Tag Archive | "Ravens"

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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Ravens-Falcons: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Falcons: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Appearing at M&T Bank Stadium for the only time in the month of October, the Ravens hope to improve to 5-2 as they take on the struggling Atlanta Falcons, who have lost three straight games.

Winners in four of their last five games, the Ravens will again be without the starting left side of their offensive line as rookies James Hurst and John Urschel will start in place of the injured Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele. Baltimore is hopeful to have Monroe and Osemele back for next week’s key road game in Cincinnati after both practiced on a limited basis this past week.

The Ravens also deactivated cornerback Chykie Brown and wide receiver Marlon Brown, which doesn’t speak well for either player’s current standing on the depth chart. Chykie Brown is inactive for the first time this season, meaning veteran Dominique Franks is the only backup cornerback behind Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Marlon Brown was listed as probable on the final injury report, but rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro is instead active after catching a touchdown in his NFL debut last week.

After being moved to the 53-man roster on Saturday, safety Will Hill is active and will make his 2014 season debut.

Second-year linebacker Arthur Brown was a healthy scratch for the seventh straight game and is the only player on the 53-man roster all season who has yet to be active for a game.

Meanwhile, the Falcons have embarked on a brutal stretch of their schedule as they were scheduled to fly straight to London from Baltimore following Sunday’s game. Atlanta will not play another true home game at the Georgia Dome until Nov. 23 after having lost three straight entering Sunday’s tilt against the Ravens.

Sunday marks the fifth all-time meeting between these teams in the regular season as both the Ravens and the Falcons have won two apiece. The Ravens won the only meeting between these teams in Baltimore in 2006 and will try to improve to 3-0 against the NFC South with a win over the 2-4 Falcons.

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

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-50s with sunny skies and winds up to 15 miles per hour.

The Ravens will be wearing black jerseys and black pants — with pink accessories mixed in for Breast Cancer Awareness month — while Atlanta dons white tops and white pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Marlon Brown
CB Chykie Brown
LB Arthur Brown
LT Eugene Monroe
G Kelechi Osemele
TE Ryan Taylor
DE Chris Canty

ATLANTA
QB Sean Renfree
CB Javier Arenas
LB Tyler Starr
OT Cameron Bradfield
G Harland Gunn
WR Harry Douglas
DT Cliff Matthews

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Safety Will Hill moved to Ravens’ 53-man roster

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Safety Will Hill moved to Ravens’ 53-man roster

Posted on 18 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens moved safety Will Hill on the 53-man roster on Saturday afternoon, making him eligible to make his 2014 season debut against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Hill’s six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy ended last week and the Ravens are expected to take a long look at Hill as an option at the free safety position. Baltimore currently ranks 27th in the NFL in pass defense and has received inconsistent play at safety despite a 4-2 start this season.

To make room on active roster, defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

Having already served three suspensions in three NFL seasons, Hill carries plenty of off-field baggage, but the New York Giants were pleased with his performance as he started 10 games in 2013. Hill made 77 tackles, two interceptions, and two pass breakups last year and was viewed as one of the rising young safeties in the league before being suspended six games for marijuana use in the spring, which led to the Giants’ decision to release him.

It remains unclear how much playing time Hill will receive against the Falcons, but it would make sense to allow him to play special teams as well as limited reps in some of defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ sub packages. The Ravens have made no secret about their excitement over Hill’s potential if his off-field problems are finally behind him.

“We expect him to be a very, very good player back there,” Pees said on Thursday. “I think he’s very smart. He has really kept up on everything. It was great to see him back [at practice]. I think he has done a good job here in the few days that we’ve been back practicing. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses, but we think he’s the real deal.”

The Ravens now have seven safeties on their 53-man roster but only four cornerbacks.

They elected not to move defensive tackle Terrence Cody to the 53-man roster as he began practicing this week after starting the year on the reserve-physically unable to perform list. Cody underwent hip surgery in the offseason.

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Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 18 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Facing an opponent that’s moving in the wrong direction for the second straight week, the Ravens should feel good about their return home to play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.

Baltimore has a chance to improve to 5-2 with critical road games looming against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the next two weeks while the Falcons have dropped three straight and could find themselves out of the NFC South race if they don’t turn around a 2-4 start quickly. Atlanta is 0-3 on the road and has lost those games by an average margin of 12.3 points with a defense that ranks 31st in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Ravens offense sits in the top 10 in most categories and the Baltimore defense has allowed only 16.2 points per game, good for third in the league through the first six weeks of the 2014 season. The Ravens secondary will also have the services of free safety Will Hill after he was activated on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see how the former New York Giant is worked into the defense in his first action of 2014.

