Tag Archive | "Steelers"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on 2018 schedule release

Posted on 20 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens unveiling their 2018 regular-season schedule on Thursday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Playing four of the first six games on the road is a challenge, but that pales in comparison to 2015 when Baltimore played five of its first seven on the road with four being played out west. The longest trip the Ravens will make over that stretch is to Nashville.

2. This marks the first time the Ravens will play three straight road games since 2008, but that was the result of a rescheduled game in Houston because of Hurricane Ike. They did play three straight road games in 2000, which seemed to work out OK in the end.

3. Not having a prime-time home game is a bummer. Baltimore didn’t host one in 2015 either, but that was the result of two Sunday night games being flexed out during a 5-11 season. This is the first time M&T Bank Stadium hasn’t been originally scheduled to host one since 2008.

4. If you count the nationally-televised Christmas game two years ago, this marks the fifth straight year the Ravens will play a prime-time game in Pittsburgh. The NFL hasn’t scheduled a Ravens-Steelers night game in Baltimore since 2015, and even that one was flexed out. That seems unbalanced.

5. The Ravens haven’t entered their bye week with a winning record since 2014, illustrating how little margin for error they’ve had down the stretch in recent years. John Harbaugh must get his team to start fast despite six of the first nine contests coming against 2017 playoff teams.

6. Don’t forget how dramatically the perception of the schedule can change by the time these games are actually played. Last April, trips to Oakland and Green Bay looked like major challenges, but EJ Manuel and Brett Hundley subbing in for Derek Carr and Aaron Rodgers sure altered that.

7. I couldn’t help but laugh over the Ravens not having a Monday game at all after they finally hosted Monday Night Football for the first time since 2012 last season. Then again, I’m not sure I can blame the league when you recall how lousy that Ravens-Texans contest was.

8. Monday Night Football may not be returning to Baltimore this season, but former ESPN analyst Jon Gruden will be as the Raiders head coach. This is the first time Gruden will coach a game in Baltimore since 2002.

9. The Raiders have become the new Miami as Baltimore meets them for the fourth straight year. Meanwhile, the five-year streak of there being a Ravens-Dolphins game will finally come to an end this season.

10. The Ravens’ first ever trip to Los Angeles should have been one of the most attractive on the schedule for traveling fans, but leave it to the NFL to decide by late October whether it will be played Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, or Sunday afternoon — a couple days before Christmas.

11. It was a good decision moving up the sale of single-game tickets to the night of the schedule release rather than waiting until the summer. The organization needed to be more proactive after the number of empty seats witnessed last season.

12. The hype surrounding the schedule being released is a bit much considering we’ve known the opponents the Ravens would be playing for months, but it brings focus to the anticipation of a new season. Now we know they’ll be kicking off against Buffalo in a mere 142 days.

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Chapter 8: Just a regular Joe

Posted on 19 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“That’s just Joe being Joe! Joe is always gonna be Joe.”

– Ray Lewis (Nov. 2012)

 

 

 

 

THE TALLEST BUILDINGS IN THE skyline over downtown Philadelphia are vividly clear over the gridiron at Audubon High School. Not too far from this small town in New Jersey in the distance you can see the Comcast Center and One Liberty Place tower over Central City in the City of Brotherly Love. The white cement structure that serves as bleachers behind a tiny brick school façade can almost be confused for something from a movie set in 1950s Americana.

It was a field of dreams for Joe Flacco, but not necessarily a field of victories. Hop on the internet and take a look at the picture of his wife snapping him a bottle of champagne as if it were a football as part of their wedding album. She’s the center. His groomsmen are the linemen. Then you will understand this field and this scene. This is the place where Joe Flacco led the Audubon Green Wave to a 4-6 finish in his 2002 senior football season.

“We stunk,” says Flacco of his tiny high school with less than 100 in each graduating class. “It was a small school, and we were never really good, but we loved playing here. Football here was always fun because it was always with your friends and the kids you grew up with from the neighborhood.”

