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Ravens-Raiders: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 07 October 2017 by Luke Jones

The details may differ, but the Ravens and the Oakland Raiders find themselves in a very similar position.

Both have lost two straight and are in danger of losing ground to the leaders in their respective divisions. The Baltimore defense and the Raiders offense were expected to be elite units, but each has underperformed so far this season, contributing to the overall struggles for both teams.

The most intriguing story entering Sunday might be the status of Oakland starting quarterback Derek Carr, who surprisingly practiced on Thursday and Friday and was listed as questionable on the final injury report despite having suffered a fracture in his lower back last week. It’s still assumed that backup EJ Manuel will start in his place, but Carr was reportedly taking Friday practice reps ahead of No. 3 quarterback Connor Cook, perhaps an indication that he could at least serve as the backup in Week 5.

His availability would certainly change expectations in this contest as Carr has thrown for 550 yards and seven touchdowns in his two games against the Ravens.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the third consecutive season with the Raiders having won the last two meetings including a last-minute 28-27 win at M&T Bank Stadium last October. Baltimore holds a 6-3 advantage in the all-time regular-season series and won the only playoff encounter in the 2000 AFC championship game. The Ravens’ last win at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum came in Week 17 of the 2009 season when they clinched a trip to the playoffs.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Joe Flacco will throw an interception for the 11th consecutive game. What we’re seeing from the 10th-year quarterback is his own regression magnified by a lack of commitment to improve the variables around him for years. Not only as he tossed picks in 10 straight games, but he’s thrown at least one in 13 of 15 games with Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator and 23 of 30 with him as the quarterbacks coach, a stretch that followed the best regular season of his career in 2014. Suspect coaching, an injury-ravaged offensive line that wasn’t very good to begin with, average skill-position players, and Flacco’s own weaknesses result in a broken offense.

2. Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree will continue his recent success against the Ravens with a touchdown catch. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are both expected to play despite missing practice time this week, but the secondary will need to be ready as Crabtree has produced four touchdowns and 199 receiving yards in his last two games against Baltimore. The Ravens front must generate more pressure than it has the last two weeks to force Manuel into mistakes in the pocket as he’ll likely be looking for Crabtree and tight end Jared Cook as his security blankets. With former first-round pick Amari Cooper struggling to catch the ball consistently, Crabtree is a big key to the Raiders’ success.

3. Alex Collins will run for a season-high 85 yards and a touchdown — without a fumble. It speaks volumes about the Ravens that a street free agent signed to the practice squad in early September has been their best offensive playmaker, but that doesn’t mean that Collins hasn’t impressed with an 8.2 yards per carry average. Head coach John Harbaugh has bristled over his two fumbles on 25 carries, but this struggling offense has little choice but to continue giving him the ball while hoping that running backs coach Thomas Hammock can help rectify the issue. The Ravens offensive line has done a solid job in run blocking and should find room against an Oakland front allowing 4.3 yards per carry.

4. Oakland defensive end Khalil Mack will collect two sacks and force a fumble. After having a brutal day against Jacksonville edge rusher Dante Fowler in London two weeks ago, right tackle Austin Howard is really going to have his hands full with his former teammate, who is one of the NFL’s best defensive players. Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. likes to move Mack around to create matchup problems, meaning left tackle Ronnie Stanley will also need to be ready. As if Mack weren’t enough, defensive end Mario Edwards also creates problems as an interior rusher on passing downs and it’s no secret that the Ravens have struggled mightily at the guard position without Marshal Yanda.

5. The Ravens offense fails to score 14 points for the third straight game in a 19-13 loss. I fully expect the run defense to bounce back after a poor performance last week, but the Ravens will have trouble generating pressure against Pro Football Focus’ most efficient pass-blocking line in the league, which will limit their opportunities for takeaways to put the offense on a short field. Since a 48-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin in the season opener, Flacco hasn’t completed a single pass for even half as much yardage as that in 105 attempts. That’s simply not a winning formula, especially on the West Coast where Baltimore hasn’t fared well in recent years. Until this offense shows otherwise, the Ravens aren’t a good bet to win any road game — even one against a backup quarterback.

