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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Monday night

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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 23 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Fresh off their bye week and trying to complete a 2014 sweep of the NFC South, the Ravens return to the site of Super Bowl XLVII to take on the reeling New Orleans Saints Monday night.

Baltimore hopes that a Week 11 bye coupled with the Saints’ two-game losing streak will create enough momentum to snap New Orleans’ 14-game winning streak in prime-time home games. The 4-6 Saints are trying to find some semblance of consistency in a division in which no team has made a strong claim as a viable playoff contender.

The Ravens are 5-1 in games coming off their bye week in the John Harbaugh era and will attempt to win their third road game of the season. While they were able to find success against an underwhelming Tennessee offense in Week 10, the Baltimore secondary will have its hands full against the league’s third-ranked passing attack.

Monday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 4-1 advantage. This is the first contest between these teams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since the 2006 season — which resulted in a 35-22 win for Baltimore — but the Ravens are obviously familiar with the surroundings after winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans two years ago.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 7-4 to keep pace in the AFC North …

1. Will Hill will draw the bulk of the assignment against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who will catch a touchdown and eclipse 80 receiving yards. Much was made about Cincinnati’s physicality last week in limiting the All-Pro tight end to just three catches for 29 yards, but the Ravens haven’t exactly been imposing in the back end of the defense aside from Terrence Brooks’ big hit on Tennessee’s Delanie Walker two weeks ago. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to mix it up as much as possible against Graham, but Hill is the best fit with his 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame and ability in coverage. The Ravens have held tight ends in check for most of the season, but they haven’t encountered a talent like Graham and he will bounce back from a tough week against the Bengals with a strong game in Week 12.

2. Steve Smith and Marlon Brown will catch touchdowns passes against a banged-up New Orleans secondary. A week off and a meeting with an old foe he tormented year after year as a member of the Carolina Panthers are just what the doctor ordered for the 35-year-old Smith whose production has declined in recent weeks. The Saints are down to their third-string free safety and top cornerback Keenan Lewis has been dealing with a knee issue, which will lead to the veteran wideout finding the end zone for the first time since Week 6. Looking to boost their 19th-ranked red-zone offense, the Ravens will rediscover Brown as a viable option inside the 20 as the 6-foot-5 receiver will rein in a pass in the back of the end zone for his first touchdown of the 2014 season.

3. The Ravens will contain top rusher Mark Ingram, but a returning Pierre Thomas will create problems as a receiver out of the backfield. After a very slow start to his NFL career, Ingram has emerged in 2014 with a 4.5 yards per carry average to take over the feature back role for New Orleans, but the Baltimore defense has allowed only 3.4 yards per carry and won’t have an issue keeping him in check. The return of Thomas — who hasn’t played since Week 7 — will be critical for a passing game that will miss the injured Brandin Cooks, who was becoming the Saints’ second-best receiver behind Graham as a short-to-intermediate target. With the secondary providing plenty of cushion and linebackers paying close attention to wherever Graham is, the Saints will slip Thomas free out of the backfield repeatedly to move the chains.

4. C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith will both collect sacks as the Ravens use inside blitzing to try to get to Drew Brees. Pees knows his defense must create pressure in the pocket against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but Saints tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief have been the strengths of their offensive line, meaning it won’t be a given that Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs will create enough heat. The best way to pressure Brees is up the middle where center Jonathan Goodwin and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs have struggled in pass protection. Smith and Mosley have both been effective as A-gap blitzers, making it a good bet that the Ravens will try to ambush Brees up the middle. The strategy will pay off with each inside linebacker collecting a sack on Monday night.

5. Joe Flacco and Brees will each throw for over 250 yards, but the veteran will be a little better in a 31-23 win for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, it would have been tough to give the Ravens much of a chance in this one following the injury to Jimmy Smith on top of the Saints’ reputation for playing so well at home. But New Orleans is difficult to figure out with two straight losses at home that came after blowing out mighty Green Bay less than a month ago. On the other hand, a solid performance against the Titans isn’t enough to ease concerns that the Ravens secondary will be able to prevent the Saints from passing up and down the field all night. Flacco and the offense will put together one of their better road performances of the year, but it won’t be quite enough to put the Ravens over the top on Monday night.

