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Jackson out indefinitely with toe injury, Canty sidelined after wrist surgery

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Jackson out indefinitely with toe injury, Canty sidelined after wrist surgery

Posted on 06 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day that veteran Lardarius Webb saw his most extensive action of the season, the Ravens lost cornerback Asa Jackson indefinitely with a major toe injury suffered in the second half of Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Head coach John Harbaugh said Jackson has “a very severely sprained toe” that has him in a walking boot and will keep him out for a number of weeks. The third-year cornerback is likely to be placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, which would keep him sidelined for a minimum of eight weeks.

“Ozzie [Newsome] will decide that. I’m pretty sure that will happen,” Harbaugh said. “Again, until it happens, something might change. That’s where we’re at with that right now. We’re looking at our corner options there.”

With Webb still working his way back to full strength from a back injury that sidelined him for all of training camp and the preseason, Jackson started four of the Ravens’ first five games, recording 19 tackles and a pass breakup. He played 42 of 82 defensive snaps against Indianapolis before exiting the game in the second half.

Harbaugh also announced the Ravens would also be without defensive end Chris Canty for a couple more weeks after he underwent surgery for an infection in his wrist. The veteran missed Sunday’s game against the Colts with what was listed as an illness and was hospitalized over the weekend after having the procedure.

“[His thumb and wrist] swelled up on him last week,” Harbaugh said. “They didn’t know what it was; they thought it might be gout or things like that. It turned out to be an infection [and] he had to have surgery on it. He’s going to be [out] a couple weeks with that. That takes a while.”

The Ravens coach expressed satisfaction with how newcomers Christo Bilukidi and Lawrence Guy played in the defensive line rotation as Canty and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus) were both inactive for Sunday’s game. Third-year lineman DeAngelo Tyson started in place of Canty and made five tackles while playing 38 snaps.

However, Baltimore will look to add depth at the cornerback position even though Webb saw his most extensive action of the season in playing 44 snaps against the Colts. He was targeted often by Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, who completed seven passes for 91 yards on nine pass attempts his way.

Even if Webb is ready to assume a full-time role in time for this Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, the Ravens will once again be looking at either using strong safety Matt Elam in the nickel position or Chykie Brown as their No. 3 corner, two options defensive coordinator Dean Pees would like to avoid moving forward.

“We’ve been pushing [Webb] hard. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to go,” Harbaugh said. “He looked better in practice, and he went out there and played pretty darn well. It’s only going to get better. He’s only going to improve physically — he knows how to play. He’s not there; he’s not 100 percent, but he’s on his way.”

Harbaugh provided positive news on the health of left guard Kelechi Osemele (hyperextended knee) and Elam (shoulder contusion). Both players were sore Monday, but neither player’s status is in doubt after returning to Sunday’s game despite their ailments.

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Ravens-Colts: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Colts: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 05 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens appear ready to give cornerback Lardarius Webb his second look at game action this season as they take on the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

For just the second time this year, the sixth-year defensive back is active after not being listed on the injury report for the second straight week. After missing all of training camp and the preseason with back spasms, Webb is continuing to work himself back into better playing shape in terms of explosiveness and flexibility, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

The Ravens would certainly benefit from a healthy Webb against quarterback Andrew Luck and Indianapolis’ top-ranked passing game, but it remains to be seen how much action the veteran cornerback will see at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin) is active and will play despite missing two practices this past week and only working on a limited basis on Friday. However, defensive end Chris Canty (illness/knee) and third-string tight end Phillip Supernaw (thigh) were both listed as inactive for Sunday’s game.

Third-year defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson is expected to get the start in place of Canty, and the recently-acquired Lawrence Guy is active for the first time after being claimed off waivers from San Diego two weeks ago. The former Chargers and Colts defensive end will likely back up Tyson at the 5-technique spot.

As expected, left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee surgery) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus) remained out with their respective injuries.

For Indianapolis, defensive tackle Arthur Jones was inactive after already being ruled out on Friday. The former Ravens lineman hoped to be able to play against his old team, but the high ankle sprain he suffered a few weeks ago has yet to fully heal.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Walt Anderson.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with black pants while Indianapolis dons blue tops with white pants.

