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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 13 December 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Forsett, Torrey Smith absent from Wednesday’s practice

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Forsett, Torrey Smith absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing for this Sunday’s critical meeting with the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens were without three offensive starters for practice on Wednesday afternoon.

Wide receivers Torrey Smith (knee) and Marlon Brown (concussion), running back Justin Forsett (knee), and center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) were absent from the portion of the workout open to reporters. Smith and Brown left the San Diego game with injuries and didn’t return, but head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the significance of Smith appearing to injure his right knee in the fourth quarter of the 34-33 loss to the Chargers.

Brown’s absence was not unexpected as he continues to go through the NFL’s concussion protocol. He left Sunday’s game early in the second quarter after hitting his head hard on the M&T Bank Stadium turf.

Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged both receivers were making progress on Wednesday without going into detail.

Forsett downplayed his absence from practice as little more than a day to rest and to stay fresh for the final month of the season. He has carried 179 times for 1,009 rushing yards this season, both career highs.

“Just resting up [and] regular soreness, especially coming into December,” Forsett said. “Just trying to take care of the body and take care of the little nicks and knacks I’ve gotten over the course of the year.”

Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) was a full participant in practice after working on a very limited basis last week. He hasn’t played in a game since Oct. 26 while his recovery from a hamstring injury has been slow.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins officially ruled out linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) and cornerback Jamar Taylor (shoulder) for Sunday’s game while tight end Charles Clay (hamstring), cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle), and wide receivers Brian Hartline (knee) and Mike Wallace (chest) were all limited participants on Wednesday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Marlon Brown (concussion), RB Justin Forsett (knee), WR Torrey Smith (knee), C Jeremy Zuttah (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (back), CB Tramain Jacobs (thigh), LB Albert McClellan (thigh), LB Courtney Upshaw (hand)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (wrist)

MIAMI
OUT: LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring), CB Jamar Taylor (shoulder)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Nate Garner (illness)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Charles Clay (hamstring), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle), WR Brian Hartline (knee), C Samson Satele (ribs), WR Mike Wallace (chest)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Daryn Colledge (back), T Ja’Wuan James (neck), LB Jelani Jenkins (shoulder)

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Harbaugh calls Torrey Smith “day-to-day” with apparent knee injury

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Harbaugh calls Torrey Smith “day-to-day” with apparent knee injury

Posted on 01 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Uncertainty continues to surround the health of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound overly concerned about his status on Monday.

Despite Smith leaving Sunday’s game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent right knee injury, Harbaugh downplayed the severity of any injury and didn’t even acknowledge what was wrong with the fourth-year receiver after he missed the final two offensive series.

“Torrey really didn’t have anything too serious,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t even know how to describe it right now. [Head athletic trainer Mark Smith] hasn’t explained to me what it was. He’ll just be getting ready for Miami. I guess I’d call him day-to-day.”

Smith spoke to reporters following Sunday’s 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but he declined to discuss his injury and was seen walking with a limp. He caught six passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort.

Harbaugh confirmed wide receiver Marlon Brown will continue to go through the concussion testing protocol after leaving in the second quarter of Sunday’s game and not returning. Brown caught three passes for 25 yards in a little over a quarter of play in what was easily his best performance of the year.

He was ruled out for the game with a diagnosed concussion shortly before halftime.

Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) missed his fourth straight game on Sunday, but Harbaugh expressed cautious optimism that he might be ready to return while also acknowledging frustration with the slow healing process. The 5-foot-9 wideout returned to practice on a very limited basis last week.

“It’s just been slow. I don’t know what else to say,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been slow. It was supposed to be two weeks ago. Now you’re just at the point where it’s, ‘Let me know when you’re ready.’ And hamstrings are like that. That’s just the fact of it. He’s working really hard, and I think there’s a chance for this week. Now you get to the point where I’m just not going to count on it until he’s back.”

