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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-10 win over Cleveland

Posted on 18 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving a step closer to securing a postseason berth in a 27-10 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The defense took advantage of rookie DeShone Kizer and the NFL’s most turnover-prone offense by forcing four turnovers that led to 14 points. Much of the damage hasn’t come against the stiffest competition, but a league-best 33 takeaways is impressive. Two years ago, the Ravens had only 14.

2. The offense didn’t light up the scoreboard like the previous two weeks, but still moving the ball despite the running game being a non-factor through the first three quarters is an encouraging sign. The Ravens were able to finish with 63 rushing yards on 11 carries in the final period.

3. This wasn’t the first time Matthew Judon was arguably the top player for the defense. He totaled a sack, two other tackles for a loss, and two more quarterback hits. His versatile play in all phases has been one of the most encouraging big-picture developments of the season.

4. Remember how completely helpless the passing game looked without Jeremy Maclin in two games earlier this season? He played only five snaps because of a left knee injury, but Joe Flacco still threw for a season-high 288 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

5. A major reason for that was Mike Wallace, who caught six passes for 89 yards with four of those going for first downs. Since the bye, Wallace is averaging 76.2 receiving yards per contest and 16.6 yards per catch. That equates to a 1,200-yard season over 16 games.

6. Terrell Suggs finished with an ordinary two tackles if you only looked at the standard box score, but he was consistently putting heat on Kizer and was credited with nine hurries by Pro Football Focus. He played a significant part in several good things that happened for the defense.

7. A read-option keeper for Flacco shouldn’t be called unless it’s the fourth quarter of a playoff game, but that play and the draw for a touchdown reflect the greater confidence in the quarterback’s health. Flacco also has a 94.5 passer rating with five touchdown passes over the last three games.

8. C.J. Mosley rebounded from a poor outing in Pittsburgh as he batted down a couple passes, was stronger in pass coverage, and delivered the crushing hit on the Duke Johnson fumble. Sending Mosley after the quarterback a few times was a needed changeup after his recent struggles in coverage.

9. John Harbaugh was wise to mostly keep Alex Collins out of harm’s way in the second half as he was visibly laboring several times. As tough and physical as Collins is, we sometimes forget he’s only 210 pounds, which is much lighter than many of the league’s bruising-style backs.

10. For the second straight year, the Ravens surrendered Isaiah Crowell’s longest run from scrimmage for the season. The run defense has mostly been terrific since late October, but allowing a 96-yard touchdown drive exclusively via the ground in the second quarter was mystifying.

11. I didn’t like Marty Mornhinweg’s outside run call on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but credit Cleveland defensive end Carl Nassib for blowing up an attempted double team from Matt Skura and Austin Howard. He was more disruptive than top overall pick Myles Garrett throughout the day.

12. I understand reluctance to embrace the 2017 Ravens because of the early-season inconsistency, but some of the fear expressed about the Browns this week was over the top. Their horrendous minus-25 turnover difference says it all while Baltimore leads the NFL at plus-17. Taking care of the football really matters.

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Painful loss to Pittsburgh should still bring hope for Ravens

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Smith’s injury reiterates Ravens need more of what they did Sunday

Posted on 03 December 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday’s performance by the Ravens felt very familiar.

Joe Flacco and the offense turned in their best performance of the season against Detroit nearly a year to the day after they blew out Miami, a playoff contender turned away at M&T Bank Stadium to begin the final month of 2016. The 44-20 win over the Lions lifted the Ravens to 7-5, the same record they owned after their 38-6 victory over the Dolphins last Dec. 4.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself again when cornerback Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles tendon late in the first half, ending the best season of his career and leaving the defense without arguably its best player. It was Week 14 last year when the Ravens lost Smith to a high ankle sprain, an injury that torpedoed what had been the league’s top-ranked defense at the time.

That injury preceded three losses in the final four weeks as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. The schedule is certainly more favorable this time around with just one game remaining against a winning team — next Sunday in Pittsburgh — and the final two contests coming at home.

Still, there’s no underselling the loss of Smith, especially for a team that’s relied so heavily on its defense all season.

“It’s different than it’s been before,” said head coach John Harbaugh, citing his defense’s struggles without its top corner in 2014 and last year. “We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of good, young players. We’ll step up, and we’ll still play at a really high level in the secondary. I’m very confident of that.”

