Tag Archive | "Pittsburgh"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-14 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning their first road victory of the season in a 26-14 final over Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You can’t harp on the Ravens not being able to beat an elite quarterback on the road and not give proper credit when they do — without Jimmy Smith. That was their best win since the 2014 playoffs and puts them in the conversation as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

2. Despite a 96.9 season passer rating, Joe Flacco was annoyed about the offense squandering opportunities to score more points Sunday. Tell me again that his improvement is all about Lamar Jackson — which implies he didn’t care before — and not about the organization putting better talent around him.

3. John Brown already has a team-best six catches of 20 or more yards, which would have ranked second behind Mike Wallace’s 11 for the entire 2017 season. His 22.5 yards per catch average is third in the NFL. He’s fun to watch, and his chemistry with Flacco can still improve.

4. The biggest criticism of the defense in recent years has been the inability to close in critical games. Anthony Levine was responsible for ending all three of Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter drives by breaking up a third-down pass to force a punt, intercepting another, and batting away a fourth-down attempt. Clutch.

5. Too much is usually made about halftime adjustments, but Wink Martindale’s defense has yet to allow a touchdown after intermission in four games — allowing just nine points total — and pitched a second-half shutout at Heinz Field. He’s clearly doing something right.

6. John Harbaugh wisely expressed confidence Monday that Alex Collins will improve his ball security as he did last year, but his goal-line fumble completely changed a game that was bordering on becoming a blowout. The running game remains a concern, but the Ravens must stick with Collins’ upside.

7. Kenny Young played 24 defensive snaps compared to Patrick Onwuasor’s six, signaling a shift in the competition for the inside linebacker job next to C.J. Mosley. That said, both must improve in coverage or we’ll continue to see Martindale use Levine (28 snaps) as a dime more frequently.

8. The third-and-1 completion to Maxx Williams to extend a long fourth-quarter drive drew praise — and controversy — because of his alignment. Flacco said after the game they’d practiced that play for two years, and it was the first time Williams had gotten through the line of scrimmage unscathed. Interesting stuff.


(Screen capture courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

9. My guess is the Ravens continue to carry four tight ends with the anticipated return of Hayden Hurst this week. However, with Williams and rookie Mark Andrews playing so well, you wonder if Nick Boyle would be the most vulnerable if a move needed to be made there.

10. Sunday night was an example of how to play strong defense without much of a pass rush as the Ravens faked blitzes, effectively disguised looks, and covered very well. Baltimore is tops in the NFL in yards per play allowed at just 4.4.

11. Tony Jefferson hasn’t made as many splash plays as you’d like after the Ravens gave him a four-year, $34 million contract, but his strip and recovery against Vance McDonald on Pittsburgh’s opening drive was spectacular. He fairly noted after the game how that could have been ruled an interception.

12. If you didn’t hear Harbaugh’s post-game press conference on Sunday night, take a listen at the 2:45 mark HERE. Kudos for recognizing the memory of Bobbi Engram, the daughter of wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, and giving her a game ball. Powerful stuff.

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Ravens dealing with “good problems to have” as J. Smith, others return

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens had just secured one of their biggest road wins in years as head coach John Harbaugh met with general manager Ozzie Newsome on the post-game bus in Pittsburgh.

Not only had they just beaten an elite quarterback on the road for the first time in over three years, but the Ravens were on the verge of welcoming back their top cornerback, a 2018 first-round pick, and an important member of their defensive line rotation. The thought of a 3-1 team getting even better is certainly exciting for an organization that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2014, but those returns will impact both the 53-man roster and which 46 players are active for games, leading Harbaugh and Newsome to discuss their plans in the aftermath of the 26-14 win over the Steelers.

“We have some tough decisions to make, but those are good problems to have,” Harbaugh said. “When you’re not going to be able to activate a really good, productive player, as hard as that is — especially on the player — it’s probably a good thing for your team. It means you’ve got some depth and you’re healthy.”

Headlining the list of returnees is veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith, whose four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy expired on Sunday. The 30-year-old reported to Owings Mills Monday morning and is expected to practice this week and play at Cleveland on Sunday. The Ravens currently have an exemption for Smith that allows them to delay making room on the 53-man roster until later in the week.

How Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will distribute the snaps at cornerback remains to be seen as current starters Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr have played well over the first quarter of the season. Humphrey, Baltimore’s 2017 first-round pick, brings the most upside of the group and is considered the No. 1 cornerback of the future, but Carr — one of the most respected players in the Ravens locker room — has started an incredible 164 consecutive games in his career and has played some of his best football in years with Pro Football Focus grading him as the NFL’s 19th-best corner through Week 4.

Of course, the Ravens dealt with a similar challenge last year with Smith nursing a sore Achilles tendon that ultimately gave out in early December. The trio shared snaps for a large portion of the 2017 season, but Baltimore also has slot cornerback Tavon Young to consider now, meaning it isn’t as simple as moving Carr into the nickel role as the organization did occasionally last year.

“It’s a good problem to have, the fact that we’ll have another really good player playing corner and we’ll have the chance to put another guy out there that can cover people,” Harbaugh said. “I think who starts and all that is one thing, but really, they’re all going to play. They’re going to play a lot, and that’s good for the Ravens.”

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst is likely to make his NFL debut this week, which will complicate the current tight end rotation of Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, and 2018 third-round pick Mark Andrews. At the start of the season, the outsider consensus was that Williams would have been the odd man out if Hurst had been healthy, but the 2015 second-round pick has already exceeded his receiving yardage total from last season and is second on the team in catches of 20 or more yards (three). Williams has caught all 12 of his targets for 119 yards and six first downs.

Even if the Ravens manage to keep four tight ends on the 53-man roster, it would be unlikely for all to be active on game days, creating a tough decision between blocking-minded veterans in Boyle and Williams and the two rookies carrying more upside as receivers. After a quiet summer, Andrews has been one of the biggest surprises of the young season with eight of his 10 catches going for first downs and an 11.9 yards per catch average.

Hurst was listed as questionable to play against Pittsburgh before ultimately being held out for a fourth straight game. The South Carolina product expressed optimism that he was ready to go last week, but he was only a limited participant in practices.

“I don’t think the docs and the trainers were comfortable with just the one week back,” Harbaugh said. “I’d have probably been more comfortable than they were, but it was smart. We’ll just have to see how he does this week. Obviously, he has a good chance to play, but he has to get through full practices and be ready to go.”

Harbaugh said defensive tackle Willie Henry will also return to practice this week, potentially giving the Ravens another inside pass-rushing threat to put pressure on Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield on Sunday. Henry appeared in line to secure the starting 3-technique spot this summer before undergoing surgery for an umbilical hernia in late August. His return would impact the playing time of Chris Wormley the most as the 2017 third-round pick has manned the 3-technique position in the base defense and is second behind only Brent Urban for most snaps among Baltimore defensive linemen this season.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 30 September 2018 by Luke Jones

PITTSBURGH — The Ravens and Pittsburgh renew one of the NFL’s greatest rivalries Sunday night while trying to keep up with first-place Cincinnati in the AFC North.

With the Bengals pulling out a last-minute win at Atlanta earlier in the day, Baltimore will attempt to secure its first win at Heinz Field since the 2015 season and remain in a first-place tie through the first quarter of the season.

As expected after practicing fully on Thursday and Friday, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) are active and will play after sitting out the Week 3 win over Denver. Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee) will also play after all were listed as questionable. Suggs was limited in practices all week, but the 16th-year linebacker wasn’t about to miss a chance to renew his personal rivalry with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst’s NFL debut will have to wait another week as he was deactivated after practicing on a limited basis all week. The first-round pick was sidelined more than a month after sustaining a stress fracture in his foot in late August, and the Ravens are being cautious in easing him back into the picture. Hurst went through a pre-game workout with the other tight ends before the inactives list was released 90 minutes prior to kickoff.

Veteran quarterback Robert Griffin III was a healthy scratch for the fourth consecutive game.

As expected, the Steelers have deactivated starting safety Morgan Burnett (groin) and nickel cornerback Mike Hilton (elbow) after they were listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

Sunday’s referee is Tony Corrente.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Pittsburgh calls for mostly clear skies and temperatures in the high 60s with calm winds up to four miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their white jerseys with black pants while Pittsburgh dons black tops with gold pants.

