Tag Archive | "minnesota"

Playmakers emerging just in time for Ravens’ final push

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Playmakers emerging just in time for Ravens’ final push

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — No words do justice to the finish of the Ravens’ thrilling 29-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

Five lead changes and 36 points scored in the final 125 seconds of play? You just had to see it to believe it.

But more importantly for the Ravens, the furious sequence that concluded with quarterback Joe Flacco throwing a 9-yard dart to rookie Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone with four seconds remaining resulted in Baltimore saving its season — at least for now. The action resembled an epic heavyweight fight with haymakers thrown back and forth in the final round, but the miraculous feel to the win conjured up visions of Jacoby Jones’ game-tying 70-yard touchdown catch against Denver in the divisional round last January.

“I think this is probably crazier,” Flacco said. “That one was probably a little more exciting, just because of what was on the line. But when you look at this, similar things were on the line, just not at the same time of year.”

With three games remaining against first-place teams — two of them on the road — the Ravens couldn’t afford a loss to the underwhelming Vikings, who were the better team for much of the afternoon in wintry conditions that brought play to a crawl at different points in the game. Sunday’s contest wasn’t as much of a “must win” as it was “you better win” against a team without a road victory all season.

Some of the Ravens’ biggest deficiencies plagued them again as the offense generated very little through the first 55 minutes of the game beyond a first-quarter touchdown aided by a questionable fumble call. The defense performed reasonably well until another fourth-quarter wilting in which it gave up 20 points, a theme far too common for an otherwise above-average unit.

The running game improved in the second half as Ray Rice found solid running room to collect 67 yards on 17 carries, but the unit also failed in several short-yardage situations as it has for most of the year.

By now, the Ravens’ biggest flaws are unlikely to be fixed with only three games remaining in the regular season. However, they maintained their grip on the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race and the recent emergence of Flacco and Jones coupled with Sunday’s return of tight end Dennis Pitta could just be what the Ravens need to advance to the postseason for the sixth consecutive season.

To be fair, Flacco played poorly for much of the game completing just 21 of 40 passes for a touchdown and three interceptions while collecting only 154 yards until the final two drives. His receivers didn’t help much as several drops contributed to drives stalling and the Ravens punting for much of the afternoon.

But the sixth-year quarterback was on point when it mattered, going 7-for-10 for 91 yards and two touchdowns the final two times the Baltimore offense touched the ball. His strong finish followed two of his best performances of the season against New York and Pittsburgh as it appears Flacco might be getting hot at the perfect time after persevering through several factors working against him all season.

On Sunday, he completed his 18th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime and his third of the season.

“I see a lot of calluses on his character,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Joe is our guy, and to me, that’s all you really need to say.”

For the first time this season, Flacco was able to lean on Pitta, who completed a remarkable comeback from a devastating hip injury suffered just over four months ago in the first week of training camp. The Ravens have missed his presence in the middle of the field and inside the red zone as he was expected to fill an even larger role this season with the departure of veteran slot receiver Anquan Boldin.

It was Pitta’s 1-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-goal with 2:05 remaining that put the Ravens back in front and triggered the frenzy of back-and-forth scoring.

He looked rusty early, failing to make a couple catches that he’d normally rein in, but his presence was felt down the stretch as he finished the game with six catches for 48 yards and drew a questionable pass interference call on the final drive that set up the Ravens inside the Minnesota 30. Two plays later, Pitta made an 18-yard reception to bring the Ravens to the 9 before Brown capped off his strong seven-catch, 92-yard performance with the game-winning touchdown catch.

Welcome back, indeed, to the Ravens tight end.

“I remember when I got injured, I didn’t know if I was even going to play football again,” Pitta said. “Being able to stand here and talk about a victory and being a part of that is special for me. And just being a part of this team and being able to fight the way we did today is pretty remarkable.”