The Ravens hope Sunday will bring the return of cornerback Asa Jackson to the secondary for the first time since suffering a turf toe injury on Oct. 5. The third-year defensive back was placed on injured reserve-designated to return and is eligible to return to game action in Week 14.

Jackson returned to practice on Nov. 21 after he started four of five games earlier this season when veteran Lardarius Webb was still working his way back to form after a summer back injury.

“We’ve just got to see that he’s moving and he’s bursting,” Harbaugh said. “Then, the [toe] feels good the next day and you get back out and do it again. [We have to see] that he’s healthy and that he can play at an NFL level, which is a high level. He had a good week last week, and I’m very optimistic. You don’t know until you see it.”

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Ravens wide receiver Brown leaves Sunday’s game with concussion

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Ravens wide receiver Brown leaves Sunday’s game with concussion

Posted on 30 November 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Ravens wide receiver Marlon Brown left Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers after sustaining a concussion in the second quarter.

The 6-foot-5 receiver made a leaping catch on the fourth play of the second quarter before landing hard on his head and back. Brown didn’t move for several moments before eventually walking off the field and directly to the locker room with members of the Baltimore training staff.

The Ravens officially ruled Brown out for the remainder of the game late in the first half.

Despite a disappointing second season in which he entered Sunday having caught only 11 passes in nine games, Brown was having his best performance of the year, making three receptions for 25 yards to gain first downs on each play.

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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Monday night

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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 23 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Fresh off their bye week and trying to complete a 2014 sweep of the NFC South, the Ravens return to the site of Super Bowl XLVII to take on the reeling New Orleans Saints Monday night.

Baltimore hopes that a Week 11 bye coupled with the Saints’ two-game losing streak will create enough momentum to snap New Orleans’ 14-game winning streak in prime-time home games. The 4-6 Saints are trying to find some semblance of consistency in a division in which no team has made a strong claim as a viable playoff contender.

The Ravens are 5-1 in games coming off their bye week in the John Harbaugh era and will attempt to win their third road game of the season. While they were able to find success against an underwhelming Tennessee offense in Week 10, the Baltimore secondary will have its hands full against the league’s third-ranked passing attack.

Monday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 4-1 advantage. This is the first contest between these teams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since the 2006 season — which resulted in a 35-22 win for Baltimore — but the Ravens are obviously familiar with the surroundings after winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans two years ago.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 7-4 to keep pace in the AFC North …

1. Will Hill will draw the bulk of the assignment against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who will catch a touchdown and eclipse 80 receiving yards. Much was made about Cincinnati’s physicality last week in limiting the All-Pro tight end to just three catches for 29 yards, but the Ravens haven’t exactly been imposing in the back end of the defense aside from Terrence Brooks’ big hit on Tennessee’s Delanie Walker two weeks ago. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to mix it up as much as possible against Graham, but Hill is the best fit with his 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame and ability in coverage. The Ravens have held tight ends in check for most of the season, but they haven’t encountered a talent like Graham and he will bounce back from a tough week against the Bengals with a strong game in Week 12.

2. Steve Smith and Marlon Brown will catch touchdowns passes against a banged-up New Orleans secondary. A week off and a meeting with an old foe he tormented year after year as a member of the Carolina Panthers are just what the doctor ordered for the 35-year-old Smith whose production has declined in recent weeks. The Saints are down to their third-string free safety and top cornerback Keenan Lewis has been dealing with a knee issue, which will lead to the veteran wideout finding the end zone for the first time since Week 6. Looking to boost their 19th-ranked red-zone offense, the Ravens will rediscover Brown as a viable option inside the 20 as the 6-foot-5 receiver will rein in a pass in the back of the end zone for his first touchdown of the 2014 season.

