Tag Archive | "Steelers"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 06 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their third straight loss and fourth in their last five games in a 23-16 final against Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore will never take the next step by settling for 23-yard field goals against a high-scoring offense. The analytics did support those decisions to kick, but I would have considered going for the fourth-and-3 from the 5 in the second quarter. “Take the points” isn’t always the best strategy.

2. As I’ve written other times, Joe Flacco is far from the only reason for the recent offensive struggles, but he hasn’t been a big enough part of the solution either. He was under duress quite a bit Sunday, but he easily missed a half-dozen throws working from a satisfactory pocket.

3. Insinuating Flacco didn’t throw to Lamar Jackson out of spite is taking quite a leap to trash the character of someone who’s never done anything to warrant such treatment. It’s not like his ability to see the field or go through progressions has never been criticized, so why get personal?

4. How the middle of the field continues to be such a problematic area for the pass defense when C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Tony Jefferson account for $22.625 million on the 2018 salary cap is a tough pill to swallow.

5. Orlando Brown Jr. continues to be a bright spot. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t allow a pressure against Pittsburgh and has yet to allow a sack or quarterback hit this season. The right tackle spot should be his with James Hurst potentially moving to left guard when healthy.

6. Matthew Judon hasn’t taken the leap many predicted this season, but he registered Baltimore’s lone sack as well as two hits and two hurries against the Steelers, according to PFF. The Ravens need to see more of that with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to hit free agency.

7. Like Drew Brees’ third-down completion while in the grasp of Jefferson in Week 7, I thought the defense forcing a three-and-out right after Alex Collins’ touchdown might be the turning point. Instead, a holding penalty, a sack, two passes short of the chains, and a punt quickly dashed that thought.

8. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that Jimmy Smith played better with Marlon Humphrey back in action and Wink Martindale once again rotating those two and Brandon Carr on the outside. The defense has certainly had its recent issues, but that luxury should still pay off down the stretch.

9. Those saying Jackson’s use is disrupting offensive rhythm received ammunition when he entered for a run of no gain immediately following Flacco strikes to Michael Crabtree and Chris Moore. If you want to run there, why not hand to Collins on an uptempo play instead of broadcasting what you’re doing?

10. Brandon Williams noted after the game that teams are approaching the Ravens defense differently and aren’t playing “actual football” by running so many sweeps and screens to take interior players like him out of the equation. There’s that whole “needing to adapt” theme popping up again.

11. Don’t look now, but the Ravens are on track to lead the NFL in passing attempts for the third time in the last four years. They also rank in the bottom five in yards per passing attempt for the fourth straight season. Jamal Lewis weeps.

12. Regardless of what happens over these next two months, I’ll maintain that John Harbaugh is a good football coach. However, he doesn’t do himself any favors with a rookie mistake like not using his timeouts ahead of the two-minute warning to conserve more clock.

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Struggling Ravens staring at present and future entering their bye week

Posted on 05 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti wasn’t going to fire John Harbaugh on Monday.

That was the emotional reaction for which some were clamoring, but what purpose would it have served right now? The Ravens are surely reeling after losing their third straight game and fourth of their last five, but this isn’t a 1-8 team with a fractured locker room that’s quit on its head coach either. Say what you want about how mediocre they’ve been since winning Super Bowl XLVII six years ago, but Harbaugh’s teams have continued to play hard — even in 2015 when a lousy start and an unthinkable run of injuries left them with a 5-11 record. And it’s not as though there’s a Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan on the coaching staff waiting to take over.

The only team to fire its Super Bowl-winning coach in the middle of a season was the Baltimore Colts in 1972 when Don McCafferty was let go after refusing to bench Johnny Unitas. Do you really think Bisciotti wants to join a club frequented only by the late Robert Irsay? It’s just not a move a good owner makes with an individual who’s meant so much to the organization over the last decade.

But changes are likely coming at the end of the season without a dramatic turnaround — a kind of run not seen in these parts since 2012. The Ravens remain in the AFC wild-card race among a group of underwhelming teams, but aspiring to sneak in as the No. 6 seed with a 9-7 record — essentially the Buffalo Bills last season — shouldn’t alter anyone’s thoughts about the future short of a deep run in January.