The Ravens are better equipped to carry on without Smith after signing reliable veteran Brandon Carr — who’s amazingly never missed a game in his 10-year career — and drafting the talented Marlon Humphrey in the first round this past spring. Turning over a starting job to Humphrey is quite an improvement from a year ago when Shareece Wright stepped in for Smith opposite rookie Tavon Young.

But there will still be some drop-off, evident by Humphrey’s difficulties in coverage against speedy Lions receiver Marvin Jones. The Alabama product may eventually be as good as Smith — or even better — but expecting that immediately would be unfair and unrealistic.

That makes it even more critical for this Ravens offense to look more like it did Sunday the rest of the way.

Veterans Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle admitted after the game that the defense was feeling deflated after officially learning of Smith’s fate at halftime. Two touchdown drives orchestrated by Lions quarterback Mathew Stafford in the third quarter transformed a comfortable 20-0 lead into a one-possession game, but Flacco and the offense fought right back with a nine-play, 74-yard drive ending with a 7-yard touchdown run by Alex Collins to make it a 27-13 lead early in the final quarter.

Given the importance of the game and the way it was trending, that touchdown drive may have been the offense’s best and most important of the year to this point. The Ravens then answered a Stafford touchdown pass with another drive resulting in a field goal to put them up by multiple scores for good with 6:54 remaining.

“Well, we have to do our part at some point, right?” said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who finished with 116 yards on five catches. “The offense, we have to come up. Our defense has been incredible. Our special teams have been incredible. The offense, not so much.

“Today, we made strides. This game is about peaking at the right time, so hopefully we can do that.”

The convincing win tightened the Ravens’ grip on the No. 6 seed as they own a one-game lead as well as tiebreakers over the top three teams chasing them in the AFC wild-card race, but building on this performance will be of the utmost importance. Baltimore will be an underdog against the Steelers next Sunday night, but a good showing from Flacco and the offense for a second straight week would create more optimism about this team being able to make noise in January.

The defense should still be more than good enough that the Ravens won’t need to put 44 points on the board every week like they did Sunday, but any expectation of this unit continuing to carry an inept offense likely vanished as Smith collapsed to the ground with 4:21 to go in the second quarter. That unbalanced formula may still be good enough against a soft remaining regular-season schedule, but it certainly won’t fly in the playoffs.

Many saw that as the Ravens’ reality anyway, but losing an elite defensive talent brings it into sharper focus.

The offense stepped up to do the heavy lifting when the defense suddenly found itself on the ropes Sunday.

The coming weeks will determine whether that was merely an aberration or the start of the offense more consistently pulling its own weight.

The latter would make for a more interesting January.

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Ravens-Lions: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 02 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t own a victory over a team currently holding as much as a .500 record.

Five of their six wins have come against a rookie or backup quarterback.

Baltimore has the opportunity to fight back at both of those criticisms Sunday when Matthew Stafford and Detroit come to town. More importantly, the Ravens can improve their playoff chances as they enter Week 13 holding the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

John Harbaugh’s team is eyeing its first three-game winning streak since the first three weeks of the 2016 season while the 6-5 Lions are trying to stay in the hunt in a much tougher NFC playoff race. Detroit enters the weekend one game behind Atlanta for the final spot in the conference.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the first time since 2013 with the Ravens having won the last two meetings and owning a 3-1 advantage in the all-time regular-season series. The Lions are seeking their first win in Baltimore since defeating the Colts 13-10 at Memorial Stadium in 1977.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Detroit’s Golden Tate will lead both teams in receiving yards. The Lions own the 30th-ranked running game in the NFL, but no one has found room on the ground against the Ravens over their last four games anyway, making Tate much more critical. The slot receiver ranks sixth in the league in yards after the catch and 51 of his 63 catches have come on throws 10 or fewer yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Baltimore’s pass defense has mostly been superb, but nickel corner Lardarius Webb has had his issues in coverage and the middle of the field has been a vulnerable area that Tate can exploit.

