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Harbaugh on offensive tackles: “They’ve got to do a better job”

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Of all the Ravens’ problems on the offensive side of the ball leading to Sunday’s season-opening loss in Denver, none were more surprising than the horrendous play of the offensive line.

Not only was the Baltimore offense held to six points — Jimmy Smith’s interception return provided the other seven in the 19-13 loss — and 173 total yards, but quarterback Joe Flacco was harassed throughout the afternoon. The Broncos may have only collected two sacks, but Flacco was pressured on 64.7 percent of his dropbacks, an astonishing rate for an offensive line regarded as one of the best in the NFL entering the season.

On Monday in San Jose, Calif. where the Ravens are preparing for their Week 2 meeting in Oakland, John Harbaugh expressed his disappointment with the play of his offensive line. The Baltimore coach acknowledged the challenge of competing against a superb defense, but he added that they didn’t see any strategic surprises from Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips during Sunday’s game.

Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was the only member of the offensive line to receive a positive grade from Pro Football Focus, but it was the play of tackles Rick Wagner, James Hurst, and Eugene Monroe that was particularly problematic. The Broncos’ four outside linebackers — DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Shaquil Barrett, and Shane Ray — combined for 19 total pressures on Flacco. 

“Our tackles, they’ve got to do a better job,” said Harbaugh, who added that the Ravens should have provided extra help in pass protection. “They have to set square, and they have to punch on time. And when they do that, they’ll do well against anybody, and when you don’t do that, you’re not going to do well against anybody. That was really an issue for us in the course of the game.”

Monroe exited the game after the opening series with a concussion and didn’t return, leaving second-year tackle James Hurst to be eaten alive by Ware. Rick Wagner wasn’t any better on the opposite side as he struggled against Miller and didn’t look like the Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle he was last season, a possible indication that he’s still knocking off rust from last December’s Lisfranc injury. The 2013 fifth-round pick was sidelined for spring workouts before he began practicing at the start of training camp in late July.

Of course, the offensive line also failed to establish the running game, gaining just 73 yards on 23 attempts. This allowed the Broncos’ pass rushers to pin their ears back and tee off on Flacco in the pocket.

“We stuck with the run game,” Harbaugh said. “We were patient with it, but we need to get more out of it than 3.2 yards a carry. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the offensive line, it’s the running backs, it’s the scheme, it’s the formations — it’s all of it. We all take responsibility for that.”

Because of an exceptional 2014 season, the Ravens’ offensive line deserves the benefit of the doubt after just one poor performance, but the group needs to play much better moving forward.

Replacing Suggs

Much has already been written about the Ravens’ challenge in replacing injured linebacker Terrell Suggs, and Harbaugh predictably expressed confidence that their internal options would rise to the occasion. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility of adding a veteran free agent to help fill the void left behind by the franchise’s all-time sacks leader.

“We still believe we have the pass rushers that can get the job done, but we’re still in the process of evaluating our options, personnel-wise,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a chance we can bring somebody in. We’ll look at all those options over the next couple days.”

Harbaugh said that Elvis Dumervil will assume Suggs’ rush linebacker position on first and second downs with Courtney Upshaw remaining as the strong-side outside linebacker. Rookie Za’Darius Smith and veteran Albert McClellan will also be part of the equation.

Smith returning punts

At age 36 and serving as the Ravens’ No. 1 receiver, Steve Smith didn’t appear to be a likely answer as the primary punt returner, but that’s exactly what he was on Sunday against the Broncos.

Smith returned two punts for 32 yards and could continue to serve in that capacity, according to Harbaugh. Michael Campanaro was listed as the primary punt returner on the Week 1 depth chart, but the second-year wideout missed the last couple weeks of the summer due to injury.

“If ‘Camp’ gets more reps, he can go back there and do it,” Harbaugh said. “We have [Lardarius Webb], who practices all the time. He can go back there and do it. I think we have guys that can do it and be effective. But I kind of like Steve back there. He looks good to me back there.”

