Tag Archive | "NFL"

Ravens stock watch entering Week 3

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 3

Posted on 16 September 2014 by Luke Jones

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

STOCK RISING

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

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

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

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

STOCK FALLING

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

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

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

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

 

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Secondary remains fluid as Ravens turn attention toward Cleveland

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Secondary remains fluid as Ravens turn attention toward Cleveland

Posted on 15 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning to work to begin preparations for a Week 3 showdown with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens weren’t offering clues about the projected state of their secondary.

With starting cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) still waiting to make his 2014 debut and reserve Asa Jackson sustaining a concussion against Pittsburgh last Thursday, the third level of the defense remains fluid as the Ravens look to improve to 2-1 in their three AFC North contests to begin the regular season. Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t shed any light on the status of Jackson or Webb when he met with reporters on Monday afternoon.

“I’m just not going to get into injuries,” Harbaugh said, “because there is just no strategic advantage for us in doing it and putting that information out there. … I’m really optimistic about all our guys — I will say that, with [Jackson] included — but I’ve been optimistic in the past and guys haven’t played. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Webb has practiced fully over the last two weeks, but the sixth-year defensive back missed all of training camp and the preseason after suffering back spasms on July 25, the second day of full-team workouts. The Ravens and Webb are reportedly targeting this Sunday’s game for him to make his return, but doubts will remain until he’s suited up to play on Sunday.

After going with the trio of Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown, and Jackson in the nickel package in the season opener, defensive coordinator Dean Pees used a different alignment against the Steelers with strong safety Matt Elam defending the slot and reserve Jeromy Miles playing safety in the nickel alignment. Smith and Jackson started the game at the outside corner spots — with Brown on the sideline — before a concussion ended Jackson’s night in the first half and forced Brown into duty.

With Brown shaky in outside coverage throughout the summer and Jackson missing a couple tackles from the nickel spot against the Bengals, the Ravens went with the versatile Elam to provide more support from the nickel against the run. Harbaugh complimented Elam’s ability to pick up the intricacies of playing the position to provide more flexibility for the Baltimore defense.

“We’re blessed with safety depth, so it’s not a bad thing to get those guys on the field,” Harbaugh said. “But a guy like Matt being in there playing [the nickel] gives you a nice little run-nickel package, because he’ll fly around and hit you and tackle you. He’ll be the first to tell you he tackled better in the second half than he did the first half. It builds our defensive package in good ways, because now you have a guy in there playing that can really defend the run, too.”

Against Pittsburgh, Elam played all 59 defensive snaps — most of them from the nickel position — while Miles participated in 48, a major change for a fifth-year safety primarily known for his special-teams ability.

West playing hometown team

Former Towson standout and Northwestern High product Terrance West’s NFL career is off to a strong start with the Browns, which has drawn plenty of attention from Ravens fans who clamored for the organization to draft him back in May.

West became the first rookie running back to collect at least 90 yards from scrimmage in his team’s first two games since Chris Johnson and Matt Forte — two Pro Bowl running backs — did it in 2008. In the wake of the Ray Rice release, it would be understandable for the Ravens to lament the inability to come away with the local product after he was selected with the 94th overall pick by Cleveland. Baltimore selected safety Terrence Brooks with the 79th overall pick and tight end Crockett Gillmore at 99th after West had just come off the board.

“Terrance is a guy that we really liked, as you know,” Harbaugh said. “We had designs on him in the draft, certainly, and Cleveland jumped up there and got him, and he has not disappointed. He has played really downhill, [and is a] hard runner, make-you-miss type of back [who] understands the scheme they’re running really well.”

West is receiving a heavier workload than anticipated with Browns veteran Ben Tate currently sidelined with a knee injury.

Hill reinstated before Week 7?

Despite reports suggesting suspended safety Will Hill could have his ban reduced under the terms of the NFL’s new drug policy, Harbaugh offered no indication whether that would happen when posed the question.

Hill is in the midst of a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. After receiving limited reps in the summer due to his situation, he could be an intriguing option at the safety position whenever he is reinstated.