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Jimmy Smith good to go for Ravens despite being listed as questionable

Posted on 06 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith returned to the field for the final practice of the week and is apparently good to go for Sunday’s game in Oakland.

Despite a questionable designation on the final injury report, head coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens were merely giving Smith some rest for his sore Achilles tendon this week. The seventh-year defensive back was replaced periodically by rookie Marlon Humphrey during the Week 4 loss to Pittsburgh, a sign that he’s been dealing with the issue for some time.

Smith was a full participant in Friday’s light practice.

“I know we didn’t announce that, but [his status] was not a question,” Harbaugh said. “He’s good.”

The Ravens will need Smith to be at full strength since Raiders wide receivers Michael Crabtree (chest) and Amari Cooper (knee) were full participants in Thursday and Friday practices and were not listed on the final injury report. Crabtree sat out his team’s Week 4 loss at Denver, but he has registered 16 catches for 199 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games against the Ravens.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams (foot) was once again absent from practice and has been ruled out for the third consecutive game. Tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) will also miss his third straight contest, but he did some limited work on his own before leaving the field during the media viewing portion of practice on Friday.

Tight end Benjamin Watson (calf) returned to practice fully on Friday after missing workouts earlier in the week. He was officially listed as questionable, but he also sat out two practices last week before registering five catches for 43 yards against the Steelers.

Veteran defensive back Lardarius Webb (thigh) and rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring) were present and working on Friday. Webb was listed as questionable to go against the Raiders, but he is expected to play after completing two full practices without incident. Hill is doubtful to play after missing more than a month with a hamstring injury, but Harbaugh liked what he saw from the undrafted free agent in his limited practice work this week.

“It was good to see him back,” Harbaugh said. “He looked good, moved well, had a couple interceptions out there during the course of the week. That was good to see.”

The Ravens also listed wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (hand) and defensive back Anthony Levine (thigh) as questionable, but neither is in danger of missing Sunday’s game.

There was a more interesting development with the Raiders’ final injury report as quarterback Derek Carr (back) was listed as questionable after practicing on a limited basis for the second straight day. Head coach Jack Del Rio announced at the beginning of the week that Carr suffered a transverse process fracture in his back in Week 4 — an injury that typically sidelines a player for two to six weeks — but the Raiders are at least making it look like their starting quarterback has a chance to play Sunday.

Whether it’s merely some gamesmanship or an amazing recovery by Carr, the Ravens need to be be prepared for a quarterback who’s thrown for 550 yards and seven touchdowns in two career games against them. If Carr doesn’t play, E.J. Manuel would start at quarterback for Oakland.

The Raiders also listed starting right guard Gabe Jackson as questionable after he missed practice time this week with a foot injury.

As is their normal routine for games on the West Coast, the Ravens traveled to Oakland Friday afternoon to give themselves an extra day to adjust to the three-hour time change. Baltimore hasn’t won a game in the Pacific Time Zone since the 2012 season and is winless in its last five road games against AFC West and NFC West opponents.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Oakland calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: DB Anthony Levine (thigh), WR Jeremy Maclin (hand), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), TE Benjamin Watson (calf), DB Lardarius Webb (thigh)

OAKLAND
QUESTIONABLE: CB David Amerson (concussion), QB Derek Carr (back), CB Gareon Conley (shin), G Gabe Jackson (foot), RB DeAndre Washington (hamstring)

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Ravens offense not even talking a good game at this point

Posted on 06 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco acknowledged this week that the Ravens offense isn’t playing with as much confidence as it needs to.

It was an honest assessment considering the quarterback and the unit rank near the bottom of the NFL in numerous categories, but how do you go about raising that confidence level in hopes of it carrying over to Sundays? Do coaches add new wrinkles to the playbook, invite more player input during meetings, or even try something as simple as having a little more fun during practices to put minds at ease?

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was posed that simple question on Thursday.

“Just a little juice, you know? Hey, we’ve got proud men here,” Mornhinweg said. “We talked about this the other day. We’ve got a lot of proud men and a lot of confident guys. When you go through a couple weeks like this, confidence is a great weapon. I think it’s the best weapon known to mankind. Confidence is at an all-time high.”

