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Ravens not showing what it takes to win games on road

Posted on 13 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The final score alone was nothing to be ashamed of.

Many thought the Ravens could win in New England on Monday, but fewer expected them to really pull off the upset. The end result technically only means that John Harbaugh’s team has no realistic path to an AFC North title that doesn’t involve winning at Pittsburgh in Week 16.

So, why then does this one sting that much more than last month’s defeat at Dallas?

It’s because the Ravens showed that they still don’t have what it takes to win a big game on the road and haven’t displayed that moxie in quite some time. The 38-6 thumping of Miami last week was supposed to be the offensive breakthrough that would propel them down a final stretch that included three of four away games, but we instead saw the same offense we witnessed over the first 11 games of the season.

Instead of giving the Patriots everything they could handle to show they were back among the AFC’s top tier of contenders, the Ravens looked like the mediocre team their 7-6 record says they are.

Removing their injury-riddled October from the equation, they’re just not noticeably better than they were at the beginning of the season when they produced their only two road wins. Those victories came after erasing a 20-point deficit to lowly Cleveland in Week 2 and edging Jacksonville with a 54-yard field goal in the final minute of a Week 3 tilt. Yes, Baltimore’s only road victories of the season were nail-biters against the two worst teams in the AFC back in September.

Former offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was still two weeks away from being fired when the Ravens last won outside Baltimore, and it will have been exactly three months since that last road win when the Ravens take the field against the Steelers on Christmas Day.

They have been a good team at M&T Bank Stadium with a 5-2 mark in 2016, but also a pretty bad one on the road. We know winning at Heinz Field will be a tough task, but nothing about the Ravens’ current profile suggests their Week 17 trip to Cincinnati — where they haven’t won in five years — should be considered a sure thing, especially if five-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green is playing.

The Ravens struggled in every phase of the game on Monday, ranging from the offense and defense to special teams and coaching. If we’re being truthful about what we watched and are weary of moral victories in which they “battled” and “fought” back, the Ravens were very fortunate to even be in the game over the final 20 minutes. Winning the turnover battle by a 3-1 margin normally results in a victory, but that doesn’t happen when you stink up the joint for the first 2 1/2 quarters against arguably the best head coach and quarterback in NFL history.

The defense was torched by Tom Brady and the special teams — specifically former return specialist Devin Hester — also played a big part in the loss, but the Ravens offense was its usual self after the one-week aberration against the Dolphins that prompted many observers to buy into the newfound hype.

Passing the ball all day — running game be damned — and checking down all night while being completely perplexed by zone coverage. Not one touchdown drive beyond the two early Christmas gifts provided by New England’s special teams in the third quarter. A way-too-lethargic pace when trailing by two scores late in the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t good enough from Marty Mornhinweg, Joe Flacco, and company. Even the defense has looked mortal on the road as it’s allowed 24 or more points in each of the last four contests and may once again be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who injured his ankle on Monday night.

The Ravens are now 10-20 in regular-season road games since Super Bowl XLVII. The old formula of dominating at home and playing .500 ball away from M&T Bank Stadium brought much success in Harbaugh’s first five seasons — a 21-19 record on the road over that time — but the Ravens have fallen off the away cliff over the last four years, which helps explain their absence from January football.

If they don’t quickly find a way to play better in opposing cities, another New Year’s end to a season will be in order.

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Ravens-Patriots: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 12 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are taking their improved show on the road.

Winners in four of their last five games and coming off their most impressive performance of the season, the Ravens will try to carry over their recent success to the road as they seek their first victory away from M&T Bank Stadium since Sept. 25. Of course, facing the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium is as challenging as it gets in the NFL.

A win would move Baltimore back into the No. 3 spot in the AFC playoff picture while dropping Pittsburgh to the final wild-card spot. A loss leaves the Steelers in sole position of first place in the AFC North and puts the Ravens in the eighth spot in the conference with three games remaining.

There weren’t any major surprises among the Ravens’ inactives as the status of guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) was never in doubt despite him being listed as questionable on the final injury report. As expected, rookie guard Alex Lewis (ankle) was deactivated after practicing on a limited basis this past week and being listed as doubtful to play.

Rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa is active after being inactive two straight weeks while second-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith is a healthy scratch against New England. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees likely views Correa as a better option in pass coverage to potentially match up with Patriots running backs in certain sub packages.

The Ravens also deactivated Buck Allen, leaving starter Terrance West and rookie Kenneth Dixon as their only active tailbacks. Third-year tight end Crockett Gillmore will miss his sixth straight game with a hamstring injury suffered during the bye week.

Meanwhile, the Patriots deactivated cornerback Eric Rowe after he was limited in practices all week with a hamstring issue. His loss is significant after the former Philadelphia Eagle had played well in the New England secondary in recent weeks.

Wide receiver Danny Amendola (ankle) was officially declared out over the weekend.

The referee for Monday’s game will be Ed Hochuli.

Monday marks the ninth regular-season meeting between these teams with New England holding a 7-1 advantage. Of course, the teams are tied 2-2 over four postseason encounters — all played in Foxborough — but the Ravens will be aiming for their first win over the Patriots since the 2012 AFC championship game.

According to Weather.com, the Monday forecast calls for clear skies with temperatures in the low 30s and winds up to eight miles per hour.

Baltimore will wear white jerseys with black pants while the Patriots sport navy blue jerseys with silver pants.

Below are Monday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro
RB Buck Allen
G Ryan Jensen
G Alex Lewis
TE Crockett Gillmore
LB Za’Darius Smith

NEW ENGLAND
CB Eric Rowe
OT LaAdrian Waddle
DT Woodrow Hamilton
S Jordan Richards
RB D.J. Foster
WR Griff Whalen
WR Danny Amendola

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Sunday brings mixed bag to Ravens’ playoff picture

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aren’t likely to send former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan a Christmas card after Buffalo’s disappoint showing against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Despite intercepting Ben Roethlisberger three times in snowy conditions, the Bills allowed nearly 300 yards from scrimmage to running back Le’Veon Bell in their 27-20 defeat to the Steelers at New Era Field. The final score didn’t indicate how lopsided the game was as Pittsburgh moved a half-game ahead in the AFC North, putting more pressure on Baltimore for its Monday meeting with New England.

A loss to the Patriots wouldn’t wipe away the Ravens’ division hopes by any means, but it would all but eliminate any realistic chance of being able to win the AFC North without a victory at Heinz Field on Christmas Day.

Sunday wasn’t a complete disappointment for the Ravens, however, as Denver lost to Tennessee and is now barely holding on as the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. The Broncos fell to 8-5 and now face a brutal final three weeks, opening the door for a team outside the AFC West to potentially steal the last wild card.

Currently holding a 7-2 conference record, the Ravens are in good shape from a tiebreaker standpoint. They also hold the head-to-head advantage with Miami, who beat Arizona on Sunday to improve to 8-5 but lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill to what’s believed to be a season-ending knee injury. The Dolphins will play their final three games against division opponents — including the next two on the road — with veteran backup Matt Moore likely leading the way.

A loss on Monday night would drop the Ravens into a tie with Tennessee at 7-6, but the Titans own a poor 4-5 conference record and play their next two games on the road.

The Ravens’ best path to the playoffs is still winning the division, but Sunday’s action opened the door further for a potential wild card. And that eases the sting of the Bills not being able to beat the Steelers.

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens can make a statement to a national audience on Monday night.

A 38-6 home thrashing of Miami was their most impressive victory of the season last week, but besting the New England Patriots in Foxborough would emphatically announce their return to the upper tier of contenders in the AFC. A loss wouldn’t cripple their playoff hopes, but it would give Pittsburgh a one-game lead in the AFC North with a Christmas Day showdown looming in less than two weeks.

