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copeland

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NFL linebacker Copeland cultivating sense of community in Baltimore, beyond

Posted on 23 June 2018 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of Brandon Copeland)

Brandon Copeland continues to cultivate a sense of community.

Whether it’s holding his free football camp for Baltimore youth, providing Thanksgiving meals to single mothers and their families, or offering financial advice to fellow NFL players, the Gilman School graduate and New York Jets linebacker doesn’t want his road to success to have a lonely destination.

Football remains his biggest platform, but Copeland doesn’t let the sport he loves define him and is hardly waiting until the end of his playing days to figure out what he’ll do next. He hasn’t viewed that as a linear process from the time he graduated with an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania and eventually found his NFL footing in a journey that began with a brief stint with the hometown Ravens in 2013. The 26-year-old already has experience working as a Wall Street investment analyst and has even started his own real estate company with his wife, Taylor.

Copeland will remind youth at his third annual Beyond the Basics camp at Gilman on July 7 that football isn’t forever. It’s a lesson that hit all too close last summer as his career with the Detroit Lions was on the rise and he was competing for a starting spot after playing in all 32 games as a reserve and special-teams contributor the previous two seasons.

You should always have more than one plan.

“I’m living, walking proof that this career can end at any moment after sitting out last year,” said Copeland, who suffered a torn pectoral tendon in the first preseason game last August. “A lot of people tell you preparing for Plan B is distracting from Plan A. You can just generally have other things that you’re interested in. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Hey, I like football, and I like something else.'”

Copeland wants the 400 kids ages 11 to 17 registered for this year’s camp to understand they have options, a reason why he recruits volunteers from a variety of career fields. Many campers initially gravitate toward big-name volunteers such as two-time Super Bowl champion Torrey Smith, longtime NBA player Rudy Gay, and many other current and former NFL players — including former Baltimore Colts defensive end and Copeland’s grandfather, Roy Hilton — but the goal is for kids to also identify with other volunteers who love football while succeeding in other walks of life.

That’s the reason why this year’s registration form requested campers to list three professions they’d like to have other than being a professional athlete and to state three goals for themselves. Copeland said the exercise sparked much positive feedback from parents, who in some cases learned something new about their children’s interests and dreams.

“What we’re trying to do is open their eyes to let them know that certain things are possible for them,” Copeland said. “A lot of these kids grow up and see lawyers or police officers on TV, and they think negative thoughts about that profession. If we can create that positive experience with that profession, then that’s great.”

Beyond the Basics provides each camper a free t-shirt and lunch as well as opportunities to win other giveaways such as laptops, tablets, and headphones, but it isn’t just about what the attendees receive that day. Campers will put together 750 book bags and hygiene kits to be distributed to needy families through the Franciscan Center of Baltimore, an increase from the 500 of each donated last year.

Copeland is quick to express gratitude to a list of sponsors that includes Penn and even the Lions despite his free-agent departure in March. He’s also been amazed by the number of volunteers willing to make a difference in the community.

“A lot of these kids only see people on the sidelines cheering for them at the big game, the championship game, stuff like that,” said Copeland, who will have approximately 140 volunteers at next month’s camp. “When there’s nothing on the line, for them to see a bunch of different smiling faces encouraging them, that’s a message that I definitely want to allow to happen at our camp.”

That collection of volunteers has also sparked an unanticipated networking forum with internship opportunities and even jobs being offered among the helpers, further growing that overall sense of community.

In addition to getting involved in Baltimore and the other NFL cities in which he’s played, Copeland expanded his message to a different audience this offseason by offering financial advice to the 2018 NFL draft class through The Players’ Tribune. Given his Ivy League education and off-field ventures that have come without the luxury of a lucrative signing bonus or long-term contract, first-year players could stand to learn from someone whose NFL career has been anything but guaranteed.

“I wanted to speak to the things I had learned from other players, other advice that I had heard, and other things I had seen through my own internships and finances and all of that type of stuff,” Copeland said. “It was a great opportunity for me to voice my message on my way of thinking about money.”

Copeland doesn’t know how long he’ll have his current platform as he tries to carve out a place with the Jets and prove he’s fully recovered from last year’s injury, which created an extended absence that both renewed his love for the game and provided valuable time to put more extensive work into his real estate company.