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Yanda, Juszczyk probable for Saints game on Monday night

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Yanda, Juszczyk probable for Saints game on Monday night

Posted on 22 November 2014 by Luke Jones

As expected after coming off their bye week, the Ravens will enter Monday night’s game against the New Orleans Saints in good shape from a health standpoint.

Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda (knee) and fullback Kyle Juszczyk (foot) were listed as probable on the final injury report of the week after both were full participants in Saturday’s practice. Yanda sat out practice on Wednesday while Juszczyk was added to the injury report with a foot issue on Friday afternoon.

The Ravens officially ruled out rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) and veteran offensive lineman Jah Reid (broken hand) after neither practiced all week while recovering from their respective injuries.

Linebackers Daryl Smith and Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and tight end Owen Daniels were all listed as probable after each received a practice off this week with the extra day to prepare for a Monday night game.

Meanwhile, the Saints received good news with the status of starting cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee) as he was designated as probable to play against the Ravens after being limited to just 10 snaps in their loss to Cincinnati last week. Lewis sat out Thursday’s practice before being listed as a limited participant on Friday and Saturday.

Starting linebacker Curtis Lofton (ankle) and running backs Pierre Thomas (ribs/shoulder) and Mark Ingram (shoulder) were all listed as probable for Monday night. Veteran wide receiver Robert Meachem (ankle) is questionable for Monday’s game.

The referee for Week 12 will be Bill Leavy, who officiated the Ravens’ Week 3 win in Cleveland earlier this season.

Below is the final injury report ahead of Monday’s game:

BALTIMORE
OUT: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), T Jah Reid (hand)
PROBABLE: TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), FB Kyle Juszczyk (foot), DT Haloti Ngata (non-injury), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (knee)

NEW ORLEANS
OUT: LB Kyle Knox (hand), RB Khiry Robinson (forearm)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Robert Meachem (ankle)
PROBABLE: RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring), RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), CB Keenan Lewis (knee), LB Curtis Lofton (ankle), T Zach Strief (chest), RB Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder)

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Juszczyk added to injury report as limited participant

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Juszczyk added to injury report as limited participant

Posted on 21 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was added to Friday’s injury report as the Ravens moved closer to their Week 12 meeting with the New Orleans Saints.

Juszczyk was a limited participant with what was described as a foot issue. It’s unclear whether the injury was sustained during Friday’s practice or it was a previous issue that flared up. He practiced fully on Wednesday and Thursday.

Wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) and offensive lineman Jah Reid (hand) missed practice once again as both are expected to miss Monday night’s game in New Orleans. Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed Friday that Campanaro hasn’t been cleared to return to practice this week despite hopes that he’d be ready to resume playing right after the bye.

Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda (knee) was upgraded to full participation on Friday.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata were both given the day off Friday after linebacker Daryl Smith and tight end Owen Daniels took Thursday’s practice off.

The Saints saw the return of starting cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee) and starting inside linebacker Curtis Lofton (ankle) to the practice field on Friday.

The final injury report of the week will be released on Saturday afternoon, but below is the official injury report for Friday:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (non-injury), T Jah Reid (hand), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: FB Kyle Juszczyk (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (knee)

NEW ORLEANS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Kyle Knox (hand), RB Khiry Robinson (forearm)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring), CB Keenan Lewis (knee), LB Curtis Lofton (ankle), WR Robert Meachem (ankle), RB Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), T Zach Strief (chest)

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Ravens cornerback Jackson returns to practice field

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Ravens cornerback Jackson returns to practice field

Posted on 21 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson returned to the practice field Friday for the first time since injuring his toe in the Oct. 5 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Jackson was placed on injured reserve-designated to return on Oct. 8 and is now aiming for a return in Week 14 against the Miami Dolphins, the first game in which he’s eligible to play. Under NFL rules, an injured player must remain on IR-designated to return for six weeks before practicing and a minimum of eight weeks before returning to game action.

