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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-9 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 03 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their first home defeat to Pittsburgh since 2012 in a 26-7 loss, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. From being shut out in the first half and Mike Wallace’s drop of a possible touchdown to the poor offensive line play and the all-too-slow tempo of the no-huddle attack in the fourth quarter, this Ravens offense is broken. And it’s tough to trust Marty Mornhinweg to fix it.

2. Even acknowledging the injuries and the poor offense, Dean Pees’ defense ranks 14th in points allowed per game, 21st in total yards per game, 16th in passing yards per game, and 20th in yards per carry allowed. That’s not nearly good enough considering the many resources used on this defense.

3. The running game has been the offense’s only redeeming quality, but 73 of the 82 rushing yards came on two plays while the other 13 carries produced a total of nine yards. It’s difficult staying on schedule without gaining at least a few yards each on those other plays.

4. Those wondering if the Ravens were wise to spend so much to re-sign Brandon Williams have seen a defensive line lacking a consistent push. Even in those short-yardage situations where the Ravens front appeared to make a stop, the Steelers were still able to get enough to move the chains.

5. It’s difficult to recall too many games when Ravens outside linebackers were so abysmal against the run. Pittsburgh gained most of its big yards on outside runs while Baltimore consistently failed to set the edge.

6. Alex Collins has lost two fumbles on just 25 carries, but the Ravens have no choice right now but to give him opportunities when he’s been their best offensive playmaker. He clearly needs to protect the football, but the risk-reward ratio remains in his favor — for now.

7. Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward might as well have changed his address to the Ravens backfield on Sunday. He absolutely dominated an undermanned and inexperienced offensive line.

8. John Harbaugh has received plenty of fair criticism for his use of challenges over the years, but give him credit for being on top of the Eric Weddle interception that followed a non-catch from Antonio Brown. If only the whistle hadn’t blown before an easy return for a touchdown.

9. Marlon Humphrey was immediately challenged upon entering the game and ran right with Brown on a long incompletion in the second quarter. I’m surprised that he’s mostly subbed in for Jimmy Smith, but the rookie continues to make a strong argument for a starting role opposite Smith.

10. He had a rough game against Jacksonville, but I didn’t quite get Tyus Bowser playing only eight defensive snaps against the Steelers. It’s not as though the other young outside linebackers have established themselves as consistent options and he was very good against Cleveland in Week 2.

11. I couldn’t help but think Harbaugh’s expressed frustration over Jaylen Hill’s slow-healing hamstring injury Monday had something to do with the struggles of Lardarius Webb at the nickel spot. There’s certainly a role for Webb in this defense, but he’s being exposed in pass coverage.

12. The poor throw from high-priced quarterback Joe Flacco and the inability of former first-round receiver Breshad Perriman to corral it in the third quarter epitomized how inept this offense has been. Even when the Ravens had a golden opportunity for a touchdown, they wasted it.

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Even with injuries, Ravens brass deserves blame for offensive mess

Posted on 02 October 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There’s much blame to go around for this absolute mess of a Ravens offense.

Those pointing to injuries, the current state of the offensive line, quarterback Joe Flacco’s poor play, and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s play-calling are all correct to some degree or another. But the buck really needs to stop with the Ravens brass.

While many gushed over a defense-focused offseason and were waxing nostalgic about recreating the 2000 Ravens, others waited for significant work to be done to a below-average offense in 2016 that lost four starters to free agency or retirement. Instead of making significant improvements to that side of the ball, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh seemingly settled for a ceiling of mediocrity, and that was long before the injuries that have put this offense in full-blown crisis mode before Columbus Day.

The offseason began with Harbaugh’s decision to retain Mornhinweg as coordinator despite the offense showing no meaningful improvement from the time he took over for the fired Marc Trestman last October. Harbaugh did hire Greg Roman to reboot the running game — a move that has produced positive results through four games — but one of the prevailing themes of the season-ending press conference in January was the need to get more out of Flacco, whose play had regressed in the two seasons since the departure of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison. Those two were sticklers about Flacco’s footwork and fundamentals and helped guide the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player to arguably his best regular season in 2014.