Recuperating Raiders

While the Ravens dealt with the loss of Suggs and the concussion to Monroe on Sunday, the Raiders did not escape the injury bug in their season-opening loss to Cincinnati as starting quarterback Derek Carr (thumb) and starting safeties Charles Woodson (shoulder) and Nate Allen (knee) all went down.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam on Carr’s thumb was reportedly encouraging, but it remains to be seen whether he can return for Sunday’s game. A Monday ESPN report said the Raiders fear Allen suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament while Woodson would undergo an MRI on his shoulder.

Taliaferro on Twitter

It’s no secret that injured running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee) is moving closer to a return after he practiced on a limited basis late last week, but the 2014 fourth-round pick shared that sentiment on his official Twitter account following Sunday’s game. That didn’t sit well with Harbaugh when he was asked about it on Monday afternoon.

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“I’m going to have to talk to him about that,” Harbaugh said. “Taliaferro, [Timmy] Jernigan — way too much chatter out there on social media. Maybe, Kevin [Byrne], make a note of that.”

The aforementioned tweet was deleted on Monday evening.

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Wagner, Reid return to practice as most Ravens starters rest

Posted on 24 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning to the practice field following a lopsided preseason loss in Philadelphia, the Ravens elected to rest most starters and veterans on Monday afternoon.

Thirty-three players on the 90-man roster were not present during the portion of the workout open to media, but starting right tackle Rick Wagner (leg) and reserve offensive lineman Jah Reid (back) returned to practice after missing Saturday’s game against the Eagles. Many starters and veterans took part in the morning walk-through before being held out of Monday’s practice.

“I think we’ve done something like this pretty much every year,” said Harbaugh when asked whether he was resting so many players due to the current number of injuries on the roster. “I’ve have to go back and check the records, but this is pretty normal for us. It’s right on schedule.”

The only projected starters on the field for Monday’s practice were Wagner, tight end Crockett Gillmore, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, linebacker C.J. Mosley, and safeties Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis. Even Joe Flacco was given the session off as Matt Schaub and Bryn Renner handled the quarterbacking duties.

Injured players who remained absent included wide receivers Breshad Perriman (knee) and Michael Campanaro (unspecified), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee), left guard Kelechi Osemele (Achilles), cornerback Lardarius Webb (hamstring), linebacker Steven Means (groin), defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore (undisclosed), and offensive linemen James Hurst (head) and De’Ondre Wesley (knee). Taliaferro, Hurst, and Wesley all left Saturday’s game with injuries and did not return.

Campanaro’s absence from Saturday’s game left the door open for others to receive opportunities in the return specialist competition.

“He has a soft tissue issue that he’s dealing with, so expect him back pretty soon, but you never know with those things,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s a day-to-day thing. But I’ve told [the media] that before, and it has been three weeks now on Perriman. My understanding is it’s not a major thing, but I’m out of that business, remember?”

Rookie tight end Maxx Williams was wearing a red non-contact jersey as he took part in Monday’s workout.

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Osemele returns to practice while nursing Achilles issue

Posted on 21 August 2015 by Luke Jones

Completing their second day of practice against the Eagles in Philadelphia, the Ravens continued to be less than 100 percent along their offensive line with a few players dealing with injuries.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele returned to the practice field on Thursday for the first time since playing in the preseason opener a week ago. A lingering Achilles tendon issue has plagued Osemele for the last couple weeks as the Ravens try to manage giving him enough rest against the need for him to receive the necessary reps to prepare for the start of the season.

“It’s a tough balance, because I think we’re going to err on the side of making sure he is ready to go,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We do that with everybody, really. K.O. can always use the reps. He and Eugene [Monroe] can definitely work together. By the same token, you need him ready to go when you need him ready to go. We’ve been kind of doing that balancing act with all of our guys.”

In addition to the injury being a concern for the Ravens, Osemele is entering the final year of his rookie contract and would appear to be in line for a significant payday should he have a strong 2015 season.