“I felt good. Pain-free for the most part,” Jackson told reporters following the workout. “Hopefully, I don’t have any more setbacks and will be ready to go when my time is here.”

Starting four of five games and making 19 tackles before suffering a significant turf toe injury, Jackson would provide some much-needed depth to a secondary that lost top cornerback Jimmy Smith for the season. Baltimore is currently relying on former reserve safety Anthony Levine and journeyman Danny Gorrer to play meaningful snaps opposite veteran Lardarius Webb.

The Ravens plan to bring Jackson along slowly to make sure the toe is sound, but the hope is he’s ready to go for the final month of the season as they try to make it back to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

“We didn’t have him in too many of the main drills today,” head coach John Harbaugh said Friday. “I’ll have to watch the tape and talk to some of the guys that worked with him in more of the individual drills. But it’s good to see him out there. It’s good to know that he’s now basically been activated to prepare. The first opportunity for him to play would be against the Dolphins, so we’ll be hoping for that.”

Meanwhile, Harbaugh confirmed that rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro will miss Monday night’s game in New Orleans while continuing to recover from a hamstring injury suffered against Cincinnati on Oct. 26. The head coach had previously expressed optimism that the seventh-round pick might be ready to return after the bye week.

Campanaro has six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown this season.

“There was no setback. It’s just not ready yet,” said Harbaugh about Campanaro’s hamstring. “When it’s ready, he’ll be out there. We were hoping for this week, and that was the original time frame, but he wasn’t cleared to go this week.”

History isn’t on the Ravens’ side Monday as they try to not only improve to 7-4 to keep pace in a very competitive AFC North but also end the Saints’ incredible run of home success in prime-time games. New Orleans has won 14 prime-time home games in a row and hasn’t suffered a defeat since 2009. However, the Saints are reeling after losing two straight games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and have limped to a 4-6 start this season.

Asked about the Saints’ long run of success in prime-time contests, Harbaugh used the opportunity to take a playful dig at the NFL — that certainly had some truth to it.

“Getting to play a Monday night at home, is there something to that? I wouldn’t really know,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “I don’t know much about that. We don’t get those chances too often.”

Of course, the Baltimore coach is referring to the fact that his team has only played one Monday night home game in his seven-year tenure, which came against Cincinnati in the 2012 season opener. The Ravens are 5-3 in Monday night games in the Harbaugh era.

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Marlon Brown key to Ravens unlocking more red-zone production?

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Marlon Brown key to Ravens unlocking more red-zone production?

Posted on 20 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Some expected wide receiver Marlon Brown’s production to dip this year after a 2013 campaign in which he caught 49 passes for 524 yards as the Ravens’ most surprising rookie.

The free-agent acquisitions of Steven Smith and Owen Daniels as well as the expected presence of a healthy Dennis Pitta meant the 6-foot-5 undrafted free agent from the University of Georgia would likely fall down at least a couple pegs in the receiving hierarchy, but Brown has been an afterthought through the first 10 weeks of the 2014 season. Catching only 10 passes for 93 yards in eight games — he missed two games with a pelvic injury — Brown keeps waiting and working for his opportunity while learning from seasoned veterans who weren’t on the roster when he was a rookie.

“I’m a competitor and I love to make plays and make the team [better],” said Brown, who has seen more playing time recently and has caught five passes for 45 yards over the Ravens’ last two games. “Obviously, I would like to be able to make more plays and be put in that position. At the end of the day, I tip my hat to Owen Daniels and Steve Smith. Those are the vets. I’m learning every day from these two greats, so I can’t complain about anything.”

