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Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Saturday

Posted on 22 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have no need for an out-of-town scoreboard for Christmas.

Two wins will punch their ticket to the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season. Those two contests come against opponents with a combined one win since Thanksgiving, leaving no need for John Harbaugh’s team to pay attention to what other teams are doing this weekend.

Indianapolis comes to town Saturday riding a five-game losing streak and is winding down a lost season without injured franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. The Colts’ struggles are likely to cost former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano his job after six years as head coach.

Of course, Baltimore has dealt with its own trials this season with 14 players on injured reserve, many of those coming on the offensive side of the ball. However, a post-bye surge has many viewing the Ravens as an intriguing threat come January.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to win for the fifth time in six games and improve their all-time regular-season mark against Indianapolis to 4-8. Including the postseason, Baltimore is 4-4 against the Colts at M&T Bank Stadium with the last meeting coming in the 2012 playoffs, a 24-9 victory in Ray Lewis’ final game in front of the home crowd.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. Joe Flacco will continue his late-season surge with two touchdown passes. There are many reasons why the Ravens have averaged 36.3 points per game over the last three weeks, but the improved play of the quarterback is the biggest as Flacco has thrown five touchdowns and one interception with a 94.5 passer rating during that time. Making that more impressive has been those performances coinciding with Jeremy Maclin mostly being a non-factor. With Maclin not expected to play, look for Flacco to try to go to tight end Benjamin Watson over the middle with Mike Wallace continuing to make plays on the outside against the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense. Each will have a touchdown reception.

2. The Baltimore defense will sack Indianapolis quarterback Jacoby Brissett five times. The second-year signal-caller has been intercepted just seven times all year, but that’s come at a price with Indianapolis surrendering a league-high 53 sacks, often a result of Brissett holding the ball too long. Making matters worse, the Colts just placed starting center Ryan Kelly on injured reserve and have ruled out starting right tackle Denzelle Good for Saturday’s game. Terrell Suggs will have the toughest matchup going up against above-average left tackle Anthony Castonzo, but Dean Pees shouldn’t hesitate to bring A-gap blitzes inside and various pressures against a shuffled right side of the Colts line.

3. Jack Doyle will catch the lone touchdown of the day for the Colts. Ravens linebackers and safeties rebounded nicely last week from their poor showing against Pittsburgh’s tight ends, but that position has still been a problem at various times and Doyle leads Indianapolis in receptions with 71. The secondary will be concerned with containing big-play wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, so the Ravens will concede some space underneath for Doyle to operate from time to time and Brissett will attempt to get rid of the ball quickly against an active pass rush. The Colts will have great difficulty moving the ball with any consistency, but they’ll put together a decent drive or two with Doyle in the middle of it.

4. Buck Allen will lead the way in a 135-yard effort for the running game. Starter Alex Collins isn’t listed on the injury report, but anyone who watched the Week 15 win at Cleveland saw the second-year running back was laboring on multiple occasions. With the playoffs looming, the Ravens would be wise to try to ease Collins’ workload by giving more carries to Allen, who has done a trustworthy job as the backup this season. Indianapolis ranks an unimpressive 29th in rushing yards allowed per game, but its 4.1 yards per carry surrendered ranks a solid 12th in the NFL. Collins will make his mark early in this game, but it will be Allen carrying it more in the second half as the Ravens protect a double-digit lead.

5. The Ravens will take care of business in a 27-10 win. Many fans felt some level of angst about Baltimore playing at the winless Browns last week, but it’s much more difficult envisioning a scenario in which Harbaugh’s team lays a home egg on Saturday. Indianapolis has played hard for the most part and would be a bigger threat in its own stadium, but an undermanned roster doesn’t have the horses to stick with an improved team smelling the playoffs. As was the case against the hapless Browns, the Ravens aren’t going to earn any style points by beating a three-win team, but they’ll clinch their first winning season since 2014 and give their fans a happier Christmas than last year’s crushing loss in Pittsburgh.

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Maclin listed as doubtful to play against Indianapolis

Posted on 21 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are expected to be without one of their starting receivers against Indianapolis on Saturday as Jeremy Maclin has been designated as doubtful to play.

The veteran missed practices all week after suffering a left knee injury in the first quarter of last Sunday’s win at Cleveland. Maclin underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam earlier this week, but there have been few details about the injury or his progress beyond head coach John Harbaugh saying Monday that he hadn’t sustained a season-ending injury.