While Osemele was on the field for the first time in a week, right tackle Rick Wagner was held out of Thursday’s practice against the Eagles after being shaken up a day earlier.

The Ravens have limited Wagner’s practice reps at times this summer after he missed the entire spring while recovering from last December’s Lisfranc injury, but he has shown few effects of the injury. Harbaugh did not indicate following Thursday’s practice that the third-year lineman was dealing with a new injury.

“Rick has been rehabbing a foot. He had foot surgery in the offseason,” Harbaugh said. “He fell into a pile yesterday, so we decided to give him a little rest.”

Fifth-year reserve Jah Reid is listed as the primary backup to Wagner, but the former third-round pick has been sidelined all week with a sore back. It’s an unfortunate but familiar development for a much-maligned player who has had a good summer after years of injuries and disappointing play.

Second-year lineman James Hurst worked with the first-team offense with Wagner and Reid both sidelined on Thursday.

“Jah had back spasms three days ago just doing nothing,” Harbaugh said. “It just locked up on him, so they’re trying to loosen those things up right now.”

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Webb fails conditioning test at start of Ravens training camp

Posted on 30 July 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Convening for their first practice of the summer, the Ravens were only missing one projected starter as cornerback Lardarius Webb was not working on Thursday after failing his conditioning test.

The seventh-year defensive back was a full participant during last month’s mandatory minicamp, but he was not allowed to take part in the first full-squad workout of training camp. The 29-year-old missed all of last year’s training camp and the beginning of the 2014 regular season due to a lingering back injury.

“It’s always a big deal. You want to see guys pass it,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who cited several former players who had failed to pass the conditioning test in previous summers. “The conditioning test measures anaerobic conditioning. It measures the ability to recover, to get your heart rate way up and recover.

“Webby is in really good shape in a lot of different ways. I can see it in the way he moves in the weight room, but he’s not in the kind of anaerobic shape he needs to be in to come out here and practice. The idea being that if I go play after play after play and I begin to get fatigued and I can’t move the way I need to move, I’m going to have a fatigue type of an injury. That’s why it’s part of the physical.”

The conditioning test consists of six timed 25-yard runs in which players run up and back. Veteran newcomers have often mentioned over the years how difficult the Ravens’ test is compared to those of other teams.

In most cases, a player failing to pass isn’t a problem in the long run, but Webb not being ready to practice isn’t a good look after his disappointing 2014 season. For now, the Ravens won’t put too much stock into the delay to the start of his summer.

“He’s a little behind that way certainly, and he’s going to have to make up the ground,” Harbaugh said. “He took it hard on himself. He’s disappointed in himself just like you’d expect. I know he’s very determined to get through it.”

Webb was placed on the non-football injury list until he passes the test.

Harbaugh said defensive tackle Casey Walker was not practicing because he was placed on the active physically unable to perform list due to knee tendinitis.

Two other starters returned to the practice field after spring absences as center Jeremy Zuttah (hip surgery) and right tackle Right Wagner (foot) were working during the opening portion of practice. The Ravens are expected to bring the two along slowly to begin the summer.

Wide receivers Michael Campanaro (quadriceps) and Aldrick Robinson (knee) both returned to practice after suffering injuries during spring workouts.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (wrist) were present and working after being limited in the spring.

Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee) were limited to watching practice as they both began the summer on the active PUP list.

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Offensive line

Posted on 27 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this month, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on Wednesday and the first full-squad workout takes place the following on July 30, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore offensive line:

LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Rick Wagner, Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel
BUBBLE: Robert Myers, James Hurst, Jah Reid, Ryan Jensen
LONG SHOT: Marcel Jones, Nick Easton, Leon Brown, Kaleb Johnson, Darryl Baldwin, Blaine Clausell, De’Ondre Wesley

Synopsis: It was only a year ago that concerns were abundant about an offensive line that battled injuries and played poorly during the 2013 season, but much has changed since then. Regarded by most as the best position group on the roster, the offensive line returns returns its top seven players as the Ravens plan to maintain the same zone schemes with new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman that they used so effectively last year under Gary Kubiak. The strength of this group begins with its guards as Marshal Yanda is the best in the NFL and Kelechi Osemele is rapidly rising to a Pro Bowl level. The question for this group early in training camp will be health as center Jeremy Zuttah and right tackle Rick Wagner both missed spring workouts and will be brought along slowly to begin the preseason.