The hiring of a new quarterbacks coach at the very least was a no-brainer, but Mornhinweg also retained that role after serving in that capacity over Flacco’s last two lackluster campaigns. Instead of seizing the chance to bring in a new mind and a different pair of eyes, the Ravens maintained the status quo in the coaching department for their high-priced quarterback.

What about improving the offensive personnel that has been lacking playmakers and consistent offensive line play for years?

Newsome’s free-agent splash in March consisted of giving sizable contracts to defensive tackle Brandon Williams and free-agent defensive backs Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr. Meanwhile, the only offensive addition in the first, second, and third waves of free agency was the oft-injured 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead, who had missed 27 games the previous three seasons and — to no surprise — would suffer a long-term hamstring injury in the season opener.

Surely the Ravens would address their offense with four Day 1 and Day 2 picks in April’s draft then, right? Newsome selected four defensive players with those choices before finally taking a pair of developmental offensive linemen on the final day. The plan going into spring workouts would be to replace above-average right tackle Rick Wagner and three-year starting center Jeremy Zuttah with in-house options, players who hadn’t previously been good enough to crack the lineup of an already-shaky offensive line.

To be fair, Baltimore did eventually sign veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in mid-June after he was cut by Kansas City and inked veteran right tackle Austin Howard in early August. But did these moves really represent a significant net gain compared to the retired Steve Smith and Wagner on an offense that was barely functional a year ago?

Was the goal to merely be as good as last year’s unit that ranked 17th in total yards and 21st in points per game?

To be clear, there’s no diminishing the absence of six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, and the loss of promising left guard Alex Lewis was another tough blow. The Ravens also hoped that running back Kenneth Dixon would take a major step forward in his second season, but a four-game suspension had already stunted that optimism before he sustained a season-ending knee injury in July.

The many injuries they’ve endured do tell a large part of the story, but the offense was constructed to be no better than average based on the way the Ravens used their cap dollars and draft picks and made their coaching decisions this offseason. That ceiling is too low when planning for at least a few inevitable injuries over the course of a season.

Perhaps the current state of affairs wouldn’t be as frustrating if the Ravens wouldn’t continue to neglect their offense on an annual basis, a pattern that began with the decision to trade away wide receiver Anquan Boldin weeks after the Super Bowl in 2013 and has continued with the selection of just four offensive players with their 17 combined Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks since then. It’s one thing to point to Flacco’s huge contract as justification not to spend as much free-agent money on the offense, but Newsome’s drafting reinforces the lack of interest in putting better talent around the quarterback.

Instead, the Ravens continue to expect him to do more with less than he had in that historic 2012 postseason and wonder why they’ve only been back to the playoffs once since then.

Flacco has obvious flaws and is what he is in his 10th season, but the Ravens keep beating their heads against a brick wall trying to do the bare minimum with their offense and expecting a different result. You get what you pay for, and that isn’t very much with mediocre talent and an uninspiring offensive coordinator.

Making matters worse, the use of all those resources on defense in recent years has yet to net a special group on that side of the ball.

Yes, you can continue to blame the offensive woes all on the injuries and keep beating up a quarterback who certainly needs to take his share of the responsibility for his poor performance, but offseason decisions stunted this offense’s ceiling before the injuries began over the summer. The truth is the focus should have been on that side of the ball from the start while looking to tweak a defense that finished in the top 10 in most major categories a year ago.

Sadly, what we’re now witnessing isn’t all that surprising.

And it’s difficult imagining this broken offense being fixed in the near future.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 01 October 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It’s been 1,763 days since Pittsburgh beat the Ravens in Baltimore.

Add two more years for the last time longtime Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was at the helm for a win at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens hope to continue their home dominance over the Steelers Sunday while trying to move past the embarrassment of last week’s debacle in London. The 37-point loss to Jacksonville tied the franchise record for largest margin of defeat, but Pittsburgh is coming off its own ugly performance in an overtime loss at lowly Chicago last Sunday.

Injuries continue to take their toll on the Ravens as starting defensive end Brent Urban was lost for the season last week with a foot injury while defensive tackle Brandon Williams was ruled out for the second straight week with a foot injury sustained in Week 2. Those absences will put much pressure on a young defensive line lacking experience.

