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Chapter 6: The other Hall of Famer from The U…

Posted on 17 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

In my opinion, Ed Reed is the best safety to play the game. I tell him that to his face all the time. I truly believe it. I’ve studied him, and I’ve tried to incorporate things from his game into my game — a lot of it I’m not able to do. I learned the importance of film study from him. He is the prototype and what anyone would want at safety. People can say that you want big hits, but this game is about the ball. You can’t score without it. When you get someone back there who can get the ball, that’s what it’s all about.”

  – Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (Nov. 2011)

 

 

 

ON ANY OTHER TEAM, HE’D be the leader. In any other franchise, he’d be the one they talk about building a statue for and retiring his number when his time is through. But, in a franchise that Ray Lewis made famous, Ed Reed will always be the second-best and second-most important player from the Miami Hurricanes to wear the Ravens’ purple.

There’s a certain swagger that the ‘U’ represents for anyone that’s spent any time in Coral Gables and worked their way into the NFL through the family of ‘Canes. The dominance of that program over three decades brings attention to anyone who wears the green and orange. And for anyone who knows the legend of Luke Campbell and the infamous “30 For 30 Series” regarding “The U” there’s an inherent culture of football, winning, and boasting that goes along with a renegade image that’s not only emphasized, but embraced.

Ed Reed is complicated. And most think he likes it that way.

As much as the two will be linked, there will always be something that makes Ray Lewis feel more significant to the Ravens and Ravens fans than Ed Reed. For starters, Reed will wear another uniform in 2013 and Lewis never opted for or really had the opportunity to take that path. But Reed, working in the shadows of the vivid, public leadership of Lewis, will probably never get the credit or respect he fully deserves simply because he played alongside of a once-in-a-generation icon.

Ed is Scottie Pippen. Ray is Michael Jordan.

But for pound-for-pound excitement and impact on a game, you’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling figure other than Lewis in the entire NFL over the first decade of his career. His accomplishments at the position of safety might never be matched. And like Ray Lewis, when his time comes for the ballot to Canton and a Hall of Fame bust, Ed Reed will almost certainly be a first-year inductee, which is the highest individual honor that can be bestowed upon an NFL player.

He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer yet he’ll always be “the other guy from Miami” who played for the Ravens and won a Super Bowl. It was easy to see the joy, relief, and energy that winning the Lombardi Trophy in his hometown of New Orleans brought to Reed in February 2013. It was an 11-year quest that was vindication for the native of St. Rose, just west of the big city along the Mississippi River.

Like many others on the Super Bowl XLVII champs, Reed fought adversity on his path from Destrahan High School in St. Charles Parish to Miami and onto Baltimore on his journey toward greatness while amassing wealth beyond his imagination.

Edward Earl Reed, Jr. was born September 11, 1978 in Jefferson, Louisiana and was always a great athlete. His dad, Ed Sr. was a welder and his mom, who worked at the local Walmart, had four other boys, and they all lived in a one-bedroom home.

By most accounts, Reed was a bit rambunctious and lacked focus in his teenage years yet teachers and coaches always saw a light

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Chapter 4: Ravens always begins with Ray

Posted on 14 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“”It’s simple: when God is for you, who can be against you?”

– Ray Lewis (February 2013)

 

 

 

 

CONFETTI. THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALWAYS been about for Ray Lewis. When researching anything related to football, winning the Super Bowl, or why he made it through 17 grueling seasons in the middle of the Baltimore Ravens defense, it all comes back to the sight of confetti.

Ray Lewis is obsessed with confetti.

The thought of standing once again amidst a storm of showering colors and happy teammates, while hoisting the glittery silver Lombardi Trophy one more time before riding off into the NFL sunset motivated one of the greatest linebackers of all time morning, noon, and night.

“I look at that face [against] the backdrop of the confetti,” Lewis said before Super Bowl XLVII of his old pictures from Tampa in 2001. “That’s the only thing that makes that face. I promised that I’d do everything in my power to see that confetti drop again.” And he never stopped telling his teammates about that image, about that feeling they would have when it happened for them.

You can’t tell the Ray Lewis story in one chapter. It’s worthy of a book all its own, and the story continues to be told and will be told for years to come as the Ravens try to replace an irreplaceable rock in their existence.