Sunday marks the 45th all-time meeting in the regular season between these AFC North rivals as the Steelers enjoy a 24-20 advantage. Pittsburgh has won three straight after the Ravens had prevailed in the previous four meetings, a stretch that included the 2014 postseason.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
OL Hroniss Grasu
DT Willie Henry
TE Hayden Hurst
DL Zach Sieler

PITTSBURGH
QB Mason Rudolph
WR Justin Hunter
S Marcus Allen
CB Mike Hilton
S Morgan Burnett
OT Zach Banner
DE L.T. Walton

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 29 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Making predictions for a Ravens-Steelers game is often a fool’s errand.

We know it’s typically close — 17 of the last 23 meetings including the playoffs have been decided by a single possession — but something crazy usually happens in the process.

Safety Eric Weddle said this week these aren’t the same old Ravens and they’ve learned from the last two heartbreaking defeats at Heinz Field in which they held double-digit fourth-quarter leads, but this is the chance to prove it and make an early statement that 2018 will be different than the last three non-playoff seasons. Sunday night marks the fifth consecutive season the Ravens’ trip to Pittsburgh will be televised before a national audience.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 45th time in the all-time regular-season series. Pittsburgh holds a 24-20 advantage and is 12-11 — including the playoffs — against Baltimore in the John Harbaugh era. The Steelers have won the last three meetings in this AFC North rivalry.

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the Steelers wide receiver giving the Ravens the biggest headache. It remains to be seen how defensive coordinator Wink Martindale approaches the challenge of covering Antonio Brown, but the 6-foot-1 Smith-Schuster does most of his damage from the slot, presenting a challenge for the 5-foot-9 Tavon Young. The nickel corner was exposed in Cincinnati in Week 2 and is still looking to regain his rookie form after last year’s knee injury. The Ravens will change up their coverages, but the defense needs a strong night from Young in order to get off the field.

2. John Brown and Willie Snead will each catch a touchdown against an injury-depleted Steelers secondary. Pittsburgh ranks 28th in the NFL in pass defense and is expected to be without starting safety Morgan Burnett and nickel corner Mike Hilton. It will be interesting to see how Steelers cornerback Joe Haden is used, but no one in the Pittsburgh secondary can run with the speedy Brown, who leads the Ravens with 222 receiving yards. If the protection can slow a capable Pittsburgh pass rush, Brown could be in line for a big night while Snead should find room in the middle of the field.

3. Pittsburgh tight ends and running backs will combine for 13 catches and a touchdown reception. Le’Veon Bell won’t be out there, but Steelers running backs and tight ends combined for 24 catches and two touchdown catches last December. The Ravens won’t have quite that much trouble, but C.J. Mosley will be less than 100 percent and the Steelers won’t hesitate to test Tony Jefferson and Weddle in coverage. Even with so much attention paid to Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner and tight ends Jesse James and Vance McDonald can’t be ignored.

4. Terrell Suggs will collect his first full sack against the Steelers since 2013. The personal rivalry between Suggs and Ben Roethlisberger goes back to 2004, but the seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker has just one-half sack in his last eight games against Pittsburgh. The Steelers will be welcoming right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert back to the lineup, which will only increase the challenge of pressuring the pocket. The Ravens finished with three sacks in the last meeting when Roethlisberger threw an absurd 66 passes. That can’t happen again if they want to win.

5. Joe Flacco and the offense will show up, but the Ravens defense falls short in a 31-27 loss. A rivalry once known for low-scoring affairs saw a whopping 77 points scored in the Week 14 contest played at Heinz Field last year. This one will follow a similar script as the Ravens offense will move the ball and score points, but the absence of Jimmy Smith once again looms large. After incorrectly picking Baltimore to win in Pittsburgh last December and watching Andy Dalton carve up the secondary in the first half of the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati, I need to see the Ravens prove they can get over the hump this time around. If it’s a different outcome, special teams could be the difference as Justin Tucker remains the best kicker in the NFL and Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell is a total mess now.

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Seven Ravens players listed as questionable for Pittsburgh game

Posted on 28 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Despite listing seven players as questionable on the final injury report, the Ravens are getting healthier ahead of their Week 4 trip to Pittsburgh.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) were among those officially receiving the questionable designation, but both are expected to play after practicing fully on Thursday and Friday. They sat out the Week 3 win over Denver and will offer a boost as Baltimore tries to slow a Steelers offense averaging 29.3 points per game so far in 2018.