The clock is ticking loudly on Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, and other veterans with high salary cap numbers, which is what makes these final seven weeks of the season so awkward. Is there a way for the Ravens to find an identity and right the ship while also hedging their bets for the future?

Truthfully, there isn’t much to say about a defense that still ranks very favorably statistically despite allowing 76 points over its last nine quarters of play against high-octane offenses. Forcing a few more turnovers would certainly help the cause, but the last three weeks are proof that good defense just doesn’t mean what it used to against top competition. None of the consensus top four teams in the NFL this year — the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City, New Orleans, and New England — rank in the top 12 in total defense or the top nine in scoring defense. Minnesota’s top-ranked defense a year ago gave up 62 points in two playoff contests, including 38 to backup quarterback Nick Foles and Philadelphia in the NFC championship game.

Today’s game played at the highest level is more about scoring points than trying to prevent them. The best offenses are innovative and explosive with the rules only augmenting those qualities. Defense may win championships again one day, but not in the present.

That brings us to a Ravens offense that’s averaged 17.8 points per game since the Week 4 win over Pittsburgh. After an impressive September, Joe Flacco is averaging 5.8 yards per attempt and has a 73.7 passer rating over the last five games. The running game continues to rank 31st of 32 teams in yards per carry (3.6). Wide receivers have struggled to beat man coverage and consistently catch the football. And an offensive line that was already having its problems has been hampered by injuries over the last few weeks.

It’s enough to question whether an immediate change is in order at offensive coordinator, but Harbaugh has pretty clearly tied himself to Marty Mornhinweg — for better or worse. If he didn’t replace him at the end of the 2016 season or midway through last year, you probably shouldn’t expect it now. Running game guru Greg Roman or even quarterbacks coach James Urban could be argued as a potential replacement, but it’s not as though the Ravens have thrived so much in their respective areas either.

Improvement should come with the healthy returns of left tackle Ronnie Stanley and the versatile James Hurst, who could shift inside with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. holding up at the right tackle spot. The bye week should allow Ty Montgomery to further acclimate himself to the playbook and potentially bring more versatility to the running back position down the stretch.

The most interesting dynamic, however, will involve Flacco and Lamar Jackson as Harbaugh reiterated his desire Monday to see even more of the rookie quarterback after the bye week. The Ravens have run the ball more effectively with Jackson in the game than they have with their “traditional” offense this season, but his usage has also been criticized for occasionally upsetting the overall rhythm of the offense and making it too predictable. In Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, nine of Baltimore’s 16 total rushes came on Jackson’s 13 snaps, which reflects how little the Ravens ran on their other 48 offensive snaps.

The Ravens need to be able to run the ball more effectively when Flacco is the only quarterback on the field, and the coaching staff must be willing to let Jackson throw the ball more frequently if he’s going to be out there. Otherwise, it all becomes too predictable and makes life difficult for both quarterbacks.

It’s a delicate balance trying to get the most out of Flacco — who’s always been a rhythm quarterback at his best — while keeping Jackson involved. The Ravens want to use Jackson’s skills to try to win in the present, but his long-term development becomes more relevant each week. Perhaps that’s why Harbaugh didn’t shoot down the possibility of Jackson playing entire series — even more — down the stretch.

A few more losses will make that choice elementary as evaluating Jackson for the future will become paramount if the playoffs are out of reach. Until then, the Ravens won’t give up on their diminishing postseason chances, hoping a week off to recuperate and regroup will put them in position to make a final run with this coaching staff and this group of veteran players.

It’s likely Harbaugh’s last stand, but it’s one he deserves to have.

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A few words regarding rumors of Steve Bisciotti firing John Harbaugh during Ravens bye week

Posted on 05 November 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

I’ve covered Ravens since Day One in 1996 and Sunday was the first time I’ve been in a post-game locker room where questions were rapid fire in every direction regarding the job security of the head coach. Clearly, John Harbaugh is on the hot seat.

With all of the disappointment of the 4-5 start – I actually saw an angry douchebag cowardly fan berating poor Jermaine Eluemenor as I exited the stadium after the 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers – it’s expected that the fan base would be spurred on by a media that smelled blood in the water for John Harbaugh as well as Joe Flacco in the aftermath of what has been a lackluster month of football after a promising start in all three phases of the game.

I think there are several reasons that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti will not be firing John Harbaugh this week.

