Tag Archive | "Ravens"

yanda

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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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ravensoffense

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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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alexlewis

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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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flaccobrady

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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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dumervil

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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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flacco

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 13 win over Miami

Posted on 06 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens blowing out Miami in a 38-6 final on Sunday to remain tied atop the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. How badly did Joe Flacco need a performance like that? It was the first time he’d thrown more than one touchdown pass in a game against a team not named the Cleveland Browns in over a year.

2. Considering his salary cap figure is the second highest on the team and fourth among NFL safeties, Lardarius Webb stepping up in response to Eric Weddle’s recent challenge to elevate his play is an encouraging development. His end-zone interception in the second quarter was sensational.

3. Kyle Juszczyk might be the best fullback in the NFL, but he saw his lowest snap total on Sunday since Week 3. I couldn’t help but think that was a positive development in getting more dynamic receivers on the field to help the passing game.

4. Using the same starting offensive line for the third straight game — the first time the Ravens have done that since the first three weeks of the season — resulted in zero sacks and just two quarterback hits allowed against the Dolphins’ talented front four. Continuity is critical with line play.

5. Remember how the Ravens ranked last in the NFL with just six interceptions last season? Their three-pick performance against Ryan Tannehill gave them 14 for the season, which is tied for second in the league entering Week 14.

6. Count me among those who expected the Ravens to run the ball more in the second half, but I sometimes wonder if some care more about the run-pass ratio than scoring points and accumulating yards. Taking issue after the highest scoring output in over two years is silly.

7. I’m not sure I’ve seen linebackers more clueless in coverage than Miami’s were. Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg were smart to attack the middle of the field to exploit them.

8. Of the nine Ravens players selected on Day 2 of the draft since Super Bowl XLVII, just two — Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan — were active for Sunday’s game. That isn’t easy to overcome as an organization.

9. Terrance West has averaged a solid 4.0 yards per carry this season, but Kenneth Dixon is gaining 5.9 yards per attempt over his last four games after averaging 1.5 yards per carry in his first four games back from injury. It’s getting tougher and tougher to hold the rookie back.

10. Miami’s complaints about the field at M&T Bank Stadium are noteworthy after the switch to natural grass this season, but the Ravens didn’t seem to have any problems. It will be interesting to see how the surface holds up for the Army-Navy game and the Philadelphia game in Week 15.

11. The Ravens have surrendered the fifth-fewest pass plays of 25 or more yards this season, but they’re on pace to produce fewer pass plays of 25 or more than they did last year when they lacked any viable vertical threat. This offense has disappointed, but I wouldn’t have guessed that.

12. I understand John Harbaugh’s team was really banged up at the time, but watching the New York Jets play Monday reminded how maddening that Week 7 loss was. The Ravens remain in good position now, but that one still hangs over their heads as a potential season-killer.

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ravenssteelers

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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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perriman

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Ravens offense finally provides real hope for stretch run

Posted on 05 December 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens had talked about the potential of their offense all season.

From John Harbaugh and Marty Mornhinweg to Joe Flacco and Mike Wallace, the word “close” had been uttered so many times in describing the unit’s pursuit of a breakout performance. But potential is meaningless without substance, especially when you’ve reached the month of December.

We’d seen decent stretches here and there this season, but never anything close to a full 60 minutes — not even in two wins over the lowly Cleveland Browns. That’s what made the 38-point, 496-yard explosion against the Miami Dolphins so uplifting on Sunday.

With three of their final four coming on the road — including games at New England and Pittsburgh — the Baltimore offense needed to prove it was capable of playing at such a high level after talking about doing it for months. Snapping Miami’s six-game winning streak in blowout fashion is one thing, but beating the Patriots in Foxborough would be another entirely.

It’s a task that appears more reasonable, however, after the Ravens’ highest scoring output in more than two years and their biggest margin of victory since 2012.

“I think it gives the guys a lot of confidence to see it and have done it,” Flacco said. “Now, we have to go up into a hostile place in New England that we really enjoy playing [at]. It’s going to be another important game in December up there.”