“I think he’s doing OK. I don’t know,” said Harbaugh hours before the final injury report was released. “We’ll just have to talk to him and talk to [head athletic trainer Mark Smith]. That’s kind of day to day at this point in time right up until the game, really. It could be even a game-time decision.

“I’ll know more probably by the end of this afternoon through his rehab today — whether he’s been able to run and things like that.”

Harbaugh left open the possibility of the Ravens promoting a wide receiver from the practice squad with rookie Quincy Adeboyejo being the most logical candidate. Baltimore would need to make a roster decision by 4 p.m. on Friday, however.

Defensive end Carl Davis (shoulder), cornerback Maurice Canady (knee), and defensive back Anthony Levine (thigh) are all listed as questionable, but each practiced all week on at least a limited basis, leaving little doubt about their availability against the Colts. Davis and Canady were upgraded to full participation for Friday’s practice while Levine remained limited.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is officially listed as questionable for Week 16 after missing Friday’s practice with an illness, a day after outside linebacker Matthew Judon was limited due to being under the weather. The 2016 first-round pick’s status is not expected to be in any jeopardy, however.

Harbaugh said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was also sick Friday, but he was still on the practice field. The head coach was asked if the quirky assistant would be listed as a limited participant on the injury report.

“He is normally limited in different ways,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughter from reporters. “I’ll mention that to Ronnie though. Marty sucked it up and got out there.”

The Colts officially ruled out four players for Saturday’s game, a list that includes starting wide receiver Donte Moncrief (ankle), starting right tackle Denzelle Good (knee), and former Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin (hand).

According to Weather.com, the Saturday forecast calls for light rain and temperatures in the high 50s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and a 70-percent chance of precipitation.

On Friday, tight end Benjamin Watson was named the Ravens’ recipient of the 2017 Ed Block Courage Award. The 37-year-old leads the team with 49 receptions and is third in receiving yards after missing the entire 2016 season with a torn Achilles tendon sustained in the preseason.

“It’s one of the top awards in the National Football League,” Harbaugh said. “Overcoming adversity, dealing with the injury part of it and those kinds of things. He’s obviously done a tremendous job with the Achilles [recovery]. The way he’s playing right now, I think it speaks volumes. The fact that your peers — the players — vote for that award is quite a telling thing. Congratulations to Ben on that.”

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: WR Jeremy Maclin (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Maurice Canady (knee), DT Carl Davis (shoulder), DB Anthony Levine (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (illness)

INDIANAPOLIS
OUT: RT Denzelle Good (knee), CB Rashaan Melvin (hand), WR Donte Moncrief (ankle), TE Jason Vander Laan (concussion), TE Brandon Williams (concussion)

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Maclin remains only Ravens player absent from practice

Posted on 20 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Jeremy Maclin’s status remains in doubt as the Ravens move closer to their Week 16 meeting with Indianapolis.

The veteran wide receiver missed his second straight practice as Baltimore worked outside without pads on Wednesday afternoon. Maclin injured his left knee in the first quarter of last Sunday’s win in Cleveland and underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam earlier this week. On Monday, head coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal about Maclin’s status against the Colts, saying only that his injury was not of the season-ending variety.

His potential absence would likely mean second-year wideout Chris Moore would start opposite Mike Wallace in the base offense. The Ravens could also give more opportunities to Michael Campanaro and Breshad Perriman and could even go a step further by promoting rookie wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo from the practice squad if they so choose.

“I’m hoping with Jeremy, [it’s] day-to-day,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “Chris Moore has done a fine job, and we have talked about him before. He did a good job the other day, and we can do even more. We left stuff out there, too. We can do even better. It is the same with some of the young players, and [Campanaro] has done a good job all season long as well. We feel comfortable that they can do the job at a high level.”

Defensive end Carl Davis (shoulder), cornerback Maurice Canady (knee), and defensive back Anthony Levine (thigh) were limited participants for the second straight day. There was uncertainty regarding Davis’ status after he underwent an MRI earlier in the week, but his participation is an encouraging sign for his availability for Saturday’s game.

Outside linebacker Matthew Judon (illness) was added to Wednesday’s injury report as limited.