“I have no sense of [a possible reduction] at all,” Harbaugh said. “No one has spoken to me about that, and I don’t know a thing about that right now. I’m interested in it though.”

Odds & ends

Harbaugh defended linebacker Courtney Upshaw’s technique on the penalized hit against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the opening drive of Thursday’s game, insisting he did exactly what he’s been coached and to play it differently would have put him at risk for injury. “We’re never going to put our player in position to coach him to drop his head. Football has always been about seeing what you hit — heads-up football keeping your eyes up.” … Asked about the chances of seeing Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel on the field, Harbaugh said the Ravens will be prepared for the first-round pick while also going out of his way to praise starter Brian Hoyer. “He’s the best quarterback they’ve had in a number of years. He’s playing great. Then, they have Johnny Manziel as part of their arsenal. So, it’s something to contend with for sure.” … The Ravens signed rookie free agent cornerback Lou Young to their practice squad Monday to fill the spot vacated by cornerback Jamell Fleming, who was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs to their 53-man roster last week.

 

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Monday musings on Orioles magic, Ravens, and NFL Week 2

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Monday musings on Orioles magic, Ravens, and NFL Week 2

Posted on 15 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Journeyman infielder Kelly Johnson became the latest hero for the Orioles Sunday night with his ninth-inning double to complete a dramatic 3-2 comeback win over the New York Yankees and shrink Baltimore’s magic number to only three.

Acquired just before the waiver deadline late last month, Johnson hadn’t made a big impression with his new club before stroking a double to deep right-center off Yankees closer David Robertson and sending the Orioles to victory in walk-off fashion. Having played for all five American League East teams over the last three seasons, Johnson is clearly happy to have landed with the first-place Orioles at the perfect time and now has an excellent chance to secure a postseason roster spot in wake of the Chris Davis suspension.

“I’ve bounced around a little bit now and you know, you just get a feel,” Johnson said about his new club. “Sometimes, it’s just meant to be. You find a way to win, rather than ways to lose. It’s been pretty cool. I haven’t been here long, but I’ve seen some things I haven’t seen before.”

If you’re subscribing to Johnson’s feeling of it all being “meant to be,” brace yourself for the start of a three-game series against Toronto with the Orioles needing to take two games from the Blue Jays to secure their first AL East title since 1997. If the Orioles are able to win the series opener on Monday night, they will send Ubaldo Jimenez — who will act as a sixth starter this time through the rotation due to the doubleheader on Friday — to the hill with the opportunity to clinch the division on Tuesday night.

It wouldn’t forgive what’s been a horrendous first season in Baltimore for the 30-year-old right-hander, but how ironic would it be if Jimenez — the free-agent pitcher the Orioles signed to pitch in big games as a top-half-of-the-rotation starter — pitched well enough to earn the win in the division-clinching game of the season? Exactly how Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter drew it up back in spring training, right?

Nothing would surprise me with the Orioles at this point, including Jimenez finally delivering in a big spot to officially punch their ticket to the playoffs.

> It’s difficult not to be pleased with the performance of the offensive line through the first two weeks of the season as the Ravens try to put the nightmarish line play of 2013 behind them once and for all.

New center Jeremy Zuttah has impressed, second-year right tackle Rick Wagner has held up, and Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele have looked the part of the ferocious guard tandem the organization envisioned. Even left tackle Eugene Monroe bounced back against Pittsburgh with a strong performance after a poor preseason and Week 1 showing against Cincinnati.

However, Sunday will bring another important test as the Ravens play their first road game against a talented Cleveland front. With the communication issues the offensive line faced all last season, Zuttah will need to show he can make the right calls at the line of scrimmage with crowd noise being a factor unlike when the offense operates at M&T Bank Stadium.

There’s plenty to be encouraged by with the way the unit has protected quarterback Joe Flacco and wore down the Steelers’ defensive line with the running game in the fourth quarter, but it will take another strong performance or two to convince doubters that the offensive line issues are a thing of the past.