Second-year defensive end and 2016 third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi is active for the first time in his NFL career and figures to be a part of the game-day rotation. During pre-game warmups, he was lining up at the starting 5-technique defensive end spot while Carl Davis was at the 3-technique defensive tackle position in place of Williams.

After returning to practice as a full participant on Friday, veteran tight end Benjamin Watson (calf) is indeed active for Sunday’s game after successfully going through a morning workout at the stadium.

Second-year wide receiver Chris Moore is a healthy scratch as running back Alex Collins has recently assumed the kick return duties. Recently-signed veteran linebacker Jonathan Freeny is active and expected to fill an expanded role on special-teams units.

Meanwhile, the Steelers have three notable inactives as starting safety Mike Mitchell (hamstring), starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), and outside linebacker James Harrison (illness) will not play. All three were listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week, but it’s worth noting that Harrison’s role has diminished substantially due to the emergence of rookie T.J. Watt.

J.J. Wilcox is expected to start in place of Mitchell while Chris Hubbard will play right tackle for Pittsburgh.

Sunday’s referee is Walt Anderson.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies and temperatures reaching the high 60s with calm winds around four miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their alternate black jerseys with black pants while Pittsburgh dons white tops with gold pants.

Sunday marks the 43rd all-time meeting between these AFC North rivals in the regular season with the Steelers enjoying a slight 22-20 advantage. However, the Ravens have won six of the last eight overall meetings — including a road victory in the 2014 postseason — and own a 12-9 all-time record in Baltimore.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
DT Brandon Williams
TE Maxx Williams
CB Jaylen Hill
WR Chris Moore
OL Tony Bergstrom
OL Dieugot Joseph
DE Chris Wormley

PITTSBURGH
QB Joshua Dobbs
WR Eli Rogers
S Mike Mitchell
OT Jerald Hawkins
OT Marcus Gilbert
LB James Harrison
DT Daniel McCullers

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 30 September 2017 by Luke Jones

Coming off one of the worst losses in team history and remembering what happened last Christmas Day, the Ravens should have no shortage of motivation against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

But it’s difficult knowing what to expect after such a shockingly poor performance in London and with the injuries continuing to mount. A Week 4 tilt is hardly a must-win game, but the Ravens surely would like to hold serve at home and escape the next two games with no worse than a 3-2 record going into the middle portion of the regular season.

The Steelers are coming off a disappointing loss of their own as their high-octane offense has been largely stuck in neutral through the first three weeks of the season. However, Pittsburgh does find itself in better shape than the Ravens from a health standpoint, a key factor in what’s always a very physical ballgame.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North foes meet for the 43rd time in the regular season with the Steelers holding a slight 22-20 edge as well as a 3-1 advantage in postseason encounters. Pittsburgh prevailed in dramatic fashion to clinch the division title last Dec. 25, but the Ravens have won six of the last eight meetings, a stretch that includes their only postseason victory since Super Bowl XLVII. Including the playoffs, 16 of the 21 showdowns with the Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by a single possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will lead the Ravens in rushing and will score his first touchdown. I’m not sure how real his 7.8 yards per attempt average is since he’s rarely carried the ball with a game’s outcome in doubt, but this sputtering offense is in desperate need of a spark and there’s no denying the urgency with which Collins has run. The Ravens have averaged 4.6 yards per carry since Marshal Yanda’s season-ending injury in Week 2, but most of that has come with a multi-score second-half lead over Cleveland and a huge deficit against Jacksonville and the Steelers are getting healthy with defensive end Stephon Tuitt returning. If the Baltimore passing game can’t get going again, Pittsburgh is likely to stack the box.

2. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell will crack 100 yards of offense for the first time this season. It’s been a slow start to 2017 for the Steelers’ Pro Bowl running back, but the Ravens will be without standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams and defensive end Brent Urban, putting pressure on young linemen lacking experience against a rock-solid Pittsburgh offensive line. Baltimore linebackers were undisciplined in pass coverage against Jacksonville, which is another reason for concern with Bell’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield. The Ravens may need to take some chances with their linebackers to boost their pass rush, but that will leave them vulnerable on underneath throws.