3. The Ravens will contain top rusher Mark Ingram, but a returning Pierre Thomas will create problems as a receiver out of the backfield. After a very slow start to his NFL career, Ingram has emerged in 2014 with a 4.5 yards per carry average to take over the feature back role for New Orleans, but the Baltimore defense has allowed only 3.4 yards per carry and won’t have an issue keeping him in check. The return of Thomas — who hasn’t played since Week 7 — will be critical for a passing game that will miss the injured Brandin Cooks, who was becoming the Saints’ second-best receiver behind Graham as a short-to-intermediate target. With the secondary providing plenty of cushion and linebackers paying close attention to wherever Graham is, the Saints will slip Thomas free out of the backfield repeatedly to move the chains.

4. C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith will both collect sacks as the Ravens use inside blitzing to try to get to Drew Brees. Pees knows his defense must create pressure in the pocket against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but Saints tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief have been the strengths of their offensive line, meaning it won’t be a given that Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs will create enough heat. The best way to pressure Brees is up the middle where center Jonathan Goodwin and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs have struggled in pass protection. Smith and Mosley have both been effective as A-gap blitzers, making it a good bet that the Ravens will try to ambush Brees up the middle. The strategy will pay off with each inside linebacker collecting a sack on Monday night.

5. Joe Flacco and Brees will each throw for over 250 yards, but the veteran will be a little better in a 31-23 win for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, it would have been tough to give the Ravens much of a chance in this one following the injury to Jimmy Smith on top of the Saints’ reputation for playing so well at home. But New Orleans is difficult to figure out with two straight losses at home that came after blowing out mighty Green Bay less than a month ago. On the other hand, a solid performance against the Titans isn’t enough to ease concerns that the Ravens secondary will be able to prevent the Saints from passing up and down the field all night. Flacco and the offense will put together one of their better road performances of the year, but it won’t be quite enough to put the Ravens over the top on Monday night.

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Marlon Brown key to Ravens unlocking more red-zone production?

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Marlon Brown key to Ravens unlocking more red-zone production?

Posted on 20 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Some expected wide receiver Marlon Brown’s production to dip this year after a 2013 campaign in which he caught 49 passes for 524 yards as the Ravens’ most surprising rookie.

The free-agent acquisitions of Steven Smith and Owen Daniels as well as the expected presence of a healthy Dennis Pitta meant the 6-foot-5 undrafted free agent from the University of Georgia would likely fall down at least a couple pegs in the receiving hierarchy, but Brown has been an afterthought through the first 10 weeks of the 2014 season. Catching only 10 passes for 93 yards in eight games — he missed two games with a pelvic injury — Brown keeps waiting and working for his opportunity while learning from seasoned veterans who weren’t on the roster when he was a rookie.

“I’m a competitor and I love to make plays and make the team [better],” said Brown, who has seen more playing time recently and has caught five passes for 45 yards over the Ravens’ last two games. “Obviously, I would like to be able to make more plays and be put in that position. At the end of the day, I tip my hat to Owen Daniels and Steve Smith. Those are the vets. I’m learning every day from these two greats, so I can’t complain about anything.”

Anyone who watched Brown play as a rookie knew his extensive playing time was as much about attrition at the wide receiver position as any other factor, but it was difficult not to be impressed with his size and potential as a target inside the 20. The Ravens ranked 31st in the red zone in 2013, but Brown was often their only option in that area of the field as he made all seven of his touchdown receptions on plays starting inside the opponent’s 20.

A year later, the Baltimore offense is much better under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, ranking 12th in total yards and tied for seventh in points per game. But the red zone remains an area in which the Ravens could improve as they’re eighth in the NFL in trips inside the 20, but they’ve scored touchdowns on only 54.1 percent of those drives, ranking 19th in the league.

“We need to be more efficient down there. We had some bad games early,” said Kubiak, pointing to the Week 2 win over Pittsburgh when the Ravens were only 2-for-6 inside the 20. “That puts you behind the eight ball pretty quick. But the red zone is an interesting stat, because sometimes you may come out of a game 2-for-2 and you didn’t win the game. It’s about the importance of when you’re down there, in my opinion, and it’s fixing to get very important here over the next six weeks. Usually, we’re at our best when we run the ball pretty well.”

