Tag Archive | "Steelers"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 16 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 27 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling 31-27 to Pittsburgh on Christmas Day to be eliminated from postseason contention, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The sting of a Ravens loss shouldn’t discount appreciation for what was a classic between these AFC North adversaries. This rivalry has lost some juice in recent years, but both teams deserve praise for one that was as good as it gets without being a playoff game.

2. That sentiment aside, the fourth-quarter defense must be addressed. I’ve been a supporter of defensive coordinator Dean Pees and believe he has done a good overall job with a unit lacking star power, but the Ravens have allowed 102 of their 294 total points in the final period this season.

3. If this is it for Steve Smith, Sunday was a strong final performance in the national spotlight as he caught seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. He’s 35 yards shy of an 800-yard season, which is exceptional for a 37-year-old coming off a serious Achilles injury.

4. It looked like 2016 was going to be a breakout year for Timmy Jernigan after he collected a sack in each of the first three games, but he’s recorded just one quarterback takedown since the Week 8 bye and hasn’t even registered a tackle over the last three games.

5. Breshad Perriman had a bad drop on the Ravens’ final touchdown drive, but I liked seeing Joe Flacco go right back to him on the next play for a 15-yard completion on third-and-10. This is going to be a huge offseason for the 2015 first-round pick to improve.

6. Counting the postseason, Baltimore is 11-22 on the road since Super Bowl XLVII with two wins against teams that finished with a winning record. The first was the 2014 wild-card victory over Pittsburgh and the other against the Steelers last year when Mike Vick started in place of Ben Roethlisberger.

7. The toughness with which he runs is impressive, but Kenneth Dixon won’t become a three-down back until he improves in pass protection. That has to be a goal for both him and Terrance West to work on this offseason.

8. The Ravens masked it well this season, but their pass rush ultimately cost them. According to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger was pressured on just four of his 33 dropbacks. It’s tough trying to blitz with Jimmy Smith out, but the defense needs more disruption from a four-man rush.

9. Terrell Suggs deserves praise for how he played this year, but the 34-year-old has gone without a sack in his last four games and had a combined one tackle against New England and Pittsburgh this month. Ozzie Newsome needs to find high-impact help at the position to help him out.

10. We all know health is the major concern with Michael Campanaro, but watching him these last two weeks makes you wonder why the Ravens didn’t part ways with Devin Hester a month sooner. Campanaro, Perriman, and Chris Moore are young players who should play more against Cincinnati.

11. I understand it’s in a coach’s fiber to do everything he can to win, but the organization should consider the dangers of exposing its most important players to injury in a meaningless road game against the Bengals. Does anyone sincerely care about finishing 9-7 compared to 8-8?

12. The seat is warm for John Harbaugh after missing the playoffs in three of four years, but firing him would be harsh after only one truly lousy season (2015). A once-proud franchise, Buffalo has had six head coaches since Harbaugh’s hiring. Finding someone even as good is hardly a given.

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Ravens just not quite good enough when they needed to be

Posted on 26 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens and Steelers played a Christmas classic that removed any doubt about whether this rivalry is still among the best in the NFL.

Baltimore fought like hell until the bitter end and a four-point loss at Heinz Field is nothing to be ashamed of in the big picture, but this also wasn’t the AFC divisional round — as much as the one may have felt like a playoff game on Sunday. Being eliminated from postseason contention with a week to go in the regular season only reinforces a theme that’s become too familiar over the post-Super Bowl XLVII seasons under head coach John Harbaugh.

“We’re very close to being a very good football team,” Harbaugh said after the 31-27 loss. “We can be a great football team, but we’re not there yet. We haven’t gotten there this year, obviously. We’ve got to get there.”

Having now missed the playoffs in three of the last four years, the Ravens just aren’t quite good enough.

That was apparent on Sunday as a defense that had ranked in the top five all season inexplicably allowed three touchdowns in the final 12 minutes of play. There’s no excusing Dean Pees’ unit for surrendering a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in just over a minute that culminated with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown reaching over the goal line with nine seconds remaining.

Instead of cementing its status among the better units in franchise history, this defense has crumbled down the stretch, allowing 26 or more points in three straight games. You can’t put all of that on the absence of cornerback Jimmy Smith as an underwhelming pass rush was exposed badly against the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger rarely harassed in the pocket.

