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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Winning on the road isn’t easy in the NFL.

Even in John Harbaugh’s first five seasons that included a Super Bowl title, three AFC championship game appearances, and at least one playoff victory each year, a 21-19 road mark in the regular season was solid but hardly sensational. However, an 8-16 record away from M&T Bank Stadium over the last three seasons is a clear reflection of a team having only made the playoffs once over that stretch.

After their Week 1 victory against Buffalo, the Ravens take their show on the road for the first time in 2016 against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore seeks its eighth win in the last nine trips to Cleveland. The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series with a 25-9 mark and are 12-5 at FirstEnergy Stadium dating back to the year it opened in 1999. The teams split a pair of games in 2015, but the Ravens have won 14 of the 16 games played in the series during the Harbaugh era.

1. The defensive line will pay tribute to the late Clarence Brooks by holding Cleveland to under 3.0 yards per carry. Coming off a 2015 season in which they rushed for an average 4.0 yards per attempt, Cleveland averaged 5.7 yards per rush against Philadelphia, snapping off four runs of 16 yards or more. That said, Brandon Williams and the Ravens front were stout against Buffalo in giving up only 2.7 yards per carry and will surely want to honor the memory of their longtime defensive line coach, who died Saturday. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson will find little room throughout the afternoon.

2. An ineffective pass rush will lead to a long touchdown pass to Browns receiver Corey Coleman. The defense will be without Elvis Dumervil and possibly Za’Darius Smith, once again leaving defensive coordinator Dean Pees little choice but to blitz to generate pressure. It won’t be easy for a rusty Terrell Suggs going up against nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, either. The Ravens know they must disrupt Josh McCown in the pocket after he threw for over 450 yards in a game against them last year, but he’ll get too much time at some point and the speedy Coleman will shake free for a big score.

3. The Baltimore running game still won’t click fully, but Terrance West will lead in rushing against his old team. West received more carries than veteran starter Justin Forsett in the opener, but the former found little running room, averaging only 2.7 yards per pop. With a one-possession lead in the second half, offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will lean on West to wear down an inexperienced Cleveland front. The average still won’t be where the Ravens want it, but West will run for 65 yards to help protect the lead with Forsett chipping in 50 of his own against the Browns.

4. Dennis Pitta will catch his first touchdown in 33 months. The veteran tight end downplayed his return to the place where he sustained his second hip fracture and dislocation two years ago, but there wouldn’t be a more appropriate place for him to make his first touchdown reception since Dec. 8, 2013. After surprisingly playing 82 percent of the offensive snaps against Buffalo while making a key 27-yard reception, Pitta will build on that solid performance with a red-zone score. Concern about his health will remain in observers’ minds, but you have to be happy for the 31-year-old in his comeback.

5. Joe Flacco will play how he usually does against the Browns in a 23-13 victory. In 15 career games against Cleveland, the 31-year-old has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions while averaging roughly 215 passing yards per game. Trestman won’t ask Flacco to take many chances in this road game, but the quarterback will be efficient while, most importantly, protecting the football. Some will complain about another grind-it-out performance lacking style points, but the Ravens will happily leave Cleveland holding their first 2-0 start since 2009.

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With heavy hearts, Ravens need to keep it simple in Cleveland

Posted on 17 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The tenor of Sunday’s game in Cleveland has understandably changed for the Ravens with the passing of longtime defensive assistant Clarence Brooks after his yearlong battle with  cancer.

As beloved as the 65-year-old was by the entire organization, it’s fair to wonder how head coach John Harbaugh’s team will respond playing a game a little over 24 hours following his death. The predictable cry will be to rally behind his memory, but these are human beings with feelings that stretch far beyond the football field. Not acknowledging that reality would be to trivialize Brooks’ life.

Still, the Ravens understand they have business to handle in their second game of the young season. The approach doesn’t change despite it being an emotional weekend.

Keep it simple against the Browns.

With an active roster currently including 17 rookies — nearly one of every three players — Cleveland is the consensus worst team in the NFL, especially on the heels of a blowout loss to rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and Philadelphia last week. But let’s not ignore the fact that the Ravens are coming off a 5-11 season themselves and haven’t had a winning road record in a season since 2010.

As a reminder to any fans and media predicting a laugher, some of Harbaugh’s best teams haven’t exactly blown out Cleveland on the road.