> Speaking of Flacco, I couldn’t help but think of him in the moments that followed the gruesome ankle injury suffered by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III against Jacksonville on Sunday.

Taken with the second overall pick of the 2012 draft to be the franchise quarterback, Griffin has now suffered two major injuries in just over two seasons of play. It just goes to show how difficult it can be to stay healthy, let alone play at an exceptional level on a yearly basis in the NFL.

Flacco will make his 98th consecutive regular-season start to begin his NFL career against the Browns on Sunday, which just shows how durable and dependable he’s been since arriving on the scene in 2008. Of course, the seventh-year quarterback’s style of play and size make him far less of an injury risk than a signal-caller like Griffin, but that shouldn’t diminish the value of having a quarterback you can count on to be under center every week.

The high number of injuries to star players on Sunday makes you appreciate Flacco’s durability while you immediately knock on wood and keep your fingers crossed that it continues.

> Though Philadelphia has an opportunity to join the ranks of the 2-0 teams with an upset win at Indianapolis Monday night, only six teams could claim such a record at the end of business on Sunday.

Who would have guessed that Buffalo and Houston would be two of them along with Denver, Cincinnati, Arizona, and Carolina? The Texans have now won two straight under new head coach Bill O’Brien after losing 14 consecutive games to close their disastrous 2013 season.

And who would have predicted New Orleans would be sitting at 0-2, even with two road games to begin the season?

You just never know with the NFL.

 

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 26-6 win over Pittsburgh

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 26-6 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 12 September 2014 by Luke Jones

After every Ravens game this season, we’ll take a look at five numbers that help explain the outcome …

1 — The number of pass attempts thrown by Joe Flacco that traveled 20 or more yards
Skinny: Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s West Coast system is based on shorter throws in which the quarterback releases the ball quickly, and that’s exactly what Flacco did against the Steelers on Thursday. Knowing what kind of arm Flacco has, the Ravens will certainly mix in some deep shots, but Flacco completed 72.4 percent of his passes as the offense possessed the ball for 35:08. That kind of a game plan — along with the arrival of veteran Steve Smith — has temporarily stunted the production of speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith, but the Steelers failed to record a sack or even a quarterback hit against the Baltimore offense, which is exactly what you want every week.

3 — The number of takeaways by the Baltimore defense
Skinny: Though the Steelers were held to six points, they only produced 22 fewer total yards than the Ravens as three turnovers thwarted a couple attempts to get things going offensively. No takeaway was bigger than the one that came on the opening drive of the game when Pittsburgh had marched inside the red zone before linebacker Daryl Smith stripped the ball away from wide receiver Justin Brown to end a drive that had lasted 12 plays and gained 54 yards. Fellow inside backer C.J. Mosley forced and recovered a fumble of his own that led to a short field goal, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata tipped a pass to himself for the third takeaway of the night, putting an exclamation point on an opportunistic performance by the defense.

4 — The number of drives lasting 10 or more plays completed by the Ravens
Skinny: You should be noticing a trend of dictating the tempo of the game as the Ravens were essentially in complete control from their first offensive drive of the night. The unusual statistic accompanying this was the Ravens only going 5-for-12 on third down, but that just shows how effective they were on first and second down. Baltimore scored on all four of these drives — totaling 20 points — while the Steelers managed only three total points on their two drives that were 10 or more plays. The biggest negative you can draw from Thursday’s game was the red-zone offense in which the Ravens only scored touchdowns on two of six trips, three times settling for short field goals after driving inside the 5.

4.39 — The number of yards per play the Ravens averaged on first down
Skinny: I mentioned this number to follow up the stat from last week’s game in which the Ravens averaged just 1.67 yards per first-down play before the final drive of the first half. We constantly talk about the importance of third-down conversions, but success or failure on first down has an overwhelming impact on the outlook of a drive in terms of what play options are reasonably at your disposal. The Ravens success on first down against the Pittsburgh defense allowed them to maintain a better semblance of balance with the opponent not knowing whether to expect the run or pass when you’re consistently avoiding second-and-long situations.

