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Replacing Suggs against run understated challenge for Ravens

Posted on 16 September 2015 by Luke Jones

While discussion has centered around replacing the injured Terrell Suggs’ pass-rush ability and emotional leadership, that doesn’t tell the whole story of the challenges lying ahead for the Ravens defense.

The addition of veteran Jason Babin should help the pass rush, but the 35-year-old isn’t known for being stout against the run, though he played well in that capacity for the New York Jets last season. Head coach John Harbaugh has already confirmed that Elvis Dumervil will assume duties as the rush linebacker on first and second down, meaning the 31-year-old will have a much larger role than he did in his first two seasons in Baltimore. With Suggs and the run-stopping Courtney Upshaw playing the outside linebacker spots in the base defense, Dumervil rarely saw action on early downs against most teams.

Dumervil may not be a major liability against the run, but he will be replacing a player who’s been one of the NFL’s best at setting the edge for over a decade. Even with his advancing age, Suggs graded as Baltimore’s second-best player against the run last season and was first in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus.

His pass-rushing counterpart the last two years will now see his most extensive action since his days with the Denver Broncos when he was primarily a three-down player.

“I’m not going to toot my own horn, but I’ve played in the league — I’ve started on first and second down,” Dumervil said. ” I have experiences; [it is not] like something new for me. But I am excited for the opportunity, especially in this defense. I think that’s a really good position to play, and I get to rush more. That’s kind of what I love to do.”

It’s that ability to wreak havoc on the quarterback that may be compromised with the need for Dumervil to play more extensively. One of the biggest reasons for the success of the pass rush over the last couple years was defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ ability to rotate Suggs, Dumervil, Upshaw, and former Raven Pernell McPhee to keep them all fresh and to mask their weaknesses.

Once the Ravens have a better idea of how much Babin and rookie Za’Darius Smith can offer as part of the rotation, managing reps should become easier with the hope of keeping Dumervil — and everyone else — fresh for the duration of the season. Baltimore can’t afford to have Dumervil’s pass-rushing ability diminish, but replacing Suggs against the run is easier said than done.

“I think you take that all into consideration. It will all be part of the consideration,” Harbaugh said. “He is definitely capable of playing on first and second down, and he’ll be out there on first and second down. But there will be some kind of a rotation like we always do, and it’ll be geared toward the guys we have.”

Babin baffled by Jets release

Meeting with media in San Jose following his first practice with his new team, Babin said he couldn’t have asked for a better situation than joining the Ravens.

But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t miffed by the Jets’ decision to release him at the end of the preseason. Babin was set to make $1.5 million with New York and was not a special-teams contributor, factors that can make any veteran backup vulnerable when final cuts are made.

“I don’t worry about what I don’t control,” Babin said. “But yes, obviously, it was a surprise. Looking at it, I think the coach said they want to win, but then in hindsight, the general manager talked about building. Who knows what exactly is going on? But that’s in the past and I’m here now, and I’m ready to play some ball.”

Pressure remains on Ravens offensive tackles

After being completely overwhelmed by Denver’s edge rushers in Week 1, the Ravens’ offensive tackles won’t find their job against Oakland on Sunday to be much easier.

The Raiders’ outside trio of Justin Tuck, Khalil Mack, and newcomer Aldon Smith will present another major challenge, and left tackle Eugene Monroe missed Wednesday’s practice as he continues to recover from a concussion. Monroe’s potential absence would leave James Hurst to start on the left side as both he and right tackle Rick Wagner try to bounce back from a nightmarish showing against the Broncos.

“Obviously, their outside guys, you have three really good players out there that rotate,” said Harbaugh about the Raiders’ trio. “I’m sure [Smith] is going to be in the game even more and more as we go forward; we would expect that. They’re a very formidable front seven.”

Signed just a couple days before the start of the regular season, the troubled Smith wore out his welcome with the 49ers after countless off-field issues, but no one can dispute his ability to impact a game. Smith made the Pro Bowl in 2012 before concerns over substance abuse and legal issues limited him to just 18 games over the last two seasons, but the 25-year-old already has 44 career sacks entering his fifth season.

Flacco not becoming “hype man”

With Suggs officially being placed on injured reserve on Wednesday, Joe Flacco was asked who would be firing up the team with a speech at the end of pre-game warmups, the veteran linebacker’s chore ever since future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis retired.

The even-keeled quarterback quickly shot down any notion that he would be the new “hype man” while pointing out that Lewis and Suggs were such naturals doing it and how it needs to be something that isn’t forced.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be ready to play, and we’ll be juiced up come Sunday at 1 o’clock, 4:30, 8 o’clock, whenever it’s going to be,” Flacco said. “We don’t necessarily need a hype man, and I don’t think I’d be doing such a great job of that anyway. I’m sure somebody will come up and feel excited about themselves, and we’ll let them go at it.”