The dramatic improvement with the offense this year has largely been the result of a consistent ground game, but the question lingers over who quarterback Joe Flacco can really depend on inside the red zone after Pitta was lost for the season in Week 3.

Smith has been Baltimore’s leading receiver this year, but his 5-foot-9 frame and ability to work in space is neutralized in a constricted area as he’s caught only four passes for 22 yards inside the 20 this season. Torrey Smith caught two touchdowns inside the red zone against Tampa Bay in Week 6, but he’s generally not the receiver who’s going to attack the ball when it’s up for grabs.

All three of Daniels’ touchdown receptions this season have come inside the red zone, but opposing defenses have keyed on him in the middle portion of the field as the Ravens move closer to the goal line, meaning someone else needs to emerge.

Despite his encouraging work inside the red zone during his rookie year, Brown has yet to be targeted inside the 20 in 2014. He’s an option Kubiak would be wise to consider as the Ravens have rarely used the jump ball in the end zone. Brown’s frame makes him the perfect candidate for occasionally featuring that strategy close to the goal line.

“He’s much more involved right now,” Kubiak said. “He has a big body, a chance to make some plays. So, it’s going to take all of us, and I’m sure Marlon will get his opportunities.”

At this point, Brown shouldn’t be mistaken for a starting-caliber receiver or a player on which you can rely to run precise routes all over the field, but his size is something the Ravens should try to utilize. And even if the offense has more overall talent than it did a year ago, Brown made plays against NFL defenses inside the red zone last season, proving he has the ability to contribute in an area that needs more efficiency.

It’s worth giving him a look as the Ravens try to make it back to the postseason in their final six games.

“I’m definitely trying to improve as a player, as a receiver in all the routes,” said Brown, who downplayed any difficulty he had learning Kubiak’s system as some have speculated. “I don’t want to be a guy who just runs red-zone routes or just runs [certain] routes. I want to run all the routes. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from all these guys while they’re here. I’m just trying to take advantage and soak in anything.”

Brown soaking in a few touchdowns inside the red zone would be an encouraging development for the Ravens down the stretch.

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Ravens-Buccaneers: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Buccaneers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 12 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will attempt to improve to 4-2 on Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they’ll need to do it without the starting left side of the offensive line.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) was ruled inactive after going through a pre-game workout at Raymond James Stadium a couple hours before kickoff. The third-year lineman missed practice all week and joins starting left tackle Eugene Monroe (arthroscopic knee surgery) on the sideline for Week 6 after he hyperextended his right knee in the loss to Indianapolis last Sunday.

Gino Gradkowski is expected to start in place of Osemele and rookie free agent James Hurst will make his third straight start at left tackle in place of the injured Monroe, which will make for an uncertain blind side for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Baltimore will also be without defensive end Chris Canty (wrist surgery), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus), and wide receiver Marlon Brown (pelvis). Canty and Jernigan were officially ruled out on Friday while Brown had been listed as doubtful after only working on a limited basis in the final practice of the week.

With so many players inactive due to injury, rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro and rookie guard John Urschel are active for the first time in their NFL careers. Linebacker Arthur Brown is the only player on the 53-man roster to be inactive in each of the first six weeks of the season.

Meanwhile, the Buccaneers received good news with wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans both being active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. The 6-foot-5 receivers will pose a significant challenge to a Ravens secondary that lost Asa Jackson to a long-term toe injury last week in Indianapolis. Cornerback Lardarius Webb is expected to make his first start of the season after receiving his most extensive playing time of the year against the Colts in Week 5.

Tampa Bay will be without starting free safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) and starting cornerback Johnthan Banks (neck), which could spell trouble for the league’s 30th-ranked pass defense.