Baltimore has the upper hand from a health standpoint with not a single defensive player listed on the final injury report and no significant offensive players expected to miss the game. Having already lost All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski to season-ending back surgery last week, the Patriots will be without  wide receiver Danny Amendola (ankle) and listed improving cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring) as questionable to play.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams play for the ninth time in their regular-season history. The Patriots own a 7-1 advantage in the regular season, but the Ravens have won two of their four postseason games played at Gillette Stadium since 2009. Baltimore hasn’t beaten New England since the 2012 AFC Championship.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Patriots running backs will score two touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount is on the verge of his first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2010, but he could be the least of the Ravens’ problems on Monday night. The Ravens sport the best run defense in the NFL and are allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, but James White and Dion Lewis are strong receivers out of the backfield capable of running the entire route tree, which could spell problems for linebackers already trying to slow tight end Martellus Bennett. Baltimore will slow Blount between the tackles, but White and Lewis will be problems underneath.

2. Eric Weddle will collect only the second interception of the year from Tom Brady. You’d never know Brady is 39 years old by watching him play this season, but Baltimore has given him as much trouble as virtually anyone in his impeccable career, picking him off 11 times in 10 career games. Expecting the Ravens to shut down the league’s sixth-ranked offense would be unfair, but forcing a turnover or two to set up the offense on a short field at some point would go a long way in giving them a chance. Their ability to contain Blount early will force Brady to take risks, and Weddle will be waiting.

3. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown as Joe Flacco is forced to work the sidelines. Even if the Ravens are able to match their production from the Miami game, it’s difficult to fathom Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia giving Flacco the same windows in the middle of the field, likely forcing the quarterback to work the sidelines. Dennis Pitta also won’t see the same free releases off the line, prompting Flacco to look to Smith more often on short-to-intermediate throws. A more methodical approach is not what the Ravens prefer, but the 37-year-old receiver will be eager to shine in prime time.

4. Terrell Suggs will collect his ninth sack of the year, but pressure on Brady will be scarce. The ball comes out so quickly that you have to pick your poison in attacking Brady. Suggs continues to play at a high level despite a biceps injury and will best left tackle Nate Solder for a sack, but the Ravens would be wise to use the 6-foot-7 Brent Urban and even the 6-foot-4 Za’Darius Smith as sub-package rushers to try to get hands up in passing lanes. New England’s offensive line is vulnerable inside, but Timmy Jernigan’s play has cooled considerably since a strong start.

5. The Patriots will win the fourth quarter to prevail 26-23 over the Ravens. This will be a close game, but I’m just not convinced that the Baltimore offense is ready to do everything it takes to beat one of the NFL’s best teams on the road after a single great performance at home against a mediocre Miami defense. The Ravens defense will get some stops to keep Flacco and the offense in it, but New England will dictate the tempo in the final period, mixing enough runs into a game plan centered around Brady’s passing to protect a tight lead and run out the clock. This one will be similar to last month’s loss to Dallas, but the offense will show more this time around, which bodes well for the final three games.

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Ravens couldn’t ask for better health entering clash with Patriots

Posted on 10 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — No matter what happens in their Week 14 showdown with New England, the Ravens couldn’t ask for much better health going into Monday night’s game.

Five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) was officially designated as questionable and is the most notable name on the final injury report, but he will play after practicing fully on Friday and Saturday. The 32-year-old will be making his fourth straight start at left guard after moving over from the right side last month to help protect his injured left shoulder.

Baltimore ruled out tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring) and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (hamstring) while rookie guard Alex Lewis (ankle) was listed as doubtful. Gillmore will be sidelined for the sixth straight game and Taliaferro his fourth, but Lewis practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day on Saturday, a good sign for his status against Philadelphia next week.

Not a single Baltimore defensive player was listed on the final injury report, an exciting development for a group that ranks No. 1 in the NFL despite rarely being at full strength this season. Neither cornerback Jimmy Smith nor outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil appeared on the injury report all week.

“We’re always striving for greatness and trying to be better each and every week,” inside linebacker Zach Orr said. “Getting Jimmy back and ‘Doom’ back is big for us because we’re finally starting to get healthy. When you have two of your best players back on the field, it’s only going to make you better.”

The injuries are a different story for the Patriots, who already placed All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski (back) on season-ending injured reserve last week and officially ruled out wide receiver Danny Amendola (ankle) for Monday’s game. Those two have combined for 783 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions this season.