36 — The number of rushes by the Ravens
Skinny: Throwing 62 passes is almost never an acceptable outcome, but last week’s passing total stuck out even more after an offseason in which the Ravens spoke ad nauseam about returning to their roots and committing to the running game. The final rushing total of 157 yards in Week 2 was a bit deceiving when you remember the Ravens only averaged 2.7 yards per carry through the first three quarters, but they ran effectively enough early to keep it as a viable part of the game plan and to avoid becoming one-dimensional. When they reached the fourth quarter with a 17-6 lead, the Ravens were committed to simply beating up the Pittsburgh front and that’s exactly what they did to the tune of 96 yards on 13 carries to sew up the first win of the season.

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Ravens cornerback Jackson leaves Thursday’s game with concussion

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Ravens cornerback Jackson leaves Thursday’s game with concussion

Posted on 12 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Already playing without Lardarius Webb in Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens were dealt another blow in their secondary when cornerback Asa Jackson sustained a concussion in the second quarter of the 26-6 win.

The injury left the Ravens with only two active cornerbacks after Webb missed his second straight game while continuing to work his way back to full health from a back injury sustained at the start of training camp. In an unorthodox move, defensive coordinator Dean Pees used strong safety Matt Elam at the nickel position with reserve Jeromy Miles playing safety next to Darian Stewart in the secondary.

Jackson made his first NFL start as he received the nod over last week’s starter Chykie Brown in place of Webb.

“Asa had a concussion, and I don’t think it’s too major,” head coach John Harbaugh said following the game. “But again, you never know with those things.”

The Ravens are hopeful that Webb will be ready to return against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3, but his status remains in question until he finally plays in a game after practicing fully these last two weeks. Webb said Tuesday he expected to play against the Steelers before he was held out once again.

Harbaugh acknowledged there were two other players who sustained ankle and knee injuries, respectively, but downplayed the significance of either. He did not name which players were dealing with those conditions following the game as the Ravens will now wait nine days to play their next contest.

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Focused Ravens do exactly what was needed after trying week

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Focused Ravens do exactly what was needed after trying week

Posted on 12 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — If you allowed yourself to think about football over the last few days, you couldn’t help but wonder how the Ravens would respond to the most tumultuous in-season week in franchise history.

From the release of the second Ray Rice video that led to the running back’s release Monday afternoon to the countless questions faced by the players remaining in the locker room, it seemed like a lot to ask of a team — speaking in a football sense, of course — to prepare to play the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on a short week. Scrutiny and criticism justifiably rained on the NFL, commissioner Roger Goodell, and Ravens leadership while players knew they needed to avoid an 0-2 start that would have already put Baltimore in a significant hole in the AFC North.

Those same players also absorbed the loss of a valued teammate and friend whom they care about, even if they were as disturbed as anyone watching the video of what Rice did to his then-fiancée in that elevator in Atlantic City. For as much as we admire what these professional athletes accomplish on the field, they’re human beings with emotions just like anyone else, making their convincing 26-6 win over Pittsburgh that much more impressive on Thursday night.

“Whenever you lose a brother, it’s tough,” said linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who collected the only two sacks of the game as the Ravens held Pittsburgh to just two field goals. “Obviously, understanding the situation, we have a bunch of men on our team and you know it’s a business. Things have to happen, and you just have to prepare for it.”

The performance was focused and efficient as the Ravens put together four scoring drives of 10 plays or more to bounce back from a disappointing start to the season against Cincinnati in Week 1. In fact, if you hadn’t known which team had been dealing with such off-field adversity this week, you might have guessed it was the Steelers as they committed three turnovers, nine penalties for 75 yards, and mustered only six points to fall to 1-1.

Thursday was a reasonable blueprint of what you expect to see from Gary Kubiak’s new offense as Joe Flacco completed 21 of 29 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns — the quarterback also wasn’t sacked once — and the Ravens rushed for 157 yards on 36 carries. The numbers weren’t gaudy, but the final score reflected a convincing win over an opponent they outplayed for the better part of 60 minutes.