The Colts sat out five players during their workout.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Jeremy Maclin (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Maurice Canady (knee), DT Carl Davis (shoulder), LB Matt Judon (illness), DB Anthony Levine (thigh)

INDIANAPOLIS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OL Denzelle Good (knee), RB Frank Gore (rest), DT Johnathan Hankins (shoulder), WR Donte Moncrief (ankle), TE Brandon Williams (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Rashaan Melvin (hand)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Darrell Daniels (hamstring), CB Nate Hairston (concussion), LB Jeremiah George (neck)

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Suggs, Mosley, Weddle named to this year’s Pro Bowl

Posted on 19 December 2017 by Luke Jones

At an age when many of the greatest players in NFL history were already a couple years into retirement, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is instead going back to the Pro Bowl.

The 35-year-old was one of three Baltimore players to receive this year’s honor, joining inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Eric Weddle. Suggs was named to his seventh Pro Bowl and first since the 2013 season, a feat that could cement his case for an eventual invitation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 14 games, Suggs leads the Ravens with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles while holding the franchise’s career record in each category. This is the seventh time in his career that the 2003 first-round pick and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year has reached double-digit sacks.

Suggs ranks 16th among all NFL edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ grading system entering Week 16. He will serve as the reserve behind Denver’s Von Miller and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney in the AFC.

“I’m speechless,” said Suggs, who credited good health and hard work in the offseason for his best campaign in several years. “Every time you make it, it’s like making it for the first time all over again. It’s a really great feeling.”

Mosley continues an impressive start to his NFL career with his third invitation to the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons. The 2014 first-round selection ranks sixth in the NFL with 121 tackles while adding two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

The 25-year-old ranks 39th among qualified linebackers in PFF’s grading and will be the starting middle linebacker for the AFC.

“It’s always great to represent your teammates and the organization,” said Mosley, who gave much credit to his coaches. “All the blood, sweat, and tears you go through during the season — it’s all worth it to make the All-Star game. I give a lot of credit to the [defensive] line for keeping linemen off me.”

After being named an alternate and eventually being invited to play in last year’s game, Weddle has received the fifth Pro Bowl nod of his 11-year career with his first three coming as a member of the San Diego Chargers. The 32-year-old is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions and has six pass breakups and two forced fumbles in his second season with Baltimore.

His slow start to the season helps explain why he ranks 30th among qualified NFL safeties in PFF’s grading system, but he has risen to 18th in pass coverage with a strong second half. His leadership and experience have been major reasons why the Ravens have ranked in the top 10 in pass defense all year and lead all 32 teams with 22 interceptions.

He will be the starting free safety for the AFC.

“I’ve never worked as hard as I did this past year to try and get better from last season and help this team and lead even more so,” said Weddle, whose 10 interceptions over the last two seasons lead all NFL safeties. “I’m ecstatic because I’ve done so much over the last year to get back to this point, to help my team win, and to hopefully get back to the playoffs.”

The biggest Ravens snub was kicker Justin Tucker, who was denied his third career trip to the Pro Bowl despite having missed only three field goal tries and not missing an extra point all season. He had misfires from 58 and 62 yards while a 46-yard attempt was blocked, but he has connected on five other field goals of 50 or more yards.

Tucker was named the first alternate behind Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell, who has benefited from the opportunity to make four game-winning field goals in the final minute this season. Considered the best kicker in the league by many, Tucker hasn’t had the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter all season.

Punter Sam Koch was also left out of the Pro Bowl despite leading the NFL with 37 punts inside the 20-yard line. Tennessee’s Brett Kern was named the AFC punter and leads the league in both gross and net average, but he has placed only 22 inside the 20.

This marks the 12th consecutive year that the Ravens will have had at least three players in the Pro Bowl.

The exhibition game will take place on Jan. 28 in Orlando with selections from the two teams playing in Super Bowl LII not taking part.

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Is Thrill of NFL football gone in Baltimore? Has the purple era of civic love ended for the Ravens?

Posted on 19 December 2017 by Nestor Aparicio

PART 1: The Ghost Of Baltimore Football Past

The empty seats and the many unused tickets at Ravens games are no longer “breaking news” in Baltimore. Swaths of shiny purple seatbacks at M&T Bank have been without derrieres this fall and everyone, it seems, has a different excuse, reason or rage toward the football team that has delivered two joyous parades for the metropolis so far this century after the lost NFL generation between the Ravens and the Colts.

The truth is obvious to any of us who watched Ray Lewis dance The Squirrel for 17 years and its accompanying roar in a bursting fit of civic celebration for all to cheer and emulate. It’s clear that the fanaticism that spawned a generation of fans in Baltimore is now waning.