But before we put all blame on the defense for what amounted to the practical end of the Ravens’ season, let’s remember an 8-7 record is the result of a collection of missed opportunities and not just what was on display in Week 16.

An 0-4 October left very little margin for error while looking ahead to how difficult the December schedule would be. That loss to the woeful New York Jets in Week 7 is still painful and no less damaging two months later.

The Ravens offense may have come to play for the most part on Christmas, but how many times could we really say that about this below-average group in 2016? Marty Mornhinweg did little to spark the offense after the firing of coordinator Marc Trestman in October and showed no better commitment to the running game, instead allowing Joe Flacco to set a career high in passing attempts without the kind of productivity to justify the imbalance.

Even on Sunday, the Ravens entered Pittsburgh territory on all five of their drives in the first half and managed just six points by intermission. Tight end Darren Waller’s inability to secure a touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter served as a turning point as it forced Baltimore to settle for a short field goal and a 20-10 lead instead of a two-touchdown cushion.

Baltimore’s normally-superb special teams have been propped up by Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker, but a return game that stuck way too long with veteran Devin Hester did no favors for an offense that would have benefited from better field position all season. On Sunday, a bad snap cost the Ravens a chance for three points early in the second quarter.

Not good enough.

With the season finale in Cincinnati now a meaningless endeavor, attention shifts to the future.

Harbaugh’s not wrong in saying this team wasn’t that far away — they’re 8-7, not 3-12 — but the crucial question is whether the Ravens are moving in the right direction or falling further away. It’s difficult to say this is a better football team now than it was in September, and that’s a big concern.

The Ravens at least improved from last year’s 5-11 disaster that wasn’t all about injuries despite what many wanted to believe. That should be remembered when determining what changes need to be made this offseason.

Still, this team is depending heavily on a number of veterans who aren’t getting any younger or better at this stage of their careers. Unlike Flacco, who was relying on a 37-year-old receiver expected to retire at the end of the season and a 31-year-old tight end coming back from two major hip injuries, Roethlisberger turned to two Pro Bowl talents in their primes in Brown and Le’Veon Bell when it mattered most.

As we’ve now said for a few years, the Ravens need to find dynamic playmakers on both sides of the ball to make the difference in these close games that we see around the league on a weekly basis. The early returns from the 2016 draft have been very encouraging, but this roster is still feeling the effects of lackluster drafts in recent years.

Is this coaching staff capable of getting the most out of its players, especially younger ones who need to develop? There have been more questions about play-calling and game management this year than in the past, and the Ravens are one of the most penalized teams in the league.

Is Harbaugh willing to make changes to his staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball where the Ravens have struggled substantially in three of the last four seasons? Is the head coach’s message stale after nine seasons?

Questions that seemed silly just a couple seasons ago should now be asked with another quiet January in Baltimore. Of course, owner Steve Bisciotti has the only opinion that really matters, but both Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome have to explain why this team wasn’t good enough and how they plan to improve next year and moving forward.

Seats are getting warm now.

The Ravens weren’t quite good enough this year, but are they moving in the right direction or stuck in neutral?

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Christmas Day

Posted on 24 December 2016 by Luke Jones

It became crystal clear for the Ravens on Saturday.

Beat Pittsburgh on Christmas Day or officially be eliminated from playoff contention. Miami’s overtime victory over Buffalo wiped away any chance of a wild-card spot for Baltimore, who will now need to top the Steelers and almost certainly need to beat Cincinnati in Week 17 to take the AFC North title.

The Ravens have won five of their last seven games to rebound from a winless month of October, but they will need to win their first road game in exactly three months on Sunday. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has rebounded from its own four-game losing streak earlier this season by winning five in a row, a stretch that included four road games.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 42nd in their regular-season history with Pittsburgh holding a 21-20 advantage. Counting the postseason, 15 of the 20 games in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by one possession. Baltimore has won four straight overall against the Steelers and has been victorious in four of the last six meetings at Heinz Field.

Here’s what to expects as the Ravens try to keep their postseason hopes alive …

1. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will combine for 180 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Since the start of 2013, the Baltimore defense has held Brown under 100 receiving yards in six of eight meetings, but the two times the All-Pro receiver eclipsed the mark were games in which cornerback Jimmy Smith did not play. The Ravens’ second-ranked run defense is likely to rebound from a brutal performance last week, but Bell’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield is a concern for linebackers who have struggled in coverage in recent weeks.