Jones provided the big-play ability for the third straight game as his 77-yard kickoff return allowed the Ravens to regain the lead with 1:16 left and showed once again how much of a home-run hitter he can be for a team that’s lacked offensive firepower for much of the season. His Week 1 knee injury and the lackluster performance that followed an extended layoff now appear to be distant memories.

Just as he showed all last season, Jones is entering the zone where he appears to be a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the football.

“I finally got back there, and so the chemistry with my guys that are blocking for me, we’ve got that chemistry going,” Jones said. “And health — I’m feeling good again. I’m feeling like the old [No.] 12.”

Only time will tell how significant the Ravens’ win over the Vikings was on Sunday. For now, it will simply go down as one of the most exciting games in franchise history as five touchdowns were scored in the final 125 seconds of a game for the first time in the 1970 NFL merger era.

But the timing of Pitta’s return to go along with Flacco’s late-game heroics and Jones’ return ability will be needed even more over the season’s final three weeks.

The Ravens still haven’t played a complete game, but they have flashed encouraging signs over a three-game homestand that pushed them over the .500 mark for the first time since early October.

“We’re starting to get healthier,” Flacco said. “We’re starting to put it together as a team. We just need to start putting it together for a full 60 minutes and see where it takes us.”

They barely put it together enough to pull off a miraculous win Sunday to save their season.

The Ravens can only hope to build from there.

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Pitta: “It’s great to be back”

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Pitta: “It’s great to be back”

Posted on 08 December 2013 by WNSTV

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Flacco attempts to explain last two minutes of snowy win over Vikings

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Flacco attempts to explain last two minutes of snowy win over Vikings

Posted on 08 December 2013 by WNSTV

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Our Ravens/Vikings “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Vikings “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 29-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. Chris Canty

4. James Ihedigbo

3. Ray Rice

2. Marlon Brown

1. Jacoby Jones (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens-Vikings: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Vikings: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday brings the arrival of December football as the Ravens welcome the Minnesota Vikings to town for what figures to be a wintry mess at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday afternoon.

A win puts the Ravens above the .500 mark for the first time since early October and keeps them in position as the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Needless to say with an imposing three-game stretch against projected playoff times to conclude the regular season, the Ravens have little margin for error against the 3-8-1 Vikings, who  haven’t won a road game all year.

The Ravens will welcome the return of tight end Dennis Pitta, who was activated from injured reserve-designated to return on Saturday. Pitta wasn’t expected to play extensively against Minnesota, but the Ravens also elected to list Dallas Clark as inactive, which is a good indication that they feel comfortable with Pitta handling a bigger workload. His presence on third down and inside the red zone will provide a major boost to the Baltimore passing game in the final quarter of the season.

While Pitta returns to action in Week 14, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is officially out with a left ankle injury suffered in last week’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Coach John Harbaugh was optimistic earlier in the week that Dumervil would be ready to go, but he was unable to practice all week and listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

Dumervil’s absence will lead to an increased role for second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who was already likely to see extensive snaps with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and the ground attack figuring to be featured extensively by Minnesota. Reserve pass-rush specialist Pernell McPhee could see more opportunities in passing situations with Dumervil sidelined.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley is active despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report with a knee injury suffered against Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night.

For the Vikings, Peterson is active and will start despite being listed as questionable with a groin issue.

As predicted, weather will be a significant factor in Sunday’s game as snow began collecting on the turf more than two hours prior to kickoff. Forecasts are calling for up to a few inches of snow with precipitation switching to sleet and freezing rain later in the day.

The all-time series between the Ravens and Vikings is tied 2-2 with Minnesota winning the last meeting in 2009. The Ravens are 2-1 against them at M&T Bank Stadium.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Pete Morelli.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with black pants while Minnesota dons white jerseys with purple pants.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
LB Elvis Dumervil
TE Dallas Clark
DT Brandon Williams
WR Deonte Thompson
S Omar Brown
S Brynden Trawick
C Ryan Jensen

MINNESOTA
CB Josh Robinson
DT Chase Baker
G Jeff Baca
TE Kyle Rudolph
QB Christian Ponder
WR Rodney Smith
T Mike Remmers

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the afternoon for updates and analysis as Drew Forrester, Nestor Aparicio, and I bring live coverage from M&T Bank Stadium throughout the night.