Not only does Mornhinweg not answer the original question, but he contradicts the starting quarterback’s opinion by saying the group’s confidence is greater than ever. That’s not exactly a good look when media and fans are demanding answers from one of the worst offenses in the league through the first month of the season.

Now in his third season as the quarterbacks coach, Mornhinweg is doubly responsible for Flacco ranking 32nd in passing yards, last among qualified quarterbacks with a career-worst 5.1 yards per attempt, and 31st of 32 qualified quarterbacks with a 65.0 passer rating. So, what is he having the 10th-year veteran work on during practices?

“There’s a lot of specific things, and that goes with every position,” Mornhinweg said. “These more than a handful of plays last ballgame — details. It’s really every position, you know? Details, and then you end up getting those four, five, six, seven plays in a game that may make a little bit of a difference.”

Again, what?

To be clear, talking to the media is far from Mornhinweg’s primary job responsibility and he’s never been an eloquent speaker, something the team’s official website has even had fun with on occasion. However, failing to answer fair questions with any substance isn’t amusing when many fans are calling for a coordinator change and already weren’t thrilled with John Harbaugh’s decision to retain him in January.

Is there any sign the offensive coordinator is seeing that a breakout could be coming?

“We’ll see, we’ll see,” Mornhinweg said. “You keep working hard, you keep preparing, good things tend to happen.”

You can only hope he’s a better communicator with his players than he is with the media or there truly is no hope for an offensive turnaround.

Pees blames himself for run defense issues

A week after suggesting the Ravens’ problems in London stemmed from a lack of intensity, defensive coordinator Dean Pees took the blame for Pittsburgh gaining 173 rushing yards on 42 carries in Week 4.

The Ravens’ outside linebackers did a poor job setting the edge, but Pees said he didn’t have his defense prepared for the type of pulling the Steelers employed with their interior linemen on outside runs.

“It’s not the players fault. It’s my fault,” Pees said. “The Steelers — I give them credit — [offensive line coach Mike Munchak] and those guys did a different scheme on some of their pullers than what we had ever seen. They did. It was different than what I’ve seen the Steelers run. But it’s my job to get it adapted and fixed and corrected and put the guys in a better position than what they were put in.”

Pees did try to cherry-pick the final numbers by saying that the Ravens held the Steelers to 2.3 yards per carry on 36 of their 42 attempts — any defense is going to look much better when you remove the top six plays — but at least he took responsibility for a run defense needing to be better than it’s shown so far. The Ravens currently rank 26th in rushing yards allowed per game (127.3) and 20th in yards per carry allowed (4.2).

Secondary shuffling

We’re unlikely to see any notable changes if cornerback Jimmy Smith misses Sunday’s game in Oakland, but the Ravens secondary could stand to benefit from a facelift in the near future.

With nickel corner Lardarius Webb struggling in coverage and 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey looking like the real deal, the Ravens should look to move the latter into the starting lineup and continue experimenting with Brandon Carr at the nickel spot as they’ve done on a few occasions this year. Impressive rookie free agent Jaylen Hill could also be in the nickel mix once he gets back into football shape from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for over a month.

Webb’s best role at this point is at the safety position, which gives the Ravens an opportunity to be more creative with their sub packages while also keeping the veteran involved in the defense.

Safety Tony Jefferson hasn’t made a major impact so far, but one could question whether he’s being used properly. His strength is playing closer to the line of scrimmage against the run and in pass coverage against tight ends, but Pees has used him as more of a traditional safety so far. Sliding Jefferson down to a hybrid dime position in many passing situations would allow the Ravens to take the weak-side inside linebacker off the field — a position that’s been an issue — and to move Webb to the back end of the defense where he played next to Eric Weddle last year.

Anything that maximizes their $34 million investment in Jefferson and gets Humphrey on the field should be on the table.

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Webb returns to Ravens practice while J. Smith remains sidelined

Posted on 06 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens defensive back Lardarius Webb returned to practice Thursday while top cornerback Jimmy Smith remained sidelined with an Achilles issue.

