Tag Archive | "Pittsburgh"

Ravens moving closer to clinching playoff spot entering Week 16

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Ravens moving closer to clinching playoff spot entering Week 16

Posted on 15 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Even after a sloppy performance in their 20-12 win over Jacksonville in Week 15, the Ravens now see the light at the end of the tunnel in securing a return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

The Ravens knew last week that a trip to the postseason would be guaranteed with three straight wins to close out the month of December, but they now enter Week 16 with the opportunity to clinch a playoff berth with some help. At the conclusion of Week 15, Baltimore holds the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race thanks to San Diego’s loss to Denver.

Three scenarios exist that would allow the Ravens to officially punch their ticket to the playoffs in Week 16:

1) A win at Houston + a Pittsburgh loss to Kansas City + a Cincinnati loss to Denver

2) A win at Houston + a Kansas City loss or tie at Pittsburgh + a San Diego loss or tie at San Francisco

3) A tie at Houston + a Kansas City loss at Pittsburgh + a San Diego loss at San Francisco + a Buffalo loss or tie at Oakland

Of course, the Ravens still have visions of winning the AFC North, which will happen if they win their final two games and both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh lose at least one more game.

However, Week 16 could also bring an end to the Ravens’ hopes of a division title if both the Steelers and the Bengals are able to secure wins. If that were to happen, the winner of the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game at Heinz Field the following week would be the AFC North champion.

Both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh clinch postseason berths with wins in Week 16.

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Ravens control own path in returning to playoffs

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Ravens control own path in returning to playoffs

Posted on 08 December 2014 by Luke Jones

After securing their biggest win of the season to prevent their playoff hopes from becoming a faint dream, the Ravens now have their path to the postseason staring them directly in the face.

The 28-13 win over the Miami Dolphins puts Baltimore in a position where three consecutive wins to close the regular season will guarantee a return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. The Ravens currently stand seventh in the AFC playoff hunt, but the Week 17 rematch between current No. 4 seed Cincinnati and No. 5 seed Pittsburgh — who owns a better division record than the Ravens — guarantees they would leapfrog one of their AFC North foes should they handle their own business over the final three weeks of December.

“We’re pleased with the fact we’re in the hunt, that we control our own destiny,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday afternoon. “You can ask for more, but boy, it’s a great accomplishment to be in that position right now. It’s just our job to make the most of it, and our guys are very aware of that. They really are. Our guys are really tuned into the fact that it’s in their hands, and it’s our responsibility to get the job done.”

Of course, the Ravens still have a chance to take the division if they win out and both the Bengals and the Steelers lose at least one game down the stretch. So, how realistic is that outcome?

It’s very difficult envisioning 2-11 Jacksonville giving the Ravens too much trouble in Baltimore this Sunday, but a Week 16 trip to Houston won’t be easy as the Texans are currently in the best shape of the 7-6 teams due to a superior conference record and have won three of their last four games. Should Baltimore get by Houston, a Week 17 meeting with the Browns is never one to overlook, but the game will be played at M&T Bank Stadium, giving the Ravens a distinct edge.

As for the Bengals, a road trip to Cleveland on Sunday and a Monday night home game against Denver in Week 16 will be dangerous to navigate before their regular-season finale in Pittsburgh. The Steelers travel to Atlanta — who will be coming off a short week following a Monday night road game — this Sunday and host Kansas City in Week 16 before welcoming the Bengals to Heinz Field for the season finale. Pittsburgh would win the division by winning its final three games.

It’s nearly impossible trying to predict the fate of these three AFC North teams who have been up and down at various times this season, but the Ravens’ ability to take care of business in Miami makes their objective clear.

Win out and they’re in the playoffs.

Another loss and they again find themselves looking around to see how others are faring.

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WNST Rock The Red Caps Bustrip to D.C. vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (Feb. 25)

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WNST Rock The Red Caps Bustrip to D.C. vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (Feb. 25)

Posted on 05 December 2014 by WNST Trips

We’re trying to get more aggressive and do even more WNST Baltimore “Rocks The Red” buses down to D.C. than usual this season but can only do these trips based on demand. If you love the Caps and don’t like the drive before and after games, our trips have an eight-year track record of being easy, fun and affordable. We appreciate you supporting all that we’re doing to grow the hockey community in Baltimore. If you know of other Capitals/Skipjacks/Clippers/Bandits hockey fans in Baltimore, please help us spread the word and fill some buses with Baltimore “Rock The Red” fans.