The tone was set on the opening drive of the game after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense initially moved down the field in impressive fashion. It was looking like another shaky start for the Ravens defense before safety Darian Stewart delivered a vicious blow to temporarily knock standout receiver Antonio Brown out of the game — he was a non-factor when he returned — and linebacker Daryl Smith followed that by stripping wideout Justin Brown inside the red zone, allowing defensive end DeAngelo Tyson to recover the fumble.

It was basically all Ravens after that as Flacco and the offense marched down the field for a 12-play drive that culminated with a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Owen Daniels. Baltimore would score six times in all before the night was over.

“That’s just the icing on the top,” said Daniels about his two touchdown catches. “We put great drives together [with] a lot of people contributing in those drives to get us down to that goal line, and I just happened to be that guy to score that touchdown. Huge team effort overall — huge offensive effort; a lot of guys contributing.”

The performance wasn’t perfect as the Ravens only went 2-for-6 inside the red zone with three fourth-quarter drives stalling inside the 5-yard line. And the impressive final rushing totals were a product of a 96-yard fourth quarter against a clearly-tired Pittsburgh defense after gaining only 61 yards on 23 carries through the first 45 minutes when the outcome remained somewhat in doubt.

But there was plenty to like on both sides of the ball as an efficient offense was complemented by a defense that offered an improved pass rush from a week ago and forced three takeaways to stall what little momentum the Steelers offense was able to create over the course of the night.

Following the game, it was clear to see the Ravens’ satisfaction in not only rising to the occasion after a difficult week but responding with a strong sense of urgency to a disappointing Week 1 loss. Thursday night’s win was one the Ravens needed badly on a variety of levels as they attempt to move past the Rice saga and turn all attention toward returning to the postseason in 2014.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Flacco said. “No matter what it is, I think that we’re a team that tends to group together and come together through tough times. I never had a doubt that we wouldn’t be able to come out here and go get a win tonight.”

And the Ravens certainly played that way Thursday night.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 11 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After experiencing perhaps the most tumultuous week in franchise history, the Ravens return to M&T Bank Stadium trying to avoid an 0-2 start by welcoming the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers to town for a nationally-televised Thursday night game.

While the rest of the nation continues to focus on the fallout of the Ray Rice situation, the Ravens must turn their focus toward the field in trying to win their first divisional game. According to NFL Network research, no team has ever started with two divisional home losses to begin a season and gone on to make the playoffs.

Unfortunately for the Ravens, cornerback Lardarius Webb will not play as he continues to knock off rust and go through practices to make sure his back is 100 percent. Webb told reporters on Tuesday that he expected to play against Pittsburgh, and he has practiced fully for the last two weeks. The sixth-year defensive back was stricken with back spasms on the second day of full-squad workouts on July 25 and missed the entire preseason, making concerns more about rust than how his back feels at this point with so little time to get in playing shape.

“I’m ready to get it going,” Webb said on Tuesday. “Who better than Pittsburgh? I’m ready. I’m feeling good. I’m just ready to get out there and get everything going and just play some football.”

His absence once again leaves the Ravens with only three true cornerbacks on the 46-man game-day roster — Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown, and Asa Jackson. Safety Anthony Levine is capable of playing cornerback in the event of an injury, and rookie safety Terrence Brooks saw extensive playing time at the inside nickel spot during the preseason.

The Ravens announced prior to the game that Brown would start in Webb’s place for the second straight week.

The only other player who appeared on the Ravens’ final injury report this week was right guard Marshal Yanda (foot), who was listed as probable and was active for Thursday’s game.

Other than defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi — who replaced running back Fitz Toussaint on the 53-man roster earlier in the week — the rest of the Ravens’ inactives remain unchanged as inside linebacker Arthur Brown is once again a healthy scratch.

For Pittsburgh, running back Dri Archer (ankle/knee) and wide receiver Lance Moore (groin) were officially ruled out on Wednesday.

