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Monroe, Osemele practice fully as Ravens prepare for AFC North showdown

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Monroe, Osemele practice fully as Ravens prepare for AFC North showdown

Posted on 22 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens hope to have their starting offensive line back for their key AFC North showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals as left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele were both practicing on Wednesday.

The offensive line practiced without helmets and pads during the special-teams portion of practice open to reporters, but both Monroe and Osemele suited up to work as media were escorted away from the indoor practice field at the Ravens’ Owings Mills training facility. Monroe missed his fourth straight game in last Sunday’s 29-7 win over Atlanta while Osemele was out for his second straight game, leaving rookies James Hurst and John Urschel to start in their place.

Both linemen saw limited practice work last week, which was considered a good sign for their potential returns against Cincinnati on Sunday. They were both listed as full participants on Wednesday’s injury report.

The only players absent from Wednesday’s workout were defensive end Chris Canty (wrist surgery) and tight end Owen Daniels (knee). Though he’s periodically received a day off from practice during certain game weeks, Thursday has typically been the day on which Daniels has rested.

Newly-signed long snapper Kevin McDermott was present for Wednesday’s workout and will wear No. 47 as he replaces the injured Morgan Cox.

The Bengals have been dealing with a slew of key injuries of their own as wide receiver A.J. Green was not practicing Wednesday as he continues to recover from a toe injury. The Pro Bowl wide receiver hasn’t played since Week 5.

However, linebacker Vontaze Burfict (neck) practiced on a limited basis, which was a good sign for his availability against the Ravens on Sunday.

Below is Wednesday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Chris Canty (wrist), TE Owen Daniels (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)

CINCINNATI
OUT: LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring)
DID NOT PARTICIPATION: DE Robert Geathers (toe), WR A.J. Green (toe), CB Leon Hall (back), G/C Mike Pollak (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Giovani Bernard (ribs), TE Kevin Brock (neck), LB Vontaze Burfict (neck), DE Wallace Gilberry (eye), LB Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder), T Marshall Newhouse (back), T Andre Smith (shoulder), DT Brandon Thompson (knee)

 

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Suggs listed as probable, Canty questionable against Carolina on Sunday

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Suggs listed as probable, Canty questionable against Carolina on Sunday

Posted on 26 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens received good news with the return of Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs to the practice field as they made final preparations for the Carolina Panthers on Friday.

After missing practices on Wednesday and Thursday with a groin injury suffered in last Sunday’s win over Cleveland, Suggs is listed as probable for Sunday’s game after being a full participant on Friday. He appeared to be moving well as he ran the width of the field during the media viewing portion of the workout.

Defensive end Chris Canty (knee), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee), and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe (knee surgery) were the only Ravens players absent from Friday’s practice. With Monroe and Jernigan already ruled out, Canty is the Ravens’ only big question mark for Sunday’s game against Carolina as he was listed as questionable on the final injury report and hasn’t practiced all week.

Wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels returned to the practice field after receiving a veteran day off on Thursday. They are both listed as probable on the final game status report, but neither player is dealing with an injury.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee/ankle) and running back Bernard Pierce (thigh) are probable and were both present and working after being listed as full participants on Thursday. Smith missed Wednesday’s practice after being banged up against the Browns.

Meanwhile, Carolina listed linebacker Thomas Davis (hip) and running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) as questionable. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera indicated Davis is further along in his recovery and has a better chance to play on Sunday, but both he and Stewart are considered game-time decisions.

Starting running back DeAngelo Williams (thigh) is probable after practicing fully all week.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Craig Wrolstad. He’s a new referee for the 2014 season after serving as an NFL field judge prior to the promotion.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the low 80s 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. They announced earlier in the week that they’d be wearing their alternate jerseys against the Panthers.

Here is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), T Eugene Monroe (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Chris Canty (knee)
PROBABLE: TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), RB Bernard Pierce (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (knee/ankle), WR Steve Smith (non-injury), LB Terrell Suggs (thigh)

CAROLINA
DOUBTFUL: RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh), T Garry Williams (back)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Thomas Davis (hip), RB Jonathan Stewart (knee)
PROBABLE: WR Jerricho Cotchery (thigh), CB Charles Godfrey (ankle), S Roman Harper (knee), RB DeAngelo Williams (thigh)

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Ravens secondary still waiting on Webb to get up to game speed

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Ravens secondary still waiting on Webb to get up to game speed

Posted on 25 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After much anticipation for the 2014 debut of Lardarius Webb last Sunday, the Ravens only needed to see Andrew Hawkins easily shake free from the veteran cornerback to realize the time wasn’t yet right.