All aboard another WNST Rocks The Red Puck Bus to D.C. as the Washington Capitals take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. Our Gunther Motorcoach will depart from the White Marsh Mall at 4:30 p.m. with a pickup from Catonsville/UMBC I-95 Park N Ride (at Rt. 166) at 5 p.m. All tickets are upper level in the Verizon Center and include a limited supply of cold beer (for those 21-and-over) en route and snacks, soft drinks and fun videos and giveaways.

We will be able to accommodate larger groups upon request and always keep groups together.

We hope you join us for a night of hockey and fun aboard the WNST Rocks The Red Puck Bus to D.C. Families are welcomed and encouraged to join us!

It’s a great night out!

Your PayPal receipt is your ticket and we always throw you an email 48 hours before the game to confirm everything. All you need to do is purchase and we’ll see you at the bus. We bring the game tickets with us. Nice and easy!

If you have any questions, throw me a note: nasty@wnst.net

COST: $120 per person

Pickup Location
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Contender or pretender: Sizing up the 2014 AFC wild-card race

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Contender or pretender: Sizing up the 2014 AFC wild-card race

Posted on 02 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Even as the Ravens and their fans continue to seethe over a surprising 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers in Week 13, head coach John Harbaugh took a more pragmatic approach when addressing reporters on Monday afternoon.

The loss certainly didn’t help, but defeats suffered by several other AFC teams left six teams with a 7-5 record as we enter the final quarter of the regular season. It won’t be easy for Baltimore as it tries to survive with the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense, but a reasonable schedule down the stretch leaves the Ravens in good shape if — and that’s a big if — they handle their own business.

“We wake up this morning, we look at the standings and we are right in the thick of it,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to go down to the wire. And we have a huge game down in Miami this week, and it’ll be a lot on the line. They’ll be ready, and they’re good. We’ll have a great opportunity to make a move.”

There’s no understating how important Sunday’s game against the Dolphins will be as it represents another head-to-head tiebreaker scenario after the Ravens dropped one to San Diego this past week. A win pushes Baltimore to 8-5 and knocks Miami down a peg in the standings while a defeat all but guarantees the need to win out and to hope for assistance from other teams in the playoff race.

The Ravens still hold out hope for a chance to win the AFC North, but Cincinnati currently leads by 1 1/2 games over the other three teams in the division. With the Bengals playing the Steelers twice and the Browns once in the final month, the division race is far from over, but Cincinnati has firm control of its path as we enter Week 14.

Below is a look at the current wild-card field — with numbers indicating each team’s current place in the conference — as we determine who the contenders and the pretenders are:

5. SAN DIEGO (8-4) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 6-3
Remaining schedule: New England, Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City
Skinny: How big was Sunday’s win in Baltimore for Mike McCoy’s team? All you have to do is take a look at the Chargers’ remaining schedule and realize you wouldn’t have liked their chances at all had they fallen to 7-5. Instead, they own a one-game lead over the 7-5 teams in the AFC and remain in excellent shape if they can go 2-2 in their final four. A year ago at this time, the Chargers were 5-7 and looked all but dead before running the table — including wins over Denver and Kansas City — and receiving lots of help to sneak into the postseason. They’ll need another good finish, but they have some margin for error this year.

6. MIAMI (7-5) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 6-3
Remaining schedule: Baltimore, at New England, Minnesota, New York Jets
Skinny: It wasn’t pretty, but the Dolphins’ Monday night win over the Jets kept them in prime position to secure a playoff spot with a strong finish in the final month. A Week 15 trip to Foxborough won’t be easy, but their final two home games are very winnable against two teams with a combined seven wins. Anything can happen considering the Ravens and the Dolphins both lost their final two games in 2013, but it certainly looks like Sunday’s game in Miami could go a long way in determining who secures a wild-card spot in the AFC playoff race.

7. KANSAS CITY (7-5) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 5-4
Remaining schedule: at Arizona, Oakland, at Pittsburgh, San Diego
Skinny: The Chiefs were feeling really good about themselves a few weeks ago, but consecutive losses to woeful Oakland and powerful Denver have brought them back to the rest of the pack. Kansas City can’t throw the ball and the run defense has been gashed in recent weeks, which doesn’t make for a good combination entering the season’s final month. With three games remaining on the schedule against teams with winning records — two of them on the road — it’s hard to envision the Chiefs playing well enough down the stretch to secure one of the two wild-card spots.