2. Terrell Suggs will register a strip-sack for the third consecutive game. Harbaugh labeled the 35-year-old “Ponce de Leon” for seemingly finding the Fountain of Youth after his performance against Houston, and few would argue with Suggs registering two-sack efforts in both games since the bye week. He’s one-half sack away from reaching double digits for the seventh time in his career and will be lining up against Taylor Decker, a talented left tackle who has struggled since returning last month from offseason shoulder surgery. This matchup is one of the biggest swing factors of the game.

3. Stafford will throw two touchdown passes against a tough secondary. As I wrote earlier this week, the Ravens shouldn’t apologize for the opponents they’ve faced, but it’s fair to wonder just how good this secondary will be against tougher competition, which is what Stafford and the league’s 10th-ranked passing game will offer. The Ravens defense leads the NFL with 18 interceptions, but the Lions quarterback has tossed only six in 395 attempts. If Baltimore can’t sustain pressure against an offensive line that’s been pretty solid after a slow start, Stafford will be able to make some plays at every level.

4. Joe Flacco will toss a touchdown and two interceptions as his 2017 struggles continue. The Lions have had substantial issues stopping the run in recent weeks, but any defense not loading the box against Baltimore to force the ball in Flacco’s hands is crazy. It’s no secret this passing game is a total mess that hasn’t produced against even below-average pass defenses, and Detroit is tied for fifth in the NFL in takeaways despite ranking 23rd against the pass. Flacco’s comments after the Houston win reflect the frustration for the veteran, who’s eclipsed 200 passing yards only once since Week 5.

5. The lack of offensive balance and turnovers will catch up with the Ravens in a 20-16 loss. These teams are fairly equal in quality, but Baltimore is coming off a short week and its passing game is a much bigger weakness than anything the Lions are dealing with. Stafford isn’t going to totally pick the defense apart, but there will be some shock going up against a top quarterback that will put the Ravens behind and take them out of their formula of running the ball and being aggressive on defense to force turnovers. The Ravens have won the turnover battle in all six of their wins this season and have enjoyed at least a plus-2 margin in five of those. Short of that happening, they’ll drop a close one.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 win over Houston

Posted on 28 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back over .500 and into the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race with a 23-16 win over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was ugly, but Monday was the first time the Ravens have won a game in which they trailed all season. After wilting in some late-game situations earlier this season, the defense forced Tom Savage turnovers on Houston’s final two possessions. That’s how you finish off a close game.

2. Compliments for Terrell Suggs are regularly attached to some acknowledgement of him not being the player he once was, but it’s time to recognize this being the best he’s played in years. He was the best player on the field and is now quite possibly cementing his spot in Canton.

3. I’m running out of ways to describe this passing game that was facing a bottom-10 pass defense entering Week 12. Awful. Joe Flacco needs more help, but I struggle more each week to recognize what he’s bringing to the table. He committed no turnovers, but he misfired on countless throws.

4. What does it say for the offense that the punter turned in the best pass of the night? Sam Koch and Chris Moore executed nicely on the fake punt that swung the momentum, but credit Jerry Rosburg. His special teams units are exceptional every year and make a real difference.

5. Running the ball and stopping the run is this team’s formula for success. Baltimore averaged 4.5 yards per carry to bounce back from some recent lackluster performances and allowed only 2.6 yards per carry. The defense ranks third in the NFL in fewest yards per carry allowed since Week 8.

6. A mere look at his torn jersey said all you needed to know about the fits DeAndre Hopkins gave Ravens cornerbacks. Jimmy Smith has played at an All-Pro level this season, but Hopkins made even him look bad several times.

7. Marlon Humphrey played just seven snaps because of a leg injury, which meant Smith saw his highest volume of snaps since Week 6. That’s something to monitor with the Ravens getting ready for Detroit on a short week and the veteran already missing practice time every week.

8. Give the coaching staff and the offensive line credit for making adjustments against Jadeveon Clowney, who dominated in the opening quarter. He had a quiet second half and wasn’t nearly as disruptive as the Ravens effectively used double teams and chip blocks.

9. Penalties were a problem with seven — all but one against the defense — for 89 yards, but that was only the fourth time this year the Ravens have had more than 60 yards in penalties. That’s a major improvement from where they’ve been in recent years.

10. The two-minute offense at the end of the first half was hardly a thing of beauty, but the drive resulting in a 53-yard field goal was probably one of the better ones we’ve seen this season. That’s not saying very much, but at least Justin Tucker continues to be money.

