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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 04 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will tell you every game is important.

That’s just reality when you’re 4-4 and haven’t won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season. Sunday’s trip to Tennessee might be the most pivotal game remaining on the schedule for an inconsistent team trying to gain traction in the quest for its first playoff berth since 2014. If you concede that Baltimore’s chances of catching first-place Pittsburgh appear bleak, the result against the Titans becomes even more critical in sizing up the AFC wild-card picture.

A win puts Baltimore a game above .500 entering the bye week with a reasonable schedule down the stretch with several opponents having messy quarterback situations. A loss would force the Ravens to win five of their final seven contests just to get to 9-7 and — even worse — would give both Tennessee and Jacksonville head-to-head tiebreaker advantages in the playoff pecking order.

“When it comes down to the ‘who’s in, who’s out’ [talk], it’s going to come down to these teams,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “We need this win. We’ve been doing a pretty good job of that this year. We have some losses, obviously, but those losses are against teams that’s maybe not going to affect us going to the playoffs besides Jacksonville. We just need to continue to win, and we’ll get where we need to go.”

It’s time to go on the record as these onetime AFC Central rivals meet for the 19th time in the all-time regular-season series that’s tied 9-9, but the Ravens are 2-1 in postseason encounters. The Titans own a 5-4 record in home games against Baltimore dating back to 1996.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Tight ends and edge defenders will be the deciding factors in this game. This is a rather bland proclamation, but Tennessee’s best pass-catcher is tight end Delanie Walker, who is questionable to play with an ankle injury. Six of the nine touchdown passes allowed by the Ravens defense this season have been to tight ends. Meanwhile, Nick Boyle is also questionable after missing the entire week of practice with a toe injury. His blocking has been a critical part of Baltimore’s seventh-ranked running game. Both rushing attacks depend on popping outside runs for chunk yardage, and the Ravens have been inconsistent setting the edge and have occasionally lost containment against mobile quarterbacks.

2. The Ravens will be held under 100 rushing yards for just the third time this season. Head coach John Harbaugh deemed Boyle a game-time decision Friday, but it’s tough envisioning him playing without any practice, putting much pressure on the remaining group of tight ends as run blockers. Tennessee ranks fifth in the NFL in yards per carry allowed, so the surprising Alex Collins could have his hands full should Boyle not be on the field. The matchup between guards James Hurst and Matt Skura and Titans defensive linemen Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones will be crucial with the latter two having the advantage on paper.

3. Marcus Mariota will throw for a touchdown and run for another. The Titans’ bye week came at the perfect time for their quarterback, who had been hampered with a hamstring injury and is no longer listed on the injury report. He is much more dangerous as a passer when he moves from the pocket and can improvise with an ordinary group of receivers. Baltimore’s pass defense has been its biggest strength, but Terrell Suggs and the young pass rushers must be disciplined trying to get by Titans offensive tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin to prevent Mariota from hurting them with his legs.

4. Joe Flacco will find Wallace for a long touchdown pass. The Ravens quarterback has been at his best this year when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has designed pass plays to get him on the move instead of remaining static in the pocket, so that needs to continue if the league’s 32nd-ranked passing attack is ever going to grow. The Titans are vulnerable in the secondary and rank 19th in the NFL against the pass, so the Ravens need to use the run game and play fakes to get the defense out of two-high safety looks. If they do that, Wallace will be able to slip past rookie cornerback Adoree’ Jackson.

5. Baltimore will come up short in a 20-16 loss to the Titans. This is the kind of game a playoff hopeful reflects upon at the end of the season as a deciding factor in whether a team is playing in January or watching the playoffs on the couch. The Ravens have proven to be capable of playing at a high level with four wins decided by 13 or more points, but those performances have been soiled by some real clunkers in defeat. I’d normally like the Ravens’ chances more with extra rest against a decent — but hardly special — opponent, but Tennessee coming off its bye week wipes away that potential advantage. A key takeaway or a big special-teams play could certainly swing the outcome, but the healthier Titans playing at home will get the job done as the Ravens go into the bye with much work to do.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 26 October 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With their season rapidly moving in the wrong direction, the Ravens will attempt to get back on track in prime time as they welcome Miami to M&T Bank Stadium.