8. BUFFALO (7-5) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 4-5
Remaining schedule: at Denver, Green Bay, at Oakland, at New England
Skinny: The Bills continue to hang tough in the AFC playoff race after a nice win over the Browns on Sunday. However, remaining games against the Broncos, the Packers, and the Patriots should end any serious discussion about Buffalo qualifying for the postseason. With their other game being a cross-country trip to Oakland, the Bills might be fortunate just to win one more game in the final month of the regular season. It’d be interesting to see what the Bills could do with a real quarterback even if veteran Kyle Orton has done a respectable job since taking over for E.J. Manuel. Injuries at running back haven’t helped, either.

9. BALTIMORE (7-5) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 3-5
Remaining schedule: at Miami, Jacksonville, at Houston, Cleveland
Skinny: Sunday’s loss to San Diego was brutal as it gives the Ravens little wiggle room the rest of the way as they really need to beat the Dolphins on the road. The remaining schedule is reasonable, but how do you trust a secondary that continues to be toasted by any opposing passing games with a pulse? Even a road trip against the Texans is concerning with talented receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins waiting. A lousy 3-5 conference mark doesn’t help matters for the Ravens, but we’ll see what Harbaugh’s team is made of in the next three weeks. The running game and the offense will need to come up huge.

10. PITTSBURGH (7-5) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 6-3
Remaining schedule: at Cincinnati, at Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati
Skinny: The Steelers continue to be one of the most bipolar teams in the NFL as they stubbed their toe Sunday against New Orleans, who was coming off three straight losses. When at their best, the Steelers have one of the most balanced offenses in the league, but the defense doesn’t scare anyone and could easily be exploited down the stretch. The biggest factors working in the Steelers’ favor are a 6-3 conference record and two games with the Bengals, which could catapult them into the AFC North lead. Given how unpredictable they’ve been, the Steelers could win out or lose out and no one should be surprised with either outcome.

11. CLEVELAND (7-5) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 4-5
Remaining schedule: Indianapolis, Cincinnati, at Carolina, at Baltimore
Skinny: Quarterback Brian Hoyer has really struggled in recent weeks, but a change at quarterback isn’t exactly what you’re looking for while in the playoff hunt and that’s exactly where the Browns find themselves. Maybe rookie Johnny Manziel is the spark to light the fire for Cleveland down the stretch, but nothing else about the Browns’ final month of the schedule makes you think they’re going to do enough to sneak into the playoffs. They’ll need to beat either the Colts or the Bengals at home to give themselves any decent chance at all in the final two weeks.

12. HOUSTON (6-6) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 5-3
Remaining schedule: at Jacksonville, at Indianapolis, Baltimore, Jacksonville
Skinny: Why even include the Texans on the list considering they have the worst record of the bunch? Two of four remaining games coming against Jacksonville certainly helps, and a home game against the Ravens looks more and more reasonable given Baltimore’s pass defense woes. Of course, Houston isn’t a real contender, but no one thought the Chargers were at this time last year, either. If you’re looking for that deep sleeper to finish strong — three out of four wouldn’t be out of the question — and take advantage of a slew of other teams being mediocre down the stretch, Houston is your team. A good conference record also helps.

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Ravens miffed by CBS showing Harbaugh’s post-game comments

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Ravens miffed by CBS showing Harbaugh’s post-game comments

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Head coach John Harbaugh was understandably in a good mood following the 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans Sunday, but the Ravens weren’t happy that CBS aired his post-game comments referencing the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“That team beat us last week,” Harbaugh said to his team in the locker room at M&T Bank Stadium moments after the win. “Then, they went and got their ass kicked this week.”

The remarks were unlikely to raise too many eyebrows anyway after the Steelers laid a colossal egg in a 20-13 loss to the hapless New York Jets, but the Ravens issued a statement explaining how that part of Harbaugh’s speech was not approved for TV viewing.

Ironically, the video didn’t appear to go viral until after the Ravens drew attention to the gaffe with their statement.