2. Mike Wallace will find the end zone once again against his former team. The speedy wideout is just 37 receiving yards shy of 1,000 for the season as he’s been everything the Ravens could have asked for when signing him to a two-year deal in March. The Steelers secondary has played better in recent weeks and has done a good job limiting big plays, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will do what he can to get the ball in Wallace’s hands. It won’t be another 95-yard sprint like we saw in Week 9, but the former Steeler will catch his first touchdown at Heinz Field since 2012.

3. The Ravens will reach the century mark on the ground against a banged-up Steelers defensive line. They rarely commit to the run, but the Ravens have averaged 4.8 yards per carry over their last five games behind the same offensive line. The Steelers rank fifth in the league in run defense, but defensive end Stephon Tuitt missed practice all week and is questionable to play with a knee injury and defensive end Cam Heyward was placed on injured reserve last month. Whether it’s Terrance West or Kenneth Dixon, the Ravens will try to control the clock and keep the Pittsburgh offense off the field.

4. A clean pocket will help Ben Roethlisberger throw for 250 yards. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees faces a predicament with an undermanned secondary and a front that’s struggled to get consistent pressure without the blitz, a dangerous combination against a potent passing game. It also doesn’t help that the Steelers offensive line has allowed just three sacks over its last five games and will have a healthy Maurkice Pouncey, who played only 19 snaps in the first meeting. The Ravens will likely try to play coverage in hopes of minimizing big plays and forcing the Steelers to move methodically.

5. The Ravens will fall 24-20 to officially miss the playoffs for the third time in the last four years. Counting them out completely would be a mistake and they’ve been inside the Steelers’ heads for the last few years, but the Ravens haven’t shown the kind of road mettle this season to make you think they’ll play well enough to beat a red-hot team on the cusp of a division championship. Unless the postseason version of Joe Flacco arrives a couple games early, the Ravens offense won’t have quite enough firepower to match an offense with better weapons. The defense will contain Bell between the tackles, but the absence of Smith in the secondary will be a fatal blow in a close game.

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Ravens rule out cornerback Jimmy Smith for Pittsburgh

Posted on 23 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If the Ravens are to extend their franchise-best four-game winning streak against their bitter rival and move closer to a division title, they’ll have to do it without their top cornerback on Christmas Day.

Jimmy Smith was officially declared out for Sunday’s AFC North showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers as he continues to recover from a sprained right ankle. The 28-year-old hasn’t practiced since injuring the ankle in the Week 14 loss at New England on Dec. 12 and missed last Sunday’s win over Philadelphia.

On Friday, Smith declined an interview request and was wearing a walking boot on his right foot as he left the Ravens locker room. His absence spells trouble against All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown and a Pittsburgh passing game ranking fifth in the NFL.

Though Baltimore has rarely used Smith to travel with Brown exclusively in past meetings, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will now be counting on the cornerback trio of rookie Tavon Young and veterans Shareece Wright and Jerraud Powers to contain one of the best receivers in the league.

“Jimmy is a different kind of mover than Antonio Brown, so it wouldn’t necessarily be the guy that you would match up with [him],” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You could in certain places and wherever you run certain routes, you would have to be really diligent about the details of that. We play a lot of zone coverage and man coverage. We mix our coverages up, so whether we did that or not would depend on the call and the situation.”

Brown recorded seven catches for 85 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 21-14 loss to the Ravens on Nov. 6, but the 5-foot-10 receiver had just two receptions for nine yards until the fourth quarter when the Steelers already trailed 21-0. Baltimore has typically held him in check compared to his impressive success over the last five years, but most of those meetings included a healthy Smith in the defensive backfield.

In the two meetings with Pittsburgh that followed Smith’s season-ending foot injury in 2014, the Ravens allowed Brown to record a combined 20 catches for 261 yards and a touchdown.

Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith (thigh) was listed as questionable after being added to the injury report as a limited participant in Thursday’s practice, but he participated fully in Friday’s walk-through, leaving little doubt about his status for Sunday’s game.

The Ravens ruled out rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa (ribs) and listed defensive back Anthony Levine (toe), defensive end Brent Urban, and guard Alex Lewis (ankle) as questionable. Levine practiced on a limited basis all week while Lewis was a full participant in every practice.