First, Bisciotti and Harbaugh are extremely close and their relationship and mutual respect run deep. Pulling the plug would reflect poorly on both of them.

Also, the Ravens locker room also hasn’t “quit” on Harbaugh. And there’s no one in any corner of the locker room that has shifted blame onto anyone other than themselves – as it should be when both sides of the ball as well as the special teams have all played a role in this spate of losses.

I have spent this century studying the management style of Bisciotti and I believe there’s no way he’d fire Harbaugh in midseason because it’s simply not how he manages. He’s far from impulsive. Plus, firing the coach makes the owner the biggest story during bye week and that’s not how Bisciotti rolls.

And finally – and most significantly – I believe that Bisciotti wouldn’t fire a Super Bowl-winning head coach in Harbaugh during a 4-5 bye week because it would devalue his brand and taint his ownership philosophy. In his eyes, that’s the kind of garbage the Browns and Raiders do.

It would be very un-Ravens like…

I’ve been wrong before but firing Harbaugh right now would admit a massive midseason panic for Bisciotti that I think is far too sloppy, too wasteful and simply not the way he operates.

But, it surely feels inevitable in some ways that a massive change will be coming for the Ravens this offseason barring a dramatic turnaround during this bye week of rest before the Cinncinati Bengals come to Baltimore in 13 days.

And while we’re at it on ownership and leadership – it’s important to note that the baseball team across the parking lot still doesn’t have a general manager or a manager or anyone to answer questions about their offseason after 115 losses. And they also ban the media members they don’t like from asking questions.

It’s tough times for leaders and sports fans in the Charm City. I will be opining at WNST.net and AM 1570 all week…

Appreciate your support in these troubles times for our sports franchises…

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 04 November 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With pressure mounting on 11th-year head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens will try to right their season against Pittsburgh.

An NFL Network report confirmed what many were already thinking with Baltimore dropping three of the last four games in its quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. A win gives the Ravens a 5-4 record entering the bye week and stabilizes their footing in the AFC North race, but a loss would drop them below .500 and require a major second-half run to even qualify for a wild-card spot.

In other words, Sunday could mark the beginning of the final stand for the Super Bowl-winning coach and others in the organization.

After missing practice time this week and being listed as questionable on the final injury report, cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh), and safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) are all active, an encouraging development as the Ravens try to slow the NFL’s fifth-ranked scoring offense. Humphrey had missed the last two weeks since sustaining a thigh injury in practice ahead of the New Orleans game while Mosley and Jefferson suffered their injuries during last Sunday’s loss at Carolina.

Baltimore will be without both starting offensive tackles as Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and James Hurst (back) were officially ruled out on Friday, but left guard Alex Lewis (neck) will make his return after a two-game absence. Rookie Bradley Bozeman (calf) is also active after not playing against the Panthers.

During pre-game warmups, second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor — promoted from the practice squad less than two weeks ago — lined up as the left tackle as he did last week when Stanley exited in the second half. As expected, Orlando Brown Jr. will make his third straight start at right tackle in place of the injured Hurst.

With the Ravens likely to use plenty of max protect in the absence of Stanley and Hurst, tight end Maxx Williams being a healthy scratch for a second straight week was a mild surprise. Rookie defensive end Zach Sieler is active for just the second time this season as Baltimore tries to slow Steelers running back James Conner, who has rushed for 367 yards in the last three games.

As expected, Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) is inactive after being listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

Sunday’s referee is Craig Wrolstad.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

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

Including the postseason, Sunday marks the 50th all-time meeting between these AFC North rivals with the Steelers enjoying a 27-22 advantage. However, the Ravens are aiming to complete their fourth season sweep of the Steelers after their 26-14 win at Heinz Field in Week 4.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
LB Tim Williams
OT Ronnie Stanley
OT James Hurst
TE Maxx Williams
RB Ty Montgomery

PITTSBURGH
OT Marcus Gilbert
QB Mason Rudolph
WR Justin Hunter
S Marcus Allen
CB Brian Allen
OT Zach Banner
DE L.T. Walton

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 03 November 2018 by Luke Jones

Rarely has a Week 9 game felt so important for the Ravens.