Anyone who watched Brown play as a rookie knew his extensive playing time was as much about attrition at the wide receiver position as any other factor, but it was difficult not to be impressed with his size and potential as a target inside the 20. The Ravens ranked 31st in the red zone in 2013, but Brown was often their only option in that area of the field as he made all seven of his touchdown receptions on plays starting inside the opponent’s 20.

A year later, the Baltimore offense is much better under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, ranking 12th in total yards and tied for seventh in points per game. But the red zone remains an area in which the Ravens could improve as they’re eighth in the NFL in trips inside the 20, but they’ve scored touchdowns on only 54.1 percent of those drives, ranking 19th in the league.

“We need to be more efficient down there. We had some bad games early,” said Kubiak, pointing to the Week 2 win over Pittsburgh when the Ravens were only 2-for-6 inside the 20. “That puts you behind the eight ball pretty quick. But the red zone is an interesting stat, because sometimes you may come out of a game 2-for-2 and you didn’t win the game. It’s about the importance of when you’re down there, in my opinion, and it’s fixing to get very important here over the next six weeks. Usually, we’re at our best when we run the ball pretty well.”

The dramatic improvement with the offense this year has largely been the result of a consistent ground game, but the question lingers over who quarterback Joe Flacco can really depend on inside the red zone after Pitta was lost for the season in Week 3.

Smith has been Baltimore’s leading receiver this year, but his 5-foot-9 frame and ability to work in space is neutralized in a constricted area as he’s caught only four passes for 22 yards inside the 20 this season. Torrey Smith caught two touchdowns inside the red zone against Tampa Bay in Week 6, but he’s generally not the receiver who’s going to attack the ball when it’s up for grabs.

All three of Daniels’ touchdown receptions this season have come inside the red zone, but opposing defenses have keyed on him in the middle portion of the field as the Ravens move closer to the goal line, meaning someone else needs to emerge.

Despite his encouraging work inside the red zone during his rookie year, Brown has yet to be targeted inside the 20 in 2014. He’s an option Kubiak would be wise to consider as the Ravens have rarely used the jump ball in the end zone. Brown’s frame makes him the perfect candidate for occasionally featuring that strategy close to the goal line.

“He’s much more involved right now,” Kubiak said. “He has a big body, a chance to make some plays. So, it’s going to take all of us, and I’m sure Marlon will get his opportunities.”

At this point, Brown shouldn’t be mistaken for a starting-caliber receiver or a player on which you can rely to run precise routes all over the field, but his size is something the Ravens should try to utilize. And even if the offense has more overall talent than it did a year ago, Brown made plays against NFL defenses inside the red zone last season, proving he has the ability to contribute in an area that needs more efficiency.

It’s worth giving him a look as the Ravens try to make it back to the postseason in their final six games.

“I’m definitely trying to improve as a player, as a receiver in all the routes,” said Brown, who downplayed any difficulty he had learning Kubiak’s system as some have speculated. “I don’t want to be a guy who just runs red-zone routes or just runs [certain] routes. I want to run all the routes. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from all these guys while they’re here. I’m just trying to take advantage and soak in anything.”

Brown soaking in a few touchdowns inside the red zone would be an encouraging development for the Ravens down the stretch.

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Yanda practices as Ravens continue preparations for New Orleans

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Yanda practices as Ravens continue preparations for New Orleans

Posted on 20 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Right guard Marshal Yanda returned to the practice field Thursday as the Ravens continued preparations for their Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints.

The three-time Pro Bowl selection sat out Wednesday’s practice as Baltimore worked out in full pads. He had been nursing a knee injury prior to the bye week, but the Ravens did not have to release an injury report until Thursday. Yanda was listed as a limited participant on the first injury report of the week.

Wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) and offensive lineman Jah Reid (hand) both remained sidelined on Thursday, creating even more doubt for their availability in Week 12. Campanaro hasn’t played since the Oct. 26 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals while Reid broke his hand a few days before the Tennessee game.