“The comments made by John Harbaugh in the locker room following today’s victory over the Titans were meant for Ravens players and coaches only,” senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne said. “The CBS-TV crew that was in the locker room was told by coach Harbaugh that it could not broadcast what he was about to say. When coach Harbaugh finished talking about various things happening around the NFL and in the AFC North, he told the crew that it could now use what he was going to say. Inexplicably, CBS-TV then aired comments coach Harbaugh specifically said were not to leave the locker room. CBS-TV immediately pulled the video and apologized to the Ravens.”

Truthfully, those taking offense to Harbaugh’s comments are only showing a lack of experience in post-game locker room settings — at any level — that are often emotional and oozing with testosterone. Harbaugh and the Ravens were fully aware that they were embarrassed by Pittsburgh a week earlier, but that wasn’t going to stop them from reveling in a division rival’s loss on the same day that they won. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and his team would have every right to do the same — and undoubtedly have done so — whenever the roles are flipped.

CBS issued its own statement reiterating that the network had made a mistake in airing Harbaugh’s comments that can be seen in part below.

“We broadcast a clip during our postgame show that should not have aired,” CBS spokesperson Jennifer Sabatelle said. “We immediately pulled it down and called the Baltimore Ravens to apologize.”

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 02 November 2014 by Luke Jones

PITTSBURGH — Trying to keep pace in a very competitive AFC North, the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers renew their intense rivalry for Sunday Night Football for the third time in four years at Heinz Field.

With Cincinnati and Cleveland both winning on Sunday, the loser of Sunday night’s meeting will find themselves sitting in last place with a 5-4 record, an indicator of how tough the division has been so far this season. The Ravens seek their first regular-season sweep of the Steelers since 2011 while Pittsburgh is trying to win its third straight game for sole possession of second place right behind the Bengals.

The Ravens will be shorthanded in the secondary after cornerback Jimmy Smith was officially ruled out on Friday with a mid-foot sprain expected to keep him sidelined until at least after their Week 11 bye. Veteran Dominique Franks, who was re-signed by Baltimore less than a month ago — is expected to start opposite Lardarius Webb in the defensive backfield. How defensive coordinator Dean Pees uses the nickel package remains to be seen as strong safety Matt Elam handled the nickel position extensively earlier in the year when injuries at cornerback were a concern.

Tight end Owen Daniels is active and makes his return after only a one-game absence due to a cleanup procedure in his knee. He looked good running routes during pre-game warmups and practiced on Wednesday and Friday this past week.

As expected, defensive end Chris Canty (wrist) and right guard Marshal Yanda (knee) are also active after both were listed as questionable on the final injury report. Canty missed the last four games while recovering from surgery due to a wrist infection, but he was a full participant in practices all week.

After being inactive in each of Baltimore’s first eight games, second-year linebacker Arthur Brown is active for the first time this season. The 2013 second-round pick is expected to mostly fill a special-teams role, but he could see some snaps in the nickel package with his ability to blitz.

The biggest surprise on the inactive list was rookie safety Terrence Brooks after he was burned on a 53-yard reception on the Bengals’ final scoring drive last week. This will likely lead to more opportunities for safety Will Hill in the Baltimore secondary behind Elam and fellow starter Darian Stewart. Brooks was also inactive for Baltimore’s Week 3 win at Cleveland.

The Ravens will be playing Pittsburgh for the 38th time in their regular-season history as they own a 17-20 record. However, they have won three of their last four regular-season games at Heinz Field and own a 7-10 all-time record in Pittsburgh. The Ravens have won the last four games played in prime time against the Steelers as the teams have split the all-time prime-time series at 6-6.

The referee for Sunday night’s game will be Bill Vinovich.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Pittsburgh Sunday night calls for temperatures to dip into the mid-30s, but no precipitation is expected and winds will only reach six miles per hour.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with white pants for Sunday night’s game while Pittsburgh dons its black tops with yellow pants.

Below are the inactives for Sunday night:

BALTIMORE
CB Jimmy Smith
WR Michael Campanaro
S Terrence Brooks
LB Zach Orr
OL Gino Gradkowski
DE Lawrence Guy
OL Jah Reid

PITTSBURGH
CB Ike Taylor
S Ross Ventrone
QB Landry Jones
WR Justin Brown
CB B.W. Webb
DL Daniel McCullers
OL Chris Hubbard

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 01 November 2014 by Luke Jones

No strangers to meeting in the national spotlight, the Ravens and Steelers will meet in prime time for the 13th time in the series history on Sunday night.