Jerome Boger will be the referee for Sunday’s game between the Ravens and Tampa Bay.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys and white pants in Tampa where temperatures are expected to be around 90 degrees.

Sunday marks the fifth regular-season meeting between Baltimore and Tampa Bay with the teams tied 2-2. The Ravens have won each of the last two meetings with the Buccaneers and are 1-1 in Tampa.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
LG Kelechi Osemele
LT Eugene Monroe
WR Marlon Brown
DE Chris Canty
DT Timmy Jernigan
LB Arthur Brown
TE Ryan Taylor

TAMPA BAY
QB Josh McCown
CB Johnthan Banks
S Dashon Goldson
LB Jonathan Casillas
DE Larry English
T Kevin Pamphile
G Kadeem Edwards

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Osemele questionable, M. Brown doubtful to play against Tampa Bay

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Osemele questionable, M. Brown doubtful to play against Tampa Bay

Posted on 10 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are facing the prospects of playing without the entire starting left side of their offensive line against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

It was no surprise that left tackle Eugene Monroe was ruled out while he continues to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery, but left guard Kelechi Osemele was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game after not practicing all week. The third-year lineman hyperextended his knee in last Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis, but he was able to return to action and downplayed the injury after the game.

Given his experience, Osemele would still have a chance of playing against Tampa Bay despite missing three straight days of practice. Gino Gradkowski is listed as Osemele’s backup on the depth chart released by the Ravens’ public relations staff.

“[Osemele] can play on Sunday not having practiced all week,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He has a chance to play on Sunday.”

In addition to Monroe, defensive end Chris Canty (wrist surgery) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus injury) were declared out for Sunday’s game. Wide receiver Marlon Brown (pelvis) practiced on a limited basis Friday before being designated as doubtful to play.

Safety Matt Elam (shoulder), linebacker Daryl Smith (knee), and center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) were all upgraded to full participation in Friday’s practice and listed as probable to play against the Buccaneers.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay ruled out starting safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) while designating starting wide receivers Vincent Jackson (rib) and Mike Evans (groin) as questionable for Sunday’s game.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DE Chris Canty (wrist), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), T Eugene Monroe (knee)
DOUBTFUL: WR Marlon Brown (pelvis)
QUESTIONABLE: G Kelechi Osemele (knee)
PROBABLE: S Matt Elam (shoulder), LB Daryl Smith (knee), C Jeremy Zuttah (ankle)

TAMPA BAY
OUT: LB Jonathan Casillas (hamstring), S Dashon Goldson (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: QB Josh McCown (right thumb)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Johnthan Banks (neck), C Evan Dietrich-Smith (illness), DE Larry English (hamstring), WR Mike Evans (groin), WR Vincent Jackson (rib)
PROBABLE: LB Mason Foster (shoulder)

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Harbaugh expects Hoke to be Michigan coach for “long time to come”

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Harbaugh expects Hoke to be Michigan coach for “long time to come”

Posted on 29 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As Baltimore fans watched the Ravens improve to 3-1 with a 38-10 thumping of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, a report stated the University of Michigan could be targeting the services of head coach John Harbaugh.

With the Wolverines off to a disappointing 2-3 start and current head coach Brady Hoke’s status in severe doubt, the NFL Network reported that the program prefers the Ravens coach over younger brother and 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, whose future in San Francisco remains uncertain beyond this season. This isn’t the first time the Harbaugh brothers have been linked to the Michigan football program as John graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor and Jim played quarterback for the Wolverines before going on to play in the NFL.

Their father, Jack Harbaugh, served as an assistant under legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler in the 1970s.

According to The Sun, John Harbaugh is not interested in the job, but the head coach did not go out of his way to confirm or deny potential interest when asked Monday about once again being linked to Michigan. In addition to being under contract as one of the highest-paid coaches in the NFL through the 2017 season, Harbaugh has remained close with Hoke after they coached together at Western Michigan in the mid-1980s.