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Ravens-Vikings: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Vikings: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 07 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Concluding a critical three-game homestand while also currently holding the No. 6 seed in the AFC, the Ravens welcome the Minnesota Vikings to town for a game they know they should — and must — win.

Three games against projected playoff teams await to conclude the regular season, so the Ravens have no room for a letdown against 3-8-1 Minneesota in their penultimate game of the year at M&T Bank Stadium. Of course, a forecast of a wintry mix Sunday could create some interesting playing conditions for both teams.

Sunday will mark the 2013 season debut for Dennis Pitta, who was activated from injured reserve on Saturday afternoon. The Ravens hope the fourth-year tight end will be able to knock off enough rust against the Vikings to make him a difference-maker starting next week in a Monday night game at Detroit.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is unlikely to play after being listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. However, the Vikings’ propensity for leaning on their running game already made it likely that second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw would see increased playing time on Sunday.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens have the opportunity to move above the .500 mark for the first time since early October. The all-time series against the Vikings is tied 2-2, but Minnesota won the last meeting between these teams in 2009, a 33-31 final at the Metrodome.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look for their first three-game winning streak of the season …

1. Pitta won’t see more than 20 snaps against the Vikings, but he’ll catch a red-zone touchdown to give the Ravens a much-needed lift. The fourth-year tight end will likely see a limited number of snaps as the Ravens wait to see how he responds to live contact, but a good week of practice allowed the organization to pull the trigger to activate him. The Ravens put together six scoring drives in last week’s win over Pittsburgh, but the offense is 1-for-8 inside the red zone over the last two games, a mark that must improve in the final quarter of the season. Pitta caught 10 touchdowns inside the red zone in 2011 and 2012 and will rein in his first of 2013 to boost the league’s 24th-ranked red-zone offense and build more optimism for the big three-game stretch to conclude the regular season.

2. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will become the second player this season to reach the century mark on the ground against Baltimore. Every opponent knows exactly what it needs to do against the Vikings, but stacking the box with eight defenders hasn’t prevented Peterson from leading the league with 1,208 rushing yards. The 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player averages 3.1 yards after contact per attempt, meaning gang tackling is a must against such a physical runner. The key for the Ravens will be to contain Peterson enough to prevent a big day and force them to pass the football more than they’d like, something Chicago couldn’t do in an overtime loss last week. Baltimore will do a better job than the Bears, but he’ll still hit triple digits against the Ravens, joining Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy as the only other back to accomplish that against the Ravens this season.

3. The Baltimore secondary will intercept quarterback Matt Cassel twice to set up the Ravens offense on a short field. The Vikings have had major issues at quarterback all year, so the absence of starter Christian Ponder won’t make a major difference with the Ravens actually being more familiar with Cassel. Likely using a single-high safety extensively with safeties James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam taking turns playing closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, the Ravens will depend on Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb to be strong in coverage. Minnesota has some capable weapons in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jerome Simpson at wide receiver, but that’s been true all season with the Vikings still ranking 25th in passing offense. Cassel will be forced to make some throws playing from behind, and the Ravens will be waiting to cash in on his mistakes.

4. Bernard Pierce will gain more rushing yards than Ray Rice in another timeshare of carries on Sunday. Coach John Harbaugh downplayed Pierce receiving nine carries to just 12 for Rice against the Steelers, but the more-physical Pierce averaged 3.9 yards per carry compared to 2.7 for Rice on Thanksgiving. With the possibility of snow collecting on the turf, it will be interesting to see how both teams fare, but Pierce simply looked more explosive against the Steelers and deserved an increased portion of the workload. Aside from a strong day against a run-challenged Chicago defense a few weeks ago, Rice hasn’t been himself all season while Pierce appears to be healthier now than he was early on. Rice will still get plenty of opportunities — and likely more carries — but Pierce will be more productive.