To understand and to fully appreciate Joe Flacco, you need to visit Audubon, New Jersey and see his view of the world as a Super Bowl MVP and Baltimore sports hero, where for months after the win storefronts still had homemade posters and window stickers celebrating their unlikely hometown champion.

“Where I live and where I’m from it’s right in the middle of the middle of all hardcore Philly sports fans,” Flacco said. “Philadelphia is in Pennsylvania, but the Jersey side is the heart of the fan base for all of the teams. It’s all Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers here. It’s always been like that, and it’ll always be like that. I’ve been around crazy, passionate, vocal fans all my life.”

These Philadelphia natives are the same fans who are famous for once booing Santa Claus. Toughness kinda came with the turf for Joe Flacco.

His hometown doesn’t look quite like a scene from Rocky, like the west side of the Delaware River or Highlandtown in Baltimore with traditional East Coast row homes and narrow, one-way streets. It’s more like something from a John Mellencamp song, like “Small Town” or “Pink Houses.” It’s more Main Street USA with the very apparent stability of blue-collar family life and small ranch-style homes separated by modest yards, and picket fences. If it were Baltimore, it’d be Parkville or Catonsville – just closer to downtown.

Audubon High School is exactly six miles from the front gates of Lincoln Financial Field, where Flacco had his own rocky homecoming vs. the Eagles in a Ravens 24-23 loss in Week 2 of the 2012 season, his only chance in five years as Baltimore Ravens quarterback to play a regular season game just a long jog from his hometown.

In Audubon, Flacco is, well, just a regular Joe for the most part.

“It’s almost like a different life because I grew up around here. I’ve always been around here, and I hope it stays like this,” he said. “It’s my home. It’s where I want to be, close to my family. All of my family is here.”

Flacco’s ascension to Super Bowl MVP and World Champion reads straight from the library of the Horatio Alger catalog.

Son of a mortgage banker Steve Flacco and his wife, Karen, who were high school sweethearts, Joe is the oldest of six children – five boys and a girl. Flacco played three sports and loved all of them as long as he can remember. Despite his dad being just 5-foot-10, Joe went through a surprising and dramatic growth spurt in high school, sprouting more than six inches. His unusually strong arm caught the eye of a handful of college

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Ravens’ playoff absence officially hits three years

Posted on 10 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Much has changed since the Ravens squandered two 14-point leads in a playoff loss to New England three years ago Wednesday.

They would soon say goodbye to five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as well as one of the franchise’s most accomplished wide receivers in Torrey Smith. That was also the final game of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s lone season with the Ravens and with his departure went any semblance of consistent offensive production since then.

More painful than anything else, however, has been the deterioration of the standard. Losing in the divisional round was once the minimum of expectations under John Harbaugh — illustrating how spoiled Baltimore was during the first five years of his tenure — but the Ravens haven’t been back to the postseason since that night in Foxborough when Tom Brady picked apart helpless cornerback Rashaan Melvin and an overwhelmed secondary.

Sure, the Ravens have been close to making the playoffs in each of the last two years, but that’s sometimes the worst place for an organization to be. “Close” doesn’t always mean you’re moving in the right direction, and it can prevent you from making necessary changes when you believe you’re “one play away” from getting over the hump.

The underwhelming performances in the AFC wild-card round this past weekend prompted predictable commentary from some that Joe Flacco and the Ravens would have been a more dangerous team and a bigger threat to New England and Pittsburgh. That old narrative needs to be buried when they don’t even manage to make the tournament anymore. Perhaps Brian Billick’s once-famous ban on using the “playoff” word needs to be reinstated until further notice.

The Ravens haven’t beaten the Patriots since the 2012 AFC Championship, and you can count the relevant players remaining from that Super Bowl team on two hands and have fingers left over. They still play the Steelers tough, but their only win at Heinz Field since the 2014 postseason was a game in which a washed-up Michael Vick was under center for their AFC North rival.