The Steelers are dealing with several key injuries of their own as they officially listed tight end Ladarius Green (concussion) and wide receiver Sammie Coates (hamsring) as doubtful and designated starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt (knee) as questionable to play on Sunday. Tuitt did not practice all week after injuring his knee in last week’s win at Cincinnati.

Steelers safety Sharmarko Thomas was officially ruled out with a concussion.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be John Parry.

According to Weather.com, the Christmas Day forecast for Pittsburgh calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 44 degrees and light winds reaching five miles per hour.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with white pants for the first time this season while Pittsburgh dons its all-black “Color Rush” uniforms for the nationally-televised game on NFL Network.

Below is the final full injury report for the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: LB Kamalei Correa (ribs), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: DB Anthony Levine (toe), G Alex Lewis (ankle), WR Steve Smith (thigh), DT Brent Urban (illness)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: S Shamarko Thomas (concussion)
DOUBTFUL: WR Sammie Coates (hamstring), TE Ladarius Green (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot), DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle), DE Stephon Tuitt (knee)

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“January Joe” needs to arrive early for playoff-hopeful Ravens

Posted on 22 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One gift tops the list of goodies that the Ravens hope to find under their Christmas tree on Sunday.

It would be the early arrival of “January Joe” for their AFC North showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. That postseason version of Joe Flacco would go a long way in helping Baltimore secure its first AFC North division title since 2012 while also washing away much memory of a trying season.

The issues with the league’s 18th-ranked offense run deeper than the play of the ninth-year quarterback, but the near-certainty of Flacco reaching the 4,000-yard passing mark for the first time — an elusive landmark his critics have regularly used against him over the years — does not mask his struggles. Starting all 14 games in his return from last year’s ACL injury, Flacco ranks 27th in the NFL at just 6.54 yards per attempt and is 25th with an 84.8 passer rating.

Asked about the 2008 first-round pick being on the verge of setting a career high for pass attempts, head coach John Harbaugh declined to assess his quarterback’s play, instead focusing on the task of winning at Heinz Field for the third straight time.

“I respect everything about what he does and how he does it, how he competes and everything like that,” Harbaugh said. “The other stuff [and] the big-picture questions are really for another time. I’m just excited to go play the game on Sunday. I know Joe is and everybody is. We’re preparing and planning on going and playing our best football.”

With the Baltimore defense likely to be without No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, Flacco will need to be at his best to trade blows with Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a dangerous Steelers passing game that ranks fifth in the NFL. It’s a story similar to what the Ravens faced in road losses at Dallas and New England earlier this year, but the stakes are much higher now.

In case you’ve forgotten what “January Joe” can do, Flacco has thrown 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions in his last 10 postseason games dating back to the 2010 season. Sunday is as close as it gets to a playoff game — especially if Miami beats Buffalo on Saturday to make it a win-or-bust proposition on Christmas Day — so why wouldn’t the Ravens hope the postseason version of Flacco comes early?

The good news is that the 31-year-old has done it before at Heinz Field, throwing for 259 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in Baltimore’s last postseason win over the Steelers two years ago. Counting that playoff victory, the Ravens have won six of their last seven games against their bitter rival with Flacco throwing nine touchdowns to three interceptions in the six contests in which he played.

Win or lose, history tells us the environment won’t be too big for him and the Ravens. The Steelers look like the better team at this point and are carrying a five-game winning streak into Sunday’s game, but you have to wonder how much Baltimore is in their heads after winning four straight in the series and backup quarterback Ryan Mallett even beating them last December.

Counting the playoffs, the Ravens hold a respectable 5-6 record at Heinz Field in the Harbaugh-Flacco era.

“You picture going into a place and playing in front of 70,000 people that hate you,” Flacco said. “That is what makes it fun. … There are not too many feelings in this world that are better than winning an NFL football game. That probably gets amplified a little bit when you get to silence a crowd.”

Of course, what’s happened in the past doesn’t guarantee success on Sunday. After all, this is a Ravens offense that’s dealt with numerous problems, ranging from play-calling issues and injuries along the offensive line to an up-and-down running game and uneven play at wide receiver and tight end. Flacco’s 13 interceptions are the second-highest total of his career, and he’s been criticized for poor footwork and checking down too frequently in lieu of looking to push the ball down the field.