Think what you want about the lowly Browns, but this is their home opener and a statue of the legendary Jim Brown is being unveiled before the game as part of an alumni weekend for former players. You’ll find little optimism along the Cuyahoga River for 2016, but Cleveland has to be viewing a home contest against the Ravens as one of the few games on the schedule that could be winnable.

It’s the first home game for new Browns head coach Hue Jackson, a one-time Baltimore assistant who is very familiar with the AFC North after serving as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator the last two years. The Ravens need to be prepared for anything on Sunday and should certainly remember that Browns quarterback Josh McCown lit them up like a pinball machine in Baltimore last season.

“We are expecting Hue to throw the kitchen sink at us,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs of Jackson’s offensive innovation. “We are preparing for everything. They have a receiver over there who was once a quarterback, so we are expecting everything. Some Wildcat, Polecat offense — we are expecting everything. Don’t be surprised if they come out there with that ‘Little Giants’ formation [or] the Flying V.

“They have something up their sleeve for us. We just have to be able to prepare for it and react for it.”

Gadgetry still shouldn’t matter because the Ravens have the better and more experienced roster.

Protect the football, don’t commit foolish penalties, and take advantage of mistakes that an inexperienced team is bound to make on both sides of the ball over the course of 60 minutes.

On offense, be aggressive, but don’t try to be too cute to build an early lead before controlling the tempo with a ground game that needs to improve from Week 1. Defensively, the pass rush will be a concern without Elvis Dumervil, but the secondary cannot allow speedy receivers Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor to shake loose for big plays.

The plan doesn’t sound all that complicated, because it’s not against a team short on talent and building for the future.

“You have to pay attention,” wide receiver Steve Smith said. “You can’t go in there and say, ‘Well, with their record [last year] and their circumstances, this is going to be an easy day.’ You can’t go in there and think that or presume that because you will embarrass yourself if you do that.”

The last three games between these AFC North teams in Cleveland have each been decided by a single possession. Performances at FirstEnergy Stadium over the years have rarely been pretty, but the Ravens just need to come away with a win.

We still wonder how good Baltimore can really be in 2016, but much optimism goes out the window if you lay an egg and lose to a team that some have even discussed possibly going 0-16. If you can’t win this road game, which ones are you feeling good about the rest of the way?

On Sunday, the Ravens’ biggest opponent is themselves. They don’t need to play their best football to win, but they must be good enough.

And especially with heavy hearts on top of the normal challenges of playing on the road, the Ravens need to keep it simple and smart.

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Dumervil’s absence putting early strain on Ravens pass rush

Posted on 15 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the stories leading into the 2016 season was the Ravens’ need to find young pass rushers to complement two perennial Pro Bowl selections on the wrong side of 30.

Early expectations have understandably been tempered for 33-year-old linebacker Terrell Suggs as he returns from last season’s Achilles tendon injury, but Baltimore was never expecting to be without fellow outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who is in line to miss his second straight game on Sunday in Cleveland. The 32-year-old underwent foot surgery in the offseason and hit the practice field on Aug. 22 before suffering a setback only a few days later.

His absence is putting early strain on a pass rush trying to improve from last year when the Ravens accumulated 37 sacks, 12 fewer than their 2014 total. It remains unclear when Dumervil will make his season debut as he continues to strengthen the foot and work out at the team’s training facility.

“I feel like I’m getting close, but I don’t know what close means yet,” Dumervil said Thursday. “We’re working hard, working with the guys here. I’m really getting better, so looking forward to really soon.”

Entering Week 2, the absence of Dumervil has been compounded by the uncertain status of Za’Darius Smith, who has been absent from practices this week with a lingering ankle injury sustained in late August. The second-year linebacker played in Week 1 without making a major impact, registering one tackle in 36 snaps.

Despite a matchup in the opener in which the Ravens did not want to flush mobile quarterback Tyrod Taylor from the pocket, defensive coordinator Dean Pees did use the blitz to disrupt at critical points. Baltimore registered two sacks and six quarterback hits while holding the Bills to 160 total yards in the 13-7 win.

“We didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag with our game plan,” said Suggs, who will now face nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas in Week 2. “We didn’t want him to change the game with explosive plays, and he still got out a couple times. He got away from us, he broke out of some sacks, and he was still able to make some plays. You had to be disciplined in your rush.”