New England also listed tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder) and cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring) as questionable to play against the Ravens. Bennett’s status is not believed to be in real question, but Rowe was limited in practices this week after injuring his hamstring last Sunday.

The referee for Monday’s game will be Ed Hochuli.

According to Weather.com, the Foxborough forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures falling to the low 30s and winds around 10 miles per hour on Monday evening.

The Ravens will wear white jerseys with black pants for the New England game.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
DOUBTFUL: OL Alex Lewis (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

NEW ENGLAND
OUT: WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder), S Jordan Richards (knee), LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring), CB Eric Rowe (hamstring), WR Matt Slater (foot)

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Ravens will go as far as offense can take them down stretch

Posted on 09 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Cornerback Jimmy Smith may have offered the defining statement for the remainder of the season for the Ravens this week.

Asked if his healthy return from a back injury as well as pass rusher Elvis Dumervil’s presence provided optimism that the NFL’s top-ranked defense could get even better down the stretch, the sixth-year defensive back provided an interesting answer. It may have been slightly off-topic and reflective of some yearlong frustration with the opposite side of the ball, but Smith wasn’t wrong in his assessment as the Ravens prepare for their toughest game of the season at New England on Monday night.

“Our defense is going to look even better if — and when — our offense goes out and puts up points,” Smith said. “We can start playing the defense where we can get after a lot of guys, pin our ears back, get sacks and a lot more turnovers. How our offense goes for the next four weeks will [determine] how even more great our defense can be.”

The Ravens are in position to make the playoffs mostly because of their exceptional defense, but it was only this past Sunday when you began feeling they might have a chance to make real noise down the stretch and into January. A season-high 38-point explosion and Joe Flacco’s best performance in two years will bring that kind of optimism for an offense that’s been below average all year.

Of course, going on the road to face a Patriots defense ranking in the top 10 in most statistical categories is a much different challenge than blowing out Miami at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 13. Whether they’re ready or not, the Ravens couldn’t ask for a better test to see if last week was more aberration or transformation.

There’s also the matter of knowing that future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady looms on the opposing side. Expecting the Baltimore defense to shut down the New England offense would be unfair, which is why the Ravens need to start fast and keep the foot on the accelerator like they finally did against the Dolphins.

Even with an elite defense, Flacco doesn’t want to be conservative against anyone, let alone the Patriots.

“You don’t want to wait for them. You do not want to just wait and hope that they do not come back,” Flacco said. “You still have to take your chances and rely on you playing sound football. Understand that if you do make a mistake in the moment, it is still going to pay off in the long run more so than it might hurt you in that one specific play. Yes, you might turn the ball over and they might get a touchdown — a quick touchdown. But if you keep it going, it usually pays dividends in the long run.”

At this point, we know the Ravens are going to throw the ball and throw it a lot. Despite averaging 4.6 yards per carry over their last three games with the same starting offensive line, Flacco is still averaging just under 40 pass attempts per game over that time and ranked behind only Drew Brees in total pass attempts entering Week 14.

The Ravens continued to use the no-huddle offense and exploited the middle of the Dolphins’ pass defense over and over, but will the Patriots allow the same free releases off the line of scrimmage? Will their secondary allow similar cushion for the crossing routes and slants run so effectively by Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, and Breshad Perriman? Will Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have a better plan to confuse Flacco, who made it look so easy against Miami?

Asked what finally clicked against the Dolphins after weeks of frustration, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg wasn’t interested in taking credit — or divulging any secrets.

“The players did a heck of a job,” Mornhinweg said. “The position coaches who are involved in the game plan did an outstanding job. It’s just that simple.”

Monday will reveal if it really is that simple and whether the newfound optimism for the Ravens is warranted. Only then will we know if Baltimore can forget about the first three months of offensive frustration and turn the page toward an exciting finish to the season.

And we also might be able to see if this defense can reach another level as Smith suggested.

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Ravens rookie guard Lewis makes surprise return to practice

Posted on 09 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Rookie guard Alex Lewis made a surprise return to practice as the Ravens moved closer to their Monday night meeting with the New England Patriots.

