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Ravens tight end Daniels out for Sunday’s game in Cincinnati

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Ravens tight end Daniels out for Sunday’s game in Cincinnati

Posted on 24 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will be without starting tight end Owen Daniels in Sunday’s AFC North matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the 31-year-old underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee that will sideline him for at least Week 8, but the Ravens do not expect him to miss an extended period of time. Daniels is second on the team with 27 caches for 275 yards and three touchdowns while handling an expanded role since the season-ending hip injury suffered by Dennis Pitta in Week 3.

“As the week went on, his knee was not really progressing the way we wanted it to,” Harbaugh said. “We went ahead and did a cleanup procedure, and he’ll be out for this game. Then after that, he actually has a chance to come back [quickly]. It will kind of be week to week after that, and it won’t be many weeks at all. It could actually be next week. We’ll just have to see how that goes. That would be an optimistic approach, but it could happen.”

Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak had downplayed the severity of Daniels’ injury on Thursday while expressing little concern about his starting tight end missing practices this week, leading many to assume he’d be ready to play against the Bengals. The Ravens rested Daniels for an extended period during training camp, but his knowledge of Kubiak’s system going back to their days with the Houston Texans had diminished concerns over him not practicing.

Rookie Crockett Gillmore will start in Daniels’ place against the Bengals, but the Ravens will likely look to use running back Justin Forsett and full back Kyle Juszczyk more in the short passing game to compensate for the lack of depth at tight end.

“I’ve prepared to be the guy from the first day I was here, following Owen and Dennis around,” Gillmore said. “They’ve given me a great opportunity to step into their shoes and do what I can do.”

Defensive end Chris Canty missed practice again on Friday and will miss his fourth straight game since undergoing wrist surgery to correct an infection. However, Harbaugh said the veteran defensive lineman has been cleared to start training heavily and it’s just a matter of how quickly he can get back into game shape.

Starting left tackle Eugene Monroe and starting left guard Kelechi Osemele both practiced on Friday and were listed as probable as they’re expected to make their returns from injury against Cincinnati. Monroe has missed the last four games since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last month while Osemele missed two games due to a hyperextended knee suffered in the Week 5 loss to Indianapolis.

As expected, wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Daryl Smith both returned to practice Friday after receiving a veteran day off and were listed as probable.

The Bengals received disappointing news Friday as Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green once again missed practice with his lingering turf toe injury. He was listed as doubtful and is expected to miss his third straight game on Sunday.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast in Cincinnati calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60s with calm winds.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Clete Blakeman.

Below is the final injury report:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DE Chris Canty (wrist), TE Owen Daniels (knee)
PROBABLE: T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), WR Steve Smith (non-injury)

CINCINNATI
OUT: LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring)
DOUBTFUL: WR A.J. Green (toe)
QUESTIONABLE: DT Brandon Thompson (knee)
PROBABLE: RB Giovani Bernard (ribs), TE Kevin Brock (neck), LB Vontaze Burfict (neck), DE Robert Geathers (toe), DE Wallace Gilberry (eye), CB Leon Hall (back), LB Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder), T Marshall Newhouse (back), G/C Mike Pollak (knee), T Andre Smith (shoulder)

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Osemele, Monroe practice fully for second straight day

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Osemele, Monroe practice fully for second straight day

Posted on 23 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens appear primed to get the starting left side of their offensive line back in time for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals as tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele both practiced fully for the second straight day.

Monroe has missed the last four games since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last month and Osemele has been sidelined for the last two games, but both have practiced without incident this week and are on track to play against the Bengals barring a setback. Baltimore has used rookies James Hurst and John Urschel in their place but has managed to go 3-1 without Monroe and 2-0 without Osemele.

“It’s very important to get them back,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “I think we still work through [Friday]. They’ve had a good week. They took a full practice today, but we’ll continue to get James and John ready to play.”

Tight end Owen Daniels was absent for the second straight day as he continues to nurse a sore knee, but Kubiak downplayed any concern about the veteran’s availability for the key AFC North meeting with Cincinnati. Head coach John Harbaugh managed Daniels’ reps during training camp as he rested a hamstring issue for more than two weeks in August.

