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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 26 December 2015 by Luke Jones

“The night is darkest just before the dawn.”

Recently adding to Harvey Dent’s sentiment expressed in “The Dark Knight” movie was injured Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who told the team’s official website that watching this season is like “being in Bane’s prison with your back broken, watching the city in turmoil.”

That dawn — or an escape — doesn’t figure to come Sunday as the 4-10 Ravens welcome their hated AFC North rivals to town. Not only do the Pittsburgh Steelers have an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win and a New York Jets loss, but their fans could take over M&T Bank Stadium in a manner we haven’t seen in Baltimore in a long time. Based on the higher-than-normal volume of visiting fans in town over the last two weeks, that scenario appears likely for the final home game of the 2015 season.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week that he couldn’t care less about the possibility of punching a ticket to the playoffs in Baltimore, but you know there’s little Pittsburgh would like more than to further embarrass their rivals when they’re down.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 40th in their regular-season history with Pittsburgh holding a 21-18 advantage, but 13 of the 18 games — including the postseason — in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by one possession, which includes the Ravens’ 23-20 overtime win at Heinz Field in Week 4. The Ravens are 10-9 against the Steelers in Baltimore.

Here’s what to expects as the Ravens try to win just their third home game of 2015 …

(Editor’s note: A report early Sunday morning indicated that Ryan Mallett will start against the Steelers, allowing the reader to skip to the No. 2 prediction.)

1. Jimmy Clausen will start and play respectably against one of the league’s worst pass defenses. Harbaugh and Marc Trestman have left the door open for Ryan Mallett to make his first start, but it’s difficult imagining him truly being ready with less than two weeks to learn the system and it makes little sense throwing him into such a difficult setting. Meanwhile, Clausen has played well enough in his first two starts to make you think he can make some plays against Pittsburgh’s 31st-ranked pass defense. The Ravens offense lacks the pieces to score many points, but Clausen’s developing chemistry with Kamar Aiken will allow them to at least move the chains on Sunday.

2. Jimmy Smith will intercept a pass, but Antonio Brown will catch a touchdown and post over 100 receiving yards. The fifth-year cornerback being listed as probable is good news, but it’s not as though the pass defense has thrived with Smith, who has disappointed coming off last year’s Lisfranc injury. The Ravens have one interception in the last three months — Lardarius Webb picked off Blake Bortles on Nov. 15 — and Smith will intercept Ben Roethlisberger in the first half. However, he’ll be no match for Brown as he eclipses the century mark in receiving yards for the fifth time in seven games. There are just too many weapons for Pittsburgh and not enough talent in the Ravens secondary.

3. Buck Allen will redeem himself from Week 15 with 115 yards from scrimmage. I wasn’t a fan of Harbaugh’s treatment of the rookie running back after his first-quarter fumble, but the coach indicated that Allen’s bench won’t carry over. The Steelers remain stout against the run, but their linebackers are poor in pass coverage, which should open up opportunities for Allen to catch passes out of the backfield. With Pittsburgh expected to score plenty of points and the Ravens likely playing from behind, Clausen will find Allen as a nice safety valve out of the backfield to help move the chains and the 2015 fourth-round pick will put the memory of the last two weeks behind him with a strong day.

4. Ben Roethlisberger will throw for over 300 yards for the sixth time in the last seven games. It’s hard to believe there was a time when the Pittsburgh quarterback was considered much more of a game manager, but the only thing to consistently stop him in 2015 has been injuries as Roethlisberger continues to put up big numbers. The Ravens will try to exploit Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, but the pass rush just isn’t good enough and the veteran signal-caller will be more than willing to roll out to his right and wait for his receivers to get open down the field. It will be a far cry from Week 4 when the Ravens were able to bottle up Mike Vick for most of the evening.