“They both seem good. I don’t see any reason they wouldn’t play,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to make sure. I guess they could always have a reaction; I haven’t talked to the trainers yet in terms of how they reacted to today’s practice. That’s always a part of the evaluation, but based on what I saw today, they looked good.”

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee) was also listed as questionable, but he was able to return to practice on a limited basis on Friday, easing concerns about his availability on Sunday night. It’s worth noting the seven-time Pro Bowl selection didn’t talk with the media this week, an unusual development suggesting his knee won’t be 100 percent as the Ravens try to secure their first win at Heinz Field since 2015.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), and defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring) are also officially questionable, but all are expected to play after practicing fully on Thursday and Friday.

The most interesting injury question will be the status of rookie tight end Hayden Hurst, who practiced this week for the first time since sustaining a stress fracture in his foot last month. The first-round pick was a limited participant in practices all week, but the Ravens liked what they saw from him after a month-long layoff.

“You can’t really say he didn’t miss a beat just because who knows?” Harbaugh said. “We’re not really playing padded football in practice as much, but it didn’t really seem like there was a difference between when he left and what he did this week. I thought he looked very good, very strong. As far as his availability to the game, it will depend on what the trainers say. We’ll just have to see how that goes. It’s something they’ll evaluate between now and then.”

Defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) and rookie cornerback Anthony Averett (hamstring) have been officially ruled out for Week 4. With Averett missing his second straight game, the Ravens have only four healthy cornerbacks available, making a weekend roster move possible with cornerbacks Robertson Daniel and Makinton Dorleant currently on the practice squad.

Only two players — safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Mike Hilton — appeared on Pittsburgh’s final injury report, but they are listed as doubtful to play on Sunday. Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was removed from the injury report after dealing with an abdomen injury earlier in the week, but he practiced fully on Friday.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday night calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-70s with calm winds at six miles per hour and only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday night:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DT Willie Henry (abdomen)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Carr (knee), TE Hayden Hurst (foot), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (knee)

PITTSBURGH
DOUBTFUL: S Morgan Burnett (groin), CB Mike Hilton (elbow)

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Getting over Pittsburgh road hump would help push Ravens to next level

Posted on 28 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — We know what the Ravens-Steelers rivalry is all about.

It’s physical, intense, and ultra competitive with all but six of the 23 games played in the John Harbaugh era — including the postseason — decided by one possession. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said this week that you don’t earn your “badge of honor” as a Raven until you’ve played in a Pittsburgh game. In an evolving NFL catering more to the offense, this game still evokes that old-school feeling, even as the teams combined to score a whopping 77 points in their most recent showdown last December.

But putting those recycled narratives aside and acknowledging there’s much football to be played after Week 4, the Ravens could really use a win on Sunday night. “Need” is an overused word in the sports realm and doesn’t really apply this week, but a victory at Heinz Field would be as beneficial psychologically as it would be in the standings for a team with some key veterans running out of time and young players needing to grow up quickly.

Despite the predictable claims of every game being important, this one carries more gravity than a another notch in the win or loss column. There’s been too much disappointment in recent years for the Ravens to suggest otherwise.

The Steelers have won three straight over Baltimore for the first time since Harbaugh’s debut season as head coach, and we all witnessed what happened at Heinz Field in each of the last two Decembers. Still, the significance of Sunday’s game goes beyond trying to beat the Steelers, who appear as vulnerable as they’ve been in a while without All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell or much evidence of an effective defense.

There’s the Jimmy Smith narrative that Ravens defensive players are sick of hearing about, but what better way to welcome back their top cornerback from suspension next week than by beating an elite passing attack on the road without him?

It’s much more than just playing without Smith, however. The Ravens need to make a winning statement on the road against an accomplished quarterback at some point if they want to get over the hump and back to the postseason for the first time since 2014. If it isn’t against the Steelers this week, Baltimore is scheduled to deal with the likes of Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, the upstart Patrick Mahomes, and Philip Rivers in away games later this season.