Baltimore has won eight straight night games at home, but the Ravens are trying to avoid their first three-game home losing streak since 2007, which was Brian Billick’s final season as head coach. Of course, they’ll hope for a result against the Dolphins similar to last year when they demolished Adam Gase’s eventual playoff squad in a 38-6 final.

After playing most of last week’s game without their top three receivers, Joe Flacco and the Ravens will welcome Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Breshad Perriman (concussion) back to the field for Week 8. Maclin had missed the last two games with a shoulder injury while Perriman was sidelined for one game with a concussion.

Speedy wideout Mike Wallace will not play, however, after sustaining a concussion in Minnesota last Sunday. This marks only the second game Wallace has missed in his nine-year NFL career. Wide receivers Michael Campanaro (shoulder) and Chris Matthews (thigh) are also inactive after being listed as doubtful on the final injury report, leaving the Ravens with four active receivers for Thursday.

Despite missing two days of practice this week with a knee issue, tight end Benjamin Watson is active and will play. The newly-signed Gavin Escobar is also active, giving the Ravens four tight ends available to play against Miami.

The offensive line will receive a boost with the return of right guard Matt Skura, who had missed the last two games with a knee injury. He is expected to start with rookie Jermaine Eluemunor moving back to a reserve role.

Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi is the only healthy scratch among Baltimore’s seven inactives for Week 8.

The Dolphins deactivated wide receiver DeVante Parker, who is missing his third straight game with an ankle injury. His absence will allow the Baltimore secondary to devote more focus to star receiver Jarvis Landry.

Miami left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) is active and will start while left guard Anthony Steen (foot) is out.

Thursday’s referee is John Parry.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday forecast in Baltimore calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid-50s at kickoff with calm winds up to five miles per hour.

The Ravens are wearing their “color rush” uniforms, which consist of purple jerseys with gold numbering as well as purple pants and purple socks. Miami is donning all-white uniforms for the nationally-televised game.

Thursday marks the fifth straight year the Ravens and Dolphins have met in the regular season with the all-time regular-season series tied at 6-6 and Baltimore having won the only two playoff encounters between these teams. Including the postseason, the Ravens are 6-1 against Miami in the John Harbaugh era.

Below are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Mike Wallace
DE Bronson Kaufusi
WR Michael Campanaro
WR Chris Matthews
LB Tim Williams
TE Maxx Williams
RB Terrance West

MIAMI
WR DeVante Parker
QB Jay Cutler
S Maurice Smith
LB Stephone Anthony
DE Andre Branch
G Anthony Steen
G Isaac Asiata

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 26 October 2017 by Luke Jones

You may want to put the children to bed early on Thursday.

After several surprisingly-strong editions of Thursday Night Football this season, the Ravens and their 31st-ranked offense welcome Miami and its 32nd-ranked offense to M&T Bank Stadium in what’s anything but a sexy matchup on paper. Standing at 3-4 with back-to-back road games looming, Baltimore desperately could use a win to remain relevant in the AFC while the enigmatic Dolphins aim for their fourth straight victory.

Injuries are again a major story for the Ravens offense as five wide receivers are listed as either doubtful or questionable and tight end Benjamin Watson is also questionable, making you shudder at the potential limitations of a passing game that’s been poor even when much healthier this season. On the bright side, the defensive line is in better shape than it’s been in some time with none of its current members listed on the injury report.

It’s time to go on the record as the Dolphins play the Ravens for the fifth consecutive season with the latter winning three of the last four meetings. The all-time regular-season series is tied 6-6, but Baltimore owns a 3-1 advantage at home with the only loss coming at Memorial Stadium back in 1997.