3. Terrell Suggs will break a six-game drought against the Steelers with a sack against Ben Roethlisberger. No defender has more career takedowns of the Pittsburgh quarterback than Suggs, but the Ravens’ pass rush was nonexistent against Jacksonville while trying to rely mostly on a four-man rush. Not only do they need another edge rusher to consistently emerge opposite Suggs, but the inside pass rush is a big question mark since Urban was a major part of that equation. It isn’t enough to merely make Roethlisberger uncomfortable as Baltimore also needs to keep him in the pocket to prevent the downfield improvisation with his receivers that so often gets a secondary in trouble.

4. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will catch a touchdown despite being held to a season low for yards. The pain of last December’s game-winning score notwithstanding, the Ravens have generally done a respectable job against Brown while rarely having top cornerback Jimmy Smith travel with the All-Pro receiver. It will be interesting to see how much rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey plays — especially with 6-foot-5 receiver Martavis Bryant back in the fold — but the Ravens are better equipped to handle the Pittsburgh passing game than they were in the fourth-quarter collapse in Week 16 last year. Brown will inevitably get touches, but he won’t be the difference in the game.

5. The Pittsburgh defense will be too much for the Ravens in a 17-14 loss. This will be a close one as it almost always is in this rivalry. I fully expect the Baltimore defense to rebound from last week’s embarrassment and play well despite being banged up on the defensive line, but it’s difficult having faith in the Ravens to score points considering the current state of the offensive line and how uncomfortable Joe Flacco has looked trying to throw the football down the field. They’re also facing a Steelers defense that’s improved from recent years despite its clear issues against the run in Chicago. Roethlisberger hasn’t won a game at M&T Bank Stadium since 2010 and the Steelers haven’t won in Baltimore since Charlie Batch pulled off an upset in 2012, but the Ravens are the inferior team on paper because of their many injuries and haven’t shown enough on offense to make me believe they’re going to win this one.

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Ravens defensive tackle Williams to miss second straight game

Posted on 29 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will be without their best defensive lineman for the second straight week as Brandon Williams was officially ruled out for Sunday’s contest with Pittsburgh.

Williams did not practice all week and hasn’t played since injuring his foot in the Week 2 win over Cleveland. Head coach John Harbaugh reiterated Friday that the fifth-year defensive standout is making progress, but his return isn’t considered imminent.

“He’s got a lower leg issue that he’s dealing with,” Harbaugh said. “I think when you see him practicing, you’ll know that he’s either close to getting back or back. That’s kind of where it’s at right now. Like I said, it’s not going to be half the season or anything like that. It’s a matter of weeks from when he got hurt [on Sept. 17], and I’ll have my fingers crossed in the upcoming week or two and hope that he’ll be back.”

Williams’ absence is even more concerning after defensive end Brent Urban suffered a season-ending foot injury in last week’s loss to Jacksonville. With two starters on the defensive line now missing against the Steelers, the Ravens must rely on less-experienced options such as Carl Davis, Willie Henry, and Bronson Kaufusi to help contain Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell and a Pittsburgh running game off to a slow start in 2017.

Veteran tight end Benjamin Watson (calf) was listed as questionable on the final injury report after returning to practice as a full participant on Friday. He is expected to play without any setback between now and Sunday.

Baltimore ruled out cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring) and tight end Maxx Williams (ankle).

The Steelers listed four starters as questionable, a list that included two offensive linemen and both starting safeties. However, all of them practiced on at least a limited basis Friday.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies with temperatures reaching the low 70s and winds up to six miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report for the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Benjamin Watson (calf)

PITTSBURGH
QUESTIONABLE: S Sean Davis (ankle), G Ramon Foster (thumb), OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), LB James Harrison (illness), S Mike Mitchell (hamstring)

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Ravens defense aiming to regroup without waking sleeping giant

Posted on 29 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Terrell Suggs and other veterans on the Ravens defense vow it won’t happen again.

After forcing a whopping 10 turnovers and allowing a total of 10 points in the first two games of the season, the Baltimore defense collapsed in London in an embarrassing 44-7 defeat. An inept offensive performance that included three turnovers certainly didn’t help, but the 44 points were the most allowed by the Ravens since the 2013 season opener in Denver.