11. After Flacco broke his second knee brace in two seasons, he admitted that he’s thought about not wearing one. Seeing him move around without it makes me think it could be worth the risk for improved mobility within the pocket if nothing else.

12. Speaking as someone who doesn’t pay to attend games and wouldn’t tell others how to spend their money, it was still sad seeing thousands of empty seats for the first Monday night home game in over five years. Games like that used to be a big deal in this town.

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Mosley, Stanley questionable, but expected to play against Houston

Posted on 25 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ prayers on inside linebacker C.J. Mosley were answered.

After an initial plea for divine intervention on the sideline and then downplaying the severity of Mosley’s sprained right ankle late in last week’s 23-0 win at Green Bay, head coach John Harbaugh proved to be right as the standout defensive player returned to practice as a full participant Saturday and will play against Houston on Monday night.

Mosley is officially listed as questionable on the final injury report after missing workouts earlier in the week, but he left no doubt regarding his status against the Texans.

“I’m playing, so I’m not worried about that,” Mosley said. “It wasn’t a high ankle sprain, so that’s what the doctors feared most [initially]. After we found out it wasn’t that, it was just about trying to get as much treatment as possible and rest.”

Mosley said the plan was for him to sit out practice through most of the week and wanted to return to the field Saturday for peace of mind more than anything else. The Ravens not playing until Monday night certainly helped in the recovery process.

A reflection of how good he’s feeling two days prior to Monday Night Football, the two-time Pro Bowl selection even took a playful jab at fellow inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor for his indirect role in the injury occurring just before the two-minute warning at Lambeau Field.

“I didn’t even see who landed on me. I was just trying to make a tackle,” Mosley said. “I blamed it on ‘Peanut’ since he wasn’t on the field. We [only] had 10 men, so I was about to call timeout, but I just let the play go on. It was probably his fault.

“It could have been bad because I was getting blocked back while I got landed on. Luckily, it was a minor sprain. I felt pretty decent out there today.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is also listed as questionable against Houston, but he will return to action after being cleared from the concussion protocol on Friday. He and right tackle Austin Howard (knee) — who was also designated as questionable — have been hampered with injuries recently, but the Ravens will have their normal offensive line on the field to try to slow standout pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney.

That continuity is of the utmost importance after Stanley’s absence against the Packers last week forced starting left guard James Hurst to left tackle and reserve Luke Bowanko into the starting lineup, leaving the Ravens weaker at both blindside positions.

“It’s good to have your guys, your starters out there,” Harbaugh said. “They’re the starters for a reason. And we’ll be going in there full strength Monday night, and we’re excited about that.”

As expected, starting cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) returned to practice as a full participant Saturday after missing workouts earlier in the week and is officially listed as questionable. The veteran has regularly missed practice time with tendinitis since early October and was also listed as questionable in each of the last six games before playing in them all, leaving very little doubt about his availability.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been slowed by an ankle injury this week, but he is expected to play despite being listed as questionable. He received his usual veteran day off Saturday to conclude the practice week.

Baltimore officially ruled out rookie offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor with a shoulder injury. With only one of their seven game-day scratches in line to be because of injury, the Ravens arguably find themselves in the best shape from a health standpoint that they’ve enjoyed since the start of the season.

Meanwhile, the Texans officially ruled out second-year wide receiver Will Fuller as he continues to recover from cracked ribs. Star wideout DeAndre Hopkins will play despite being slowed by a foot injury in practices earlier in the week.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: OT Austin Howard (knee), LB C.J. Mosley (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion), LB Terrell Suggs (ankle), RB Terrance West (calf)

HOUSTON
OUT: OT Julien Davenport (shoulder), WR Will Fuller (ribs), OL Greg Mancz (shoulder)

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Ravens may not be pretty, but playoff hopes looking bright

Posted on 21 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens aren’t a pretty football team.

You’d be hard-pressed to argue that they’re good as they own a mediocre 5-5 record, haven’t won back-to-back games in over two months, and rank 13th in the AFC in strength of victory, a reflection of not owning a single win against a team currently sporting a winning record. Having one of the worst offenses in the NFL certainly doesn’t help the overall perception — or make it any easier to win football games.