His off-field ambitions and wisdom at such a young age leave few doubts that he’ll be successful no matter where life takes him, but Copeland has no interest in being the only one at that finish line as he continues to strive to set an example for others.

“One of the things that I’m trying to be better at now is sharing,” Copeland said, “so we can hopefully help each other and we all can grow.”

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humphrey

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Humphrey’s time arrives for playoff-hopeful Ravens

Posted on 06 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey will be playing at Heinz Field for the first time Sunday night, but he has an idea of what to expect against Pittsburgh.

Facing the NFL’s fourth-ranked passing attack in his first start in place of the injured Jimmy Smith, the first-round rookie knows he’ll have a bullseye on his back as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger surveys a Baltimore secondary now without its top corner. Humphrey acknowledges this in a matter-of-fact way without a hint of intimidation or even all that much excitement in his voice.

It’s not the first time he’s been under the microscope on a big stage, of course, as it was just two years ago that he was a redshirt freshman starting for a national championship Alabama team.

“I’m sure if there’s a weak link they have to pick out, it would definitely be me,” said Humphrey, referencing the big plays he gave up against Detroit last Sunday. “Big Ben likes to throw it up. He’s a great quarterback, so I’m sure if he has to take those shots, it’ll probably be at me.”

The six-foot, 197-pound cornerback struggled as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford targeted him frequently after Smith suffered a torn Achilles tendon late in the second quarter, but it’s not as though Humphrey hadn’t already shown enough for the Ravens to be confident in him. It was just a couple weeks ago when many began wondering if Humphrey was on the cusp of earning a starting position before a thigh issue limited him to seven defensive snaps in Week 12.

His talent was evident from the first day of organized team activities when he was still two months shy of his 21st birthday. Humphrey didn’t look much like a rookie in the spring and summer as he practiced press coverage and displayed the kind of polish you expect from a cornerback with at least a couple seasons under his belt.

This past Sunday was arguably the first time the moment has looked too big for him since he was selected with the 16th overall pick in April’s draft, and he still recovered in the fourth quarter to intercept a Stafford pass to help preserve the win.

“He has good composure on the field. He has God-given speed,” 10th-year cornerback Brandon Carr said. “The ability he has, he can make up for a lot of things that he hasn’t learned yet as far as technique and the ins and outs of the receivers. But he has a knack for just going out there and making plays.”

The Ravens would surely prefer having Smith on the field against the likes of All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown and deep threat Martavis Bryant in a nationally-televised prime-time game, but it’s not as though they’re throwing Humphrey to the wolves as an untested commodity. He’s already logged more than 300 defensive snaps this season — including 55 against an Oakland offense that included wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper — after frequently spelling a banged-up Smith and replacing Carr when he struggled to slow down Green Bay’s speedy receivers late last month.

According to Pro Football Focus, Humphrey has graded a respectable 41st among qualified cornerbacks and is allowing a passer rating of just 52.3 when targeted. He has collected 25 tackles and two interceptions to go along with eight pass breakups. The latter stat ranks second on the team and reflects how quarterbacks had already tried to test the rookie with little success before Stafford’s last Sunday.

Prior to Smith’s injury, coaches had boasted that they had three starting corners on the league’s third-ranked pass defense, and the numbers support that idea as Humphrey has played 18 or more snaps seven times this season.

“I think it’ll help a lot,” Humphrey said. “Coaches have given me a lot of time to play for me [being] a backup corner. It’ll definitely help that I’ve got some game experience.”

Of course, the apprenticeship is now over as Humphrey will start opposite of Carr and the Ravens will try to avoid their second straight late-season collapse following an injury to Smith. There’s no safety net as the next men up on the depth chart are also inexperienced in Maurice Canady, Jaylen Hill, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.

Frankly, this exact scenario with the oft-injured Smith is why general manager Ozzie Newsome passed on prospects at other positions of need to select Humphrey. Some growing pains are likely or even inevitable down the stretch, but his talent and even-keeled personality are major reasons why the Ravens believe they can endure Smith’s absence this time around after it was their fatal flaw last December.

“If a ball is completed on him, it’s not ‘sulk and go in the tank’ like some rookies can do,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Humphrey early last month. “Every defensive back that is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame has gotten beat — every one of them. It is just a matter of the ones that are really in there are the ones that could forget that and go play the next play.

