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Ravens wearing black jerseys against Cincinnati on Sunday

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After debuting their “Color Rush” uniforms earlier this month, the Ravens will break out their popular black jerseys for Sunday’s tilt against Cincinnati.

There was much fanfare about Baltimore’s all-purple uniforms unveiled in the Week 10 win over Cleveland, but the black jerseys have been used as an alternate look for at least one or two games per season since 2004. It remains unclear whether the Ravens will sport all-black uniforms against the Bengals, but the team wore black pants for Wednesday’s padded practice, which is usually an indication of what they wear for that week’s game.

The Ravens own a 14-6 all-time record when wearing their black jerseys and are 11-3 under head coach John Harbaugh. Baltimore went 1-1 wearing the black tops last season, losing to the Browns in Week 5 and upsetting Pittsburgh in Week 16.

NFL teams are allowed to wear alternate or throwback uniforms for two regular-season games per season.

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Cincinnati bearing strong resemblance to last year’s Ravens

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The 2016 script for the Cincinnati Bengals should sound familiar to the Ravens.

A heartbreaking playoff loss the previous January.

The departure of a popular offensive coordinator and the loss of several key free agents.

A difficult early-season schedule that included four of the first six games on the road.

And a growing list of injuries.

At 3-6-1, the Bengals find their season all but ruined without a miraculous turnaround. The injuries to Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and shifty running back Giovani Bernard felt like the final nails in the coffin last Sunday, but consecutive post-bye losses by a total of five points have dropped Cincinnati out of serious contention in a mediocre AFC North.

It all sounds a lot like the Ravens’ circumstances a year ago that resulted in a 5-11 season, the franchise’s worst in nearly a decade. At the same point last year, Baltimore was 3-7 and already out of playoff contention.

“We haven’t won close games,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve had opportunities in the fourth quarter of football games. We’ve had leads. We’ve had opportunities, and we haven’t closed the games out.”

Of course, the Bengals’ woes guarantee nothing for the Ravens, who haven’t made things easy on themselves all season. Three of their five wins have come against the two worst teams in the AFC — Cleveland and Jacksonville — and just one of their victories has been by more than one score.

And don’t forget about that five-game losing streak against the Bengals, a drought dating back to the 2013 season. The Week 16 rematch with Pittsburgh is the most crucial game remaining on the schedule, but two games against Cincinnati — Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium and then the regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium — will be critical in determining the Ravens’ fate.

“We have to find a way to beat them,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If we do not start beating the Bengals, then we are not going to win any division championships. That is especially true this year. To me, the whole thing goes through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. We are going to have to win a couple other games, too, but it is the division. This is a division game. It is as simple as that.”

Starting fast is a goal every week, but the Ravens are facing a team that has one victory — against the winless Browns — since late September and will be without its best player. If ever there were a time for Baltimore to come out of the gate trying to step on the neck of an opponent, Week 12 is it.

The Bengals are down and know they likely need to win out to have any chance of extending their string of five consecutive trips to the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Ravens know they need to win these next two home games — including next week against Miami — to keep pace with the Steelers and put themselves in good position for a brutal final quarter of the season that includes road games at New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.

On Sunday, the Ravens can’t afford to give hope to a struggling team that still has some talented players on both sides of the ball.

“We want to continue to build and get better,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, whose 19 career interceptions against the Bengals are the most he’s thrown against any team. “I think it is huge to get going just to get our crowd in it and to get everybody excited — to get our guys excited. These guys have played us well. We have not beaten them in a long time. It is definitely going to be a tough game, but early on will be a big part.”

We know this is a flawed Ravens team expected to once again be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, but their problems don’t run as deep as those of the Bengals, whose penalty-riddled collapse against Pittsburgh last January now looks like the moment their window of opportunity slammed shut. Baltimore is trying to show its own window is still open despite going 10-16 since the start of last season.

There’s no excuse not to beat the struggling Bengals if the Ravens want to be taken seriously the rest of the way. A loss would drastically change their outlook for their five remaining games.