The sobering reality of watching the likes of Buffalo and Tennessee in the playoffs last weekend wasn’t that the Ravens might have been more formidable, but it’s that they’re closer to those mediocre teams in quality than the Patriots and the Steelers. They couldn’t even beat out such wild-card contenders despite having one of the most-favorable schedules in the NFL.

Harbaugh’s team went just 1-5 against teams who finished above .500 this season and is now 7-27 in that department since Super Bowl XLVII. For context, the 2011 team alone won six games against opponents finishing that season with winning records, and the Ravens were 18-20 against squads finishing over .500 from 2008-12.

Even that last playoff team in 2014 was an unimpressive 1-6 against teams finishing with winning records, but those Ravens did go a perfect 9-0 against opponents .500 or worse and swept a terrible NFC South division to ultimately secure a wild card. This year’s team lost home games to Chicago and Cincinnati, who finished a combined 12-20.

The standard that once made losing a playoff game in New England a bitter disappointment has regressed to not being good enough to beat winning teams and dropping a few too many games that they shouldn’t. The latter part is evident from a 33-13 record against teams finishing .500 or worse over the last five years compared to a 36-6 mark over the first five seasons of the Harbaugh era.

It’s resulted in a team that’s still competitive, but not one as close to being a serious contender as the Ravens would like to believe.

Three years ago, that disappointing 35-31 playoff loss to the Patriots still felt like the beginning of a new run for Harbaugh and the revamped Ravens after their 2013 absence from the postseason. Instead, it may have simply been the final chapter in the most successful era in franchise history.

The Ravens have a lot of work to do this offseason to both change that perception and resurrect their once-lofty standard.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 39-38 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 12 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling in heartbreaking fashion in a 39-38 loss at Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The final outcome hurt, but the highest-scoring Ravens-Steelers game we’ve ever seen was as entertaining as it gets and again cemented this rivalry as the best in the NFL. There’s no reason for John Harbaugh’s team to fear a third meeting if that’s how it plays out.

2. Yes, you must vary coverage looks, but leaving Brandon Carr on an island against arguably the league’s MVP with the game on the line while deep safety Tony Jefferson was more concerned with Martavis Bryant down the seam is indefensible. It was bad play-calling, bad execution, or both.

3. Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 69 times and was sacked only three times and not picked once despite a couple of interceptable throws. The failure to generate pressure with a four-man rush and shortcomings in man coverage make for a deadly combination against an elite passing game.

4. Alex Collins gained 95 of his 120 rushing yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s been a godsend and won’t even become a restricted free agent until after next season, which is great news for an offense needing more skill-position talent. Keep feeding him the ball.

5. The interception that likely took three points off the board on the opening drive was brutal, but Joe Flacco followed his best performance of the season last week with another solid outing. I’ll take my chances if he can play more like this the rest of the way.

6. C.J. Mosley has had challenges in coverage in the past, but he was eaten alive and showed no explosiveness as Pittsburgh’s pedestrian tight ends feasted in the middle of the field. Injuries are taking their toll on him, and that has to be a concern the rest of the way.

7. On the flip side, Baltimore tight ends combined for one catch for one yard despite Benjamin Watson, Nick Boyle, and Maxx Williams playing a combined 107 snaps. The Ravens desperately need to find some speed at this position in the offseason.

8. The absence of Za’Darius Smith hasn’t been discussed much, but he’s normally part of the interior-rush rotation in sub packages and Chris Wormley was trusted to play just two snaps, leaving Brandon Williams and Willie Henry to play over 60 each. No wonder there wasn’t any inside pressure.

9. Jeremy Maclin has eight catches on 24 targets over the last three games as his rapport with Flacco has gone the wrong way since the bye. Harbaugh’s lack of an answer when asked about this was telling. Maclin has been much more T.J. Houshmandzadeh than Steve Smith, a clear disappointment.

10. The emergence of Chris Moore has been encouraging as the special-teams standout had his best game as a pro with an impressive concentration catch for a 30-yard touchdown. You hope a hip injury doesn’t halt that momentum since the Ravens need all the help they can get at wide receiver.