“I’m certainly not putting him in that category yet, but he has that quality.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 44-20 win over Detroit

Posted on 05 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens securing their first three-game winning streak since the start of last season with a 44-20 victory over Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Where has this offense been all year? While recording season highs in points and yards while committing no turnovers, the Ravens were aggressive and effectively used play fakes. The group’s response after Detroit made it a one-score game late in the third quarter was the best drive of the season.

2. Joe Flacco was superb with active feet in the pocket and his most accurate passing of the season. His best throw was the 23-yard back-shoulder connection to Mike Wallace as he was being hit. Flacco would have eclipsed 300 yards if not for four drops by receivers.

3. The key to the offensive success was first-down productivity as Baltimore averaged 7.7 yards on first down and still came in at 5.8 if you want to take away the outlier of Wallace’s 66-yard catch. Marty Mornhinweg deserves credit for mixing up tendencies to help keep the offense on schedule.

4. Eric Weddle got off to a rough start this season, but his strip-sack led to excellent field position for a touchdown in the second quarter and his interception returned for a touchdown capped a dominant fourth. The secondary needs his leadership more than ever with the Jimmy Smith injury.

5. There’s no overlooking his rough performance against the Lions, but Marlon Humphrey had already done enough as a rookie to inspire confidence moving forward. Offenses will be looking to attack him now, but he has a good demeanor and all the talent he needs to contribute in Smith’s place.

6. Wallace was in the slot on the 66-yard bomb from Flacco, an example of personnel shuffling within a formation to create a favorable matchup against a safety. Mornhinweg also used a trips bunch formation to get Jeremy Maclin free on a crossing route. The Ravens need more of this.

7. Seeing Willie Henry scoop up a fumble and run 16 yards was amusing enough, but the second-year defensive tackle diagnosed a screen to make a tackle for a loss and registered a quarterback hit. “Big Earl” continues to be a significant contributor in the rotation.

8. Patrick Ricard registered his first touchdown since high school Sunday, but the converted defensive lineman also delivered several impressive blocks and matched a season high with 18 offensive snaps. The rookie is making more of an impact at fullback recently.

9. Maurice Canady appears to have overtaken Lardarius Webb as the primary nickel. In addition to five tackles and the hit on Jake Rudock’s interception to Weddle, Canady recovered Michael Campanaro’s fumble. He plays with much confidence and aggression for someone with such little NFL experience.

10. I’ve been clamoring for Tyus Bowser to receive more opportunities in this defense, but the rookie whiffing when he had a straight path to Matthew Stafford in the second quarter isn’t going to help his cause in the short term.

11. He only missed a couple plays after passing concussion screening, but C.J. Mosley suffered a stinger for the second straight week. You hope there’s no underlying cause for those because the Ravens can’t afford to be without him.

12. The Lions had nine players on the field for Flacco’s key third-down throw to a wide-open Chris Moore on the touchdown drive early in the fourth. That summed up the uninspiring football Detroit played for large stretches of a game they needed to have in a crowded NFC playoff race.

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Jimmy Smith suspended four games for PED violation

Posted on 04 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The aftermath of Jimmy Smith’s season-ending Achilles injury took on a different tone Monday as the Ravens cornerback was already facing a suspension.

As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Smith has been suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. The seventh-year defensive back had been appealing the ruling, but he will now serve the ban while on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

It remains unclear what substance Smith tested positive for or whether any usage may have been in response to the Achilles tendinitis he’d been dealing with for more than two months. With the 2011 first-round pick tearing his left Achilles tendon in Sunday’s win over Detroit, some have questioned whether he should have been playing in the first place, citing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman sustaining his own Achilles rupture last month after experiencing pain in the weeks leading up to the injury.

Of course, it’s easy to feel that way after the fact and there’s no way of knowing if more extensive rest would have been beneficial or would have only delayed the inevitable.

“The doctors will tell you that you just can’t predict that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If you have the tightness or the soreness, it doesn’t [always] lead to a [tear], you know? Doing it for all of these years, I’ve seen them not tear, and I’ve seen them tear. Obviously, that’s what you kind of suspect, but that’s not what the doctors tell us, so that’s why guys continue to play.”