Peppered with questions from the Baltimore media this week about how the losses of Green and Bernard impact his struggling team, Lewis said the Bengals still plan on showing up at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. No matter how Cincinnati might look right now, the Ravens can’t afford to take their AFC North rival lightly.

“Five straight is five straight. Numbers don’t lie,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They have kind of had our number. We are going to see what we can do to change that.”

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Dumervil questionable, J. Smith doubtful to play against Cincinnati

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens may welcome back a key member of their defense against Cincinnati, but another is expected to be absent for the second straight game.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) is listed as questionable to play against the Bengals on Sunday while cornerback Jimmy Smith (back) is doubtful after missing practices all week. Dumervil was a full participant all week after returning to the practice field last week and could see his first live-game action since Oct. 9 against Washington.

Dealing with a frustrating recovery from offseason foot surgery, Dumervil has appeared in just two games all season, failing to register a statistic in 45 total snaps. The 32-year-old collected a total of 32 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons with the Ravens, who have struggled to mount a consistent pass rush this season.

“I think he looked good in practice. Again, it’s going to be up to the medical people to determine [if he plays],” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s always been a medical issue. It’s good to see him out there at practice taking a good number of reps. He didn’t take every rep, but took a good number of reps in the rotation. We’ll just have to see when the time comes whether he’ll get cleared to go.”

With Smith not expected to play, the Ravens are fortunate that five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green will not suit up for the Bengals. Green injured his hamstring in last Sunday’s loss to Buffalo and was officially declared out on Friday afternoon.

The Baltimore defense has struggled without Smith on the field, but the Bengals’ lack of a high-impact receiver without Green should lessen that concern. The Ravens started rookie Tavon Young and returning veteran Shareece Wright at the starting cornerback spots against the Cowboys last week as Smith continued to nurse his back issue.

“I think they have a better handle on exactly what it is right now specifically,” Harbaugh said. “They have a good handle on it. It’s more muscular, so that’s good news. If it clears up and he can go, he’ll play. If it doesn’t and he can’t be close to 100 percent, we’ll just have to wait until next week. But we’re confident in the guys we have as well.”

The Ravens officially ruled out guard Alex Lewis (ankle) and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh). Tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) sat out Friday’s workout and is doubtful, meaning he will likely miss his fourth consecutive game.

Baltimore listed guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and defensive tackles Timmy Jernigan (shoulder) and Brandon Williams (back/hand) as questionable, but all three are expected to play on Sunday.

In addition to ruling out Green, the Bengals listed starting strong safety Shawn Williams (hamstring) as doubtful to play in Week 12.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Clete Blakeman.

The Ravens will wear its black jerseys on Sunday, the first time this year the alternate top has been worn.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching 53 degrees and winds up to 12 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: G Alex Lewis (ankle), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
DOUBTFUL: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (back)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder), DT Brandon Williams (back/hand), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

CINCINNATI
OUT: WR A.J. Green (hamstring)
DOUBTFUL: TE C.J. Uzomah (calf), S Shawn Williams (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: LS Clark Harris (groin), S Derron Smith (thigh)

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Ravens once again practice without Jimmy Smith on Thanksgiving

Posted on 24 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens were once again without Jimmy Smith on Thanksgiving as they moved closer to a Week 12 meeting with Cincinnati.

The sixth-year cornerback continues to be sidelined with the back injury that forced him to miss his first game of the season last Sunday. Head coach John Harbaugh has expressed optimism at a couple different points regarding his status, but you do wonder how long the back issue could linger as he’s missed all but one practice over the last two weeks.

Fortunately for the Ravens, the Bengals will be without top receiver A.J. Green, who will miss this week’s game with a hamstring injury. Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant caught two touchdowns against a Baltimore defense lacking its best cornerback.

“Whether Jimmy is in there or not, we have to step our game up — myself included — to get off the field,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We just didn’t execute and didn’t make the plays needed. They made the plays, and credit Dallas for doing an excellent job in the second half. You live, you learn.”

