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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 04 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will tell you every game is important.

That’s just reality when you’re 4-4 and haven’t won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season. Sunday’s trip to Tennessee might be the most pivotal game remaining on the schedule for an inconsistent team trying to gain traction in the quest for its first playoff berth since 2014. If you concede that Baltimore’s chances of catching first-place Pittsburgh appear bleak, the result against the Titans becomes even more critical in sizing up the AFC wild-card picture.

A win puts Baltimore a game above .500 entering the bye week with a reasonable schedule down the stretch with several opponents having messy quarterback situations. A loss would force the Ravens to win five of their final seven contests just to get to 9-7 and — even worse — would give both Tennessee and Jacksonville head-to-head tiebreaker advantages in the playoff pecking order.

“When it comes down to the ‘who’s in, who’s out’ [talk], it’s going to come down to these teams,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “We need this win. We’ve been doing a pretty good job of that this year. We have some losses, obviously, but those losses are against teams that’s maybe not going to affect us going to the playoffs besides Jacksonville. We just need to continue to win, and we’ll get where we need to go.”

It’s time to go on the record as these onetime AFC Central rivals meet for the 19th time in the all-time regular-season series that’s tied 9-9, but the Ravens are 2-1 in postseason encounters. The Titans own a 5-4 record in home games against Baltimore dating back to 1996.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Tight ends and edge defenders will be the deciding factors in this game. This is a rather bland proclamation, but Tennessee’s best pass-catcher is tight end Delanie Walker, who is questionable to play with an ankle injury. Six of the nine touchdown passes allowed by the Ravens defense this season have been to tight ends. Meanwhile, Nick Boyle is also questionable after missing the entire week of practice with a toe injury. His blocking has been a critical part of Baltimore’s seventh-ranked running game. Both rushing attacks depend on popping outside runs for chunk yardage, and the Ravens have been inconsistent setting the edge and have occasionally lost containment against mobile quarterbacks.

2. The Ravens will be held under 100 rushing yards for just the third time this season. Head coach John Harbaugh deemed Boyle a game-time decision Friday, but it’s tough envisioning him playing without any practice, putting much pressure on the remaining group of tight ends as run blockers. Tennessee ranks fifth in the NFL in yards per carry allowed, so the surprising Alex Collins could have his hands full should Boyle not be on the field. The matchup between guards James Hurst and Matt Skura and Titans defensive linemen Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones will be crucial with the latter two having the advantage on paper.

3. Marcus Mariota will throw for a touchdown and run for another. The Titans’ bye week came at the perfect time for their quarterback, who had been hampered with a hamstring injury and is no longer listed on the injury report. He is much more dangerous as a passer when he moves from the pocket and can improvise with an ordinary group of receivers. Baltimore’s pass defense has been its biggest strength, but Terrell Suggs and the young pass rushers must be disciplined trying to get by Titans offensive tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin to prevent Mariota from hurting them with his legs.

4. Joe Flacco will find Wallace for a long touchdown pass. The Ravens quarterback has been at his best this year when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has designed pass plays to get him on the move instead of remaining static in the pocket, so that needs to continue if the league’s 32nd-ranked passing attack is ever going to grow. The Titans are vulnerable in the secondary and rank 19th in the NFL against the pass, so the Ravens need to use the run game and play fakes to get the defense out of two-high safety looks. If they do that, Wallace will be able to slip past rookie cornerback Adoree’ Jackson.

5. Baltimore will come up short in a 20-16 loss to the Titans. This is the kind of game a playoff hopeful reflects upon at the end of the season as a deciding factor in whether a team is playing in January or watching the playoffs on the couch. The Ravens have proven to be capable of playing at a high level with four wins decided by 13 or more points, but those performances have been soiled by some real clunkers in defeat. I’d normally like the Ravens’ chances more with extra rest against a decent — but hardly special — opponent, but Tennessee coming off its bye week wipes away that potential advantage. A key takeaway or a big special-teams play could certainly swing the outcome, but the healthier Titans playing at home will get the job done as the Ravens go into the bye with much work to do.

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Boyle questionable, Canady activated for Tennessee game

Posted on 03 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are in danger of not having their best blocking tight end for Sunday’s tilt against Tennessee as Nick Boyle remains sidelined with a toe injury.

