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Ravens get some help in AFC North during bye week

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Ravens get some help in AFC North during bye week

Posted on 16 November 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens were enjoying their bye this weekend, they could thank J.J. Watt for providing some help in their quest for an AFC North title.

Watt’s impressive performance on both sides of the ball led the Houston Texans to an impressive road win over the Cleveland Browns. The All-Pro defensive end and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year recorded a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, five tackles, and a first-quarter touchdown catch in the 23-7 final.

The loss knocked the 6-4 Browns out of first place as they’re now tied for second with Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Of course, the Steelers travel to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans Monday night.

While the Texans helped out the idle Ravens, the New Orleans Saints laid an egg at home in a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati, which propelled the 6-3-1 Bengals back into first place in the division. Dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, the Saints lost their second straight home game after previously winning 20 in a row at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Considering how unpredictable the 4-6 Saints have been this year, it’s difficult trying to figure out which team will show up against the Ravens next Monday night. But you can bet head coach John Harbaugh will remind his team throughout the coming week that the Saints are no longer invincible at home as they had looked the last few years.

As for the rest of the AFC playoff landscape, the Kansas City Chiefs beat Seattle for their fifth straight victory, which leaves them tied with Denver for first place in the AFC West after the Broncos were beaten in St. Louis. At 7-3, the Chiefs are making a loud statement for a playoff spot for the second straight season as they currently hold the top wild-card spot in the conference.

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Five Ravens predictions for the rest of the season

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Five Ravens predictions for the rest of the season

Posted on 15 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are a good football team.

But trying to figure out just how good they are in 2014 hasn’t been easy through the first 10 games of the regular season. Their plus-80 point differential ranks fourth in the NFL, but a 3-0 mark and plus-81 margin against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta say more about the woeful NFC South than about 6-4 Baltimore being a dominant team.

All four teams in the AFC North are separated by a half game in what’s shaping up to be the most competitive division in the NFL down the stretch. To put themselves in position to make it back to the postseason after last year’s absence, the Ravens will likely need to manage at least one victory in their final three road games against New Orleans, Miami, and Houston if they’re able to run the table at home against San Diego, Jacksonville, and Cleveland.

Over their final six games, the Ravens will prove whether they’re a contender or a pretender. They’ve done a fine job beating the teams they’re supposed to in 2014 (4-0 against teams currently with losing records), but a 2-4 mark against squads currently above .500 creates doubt.

Below are five things I see happening between now and the end of the season …

1. Marlon Brown will catch three touchdowns after finally emerging as a red-zone threat. This is a bold prediction as the second-year receiver has been a total afterthought this season with just 10 total catches for 93 yards. However, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak needs to improve the league’s 22nd-ranked red-zone offense as the Ravens are scoring touchdowns on just 54 percent of trips inside the 20. The 6-foot-5 Brown seems like a logical choice to fill some of the void left behind by the injured Dennis Pitta. Many predicted Brown would see fewer opportunities this year after the offseason acquisitions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, but there’s no reason not to utilize his height when approaching the end zone.

2. Will Hill and Terrence Brooks will be the starting safeties at the end of the season. Hill has emerged as the only true starter at safety with what’s become a committee approach. Darian Stewart has remained a starter next to Hill in the base defense, but the Ravens are using the rookie Brooks as a single-high safety in obvious passing spots. The third-round choice has been up and down, serving as a healthy inactive in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, but he and Hill best fit the profile of the interchangeable safeties the Ravens want. Stewart and disappointing 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam will continue to be used in the platoon for now, but Brooks will eventually supplant Stewart, who is rarely around the ball in pass coverage.

3. Steve Smith and Justin Forsett will eclipse the 1,100-yard marks in receiving and rushing, respectively. The 35-year-old Smith has slowed in recent games, but his competitive drive — as well as the benefit of the bye week — will revitalize his production for at least a couple big games down the stretch. Meanwhile, Forsett continues to be one of the best stories in the NFL this season as he’s already set a career high with 721 rushing yards and leads all running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry average. You’d be concerned with most 29-year-old backs wearing down late in the season, but Forsett has plenty of tread left on the tires after years of being underutilized in his other career stops.