Sidelined with a right ankle sprain suffered in the Week 10 win over Cleveland on Nov. 10, Lewis was expected to miss at least six weeks of action at the time of the injury. Head coach John Harbaugh even labeled Lewis “a good ways away” when asked about his status this past Monday.

A return for the Patriots game might be too aggressive after a month-long absence, but the better question is where Lewis will fit in for the remainder of the season. Five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has played the last three games on the left side out of necessity because of his bad left shoulder.

Yanda told WNST.net this week that he was all but resigned to needing season-ending surgery last month before Lewis’ injury opened the door for his idea to switch to left guard, a position that is easier on his damaged shoulder.

Despite being a 10-year veteran, Yanda has acknowledged the difficulty in making the in-season transition to the opposite side, making you wonder if they’d move Lewis to right guard in place of veteran Vlad Ducasse. The Ravens could just continue with the same offensive line combination used in last Sunday’s 38-6 blowout win over Miami.

“It’s not as drastic as going from writing with your right hand to going with your left, but it’s very similar in that aspect of it,” Yanda said. “Your feet are flipped, and just the way you set with your feet, it just feels awkward as heck flipping your stance. It takes some time, and I’m still awkward.”

Ducasse has started the last four games at right guard after being re-signed in October. Lewis, a fourth-round pick out of Nebraska, has made five starts at left guard and three at left tackle in his rookie season.

Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (hamstring) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring) remained sidelined on Friday and appear unlikely to play against the Patriots. Linebacker Terrell Suggs and center Jeremy Zuttah were also given a veteran day off.

Below is Friday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

NEW ENGLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder), S Jordan Richards (knee), LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring), CB Eric Rowe (hamstring), WR Matt Slater (foot)

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Ravens trying to turn back clock against New England

Posted on 09 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You can sense the confidence in the Ravens locker room this week.

Winners of four of their last five games and coming off their most impressive performance of the season, the Ravens are suddenly being discussed as a viable threat in the AFC. And while a trip to Gillette Stadium to take on New England won’t be easy, they’re hardly walking into uncharted territory on Monday night.

Few teams have approached the kind of success the Ravens have enjoyed against the Patriots in the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era. Of their four postseason meetings in Foxborough, the Ravens own two  victories and their two losses came by a combined seven points.

This marks the first regular-season meeting between these teams in New England since 2010.

“When you have not experienced it much, I think they are a team that can intimidate some people,” Flacco said. “But I don’t think that is us. I think that we have done it enough that we feel good about doing it. We have had good teams. We have always had good teams going up there and a bunch of guys that feel that way and have felt that we can win the game. I think that always helps.”

But how much weight does the past carry?

Only 11 players on the current team were with the organization when the Ravens last beat New England in the 2012 AFC championship game. That group includes Flacco, six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, cornerback Jimmy Smith, and tight end Dennis Pitta.

Of course, players have come and gone on the New England side as well, but future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady have just continued winning.

The last meeting between these teams took place in the 2014 divisional round when Baltimore squandered two different 14-point leads in a 35-31 defeat. Since then, the Patriots have won a Super Bowl and appeared in another conference championship game while the Ravens have gone 12-16 and are trying to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight year.

This game is not only an opportunity for the Ravens to improve their playoff standing, but it’s a chance to show the football world that they’re back among the serious contenders. Young players such as receiver Breshad Perriman and left tackle Ronnie Stanley will also have their first opportunity to make names for themselves against the Patriots.

“You can’t really transfer experience,” Harbaugh said. “We try to prepare them for what’s going to happen in the next game and prepare them for that as best we can. The past games aren’t a part of this game. It’s the next game, and it’s the one we’re focusing on.”

Win or lose, the Ravens need to show they can compete with a heavyweight like New England on the road as they haven’t won away from M&T Bank Stadium since September 25. With another road showdown looming at Heinz Field against Pittsburgh on Christmas Day, an offense that’s been below average this year must prove last week’s explosion against Miami was more than just a pleasant aberration.