The roof will be opened at Lucas Oil Stadium with temperatures in the mid-50s with cloudy skies and winds up to 12 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Sunday marks the 11th all-time meeting between the Ravens and Indianapolis in the regular season with the Colts holding a 7-3 lead in the series. Baltimore is without a win in five total trips to Indianapolis and is 1-2 in postseason play against the Colts.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
DE Chris Canty
LB Arthur Brown
LT Eugene Monroe
G John Urschel
TE Phillip Supernaw
DL Timmy Jernigan
WR Michael Campanaro

INDIANAPOLIS
CB Jalil Brown
LB Chris Carter
OL Khaled Holmes
OT Jamon Meredith
DT Kelcy Quarles
G Jack Mewhort
DT Arthur Jones

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Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones

A 3-1 record through the first quarter of the season has made a statement that the Ravens are a playoff-caliber team, but a road win against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday would scream they belong among the NFL’s elite.

Despite an offense that was ranked 29th in the NFL last season, the Ravens bring a revamped unit to Lucas Oil Stadium that’s ranked sixth in total yards and tied for seventh in points per game, which could lead to a shootout against an Indianapolis offense ranking first in total yards and averaging a league-leading 34.0 points per game. Of course, the Colts’ numbers benefited from playing two woeful teams, Tennessee and Jacksonville, in their last two games while the Ravens have only played one game away from M&T Bank Stadium so far this season.

The Baltimore secondary has faced much scrutiny this season and will face its biggest test in quarterback Andrew Luck and the NFL’s top-ranked passing game. The Ravens rank 24th in pass defense, but a stout run defense has often made opponents one-dimensional and the pass rush finally showed up in a convincing 38-10 win over Carolina last Sunday.

Sunday marks the 11th all-time meeting between the Ravens and Indianapolis in the regular season with the Colts holding a 7-3 advantage. Baltimore is winless in four regular-season trips to Indianapolis. The good news for the Ravens is they got the best of the Colts in their only meeting against Luck that came in the 2012 postseason, which also served as their only playoff win against Indianapolis in three tries.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to begin a difficult stretch of four of five games on the road with a win on Sunday …

1. The Baltimore running game wins the time of possession battle as Justin Forsett is the leading rusher in an attack that goes over 125 yards on the ground again. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak always prefers establishing the run, but it will be even more critical in a game with such a prolific offense on the opposing side. Indianapolis is allowing 4.4 yards per carry, which indicates the Ravens should be able to move the ball effectively on the ground to set up play-action passes. The recently-injured Bernard Pierce will see some action unlike last week, but Forsett will still lead the Ravens in rushing yards in what will be a three-back timeshare.

2. Indianapolis uses a no-huddle attack to keep the Ravens’ pass rush on its heels and to help a very shaky offensive line. Even with a big lead, the Colts pushed the tempo against Tennessee last week, and they’ll use a similar style to keep the Baltimore front on its heels and to protect an offensive line that’s already surrendered 13 quarterback hits and 22 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s no secret that three-step drops limit any defense’s ability to get to the quarterback, but the Ravens have been especially vulnerable to this over the last couple years and a quicker tempo will make the defense too flatfooted in the second half, especially with Chris Canty unlikely to play and Terrell Suggs less than 100 percent.

3. Colts cornerback Vontae Davis and bracketed coverage finally make Steve Smith look human, but Torrey Smith catches a touchdown and posts a season-high 105 receiving yards. After collecting 429 receiving yards in four weeks, the elder Smith will finally receive consistent attention befitting a No. 1 receiver as Davis will shadow him and receive extra help whenever possible. Steve Smith will still have a presence, but it will be Torrey Smith with a dynamic performance against an Indianapolis defense ranking 21st in pass defense. The fourth-year wideout will catch a long score on an effective play-action fake that makes new starting free safety Sergio Brown — filling in for the suspended LaRon Landry — bite.

