Tag Archive | "Steelers"

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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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With receivers ailing, Ravens running game came alive at perfect time

Posted on 02 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Already with 79 rushing yards through three quarters in Pittsburgh, Ravens running back Justin Forsett thought his number might be called more often with Steve Smith exiting with a lower back injury.

Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman did exactly that as Forsett carried 14 times for 71 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime of Baltimore’s 23-20 win over the Steelers. After the early-season struggles of the ground attack and injuries to Smith and Michael Campanaro as well as the absence of tight end Crockett Gillmore, the running game couldn’t have come alive at a better time.

“I was hoping that they would lean on me a little bit and give me the opportunity,” Forsett told reporters in Pittsburgh after the game. “They did so, and we were able to get some runs in and gash them a little bit. I think the run game was effective every time we were out there.”

With the Ravens down to just three receivers — Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and rookie Darren Waller — late in the game, Trestman’s commitment to the running game and its productivity were the most encouraging developments of Thursday’s win. With the status of Smith, Gillmore, and Campanaro remaining murky for the Week 5 game against Cleveland, the Ravens may need to lean on their running game more than ever.

Prior to Thursday’s game, Baltimore had averaged just 3.3 yards per carry during its 0-3 start with most of that success coming from the shotgun formation against Oakland in Week 2. However, the Ravens were able to run for 191 yards on 39 attempts against the Steelers, a 4.9 yards per carry average that bested all but three of their single-game marks a season ago.

A single win doesn’t erase the worst start in franchise history, but the Ravens recapturing their 2014 success on the ground would go a long way in bringing hope as the passing game remains a work in progress. And their ability to run against a defense that had ranked 10th in the NFL against the run should provide plenty of confidence for the offensive line.

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Ravens take step forward by capitalizing on good fortune

Posted on 02 October 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens didn’t save their season on Thursday night, but Justin Tucker’s 52-yard field goal to top Pittsburgh in overtime was the claw of a hammer loosening the nails of their coffin.

An 0-3 team is never fixed with a single win, but the 23-20 victory over the Steelers was a step in the right direction. Though far from exceptional, the Ravens were just good enough to capitalize on some luck as well as critical mistakes by their AFC North rival.

And that’s progress after a September from hell that resulted in the worst start in franchise history.

“We know where we’re at. We know what we have to overcome,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You can’t get two [wins] until you get one. This one was a long time coming. We’re happy to get it.”

Baltimore’s biggest stroke of good fortune came last Sunday when Ben Roethlisberger injured his knee in St. Louis, leaving the quarterbacking duties to Mike Vick on Thursday. The 35-year-old backup may not have lost the game for Pittsburgh, but he did nothing to help his team over the final 30 minutes of play on Thursday night.

Amazingly, the Steelers coaching staff kept putting the ball in his hands as he twice failed to convert fourth downs in overtime — one as a runner and another on an errant throw to All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown. How Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley didn’t give the ball to Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell — who became the first to eclipse the century mark on the ground against the Ravens defense in 30 games — in either situation is still a head-scratcher.

But the Ravens took advantage despite questionable fourth-down decisions of their own and injuries to Steve Smith and Michael Campanaro that left them with a receiving trio of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and rookie Darren Waller down the stretch. Joe Flacco shook off two costly turnovers earlier in the game to do just enough to make it work.

A defense heavily criticized for its inability to get off the field this season made several key stops, including a three-and-out late in regulation that gave Flacco and the offense a chance to drive 45 yards in the final minute to set up Tucker to make the game-tying 42-yard field goal. The secondary remains a major concern, but a pair of critical tackles by safety Will Hill in overtime and solid play from newly-acquired cornerback Will Davis were positives on which to build for a struggling unit.

The most encouraging development from Thursday’s win was the revitalization of the Ravens’ ground attack as Justin Forsett rushed for a game-high 150 yards on 27 carries. Largely ineffective in the first three weeks, the running game resembled what we saw under Gary Kubiak a year ago. With injuries at receiver and tight end and a shortage of playmakers on which Flacco can rely, the Ravens’ best hope to turn their season around will be to move the ball consistently on the ground and they did just that against a good run defense.

After mistakes, questionable decisions, and close calls for both sides throughout the night, the outcome of the game ultimately came down to which team had the better kicker. While Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin lost all confidence in Josh Scobee after two misses in the final three minutes of regulation and chose to go for two fourth downs in Baltimore territory in overtime, the Ravens once again enjoyed having the best kicker in the NFL.

Tucker’s 52-yard game-winner with 5:08 left in overtime was the latest kick that will allow the free-agent-to-be to put his feet up on owner Steve Bisciotti’s desk in the same way Flacco did before being paid a few years ago. Since arriving as a rookie free agent in 2012, Tucker has done everything you could ask to become the league’s highest-paid kicker and the Ravens have no choice but to reward him sooner rather than later.

They got a close look at the opposite side of the spectrum with Scobee’s misses and the Steelers’ lack of confidence in him that led to strategic changes that the Ravens took advantage of.

“In this league, most games come down to three points,” Harbaugh said. “We have a great kicker.”

Having a great kicker — and the Steelers lacking one — was the ultimate difference between the Ravens being 1-3 as opposed to 0-4 at the end of the night on Thursday. Now, they’ll feel much better about themselves as they rest up and hope for a number of injuries to heal up over the weekend before coming home to play Cleveland a week from Sunday.

Thursday’s win provided a brief exhale, but the Ravens still have a long way to go to save their season.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 01 October 2015 by Luke Jones

If the Ravens were desperate before their Week 3 loss to Cincinnati, how do you define their state of mind after the first 0-3 start in the 20-year history of the franchise?