The shifty receiver completely turned around Webb on a simple out route that went for 24 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter to put Cleveland in Baltimore territory, and it all but ended Webb’s day as he played only four defensive snaps in the eventual 23-21 win for the Ravens. Three weeks of full participation in practice hadn’t compensated for Webb missing nearly all of training camp after being sidelined with back spasms on July 25. Since returning to practice at the end of August, Webb has needed to knock off rust and improve his flexibility in bending for the critically-important backpedal that all cornerbacks need.

“We found out really quick,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Webb’s performance in Cleveland. “And I had a great talk with him on Monday, and he understands. When I saw it [coaching] in the press box, I said, ‘He’s not there yet.’ And game speed is faster than practice speed. There’s no way to simulate it. But he has to keep practicing, and he has to feel very confident that he can do it. That’s half the battle playing the back end; you better feel confident that you can do it.”

The secondary has struggled without a healthy and effective Webb as the Ravens’ pass defense is ranked 24th in the NFL and is allowing 262.3 passing yards per game. The combination of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown hasn’t inspired confidence when either has played opposite Jimmy Smith in the base defense, and the Ravens haven’t received good play at safety where Matt Elam and Darian Stewart have struggled.

Webb hasn’t been listed on the injury report this week as the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s meeting against the Carolina Panthers, which suggests he could see an expanded role from what we saw in Cleveland. The 6-foot-2 Smith is likely to match up with 6-foot-5 rookie Kelvin Benjamin — who leads the Panthers with 19 catches for 253 yards — but the rest of the Panthers’ group of wide receivers doesn’t inspire fear beyond tight end Greg Olsen, who has caught 16 passes for 224 yards through three games.

Pees has tinkered with various alignments in the back end of the defense including the use of Elam as a slot corner, which reflects how little depth the Ravens have had at the cornerback position. A healthy Webb, who is at his best playing inside in the nickel package, would give Pees some flexibility to show different looks since Jackson is also capable of playing the nickel position. However, the Ravens need to finally see a version of Webb ready to play 60 to 70 snaps per game at a high level before making any decisions about the makeup of the secondary.

“We would be fortunate if we had both those guys, because each one of them could play [inside],” Pees said. “The other guy would go outside. We have to make that determination once he’s back.”

Even with Webb’s absence taken into account, Pees isn’t pleased with how his pass defense has performed, even acknowledging Thursday that he needs to do a better job of mixing coverages and pressures as the Ravens have relied heavily on a mostly-ineffective four-man rush and soft zone coverage through the first three weeks of the season.

Elam and others pointed to miscommunication being a problem after Sunday’s game as Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer threw for nearly 300 yards last Sunday, but Pees bristled at the suggestion, perhaps implying that he wants to see defensive backs take more accountability for mishaps. The signature play of the secondary’s problems came in the fourth quarter when Elam was beaten by Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 70-yard reception that included the second-year safety looking back at Jackson instead of touching the wideout down before he got up from the ground to gain extra yardage.

“‘Miscommunication’ would not be one of the words I would have used,” said Pees in evaluating the pass defense. “I would have said very poor technique in the back end. There are a couple of them [where] there wasn’t any communication [needed]. Just line up and play and play your position. We were beat on a three-deep coverage that I don’t know what communication is there other than, ‘Get your [butt] deep.’”

Three-headed monster

The Ravens have a three-headed monster shaping up at the running back position that they haven’t enjoyed since 2008 when Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice combined to rush for 2,027 yards in John Harbaugh’s first year as head coach.

Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce, and Lorenzo Taliaferro have all made major contributions to the league’s eighth-ranked rushing attack in the wake of Rice’s release, so it isn’t easy predicting who will receive the biggest workload moving forward. Pierce practiced fully on Wednesday and Thursday, but the Ravens continue to monitor his improvement from a quadriceps injury that sidelined him for last Sunday’s game.

Taliaferro’s 91-yard game in Cleveland has led many to conclude he should be the starter moving forward, but the Ravens have maintained all along that they’ll go with the hot hand in the backfield. And they figure to have another good opportunity Sunday with the Carolina defense allowing 145.3 yards per game on the ground.

“I still go out there just as I did since I got here,” Taliaferro said. “Just make sure I do my job and compete. Even though it’s during the season and not so much of camp now, we’re still competing not just for each other’s job, but to make each other better.”