4. The Houston game will be tougher than anticipated while the San Diego game will be easier than expected. A month ago, the Chargers looked like one of the NFL’s best teams, but a so-so defense, a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry average, and a 1 p.m. East Coast start time will put a lot on Philip Rivers’ shoulders against a Baltimore defense that raises its play at home. The Week 16 meeting with the Texans could turn into a heck of a challenge if new starting quarterback Ryan Mallett finds his bearings and No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney can stay in the lineup to complement J.J. Watt, the best defensive player on the planet. This one could be a must-win game for the Ravens, but Houston might be a much scarier team by then.

5. The Ravens will return to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Without giving away the game-by-game predictions, Baltimore will answer the bell to play at a level high enough to advance to the postseason for the sixth time in the last seven years under John Harbaugh. Questions remain about the secondary, but the front seven and the offense will play at above-average levels for the Ravens to win four of their last six contests. I have doubts whether this team is talented enough at key spots to make a serious run against the likes of New England, Denver, and Indianapolis, but as we’ve learned again and again in the modern NFL, the postseason is all about who gets hot at the right time. The Ravens will get the chance to roll the dice.

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Who will prevail in the AFC North?

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Who will prevail in the AFC North?

Posted on 14 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Halloween has come and gone, but that hasn’t prevented the AFC North from looking like something out of the twilight zone as the Ravens enjoy their bye this weekend.

Every team in the division is at least two games above .500, the first time that’s happened in the NFL since 1935. The Cleveland Browns — yes, those Cleveland Browns — are in first place in a year in which many talked about Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh battling for the top spot in a wide-open division.

Wide open indeed.

But who will prevail?

And just how strong is this division that’s gone 7-1-1 against the woeful NFC South but sports just one win — Pittsburgh’s 51-34 thrashing of Indianapolis — against winning teams outside the division?

Who will win the AFC North?

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Below is a look at each of the four teams and what lies ahead over the final seven weeks of the regular season:

CLEVELAND (6-3)
Division record: 2-2
Remaining schedule: Houston, at Atlanta, at Buffalo, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, at Carolina, at Baltimore
Skinny: On paper, this schedule doesn’t look too intimidating with four games against teams currently sporting non-winning records, but it also includes four out of seven on the road. The Browns deserve credit for the way they beat up the Bengals on the road in Week 10, but old habits die hard and it’s still difficult to believe they’re going to be the team left standing at the end of the season. These next three weeks are critical to the Browns’ chances as they face three very beatable opponents despite two coming on the road. If the Browns win at least two, they’re in decent shape entering a tough final month. Winning all three of those likely makes Cleveland the favorite to win the division entering the last four weeks.

CINCINNATI (5-3-1)
Division record: 2-1
Remaining schedule: at New Orleans, at Houston, at Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, at Cleveland, Denver, at Pittsburgh
Skinny: If it weren’t for their season sweep of the Ravens, the Bengals wouldn’t even be discussed as a playoff contender as their other three wins have come at home against Atlanta, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. If you’re head coach Marvin Lewis, the hope is that a healthy A.J. Green will provide the spark because Cincinnati has gone 2-3-1 since the first month of the season. Even if the Bengals have the most talented roster in the division, five of their remaining seven games are on the road and four come against teams sporting winning records. You never know in the unpredictable NFL where things can change quickly from week to week, but Cincinnati looks like the team least equipped to make a run to win the AFC North.