Taking over for the injured Robert Griffin III, Browns quarterback Josh McCown is the more traditional pocket passer, and the Ravens will not want him to get comfortable in the pocket to repeat anything resembling his recent performances against them.

With Smith in the mix on Sunday, the Ravens were already using rookie fifth-round pick Matt Judon as part of the rotation. Rookie second-rounder Kamalei Correa could now be in line to receive some snaps on defense after seeing special-teams action only against Buffalo.

Pees wasn’t overwhelmed by the performance of the pass rush when he didn’t send extra blitzers, but there isn’t much experience on which to rely beyond Suggs and veteran Albert McClellan, who is much more of a run-stopping linebacker.

“We can do better. We’re OK,” said Pees about the Week 1 pass rush. “We have to get a lot better with just a straight four-man rush. We don’t want to rely every time that we can only get pressure when we [use the] extended pressure package. We just have to keep working on it. I’m happy with where they are — especially the young guys — but we just have to keep building on it and getting better.”

Of course, Suggs returning to his pre-injury form would go a long way in helping the cause, but the Ravens must exercise caution with a player in his 14th season and coming off his second Achilles injury in a four-year period.

Pees will largely lean on the six-time Pro Bowl selection and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year to determine his workload on a week-by-week basis.

“He’s always going to put the team first,” Pees said. “This guy has a Hall of Fame career and could sit there and say, ‘I want it to be about me,’ and he’s not. He and I talked and said, ‘Here’s probably about how many reps we have to get.’ I said, ‘Look, there are going to be certain situations where I have to have you and I can’t have you tired.’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ That’s just the ultimate pro right there.”

After spending all of last season leaning heavily on Dumervil, the Ravens can’t wait to have their veteran pass rushers back on the field together for the first time since 2014 when they combined for an imposing 29 sacks.

Pees will try to find a silver lining in giving early opportunities to young pass rushers in hopes of speeding up their development, but the man who piled up 32 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons with Baltimore is itching to return.

And the Ravens need him sooner rather than later.

“You definitely want to go out and contribute the best you can,” Dumervil said. “In due time — when the time is right — I’ll be ready. I’m definitely learning more patience. The good thing is it’s coming, so it’s exciting.”

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Mosley, Perriman return to Ravens practice after one-day absence

Posted on 15 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After missing Wednesday’s practice with a calf injury, Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman returned to the field a day later as fans breathed a sigh of relief.

The 2015 first-round pick did not appear to be working at full speed during the portion of practice open to reporters, but he was listed as a full participant on Thursday’s injury report. Though unwilling to discuss specifics related to the injury, he said after practice that he felt good and expected to play in Sunday’s game against Cleveland.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh) also returned to practice as a full participant after a one-day absence. The 2014 Pro Bowl selection downplayed the significance of the ailment on Wednesday.

Linebackers Elvis Dumervil (foot) and Za’Darius Smith (ankle) and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) remained sidelined with their respective ailments. Though he hasn’t been officially ruled out yet, Dumervil is not expected to play in Week 2 as he continues to work his way back to full strength after suffering a setback in his return from offseason foot surgery.

Smith’s status is also a concern after he had previously dealt with an ankle injury over the final two weeks of the preseason. Should he not be able to play, the Ravens would be light at the outside linebacker position behind starters Terrell Suggs and Albert McClellan.

Rookie Matt Judon would once again be in the mix as a situational pass rusher, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees would likely need to turn to at least one more option such as veteran Chris Carter or rookie Kamalei Correa. Those two were core special-teams players against Buffalo, but neither played a defensive snap in the 13-7 win.

Suggs and five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda received the day off from practice on Thursday, which happened to be the latter’s 32nd birthday.

Center Jeremy Zuttah was back at practice on Thursday after receiving the previous day off.

Meanwhile, Browns left tackle Joe Thomas returned to practice after receiving the previous day off.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), LB Za’Darius Smith (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), WR Breshad Perriman (calf), CB Jerraud Powers (ankle) OL John Urschel (shoulder), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DB Marcus Burley (groin), DB Derrick Kindred (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G John Greco (back), WR Terrelle Pryor (shoulder), OT Joe Thomas (non-injury)

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Harbaugh expects Suggs, S. Smith to only get better as year progresses

Posted on 13 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens veterans Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith already silenced some critics simply by making their returns to the field for Sunday’s season opener.