“It seems like it’s kind of there. I don’t really know why,” said Harbaugh about being linked to Michigan. “Brady Hoke’s a guy that we believe in. The Harbaughs believe in Brady Hoke. He’s a great coach; he’s done it anywhere he’s ever been. He believes in Michigan. I believe in what they’re doing there. I think they’re going to get it turned around.”

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has served in the same capacity under Hoke since 2011, another link between the two. Rumors have also persisted that Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon could be on his way out, which would certainly complicate any potential search for a new head football coach in Ann Arbor.

On Saturday, the Wolverines fell to Minnesota for just the third time since 1967. This season marks the first time in its 135-year football history that Michigan has sustained three losses before the start of October.

“The team should be galvanized right now,” said Harbaugh, who has a 65-35 regular-season record in seven NFL seasons and guided the Ravens to a win in Super Bowl XLVII. “I would expect them to come out like a bunch of wounded lions and go to work, because they love Brady and they love those coaches. They’ve just got to [play]. I’m interested in Brady Hoke being the coach at Michigan for a long time to come.”

Webb’s status still mystery

Even though he didn’t appear on the injury report last week for the first time all season, cornerback Lardarius Webb was ruled inactive prior to the 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, creating even more uncertainty regarding his status.

Harbaugh acknowledged Webb’s struggles against Cleveland played a major role in deciding he still wasn’t ready to rejoin the Ravens’ starting defense. The head coach is hopeful that changes this Sunday as Baltimore travels to Indianapolis to take on the 2-2 Colts.

“I’ll probably have a pretty good idea after watching practice,” Harbaugh said about Webb’s status for Week 5. “I probably won’t let anybody know until Sunday. But it will be based on how he practices and how he looks in terms of getting his acceleration and his burst back — the things that everybody saw that weren’t quite there.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees continues to use strong safety Matt Elam in the nickel position, but rookie Terrence Brooks saw extensive action with 32 defensive snaps playing free safety in the nickel package against the Panthers. The 2014 third-round pick was inactive in Week 3 but fared well against Carolina, according to the head coach.

Harbaugh said the health of Webb’s back is no longer a concern after the cornerback didn’t practice from July 25 through the end of training camp.

“They tell me that he’s healthy now, and he says he feels healthy,” Harbaugh said. “But it’s just a matter of that strength and quickness and burst, which should come back fast. Anybody that has ever trained [knows] if you’ve been in great shape, you get back in shape pretty quickly, in terms of strength and burst and things like that. You just have to do it. He’s working really hard at it, and it very well could be this week.

“I’m sure hoping it’s this week. I want to see it this week, and we’ll be shooting for that.”

Two receivers going in different directions

After what was unofficially his fifth dropped pass of the season against the Panthers, struggling wide receiver Jacoby Jones finished the game having taken only seven offensive snaps, his lowest total of 2014.

Jones also made an ill-advised decision to field a punt at his own 2-yard line before returning it to the Baltimore 20. Harbaugh reiterated that the 30-year-old continues to work extremely hard in practice and is simply trying too hard to make a play.

“He catches the ball in practice. Sometimes I think he’s pressing,” Harbaugh said. “I really do. Jacoby has a lot of pride, and he’s made big, big plays in this league before, and he wants to pick up where he left off. [That] hasn’t happened for him, but the thing he has to know — just like Torrey [Smith], just like anybody – is that the key is persistence. You just keep hammering and you don’t get down on yourself, and focus on the fundamentals and the details, and it’ll work out.”

With Jones playing poorly, second-year wide receiver Marlon Brown has suddenly reemerged in the Baltimore offense after making three receptions for 31 yards and playing 31 offensive snaps, his highest total since Week 1.

The 6-foot-5 Brown gives the Ravens another appealing option in the red zone and on third down after tight end Dennis Pitta was lost for the season last week in Cleveland.