5. The Ravens will keep it close in the first half before Pittsburgh pulls away in a 31-13 final. Baltimore was competitive early against Seattle and Kansas City, but the resiliency and talent just aren’t there to overcome a turnover, a big penalty, or a gut-wrenching play by the opposition at this point. The Steelers have won three straight and have reached the 30-point mark in their last six contests, making them arguably the biggest AFC threat to New England should they reach the postseason. It’s easy to say it’s a Ravens-Steelers game and anything could happen, but do we really even recognize this Baltimore team at this point? Considering what’s at stake for Pittsburgh, the Ravens winning on Sunday would be one of the biggest upsets in the 20-year history of the franchise.

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Wagner, J. Smith probable to play against Pittsburgh

Posted on 25 December 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens listed right tackle Rick Wagner and cornerback Jimmy Smith as probable for Sunday’s home finale against Pittsburgh.

Wagner (knee) and Smith (thigh) both missed practice on Wednesday before participating fully in Thursday’s workout. The Ravens did not practice on Christmas Day and will wrap up preparations for the Steelers on Saturday.

Sidelined since last month with a back injury, wide receiver Marlon Brown was ruled out for Sunday and will miss his fifth consecutive game. It remains unclear why the Ravens haven’t elected to place the third-year wideout on injured reserve as he’s caught a career-low 14 passes for 112 yards this season.

Linebacker and special-teams standout Albert McClellan (ankle) was listed as doubtful after missing practices all week. He missed last Sunday’s loss to Kansas City after missing only one game in his previous two seasons combined.

Needing a win and a New York Jets loss to New England to clinch an AFC wild-card spot, the Steelers listed no player worse than probable on their final injury report.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Craig Wrolstad.

The Ravens will wear their black jerseys for Sunday’s game after wearing their all-black uniforms in the Week 5 loss to Cleveland.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 70s and winds up to 11 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday:

BALTIMORE
OUT: WR Marlon Brown (back)
DOUBTFUL: LB Albert McClellan (ankle)
PROBABLE: CB Jimmy Smith (thigh), OT Rick Wagner (knee), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
PROBABLE: S Will Allen (non-injury), CB William Gay (non-injury), LB James Harrison (non-injury), S Mike Mitchell (shoulder), TE Matt Spaeth (knee)

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J. Smith, Wagner practice fully on Christmas Eve

Posted on 24 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Before departing to enjoy the Christmas holiday with their families, the Ravens welcomed back two starters to the practice field on Thursday as they count down to their Week 16 tilt with Pittsburgh.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (thigh) and right tackle Rick Wagner (knee) were full participants a day after missing practice with injuries suffered in this past Sunday’s loss to Kansas City. This bodes well for their availability against the Steelers, who will try to clinch a playoff spot on Sunday with a win and a New York Jets loss.

Linebacker Albert McClellan (ankle) and wide receiver Marlon Brown (back) were absent from practice for the second straight day. Linebacker Daryl Smith received a veteran day off as he typically does on Thursdays.

For Pittsburgh, safety Mike Mitchell (shoulder) returned to practice as a full participant.

Below is the full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Marlon Brown (back), LB Albert McClellan (ankle), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (thigh), OT Rick Wagner (knee)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Will Allen (non-injury), TE Matt Spaeth (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB William Gay (non-injury), LB James Harrison (non-injury), S Mike Mitchell (shoulder)

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Ravens have taken holiday spirit too literally in 2015

Posted on 23 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s better to give than to receive, right?

Perhaps the Ravens have taken the spirit of the holiday season too literally in 2015 as they enter Sunday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers holding the second-worst turnover ratio in the NFL at minus-15. It’s a major reason why Baltimore has long been out of the playoff race and needs one win in the final two weeks of the season just to avoid tying the worst record in franchise history.

“You don’t win football games when you turn the ball over,” head coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday’s loss to Kansas City in which his team committed three turnovers. “If any team this year should understand that, it’s the Baltimore Ravens. Until we learn that lesson, we can play as hard as we want, we can be as physical as we want, we can be as tough as we want, we can play some pretty darn good football. But if you turn the ball over, you’re not going to win.”

The Ravens have committed 26 turnovers, the second-highest total of the Harbaugh era with only their 2013 total (29) being higher. It’s no coincidence that those are the Ravens’ only non-playoff seasons under their eighth-year coach.