Ray Lewis came to Baltimore a fractured man child, whose best friend and University of Miami roommate Marlin Barnes was murdered just seven days before he was picked by Ozzie Newsome with the 26th pick of the 1996 NFL Draft. He was 20 years old. He leaves the Baltimore football field 17 years later as a living legend, a civic hero whose storybook journey has some sordid stories, bloodstains, pain, drama, redemption, passion as well as a pair of World Championships and parades. It is a story nothing short of a fairy tale with a storybook ending shared by his fans and the entire community on a cold day in February 2013.

Murders. Pain. Eternal search. Death. Championships. Women. Failure. Success. Leadership. God. Orange jumpsuit. Incarceration. Leadership. Charity. Football. Passion. Fire. Dominance. Hall of Fame. Mentoring. Winning. Losing. Crying. Parenting. Owning. Preaching. Praying. Dancing. Triumph. Lifting. Running.

The World According to Ray is not an easy story to tell…

He walked into the Ravens complex on his first day of work with a black and white jersey, reminiscent of the Mean Machine in the movie “The Longest Yard” – no logo, no markings, just like a Penn State warm up — to do pull-ups and asked “What’s the record?” Lionel Vital, then a Ravens scout, told him “Forty six.” Lewis took off his shirt, did 47 pull-ups and asked what the record was for the next exercise.

Less than four months later, wearing purple for the first time, he was clearly the best player on the field at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street when the Ravens played against the Oakland Raiders in September 1996. You can measure his greatness by the stats, the games played, the two Super Bowl championships, and his first-ballot Hall of Fame induction that will no doubt fill Canton, Ohio with Ravens fans in August 2018. All of it would’ve been a story that Hollywood would never buy because it wouldn’t be believable, but to see Ray Lewis holding the Lombardi Trophy as his swan song in Baltimore was not only believable, but it was Ray’s final act of redemption on the field.

How rare and unique was it to see the greatest athlete in the history of his franchise, the greatest defensive player of his generation, end his career with the same team and do it winning a Super Bowl championship on the way out of Baltimore?

Even though he told head coach John Harbaugh months earlier that he was walking away from the NFL at year’s end, his teammates had no clue when he entered the Owings Mills facility on January 2, 2013 what was about to transpire. Ray Lewis was going to tell his team that he was done. Based on the reactions that day, they were as shocked as most of the media witnessing it

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Chapter 2: High Standards, Low Profile of Steve Bisciotti

Posted on 13 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“Steve (Bisciotti) is straightforward and that makes it easy. He’s not a prima donna. He’s direct. He’s upfront. If there’s something he doesn’t like, he tells you. If he feels strongly about something, he tells you. There’s no secret agenda. There’s nothing you have to discover. Steve is a great believer in direct communication and he runs the business that way.”

— Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass (March 2013)

 

IN MANY CITIES IN AMERICA the owners of sports franchises can still somehow stay or hide in the shadow of their local investment and create nary a stir when they enter a room. Being anonymous has its privileges and benefits, a thought Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti would certainly echo. But in Baltimore, where the owners of the local professional teams have been true newsmakers and iconoclasts for the better part of a half a century, owning the NFL franchise that a community treats like family or a personal treasure can be like carrying the collective weight of the civic mood on your shoulders.

Bisciotti did his best to remain a private citizen after taking over the Ravens from Arthur B. Modell in early 2004, but you can’t be invested in the most significant sports soap opera in the community and stand at the top of the pyramid making the most important decisions for the fan base without becoming a public figure of the highest order.

If you are a sports fan from Baltimore, Maryland, you have endured your fair share of abuse. In the 1970’s, the Baltimore Bullets were dragged down I-95 to the Washington suburbs by owner Abe Pollin, professional hockey went into hibernation with the Clippers and there were strong whispers of the Orioles going to D.C. to replace the departed Washington Senators. It got no better in the 1980’s. There was always the ominous and omnipresent shadow of Robert Irsay, the man who acquired the Baltimore Colts from Carroll Rosenbloom in a swap for the Los Angeles Rams in 1972 and later moved them to Indianapolis in a convoy of Mayflower moving trucks in the middle of a snowy, teary night for the Charm City on March 28, 1984 after a decade of tyranny and threats to the community of the inevitable move.

Since the turn of the century, both the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles fan bases’ have been tormented and tortured by disastrous moves on the field and big moves downward in the standings since the involvement of Daniel Snyder and Peter G. Angelos have fallen upon the I-95 corridor. These two have shined a bright light on what can go wrong when poor decisions are consistently being made from the top of the organization and how quickly decades of support for enduring brands can erode and deteriorate when fans and customers smell the stench of poor ownership.