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams (back/hand) and guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) returned to practice as full participants after receiving Wednesday off. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) also practiced fully as he hopes to make his return to live-game action for the first time since Week 5.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (shoulder) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) were limited participants for the second straight day. The latter hasn’t played in a game since before the bye week.

Harbaugh gave veteran days off to linebacker Terrell Suggs and center Jeremy Zuttah on Thursday.

The Bengals were once again without starting strong safety Shawn Williams, who continues to nurse a hamstring injury.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Alex Lewis (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (back), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), DT Brandon Williams (back/hand), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR A.J. Green (hamstring), CB Josh Shaw (hip), TE C.J. Uzomah (calf), S Shawn Williams (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Clint Boling (shoulder), LS Clark Harris (groin), RB Ryan Hewitt (foot), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), S Derron Smith (thigh), WR James Wright (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Andy Dalton (right shoulder), WR Brandon LaFell (knee)

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J. Smith, B. Williams absent as Ravens prepare for Cincinnati

Posted on 23 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were without two key defensive starters for Wednesday’s practice as they turn their attention toward the struggling Cincinnati Bengals.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith and nose tackle Brandon Williams were absent from the portion of practice open to reporters. Smith missed his first game of the season with a back injury in Week 11, leading Dallas receiver Dez Bryant to catch two touchdowns against an undermanned Baltimore secondary.

“Jimmy is still working on his back issue,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Hopefully he’ll be out there tomorrow. We’ll see.”

Harbaugh said Williams was receiving the day off before he was officially listed with back and hand issues on Wednesday’s injury report. He played a season-high 49 defensive snaps against the Cowboys.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) were present and working. Sunday marked the eighth missed game of the season for Dumervil while Gillmore missed his third straight contest since sustaining an injury during a bye-week practice.

Guards Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Alex Lewis (ankle) and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh) were not present on Wednesday. After saying Monday that Yanda made it out of the Dallas game in OK shape, Harbaugh gave the five-time Pro Bowl selection an extra day to rest his left shoulder.

Coming off a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, second-year tight end Nick Boyle was back on the practice field. It remains to be seen whether the Ravens will activate him for Sunday’s game, but he brings blocking ability that the tight end position has lacked in recent weeks.

“I think Nick really feels like he missed out,” Harbaugh said. “He says, ‘What do I do? I work out, and I think about football, then I go work out again, and I think about football.’ He’s got a football head. That’s who he is [and] what he thinks about. That 10 weeks — 11 weeks actually — was very painful for him.

“I’m hoping he makes somebody pay for his pain on that by playing well whenever we’re able to get him out there.”

Meanwhile, the Bengals were without five starters on Wednesday, a list including cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (knee), and safety Shawn Williams (hamstring). Five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green is out indefinitely with a hamstring injury suffered in the Week 11 loss to Buffalo.

Bengals running back Giovani Bernard suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sunday and was placed on injured reserve earlier this week.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Alex Lewis (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (back), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), DT Brandon Williams (back/hand), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR A.J. Green (hamstring), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), WR Brandon LaFell (knee), TE C.J. Uzomah (calf), OT Andrew Whitworth (non-injury), S Shawn Williams (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Clint Boling (shoulder), QB Andy Dalton (right shoulder), LS Clark Harris (groin), CB Josh Shaw (hip)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 11 loss to Dallas

Posted on 22 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling back into a first-place tie in the AFC North after a 27-17 loss to Dallas on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The defense squandering a first-and-30 on Dallas’ first touchdown drive was the turning point of the game, but Mike Wallace’s inability to get his feet inbounds on a deep pass inside the 5 on the ensuing possession was equally frustrating. Neither side of the ball could make the game-changing play.

2. If the second half of the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants wasn’t enough, Sunday offered another reminder of how valuable Jimmy Smith is to this defense. Without his game-changing talent in the secondary, the Ravens have an average group with no answer against an elite receiver.

3. The Ravens have certainly abandoned the run at times, but Week 11 doesn’t fit that narrative. Look at the play-by-play and you’ll find a spot or two for another run, but the ratio was skewed because of a multi-score deficit that led to 15 straight dropbacks to close the game.