One to watch: Wagner was arguably the Ravens’ biggest question mark entering last season before the 2013 fifth-round pick put together an above-average season at right tackle, solidifying a scrutinized offensive line that ultimately excelled in the running game. All signs point to Wagner being ready to go in plenty of time for the start of the season, but offensive line coach Juan Castillo will carefully watch his footwork coming back from last December’s season-ending Lisfranc injury. Assuming he’s healthy, Wagner and Yanda could form the best right side of an offensive line in the entire NFL this season. 

One on notice: Signed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract last year, Eugene Monroe appeared to be Baltimore’s left tackle for the long haul, but a knee injury cost him five games and his play suffered when he was on the field in 2014. To be clear, there is no left tackle controversy as James Hurst isn’t ready to seriously challenge Monroe, but the Ravens need to see better from the veteran to justify an $8.7 million cap figure next year. If the former Jacksonville Jaguar doesn’t bounce back from a rough 2014 campaign, the Ravens could be back in a position where they’re looking for a left tackle sooner rather than later.

Sleeper: There doesn’t figure to be much room for a sleeper to make his mark this summer with Hurst, John Urschel, and fifth-round rookie Robert Myers projected to lock up roster spots as reserves, but Kaleb Johnson of Rutgers was a priority rookie free agent and has the foot quickness that Castillo desires with his blocking schemes. Projected to play guard at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, Johnson will be someone to keep an eye on as the Ravens know they are unlikely to be able to re-sign both Yanda and Osemele and are looking for developmental depth at the guard position.

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Who could be this year’s Rick Wagner for the Ravens?

Posted on 21 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Nearly two weeks into free agency, the Ravens appear no closer to filling gaping holes at the wide receiver and tight end positions after losing Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels.

Viable options on the open market are dwindling and it would deviate from general manager Ozzie Newsome’s “best player available” philosophy to enter April’s draft with two starting positions to fill. Of course, a trade cannot be ruled out with Baltimore projected to have 10 or 11 draft picks — compensatory choices will be announced this week — and Newsome has acquired the likes of left tackle Eugene Monroe, center Jeremy Zuttah, and even former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin through trades in recent years.

But the lack of activity makes you wonder if the Ravens have more confidence in their current batch of wide receivers or tight ends — or both — than the outside world does.

It was only a year ago when many were discussing how desperately the Ravens needed a starting right tackle following the free-agent departure of the disappointing Michael Oher. Considered little more than an afterthought by most, 2013 fifth-round pick Rick Wagner became an instant upgrade and an above-average starter in his second NFL season after playing sparingly as a rookie.

Who might the Ravens view as this year’s Wagner?

At the wide receiver position, Marlon Brown is the most experienced receiver remaining behind veteran Steve Smith as he caught 24 passes for 255 yards in his second season after collecting 49 receptions for 524 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie in 2013. Despite a slow start working in Gary Kubiak’s new offensive system, Brown became more involved as the 2014 season progressed with 16 of his 24 receptions going for first downs.

The other logical in-house candidate to emerge at the receiver position would be Kamar Aiken, who caught 24 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns in his first year with the Ravens. The 6-foot-2, 213-pound receiver plays with a physical nature that the organization likes.

Of course, a deep draft class of wide receivers makes it feasible that the Ravens could find an immediate starter in the first round, but the lack of a veteran addition could signal that they likes their young receivers more than we think. Either way, the addition of a productive vertical threat is an absolute must for strong-armed quarterback Joe Flacco by the start of the season.

