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Yanda, Tucker, two other Ravens named to Pro Bowl

Posted on 20 December 2016 by Luke Jones

Ravens guard Marshal Yanda continues to cement his legacy as one of the top players in franchise history after being named to his sixth straight Pro Bowl on Tuesday.

Kicker Justin Tucker and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley join him as second-time selections and fullback Kyle Juszczyk was named to the first Pro Bowl of his career. This marks the 11th straight year that the Ravens have had at least four players invited to the Pro Bowl.

Four other Baltimore players were named as second alternates for the 2017 Pro Bowl being played in Orlando on Jan. 29.

Despite dealing with a left shoulder injury that forced him to move from his usual right guard spot to left guard, Yanda has continued to play at a high level with Pro Football Focus grading him as the top guard in the NFL. The 32-year-old is now the fifth player to be named to six Pro Bowls with the Ravens, joining Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs.

The shoulder injury sustained on Oct. 9 sidelined him for three of the next four games, but the 2007 third-round pick avoided season-ending surgery by switching to the other side to better protect his damaged shoulder beginning in Week 11. His streak of six consecutive Pro Bowl selections is the second longest among NFL offensive linemen behind only Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas’ 10 straight.

“I want to thank my teammates and coaches for all the hard work we put in together,” Yanda said in a statement released by the Ravens. “Football is the ultimate team sport, and simply put, you don’t do anything in this league on your own.”

Tucker is in the midst of the best season of his career with his only missed field goal coming on a block in the Week 14 loss to New England. He is now 33-for-34 on the season and has made all 10 of his tries from 50 yards and beyond, which ties an NFL record.

Signed to a four-year, $16.8 million contract that included a record $10.8 million guaranteed for a kicker this summer, Tucker is the most accurate kicker in league history among those with at least 100 career attempts. The former undrafted free agent earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2013.

Juszczyk, a 2013 fourth-round pick, has played more snaps than any fullback in the NFL and has caught 33 passes for 255 yards this season. The Ravens have used him extensively as a pass blocker in single-back sets to better protect quarterback Joe Flacco in the pocket.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by my peers, coaches and fans as the AFC representative at fullback,” Juszczyk stated. “So much credit goes to the talented backs running behind me, the dominant offensive line in front of me, and a skillful quarterback throwing me the ball.”

Mosley’s selection was arguably the biggest surprise of the four as he ranks just third on the team in tackles (72) entering Week 16. However, the 2014 first-round pick ranks second on the Ravens with three interceptions and has graded out as the seventh-best linebacker — not including edge defenders — in the NFL, according to PFF.

Two years ago, Mosley became the first Ravens player to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Safety Eric Weddle, nose tackle Brandon Williams, tight end Dennis Pitta, and Suggs were all named second alternates to the AFC squad.

All four had arguments for inclusion, but Weddle was regarded by many as a lock as he is PFF’s top-graded overall safety this season. The AFC starting safeties are New England’s Devin McCourty and Eric Berry of Kansas City with Oakland’s Reggie Nelson serving as a reserve.

Former Ravens left guard Kelechi Osemele was named to his first Pro Bowl. He was one of a league-best seven Oakland Raiders to be selected.

The 2017 Pro Bowl will return to the traditional AFC-NFC matchup after three years of using a non-conference format.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 15 win over Philadelphia

Posted on 20 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens surviving in a 27-26 win over Philadelphia on Sunday to remain one game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t believe hangovers and letdowns in sports are as common as we think, but the Ravens had a difficult time moving past their performance against New England. Perhaps that partially explains why the offense showed such late recklessness and the defense reacted slowly to being punched in the mouth.

2. After losing touches to Kenneth Dixon in recent weeks, Terrance West made a statement with 122 yards from scrimmage, his highest total since Week 6. The Baltimore native’s career was a mess a year ago, but he’s done a fine job reestablishing himself as a legitimate NFL running back.

3. Praised by some recently as being better than the 2000 Ravens, the run defense gave up a season-worst 169 rushing yards to the Eagles and has allowed 3.9 yards per carry over the last five games. Philadelphia did a great job getting to the second level running the zone stretch.

4. Despite this hardly being his best campaign, Joe Flacco is 212 yards away from his first 4,000-yard season. The problem is he’s also on pace to shatter his career high for passing attempts (614 in 2013) and is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, the second-lowest mark of his career.

5. Justin Tucker improved to a remarkable 10-for-10 on field goals from 50 yards and beyond for the season. That’s more than he’d made in his last two years combined. No one can accuse him of resting on his laurels after a big payday.

6. Barring an unforeseen spike in offensive production leading to a deep playoff run, I don’t see how the Ravens can stick with Marty Mornhinweg as their offensive coordinator in 2017. The spark for which they were looking when John Harbaugh fired Marc Trestman never materialized.