11. Anthony Levine being able to tackle Bryant in the end zone on a third-quarter kickoff sure would have been an interesting variable to throw into the mix of a classic one-point game. It was just one of several plays after which the Ravens had to be asking, “What if?”

12. We know rules are catered toward offense, but some of the pass interference flags on both sides couldn’t have been more ticky-tack calls. That offers some context to these teams combining for 77 points and 747 net passing yards.

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Painful loss to Pittsburgh should still bring hope for Ravens

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — No matter the circumstances or stakes, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers is about as painful as it gets for the Ravens.

That’s the burden of a tremendous rivalry as the sting of Sunday’s heartbreaking 39-38 defeat will linger throughout the week and possibly a little longer. Suffering their first regular-season sweep at the hands of the Steelers since 2008, many players were despondent in the locker room after squandering a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, conjuring memories of last year’s defensive collapse on Christmas.

Baltimore was one stop or one drive away from a huge victory at Heinz Field, but we know close only counts in horseshoes, right? Terrell Suggs was among those who didn’t want to hear about any moral victory of the Ravens giving Pittsburgh everything it could handle and then some as they led by nine points with less than seven minutes to go.

Coaches, players, media, and fans alike understand giving up 19 points in the final 13 minutes is inexcusable as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards — 228 in the fourth quarter — and Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards, but there’s a critical difference with this one compared to last season’s Week 16 collapse. That loss left the Ravens to think all offseason about how close they came before Brown extended the ball over the goal line and eliminated them from playoff contention with that dramatic last-second touchdown.

Sunday certainly hurt, but the loss only narrowed the margin for error the rest of the way as they try to secure a wild-card spot and their first trip to the playoffs since 2014. A division title would have remained a long shot even with a win, so the task is clear for the Ravens as three wins against three sub-.500 opponents will still guarantee them some January football.

A narrow loss to Pittsburgh — the expected outcome in the eyes of most observers entering Week 14 — shouldn’t meaningfully alter anyone’s outlook for the final three weeks. If you don’t believe in the Ravens’ ability to beat Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati, were you honestly expecting a competitive game against the Steelers in the first place?

A deep breath and 24 hours bring some needed perspective for the long-term outlook.

Had Chris Boswell missed the 46-yard field goal in the final minute or the Ravens simply made one more game-changing play down the stretch, euphoria undoubtedly would have replaced disgust and the focus would have been on a strong offensive showing for the second straight week rather than the terrible defensive performance. Concerns about the defense still would have been warranted had the Ravens figured out a way to escape western Pennsylvania with a win, but that wouldn’t have been the primary topic of discussion.

A signature win would have helped the eyeball test, but it wouldn’t have suddenly made Baltimore the new favorite in the AFC. A return trip to Heinz Field next month would have still labeled the Ravens as the underdog against the Steelers. This remains a flawed team, and a win wouldn’t have changed that if we’re being honest.

The silver lining from Sunday is that the offense was able to duplicate last week’s impressive production against Detroit. It’s no secret that this group has been the Ravens’ biggest weakness, but scoring a combined 82 points the last two games brings more optimism down the stretch. Alex Collins continues to look like a difference-maker while Joe Flacco has thrown for 538 yards and four touchdowns the last two weeks, marked improvement from what we’ve seen most of this season.

We knew this offense needed to improve if the Ravens were going to pose any threat in a potential trip to the postseason, and it’s finally showing signs of progress.

On the other hand, the defense is fairly being criticized after being carved up by Roethlisberger and giving up 59 points in its last six quarters of action, but the Ravens will now play three bottom-10 offenses to try to make necessary corrections and better adjust to life without top cornerback Jimmy Smith. Sunday certainly brought validation to the criticism regarding the lack of elite offenses on the schedule and the group’s ability without Smith on the field, but this defense has been good enough over the course of the season to at least envision better results on that side of the ball if the teams were to meet a third time.