Well into their 30s and coming off Achilles tendon injuries last season, Suggs and Smith started and contributed in Baltimore’s 13-7 win despite neither putting up gaudy numbers against Buffalo. Of course, whether they can fully recapture their pre-injury form is a fair question as that type of injury has a debilitating effect on explosiveness for athletes even much younger.

Suggs made two tackles and did collect a fourth-quarter sack after Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor couldn’t find an open receiver on a key third-down play while Smith caught five passes for 19 yards on nine targets.

“I only expect them to get better, but they played well,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They both played well. They were both key factors in the game. [They were] probably not up to their standards for themselves, because it is a pretty lofty standard for those two guys. That makes me feel good that they feel like they can play even better, but I thought they played well.”

It will be interesting to see how their workload evolves as the season progresses and the Ravens continue to work young players into the mix while maximizing the veterans’ effectiveness.

Smith played 45 of the 68 total offensive snaps, the most of any of the five Baltimore receivers active on Sunday. Suggs has been a three-down linebacker for most of his 14-year career, but he played just 31 of 49 defensive snaps while Za’Darius Smith and Albert McClellan each registered more playing time at the outside linebacker position.

Of course, neither veteran saw much action over the summer as Suggs played only a handful of snaps in the third preseason game and Smith logged just a couple weeks of practice.

“It’s definitely coming. First live action in a year, you know,” Suggs said. “Can’t really count the preseason games because I only got a couple series, so this is my first real live action in about a year. You know I’ll just continue to chop wood.

“You can always get better. It’s my first game and I feel really good about it.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 1 win over Buffalo

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the 2016 season with a 13-7 win over Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Joe Flacco easily could have been satisfied with a win in his first game back from knee surgery, but you could tell he wasn’t pleased with the performance and the failure to further exploit “cover 0” looks from Buffalo. I like that kind of attitude in a quarterback.

2. No one envisioned Shareece Wright as the Week 1 defensive MVP after a rough preseason, but he was outstanding against the run with three tackles for a loss and 11 tackles overall. His confidence can be fleeting — as it is for many cornerbacks — but he played with plenty of it.

3. Much was made about 10 different Ravens players making catches, but you wonder if offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s attempt to get so many players involved led to the clunky showing in the second half. Thirteen points were enough on Sunday, but this offense remains a work in progress.

4. It wasn’t surprising since he essentially took Carl Davis’ roster spot, but Michael Pierce being on the field with Brandon Williams gave the Ravens plenty of beef inside against a Buffalo running game that tried to avoid running between the tackles. That should really help in short-yardage situations.

5. After starting all last season, Kamar Aiken and Crockett Gillmore saw a total of three targets on Sunday. You can debate whether that’s a good thing or not, but it does illustrate how much deeper this group of pass catchers is.

6. The time is now for Timmy Jernigan to elevate his game as a third-year player. He collected a sack and had a tackle for a loss as a disruptive force up front. Improved discipline and health are the only factors holding him back from being an above-average starter.

7. The entire offensive line was less than stellar, but the struggles of Jeremy Zuttah stood out as a cadence issue led to a lost fumble on a snap and he whiffed blocking Jerry Hughes on a sack that ended another drive in the first half.

8. He’s received much criticism, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees put together an excellent game plan that left Tyrod Taylor confused and guessing as to who was rushing and who was dropping into coverage. The challenge will now be effectively disguising fronts and coverages every week.

9. You had to feel great for Steve Smith being back on the field after a horrible Achilles injury, but I’m sure he’d like to have more than 19 receiving yards on nine targets. It will be interesting to see how his role evolves with improved overall talent at receiver.

10. The whiff on a potential sack leading to Buffalo’s longest offensive play was ugly, but Albert McClellan played well against the run in Courtney Upshaw’s old spot. His tackle of Reggie Bush for a loss derailed Buffalo’s opening drive of the second half that ended with a missed field goal.

11. Mike Wallace offered the line of the day on his 66-yard touchdown catch when he said, “If you have a safety on me, he’s dead every time.” You have to love that kind of speed — and swagger — that was sorely lacking in this passing game a year ago.