The Ravens are also facing a Pittsburgh defense that’s improved since the first half of the season, allowing just 14 points per game over its last five contests. The Pittsburgh secondary is relying on a pair of rookies — first-round cornerback Artie Burns and second-round safety and University of Maryland product Sean Davis — but the two have steadily played better as the season has progressed.

This Baltimore offense does have more going for it now than it did for much of the year with a healthier offensive line that’s played better in recent weeks and a running game that produced a season-high 151 yards against Philadelphia last Sunday. Not a single offensive player has missed a practice this week for an injury-related reason, either.

A 38-point outburst and four-touchdown performance from Flacco against Miami three weeks ago showed what this offense is capable of doing when firing on all cylinders, but the peaks have been rare and the valleys all the more frustrating. The Ravens haven’t won a game away from M&T Bank Stadium in three months and their veteran quarterback has posted an ugly 75.7 passer rating on the road this season, making trips to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to conclude the season an unsettling proposition.

“It is tough to look back at the whole thing, but we have hit our bumps here and there,” Flacco said. “But I think we are starting to hit a stride. When you come out here and watch our practices, you can tell we are starting to hit a stride. This second half of the season, it is coming together with some of the new guys and our offensive line play and myself.”

If the Ravens offense is ever truly going to come together, now is the time.

And the return of “January Joe” needs to be part of the equation.

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Steve Smith added to Ravens’ Thursday injury report

Posted on 22 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Already dealing with the likely absence of their top cornerback against Pittsburgh on Christmas Day, the Ravens have added another key player to their injury report.

Wide receiver Steve Smith was listed as a limited participant in Thursday’s practice due to a thigh issue. The 37-year-old practiced without incident during the portion of the workout open to media and was seen in the locker room after practice.

Winding down his 16th year in the NFL, Smith has long been expected to retire after the season and has told head coach John Harbaugh of that intention, but he has made no public announcement since returning from last year’s brutal Achilles tendon tear. Of course, the five-time Pro Bowl selection originally planned to retire at the end of the 2015 season before the injury.

“I just try to be in the moment. I try not to think too far ahead,” said Smith when asked this week if he ponders how many games he has left in his career. “I try not to make this game more than it already is, which is a lot. You just try to narrow your focus, make it play by play, day by day, game by game.”

Jimmy Smith remained sidelined with a right ankle sprain suffered in the Week 14 loss to New England. The sixth-year cornerback appears highly unlikely to play at this point with the Ravens only conducting a walk-through practice on Friday.

Veteran cornerback Shareece Wright would make his second straight start if Jimmy Smith is unable to play. He made two tackles and recorded a pass breakup in last Sunday’s win over Philadelphia.

“I think Shareece has picked up his game,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think people were down on him and hard on him. We were hard on him, and he was hard on himself. I think the sign of a pro is when you fight back and you play well and you come back and you play well. I think he’s done that.”

Linebacker Kamalei Correa (ribs) and defensive end Brent Urban (illness) were also missing from Thursday’s workout while linebacker Terrell Suggs and center Jeremy Zuttah received a veteran day off. Defensive back Anthony Levine was a limited participant for the second straight day while dealing with a lingering toe injury.

The Steelers were once again without defensive end Stephon Tuitt (knee) and tight end Ladarius Green (concussion). Second-year wide receiver Sammie Coates was also added to the Thursday injury report after hurting his hamstring.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Kamalei Correa (ribs), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), DE Brent Urban (illness), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DB Anthony Levine (toe), WR Steve Smith (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (ankle), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Justin Gilbert (illness), TE Ladarius Green (concussion), S Shamarko Thomas (concussion), DE Stephon Tuitt (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle), WR Sammie Cotes (hamstring), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot), DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB DeAngelo Williams (knee)

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Jimmy Smith remains out as Ravens count down to Christmas Day

Posted on 21 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens received no early Christmas present on Wednesday as Jimmy Smith remained sidelined from practice ahead of their Week 16 showdown with Pittsburgh.

The starting cornerback injured his right ankle in the first quarter of the Week 14 loss to New England and hasn’t returned to the field since. The Ravens were able to squeak out a 27-26 win over Philadelphia last Sunday, but Smith’s absence could spell major trouble against a Steelers passing game ranking fifth in the NFL.