A win over Pittsburgh snaps a two-game slide and leaves Baltimore in solid shape in the AFC North entering their much-needed bye week. A loss leaves the Ravens under .500 at the bye for the fourth straight year and needing to win five of their final seven games just to finish with a 9-7 record — familiar territory — while outside talk of wholesale changes will only grow louder in the off-week.

They understand what’s at stake, but focusing too much on the big picture is a slippery slope, especially when playing against the Steelers.

“When you worry about the outcome of things before it has actually happened, that’s when you start making mistakes,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “That’s when you start playing tentative.”

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals meet for the 50th time — counting the postseason — with Pittsburgh owning a 27-22 advantage. Including the playoffs, the series is tied 12-12 in the John Harbaugh era with 17 of those contests decided by a single possession. A victory would give the Ravens their fourth season sweep of the Steelers in their 23-year history.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. First-round rookies Hayden Hurst and Lamar Jackson will each score a touchdown. Hurst grew up a Steelers fan and was drafted by the Pirates, making him eager to make his mark after sitting out the first meeting. The Ravens must start seeing a return for their first pick in this year’s draft, and Pittsburgh has struggled to defend tight ends this season. Meanwhile, a good Steelers run defense and multiple injuries along the offensive line should compel offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use Jackson more than usual to gain yardage on the ground and keep some pressure off Flacco.

2. Flacco will be sacked a season-high five times behind a patchwork offensive line. The 11th-year quarterback has played some of his best football against Pittsburgh over the years, but the absence of Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst leaves the Ravens in a tough spot against a defense that has 24 sacks in 2018. Baltimore will use plenty of max protect, but that will allow the Steelers to devote more attention to John Brown. The key to moving the ball will be quick throws over the middle of the field, but Pittsburgh rushers T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Bud Dupree will still be licking their chops.

3. The Baltimore defense will force its first second-half turnover since Week 4. The consensus message from players and coaches this week was that the takeaways will come, but the Ravens have only seven through their first eight games and really could have used one trying to protect a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against New Orleans or to spark a comeback against Carolina. Wink Martindale’s defense did a good job confusing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first meeting and will need more of the same to set up a struggling Baltimore offense on a short field.

4. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald will catch touchdowns for the Steelers. Much like the Steelers defense, the Ravens are most vulnerable over the middle, which is problematic against Smith-Schuster in the slot and a capable pair of tight ends in McDonald and Jesse James. That area of the field is even more concerning as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Tony Jefferson deal with injuries. A returning Marlon Humphrey makes you feel better about keeping Antonio Brown from wrecking the game, but the linebackers and safeties must rebound from a poor showing in Carolina.

5. The banged-up Ravens will suffer their third straight loss in a 23-17 final. Harbaugh expressed confidence Friday that his offensive line is healthy enough to win the game, and I fully expect his team to battle after last week’s clunker against the Panthers. However, Jermaine Eluemunor being trusted to block Flacco’s blindside is a scary proposition, and this offensive line hasn’t been effective enough in the run game to alleviate pressure in the pocket. On the flip side, the Ravens defense is also banged up and facing a Pittsburgh offense averaging just under 30 points per game. Playing at home will help, but 10 of the 24 Ravens-Steelers contests since 2008 have been won by the visitor and these teams have been moving in opposite directions since Week 4. I just haven’t seen enough of an “it” factor from the Ravens to believe they’ll overcome their current injuries and get the job done against a tough foe.

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Ravens rule out both starting offensive tackles for Pittsburgh game

Posted on 02 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will enter one of the most critical regular-season games of the John Harbaugh era without their starting offensive tackles.

After missing practices all week, left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and right tackle James Hurst (back) have been ruled out against Pittsburgh, leaving an offensive line that’s already had its problems this season in a precarious position against a Steelers defense tied for second in the NFL with 24 sacks. Hurst will be sitting out his third straight game while Stanley was injured in the second half of last Sunday’s loss at Carolina. Their absence will likely mean more max protect using Nick Boyle and other Ravens tight ends to try to keep quarterback Joe Flacco clean in the pocket.

“Our coaches do a great job with [adjustments], and I’m very confident in the guys that are going to play,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see how they do. That’s the nature of it.  We’re not as healthy as they are, but we’re healthy enough to win the game; I promise you that. I can’t wait to go out and play.”