5. Wintry conditions could make things interesting, but the Ravens will dispose of an inferior team with a 24-13 win over Minnesota. It only takes one or two fluke plays in snowy weather to completely change the outcome of the game, but the Ravens have more experience and have played in plenty of poor weather this season, giving them the edge in that department. The Baltimore offense isn’t equipped to blow out anybody, but the Ravens have moved the ball better in recent weeks and quarterback Joe Flacco has arguably played his best football of the season over the last two games. Winning the turnover battle and improved efficiency in the red zone will add up to a relatively comfortable two-possession win for the Ravens as they’ll turn their sights toward a very difficult three-game stretch to try to secure a playoff spot in the AFC.

 

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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Picks and Comment – Week 14

Posted on 06 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Here are this weekend’s picks as The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction will pick every NFL game and local college games this season.

Luke Jones finished Week 13 with a 12-4 record while Drew Forrester was 9-7 on his picks. Entering Week 14, Jones is 115-76 on the season while Forrester is 113-78. Official standings are based only on the NFL picks.

Jones correctly picked Jacksonville to beat Houston Thursday night while Forrester incorrectly picked the Texans to win to kick off Week 14 action.

You can listen to Wednesday’s “Picks and Comment” segment HERE.

Vikings at Ravens: Baltimore 27-7 (Drew), Baltimore 24-13 (Luke)
Dolphins at Steelers: Pittsburgh 27-23 (Drew), Pittsburgh 21-16 (Luke)
Colts at Bengals: Cincinnati 37-10 (Drew), Cincinnati 23-20 (Luke)
Chiefs at Redskins: Kansas City 27-24 OT (Drew), Kansas City 26-17 (Luke)
Browns at Patriots: New England 30-17 (Drew), New England 30-20 (Luke)
Raiders at Jets: 16-16 TIE (Drew – pick is worth five wins if it happens), Oakland 20-13 (Luke)
Lions at Eagles: Detroit 24-20 (Drew), Philadelphia 27-21 (Luke)
Bills at Buccaneers: Buffalo 23-21 (Drew), Tampa Bay 23-21 (Luke)
Falcons at Packers: Green Bay 23-13 (Drew), Green Bay 24-21 (Luke)
Titans at Broncos: Denver 31-21 (Drew), Denver 34-20 (Luke)
Rams at Cardinals: Arizona 26-10 (Drew), Arizona 17-13 (Luke)
Giants at Chargers: San Diego 38-17 (Drew), San Diego 31-23 (Luke)
Seahawks at 49ers: San Francisco 20-17 (Drew), San Francisco 20-16 (Luke)
Panthers at Saints: New Orleans 24-20 (Drew), New Orleans 27-21 (Luke)
Cowboys at Bears: Chicago 28-27 (Drew), Dallas 27-20 (Luke)
Fordham at Towson: Tigers 35-31 (Drew), Tigers 27-23 (Luke)

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How will Pitta fit into Ravens offense upon returning?

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How will Pitta fit into Ravens offense upon returning?

Posted on 05 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Since being placed on injured reserve with the designation to return in early September, tight end Dennis Pitta has been imagined as the potential late-season savior for the Ravens.

With the league’s 29th-ranked offense and 19th in passing offense, the Ravens certainly can use whatever boost Pitta might offer as Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings represents his first realistic chance of playing in 2013. Though the fourth-year tight end’s return in Week 14 isn’t set in stone, the meeting with the Vikings seems like a logical tuneup to work him back into live-game action before three crucial games against projected playoff teams to conclude the regular season.

But what exactly can the Ravens expect when Pitta makes his long-awaited return to the field?

“I’m sure he probably still feels a little weak, and there are probably some things he is going to have to feel himself through,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “He hasn’t run a full-speed route against defenders in a long time, so you have to allow some adjustment time for that. We’ll see how it goes.”