4. On a day that produced a record 12 missed extra points, Justin Tucker remained perfect on the year and extended his league-long streak of 30 consecutive field goals. He hasn’t missed an extra point in his career. With kicking issues all over the place, don’t take that excellence for granted.

5. The secondary faced the bulk of the criticism on Sunday, but the linebacker coverage that’s been so good this year looked more like it did in 2015. C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr have done a much better job against the pass in 2016, but they struggled against the Cowboys.

6. It’s difficult to recall too many offensive linemen who have shown the ability to switch positions and still play at a high level like Marshal Yanda. Jonathan Ogden is the undisputed top offensive lineman in franchise history, but Yanda is an easy No. 2 on the list.

7. Dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him out of practice, Timmy Jernigan played a season-low 21 snaps. You wonder if him being less than 100 percent put too much on the plates of Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams in the battle against the best offensive line in the NFL.

8. Looking at his final numbers, Joe Flacco turned in a solid performance against the Cowboys, but the problem is that feels like it’s become his ceiling this season. In a game screaming for a big play, Flacco was 0-for-4 on pass attempts traveling more than 20 yards through the air.

9. It was disappointing to see Breshad Perriman follow the best game of his career by failing to record a reception and not even being targeted on 23 snaps. The 2015 first-round pick still has a long way to go to become a consistent threat in the passing game.

10. After forcing punts on the first four possessions, the Ravens were too conservative on third down the rest of the way. After blitzing or showing blitz on the first four third-down stops, Baltimore rushed four or fewer on four of the next five third downs without a single stop.

11. Despite the incredible resources pumped into the position, the Ravens have received very little from the tight end spot. Dennis Pitta’s return has been a great story, but he’s piled up no more than 40 receiving yards in any of the last five games.

12. I’m torn whether penalties are a bigger reflection on the coaching staff or on undisciplined — and potentially overmatched — players, but piling up 136 penalty yards is unacceptable when you’re trying to beat one of the best teams in the NFL. It’s a tired problem.

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After suggesting change, Yanda excels at new position for Ravens

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A week ago, the Ravens weren’t sure if five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda would play again this season.

Instead, he made his first career start at left guard on Sunday, performing very well in the 27-17 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys. After suggesting the change to coaches to better protect his injured left shoulder, Yanda earned the highest grade of any Ravens player in Pro Football Focus’ Week 11 grades.

Though the position change isn’t quite as drastic as a right-handed hitter trying to swing from the left side, head coach John Harbaugh noted the challenges of switching to the opposite side of the offensive line. From dropping his opposite hand and leg in the three-point stance to his play responsibilities being flipped, the transition isn’t easy to make on the fly, especially when you’re less than 100 percent physically.

“I was weary of it early in the week,” Harbaugh said. “I was just watching him in individual [portions of practice] and seeing how he moved, but he did look natural doing it. I think he’s been on the left side at times during college and things like that. It just shows you what a phenomenal athlete he is and how determined he is and really what a good football player he is.”

In addition to starting at right tackle in the past — including the entire 2010 season and in the 2014 postseason — Yanda has occasionally practiced at center in the past to be prepared in the event of an emergency situation on game day. Former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak once quipped that Yanda was so versatile that he could probably handle the quarterback position in a pinch.

After missing three of his previous four games, Yanda appeared to make it through the game without suffering any further damage to his left shoulder. He is wearing a harness to protect it during practices and games after initially injuring it in the Oct. 9 loss to Washington.

“He got out of [the game] well. I talked to him this morning, and he felt really good, felt strong,” Harbaugh said. “He got a lift in this morning, so that was a good sign. He got out of it 100 percent.”

J. Smith, Dumervil status up to medical staff

Harbaugh was noncommittal regarding the Week 12 status of cornerback Jimmy Smith (back) and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), who both sat out Sunday’s loss to Dallas.

While it was the first missed game of the season for Smith, Dumervil has appeared in just two of Baltimore’s 10 games this season in a slower-than-expected recovery from offseason foot surgery. Cincinnati is dealing with its own injury issues, but the Ravens would certainly like to have two key defensive cogs back in action.