Baltimore will be looking for its first regular-season sweep of Pittsburgh since 2011 while the Steelers aim for their third straight win overall. Both teams enter the weekend right on the heels of the first-place Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.

Sunday marks the 38th time these teams have met in the regular season with the Steelers owning a 20-17 advantage. The Ravens are 7-11 in regular-season games played in Pittsburgh, but they’ve won three of the last four played at Heinz Field.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 6-3 in a very competitive AFC North …

1. Steelers wideout Antonio Brown will catch a long touchdown in the first quarter as a reshuffled secondary tries to get its bearings. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will need to be creative with coverages as top cornerback Jimmy Smith is out. The timing couldn’t be much worse as Brown has been arguably the best receiver in the NFL this season and is tied for the league lead with 10 catches of 25 or more yards. Pees will likely entrust Lardarius Webb to cover Brown, which is a daunting task for a cornerback working his way back to top form after a lengthy absence due to a back injury. A miscommunication will allow Brown to break free for a long score as the Ravens defense tries to get in sync.

2. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will score a touchdown for a second straight game and lead the Ravens in rushing. Baltimore ran for 157 yards in the first meeting against the Steelers in Week 2, but it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the running game really wore down a tired Pittsburgh front. This defense is softer than the typical Steelers unit and ranks 11th against the run, and the physicality of Taliaferro will be a strong change of pace from shifty starter Justin Forsett. With concerns in their own secondary, the Ravens will want to control the clock and limit the Steelers’ opportunities for possessions and Taliaferro will get plenty of carries in the second half with Bernard Pierce now third on the depth chart.

3. The Baltimore defense will limit Le’Veon Bell’s production on the ground, but the Pittsburgh running back will lead his team in receptions. The Ravens are allowing only 3.7 yards per carry and rank seventh in the NFL in run defense as they’ve slowed opposing running backs all season. However, the Steelers are finding more and more ways to get the ball to the 244-pound back as a receiver as he’s second on the team in receiving yards. With the Ravens trying to account for not having Smith, they’re going to be content with giving cushion and allowing throws underneath to prevent the big play. Pittsburgh will use this to its advantage by getting the ball to Bell in the passing game.

4. Terrell Suggs will collect two sacks to pick up 100 for his career. There’s no downplaying how crucial it will be for the Ravens to generate pressure as they’ll be depending on the pair of Dominique Franks — who was on the street at this time a month ago — and Chykie Brown — who spent the last two weeks on the inactive list — at the cornerback position opposite Webb. Much like he’ll mix and disguise coverages in the back end, Pees will move Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Pernell McPhee around to confuse an improving offensive line and harass Roethlisberger. Suggs needs two sacks for 100 in his career, and nothing would be more fitting than doing it against the quarterback he’s sacked more than any other rusher has.

5. Pittsburgh will win a 26-23 game that goes back and forth for much of the night. Admittedly, when trying to break down Ravens-Steelers, it’s probably best to put aside the numbers and simply remember that 11 of the 15 total meetings in the John Harbaugh era — counting the postseason — have been decided by four or fewer points. However, the loss of Smith hurts more than any player on the current roster beyond quarterback Joe Flacco and the Steelers offense is playing at a high level at the wrong time for Baltimore. Both offenses will move the ball effectively, but the Steelers will do a little too much damage in the passing game for the Ravens to overcome.

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High stakes return for Ravens-Steelers, even if same bite hasn’t

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High stakes return for Ravens-Steelers, even if same bite hasn’t

Posted on 31 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The infamous lyrics are piped through the speakers as the Ravens offense huddles up for its next play.

Oh, Mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law… 

Only it’s not a critical fourth-quarter moment against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field as the Styx song is instead sounding as the Ravens go through a Wednesday practice in Owings Mills. A number of Ravens players have admitted over the last couple years to liking “Renegade” as the Steelers’ anthem has become a fixture on the playlist used at practices in Owings Mills.

It’s a sentiment that was unlikely to be uttered by Ravens players a decade ago, but perhaps it speaks to the way the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry has evolved in recent years. Sunday marks the 41st overall meeting between these AFC North foes with the stakes as high as they can be in early November with the Ravens and Steelers right on the heels of first-place Cincinnati.