It’s possible that Smith could have been dealing with a partial tear, but former Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil played with a partially-torn Achilles two years ago and was even named to the Pro Bowl playing all 16 games that season. Partial tears still run the risk of a full rupture and frequently require the same reconstruction surgery and lengthy recovery and rehabilitation of a full tear.

Harbaugh’s assessment of the Ravens’ handling of Smith was in line with the reaction from Dr. David Chao, the former team doctor of the San Diego Chargers who now writes about sports injuries at ProFootballDoc.com.

“There is no reason for him to have not been playing,” Chao wrote Sunday. “There is a higher rate of rupture with antecedent Achilles pain, but the majority of players with Achilles tendinitis do not suffer tears.”

Unlike past instances when Smith was out of the lineup, Baltimore has greater depth in the secondary and will hand his starting job over to rookie first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, who ranks 45th among qualified cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system this season. Humphrey shook off a rocky performance to intercept Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter of the 44-20 win.

With Humphrey and veteran Brandon Carr now serving as the starting outside cornerbacks, second-year nickel back Maurice Canady will likely see more practice time on the outside and will serve as their primary backup. A healthy scratch for the last three weeks, rookie Jaylen Hill could also be in the mix and turned heads during training camp to earn a roster spot before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out for the first six weeks of the season.

The Ravens could also elevate cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste from their practice squad upon placing Smith on IR.

“Our secondary is the strength of our team, so we’re not going to sit back and be sorry for ourselves,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Maurice is back. Marlon’s got to step up. Jaylen’s got to step up. That’s why we have so much depth.

“Will the guys be as good as Jimmy? No, but we’ll step up and play well in his absence.”

The Achilles tear and suspension are the latest frustrating chapters of Smith’s career that’s been marred by injuries. This will mark the fifth time in his seven seasons that the Colorado product will have played in 12 or fewer games.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound corner was garnering serious Pro Bowl consideration and had arguably been Baltimore’s best player this season, leading the way for the NFL’s second-best pass defense entering Week 13.

“I know he’s going to be back,” said tight end Benjamin Watson, who suffered an Achilles tendon tear last year. “Jimmy’s a fighter, and Jimmy’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever been around. There’s no doubt he’ll be back soon.”

Smith has two years remaining on his current contract and is set to make $9 million in base salary next season. His 2018 salary cap figure is a hefty $15.675 million, but cutting him would save only $2.37 million and leave more than $13 million in dead money on the cap.

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wallace

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Smith’s injury reiterates Ravens need more of what they did Sunday

Posted on 03 December 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday’s performance by the Ravens felt very familiar.

Joe Flacco and the offense turned in their best performance of the season against Detroit nearly a year to the day after they blew out Miami, a playoff contender turned away at M&T Bank Stadium to begin the final month of 2016. The 44-20 win over the Lions lifted the Ravens to 7-5, the same record they owned after their 38-6 victory over the Dolphins last Dec. 4.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself again when cornerback Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles tendon late in the first half, ending the best season of his career and leaving the defense without arguably its best player. It was Week 14 last year when the Ravens lost Smith to a high ankle sprain, an injury that torpedoed what had been the league’s top-ranked defense at the time.

That injury preceded three losses in the final four weeks as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. The schedule is certainly more favorable this time around with just one game remaining against a winning team — next Sunday in Pittsburgh — and the final two contests coming at home.

Still, there’s no underselling the loss of Smith, especially for a team that’s relied so heavily on its defense all season.

“It’s different than it’s been before,” said head coach John Harbaugh, citing his defense’s struggles without its top corner in 2014 and last year. “We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of good, young players. We’ll step up, and we’ll still play at a really high level in the secondary. I’m very confident of that.”

The Ravens are better equipped to carry on without Smith after signing reliable veteran Brandon Carr — who’s amazingly never missed a game in his 10-year career — and drafting the talented Marlon Humphrey in the first round this past spring. Turning over a starting job to Humphrey is quite an improvement from a year ago when Shareece Wright stepped in for Smith opposite rookie Tavon Young.

But there will still be some drop-off, evident by Humphrey’s difficulties in coverage against speedy Lions receiver Marvin Jones. The Alabama product may eventually be as good as Smith — or even better — but expecting that immediately would be unfair and unrealistic.