Boyle was listed as questionable after missing his third straight practice and was labeled a game-time decision by head coach John Harbaugh on Friday. His absence would be a tough blow as Baltimore faces a Tennessee run defense allowing just 3.6 yards per carry this season.

“He has played a bunch, so he does not need to practice to play,” Harbaugh said. “We will take him out there on Sunday and see how he looks. And if he can go, he will go. If he can’t, he won’t. The coaches have put together compensation plans if he can’t go.”

Included in those plans should be tight end Maxx Williams, who practiced fully for the third straight day and is expected to play despite being listed as questionable. The 2015 second-round pick has missed five games this season with a left ankle injury suffered in Week 2 and aggravated in Week 6.

Defensive tackle Michael Pierce (illness) said he’s still feeling some effects from the flu, but he returned to practice on a limited basis Friday. He was officially designated as questionable to play against the Titans.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (shoulder) is also listed as questionable after practicing on a limited basis throughout the week. He missed four offensive snaps after hurting his right shoulder in the second half of last week’s win over Miami, but he did return to the game.

Wide receiver Michael Campanaro (shoulder) and safety Chuck Clark (hamstring) were absent from practice once again and were officially ruled out for Sunday’s game. Running back Terrance West (calf) will miss his fourth straight game, but he made a brief appearance on the practice field for the first time since Week 5, an encouraging sign for a return after the Week 10 bye.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (concussion) was officially listed as questionable, but he is fully expected to start after passing concussion protocol and practicing fully all week. Center Ryan Jensen (shoulder), wide receivers Mike Wallace (back) and Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), and defensive back Lardarius Webb (concussion) were also among those designated as questionable who are expected to play.

Baltimore has officially activated cornerback Maurice Canady from injured reserve, who underwent knee surgery early in training camp and returned to practice last month. He is expected to contribute on special teams and could serve a role in sub packages in the secondary.

“He has done a heck of a job. He looks good and prepared,” Harbaugh said. “He looks, really, the way he did in training camp, so he’s ready to roll. Whether we can get him active or not and all that kind of stuff depends on how the roster shakes out by Sunday, but he is ready to play if needed.”

Wide receiver Chris Matthews (thigh) was waived with an injury designation to make room on the 53-man roster.

The Titans officially ruled out left guard Quinton Spain (toe) and listed standout tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) as questionable. The latter practiced on a limited basis Friday and is considered a game-time decision.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast in Nashville calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures reaching the high 70s and winds 10 to 20 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report for the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), S Chuck Clark (thigh), RB Terrance West (calf)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Nick Boyle (toe), QB Joe Flacco (concussion), C Ryan Jensen (shoulder), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), TE Vince Mayle (concussion), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), DT Michael Pierce (illness), OT Ronnie Stanley (shoulder), WR Mike Wallace (back), DB Lardarius Webb (concussion), TE Maxx Williams (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)

TENNESSEE
OUT: G Quinton Spain (toe)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Nate Palmer (ankle), TE Delanie Walker (ankle)

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Wallace out of concussion protocol, poised to return against Tennessee

Posted on 02 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace has passed concussion protocol and is on track to play against Tennessee despite a lingering back issue.

In fact, the veteran wideout could have played in last week’s win over Miami instead of missing only the second game of his nine-year career. Wallace revealed Thursday that he was medically cleared to play against the Dolphins, but he didn’t feel comfortable doing so just four days after taking a penalized hit from Minnesota safety Andrew Sendejo, who was suspended one game by the NFL.

The 31-year-old said he wanted to play, but the risk of taking another blow to the head in such a short period of time prompted him to err on the side of caution after much deliberation.

“It’s always a possibility when you step on the field, and I don’t want to be out there second-guessing anything,” said Wallace, who also cited his family’s concerns about returning to action so soon after sustaining a concussion. “I want to feel comfortable, feel like myself. I just went with that decision. Coach [John Harbaugh] supported me and we won 40-0, so that’s always great.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco practiced fully for the second straight day and will start against the Titans after passing concussion protocol earlier this week. Defensive back Lardarius Webb also practiced fully Thursday after apparently suffering a concussion against the Dolphins.