Below are five predictions for Thursday:

1. Griff Whalen will catch a touchdown pass. There’s no rhyme or reason to this one other than Whalen being one of two wide receivers not listed on the injury report this week. Vince Mayle scored a touchdown in Week 5, Bobby Rainey in Week 6, and Chris Moore last week in Minnesota, so let’s make it four weeks in a row for a nondescript Ravens player to find the end zone. For this offense to score a touchdown, you’d figure it has to be something weird, right?

2. The Ravens will hold Miami under 100 yards rushing. The thought of making such a prediction with the opponent sporting the league’s 29th-ranked running game would have been stating the obvious in the past, but Baltimore ranking dead last in rushing yards allowed per game and 23rd in yards per carry allowed is far more jarring than any of the ugliness witnessed with the offense. Especially with Brandon Williams healthy, this defense has too much talent to continue to be this poor against the run. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi and his offensive line have also been very ordinary this season.

3. Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will collect a sack and force a fumble. Even if starting right guard Matt Skura returns from injury, the interior offensive line has a nightmare on its hands trying to contain the monstrous defensive lineman. Look for the Ravens to run outside and for Joe Flacco to try to roll and use some bootlegs to minimize Suh’s ability to disrupt the middle of the pocket, but it’s difficult envisioning the five-time Pro Bowl selection not having a big impact in this one.

4. Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore will have more passing yards than Flacco, but a critical interception will swing the outcome. Miami is better off with Moore playing instead of Jay Cutler, but the backup isn’t the second coming of Frank Reich, either. If the Ravens can contain an underwhelming running game, the pass defense can play with the aggressiveness it showed in the first two weeks of the season coming away with a total of eight interceptions. Jarvis Landry is certainly a concern, but Baltimore’s cornerbacks have been playing at a high level and may not have to contend with DeVante Parker, who is questionable to play with an ankle injury.

5. The Ravens will prevail in an ugly 16-13 final to temporarily ease some of the tension in Owings Mills. I don’t believe this is a good football team, but I also think Miami is a suspect 4-2 outfit with a minus-20 point differential and one of the worst offenses in the NFL. If Jeremy Maclin can play, the Ravens should be able to move the ball just enough to put themselves in position to score some points to complement an energized defense. Playing at home on a short week and being the more desperate team at the midway point of the season, Baltimore is getting as close to must-win territory as a team with any realistic playoff aspirations can be in late October. If the Ravens lose, it could be an unsettling weekend at 1 Winning Drive with many already clamoring for change before Thursday’s game.

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Maclin, Wallace, Perriman questionable for Thursday night game

Posted on 25 October 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are once again dealing with major injury questions at wide receiver as they host Miami for a nationally-televised Thursday game.

Of the seven receivers on the active roster, five are listed on the injury report with starters Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Mike Wallace (concussion) as well as 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman all listed as questionable to play against the Dolphins. Maclin and Wallace were once again limited participants in Wednesday’s practice while Perriman was upgraded to full participation, a possible sign that he’s passed the concussion protocol after missing last week’s game in Minnesota.

An NFL Network report last weekend indicated Maclin would make his return Thursday night, but there was optimism the previous two weeks when he was a limited participant in practices before ultimately being deactivated. Wallace’s status is in doubt after he suffered a concussion just three days ago.

Making matters worse, slot receiver Michael Campanaro (shoulder) and reserve Chris Matthews (thigh) were both designated as doubtful to play, leaving 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore and the recently-signed Griff Whalen as the only fully-healthy receivers on the roster.

The pass-catching woes don’t stop there as tight end Benjamin Watson missed his second straight day of practice and is questionable to play with a knee injury. The 36-year-old leads the team with 24 receptions despite averaging just 7.3 yards per catch.

Third-year tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) was officially ruled out on Wednesday as he’s appeared in just three games this season.

Right guard Matt Skura (knee) was upgraded to full participation Wednesday and was listed as questionable to play after missing the last two games. Rookie fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemunor has struggled in a starting role since Skura injured his knee in the Oct. 8 win over Oakland.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith was designated as questionable for the fourth straight week as he continues to deal with Achilles tendinitis, but his status is not believed to be in real question after he practiced on a limited basis Tuesday and Wednesday.

Safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, and defensive back Anthony Levine were also listed as questionable, but all five practiced fully on Wednesday, a good indicator for their availability against Miami.

The Dolphins officially ruled out starting left guard Anthony Steen (foot) in addition to quarterback Jay Cutler (ribs). Left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) was listed as a full participant on Wednesday, but he was listed as questionable, leaving Miami in an uneasy position on the left side of the offensive line.

Wide receiver DeVante Parker (ankle) as well as starting defensive linemen Andre Branch (groin) and Jordan Phillips (ankle) are all questionable after being listed as limited in Wednesday’s practice.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday night forecast in Baltimore calls for clear skies and temperatures dipping into the low 50s with calm winds up to five miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: RB Terrance West (calf), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), WR Chris Matthews (thigh), LB Tim Williams (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: S Tony Jefferson (ankle), DB Anthony Levine (back), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), LB Patrick Onwausor (knee), WR Breshad Perriman (concussion), G Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), LB Terrell Suggs (knee), WR Mike Wallace (concussion), TE Benjamin Watson (knee), S Eric Weddle (ankle)

MIAMI
OUT: QB Jay Cutler (ribs), G Anthony Steen (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Andre Branch (groin), WR DeVante Parker (ankle), DT Jordan Phillips (ankle), OT Laremy Tunsil (knee)

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J. Smith questionable, B. Williams doubtful to play against Chicago

Posted on 13 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is listed as questionable and defensive tackle Brandon Williams is doubtful to play in the Week 6 meeting with the Chicago Bears.

For the second straight week, Smith sat out Wednesday and Thursday before taking part in Friday’s lighter session. Smith aggravated his sore Achilles tendon returning a fumble for a touchdown on the first defensive series in Oakland last Sunday and played only four snaps the rest of the way as rookie Marlon Humphrey took his place in the base defense.

Smith confirmed he’s been dealing with tendinitis and plans to play on Sunday if the decision is up to him. After practice, head coach John Harbaugh said he would review the workout film and confer with Smith to see how he was feeling before any decisions would be made about his status.

“I’ve never actually dealt with this before, so I don’t really know the major approach to it,” Smith said. “The plan is to just get ahead of it — which we have — and keep it calm, so I can go out there and perform.”

Williams made his long-awaited return to practice on a limited basis Friday, a positive sign for his availability against Minnesota next week. He said he took part in some scout-team work and was running and doing sprints the previous day.

The standout defensive lineman has a target date in mind for his return, but he wouldn’t disclose it.

“I’m right on schedule,” Williams said. “Right where [the foot] needs to be. I feel good.”

Defensive tackle Carl Davis also returned to practice for the first time since injuring his hamstring in the first quarter against the Raiders. He is listed as questionable to play against the Bears.

Running back Terrance West (calf) and guard Matt Skura (knee) were officially ruled out for Sunday while outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) was listed as doubtful after once again missing practice.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) and tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) were again practicing without incident Friday and are expected to play despite being listed as questionable. Williams was a full participant all week and is poised to return after a three-game absence.

Rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring) was a limited participant in practice for a third consecutive day and is questionable to make his NFL debut this week.

Meanwhile, the Bears officially ruled out wide receiver Markus Wheaton a day after he suffered a groin injury that’s expected to sideline him for several weeks. Starting right guard Kyle Long (ankle) was a full participant and wasn’t included on the final injury report after sitting out on Thursday.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures reaching the low 80s and winds 10 to 15 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: G Matt Skura (knee), RB Terrance West (calf)
DOUBTFUL: DT Brandon Williams (foot), LB Tim Williams (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: DT Carl Davis (thigh), CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (thigh), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (achilles), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)

CHICAGO
OUT: WR Markus Wheaton (groin), LB John Timu (knee, ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: C Hroniss Grasu (hand), LB Nick Kwiatkoski (chest)

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Amid Ravens’ offensive line trials, Jensen emerging as answer at center

Posted on 12 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ask any Ravens player which teammate is most likely to get into a scuffle in training camp, and the answer would be unanimous.