Rookie Crockett Gillmore is the primary backup behind Daniels.

“Owen is fine. John has a plan for these veteran guys,” Kubiak said. “I know he has had a plan for [Daniels] and how he keeps him fresh and keeps him ready to go. But as far as what we’re doing [with the] game plan, those types of things, O.D. will be fine.”

Wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Daryl Smith did not practice on Thursday after receiving the day off to rest.

The Bengals continued to be without Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, who hasn’t played since Week 5 and has yet to practice this week. Green had expressed optimism a few days ago that he might be able to return to play against the Ravens, but progress with his injured toe has been slow.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (neck) practiced fully on Thursday as it appears there is little doubt that he’ll be able to play after hurting his neck in last Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis.

Below is Thursday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Chris Canty (wrist), TE Owen Daniels (knee), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), WR Steve Smith (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)

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

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Forsett content surprising people on way to career season

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Forsett content surprising people on way to career season

Posted on 22 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The highlights were few and far between in the first half of the Ravens’ season-opening 23-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last month.

With Ray Rice suspended — and about to be released the following day — and fill-in starter Bernard Pierce managing just 17 yards on six carries as the Bengals led 15-0 at halftime, the Ravens began feeding the ball to their 5-foot-8 veteran newcomer considered little more than a temporary placeholder for Rice at the time of his signing. Baltimore fell short that day but discovered one of its greatest reclamation projects in recent years as Justin Forsett finished the afternoon with a game-high 70 yards on 11 carries.

He hasn’t looked back since as he not only leads the Ravens with 503 rushing yards on 87 carries but tops the NFL with a 5.8 yards per carry average through the first seven weeks of the season. Not bad for a 29-year-old who’s played for five different teams in seven years and is entering a stage of his career when most running backs are slowing down considerably.

Forsett smiles when asked about the constant disbelief expressed by media and fans while he continues to rack up yards for the league’s seventh-ranked running game.

“I’m OK with surprising people,” said Forsett, who’s currently on pace to break the franchise’s single-season yards per carry average. “A lot of guys didn’t know I was still in the league. I just take that in stride. It’s all fun.”

Not even the Ravens could have anticipated this much from Forsett, who was signed to a one-year contract on April 4 to serve as an insurance policy for Rice’s unknown status at the time and to bring a veteran presence to help teach new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system. Forsett had averaged 5.9 yards per carry in his only year with Kubiak in Houston in 2012 and owned previous experience working in a zone-blocking system in his four years in Seattle.

Most expected Forsett to be the odd man out once Rice returned from suspension, but that, of course, changed when the three-time Pro Bowl running back was cut on Sept. 8. Even now, there remains a feeling of how long Forsett can keep up this type of play as his 503 yards in 2014 are only 47 fewer than his rushing total from his previous three seasons combined.

Coaches love his ability to pass block — something that hasn’t been taken for granted with the injuries to left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele — and his 23 receptions rank third on the team behind wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels.

“He gets the most out of his ability,” said Kubiak, who knew Forsett’s character was a perfect fit for head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he does a great job in pass protection. He’s a three-down player, so he’s a guy that you can keep on the field all the time in what you’re doing. The thing he’s doing right now [is] he’s finding a way to make a big play every week. I think that’s the key.”

Many have been quick to point to the resurgence of the offensive line to explain Forsett’s impressive numbers after the group couldn’t open any holes last season when the Ravens ran for a franchise-worst 3.1 yards per carry. But the veteran has run with a confidence and decisiveness that Pierce and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro haven’t shown on a consistent basis.

The younger backs are more impressive physical specimens with ideal size for interior runs, but Forsett’s average of 6.63 yards per carry running between the guards is the highest rate in the NFL for backs with at least 20 carries, according to Pro Football Focus. His yards per carry average is substantially better than that of Pierce (3.6) or Taliaferro (4.5), which also illustrates his superior vision in Kubiak’s one-cut system.

A humble man of Christian faith, Forsett is more interested in complimenting the men blocking for him than accepting praise for himself after years of less-than-ideal opportunities.