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Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Jason Babin (58) against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

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Harbaugh on Babin: “We like the way he plays”

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Wednesday 5:30 p.m.)

Aiming to fill the void left behind by injured six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, the Ravens agreed to a one-year deal with veteran pass rusher Jason Babin on Tuesday.

The team officially announced the deal on Wednesday afternoon while sending Suggs to season-ending injured reserve. The 35-year-old outside linebacker was on the practice field in San Jose on Wednesday as the Ravens continued preparations for their Week 2 game in Oakland.

Babin spent 2014 and this year’s preseason with the New York Jets before being released earlier this month. The 6-foot-3, 267-pound edge rusher accumulated just two sacks in 16 games (two starts) last season, but he received the third-highest overall grade from Pro Football Focus among Jets defensive players, receiving positive marks against the run and as a pass rusher.

“He’ll provide us another player at that position who’s a very good player,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We like the way he plays, like his style, like his mentality — tough, smart, hard-playing guy. I think he said it best — his résumé is the tape. He was playing for the Jets in the preseason, and we watched that very carefully, and he looked like he’d fit us well.”

The 2004 first-round pick has accumulated 64 1/2 sacks in his career while also spending time with Houston, Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. Named to Pro Bowls in 2010 and 2011, Babin collected 12 1/2 sacks with the Titans in 2010 to earn his first invitation to Hawaii before signing with the Eagles and racking up a career-high 18 sacks the following season.

Of course, the Ravens aren’t expecting Babin to fully replace Suggs as Elvis Dumervil is slated to assume the rush linebacker spot while Courtney Upshaw will remain at the strong-side backer position. However, Baltimore wanted to add a veteran to the rotational mix with rookie fourth-rounder Za’Darius Smith, who was inactive for the season opener.

The Ravens would likely be happy if Babin could give them 25 to 30 snaps per game as a situational pass rusher to help ease the burden on their incumbent linebackers. He averaged roughly 30 snaps per game with the Jets a year ago, but that included four starts in which he played more extensively.

“You’re not going to change everything you do, obviously,” said Harbaugh when asked about making adjustments to the defense without Suggs. “You try to get a player that fits what you do, and to me, that’s the smartest way to do it. It makes for the least amount of changes, and Jason fits us really well.”

The Ravens worked out Babin as well as 34-year-old outside linebacker Shaun Phillips on Tuesday in San Jose, Calif., where they are preparing for Sunday’s Week 2 matchup with the Oakland Raiders. Unlike other veteran pass rushers such as Phillips and Dwight Freeney, Babin being with another team during the preseason likely brought more confidence that he was in good football shape.

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 19-13 loss in Denver

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll ponder five numbers stemming from the Ravens’ latest game, this one being the ugly 19-13 loss to Denver to begin the 2015 season …

3.66 — Joe Flacco’s yards per attempt
Skinny: The pass protection was awful and his pass-catching targets were unable to create separation, making it no surprise that the eighth-year quarterback couldn’t throw the ball down the field. This was Flacco’s worst yards per attempt average since a loss in Houston on Oct. 21, 2012 (3.42) and the third-worst mark of his NFL regular-season career. His worst overall came in the 2009 playoff win over New England when a banged-up Flacco went 4-for-10 for 34 yards, a 3.40 average.

9 — Total catches made by Ravens receivers and tight ends
Skinny: Many expressed concerns over Flacco’s group of young receivers and tight ends, and Sunday proved to be a nightmare as even Steve Smith managed just two catches for 13 yards and couldn’t bring in the potential game-winning touchdown on the Ravens’ penultimate play of the game. Fellow starter Kamar Aiken was even worse as he lost a yard on his only reception. With or without rookie Breshad Perriman, this group needs to be markedly better for Baltimore to make any real noise this year.

27 — Consecutive games in which the Ravens defense hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher
Skinny: It was an impressive effort on the other side of the ball as the Ravens continued the longest active streak in the NFL of not allowing an opposing player to eclipse the century mark on the ground. With Brandon Williams dominating the line of scrimmage and C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith at the inside linebacker spots, the Ravens have to like their chances to keep this streak going. Meanwhile, the Broncos will need to average much better than 2.8 yards per carry to help Peyton Manning’s deteriorating arm.

56 — Yards of offense from Justin Forsett
Skinny: The 2014 Pro Bowl running back didn’t have much of a chance behind a less-than-stellar performance from the offensive line, but his output was lower than all but two of his regular-season games a year ago. Forsett’s numbers would have been even worse if not for his 20-yard run on the final drive of the game. With Buck Allen showing some promise in limited opportunities and Lorenzo Taliaferro possibly returning this Sunday, it will be interesting to see how the carries are distributed.