“We will see. I don’t really know,” Harbaugh said. “It is up to the doctors.”

Dumervil was shut down after two nondescript performances against Oakland and Washington early last month. He returned to practice as a full participant last Wednesday and Thursday, but the medical staff elected to hold the 32-year-old out after a five-week absence from the practice field.

Harbaugh said Dumervil looked good in those practices and did not suffer a setback, making it possible that he could play against the Bengals. The Ravens could certainly use a healthy version of the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher coming off the edge, but it remains to be seen what he will offer after such a lengthy and frustrating rehab process.

“I have no expectations. I am hoping he gets out there and plays, and I hope he has 10 sacks,” Harbaugh said. “That is what I am hoping for. I am hoping he just lights it up and dominates. I am hoping he is the difference. I just don’t have the answer for it. If he is out there, I expect him to play great.”

Boyle back

Second-year tight end Nick Boyle will return to practice this week after serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, the second ban of his brief career.

“He will be back practicing this week. We will see how he looks,” said Harbaugh about the 2015 fifth-round pick from Delaware. “He has not been here for 10 weeks, so it has been quite a while.”

The Ravens could use the depth with veteran Dennis Pitta and converted wide receiver Darren Waller being the only healthy tight ends on the active roster since the bye week. Crockett Gillmore has missed the last three games with a thigh injury, which has prompted offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use reserve tackle James Hurst as a blocking tight end in certain situations.

It’s quite a change from the start of training camp when the Ravens had an abundance of talent at the position, but they lost Benjamin Watson (Achilles tendon) and Maxx Williams (knee) to season-ending injuries and Daniel Brown was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Bears in October. Gillmore’s absence has left Baltimore without a quality blocking tight end, which hasn’t helped an inconsistent running game.

“It has not been ideal,” Harbaugh said. “We had a number of tight ends to start the season, and we ended up being thin there the last four or five weeks. I feel like Darren has done a good job; he has actually blocked pretty darn well. We just play the guys we have and go win games with the guys we have.”

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Loss doesn’t change Ravens’ outlook all that much

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The 27-17 loss to Dallas was disappointing, but the outlook for the Ravens’ season really didn’t change all that much on Sunday.

A mediocre team hung tough throughout the first half before the superior Cowboys seized control over the final 30 minutes. The final result certainly didn’t make the Ravens or their fans happy, but isn’t that what’s supposed to happen when a .500 team plays on the road against one of the best teams in the NFL?

If we’re being honest, what did we learn about the Ravens at AT&T Stadium that we didn’t already know?

Sure, we can calm down with the discussion about where this defense ranks among the best groups in franchise history. The NFL’s top-ranked run defense may have fared well against Ezekiel Elliott early, but the Cowboys’ No. 1 rushing attack ultimately won that marquee battle with 118 yards on the afternoon.

Though still a very good defense statistically, the Ravens have now twice shown — the first instance being the second half of the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants — that they can’t stop a potent passing attack with an elite receiver without Jimmy Smith on the field. Sunday was also one of the few occasions all year in which the defense was exposed for not having a consistent pass rush as rookie quarterback Dak Prescott was hardly touched after the opening quarter.

This defense may not be special, but it’s still good enough to keep the Ravens in games against virtually anyone. A group that has forced turnovers and consistently gotten off the field on third down all year could do neither on Sunday, which tells much of the story of the game.

The Cowboys proved why they’re one of the best offenses in football by controlling the line of scrimmage.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore offense started fast with an impressive six-play, 90-yard touchdown drive on its second possession before punting on four of its next five possessions. Over that time, the Cowboys turned an early 7-0 deficit into a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Again, that script is nothing new for a Ravens offense that’s failed to score 20 or more points in five of 10 games this season.

Quarterback Joe Flacco completed plenty of short passes and had a solid day statistically, but he went 0-for-4 on passes traveling at least 20 yards through the air. The Ravens offense could neither consistently make big plays — outside of Steve Smith — nor sustain drives to keep the Dallas offense off the field.