But you can’t help but feel something has been lacking from Ravens-Steelers recently. The games have remained close with the Ravens’ 26-6 win over Pittsburgh earlier this season being the only one of the last five to be decided by more than three points, but the same bite hasn’t quite been there.

A rivalry in which the pre-game trash talk and bulletin-board material once rivaled the car-crash play on the field from an entertainment standpoint no longer fills reporters’ notebooks in the same way as even the once-brash Terrell Suggs has been more subdued in recent years. Former players and coaches such as Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, and Bill Cowher have provided the only inflammatory commentary in recent weeks by labeling Pittsburgh “soft” on defense, but you rarely hear such critiques from either side anymore as most vocal disdain has been replaced by mutual respect, which isn’t a bad thing, mind you.

The truth is these teams are different than the longstanding idea of the Ravens-Steelers mystique that fetches words such as bloodshed and old-school football.

On top of the departure of a number of outspoken figureheads including Lewis, Ward, Ed Reed, and LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011 and last year marked the first time since 2002 that these teams played a game in which both entered with sub-.500 records. After Pittsburgh and Baltimore were near the top of every defensive category for more than a decade, both teams now lean more on offense — the Ravens do rank second in points allowed this year — with defenses in transition and possessing vulnerabilities.

By no means is the rivalry dead — far from it — but the narrative that once centered around two soul-crushing defenses now focuses on quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger. And we’ll see if Sunday’s higher stakes pump new life into a Ravens-Steelers rivalry that’s seen more bizarre — journeyman quarterback Charlie Batch beating Baltimore in 2012 and Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin interfering with Jacoby Jones’ sideline return last Thanksgiving night — than instant classic over the last couple years.

It’s an opportunity for new names to be made in the same way that wide receiver Torrey Smith entered his into Baltimore-Pittsburgh lore three years ago in catching the game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds of a Sunday night game at Heinz Field. That 2011 win was the difference in the Ravens clinching the AFC North title and a first-round bye and the Steelers losing a first-round game at Denver as both teams finished 12-4 with Baltimore’s season sweep being the tiebreaker.

After more than a decade of fighting high-stakes wars and spewing venom at one another, the annual meetings may not be the hottest thing going in the NFL anymore, but Ravens-Steelers has become a legacy rivalry, which is a tribute to how long these teams have beaten the hell out of each other. Many of the Ravens’ youngest players were only in elementary school when the Pittsburgh-Baltimore rivalry first took off at the start of the new millennium, which is difficult to believe for a franchise still less than two decades old.

It may lack the history of Packers-Bears or Cowboys-Redskins, but the rivalry isn’t going anywhere with at least two games guaranteed every year and each fan base holding more disdain for the other than even the teams do. And young players on each side want to make their own mark after watching from afar and listening to veteran teammates talk about the battles of yesteryear in Pittsburgh.

“These guys all know it. They’ve watched it. They’ve grown up with it,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “C.J. Mosley and I were talking, and he said he has been watching Ravens-Steelers since he was a little kid. For him, that’s about as long as the Ravens have been around. That goes to show you his whole life has been Ravens-Steelers.

“People talk about us being a young franchise, but for that generation we’ve been around for as long as any other franchise. This rivalry dates back for those guys that play for us that are young.”

Even if the rivalry has changed, the NFL still sees it as a major attraction with both Ravens-Steelers games landing in prime-time slots this season and at least one annual game being a nationally-televised affair since 2007.

The high stakes are back on Sunday with each team sporting a 5-3 record.

It will be fun to see what they have in store for one another.

And you know the Ravens won’t blink when they hear those familiar lyrics sound through the Heinz Field speakers at some point in the fourth quarter.

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Short-handed Ravens secondary has no time for excuses against Steelers

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Short-handed Ravens secondary has no time for excuses against Steelers

Posted on 30 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There’s no hiding from the danger of Jimmy Smith being absent in the Ravens’ secondary, especially when you’re facing Ben Roethlisberger and a Pittsburgh Steelers passing game that threw for over 500 yards last week.

They won’t find an easy fix for a pass defense that ranks 22nd in the NFL and has looked vulnerable even with the Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback in the secondary. But the Ravens have no time to feel sorry for themselves as they look to improve to 6-3 in an ultra-competitive AFC North with all four teams currently sporting winning records.