7. The Ravens rushed for a season-high 151 yards against the Eagles, but they’ve gained more than 3.8 yards per carry in an away game just once this year. As Terrell Suggs likes to say, you need to pack your defense and your running game to win on the road.

8. Speaking of Suggs, I couldn’t help but wonder which Ravens veterans we were possibly seeing for the final time at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. Because of age or contract status, Suggs, Steve Smith, Elvis Dumervil, Dennis Pitta, and Lardarius Webb are among the fair question marks.

9. His four-game absence in October put a damper on his rookie season, but Ronnie Stanley is playing more and more like the sixth overall pick that the Ravens envisioned this spring. It probably hasn’t hurt having five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda playing next to him, either.

10. Shareece Wright showed in the second half of last season that he’s capable of playing at an acceptable level as a starting cornerback. The Ravens can only hope his solid — albeit mostly untested — performance against the Eagles puts him in the right frame of mind for Pittsburgh.

11. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have gone at least 6-2 at home in all but one season. The problem is a 10-20 regular-season road record since Super Bowl XLVII. They’ll need to win their first road games in three months over these next two weeks.

12. I’m late with this prediction, but my Ravens picks for this year’s Pro Bowl would be Tucker, Yanda, safety Eric Weddle, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

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Jimmy Smith absent as Ravens begin preparing for Philadelphia

Posted on 14 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens began preparations for their Week 15 contest against Philadelphia without their top cornerback on the practice field.

Jimmy Smith was not present for Baltimore’s Wednesday walk-through as he recovers from a right ankle sprain suffered in Monday’s loss to New England. The 2011 first-round pick left the game late in the first quarter and did not return, but head coach John Harbaugh has offered no clarity on his status for Sunday’s game or beyond.

“I really don’t want to get into that, to be honest with you,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t really see any purpose to get into that. Thanks for asking.”

Should Smith not be able to play against the Eagles on Sunday, the Ravens would likely turn to Shareece Wright to start opposite rookie Tavon Young. Slot cornerback Jerraud Powers practiced on a limited basis despite leaving Monday’s game with a concussion.

Reserve defensive back Anthony Levine (toe) and linebacker Terrell Suggs were absent from Wednesday’s practice. Suggs received a veteran day off.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring) made his return to practice on a limited basis after missing his sixth straight game. Rookie guard Alex Lewis (ankle) was a full participant after practicing on a limited basis last week. He appears poised to return against Philadelphia after missing four consecutive games.

Third-year wide receiver Michael Campanaro was officially promoted to the 53-man roster on Wednesday and is expected to be in the return specialist mix with veteran safety Lardarius Webb, according to Harbaugh. The Ravens waived four-time Pro Bowl returner Devin Hester on Tuesday.

“That was a little bit of a tough move just because we have so much respect for Devin and the effort he’s put in,” Harbaugh said. “I told him I feel like we didn’t get the job done. We didn’t do enough to make the return game productive enough to make it worthwhile.”

The Eagles were without top receiver Jordan Matthews (ankle) and veteran running back Darren Sproles (concussion) during their Wednesday practice.

The Ravens will wear their black jerseys for their home finale on Sunday. They own a 15-6 all-time record when wearing their alternate tops and are 12-3 under Harbaugh.

Below is the full injury report for Wednesday:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DB Anthony Levine (toe), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), CB Jerraud Powers (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (ankle)

PHILADELPHIA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Allen Barbre (hamstring), WR Jordan Matthews (ankle), RB Darren Sproles (concussion), OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Brandon Brooks (illness), TE Brent Celek (stinger), WR Dorial Green-Beckham (abdomen)

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens can make a statement to a national audience on Monday night.

A 38-6 home thrashing of Miami was their most impressive victory of the season last week, but besting the New England Patriots in Foxborough would emphatically announce their return to the upper tier of contenders in the AFC. A loss wouldn’t cripple their playoff hopes, but it would give Pittsburgh a one-game lead in the AFC North with a Christmas Day showdown looming in less than two weeks.

Baltimore has the upper hand from a health standpoint with not a single defensive player listed on the final injury report and no significant offensive players expected to miss the game. Having already lost All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski to season-ending back surgery last week, the Patriots will be without  wide receiver Danny Amendola (ankle) and listed improving cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring) as questionable to play.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams play for the ninth time in their regular-season history. The Patriots own a 7-1 advantage in the regular season, but the Ravens have won two of their four postseason games played at Gillette Stadium since 2009. Baltimore hasn’t beaten New England since the 2012 AFC Championship.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Patriots running backs will score two touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount is on the verge of his first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2010, but he could be the least of the Ravens’ problems on Monday night. The Ravens sport the best run defense in the NFL and are allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, but James White and Dion Lewis are strong receivers out of the backfield capable of running the entire route tree, which could spell problems for linebackers already trying to slow tight end Martellus Bennett. Baltimore will slow Blount between the tackles, but White and Lewis will be problems underneath.

