Tag Archive | "miami"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-7 win over Miami

Posted on 18 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 2-0 in the preseason with a 31-7 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The offensive line was again a mess as third-stringer Jarrod Pughsley starting at right guard was surprising to even beat reporters. Evaluating this group without Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley on the field is very difficult, but there were too many penalties and not enough room in the running game.

2. You have to like the defensive depth as the starters were again impressive and the reserves held the Dolphins to just 17 yards in the second half. I also like seeing how frequently the Ravens are using Anthony Levine in the dime package. He’s a good fit for that role.

3. Ryan Mallett was better than last week, but he threw two interceptions and still isn’t pushing the ball downfield, a problem that Joe Flacco had in this offense last season. His third-down conversions to Benjamin Watson and Mike Wallace were good throws, but there still wasn’t much to like here.

4. Both interceptions came on passes intended for rookie Quincy Adeboyejo, who didn’t present himself well on either. The first came on a deep route he ran poorly and the second was on a pass thrown behind him that was catchable. Quarterback and receiver have to take some blame on both.

5. Jaylen Hill finished with a team-leading three tackles and two pass breakups. At this point, the rookie free agent from Jacksonville State might have to play himself off the roster not to make the team. He looks like he belongs despite being undersized.

6. Say what you want about the absence of Flacco and the current state of the offensive line, but fumbles by Wallace and Terrance West in the first eight minutes of the game had to drive John Harbaugh crazy. This offense isn’t good enough to overcome potential turnovers and penalties.

7. It’s been a quiet camp for Maxx Williams, but his third-down reception to move the chains late in the first half and his 40-yard catch and run in the third quarter were eyebrow-raising plays. The 2015 second-round pick showed toughness and some explosiveness that hadn’t been seen this summer.

8. Donald Payne had one of the more impressive sequences of the night as the rookie linebacker forced a fumble on a kickoff midway through the second quarter and sprinted down the field to flatten the returner on the next one. That will grab the attention of Harbaugh and Jerry Rosburg.

9. The Ravens have been using Patrick Ricard as a fullback in practices for the last week or so, but that might say more about the current fullbacks on the roster. Regardless, it’s fun to see a 6-foot-3, 304-pound defensive lineman playing that spot.

10. Josh Woodrum has played very well against second- and third-team defenders and is putting himself in the conversation for a spot on the practice squad, but he’s not going to be the one to supplant Mallett if the organization decides to upgrade the backup spot.

11. Justin Tucker picking up a fumble and trying to run reminded me of the scene in “Major League” when Willie Mays Hayes makes a basket catch to end an inning and manager Lou Brown welcomes him back to the dugout saying, “Nice catch, Hayes. Don’t ever [expletive] do it again.”

12. We’re spoiled here in Baltimore and it was only a preseason game, but that showing from Miami was one of the worst special-teams performances I’ve seen in a long time.

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Ravens offense in holding pattern ahead of second preseason game

Posted on 14 August 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The start of the 2017 season is less than four weeks away, but a Ravens offense entering training camp with a slew of questions has only added to that list and remains in a holding pattern.

Quarterback Joe Flacco still hasn’t practiced since reporting to Owings Mills with a back issue three weeks ago. The organization has already said the 10th-year veteran won’t play in any preseason contests, meaning he will go into the Sept. 10 opener at Cincinnati with no live-game action under his belt.

It’s hardly ideal after Flacco ranked 27th in the NFL in yards per attempt last year and saw roughly half of the team’s receiving production depart in the offseason. He’s also logged just two offseason practices with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who signed with Baltimore during its mandatory minicamp in June.

“There is no substitute for experience, especially in this situation,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, acknowledging the challenge of having Flacco miss so much valuable preseason time. “It looks like we are going to have just enough time there to get him ready as long as he keeps progressing. By all accounts, he is progressing pretty well.”