For many, the thrill is gone.

And it happened so quickly.

Tens of thousands of Baltimore Ravens ticket holders – vested by PSLs purchased two decades ago for the price of a nice vacation week in Ocean City – are staying away, and from my vantage point are protesting more than just “The Knee” or the political statements of players of color in the NFL.

The fans, even with the money already sunk on their credit cards months ago, are saying “Bah! Humbug!” to the Baltimore Ravens as we enter 2018. And the arc of the glorious purple football honeymoon, which seemed to last a good generation after Art Modell brought the Cleveland Browns to the Charm City, is now gone – evaporated amidst the empty patches throughout the stadium and the long line of ticket sellers on everyone’s social media threads.

I own two PSLs in Section 513. I lovingly called them “Poor Suckers Licenses” on the radio to David Modell’s face 20 years ago. I paid $500 each. I have now purchased somewhere around 220 Ravens game tickets since 1996. It’s almost like a $2.50 per game “surcharge” at this point. As I pointed out then, it was simply the small upfront cost of having NFL football for everyone in Baltimore and Maryland who wanted it. I never saw it as “an investment” but I also never tried to sell my PSL after the Super Bowl wins, when apparently they held strong value.

This three-part series is about the obvious issues the Baltimore Ravens are facing – on and off the field and many of the issues are similar in other cities around the NFL that would prefer full stadiums and fervor but instead settle for massive television revenue. This civic nonchalance has spread into a community that has become somnambulant about what used to stir passions to fight men from Pittsburgh – or anywhere the Ravens purple name was disparaged.

I will be the first to tell you that I don’t have any answers or fast solutions for the Baltimore Ravens and their beleaguered front office and ownership. Steve Bisciotti, Dick Cass and everyone in charge in Owings Mills are keenly aware of all of the issues I’ll address. Many season ticket holders have been called. Letters have been written. Opinions have been expressed in many directions. I’m sure you’ve seen them on your social media thread as well. Everyone has at least one “outraged” Ravens fan and civic patriot in their universe.

At some point, the season ticket renewals will be coming in February and March and the folks who individually write the checks for the tickets will vote their conscience and wallet.

Candidly, the Ravens spend most of their time working on the only thing that they can’t fully control

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Maclin’s status unclear as Ravens prepare for Indianapolis

Posted on 18 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says wide receiver Jeremy Maclin’s left knee injury is “nothing serious” that would sideline him for the rest of the season.

When the veteran will return is another story, however, as Harbaugh was noncommittal about the Week 16 availability of both Maclin and defensive end Carl Davis, who also left Sunday’s game in Cleveland with a leg injury. They each underwent magnetic resonance imaging exams on Monday.

The 10th-year coach seemed to imply that Maclin and Davis would be unlikely to play against Indianapolis without ruling out either player for Saturday’s game.

“It kind of depends on how they come along the next couple of days and how they progress,” Harbaugh said. “Anywhere from maybe more likely that it wouldn’t be this week and maybe the week after, but you never know. It could be this week with both those guys or either one of those guys. We’ll just see how they progress.

“They wouldn’t have to practice to play in the game at this stage, but they’ll go to work and they’ll do everything they can to be ready for Sunday, I’m sure.”

Maclin injured his left knee on the opening drive of Sunday’s game after making a 22-yard catch and being hit hard by Browns rookie safety Jabrill Peppers. He briefly returned for two snaps late in the first quarter, but he was officially ruled out to begin the second half.

Davis left the game in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury and didn’t return.

It’s been a disappointing season for Maclin, who signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Ravens in mid-June to be the replacement for the retired Steve Smith. He missed two games with a shoulder injury in October and has dealt with other nagging injuries while making only 40 receptions for 440 yards and three touchdowns in 12 contests.

Since making eight catches for 98 yards — both season highs — against Tennessee on Nov. 5, the 29-year-old has just 13 receptions for 130 yards on 30 targets in five games. He and quarterback Joe Flacco haven’t appeared to be on the same page in recent weeks, something that would have been more understandable in the first half of the season after Flacco missed all of training camp with a back issue.

“That’s a little bit cyclic sometimes,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg last week about Maclin’s recent struggles. “There’s never really one thing; it’s usually a combination of things. When you’re in that spot, get the hard work in, make sure you get prepared, let’s make sure we have great focus, and then good things tend to end up happening through all of that. It’s not uncommon to see something like that.”