That makes it even more critical for this Ravens offense to look more like it did Sunday the rest of the way.

Veterans Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle admitted after the game that the defense was feeling deflated after officially learning of Smith’s fate at halftime. Two touchdown drives orchestrated by Lions quarterback Mathew Stafford in the third quarter transformed a comfortable 20-0 lead into a one-possession game, but Flacco and the offense fought right back with a nine-play, 74-yard drive ending with a 7-yard touchdown run by Alex Collins to make it a 27-13 lead early in the final quarter.

Given the importance of the game and the way it was trending, that touchdown drive may have been the offense’s best and most important of the year to this point. The Ravens then answered a Stafford touchdown pass with another drive resulting in a field goal to put them up by multiple scores for good with 6:54 remaining.

“Well, we have to do our part at some point, right?” said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who finished with 116 yards on five catches. “The offense, we have to come up. Our defense has been incredible. Our special teams have been incredible. The offense, not so much.

“Today, we made strides. This game is about peaking at the right time, so hopefully we can do that.”

The convincing win tightened the Ravens’ grip on the No. 6 seed as they own a one-game lead as well as tiebreakers over the top three teams chasing them in the AFC wild-card race, but building on this performance will be of the utmost importance. Baltimore will be an underdog against the Steelers next Sunday night, but a good showing from Flacco and the offense for a second straight week would create more optimism about this team being able to make noise in January.

The defense should still be more than good enough that the Ravens won’t need to put 44 points on the board every week like they did Sunday, but any expectation of this unit continuing to carry an inept offense likely vanished as Smith collapsed to the ground with 4:21 to go in the second quarter. That unbalanced formula may still be good enough against a soft remaining regular-season schedule, but it certainly won’t fly in the playoffs.

Many saw that as the Ravens’ reality anyway, but losing an elite defensive talent brings it into sharper focus.

The offense stepped up to do the heavy lifting when the defense suddenly found itself on the ropes Sunday.

The coming weeks will determine whether that was merely an aberration or the start of the offense more consistently pulling its own weight.

The latter would make for a more interesting January.

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Ravens-Lions: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 03 December 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — December football has arrived and with it the opportunity for the Ravens to make it back to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

John Harbaugh’s team has struggled in the final month of the regular season in recent years, going an underwhelming 8-10 in regular-season games played in December and early January since Super Bowl XLVII. It’s a significant reason why Baltimore has found itself on the outside looking in in three of the last four seasons, but a 6-5 mark and a mediocre conference provide hope for 2017’s final stretch.

The Ravens are aiming for the first three-game winning streak since the start of the 2016 season.

Detroit also has plenty to play for as Jim Caldwell is trying to guide the Lions to the playoffs for the third time in his four seasons. The Ravens enter Sunday holding the final wild-card spot in the AFC while the 6-5 Lions are in eighth place in a very competitive NFC.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman is a healthy scratch for the second time in three games, the latest disappointing development for the 2015 first-round pick. Return specialist and wide receiver Michael Campanaro is active after being a healthy scratch against Houston.

Rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey is active after being a limited participant in practices all week and going through an on-field workout with secondary coach Chris Hewitt. A thigh issue limited him to just seven defensive snaps in last Monday’s win over Houston, but fellow rookie Jaylen Hill once again being inactive would suggest that the Ravens are confident in Humphrey’s health.

As expected, running back Alex Collins is active and will start after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Collins missed Wednesday’s practice with a calf issue, but he was a full participant on Thursday and Friday, leaving very little doubt about his status. Terrance West is inactive once again, another sign that Collins isn’t a concern.

After Joe Flacco’s broken knee brace was a topic of conversation throughout the week, it’s worth noting that the veteran quarterback was once again wearing one on his left knee during pre-game warmups.

The Lions will be without starting running back Ameer Abdullah (neck) as he was only able to log a limited practice on Friday. However, he’s averaging just 3.4 yards per carry for the league’s 30th-ranked rushing attack and Theo Riddick figured to present a bigger threat as a receiver out of the backfield against the Baltimore defense anyway.