It remains unclear whether Smith will be ready to play against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees expressed great confidence in rookie Marlon Humphrey stepping into a starting role if necessary. Humphrey was periodically filling in for Smith throughout the Week 4 loss to Pittsburgh, an indication that the veteran wasn’t right physically.

“He is fast, physical, big, he uses his hands, and he is into the game plan,” said Pees about the Ravens’ 2017 first-round pick from Alabama. “He has all those things that you want a [defensive back] to possess. I think that he is just a really good player, a really good talent, and I think we have done a good job of bringing him along and not throwing him in there too fast.

“Kind of each week, he gets more and more plays, and now he has himself in a little bit of a rotation-type thing.”

Tight ends Benjamin Watson (calf) and Maxx Williams (ankle) and defensive tackle Brandon Williams (foot) remained absent from practice. The latter two are almost certain to miss their third straight game.

Meanwhile, the Raiders surprisingly welcomed starting quarterback Derek Carr back to the practice field just days after he suffered a fracture in his back in Denver. He is still not expected to play against Baltimore, but Oakland will take satisfaction knowing he is ahead of schedule in his recovery.

Starting wide receivers Amari Cooper (knee) and Michael Crabtree (chest) and starting defensive end Mario Edward (back) were upgraded to full participation after sitting out on Wednesday.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), TE Benjamin Watson (calf), DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Jeremy Maclin (hand), DB Lardarius Webb (thigh)

OAKLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Gabe Jackson (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB David Amerson (concussion), QB David Carr (back), CB Gareon Conley (shin), RB DeAndre Washington (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Amari Cooper (knee), WR Michael Crabtree (chest), DE Mario Edwards (back)

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Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith dealing with Achilles issue

Posted on 04 October 2017 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 8:15 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were missing two members of their secondary while welcoming back another as they continued preparations for a Week 5 trip to Oakland.

Top cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) and nickel corner Lardarius Webb (thigh) were both absent from Wednesday’s practice while rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill returned to the field for the first time in five weeks. Smith was replaced by rookie Marlon Humphrey on Pittsburgh’s final touchdown drive in the fourth quarter Sunday, but he didn’t appear to suffer a serious injury and never went to the ground during his final play of the afternoon, Le’Veon Bell’s 21-yard run to the Baltimore 21 with under five minutes remaining.

Smith played 52 of 76 defensive snaps against the Steelers as Humphrey replaced him for a few series over the course of the contest, something the rookie also did the previous week. Smith’s history of frustrating injuries is no secret as the Ravens defense collapsed down the stretch last season when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 14. The seventh-year defensive back is off to one of the best starts of his career this season and has been one of Baltimore’s best players on either side of the ball

Hill, a rookie free agent from Jacksonville State, was one of the best stories of the preseason as he played at a high level to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Though he’ll likely need some time to get back into football shape and prove he’s fully recovered from a long-term hamstring injury, Hill could be a potential fit at the nickel spot with Webb having struggled in pass coverage over the last couple weeks.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams (foot) and tight ends Benjamin Watson (calf) and Maxx Williams (ankle) were also absent from Wednesday’s practice. It’s appearing more likely that the standout defensive lineman will miss his third straight game on Sunday. Watson missed two practices last week before ultimately playing against the Steelers.

Defensive back Anthony Levine (thigh) was a limited participant.

On Tuesday, the Ravens signed tight end Gabe Holmes and cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste to their practice squad, placed fullback Ricky Ortiz on practice squad injured reserve, and waived cornerback Josh Thornton.

The Raiders were without three starters during their Wednesday workout as quarterback Derek Carr (back), right guard Gabe Jackson (foot), and defensive end Mario Edwards (back) were listed as non-participants. Carr was ruled out by head coach Jack Del Rio at the beginning of the week and will be replaced by former Buffalo first-round pick EJ Manuel.