291 — Consecutive games (counting the postseason) in which Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Terrell Suggs has been on the field for Baltimore
Skinny: The 2015 opener brought the unfortunate end of a remarkable run in franchise history with Suggs suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the fourth quarter. This Sunday will mark the first time that the Ravens will play a game without any of the three best defensive players in their history since Oct. 11, 1998 when Eric Zeier was the quarterback and they lost 12-8 to the Tennessee Oilers as Lewis sat out with a dislocated elbow. Nothing lasts forever, but it’s strange thinking about the old guard of Baltimore defense that also included Haloti Ngata being no more — at least until next year.

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Harbaugh on offensive tackles: “They’ve got to do a better job”

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Of all the Ravens’ problems on the offensive side of the ball leading to Sunday’s season-opening loss in Denver, none were more surprising than the horrendous play of the offensive line.

Not only was the Baltimore offense held to six points — Jimmy Smith’s interception return provided the other seven in the 19-13 loss — and 173 total yards, but quarterback Joe Flacco was harassed throughout the afternoon. The Broncos may have only collected two sacks, but Flacco was pressured on 64.7 percent of his dropbacks, an astonishing rate for an offensive line regarded as one of the best in the NFL entering the season.

On Monday in San Jose, Calif. where the Ravens are preparing for their Week 2 meeting in Oakland, John Harbaugh expressed his disappointment with the play of his offensive line. The Baltimore coach acknowledged the challenge of competing against a superb defense, but he added that they didn’t see any strategic surprises from Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips during Sunday’s game.

Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was the only member of the offensive line to receive a positive grade from Pro Football Focus, but it was the play of tackles Rick Wagner, James Hurst, and Eugene Monroe that was particularly problematic. The Broncos’ four outside linebackers — DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Shaquil Barrett, and Shane Ray — combined for 19 total pressures on Flacco. 

“Our tackles, they’ve got to do a better job,” said Harbaugh, who added that the Ravens should have provided extra help in pass protection. “They have to set square, and they have to punch on time. And when they do that, they’ll do well against anybody, and when you don’t do that, you’re not going to do well against anybody. That was really an issue for us in the course of the game.”

Monroe exited the game after the opening series with a concussion and didn’t return, leaving second-year tackle James Hurst to be eaten alive by Ware. Rick Wagner wasn’t any better on the opposite side as he struggled against Miller and didn’t look like the Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle he was last season, a possible indication that he’s still knocking off rust from last December’s Lisfranc injury. The 2013 fifth-round pick was sidelined for spring workouts before he began practicing at the start of training camp in late July.

Of course, the offensive line also failed to establish the running game, gaining just 73 yards on 23 attempts. This allowed the Broncos’ pass rushers to pin their ears back and tee off on Flacco in the pocket.

“We stuck with the run game,” Harbaugh said. “We were patient with it, but we need to get more out of it than 3.2 yards a carry. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the offensive line, it’s the running backs, it’s the scheme, it’s the formations — it’s all of it. We all take responsibility for that.”

Because of an exceptional 2014 season, the Ravens’ offensive line deserves the benefit of the doubt after just one poor performance, but the group needs to play much better moving forward.

Replacing Suggs

Much has already been written about the Ravens’ challenge in replacing injured linebacker Terrell Suggs, and Harbaugh predictably expressed confidence that their internal options would rise to the occasion. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility of adding a veteran free agent to help fill the void left behind by the franchise’s all-time sacks leader.

“We still believe we have the pass rushers that can get the job done, but we’re still in the process of evaluating our options, personnel-wise,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a chance we can bring somebody in. We’ll look at all those options over the next couple days.”

Harbaugh said that Elvis Dumervil will assume Suggs’ rush linebacker position on first and second downs with Courtney Upshaw remaining as the strong-side outside linebacker. Rookie Za’Darius Smith and veteran Albert McClellan will also be part of the equation.

Smith returning punts

At age 36 and serving as the Ravens’ No. 1 receiver, Steve Smith didn’t appear to be a likely answer as the primary punt returner, but that’s exactly what he was on Sunday against the Broncos.

Smith returned two punts for 32 yards and could continue to serve in that capacity, according to Harbaugh. Michael Campanaro was listed as the primary punt returner on the Week 1 depth chart, but the second-year wideout missed the last couple weeks of the summer due to injury.

“If ‘Camp’ gets more reps, he can go back there and do it,” Harbaugh said. “We have [Lardarius Webb], who practices all the time. He can go back there and do it. I think we have guys that can do it and be effective. But I kind of like Steve back there. He looks good to me back there.”