4. A secondary that’s been shaky all year finally crumbles as Luck throws for 350 yards and three touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees stood up for the play of his pass defense this week, but the Colts have too many weapons for top cornerback Jimmy Smith to account for and no one else inspires enough confidence to slow such a passing game. Cornerback Lardarius Webb wasn’t listed on the injury report for the second straight week, but it’s impossible to have any expectations for him until he finally takes extensive snaps in live-game action. An improved pass rush against Carolina helped mask issues in coverage, but the Ravens won’t be able to do the same with Indianapolis using an up-tempo attack, which will lead to a long day for the back end of the defense.

5. Quarterback Joe Flacco has another strong afternoon, but the Baltimore offense can’t quite hang with Indianapolis in a 30-24 loss to snap a three-game winning streak. At the start of the season, I wouldn’t have given the Ravens much of a chance to win this one, but a stronger-than-expected Baltimore offense and the Colts’ less-than-impressive offensive line will make this a close one. In the same way that the Colts’ two wins have come against less-than-stellar competition, I can’t be convinced that a shaky road win over Cleveland is enough evidence that the Ravens can carry over performances on the road like what we saw against Carolina last week. Flacco will play at a high level against a very ordinary defense, but the Baltimore defense won’t force enough stops against Luck and the Colts to pull out the road upset.

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Suggs questionable, Canty doubtful for Sunday’s game in Indianapolis

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Suggs questionable, Canty doubtful for Sunday’s game in Indianapolis

Posted on 03 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens could be without two starting pieces of their front seven for Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts as linebacker Terrell Suggs is questionable and defensive end Chris Canty was designated as doubtful on the final injury report of the week.

Suggs did return to practice on a limited basis Friday after resting a groin injury he’s dealt with since the Ravens’ Week 3 win at Cleveland. The veteran pass rusher missed two practices last week before playing in last Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers, but he aggravated the groin in the fourth quarter of the 38-10 final.

Canty missed practice all week with an illness, but he had also been dealing with a knee injury that forced him out of three practices last week before he was still able to play against the Panthers. If he is unable to go, third-year lineman DeAngelo Tyson would likely receive the start at the 5-technique defensive end spot.

Though both are listed as doubtful and not officially out just yet, left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee surgery) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus) will not play against the Colts.

Third-string tight end Phillip Supernaw is listed as questionable after being limited with a thigh injury during Friday’s practice. He was not on the injury report earlier this week, making it possible he suffered the injury in the final workout of the week before the Ravens travel to Indianapolis on Saturday.

Cornerback Chykie Brown (neck) and running back Bernard Pierce are listed as probable as are tight end Owen Daniels and wide receiver Steve Smith, who both received the day off from practice on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis officially ruled out former Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones, who has been sidelined for a few weeks with a high ankle sprain.

Here is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: DE Chris Canty (illness), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), T Eugene Monroe (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Terrell Suggs (thigh), TE Phillip Supernaw (thigh)
PROBABLE: CB Chykie Brown (neck), TE Owen Daniels (NIR), RB Bernard Pierce (thigh), WR Steve Smith (NIR)

INDIANAPOLIS
OUT: DT Arthur Jones (ankle), G Jack Mewhort (ankle)
PROBABLE: LB Jerrell Freeman (hamstring), S Colt Henderson (groin), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (NIR), LB D’Qwell Jackson (NIR), LB Andy Studebaker (hamstring), G Hugh Thorton (ankle), WR Reggie Wayne (NIR), LB Erik Walden (NIR)

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Suggs, Canty stil missing from practice

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Suggs, Canty stil missing from practice

Posted on 01 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens were without two key defensive starters Wednesday as they continued preparations for their Week 5 meeting with the Indianapolis Colts.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin) and defensive end Chris Canty (illness) were listed as non-participants in addition to left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee surgery) and rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus). Monroe is expected to miss his second straight game as he recovers from last week’s arthroscopic surgery.

After being limited to just one practice last week, Suggs played in last Sunday’s win against Carolina but re-aggravated a groin injury and left late in the fourth quarter with the Ravens holding a 38-10 lead. The veteran linebacker downplayed the severity, but it wasn’t surprising to see him sitting out on Wednesday as a result.

Canty was active and started against the Panthers despite missing practice all last week with a knee injury.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis was without former Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones, who continues to recover from a high ankle sprain that’s kept him sidelined for the last two games. Veterans D’Qwell Jackson and Reggie Wayne both were given the day off on Wednesday.