“We don’t know what will happen. We’ll see Sunday night,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Christmas under the lights. It’s going to be tough with Jimmy or without. They present so many challenges and matchups across the board. They’re playing outstanding football.”

Veteran Shareece Wright started in place of Smith against the Eagles in Week 15 and appeared to hold up well in coverage, but the four highest passing totals surrendered by the Baltimore defense this season have come in games in which Smith has missed significant time.

Named to his sixth straight Pro Bowl on Tuesday night, left guard Marshal Yanda was given the day off from practice as has frequently been the case on Wednesdays in the second half of the season. Rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa (ribs) was also absent as the Ravens practiced indoors.

Despite missing his seventh straight game with a lingering hamstring injury this past Sunday, tight end Crockett Gillmore is no longer listed on the injury report.

The Steelers are dealing with key injuries of their own as defensive end Stephon Tuitt (knee) and tight end Ladarius Green (concussion) missed practice on Wednesday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Kamalei Correa (ribs), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DB Anthony Levine (toe)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (ankle)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle), OT Marcus Gilbert (non-injury), TE Ladarius Green (concussion), QB Ben Roethlisberger (non-injury), S Shamarko Thomas (concussion), DE Stephon Tuitt (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot), DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB DeAngelo Williams (knee)

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Sizing up Ravens’ playoff picture entering Week 16

Posted on 19 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens were lucky not to have their playoff hopes all but squashed on Sunday, but their 27-26 win over Philadelphia leaves them with an 8-6 record and multiple paths to the postseason.

The first is clear while the others involve assistance from other teams.

Winning road games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati would give the Ravens their first AFC North division title since the 2012 season. Of course, that would require Baltimore to win its first games on the road since September.

Many are hyping the Christmas Day showdown at Heinz Field as an AFC North championship game, but it’s not enough for the Ravens to merely win on Sunday. The Steelers host the winless Cleveland Browns in their regular-season finale, meaning the Ravens would almost certainly need to win a road game against the Bengals for the first time since 2011 in order to secure the division championship.

A path to a wild card also remains — at least for now.

The Ravens completed Week 15 a game behind Miami for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. A win for the 9-5 Dolphins at Buffalo on Christmas Eve would force Baltimore to beat the Steelers to stave off elimination for a playoff spot. A Miami loss would keep the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive in Week 17, no matter what happens against Pittsburgh.

Despite the daunting task of playing their two biggest division rivals on the road in consecutive weeks, the Ravens do have a 7-3 conference record working in their favor as a tiebreaker over fellow playoff contenders Tennessee, Denver, and Houston. Of course, Baltimore owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins via the 38-6 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 13.

Currently competing for the AFC South title, the Texans and the Titans meet in Week 17, meaning one is set to lose at least one more game.

If the Ravens are to make the playoffs while losing one more game, they would need the Dolphins to lose out and the other 8-6 wild-card contenders to each lose at least one more game.

Below is a look at the remaining schedule for the Ravens and the other contenders for the final wild card in the AFC:

PITTSBURGH (9-5, first place in AFC North)
Remaining opponents: Baltimore, Cleveland

HOUSTON (8-6, first place in AFC South via head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee)
Remaining opponents: Cincinnati, at Tennessee

MIAMI (9-5, No. 6 seed)
Remaining opponents: at Buffalo, New England

BALTIMORE (8-6, seventh in AFC via conference record)
Remaining opponents: at Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati

TENNESSEE (8-6, eighth in AFC via head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver)
Remaining opponents: at Jacksonville, Houston

DENVER (8-6, ninth in AFC)
Remaining opponents: at Kansas City, Oakland

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Ravens not showing what it takes to win games on road

Posted on 13 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The final score alone was nothing to be ashamed of.

Many thought the Ravens could win in New England on Monday, but fewer expected them to really pull off the upset. The end result technically only means that John Harbaugh’s team has no realistic path to an AFC North title that doesn’t involve winning at Pittsburgh in Week 16.

So, why then does this one sting that much more than last month’s defeat at Dallas?

It’s because the Ravens showed that they still don’t have what it takes to win a big game on the road and haven’t displayed that moxie in quite some time. The 38-6 thumping of Miami last week was supposed to be the offensive breakthrough that would propel them down a final stretch that included three of four away games, but we instead saw the same offense we witnessed over the first 11 games of the season.