12. It’s difficult to evaluate the pass rush as the Ravens wanted to keep Taylor in the pocket, but edge rushers didn’t generate consistent disruption against backup offensive tackles. Getting Elvis Dumervil back will certainly help, but Terrell Suggs will hopefully show more as he knocks off rust.

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Ravens open the season one and oh!

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Dennis Koulatsos


It was far from pretty and even farther from perfect, but is sure was nice.  After last season’s brutal opening road schedule and dismal 5-11 record, it was indeed downloadvery nice for the Ravens to come out of the gate with a win.

Rex Ryan’s team had a very difficult time moving the ball on the Ravens’ defense, particularly in the opening and final quarter. Shareece Wright was downright amazing, as he finished with 9 tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage.  He was also solid in pass coverage.

The communication seemed to be much better for the back end of the defense, in stark comparison to a  year ago.  Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Wright seemed to be on the same page for the bulk of the game.

According to our friends at Pro Football Focus, Weddle had the highest overall grade on the team, followed by Wright.  On the offensive side of the ball the standouts were QB Joe Flacco, RG Marshall Yanda (penalties aside he was lights out), and Mike Wallace.

The offense looked out of sync at times, but that was to be expected, as this was the first time a lot of the players were on the field at the same time.  Their pace and rhythm should improve as the season matures.

Standouts for the Bills were primarily on the defensive side as LB Preston Brown and rush end Jerry Hughes were generally disruptive and presented the Ravens offensive line with all kinds of problems.  It is also noteworthy that the Ravens started two rookies on the left side, tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Alex Lewis.

The Bills’ offense struggled and their highest graded offensive player was TE Charles Clay.  Tyrod Taylor struggled to find open receivers down field, and was held in check by the Ravens’ defense. Shady McCoy got around the edge a couple of times, but he was also held under wraps without inflicting any significant damage.

The Bills’ coaching staff is getting some criticism this morning by their fan base as well as the media. The narrative is that they got schooled by the Ravens’ coaching staff, pointing out that the Ravens have been in the playoffs 6 out of the last 8 years under coach Harbaugh. Their clock management and untimely personal foul penalties are particularly coming under scrutiny. The undisciplined tag that’s been following Rex Ryan around has reared it’s ugly head once again.

As for the Ravens, for me the biggest red flag was Marc Trestman and his play calling. It was downright maddening to see the team come out time and again on third and short with Flacco in a shotgun formation. For a team that vowed to commit to the run this year, they sure did pass a lot.  The team ran the ball 45% of the time as there were 28 running plays against 34 pass plays.  When you take into account the 4 “runs” that Joe Flacco was given credit for (including game ending kneel-downs in the victory formation) the ratio drops to 41%.

For a team that has a lead blocker and thumper in Kyle Juszczyk, and a back who has displayed great heart and determination in short yardage situations in Terrance West, it defies logic to see both of them on the bench while Flacco is in the gun formation.  Given Flacco’s knee situation, it is crystal clear and understandable that the Ravens have taken the QB sneak out of their playbook.  But there are so many solid and creative things they can do on short yardage situations.  That was evident as I watched the Sunday Night scrum between the Cardinals and the Patriots.  Both offensive coordinators showed multiple looks and formations, and the Ravens would be wise to roll the tape and “borrow” a few things here and there.

For a while there I had to check to make sure that Cam Cameron was still at LSU vs. the Ravens’ sideline. Trestman was run out of Chicago and overwhelmingly the primary gripe from players and fans alike was that his offense was too pass happy. I sure hope coach John Harbaugh intervenes and makes sure that the Ravens game plan is run heavy this week as the team travels to Cleveland.

In a memorable loss to Jacksonville years ago, when Ray Rice carried the ball something like 8 times, I’ll never forget a quote by Terrell Suggs that has stuck with me through the years. After that loss he said that “when you go on the road, you pack your defense and your running game.”  I think that is great advice, and the Ravens need to pay attention here.

Turnovers are hard to overcome in the NFL, particularly on the road when you’re also facing significant crowd noise. Running the ball tends to be easier for an offense to execute.  The Ravens need to force turnovers by Cleveland QBs, whether it’s RGIII (he has a shoulder injury) or Josh McCown, run the ball, play solid defense, and let the game come to them.  Control the ball, control the clock, take the crowd out of the game, and come home two and oh.