A rush-by-committee approach is nothing new for offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who guided a number of rushing attacks years ago in Denver where unknown names such as Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary would suddenly emerge as 1,000-yard backs.

Pierce and Taliaferro bring more power and physicality in their rushing style while Forsett is more of a change of pace on third down, but Kubiak also pointed out other differences such as ability to pass protect and the special-teams contributions made by Forsett and Taliaferro that factor into the overall distribution of playing time.

“Lorenzo and Justin are three-down players that play in pass-protection situations, nickel situations, and those types of things,” Kubiak said. “That’s where Bernard needs to keep coming as a player, in my opinion, but he’s working at it and doing that.”

Of course, the biggest reason for the dramatic improvement of the Ravens’ running game has been the offensive line where running lanes have been created consistently unlike last season when the running game averaged only 3.1 yards per carry.

And their strong performance makes the debate over who will carry the ball less significant.

“I think we’re really confident in our running game, and I definitely think that starts with our offensive line,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “They have done a great job in this system, and they really lead the way. And I think you can see that [because] we had three different backs all have big days.”

Replacing Pitta

The offseason arrivals of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels have eased the season-ending loss of Dennis Pitta a bit, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains within the Baltimore offense.

Of course, the Ravens are more equipped to handle Pitta’s hip injury than they were a year ago, but they will still depend on Daniels and rookie Crockett Gillmore to pick up the slack for one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets. Phillip Supernaw was promoted from the practice squad to take Pitta’s place on the 53-man roster, but it remains to be seen what kind of role he can carve out for himself beyond special teams.

“It does make you stop in some of your preparation,” Kubiak said. “‘What happens in the game if this guy goes down? Now what do I go to? What personnel [groups] do I want to be in?’ Those are some things that you have to look at a little bit differently when you have these types of things happen.”

Juszczyk is another option who could see some more opportunities as the fullback has the ability to line up at tight end. He caught three passes for 54 yards and his first touchdown against the Browns last Sunday.

His emergence in the short passing game would be a welcome addition with Pitta no longer an option.

“I don’t think my role will change too much,” Juszczyk said. “I think I’ll be doing a lot of the same stuff I’ve been doing, but maybe more of it.”

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Jimmy Smith returns to practice; Suggs, Canty remain sidelined

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Jimmy Smith returns to practice; Suggs, Canty remain sidelined

Posted on 25 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The injury report remained troubling for the Ravens Thursday as they continued preparations for their Week 4 meeting with the Carolina Panthers.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee/ankle) returned to the practice field and appeared to be moving well during the media viewing portion of the workout, but linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin), defensive end Chris Canty (knee), and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) all remained sidelined with various ailments. Starting left tackle Eugene Monroe hasn’t been officially ruled out for Sunday’s game yet, but Wednesday’s knee surgery is expected to sideline him for at least a few weeks.

The Ravens claimed former San Diego Chargers defensive end Lawrence Guy off waivers on Wednesday, which could be an indication of concern for Canty’s availability against Carolina. Guy has been assigned No. 67 with his new team.

Wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels were also non-participants during Thursday’s practice as they received a veteran day off. Smith was watching practice without being suited up while Daniels, who is now the starting tight end after the season-ending hip injury suffered by Dennis Pitta, was absent from the field.

Running back Bernard Pierce (thigh) was present and working fully for the second straight day after being listed as a full participant on Wednesday’s injury report.

The Ravens were practicing indoors in helmets, shells, and shorts as rain hit the Owings Mills area for most of the morning and early afternoon on Thursday.

For Carolina, starting outside linebacker Thomas Davis (hip) was upgraded to limited participation while cornerback Charles Godfrey (ankle) and safety Roman Harper (knee) were full participants a day after missing practice.

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Chris Canty (knee), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), T Eugene Monroe (knee), LB Terrell Suggs (thigh), WR Steve Smith (non-injury), TE Owen Daniels (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (knee/ankle), RB Bernard Pierce (thigh)

CAROLINA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Jonathan Stewart (knee), RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh), T Garry Williams (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Thomas Davis (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Charles Godfrey (ankle), S Roman Harper (knee), WR Jerricho Cotchery (thigh), RB DeAngelo Williams (thigh)

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Pitta out for 2014 season after undergoing hip surgery in Cleveland

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Pitta out for 2014 season after undergoing hip surgery in Cleveland

Posted on 22 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ worst fear became reality Monday as tight end Dennis Pitta underwent surgery on his dislocated right hip and will miss the remainder of the season.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the news a day after Pitta injured his hip for the second time in 14 months, leaving many to ponder his future after he was injured while trying to turn up field while catching a simple short pass in the second quarter of the Ravens’ 23-21 win over the Browns. Pitta remained hospitalized in a Cleveland hospital overnight before undergoing the surgical procedure Monday afternoon.