With Stanley missing the sixth game of his NFL career, the assumption is that second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor will start at left tackle after he played 19 snaps there last week. The 2017 fifth-round pick was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster less than two weeks ago and said Friday he hasn’t played left tackle on a regular basis since his junior college days. However, Eluemunor believes last week’s snaps against the Panthers as well as extensive practice reps as a scout-team offensive tackle facing outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon have prepared him for this opportunity.

“I’m pretty comfortable,” said Eluemunor about playing left tackle. “I’ve been going against ‘Sizz’ every day for the past eight weeks of the regular season. If I did get put in that position, I feel like ‘Sizz’ and Judon did a good job of helping me during practice and showing what I can do better with.”

If the coaching staff isn’t comfortable with Eluemunor at left tackle, another possibility would be moving rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the left side — where he played at Oklahoma — and shifting right guard Marshal Yanda out to right tackle, something the Ravens have done in the past. Needless to say, any alternative to Stanley at left tackle is far from ideal.

The good news for the offensive line is the anticipated return of left guard Alex Lewis, who is on track to play after a two-game absence. Lewis practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday and expressed confidence that he’ll be on the field against the Steelers. The 2016 fourth-round pick did start three games at left tackle in place of Stanley during his rookie year, but the Ravens would likely settle for just having him back at his usual position after his scary neck injury in Week 6.

“I felt good out there running around fast, playing fast. I’m going to go out and try to roll on Sunday,” Lewis said. “We tried to go last week. I just wasn’t ready. I still felt some pain back there, but it’s gone away now. We’ve strengthened the muscles around it, and we should be able to roll.”

The Ravens defense is also less than 100 percent as cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh), and safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) were all listed as questionable on the final injury report. After missing the last two games, Humphrey appears to have a good chance to return since he was able to practice on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.

Mosley’s status remains uncertain after the three-time Pro Bowl selection only returned to the practice field on a limited basis on Friday, but Jefferson made his intentions clear after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday sessions.

“I’m definitely playing. I wouldn’t miss this game for the world,” said Jefferson, who was a limited participant on Friday. “Last week’s behind us. It’s a new week and it’s Pittsburgh week, so not much that needs to be said about that. It’s our rival opponent. It’s going to be a tough-fought game, so we’re ready for it.”

Running back Alex Collins (foot) was a full participant in Friday’s practice after missing the previous day and was moving well during the portion of practice open to media. His availability eases the pressure on the just-acquired Ty Montgomery, who could make his Ravens debut after being acquired from Green Bay at the trade deadline.

Harbaugh is pleased with how quickly Montgomery has acclimated himself to the Baltimore playbook and views him as an option to contribute on both offense and special teams against the Steelers.

“The good thing is the terminology is somewhat similar [to the Packers],” Harbaugh said. “Not exactly; there are always different terms. But the systems are rooted in the same kind of background, so he has a very good understanding of the plays. And special teams are fine; he’ll have no problem with that. We’ll just have to see how the numbers work out.”

As Harbaugh noted, the Steelers are the healthier team for Week 9, but they are unlikely to have the services of starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) for the second straight week after he was listed as doubtful. Pittsburgh cornerback Artie Burns was added to the injury report after hurting his ankle during Friday’s workout and is questionable to play.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was not included in the final game status report despite having a fractured left index finger.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday’s game calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching the high 50s and winds five to 10 miles per hour. There is only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

The Ravens will be wearing their alternate black jerseys for the first time this season to begin a crucial stretch of three straight home games.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: OT James Hurst (back), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), RB Alex Collins (foot), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), S Tony Jefferson (hamstring), WR Jordan Lasley (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh)

PITTSBURGH
DOUBTFUL: OT Marcus Gilbert (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Coty Sensabaugh (toe), CB Artie Burns (ankle)

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Takeaways largely absent as Ravens try to get back on track

Posted on 02 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Anthony Levine’s interception undoubtedly brought a sigh of relief to the Ravens sideline at Pittsburgh in Week 4.

Though already leading 23-14 with under four minutes remaining, Baltimore had blown double-digit fourth-quarter leads at Heinz Field in each of the previous two seasons. But Levine picking off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ended any thought of history repeating itself again.