Traveling to Pittsburgh on a short week is always challenging, but the Ravens are fighting themselves as much as anything else as they enter October without a win under their belts. However, the absence of Ben Roethlisberger on the enemy side offers hope as Baltimore tries to earn a road win on a Thursday night playing against veteran backup Mike Vick.

With four players — tight end Crockett Gillmore, left tackle Eugene Monroe, defensive end Chris Canty, and wide receiver Breshad Perriman — already declared out on Wednesday, the Ravens didn’t have too many decisions to make for their inactive list, but cornerback Rashaan Melvin was deactivated after struggling mightily in his season debut against the Bengals last week. The recently-acquired Will Davis will see his first action with the Ravens after being acquired from Miami for a 2016 seventh-round pick on Sept. 21.

Veteran outside linebacker Jason Babin will also make his 2015 debut after being inactive for his first two games with the Ravens. Baltimore hopes the 35-year-old rush specialist can boost a pass rush that hasn’t found consistency since the season-ending injury to Terrell Suggs in the season opener.

In addition to being without Roethlisberger, the Steelers are missing second-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Cortez Allen, two absences that will hurt the NFL’s 19th-ranked pass defense.

These teams are meeting for the 39th time in the regular season with the Ravens trailing 17-21 and 7-12 in Pittsburgh. However, the Ravens have won two of the three contests against the Steelers last season, culminating with a 30-17 win at Heinz Field in the first round of the playoffs.

The forecast in Pittsburgh calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 50s with a very tiny chance for precipitation and winds up to 10 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Referee Clete Blakeman and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with white pants while Pittsburgh dons its black tops with yellow pants.

Here are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Breshad Perriman
CB Tray Walker
CB Rashaan Melvin
OT Eugene Monroe
DT Christo Bilukidi
TE Crockett Gillmore
DE Chris Canty

PITTSBURGH
QB Ben Roethlisberger
LB Ryan Shazier
NT Daniel McCullers
TE Matt Spaeth
CB Cortez Allen
TE Jesse James
LB Anthony Chickillo

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 30 September 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers appeared to be two teams moving in opposite directions, but a single injury altered that thinking on Sunday.

A knee injury to Ben Roethlisberger not only puts the Steelers (2-1) in a holding pattern for at least the next few weeks while trying to survive with backup Michael Vick at the helm, but it gives the winless Ravens hope that they can go to Heinz Field on a short week and potentially steal their first victory of 2015. Of course, it won’t be easy for Baltimore with starting tight end Crockett Gillmore, starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, starting defensive end Chris Canty, and rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman all ruled out for Thursday night.

Searching for answers and knowing only three NFL teams have rebounded from an 0-3 start to make the NFL playoffs since 1990, the Ravens’ biggest enemy at this point might be themselves as a season full of high expectations has instead started in nightmare fashion for John Harbaugh’s team. It’s officially uncharted territory for a team that had never started 0-3 in franchise history and has made the playoffs in six of the last seven years.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Pittsburgh for the 39th time in their regular-season history as they own a 17-21 mark. The teams split a pair of games at Heinz Field last season, but Baltimore prevailed 30-17 over the Steelers in a wild-card playoff game last January.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 5-2 in Thursday night primetime games under Harbaugh …

1. Pittsburgh will control the tempo of the game by handing the ball to Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams a combined 35 times. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley isn’t going to allow Vick to take many chances, leaving plenty of opportunities for these running backs. The Ravens rank fourth in the league allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, but the Steelers will spread out the defense to create just enough room for Bell and Williams to keep Vick in manageable down-and-distance situations.

2. Maxx Williams will catch his first touchdown and provide the Ravens with another threat behind Steve Smith. Considering how many issues the Pittsburgh defense has had with tight ends so far, Gillmore’s absence couldn’t have come at a worse time, but Williams will find room against linebackers who are poor in pass coverage. The bigger question will be how he and fellow rookie Nick Boyle fare as blockers with the Ravens desperately needing to get their struggling running game in order.

3. Brandon Williams will pick up his first sack of the season and create problems in the Pittsburgh backfield. There have been few bright spots on the Ravens’ 26th-ranked scoring defense, but Williams has been a force and the unit’s best player. With Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey out, the third-year nose tackle should dominate Cody Wallace by collecting his first quarterback takedown as well as a few other tackles for a loss to force more Pittsburgh runs to the perimeter on Thursday night.

4. Antonio Brown will still collect 100 yards receiving and a touchdown without Roethlisberger throwing to him. The Steelers likely won’t have Brown running as many downfield routes, but they will use bubble screens and other ways to get the ball to the playmaker in open space to put pressure on tacklers. It will be interesting to see if Dean Pees elects to have Jimmy Smith shadow Brown, but the Ravens better be ready to give him help against one of the top wide receivers in the NFL.

5. Vick will manage the game effectively while the Ravens lack the “it” factor to do what it takes in a 24-16 loss. I fully expect a Harbaugh-coached team to compete in this one and I’m tempted to pick the Ravens to win with Roethlisberger out, but last week was the game in which they needed to pull themselves off the mat and they still couldn’t do it. Many have cited Baltimore’s 5-1 record against Pittsburgh when Roethlisberger hasn’t played, but two active defensive players — Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan — took part in that last win in 2012, a game Brown also missed. The defense will be a little better than the last two weeks and the offense will find ways to move the ball, but the recurring theme of not being good enough in the fourth quarter will cost Baltimore again in a close one.

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