PITTSBURGH (6-4)
Division record: 2-2
Remaining schedule: at Tennessee, Bye, New Orleans, at Cincinnati, at Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati
Skinny: There may not be a more bipolar team in the entire league as the Steelers own the best win (Indianapolis) and two of the three worst losses (Tampa Bay and the New York Jets) of any team in the division. Like the Ravens, they will benefit from having a late-season bye and the balance of three home and three away games over their final six. If Pittsburgh survives a trap game at Tennessee on Monday night, three of the remaining five games come against teams with winning records and two of those will be played at Heinz Field. Based on the remaining schedule, you might be inclined to label the Steelers the favorite of the four teams, but how can you fully trust a team that’s lost games to the 1-8 Buccaneers and the 2-8 Jets?

BALTIMORE (6-4)
Division record: 2-3
Remaining schedule: Bye, at New Orleans, San Diego, at Miami, Jacksonville, at Houston, Cleveland
Skinny: The Ravens should feel good about their remaining home schedule — even with two games against teams with winning records — but their road games against the Saints, the Dolphins, and the Texans won’t be easy for a team sporting just two wins away from M&T Bank Stadium. The Miami game on Dec. 7 might be the biggest of the year if Baltimore wants to be in good position to win the division or at least clinch a playoff spot when it hosts the Browns in the regular-season finale. Winning one of their three road games and winning out at home would get the Ravens to 10 wins, but John Harbaugh would feel a lot better with a 10-5 mark going into the finale against Cleveland than a 9-6 record with so-so division and conference records.

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Ravens sign former Cardinal Gibbons product to practice squad

Posted on 13 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The bye week hasn’t slowed the Ravens from making changes to their practice squad as they signed former Cleveland Browns fullback and Cardinal Gibbons product Kiero Small on Thursday.

The move comes a day after they signed tight end Konrad Reuland to the practice squad to replace Phillip Supernaw after he was signed to the Kansas City Chiefs’ active roster. To make room for Small, the Ravens cut rookie wide receiver Jace Davis from their practice squad.

Small had started three games for Cleveland and was blocking for fellow Baltimore native Terrance West before being waived earlier this week. After being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round of the 2014 draft, Small was released at the end of the preseason and eventually caught on with the Browns.

The 5-foot-8, 244-pound fullback played his college football at the University of Arkansas.

Reuland played in 16 games for the New York Jets during the 2012 season, making 11 catches for 83 yards, but he made only one catch in 10 games for New York last season before being placed on injured reserve. After failing to make the Jets’ 53-man roster this preseason, the Stanford product was signed to the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad in October but was later released.

 

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Ngata’s strong year making difficult decision for Ravens

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Ngata’s strong year making difficult decision for Ravens

Posted on 13 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The future of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata beyond this season has been discussed for quite some time, but his strong play is creating quite a dilemma for the Ravens this winter.

After two underwhelming seasons for his high standards, some predicted this could be Ngata’s final year in Baltimore as he’s scheduled to carry a $16 million salary cap figure in 2015 — the final season of a five-year, $61 million contract inked in 2011 — but his excellent start may have altered that line of thinking. Last offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome pursued a contract extension with Ngata similar in nature to what the Ravens did with veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs, but talks didn’t go anywhere.

A good finish to 2014 might further complicate discussions as the Ravens obviously won’t want to stomach a $16 million cap hit to allow Ngata to play out the final year of his current contract, but his asking price for an extension only climbs as he continues to play well. Cutting Ngata this winter would clear $8.5 million in cap space, but the Ravens wouldn’t easily replace his presence at defensive tackle.

Unlike the last few seasons, Ngata has remained healthy and has benefited from focusing on the 3-technique defensive tackle spot — lining up on the outside shoulder of the guard — instead of moving around to different positions on the defensive line. Ngata drew plenty of double teams while playing nose tackle and wasn’t quick enough to make a consistent impact when lining up at the 5-technique defensive end spot against an offensive tackle.

This has led to Ngata having “a really standout year” in defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ mind.