Davis has made eight starts in 13 games this season and eventually stabilized the 5-technique defensive end spot after the season-ending foot injury suffered by Brent Urban in Week 3. The 2015 third-round pick’s potential absence could spell some trouble as the Ravens haven’t shown much confidence in young defensive ends Chris Wormley and Bronson Kaufusi this season.

Harbaugh was also asked whether running back Alex Collins made it through Sunday’s game OK after he appeared to be laboring on a few occasions and received only four touches in the second half.

“Mhhmm,” said the coach, nodding his head and elaborating no further.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-10 win over Cleveland

Posted on 18 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving a step closer to securing a postseason berth in a 27-10 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The defense took advantage of rookie DeShone Kizer and the NFL’s most turnover-prone offense by forcing four turnovers that led to 14 points. Much of the damage hasn’t come against the stiffest competition, but a league-best 33 takeaways is impressive. Two years ago, the Ravens had only 14.

2. The offense didn’t light up the scoreboard like the previous two weeks, but still moving the ball despite the running game being a non-factor through the first three quarters is an encouraging sign. The Ravens were able to finish with 63 rushing yards on 11 carries in the final period.

3. This wasn’t the first time Matthew Judon was arguably the top player for the defense. He totaled a sack, two other tackles for a loss, and two more quarterback hits. His versatile play in all phases has been one of the most encouraging big-picture developments of the season.

4. Remember how completely helpless the passing game looked without Jeremy Maclin in two games earlier this season? He played only five snaps because of a left knee injury, but Joe Flacco still threw for a season-high 288 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

5. A major reason for that was Mike Wallace, who caught six passes for 89 yards with four of those going for first downs. Since the bye, Wallace is averaging 76.2 receiving yards per contest and 16.6 yards per catch. That equates to a 1,200-yard season over 16 games.

6. Terrell Suggs finished with an ordinary two tackles if you only looked at the standard box score, but he was consistently putting heat on Kizer and was credited with nine hurries by Pro Football Focus. He played a significant part in several good things that happened for the defense.

7. A read-option keeper for Flacco shouldn’t be called unless it’s the fourth quarter of a playoff game, but that play and the draw for a touchdown reflect the greater confidence in the quarterback’s health. Flacco also has a 94.5 passer rating with five touchdown passes over the last three games.

8. C.J. Mosley rebounded from a poor outing in Pittsburgh as he batted down a couple passes, was stronger in pass coverage, and delivered the crushing hit on the Duke Johnson fumble. Sending Mosley after the quarterback a few times was a needed changeup after his recent struggles in coverage.

9. John Harbaugh was wise to mostly keep Alex Collins out of harm’s way in the second half as he was visibly laboring several times. As tough and physical as Collins is, we sometimes forget he’s only 210 pounds, which is much lighter than many of the league’s bruising-style backs.

10. For the second straight year, the Ravens surrendered Isaiah Crowell’s longest run from scrimmage for the season. The run defense has mostly been terrific since late October, but allowing a 96-yard touchdown drive exclusively via the ground in the second quarter was mystifying.

11. I didn’t like Marty Mornhinweg’s outside run call on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but credit Cleveland defensive end Carl Nassib for blowing up an attempted double team from Matt Skura and Austin Howard. He was more disruptive than top overall pick Myles Garrett throughout the day.

12. I understand reluctance to embrace the 2017 Ravens because of the early-season inconsistency, but some of the fear expressed about the Browns this week was over the top. Their horrendous minus-25 turnover difference says it all while Baltimore leads the NFL at plus-17. Taking care of the football really matters.

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Ravens use effective road formula to stay in playoff position

Posted on 17 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens beating 0-14 Cleveland was never going to bring any earth-shattering developments beyond the possibility of a serious injury to a key player.

Only an unthinkable loss jeopardizing their playoff chances would have spawned a major headline.

The Browns again showed Sunday why they’re the worst team in the NFL, but Baltimore did what was necessary to remain in the driver’s seat for an AFC wild-card spot with two games remaining. In the 27-10 victory, the Ravens forced four turnovers, played superb special teams, and turned in another solid offensive performance to continue that encouraging late-season trend.