Seventeen points just isn’t going to get it done when you’re playing a top five offense on the road in today’s NFL.

And, of course, yellow flags crushed the Ravens in all three phases of the game as they finished with a season-high 136 yards in penalties. From center Jeremy Zuttah’s three backbreaking penalties to stall drives to Matt Judon’s offside infraction on a fourth-quarter kickoff that would have backed the Cowboys up to their own 10, Baltimore shot itself in the foot repeatedly.

But we know that’s nothing new once again.

Fans don’t want to hear it after the Ravens fell to 0-4 against teams currently holding winning records, but they do look better than they did a month ago, even if only because of improved health. Chalk it up to good fortune because of a down year in the AFC North, but the Ravens remain in solid position tied with Pittsburgh for first place with six games remaining.

The Steelers aren’t going anywhere and may face an easier path on paper, but the Ravens will now prepare for Cincinnati, who is suddenly looking closer in quality to the Cleveland Browns than to the top two teams in the division. The Bengals fell to 3-6-1 on Sunday while losing five-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green and shifty running back Giovani Bernard to long-term injuries, leaving no excuse for the Ravens not to snap their five-game slide against Cincinnati dating back to 2013.

You never want to lose, but the Ravens were playing a non-conference team better than them and appeared to escape Dallas without any serious injuries.

I suppose it’s deflating if you believed Baltimore’s second-half explosion against Cleveland to be a breakthrough, but playing the worst team in the NFL at home is a lot different than venturing down to “Jerry’s World” these days.

The Ravens are what their record suggests they are — not a very good football team — but a division title is still within their sights.

Sunday’s loss did very little to change that, especially if you were being realistic to begin with.

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Ravens-Cowboys: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 20 November 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated 12:40 p.m.)

The irresistible force against the immovable object.

The NFL’s top-ranked run defense takes on the No. 1 rush offense as the Ravens travel to Arlington, Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys, owners of the best record in the NFL.

Despite that being the marquee matchup of the afternoon, the Ravens were dealt a major blow to their pass defense with cornerback Jimmy Smith being deactivated for Sunday’s game. Smith is dealing with a back injury and was listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

His absence means defensive coordinator Dean Pees will lean on the likes of Tavon Young, Jerraud Powers, and Shareece Wright to try to slow two-time Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant and the Dallas passing game. Keeping seven defenders in the box to slow rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott won’t be easy without that clear option in Smith to lock down Bryant.

Wright is making his return from a three-game absence with a hamstring injury and was working as a starter opposing Young during warmups. However, it wouldn’t surprising to see the Ravens use defensive back Anthony Levine as a hybrid defender against the run and pass in certain sub packages.

As expected, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) is also inactive despite returning to the practice field this week. He was a full participant on Wednesday and Thursday, but the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher hadn’t been on the field in over five weeks as he continues to work his way back to full strength from offseason too surgery. Dumervil has appeared in only two games all season.

Starting left guard Alex Lewis (ankle) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) were already ruled out on Friday.

The good news for the Ravens on Sunday morning was the activation of Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. Both were listed as questionable to play with shoulder injuries this week.

In an interesting wrinkle, Yanda was working as the starting left guard during pre-game warmups with Vlad Ducasse again working at right guard where he started last week. It would Yanda’s first NFL start at that position as the Ravens will now use their seventh different starting combination of the season on the offensive line.

There were no surprises among the Dallas inactives as cornerback Morris Claiborne (groin) and safety Barry Church (forearm) were officially ruled out on Friday. Veteran quarterback Tony Romo (back) is active and will serve in his new role as rookie Dak Prescott’s backup.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be John Parry.

The roof will be closed at AT&T Stadium, making this the first indoor game for the Ravens this season.

Baltimore will wear purple jerseys with white pants while the Cowboys sport white jerseys with silver pants.