But the inability to create turnovers from the opposition has been a much greater problem for the Ravens in 2015. With just 11 takeaways in 14 games, they’re on pace to shatter the franchise-worst mark of 22 set in 1996 and matched last season.

The current Ravens can only dream of forcing 49 turnovers like the 2000 team that won Super Bowl XXXV or the 2006 squad that forced 40 on the way to the best regular-season mark (13-3) in franchise history. The Baltimore defense of old feels light years away as its old rival comes to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

“To be able to play like [that], you’ve got to get the lead,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “We just shoot ourselves in the foot when we don’t get [the lead] early. It’s always harder to play behind versus with the lead. I think that’s a valuable lesson we’re all learning this year.”

Though the Ravens have held a lead in 10 of their 14 games this season, those advantages have often been brief as they’ve led at the conclusion of just 14 of 58 quarters of play (counting two overtime periods) all season. The game-winning points in all four of their victories have come on the final play of the game.

We know that the Ravens lack dynamic, game-changing talent on the defensive side of the ball, but it isn’t easy to set the tempo and attack opposing offenses when they’re always on their heels and taking the punches.

“It’s being in the right place consistently, creating a little momentum [and] probably creating pressure on quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said. “Getting the lead has a lot to do with turnovers, especially interceptions. I think you’ll find – if you look at the analytics – that when you have the lead and you force quarterbacks to be a little more desperate in some of their decision-making, they’ll throw you the ball quite a bit more. We have been behind most of the season, so I think that factors into it.”

Yanda in exclusive company

After being named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl on Tuesday, right guard Marshal Yanda became the sixth Ravens player in franchise history to be named to at least five Pro Bowls, joining Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata.

Having played with all five of those individuals in his nine-year career, Yanda realizes he’s entered special company as he quietly carves out his place as one of the best players in Ravens history.

“It’s awesome. It’s a great honor, obviously, to be mentioned with those guys,” Yanda said. “Those guys are Hall of Famers, and it’s just awesome, and I feel fortunate to be able to stay healthy at the right time and be able to play on a good team, good organization.

“I understand a lot of that stuff sometimes has to help, too, [with Pro Bowl selections]. Obviously, you see that other teams are having a really good year [and] more guys get voted in. When you’re having a tough year, less guys get voted in.”

The Ravens have made the playoffs in six of Yanda’s nine seasons.

New England reunion

The Ravens are trying to get quarterback Ryan Mallett up to speed with their offense as quickly as possible, but one of his new teammates was already familiar with him.

Before spending the last two seasons with the Houston Texans, Mallett spent three years backing up Tom Brady in New England where he practiced with a current Ravens wide receiver on the scout team.

“I know Mallett pretty well,” said Kamar Aiken, who spent time with the Patriots in 2012 and 2013. “I’ve been catching balls with him when I was in New England, so I’m pretty comfortable with him and everybody else. He’s a really talented guy. He has to get the offense.”

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Groundhog Day continues for Ravens at quarterback

Posted on 22 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If you listened closely, you can almost hear the strains of “I Got You Babe” in the background as Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked about his starting quarterback for Week 16.

Groundhog Day continues for the Ravens as Harbaugh wouldn’t even commit to veteran Matt Schaub being his starter if healthy enough to play, a departure from the last two weeks that were already filled with uncertainty. With the 34-year-old dealing with a chest injury, Jimmy Clausen has started each of the last two games for Baltimore.

Who will be under center for the 4-10 Ravens against Pittsburgh on Sunday is anyone’s guess.

“I just don’t want to put any parameters on it right now,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a unique situation right now that we’re in, obviously. It’s different than normal. We’ll see how it plays out. We’re probably not going to say anything. We’ll see who the guy is. I don’t know who the guy is going to be right now at this stage, so we’ll see.”

As if there wasn’t enough discussion about whether Schaub or Clausen would start the previous two weeks, the recently-signed Ryan Mallett figures to now enter the discussion over these final two games of 2015. Signed through next season on a contract that doesn’t include any guaranteed money, the troubled Mallett is an obvious candidate to be a healthy Joe Flacco’s backup in 2016.