Here is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Chris Canty (illness), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), T Eugene Monroe (knee), LB Terrell Suggs (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Chykie Brown (neck), RB Bernard Pierce (thigh)

INDIANAPOLIS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (NIR), LB D’Qwell Jackson (NIR), DT Arthur Jones (ankle), G Jack Mewhort (ankle), WR Reggie Wayne (NIR)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Jerrell Freeman (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Colt Henderson (groin), LB Andy Studebaker (hamstring), G Hugh Thorton (ankle)

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 5

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 5

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Luke Jones

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

STOCK RISING

Steve Smith
Skinny: The former Carolina Panthers wide receiver has impressed since the first day he arrived in Baltimore, but he became the oldest player in NFL history with more than 400 receiving yards in his first four games of a season last Sunday. It’s apparent that Smith has become Joe Flacco’s most-trusted target as the second touchdown the pair connected on against the Panthers came after the quarterback dropped a snap and threw the ball up for grabs in Smith’s direction. He’s unlikely to continue a 1,600-yard pace, but it’s difficult envisioning Smith not blowing past 1,000 receiving yards, assuming he stays healthy.

Joe Flacco
Skinny: Any lingering doubts about the seventh-year quarterback’s ability to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s system are all but gone after Flacco posted a franchise-record 137.4 passer rating in the 38-10 win over Carolina. As if 327 passing yards and three touchdown passes weren’t enough, Flacco was particularly deadly when the Panthers tried to blitz, going 7-for-9 with two scores and 149 yards. After feeling like he had to do it all by himself a year ago, Flacco is once again showing what he’s capable of accomplishing with a good offensive line and strong running game supporting him. 

Terrence Brooks
Skinny: After being inactive in the Ravens’ Week 3 win in Cleveland, the 2014 third-round pick saw the first defensive action of his career against the Panthers, playing 32 snaps and finishing with two tackles while serving as a safety in the nickel package. With the entire secondary in flux beyond No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, Brooks has an opportunity to carve out a role and was complimented by head coach John Harbaugh on Monday. Starting free safety Darian Stewart has struggled in coverage through four games and could be pushed by Brooks or Will Hill when he returns from suspension next month.

STOCK FALLING

Jacoby Jones
Skinny: The veteran wide receiver was mentioned on this list a couple weeks ago, but his struggles are now impacting his playing time as Jones saw just seven offensive snaps while Marlon Brown played 31 and Kamar Aiken saw 14 against Carolina. In addition to another drop, Jones fielded a punt from his own 2-yard line, which is rarely ever a wise choice. It’s painfully obvious that Jones is pressing and his struggles are in his head, so you wonder how much patience Harbaugh and Kubiak will have and if his limited number of snaps against the Panthers is a sign of things to come.

Darian Stewart
Skinny: The veteran had another rough game against Carolina as he was late reacting in Cover 2 to prevent rookie Kelvin Benjamin from catching a 28-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. You can understand strong safety Matt Elam’s struggles when realizing he’s being asked to play the nickel corner spot, but it’s become apparent that Stewart is not the center-field option the Ravens need in the back end of the defense. It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Dean Pees awards Brooks more opportunities at safety whenever Lardarius Webb returns and Elam can remain at strong safety.

Jeromy Miles
Skinny: After serving as the free safety in the nickel package in consecutive games, the special-teams standout didn’t receive a single snap with the defense in Week 4 as it appears the coaching staff has seen enough of him in the secondary. The Ravens have struggled to find answers for their pass defense, so you never know when Miles’ name might be called again, but he didn’t do anything to make a noticeable impact. At this point, you get the impression that the Ravens are trying to throw anything they can against the wall in hopes of something sticking.

 

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Harbaugh expects Hoke to be Michigan coach for “long time to come”

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Harbaugh expects Hoke to be Michigan coach for “long time to come”

Posted on 29 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As Baltimore fans watched the Ravens improve to 3-1 with a 38-10 thumping of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, a report stated the University of Michigan could be targeting the services of head coach John Harbaugh.