It was only three years ago that the Ravens were blown out by the Steelers in their first full game without Smith and returned to Heinz Field two months later to win in the opening round of the playoffs. Regardless of how it ended Sunday night, a one-point road loss to an 11-2 team shouldn’t prompt any fear if given the chance to roll the dice again, and there isn’t much more you can ask for beyond that.

It’s fair to be ticked off about such a frustrating loss for the Ravens. Harbaugh and his team certainly are.

But it didn’t end their season this time around, and there was enough good to take away from the performance to ponder the possibilities of a third meeting sometime next month.

That is, if the Ravens handle their business between now and then.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 10 December 2017 by Luke Jones

PITTSBURGH — One of the greatest rivalries in the NFL is renewed in prime time as the Ravens take on Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

Needing a victory to remain one game ahead of Buffalo and Los Angeles for the final wild-card spot in the AFC, the Ravens (7-5) are aiming for revenge after the Steelers (10-2) handled them easily in a 26-9 final at M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 1. Of course, the defense was without defensive tackle Brandon Williams in that game as Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell rushed for 144 yards on 35 carries.

Pittsburgh will clinch the AFC North division title with a win on Sunday night.

Baltimore has officially deactivated outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who missed practices all week with a shoulder injury and was designated as doubtful to play. His absence likely means more snaps for rookies Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams in the rotation behind starters Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon.

As expected, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (back) is active despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report. The veteran missed Thursday’s practice, but he was a full participant a day later as head coach John Harbaugh made it clear that his availability wasn’t in real jeopardy.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman is a healthy scratch for the third time in four games, the continuation of a nightmare season for the 2015 first-round pick.

Rookie defensive end Chris Wormley is active for the first time since Week 9, giving the Ravens another pass-rushing option in sub packages with Smith unavailable. Rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill is also active for the first time since the Tennessee game as he essentially takes the injured Jimmy Smith’s game-day roster spot.

The Steelers are hurting at inside linebacker with 2016 Pro Bowl selection Ryan Shazier (back) and top backup Tyler Matakevich (shoulder) both ruled out on Friday. As a result, outside linebacker Arthur Moats is expected to shift inside to play next to Vince Williams.

Sunday’s referee is Walt Coleman.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Pittsburgh calls for cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 30s with winds averaging around 12 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their white jerseys with black pants, the first time they’ve worn that uniform combination since the Week 3 debacle in London. Pittsburgh will be donning black tops with gold pants.

Sunday marks the 48th overall meeting between these AFC North rivals with the Steelers enjoying a slight 23-20 advantage in the regular season and a 3-1 edge in postseason encounters. The Ravens are trying to avoid being swept by Pittsburgh for the first time since 2008, which was Harbaugh’s first season in Baltimore.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Breshad Perriman
RB Terrance West
CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
OL Maurquice Shakir
LB Za’Darius Smith
DE Bronson Kaufusi

PITTSBURGH
QB Joshua Dobbs
CB Joe Haden
S J.J. Wilcox
LB Tyler Matakevich
LB Ryan Shazier
OT Matt Feiler
DT Daniel McCullers

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 09 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t really need to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

A one-game lead for the final wild-card spot, a strong tiebreaker profile, and three remaining games — two at home — against teams that are a combined 20 games below .500 make Baltimore’s chances to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 very strong already. But a victory would bring the elusive signature win that would make the doubters — and perhaps John Harbaugh’s team itself — start to believe the Ravens are capable of being a legitimate threat in January.

Meanwhile, the Steelers hope to extend their seven-game winning streak, but a defeat would still leave them within striking distance of New England, who will visit Heinz Field next week with the upper hand for the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line. The immediate incentive for Pittsburgh to win Sunday would be to clinch the AFC North title, but its three-game advantage with four weeks to go leaves quite a margin for error in the division race.

In other words, the renewal of this intense rivalry lacks the same stakes as last year’s Christmas Day affair that essentially served as a division championship game.