Instead of giving the Patriots everything they could handle to show they were back among the AFC’s top tier of contenders, the Ravens looked like the mediocre team their 7-6 record says they are.

Removing their injury-riddled October from the equation, they’re just not noticeably better than they were at the beginning of the season when they produced their only two road wins. Those victories came after erasing a 20-point deficit to lowly Cleveland in Week 2 and edging Jacksonville with a 54-yard field goal in the final minute of a Week 3 tilt. Yes, Baltimore’s only road victories of the season were nail-biters against the two worst teams in the AFC back in September.

Former offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was still two weeks away from being fired when the Ravens last won outside Baltimore, and it will have been exactly three months since that last road win when the Ravens take the field against the Steelers on Christmas Day.

They have been a good team at M&T Bank Stadium with a 5-2 mark in 2016, but also a pretty bad one on the road. We know winning at Heinz Field will be a tough task, but nothing about the Ravens’ current profile suggests their Week 17 trip to Cincinnati — where they haven’t won in five years — should be considered a sure thing, especially if five-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green is playing.

The Ravens struggled in every phase of the game on Monday, ranging from the offense and defense to special teams and coaching. If we’re being truthful about what we watched and are weary of moral victories in which they “battled” and “fought” back, the Ravens were very fortunate to even be in the game over the final 20 minutes. Winning the turnover battle by a 3-1 margin normally results in a victory, but that doesn’t happen when you stink up the joint for the first 2 1/2 quarters against arguably the best head coach and quarterback in NFL history.

The defense was torched by Tom Brady and the special teams — specifically former return specialist Devin Hester — also played a big part in the loss, but the Ravens offense was its usual self after the one-week aberration against the Dolphins that prompted many observers to buy into the newfound hype.

Passing the ball all day — running game be damned — and checking down all night while being completely perplexed by zone coverage. Not one touchdown drive beyond the two early Christmas gifts provided by New England’s special teams in the third quarter. A way-too-lethargic pace when trailing by two scores late in the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t good enough from Marty Mornhinweg, Joe Flacco, and company. Even the defense has looked mortal on the road as it’s allowed 24 or more points in each of the last four contests and may once again be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who injured his ankle on Monday night.

The Ravens are now 10-20 in regular-season road games since Super Bowl XLVII. The old formula of dominating at home and playing .500 ball away from M&T Bank Stadium brought much success in Harbaugh’s first five seasons — a 21-19 record on the road over that time — but the Ravens have fallen off the away cliff over the last four years, which helps explain their absence from January football.

If they don’t quickly find a way to play better in opposing cities, another New Year’s end to a season will be in order.

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Sunday brings mixed bag to Ravens’ playoff picture

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aren’t likely to send former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan a Christmas card after Buffalo’s disappoint showing against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Despite intercepting Ben Roethlisberger three times in snowy conditions, the Bills allowed nearly 300 yards from scrimmage to running back Le’Veon Bell in their 27-20 defeat to the Steelers at New Era Field. The final score didn’t indicate how lopsided the game was as Pittsburgh moved a half-game ahead in the AFC North, putting more pressure on Baltimore for its Monday meeting with New England.

A loss to the Patriots wouldn’t wipe away the Ravens’ division hopes by any means, but it would all but eliminate any realistic chance of being able to win the AFC North without a victory at Heinz Field on Christmas Day.

Sunday wasn’t a complete disappointment for the Ravens, however, as Denver lost to Tennessee and is now barely holding on as the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. The Broncos fell to 8-5 and now face a brutal final three weeks, opening the door for a team outside the AFC West to potentially steal the last wild card.

Currently holding a 7-2 conference record, the Ravens are in good shape from a tiebreaker standpoint. They also hold the head-to-head advantage with Miami, who beat Arizona on Sunday to improve to 8-5 but lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill to what’s believed to be a season-ending knee injury. The Dolphins will play their final three games against division opponents — including the next two on the road — with veteran backup Matt Moore likely leading the way.

A loss on Monday night would drop the Ravens into a tie with Tennessee at 7-6, but the Titans own a poor 4-5 conference record and play their next two games on the road.

The Ravens’ best path to the playoffs is still winning the division, but Sunday’s action opened the door further for a potential wild card. And that eases the sting of the Bills not being able to beat the Steelers.

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