With the Wolverines off to a disappointing 2-3 start and current head coach Brady Hoke’s status in severe doubt, the NFL Network reported that the program prefers the Ravens coach over younger brother and 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, whose future in San Francisco remains uncertain beyond this season. This isn’t the first time the Harbaugh brothers have been linked to the Michigan football program as John graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor and Jim played quarterback for the Wolverines before going on to play in the NFL.

Their father, Jack Harbaugh, served as an assistant under legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler in the 1970s.

According to The Sun, John Harbaugh is not interested in the job, but the head coach did not go out of his way to confirm or deny potential interest when asked Monday about once again being linked to Michigan. In addition to being under contract as one of the highest-paid coaches in the NFL through the 2017 season, Harbaugh has remained close with Hoke after they coached together at Western Michigan in the mid-1980s.

“It seems like it’s kind of there. I don’t really know why,” said Harbaugh about being linked to Michigan. “Brady Hoke’s a guy that we believe in. The Harbaughs believe in Brady Hoke. He’s a great coach; he’s done it anywhere he’s ever been. He believes in Michigan. I believe in what they’re doing there. I think they’re going to get it turned around.”

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has served in the same capacity under Hoke since 2011, another link between the two. Rumors have also persisted that Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon could be on his way out, which would certainly complicate any potential search for a new head football coach in Ann Arbor.

On Saturday, the Wolverines fell to Minnesota for just the third time since 1967. This season marks the first time in its 135-year football history that Michigan has sustained three losses before the start of October.

“The team should be galvanized right now,” said Harbaugh, who has a 65-35 regular-season record in seven NFL seasons and guided the Ravens to a win in Super Bowl XLVII. “I would expect them to come out like a bunch of wounded lions and go to work, because they love Brady and they love those coaches. They’ve just got to [play]. I’m interested in Brady Hoke being the coach at Michigan for a long time to come.”

Webb’s status still mystery

Even though he didn’t appear on the injury report last week for the first time all season, cornerback Lardarius Webb was ruled inactive prior to the 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, creating even more uncertainty regarding his status.

Harbaugh acknowledged Webb’s struggles against Cleveland played a major role in deciding he still wasn’t ready to rejoin the Ravens’ starting defense. The head coach is hopeful that changes this Sunday as Baltimore travels to Indianapolis to take on the 2-2 Colts.

“I’ll probably have a pretty good idea after watching practice,” Harbaugh said about Webb’s status for Week 5. “I probably won’t let anybody know until Sunday. But it will be based on how he practices and how he looks in terms of getting his acceleration and his burst back — the things that everybody saw that weren’t quite there.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees continues to use strong safety Matt Elam in the nickel position, but rookie Terrence Brooks saw extensive action with 32 defensive snaps playing free safety in the nickel package against the Panthers. The 2014 third-round pick was inactive in Week 3 but fared well against Carolina, according to the head coach.

Harbaugh said the health of Webb’s back is no longer a concern after the cornerback didn’t practice from July 25 through the end of training camp.

“They tell me that he’s healthy now, and he says he feels healthy,” Harbaugh said. “But it’s just a matter of that strength and quickness and burst, which should come back fast. Anybody that has ever trained [knows] if you’ve been in great shape, you get back in shape pretty quickly, in terms of strength and burst and things like that. You just have to do it. He’s working really hard at it, and it very well could be this week.

“I’m sure hoping it’s this week. I want to see it this week, and we’ll be shooting for that.”

Two receivers going in different directions

After what was unofficially his fifth dropped pass of the season against the Panthers, struggling wide receiver Jacoby Jones finished the game having taken only seven offensive snaps, his lowest total of 2014.

Jones also made an ill-advised decision to field a punt at his own 2-yard line before returning it to the Baltimore 20. Harbaugh reiterated that the 30-year-old continues to work extremely hard in practice and is simply trying too hard to make a play.

“He catches the ball in practice. Sometimes I think he’s pressing,” Harbaugh said. “I really do. Jacoby has a lot of pride, and he’s made big, big plays in this league before, and he wants to pick up where he left off. [That] hasn’t happened for him, but the thing he has to know — just like Torrey [Smith], just like anybody – is that the key is persistence. You just keep hammering and you don’t get down on yourself, and focus on the fundamentals and the details, and it’ll work out.”