It’s the man who’s helped stabilize the middle of an offensive line that’s endured more than its share of injuries this season. And after years of competing and scrapping in relative obscurity, center Ryan Jensen has been one of the Ravens’ biggest surprises in his first full season as a starter.

“He gets a little feisty; he’ll throw a helmet here and there,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “He’s a great competitor, and you want that kind of play with all your players, especially on the o-line. He’s not going to let anyone [bully] him. He’s always going to get the better end of it. Playing against him in practice, that keeps you aware.

“Even though you think he’s being a butthole, he’s actually making you better because you’re protecting yourself.”

Jensen says he takes such a description from a teammate as a compliment and quips that his red hair explains why he’s so “ornery” on the field, but such a temperament can be a challenge for a young player trying to establish himself among veteran teammates. A 2013 sixth-round pick out of Division II Colorado State-Pueblo, Jensen didn’t appear in a game as a rookie after breaking his foot early in his first training camp and was then waived at the end of the 2014 preseason, which led to him spending most of that campaign on Baltimore’s practice squad.

If those setbacks weren’t enough to make Jensen wonder if he would ever become a full-time NFL starter, the 6-foot-4, 319-pound lineman was a healthy scratch for the final nine weeks of 2016 after he’d made three fill-in starts early in the season. He’d also started six games because of injuries late in 2015, but the Ravens always seemed to end up going in a different direction whenever he’d receive a look as a starter.

“My second year when I got released, there is always a little doubt that gets put in the back of your mind,” Jensen said. “Working through that is big.”

Despite appearing to fall out of favor last season, Jensen received a $1.797 million tender as a restricted free agent in March. And after incumbent starting center Jeremy Zuttah was traded to San Francisco later that month, head coach John Harbaugh and his staff liked that Jensen had gotten bigger and stronger in the offseason. Senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris wanted more size and physicality at the center position in the transition from an outside-zone blocking system to a multiple approach that would include more man blocking and downhill running.

As many continued to clamor for former New York Jets center Eric Mangold and the focus on the in-house competition remained on John Urschel before his abrupt retirement in late July, Jensen lined up as the starting center on the first day of training camp and never relinquished the job. In fact, he was the only constant on the field throughout the summer as projected starters at every other position battled injuries or were working their way back from offseason surgeries.

Jensen’s first career start at center was uneven as he helped the Ravens run for a season-high 157 yards in the season-opening win at Cincinnati, but he also committed three holding penalties, prompting critics to wonder if he could channel his aggressiveness to play with enough discipline. Since then, however, he hasn’t committed a penalty and is coming off arguably the best game of his career last Sunday in Oakland as he was graded out higher than any center in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

“I feel good about my performance. I feel good about the offensive line performance,” said Jensen, who currently ranks third among centers in PFF’s grading system for 2017. “We have been meshing together really well. We have injuries and stuff like that, but we are plowing forward and we are getting there.”

Making Jensen’s emergence even more impressive has been the disruption at both guard positions. Second-year left guard Alex Lewis underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in August — and has since been replaced by James Hurst — and six-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda was lost for the year due to a broken ankle in Week 2, leaving Jensen to work with three different players at right guard since then. With Matt Skura now expected to miss action with a knee injury, the Ravens will be on their third different starting right guard in the season’s first six weeks.

Yanda’s absence in particular has forced Jensen to grow up quickly as he’s responsible for assessing the defense’s pre-snap alignment and making protection calls at the line of scrimmage.

“He is a great communicator. He’s a fine player. He’s a tough guy,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “You guys know how up front that stuff happens fast and furious. It is wicked fast, so the communication has to be there. We have been through several guys [at guard], and he has done a great job of sort of running the show there.”

An offense still trying to find its footing is also benefiting from his attitude. With so many of his offensive teammates having more reserved personalities, Jensen isn’t afraid to get in the face of an opponent, something the Ravens had lost in the offseason with the retirement of wide receiver Steve Smith.

Jensen has managed to harness his temper that was so often on display during those practice-field scuffles in Owings Mills over the last few years and is forcing the rest of the league to take notice of his play.