No matter the explanation, the defense fell painfully short of the expectations set for the 2017 campaign after general manager Ozzie Newsome used extensive resources on that side of the ball this offseason.

“There has been a standard in this locker room and with this team and these colors,” Suggs said. “You definitely won’t see a performance like that [again].”

The feelings from that type of loss can linger, making it critical for players to regroup to focus on Sunday’s AFC North showdown with Pittsburgh. There’s also the reality of readjusting from the five-hour time change in London, leading some to believe the Ravens are essentially playing on a short week while the Steelers made only a short trip to Chicago last Sunday.

As ugly as the loss to Jacksonville was, the Ravens know a strong defensive performance and a win over their biggest rival would wipe away any lingering disappointment. The Steelers didn’t exactly fare well against the Bears, who ran for 222 yards against them in an overtime win. The optics may have been brutal, but the Ravens lost only the opportunity to move ahead of Pittsburgh in the AFC North standings when the emotions began to calm.

And if you’re even looking for some historical perspective, the vaunted 2000 Baltimore defense gave up 36 points to the Jaguars — at home, no less — in Week 2 while the 2012 Ravens were throttled by Houston in a 43-13 loss in Week 7. Both of those teams would go on to win the Super Bowl that season, reminding that even the best teams can have nightmare performances.

“A lot of guys were just distraught after the game — which you love to see,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Everyone deals with losses differently. Some guys, they are who they are. Some guys don’t want to talk; some guys are mad and mad for days. That’s good, but you also have to understand that it’s one game.

“We win and lose together. It’s never one guy that makes you lose.”

The defense knows there is work to be done, however, especially after losing defensive end Brent Urban for the season due to a foot injury. Standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams will also miss his second straight game with a foot ailment, putting further strain on a young defensive line lacking experience.

Missed tackles, a lack of pressure on Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, and poor linebacker play were evident at Wembley Stadium, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees insisted Thursday there were fewer assignment mistakes against Jacksonville than in the first two games of the season. That’s difficult to fathom when a defense gives up over 400 yards of offense and five touchdowns, but it lends credence to the belief that the Ravens were flat because of the time change, the emotions stemming from President Donald Trump’s harsh comments about protesting NFL players last weekend, or both.

Whatever the reason, the Ravens were sleepwalking and failed to force a single turnover after coming away with five each against Cincinnati and Cleveland.

“We did not disappear on third down, we did not disappear in the running game, and it kind of offends me that that comment was made,” Pees said. “What we did disappear in is the intensity. It was the difference in that game and the other two games — turnovers. When you play intense and you are really flying around 100 miles per hour, you create turnovers. We didn’t create turnovers. We did not create those kinds of opportunities that we created in the other two games.”

On Sunday, there should be no excuse for the intensity to be lacking with the Steelers coming to M&T Bank Stadium, a place where they haven’t won since 2012. The Ravens will even be wearing their alternate black jerseys, a popular look with both players and fans.

But there’s a sleeping giant looming if the Ravens aren’t ready. Despite possessing some of the best skill-position talent in the NFL as well as a well-regarded offensive line, the Steelers have struggled offensively, ranking just 22nd in total offense and tied for 16th in points per game. After holding out during the preseason, Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry so far and has yet to accumulate 100 yards of offense in any of his first three games.

The lone bright spot of the offense has been All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who has twice as many receptions (26) as Baltimore wide receivers combined (13). The memory of him stretching across the goal line to eliminate the Ravens from postseason contention last Christmas Day should provide more than enough motivation to want to keep him in check, but that’s still easier said than done.

Longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has accepted the blame this week, saying Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles can be traced back to his own play. That’s an admirable stance from a team leader, but it’s one the Ravens aren’t buying for a minute.

“He is setting us up. Tell Ben I am on to his tricks,” said Suggs, who has sacked Roethlisberger more times than any other player. “I know what he is doing. I am not going to let him fool me with trickery and Jedi mind tricks.”

After enduring one of the worst losses in franchise history last week, the Ravens better have their minds right if they want to make good on their promise and keep the giant snoozing for another week.