The reality in the 21st century is that with the scarcity of teams available and the cost of buying a sports franchise for hundreds of millions of dollars, no one wants to pony up the kind of money to be an owner without having a strong desire to be heavily involved in strategy and a strong desire to win – whether it’s on the field or at the cash register. Many of these thrill seekers have lacked proper training, background and the feel for sports ownership especially with such a public light illuminating every decision that is made in real time on the internet. What sounds like fun in the beginning becomes an albatross and a public nuisance once it becomes apparent how specialized each league, sport and business is from an ownership standpoint.

It was no secret that Art Modell was struggling financially in Cleveland and those ghosts of burgeoning debt followed him east to Baltimore in 1996. By 1999, the NFL and his debtors with the banks demanded that he find a partner to buy the team and help him find the exit door with the class and dignity that his departure from Cleveland clearly lacked.

The same man who found Modell in Cleveland and brokered the deal for the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore in the Fall of 1995 was the same man who found a buyer four years later: local attorney and sports franchise expert John Moag. After Modell made the move to Baltimore, Moag became a trusted confidant and had all of the institutional knowledge that would be necessary to assist in finding a new owner for the Baltimore Ravens.

Moag knew Bisciotti and was privy to most of Modell’s financial struggles. The rest is history.

By any account, Steve Bisciotti is a sports nut. He’s long been a fiercely loyal University of Maryland supporter, close confidant of legendary Terps basketball head coach Gary Williams and a Ravens and Orioles season ticket holder at the time. At worst, he would’ve been a very educated sports radio talk show caller before he got involved in the purchase the Baltimore Ravens in 1999.

Bisciotti, born April 10, 1960 in Philadelphia, came to the Severna Park area of Anne Arundel County in 1961 when Bernard and Patricia Bisciotti moved from Philadelphia for Bernard’s new sales executive job. He was 8 years old when the Colts lost Super Bowl III to Joe Namath and the New York Jets. He was a huge Paul Blair fan during the heyday of the Earl Weaver-led Orioles in his adolescence. He journeyed with his friends up Richie Highway to Memorial Stadium in the 1970’s and loved the Bert Jones-era of the “Shake and Bake” Colts.

Bisciotti’s father died of leukemia when he was in elementary school leaving his sports-crazed widowed mother, who raised him by preaching faith, hard work, determination and manners. Nicknamed “Shots” by his college pals at Salisbury State, where he earned a Liberal Arts degree, Bisciotti became obsessed with making enough money by the age of 35 so that his wife and kids wouldn’t have to work if his father’s fate befell him. He had the early jobs of a kid who worked hard and learned the world: pumping gas, mowing lawns, and building piers in Anne Arundel County, where he graduated from Severna Park High School. He founded a staffing firm called Aerotek in his basement with $3,500 of seed money at age 23 during the Colts final season in Baltimore. He now owns a massive stake in Allegis

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Even at 4-5, Ravens remain in solid shape in mediocre wild-card race

Posted on 13 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Many continue to scoff at any mention of the Ravens’ chances in the AFC’s muddled wild-card race.

It’s understandable when focusing exclusively on a 4-5 team that has lost five of its last seven games and ranks last in the NFL in passing offense. A game below .500 less than two weeks from Thanksgiving, the Ravens epitomize mediocrity and hardly look like an outfit capable of going on a meaningful run when they haven’t even won back-to-back games in two months.

But if not the Ravens, who do you like in the race for the second wild card if we’re going to concede Tennessee and Jacksonville — both currently hold two-game leads and head-to-head tiebreakers over Baltimore — as playoff teams out of the AFC South?

Are you really a believer in the 5-4 Buffalo Bills, who just lost their last two games by a combined 50 points and still have two games against New England as well as a trip to Kansas City down the stretch?

Who will grab the final wild-card spot in the AFC?

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What about Miami, who enters Monday night sporting a minus-63 point differential and might have been the most fraudulent 4-2 team ever to come to M&T Bank Stadium a few weeks ago? Oh yeah, the Dolphins also have two games remaining with the Patriots as well as trips to Kansas City and Buffalo on their schedule.

Oakland might be the most talented team of the mediocre bunch vying for the No. 6 seed, but a 4-5 record, remaining games against New England, Kansas City, and Philadelphia, and three road games in four weeks to conclude the regular season create a hell of a mountain to climb. The Raiders will certainly deserve it if they’re the last team standing.