“I think it’s the offensive line,” said Forsett when asked how to attribute his success. “They’re doing a heck of a job going out there and executing, getting those guys cut backside and stretching a defense. I’m just able to find holes. I just thank God for the opportunity, and the guys are just working for me.”

The Ravens’ biggest concern at this point might be trying to keep the veteran fresh as he ran a career-high 23 times against Atlanta last Sunday and is only 31 rushing attempts shy of his highest total in any season. Listed at 197 pounds, Forsett has a good frame for a back of his stature, but his current pace would have him approaching 200 carries by the end of the season.

Forsett was incredibly durable throughout his career until turf toe and a stress fracture in his foot limited him to nine games with the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago, making him confident that he’ll continue to hold up with an expanded workload in his seventh NFL season. He says he’s always prepared physically to be a starting back, even if the opportunity hasn’t been there for most of his career.

“I’ve always taken care of my body, because I had great veterans when I came into the league like T.J. Duckett, Maurice Morris, and Edgerrin James,” Forsett said. “They taught me early on, no matter if you’re playing special teams or running and busting the wedge, take care of your body, because that’s one thing that can get you out of the league. I stay on top of that, so it’s not that bad.”

Signing on the same day that the Ravens added Daniels, Forsett told reporters at the time that he carried a chip on his shoulder “the size of Texas” to prove he still had plenty of good football ahead of him. It was the kind of message you typically hear from a veteran cast aside by his former team, but perhaps his career 4.88 yards per carry average entering 2014 suggested he deserved a better opportunity than the ones he’d received in recent years.

In fairness, his size doesn’t scream feature back and the label of being a special-teams player is often difficult to shake. Maybe the Ravens knew they had a diamond in the rough, but even they continue to be surprised with how much Forsett has brought to an offense on pace to be one of the most productive in franchise history.

No one may have blinked when he was added in the offseason, but Forsett’s play has led many to rub their eyes in disbelief through the first two months of the 2014 season.

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “I’m surprised that he’s even here right now. I feel like he’s a guy that could be the lead guy anywhere. I’m glad he got his shot here, and he’s able to showcase his talent.”

 

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

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

Posted on 22 October 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is Wednesday’s official injury report:

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

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

 

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Rice reportedly files grievance against Ravens for wrongful termination

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Rice reportedly files grievance against Ravens for wrongful termination

Posted on 22 October 2014 by Luke Jones

In a move not terribly surprising given his current appeal of the NFL’s indefinite suspension handed down on Sept. 8, running back Ray Rice is now going after his former team as well.

Multiple outlets reported Tuesday night that Rice has filed a grievance against the Ravens for wrongful termination, challenging the organization’s decision to terminate his contract after the second video of the 27-year-old punching his then-fiancée was released by TMZ on the morning after the 2014 season opener. Rice was originally given a two-game suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and is challenging that the collective bargaining agreement only permits one punishment for an infraction.

If successful, Rice would receive the $3.529 million in base salary that was scheduled to be paid to him after he served his original suspension. His appeal against the NFL’s indefinite ban will be heard on Nov. 5 and 6, but it remains unclear when his grievance against the Ravens will be heard.

As some sports legal experts have pointed out, Rice may face long odds in winning a dispute against the Ravens because of NFL teams’ wide freedom in cutting players with the lack of guaranteed contracts. The seventh-year running back was coming off a career-worst season in which he averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, but the organization’s public support throughout his ordeal leading up to the release of the second video would appear to help his case.

Rice signed a five-year, $35 million contract in the summer of 2012 and has been paid $25 million of it entering the 2014 season.

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Ravens walking tightrope with Jacoby Jones’ struggles

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Ravens walking tightrope with Jacoby Jones’ struggles

Posted on 21 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens trying to improve to 6-2 as they travel to Cincinnati for a key AFC North showdown on Sunday, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player having a worse season than Jacoby Jones.

The return specialist and wide receiver fumbled his second punt in three games in Sunday’s 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons and has virtually disappeared from the offensive game plan with more dropped passes (five) than receptions (four) through the first seven weeks of the season. Head coach John Harbaugh has said on a couple occasions that he feels Jones is pressing as he’s coupled his mishandling of the ball with questionable decisions such as catching a punt at the 2-yard line against Carolina in Week 4.