That takeaway was the exclamation point on a 26-14 victory that propelled the Ravens to a 3-1 start. Since then, however, John Harbaugh’s team has lost three of four games while forcing only two turnovers: a Tavon Young interception at Cleveland and a Michael Pierce fumble recovery against New Orleans. Those takeaways occurred in the opening quarter and didn’t dramatically move the meter in eventual one-score defeats for a team now standing at 4-4 and entering a critical rematch with the Steelers on Sunday.

Despite the last five quarters in which the Ravens have allowed an unseemly 53 points, the defense remains at or near the top of many statistical categories. But after collecting a league-leading 34 takeaways last season and tying for the NFL lead in interceptions in 2016, Baltimore has forced just seven turnovers in its first eight games, which is tied for 21st in a league in which 13 teams have played seven games compared to the Ravens’ eight.

It’s as much surprising as it is concerning for a defense needing to get back on track against Pittsburgh. In a rivalry in which 17 of the last 24 games — counting the playoffs — have been decided by a single possession, turnovers become even more important than they already are in any given week.

“They’ve been a little more conservative in some ways,” said Harbaugh about how opponents have approached a defense with a reputation for taking the ball away so far this season. “Some of it’s on us — we haven’t made plays on the ball all the time like we need to. Sometimes the ball hasn’t gone our way. But we haven’t caused very many fumbles, and we haven’t gotten our hands on as many balls as we did last year, for sure. We have to find a way to do that. I’m disappointed in that for sure. That’s something that we need to do better.”

The Ravens have forced only four fumbles — falling on two — in their first eight games this season after forcing 17 and recovering 12 last year, a dramatic decline for a defense that regularly practices stripping the ball away from the opposition. Their five interceptions are tied for 19th in the league after finishing first with 22 last season. And though Baltimore’s 41 passes defended are on a comparable pace to last season’s total of 80 for 16 games, opponents are passing more frequently than they did through the first eight games of 2017.

The turnover decline isn’t easy to explain since so much of the defensive personnel is identical to last season, and the few changes — Brent Urban and Tavon Young being healthy — are viewed as upgrades. Truthfully, the defense continuing to rank so highly while playing so much “straight-up” football is a testament to the unit, but it’s also difficult to sustain.

“We’re conscious of that. We run [to] the ball. We’re doing the same things as we’ve always done,” safety Eric Weddle said. “The opportunities are there. We dropped a couple picks early on this season. We’ve got forced fumbles, and they’ve bounced the other way. They’re going to start coming, and when they do, it’s going to make our defense even stronger and our team better. We’ve had about six quarters of not-very-good football, and everything else has been solid.”

To be clear, the Ravens defense hasn’t been completely devoid of big plays. Baltimore leads the league with 27 sacks — including a team-record 11 in the 21-0 shutout at Tennessee on Oct. 14 — but 22 of those came in three games against the Titans, the Browns, and Buffalo, meaning the defense has just five total in its other five games.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale hasn’t hesitated to dial up more blitzes this year than predecessor Dean Pees and remains confident that the turnovers will arrive in bunches if his group remains true to itself, quipping Thursday how it’s difficult to pick off a screen pass on second-and-long.

The Ravens know they must remain disciplined in their effort to force turnovers, but you also wonder how a fourth-quarter turnover against the Browns or the Saints could have made the difference in one-score defeats. An interception or forced fumble can also be so critical in sparking a comeback, something that never materialized in Cincinnati or Carolina. The absence of starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey certainly didn’t help against the Saints and Panthers these last two weeks.

“They’re going to come. There’s no doubt,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “It’s not like we’re doing something so much more crazy on defense that we’re not trying to get those. As corners, me, Brandon [Carr] and Marlon, we have to get our hands on the ball more, create some plays ourselves, and then some tips and overthrows, hopefully, a couple of lucky passes.

“It’s good to be lucky as well.”

Yes, any number of football studies will tell you luck is a bigger element in forcing turnovers than coaches, players, media, and fans want to admit. But studies also confirm just how critical prevailing in the turnover battle is with teams coming out on top winning almost 80 percent of the time.

That element of chance is an unsettling reality as the Ravens try to avoid a third straight loss and recalibrate their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“We’re minus-four. You can put it right on that if you want,” said Harbaugh, referencing his team’s turnover differential through eight games. “If we’re not minus-four, what’s our record? If we’re even? If we’re plus-four, what’s our record? It’s probably completely flipped. It’s a big part of it.”