“I don’t think the Steelers are feeling really bad about it, so we can’t feel really bad about it,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Smith’s foot injury expected to keep him out at least until after the Week 11 bye. “We just have to go with the next guy. [We] have to do what we can do to try to get the guys in the best position we can put them in as a coaching staff to give them success and go with it.”

But who is that next guy opposite Lardarius Webb, who is still working his way back to pre-injury form himself?

Is it Dominique Franks, who recently found his way into the nickel package after being signed to replace the injured Asa Jackson in early October? He was on the free-agent market at this time last month after being deemed not good enough by Baltimore at the end of the preseason.

Then there’s Chykie Brown, who entered training camp as the favorite to be the No. 3 cornerback behind Smith and Webb before struggling so dramatically that he was a healthy inactive the last two weeks. Safety Anthony Levine has also practiced at the cornerback position since the summer, but he’s played only five defensive snaps all season.

The Ravens could promote Tramain Jacobs — a rookie free agent from Texas A&M who impressed during training camp — from the practice squad, but a move such as that would likely see him serving on a special-teams role and as an insurance policy behind the others.

None of the aforementioned options opposite Webb inspire confidence, and that’s assuming Pees uses one of the Ravens’ safeties at the nickel position as he has for large stretches of the season.

“We’ve got to find somebody to step up,” strong safety Matt Elam said. “We know it’s going to be hard to do the things Jimmy’s been doing, but we need somebody to step up and do whatever it takes to help the team win. We’ve still got [time] to prepare and get right so we can execute. Just do whatever it takes to get a [win].”

It’s easier said than done against an offense sporting arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown as well as emerging young wideouts Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Pees spoke Thursday about the challenge of not being able to put all their focus on slowing Brown with Roethlisberger suddenly having more options to throw to at the wide receiver position.

Needless to say, the pressure to contain Brown is likely to fall on the shoulders of Webb, whose own status many were questioning just a few weeks ago after a back injury had wiped out his entire summer as well as much of the first month of the season. The 5-foot-10 Brown isn’t physically imposing, which is good news for the similarly-statured Webb if he’s to shadow him all over the field.

Now would be a great time for Webb to regain the form he enjoyed prior to his second ACL injury in 2012 when he was on the verge of becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the AFC. His style is a major contrast to the 6-foot-2 Smith, who uses a combination of speed and physicality.

“Webb is more [of] a quicker guy and a lot smaller, more fluid, [and has good hands],” said Brown, who leads the NFL with 60 receptions on a staggering 87 targets in eight games. “Smith is a bigger, stronger guy who they like to put on the line of scrimmage and be disruptive at the line of scrimmage.”

The good news for the Ravens defense is the overall familiarity the coaching staff and veteran players have with the Pittsburgh offense. There are few surprises between these teams and the Ravens were certainly able to harass Roethlisberger in their Week 2 win in Baltimore when they held the Steelers to only six points.

But the Ravens know the pass rush must be on point in not only disrupting the signal-caller’s timing but in keeping him in the pocket as head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged no one is capable of the “extend the play thing” better than Roethlisberger. It’s a scene all too familiar in watching the Pittsburgh quarterback escape pressure to eventually find an open receiver breaking away from downfield coverage.

The challenge is always there for a coordinator to strike the right balance between sending extra blitzers — leaving fewer in coverage — or playing with more defenders in the back end and relying on a four-man rush, but Pees will need to be more creative than ever with the shortage at cornerback. How the secondary will look is anyone’s guess as the Ravens may go back to Elam playing the nickel position as they’ve frequently done this season or they could turn to another such as the intriguing Will Hill or rookie Terrence Brooks, who played some nickel in the preseason.

It won’t be easy against the league’s fourth-ranked passing game, but anyone knows not to dwell too much on the numbers in this AFC North rivalry in which 10 of the last 13 regular-season meetings have been decided by three or fewer points.

“We have the guys we need. Every team faces some kind of a situation at some position,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve had injuries all year in different positions, and you just have to step up. It’s not something we talk about. We don’t make a big deal about it. It’s not a point of emphasis for us. It’s just we’re the team; it’s the Ravens’ team. And whoever is part of it goes out there and plays and does their best.”

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens staked their claim as the best team in the AFC North with a 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday to move into first place ahead of Cincinnati.

With their fourth 5-2 start in the last five years, the Ravens have put themselves in prime position to return to the playoffs as they approach the midway point of the 2014 season. But how much does that mean as we approach the final week of October?