The last time these teams met in the regular season was in 2013 when the Ravens were riding a four-game winning streak and trying to recover from a rough start not terribly different from this year’s. Like we’ve seen this week, the hype was growing before the Patriots came to Baltimore and won by 34 points. The Ravens lost again the following week and missed the playoffs.

Baltimore is the healthier team now without a single defensive player on this week’s injury report while All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski is gone for the season and wide receiver Danny Amendola is not expected to play for the Patriots on Monday. The Ravens also sport their best defense since future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were still playing at a high level.

This may not be a must-win game for Baltimore, but it’s an opportunity to send a warning to the rest of the AFC. And it’s a chance to reestablish one of the league’s best rivalries despite the Ravens getting sidetracked over the better part of the last 15 months.

“You’re a fan of football,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Being in San Diego the last few years and not being in the playoffs, you watch those games from afar and are envious of wanting to play in them. Now is my opportunity. It should be a great game.”

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Ravens healthy going into Monday showdown with New England

Posted on 08 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens face their biggest challenge of the year on Monday night and will do it with a healthy roster for this late stage of the season.

Just four players were missing from their first full practice in preparation for the Week 14 showdown with the New England Patriots. Left guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) was the most notable absence on Thursday, but the Ravens have given him a practice off per week since his return to action last month. He also participated in Wednesday’s walk-through, leaving little concern about his status.

Yanda’s move from right guard to the left side that was facilitated by his left shoulder injury has worked out well for an offensive line that’s found more consistency in both its performance and alignment in recent weeks. It’s a stark contrast from a few weeks ago when the group was in disarray and it appeared the Ravens’ best offensive lineman was on the verge of undergoing season-ending surgery.

“He’s a valuable man to our football team,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “I can go through many, many strengths, and he has very few weaknesses. For him to be able to do that, both physically and mentally, it is quite a tribute to him.”

Offensive lineman Alex Lewis (ankle), tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (hamstring) were also absent. Lewis will miss his fourth consecutive game on Monday night while Gillmore could miss his sixth straight contest. Taliaferro hasn’t played since Week 10.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil continues to be a full participant in practice and was even removed from the injury report last week after missing eight of Baltimore’s first 10 games while recovering from offseason foot surgery. The 32-year-old previously attempted to play in Weeks 4 and 5 and lacked the explosiveness and strength indicative of a five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher.

Dumervil registered the game-saving strip-sack against Cincinnati and registered a tackle and a quarterback hit in the blowout win over Miami last Sunday. The Ravens hope he can help the league’s top-ranked defense apply pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on Monday night.

“I kind of knew this time was going to look a lot different just because he knew he wasn’t ready after he went out there the first time,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “He was not going to come back until he knew that he really could produce something on the field. To see him go out and play the way he’s played has been great.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith is no longer included on the injury report after making his return against Miami. The sixth-year defensive back missed two games while dealing with a lingering back issue.

Meanwhile, New England was without wide receiver Danny Amendola (ankle) and safety Jordan Richards (knee) on Thursday. Amendola is not expected to play against the Ravens.

Tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder) and cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring) were limited participants.

The Patriots did not include Brady on their injury report after he’d been dealing with a sore knee in recent weeks.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), G Alex Lewis (ankle), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

NEW ENGLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Danny Amendola (ankle), S Jordan Richards (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder), LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring), CB Eric Rowe (hamstring), WR Matt Slater (foot)

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Ravens, Steelers following similar paths to Christmas showdown

Posted on 05 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens face their biggest challenge of the season at New England next Monday night, but it’s difficult not to look ahead to Christmas Day.

As it has so many times over the last 15 years, the AFC North championship will come down to Baltimore and Pittsburgh with their Week 16 meeting at Heinz Field potentially serving as a pseudo-championship game. Despite neither team being dominant in 2016, some of the similarities between the Ravens and the Steelers are striking.

Both teams appeared to be in serious trouble only a month ago before regrouping to hold matching 7-5 records going into the final quarter of the regular season.

“We like the fact that we’re in it,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We like the fact that we’re in a fight for the division championship. That’s our first goal — the starting point of everything we try to accomplish one week at a time.”