“We really haven’t moved him this year. It makes a whole lot of difference up front there,” said Pees, who used Ngata extensively at the nose last season. “Believe it or not, things go on really fast in that little guard-to-guard area and a little slower the farther out that you go, and there’s a lot of difference in that. When you take a guy, move him out to [5-technique] one week and then move him back in there inside the next week, it’s hard. It’s hard to do that. I really think part of it is because we’ve had the ability to leave guys in the same position and not move them all over.”

In 10 games, the 6-foot-4, 340-pound tackle has collected 29 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and seven pass breakups. Of course, defensive line play is difficult to quantify, but Pro Football Focus has graded Ngata as the third-best 3-4 defensive end in the league behind Houston’s J.J. Watt and New York Jets lineman Muhammad Wilkerson. The Ravens defense is currently allowing 3.4 yards per carry, its best mark since 2009 and good for sixth in the NFL.

Perhaps the easiest way to measure Ngata’s impact has been the game-changing plays he’s made, which you hadn’t seen as often in the last couple years. In Week 8, it was Ngata’s sack and strip of Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton that led to Daryl Smith’s fumble return and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Last Sunday, Ngata forced Tennessee running back Shonn Greene to fumble at the goal line on the opening drive, a play that loomed large considering how slowly the Ravens started the game on both sides of the ball.

Of course, the overall depth along the defensive line has improved with the emergence of second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams and the recent play of rookie Timmy Jernigan, two players who figure to play major roles for the unit in the coming years. Their presence has taken pressure off Ngata, but they also force Newsome and the front office to carefully weigh how much they should pay the five-time Pro Bowl selection as he turns 31 in January.

“I think we have a little bit of depth there,” Pees said. “The other thing that goes along with that is a little bit of competition, too. You better not back off too far, or somebody is catching you. Competition is always good for everybody.”

Perhaps that competition has been good for Ngata as he’s playing his best football since 2011, but the Ravens know it’s also making their offeseason decision more difficult as the year progresses.

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Kubiak examining Flacco’s recent uneven play during bye

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Kubiak examining Flacco’s recent uneven play during bye

Posted on 12 November 2014 by Luke Jones

After players departed the Owings Mills facility for their bye earlier this week, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was asked to assess the recent play of quarterback Joe Flacco with the Ravens standing at 6-4 in the AFC North.

Such questions about individual players are typically met with generic responses stating the individual is playing well or making a lot of progress, but Kubiak didn’t shy away from addressing the recent struggles of his quarterback. Since throwing 14 touchdowns and five interceptions while posting a 97.3 passer rating through the first seven games, Flacco has thrown three touchdowns and three interceptions with a 75.5 rating over the last three contests with the Ravens losing to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh before rebounding at home to beat lowly Tennessee last Sunday.

“That’s kind of what I’m looking at right now,” Kubiak said. “You go through phases throughout the course of a season. Joe went through a really hot stage [for] about three or four weeks. Then, we went through a stage here where we turned the ball over. We calmed that down last weekend, which is a big reason why we were able to be successful.”

Of course, the performance of the Ravens quarterback is always a polarizing topic as his biggest detractors blame him for all of the team’s failures while inevitably reminding everyone of his hefty contract. This then prompts a segment of Flacco’s strongest supporters pointing out all other offensive issues out of his hands while seemingly giving the seventh-year signal-caller a pass for how he’s played. As is typically the case, the reason for his recent decline in performance lies somewhere in between.

It’s no secret that the Ravens’ offensive line struggled to handle the pass rush of both the Bengals and the Steelers as Flacco was often harassed with pressure up the middle. Center Jeremy Zuttah was repeatedly pushed back in the pocket in both games and Steelers linebacker James Harrison suddenly looked like the 2008 version of himself in Week 9, but the quarterback can’t be completely absolved from criticism as he made some poor decisions that led to critical interceptions and often appeared rattled, which affected his accuracy and decision-making at times in both games.