Oakland starting wide receivers Michael Crabtree (chest) and Amari Cooper (knee) were both limited.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), TE Benjamin Watson (calf), DB Lardarius Webb (thigh), DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Jeremy Maclin (hand)

OAKLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB David Carr (back), CB Gareon Conley (shin), DE Mario Edwards (back), G Gabe Jackson (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB David Amerson (concussion), WR Amari Cooper (knee), WR Michael Crabtree (chest), RB DeAndre Washington (hamstring)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-9 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 03 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their first home defeat to Pittsburgh since 2012 in a 26-7 loss, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. From being shut out in the first half and Mike Wallace’s drop of a possible touchdown to the poor offensive line play and the all-too-slow tempo of the no-huddle attack in the fourth quarter, this Ravens offense is broken. And it’s tough to trust Marty Mornhinweg to fix it.

2. Even acknowledging the injuries and the poor offense, Dean Pees’ defense ranks 14th in points allowed per game, 21st in total yards per game, 16th in passing yards per game, and 20th in yards per carry allowed. That’s not nearly good enough considering the many resources used on this defense.

3. The running game has been the offense’s only redeeming quality, but 73 of the 82 rushing yards came on two plays while the other 13 carries produced a total of nine yards. It’s difficult staying on schedule without gaining at least a few yards each on those other plays.

4. Those wondering if the Ravens were wise to spend so much to re-sign Brandon Williams have seen a defensive line lacking a consistent push. Even in those short-yardage situations where the Ravens front appeared to make a stop, the Steelers were still able to get enough to move the chains.

5. It’s difficult to recall too many games when Ravens outside linebackers were so abysmal against the run. Pittsburgh gained most of its big yards on outside runs while Baltimore consistently failed to set the edge.

6. Alex Collins has lost two fumbles on just 25 carries, but the Ravens have no choice right now but to give him opportunities when he’s been their best offensive playmaker. He clearly needs to protect the football, but the risk-reward ratio remains in his favor — for now.

7. Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward might as well have changed his address to the Ravens backfield on Sunday. He absolutely dominated an undermanned and inexperienced offensive line.

8. John Harbaugh has received plenty of fair criticism for his use of challenges over the years, but give him credit for being on top of the Eric Weddle interception that followed a non-catch from Antonio Brown. If only the whistle hadn’t blown before an easy return for a touchdown.

9. Marlon Humphrey was immediately challenged upon entering the game and ran right with Brown on a long incompletion in the second quarter. I’m surprised that he’s mostly subbed in for Jimmy Smith, but the rookie continues to make a strong argument for a starting role opposite Smith.

10. He had a rough game against Jacksonville, but I didn’t quite get Tyus Bowser playing only eight defensive snaps against the Steelers. It’s not as though the other young outside linebackers have established themselves as consistent options and he was very good against Cleveland in Week 2.

11. I couldn’t help but think Harbaugh’s expressed frustration over Jaylen Hill’s slow-healing hamstring injury Monday had something to do with the struggles of Lardarius Webb at the nickel spot. There’s certainly a role for Webb in this defense, but he’s being exposed in pass coverage.

12. The poor throw from high-priced quarterback Joe Flacco and the inability of former first-round receiver Breshad Perriman to corral it in the third quarter epitomized how inept this offense has been. Even when the Ravens had a golden opportunity for a touchdown, they wasted it.

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Even with injuries, Ravens brass deserves blame for offensive mess

Posted on 02 October 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There’s much blame to go around for this absolute mess of a Ravens offense.

Those pointing to injuries, the current state of the offensive line, quarterback Joe Flacco’s poor play, and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s play-calling are all correct to some degree or another. But the buck really needs to stop with the Ravens brass.

While many gushed over a defense-focused offseason and were waxing nostalgic about recreating the 2000 Ravens, others waited for significant work to be done to a below-average offense in 2016 that lost four starters to free agency or retirement. Instead of making significant improvements to that side of the ball, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh seemingly settled for a ceiling of mediocrity, and that was long before the injuries that have put this offense in full-blown crisis mode before Columbus Day.

The offseason began with Harbaugh’s decision to retain Mornhinweg as coordinator despite the offense showing no meaningful improvement from the time he took over for the fired Marc Trestman last October. Harbaugh did hire Greg Roman to reboot the running game — a move that has produced positive results through four games — but one of the prevailing themes of the season-ending press conference in January was the need to get more out of Flacco, whose play had regressed in the two seasons since the departure of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison. Those two were sticklers about Flacco’s footwork and fundamentals and helped guide the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player to arguably his best regular season in 2014.