In addition to finding out if the 27-year-old has learned from the mistakes that led to his dismissal in Houston, the Ravens would probably like to see Mallett play before the season concludes if he’s up to speed with the offense to a reasonable degree.

“We’ll see how that goes. He has done a good job,” Harbaugh said. “He has been here since Tuesday, so he has done a good job. He has been here practically 24-7 learning the offense. We’ll see where it goes this week. Obviously, the clock is ticking. If we want to see him this year, we’re going to have to put him out [there] pretty quick, but that’s a matter of whether he’s ready to play. We also want to do justice to our chances to win the game, too.”

Given the lack of a supporting cast on offense, none of their three options at quarterback would appear to give the Ravens a good chance to beat either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. But at the very least, Clausen’s performance should propel him into the conversation for the backup job next season, especially considering he’s spent just a month with the organization. In two games with the Ravens against quality defenses, Clausen has completed 57.6 percent of his pass attempts for 555 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions.

A solid backup quarterback should give a team a chance to win a couple games in the short term if he has a good supporting cast around him. Of course, it’s only been two games, but Clausen has played well enough to make you think he could do that if the Ravens weren’t already so depleted on offense.

With Flacco expected to be sidelined until training camp — and not guaranteed to be ready for those first practices in late July — the Ravens would be wise to have two viable backup options for the spring and summer. Why not allow Clausen and Mallett to battle it out for the backup job in the preseason?

Many have already anointed Mallett the backup for 2016 without knowing whether he’s learned his lesson and is finally committed to putting his talents to good use and realizing his potential. With Mallett’s contract guaranteeing nothing but a chance, Clausen should also be re-signed if he doesn’t receive a more attractive opportunity elsewhere.

But given the lack of starting quarterbacks around the league, let alone backups, other quarterback-needy teams may come calling with an opportunity to potentially compete for a starting job, something that wouldn’t happen in Baltimore.

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Ravens thoughts on Aiken, Pittsburgh, injuries, Pro Bowl

Posted on 22 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Kamar Aiken is one of the last men standing in the Ravens offense.

In a lost season on so many levels, the Central Florida product has established himself as a productive NFL receiver and an important piece moving forward. His 62 catches for 802 yards — already the 24th-highest single-season receiving yardage total in franchise history — and five touchdowns would make for a good season without accounting for the two games he still has to add to those totals.

In the six games since Steve Smith suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 8, Aiken has caught 37 passes for 469 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers put the 6-foot-2 receiver on pace for a 98-catch, 1,250-yard season over a full 16 games. Of course, the Ravens currently don’t have a whole lot besides Aiken in terms of viable pass-catching targets — Torrey Smith’s production similarly ballooned in 2013 — but he’s also played with three different quarterbacks including the last two games with Jimmy Clausen, who’s been with Baltimore for all of a month.

It’s been impressive work from the former practice-squad receiver who had never made an NFL reception before last season. But Aiken’s emergence shouldn’t make general manager Ozzie Newsome feel he’s set at wide receiver this offseason.

Reports persist that Steve Smith is likely to return if his rehabilitation goes well, but he will also be 37 next year and coming off a serious injury that impacts explosiveness. It’d be foolish to doubt such a fierce competitor’s desire to return and be productive in 2016, but expecting him to come back as a No. 1 option like nothing ever happened would be unrealistic — and unfair.

Breshad Perriman will be back, but the Ravens haven’t seen their 2015 first-round pick play as much as a snap in a preseason game. He will need to prove his knee is healthy and that he can contribute as an NFL wide receiver before anyone signs off on him as the No. 1 receiver of the future.

With a plethora of needs on both sides of the ball, the Ravens may not need to draft a receiver in the first round this spring, but another wideout should firmly be on Newsome’s radar in the first few rounds of the draft. Otherwise, Baltimore will once again enter a season with too many questions at a position that’s been an Achilles heel for much of the 20-year history of the franchise.