And, oh yeah, the Ravens own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Dolphins and the Raiders if it comes to that.

In contrast, Baltimore plays only three more teams currently sporting winning records. And one of those is deceiving with Brett Hundley now leading the way for Green Bay after Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury last month.

Four of the seven remaining contests come against teams with a backup or rookie currently playing quarterback.

Of course, the Ravens must show some improvement the rest of the way to take advantage of one of their most advantageous schedules in recent memory. It sounds great to say they could be favored in each of their remaining games aside from the Dec. 10 trip to Pittsburgh, but the Ravens have also played poorly enough at times this season to consider any of those a potential loss.

No, you don’t have to like the Ravens’ playoff chances to accept their odds being better than the other middling teams in the AFC pack. It’s just reality in a conference with little separation once you move past the three teams at the top.

The Ravens haven’t been a good team, but they may not have to be good to make the playoffs. They just have to be a smidge better than the rest of the mediocre bunch.

It couldn’t set up much better on paper for them to do that.

Time will tell if they’re capable enough to take advantage.

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Flacco back on practice field for Ravens

Posted on 01 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Less than a week after sustaining a concussion in the Week 8 win over Miami, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was back at practice on Wednesday after passing the NFL’s five-step protocol.

Wearing his usual black practice jersey signaling no contact, Flacco took snaps under center and threw passes as a full participant, leaving very little doubt about his availability for Sunday’s game at Tennessee. His appearance came a little over an hour after head coach John Harbaugh would not reveal whether Flacco would be on the field as the Ravens ramped up preparations for Tennessee.

Harbaugh told reporters Monday that the 10th-year quarterback had a “good chance” to play against the Titans and hadn’t been experiencing concussion-related symptoms. On Tuesday, the NFL announced Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso would not be suspended for his penalized hit that caused Flacco’s concussion, but the quarterback said his sole focus is on getting ready to play the Titans.

“I think [doctors and trainers] definitely side on being more cautious more than anything,” said Flacco, who told reporters that he began feeling better shortly after being taken to the locker room last Thursday. “If this was high school, I probably would have sat on the bench and gathered [my thoughts] for a couple minutes, then went back out there and played defense, you know? 

“But it’s just one of these things that you have to trust their judgment.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles), tight end Nick Boyle (toe), defensive tackle Michael Pierce (illness), wide receivers Michael Campanaro (shoulder) and Chris Matthews (thigh), and running back Terrance West (calf) did not participate in Wednesday’s session. Boyle’s absence in particular does create concern since the Ravens enjoyed an extended break over the weekend after the Thursday win over the Dolphins.

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), starting offensive linemen Ryan Jensen (shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (shoulder), cornerback Lardarius Webb (concussion), and tight end Vince Mayle (concussion) were all participating on a limited basis while wearing red non-contact vests over their practice jerseys.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace (concussion), tight end Maxx Williams (ankle), and outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) all practiced fully after missing last week’s game. Maxx Williams has appeared in just one game since Sept. 17 while Tim Williams has missed each of the last three contests.

Running back Danny Woodhead (hamstring) was also on the field a day after being designated to return to practice from injured reserve. He is not eligible to be activated to play in a game until after next week’s bye.

Meanwhile, the Titans released a much shorter injury report with starting tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) being the most notable absence. Rookie first-round wide receiver Corey Davis (hamstring) was a full participant on Wednesday and is set to return after a five-game absence.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (toe), WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), WR Chris Matthews (thigh), DT Michael Pierce (illness), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), RB Terrance West (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Ryan Jensen (shoulder), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), TE Vince Mayle (concussion), OT Ronnie Stanley (shoulder), DB Lardarius Webb (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (concussion), WR Mike Wallace (concussion), TE Maxx Williams (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)

TENNESSEE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Quinton Spain (toe), TE Delanie Walker (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Jonathan Cyprien (hamstring), WR Corey Davis (hamstring)

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Flacco has “good chance” to play against Tennessee on Sunday

Posted on 30 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is not experiencing any concussion-related symptoms and has been at the team facility every day, head coach John Harbaugh said Monday.

That would appear to bode well for his availability Sunday against Tennessee after he sustained a concussion on a penalized hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso last Thursday. Baltimore will have its bye next week, but there are no plans to deliberately rest Flacco in Week 9 if he’s able to pass the NFL’s five-step concussion protocol in time to play.