“Ryan is a confident person. I think he has always been that way,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “The thing that you see with him the most is how nasty he is on Sunday and the style that he plays with. We play football, so that’s what it’s all about.

“You need that kind of player. You love to have those guys on your side.”

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Jimmy Smith, Brandon Williams still absent from Ravens practice

Posted on 12 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were still without two of their best defensive players as they continued preparations for their Week 6 meeting with Chicago.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith was absent from Thursday’s practice while defensive tackle Brandon Williams appears very likely to miss his fourth straight game while recovering from a foot injury suffered on Sept. 17. Smith missed two days of practice last week before ultimately playing against Oakland, but he was limited to seven defensive snaps and re-aggravated his Achilles tendon on his 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Rookie Marlon Humphrey would start in Smith’s place if Baltimore elects to hold out the veteran defensive back against the Bears.

Running back Terrance West (calf), guard Matt Skura (knee), defensive tackle Carl Davis (hamstring), and outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) were also absent from Thursday’s session. Williams was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday, but he was not present during the media viewing period, meaning the rookie may have sustained the injury during the special-teams portion of practice.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman returned to practice and was a full participant after sitting out Wednesday with a knee injury.

Defensive backs Jaylen Hill (hamstring) and Anthony Levine (thigh) as well as wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) were all listed as limited participants for the second straight day.

Meanwhile, the Bears suffered their latest injury to a wide receiver as former Pittsburgh Steeler Markus Wheaton will reportedly miss four to six weeks with a groin injury. Chicago lost top receiver Cam Meredith to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason and former first-round pick Kevin White to a broken shoulder blade in Week 1.

Starting right guard Kyle Long (ankle) was added to the injury report Thursday after sitting out practice.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Carl Davis (thigh), G Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), RB Terrance West (calf), DT Brandon Williams (foot), LB Tim Williams (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (thigh), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Breshad Perriman (knee), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)

CHICAGO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Kyle Long (ankle), LB John Timu (knee, ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Marcus Cooper (back), C Hroniss Grasu (hand), DT Nick Kwiatkoski (chest), WR Markus Wheaton (groin)

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Perriman among six Ravens players absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 11 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are still feeling the effects of a physically-demanding win in Oakland as six players sat out Wednesday’s practice in preparation for a Week 6 meeting with Chicago.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), defensive tackles Brandon Williams (foot) and Carl Davis (hamstring), guard Matt Skura (knee), running back Terrance West (calf), and wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) were all missing from the field during the portion of practice open to media. Davis, Skura, and West all left last Sunday’s game with injuries and didn’t return while Smith’s Achilles flare-up limited him to just seven defensive snaps against the Raiders.

Should Brandon Williams not return to practice this week, he would miss his fourth straight game. Head coach John Harbaugh did not have any update when asked about the standout defensive lineman’s status during his Monday press conference, but Williams published a tweet on Wednesday hinting that his return would be in the near future.

Perriman caught two passes for 15 yards against the Raiders, doubling his reception total in what’s been a disappointing start to his third NFL season. It’s unknown whether his knee ailment will jeopardize his status for Sunday’s game against the Bears, but a health issue certainly won’t help him get going in 2017.

“We have to get him involved. Right now, there are not a ton of opportunities out there,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You hope that when he gets in those situations — like he was on Sunday — he can make the play. I think that’s going to do wonders for our offense and for him moving forward just to make a couple plays like that and prove to himself that he can go do it out there.”

Tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) and cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring) were both present and working after missing Sunday’s game. Williams has missed three straight contests while Hill hasn’t played in a game since the third week of the preseason.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) was listed as a limited participant during Wednesday’s practice, but he was not present during the media viewing portion. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was also limited with what was listed as a shoulder issue.