Tight end Nick Boyle (toe) remained absent Thursday, making it unclear whether he will play Sunday. He played 55 of 65 offensive snaps in Week 8 and finished the game without any visible incident, but missing two days of practice after the three-day break last weekend creates cause for concern.

Defensive tackle Michael Pierce has also missed two practices in a row with an undisclosed illness.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles) was back on the practice field after receiving a day off as the Ravens continue to give their top defensive back rest for lingering tendinitis. The 29-year-old is arguably having the best season of his career despite being hampered with the ailment. Smith has scored two defensive touchdowns this season, and Pro Football Focus has graded him as the NFL’s seventh-best cornerback through Week 8.

“He has always had that type of big-play mentality,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “He’s made those plays over the years, but the injuries kind of just lingered on him, whether it caused him to miss some games or he just played through it. That is kind of the mentality he has. No matter what it is, he always is going to try to play through it.”

The Titans were without tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) for the second straight day, creating more concern about his availability for Sunday coming off their bye week.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (toe), WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), S Chuck Clark (thigh), WR Chris Matthews (thigh), DT Michael Pierce (illness), RB Terrance West (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Ryan Jensen (shoulder), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), TE Vince Mayle (concussion), OT Ronnie Stanley (shoulder), WR Mike Wallace (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (concussion), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), DB Lardarius Webb (concussion), TE Maxx Williams (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)

TENNESSEE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Jack Conklin (illness), LB Nate Palmer (ankle), G Quinton Spain (toe), WR Taywan Taylor (non-injury), TE Delanie Walker (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Jonathan Cyprien (hamstring), WR Corey Davis (hamstring)

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Flacco back on practice field for Ravens

Posted on 01 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Less than a week after sustaining a concussion in the Week 8 win over Miami, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was back at practice on Wednesday after passing the NFL’s five-step protocol.

Wearing his usual black practice jersey signaling no contact, Flacco took snaps under center and threw passes as a full participant, leaving very little doubt about his availability for Sunday’s game at Tennessee. His appearance came a little over an hour after head coach John Harbaugh would not reveal whether Flacco would be on the field as the Ravens ramped up preparations for Tennessee.

Harbaugh told reporters Monday that the 10th-year quarterback had a “good chance” to play against the Titans and hadn’t been experiencing concussion-related symptoms. On Tuesday, the NFL announced Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso would not be suspended for his penalized hit that caused Flacco’s concussion, but the quarterback said his sole focus is on getting ready to play the Titans.

“I think [doctors and trainers] definitely side on being more cautious more than anything,” said Flacco, who told reporters that he began feeling better shortly after being taken to the locker room last Thursday. “If this was high school, I probably would have sat on the bench and gathered [my thoughts] for a couple minutes, then went back out there and played defense, you know? 

“But it’s just one of these things that you have to trust their judgment.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles), tight end Nick Boyle (toe), defensive tackle Michael Pierce (illness), wide receivers Michael Campanaro (shoulder) and Chris Matthews (thigh), and running back Terrance West (calf) did not participate in Wednesday’s session. Boyle’s absence in particular does create concern since the Ravens enjoyed an extended break over the weekend after the Thursday win over the Dolphins.

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), starting offensive linemen Ryan Jensen (shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (shoulder), cornerback Lardarius Webb (concussion), and tight end Vince Mayle (concussion) were all participating on a limited basis while wearing red non-contact vests over their practice jerseys.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace (concussion), tight end Maxx Williams (ankle), and outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) all practiced fully after missing last week’s game. Maxx Williams has appeared in just one game since Sept. 17 while Tim Williams has missed each of the last three contests.

Running back Danny Woodhead (hamstring) was also on the field a day after being designated to return to practice from injured reserve. He is not eligible to be activated to play in a game until after next week’s bye.