“We do not have the results of the surgery, specifically, yet,” Harbaugh said. “We do know that he’s going to be done for the season.”

Pitta’s absence now leaves the Ravens to rely more heavily on veteran Owen Daniels, rookie Crockett Gillmore, and second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who has the versatility to line up at the tight end position and caught three passes for 54 yards on Sunday. Harbaugh acknowledged that the organization will be looking to add another tight end, but it remains unclear whether the Ravens will promote Phillip Supernaw from the practice squad.

The disappointing news for Pitta comes so soon after a rigorous four-month rehab last year that allowed him to return for the final four games of the regular season after initially injuring his hip on July 27, 2013. Some medical experts have offered opinions that Pitta’s career could be over after suffering a second traumatic injury to the same hip.

For now, the Ravens will await the initial results and hope there wasn’t significant damage to the hip area beyond the dislocation and a likely fracture. The first injury did not damage any ligaments or cartilage, which helped facilitate a quicker return, but medical experts will surely look at the structure of his hip with even more scrutiny this time.

“I don’t know the ramifications of that long term,” Harbaugh said. “The specialists will probably give us some information on that, so I really don’t know. I’m going to be really hopeful for Dennis’ return, and I’m sure we’ll learn about that in the coming weeks.”

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Focused Ravens do exactly what was needed after trying week

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Focused Ravens do exactly what was needed after trying week

Posted on 12 September 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Ravens certainly played that way Thursday night.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 11 September 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

Posted on 06 September 2014 by Luke Jones

As everyone else goes through the endeavor of making division-by-division forecasts that will ultimately mean very little, these predictions focus on the Ravens and their effort to bounce back from the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era.

1. Joe Flacco will be the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player.

The quarterback won’t suddenly transform into a 5,000-yard passer with 35 touchdowns, but the arrival of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will bring the most efficient Flacco we’ve seen since the 2010 season when he completed nearly 63 percent of his passes and posted a 93.6 passer rating. A steadier running game will alleviate pressure on the seventh-year signal-caller to feel the need to do it all like he encountered last year, which will only make him more effective with better weapons to target. Flacco will throw 25 touchdown passes for the second time in his career.

2. Haloti Ngata will be playing his final season in Baltimore.

The Ravens and Ngata talked about a new contract this offseason in the same way the organization extended Terrell Suggs’ deal, but talks didn’t go anywhere with the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle carrying a $16 million salary cap figure this year and next. The difference next year will be the ability to save $8.5 million in cap space by releasing him, which will be easier to execute with the emergence of second-round rookie Timmy Jernigan and nose tackle Brandon Williams this season. Though Ngata is still a good defensive tackle, anyone who’s closely watched him play over the last few years has seen a decline in impact and durability, making it likely this is his final season with the Ravens unless he alters his financial expectations significantly.

3. Kyle Juszczyk and Brandon Williams will be players to take a step forward.

The second-year fullback was a non-factor offensively as a rookie, but it’s clear Kubiak envisions a role for Juszczyk as a receiver out of the backfield, making it possible he catches 30 passes in the way H-back James Casey did in Kubiak’s Houston offense a few years ago. Meanwhile, Williams will need to emerge to soften the blow from the loss of defensive tackle Arthur Jones in free agency, and the 2013 third-round pick was impressive against the run in the preseason. The Ravens need more young players to emerge to offset the reality of several core players approaching the end of their careers, and Juszczyk and Williams will make a bigger impact in 2014 after very quiet rookie campaigns.

4. Marlon Brown and Elvis Dumervil will be players to take a step back.

Even though the second-year receiver had an inconsistent summer, his inclusion in this prediction has more to do with the sheer number of weapons added to the equation with a fully-healthy Dennis Pitta back and the free-agent additions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. Brown won’t catch 49 passes again, but he will still be a target in the red zone, which will give him a chance to make his limited opportunities count. Dumervil collected 9 1/2 sacks in his first season with the Ravens, but had only one in his final seven games. He added weight in the offseason, which sounds like a questionable strategy for a 30-year-old rush specialist dependent on speed to get around the edge.