Tight end Owen Daniels and linebacker Daryl Smith weren’t practicing after receiving the day off as they periodically do on Thursdays.

The Ravens are practicing inside their field house all week due to the cold temperatures outside and Monday’s game being played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

The Saints continue to deal with injury concerns in their secondary as starting cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee) did not practice on Thursday. The former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back was limited last week before playing 10 snaps in the loss to Cincinnati.

Starting inside linebacker (ankle) and return specialist Travaris Cadet (hamstring) was also absent from practice on Thursday.

Below is the official injury report for Thursday:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), T Jah Reid (hand), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Marshal Yanda (knee)

NEW ORLEANS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring), LB Kyle Knox (hand), CB Keenan Lewis (knee), LB Curtis Lofton (ankle), RB Khiry Robinson (forearm)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Robert Meachem (ankle), RB Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), T Zach Strief (chest)

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Ravens hoping old foe brings out best in Steve Smith

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Ravens hoping old foe brings out best in Steve Smith

Posted on 19 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith wasn’t hiding his enthusiasm for playing on Monday Night Football as the Ravens are preparing to travel to the Big Easy this weekend to take on the New Orleans Saints.

He knows the entire country will be watching as this was the platform last year in which Smith uttered his now famous post-game phrase, “Ice up, son.”

“You get real excited,” Smith said on Wednesday. “Family members get to see you play. Ex-girlfriends that wished they wouldn’t have dumped you, they’re questioning themselves right now. It’s fun.”

The Ravens hope their top wide receiver will break a few more hearts Monday as he faces an opponent he’s very familiar with going back to his days playing in the NFC South. Entering 2014, his 99 catches, 1,493 receiving yards, and 10 touchdown receptions in 23 career games against New Orleans were more than he had produced against any other team. The Saints’ 24th-ranked pass defense could certainly lend a hand in a happy reunion as well.

The longtime Carolina Panther has continued his success against his old division this season, catching 15 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns in three games against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta. Baltimore would benefit from another huge game in trying to hand New Orleans a third consecutive home loss.

And it would be a comforting rebound for the veteran considering he caught only 11 passes for 88 yards and no touchdowns in the last three games prior to the bye — two of them losses to AFC North rivals.

“If we’re playing the way we want to, then he and everybody are going to be a big part of it,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who downplayed Smith’s recent decline in production. “He’s had some pretty good games against these guys. Obviously, he’s played these guys for a long time, so hopefully when we get there, he feels comfortable and we get him another big game against these guys.”

After recharging from a physical standpoint last week, Smith has been all business returning to Owings Mills this week as he spent more than an hour with wide receivers coach Bobby Engram on Tuesday. The pair watched more than 100 plays together as Smith evaluated his own performance over the first 10 games of the season after posting four 100-yard games to tie a single-season franchise record.

Acknowledging he walked into the film room “kind of down” as he prepared to jot down his critique in a notebook, Smith said he felt encouraged after seeing so much positive while also identifying what he needs to do better. In the midst of his 14th NFL season, Smith leads the Ravens with 49 catches and 728 receiving yards.

“I need to be more dependable in certain areas,” Smith said. “And that falls on me. That doesn’t fall on Joe, doesn’t fall on [offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak], it doesn’t fall on [head coach John Harbaugh], or anybody. That falls directly on me. I’m a professional. I’ve been in this game for a long time. And if you can’t hold yourself accountable, you can’t expect anybody else to do it for you.

“I can’t expect Joe to believe in me that I’m going to win on a route if I haven’t done the proper technique, lined up, and run a route the way it’s suppose to be run for him to depend on me. That falls on me first. And that’s what I did in my bye week — enjoy my family — but I sat back and took some time and said, ‘What am I not bringing to the table, and why am I not doing it?’”