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Ravens-Bills: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 11 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A new season and new hope.

The memories of 20 players on injured reserve and nine losses by a single possession a year ago will be wiped away Sunday when the Ravens open their 21st season against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Though head coach John Harbaugh is relying on several key veterans returning from significant injuries in 2016, the Ravens were preparing to make history by starting rookies at left tackle and left guard with first-rounder Ronnie Stanley and fourth-rounder Alex Lewis, respectively. According to Elias, it marks the first time since 1995 that an NFL team has started rookies at those two positions in a season opener.

Stanley was expected to start from the moment general manager Ozzie Newsome made him the Ravens’ earliest first-round pick of the last 16 years, but Lewis emerged out of necessity with third-year lineman John Urschel missing extensive time with a shoulder injury in training camp. Urschel was a full participant in practice this week, but Baltimore declared him inactive for Sunday’s game, electing to go with just two reserve offensive linemen for Week 1.

There were a couple of other mild surprises on the Ravens’ list of deactivated players. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), veteran cornerback Jerraud Powers (ankle), and rookie running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) had already been ruled out on the final injury report of the week, but the Ravens deactivated cornerback Will Davis and running back Buck Allen, who are both healthy.

Baltimore will have just two active tailbacks — Justin Forsett and Terrance West — and chose to activate young cornerbacks Maurice Canady and Sheldon Price instead of Davis.

As expected, veteran tight end Dennis Pitta is active and set to play in his first game in nearly two years, completing his improbable comeback from the second devastating right hip injury of his career.

With Dumervil out, the Ravens will be leaning on younger options such as Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon, and Kamalei Correa to help pick up the pass-rushing slack opposite veteran Terrell Suggs, who is making his return from last September’s season-ending Achilles injury.

Meanwhile, Buffalo had no surprises among its seven inactives.

The Ravens and Bills are meeting for the seventh time ever in the regular season with each team previously winning three games. However, Buffalo has not won in Baltimore since the 1999 season.

Counting his time with the New York Jets, Bills head coach Rex Ryan is aiming to win his sixth consecutive season opener, but the former Ravens defensive coordinator is 0-3 against Baltimore as a head coach.

With former Ravens such as Tyrod Taylor and and Ed Reed making their return to M&T Bank Stadium as members of the Bills, there was quite a bit of catching up during pre-game warmups. Quarterback Joe Flacco chatted with his former understudy at length, and Harbaugh spent time talking to his former All-Pro safety, who is now in his first year as an assistant defensive backs coach. Reed was celebrating his 38th birthday on Sunday.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while Buffalo dons white tops and blue pants for the 2016 opener.

Sunday’s referee is Brad Allen.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore called for party cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 80s, winds up to 11 miles per hour, and no chance of precipitation.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

LB Elvis Dumervil
CB Jerraud Powers
RB Kenneth Dixon
RB Buck Allen
OL John Urschel
DT Willie Henry
CB Will Davis

S Colt Anderson
CB Kevon Seymour
QB Cardale Jones
WR Walter Powell
RB Jonathan Williams
LB Bryson Albright
C Patrick Lewis

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Ten Ravens prophecies for the 2016 season

Posted on 10 September 2016 by Luke Jones

As many go through the exercise of making division-by-division forecasts, these predictions focus on the Ravens and their goal to return to the playoffs after the worst season in the John Harbaugh era.

A look back at last year’s predictions shows some were accurate (Kendrick Lewis didn’t make the impact the Ravens anticipated) and a few were embarrassing (predicted future starter Rashaan Melvin was cut before Halloween) as an overrated roster and a plethora of injuries contributed to a 5-11 season that no one truly anticipated. Regardless of the lack of accuracy, it’s fun to envision how the next four months could play out.

Below is a new forecast to mock and tear apart:

1. Seriously, Joe Flacco will finally be voted team MVP by the local media after reaching the 4,000-yard passing mark for the first time in his career.

I’ve predicted this three years in a row now, but a return from a serious left knee injury coupled with better weapons in the passing game will remind everyone how good Flacco can be. Questions remain about the running game and a revamped offensive line, but there is enough talent diversity in the passing game to expect the Ravens to be able to move the ball effectively through the air. Entering his ninth season, Flacco isn’t the type of quarterback you want to be throwing 45 times per game, but offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will give him more than enough opportunities to exceed 4,000 yards.

2. Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs will not match their 2014 levels of production, but both will augment their legacies with respectable comebacks.

Knowing exactly what to expect from a 37-year-old receiver coming off a horrendous Achilles injury and a 33-year-old pass rusher returning from his second Achilles tear in four years is impossible, but dismissing two players worthy of Hall of Fame consideration would be unwise. Baltimore doesn’t need Smith to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but he’ll contribute at least three or four catches every week while providing leadership to the young receivers. The defense is depending on Suggs at the rush linebacker spot, and he’ll play the run well and will be able to disrupt some quarterbacks with seven or eight sacks.

3. No Raven will reach the 10-sack mark for the second straight season.

The pass rush will be better than it was a year ago when it collected 37 sacks, but there’s still too much reliance on Suggs and Elvis Dumervil and a learning curve for younger options to completely fill that gap this year. This will be an important season for second-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, but rookie fifth-round pick Matt Judon will show better production with seven sacks to create some optimism for the future. The overall depth of this group is improved from last season, but there won’t be that one guy who completely changes the complexion of a game.

4. Kenneth Dixon and Will Davis will become starters by the midway point of the season.

I’m concerned with the committee approach at running back and the run blocking off the offensive line under Trestman, but Dixon is their most talented back and should receive the most touches after he returns from a knee injury. The only concern is his health as the fourth-round rookie has missed time with three different injuries since being drafted. Davis elevated his play as the summer progressed and will be the first in line to replace the up-and-down veteran Shareece Wright. However, he is coming off ACL injuries to each knee over the last two seasons, making his health another question mark.

5. Eric Weddle will improve the communication in the secondary, but the pass defense will remain a weakness.

To say the Ravens have struggled at safety since the departure of Ed Reed would be an understatement. The organization has wasted early draft picks and free-agent dollars, but Weddle will stabilize the communication in the secondary. He would be the perfect addition to turn a good defensive backfield into a great one, but the talent level is suspect here with even doubts about top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who didn’t play well last year while feeling the effects of foot surgery. With only three interceptions over the last three years, Weddle isn’t a dynamic play-maker, but he will help minimize the big plays.

6. Ronnie Stanley will have one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history that no one will talk about.

Did you notice how little discussion there was about Baltimore’s first-round pick this summer? That’s an encouraging development for an offensive lineman, who’s only noticed by the masses when committing a penalty or giving up a sack. Stanley is bound to have a bump or two in the road over the course of his first season, but the Ravens are very pleased with the way the Notre Dame product has performed. It remains to be seen how the likes of Laremy Tunsil and Jalen Ramsey fare in their pro careers elsewhere, but Stanley has given general manager Ozzie Newsome no reason to think he didn’t make a strong choice.

7. Breshad Perriman and Zach Orr will be players to take a step forward.

The 2015 first-round pick won’t match Torrey Smith’s rookie production of 841 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, but he will average 17 yards per catch with five scores to give Flacco a young deep-ball threat to open up the intermediate portion of the field for possession receivers and tight ends. Orr is the latest former rookie free agent to become a starting inside linebacker for Baltimore, joining Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, and Dannell Ellerbe. He will do particularly well in coverage, which is what prompted the Ravens to use Orr in place of veteran Daryl Smith in the nickel defense late last season.

8. Kamar Aiken and Elvis Dumervil will be players to take a step back.

This isn’t at all a knock on Aiken’s ability, but it will be a result of diminished opportunity. Aiken really excelled when playing Smith’s position and running his routes in the second half last year, so you wonder how he’ll fit into the equation with the veteran returning to the field. There’s been mystery surrounding Dumervil’s offseason foot surgery and subsequent setback, but the Ravens need him to return sooner rather than later. After Dumervil handled a heavier workload out of necessity in 2015, the Ravens need to limit his early-down action to get the most out of the 32-year-old’s pass-rushing ability.

9. Marshal Yanda and Brandon Williams will be Baltimore’s Pro Bowl selections.

Yanda remained the best guard in the NFL last season and has quietly become one of the top players in the history of the franchise. His leadership and knowledge on the field and in the meeting room will be vital as the Ravens begin the season with a brand new left side of the offensive line. Meanwhile, Williams will finally receive the recognition he deserves as the best run-stopping nose tackle in the NFL. Of course, such an achievement will only increase his value approaching free agency as the Ravens will face the dilemma of how much to pay a defensive tackle who hasn’t shown great ability as a pass rusher.