Meanwhile, the Titans released a much shorter injury report with starting tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) being the most notable absence. Rookie first-round wide receiver Corey Davis (hamstring) was a full participant on Wednesday and is set to return after a five-game absence.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (toe), WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), WR Chris Matthews (thigh), DT Michael Pierce (illness), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), RB Terrance West (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Ryan Jensen (shoulder), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), TE Vince Mayle (concussion), OT Ronnie Stanley (shoulder), DB Lardarius Webb (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (concussion), WR Mike Wallace (concussion), TE Maxx Williams (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)

TENNESSEE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Quinton Spain (toe), TE Delanie Walker (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Jonathan Cyprien (hamstring), WR Corey Davis (hamstring)

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Ravens stand pat at deadline, welcome Woodhead back to practice

Posted on 31 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With one of the most memorable trade deadlines in NFL history coming and going Tuesday afternoon, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens elected to stand pat.

According to the NFLPA, Baltimore began the week with just $2.976 million in salary cap room, a reality that was going to make any possible trade for a veteran player by 4 p.m. a difficult proposition. The Ravens have restructured several contracts in recent months just to create the current cap space to get through the rest of the season, a product of already having 15 players on injured reserve.

Unlike most years when little more than a few nondescript trades are completed, several high-profile players around the league were dealt before Tuesday’s deadline, a list that included three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown (Houston to Seattle), wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina to Buffalo), Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi (Miami to Philadelphia), and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (New England to San Francisco). Some had speculated that T.Y Hilton of Indianapolis or Miami’s Jarvis Landry would be a good fit for the offense-deficient Ravens, but neither receiver was traded on Tuesday afternoon.

The Ravens did welcome running back Danny Woodhead back to the practice field for the first time since he re-injured his left hamstring in the season opener on Sept. 10. Woodhead becomes the second Baltimore player to be designated to return from injured reserve after cornerback Maurice Canady began practicing earlier this month. Canady is eligible to be elevated to the 53-man roster for Sunday’s game at Tennessee, but Woodhead would not be allowed to play until Week 11 against Green Bay at the earliest.

Newsome also made a change to the active roster Tuesday by cutting veteran wide receiver Griff Whalen and promoting offensive lineman Maurquice Shakir from the practice squad. Shakir gives Baltimore an eighth offensive lineman on the 53-man roster. The Ravens also signed offensive linemen Jason King and Steven Moore to their practice squad.

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Ravens backfield could become crowded in near future

Posted on 31 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As surprising running back Alex Collins continues to see a larger role in the offense, the Ravens could find themselves with a crowded backfield in the non-too-distant future.

Averaging a league-best 6.0 yards per carry and ranking ninth in the NFL in rushing despite being 24th in carries, Collins is staking a strong claim to be Baltimore’s feature back. What that might mean for the rest of a group that includes two players currently injured — Danny Woodhead and Terrance West — remains to be seen.

“Guys who are productive, they always get more opportunities,” said head coach John Harbaugh of Collins. “That’s what he’s doing, and he has made the most of his opportunities. He is going to continue to get more and more opportunities.”

Harbaugh said Monday that Woodhead could return to practice this week for the first time since re-injuring his left hamstring in the season opener on Sept. 10. The Ravens would surely welcome back his prowess as a receiver out of the backfield, but his eventual activation from injured reserve would give them five running backs on the 53-man roster.

Re-signed on Oct. 10, Bobby Rainey would likely be the odd man out, but he has served as the primary kick returner in recent weeks and had a 96-yard touchdown against Chicago in Week 6. Return specialist and wide receiver Michael Campanaro is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Buck Allen has done a respectable job filling Woodhead’s role since the season opener, but he is averaging 4.5 yards per reception and 3.6 yards per carry, underwhelming numbers for a back who’s touched the ball 131 times this season. Still, it would be unwise not to maintain an insurance policy on the roster for the oft-injured Woodhead, who has appeared in only 22 games over his last four seasons.

That brings us to Terrance West, who’s been sidelined since injuring his calf early in the Oct. 8 win at Oakland and should be returning sooner than later. Despite beginning the season as the starting running back, West has pretty clearly been unseated by Collins and was averaging only 3.5 yards per carry at the time of the injury. He also doesn’t play special teams, which wouldn’t help his cause to be active as a backup on game days.

These are factors the Ravens will have time to ponder, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh could be faced with a difficult choice — or two — soon after the bye week.