One of those areas to which Smith was referring could have been inside the red zone as the veteran has made just four receptions for 22 yards inside the opponent’s 20 this season. Of course, his 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame doesn’t make him the prototypical target for that area of the field, but one doesn’t accumulate 71 career touchdown receptions without at least some production near the goal line.

Despite Smith’s concerns and self-evaluation, the Ravens don’t appear overly concerned as Kubiak acknowledged last week that it falls on his shoulders to keep various weapons involved in the offseason while taking Smith’s recent production in stride with the overall ebb and flow of a 16-game schedule.

Needless to say, Smith and the Ravens are hoping he finishes the season with the same explosiveness in which he started, but some doubts will naturally linger about a 35-year-old receiver.

“I have to always find ways to get guys the ball,” Kubiak said. “I wish I could get them all the perfect amount every week, but those things usually don’t work that way. You have to get all of your play-makers the ball. Steve is doing a good job, and hopefully we get him back on the track that he was on earlier in the year. But he’s playing hard, working hard.”

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Campanaro, Yanda absent from Wednesday’s practice

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Campanaro, Yanda absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 19 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens returned to their indoor field house in Owings Mills Wednesday to take part in their first practice open to media since returning from their bye week.

Making preparations for Monday’s prime-time game against the New Orleans Saints, Baltimore was without Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda (knee), rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring), and reserve offensive lineman Jah Reid (hand). The Ravens do not have to release their first injury report until Thursday with their Week 12 game on Monday night.

Yanda played all 62 offensive snaps of the Ravens’ 21-7 win over Tennessee on Nov. 9, but he had been nursing a knee injury for a couple weeks prior to that.

Campanaro hasn’t played since injuring his hamstring in the Oct. 26 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Head coach John Harbaugh expressed hope last week that the seventh-round pick would be close to returning after the bye as he’s missed the Ravens’ last two games.

Reid missed the Tennessee game after suffering a broken hand that required surgery. The Ravens have elected to keep him on the 53-man roster to this point instead of sending him to season-ending injured reserve.

The Saints appear to be in worse shape from an injury standpoint as talented rookie wideout Brandin Cooks (hand) and starting safety Rafael Bush (leg) were both placed on IR Tuesday. Cooks was New Orleans’ second-leading receiver behind All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham this season, and Bush had replaced injured Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, who is also on IR.

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Harbaugh, Ravens feeling refreshed returning from bye

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Harbaugh, Ravens feeling refreshed returning from bye

Posted on 17 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning from their latest bye since the 2001 season, the Ravens hope a week of rest is the perfect tonic to propel them to the postseason for the sixth time in seven years under head coach John Harbaugh.

At 6-4, Baltimore finds itself in the thick of the AFC playoff race, but next Monday’s trip to New Orleans will be a challenge for a team that’s just 2-3 on the road in 2014. Harbaugh hopes the late-season bye will allow the Ravens to finish strong as four of their final six games come against teams with records of .500 or better and that’s not including the 4-6 Saints who possess the NFL’s second-ranked offense.

“We’re going to have our hands full, and we better be ready to go,” Harbaugh said. “I like to believe that our guys understand that, but we’ll find out Monday night. I believe they do understand that.”

Players were off Tuesday through Sunday while Harbaugh gave his assistant coaches Thursday through Sunday to recharge for the final six games of the regular season. The Ravens are 5-1 in games returning from their bye week in the Harbaugh era and have won 10 of their last 12 post-bye games since the 2002 season.

Harbaugh hopes history is on their side as well as the benefit of a later bye as the Ravens are currently chasing first-place Cincinnati, who improved to 6-3-1 with an impressive win over the Saints on Sunday. Baltimore ranked ninth in the AFC playoff chase as a result of Pittsburgh’s Monday night win to conclude Week 11.

“You don’t realize how exhausted you are until you get a chance to take a deep breath and relax,” Harbaugh said. “The next thing you know, you’re like, ‘Wow, this has really been helpful.’ Everybody gets a bye week. We had ours this week, and we hope to make the most of it going forward for the rest of the season.”