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Humphrey returns, Collins misses Thursday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 01 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Thursday brought good and bad news for the Ravens as they count down to their critical Week 9 meeting with Pittsburgh.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh) and left guard Alex Lewis (neck) returned to practice after missing their second straight game in Carolina last Sunday, but a new injury concern arose with running back Alex Collins missing the session with a foot issue. Collins was listed on Wednesday’s injury report as a limited participant, making it unclear whether he sustained an injury during practice or if Baltimore is exercising caution for a lingering ailment. His status could complicate plans in the backfield as recently-acquired running back Ty Montgomery is still getting up to speed with a new playbook this week.

For what it’s worth, Collins was present in the locker room for media availability prior to missing Thursday’s practice, a rare occurrence when a player’s status is thought to be in serious doubt.

Humphrey appeared to be moving well during the portion of practice open to reporters, taking part in drills with the rest of the defensive backs. The 2017 first-round pick’s absence has been felt in back-to-back losses to New Orleans and Carolina as the Ravens defense has surrendered 53 points in the last five quarters of action. Combating Pittsburgh’s second-ranked passing attack would certainly be easier with a healthy Humphrey in the secondary.

Already struggling to defend the middle of the field in the passing game, the Ravens were again without inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh) and safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) during Thursday’s practice. Should Mosley not be able to play, Baltimore would turn to the combination of Patrick Onwuasor and rookie Kenny Young — who have shared first-team reps this season — at the two inside linebacker spots. Jefferson’s potential absence would mean increased snaps for dime back Anthony Levine and second-year safety Chuck Clark.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and right tackle James Hurst (back) missed practice once again, creating greater concern about the Ravens’ ability to hold up against a talented Pittsburgh front on Sunday. In addition to the returning Lewis, rookie guard Bradley Bozeman (calf) practiced on a limited basis on Thursday.

Rookie wide receiver Jordan Lasley was added to Thursday’s injury report as a limited participant due to a hamstring issue. Lasley has yet to be active for a regular-season game, so even a moderate injury could lead to him being placed on injured reserve as the Ravens try to deal with so many health concerns. Head coach John Harbaugh expressed optimism Wednesday that the organization would be able to re-sign veteran linebacker Albert McClellan to the 53-man roster in the coming days after he was released to make room for Montgomery.

Pittsburgh did not have a single player on its 53-man roster sit out Thursday’s practice for an injury-related reason. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a full participant as he deals with a fractured left index finger.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Alex Collins (foot), OT James Hurst (back), S Tony Jefferson (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), WR Jordan Lasley (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Brandon Carr (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Ramon Foster (coaches’ decision)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Marcus Gilbert (knee), CB Coty Sensabaugh (toe)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Bud Dupree (illness), C Maurkice Pouncey (non-injury), QB Ben Roethlisberger (left finger)

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stanley

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Eight injured Ravens sit out practice to begin Pittsburgh week

Posted on 31 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens face a slew of health concerns on both sides of the ball as they try to right their season against rival Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Eight players sat out Wednesday’s practice for injury-related reasons, a list that includes six starters and four offensive linemen. The timing couldn’t be much worse as Baltimore tries to snap its two-game losing streak and keep pace with the first-place Steelers in the AFC North. The 4-4 Ravens are trying to avoid falling below .500 entering their bye week for the fourth consecutive season.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) is the newest addition to the group of injured offensive linemen already counting starting left guard Alex Lewis (neck) and starting right tackle James Hurst (back). The latter two have missed the last two games while Stanley hurt his left ankle early in the second half of the 36-21 loss to Carolina. Rookie backup Bradley Bozeman (calf) was active for the Panthers game, but he did not play, leaving veteran reserve Hroniss Grasu to make his first start of the season. Second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor played 19 snaps at left tackle in place of Stanley.

Starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey remains sidelined with a thigh injury that’s cost him the last two games, but starting inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh) and starting safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) were also absent from Wednesday’s session, creating greater concern as the Ravens have already allowed 53 points over their last five quarters of play and will now face the league’s fifth-ranked scoring offense. Both Mosley and Jefferson played 63 of the total 65 defensive snaps against the Panthers, making it unclear when they sustained their injuries.