Sunday marks the fifth time these teams have met in their regular-season history with the Ravens and Falcons each owning two wins. Atlanta won the last game between these teams in a 26-21 thriller at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 11, 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to begin the season 5-2 for the fourth time under head coach John Harbaugh …

1. Both Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan throw for over 300 yards in a battle of 2008 first-round draft picks. The Falcons have allowed 24 or more points in five of their six games this season and are allowing 277.7 passing yards per game and will now face Flacco, who is coming off a career-high five touchdown passes in last week’s win at Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s passing game hasn’t had problems this season in ranking third in the NFL. The debate between Flacco and Ryan — the first two quarterbacks selected in the 2008 draft — has become a tired one as the former enjoys a clear edge in postseason success while the latter puts up better fantasy numbers, but both should have strong afternoons against less-than-stellar secondaries.

2. Justin Forsett goes over the 100-yard rushing mark for the second straight week. You keep waiting for some semblance of a market correction for the 29-year-old running back, but he keeps shredding opposing run defenses to the tune of 6.4 yards per carry. Flacco will have a strong day to give the Ravens a lead in the second half, which will open the door for Forsett and his fellow backfield mates to gain big yardage. With James Hurst and John Urschel expected to be blocking the blindside again, Forsett will continue to receive extensive reps due to his pass-blocking ability and that will lead to him receiving more carries than Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro.

3. Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi will be a rare standout in an otherwise listless pass rush. A second straight week of starting two rookies on the left side of the offensive line will make Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak nervous, but the Falcons haven’t been able to put any consistent heat on quarterbacks this season. The one player who’s offered something as a rusher has been Massaquoi, who leads Atlanta with two sacks and has graded out as one of the better outside pass rushers in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He’ll beat Hurst to pick up a sack at some point, but the Ravens should have few problems keeping Flacco upright as long as they shade help to the left side and he’s quick in getting rid of the ball.

4. With Jimmy Smith locked on Julio Jones, Atlanta wideout Roddy White will catch a touchdown and pick up 85 receiving yards. There’s no reason to think Smith won’t shadow Jones, who already has 44 catches and 620 receiving yards (third in the NFL) through six games. However, White is still a receiver to be careful with and it’s difficult to feel too confident in the rest of the Baltimore secondary as the Ravens rank 27th in pass defense. The addition of Hill gives the Ravens an intriguing option to work in at safety, but as long as Matt Elam continues to handle nickel duties, they’re vulnerable to giving up yards. White will be a thorn in the Ravens’ side while Smith holds Jones to a modest level of production for his high standards.

5. On a day when both offenses have success, the Ravens will make a few more defensive stops en route to a 34-20 win to improve to 5-2. Baltimore needs to be aware of the explosiveness of the Atlanta offense, but the Falcons are way too soft on defense to seriously threaten the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. In the only opportunity to play at home this month, the Ravens will take care of business and put themselves in great position as they face the Bengals and the Steelers in consecutive road games. Unlike last season, the Ravens are giving themselves some margin for error in terms of the playoff race and a relatively comfortable win over Atlanta will be the latest statement for the case that they’ll be playing in January.

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Ravens unlikely to have starting left side of line against Atlanta

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Ravens unlikely to have starting left side of line against Atlanta

Posted on 17 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are likely to be without the starting left side of their offensive line for the second straight week after tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele were both listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Neither lineman participated in Friday’s practice after both worked on a limited basis Thursday, meaning the Ravens are likely to go with the rookie combination of James Hurst and John Urschel for the second consecutive game. There had appeared to be some optimism that Osemele would return after missing last Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay since he had been a limited participant on Wednesday and Thursday, but he will need at least another week to recover from the hyper extended knee he suffered against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 5.

Ideally, head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens would like to have Monroe and Osemele back in the lineup for a key road game against the Cincinnati Bengals next week, so the fact that both were able to get on the practice field this week bodes well for their status.

To no surprise, defensive end Chris Canty (wrist surgery) and defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi (ankle) were officially ruled out for Sunday’s game.

The Ravens listed five players as probable to play against Atlanta, including rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus surgery), who could be playing for the first time since injuring his knee on Sept. 11.

In remains unclear whether the Ravens will elect to activate safety Will Hill from the reserve-suspended list or defensive tackle Terrence Cody from the reserve-physically unable to perform list after both players practiced fully all week. Harbaugh would not tip his hand whether either would be moved to the 53-man roster by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline to make them eligible to play against the Falcons.

“It depends on some other things. There’s a domino effect to some of that,” Harbaugh said. “But they’re both capable of playing, physically. They’re both ready. They had a good week of practice, and they showed that they’re ready to play.”

Atlanta officially ruled out wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot) and listed six other players as probable for Sunday’s game.

Carl Cheffers will be the referee for Sunday’s game against the Falcons.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for sunny skies with temperatures in the low 50s and winds up to 15 miles per hour.