Since their 2014 playoff win over Roethlisberger and the Steelers — only 10 players from that 53-man roster are still with the team (see below) — the Ravens have won just eight away games. The most accomplished quarterback they’ve beaten on the road is Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, who’s 3-1 against them at Paul Brown Stadium over that time.

The remaining quarterbacks the Ravens have defeated away from M&T Bank Stadium since 2014 are Mike Vick (in his final NFL season), Blake Bortles, EJ Manuel, Brett Hundley, Josh McCown (twice), and DeShone Kizer. Only one of them is currently a starter, and Bortles wasn’t exactly setting the league on fire when the Ravens beat Jacksonville early in the 2016 season.

To be fair, you can’t control your schedule of opponents and blame falls on both sides of the ball in compiling an 8-17 road record over the last three-plus seasons, but no one is taking you seriously as a contender if you can’t beat a top-flight quarterback outside your home stadium from time to time. That’s not too much to ask as we’re talking about a team that won road games over Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back weeks on the way to winning a Super Bowl six years ago.

Players have tried to say the right things publicly this week, acknowledging the rivalry while maintaining this one holds no more significance than any other game. Losing on Sunday hardly derails the young season in the same way that winning guarantees nothing, but flying back from western Pennsylvania early Monday morning with another defeat would only extend doubts about the Ravens’ road pedigree with three of the next four away from home still to come.

The Ravens don’t want to find themselves in a similar position to the last two seasons when they’ve needed to play lights out down the stretch to make the playoffs. We know how that turned out.

With better health and improved offensive weapons, Baltimore hopes the balance of power could finally be shifting in the AFC North this season. After a tough loss at Cincinnati on a short week earlier this month, the next litmus test has arrived.

“I look at it as it’s been a great learning experience for us as players and coaches and this organization,” said safety Eric Weddle about the last two heartbreaking losses in Pittsburgh. “As bad as we wanted to win those games, things have come up in those situations and throughout those games that we’ve gotten better from.”

Maybe so, but the Ravens have to prove it at some point.

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Suggs rests again as Mosley, other Ravens practice fully for Pittsburgh game

Posted on 27 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Several Ravens players returned to practice Thursday while longtime outside linebacker Terrell Suggs continued to rest a sore knee ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Pittsburgh.

The seven-time Pro Bowl selection was absent for a second straight day and has yet to speak to the media this week, an unusual development that brings at least some small question to his status. Suggs wouldn’t need to practice in order to play Sunday night — he’s missed entire practice weeks before playing in past games — but how close to 100 percent he’ll be is a fair concern. The 35-year-old was on the field for the final defensive series of the Week 3 win over Denver, making two tackles and pressuring quarterback Case Keenum into a fourth-down incompletion that gave the ball back to the Ravens.

Assuming he plays, Suggs will renew an individual rivalry with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that dates back to 2004.

“He’s a first-ballot [Hall of Fame] guy for me,” Roethlisberger said in a conference call this week. “I’m not just trying to pump him up because we’re about to play him. I truly feel that way. I know he does a lot of talking about me, too, but I think there’s a lot of mutual respect there between each other. There’s a little bit of talking on the field — I wouldn’t call it trash talking — but there’s some mutual respect trash talking that goes on. It’s a special rivalry he and I have.”

Three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) practiced fully on Thursday, a good sign for his potential return to action after a one-game absence. Mosley and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) — who also sat out the Denver game — were full participants a day after being limited in practice.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) were listed as full participants after sitting out Wednesday’s workout, leaving little doubt about their availability for Sunday night. Quarterback Lamar Jackson also practiced a day after sitting out with an illness.

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst worked on a limited basis once again after practicing for the first time in over a month on Wednesday. The first-round pick acknowledged feeling some soreness in his return from a stress fracture in his foot, but he’s eager to make his NFL debut whenever he receives the green light.

“I’m preparing every day to go out and play like I’m playing on Sunday,” Hurst said. “I think I’m good to go. It’s up to the trainers and what they think is right for me. Like I said, I’m ready to go whenever.”