Despite some angst from fans reluctant to embrace a team with just one win against opponents currently holding a winning record, Baltimore didn’t come close to becoming the first team to lose to the hapless Browns, after all. And two home wins against opponents with a combined 8-20 record will result in the first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

Rebounding from last week’s awful performance in Pittsburgh, the Ravens defense intercepted two passes and forced and recovered two fumbles to take the NFL lead from Jacksonville with 33 total takeaways. Questions understandably will persist about this unit’s performance against better offenses and better quarterbacks, but forcing turnovers on the road will be a key part of the formula for any potential run in January. Baltimore had a whopping 15 takeaways in its four road wins this season.

Nearly as important as those turnovers was the offense’s ability to protect the football on the road yet again. The Ravens committed no turnovers Sunday and had no more than one in six of their eight away games this season. Baltimore also has just one giveaway over the current three-game offensive surge.

It’s no secret that Joe Flacco and the passing game have been more aggressive — and productive — in recent weeks, but that change in mindset does little good if accompanied by carelessness with the football. Flacco threw for a season-high 288 yards against the Browns and has now been intercepted only once over the last four games.

An offense scoring points is paramount, but taking care of the ball gives you a chance, especially when lacking an abundance of playmakers.

Sunday also offered a reminder of how brilliant punter Sam Koch has been this season — and for a long time — as he dropped three punts inside the 5-yard line and two on back-to-back drives in the third quarter. That field position led to Za’Darius Smith’s strip-sack of DeShone Kizer and Brandon Williams’ recovery for a touchdown that gave the Ravens a 24-10 lead that wouldn’t be challenged again.

Punting is an underappreciated skill because of its direct association with offensive failure, but Koch has been an incredible asset for a team that’s so frequently depended on field position and the success of its defense this season. The 12th-year veteran may never be viewed as the biggest reason for any single victory, but the cumulative value he brings over the course of 16 games shouldn’t be dismissed.

The victory over the Browns netted the Ravens a 4-4 road record for the season, and that’s nothing to take for granted if you’ve been paying attention the last few years. John Harbaugh’s best teams were never particularly great away from M&T Bank Stadium, but a .500 away mark has often served as a benchmark for a postseason berth.

Bad road losses have contributed to the Ravens missing the playoffs in recent years, but they’ve managed to avoid those this year. In 2013, upset defeats at Buffalo and Cleveland contributed to a 2-6 road record and an 8-8 finish. Last year, it was an ugly loss to an eventual 5-11 New York Jets team in October that contributed to the Ravens having no margin for error while facing a brutal December schedule.

Say what you want about a team lacking a signature win against a projected playoff team, but the Ravens have only one bad loss — the Week 6 tilt against Chicago — on their résumé. Since mid-October, they’ve beaten the teams they were supposed to beat.

And that’s all they have to do at home these final two weeks, thanks to another clean road performance on Sunday.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 17 December 2017 by Luke Jones

It was 10 years ago Saturday that the Ravens lost to an 0-13 team, an embarrassing defeat that led to the dismissal of longtime head coach Brian Billick a few weeks later.

Baltimore hopes history will not repeat against the winless Cleveland Browns on Sunday, but the difference this time around is John Harbaugh’s team having much more to play for than that 2007 team that was in the midst of a nine-game winning streak and merely playing out the string. These Ravens are almost guaranteed a trip to the playoffs if they win their final three games against teams with a combined 8-32 record entering the weekend, so there should be no excuse for a letdown.

As expected, wide receiver Mike Wallace (ankle) is active and will start despite missing two days of practice this week. Wallace turned his right ankle in the first quarter of last Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh, but he was able to return for the next series and played the rest of the game.

Third-year wide receiver Breshad Perriman is also active for just the second time in five games since the bye week. With both Wallace and Chris Moore (hip) less than 100 percent, the 2015 first-round pick will likely serve as an insurance policy more than anything else on Sunday.

Rookie outside linebacker Tim Williams is a healthy scratch after being active for the last four games. The third-round pick from Alabama struggled last week and was put on skates as Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell scored his 11-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith is active and returns to the defensive rotation after sitting out last week’s game with a shoulder injury.

Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor will play after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. The starting defensive back missed practices all week with a foot injury, but he is expected to start opposite Jason McCourty.

Sunday’s referee is Clete Blakeman.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Cleveland calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the high 30s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and only a 20 percent chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with black pants while the Browns don white tops with white pants for their final home game of the 2017 season.