“If he’s ready, he’s playing. He’ll play if he’s ready,” said Harbaugh, who added that it wouldn’t matter how much the 32-year-old would be able to practice during the week if he’s cleared by Sunday. “I think there’s a good chance he’ll play.

“As I’ve said before, I’m not a doctor, but I play one in press conferences. It’s my diagnosis.”

It remains unclear when Flacco will return to practice, but he’s expected to attend all football meetings when players reconvene Tuesday to begin preparations for the Titans. Upon reaching the fourth step of the recovery protocol, a concussed player may resume football activities including non-contact work during practices.

This is the first known concussion of Flacco’s career, but players can respond differently to blows to the head with varying timetables for recovery, leaving the Ravens in wait-and-see mode for the time being. The 10th-year quarterback also required stitches for a cut on his ear from his helmet flying off during the hit.

Backup Ryan Mallett relieved the injured Flacco late in the first half of the 40-0 win over the Dolphins, tossing a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson. He would start on Sunday if Flacco does not progress through the protocol as rapidly as the Ravens anticipate.

“We’re very hopeful for this week, and it’ll be in the hands of Joe and the doctors to decide what we can do,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll get him ready to play if he can play. That’s all you really can do.”

Flacco has missed only six games in his career, which all occurred when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2015. However, he was sidelined for the entire 2017 preseason due to a lower back injury suffered in July.

Despite presenting an encouraging report Monday, Harbaugh isn’t taking Flacco’s recovery and health for granted.

“I don’t want to minimize what went down with Joe,” Harbaugh said. “I thought that was a very vicious type of hit. He was definitely defenseless and couldn’t protect himself. Therefore, he got his ear sliced open and he got hit in the head. You never minimize that.

“He is an extremely tough person.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 40-0 win over Miami

Posted on 29 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning the third-largest margin of victory in franchise history and their second shutout of the season in a 40-0 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Will the real Ravens stand up? After close games were the theme of the last few seasons, all but two of eight contests have been decided by multiple scores and one of those came on a garbage-time touchdown in Minnesota on the game’s final play. It’s more volatility than mediocrity.

2. The Baltimore defense gave up a 21-yard run to Jay Ajayi on the second play of the game and surrendered 24 more yards on 18 carries the rest of the way. Dean Pees effectively used run blitzes, and players tackled better than they had in weeks. It was about time.

3. I’d be more willing to listen to the argument that Joe Flacco started his slide late if Kiko Alonso had shown any semblance of an effort to divert his path to the quarterback. The hit was reckless at best and malicious at worst.

4. Ryan Jensen earned quite a few fans after coming to the defense of his quarterback by immediately going after Alonso. I’m not big on retaliation in most instances, but an offensive lineman has to stick up for the most important player on the team after a hit like that.

5. You never want your quarterback sustaining a concussion, but you wonder if something like this galvanizes John Harbaugh’s team moving forward. The Ravens haven’t played with nearly the same edge in recent years as they used to, and being ticked off can be a good thing if properly channeled.

6. The secondary showed several looks, but my favorite was Marlon Humphrey entering the game as an outside corner in the nickel with Brandon Carr moving to the slot. The rookie first-rounder played 37 of 66 snaps and needs to remain heavily involved no matter the status of the veteran starters.

7. I had to smile seeing C.J. Mosley protect the ball with both arms as he crossed the goal line on his interception return. He wasn’t going to repeat what happened against Washington last year. You have to appreciate someone learning from a mistake.

8. Not that the offense was lighting it up before Flacco’s exit, but the previous two weeks showed how critical it is for Jeremy Maclin to be on the field for the passing game to even be functional. His 34-yard touchdown reception came on Flacco’s prettiest throw of the season.

9. Breshad Perriman didn’t have a catch despite playing 49 offensive snaps. He has four receptions on 19 targets — one more catch than Danny Woodhead — despite ranking fifth in snaps among all Ravens skill players. His dramatic regression from 2016 when he was at least a contributor is impossible to ignore.

10. Despite dealing with Achilles tendinitis, Jimmy Smith is playing his best football since at least the first half of the 2014 season and entered Sunday as Pro Football Focus’ seventh-highest graded cornerback. Even if you take away his two defensive touchdowns this season, he’s still been terrific.

11. The Dolphins have won 13 of their last 18 regular-season games, but that stretch includes two losses to the Ravens by a combined 78-6 margin. Talk about having a team’s number. Counting the playoffs, Baltimore is now 7-1 against Miami in the Harbaugh era.