Harbaugh doesn’t question penalty for Coffman

Asked about the NFL’s decision to fine Chase Coffman $30,000 for his malicious sideline hit on assistant coach Tony Coaxum in Week 10, Harbaugh chose to take the high road about the league not suspending the Tennessee Titans tight end.

The Ravens coach said he was told the collision wasn’t intentional, but it’s no secret that the organization was very unhappy about what happened late in the fourth quarter of the 21-7 win over Tennessee. Coaxum was not injured, but the FOX Sports video below leaves little debate about Coffman’s conduct.

“It’s really difficult to have a response to the level of punishment,” Harbaugh said. “I know the league has protocols, and they have standards and histories and things like that that they look really hard at. We don’t ever really question that part of it. That’s in their purview.”

Ravens wanted to keep Sunday night star Gray

Former practice squad running back Jonas Gray became the toast of the NFL Sunday night with his 199-yard, four-touchdown performance in the New England Patriots’ 42-20 win over Indianapolis.

Gray spent the 2013 regular season on the Ravens’ practice squad before electing to sign a reserve-futures contract with New England last offseason. Asked about the Michigan native rushing for a single-game high in the NFL this season, Harbaugh mentioned their respective in-state ties as a springboard to a good relationship, even mentioning that Gray’s mom brought food to the team during their Week 15 game in Detroit last December.

“We were disappointed to lose Jonas last year when we lost him. We really thought he had a lot of upside,” Harbaugh said. “He felt like that was an opportunity that he wanted to pursue, and obviously, it’s paid off for him. I wish him nothing but the best, but I was happy for him [Sunday] night to see him do that. That was great to see.”

Of course, no one could have predicted Gray’s breakout performance as even New England stashed him on the practice squad for a large portion of this season, but you do wonder if the Ravens regret not giving him a look last season while they were experiencing such drastic woes with the running game.

Conflicted coach

Harbaugh’s strong ties to the University of Michigan are no secret, making for a fun moment Monday when he was asked to predict the winner of this Saturday’s Maryland-Michigan game in Ann Arbor.

Neither team is exactly fighting for a Big Ten title this year as there has been plenty of debate about the future of Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke. Harbaugh paused and smiled before providing his answer to the question about who would prevail.

“May the best team win,” he said while laughing. “How’s that?”

Practice squad changes (again)

The Ravens made their latest change to their practice squad Monday, signing tight end Allen Reisner and cutting tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi.

Reisner is in his fourth NFL season and has spent time with Jacksonville, Minnesota, and New England. He has registered seven catches for 58 yards in 15 career games split between the Jaguars and Vikings.

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Saints rookie receiver Cooks out with broken thumb

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Saints rookie receiver Cooks out with broken thumb

Posted on 17 November 2014 by Luke Jones

As if they weren’t encouraged enough by watching the New Orleans Saints drop their second straight home game Sunday, the Ravens learned a day later they won’t have to deal with standout rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks in Week 12.

Cooks suffered a broken thumb that’s expected to sideline him at least for a few weeks, meaning the Saints’ first-round pick and emerging wideout won’t be available when Baltimore travels to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next Monday night. Of course, New Orleans has a wide array of other weapons in All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receivers Marques Colston and Kenny Stills, but the Saints are coming off their lowest scoring output at home since 2006 and Cooks was emerging as their second-best playmaker behind Graham in recent weeks.

He leads all NFL rookies with 53 receptions for 550 yards and three touchdown catches, ranking second on the team behind Graham in all three categories.

The Saints are also banged up in the secondary after losing safety Rafael Bush to a broken fibula in the fourth quarter of their 27-10 loss to Cincinnati. This comes after New Orleans already lost Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd for the season last month.

Though their Monday night trip won’t be easy with an inexperienced secondary, the Ravens should be feeling much better about their chances with quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints off to an underwhelming 4-6 start and even experiencing inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball at times this season.

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