At the very least, Aiken is shaping up to be a dependable possession receiver — a poor man’s Anquan Boldin — and the one commodity at the position that the Ravens can really trust while shaping their 2016 roster this offseason.

Bracing for Pittsburgh

Based on the number of Seattle and Kansas City fans that made their way to M&T Bank Stadium over the last two weeks, Steelers fans may make Sunday’s game feel like it’s being played at Heinz Field, which would be a disheartening conclusion to a home schedule that has already included five losses — most in franchise history.

I’ll never judge fans for selling their tickets — personal seat licenses and season tickets are a heck of a financial commitment for mere entertainment — but you’d like to see Ravens fans protect their home turf against their biggest rival if at all possible. I wrote about this topic earlier this season, but I also won’t fault fans trying to make some money around the holiday season as the injury-ravaged hometown team is barely recognizable at this point.

To add insult to injury, the Steelers can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a New York Jets loss against New England on Sunday. And, oh yeah, Pittsburgh has scored 30 or more points in six straight games and will be facing a pass defense that has offered little resistance all season.

Optimists will call it a rivalry game in which anything can happen, but it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for Ravens fans to brace themselves for it to get ugly two days after Christmas.

Injury excuse

With the preseason feel of recent games that have followed the loss of quarterback Joe Flacco, the narrative surrounding the 2015 Ravens — particularly from a national perspective — now centers around their numerous injuries.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore became the 21st Ravens player to officially be lost to a season-ending injury when he was placed on injured reserve with a back ailment on Monday, but many of the significant names on that list went down after the season was already in the dumpster. Below is a look at the Ravens’ Week 8 starting lineup when they sported a 1-6 record and welcomed San Diego to Baltimore:

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My point?

Injuries are certainly part of the story — particularly the early losses of Terrell Suggs and Perriman — but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that’s the only — or even the most — significant explanation for the team’s failures this year. It was apparent early in the season that a number of problems unrelated to injuries contributed to this nightmare season.

The loss of players like Flacco, Smith, and Justin Forsett merely turned a lost year into a punchline with players now on the field whom fans have needed to google on a weekly basis.

Pro Bowl picks

The NFL will announce its Pro Bowl selections Tuesday night and while no Ravens players won the fan vote, coaches and players account for two-thirds of the voting.

My picks would be guard Marshal Yanda, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and punter Sam Koch.

Yanda has shown no signs of slowing down as he should be in line for his fifth straight Pro Bowl invitation. Meanwhile, Williams has proven himself as the top run-stopping nose tackle in the NFL and has steadily received more praise around the league this season, leading you to believe he has a solid chance to have his name called. But even as Haloti Ngata learned several years ago, players are sometimes deserving of the Pro Bowl a year or two before they are finally recognized to go.

I’m pulling for Koch to finally earn a trip to the Pro Bowl as he is leading the NFL in net punting for the second straight year and is the longest-tenured Ravens player behind only Suggs. Now in his 10th season in Baltimore, Koch has routinely been one of the better punters in the NFL and has brought innovation to the position that should be recognized with a trip to Honolulu.

Interception perspective

Not only do the Ravens rank last in the NFL with just four interceptions, but 10 players around the league have more than four this season. The previous franchise low for interceptions in a season was 11 set in 2005 and matched last season.

Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed collected more than four picks in a season seven different times in his career.

Baltimore has just one interception in its last 11 games.

Where have you gone, Ravens defense of old?

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Gillmore to IR, J. Smith has “good chance” to return Sunday

Posted on 21 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ injured reserve list grew once again on Monday as tight end Crockett Gillmore will officially miss the rest of the season.

The 2014 third-round pick was in his first season as a starter and had been sidelined with a back injury since Dec. 6. Gillmore also missed two games earlier this year with a calf injury, meaning he will have missed a total of six games in 2015.

Head coach John Harbaugh said last week that Gillmore appeared unlikely to play again this season.