Last week’s serious back injury suffered by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has been on the minds of both teams as the former Pro Bowl selection’s future on and off the field remains unclear. With many Pittsburgh players planning to wear cleats paying tribute to their injured teammate, how the Steelers respond emotionally playing at home could certainly be a factor for at least the beginning of Sunday night’s game.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North rivals meet for the 44th time in the regular-season series with the Steelers holding a slight 23-20 advantage to go with a 3-1 edge in postseason encounters. Pittsburgh has won the last two meetings and is in search of its first regular-season sweep of the Ravens since 2008. Including the playoffs, 16 of the 22 showdowns with the Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by a single possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

1. Danny Woodhead will have his best game as a Raven with 60 receiving yards and a touchdown. The focus on Shazier’s injury has rightly been on his health and not on football, but the Steelers will miss his presence in pass coverage as he recorded an interception and four breakups against Baltimore’s underneath passing game in Week 4. With Cam Heyward and a strong Pittsburgh front dominating the line of scrimmage in that first meeting, Joe Flacco may have to rely on more short passing and less of Alex Collins and the running game. With outside linebacker Arthur Moats filling in on the inside, this is the game Woodhead and the Ravens need to exploit an advantageous matchup.

2. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell will finish with 115 total yards of offense. It’s no secret the run defense has been superb since Brandon Williams’ return in late October, but Bell’s huge game in Week 4 was more about the inability to set the edge on outside runs and to handle the Steelers’ pulling interior linemen on counters than struggles inside as he averaged just 2.2 yards per carry between the tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens will be hellbent to slow Bell as a runner, but linebackers C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor have been vulnerable in pass coverage and this is where Bell will find more of his success. He’ll extend a streak of 57 or more receiving yards to four straight games.

3. Mike Wallace and Martavis Bryant will catch long touchdowns for their respective teams. With Steelers cornerback Joe Haden still out and their safeties inclined to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage to help the inside linebackers in coverage, there should be some opportunities for the Ravens to take deep shots and Wallace has been playing his best football of the year since the bye. On the flip side, Baltimore will do whatever it can schematically to prevent Antonio Brown from killing a secondary without Jimmy Smith, but that will leave Marlon Humphrey or Brandon Carr occasionally on an island matched up with Bryant, who is still dangerous despite a disappointing season.

4. Joe Flacco will be efficient and play turnover-free football for the third straight week. The 10th-year quarterback is coming off his best game of the year and needs to play more like that down the stretch if the Ravens are to become a realistic threat in the AFC. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler will do more to try to confuse Flacco and mix up coverages than Detroit did a week ago, but his fourth-ranked defense ranks a pedestrian 14th in the NFL in takeaways. Pass protection needs to hold up better than it did in the first meeting between these teams, but Flacco will effectively find Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin in the short-to-intermediate area of the field.

5. The Ravens will pull off the upset for their first signature win of the season in a 23-20 final. Perhaps I’m drinking too much purple Kool-Aid, but the Steelers are coming off a short and emotional week following a Monday night road game and have trailed in the second half of four of their last five games, illustrating how vulnerable they’ve looked at times despite a terrific 10-2 record. Baltimore has one last chance to earn a signature win and needs to build on its strong performance from a week ago to build confidence that the offense can be productive enough moving forward to have a real chance in the playoffs. The Steelers are the better team overall, but this week’s circumstances set up favorably for the Ravens to steal a road win in Pittsburgh and further improve their playoff positioning.

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Ravens list Maclin, Mosley as questionable for Sunday in Pittsburgh

Posted on 08 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have listed wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and linebacker C.J. Mosley as questionable, but both are expected to play against Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

Having suffered a “stinger” in each of the last two games, Mosley missed practice with a neck issue on Wednesday before participating fully the rest of the week, leaving little doubt about his availability. Maclin missed Thursday’s practice with what was listed as a back injury, but he was a full practice participant on Friday.

Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t want to confirm directly that Maclin would play, but he made it apparent that the starting wide receiver would be on the field against the Steelers.