Flacco isn’t the only concern, however, as an offensive line that already saw two starters depart in the offseason has been further ravaged since late July. Starting left guard Alex Lewis and 2017 fourth-round guard Nico Siragusa suffered season-ending injuries after potential starting center John Urschel surprisingly retired at the start of camp, depleting the interior line depth. General manager Ozzie Newsome did sign right tackle Austin Howard earlier this month, but left tackle Ronnie Stanley is now dealing with an undisclosed injury that’s jeopardized his status for Thursday’s preseason game in Miami.

The Ravens have brought Howard and six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda along slowly after both underwent offseason shoulder surgery, but the clock is ticking to build cohesion on the offensive line. For now, it appears that James Hurst — who began the summer as the starting right tackle — will receive the first opportunity to replace Lewis and play next to new starting center Ryan Jensen.

Senior offensive assistant Greg Roman was hired in the offseason to revamp an ineffective running game, but the projected starting line has changed more than once since the start of camp and just hasn’t had sufficient time to gel. In the aftermath of Flacco’s extended absence, the Ravens will need the group to be even more effective.

“If you look around football, the line plays together,” said Mornhinweg about the need to build continuity. “Five or six guys play together pretty much throughout the year, and that way you can stay pretty consistent that way. Yes, it is important.”

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since Aug. 1, marking the third straight year in which the 2015 first-round pick has missed most of training camp. An offense lacking playmakers sure could use Perriman’s upside as the Ravens try to make it back to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

The questions remain with few answers apparent as the season is under a month away.

NOTES: The Ravens signed veteran quarterback Thad Lewis and waived quarterback Dustin Vaughan on Monday. Lewis brings more experience to the position after starting six games over his NFL career. … Maclin, safety Eric Weddle, and rookie outside linebacker Tyus Bowser returned to practice after each missed at least a portion of Sunday’s practice. … Wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (knee) and offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor (undisclosed) were absent from Monday’s workout after being banged up a day earlier. … Cornerbacks Brandon Boykin (undisclosed) and Maurice Canady (knee), wide receiver Kenny Bell (hamstring), offensive tackle Stephane Nembot (undisclosed), and linebacker Lamar Louis (undisclosed) remained sidelined. … Former Ravens defensive tackle and Super Bowl XXXV champion Tony Siragusa visited practice.

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Schoop turning heads as Orioles’ lone All-Star representative

Posted on 10 July 2017 by Luke Jones

MIAMI — While getting on the American League team bus on Monday, Jonathan Schoop sounded like the young rookie that Nelson Cruz had mentored and remembered so fondly in their brief time together.

“We were joking around and he said, ‘I’m going to follow you around everywhere because I don’t know what to do,” said Cruz, a five-time All-Star selection who has spent the last three seasons in Seattle after playing for the Orioles in 2014. “He’s like a son for me. Age makes a difference. Now he has experience. He learned; he wants to learn. He’s always asking questions to get better.

“He’s finally got everything together.”

The quip signified how far the second baseman has come from playing in the shadow of several high-profile teammates over his first few seasons to being the lone Orioles representative at this year’s All-Star game. And while the exclusion of his teammates is viewed by many as a reflection of how difficult the last two months have been for the struggling Orioles, Schoop isn’t just a token inclusion from a club closer to the cellar than first place.

Tied for the team lead in home runs (18) and leading the Orioles in runs batted in (54), Schoop is on pace to shatter his career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. His 1.9 wins above replacement lead all Orioles players while his .370 weighted on-base average — a stat holding significant prominence in the sabermetric community — is second behind only Houston’s Jose Altuve among qualified AL second basemen in 2017.

Schoop hitting for power isn’t surprising as we’ve watched him get stronger every season, but his improved plate discipline has turned heads and led to more consistency at the plate. His 19 walks in 352 plate appearances remain well below the league average, but he’s just two shy of the 21 he piled up in 647 trips to the dish in 2016.