The hiring of a new quarterbacks coach at the very least was a no-brainer, but Mornhinweg also retained that role after serving in that capacity over Flacco’s last two lackluster campaigns. Instead of seizing the chance to bring in a new mind and a different pair of eyes, the Ravens maintained the status quo in the coaching department for their high-priced quarterback.

What about improving the offensive personnel that has been lacking playmakers and consistent offensive line play for years?

Newsome’s free-agent splash in March consisted of giving sizable contracts to defensive tackle Brandon Williams and free-agent defensive backs Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr. Meanwhile, the only offensive addition in the first, second, and third waves of free agency was the oft-injured 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead, who had missed 27 games the previous three seasons and — to no surprise — would suffer a long-term hamstring injury in the season opener.

Surely the Ravens would address their offense with four Day 1 and Day 2 picks in April’s draft then, right? Newsome selected four defensive players with those choices before finally taking a pair of developmental offensive linemen on the final day. The plan going into spring workouts would be to replace above-average right tackle Rick Wagner and three-year starting center Jeremy Zuttah with in-house options, players who hadn’t previously been good enough to crack the lineup of an already-shaky offensive line.

To be fair, Baltimore did eventually sign veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in mid-June after he was cut by Kansas City and inked veteran right tackle Austin Howard in early August. But did these moves really represent a significant net gain compared to the retired Steve Smith and Wagner on an offense that was barely functional a year ago?

Was the goal to merely be as good as last year’s unit that ranked 17th in total yards and 21st in points per game?

To be clear, there’s no diminishing the absence of six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, and the loss of promising left guard Alex Lewis was another tough blow. The Ravens also hoped that running back Kenneth Dixon would take a major step forward in his second season, but a four-game suspension had already stunted that optimism before he sustained a season-ending knee injury in July.

The many injuries they’ve endured do tell a large part of the story, but the offense was constructed to be no better than average based on the way the Ravens used their cap dollars and draft picks and made their coaching decisions this offseason. That ceiling is too low when planning for at least a few inevitable injuries over the course of a season.

Perhaps the current state of affairs wouldn’t be as frustrating if the Ravens wouldn’t continue to neglect their offense on an annual basis, a pattern that began with the decision to trade away wide receiver Anquan Boldin weeks after the Super Bowl in 2013 and has continued with the selection of just four offensive players with their 17 combined Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks since then. It’s one thing to point to Flacco’s huge contract as justification not to spend as much free-agent money on the offense, but Newsome’s drafting reinforces the lack of interest in putting better talent around the quarterback.

Instead, the Ravens continue to expect him to do more with less than he had in that historic 2012 postseason and wonder why they’ve only been back to the playoffs once since then.

Flacco has obvious flaws and is what he is in his 10th season, but the Ravens keep beating their heads against a brick wall trying to do the bare minimum with their offense and expecting a different result. You get what you pay for, and that isn’t very much with mediocre talent and an uninspiring offensive coordinator.

Making matters worse, the use of all those resources on defense in recent years has yet to net a special group on that side of the ball.

Yes, you can continue to blame the offensive woes all on the injuries and keep beating up a quarterback who certainly needs to take his share of the responsibility for his poor performance, but offseason decisions stunted this offense’s ceiling before the injuries began over the summer. The truth is the focus should have been on that side of the ball from the start while looking to tweak a defense that finished in the top 10 in most major categories a year ago.

Sadly, what we’re now witnessing isn’t all that surprising.

And it’s difficult imagining this broken offense being fixed in the near future.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 01 October 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It’s been 1,763 days since Pittsburgh beat the Ravens in Baltimore.

Add two more years for the last time longtime Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was at the helm for a win at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens hope to continue their home dominance over the Steelers Sunday while trying to move past the embarrassment of last week’s debacle in London. The 37-point loss to Jacksonville tied the franchise record for largest margin of defeat, but Pittsburgh is coming off its own ugly performance in an overtime loss at lowly Chicago last Sunday.