But here the Ravens stand holding the final wild-card spot in the AFC playoff picture entering Thanksgiving. And a look around the rest of the conference leaves you doubting the capabilities of any others in the “second division” to seriously challenge for that No. 6 seed.

“Win, and it will take care of itself,” said head coach John Harbaugh, whose team plays only two more opponents currently holding winning records the rest of the way. “It’s not like we don’t know what’s happening. We certainly know who does what.”

While their remaining schedule and the ineptitude of other so-called wild-card contenders might be the biggest factors working in the Ravens’ favor entering the final stretch, their defense is certainly playing at a playoff-caliber level after recording its third shutout of the year in Green Bay. No matter who the opposing quarterback is, that’s not a feat to be taken lightly, especially on the road.

The Ravens lead the NFL with 16 interceptions and are tied for first in takeaways (23) with Jacksonville. Their second-ranked pass defense is allowing the fewest passing yards per game by a Baltimore unit since 2008. And though the run defense still ranks only 17th in yards per carry allowed, the Ravens have surrendered only 2.94 yards per rushing attempt over the last three games as Brandon Williams has settled back in as the anchor of the defensive line after his four-game absence.

The defense continues to chase consistency — the final touchdown surrendered at Tennessee is a recent exhibit of that — but ranking sixth in the league in yards allowed and third in points surrendered makes a pretty strong case that the group is peaking at the right time and can carry the offense-challenged Ravens to the postseason for the first time in three years. The three shutouts are one shy of the four recorded by the 2000 Ravens, regarded by many as one of the greatest defenses of all time.

“It don’t mean s–t if we don’t make the playoffs,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s good, but if we don’t get in [the playoffs], you all won’t even remember them. It’s a good thing to build on, but we’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to keep getting these wins.”

Continuing to win would be easier if the league’s 31st-ranked offense can show any semblance of improvement down the stretch. Despite the five-turnover, six-sack output from the defense against the Packers, the Ravens compiled just 219 yards on 57 offensive plays, finished 3-for-14 on third down, and managed only three points off three first-half turnovers at Lambeau Field.

Even without left tackle Ronnie Stanley in the lineup, that’s just not good enough if the Ravens have any visions of making a meaningful playoff run. They must rediscover their running game after averaging less than 3.4 yards per carry in three of their last four games, and it’s going to take much more than the return of running back Danny Woodhead for this passing game to be considered even mediocre.

The defense might be strong enough to carry the Ravens to victory in any of their six remaining games, but the offense is also inept enough to lose each of those contests, making these final six weeks all the more unsettling despite the favorable circumstances.

You can’t and shouldn’t blame quarterback Joe Flacco for all of the offensive struggles, but now would be the time for something more closely resembling “January Joe” to start getting revved up with December rapidly approaching. Even with the many variables working against him, Flacco must be better.

Their third road win of the season and a very favorable environment in the AFC have established the Ravens as clear-cut playoff contenders, but they still have a long way to go to prove they can be any sort of a viable threat to make noise if left standing in January.

Their circumstances for a playoff push may be pretty, but the Ravens certainly aren’t.

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Maclin, Wallace, Perriman questionable for Thursday night game

Posted on 25 October 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are once again dealing with major injury questions at wide receiver as they host Miami for a nationally-televised Thursday game.

Of the seven receivers on the active roster, five are listed on the injury report with starters Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Mike Wallace (concussion) as well as 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman all listed as questionable to play against the Dolphins. Maclin and Wallace were once again limited participants in Wednesday’s practice while Perriman was upgraded to full participation, a possible sign that he’s passed the concussion protocol after missing last week’s game in Minnesota.

An NFL Network report last weekend indicated Maclin would make his return Thursday night, but there was optimism the previous two weeks when he was a limited participant in practices before ultimately being deactivated. Wallace’s status is in doubt after he suffered a concussion just three days ago.

Making matters worse, slot receiver Michael Campanaro (shoulder) and reserve Chris Matthews (thigh) were both designated as doubtful to play, leaving 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore and the recently-signed Griff Whalen as the only fully-healthy receivers on the roster.

The pass-catching woes don’t stop there as tight end Benjamin Watson missed his second straight day of practice and is questionable to play with a knee injury. The 36-year-old leads the team with 24 receptions despite averaging just 7.3 yards per catch.