2. Eric Weddle will collect only the second interception of the year from Tom Brady. You’d never know Brady is 39 years old by watching him play this season, but Baltimore has given him as much trouble as virtually anyone in his impeccable career, picking him off 11 times in 10 career games. Expecting the Ravens to shut down the league’s sixth-ranked offense would be unfair, but forcing a turnover or two to set up the offense on a short field at some point would go a long way in giving them a chance. Their ability to contain Blount early will force Brady to take risks, and Weddle will be waiting.

3. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown as Joe Flacco is forced to work the sidelines. Even if the Ravens are able to match their production from the Miami game, it’s difficult to fathom Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia giving Flacco the same windows in the middle of the field, likely forcing the quarterback to work the sidelines. Dennis Pitta also won’t see the same free releases off the line, prompting Flacco to look to Smith more often on short-to-intermediate throws. A more methodical approach is not what the Ravens prefer, but the 37-year-old receiver will be eager to shine in prime time.

4. Terrell Suggs will collect his ninth sack of the year, but pressure on Brady will be scarce. The ball comes out so quickly that you have to pick your poison in attacking Brady. Suggs continues to play at a high level despite a biceps injury and will best left tackle Nate Solder for a sack, but the Ravens would be wise to use the 6-foot-7 Brent Urban and even the 6-foot-4 Za’Darius Smith as sub-package rushers to try to get hands up in passing lanes. New England’s offensive line is vulnerable inside, but Timmy Jernigan’s play has cooled considerably since a strong start.

5. The Patriots will win the fourth quarter to prevail 26-23 over the Ravens. This will be a close game, but I’m just not convinced that the Baltimore offense is ready to do everything it takes to beat one of the NFL’s best teams on the road after a single great performance at home against a mediocre Miami defense. The Ravens defense will get some stops to keep Flacco and the offense in it, but New England will dictate the tempo in the final period, mixing enough runs into a game plan centered around Brady’s passing to protect a tight lead and run out the clock. This one will be similar to last month’s loss to Dallas, but the offense will show more this time around, which bodes well for the final three games.

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Ravens rookie guard Lewis makes surprise return to practice

Posted on 09 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Rookie guard Alex Lewis made a surprise return to practice as the Ravens moved closer to their Monday night meeting with the New England Patriots.

Sidelined with a right ankle sprain suffered in the Week 10 win over Cleveland on Nov. 10, Lewis was expected to miss at least six weeks of action at the time of the injury. Head coach John Harbaugh even labeled Lewis “a good ways away” when asked about his status this past Monday.

A return for the Patriots game might be too aggressive after a month-long absence, but the better question is where Lewis will fit in for the remainder of the season. Five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has played the last three games on the left side out of necessity because of his bad left shoulder.

Yanda told WNST.net this week that he was all but resigned to needing season-ending surgery last month before Lewis’ injury opened the door for his idea to switch to left guard, a position that is easier on his damaged shoulder.

Despite being a 10-year veteran, Yanda has acknowledged the difficulty in making the in-season transition to the opposite side, making you wonder if they’d move Lewis to right guard in place of veteran Vlad Ducasse. The Ravens could just continue with the same offensive line combination used in last Sunday’s 38-6 blowout win over Miami.

“It’s not as drastic as going from writing with your right hand to going with your left, but it’s very similar in that aspect of it,” Yanda said. “Your feet are flipped, and just the way you set with your feet, it just feels awkward as heck flipping your stance. It takes some time, and I’m still awkward.”

Ducasse has started the last four games at right guard after being re-signed in October. Lewis, a fourth-round pick out of Nebraska, has made five starts at left guard and three at left tackle in his rookie season.

Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (hamstring) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring) remained sidelined on Friday and appear unlikely to play against the Patriots. Linebacker Terrell Suggs and center Jeremy Zuttah were also given a veteran day off.

Below is Friday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

NEW ENGLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder), S Jordan Richards (knee), LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring), CB Eric Rowe (hamstring), WR Matt Slater (foot)

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Pressuring Tannehill hidden key for Ravens against Miami

Posted on 01 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The matchup isn’t as imposing, but it’s a familiar one for the Ravens.