12. Compared to other teams’ editions of “Color Rush” uniforms, the all-purple look is relatively easy on the eyes. I’d even be curious to see how the purple pants look with the white and black jerseys.

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Ravens finally unleash best playmaker against Miami

Posted on 27 October 2017 by Luke Jones

From the very first time he carried the ball for 16 yards against Cleveland in Week 2, Alex Collins rapidly began showing he was the best running back on the Ravens roster.

Using quick, choppy steps to cut — thanks in large part to Irish dance — and displaying physicality exceeding his 210-pound frame, Collins has run with urgency and anger from the moment he arrived in Owings Mills less than two months ago. And despite concerns about ball security and his ability to pass block, the Arkansas product was making it increasingly difficult for a struggling Ravens offense to keep him off the field as he averaged no worse than 4.6 yards per carry in any of his first five games.

He was finally unleashed Thursday night to the tune of 113 yards on 18 carries — both career highs — in the 40-0 demolition of the Miami Dolphins, who entered Week 8 sporting the NFL’s fifth-ranked run defense. Collins was responsible for five of the Ravens’ seven longest plays of the night that weren’t aided by a penalty, a continuing trend for an offense in need of more explosiveness. According to Pro Football Focus, nearly half of his yards came after first contact, showing off his impressive ability to collect yards even when the blocking isn’t there.

“He’s a vicious runner. That’s how I describe him,” center Ryan Jensen said. “He’s elusive, but he’ll hit it downhill and run some guys over and break tackles.”

Collins currently leads the NFL at 6.0 yards per carry and enters the weekend seventh in rushing yards (478) despite ranking only 23rd in attempts (80). His 10 runs of 15 or more yards are tied for the league lead with Kansas City’s rookie sensation Kareem Hunt, who’s had 44 more carries. Collins has been the optimal fit for Greg Roman’s new blocking schemes as the other Baltimore running backs have combined for only 20 more rushing yards on 59 more carries.

No one could have predicted such a breakout for Collins after he was waived by Seattle at the end of the preseason. Going unclaimed by the Ravens and 30 other NFL teams, the 2016 fifth-round pick from Arkansas was signed to the Baltimore practice squad days before the season opener. A week later when Danny Woodhead was placed on injured reserve, the Ravens even promoted practice-squad running back Jeremy Langford ahead of Collins before ultimately bringing up the latter to the 53-man roster two days later.

In other words, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh didn’t exactly proceed as though they knew exactly what they had on their hands after the Seahawks decided to let Collins go at the end of an underwhelming summer. But in a season in which the offense has been nothing short of disastrous for significant stretches, Collins is quickly emerging as the closest thing to a playmaker for the Ravens.

Fumbles were a concern early as he coughed up the ball twice in his first 21 carries of the season, but he’s since had 61 touches without putting it on the ground, the product of a heavy emphasis on ball security with running backs coach Thomas Hammock during practices. His confidence in that department appears to be  growing along with the number of carries.

“I just give a lot of credit to the staff and the head coach and everybody for giving me that opportunity coming in and trusting and believing in me,” said Collins, who was awarded a game ball for the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career. “I had a few mishaps earlier in the season and just sticking with me. It’s a great feeling.

“I feel the family atmosphere. Everybody’s got your back, and I love it here.”

Making Collins’ performance more impressive is the fact that he’s received 82 touches on only 121 offensive snaps, meaning opposing defenses should be on alert by now to expect him to get the ball when he enters the game. That makes it all the more important for him to improve in pass protection and as a receiver out of the backfield to make the offense less predictable in the coming weeks. He made his first two receptions of the season for 30 yards to add to his impressive Thursday performance.

With quarterback Joe Flacco’s status for Week 9 up in the air and the passing game ranking last in the NFL, Collins is looking more and more like a key to the Ravens being able to make a meaningful playoff run in the second half of the season. Questions about how he’ll hold up are fair since many feature backs in the league exceed his listed weight by 15 or 20 pounds. As is the case with any player seemingly coming out of nowhere, the 23-year-old will need to sustain success, but he’s certainly come along at the opportune time for an offense desperately in need of a jolt.

He provided that and then some in a much-needed win for the Ravens over Miami.

“Just keep working and keep trying to improve,” Collins said. “This was the first 100-yard game, but I guarantee you I’ll go back and watch film [and see] there’s a few plays that I’m wishing I would have [done] something different. That’s definitely the main focus — celebrating the win, but moving forward quickly.”

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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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