Failing to do so would mean trouble for the Ravens offense in 2015.

Shifting focus to the tight end position, Crockett Gillmore is the strongest candidate of any player at any position to become this year’s version of Wagner. The 2014 third-round pick is currently the safest bet at his position on the offseason roster with veteran Dennis Pitta’s future remaining in doubt.

Gillmore caught just 10 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in the regular season, but he caught a 21-yard touchdown in the wild-card win over Pittsburgh and the Ravens appeared more comfortable involving him in the passing game as the season progressed. If you’re looking for precedent with the Ravens handing over the starting tight end job to an inexperienced option, then-rookies Ed Dickson and Pitta had a total of 12 receptions for 153 yards behind veteran Todd Heap in 2010 before combining to make 94 catches for 933 yards and eight touchdowns a year later.

Do the Ravens need to add another tight end? Absolutely, but the lack of free-agent activity to this point — Baltimore reportedly had mild interest in veteran Scott Chandler before he signed with New England — and an underwhelming draft class make you wonder if Baltimore has a higher opinion of Gillmore than most observers. Barring a trade, finding a backup tight end would certainly appear more feasible than a starter at this point.

The discussion at either position could become moot at any point as Newsome has more than five months to shape the roster for the regular season. No one is suggesting the Ravens should — or will — stand pat at wide receiver or tight end, but few would have endorsed Wagner as the starting right tackle at this time a year ago.

It’s simply a possibility to keep in mind as the offseason continues and we inch closer to the draft with the Ravens’ two biggest needs yet to be addressed.

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Monroe remains sidelined as Ravens practice on Christmas Eve

Posted on 24 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After losing right tackle Rick Wagner to a season-ending foot injury in Week 16, the Ravens face the prospects of being without left tackle Eugene Monroe for the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns.

Monroe (ankle) was absent from practice for the second consecutive day as the Ravens worked out inside their field house on Christmas Eve. The 27-year-old left in the fourth quarter of the 25-13 loss in Houston and was seen in a walking boot following the game.

Should Monroe be unable to play, the Ravens would play rookie free agent James Hurst at left tackle, a position where he started four games when Monroe underwent arthroscopic knee surgery earlier in the season. Baltimore would then likely move Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda to right tackle with rookie John Urschel filling in at right guard against the Browns.

“The good news is we have something to go pull back from,” said offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak about Hurst and Urschel. “We went through, what, four, five weeks with the same issue as a team, and those two kids came in and played well. They’re going to have to play well for us to continue playing this year. We believe in them.”

It’s been a difficult year for Monroe after he agreed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract in the offseason to remain with the Ravens. The 2009 first-round pick began his career in Jacksonville before being traded to Baltimore in the middle of the 2013 season for fourth- and fifth-round draft choices.

Monroe played very well last season for the Ravens, but injuries have affected his performance this year as Pro Football Focus has graded him as the team’s worst starting offensive lineman and 40th in the league among tackles who’ve played at least 60 percent of their team’s offensive snaps. His pass blocking has been solid, but Monroe’s been vulnerable as a run blocker, which indicates the knee issue has hampered his lateral movement needed in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking system.

The Ravens were also without defensive end Chris Canty (ankle/thigh) and linebacker Terrell Suggs (back/thigh) during Wednesday’s workout. Neither player was present during Tuesday’s viewing period, and Canty missed practice all last week with an ankle injury before ultimately playing against the Texans.

Players will be off on Thursday to celebrate Christmas Day with their families before returning to the practice facility on Friday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Chris Canty (ankle/thigh), OT Eugene Monroe (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (back/thigh)

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Andrew Hawkins (thumb), QB Brian Hoyer (right shoulder/bicep), DL Ahtyba Rubin (ankle), C Ryan Seymour (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Gary Barnidge (rib), DL Desmond Bryant (thumb), CB Joe Haden (shoulder), WR Marlon Moore (knee), LB Jabaal Sheard (foot), CB K’Waun Williams (hamstring)

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Ravens right tackle Wagner lands on injured reserve

Posted on 23 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will try to advance to the playoffs Sunday without starting right tackle Rick Wagner, who was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.