The recent struggles with interior pressure carried over to the start of the Tennessee game as the quarterback continued the recent habit of throwing off his back foot, even when pressure wasn’t coming. And this is where some blame lies with the quarterback as Kubiak preaches good footwork and Flacco has often been quick to move when he hasn’t needed to or he has failed to step up in the pocket when pressure is coming off the edge.

There’s also been the issue of how effectively the Ravens are adjusting to blitzes with many questioning Flacco’s ability to audible at the line of scrimmage and Kubiak’s route concepts when opposing defenses are consistently pinning their ears back. If adjustments aren’t made on both fronts, opposing defenses will continue to copy the blueprint of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

“We have to clean up some of our decision-making,” Kubiak said, “and I think I can help him with that by how I call plays, too. So, that’s what I’m kind of trying to really check myself probably first before I go to Joe and say, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do.’ That’s kind of what I’m trying to do right now.”

The truth is Flacco is having a good year overall as he’s on pace to throw a career-high 27 touchdowns and eclipse the 4,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. His 62.4 percent completion rate is his best since 2010, but the Ravens will need him to elevate his play down the stretch considering the defensive concerns in the secondary.

It is worth noting that Flacco has thrown 10 of his 17 touchdowns in three games against the lowly NFC South as Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta all currently rank in the bottom eight in the NFL in total defense. In his other seven games this season — five against the AFC North — Flacco has thrown seven touchdowns and six interceptions for a 77.2 passer rating.

Overall, the offensive line has done a good job protecting Flacco as he’s only been pressured on 30 percent of his dropbacks — the 10th-best mark in the league, per Pro Football Focus — but his 61 percent accuracy rate (passes completed including drops) under pressure ranks only 16th in the NFL. Flacco’s receivers have often let him down this year as they’re tied for third in the NFL with 23 dropped passes, according to PFF, and questions will remain about how many consistent playmakers the quarterback really has to throw to.

Kubiak’s comments shouldn’t be interpreted as sounding the alarm over how Flacco has played, but the Ravens offense must be better down the stretch in all phases. The season-ending loss of Dennis Pitta has limited Baltimore’s options over the middle portion of the field, but the return of Michael Campanaro could provide a complement to Owen Daniels in that area of the field as the rookie was slowly beginning to emerge as a short-to-intermediate target prior to his hamstring injury in Week 8.

More than anything, the last three weeks have shown the offense under Kubiak remains a work in progress with more room to grow down the stretch. And Kubiak trying to bring out the best in Flacco will be critical in determining the Ravens’ fate at the end of the season as they’ll likely need to win at least one or two of their last three road games (New Orleans, Miami, and Houston) to put themselves in position to return to the playoffs.

“I’m trying to go back and really look at the things that he’s very comfortable with and doing very well, and maybe some of the things I’ve asked him to do here over the course of a few weeks that maybe got him out of that comfort zone,” Kubiak said. “I’m trying to find that as a coach as we get into these last six weeks [and] get him as comfortable as I can. But Joe is working really hard.”

 

 

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Mosley second among NFL inside linebackers in Pro Bowl voting

Posted on 12 November 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

Denver Broncos quarterback PEYTON MANNING, with 359,598 votes, leads all NFL players in balloting for the 2015 Pro Bowl, NFL.com announced today.

Fan voting for the 2015 Pro Bowl, presented by McDonald’s, will continue online and on web-enabled mobile phones by going to www.NFL.com/probowl/ballot until Monday, December 15.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback ANDREW LUCK (284,575 votes) ranks second overall, while Green Bay Packers quarterback AARON RODGERS (280,394 votes), Dallas Cowboys running back

DE MARCO MURRAY (263,097 votes) and New England Patriots quarterback TOM BRADY (254,807 votes) round out the top five on NFL.com.

Balloting will conclude on Monday, December 15. The Pro Bowl players will be announced on Tuesday, December 23.

Players will later be assigned to teams through the Pro Bowl Draft during the week leading up to the game, which will also air on NFL Network.