When healthy, Pitta’s attributes are unquestioned as his 6-foot-4 frame creates matchup problems for safeties and linebackers and his ability to find windows within zone coverage is as good as any in the league. Whether lining up as a traditional tight end or in the slot, Pitta’s chemistry with Flacco is something that should return more quickly than the typical rapport between a quarterback and pass-catcher.

But the offseason hype of Pitta stepping into the role of departed slot receiver Anquan Boldin is unlikely to be realized at this late juncture and after such a long layoff. Like many players coming off major leg injuries such as a torn ACL, his speed may not be up to par initially despite a clean bill of health to return to the field just over fourth months after dislocating and fracturing his right hip. Asking Pitta to do things on the field with which he isn’t familiar probably isn’t in the Ravens’ best interest in the final month of the regular season.

Despite fans’ daydreams of what his return might mean for a passing game that’s lacked a reliable option in the middle of the field, Pitta shouldn’t be confused for Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham after he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. Even after the promotion of Jim Caldwell to offensive coordinator last December and the increased emphasis on using the middle of the field, Pitta only played 60 to 70 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps in most games and isn’t known for his blocking ability.

That reality coupled with the uncertainty surrounding Pitta from a physical standpoint means tight end Ed Dickson will continue to play a significant role in the offense. Clearly a disappointment as a receiver in only making 16 catches for 211 yards this season, Dickson is the only capable blocking tight end on the 53-man roster.

“In things that you don’t see, he’s been doing a great job in terms of his blocking at the line of scrimmage and out on the perimeter as well,” said Caldwell of Dickson. “He’s doing a good job, he’s working extremely hard at it, and he continues to improve.”

What Pitta’s return means for veteran backup Dallas Clark will be more interesting as the two have fairly similar skill sets in working best while flanked out from a normal tight end position. The 34-year-old Clark only played nine snaps two weeks ago against the New York Jets and 23 against Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving, and his role only figures to diminish with Pitta back in the picture.

However, with the Ravens’ lack of consistent targets inside the red zone this season, the combination of Pitta and Clark on the field together is an intriguing possibility for Flacco. The only problem with such a look near the goal line would be further limiting the Ravens’ ability to run the football, which has already been brutally ineffective this season.

Should Pitta quickly show he is 100 percent upon his return, Clark’s presence would appear unnecessary, but Caldwell seems more than open to finding ways to keep the veteran involved in the offense.

“Dallas has made some great plays for us along the stretch,” Caldwell said. “You still flash in your head the fourth-down play in Chicago he made with one hand. The guy has made some great catches, some touchdown catches for us as well. We’ll be able to figure it out and work it out. We’ll just see what the doctors say in terms of Dennis, how much he can play or if he can play — all those kinds of things. Those are yet to be seen. Until then, we work them and give the guys the snaps that they can get. We can’t give them enough snaps in practice.”

Likely to play a limited number of snaps if he does return on Sunday, Pitta will be monitored closely as there is no way to fully simulate how he’ll respond to live-game contact during practices at this late stage of the season. If he’s holding up well, Pitta’s logical fit would be to simply fill the role that he did last year in lining up at tight end in three-wide, one-back sets and occasionally working out of the slot.

But the tight end also has the rest of his career to think about and is deserving of a nice payday as an unrestricted free agent. The Ravens desperately want him for their final playoff push and Pitta wants to show general manager Ozzie Newsome that he’s healthy and ready to resume his playing career after such a serious injury while helping the offense down the stretch.

But common sense must prevail as the Ravens will lean heavily on how Pitta is feeling, trying to resist the urge to push him too hard too fast. There’s little precedent for a player to return from this kind of an injury in such a short amount of time, meaning the Ravens, Pitta, and the medical staff have been forced to feel it out as they go along.

Any production they get will just be the icing on the cake.