Detroit right guard T.J. Lang (foot) is active after being designated as questionable on the final injury report. Starting center Travis Swanson (knee) was officially ruled out on Friday, leaving the Lions vulnerable against the formidable Ravens defensive line.

Former Ravens great Haloti Ngata spent time chatting with former teammates and coaches on the field prior to Sunday’s game. The five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle was placed on injured reserve with a biceps injury in October, bringing his third season with the Lions to a premature end.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Jerome Boger.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures reaching the mid-50s with calm winds up to six miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with black pants, the first time they’ve worn that uniform combination this season. Detroit is donning white tops with blue pants.

Sunday is the first meeting between these teams since 2013 when Justin Tucker famously hit a 62-yard field goal in the final minute to lift the Ravens to a 18-16 win in Detroit on Monday Night Football. Baltimore leads the all-time series with a 3-1 record and is 2-0 against the Lions at M&T Bank Stadium.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Breshad Perriman
RB Terrance West
CB Jaylen Hill
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
OL Maurquice Shakir
DE Bronson Kaufusi
DE Chris Wormley

DETROIT
WR Bradley Marquez
RB Ameer Abdullah
RB Dwayne Washington
CB Jamal Agnew
S Rolan Milligan
C Travis Swanson
OT Emmett Cleary

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Ravens-Lions: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 02 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t own a victory over a team currently holding as much as a .500 record.

Five of their six wins have come against a rookie or backup quarterback.

Baltimore has the opportunity to fight back at both of those criticisms Sunday when Matthew Stafford and Detroit come to town. More importantly, the Ravens can improve their playoff chances as they enter Week 13 holding the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

John Harbaugh’s team is eyeing its first three-game winning streak since the first three weeks of the 2016 season while the 6-5 Lions are trying to stay in the hunt in a much tougher NFC playoff race. Detroit enters the weekend one game behind Atlanta for the final spot in the conference.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the first time since 2013 with the Ravens having won the last two meetings and owning a 3-1 advantage in the all-time regular-season series. The Lions are seeking their first win in Baltimore since defeating the Colts 13-10 at Memorial Stadium in 1977.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Detroit’s Golden Tate will lead both teams in receiving yards. The Lions own the 30th-ranked running game in the NFL, but no one has found room on the ground against the Ravens over their last four games anyway, making Tate much more critical. The slot receiver ranks sixth in the league in yards after the catch and 51 of his 63 catches have come on throws 10 or fewer yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Baltimore’s pass defense has mostly been superb, but nickel corner Lardarius Webb has had his issues in coverage and the middle of the field has been a vulnerable area that Tate can exploit.

2. Terrell Suggs will register a strip-sack for the third consecutive game. Harbaugh labeled the 35-year-old “Ponce de Leon” for seemingly finding the Fountain of Youth after his performance against Houston, and few would argue with Suggs registering two-sack efforts in both games since the bye week. He’s one-half sack away from reaching double digits for the seventh time in his career and will be lining up against Taylor Decker, a talented left tackle who has struggled since returning last month from offseason shoulder surgery. This matchup is one of the biggest swing factors of the game.

3. Stafford will throw two touchdown passes against a tough secondary. As I wrote earlier this week, the Ravens shouldn’t apologize for the opponents they’ve faced, but it’s fair to wonder just how good this secondary will be against tougher competition, which is what Stafford and the league’s 10th-ranked passing game will offer. The Ravens defense leads the NFL with 18 interceptions, but the Lions quarterback has tossed only six in 395 attempts. If Baltimore can’t sustain pressure against an offensive line that’s been pretty solid after a slow start, Stafford will be able to make some plays at every level.

4. Joe Flacco will toss a touchdown and two interceptions as his 2017 struggles continue. The Lions have had substantial issues stopping the run in recent weeks, but any defense not loading the box against Baltimore to force the ball in Flacco’s hands is crazy. It’s no secret this passing game is a total mess that hasn’t produced against even below-average pass defenses, and Detroit is tied for fifth in the NFL in takeaways despite ranking 23rd against the pass. Flacco’s comments after the Houston win reflect the frustration for the veteran, who’s eclipsed 200 passing yards only once since Week 5.

