Browns, which includes a 10-5 mark in Cleveland. Under head coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore is 11-1 against the Browns but lost the most recent meeting between these teams at FirstEnergy Stadium last November.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
RB Bernard Pierce
WR Michael Campanaro
OT Jah Reid
G John Urschel
DT Timmy Jernigan
LB Arthur Brown
S Terrence Brooks

CLEVELAND
WR LaRon Byrd
CB Pierre Desir
NT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen
LB Eric Martin
DB Robert Nelson
TE Gerell Robinson
RB Ben Tate

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 20 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will attempt to go 2-1 against the AFC North to begin the 2014 season, but the Cleveland Browns stand in their way while feeling good about themselves following last week’s surprising win over the New Orleans Saints.

While Baltimore has benefited from extra rest after a Thursday night win over rival Pittsburgh in Week 2, Cleveland has used a strong running game led by Towson product Terrance West while committing no turnovers through the first two weeks of the season. The Browns’ summer quarterback controversy between veteran Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel has also subsided with the former off to an efficient start in his return from a season-ending knee injury last season.

Sunday marks the 31st all-time meeting between these AFC North rivals with the Ravens enjoying a 22-8 advantage and a 10-5 edge at FirstEnergy Stadium. Baltimore is 11-1 against the Browns since 2008 with last year’s 24-18 loss in Cleveland the first defeat over that stretch.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their sixth game in seven tries in Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era …

1. Torrey Smith finally gets his 2014 season going, making six catches for 95 yards and a long touchdown reception. Aside from a long touchdown to Steve Smith on a broken play in the season opener, quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t taken many deep shots, but that could change on Sunday with the Browns looking to clean up their run defense and fully aware of Gary Kubiak’s use of Steve Smith and the tight ends in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Torrey Smith has been held to just four catches for 60 yards in his first two games, but that will change on Sunday as he catches a 40-plus-yard touchdown to beat Cleveland cornerback Buster Skrine in the first half.

2. The Browns running game picks up 130 yards on the ground to win the time of possession battle. The Ravens defense was very physical against Pittsburgh, but it’s difficult to determine how much of that was about playing their biggest rival in a prime-time game and handling an inferior offensive line. Cleveland has averaged an impressive 5.1 yards per carry and won’t match that impressive clip, but West and fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell will grind out tough yards to keep the Baltimore defense on the field too long. A key matchup will be Pro Bowl center Alex Mack going up against second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams, and the Browns will have the edge there to find some running room inside.

3. Terrell Suggs collects his first sack of the year in a difficult battle against Browns tackle Joe Thomas. The six-time Pro Bowl linebacker has more career sacks (15) against Cleveland than any opponent, but only seven have come since 2007 when the Browns drafted the seven-time Pro Bowl selection Thomas. Even though the Ravens insist Suggs has played very well and Pro Football Focus has graded Suggs as the team’s best defensive player through two weeks, the 12-year pass rusher has collected only one sack in his last 10 games dating back to last season and hasn’t been making high-impact plays since the first half of 2013. Suggs and fellow rusher Elvis Dumervil need to put heat on Hoyer, and Suggs will break through for his first sack since Week 16 of last year.

4. Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins beats a rusty Lardarius Webb for a touchdown catch from the slot. With Webb listed as probable on the final injury report, it appears the Ravens will have their full secondary at their disposal for the first time since the beginning of training camp. However, it remains to be seen how much rust the sixth-year corner will need to shake off even after practicing fully for the last three weeks. Meanwhile, the Browns are without suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon, but the shifty Hawkins has been very effective out of the slot where he has lined up more than half of the time, leading the team with 14 catches for 157 yards. He’ll catch his first touchdown on a quick out route as Webb misses the tackle on the play.

5. A fourth-quarter touchdown run by West is the difference as the Ravens’ road struggles from last season carry over to Sunday in a 20-17 loss to Cleveland. It’s easy to be encouraged by what Baltimore did playing at home last Thursday night, but the Ravens have almost always played well at home even in some of their worst seasons. A 2-6 road record in 2013 is difficult to forget, particularly because it was the Ravens defense that struggled in allowing 26.4 points per game on the road compared to 17.6 points surrendered per home contest. A typical, ugly game between the Browns and Ravens will play out once again, but the Cleveland defense bounces back from its poor start to the season while the Baltimore defense is worn down by the running game in the final quarter.

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