“He was in there on the first three-wide group,” Harbaugh said. “He did a good job, made a couple plays — third-down conversions that were very important. [He is a] big target, gets off press really well and blocks, and he did a good job in special teams. He played well. It kind of goes back to what we were saying as far as guys stepping up at different positions.”

Colts’ Landry suspended

The NFL announced Monday afternoon that Indianapolis safety LaRon Landry has been suspended four games without pay for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy.

His suspension begins this week as the Colts’ 21st-ranked pass defense will now be without its hard-hitting safety.

He is the younger brother of former Ravens safety Dawan Landry.

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 3

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 3

Posted on 16 September 2014 by Luke Jones

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

STOCK RISING

Justin Forsett
Skinny: Even though Bernard Pierce received most of the workload against Pittsburgh, you still get the sense that Forsett is more comfortable running in a zone-blocking system and the veteran is superior to Pierce in pass protection. His size and age make you think he’ll continue to be the complementary back in the Baltimore running game, but Forsett has already provided a nice return on a one-year contract that garnered little attention in the offseason.

Kelechi Osemele
Skinny: Any lingering concerns about the left guard’s ability to return from last season’s back surgery have been quelled after Osemele turned in an All-Pro performance against Cincinnati in Week 1. A key to offensive improvement in 2014 was better play from the interior line and Osemele, Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, and center Jeremy Zuttah have received the highest grades of anyone on the offense, according to Pro Football Focus.

Brandon Williams
Skinny: Though limited to only nine defensive snaps against Pittsburgh because the Ravens used their nickel package for most of the game, Williams has done exactly what the Ravens have asked of him by disrupting run plays with a good push at the line of scrimmage. The second-year nose tackle has even put a little heat on the quarterback in the rare opportunities he’s had to play in passing situations. 

Jeremy Zuttah
Skinny: His pass blocking hasn’t stood out, but Zuttah’s ability to get a strong push off the line of scrimmage has been evident on inside run plays through the first two weeks of the season. Sunday will mark his first road game with the Ravens, which will be a test in terms of making the proper protection calls with crowd noise being a factor, but it’s difficult not to be pleased with the sizable upgrade Zuttah has provided over last year’s starter Gino Gradkowski. 

STOCK FALLING

Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson
Skinny: These two are grouped together, because it’s apparent there will still be significant concern at the No. 3 cornerback position when Lardarius Webb does return. Brown is still too vulnerable in coverage on the outside while Jackson has missed several tackles from the nickel spot, factors that prompted the Ravens to use safety Matt Elam at the nickel position against Pittsburgh. It remains to be seen whether Jackson will be cleared to return Sunday from last week’s concussion.

Kyle Juszczyk
Skinny: The second-year fullback looked like he would carve out a nice role in the passing game based on his preseason play, but Juszczyk has been limited to just 43 snaps in two games and has been targeted only once as a receiver out of the backfield. Even more concerning has been his vulnerability as a lead blocker as he hasn’t been able to generate much of a push to create space for Pierce or Forsett to maneuver behind him. 

Daryl Smith
Skinny: His first season in Baltimore was a pleasant surprise, but the 32-year-old veteran’s struggles against the run late last season have carried over in the first two games of 2014 as he has struggled to shed blocks to make tackles closer to the line of scrimmage. Smith’s biggest strength is in pass coverage, but you do wonder if the Ravens’ inside linebackers will wear down against the run as the year goes on with the light C.J. Mosley playing next to the veteran in the starting defense. 

Marlon Brown
Skinny: One of the few bright spots in a horrendous offense last year, the second-year receiver has all but disappeared in Gary Kubiak’s system after seeing just three offensive snaps against the Steelers a week after being targeted only once. Drop-off was to be expected with Steve Smith, Owen Daniels, and a fully-healthy Dennis Pitta now in the mix, but the 6-foot-4 receiver struggled to grasp the offense over the summer and hasn’t even been a factor in the red zone through the first two games.

 

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