“It’s not working out. His back flared up again,” Harbaugh said last Wednesday. “He also has the [sore] shoulder. It’s not looking good for Crockett right now.”

The Ravens now have 19 players on IR, which doesn’t include tight end Dennis Pitta being on the physically unable to perform list or linebacker Zach Thompson, who was released from IR after receiving an injury settlement earlier this month.

While many fans lamented the free-agent loss of Owen Daniels, pondered the status of Dennis Pitta, and looked forward to the arrival of rookie draft picks Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle in the offseason, Gillmore immediately grabbed hold of the No. 1 tight end job over the summer and caught 33 passes for 412 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games. Used mostly as a blocking tight end as a rookie, the Colorado State product proved he was capable of being a reliable target as a pass-catcher.

Able to break tackles with a massive 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame, Gillmore has drawn comparisons to former New York Giants tight end Mark Bavaro with his impressive physicality.

The loss of Gillmore was expected, but the Ravens hope to have No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith back in action against Pittsburgh this coming Sunday. Smith injured his hamstring on the opening series of Sunday’s loss to Kansas City and did not return.

With the postseason-hopeful Steelers sporting the league’s fifth-ranked passing game, the struggling Ravens will need all the help they can get in the secondary.

“Jimmy has a good chance,” Harbaugh said. “I just talked to him and I think he’s got a good chance to play, so we’ll see how it goes this week.”

To take Gillmore’s place on the 53-man roster, the Ravens signed former Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Chris Carter. Also a former member of the Steelers, Carter is a five-year NFL veteran who had 10 tackles in 13 games for the Bengals this season before being waived last week.

Carter was selected by Pittsburgh in the fifth round of the 2011 draft out of Fresno State.

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Week 16 Ravens-Steelers game flexed out of prime time

Posted on 15 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Nearing the end of one of the worst seasons in the 20-year history of the franchise, the Ravens have been flexed out of Sunday Night Football for the second time in three weeks.

With the New York Giants defeating Miami on Monday night, the 4-9 Ravens officially learned that their Dec. 27 meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium will be moved to 1 p.m. and be televised on CBS. The NFL elected to move the Giants’ Week 16 game at Minnesota to Sunday Night Football on NBC.

Should the Dolphins have won, the Ravens-Steelers game would have remained in its original Sunday night slot after the NFL announced the scenarios on Monday afternoon.

Sunday’s 35-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks was a home game originally scheduled for a prime-time audience, but the Ravens never recovered from an 0-3 start to 2015 and were officially eliminated from postseason contention in Week 14. Needless to say, there isn’t much demand for a non-contending team to play in front of a national audience late in the season.

This will mark the first season since 2006 that Baltimore will not host a prime-time game. The Ravens have been flexed out of three originally-scheduled Sunday night home games over the last three seasons with the first occurring in a game against New England in 2013.

Despite suffering their first losing season under John Harbaugh, the Ravens can still play spoiler against the playoff-contending Steelers and will look for a season sweep in the penultimate game of the year. The Ravens won in overtime at Pittsburgh on Oct. 1, but star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not play for the Steelers due to a knee injury.

The Ravens will need to win one of their three remaining games to avoid tying the worst record in franchise history, which was a 4-12 mark in their inaugural season in Baltimore in 1996.

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Ravens-related thoughts on Week 7

Posted on 26 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Everything about the Ravens organization has come under scrutiny after a 1-5 start with recent draft history being among the biggest concerns.

Though their draft issues pale in comparison to teams like Cleveland who have failed miserably with multiple top choices, I couldn’t help but notice how few of the Ravens’ recent high picks would be contributing in Monday’s contest against Arizona. And much of the blame can be placed on injuries.

In total, the Ravens have selected nine players in the first three rounds over their last three drafts and just four of them — linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackles Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, and Carl Davis — were expected to play meaningful snaps on Monday night. Four others — safeties Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, and tight end Maxx Williams — are sidelined with injuries and 2013 second-round inside linebacker Arthur Brown has been nothing more than a special-teams player in his third season.