Recuperating Raiders

While the Ravens dealt with the loss of Suggs and the concussion to Monroe on Sunday, the Raiders did not escape the injury bug in their season-opening loss to Cincinnati as starting quarterback Derek Carr (thumb) and starting safeties Charles Woodson (shoulder) and Nate Allen (knee) all went down.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam on Carr’s thumb was reportedly encouraging, but it remains to be seen whether he can return for Sunday’s game. A Monday ESPN report said the Raiders fear Allen suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament while Woodson would undergo an MRI on his shoulder.

Taliaferro on Twitter

It’s no secret that injured running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee) is moving closer to a return after he practiced on a limited basis late last week, but the 2014 fourth-round pick shared that sentiment on his official Twitter account following Sunday’s game. That didn’t sit well with Harbaugh when he was asked about it on Monday afternoon.

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“I’m going to have to talk to him about that,” Harbaugh said. “Taliaferro, [Timmy] Jernigan — way too much chatter out there on social media. Maybe, Kevin [Byrne], make a note of that.”

The aforementioned tweet was deleted on Monday evening.

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Replacing Suggs no easy task for Ravens defense

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Seeing the reaction of his Ravens teammates upon learning the news of Terrell Suggs’ season-ending Achilles injury on Sunday reiterated that you can’t fully quantify the veteran linebacker’s worth.

A leader on the field and in the locker room, Suggs is the last remaining member of the old guard of Baltimore defense that included Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata and brings more than a decade of experience and knowledge to meeting rooms. Known for his humor and ability to keep a locker room loose, the 32-year-old is also the undisputed leader of a unit that’s continued playing at a high level despite undergoing seismic changes since Super Bowl XLVII.

Those intangibles aside, how do the Ravens go about replacing the six-time Pro Bowl selection and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year?

It won’t be easy.

To be fair, we’re talking about a player who will turn 33 next month and is fighting a battle against Father Time that nobody wins in the end. This may have been a season in which Suggs rapidly declined, but he played like a Pro Bowl-caliber player in 2014 and the Ravens were still counting on big production from him this season.

Further complicating the challenge is the Ravens already needing to replace the production of situational pass rusher Pernell McPhee, who signed a long-term contract with the Chicago Bears in the offseason.

In addition to combining for 19 1/2 sacks a year ago, Suggs and McPhee registered a total of 32 quarterback hits and 77 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. They combined to play 1,415 defensive snaps and rushed the passer on 886 of those.

Who will step up or step in?

Naturally, it won’t be a one-for-one approach as McPhee often lined up as an interior rusher in passing situations, a role in which you were already going to see more of defensive linemen such as Timmy Jernigan and Carl Davis this season. Elvis Dumervil (628 defensive snaps in 2014) and Courtney Upshaw (542 snaps) will see expanded roles, but there’s a hidden cost to those two playing more. You don’t want the 31-year-old Dumervil to wear down and become less effective as a pass rusher while Upshaw has rarely shown the ability to disrupt the pocket when given opportunities in the past.

One of the secrets of the Ravens’ ferocious pass rush a year ago was defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ ability to divide the workload among Suggs, Dumervil, Upshaw, and McPhee at the two outside linebacker positions. It kept the veterans fresh and shielded the younger linebackers’ limitations over the course of a full season.

Now, the Ravens will have no choice but to lean more on Dumervil and Upshaw while turning to rookie fourth-round pick Za’Darius Smith, who was likened to McPhee when he was drafted out of the University of Kentucky. Maybe he’ll be ready to contribute immediately, but the Ravens deactivating him for the season opener doesn’t suggest he’s on the verge of making a major impact in his first season.

Who else is out there beyond simply shifting reserve Albert McClellan to outside linebacker or promoting rookie free agent Brennen Beyer from the practice squad?

General manager Ozzie Newsome could kick the tires on a veteran such as Dwight Freeney or Shaun Phillips to serve in a situational capacity — the Ravens currently have less than $4 million in salary cap space — but no available options will come close to replacing Suggs, who PFF graded as Baltimore’s second-best defender against the run a year ago. Many fixate on sack totals to assess an outside linebacker’s worth, but Suggs is a three-down player who played nearly 250 more snaps than any other Baltimore outside backer a year ago and has been exceptional playing the run in addition to wreaking havoc on the quarterback over the years.

His injury doesn’t spell doom for the 2015 season as the Ravens have continued winning despite injuries to star players in the past, but there’s no clear answer to replacing his strong play or leadership.

At least not one you feel good about.

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Suggs suffers season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1 loss

Posted on 13 September 2015 by Luke Jones

As if an ugly offensive performance in a season-opening defeat to Denver wasn’t enough, the Ravens lost six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs for the rest of the season due to an Achilles injury.