It’s the product of a more confident and selective approach as he’s swinging at fewer pitches both inside and outside the strike zone.

“I trust myself more and know that I can do it,” Schoop said. “I work every day and trust what the scouting report [says]. You know what [pitchers] are trying to do. You just have to achieve it and make sure you get the right pitch to hit. That’s part of my game that’s grown up a little bit more. I’m more patient and more selective.

“It’s not necessarily the walks, but just patience. Get the pitch to hit. Don’t chase too many pitches. Don’t swing at a pitcher’s pitch. It’s tough. They’re good. They get paid to strike you out and get you out.”

The 25-year-old has plenty of support this week from both family and teammates — former and current. Manny Machado has opened up his home to his close friend and will attend All-Star festivities as Schoop hopes to have a strong showing in honor of the Miami native who didn’t receive an All-Star invitation in a down season.

Schoop is representing more than just the Orioles and his family this week. He is the fourth Curacao native to appear in an All-Star Game, something in which he takes great pride after playing for the Netherlands in each of the last two editions of the World Baseball Classic. This year’s Midsummer Classic is the first with multiple selections hailing from the Dutch Caribbean island as Schoop is joined by Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on the National League side.

“He’s come a long way,” said Jansen, a two-time All-Star selection who played with Schoop’s older brother. “He was always very talented, one of the most talented guys I ever saw play in Curacao growing up. Now he’s put it all together. He’s going to be a superstar. We could have seen this coming.”

Having stepped out from the shadow of Machado and other former Orioles All-Star selections in previous years, Schoop is finally making the baseball world take notice.

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Wild-card weekend drives home key points for Ravens

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Watching wild-card weekend from home for the third time in the last four years, the Ravens had to be thinking what might have been.

They have no one to blame but themselves after losing three of their last four games to finish a mediocre 8-8, but a survey of the wild-card round field only reinforced the lack of high-quality teams in the NFL this year and in most seasons. As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are, but you could argue that Baltimore was better than a few of the playoff teams if going off the eyeball test.

Oakland deserves a pass with the unfortunate injury to Derek Carr, but the Ravens would have certainly put up a better fight against Brock Osweiler and a Houston offense that was abysmal all season. The Texans finished minus-49 in point differential this season — Baltimore was plus-22 — and took advantage of a lousy AFC South with a 5-1 division record.

No one should have been surprised to see the Pittsburgh offense steamroll Miami after the Ravens scored 38 points against that same group last month. The Dolphins deserve credit for beating the teams they were supposed to under first-year head coach Adam Gase, but they registered only one victory against a team that finished with a winning record this season.

The Detroit Lions were a good story with so many exciting finishes, but they lost three straight to close the regular season, beat only one team that finished with a winning record, and finished with a minus-12 point differential.

The Ravens might have been an Antonio Brown tackle away from entering Week 17 atop the AFC North, but the defining stretch of the season was their winless October in which they lost to a non-playoff team at home (Washington) and dropped a 24-16 road contest to the woeful New York Jets. A single victory over that 0-4 stretch would have changed the dynamics of the final two weeks of the season.

Of course, being able to measure up to a few playoff squads doesn’t mean John Harbaugh’s team is close to being back at a championship level. Looking beyond the Texans’ lottery-winning draw of a Carr-less Raiders team on Saturday, the other three winners of the weekend — Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay — each possess dynamic playmakers, a truly special quarterback, or both.

The Ravens have a respectable collection of quality players — including the league’s best kicker and the top guard in the NFL — but they have nothing that measures closely to the impact provided by five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown and two-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell, who combined for four touchdowns and just under 300 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers’ 30-12 victory over Miami. And Joe Flacco didn’t come close to playing at a special level this year, either.

With Flacco arguably having more job security than anyone in the entire organization after signing a contract extension last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome better find him a playmaker or two if the Ravens’ fortunes are to markedly change for the better any time soon. It’s been a talking point for a few years now, but that makes it no less true after another non-playoff campaign.