5. Jimmy Smith will be the player who deserves to make the Pro Bowl but won’t.

Before a scary fall that caused bruising and bleeding from his lungs in the second preseason game, Smith was having the best summer of any Baltimore defensive player and appears primed for a breakout campaign after taking significant strides in his first season as a starter. The rest of the secondary is a major concern right now, but Smith could be chosen by defensive coordinator Dean Pees to shadow Cincinnati wideout A.J. Green and the other elite receivers the Ravens encounter in 2014. It may take another year for Smith to finally receive league-wide recognition after an injury-riddled start to his career, but he will play at a Pro Bowl level for an otherwise shaky secondary this season.

6. Terrence Brooks will be starting at free safety before Halloween.

If Smith and Lardarius Webb are healthy, the Ravens should be alright at cornerback even with uncertainty at the No. 3 spot, but there is no such comfort at safety where 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and veteran newcomer Darian Stewart will start. The Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage allows him to make a bigger impact, but his summer was quiet as he still struggled to cover and tackle consistently. Stewart didn’t show any signs of being an impact defender playing deep center field and the third-round rookie Brooks took major strides at the end of the summer, making it only a matter of time before the Florida State product supplants him in the starting defense.

7. Steve Smith will be the top veteran newcomer.

It’s easy to be skeptical of the impact Smith will bring at age 35 by pointing to his yards per catch average steadily decreasing over the last three seasons, but the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was too impressive this summer to think he won’t be a substantial upgrade to the offense. His swagger and attitude will pump life into an offense that lacked any a year ago, and he has the ability to help move the chains and provide production similar to what Anquan Boldin did in his three years with the Ravens when he averaged 882 receiving yards per season. He won’t be able to bring the same explosiveness all 16 weeks that we saw this summer, but he will still be a significant reason why the offense improves from its 29th overall ranking a year ago.

8. Owen Daniels will be the disappointing veteran newcomer.

The 31-year-old tight end revealed a few days ago that he was dealing with a hamstring injury to clarify Harbaugh’s vague “leg soreness” diagnosis that forced him out of practice for two weeks, but Daniels wasn’t impressive when he was practicing in training camp, struggling to gain separation and make plays to complement Pitta at the tight end position. The Ravens have given Daniels the benefit of the doubt because he is so familiar with Kubiak’s system, but it’s difficult not to be reminded of how little Dallas Clark had remaining in the tank last season while watching Daniels practice this summer. Rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore will need to be ready to step up if Daniels can’t provide what the Ravens need in 2014.

9. C.J. Mosley will be the top Ravens rookie.

This prediction isn’t exactly going out on a limb as he’s the only first-year player currently starting on either side of the football for the Ravens. The Alabama product could occasionally struggle to hold up against physical blockers in defending the run, but he has shown impressive ability in pass coverage, which will make him a three-down linebacker in Week 1. The selection of Mosley raised eyebrows considering the Ravens already had depth at inside linebacker and needs at a number of other positions, but he’s been as good as advertised and has the potential to be a dynamic defensive player in the years to come.

10. The Ravens will make the playoffs with a 9-7 record as a wild card, but they will exit in the first round.

The Ravens will move into the top half of the offensive rankings in 2014, but the defense will slide from last season’s 12th overall spot with an aging front seven and a shaky secondary. This adds up to only modest improvement from 2013 when Baltimore finished 8-8 and fell short of the postseason. Cincinnati will prevail in the AFC North with a 10-6 record, but the overall mediocrity of the AFC will leave the door open for the Ravens to finish 3-1 in the month of December and grab one of the two wild-card spots before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs to Indianapolis.

Bonus Super Bowl XLIX prediction no one asked for: New Orleans will beat Denver in a 30-24 final.

A defense that continues to improve under coordinator Rob Ryan will offset last year’s road struggles and put Drew Brees and the Saints in position to win their second Super Bowl title in the last six years while Peyton Manning and the Broncos fall short on the NFL’s biggest stage for the second straight year.

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Ravens continuing to look healthy for Sunday’s opener against Bengals

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Ravens continuing to look healthy for Sunday’s opener against Bengals

Posted on 03 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens look to be in good shape from a health standpoint as they continued preparations for Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

All 53 players on the active roster were present and working during the portion of practice open to media on Tuesday. Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (chest), and Asa Jackson (ankle), tight end Owen Daniels (hamstring), running back Bernard Pierce (head), safety Matt Elam (leg), and offensive lineman Jah Reid (head) all took part in practice and appear on track to play against the Bengals.