With Jones playing poorly, second-year wide receiver Marlon Brown has suddenly reemerged in the Baltimore offense after making three receptions for 31 yards and playing 31 offensive snaps, his highest total since Week 1.

The 6-foot-5 Brown gives the Ravens another appealing option in the red zone and on third down after tight end Dennis Pitta was lost for the season last week in Cleveland.

“He was in there on the first three-wide group,” Harbaugh said. “He did a good job, made a couple plays — third-down conversions that were very important. [He is a] big target, gets off press really well and blocks, and he did a good job in special teams. He played well. It kind of goes back to what we were saying as far as guys stepping up at different positions.”

Colts’ Landry suspended

The NFL announced Monday afternoon that Indianapolis safety LaRon Landry has been suspended four games without pay for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy.

His suspension begins this week as the Colts’ 21st-ranked pass defense will now be without its hard-hitting safety.

He is the younger brother of former Ravens safety Dawan Landry.

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Offensive line becoming major asset for Ravens at quarter mark

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Offensive line becoming major asset for Ravens at quarter mark

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On a day in which Steve Smith and Joe Flacco understandably owned the spotlight in the Ravens’ dominating 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, John Harbaugh was asked after the game how rookie free agent James Hurst fared in his first start at left tackle.

The head coach’s answer applied as an appropriate assessment of the entire offensive line through the first quarter of the season. After a nightmarish 2013 in which the group stood out on a weekly basis for all the wrong reasons, the Baltimore offensive line hasn’t been a major topic of discussion because of how consistently well it’s played.

Even after losing standout left tackle Eugene Monroe to knee surgery, the Ravens didn’t appear to miss a beat with Hurst, an offensive lineman many didn’t think would make the 53-man roster at this time a month ago.

“I didn’t notice him, so that must be a good thing, right?” Harbaugh said. “I can’t wait to see it on tape, but it seemed like he played well. We ran the ball well. We did a good job across the board, I think, blocking as a group. The unit has played exceptionally well. We have to keep building, but it’s nice to have some depth in there.”

It’s no secret that veteran members of the offensive line took last year’s criticism to heart after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda made it clear during organized team activities last spring that he had no interest in rehashing the struggles of a running game that averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry in 2013.

In the eyes of the offensive line, it was a different year with a new system installed by new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. There was also new personnel, including the arrival of veteran center Jeremy Zuttah and the promotion of second-year lineman Rick Wagner to the starting right tackle spot. Of course, the improved health of left guard Kelechi Osemele and Yanda also figured to pay major dividends after both dealt with ailments last season.

And it’s led to the previously-loud criticism of offensive line coach Juan Castillo becoming all but silent at this point.

“It’s obviously going to be different with a new offense,” said Zuttah, who’s stabilized the middle of the line that struggled with Gino Gradkowski at center a year ago. “Coach Kubiak is one of the better offensive minds in this league. You watch that Houston Texans running game for years, and they were at the top of the league every year. I think guys came in with a chip on their shoulder and an attitude and a willingness to get better.”

The Ravens’ improvement with the zone-blocking system starts inside where Zuttah said he’s flanked by the “best set of guards in the NFL” in Osemele and Yanda. Through the first four weeks of the season, the two have played at a Pro Bowl level, earning the highest cumulative grades of any Baltimore offensive players, according to Pro Football Focus.

Whether opening lanes for the running back trio of Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Bernard Pierce or protecting quarterback Joe Flacco, the offensive line continues to make the 2013 season a distant memory as the Ravens are off to a 3-1 start.

Since Flacco was sacked three times in the season-opening loss to Cincinnati, the offensive line hasn’t allowed one in three straight contests. It’s the first time the Ravens have done that since the 2006 season in which they finished 13-3.

“Those guys have been holding up big time when we do the play-action, when teams come after us, and when we’re dealing with really good defensive lines,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve got a lot of good guys up front, and they’re communicating very well, and they’re being really physical. We’re allowing them to play very physical and get really confident, so it’s been a good run.”

That physicality has paid major dividends in the running game as Forsett and Taliaferro combined to run for 127 yards on 30 carries against the Carolina defense. Averaging 4.5 yards per carry through their first four games, the Ravens have followed through on the promise to return to their roots as a physical, run-first team.