“Meaningful in Week 7, so, it’s good to be there in that situation at this time,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But you have to build on it, you have to keep getting better. We’re not a good enough team to do the things that we want to do right now, so we have to keep improving.”

Baltimore may not be a flawless team — there’s no such thing in the modern NFL — but it’s difficult to look at the numbers and not be impressed with what Harbaugh’s group has done through the first seven weeks of 2014. Even with 14 teams having played only six games at the end of business on Sunday, the Ravens have allowed the fewest points (104) and own the best point differential (plus 89) in the NFL.

Yes, they appear to have drawn the right year to play the woeful NFC South — a division where 3-3-1 Carolina currently sits in first place — but you can’t control which teams are on the schedule. The Ravens are not only beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, but they’re throttling them, which doesn’t often happen in the parity-driven NFL.

Already securing four wins of 20 or more points, the improved Ravens offense has received much of the attention, but the defense is taking major strides with its second straight game collecting five sacks, the first time that’s happened since the 2006 season. It was no surprising feat to limit the hapless Tampa Bay offense last week, but holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ third-ranked unit to just seven points was an impressive task.

With the pass rush coming alive and the play of the secondary stabilizing, the confidence on the defensive side of the ball is growing. Several defensive players spoke after the game about the speech linebackers coach Ted Monachino offered Saturday night, challenging a talented group of outside linebackers to raise its level of play to where it belongs.

It’s safe to say the message was received on Sunday as Ryan was hit nine times a week after Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon was hit 15 times.

“We’re dangerous, and we’re real serious. We’re coming out playing with an attitude,” said rush specialist Pernell McPhee, who added two more sacks on Sunday to continue his strong season. “Our [secondary] needs us, and I know we need them. I think [defensive coordinator] Dean Pees is doing a great job of calling the plays and setting us up to get the sacks. We’re just focusing in and trying to play ball.”

Much credit should go to Pees, who has shown various looks up front by moving around Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and McPhee to cause confusion while using a safety-by-committee approach in the secondary. Matt Elam and Darian Stewart started the game, but rookie Terrence Brooks and the returning Will Hill also saw extensive action at the safety position.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was known for bringing “organized chaos,” but Pees’ decision to substitute so frequently in the secondary reminded the 65-year-old coordinator of his college coaching days at Miami of Ohio when he used various personnel looks in a 1986 upset win over a top 10 LSU team in Baton Rouge. Of course, Baltimore didn’t face that kind of a talent disadvantage Sunday, but it illustrates the creative lengths used to help mask what’s been a deficiency of the defense to this point in the season.

Time will tell whether the safety rotation will continue, but the best weapon to neutralize a shaky secondary has been the major heat in the pocket. It’s also created more opportunities for turnovers as defensive backs got their hands on several Ryan passes despite not coming away with any interceptions.

“Those dudes are our best friends,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the pass rush. “They get in there, they disrupt things, they cause havoc, they make quarterbacks panic and throw the ball in the air. And on our end, we have to do a better job of coming up with some more turnovers. We’ve had a lot of opportunities, and we have a lot of drops.”

Unlike last season’s 8-8 team that remained static with issues on each side of the ball showing up on a weekly basis, these Ravens appear to be improving as the year progresses. Their only loss since Week 1 came on the road two weeks ago against Indianapolis, a team that’s won five straight games and only beat them by seven points at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It’s true that no one should confuse Tampa Bay or Atlanta for juggernauts, but the Ravens have a tremendous opportunity to not only seize commanding control of the AFC North but to make an emphatic claim as one of the best teams in the NFL if they can take care of business in trips to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the next two weeks. It won’t be easy playing on the road against their two biggest rivals, but the Ravens have looked like the class of the division through seven weeks while the Bengals have gone 0-2-1 since their bye with two road losses of 26 or more points.

The Ravens continue to show improvement on both sides of the ball while stacking wins as they now have a chance to pay back Cincinnati for its Week 1 win in Baltimore.

“We have everything that we want to do right in front of us,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We just have to go out there and continue to play well. We have a tough opponent next week that we didn’t play necessarily good against, at least for a half, in the first game. We have to come back out there and prove ourselves. They’re a good football team, and they’re going to be hungry, and we’re [playing] there. It’s going to be a tough test; I can’t wait for it.”

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