The 2015 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 25, 2015 and televised live on ESPN at 8:00 PM ET from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, site of Super Bowl XLIX.

The Pro Bowl will be “unconferenced” for the second consecutive year.

Last season, the familiar AFC vs. NFC match-up that had existed since 1971 was eliminated. Instead, players are selected without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and players. For example, the top six quarterbacks following voting will earn distinction as All-Stars, regardless of how many are from AFC or NFC teams.

Then, the NFL’s All-Stars will be realigned through a fantasy football-style draft.

The Pro Bowl players are determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining the 88 All-Star players who will be eligible for the Pro Bowl Draft.

NFL players and coaches will cast their votes on December 19. The NFL is the only sports league that combines voting by fans, coaches and players to determine its all-star teams. It was the first professional sports league to offer online all-star voting in 1995.

Fans interested in purchasing Pro Bowl game tickets may go to NFL.com/probowl for more information.

NFL ALL-STAR TOP-TEN VOTE-GETTERS

 

POS.

NAME, TEAM

VOTES

QB

Peyton Manning, Denver

359,598

QB

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis

284,575

QB

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

280,394

RB

DeMarco Murray, Dallas

263,097

QB

Tom Brady, New England

254,807

RB

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

210,331

WR

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

200,230

QB

Philip Rivers, San Diego

199,720

RB

Arian Foster, Houston

196,306

RB

Matt Forte, Chicago

182,940

 

NFL LEADING VOTE-GETTERS BY POSITION

 

POS.

NAME, TEAM

VOTES

POS.

NAME, TEAM

VOTES

QB

Peyton Manning, Denver

359,598

DE

J.J. Watt, Houston

155,819

QB

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis

284,575

DE

DeMarcus Ware, Denver

134,126

RB

DeMarco Murray, Dallas

263,097

DT

Marcell Dareus, Buffalo

104,416

RB

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

210,331

DT

Muhammad Wilkerson, NYJ

91,610

FB

John Kuhn, Green Bay

78,995

OLB

Von Miller, Denver

101,875

FB

Darrel Young, Washington   78,138

OLB

Justin Houston, Kansas City

71,063

WR

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

200,230

ILB

Luke Kuechly, Carolina

105,730

WR

Demaryius Thomas, Denver

182,922

ILB

C.J. Mosley, Baltimore

71,246

TE

Rob Gronkowski, New England

166,066

CB

Kyle Fuller, Chicago

83,363

TE

Julius Thomas, Denver

148,461

CB

Aqib Talib, Denver

83,223

T

Tyron Smith, Dallas

77,959

SS

Kam Chancellor, Seattle

47,667

T

Ryan Clady, Denver

77,442

SS

Antrel Rolle, NYG

36,979

G

Zack Martin, Dallas

68,896

FS

Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland

48,674

G

Josh Sitton, Green Bay

55,333

FS

Earl Thomas, Seattle

40,246

C

Travis Frederick, Dallas

79,612

P

Tress Way, Washington

34,520

C

Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh

72,836

P

Pat McAfee, Indianapolis

27,015

K

Stephen Gostkowski, New England

67,814

ST

Matt Slater, New England

36,679

K

Dan Bailey, Dallas

57,618

ST

Jarrett Bush, Green Bay

25,224

RS

Devin Hester, Atlanta

50,897

 

RS

Adam Jones, Cincinnati

33,157

 

 

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Forsett named AFC Offensive Player of the Week

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Forsett named AFC Offensive Player of the Week

Posted on 12 November 2014 by Luke Jones

A dream season continues for Ravens running back Justin Forsett as he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old rushed for a season-high 112 yards on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns in the Ravens’ 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Forsett has already run for a career-high 721 yards — a total good for fourth in the NFL — and leads all running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry average. His five rushing touchdowns are more than he ran for in his previous four seasons combined (four).