** The four games had an average margin of victory of 19.0 points, making it the most lopsided wild-card weekend since 1981. Most expected all four home teams to prevail, but it was quite a contrast between Super Bowl contenders and pretenders this weekend.

** I couldn’t help but feel for the Raiders as they played in their first playoff game in 14 years without the benefit of their young franchise quarterback under center. Oakland should be back with such a talented group of young players on which to build, but return trips to the postseason can’t be taken for granted.

** It’s great to see Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney finally showing off the ability that warranted him being selected first overall in the 2014 draft after two disappointing seasons. He finished with an interception, two batted passes, and four quarterback pressures in a terrific performance against overwhelmed rookie quarterback Connor Cook.

** Even if Ben Roethlisberger wearing a walking boot after Sunday’s win was much ado about nothing, why in the world was the Pittsburgh quarterback and several other key starters still in the game so late in the fourth quarter?

** Can you imagine how long their fans would have been screaming about the Packers’ failed fourth-down run from the their own 42-yard line in the third quarter if it had resulted in the turning point of a New York Giants win at Lambeau Field? I suppose having a future Hall of Fame quarterback helps to cover up a bad coaching decision as Rodgers was sensational on Sunday.

** No, I don’t believe the Monday trip to Miami made by Odell Beckham Jr. — and several of his teammates — was the reason why the Giants lost to Green Bay, but it did fairly call his focus and priorities into question just days before the biggest game of his young NFL career.

Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is highly respected around the league and summed it up nicely via his Twitter account. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should, and Beckham certainly fueled the flames of the story by turning in a lousy performance.

Maybe he should have asked Tony Romo if a pre-playoff vacation is worth the potential backlash.

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Sizing up Ravens’ playoff picture entering Week 16

Posted on 19 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens were lucky not to have their playoff hopes all but squashed on Sunday, but their 27-26 win over Philadelphia leaves them with an 8-6 record and multiple paths to the postseason.

The first is clear while the others involve assistance from other teams.

Winning road games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati would give the Ravens their first AFC North division title since the 2012 season. Of course, that would require Baltimore to win its first games on the road since September.

Many are hyping the Christmas Day showdown at Heinz Field as an AFC North championship game, but it’s not enough for the Ravens to merely win on Sunday. The Steelers host the winless Cleveland Browns in their regular-season finale, meaning the Ravens would almost certainly need to win a road game against the Bengals for the first time since 2011 in order to secure the division championship.

A path to a wild card also remains — at least for now.

The Ravens completed Week 15 a game behind Miami for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. A win for the 9-5 Dolphins at Buffalo on Christmas Eve would force Baltimore to beat the Steelers to stave off elimination for a playoff spot. A Miami loss would keep the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive in Week 17, no matter what happens against Pittsburgh.

Despite the daunting task of playing their two biggest division rivals on the road in consecutive weeks, the Ravens do have a 7-3 conference record working in their favor as a tiebreaker over fellow playoff contenders Tennessee, Denver, and Houston. Of course, Baltimore owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins via the 38-6 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 13.

Currently competing for the AFC South title, the Texans and the Titans meet in Week 17, meaning one is set to lose at least one more game.

If the Ravens are to make the playoffs while losing one more game, they would need the Dolphins to lose out and the other 8-6 wild-card contenders to each lose at least one more game.