Pittsburgh wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice as he continues to deal with an abdomen injury, but starting offensive linemen David DeCastro (hand) and Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) practiced fully for the second straight day. The Steelers were without both starters on the right side of their offensive line against Tampa Bay on Monday.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), LB Terrell Suggs (knee),
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), QB Lamar Jackson (illness), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: C Maurkice Pouncey (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Morgan Burnett (groin), CB Mike Hilton (elbow), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (abdomen)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G David DeCastro (hand), OT Ramon Foster (non-injury), OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), QB Ben Roethlisberger (non-injury)

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Ravens put out crowded injury report to start Pittsburgh week

Posted on 26 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to renew a rivalry long known for its brutal physicality, the Ravens are already dealing with a number of ailments ahead of Sunday’s trip to Pittsburgh.

Baltimore did welcome inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee), defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot), and rookie tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) back to the practice field on Wednesday, but six players did not participate in the workout for health-related reasons. The absentees included linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee), cornerbacks Brandon Carr (knee) and Anthony Averett (hamstring), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), quarterback Lamar Jackson (illness), and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery). Suggs, Carr, and Stanley finished Sunday’s game against Denver without any noticeable incident while Averett and Henry didn’t play against the Broncos.

Mosley’s return to practice was an encouraging sign for the Ravens defense after he sat out in Week 3, marking only the third missed game of his five-year career. Veteran Albert McClellan started in place of Mosley and shared inside linebacker snaps with weak-side starter Patrick Onwuasor and rookie Kenny Young. Mosley, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, described himself as “day by day” before Wednesday’s practice and is trying to avoid a setback with the bone bruise in his left knee.

“I was pretty close [to playing], but I didn’t want any uncertainty,” said Mosley about missing Sunday’s game. “That was really the main reason. And I felt comfortable with Kenny, Bert, and ‘Peanut’ out there without me. They practiced all week without me. I prepared like I was going to play if I did play. I was comfortable with that, but as far as my knee, I just didn’t feel comfortable.”

Hurst was practicing for the first time since having a screw inserted in his foot for a stress fracture on Aug. 24. It remains unclear how much practice time the first-round pick will need to be ready for live-game action again, but the Ravens are eager to have both Hurst and fellow rookie Mark Andrews on the field at the same time. Andrews, a third-round pick, has been a pleasant surprise with eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown in the first three games.

The Steelers appear to be getting healthier as safety Morgan Burnett (groin), right guard David DeCastro (hand), and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) all practiced fully on Wednesday. Those three starters sat out Pittsburgh’s win at Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster sat out Wednesday’s practice with an abdomen injury.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), QB Lamar Jackson (illness), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (knee), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Hayden Hurst (foot), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Ramon Foster (non-injury), CB Mike Hilton (elbow), QB Ben Roethlisberger (non-injury), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (abdomen)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Morgan Burnett (groin), G David DeCastro (hand), OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring)

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Ravens try to put “fourth-and-12” behind them with trip to Cincinnati

Posted on 12 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were on their way to the playoffs while Marvin Lewis was on his way out the door as Cincinnati’s longtime head coach last New Year’s Eve.

Then, “fourth-and-12” happened, a play that needs no further description or analysis in Baltimore.

Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with less than a minute remaining knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs and shook up both organizations to some degree. Instead of parting ways with his head coach, Bengals owner Mike Brown gave Lewis a two-year extension to continue a run that began in 2003. Changes to the Ravens were more nuanced after a third straight season without a postseason berth, this time with the backdrop of dwindling attendance down the stretch.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti didn’t fire anyone, but he admitted a month later to at least briefly considering replacing John Harbaugh, who is now in his 11th season in Baltimore. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees followed through on plans to retire — something he had reconsidered in previous years — before resurfacing with Tennessee just a few weeks later. Pees surviving a second straight late-season collapse after the previous Christmas in Pittsburgh would have been a tough pill to swallow for disgruntled fans, and he apparently wasn’t interested in forcing the organization’s hand.

If that final pass had been knocked away, do the playoff-bound Ravens trade back into the first round to draft quarterback Lamar Jackson, a move interpreted by some as partly made to rejuvenate the fan base? For all the handwringing about Joe Flacco, the veteran threw 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions for an 89.1 passer rating in the final seven games of last season and was Pro Football Focus’ 11th-highest-graded quarterback in the second half of 2017 as he finally got over the back injury that sidelined him for the entire preseason.