That success has led to a more-efficient Flacco, who is currently on pace to throw a career-high 28 touchdowns and is completing 63.4 percent of his pass attempts. The arrival of the veteran Smith and the revamped running game have allowed Flacco to play more like the signal-caller we saw in the 2012 postseason and less like the man who had to try to do it all by himself last year.

He can thank his offensive line for not only keeping him clean but opening running lanes for whichever running back is carrying the ball. The cohesiveness has impressed the 28-year-old Forsett, who had plenty of experience running in zone-blocking systems in Seattle as well as in his one season with Kubiak in Houston.

Behind a revamped line, the Ravens have rushed for at least 125 yards in three straight games, a feat they hadn’t accomplished since the first three weeks of the 2009 season. Through four games, they’ve also collected six runs of 20 or more yards, one more than they had all last season.

“The offensive line has been gelling really fast,” Forsett said. “I’ve been in this scheme for a while now and to be doing this well this early, it’s a good sign.”

As encouraging as the start to the season has been, the Ravens will now enter a daunting stretch of four road games over the next five weeks. They’ll need that strong offensive line play we’ve seen at M&T Bank Stadium to continue against the likes of Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh in the coming weeks.

Even with the early-season success, members of the offensive line haven’t expressed any sense of satisfaction or an air of “I told you so” after hearing last year’s criticism and the doubts leading into this season.

Averaging 25.75 points per game, the Ravens still offer the impression that they can get even better upfront.

“We did pretty good today, but there were some yards we left out there,” Zuttah said. “I think we’re going to go back in there and be tough on ourselves in the film and see what we can do to get all the yards that we think we missed.”

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Ravens-Panthers: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Panthers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens hoped they were moving closer to getting their full secondary back a week ago with the season debut of Lardarius Webb, but the moments leading into Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers provided a different outlook.

After practicing fully all week and not even being listed on the injury report, the sixth-year cornerback was ruled inactive for Week 4 as he continues to try to improve his flexibility and quickness from a back injury that sidelined him for all of training camp. Playing only four snaps against Cleveland last week, Webb appeared slow in his backpedal and was unable to quickly change direction, prompting defensive coordinator Dean Pees to keep him on the sideline for most of the game.

Considering Webb has practiced for nearly a month, the Ravens may need to take a long look at how quickly he can get himself back to an acceptable level of play to help a struggling secondary. Third-year cornerback Asa Jackson is expected to take Webb’s place in the starting lineup once again.

Defensive end Chris Canty (knee) is active after missing practice all week and being listed as questionable on the final injury report. He was the only other Ravens player whose status appeared in doubt after left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee surgery) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) were officially ruled out on Friday.

As expected, running back Bernard Pierce (quadriceps), linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee/ankle) are active after being listed as probable on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Panthers will be without two key players on Sunday as running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) and outside linebacker Thomas Davis (hip) were both ruled inactive after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. However, Carolina will have the services of starting running back DeAngelo Williams (thigh) after he missed the last two games.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Craig Wrolstad. He’s a new referee this season after serving as an NFL field judge prior to the promotion.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures around 80 degrees with partly cloudy skies, no chance of precipitation, and winds up to five miles per hour.

The Ravens will be wearing black jerseys and black pants for the first time this season on Sunday while the Panthers will wear all white.

Former Ravens tight end Todd Heap will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday’s game, becoming the eighth Ravens player to receive the honor.

Baltimore and Carolina will be meeting for the fifth time in the all-time regular-season series with the Panthers holding a 3-1 edge. The Ravens lost the only meeting between these teams at M&T Bank Stadium with wide receiver Steve Smith having a big day against his future team in a 23-21 final on Oct. 15, 2006.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Lardarius Webb
WR Michael Campanaro
LB Arthur Brown
LT Eugene Monroe
G John Urschel
DT Timmy Jernigan
DE Lawrence Guy

CAROLINA
QB Joe Webb
RB Jonathan Stewart
S Tre Boston
RB Fozzy Whittaker
LB Thomas Davis
OL Andrew Norwell
TE Brandon Williams

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope to hit the quarter pole of the season on a winning note when they welcome the Carolina Panthers to Baltimore on Sunday afternoon.