Running back Alex Collins was a limited participant with a foot issue.

Newly-acquired running back Ty Montgomery took part in his first practice after arriving at the team facility on Wednesday morning, but it remains to be seen whether the former Green Bay Packer will be ready to play against the Steelers. Head coach John Harbaugh downplayed any notion of the trade being a direct response to the Ravens ranking 31st in the NFL in yards per carry this season, noting his versatility as a former wide receiver and his ability in pass protection.

“We always want good players, and Ty can help us run the ball,” Harbaugh said. “That’s good. I don’t want to frame it like he can’t help us. It certainly can, but that wasn’t part of the conversation. It happened late. Ozzie [Newsome] came in at about 3 p.m. and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this,’ and we’re rolling. We’re excited about it.”

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not practice on Wednesday after suffering a fractured left index finger in their Week 8 win over Cleveland, but he is fully expected to play against the Ravens. Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree missed the workout due to an illness.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), OT James Hurst (back), S Tony Jefferson (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Alex Collins (foot)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Bud Dupree (illness), C Maurkice Pouncey (non-injury), QB Ben Roethlisberger (left finger/coaches’ decision), CB Coty Sensabaugh (toe)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Marcus Gilbert (knee)

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johnbrown

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-14 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning their first road victory of the season in a 26-14 final over Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You can’t harp on the Ravens not being able to beat an elite quarterback on the road and not give proper credit when they do — without Jimmy Smith. That was their best win since the 2014 playoffs and puts them in the conversation as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

2. Despite a 96.9 season passer rating, Joe Flacco was annoyed about the offense squandering opportunities to score more points Sunday. Tell me again that his improvement is all about Lamar Jackson — which implies he didn’t care before — and not about the organization putting better talent around him.

3. John Brown already has a team-best six catches of 20 or more yards, which would have ranked second behind Mike Wallace’s 11 for the entire 2017 season. His 22.5 yards per catch average is third in the NFL. He’s fun to watch, and his chemistry with Flacco can still improve.

4. The biggest criticism of the defense in recent years has been the inability to close in critical games. Anthony Levine was responsible for ending all three of Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter drives by breaking up a third-down pass to force a punt, intercepting another, and batting away a fourth-down attempt. Clutch.

5. Too much is usually made about halftime adjustments, but Wink Martindale’s defense has yet to allow a touchdown after intermission in four games — allowing just nine points total — and pitched a second-half shutout at Heinz Field. He’s clearly doing something right.

6. John Harbaugh wisely expressed confidence Monday that Alex Collins will improve his ball security as he did last year, but his goal-line fumble completely changed a game that was bordering on becoming a blowout. The running game remains a concern, but the Ravens must stick with Collins’ upside.

7. Kenny Young played 24 defensive snaps compared to Patrick Onwuasor’s six, signaling a shift in the competition for the inside linebacker job next to C.J. Mosley. That said, both must improve in coverage or we’ll continue to see Martindale use Levine (28 snaps) as a dime more frequently.

8. The third-and-1 completion to Maxx Williams to extend a long fourth-quarter drive drew praise — and controversy — because of his alignment. Flacco said after the game they’d practiced that play for two years, and it was the first time Williams had gotten through the line of scrimmage unscathed. Interesting stuff.


(Screen capture courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

9. My guess is the Ravens continue to carry four tight ends with the anticipated return of Hayden Hurst this week. However, with Williams and rookie Mark Andrews playing so well, you wonder if Nick Boyle would be the most vulnerable if a move needed to be made there.

10. Sunday night was an example of how to play strong defense without much of a pass rush as the Ravens faked blitzes, effectively disguised looks, and covered very well. Baltimore is tops in the NFL in yards per play allowed at just 4.4.

11. Tony Jefferson hasn’t made as many splash plays as you’d like after the Ravens gave him a four-year, $34 million contract, but his strip and recovery against Vance McDonald on Pittsburgh’s opening drive was spectacular. He fairly noted after the game how that could have been ruled an interception.

12. If you didn’t hear Harbaugh’s post-game press conference on Sunday night, take a listen at the 2:45 mark HERE. Kudos for recognizing the memory of Bobbi Engram, the daughter of wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, and giving her a game ball. Powerful stuff.

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