Do we see the organization’s concerted effort to improve the passing game if the Ravens play in January and even manage to win a playoff game? Or would it have been the typical halfhearted approach on the offensive side of the ball that we’ve too often seen in recent years?

One thing is certain despite some players’ best efforts to claim the contrary. The stunning 31-27 loss is still on their minds as they travel to Cincinnati on Thursday night.

“If I were to say no, I’d be lying,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “We’ve still got that bitter taste in our mouths, but this is a new year, new look, new opportunity for us to go out there and set the tone early. Some things we want back from that game, but that’s the past.”

To be clear, this is far from a must-win game so early in the season, but the Ravens have gone into their bye week with losing records in each of the last two seasons, illustrating how little margin for error they’ve afforded themselves the last two Decembers. It remains to be seen how strong the Bengals will be in 2018, but the defending AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers look as vulnerable as they’ve been in quite some time with All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell continuing his holdout, meaning any advantage gained now is valuable ahead of whenever he returns.

Playing five of the next seven games away from M&T Bank Stadium will be a daunting stretch, so a road win over a divisional foe carries more clout than any notion of the Ravens exorcising demons from last season. The best way to prevent history from repeating itself isn’t just to execute in that critical moment, but it’s to play well enough over 16 games to not be in such a hanging-by-a-thread playoff position once again.

“How many losses did we have last year, seven?” Flacco said. “You can argue any one of those teams ended it. We didn’t play good enough in any of those games, and I don’t think we’re really thinking about that. I’m not thinking about that. I’m just thinking about how confident I am in this group that’s here right now and what we’re getting ready to go do.”

That Week 17 loss certainly appeared to alter the present with a revamped passing attack coming off a superb Week 1 and new coordinator Wink Martindale now running the defensive show. How Jackson fits in the present and as the potential quarterback of the future will also be intriguing to watch.

But you wonder how it all might have played out if “fourth-and-12” didn’t become a thing.

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2018 season

Posted on 07 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Instead of going through the exercise of making league-wide predictions, the following focus on the Ravens and their goal to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season:

1. Joe Flacco will not have a career season, but he will throw 25 touchdowns for the third time in his 11 years. 

Coming off a career-worst 5.7 yards per attempt campaign, the 33-year-old is healthier than he’s been in three years, has a more diverse group of weapons, likes new quarterbacks coach James Urban, and, yes, feels some heat after Baltimore drafted a first-round quarterback. As the better part of the last five years taught us, you don’t want Flacco throwing the ball 600-plus times, but the aforementioned variables matched with a strong running game will lead to his best season since 2014. His 11 interceptions will be the third-lowest total of his career while a 7.0 yards per attempt average will elevate him to the middle of the pack, which is where he always was statistically when he played his best regular-season football.

2. Lamar Jackson will finish his rookie campaign with three touchdowns in a change-of-pace role.

Some national pundits continue to push the idea of Jackson taking Flacco’s job at some point in 2018, but the decision to retain Robert Griffin III should provide further confirmation that the rookie just isn’t ready to handle the starting duties. That said, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would be crazy not to pick his spots to get Jackson on the field, especially as a runner. It won’t be a massive role as some defenses will be prepared for any trickery and Mornhinweg will need to be careful not to upset the overall rhythm of the offense, but Jackson will offer excitement and play a key role in helping the Ravens win a game or two over the course of the season.

3. Rookies Orlando Brown and Kenny Young will be starting by mid-October.

The Ravens beginning the season with James Hurst as the starting right tackle isn’t surprising as they’ve frequently given the initial nod to veterans in past position competitions. That said, Hurst has struggled on the outside in the past while Brown was impressive in his first preseason, making his poor combine performance that dropped him to the third round of the draft a distant memory. Meanwhile, Young will begin the season sharing first-team snaps with incumbent Patrick Onwuasor and has shown an impressive nose for the football at the weak-side inside linebacker spot. C.J. Mosley said this week that someone needs to emerge eventually, and Young has the skills to do just that.