“It will have to be addressed whether we can hold on to five running backs or not — assuming Danny is healthy soon and he’s out there playing for us,” said Harbaugh, adding that it’s a good problem to have. “That’ll be a decision that will have to be made. That’ll be a roster-wide-type of decision. We’ll have to compare all of our options and try to keep the players that give us the best chance or make us the strongest team.”

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Flacco has “good chance” to play against Tennessee on Sunday

Posted on 30 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is not experiencing any concussion-related symptoms and has been at the team facility every day, head coach John Harbaugh said Monday.

That would appear to bode well for his availability Sunday against Tennessee after he sustained a concussion on a penalized hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso last Thursday. Baltimore will have its bye next week, but there are no plans to deliberately rest Flacco in Week 9 if he’s able to pass the NFL’s five-step concussion protocol in time to play.

“If he’s ready, he’s playing. He’ll play if he’s ready,” said Harbaugh, who added that it wouldn’t matter how much the 32-year-old would be able to practice during the week if he’s cleared by Sunday. “I think there’s a good chance he’ll play.

“As I’ve said before, I’m not a doctor, but I play one in press conferences. It’s my diagnosis.”

It remains unclear when Flacco will return to practice, but he’s expected to attend all football meetings when players reconvene Tuesday to begin preparations for the Titans. Upon reaching the fourth step of the recovery protocol, a concussed player may resume football activities including non-contact work during practices.

This is the first known concussion of Flacco’s career, but players can respond differently to blows to the head with varying timetables for recovery, leaving the Ravens in wait-and-see mode for the time being. The 10th-year quarterback also required stitches for a cut on his ear from his helmet flying off during the hit.

Backup Ryan Mallett relieved the injured Flacco late in the first half of the 40-0 win over the Dolphins, tossing a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson. He would start on Sunday if Flacco does not progress through the protocol as rapidly as the Ravens anticipate.

“We’re very hopeful for this week, and it’ll be in the hands of Joe and the doctors to decide what we can do,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll get him ready to play if he can play. That’s all you really can do.”

Flacco has missed only six games in his career, which all occurred when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2015. However, he was sidelined for the entire 2017 preseason due to a lower back injury suffered in July.

Despite presenting an encouraging report Monday, Harbaugh isn’t taking Flacco’s recovery and health for granted.

“I don’t want to minimize what went down with Joe,” Harbaugh said. “I thought that was a very vicious type of hit. He was definitely defenseless and couldn’t protect himself. Therefore, he got his ear sliced open and he got hit in the head. You never minimize that.

“He is an extremely tough person.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 40-0 win over Miami

Posted on 29 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning the third-largest margin of victory in franchise history and their second shutout of the season in a 40-0 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Will the real Ravens stand up? After close games were the theme of the last few seasons, all but two of eight contests have been decided by multiple scores and one of those came on a garbage-time touchdown in Minnesota on the game’s final play. It’s more volatility than mediocrity.

2. The Baltimore defense gave up a 21-yard run to Jay Ajayi on the second play of the game and surrendered 24 more yards on 18 carries the rest of the way. Dean Pees effectively used run blitzes, and players tackled better than they had in weeks. It was about time.

3. I’d be more willing to listen to the argument that Joe Flacco started his slide late if Kiko Alonso had shown any semblance of an effort to divert his path to the quarterback. The hit was reckless at best and malicious at worst.

4. Ryan Jensen earned quite a few fans after coming to the defense of his quarterback by immediately going after Alonso. I’m not big on retaliation in most instances, but an offensive lineman has to stick up for the most important player on the team after a hit like that.

5. You never want your quarterback sustaining a concussion, but you wonder if something like this galvanizes John Harbaugh’s team moving forward. The Ravens haven’t played with nearly the same edge in recent years as they used to, and being ticked off can be a good thing if properly channeled.

6. The secondary showed several looks, but my favorite was Marlon Humphrey entering the game as an outside corner in the nickel with Brandon Carr moving to the slot. The rookie first-rounder played 37 of 66 snaps and needs to remain heavily involved no matter the status of the veteran starters.

7. I had to smile seeing C.J. Mosley protect the ball with both arms as he crossed the goal line on his interception return. He wasn’t going to repeat what happened against Washington last year. You have to appreciate someone learning from a mistake.