The Bears produced a fairly uneventful injury report Wednesday, but they cut former Ravens wide receiver and return specialist Deonte Thompson earlier in the day.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Carl Davis (thigh), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), G Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), RB Terrance West (calf), DT Brandon Williams (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (thigh), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), LB Tim Williams (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Maxx Williams (ankle)

CHICAGO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Marcus Cooper (back), LB John Timu (knee, ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Hroniss Grasu (hand), DT Nick Kwiatkoski (chest)

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Ravens defense passes first test facing familiar problem

Posted on 09 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Jimmy Smith’s 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown in Sunday’s 30-17 win over Oakland came at a price for the Ravens.

The veteran cornerback felt his tender Achilles tendon flare up toward the end of the run, putting the defense in an all-too-familiar position as he played just four defensive snaps in third-down situations the rest of the way. But unlike past instances when the secondary all but collapsed without its best talent on the field, the Ravens persevered to hold Raiders quarterback EJ Manuel to 159 yards and a single touchdown pass for the game.

Perhaps it would have played out differently had two-time Pro Bowl selection Derek Carr been under center, but the Ravens passed their first test in the exact situation for which they’d prepared this offseason. It’s unknown whether the lack of drop-off in Smith’s absence will prompt the Ravens to sit him down for some period of time in hopes of his Achilles improving for the second half of the season.

“We just have guys that we can play. We are very good with the guys that we have,” Harbaugh said. “We want Jimmy out there. He is a topnotch corner. I think he is one of the best corners in football. I am a big Jimmy Smith fan.”

But the organization also knows injuries have plagued the talented defensive back throughout his career. It was just last year when the Ravens went 2-5 in games in which Smith missed significant time, a major reason why they missed the postseason for the third time in four seasons.

General manager Ozzie Newsome addressed that reality by signing free-agent veteran Brandon Carr and drafting Marlon Humphrey in the first round, the first time he’d taken a cornerback on the opening day of the draft since picking Smith in 2011. And while Humphrey’s selection with the 16th overall pick raised a few eyebrows with the roster having more pressing needs, the Alabama product again looked the part in Week 5 as he frequently faced Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

The Oakland veteran entered Sunday having produced four touchdown receptions and 199 receiving yards in his last two contests against the Ravens, but Humphrey mostly held his own playing man-to-man coverage. Crabtree’s 41-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter came against Carr in coverage after Manuel escaped the pocket to extend the play. The No. 1 receiver finished with six catches for 82 yards overall.

“Crabtree is pretty special. We have had some experience with him, haven’t we, in Baltimore?” Harbaugh said. “He is a great one. Marlon didn’t back down. Marlon is confident. They got him on the three-stop nines or hitch [routes], if you want to call them that, versus press. Marlon played him a certain way. That was really the plan.

“Hindsight being 20-20, I think we might have played that with a little different technique than we did and helped Marlon out a little bit. Those are great learning experiences.”

Not only is Humphrey continuing to learn on the job, but he’s affording the Ravens the luxury of being able to rest their top corner without the fear of a collapse coming.

Injury report grows

Smith wasn’t the only injury concern emerging on Sunday as running back Terrance West (left calf), right guard Matt Skura (knee), and defensive tackle Carl Davis (hamstring) left the game and didn’t return.

On Monday, Harbaugh deferred to an NFL Network report indicating West would not be a long-term absence, but he didn’t offer any details on a timeline for his return or about a contingency plan at running back. Buck Allen and Alex Collins are the only healthy running backs currently on the roster, meaning Baltimore will likely look to add depth in the short term.

“We have to see if we can execute it right now in terms of what we’re going to do, who we’re going to look at,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just wait until we know. I don’t want to start putting the plans out there until we know if we can pull it off.”

According to The Sun, Skura could miss two to four weeks with a medial collateral ligament sprain in his knee. That means rookie Jermaine Eluemunor will likely be the next man up at the position, and the offensive line will need to adjust to another starting combination.

“It just doesn’t matter,” Harbaugh said. “It is not something we think about. It is not something we quantify. We don’t waste any energy thinking about that. You just go and get ready for the next game.”

Monday night scouting

Harbaugh and the Ravens had the rare opportunity to scout their next two opponents — Chicago and Minnesota — by merely turning on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was making his first NFL start for the Bears and is expected to start his first road contest at M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday.