5. The lack of offensive balance and turnovers will catch up with the Ravens in a 20-16 loss. These teams are fairly equal in quality, but Baltimore is coming off a short week and its passing game is a much bigger weakness than anything the Lions are dealing with. Stafford isn’t going to totally pick the defense apart, but there will be some shock going up against a top quarterback that will put the Ravens behind and take them out of their formula of running the ball and being aggressive on defense to force turnovers. The Ravens have won the turnover battle in all six of their wins this season and have enjoyed at least a plus-2 margin in five of those. Short of that happening, they’ll drop a close one.

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Ravens’ health looking up ahead of Sunday’s game with Detroit

Posted on 01 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh declared the injury report a personal record for 2017 ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Detroit.

Reserve offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder) was the only Baltimore player to miss more than one practice this week and be ruled out against the Lions. Five others were designated as questionable, but the chances of all being on the field appear strong.

“We’re heading in the right direction with that,” said Harbaugh, who had just one unhealthy scratch in Week 13. “We need all of our guys. We need to have everybody up and rolling. We have to make some tough decisions, which is a good problem to have. I feel bad for a few guys that really want to play and deserve to play, but aren’t going to get to play. That’s different than what we had the rest of the year, so we feel good about that.”

Running back Alex Collins (calf) missed practice on Wednesday, but he was a full participant the rest of the week. The starting tailback sprinted from the field to the locker room at the conclusion of Friday’s workout, which should remove any lingering concerns about the health of his lower leg.

Despite being limited to only seven snaps with a thigh issue in Monday’s win over Houston, cornerback Marlon Humphrey took limited part in practices all week, a good sign for his availability against the Lions. It’s worth noting that Baltimore conducted only walk-through practices on Wednesday and Thursday, so that leaves a bit more uncertainty regarding his “questionable” status than the others.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (ankle), cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) were also listed as questionable, but all are expected to start on Sunday. This was the first time since late September that Smith took part in every practice of a game week.

Meanwhile, the Lions did not list quarterback Matthews Stafford (ankle) on the final injury report after he practiced in full all week. However, starting center Travis Swanson (knee) was ruled out while starting right guard T.J. Lang (foot) and starting running back Ameer Abdullah (neck) were both designated as questionable after only returning to the practice field Friday.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-50s and calm winds.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Alex Collins (calf), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee)

DETROIT
OUT: CB Jamal Agnew (knee), C Travis Swanson (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Ameer Abdullah (neck), G T.J. Lang (foot)

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Ravens defense preparing for rare quarterback test with Stafford

Posted on 29 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have heard the same story over and over this season.

The NFL’s second-ranked pass defense has faced a backup or rookie quarterback in seven of its 11 games and in six of the last seven. The best quarterback Baltimore has beaten all year was Andy Dalton, whose offensive coordinator was fired just five days after that season-opening shutout in Cincinnati.

The underwhelming slate of signal-callers has been both a blessing and a curse as no team would turn down such good fortune over the course of a season, but it’s led many to question just how great this pass defense truly is. That changes this Sunday with Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions coming to town.

“He’s one of the best, so we’ve got to defend that,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “People are giving us all kinds of flak like it’s our fault we had to play against the second-string quarterbacks, but we’ll get to go out and play against a really good one and hopefully show you what we’re capable of doing.”

The Ravens can’t control their schedule or who’s been under center for the opposition and shouldn’t apologize for it. Regardless of the opponent, Baltimore leading the league in both interceptions and takeaways and posting three shutouts are superb feats and reflect the improved talent and good health in the secondary this season. But it is fair to wonder how that translates against upper-tier quarterbacks, especially with the playoff-hopeful Ravens receiving so little help from one of the worst offenses in the league.

Seven members of the secondary have played at least 150 defensive snaps this season with second-year cornerback Maurice Canady also averaging 24 snaps per game since being activated from injured reserve earlier this month. Such a distribution of playing time is usually a product of injuries, but Canady is the only meaningful contributor in the secondary to miss any games if you exclude Tavon Young, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the spring. Smith has missed practice time and some snaps within games due to lingering Achilles tendinitis, but he’s avoided missing a single game, an enormous development for the Pro Bowl-caliber corner and a secondary that’s too often slipped because of his absence in the past.