Sunday marks the 38th all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with Baltimore enjoying an incredible 28-9 advantage dating back to 1999. The Ravens are 17-2 against Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era, but the last four games at FirstEnergy Stadium have resulted in one-score finals.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
RB Terrance West
CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
LB Tim Williams
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
OL Maurquice Shakir
DE Bronson Kaufusi
DE Chris Wormley

CLEVELAND
QB Cody Kessler
CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun
S Justin Currie
OL Marcus Martin
OL Geoff Gray
WR Matt Hazel
TE Matt Lengel

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 16 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The task is clear for the Ravens after last Sunday’s heartbreaking loss in Pittsburgh.

Three wins will very likely assure them of their first trip to the playoffs since 2014. Anything less leaves them at the mercy of how other AFC playoff contenders such as Buffalo, Tennessee, Kansas City, and Los Angeles will fare. Their focus must remain on beating a Cleveland team desperate for its first win, but the Ravens will naturally be taking a peek at the out-of-town scoreboard on Sunday.

“I always look. It is always interesting to see what the scores are,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m sure we’ll be interested in that, but really, it doesn’t matter. We need to win. We need to win. We don’t need to be [dealing with] any tiebreakers or anything like that. We just need to win.”

Regardless of what other teams do, there are no excuses for the Ravens the rest of the way with such a reasonable schedule. Losing to the winless Browns, the Luck-less Colts, or the listless Bengals could send shock waves through the organization after Steve Bisciotti exercised much patience the previous two offseasons. Blowing a fourth-quarter lead at Heinz Field for the second straight year didn’t sit well with the owner last week, so you can only imagine how he’d react if the Ravens were to drop the ball at any point before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet Cleveland for the 38th time in the all-time series and hold a 28-9 advantage after their 24-10 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 2. Despite the overall perception, the last four contests played at FirstEnergy Stadium have been decided by one possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Browns rookie edge rusher Myles Garrett will collect 1 1/2 sacks in the first of many encounters with Ronnie Stanley. The first overall pick of this year’s draft has missed five games due to injuries, but he has five sacks and has consistently caused problems in the pocket. Meanwhile, Stanley has had a solid season, but the 2016 first-round pick hasn’t yet taken his game to the next level from his encouraging rookie campaign. This is a matchup that will be worth watching over the next few years, but you’d expect Ravens tight ends to help out by chipping the talented 272-pound defensive end on Sunday.

2. Alex Collins will eclipse 75 rushing yards while finding the end zone for the fifth straight game. The Browns have allowed an NFL-best 3.3 yards per carry and will present a tough challenge for a running game that’s been terrific over the last two weeks. Collins continues to pick up plenty of yardage after contact and will need to do that once again against a tough front. Joe Flacco and the passing game has been much better recently, but much of that stems from play-action calls and Collins will have plenty of opportunities to control the tempo of the game, especially with a lead.

3. Marlon Humphrey will match up with Josh Gordon and allow a touchdown reception in an otherwise strong performance. Much has been made about Dean Pees’ play-calling in the Pittsburgh game, but the biggest takeaway was Brandon Carr struggling much more in coverage than the coaching staff anticipated. The Ravens have rarely even used Jimmy Smith to travel with a specific wide receiver over the years, but Humphrey could earn that very assignment against the supremely-talented Gordon, who’s shown little rust in his first action in three years. This will be a fun matchup to watch.

4. Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer will commit two turnovers in Baltimore territory. According to ESPN, the rookie is the NFL’s lowest-rated passer inside the red zone, the main reason why his team is 26th in red-zone offense. Cleveland has also had predictable problems with pass protection since left tackle Joe Thomas was lost for the season, so that should open the door for Terrell Suggs to put heat on Kizer and force him into rushing throws. A plus-13 turnover difference has left the 7-6 Ravens in the playoff race while a league-worst minus-21 turnover ratio largely explains why the Browns are 0-13.

5. The Ravens will overcome a lethargic start to prevail in a 23-13 final. A slow beginning wouldn’t be a shock after an emotionally-draining loss to the Steelers while the Browns should be energized and motivated playing in their last home game. Cleveland would like nothing more than to put Baltimore’s playoff hopes in jeopardy, but there’s a reason why this team hasn’t won a game all season and the Ravens have won three of their last four and have been better on the road than in recent campaigns. It won’t be the kind of win that will improve the eyeball test for Harbaugh’s team, but a steady performance is all that’s needed for the first of three wins to help wrap up a postseason berth.

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