The second-year lineman suffered a Lisfranc sprain in the third quarter of the 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans this past week. He was carted to the locker room where he was ruled out for the remainder of the game and later seen using crutches and a walking boot.

Wagner becomes the 18th Ravens player to be placed on season-ending IR during the 2014 season, one shy of the 19 that landed on IR in John Harbaugh’s first season as head coach in 2008. The 2013 fifth-round pick thrived in his first year as a starter, allowing only two sacks and grading out as the second-best right tackle in the league behind New England’s Sebastian Vollmer, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Rick [had] a heck of a year,” said Harbaugh, who named Wagner the starting right tackle late . “He proved himself [and] proved the naysayers wrong. He did a great job.”

The Ravens could also be without starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, who is dealing with an injured foot suffered in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss. He was seen in a walking boot after the game and was not present during Tuesday’s practice.

Should Monroe be unable to play against Cleveland, the Ravens would likely move Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda out to right tackle with rookie free agent James Hurst playing left tackle. Rookie John Urschel would then play right guard in Yanda’s place.

Even if Monroe does play, the Ravens could still elect to use Yanda at right tackle with Urschel at guard with that potentially being a better overall alignment than Hurst — who is better suited for the left side — playing Wagner’s position.

In fact, when Monroe exited Sunday’s loss in Houston, the Ravens initially planned to play Urschel at right tackle before Yanda spoke up to declare he was sliding over. Yanda is no stranger to the right tackle position as he played there frequently earlier in his career and started during the 2010 season.

“I haven’t played there [regularly] in a long time, but we’ll see what happens come Sunday,” Yanda said. “We don’t know who is healthy yet, and obviously John [Harbaugh] does the injury report. But I’ve played there before, and I’m ready to go wherever I need to play. It’s part of the deal where you have to be ready to roll.”

In addition to Monroe, defensive end Chris Canty (ankle) and linebacker Terrell Suggs were not present during Tuesday’s practice. The Ravens will not release their first injury report of the week until Wednesday as they moved up their first day of on-field work to allow players to be off for Christmas on Thursday.

To fill Wagner’s spot on the 53-man roster, Baltimore promoted defensive end Steven Means from the practice squad. He played the role of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt for the scout team during practices last week.

The Ravens also waived defensive end Zach Thompson from the practice squad and signed reserve offensive linemen Nate Menkin and J.J. Unga. The latter spent a good portion of the 2013 season on the Ravens’ practice squad.

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Ravens lose both offensive tackles to injury in Sunday’s loss

Posted on 21 December 2014 by Luke Jones

As if the embarrassment of their worst offensive performance of the year wasn’t enough, the Ravens lost both starting offensive tackles to injury in the 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Right tackle Rick Wagner was carted to the locker room with a foot injury sustained in the third quarter and didn’t return. The state of the offensive line turned even worse in the fourth quarter when veteran left tackle Eugene Monroe left the game and didn’t return.

It remained unclear what the extent of each player’s injury was immediately following the game, but reports from Houston indicated Wagner was wearing a protective boot on his foot and using crutches while Monroe was also wearing a protective boot on his foot.

“There’s nothing I want to share right now,” said head coach John Harbaugh about their status after the game. “We’ll just see how those guys come out of it and see where we’re at.”

Their departures caused plenty of shuffling on the starting line as the Ravens finished the game with rookie free agent James Hurst playing left tackle and Pro Bowl right guard moving out to right tackle, a position he hadn’t played since the 2010 season. Rookie John Urschel then entered the game to occupy Yanda’s normal position.

Hurst was previously filling in for Wagner at the right tackle spot before Monroe got hurt.

The Ravens were held to just 64 yards through the first three quarters of action and rushed for just 33 yards on 16 carries against the Houston defense.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 06 December 2014 by Luke Jones


No word better describes what’s at stake as the Ravens travel to Sun Life Stadium to take on the Miami Dolphins.