That depth has allowed defensive coordinator Dean Pees to be creative with his personnel as he’s rotated three outside cornerbacks in the base defense and used three others in nickel and dime packages in addition to Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson manning the starting safety spots. The ability to employ various sub packages and to disguise coverages has frequently overwhelmed lesser quarterbacks, but the Ravens hope those same traits can make a long day for Stafford, who is fourth in the NFL with 21 touchdown passes and ranks eighth in yards per attempt this season.

With the 6-5 Lions ranking 30th in rushing yards per game, there’s no secret to how they try to win.

“[Stafford] has the keys to the offense. He runs the show,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “He has a lot of confidence in his throws, a lot of confidence in his receivers. He throws the ball around the yard. All those guys are capable of making big plays and great catches.”

Stafford may lack the monstrous target he enjoyed throwing to for years after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson two winters ago, but wide receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate both rank in the NFL’s top 20 in receiving yards with Jones ranking ninth in yards per catch (16.6) and Tate fifth in yards after the catch (398). Even No. 3 receiver TJ Jones has only three fewer receiving yards than Jeremy Maclin, which probably says much more more about the state of the Baltimore offense than the Lions’ top-10 passing game.

Detroit ranks sixth in the league in pass plays of 20 or more yards and second with 10 completions of 40 or more yards. That’s a different ballgame than facing the likes of Matt Moore, Brett Hundley, and Tom Savage in recent weeks.

A defense priding itself on forcing quarterbacks into making mistakes will face one who’s thrown only six interceptions despite ranking fourth in the NFL in pass attempts.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge. We are excited about it, obviously,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Every week presents challenges, offensively, schematics, players, etc. But Stafford is one of the best. He can make all the throws. He commands the offense, checks at the line, presents different challenges that we’ve seen in the past.”

The defense is the overwhelming reason why the Ravens have improved to 6-5 and currently hold the No. 6 spot in the mediocre AFC, but that doesn’t mean it’s been perfect. Baltimore hadn’t allowed a 100-yard receiver all season before Green Bay’s Davante Adams and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins reached that benchmark catching passes from backup quarterbacks the last two weeks, which could be viewed as at least a mild sign of caution with matchups against Stafford and then Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger looming.

If there’s been one area to attack the pass defense this season, it’s been the middle of the field, which could spell trouble with Tate’s ability working from the slot.

Make no mistake, the Ravens defense deserves a ton of credit for putting the offense on its back and working with such a small margin for error all season. Sunday presents a substantial test and an opportunity to quiet those who’ve scoffed at the list of opposing quarterbacks faced.

A strong performance and a win over Stafford and the Lions would both fortify the Ravens’ playoff chances and further validate what the flashy numbers already suggest about this defense.

“It’s going to be a good challenge for us in the back end,” Carr said. “This is why we play the game. It’s a great opportunity to play some December football at home again against a high-powered pass attack and see what we can do.”

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Ravens running back Collins misses practice with calf issue

Posted on 29 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Starting running back Alex Collins did not participate in Wednesday’s walk-through as the Ravens continued preparations for their Week 13 showdown with Detroit.

The second-year back finished Monday’s game without any apparent incident, but he is dealing with a calf injury, according to Wednesday’s injury report. Collins rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in the 23-16 win over Houston and was on the field for the final series of the contest.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee), and linebacker C.J. Mosley (ankle) were listed as limited participants in the walk-through practice. The rookie Humphrey was limited to just seven snaps against the Texans and missed time in the preseason because of a hamstring injury.

“He had a little tweak in there. He has been battling some leg issues,” said head coach John Harbaugh after Monday’s game. “I just decided let’s play it safe. That’s the good thing about having some depth, but we want him out there.”

Meanwhile, the Lions listed standout quarterback Matthew Stafford as a full participant, which should eliminate any remaining doubt about his status for Sunday. He hurt his ankle in his team’s Thanksgiving loss to Minnesota, but he was able to return to the game.

Detroit running back Ameer Abdullah (neck) and recently-added pass rusher Dwight Freeney did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.

Below is the first full injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Alex Collins (calf), OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee)

DETROIT
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Ameer Abdullah (neck), CB Jamal Agnew (knee), DE Dwight Freeney (non-injury), G T.J. Lang (foot), C Travis Swanson (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Matthew Stafford (ankle), RB Dwayne Washington (hip)

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