“Normally on these Monday nights, I get home maybe at halftime and decide if I want to stay awake or not. Usually the answer is no,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “Sometimes if it’s an AFC North team, you have to do it, or the Patriots or somebody like that.

“But this game we’ll be watching. I will get home in time to watch this one.”

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Ravens stop bleeding, reboot season with win at Oakland

Posted on 09 October 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stopped the bleeding and rebooted their season with a 30-17 win at Oakland on Sunday.

A road defeat wouldn’t have doomed them for the remainder of 2017, but one wonders what the ramifications might have been for a third straight loss, this one against a backup quarterback in a league having nowhere close to even 32 quality starters. The Raiders were also without two of their top three cornerbacks in a rare instance in which the opposition’s game-day injury woes could actually compete with Baltimore’s.

It was nearly a year to the day that the Ravens fired Marc Trestman, and another poor performance might have led offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to a similar fate with critics pointing to senior offensive assistant Greg Roman as a logical alternative. But such talk was halted — at least for one week — when Joe Flacco delivered a pretty 52-yard strike to the speedy Mike Wallace on the first play from scrimmage.

That early aggressiveness coupled with the superb play of the offensive line proved to be the biggest keys in the victory as the Ravens jumped out to an early lead and produced a season-high 30 points. Their four plays of 25 or more yards eclipsed their total over their first four games (three) and deflated a struggling Raiders team also in need of a win Sunday.

It was easily Flacco’s best performance of the season as he completed 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards and ended his streak of 10 consecutive games with an interception. Entering Week 5 ranked last in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks with a career-worst 5.1 yards per attempt, the 10th-year quarterback averaged 8.54 yards per throw, his best single-game mark in nearly two years.

Not one to exaggerate or put much stock into any single win or loss over the course of his career, Flacco said Sunday’s win brought extra significance after admitting last week that the confidence of the entire offense wasn’t where it needed to be. The performance also reminded us what Flacco is capable of doing when the other variables are in proper place to help him succeed.

The running game and pass protection were strong despite the offensive line suffering its latest injury with right guard Matt Skura leaving with a knee injury early in the second half. Flacco also demonstrated better footwork, moving forward or sidestepping in the pocket to make several throws and to successfully avoid what little pressure Oakland was able to muster on Sunday. A Raiders front led by All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack failed to register a sack and recorded only two quarterback hits all day.

At least for one week, the Baltimore offense was capable of playing at a level high enough to win a game in which the defense didn’t play at an incredible level. Jimmy Smith’s fumble recovery for a touchdown certainly provided extra cushion in the first quarter, but the unit’s overall play was a far cry from the first two weeks of the season when it forced a whopping 10 turnovers and the offense needed only not to screw up.

The Ravens offense even responded to adversity after the the defense allowed a Marshawn Lynch touchdown late in the third quarter to make it a one-possession game for the first time since the opening minutes. Without as much as a first down in their first two drives of the second half, Flacco and the offense orchestrated a 72-yard drive of more than five minutes that included critical third-down conversions to Breshad Perriman and Wallace. Justin Tucker’s short field goal put Baltimore ahead by 10 with just over 13 minutes to go and all but ended Oakland’s real hopes for a comeback.

As John Harbaugh noted in his post-game press conference, this is a week-to-week league with results frequently lacking rhyme or reason. The offense isn’t close to being out of the woods yet as a lackluster performance at home against Chicago next week will prompt the return of the same doubts and questions.

But the Ravens managed to escape a challenging and travel-filled five-week stretch to open the season with a 3-2 record, once again tied with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North. They now face a reasonable run of alternating home and away games over the next four weeks that should keep them in the playoff hunt with any semblance of steady play going into their Week 10 bye.

To say the win at Oakland saved their season would be an exaggeration, but it did stop the substantial bleeding from the last two weeks. And there’s no telling what chain of events a third straight ugly loss might have triggered for a team in search of its first postseason berth in three years.

The Ravens instead came home with a winning record and newfound positive vibes.

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