So, what was the difference on Sunday? After all, it’s not as though the Ravens offense just decided it would wait until Week 13 to magically shift into a higher gear. There was much discussion this week — including an animated debate between Mornhinweg and Flacco in the quarterbacks meeting room — about the offense needing to be more aggressive, but execution has to accompany that mindset.

The numbers didn’t lie on Sunday as Flacco turned in his best performance since Gary Kubiak was in charge of the offense two seasons ago, throwing for four touchdowns and 381 yards. His 36 completions were a single-game franchise record as he repeatedly carved up the middle of Miami’s zone defense.

“The guy who was throwing the ball,” wide receiver Steve Smith. “He was playing lights out. We go as he goes. When he does a great job, we all look better.”

The newfound stability of the offensive line has steadily made Flacco look better as well. Using the same starting five for the third straight week — the first time the Ravens could claim that since the first three games of the season — reaped the rewards of a clean pocket as a talented Miami front registered no sacks and just two quarterback hits on the day.

The offensive line paved the way for Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon to combine for 106 rushing yards on 16 carries, but it was the group’s work in pass protection that allowed Flacco to shine on Sunday. Eleven different Ravens caught passes with five registering at least 40 receiving yards.

“It starts up front. When he has time, he is a dangerous quarterback and we know that,” said tight end Dennis Pitta, who caught his first two touchdowns since Dec. 8, 2013. “We have a lot of weapons offensively and we always talked about the potential we have, but we weren’t quite there. Today, we recognized that potential and put it together.”

The Ravens hope this is the turning point for Flacco and an offense that’s underachieved all season. It had been far too long since we’d seen it, but Sunday reminded us how good the ninth-year quarterback is capable of being when he gets on a roll.

The timing couldn’t have been better with the Ravens likely needing to win three of their last four to secure a trip to the playoffs. This is the time of year when Flacco has often played some of his best football, and the Ravens will need him to be playing his best to prevail over Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

A trip to Gillette Stadium next Monday will provide a good indication whether the Week 13 performance was merely a tease of what many thought this offense could be in 2016 or the start of something exciting.

Were the Dolphins just that bad on Sunday or can the Ravens really be that good?

“We’ll see next week if it’s a launching point,” Smith said. “We want to say yes, but sometimes you guys discredit the other team.”

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jimmy

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 04 December 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens defense is as close to full strength as it’s been in quite some time.

That’s good news for a team tied for first place in the AFC North and vying for a return to the playoffs, but the red-hot Miami Dolphins are in town trying to extend their conference-best six-game winning streak on Sunday afternoon. Both teams entered Week 13 with a tenuous hold on postseason berths.

As expected, No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith is active and will start after missing the last two games with a back injury. His return coupled with the presence of outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil will give the league’s second-ranked defense its full assortment of starting players for the first time since Week 5.

There were no other surprises among the Ravens’ inactives as tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), guard Alex Lewis, and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro were officially declared out on Friday. Running back Buck Allen is also inactive after being listed as doubtful with a non-football injury.

After being a healthy scratch last week, second-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith is active for Sunday’s game. However, rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa was deactivated for the second straight week, continuing a quiet season for the second-round pick.

The Ravens will use the same starting offensive line for the third straight game, the first time they’ve done that since the first three games of the 2016 season.

Despite early-morning reports that Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker would not play, the 2015 first-round pick is active. He tested out his back in an extensive pre-game workout around 10:30 a.m. and was deemed good to go by the Miami medical staff. His 6-foot-3 frame could lead to some interesting coverage decisions in the Ravens secondary.

Miami will welcome back left tackle Branden Albert (wrist) and left guard Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) to the starting lineup after both missed last week’s game against San Francisco. Veteran center Mike Pouncey (hip) was officially ruled out on Friday and hasn’t played since Week 10.

The Dolphins will also be without starting outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who is out with knee and hand injuries.

The Ravens and Dolphins will be meeting for the 12th time in the regular season with Miami holding a 6-5 advantage but Baltimore owning a 2-0 postseason edge. In the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens are 5-1 — including one playoff win — against the Dolphins. Miami seeks its first win in Baltimore since prevailing in a 24-13 final at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 19, 1997.