Injuries continue to take their toll on the Ravens as starting defensive end Brent Urban was lost for the season last week with a foot injury while defensive tackle Brandon Williams was ruled out for the second straight week with a foot injury sustained in Week 2. Those absences will put much pressure on a young defensive line lacking experience.

Second-year defensive end and 2016 third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi is active for the first time in his NFL career and figures to be a part of the game-day rotation. During pre-game warmups, he was lining up at the starting 5-technique defensive end spot while Carl Davis was at the 3-technique defensive tackle position in place of Williams.

After returning to practice as a full participant on Friday, veteran tight end Benjamin Watson (calf) is indeed active for Sunday’s game after successfully going through a morning workout at the stadium.

Second-year wide receiver Chris Moore is a healthy scratch as running back Alex Collins has recently assumed the kick return duties. Recently-signed veteran linebacker Jonathan Freeny is active and expected to fill an expanded role on special-teams units.

Meanwhile, the Steelers have three notable inactives as starting safety Mike Mitchell (hamstring), starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), and outside linebacker James Harrison (illness) will not play. All three were listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week, but it’s worth noting that Harrison’s role has diminished substantially due to the emergence of rookie T.J. Watt.

J.J. Wilcox is expected to start in place of Mitchell while Chris Hubbard will play right tackle for Pittsburgh.

Sunday’s referee is Walt Anderson.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies and temperatures reaching the high 60s with calm winds around four miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their alternate black jerseys with black pants while Pittsburgh dons white tops with gold pants.

Sunday marks the 43rd all-time meeting between these AFC North rivals in the regular season with the Steelers enjoying a slight 22-20 advantage. However, the Ravens have won six of the last eight overall meetings — including a road victory in the 2014 postseason — and own a 12-9 all-time record in Baltimore.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
DT Brandon Williams
TE Maxx Williams
CB Jaylen Hill
WR Chris Moore
OL Tony Bergstrom
OL Dieugot Joseph
DE Chris Wormley

PITTSBURGH
QB Joshua Dobbs
WR Eli Rogers
S Mike Mitchell
OT Jerald Hawkins
OT Marcus Gilbert
LB James Harrison
DT Daniel McCullers

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 30 September 2017 by Luke Jones

Coming off one of the worst losses in team history and remembering what happened last Christmas Day, the Ravens should have no shortage of motivation against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

But it’s difficult knowing what to expect after such a shockingly poor performance in London and with the injuries continuing to mount. A Week 4 tilt is hardly a must-win game, but the Ravens surely would like to hold serve at home and escape the next two games with no worse than a 3-2 record going into the middle portion of the regular season.

The Steelers are coming off a disappointing loss of their own as their high-octane offense has been largely stuck in neutral through the first three weeks of the season. However, Pittsburgh does find itself in better shape than the Ravens from a health standpoint, a key factor in what’s always a very physical ballgame.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North foes meet for the 43rd time in the regular season with the Steelers holding a slight 22-20 edge as well as a 3-1 advantage in postseason encounters. Pittsburgh prevailed in dramatic fashion to clinch the division title last Dec. 25, but the Ravens have won six of the last eight meetings, a stretch that includes their only postseason victory since Super Bowl XLVII. Including the playoffs, 16 of the 21 showdowns with the Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by a single possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will lead the Ravens in rushing and will score his first touchdown. I’m not sure how real his 7.8 yards per attempt average is since he’s rarely carried the ball with a game’s outcome in doubt, but this sputtering offense is in desperate need of a spark and there’s no denying the urgency with which Collins has run. The Ravens have averaged 4.6 yards per carry since Marshal Yanda’s season-ending injury in Week 2, but most of that has come with a multi-score second-half lead over Cleveland and a huge deficit against Jacksonville and the Steelers are getting healthy with defensive end Stephon Tuitt returning. If the Baltimore passing game can’t get going again, Pittsburgh is likely to stack the box.

2. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell will crack 100 yards of offense for the first time this season. It’s been a slow start to 2017 for the Steelers’ Pro Bowl running back, but the Ravens will be without standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams and defensive end Brent Urban, putting pressure on young linemen lacking experience against a rock-solid Pittsburgh offensive line. Baltimore linebackers were undisciplined in pass coverage against Jacksonville, which is another reason for concern with Bell’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield. The Ravens may need to take some chances with their linebackers to boost their pass rush, but that will leave them vulnerable on underneath throws.

3. Terrell Suggs will break a six-game drought against the Steelers with a sack against Ben Roethlisberger. No defender has more career takedowns of the Pittsburgh quarterback than Suggs, but the Ravens’ pass rush was nonexistent against Jacksonville while trying to rely mostly on a four-man rush. Not only do they need another edge rusher to consistently emerge opposite Suggs, but the inside pass rush is a big question mark since Urban was a major part of that equation. It isn’t enough to merely make Roethlisberger uncomfortable as Baltimore also needs to keep him in the pocket to prevent the downfield improvisation with his receivers that so often gets a secondary in trouble.

4. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will catch a touchdown despite being held to a season low for yards. The pain of last December’s game-winning score notwithstanding, the Ravens have generally done a respectable job against Brown while rarely having top cornerback Jimmy Smith travel with the All-Pro receiver. It will be interesting to see how much rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey plays — especially with 6-foot-5 receiver Martavis Bryant back in the fold — but the Ravens are better equipped to handle the Pittsburgh passing game than they were in the fourth-quarter collapse in Week 16 last year. Brown will inevitably get touches, but he won’t be the difference in the game.

5. The Pittsburgh defense will be too much for the Ravens in a 17-14 loss. This will be a close one as it almost always is in this rivalry. I fully expect the Baltimore defense to rebound from last week’s embarrassment and play well despite being banged up on the defensive line, but it’s difficult having faith in the Ravens to score points considering the current state of the offensive line and how uncomfortable Joe Flacco has looked trying to throw the football down the field. They’re also facing a Steelers defense that’s improved from recent years despite its clear issues against the run in Chicago. Roethlisberger hasn’t won a game at M&T Bank Stadium since 2010 and the Steelers haven’t won in Baltimore since Charlie Batch pulled off an upset in 2012, but the Ravens are the inferior team on paper because of their many injuries and haven’t shown enough on offense to make me believe they’re going to win this one.

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Ravens defensive tackle Williams to miss second straight game

Posted on 29 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will be without their best defensive lineman for the second straight week as Brandon Williams was officially ruled out for Sunday’s contest with Pittsburgh.

Williams did not practice all week and hasn’t played since injuring his foot in the Week 2 win over Cleveland. Head coach John Harbaugh reiterated Friday that the fifth-year defensive standout is making progress, but his return isn’t considered imminent.

“He’s got a lower leg issue that he’s dealing with,” Harbaugh said. “I think when you see him practicing, you’ll know that he’s either close to getting back or back. That’s kind of where it’s at right now. Like I said, it’s not going to be half the season or anything like that. It’s a matter of weeks from when he got hurt [on Sept. 17], and I’ll have my fingers crossed in the upcoming week or two and hope that he’ll be back.”

Williams’ absence is even more concerning after defensive end Brent Urban suffered a season-ending foot injury in last week’s loss to Jacksonville. With two starters on the defensive line now missing against the Steelers, the Ravens must rely on less-experienced options such as Carl Davis, Willie Henry, and Bronson Kaufusi to help contain Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell and a Pittsburgh running game off to a slow start in 2017.

Veteran tight end Benjamin Watson (calf) was listed as questionable on the final injury report after returning to practice as a full participant on Friday. He is expected to play without any setback between now and Sunday.

Baltimore ruled out cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring) and tight end Maxx Williams (ankle).

The Steelers listed four starters as questionable, a list that included two offensive linemen and both starting safeties. However, all of them practiced on at least a limited basis Friday.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies with temperatures reaching the low 70s and winds up to six miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report for the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Benjamin Watson (calf)

PITTSBURGH
QUESTIONABLE: S Sean Davis (ankle), G Ramon Foster (thumb), OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), LB James Harrison (illness), S Mike Mitchell (hamstring)

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