The 32-year-old tore his left Achilles tendon while pursuing quarterback Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 19-13 loss to the Broncos. Suggs hobbled to the sideline before eventually being carted to the locker room at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the news in his post-game press conference.

“You try to define why things happen,” Harbaugh said. “Here’s a tough break for a guy who’s done nothing but work above and beyond [and] at least as hard as he’s worked his whole career. I’d say more. He’s prepared himself and [has been] the kind of leader that you just admire so much. This guy has been such a leader for us.”

The 13th-year linebacker suffered an Achilles tear in his right heel in the spring of 2012 before returning in mid-October that year to help the Ravens eventually win Super Bowl XLVII.

Suggs is the franchise’s all-time sacks leader and was named the NFL’s AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. The 2003 first-round pick ranks fifth among active players with 106 1/2 career sacks and is the longest-tenured Raven on the current roster.

The injury further depletes an outside linebacker group that was already trying to fill the void of free-agent departure Pernell McPhee. Fourth-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw and rookie fourth-rounder Za’Darius Smith will now be expected to fill bigger roles in helping 2014 Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil put heat on opposing quarterbacks.

Smith was a healthy inactive for Sunday’s game in Denver, which doesn’t inspire great confidence that he’s ready to make a significant impact at this early stage of his first season.

With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed now retired and Haloti Ngata in Detroit, Suggs was the undisputed leader of the Baltimore defense, making his loss even more difficult to swallow for a team with high expectations in 2015. Now, the Ravens will depend on younger players to pick up the slack for one of the best players in franchise history.

“These are the things in life that happen,” Harbaugh said. “Adversity’s all about how you respond to it. It’s about how you react to it. It’s how you come back and play the next game and how our young guys step up and how our older guys wrap their wings around those younger guys and they play the way they need to play.”

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Ten Ravens prophecies for the 2015 season

Posted on 13 September 2015 by Luke Jones

As many go through the endeavor of making division-by-division forecasts, these predictions focus on the Ravens and their quest to advance to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years and to possibly win their third Super Bowl title in their 20th season in Baltimore.

A look back at last year’s predictions show a mixed bag — predicting Elvis Dumervil would take a step back before he went on to set the Ravens’ single-season sack record was particularly embarrassing — but it’s fun to envision how the next four months or so will play out.

Below is a new forecast to tear apart:

1. Joe Flacco will finally be named the team’s Most Valuable Player in his eighth season.

The fact that the quarterback hasn’t won a team MVP award from local media — for what it’s worth, I voted for him over winner Justin Forsett last year — illustrates how much he is taken for granted. After having arguably his best statistical season a year ago, Flacco will post similar numbers despite having a slew of inexperienced weapons behind 36-year-old Steve Smith, a testament to his ability.

2. Brandon Williams will play at a Pro Bowl level, but he will not receive that recognition.

The third-year nose tackle is one of the NFL’s best-kept secrets and the Ravens will need him to anchor the defensive line with Haloti Ngata now a member of the Detroit Lions. Williams will be Baltimore’s best defensive lineman by a wide margin, but playing a position where statistics don’t jump out will force him to wait another year to receive a Pro Bowl nod.

3. Rashaan Melvin will be starting over Lardarius Webb by the end of the year.

Even if you can forgive Webb’s play in 2014 because of a back injury, how much can he really bounce back as he turns 30 in October? A hamstring issue prevented the seventh-year cornerback from playing in the preseason, creating more questions about Webb’s durability. Though Melvin’s play in last year’s playoff loss to New England was brutal, the Ravens think they have something with the 6-foot-2 corner.

4. Will Hill and Crockett Gillmore will be players to take a step forward.

His troubled history is no secret, but Hill has done everything that Ozzie Newsome asked of him when he came to Baltimore last summer and the Ravens rewarded the 25-year-old safety with an extension through 2016. Gillmore is probably receiving too much hype after a quiet rookie year, but the Ravens would be very pleased if he can match Owen Daniels’ 2014 production (48 catches for 527 yards).

5. Marlon Brown and Chris Canty will be players to take a step back.

It seems unfair to pick Brown for this again, but he had a quiet summer and just never seems to play as big as his frame while the Ravens drafted the 6-foot-6 Darren Waller in May. The 32-year-old Canty was re-signed after being cut this offseason, but Brent Urban receiving the designation to return reflects the Ravens’ vision of him taking over the 5-technique defensive end spot sooner rather than later.

6. Third-round pick Carl Davis will be the Ravens’ most impressive rookie.

Without knowing what injured first-round pick Breshad Perriman can bring to the table after missing the entire preseason, Davis looks to be the most NFL-ready rookie that the Ravens have as he will receive plenty of time in the defensive line rotation and could push Timmy Jernigan to start. At 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, Davis brings impressive size that could eventually make him a poor man’s Haloti Ngata.