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B. Williams, Watson remain sidelined during Thursday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 28 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are hurting at the tight end position just a few days ahead of their Week 4 meeting with Pittsburgh.

Benjamin Watson, Baltimore’s leading receiver through the first three games of the season, remained sidelined with a calf injury during Thursday’s workout. He caught the Ravens’ lone touchdown late in the fourth quarter of the 44-7 loss to Jacksonville in London and did speak with reporters on Wednesday, but he has yet to practice this week.

Fellow tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) is also sidelined and appears likely to miss his second straight game.

As was the case Wednesday, starting defensive tackle Brandon Williams (foot) was on the field during the portion of practice open to media, but he did not participate, creating more doubt about his status for this week. He would likely need to practice on at least a limited basis Friday to have a chance to play against the Steelers. Williams did not play in Week 3.

Rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill (thigh) remained absent and is expected to miss his third straight regular-season game after hurting his hamstring days before the end of the preseason last month.

The Steelers were still without two offensive starters on Thursday as wide receiver Martavis Bryant (illness) and left guard Ramon Foster (thumb) did not take part.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), TE Benjamin Watson (calf), DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Martavis Bryant (illness), G Ramon Foster (thumb)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Sean Davis (ankle), LB Bud Dupree (shouler), OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), TE Jesse James (shoulder), S Michael Mitchell (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Le’Veon Bell (non-injury), QB Ben Roethlisberger (non-injury), DE Stephon Tuitt (biceps), LB T.J. Watt (groin)

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Ravens breaking out black jerseys for Pittsburgh game

Posted on 28 September 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will try to give themselves an extra boost in bouncing back from one of the worst losses in franchise history by breaking out their popular black jerseys for Sunday’s showdown with Pittsburgh.

This marks the fourth time in six years that Baltimore will wear its alternate top against its AFC North rival. Dating back to 2004, the Ravens own a 16-6 all-time record wearing the black jerseys, which includes wins last season against Cincinnati in Week 12 and Philadelphia in Week 15.

Teams are allowed to wear alternate or throwback jerseys for two regular-season games per season, but that does not include the “Color Rush” uniforms introduced for Thursday night contests over the last couple seasons. Last year, the Ravens wore all-purple uniforms for the first time in team history in a win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 10.

The Steelers have not won a game at M&T Bank Stadium since 2012.

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Flacco defends Ravens offense despite awful Week 3 performance

Posted on 28 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco made no excuses for the Ravens offense’s performance in the 44-7 loss to Jacksonville this past Sunday.

The 10th-year quarterback threw for a career-worst 28 yards in easinly one of the worst game of his career. Jaguars signal-caller Blake Bortles threw for more yards on his first attempt of the game, illustrating just how impotent the Baltimore offense was in London.

But Flacco doesn’t think that poor showing should skew the narrative about the Baltimore offense so far in 2017. The group may rank dead last in the NFL in total yards per game and passing offense through the first three weeks of the season, but Flacco says those numbers don’t paint an accurate picture.

“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves when we all of a sudden say we haven’t played well for three weeks,” Flacco said. “We played terribly last week. There is no way around that, but the other two weeks, we did what we had to do to win football games. I don’t think that is anything that we can hang our heads over.”

Flacco has a point — at least to some degree. In the season opener, the defense forced five turnovers to make it easy for the offense as the Ravens ran 42 times for 157 yards to protect a big second-half lead at Cincinnati. Baltimore again benefited from five takeaways in Week 2, but the offense did produce 21 first-half points before playing ball control in the second half. The ground game hasn’t been spectacular, but it’s averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry to rank 11th in the NFL.

It’s an acceptable formula if you remain on a historic pace for creating turnovers, but therein lies the problem. What happens when the Ravens defense doesn’t play at an unbelievable level?

Our first glimpse at that reality certainly wasn’t pretty as the offense showed no ability to help out the other side of the ball. When Flacco’s best defense is that the offense did what they needed to do in the first two games of the season, how does anyone really know what to expect when the Ravens start playing tougher competition such as Pittsburgh and Oakland the next two weeks?