Below is a look at the remaining schedule for the Ravens and the other contenders for the final wild card in the AFC:

PITTSBURGH (9-5, first place in AFC North)
Remaining opponents: Baltimore, Cleveland

HOUSTON (8-6, first place in AFC South via head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee)
Remaining opponents: Cincinnati, at Tennessee

MIAMI (9-5, No. 6 seed)
Remaining opponents: at Buffalo, New England

BALTIMORE (8-6, seventh in AFC via conference record)
Remaining opponents: at Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati

TENNESSEE (8-6, eighth in AFC via head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver)
Remaining opponents: at Jacksonville, Houston

DENVER (8-6, ninth in AFC)
Remaining opponents: at Kansas City, Oakland

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Sunday brings mixed bag to Ravens’ playoff picture

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aren’t likely to send former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan a Christmas card after Buffalo’s disappoint showing against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Despite intercepting Ben Roethlisberger three times in snowy conditions, the Bills allowed nearly 300 yards from scrimmage to running back Le’Veon Bell in their 27-20 defeat to the Steelers at New Era Field. The final score didn’t indicate how lopsided the game was as Pittsburgh moved a half-game ahead in the AFC North, putting more pressure on Baltimore for its Monday meeting with New England.

A loss to the Patriots wouldn’t wipe away the Ravens’ division hopes by any means, but it would all but eliminate any realistic chance of being able to win the AFC North without a victory at Heinz Field on Christmas Day.

Sunday wasn’t a complete disappointment for the Ravens, however, as Denver lost to Tennessee and is now barely holding on as the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. The Broncos fell to 8-5 and now face a brutal final three weeks, opening the door for a team outside the AFC West to potentially steal the last wild card.

Currently holding a 7-2 conference record, the Ravens are in good shape from a tiebreaker standpoint. They also hold the head-to-head advantage with Miami, who beat Arizona on Sunday to improve to 8-5 but lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill to what’s believed to be a season-ending knee injury. The Dolphins will play their final three games against division opponents — including the next two on the road — with veteran backup Matt Moore likely leading the way.

A loss on Monday night would drop the Ravens into a tie with Tennessee at 7-6, but the Titans own a poor 4-5 conference record and play their next two games on the road.

The Ravens’ best path to the playoffs is still winning the division, but Sunday’s action opened the door further for a potential wild card. And that eases the sting of the Bills not being able to beat the Steelers.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 13 win over Miami

Posted on 06 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens blowing out Miami in a 38-6 final on Sunday to remain tied atop the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. How badly did Joe Flacco need a performance like that? It was the first time he’d thrown more than one touchdown pass in a game against a team not named the Cleveland Browns in over a year.

2. Considering his salary cap figure is the second highest on the team and fourth among NFL safeties, Lardarius Webb stepping up in response to Eric Weddle’s recent challenge to elevate his play is an encouraging development. His end-zone interception in the second quarter was sensational.

3. Kyle Juszczyk might be the best fullback in the NFL, but he saw his lowest snap total on Sunday since Week 3. I couldn’t help but think that was a positive development in getting more dynamic receivers on the field to help the passing game.

4. Using the same starting offensive line for the third straight game — the first time the Ravens have done that since the first three weeks of the season — resulted in zero sacks and just two quarterback hits allowed against the Dolphins’ talented front four. Continuity is critical with line play.

5. Remember how the Ravens ranked last in the NFL with just six interceptions last season? Their three-pick performance against Ryan Tannehill gave them 14 for the season, which is tied for second in the league entering Week 14.

6. Count me among those who expected the Ravens to run the ball more in the second half, but I sometimes wonder if some care more about the run-pass ratio than scoring points and accumulating yards. Taking issue after the highest scoring output in over two years is silly.

7. I’m not sure I’ve seen linebackers more clueless in coverage than Miami’s were. Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg were smart to attack the middle of the field to exploit them.

8. Of the nine Ravens players selected on Day 2 of the draft since Super Bowl XLVII, just two — Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan — were active for Sunday’s game. That isn’t easy to overcome as an organization.

9. Terrance West has averaged a solid 4.0 yards per carry this season, but Kenneth Dixon is gaining 5.9 yards per attempt over his last four games after averaging 1.5 yards per carry in his first four games back from injury. It’s getting tougher and tougher to hold the rookie back.