Sunday marks the fifth regular-season meeting between these teams with Baltimore holding a 4-0 advantage. Dallas is the only team not to have beaten the Ravens in the 21-year history of the latter franchise.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Jimmy Smith
CB Asa Jackson
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro
LB Elvis Dumervil
OL Ryan Jensen
OL Alex Lewis
TE Crockett Gillmore

DALLAS
QB Mark Sanchez
CB Morris Claiborne
RB Darius Jackson
S Barry Church
LB Mark Nzeocha
OT Chaz Green
DE Benson Mayowa

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Ravens-Cowboys: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are trying to prove they belong.

Two straight wins have moved them to the top of a bad division, but a road victory over Dallas would propel them into the conversation of compelling teams in the AFC. Baltimore’s No. 1 run defense is also trying to impose its will against the Cowboys’ top-ranked rushing attack in the marquee matchup of the game.

Meanwhile, the surprising Cowboys own the NFL’s best record at 8-1 and are coming off an emotional road win over Pittsburgh. That victory coupled with a big Thanksgiving meeting with NFC East rival Washington would appear to leave Dallas in danger of an emotional letdown against a 5-4 team on Sunday.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore tries to remain perfect in the all-time regular-season series against the Cowboys. The Ravens are 4-0 against Dallas, but only one of those was on the road, a 33-24 victory that closed old Texas Stadium on Dec. 20, 2008.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown on the day he reaches 1,000 career receptions. The 37-year-old needs only three catches to reach that special mark and tie Hines Ward for 13th on the all-time list, but Smith will be determined to put on a show in a game in which most are expecting Dallas to win. The Cowboys secondary is without cornerback Morris Claiborne and will play plenty of Cover 2 to account for the speed of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, which will leave room for Smith to work the middle of the field. Joe Flacco has so much trust in Smith in a big game and will look his way early.

2. Dez Bryant will exploit a vulnerable Ravens secondary for a 100-yard receiving day. Even if Jimmy Smith plays after being listed as doubtful with a back issue, you can’t like his chances against the talented 6-foot-2 receiver. His expected absence is a big loss because the Ravens don’t have anyone else who matches up well against Bryant and it’s dangerous to take a defender out of the box against the Cowboys running game. Don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Dean Pees uses Anthony Levine extensively as a dime back to defend the pass and provide help against the run.

3. Kenneth Dixon will receive more touches than starter Terrance West. The rookie had a career-high 80 total yards against Cleveland and matched his career high with 11 touches. Meanwhile, West averaged 3.1 yards per carry in Week 10 and has totaled just 96 rushing yards over the last three games. With the Cowboys ranking third in the NFL in run defense, the Ravens aren’t likely to open many rushing lanes and should utilize Dixon as a receiver out of the backfield. Philadelphia successfully unleashed the shifty Darren Sproles against Dallas in Week 8, which could be a blueprint for Dixon.

4. Ezekiel Elliott will have more rushing yards in the final quarter than the first three combined. The fourth pick of the 2016 draft and the Cowboys offensive line are special talents, but the Baltimore run defense has been just as impressive and will turn some heads. The Ravens will do all they can to take away the run and make rookie Dak Prescott beat them, but their own struggling offense as well as the absence of Jimmy Smith will leave too small of a margin for error on the afternoon. That will lead to some fatigue, which will allow Elliott to find some space for meaningful yardage late in the game.

5. The offense will once again be the Ravens’ primary downfall in a close 23-16 loss. Everyone has talked about the Ravens defense going up against the Cowboys offense, but the real key will be whether the Baltimore offense can do enough to keep up in this one. The Ravens scored a season-high 28 points against the worst team in the NFL last week, but that also included an ugly first half consisting of just two field goals. Optimists are talking about the second half of that one being the breakthrough for Flacco and the Ravens offense, but left guard Alex Lewis is out and right guard Marshal Yanda is far from 100 percent on an offensive line that has been the Achilles heel all year. Dallas lacks a strong pass rush and doesn’t have a great defense, but worse units have been able to shut down the Ravens this season. The defense will keep it close, but one good half against the lowly Browns isn’t enough to convince me that this offense is ready to do what it takes to beat a team like Dallas on the road.

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