Third-year tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) was officially ruled out on Wednesday as he’s appeared in just three games this season.

Right guard Matt Skura (knee) was upgraded to full participation Wednesday and was listed as questionable to play after missing the last two games. Rookie fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemunor has struggled in a starting role since Skura injured his knee in the Oct. 8 win over Oakland.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith was designated as questionable for the fourth straight week as he continues to deal with Achilles tendinitis, but his status is not believed to be in real question after he practiced on a limited basis Tuesday and Wednesday.

Safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, and defensive back Anthony Levine were also listed as questionable, but all five practiced fully on Wednesday, a good indicator for their availability against Miami.

The Dolphins officially ruled out starting left guard Anthony Steen (foot) in addition to quarterback Jay Cutler (ribs). Left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) was listed as a full participant on Wednesday, but he was listed as questionable, leaving Miami in an uneasy position on the left side of the offensive line.

Wide receiver DeVante Parker (ankle) as well as starting defensive linemen Andre Branch (groin) and Jordan Phillips (ankle) are all questionable after being listed as limited in Wednesday’s practice.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday night forecast in Baltimore calls for clear skies and temperatures dipping into the low 50s with calm winds up to five miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: RB Terrance West (calf), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), WR Chris Matthews (thigh), LB Tim Williams (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: S Tony Jefferson (ankle), DB Anthony Levine (back), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), LB Patrick Onwausor (knee), WR Breshad Perriman (concussion), G Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), LB Terrell Suggs (knee), WR Mike Wallace (concussion), TE Benjamin Watson (knee), S Eric Weddle (ankle)

MIAMI
OUT: QB Jay Cutler (ribs), G Anthony Steen (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Andre Branch (groin), WR DeVante Parker (ankle), DT Jordan Phillips (ankle), OT Laremy Tunsil (knee)

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With wounded pride, Ravens defense trying to regroup quickly

Posted on 25 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense would like to consider itself a wounded animal.

Desperate, but still dangerous.

And with an offense that wasn’t particularly good to begin with and hopelessly decimated by injuries, this defense needs to do the heavy lifting if the Ravens are to be relevant in the second half of the season. Of course, that kind of consistent performance hasn’t been there with Baltimore ranking a disappointing 18th in total defense and 13th in points allowed per game.

It’s a far cry from the offseason chatter from fans, media, and even some players suggesting this would be a special defense that could ultimately rival the finest units in franchise history.

“We still can be historic. We still can be magical,” said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was a member of some of those great defenses of yesteryear. “So, [forget] hype — you know what I’m saying? We know who we are, and we know what we’re about.”

For the better part of two decades, the Ravens have been about stopping the run above anything else, making their 32nd-ranked rush defense entering Week 8 all the more shocking. They’re allowing 145.3 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry, marks that would easily shatter team records for futility.

A year ago, Baltimore carried the best run defense in the NFL into Week 15 before some late-season struggles dropped the unit to fifth. That defense allowed only four runs of 20 or more yards all season, but this year’s Ravens have already relinquished seven rushes greater than 20 yards, including two in last Sunday’s 24-16 loss to Minnesota. The current group has forfeited 160 or more yards on the ground in four of the last five games after giving up that many in a contest only once in 2016.

No matter how pitiful the other side of the ball has been, it’s an embarrassing development for a franchise that hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in yards per carry allowed since its inaugural season in 1996.

“It’s a yucky taste in our mouth right now,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “All hands are on deck right now. All 11 guys, back end and the front seven, we’re going to iron this thing out. It’s a long season. We’re halfway there, and we’ve got a lot of great football to play still.”

Players and coaches — at least openly — have struggled to pinpoint the root of the problems stopping the run while the pass defense has quietly been a strength after being the Achilles heel of that side of the ball for years.

Most would still point to the four-game absence of standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams as the biggest reason for the struggles of the run defense, but the Ravens gave up 5.6 yards per carry — their second-worst mark of the year — with him returning to action against the Vikings in Week 7. The season-ending injury to 5-technique defensive end Brent Urban hasn’t helped, but he entered 2017 with all of 372 career defensive snaps under his belt and the Ravens had drafted 5-technique players — Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley — in the third round in each of the last two drafts.