8. Not that the offense was lighting it up before Flacco’s exit, but the previous two weeks showed how critical it is for Jeremy Maclin to be on the field for the passing game to even be functional. His 34-yard touchdown reception came on Flacco’s prettiest throw of the season.

9. Breshad Perriman didn’t have a catch despite playing 49 offensive snaps. He has four receptions on 19 targets — one more catch than Danny Woodhead — despite ranking fifth in snaps among all Ravens skill players. His dramatic regression from 2016 when he was at least a contributor is impossible to ignore.

10. Despite dealing with Achilles tendinitis, Jimmy Smith is playing his best football since at least the first half of the 2014 season and entered Sunday as Pro Football Focus’ seventh-highest graded cornerback. Even if you take away his two defensive touchdowns this season, he’s still been terrific.

11. The Dolphins have won 13 of their last 18 regular-season games, but that stretch includes two losses to the Ravens by a combined 78-6 margin. Talk about having a team’s number. Counting the playoffs, Baltimore is now 7-1 against Miami in the Harbaugh era.

12. Compared to other teams’ editions of “Color Rush” uniforms, the all-purple look is relatively easy on the eyes. I’d even be curious to see how the purple pants look with the white and black jerseys.

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Ravens finally unleash best playmaker against Miami

Posted on 27 October 2017 by Luke Jones

From the very first time he carried the ball for 16 yards against Cleveland in Week 2, Alex Collins rapidly began showing he was the best running back on the Ravens roster.

Using quick, choppy steps to cut — thanks in large part to Irish dance — and displaying physicality exceeding his 210-pound frame, Collins has run with urgency and anger from the moment he arrived in Owings Mills less than two months ago. And despite concerns about ball security and his ability to pass block, the Arkansas product was making it increasingly difficult for a struggling Ravens offense to keep him off the field as he averaged no worse than 4.6 yards per carry in any of his first five games.

He was finally unleashed Thursday night to the tune of 113 yards on 18 carries — both career highs — in the 40-0 demolition of the Miami Dolphins, who entered Week 8 sporting the NFL’s fifth-ranked run defense. Collins was responsible for five of the Ravens’ seven longest plays of the night that weren’t aided by a penalty, a continuing trend for an offense in need of more explosiveness. According to Pro Football Focus, nearly half of his yards came after first contact, showing off his impressive ability to collect yards even when the blocking isn’t there.

“He’s a vicious runner. That’s how I describe him,” center Ryan Jensen said. “He’s elusive, but he’ll hit it downhill and run some guys over and break tackles.”

Collins currently leads the NFL at 6.0 yards per carry and enters the weekend seventh in rushing yards (478) despite ranking only 23rd in attempts (80). His 10 runs of 15 or more yards are tied for the league lead with Kansas City’s rookie sensation Kareem Hunt, who’s had 44 more carries. Collins has been the optimal fit for Greg Roman’s new blocking schemes as the other Baltimore running backs have combined for only 20 more rushing yards on 59 more carries.

No one could have predicted such a breakout for Collins after he was waived by Seattle at the end of the preseason. Going unclaimed by the Ravens and 30 other NFL teams, the 2016 fifth-round pick from Arkansas was signed to the Baltimore practice squad days before the season opener. A week later when Danny Woodhead was placed on injured reserve, the Ravens even promoted practice-squad running back Jeremy Langford ahead of Collins before ultimately bringing up the latter to the 53-man roster two days later.

In other words, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh didn’t exactly proceed as though they knew exactly what they had on their hands after the Seahawks decided to let Collins go at the end of an underwhelming summer. But in a season in which the offense has been nothing short of disastrous for significant stretches, Collins is quickly emerging as the closest thing to a playmaker for the Ravens.

Fumbles were a concern early as he coughed up the ball twice in his first 21 carries of the season, but he’s since had 61 touches without putting it on the ground, the product of a heavy emphasis on ball security with running backs coach Thomas Hammock during practices. His confidence in that department appears to be  growing along with the number of carries.