Baltimore is meeting Pittsburgh for the 37th time in the regular-season history of the franchise. The Steelers hold the 20-16 edge in the all-time series and are 3-0 in the postseason, but the Ravens are 9-9 against them in Baltimore. Including the postseason, 11 of the last 14 games between these AFC North rivals have been decided by four or fewer points.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while Pittsburgh sports white tops and gold pants for Week 2.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Ed Hochuli.

The forecast in Baltimore called for temperatures to drop into the high 70s shortly after kickoff with no sizable chance of precipation and winds below 10 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Here are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Lardarius Webb
WR Michael Campanaro
LB Arthur Brown
OL John Urschel
OL Jah Reid
WR Deonte Thompson
DT Christo Bilukidi

PITTSBURGH
QB Landry Jones
WR Martavis Bryant
RB Dri Archer
WR Lance Moore
C Wesley Johnson
G Chris Hubbard
NT Daniel McCullers

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

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 11 September 2014 by Luke Jones

All eyes will be on Baltimore as the Ravens welcome the hated Pittsburgh Steelers to M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.

However, few outside Baltimore and Pittsburgh are thinking about the game itself as the Ravens continue to deal with the fallout stemming from the release of the second Ray Rice video and the subsequent decision to terminate the running back’s contract Monday afternoon. This meeting is normally regarded as one of the best rivalries in the NFL, but you’d have to think long and hard to find another example of a Ravens-Steelers game with so little buzz surrounding the actual play on the field.

But that doesn’t make it any less important for the Ravens as they try to avoid what would be a very disheartening 0-2 start in the AFC North. According to NFL Network research, no team in NFL history has ever made the postseason after dropping two straight divisional home games to begin a season, making Thursday’s game as close to a “must-win” affair as you can have in Week 2.

Head coach John Harbaugh has earned a reputation for rallying his teams to play at their best when dealing with adversity, but the Ravens have never dealt with a situation quite like this, making you wonder how mentally and emotionally fresh they’ll be on what was already a short week.

Thursday marks the 37th time these AFC North rivals have met in the regular season with Pittsburgh holding a 20-16 advantage. The Ravens are 9-9 against the Steelers in Baltimore and have won two of the last three played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to even their record at 1-1 and bounce back from their disappointing season-opening loss to Cincinnati …

1. Running back Bernard Pierce will lead the Ravens in carries and pick up 70 yards with a touchdown. It was easy for Harbaugh to send a message to Pierce after his fumble late in the second quarter last week when he was still working under the assumption that Rice would be returning for Week 3, but the Ravens now need Pierce to be a large part of what they do with their running game all season. Veteran Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will get their opportunities — the former was very good in pass protection last week in addition to running for 70 yards — as Harbaugh says he will go with the hot hand moving forward, but Pierce still gives the Ravens the best chance to have a successful running game in the short-term future and is a good fit on paper for Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone stretch scheme.

2. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will take turns exploiting the tackles on the Pittsburgh line to record a combined three sacks. Suggs may have provided more of an impact than the completely-invisible Dumervil did against the Bengals, but neither were able to disrupt the timing of Andy Dalton, something that can’t be repeated against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As always, the pass rush needs to be careful not to simply chase Roethlisberger from the pocket where he’s at his best improvising down the field, but more help needs to be provided to a secondary that should have cornerback Lardarius Webb available. Steelers tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert are weak links on the offensive line, giving Suggs and Dumervil no excuse not to feast on Thursday night.

3. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will pick up where Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard left off, registering 120 total yards and a touchdown while giving the Ravens problems as a receiver out of the backfield. Though much bigger than the shifty Bernard, Bell caught 45 passes for 399 yards out of the backfield in 13 games as a rookie and added six receptions for 88 yards against the Browns in Week 1. The Ravens struggled against screens and underneath throws while protecting against the deep ball last week, so Pittsburgh will test them again with those types of plays until Baltimore shows it can stop them. And with Pittsburgh being another team that likes using the no-huddle offense, you do wonder if a bigger back like Bell will start to wear down an old front seven as the game progresses.