10. Miami’s complaints about the field at M&T Bank Stadium are noteworthy after the switch to natural grass this season, but the Ravens didn’t seem to have any problems. It will be interesting to see how the surface holds up for the Army-Navy game and the Philadelphia game in Week 15.

11. The Ravens have surrendered the fifth-fewest pass plays of 25 or more yards this season, but they’re on pace to produce fewer pass plays of 25 or more than they did last year when they lacked any viable vertical threat. This offense has disappointed, but I wouldn’t have guessed that.

12. I understand John Harbaugh’s team was really banged up at the time, but watching the New York Jets play Monday reminded how maddening that Week 7 loss was. The Ravens remain in good position now, but that one still hangs over their heads as a potential season-killer.

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Ravens, Steelers following similar paths to Christmas showdown

Posted on 05 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens face their biggest challenge of the season at New England next Monday night, but it’s difficult not to look ahead to Christmas Day.

As it has so many times over the last 15 years, the AFC North championship will come down to Baltimore and Pittsburgh with their Week 16 meeting at Heinz Field potentially serving as a pseudo-championship game. Despite neither team being dominant in 2016, some of the similarities between the Ravens and the Steelers are striking.

Both teams appeared to be in serious trouble only a month ago before regrouping to hold matching 7-5 records going into the final quarter of the regular season.

“We like the fact that we’re in it,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We like the fact that we’re in a fight for the division championship. That’s our first goal — the starting point of everything we try to accomplish one week at a time.”

The Ravens began the season with three straight wins, then suffered a four-game losing streak, and now have won four of their last five games. Meanwhile, the Steelers won four of their first five, sustained their own four-game slide, and have now prevailed in three straight games.

Each team owns two home losses and three defeats on the road. Hoping to keep pace in the division on Sunday, the Ravens and Steelers each took out an opponent that entered the day riding a six-game winning streak.

While the Ravens offense finally busted out with a 38-point showing against Miami, the Steelers’ maligned defense has allowed a total of 30 points over the last three games. Those improvements have led many to point to Baltimore and Pittsburgh as potential sleepers in the AFC.

But that depends on who prevails in the AFC North since a wild card is unlikely to come from the division at this point.

The schedule favors the Steelers as their remaining opponents are a combined 17-30-1 while the Ravens’ are 26-21-1, but the next two weeks provide interesting possibilities. Pittsburgh plays back-to-back road games at Buffalo and Cincinnati, two teams who have had their struggles but remain capable of pulling off upsets in their home stadiums. The Ravens face the daunting task of a Monday night game against the Patriots in Foxborough, but their Dec. 18 home game against the fading Philadelphia Eagles looks more favorable by the week.

Considering the Ravens already have a win over Pittsburgh — and would thus own the head-to-head tiebreaker with a Week 16 victory — they simply need to be no worse than one game behind the Steelers when they arrive at Heinz Field on Dec. 25. A win over the Eagles in two weeks would ensure that, no matter what happens against the Patriots or in Pittsburgh’s next two contests.

Of course, much could change over the next couple weeks, but both the Ravens and the Steelers appear to be peaking at the right time and are on a Christmas collision course with a division title at stake.

What more could you possibly want?

Weddle’s impact

Safety Eric Weddle came away with his third interception of the season on Sunday, matching his total over his final three seasons with San Diego.

In addition to being Pro Football Focus’ top-graded safety for much of the season, the 31-year-old has brought much-needed leadership and experience to the secondary. From recently challenging fellow safety Lardarius Webb to elevate his play to being one of the first players in the building every day, Weddle has provided a presence the Ravens lacked on the back end of the defense after Ed Reed’s departure a few years ago.

“He is that way at 5:30 in the morning in the weight room. He is that way at 6:30 at night when he is just finishing up his work on tape,” said Harbaugh about the veteran’s enthusiasm. “That is how he lives his life. He is that way when he has his kids in the building. That is how he lives.”

Flacco getting hot?