Baltimore will don its black alternate jerseys for the second time this season and the 18th time in franchise history. The Ravens hold a 12-5 record when wearing the black jerseys and are 9-2 under Harbaugh. Earlier this season, the Ravens won 38-10 when they sported their all-black uniforms against the Carolina Panthers.

Here is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DT Christo Bilukidi (ankle), DE Chris Canty (wrist)
DOUBTFUL: T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)
PROBABLE: WR Kamar Aiken (concussion), WR Marlon Brown (pelvis), TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury)

ATLANTA
OUT: WR Harry Douglas (foot)
PROBABLE: DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee), G Justin Blalock (back), WR Devin Hester (hamstring), WR Julio Jones (ankle), LB Prince Shembo (knee), LB Nate Stupar (knee)

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Personnel diversity providing improved results for Ravens offense

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Personnel diversity providing improved results for Ravens offense

Posted on 16 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New faces, new injuries, and a new system would be more than enough for the Ravens offense to be struggling through the first six weeks of the 2014 season.

Except it hasn’t.

In fact, a year after searching up and down the roster — and outside of it — for solutions to cure the offensive woes, the eighth-ranked unit in the NFL now finds itself with plenty of diversity that’s provided different results as the Ravens are off to a 4-2 record. Tied for fifth in points per game, Baltimore has transformed its offense from a liability to a strength in less than a year’s time as they’ve already scored 26 or more points three times compared to last year’s total of four games reaching that barrier.

Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is still chasing consistency with his unit — the Ravens have two games in which they’ve scored fewer than 17 points — but the overall results have been impressive in his first season on John Harbaugh’s staff.

“We just have to stay focused on us. That’s what I told the guys,” Kubiak said. “Let’s not get too consumed with who’re playing or those types of things. If we play the way we’re capable of playing and do our jobs, we’re probably going to move the football.”

While it’s obvious the offseason additions of Steve Smith, Jeremy Zuttah, Owen Daniels, and Justin Forsett have paid significant dividends, the Ravens have faced plenty of adversity on the offensive side of the ball that could have led to their demise. The abrupt release of Ray Rice and the season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta took away a large portion of production from past seasons, but Baltimore has thrived without them.

Three running backs — Forsett, Bernard Pierce, and Lorenzo Taliaferro — have received at least 40 carries each and the Ravens are averaging 4.7 yards per carry, good for sixth in the NFL. Viewed as little more than a depth signing in the offseason, Forsett has averaged a league-best 6.4 yards per carry, which is more than twice as productive as the Ravens’ league-worst 3.1 yards per attempt in 2013.

“He gets the most out of his ability,” said Kubiak about the 29-year-old Forsett, who’s already rushed for more yards in 2014 than his two previous seasons combined. “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.”

The Ravens’ three-headed monster at running back has been discussed at length, but they continue to use an extensive collection of pass catchers for quarterback Joe Flacco to throw to. The 35-year-old Smith has clearly led the way with 35 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns, but 13 different players have already caught passes this season with rookie Michael Campanaro and former practice-squad member Kamar Aiken catching their first career scores last week.

The different personnel groupings at the receiver position have allowed Kubiak to keep the veteran Smith as well as Torrey Smith fresh during games, but they’ve also created problems for opposing defenses. It’s been a pleasant change from last season when the Ravens did see 15 different players catch passes, but Flacco struggled to find any he could consistently rely on to make plays beyond Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown.

Those weapons have made it easier for Flacco, who’s posted a career-high 97.8 passer rating and is on pace to throw a personal-best 32 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions.

“The one thing as an offense you never want to be is predictable,” Steve Smith said. “A lot of times people may think when these [younger] guys come in, it’s not a pass play — it’s not a play where they’re getting the ball. So, that just shows you that we do have guys that may not be starters but have the big-play ability [against] other teams and in the game. That just shows that those guys can play.”

Perhaps no other position group has benefited from improved depth more than the offensive line, which has become arguably the Ravens’ biggest strength in 2014 after it was nothing short of a disaster last year.

Zuttah and Rick Wagner have solidified the center and right tackle positions, respectively, but the Ravens have remained successful even with injuries to left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele. The Ravens have won two of the three games in which rookie free agent James Hurst has started at left tackle for Monroe and are 1-0 with rookie John Urschel playing in place of Osemele.

Those were the kinds of injuries the Ravens couldn’t overcome last year, but the offensive line has continued to thrive in Kubiak’s system.

“It’s not just us,” said right guard Marhal Yanda about the improvement. “It’s the backs, it’s Joe [Flacco], it’s the tight ends, it’s Gary — it’s everybody. We’re in this thing together, and it’s definitely going well for us. We’ve had a couple of hiccups, but we’re just trying to continue to be consistent and get after them.”

It’s been a “strength in numbers” mindset with results that couldn’t be much better. And the struggles of last year become more and more faint.

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