“I just give a lot of credit to the staff and the head coach and everybody for giving me that opportunity coming in and trusting and believing in me,” said Collins, who was awarded a game ball for the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career. “I had a few mishaps earlier in the season and just sticking with me. It’s a great feeling.

“I feel the family atmosphere. Everybody’s got your back, and I love it here.”

Making Collins’ performance more impressive is the fact that he’s received 82 touches on only 121 offensive snaps, meaning opposing defenses should be on alert by now to expect him to get the ball when he enters the game. That makes it all the more important for him to improve in pass protection and as a receiver out of the backfield to make the offense less predictable in the coming weeks. He made his first two receptions of the season for 30 yards to add to his impressive Thursday performance.

With quarterback Joe Flacco’s status for Week 9 up in the air and the passing game ranking last in the NFL, Collins is looking more and more like a key to the Ravens being able to make a meaningful playoff run in the second half of the season. Questions about how he’ll hold up are fair since many feature backs in the league exceed his listed weight by 15 or 20 pounds. As is the case with any player seemingly coming out of nowhere, the 23-year-old will need to sustain success, but he’s certainly come along at the opportune time for an offense desperately in need of a jolt.

He provided that and then some in a much-needed win for the Ravens over Miami.

“Just keep working and keep trying to improve,” Collins said. “This was the first 100-yard game, but I guarantee you I’ll go back and watch film [and see] there’s a few plays that I’m wishing I would have [done] something different. That’s definitely the main focus — celebrating the win, but moving forward quickly.”

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 26 October 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With their season rapidly moving in the wrong direction, the Ravens will attempt to get back on track in prime time as they welcome Miami to M&T Bank Stadium.

Baltimore has won eight straight night games at home, but the Ravens are trying to avoid their first three-game home losing streak since 2007, which was Brian Billick’s final season as head coach. Of course, they’ll hope for a result against the Dolphins similar to last year when they demolished Adam Gase’s eventual playoff squad in a 38-6 final.

After playing most of last week’s game without their top three receivers, Joe Flacco and the Ravens will welcome Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Breshad Perriman (concussion) back to the field for Week 8. Maclin had missed the last two games with a shoulder injury while Perriman was sidelined for one game with a concussion.

Speedy wideout Mike Wallace will not play, however, after sustaining a concussion in Minnesota last Sunday. This marks only the second game Wallace has missed in his nine-year NFL career. Wide receivers Michael Campanaro (shoulder) and Chris Matthews (thigh) are also inactive after being listed as doubtful on the final injury report, leaving the Ravens with four active receivers for Thursday.

Despite missing two days of practice this week with a knee issue, tight end Benjamin Watson is active and will play. The newly-signed Gavin Escobar is also active, giving the Ravens four tight ends available to play against Miami.

The offensive line will receive a boost with the return of right guard Matt Skura, who had missed the last two games with a knee injury. He is expected to start with rookie Jermaine Eluemunor moving back to a reserve role.

Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi is the only healthy scratch among Baltimore’s seven inactives for Week 8.

The Dolphins deactivated wide receiver DeVante Parker, who is missing his third straight game with an ankle injury. His absence will allow the Baltimore secondary to devote more focus to star receiver Jarvis Landry.

Miami left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) is active and will start while left guard Anthony Steen (foot) is out.

Thursday’s referee is John Parry.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday forecast in Baltimore calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid-50s at kickoff with calm winds up to five miles per hour.

The Ravens are wearing their “color rush” uniforms, which consist of purple jerseys with gold numbering as well as purple pants and purple socks. Miami is donning all-white uniforms for the nationally-televised game.

Thursday marks the fifth straight year the Ravens and Dolphins have met in the regular season with the all-time regular-season series tied at 6-6 and Baltimore having won the only two playoff encounters between these teams. Including the postseason, the Ravens are 6-1 against Miami in the John Harbaugh era.

Below are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Mike Wallace
DE Bronson Kaufusi
WR Michael Campanaro
WR Chris Matthews
LB Tim Williams
TE Maxx Williams
RB Terrance West

MIAMI
WR DeVante Parker
QB Jay Cutler
S Maurice Smith
LB Stephone Anthony
DE Andre Branch
G Anthony Steen
G Isaac Asiata

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