The forecast for Sunday’s game calls for mostly cloudy skies with temperatures reaching the high 40s and a calm breeze, according to Weather.com.

Though there is no precipitation in the forecast, the Ravens have re-sodded the middle portion of the field at M&T Bank Stadium from end zone to end zone. It will be interesting to see how the field holds up as the game progresses.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Carl Cheffers.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with black pants while Miami dons its white tops with aqua pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro
RB Buck Allen
LB Kamalei Correa
OL Ryan Jensen
G Alex Lewis
TE Crockett Gillmore

MIAMI
LB Jelani Jenkins
OT Bryce Harris
TE Thomas Duarte
WR Rashawn Scott
C Mike Pouncey
CB Jordan Lucas
CB Xavien Howard

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 03 December 2016 by Luke Jones

December football has arrived.

Aiming to return to the postseason for just the second time since Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens will now play three of their next four games against teams with winning records and own the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. In other words, John Harbaugh’s team will have to earn it if an AFC North title is in the cards.

Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins come to town riding a six-game winning streak in their effort to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2008. First-year head coach Adam Gase has the Dolphins playing winning football despite a 1-4 start, but a plus-9 point differential reflects how close their games have been on a weekly basis all year.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams play for the 12th time in their regular-season history. The Dolphins own a 6-5 advantage, but their only win in Baltimore came at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 19, 1997. This marks the fourth straight year these teams have met, but the previous three were in Miami.

1. Kenneth Dixon will gain a career-high 100 total yards. We’ve gradually seen Dixon cut into starter Terrance West’s workload, but the rookie finished with more touches (17 to 16) and played eight more snaps against Cincinnati last week. The Dolphins rank 30th in rush defense and are allowing 4.6 yards per carry. The Miami front is built to aggressively rush the passer, so offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg should use draws, counters, and screens to exploit that aggressiveness. If the Ravens are to finally get their running game going for the stretch run, Sunday seems like the time to do it.

2. Kenny Stills will catch a long touchdown against the Ravens secondary. Jarvis Landry is the most accomplished Dolphins receiver and 2015 first-round pick DeVante Parker has emerged in recent weeks, but Stills ranks third among qualified players in yards per catch (18.5) and has five touchdowns on throws traveling more than 20 yards through the air. The Ravens are tied for fourth in fewest pass plays of 25 or more yards allowed, but Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when working in a clean pocket this season. That will lead to a score.

3. The team that throws the ball more often will lose on Sunday. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi has earned much praise with back-to-back 200-yard games in October and another 100-yard rushing performance in Week 9, but he’s averaged 3.8 yards per carry in three contests since and will be playing the NFL’s top-ranked run defense. On the other side, Joe Flacco is averaging 40.9 passing attempts per game, but he’s thrown for more than 300 yards twice and has only two contests in which he’s thrown for two or more touchdowns this year. Both teams need to run the ball effectively to thrive.

4. Jimmy Smith will come away with a red-zone interception in the second half. After missing two games with a back injury, the No. 1 cornerback is expected to play. Miami could be without the 6-foot-3 Parker, but Smith’s presence on the field will be key against a passing game ranking eighth in the NFL in yards per attempt (7.8) despite sitting 28th in passing yards per game. Despite playing his best football since the first half of the 2014 season, Smith has yet to secure an interception this season. That will change on Sunday with Tannehill being forced to throw more than usual in the second half.

5. The Ravens win in typical fashion in a 20-17 final to stay in first place in the AFC North. Week after week, we’ve watched an offense incapable of putting together a full 60 minutes — or even anything close to that. I don’t expect that to suddenly change in the final month of the season. However, the Dolphins’ biggest offensive strength is a perfect match for what the Ravens do best. Baltimore will contain Ajayi and rattle Tannehill at the most critical times, Justin Tucker will connect on two field goals, and the Ravens offense will put together one or two good drives. It’s never fancy, but the Ravens couldn’t have asked for much more than a 7-5 record after their season was in great peril a month ago.

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