Of those players with recent injury concerns, only Webb and Pierce were even listed on Wednesday’s injury report, but both were designated as having full participation.

“It’s good to have guys out there practicing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “The more guys you have practicing, the better practice you have. The numbers always help a lot.”

Smith, Jackson, and Webb appeared to be moving well during individual drills as there will be extra focus paid to Webb after he missed the entire summer while dealing with a back injury. The sixth-year defensive back also underwent sports hernia surgery in the offseason, so it remains to be seen how so much missed time since last season will impact his play in the secondary.

The Bengals ranked eighth in the NFL in passing offense a year ago, but quarterback Andy Dalton will be without No. 2 receiver Marvin Jones, who is recovering from a broken foot sustained on Aug. 9. Jones was officially ruled out Wednesday along with running back Rex Burkhead.

A day after initially filling their practice squad, the Ravens made a change to their developmental group by signing former Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jamell Fleming and cutting cornerback Deji Olatoye. Fleming was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft, but Arizona cut him after only one season.

He saw action in eight games with Jacksonville last season but was cut by the Jaguars last weekend. In his rookie season, he appeared in 15 games and made three starts, registering 23 tackles and one pass breakup.

Rookie safety Terrence Brooks is now wearing No. 31, which was his jersey number at Florida State and was worn by safety Oman Brown in the preseason.

Here is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Bernard Pierce (concussion), CB Lardarius Webb (back)

CINCINNATI
OUT: RB Max Burkhead (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Sean Porter (hamstring), WR James Wright (concussion), G/C Mike Pollak (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RB Cedric Peerman (hip), OT Andre Smith (concussion)

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Daniels returns to practice; Pierce, Elam absent on Monday

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Daniels returns to practice; Pierce, Elam absent on Monday

Posted on 25 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After trimming their roster to 75 players earlier Monday, the Ravens returned to the practice field with veteran tight end Owen Daniels back in action for the first time in two weeks.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, the 31-year-old had been dealing with leg fatigue and swelling despite no specific injury. The former Houston Texan caught one pass for six yards against San Francisco in the preseason opener but hadn’t practiced since Aug. 11.

The extended absence for Daniels had led some to wonder about his future and desire to continue playing after he was limited to five games because of a broken leg last season. However, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak had been adamant several times that he was not injured, and Daniels had been seen around the building regularly.

“I don’t anticipate [his health] affecting his status,” Harbaugh said. “I just go by what [the medical staff] tells me. There’s no tear; there’s no pull. There is swelling in the legs. That’s probably the result of stress. Obviously, he’s not right, or we would’ve played him. But we also felt like he has had so many reps in this offense — just take a week or a week and a half and just let him getting fully recovered and let him get fully rested.

“We’ll bring him back now today, tomorrow, a little bit on Wednesday, and then I really do anticipate him practicing fully on Friday. We’ll just have to see, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t practice on Friday fully.”

Despite the good news about their No. 2 tight end, the Ravens had three new absences on Monday as running back Bernard Pierce, safety Matt Elam, and wide receiver Kamar Aiken were not present during the portion of practice open to media. Pierce left Saturday’s game with a concussion, but the third-year back posted on his official Twitter account that he was “fine” on Sunday afternoon.

Harbaugh confirmed Elam has “a little leg issue” but expected him back on the practice field by Friday, but the head coach said he wasn’t sure why Aiken wasn’t practicing.

Others missing from Monday’s practice included cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle), offensive lineman Jah Reid (head), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip). It remains unclear if Cody will begin the season on the reserve physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from offseason surgery.

“We have a couple options on that. He’s progressing well,” Harbaugh said. “He’s done a really good job. Whether he’s ready to play yet or not, we’ll have to decide and determine. But I don’t want to say at this time what we plan on doing, and we really don’t know yet.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (chest) was not suited up to practice on Monday afternoon, but he was running and catching passes on the field, encouraging signs that he’s moving closer to a return. The fourth-year defensive back suffered bruising and bleeding from the lungs after falling on his back early in the second preseason game against Dallas on Aug. 16, but Harbaugh said last week that Smith probably could have played against Washington had it been a regular-season game.

Players were practicing in helmets, shells, and shorts on Monday.

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