Asked whether Joe Flacco’s four-touchdown, 381-yard performance on Sunday prompted him to wonder if this was the start of a hot streak for the ninth-year quarterback, Harbaugh didn’t want to make any assumptions.

It only makes sense in the midst of a disappointing year for Flacco and the Baltimore offense.

“It is not like golf, where you go out there and all of a sudden your swing starts grooving [like], ‘I am going to make a bunch of putts in a row,'” Harbaugh said. “There is an opponent over there that is trying to take away your swing. They are blocking your putt. You have to find a way to maneuver through.

“It’s tough because every single play presents a new challenge against a tough opponent that is doing everything they can within their intellect and their physical opportunity to thwart your efforts. We just have to find a way to win the next play.”

Odds & ends

Justin Tucker led AFC kickers in the Pro Bowl voting update released on Monday. He is now 28-for-28 on field goal tries, had made eight attempts from 50 yards or longer, and hasn’t missed a single extra point. He was named to his only Pro Bowl back in 2013. … Cut by Detroit over the weekend, ex-Ravens running back Justin Forsett was claimed off waivers by Denver on Monday, reuniting him with Gary Kubiak. The 31-year-old averaged 5.4 yards per carry in a 2014 Pro Bowl season when Kubiak was his offensive coordinator. … On the heels of the center portion of the field being re-sodded at M&T Bank Stadium, several Miami players complained about poor footing on Sunday, a problem the Ravens didn’t seem to have. “It felt good when I walked on it; I didn’t slip,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughter from media. “But our players didn’t slip, either. Our guys were prepared for it. That is an individual thing as a player. You have to go out there and find your footing in pregame.”

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Ravens offense finally provides real hope for stretch run

Posted on 05 December 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens had talked about the potential of their offense all season.

From John Harbaugh and Marty Mornhinweg to Joe Flacco and Mike Wallace, the word “close” had been uttered so many times in describing the unit’s pursuit of a breakout performance. But potential is meaningless without substance, especially when you’ve reached the month of December.

We’d seen decent stretches here and there this season, but never anything close to a full 60 minutes — not even in two wins over the lowly Cleveland Browns. That’s what made the 38-point, 496-yard explosion against the Miami Dolphins so uplifting on Sunday.

With three of their final four coming on the road — including games at New England and Pittsburgh — the Baltimore offense needed to prove it was capable of playing at such a high level after talking about doing it for months. Snapping Miami’s six-game winning streak in blowout fashion is one thing, but beating the Patriots in Foxborough would be another entirely.

It’s a task that appears more reasonable, however, after the Ravens’ highest scoring output in more than two years and their biggest margin of victory since 2012.

“I think it gives the guys a lot of confidence to see it and have done it,” Flacco said. “Now, we have to go up into a hostile place in New England that we really enjoy playing [at]. It’s going to be another important game in December up there.”

So, what was the difference on Sunday? After all, it’s not as though the Ravens offense just decided it would wait until Week 13 to magically shift into a higher gear. There was much discussion this week — including an animated debate between Mornhinweg and Flacco in the quarterbacks meeting room — about the offense needing to be more aggressive, but execution has to accompany that mindset.

The numbers didn’t lie on Sunday as Flacco turned in his best performance since Gary Kubiak was in charge of the offense two seasons ago, throwing for four touchdowns and 381 yards. His 36 completions were a single-game franchise record as he repeatedly carved up the middle of Miami’s zone defense.

“The guy who was throwing the ball,” wide receiver Steve Smith. “He was playing lights out. We go as he goes. When he does a great job, we all look better.”

The newfound stability of the offensive line has steadily made Flacco look better as well. Using the same starting five for the third straight week — the first time the Ravens could claim that since the first three games of the season — reaped the rewards of a clean pocket as a talented Miami front registered no sacks and just two quarterback hits on the day.