Most focus has understandably centered around wide receiver Steve Smith playing against his former team this week, but the Ravens will be playing their first game since losing tight end Dennis Pitta for the season and left tackle Eugene Monroe for at least the next few weeks. And they face an imposing stretch of four of their next five games on the road following Sunday’s contest at M&T Bank Stadium, making this a game the Ravens would desperately like to win.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are trying to recover from an embarrassing home loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday night while overcoming a number of injuries in their offensive backfield. Expected to have one of the more potent rushing attacks in the NFL this season, the Panthers currently rank 29th in run offense with just 72.3 rushing yards per contest.

Sunday marks the fifth meeting between these teams as Carolina holds a 3-1 edge. However, the Ravens won the only game against the Panthers of the John Harbaugh era, a 37-13 final in Charlotte in 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their first ever home game against the Panthers …

1. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown pass and be flagged for a 15-yard penalty against his old team. The 35-year-old has tried to downplay the significance of playing the Panthers after spending the first 13 years of his career in Charlotte, but there’s no escaping the prediction of “blood and guts” he made shortly after signing a three-year contract with the Ravens in March. To say Smith will be fired up is an understatement considering how fiery he is on game days anyway, but he’ll bring a little extra passion that will draw a 15-yard penalty for either unnecessary roughness or taunting at some point. He’ll make up for it, however, with a touchdown catch to beat Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason.

2. James Hurst will struggle as a run blocker, but his pass blocking, with help from tight end Crockett Gillmore and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, will keep Joe Flacco clean. If you’re looking for the silver lining with the left tackle situation, Monroe wasn’t playing well before undergoing knee surgery this week, meaning there may not be much of a drop-off with the undrafted rookie. The overall impression of his play in the preseason was that Hurst was a capable pass blocker with good technique, but his blocking ability in the running game left much to be desired. Baltimore will use help on his side to help contain the pass rush from the likes of Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, and Wes Horton and keep Flacco safe. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will also call more running plays inside and to the right to stay away from Hurst’s struggles whenever possible.

3. With Jimmy Smith locked on rookie Kelvin Benjamin, veteran Jerricho Cotchery catches a touchdown from Cam Newton against the Baltimore secondary. The 6-foot-5 Benjamin will pose a problem for any Ravens cornerback other than Smith, so defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have his top defensive back mirror him as much as possible. Veteran Lardarius Webb wasn’t listed on this week’s injury report, so he’s expected to have a bigger workload than the four defensive snaps he took in Cleveland, but it’s still difficult projecting what to expect from him in terms of performance. Carolina’s weapons in the passing game aren’t imposing beyond Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, but the savvy Cotchery is familiar with the Ravens defense from his days with Pittsburgh and will shake free against zone coverage for a red-zone touchdown.

4. Bernard Pierce will start in the backfield, but rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will lead the Ravens in rushing for the second straight week. A national audience watched the Steelers gash the Panthers defense for 264 rushing yards in a 37-19 final in Charlotte last Sunday night, which continued the early-season trend of Carolina struggling to stop the run. Kubiak will look to run early and often to control the tempo of the game and will defer to the returning Pierce at the start of this one. However, the jury is still out whether the 2012 third-round pick is a great fit in the Ravens’ zone-blocking scheme as he’s often looked indecisive in hitting running lanes. The Ravens will lean heavily on Taliaferro in the second half to wear down the Panthers’ front and the rookie will make another emphatic statement that the starting job belongs to him.

5. The injuries to Pitta and Monroe are concerning, but the Ravens will still have enough to handle Carolina in a 26-17 final. The Panthers are still trying to find their bearings on the offensive side of the ball with Newton still not 100 percent and the backfield in disarray with the long-term injury to fullback Mike Tolbert and the uncertain status of Jonathan Stewart. On top of that, the Carolina defense hasn’t been the imposing unit it was last year without defensive end Greg Hardy in the picture. The Ravens will use an effective running game and an improved defensive effort to win in relatively comfortable fashion to begin the season 3-1 before starting what looks to be the most difficult stretch of their regular-season schedule with only one home game over the next five weeks of action.

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