7. Free safety Kendrick Lewis will be the disappointing veteran newcomer.

The 27-year-old has received positive reviews from coaches and teammates, but Lewis did not have a good preseason and was merely an average starting safety in Houston and Kansas City. He will be a better free-agent acquisition than monumental bust Michael Huff, but I’m not convinced that he’ll be a noticeable upgrade from Darian Stewart at the free safety spot.

8. Marshal Yanda, C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith, and Kelechi Osemele will be Baltimore’s Pro Bowl selections.

The choices of Yanda and Mosley would hardly be surprising, but Smith and Osemele will receive recognition that they deserve. This will be especially meaningful for Osemele in the final year of his rookie deal as he’ll position himself for a payday that’s unlikely to come from the Ravens. Yanda will earn his fifth straight trip to the Pro Bowl to cement his status as one of the top players in franchise history.

9. This will be Terrell Suggs’ final season.

This is a shot in the dark and not at all an indictment of how I anticipate Suggs playing this year, but the soon-to-be 33-year-old admitted this spring that he pondered his football future and didn’t work out in the same way that he would in past offseasons. The six-time Pro Bowl selection knows he’s the last man standing from the old Baltimore guard, so it wouldn’t be stunning to see him call it a career after 2015.

10. The Ravens will qualify for the postseason as a wild card with a 10-6 record and will exit in the second round.

Too many questions on the offensive side of the ball will stunt the Ravens’ growth just enough to prevent them from winning the AFC North. With their questions in the passing game and Pittsburgh’s defensive problems, Cincinnati quietly has the most stability in the division and is built to be a strong regular-season team. That said, Baltimore will top the Bengals in a wild-card round meeting to extend the playoff misery of Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton. The Ravens will then lose a close one at Indianapolis in the divisional round before the Colts go on to win the AFC championship.

Bonus Super Bowl pick that no one asked for: Green Bay will prevail over Indianapolis as Aaron Rodgers wins his second championship in a 34-24 final in Santa Clara.

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 12 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Beginning their eighth season with head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco leading the way, the Ravens once again have high expectations as they travel to Denver on Sunday.

Playing the Broncos in Week 1 for the second time in three years, Baltimore hopes to wipe out the memory of the 2013 opener in which Peyton Manning threw an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes in a 49-27 loss. Of course, much has changed for both teams since then with players coming and going and former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak taking over as head coach of the Broncos this season.

It’s time to go on record as the Ravens play Denver for the 11th time in the all-time regular-season series and each team owns five wins. Baltimore carries a 1-4 regular-season record in Denver, but Harbaugh’s team did win its only playoff game against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Ravens are 2-0 against Denver in their playoff history.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens open their 20th season and try to improve to 6-2 in season openers under Harbaugh …

1. Steve Smith catches a long touchdown pass to exploit former teammate Darian Stewart in coverage. Knowing how underwhelming the ex-Ravens safety was playing the deep ball in 2014, Baltimore would love to have rookie Breshad Perriman’s speed to stretch the field against the weak link in the Broncos secondary, but the first-round pick hasn’t even practiced since spraining his knee on July 30. The Ravens will try to go vertical using the 36-year-old Smith, who is still capable of using a double move to blow past his man and catch a long bomb from Flacco against the right coverage. He’ll do exactly that against Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and Stewart will be late with over-the-top coverage.

2. Lardarius Webb will not be able to keep up with Emmanuel Sanders while Jimmy Smith does his best to lock down No. 1 wideout Demaryius Thomas on the opposite side. It’s fair enough to wonder what we’ll see from Smith coming off last October’s season-ending foot injury, but at least the 27-year-old was able to play in the preseason. Webb has practiced for the last couple weeks and Harbaugh said he looks like the “old” Webb after dealing with a hamstring injury in August, but you can only hope the coach meant a better version than what we witnessed a year ago. Webb has a lot to prove and Sanders was a 2014 Pro Bowl selection. He’ll be good for a touchdown catch and 85 receiving yards.

3. Terrell Suggs will collect two sacks and get the best of Denver rookie Ty Sambrailo off the edge, but pressure up the middle will be scarce. The 13th-year rush linebacker should be licking his chops going against the second-round pick, but the key to disrupting Manning is pressure up the middle, making the expected absence of Timmy Jernigan problematic. Last year, the Ravens used a combination of Pernell McPhee, Haloti Ngata, and Jernigan for their inside rush, but none of them will be on the field for Sunday’s game, putting a lot on rookie Za’Darius Smith and run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams. Broncos center Matt Paradis is inexperienced, but the Ravens won’t have enough to exploit him in passing situations, leaving space for Manning to get the ball away quickly.

4. Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown will struggle to gain separation as the Broncos bring heat off the edges to disrupt Flacco’s timing. While Stewart might be a liability, the Broncos have a stout trio of cornerbacks in Talib, Harris, and the young Bradley Roby. Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can use either Harris or Roby inside, which gives their defense the ability to show different looks in coverage. The Ravens have expressed confidence in Aiken as a starter, but I’m not convinced that he’s ready to be more than a No. 3 option, especially without a deep threat on the field. He and Brown will only combine for 50 receiving yards as the Broncos play tight man coverage and relentlessly try to bring outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware off the edges.

5. The Denver defense will be the biggest factor as the Ravens offense struggles to move the ball consistently in a 26-16 loss to the Broncos. As much as Manning has dominated the pre-game conversation, Denver’s real strength is its defense with few weaknesses at any level. Baltimore will do a decent job establishing the run, but Flacco will be too dependent on Smith to make plays through the air, which will stall a couple promising drives. Ultimately, I see the Broncos taking a step back this season, but they’ll be too much to handle with a top 5-caliber defense and a healthy Manning early in the season. If this one were to be played later in the year, I’d like the Ravens’ chances a lot more, but Denver will score late to put a close one out of reach.

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Suggs

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Predicting the Ravens’ 2015 season week by week

Posted on 11 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Expectations are high as the Ravens begin their 20th season in Baltimore on Sunday.

Having made the playoffs — and won a postseason game — in six of the last seven years, the Ravens simply expect to be playing football in January and 2015 is no different despite fair questions on each side of the ball.

These predictions aren’t an exact science, of course, but it’s a fun exercise to envision how Baltimore fares over the course of the season. The writer also reserves the right to adjust his weekly predictions at any point during the year based on injuries and other currently-unknown variables.

In other words, don’t take these premonitions too seriously and don’t bother keeping track over whether my Week 12 or Week 15 or Week 17 pick during the season matches what you see below. None of us really know what’s going to happen, and that’s what makes it fun, right?

Without further ado, here are my game-by-game predictions of how the Ravens’ 2015 season will play out:

Sunday, Sept. 13 at Denver Broncos – 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens may be be drawing the 39-year-old Peyton Manning at the wrong time, but the offense not being at its best against one of the NFL’s best defenses will be the difference in the opener.
Prediction: Denver 26, Baltimore 16

Sunday, Sept. 20 at Oakland Raiders – 4:05 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The arrivals of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack give the Raiders more hope than they’ve enjoyed in years, but this team still won’t be very good early in 2015.
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Oakland 16

Sunday, Sept. 27 vs. Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: After the long trip out west, the Ravens will be hungry to play in front of their home crowd and, more importantly, to exact some revenge on the Bengals for beating them in the 2014 opener.
Prediction: Baltimore 27, Cincinnati 16

Thursday, Oct. 1 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – 8:25 p.m. (CBS/NFL Network)
Synopsis: After two straight years of Pittsburgh playing in Baltimore on a Thursday night, the Ravens return the favor and won’t quite be able to keep up with one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 33, Baltimore 27

Sunday, Oct. 11 vs. Cleveland Browns – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens will be coming off extra rest and Cleveland will be playing its second straight road game after a trip to San Diego the previous week, so this one could get ugly.
Prediction: Baltimore 34, Cleveland 13

Sunday, Oct. 18 at San Francisco 49ers – 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The 49ers still might have the talent to be tough at home, but ex-Ravens Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin won’t have enough help as Baltimore comes away with an ugly victory on the road.
Prediction: Baltimore 22, San Francisco 16

Monday, Oct. 26 at Arizona Cardinals – 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Synopsis: Making their first trip to Arizona since 2003, the Ravens will face a team that won’t be as good as it was a year ago, but a prime-time road game at the end of another long trip out west spells trouble.
Prediction: Arizona 26, Baltimore 17

Sunday, Nov. 1 vs. San Diego Chargers – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: Playing on a short week after a Monday night road game often signals danger, but the Ravens won’t allow Philip Rivers and San Diego to beat them in Baltimore for a second straight year.
Prediction: Baltimore 31, San Diego 23

Sunday, Nov. 8 — BYE
Overview: Considering the Ravens play five of their first seven on the road, you would have to think head coach John Harbaugh would be quite pleased with a 5-3 record midway through the season.