“The health of the player comes first,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s the No. 1 thing — his ability to withstand the rigors of a game. I think we’re on track that way, but we’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

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Dumervil, Vikings’ Peterson sidelined for second straight day

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Dumervil, Vikings’ Peterson sidelined for second straight day

Posted on 05 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A key player for both the Ravens and the Minnesota Vikings missed practice for the second straight day on Thursday as linebacker Elvis Dumervil and All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson continue to be sidelined with nagging injuries.

Neither player is expected to miss Sunday’s game, but Dumervil’s absence for a second straight day does raise some concern that he’s not progressing from a nagging ankle injury as quickly as the Ravens initially hoped. Dumervil hurt the ankle late in the first half of last week’s game against Pittsburgh before returning to play early in the third quarter.

“He got through the game and he got back in and played,” said coach John Harbaugh about Dumervil’s status on Monday. “He looks OK. We’re going to have to nurse some things, just like we do with a lot of different guys.”

Leading the NFL with 1,208 rushing yards, Peterson is nursing a groin injury, but Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier told reporters the 2012 league MVP should be ready to practice on Friday. The 28-year-old rushed for a season-high 211 yards in the Vikings’ overtime win over Chicago last week.

Tight end Dennis Pitta was practicing once again as he moves closer to a potential return for Sunday’s game. A team source says the fourth-year tight end has taken some full-team reps for the first time this week, but the Ravens are trying not to pressure Pitta and want him to feel comfortable in deciding when he’s ready to return.

He was limited to just individual work in the week leading up to the New York Jets game and wasn’t able to do much last week with the Ravens only holding walk-throughs on a short week with a Thursday night game. The organization has until 4 p.m. on Saturday to place Pitta on the 53-man roster for him to be eligible to play against the Vikings.

“He’s coming along, but he’s getting his feet back under him,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said on Thursday. “He’s moving well. For him, I’m sure it’s going to be a work in progress. He’s getting a lot more work this week than he did last week, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Reserve defensive backs Asa Jackson (thigh) and Brynden Trawick (ankle) were both absent from practice while starting cornerback Jimmy Smith (concussion) was upgraded to full participation on Thursday.

Here is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle), S Brynden Trawick (ankle), CB Asa Jackson (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Chris Canty (shoulder), WR Brandon Stokley (knee), CB Lardarius Webb (abs)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (concussion)

MINNESOTA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Larry Dean (knee), RB Adrian Peterson (groin), QB Christian Ponder (concussion), CB Josh Robinson (chest), TE Kyle Rudolph (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Jared Allen (finger), LB Chad Greenway (wrist), S Jamarca Sanford (ankle), DT Sharif Floyd (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Matt Asiata (shoulder), DT Fred Evans (knee), DE Everson Griffen (toe), S Andrew Sendejo (toe)

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Peterson first of big names Ravens must stop in final month

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Peterson first of big names Ravens must stop in final month

Posted on 04 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even if they’re fortunate enough to only play him once every four years, the Ravens are fully aware of the greatness of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

In fact, Peterson is only the first of several of the NFL’s best the Ravens must stop over the final month of the season to advance to the postseason for the sixth consecutive season under coach John Harbaugh.

Next week, the Ravens take on Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, the undisputed best wide receiver on the planet today. The week after, it’s one of the best quarterbacks in league history in Tom Brady. And if the Ravens can get past the first three while remaining upright in terms of their postseason fate, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green awaits in the regular-season finale.

No sweat, right?

But the Ravens can only focus on Peterson and Minnesota for now with all discussion of Sunday’s game centered around stopping the five-time Pro Bowl running back and 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player. Peterson leads the league with 1,208 rushing yards after collecting more than 2,000 on the ground last year coming off a torn ACL at the end of the 2011 season.

“What’s his nickname, ‘All Day?’” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “The man runs hard all day. It’s going to be interesting. It’s definitely a challenge for us, and we’re really looking forward to it. We’ll have to see what’s up on Sunday.”