Asked if he still felt OK with Jones as his returner following his latest fumble, which took place late in the first half when the Ravens were only holding a 14-0 lead, Harbaugh didn’t go out of his way to provide a ringing endorsement on Monday.

“I do.”

The Falcons did not attempt another punt after Jones fumbled at his own 40 and kicker Matt Bryant missed a 57-yard field goal to hand the ball back to the Ravens late in the first half, so it will be intriguing to see how short of a leash — if any — remains for the Pro Bowl return specialist. Harbaugh’s terse answer doesn’t signal the end of Jones as the returner — he’s not going to tip his hand whether the Ravens will make a change or not — but it doesn’t mean we won’t see others such as rookie Michael Campanaro or safe punt returner Lardarius Webb more involved in the return game as early as Sunday in Cincinnati.

Jones took only four offensive snaps against Atlanta, so it’s clear that coordinator Gary Kubiak is looking elsewhere for complementary receivers behind starters Steve Smith and Torrey Smith. Dropped passes can certainly be drive killers, but turnovers can dramatically change a game when you’re counting on a possession after making the opponent punt or the opponent has just scored.

The 30-year-old signed an extension with the Ravens this past offseason, agreeing to a four-year, $12 million deal that included $3.5 million in guaranteed money.

Counting the postseason, the former Houston Texans has five returns for touchdowns in his three-year run with the Ravens, but that big-play potential only goes so far when you’re unsure if he’s going to secure the ball. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg hasn’t hesitated in the past to make a change as he replaced speedy kick returner David Reed with a more sure-handed option in Tom Zbikowski in 2011.

The Ravens reaped the benefits of Jones being a game-changer on the positive side in his first two years in Baltimore, but he’s been a different kind of game-changer altogether so far in 2014. And it’s a tightrope act that’s feeling more and more perilous to navigate for a team currently leading the AFC North and heading into two key divisional road games.

 

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Ravens casting wide net for solutions at safety position

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Ravens casting wide net for solutions at safety position

Posted on 20 October 2014 by Luke Jones

NFL teams are no strangers to using different personnel up front, but it was the Ravens’ frequent substituting at the safety position that garnered attention in their 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Injuries at the cornerback position earlier this season sparked plenty of shuffling in the secondary, but the return of Lardarius Webb and the emergence of veteran Dominique Franks have helped stabilize the position. In contrast, safety became a mix and match with starters Matt Elam and Darian Stewart and reserves Terrence Brooks and Will Hill all playing extensive snaps against Atlanta’s high-powered passing game.

“Everybody’s got a role,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Everybody has something they do a little bit better, so I’m trying to put them in those roles. They’re starting to understand how we’re trying to play it. They keep practicing the same stuff and getting after it.”

The strategy helped contribute to a convincing win in which the Baltimore defense limited quarterback Matt Ryan to 228 passing yards on 44 attempts as the Falcons didn’t score until midway through the fourth quarter.

Stewart and Brooks received the most playing time as they each participated in 44 of 66 total defensive snaps while Elam and Hill played 22 each. Despite using such an unconventional platoon system, the Ravens appeared relatively seamless in their communication with the rookie Brooks and the just-activated Hill on the field for long stretches of time.

“We were on the same page for the most part,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “There were three or four things. There are going to be things that we have to anticipate going forward, because people watch you, they attack you, they cause problems for every unit. The technique, the fundamentals, the eyes, the communication were all very good in the back end.”

After being moved to the 53-man roster on Saturday, the 24-year-old Hill made his 2014 debut and collected two tackles while mainly playing close to the line of scrimmage. The University of Florida product made a tackle for a loss and registered one of the Ravens’ nine quarterback hits on Sunday.

Despite his off-field transgressions that have included three suspensions in his first three years, Hill earned a reputation with the New York Giants as a safety with range and the ability to excel in coverage, skills most Ravens safeties haven’t displayed to this point in the year. Pees has spoken glowingly of Hill’s potential, so it wasn’t surprising to see him receive extensive playing time.