4. The Ravens will use more up-tempo offense and quarterback Joe Flacco will go to tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels early in this one. Just as the Steelers undoubtedly saw how the Ravens defense struggled to defend screens and other underneath throws, Kubiak had to take notice of the Browns’ success using the no-huddle attack against Pittsburgh in the second half and should use that to his advantage in hopes of getting Flacco going early. You’d never know it from the final numbers when he targeted Pitta and Daniels a combined 20 times, but Flacco threw to the tight-end duo only once before the final drive of the first half. Ravens wide receivers cannot have a case of the drops like they did last week, but look for Flacco to throw more short stuff to Pitta, Daniels, and Kyle Juszczyk to get into an earlier rhythm before taking some longer shots down the field.

5. It will be close with Pittsburgh as it always is, but the home-field edge gives the Ravens just enough to pull out a 24-21 win that they really need. Only four of the 14 Ravens-Steelers games in the Harbaugh era have been decided by more than three points and the last five meetings have all been determined by three or fewer. The Ravens have dealt with plenty of distractions away from the field this week, but they know they cannot afford to fall to 0-2 with both games against AFC North foes. The best teams are able to rise to the occasion and come together under trying circumstances like these while lesser teams fold and begin looking for excuses. You get the sense that Thursday night will tell us a lot about who the Ravens are as a football team in 2014 — good or bad.

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Webb questionable, Yanda probable for Thursday night game

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Webb questionable, Yanda probable for Thursday night game

Posted on 10 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens listed cornerback Lardarius Webb as questionable for the second straight game as they made final preparations for Thursday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After practicing fully for a second straight week, Webb was given the same designation as he did leading into the season-opening game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The sixth-year defensive back did not play in Week 1 despite looking good in a pre-game workout roughly two hours before kickoff.

Webb told reporters earlier this week that he expected to make his 2014 debut on Thursday night. He missed the entire preseason after initially suffering back spasms on July 25 and did not return to the practice field until Aug. 30.

“I’m ready to get it going,” Webb said Tuesday. “Who better than Pittsburgh? I’m ready. I’m feeling good. I’m just ready to get out there and get everything going and just play some football.”

Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was listed as probable after missing Monday’s practice while dealing with a blister on his foot. He practiced fully on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Steelers ruled out running back Dri Archer (ankle/knee) and wide receiver Lance Moore (groin) and listed 14 others as probable for Week 2.

Here is the final injury report of the week:
(Editor note: NIR is an abbreviation for non-injury related)

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: CB Lardarius Webb (back)
PROBABLE: G Marshal Yanda (foot)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: RB Dri Archer (ankle/knee), WR Lance Moore (groin)
PROBABLE: RB Le’Veon Bell (NIR), WR Antonio Brown (NIR), WR Martavis Bryant (shoulder), DE Brett Keisel (NIR), CB Brice McCain (groin), DT Steve McLendon (stinger), TE Heath Miller (NIR), S Troy Polamalu (NIR), QB Ben Roethlisberger (NIR), CB Ike Taylor (NIR), S Shamarko Thomas (achilles/ankle), C Cody Wallace (finger), WR Markus Wheaton (NIR), LB Vince Williams (NIR)

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Report: Ravens ignored tip that Rice’s lawyer had video

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Report: Ravens ignored tip that Rice’s lawyer had video

Posted on 10 September 2014 by WNST Staff

As if a bombshell story from the Associated Press reporting the Ray Rice video was sent to the NFL months ago wasn’t enough, a report from ABC News says the Ravens knew shortly after the incident that Rice’s attorney had a copy of the surveillance video, but never asked to see it.

Owner Steve Bisciotti sent a letter to Ravens season-ticket holders and sponsors Tuesday apologizing for the organization’s failure to do enough of their own fact-finding, instead electing to defer to the New Jersey legal system and the NFL.

You can read the full report from ABC News HERE.

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