“I prefer not to say. But in Jeremy’s case, I’m not worried about it,” Harbaugh said. “We give guys rest all the time this time of year. I know a lot gets made out of it. You know if guys are injured. If guys are getting rest, they’re getting rest. It’s pretty normal this time of year.”

Baltimore officially listed outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith as doubtful after he missed practices all week with a shoulder injury. It’s unclear when Smith hurt his shoulder as he played 32 defensive snaps in the win over Detroit last Sunday.

With Smith not expected to play, the Ravens will lean more heavily on rookies Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams to back up starters Terrell Suggs and Matthew Judon. The 2017 Day 2 draft picks have played infrequently on defense with Bowser picking up two sacks and Williams still looking for his first quarterback takedown in the NFL.

“I think they’re all top-level guys. It’s a deep position for us,” Harbaugh said. “Whoever is out there, we expect them to play at a really high level, and they’re going to have to. Holding the edge on this run game and getting to Ben [Roethlisberger] is going to be really important. Those guys drop [into coverage], too; they’re not one-dimensional on our defense.”

The Ravens listed offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor as questionable after he returned to practice this week. He has missed two straight games with a shoulder injury.

Veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs received a veteran day off on Friday.

To no surprise, the Steelers officially ruled out cornerback Joe Haden (fibula) as well as linebacker Ryan Shazier (back), who underwent spinal stabilization surgery earlier in the week and is expected to miss the rest of the 2017 season. Safety Mike Mitchell (ankle) practiced fully all week and is expected to make his return after his Week 13 absence.

All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown (toe) wasn’t listed on the final injury report and will play against the Ravens after returning to practice fully on Friday. His toe injury left his status in question last week before he racked up eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati.

“It was better today,” Brown told reporters in Pittsburgh. “I was able to go out and work a little bit today, and I’m grateful for it.”

According to Weather.com, the Sunday night forecast in Pittsburgh calls for cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 30s with winds up to 13 miles per hour and only a slight chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: LB Za’Darius Smith (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder), WR Jeremy Maclin (back), LB C.J. Mosley (neck)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: CB Joe Haden (fibula), LB Tyler Matakevich (shoulder), LB Ryan Shazier (back)
QUESTIONABLE: S Mike Mitchell (ankle)

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Maclin absent, Mosley returns to practice on Thursday

Posted on 07 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens welcomed back a key starter to the practice field Thursday while another sat out as they moved closer to their Week 14 clash with Pittsburgh.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (neck) was a full participant after sitting out the previous day, but wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (back) was absent after being a limited participant in Wednesday’s walk-through practice. It remains unclear when the back problem surfaced for the veteran, but he took a big hit to the midsection from Detroit defensive back Quandre Diggs in the third quarter of last Sunday’s win.

Maclin missed two games with a shoulder injury in October and has frequently worn a red non-contact vest over his practice jersey since then. Coming off their best offensive performance of the season, the Ravens can hardly afford to be without him as they face the league’s second-ranked pass defense.

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was sidelined from practice for a second straight day with a shoulder injury.

The Steelers held out star wide receiver Antonio Brown (toe) from their workout after he wasn’t listed on Wednesday’s injury report. Brown was a major question mark to play against Cincinnati on Monday before ultimately catching eight passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Outside linebacker T.J. Watt was a limited participant with a knee issue on Thursday.

Pittsburgh announced injured inside linebacker Ryan Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery Wednesday night, a procedure making it clear that he won’t return to the field this season. Of course, all focus is rightly on his general health for the future with football being an afterthought for now.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Jeremy Maclin (back), LB Za’Darius Smith (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB C.J. Mosley (neck)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Antonio Brown (toe), CB Joe Haden (fibula), LB Tyler Matakevich (shoulder), LB Ryan Shazier (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB T.J. Watt (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Vance McDonald (ankle), S Mike Mitchell (ankle)

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Humphrey’s time arrives for playoff-hopeful Ravens

Posted on 06 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey will be playing at Heinz Field for the first time Sunday night, but he has an idea of what to expect against Pittsburgh.