Only a handful of defensive players remain on the roster from the last time the Ravens took on Peterson and the Vikings at the Metrodome in 2009, but the memory of the 6-foot-1, 217-yard back rushing for 143 yards on 22 carries was a difficult one for a defense that prides itself on stopping the run. Baltimore has allowed over 100 rushing yards in six of its 12 games, but only one of those contests resulted in an individual century-mark rusher as Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy ran for 120 yards in Week 6.

Aside from a four-week stretch earlier this season when the Ravens allowed 140 or more rushing yards three times — against Buffalo, the Packers, and Pittsburgh — the run defense has been strong, ranking sixth in the league by allowing 100.1 rushing yards per game. Dean Pees’ unit has allowed only 3.7 yards per carry, but the Ravens haven’t faced a back with Peterson’s incredibly rare combination of speed, size, toughness, and agility.

In addition to following gap assignments and simply staying home to protect against cutbacks, the common theme expressed by the Ravens Wednesday was the need to gang-tackle to neutralize Peterson’s ability to shed defenders. According to Pro Football Focus, he leads the league with 801 yards after contact, which is over 200 more than second-place Marshawn Lynch of Seattle.

“Everybody has to tackle. You have to have a whole defensive effort,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “Everybody needs to run to the ball. One guy doesn’t usually bring him down. He’s one of those backs that can change the game on any play.”

The numbers support that sentiment as Peterson is averaging 3.1 yards per attempt after contact this season; the Ravens’ struggling running game collects only 2.9 yards overall per carry.

As if his reputation for being a bruising running back that breaks tackles wasn’t enough, Peterson is also tied for second in the NFL with eight runs of 20 or more yards. Suggs recalled a 58-yard run Peterson collected in the Vikings’ 33-31 win in 2009 and how scary it can be to see him find the second and third levels of the defense.

“It’s not a good scene when you’re behind [No.] 28,” Suggs said. “You just hope you’ve got somebody fast enough on the team to catch the guy. But if you keep him in front of you, then you’ve got a good chance of containing him.”

Of course, even with Peterson, the Vikings are 3-8-1 and possess the league’s 25th-ranked passing game as the quarterbacking trio of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, and Josh Freeman have been unable to generate any consistency through the air. The Vikings’ passing game ineptitude has allowed teams to put eight men in the box far too often, making it likely that safeties James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam will take turns playing close to the line of scrimmage in an effort to slow the intimidating back.

Such defensive looks make it even more impressive that Peterson is leading the league in rushing for the second straight year with not much help behind him in terms of a passing game.

With Ponder not expected to start while recovering from a concussion, the Ravens will likely see Cassel under center, a signal-caller they harassed incessantly in a 2010 wild-card victory against Kansas City. Baltimore is saying all the right things about the Vikings’ talented trio of wide receivers in former Packer Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, but the numbers suggest that a huge day from Peterson is the Vikings’ only realistic hope for an upset on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

“He’s a threat every time he touches the ball, so we’ll have our hands full,” Harbaugh said. “But it just can’t be that. You can’t sleep on the rest of their talent. They’ve got a number of very good tight ends that can make plays. They’ve got a number of very talented receivers that can make plays. They are a fully complemented offense talent-wise.”

The key word is containment as Peterson has only been held under 75 rushing yards four times this season. The Vikings running back is too talented not to get his yards, but the Ravens must prevent him from going off like he did last week against the Bears for over 200 rushing yards in an overtime win.

The overall Week 14 competition is underwhelming for the Ravens as they begin the final quarter of the season on Sunday, but Peterson is just the first of several big names that lie in their path to the postseason.

It doesn’t get any easier after that with Detroit, New England, and Cincinnati looming after that.

“Isn’t that everybody’s motivation? You get the chance to go up against the best,” linebacker Jameel McClain said. “We get the opportunity this week to go up against one of the best running backs, and then the week after that, we get a chance [against] one of the better receivers in the league. It’s everybody’s motivation to come and bring their ‘A’ game. We wouldn’t be in this game if we weren’t trying to compete with the best.”

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