The problems on offense are plentiful, but the state of the offensive line is far and away the biggest issue, greatly impacting other phases of the unit in the process. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is now the only holdover from last year’s starting offensive line, and even he hasn’t played at a high level so far in 2017 with Pro Football Focus ranking him 38th among all offensive tackles. Head coach John Harbaugh did express satisfaction with the combination of Matt Skura and Jermaine Eluemunor in Sunday’s loss, but the fact that the Ravens have already used three different players in place of injured six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda doesn’t speak well for their confidence level.

There just isn’t a lot of upside or reason for optimism with the group.

“I wasn’t at all displeased with the way the two right guards played,” said Harbaugh of Skura and Eluemunor. “But across the board, we had an issue here, an issue there that ended up hurting us against a defense that played really well, and it snowballed on us.”

The line is the biggest reason for concern, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other problems. Flacco continues to check down and throw short passes at an alarming rate, even on the occasions when there isn’t pressure in the pocket. His 5.3 yards per attempt rank last in the NFL and will not quell concerns about the health of his back as he’s already thrown four interceptions in just 69 attempts.

Perhaps more appalling than anything has been the disappearance of the wide receivers, who have caught a total of 13 passes. Thirty-five players in the league currently have more receptions while Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman have caught only four passes for 26 yards between them. The trio of Jeremy Maclin, Wallace, and Perriman should be a relative strength of the offense, but you’d never know it when watching the Ravens operate so far in September.

Flacco again pointed to game situations to defend the poor numbers, but he acknowledged the need for improvement moving forward.

“If you don’t get everybody involved and get those guys’ confidence going and level of play really going, you have no shot,” Flacco said. “Football is a team game, and it is about getting everybody going and everybody involved. The more that we can do that, the better it is going to suit us.”

Sunday’s game will provide an interesting test. The Ravens return home to M&T Bank Stadium where Pittsburgh hasn’t won since 2012, but the Steelers currently rank second in total defense and pass defense and third in the NFL in points per game allowed.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense are off to a slow start in September, but they have too much talent to expect them to be down for long. The Ravens offense is going to have to show it can pick up the slack, but we have no idea if the group is capable without an otherworldly performance by the defense.

Last Sunday’s test was a colossal failure, but the Ravens want to prove that was an aberration.

“We built our team to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are coming to our house this week, and we have a good football team,” Flacco said. “We have to continue to believe that and continue to go out there and do what we have been doing and do it a little better.”

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Brandon Williams appears at Ravens practice, but remains out

Posted on 27 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams appears to be moving closer to his return, but whether that comes against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday remains to be seen.

Despite being on the field and in uniform during the portion of Wednesday’s practice open to media, Williams was listed as a non-participant as he continues to recover from a foot injury sustained in Week 2. The fifth-year defensive lineman missed his first game since his rookie season in Sunday’s lopsided 44-7 loss to Jacksonville.

The Ravens were also without two tight ends during the practice session as veteran Benjamin Watson (calf) was a new addition to the injury report. Third-year tight end Maxx Williams remains out with an ankle injury suffered in the Sept. 17 win over Cleveland. With those two currently sidelined, tight end Ryan Malleck was re-signed to the practice squad on Wednesday.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed that defensive end Brent Urban would miss the remainder of the season with a Lisfranc injury in his foot. Urban was officially placed on injured reserve Wednesday afternoon, creating the need for the likes of Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley to emerge in his place.

To take Urban’s place on the 53-man roster. Freeny, a sixth-year veteran, was most recently with New England and has appeared in 62 career games in his NFL career.

Meanwhile, the Steelers held six players out of their Wednesday practice, a list that included wide receiver Martavis Bryant (illness) and former Maryland defensive back Sean Davis (ankle). Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell were both given the day off.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), TE Benjamin Watson (calf), DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Le’Veon Bell (non-injury), WR Martavis Bryant (illness), S Sean Davis (ankle), G Ramon Foster (thumb), S Michael Mitchell (hamstring), QB Ben Roethlisberger (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Bud Dupree (shouler), TE Jesse James (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), DE Stephon Tuitt (biceps), LB T.J. Watt (groin)

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