It’s interesting to note that the defensive line is one of the Ravens’ few strengths while they’ve lacked playmakers in the secondary and in the passing game, areas where these absent draft picks normally reside. While the blame doesn’t fall solely on these recent selections, it’s difficult to look at that breakdown without concluding it’s a substantial part of what ails the Ravens.

** Much has been made about the NFL still having five undefeated teams at the end of seven weeks, but taking a closer look at the AFC should have the Ravens kicking themselves over their horrendous start. After New England, Cincinnati, and Denver, the conference sports just two other teams — Pittsburgh and the New York Jets — with winning records as the calendar is ready to turn to November.

Anyone who looked at the Ravens’ early-season schedule needed to be realistic about the daunting task of playing five of their first seven on the road, but many opined that a 4-3 record — even 3-4 — would put John Harbaugh’s team in position to make a run in the second half with an easier schedule. That would have proven to be true if not for a 1-5 start, but the Ravens can’t really complain when holding an 0-2 record at M&T Bank Stadium this year.

** Baltimore appears to be getting San Diego at the right time as the Chargers have lost three straight and were handled at home by Oakland on Sunday, but coming off a Monday night road game is a difficult proposition. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens hold a 3-5 record in games immediately following a Monday road game and one of those wins — against Arizona in 2011 — was the largest comeback in team history.

The defense-challenged Chargers may only be 2-5, but preparing for Philip Rivers and the league’s top-ranked passing game on a short week could be a nightmare for the Ravens pass defense. For what it’s worth, the Ravens were coming off a Monday night road game last year when they lost to the Chargers in Baltimore.

** The Steelers did an admirable job surviving without Ben Roethlisberger, who is expected to return to action against the Bengals in Week 8.

Going 2-2 in games started by Mike Vick and Landry Jones is quite respectable, but those two losses came against teams that entered Week 7 with 1-5 records. That has to eat away at coach Mike Tomlin as Pittsburgh trails Cincinnati by three games in the loss column in the AFC North standings.

** Former University of Maryland standout Stefon Diggs had six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota’s 28-19 win over Detroit on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman still isn’t practicing and fourth-round cornerback Tray Walker — drafted 10 spots ahead of Diggs — hasn’t been trusted to play defensive snaps despite a slew of injuries in the secondary.

Carry on.

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Steve Smith to miss Cleveland game with back injury

Posted on 03 October 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 8:00 p.m.)

After leaving Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh with a lower back injury, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith is “week-to-week” as reports are saying he suffered four broken ribs in the 23-20 win.

The 36-year-old was injured on the penultimate play of the third quarter when he caught a pass on a short out route and was tackled by Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons and cornerback Antwon Blake in front of the Pittsburgh bench. Timmons appeared to spear Smith in the lower back as the veteran receiver was slow to get up.

Smith tried to return to the Baltimore huddle before falling to the ground in pain. He did not return to the game as members of the training staff walked him to the Ravens bench.

Watching his brother Jim lead the University of Michigan against Maryland in College Park on Saturday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh told Comcast SportsNet that Smith will be held out of the Week 5 game against Cleveland next Sunday. Harbaugh described the injury as “microfractures” in Smith’s lower back.

Ravens vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne issued the following statement Saturday morning:

“While the Ravens do not give specifics about injuries out of respect to the men on our team and HIPAA laws, we want to dispel rumors and stories currently being reported about Steve Smith Sr.’s injury. He does have a back injury. It is not a surgical issue. His status is currently week-to-week.”

Trying to determine what “week-to-week” means will be interesting as the Ravens cannot afford to be without their top receiver and only established threat in the passing game. News of Smith’s injury came after the Ravens acquired St. Louis Rams receiver Chris Givens for a 2017 seventh-round pick and placed second-year receiver Michael Campanaro (back) on season-ending injured reserve.

Given his incomparable toughness as well as his plans to retire at the end of 2015, Smith will likely try to play through the injury, but the news certainly isn’t encouraging for a Ravens team trying to rebound from the first 0-3 start in franchise history.

In four games this season, Smith has caught 29 passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns.

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