“I know they have a great deal of confidence in me now,” Hill said. “My coaches kept coming to me after every drive I was in there and let me know if I did something wrong. They were pretty satisfied with my play.”

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the division of playing time was Elam playing only 22 snaps against the Falcons. The 2013 first-round pick has struggled in pass coverage in his brief career, but it’s been difficult to evaluate him since he played out of position at free safety last year and was forced into nickel duties due to injuries at cornerback earlier this season.

With Brooks appearing to be gaining confidence as a deep safety in obvious passing situations and Hill quickly being thrown into action after such a long layoff, Elam may suddenly find himself competing with Stewart just to remain on the field on a consistent basis.

For now, both coaches and players appear to be on board as the Ravens were able to stop an offense that ranked third in the NFL in total yards entering Sunday’s game. Opponents will adapt and look for patterns, so it remains to be seen how long the safety platoon lasts.

But it’s difficult to argue with the results of a convincing win.

“It’s going to be great,” Elam said. “With the help up front and keeping guys fresh in the back end, we can run around and knock people off [the ball]. We feel like the sky’s the limit.”

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Ravens sign former 49ers long snapper McDermott

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Ravens sign former 49ers long snapper McDermott

Posted on 20 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens wasted no time replacing injured long snapper Morgan Cox by signing former San Francisco 49ers snapper Kevin McDermott on Monday afternoon.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam confirmed a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in Cox’s right knee suffered in the Ravens’ 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons. It was the second ACL injury he’s sustained in his five-year career after hurting his left knee late in the 2010 season.

McDermott played all 16 games with San Francisco last year before being cut at the end of the 2014 preseason. The 24-year-old UCLA product was signed to the Denver Broncos’ practice squad in early September.

“He’s a guy that we’re very familiar with. [Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg] had a chance to work out him and Patrick Scales this morning,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Patrick’s a guy who was with us in training camp twice [and] who we had a lot of respect for as well. Both of those guys had excellent workouts, and we feel like either one of those guys would fit us really well. But we chose to go with Kevin.”

Considered to have one of the better special-teams units in the NFL, the Ravens will now hope McDermott can be brought up to speed quickly as long snapping is a thankless job that’s only noticed when something goes wrong.

Harbaugh praised Cox for his willingness to help McDermott get acclimated as the veteran snapper deals with the personal disappointment of his 2014 season coming to an end. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata filled in to snap for the final extra point try of Sunday’s game after Cox was injured in the fourth quarter, but the Ravens hope McDermott can pick up where Cox left off in not being noticed by the outside world.

“He’s kind of pledged his time and effort as he’s rehabbing to get with [McDermott] and help him understand what we’re doing and the nuances of the position,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a lot there. We do a lot with our snapper in terms of mental responsibilities and different techniques that we use. We’ll have to see how Kevin fits that, but Morgan will be there to help him all the way. It shows you what kind of guy he is.”

Cox was officially placed on season-ending injured reserve on Monday.

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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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Ravens lose long snapper Cox for rest of season

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Ravens lose long snapper Cox for rest of season

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — One of the few disappointments for the Ravens in the 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons was the season-ending injury to long snapper Morgan Cox.

The fifth-year snapper suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win. Cox previously tore the ACL in his left knee in a game against the Cleveland Browns late in his rookie season in 2010.

The Ravens will sign another long snapper this week with Cox expected to be placed on season-ending injured reserve as early as Monday.

Cox’s absence partially led to the Ravens going for it on fourth-and-9 from the Atlanta 39 with 1:54 remaining in the game since special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg was without his long snapper for the punt team. Quarterback Joe Flacco instead threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith to make it a 29-7 lead over Atlanta.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who has served as the emergency field goal snapper in past seasons, was used to snap the extra point to holder Sam Koch. Head coach John Harbaugh smiled after the game when asked if Ngata would be used as the snapper moving forward, admitting he initially planned to go for the two-point conversion before Rosburg convinced him to let the Pro Bowl defensive lineman have a shot.

“Jerry was like, ‘Let [Haloti] do it. Let’s get the rep out here,’” Harbaugh said. “And he was exactly right, and he did a great job with it.”

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