Sunday, Nov. 15 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: Jacksonville will be improved this year — especially as the season progresses — but the well-rested Ravens will handle their business with ease unlike last year’s closer-than-expected meeting.
Prediction: Baltimore 33, Jacksonville 16

Sunday, Nov. 22 vs. St. Louis Rams — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Synopsis: St. Louis has a tough defense, but there’s little reason to think Nick Foles and the Rams offense will pose much of a threat in one of the most hostile environments in the NFL.
Prediction: Baltimore 23, St. Louis 13

Monday, Nov. 30 at Cleveland Browns – 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Synopsis: While this game will likely serve as the Browns’ Super Bowl, the Ravens are prone to one or two clunkers on the road per season and this will be one of those nights in Cleveland.
Prediction: Cleveland 24, Baltimore 16

Sunday, Dec. 6 at Miami Dolphins – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens turned South Florida into M&T Bank Stadium South in each of the previous two years and will do it again in an important road victory to begin the final month of the season.
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Miami 23

Sunday, Dec. 13 vs. Seattle Seahawks – 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
Synopsis: This one will be hyped as a potential Super Bowl preview, but the defending NFC champions will use an exceptional defensive performance to hand the Ravens their only home defeat of 2015.
Prediction: Seattle 17, Baltimore 13

Sunday, Dec. 20 vs. Kansas City – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens haven’t lost to Kansas City in over a decade and Harbaugh will get the best of mentor Andy Reid in battle between two playoff contenders.
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Kansas City 14

Sunday, Dec. 27 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
Synopsis: The Pittsburgh defense will continue to struggle away from Heinz Field late in the season as the Ravens earn the season split over their AFC North rival in another close game.
Prediction: Baltimore 27, Pittsburgh 21

Sunday, Jan. 3 at Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 p.m. CBS)
Synopsis: In an AFC North title game, the Ravens will fall short to Cincinnati in their fourth straight loss at Paul Brown Stadium, forcing them to settle for a 10-6 record and the AFC’s No. 5 seed.
Prediction: Cincinnati 26, Baltimore 23

Wild Card Round at Cincinnati Bengals
Synopsis: Playing Cincinnati in consecutive weeks, the Ravens atone for their Week 17 loss by handing Andy Dalton and the Bengals a first-round playoff loss for the fifth consecutive year.
Prediction: Baltimore 26, Cincinnati 17

Divisional Round at Indianapolis Colts
Synopsis: The Ravens will give the No. 1 seed in the AFC everything it can handle, but it will be Andrew Luck’s time and Baltimore loses a nail-biter in the closing seconds.
Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Baltimore 23

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perriman

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Perriman not expected to play in season opener

Posted on 08 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh spelled it out as clearly as he could without ruling rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman out for Sunday’s season opener in Denver.

The 2015 first-round pick is not expected to play against the Broncos as he once again missed practice on Tuesday and hasn’t participated in a team workout since injuring his knee on July 30. After he said over the weekend that Perriman “has a chance” to play in Week 1, Harbaugh elected to clarify the sentiment when asked for injury updates as the Ravens returned to the practice field after a two-day respite.

“I saw the reports [that] ‘he has a chance’ and was like, ‘Yeah, he’s got a chance,'” Harbaugh said. “I think I was pretty clear it’s probably not a real big chance because he hasn’t practiced. I don’t have a time frame from the doctors. I don’t think it’s tremendously far down the road or we would have done something else with him as far as his status. When he comes back to practice, that will probably be a pretty good indicator that he’s going to be in the lineup pretty soon.”

With Perriman having missed nearly six weeks of action already, it remains to be seen how much practice time he would need to not only reestablish himself in the Baltimore offense but to also get into football shape.

Starting defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) was not present during the first few minutes of practice open to media as his status remains in question for the opener. Other players missing from Tuesday’s practice included cornerback Rashaan Melvin, running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee), and linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Daryl Smith. It was unclear whether the latter three were receiving a veteran day off or were late arrivals to the field.

Rookie tight end Maxx Williams was not wearing the red non-contact jersey he’s donned during practices over the last two weeks, a good sign for his availability against the Broncos. He did not play in the final two preseason games due to an upper body injury.

Asked about the uncertainty with the return game, Harbaugh acknowledged that he has an idea about who will handle kickoffs and punts, but he unsurprisingly would not reveal those plans to the media. For what it’s worth, second-year receiver Michael Campanaro was listed on the Week 1 depth chart as the only punt and kickoff returner, but cornerback Lardarius Webb and wide receiver Steve Smith both have experience as returners earlier in their careers.

“We have options. Certainly, all options are on the table and we’ll see going forward,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think we’re in a position to make any announcements exactly yet. Like I said, we have more than one guy capable of going back there and doing it, and some of them might be situational as well. We’ll have a plan come Sunday.”

Veteran defensive end Lawrence Guy is now wearing No. 93, the jersey number previously worn by DeAngelo Tyson before he was waived on Saturday.

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