4. Alex Lewis and Za’Darius Smith will take a step forward.

Lewis has received much fanfare since becoming a Week 1 starter as a rookie two years ago, but he’s played in only 10 of a possible 32 games and needs to stay on the field to help an interior line with questions at the center spot. The starting left guard received looks at center in camp, an idea that could be revisited at some point. Many noted Tim Williams’ play in the preseason, but Smith was also very disruptive and enters a contract year. Often compared to ex-Raven Pernell McPhee when drafted in 2015, Smith’s 10 sacks over his first three year eclipsed McPhee’s 9 1/2 from 2011-2013. Smith has often done the dirty work as a pass rusher, but he’ll see a bigger payoff in the sack department this season.

5. Matt Skura and Brandon Carr will take a step back.

Skura went from the practice squad at the start of last season to starting 12 games and filling in respectably at right guard, but expectations are higher this year as he attempts to replace Ryan Jensen at the center position. There is concern about his ability to stand his ground against hefty defensive tackles and give a clear path to pulling guards, a staple in Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes. The 32-year-old Carr is one of the most respected players in the locker room and will continue his amazing streak of 160 consecutive starts on Sunday, but he’ll find himself spending more time on the sideline once top cornerback Jimmy Smith returns from his four-game suspension in October.

6. Marlon Humphrey will tie for the team lead in interceptions and be named a Pro Bowl alternate.

We know the Ravens defense has struggled without Smith over the years, making Humphrey that much more critical entering his second season. The 2017 first-round pick could be asked to travel with elite receivers such as A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, and Antonio Brown in Smith’s absence, so the opening month will be a test run for him as the No. 1 guy. The Alabama product has the skills to be a shutdown corner, and it’s no secret that Smith has played all 16 games only twice in his career and is scheduled to carry a $15.85 million salary cap figure in the final year of his contract next season. Humphrey will play at a level making it easier to move on from Smith next offseason.

7. Michael Crabtree will have the most touchdown catches in a season by a Raven since 2014.

The former Oakland Raider and San Francisco 49er provides the highest floor of the three free-agent additions at wide receiver, and Flacco will depend on him to be his most dependable target in the red zone. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Crabtree may have difficulty running away from defensive backs at this point, but his ability to make contested catches will be critical on third down and inside the opponent’s 20. He has only one 1,000-yard season in the last five years, but his 25 touchdown receptions over his last three campaigns are exactly what the Ravens are looking for in 2018. Crabtree will catch the most touchdowns by a Raven since Torrey Smith snatched 11 in his final season in Baltimore.

8. Alex Collins will give Baltimore its first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett.

A slight 205-pound frame makes you take pause when predicting monster numbers for the breakout performer from a year ago, but Collins has excellent feet and is a perfect fit in this multi-look ground attack. He is carrying a few extra pounds to try to account for a bigger workload this season, but expecting him to carry the ball 20-plus times every week would seem like a recipe to wear him down. The Ravens would be wise to do what they can to keep their starter fresh and throw carries in the direction of reliable backup Buck Allen and the talented Kenneth Dixon, but Collins is the guy and should be able to build on what he did in an impressive 2017 season.

9. Marshal Yanda and C.J. Mosley will make the Pro Bowl.

The offensive line did its best and improved over the course of last season, but there’s no understating how devastating Yanda’s Week 2 loss was to the offense’s ceiling. His streak of six straight trips to the Pro Bowl was snapped, but the 33-year-old is healthy and primed to continue building on a career resume that could garner some Hall of Fame consideration when it’s over. Contract talks have been very quiet with Mosley, who had a healthy offseason and is eager to take an already-impressive start to his career to the next level. With defensive coordinator Wink Martindale putting more responsibility on his leaders to make calls and adjustments on the fly, Mosley will remind just how valuable he is.

10. The Ravens will go 10-6, return to the playoffs, and advance to the divisional round.

After predicting 8-8 finishes in the last two years, I’m buying stock in a revamped and healthier offense being more consistent and finishing in the top half of the league, which would be marked improvement. I also think there hasn’t been enough discussion about the personnel continuity on defense, something that should more than make up for any early hiccups in the transition to Martindale as coordinator. There’s little question that big changes will be in order if the Ravens fail to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Despite a tougher schedule that includes a very competitive NFC South, I see a top-five defense and an improved Flacco guiding the Ravens into January and winning a playoff game.

Bonus Super Bowl pick no one asked for: New Orleans 31, Los Angeles Chargers 24

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees earns a second ring and retires after edging out Philip Rivers, the man who took his place in San Diego once upon a time.

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