The winner of Sunday’s game isn’t guaranteed a playoff spot in a crowded AFC wild-card picture, but losing in Miami would be a critical blow to either team. After the Ravens lost to the current No. 5 seed San Diego last Sunday, they can hardly afford to be on the wrong end of another head-to-head tiebreaker should they lose to the Dolphins.

In addition to having the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense, the Ravens took a major blow up front with Thursday’s announcement of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being suspended for the remainder of the regular season due to a performance-enhancing drug violation. It’s just the latest trial for a 7-5 Ravens team that’s faced much adversity on and off the field.

Sunday will mark the 10th time these AFC teams have played in the regular season with the Dolphins holding a 5-4 edge and a 4-2 record in Miami. However, the Ravens are 4-0 against the Dolphins in the John Harbaugh era, which includes a 27-9 wild-card round win at the end of the 2008 season.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 8-5 in their quest to return to the playoffs …

Who will win Sunday's game in Miami?

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1. Miami defensive end Cameron Wake will pick up a sack, but Rick Wagner will hold his own against the talented pass rusher. The second-year right tackle will face one of his biggest challenges of the season in trying to hold his own against the three-time Pro Bowl selection, but Wagner shouldn’t be counted out as he is the highest-graded pass-blocking — and highest-graded overall — right tackle in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Miami possesses a formidable pass rush, but the Ravens have held up very well in pass protection this year with quarterback Joe Flacco only being sacked 15 times. They’ll need another strong performance Sunday, and it will start with Wagner on the right side.

2. Justin Forsett will not run for 100 yards, but the Ravens will still gain 150 on the ground against the Dolphins defense. The 29-year-old and the team have downplayed the significance of his knee injury, but it has to be a concern that his limited participation in Friday’s practice was his only on-field work of the week. The good news is the Dolphins’ run defense has dropped to 21st in the NFL and has given up 478 yards on the ground in the last two games against Denver and the New York Jets. We’ll see more of a committee approach than the Ravens have used in weeks as backups Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro will pick up some slack, but Forsett will still finish as the leading rusher on Sunday.

3. Dolphins slot receiver Jarvis Landry will catch a touchdown and lead his team in receiving yards on Sunday. The Ravens hope the return of cornerback Asa Jackson will help a struggling secondary, but Miami has too many weapons in the passing game to not be concerned. We’ll see Jackson line up inside in the nickel package, but he won’t have much luck slowing Landry, who has been very impressive in his rookie season with 57 catches for 518 yards and five touchdowns. Ryan Tannehill will try to get rid of the ball quickly in the face of an imposing Baltimore pass rush, which means quick outs and slants to Landry will be in order throughout the day and he’ll be the go-to target for Miami.

4. Jacoby Jones returns a kick deep into Miami territory to swing the momentum of the game in the second half. There’s no disputing how disappointing this year has been for the wide receiver and return specialist, but you hope Week 13 was a preview of bigger things to come down the stretch for Jones. His two catches for 35 yards as a receiver were nice, but his 72-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter set the Ravens up at the San Diego 30 before the offense had to settle for a field goal. Miami ranks 28th in the NFL in kick return coverage and 24th in punt return coverage, which should have Jones and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg licking their chops. A big return will set up a touchdown in the second half.

5. On a day when both quarterbacks have strong days, the Ravens find a way to secure their biggest win of the season in a 24-20 final. It’s tough to get a read on this one considering how up and down both teams have been throughout the year. You wonder if the Ravens will get off the mat after a tough loss to the Chargers and the suspension of Ngata while the Dolphins aren’t experienced in these kinds of high-stakes games. Flacco and Tannehill will both throw for over 200 yards, but the Dolphins are coming off a short week following a Monday night road win and that run defense is already wearing down significantly. That will be the difference as the Ravens pick up a crucial win in keeping their playoff hopes alive.


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