The Ravens began the season with three straight wins, then suffered a four-game losing streak, and now have won four of their last five games. Meanwhile, the Steelers won four of their first five, sustained their own four-game slide, and have now prevailed in three straight games.

Each team owns two home losses and three defeats on the road. Hoping to keep pace in the division on Sunday, the Ravens and Steelers each took out an opponent that entered the day riding a six-game winning streak.

While the Ravens offense finally busted out with a 38-point showing against Miami, the Steelers’ maligned defense has allowed a total of 30 points over the last three games. Those improvements have led many to point to Baltimore and Pittsburgh as potential sleepers in the AFC.

But that depends on who prevails in the AFC North since a wild card is unlikely to come from the division at this point.

The schedule favors the Steelers as their remaining opponents are a combined 17-30-1 while the Ravens’ are 26-21-1, but the next two weeks provide interesting possibilities. Pittsburgh plays back-to-back road games at Buffalo and Cincinnati, two teams who have had their struggles but remain capable of pulling off upsets in their home stadiums. The Ravens face the daunting task of a Monday night game against the Patriots in Foxborough, but their Dec. 18 home game against the fading Philadelphia Eagles looks more favorable by the week.

Considering the Ravens already have a win over Pittsburgh — and would thus own the head-to-head tiebreaker with a Week 16 victory — they simply need to be no worse than one game behind the Steelers when they arrive at Heinz Field on Dec. 25. A win over the Eagles in two weeks would ensure that, no matter what happens against the Patriots or in Pittsburgh’s next two contests.

Of course, much could change over the next couple weeks, but both the Ravens and the Steelers appear to be peaking at the right time and are on a Christmas collision course with a division title at stake.

What more could you possibly want?

Weddle’s impact

Safety Eric Weddle came away with his third interception of the season on Sunday, matching his total over his final three seasons with San Diego.

In addition to being Pro Football Focus’ top-graded safety for much of the season, the 31-year-old has brought much-needed leadership and experience to the secondary. From recently challenging fellow safety Lardarius Webb to elevate his play to being one of the first players in the building every day, Weddle has provided a presence the Ravens lacked on the back end of the defense after Ed Reed’s departure a few years ago.

“He is that way at 5:30 in the morning in the weight room. He is that way at 6:30 at night when he is just finishing up his work on tape,” said Harbaugh about the veteran’s enthusiasm. “That is how he lives his life. He is that way when he has his kids in the building. That is how he lives.”

Flacco getting hot?

Asked whether Joe Flacco’s four-touchdown, 381-yard performance on Sunday prompted him to wonder if this was the start of a hot streak for the ninth-year quarterback, Harbaugh didn’t want to make any assumptions.

It only makes sense in the midst of a disappointing year for Flacco and the Baltimore offense.

“It is not like golf, where you go out there and all of a sudden your swing starts grooving [like], ‘I am going to make a bunch of putts in a row,'” Harbaugh said. “There is an opponent over there that is trying to take away your swing. They are blocking your putt. You have to find a way to maneuver through.

“It’s tough because every single play presents a new challenge against a tough opponent that is doing everything they can within their intellect and their physical opportunity to thwart your efforts. We just have to find a way to win the next play.”

Odds & ends

Justin Tucker led AFC kickers in the Pro Bowl voting update released on Monday. He is now 28-for-28 on field goal tries, had made eight attempts from 50 yards or longer, and hasn’t missed a single extra point. He was named to his only Pro Bowl back in 2013. … Cut by Detroit over the weekend, ex-Ravens running back Justin Forsett was claimed off waivers by Denver on Monday, reuniting him with Gary Kubiak. The 31-year-old averaged 5.4 yards per carry in a 2014 Pro Bowl season when Kubiak was his offensive coordinator. … On the heels of the center portion of the field being re-sodded at M&T Bank Stadium, several Miami players complained about poor footing on Sunday, a problem the Ravens didn’t seem to have. “It felt good when I walked on it; I didn’t slip,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughter from media. “But our players didn’t slip, either. Our guys were prepared for it. That is an individual thing as a player. You have to go out there and find your footing in pregame.”

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