10. A brutal final month will leave the Ravens with an 8-8 record that results in missing the playoffs for the third time in four years.

I never bought into the narrative of last season being all about the injuries, so it would be disingenuous to predict a dramatic turnaround in 2016. The Ravens are relying heavily on aging players at a few key positions and possess a young core that needs further additions and time to develop. This will be a better football team that will remain in the playoff hunt entering December, but road games against New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati over the final four weeks will be too much to overcome. Despite the optics of missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, the Ravens would be in good shape for 2017 if young players like Stanley, Perriman, and Dixon prove to be the real deal.

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Ravens need youth movement for 2016 and beyond

Posted on 09 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Your outlook on the Ravens this season likely depends on how you viewed a forgettable 2015 in which they finished 5-11.

If you point to more than 20 players suffering season-ending injuries — the most in the John Harbaugh era — and nine losses decided by one possession, a dramatic turnaround feels inevitable with any reasonable shift in luck.

Or, you remember the myriad of reasons that contributed to a 1-6 start long before the losses of Steve Smith, Joe Flacco, and Justin Forsett transformed a lost season into one more conveniently excused by injuries. From that perspective, those failures were less about bad fortune and more the culmination of a series of missteps over the previous few years.

No matter where your assessment of last season lies, the 2016 Ravens are relying on a slew of older players at key positions, which is a slippery slope. According to Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com, Baltimore had the sixth-oldest 53-man roster in the NFL on final cut-down day. That was before general manager Ozzie Newsome re-signed the 30-year-old Justin Forsett and added 33-year-old return specialist Devin Hester at the beginning of the week.

Fifteen players on the active roster are 30 or older. Of their 12 former Pro Bowl selections, only two — linebacker C.J. Mosley and kicker Justin Tucker — are currently in their 20s.

Their projected starting outside linebackers, wide receivers, safeties, and running back are all 30 or older. Experience is certainly valuable, but those are positions where you don’t want to be sparring too frequently with Father Time.

The Ravens have obvious exceptions to the rule — a few of them will eventually be in the discussion for the Hall of Fame — but this is largely a young man’s game.

And that brings us to the biggest key for the Ravens in 2016 and certainly beyond.

The youth movement needs to start now.

Seeing the likes of Smith and Terrell Suggs return from injuries to lead the Ravens back into postseason contention would be fun, but it would be in vain if several younger players don’t take significant steps forward. At 31, Flacco should have several more productive seasons ahead of him at quarterback, but this is an otherwise aging core of difference-makers, which was true even before pass rusher Elvis Dumervil suffered a setback from offseason foot surgery that will keep him sidelined for the start of the season.

It’s time for the next wave of great Ravens to emerge. In fact, it’s overdue, which is a significant reason why 2015 was such a disappointment.

Excluding players yet to take an NFL snap like rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley and wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who are the under-30 talents on this roster that other teams truly covet?

Brandon Williams might be the best run-stopping nose tackle in the league and Tucker is arguably the NFL’s top kicker, but who else?

Mosley and cornerback Jimmy Smith? Maybe in 2014, but not based on the way they performed a year ago.

Others have potential, but the Ravens thought the same about failed draft picks such as Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, and Terrence Brooks not long ago. The proof will be in the results on the field.

Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon, or Kamalei Correa needs to become as a significant pass-rushing threat to complement Suggs and Dumervil. The defense will be even more dangerous if more than one can do it.

As their earliest first-round pick in 16 years, Stanley must make fans forget every left tackle the Ravens have had since Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden.

Perriman needs to stay healthy and show why he was the first receiver the organization drafted in the first round in a decade.

Jimmy Smith and Mosley have to look more like the players they were in 2014.

If others step up along the way, the Ravens will really be in business — not just for this season but for the future.

If young players fail to develop, they will once again be depending too heavily on aging talent trying to stay healthy enough to play at a high level for another year.

Baltimore can bounce back with the combination of veterans returning and young play-makers emerging.

But it’s difficult to imagine it happening to any meaningful degree without the latter.

The Ravens need their youth to take the baton and step to the forefront.

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