Outside linebackers haven’t consistently set the edge, but tackling at every level of the defense has also been suspect. Regarded by many as the defense’s biggest strength entering the season, high-priced safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson have each missed a critical tackle in Baltimore’s last two losses.

Long runs have come against sub packages sporting a lighter front and against the base defense with more bulk at the line of scrimmage.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has echoed the need to stop giving up big plays that are wiping away otherwise-respectable work, but those continue to happen for one reason or another.

“We’re struggling a little bit right now. I think we are pressing a little bit,” Pees said. “We have to get back to just letting it go and playing football and playing defense. I think we’re all pressing — me included — sometimes. That is usually not a good thing.”

If a turnaround is in the cards, you’d think it has to start Thursday against Miami, who owns the league’s last-ranked offense and is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. One could argue backup quarterback Matt Moore gives the Dolphins a better chance to win than Jay Cutler, but head coach Adam Gase will still want to limit his opportunities to make mistakes against a pass defense tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions.

With the Ravens looking completely inept on offense and with little visible hope for marked improvement there, opponents would be foolish to not try to grind out yards on the ground and diminish the chances of turning the ball over. That’s what has made the last few weeks so maddening with Baltimore clearly knowing what the opposing offense is going to do and still not being able to shut down the run.

If this wounded defense is ever going to fight back, facing one of the worst offenses in the NFL at home on a short week seems like the logical time to start.

“You want to be good. You want to dominate everywhere, every facet of the game,” Suggs said. “Now, we’ve just got to tighten the screws a little bit. We just have to stop the leakage. But like I said, we’re not hitting the panic button just yet. We’re going to be alright.”

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Four wide receivers still listed on Ravens injury report

Posted on 24 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Two days before an important AFC meeting with Miami, the Ravens remained banged up at the wide receiver position.

Despite practicing on a limited basis, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman remain in the concussion protocol and are uncertain to be available against the Dolphins. Perriman hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion on Oct. 15 while Wallace was injured during the second offensive series of the game in Minnesota on Sunday.

Veteran Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) is also practicing on a limited basis, but he’s been at the same participation level before sitting out the last two games, leaving Baltimore without a reliable possession receiver. It’s been a difficult balancing act trying to keep Maclin ready to play while also making sure his understudies receive enough work if their names are called instead as has been the case the past two weeks.

“A guy like Jeremy, we’re not really sure about him until game time,” quarterback Joe Flacco said Monday. “We have got a lot of work in practice with him, so that can hurt you in terms of reps for other guys and just getting comfortable with all that. But it’s all part of the game.”

Michael Campanaro (shoulder) remained absent during Tuesday’s walk-through practice, leaving Chris Moore, Chris Matthews, and the recently-signed Griff Whalen as the only wide receivers not listed on the injury report. Matthews missed last Sunday’s game with a thigh injury and was not on the field during the media viewing portion of Tuesday’s workout, but he is not listed on this week’s injury report.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee), tight ends Benjamin Watson (knee) and Maxx Williams (ankle), and running back Terrance West (calf) were also non-participants on Tuesday. It doesn’t appear that Suggs’ status for Thursday is in real jeopardy at this point since he talked to reporters at his locker after practice.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), defensive back Anthony Levine (back), and outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) all practiced on a limited basis after sitting out Monday.

The Dolphins are in much better shape from a health standpoint as quarterback Jay Cutler (ribs) and left guard Anthony Steen (foot) were the only players on their 53-man roster not to practice on Tuesday. Wide receiver DeVante Parker (ankle) and left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) were limited participants in their return to the field.

Below is Tuesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), LB Terrell Suggs (knee), TE Benjamin Watson (knee), RB Terrance West (calf), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Tony Jefferson (ankle), DB Anthony Levine (back), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), LB Patrick Onwausor (knee), WR Breshad Perriman (concussion), G Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), WR Mike Wallace (concussion), S Eric Weddle (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)

MIAMI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Jay Cutler (ribs), G Anthony Steen (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Andre Branch (groin), WR DeVante Parker (ankle), DT Jordan Phillips (ankle), OT Laremy Tunsil (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Jay Ajayi (knee/elbow), DE Terrence Fede (shoulder), CB Xavien Howard (shoulder), OT Ja’Wuan James (hand), C Mike Pouncey (knee/hip), TE Julius Thomas (knee)

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