His performance has left fellow running backs Bernard Pierce — who began the year as the starter — and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro to fight over the backup job. It’s quite a story for a player whose signing in early April was an afterthought as many originally predicted he’d be the odd man out once Ray Rice returned from his suspension.

Of course, things changed dramatically for the former Ravens running back and Forsett has since seized the best opportunity of his seven-year career.

“We know who our No. 1 is,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “Our ‘one’ is playing really well. No. 29 has played extremely well.”

His two touchdowns against Tennessee epitomized how effective he’s been running behind an improved offensive line and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. On a fourth-and-1 play from the Titans’ 9, Forsett beat linebacker Kamerion Wimbley 1-on-1 on a pitch to the left to give the Ravens their first score of the game in the second quarter. In the third quarter, the veteran showed terrific patience and vision in waiting for a seam to develop between right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Rick Wagner before sprinting for an 11-yard touchdown.

With the Ravens holding a fourth-quarter lead, Forsett played the role of a strong finisher by rushing eight times for 67 yards in the final 15 minutes of the game.

After Sunday’s game, Forsett was thankful to be upon the bye week as he has plans for bigger and better things over the season’s final six games.

“It’s definitely going to be able to get a chance to rest,” Forsett said. “I want to be able to do more of this next half. There are always going to be doubters. There’s always going to be people that want to limit me and put me in boxes. It’s my job to go out and try to break them.”

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Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role

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Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You’d be hard pressed to find too many Ravens fans who knew Anthony Levine’s name prior to Sunday’s 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Making his first career start for a revamped and injury-riddled secondary that was still licking its wounds from an embarrassing performance in Pittsburgh, the former safety seized the opportunity after previously playing just five defensive snaps in his entire NFL career. Levine finished with four tackles and two pass breakups while also earning Pro Football Focus’ highest single-game grade in pass coverage for any Ravens cornerback not named Jimmy Smith this season.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Levine said after Sunday’s win. “To call myself a starting something in the NFL — whether it was safety, corner — I was happy to say that I was a starting corner today for the Baltimore Ravens.”

Of course, Levine’s success came against a rookie quarterback and a Tennessee passing game lacking bite and it remains to be seen if he’ll survive against more potent aerial attacks, but it’s difficult not to feel good for a third-year player who spent parts of three seasons on practice squads — originally with Green Bay and then Baltimore — before even getting a chance as a special-teams contributor. The Tennessee State product played all 16 games for the Ravens last season without receiving a single defensive snap, finishing second on the team in special-teams tackles and serving as the protector on the punt team.

After watching Levine serve as a core member of his units for the last two years, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg takes pride in seeing him become the latest special-teams player to make the transition to starter. Several former Ravens have made similar jumps in recent years, including linebackers Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe as well as cornerback Corey Graham.

“We hope that our players that are just playing special teams develop into players on their sides of the ball as well,” Rosburg said. “It’s my belief — perhaps it’s a slanted belief — that if you can be a good special-teams player, you should be a good player on offense and defense because it takes a lot of skill to play on special teams. It’s not a surprise to me that he’s developed skills that he can go out there and play for the Ravens in the secondary.”

To be fair, Levine’s opportunity to start wasn’t as much about improvement as it was about the Ravens’ injuries and attrition as the coaching staff didn’t anticipate throwing him into the fire this quickly until the Smith injury made the secondary’s issues even worse. After Levine practiced at safety in his first two years with the Ravens, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo had moved him to cornerback in training camp when injuries to Lardarius Webb, Smith, and Asa Jackson left the secondary shorthanded.

It was a position at which Levine had worked some before, and he’s downplayed the change because of how comfortable he’s always felt backpedaling, a skill needed at both safety and corner. The 27-year-old really began turning heads a couple weeks ago while practicing with the scout team against the starting offense as Pees and Spagnuolo noticed how effectively he was competing against the likes of Steve Smith and Torrey Smith in coverage.