The offensive line paved the way for Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon to combine for 106 rushing yards on 16 carries, but it was the group’s work in pass protection that allowed Flacco to shine on Sunday. Eleven different Ravens caught passes with five registering at least 40 receiving yards.

“It starts up front. When he has time, he is a dangerous quarterback and we know that,” said tight end Dennis Pitta, who caught his first two touchdowns since Dec. 8, 2013. “We have a lot of weapons offensively and we always talked about the potential we have, but we weren’t quite there. Today, we recognized that potential and put it together.”

The Ravens hope this is the turning point for Flacco and an offense that’s underachieved all season. It had been far too long since we’d seen it, but Sunday reminded us how good the ninth-year quarterback is capable of being when he gets on a roll.

The timing couldn’t have been better with the Ravens likely needing to win three of their last four to secure a trip to the playoffs. This is the time of year when Flacco has often played some of his best football, and the Ravens will need him to be playing his best to prevail over Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

A trip to Gillette Stadium next Monday will provide a good indication whether the Week 13 performance was merely a tease of what many thought this offense could be in 2016 or the start of something exciting.

Were the Dolphins just that bad on Sunday or can the Ravens really be that good?

“We’ll see next week if it’s a launching point,” Smith said. “We want to say yes, but sometimes you guys discredit the other team.”

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 04 December 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens defense is as close to full strength as it’s been in quite some time.

That’s good news for a team tied for first place in the AFC North and vying for a return to the playoffs, but the red-hot Miami Dolphins are in town trying to extend their conference-best six-game winning streak on Sunday afternoon. Both teams entered Week 13 with a tenuous hold on postseason berths.

As expected, No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith is active and will start after missing the last two games with a back injury. His return coupled with the presence of outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil will give the league’s second-ranked defense its full assortment of starting players for the first time since Week 5.

There were no other surprises among the Ravens’ inactives as tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), guard Alex Lewis, and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro were officially declared out on Friday. Running back Buck Allen is also inactive after being listed as doubtful with a non-football injury.

After being a healthy scratch last week, second-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith is active for Sunday’s game. However, rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa was deactivated for the second straight week, continuing a quiet season for the second-round pick.

The Ravens will use the same starting offensive line for the third straight game, the first time they’ve done that since the first three games of the 2016 season.

Despite early-morning reports that Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker would not play, the 2015 first-round pick is active. He tested out his back in an extensive pre-game workout around 10:30 a.m. and was deemed good to go by the Miami medical staff. His 6-foot-3 frame could lead to some interesting coverage decisions in the Ravens secondary.

Miami will welcome back left tackle Branden Albert (wrist) and left guard Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) to the starting lineup after both missed last week’s game against San Francisco. Veteran center Mike Pouncey (hip) was officially ruled out on Friday and hasn’t played since Week 10.

The Dolphins will also be without starting outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who is out with knee and hand injuries.

The Ravens and Dolphins will be meeting for the 12th time in the regular season with Miami holding a 6-5 advantage but Baltimore owning a 2-0 postseason edge. In the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens are 5-1 — including one playoff win — against the Dolphins. Miami seeks its first win in Baltimore since prevailing in a 24-13 final at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 19, 1997.

The forecast for Sunday’s game calls for mostly cloudy skies with temperatures reaching the high 40s and a calm breeze, according to Weather.com.

Though there is no precipitation in the forecast, the Ravens have re-sodded the middle portion of the field at M&T Bank Stadium from end zone to end zone. It will be interesting to see how the field holds up as the game progresses.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Carl Cheffers.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with black pants while Miami dons its white tops with aqua pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro
RB Buck Allen
LB Kamalei Correa
OL Ryan Jensen
G Alex Lewis
TE Crockett Gillmore

MIAMI
LB Jelani Jenkins
OT Bryce Harris
TE Thomas Duarte
WR Rashawn Scott
C Mike Pouncey
CB Jordan Lucas
CB Xavien Howard

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