Facing the NFL’s fourth-ranked passing attack in his first start in place of the injured Jimmy Smith, the first-round rookie knows he’ll have a bullseye on his back as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger surveys a Baltimore secondary now without its top corner. Humphrey acknowledges this in a matter-of-fact way without a hint of intimidation or even all that much excitement in his voice.

It’s not the first time he’s been under the microscope on a big stage, of course, as it was just two years ago that he was a redshirt freshman starting for a national championship Alabama team.

“I’m sure if there’s a weak link they have to pick out, it would definitely be me,” said Humphrey, referencing the big plays he gave up against Detroit last Sunday. “Big Ben likes to throw it up. He’s a great quarterback, so I’m sure if he has to take those shots, it’ll probably be at me.”

The six-foot, 197-pound cornerback struggled as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford targeted him frequently after Smith suffered a torn Achilles tendon late in the second quarter, but it’s not as though Humphrey hadn’t already shown enough for the Ravens to be confident in him. It was just a couple weeks ago when many began wondering if Humphrey was on the cusp of earning a starting position before a thigh issue limited him to seven defensive snaps in Week 12.

His talent was evident from the first day of organized team activities when he was still two months shy of his 21st birthday. Humphrey didn’t look much like a rookie in the spring and summer as he practiced press coverage and displayed the kind of polish you expect from a cornerback with at least a couple seasons under his belt.

This past Sunday was arguably the first time the moment has looked too big for him since he was selected with the 16th overall pick in April’s draft, and he still recovered in the fourth quarter to intercept a Stafford pass to help preserve the win.

“He has good composure on the field. He has God-given speed,” 10th-year cornerback Brandon Carr said. “The ability he has, he can make up for a lot of things that he hasn’t learned yet as far as technique and the ins and outs of the receivers. But he has a knack for just going out there and making plays.”

The Ravens would surely prefer having Smith on the field against the likes of All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown and deep threat Martavis Bryant in a nationally-televised prime-time game, but it’s not as though they’re throwing Humphrey to the wolves as an untested commodity. He’s already logged more than 300 defensive snaps this season — including 55 against an Oakland offense that included wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper — after frequently spelling a banged-up Smith and replacing Carr when he struggled to slow down Green Bay’s speedy receivers late last month.

According to Pro Football Focus, Humphrey has graded a respectable 41st among qualified cornerbacks and is allowing a passer rating of just 52.3 when targeted. He has collected 25 tackles and two interceptions to go along with eight pass breakups. The latter stat ranks second on the team and reflects how quarterbacks had already tried to test the rookie with little success before Stafford’s last Sunday.

Prior to Smith’s injury, coaches had boasted that they had three starting corners on the league’s third-ranked pass defense, and the numbers support that idea as Humphrey has played 18 or more snaps seven times this season.

“I think it’ll help a lot,” Humphrey said. “Coaches have given me a lot of time to play for me [being] a backup corner. It’ll definitely help that I’ve got some game experience.”

Of course, the apprenticeship is now over as Humphrey will start opposite of Carr and the Ravens will try to avoid their second straight late-season collapse following an injury to Smith. There’s no safety net as the next men up on the depth chart are also inexperienced in Maurice Canady, Jaylen Hill, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.

Frankly, this exact scenario with the oft-injured Smith is why general manager Ozzie Newsome passed on prospects at other positions of need to select Humphrey. Some growing pains are likely or even inevitable down the stretch, but his talent and even-keeled personality are major reasons why the Ravens believe they can endure Smith’s absence this time around after it was their fatal flaw last December.

“If a ball is completed on him, it’s not ‘sulk and go in the tank’ like some rookies can do,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Humphrey early last month. “Every defensive back that is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame has gotten beat — every one of them. It is just a matter of the ones that are really in there are the ones that could forget that and go play the next play.

“I’m certainly not putting him in that category yet, but he has that quality.”

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