Meanwhile, cornerbacks higher on the depth chart such as Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown continued to struggle, culminating with Ben Roethlisberger’s six-touchdown performance in Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. Two days later, those two were cut and Levine received a text message from Spagnuolo saying to be ready to practice leading up to the Tennessee game.

“He just has run with it. He’s a confident guy that competes,” said Spagnuolo, who told Levine he was starting the morning of the Titans game. “He loves to practice and is passionate about the game. There’s not a guy out there he doesn’t think he can cover. That’s a good quality for a corner.”

Sharing time with newly-acquired veteran Danny Gorrer, the 5-foot-11, 203-pound Levine was strong in run support and did a fine job keeping receivers in front of him, allowing only one reception for 13 yards on three passes thrown his way in coverage. Despite the first-quarter struggles of the defense, Levine made his presence felt on the opening drive when he dropped running back Bishop Sankey on a stretch play for only a 1-yard gain.

The post-game locker room featured several teammates praising Levine as a hard worker who had done everything he could for the opportunity. While most media and fans expected Gorrer to be the one to start at cornerback in the buildup to the Tennessee game, Webb complimented Levine’s performance in practice without being prompted last week, a hint that the special-teams player just might be the next man up.

“We all know that Levine can make plays in practice against the top receivers, Steve and Torrey,” Webb said following the game. “That’s how he is in practice, he’s always going 110 percent on special teams — all phases of special teams — and playing defense. You have to look up to that. He did a great job doing everything. He’s a corner, he’s a playmaker.”

Those labels are different than what Levine’s used to hearing after years as a practice-squad member, special-teams contributor, and scout-team player who remained anonymous with most of the outside football world.

Though the Ravens will continue to face questions in their secondary week after week, Levine was able to provide an answer for at least one Sunday. And he earned another shot after the bye against a more imposing opponent in the New Orleans Saints to prove that he’s not just a special-teams player playing out of position.

“Sometimes you have to be careful of pigeonholing guys like that,” Pees said. “Give them an opportunity, [and] then it’s up to them to run with it. I just think that’s a credit to them when they get the opportunity to seize it.”

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Ravens crossing fingers Campanaro ready to return after bye

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Ravens crossing fingers Campanaro ready to return after bye

Posted on 10 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens entered their Week 11 bye with a relatively clean bill of health beyond last week’s news of cornerback Jimmy Smith undergoing season-ending foot surgery.

The only player on the current 53-man roster to miss Sunday’s game against Tennessee was rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who continues to recover from a hamstring injury suffered in the Week 8 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The timing was unfortunate for the River Hill graduate after he was finally beginning to emerge with a role in the offense after being a healthy inactive in the first five games of the season.

Campanaro caught six passes for 85 yards and a touchdown in games against Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Cincinnati before injuring his hamstring while returning a punt against the Bengals. Despite his slight stature at only 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, the 23-year-old was becoming a nice complementary threat in the middle of the field, so the Ravens are hoping the bye week will give him the extra time needed to fully recover.

“We have our fingers crossed. I talked to Michael today, and he has his fingers crossed,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday afternoon. “He’ll be in here every day. All the injured guys will be in here every day [during the bye week]. They’ll all be in here working hard to get healthy.”

The Ravens reported no new injuries following the 21-7 win over Tennessee, but center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) and right guard Marshal Yanda (knee) have recently been slowed by nagging injuries.

Meanwhile, the Ravens haven’t made a decision on the status of reserve offensive lineman Jah Reid after he broke his hand last week. The former third-round pick has been active in just four games this year, leaving many to question why he remains on the 53-man roster after never living up to expectations in his four NFL seasons.

Baltimore signed offensive tackle Terren Jones to its practice squad and waived defensive tackle Jamie Meder on Monday, perhaps a sign that Reid could be heading to injured reserve. However, Harbaugh wasn’t ready to make a declaration on the veteran lineman’s status when asked on Monday.

“We’re still discussing as far as how we’re going to handle that in terms of roster [management] right now,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see how that goes.”

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