Two weeks after facing the best rushing attack in the NFL in a road loss to Dallas, Baltimore welcomes upstart running back Jay Ajayi and Miami to town on Sunday. The Dolphins have won six in a row behind the league’s sixth-ranked run offense and Ajayi’s 5.3 yards per carry, but the Ravens have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL this season.

The Cowboys were the better team in that 27-17 final on Nov. 20, but they needed 30 carries to finish with 118 rushing yards, their third-lowest ground total of the season and fewest since Week 2. In other words, there’s little reason to think Ajayi is going to find a ton of running room against a defense that’s surrendered just 3.4 yards per carry, its best mark since 2009.

“That is Raven football,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You do not want teams to run the ball on you. We take a lot of pride in that. We take a lot of pride in playing defense.”

The biggest key for the Ravens in Sunday’s tilt will likely be their ability to pressure Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is in the midst of arguably his best season and one of the best stretches of his career over the last six weeks. Averaging a career-high 7.82 yards per attempt, Tannehill is completing 66 percent of his passes and has thrown nine touchdowns to just one interception over the last six contests.

The decision by first-year head coach Adam Gase to employ more of a power running attack since Miami’s 1-4 start has led to the emergence of Ajayi as well as a renaissance for Tannehill. Attempting a career-low 29.9 passing attempts per game this season, the 6-foot-4 Texas A&M product has been more efficient and productive than previous seasons.

Tannehill has received Pro Football Focus’ top quarterback grade in two of the last three weeks and has graded as the website’s 10th-best quarterback this season. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees credits Gase for taking pressure off the fifth-year signal-caller and making a more “quarterback-friendly” offense.

“When you’re running the football, you’re setting up the play-action, the quick game, all those kinds of things,” Pees said. “The other thing is you’re not in as many third-and-longs a lot of times as you are if your team is just throwing the ball all the time.

“The guy is a very, very accurate thrower. When he gets out of the pocket and runs with the ball and scrambles with the ball or even on a roll-out or [bootleg], he’s one of the most accurate quarterbacks I’ve seen throwing on the run. He is really, really good.”

Tannehill has especially thrived when working in a clean pocket this season, posting a 115.5 passer rating when not facing pressure. That’s good for fourth in the NFL and just a spot below rookie sensation Dak Prescott of the Cowboys.

Of course, it was Baltimore’s inability to pressure Prescott that led to him throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdown passes in Week 11. The Ravens are tied for 11th in the league with 26 sacks, but their pass rush has been more timely than consistent this season with long stretches of games in which opposing quarterbacks have gone largely untouched.

The Dolphins are hoping to welcome back left tackle Branden Albert and left guard Laremy Tunsil to their starting lineup after missing last week’s game, but Tannehill isn’t afraid to move out of the pocket. And that’s where the Ravens know he can become even more dangerous with the respectable trio of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills catching passes.

“Tannehill’s not making mistakes and is throwing the ball all over the place off the play-action,” safety Eric Weddle said. “He’s getting his feet out and extends plays, which kills the defense. And he’s extending [plays] to throw.”

The expected return of top cornerback Jimmy Smith should help a secondary that’s played remarkably well despite the lack of a consistent pass rush for much of the year. Five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil will also be playing in his second straight game after coming up with the game-saving strip-sack against Cincinnati last week in his first action since early October.

The Ravens figure to be able to contain Ajayi and force the Dolphins into more throws than they’d prefer, but Pees and the defense need to be aggressive against Tannehill and cannot allow him to get comfortable behind his offensive line on Sunday. And that’s where Dumervil and Suggs have spoken openly this week about needing a raucous crowd at M&T Bank Stadium to make life even more difficult for the Miami quarterback.

The Ravens believe the loud closing minutes of Sunday’s game against Cincinnati helped lead to four batted passes and the strip-sack to preserve the victory. They want more noise against the Dolphins.

“It limits the checks. It eliminates a lot of the things the quarterback can do at the line of scrimmage,” Dumervil said. “That’s what happened toward the last series. They had to go with the plays. Once the guys on defense are locked and ready, we’re all moving at the same ball. That’s when we feel the crowd advantage. We need that 12th man stronger than ever this week.”

The Ravens need their pass rush to be right there with the fans in a game they need to win.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 29 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens topping Cincinnati in a 19-14 final on Sunday to remain tied for first place in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t know what else there is to say about the excellence of Justin Tucker, but I sure hope he receives an opportunity one of these days to attempt a 65-yard field goal to set the NFL record. And then gets another chance to kick an even longer one.

2. The Ravens have more field goals (27) than anyone in the NFL, but they rank ahead of only Houston and Los Angeles with 19 touchdowns. That combination has earned them a 6-5 record, but it’s not a formula that will work against upper-tier teams.

3. Coming off his second Achilles injury in a four-year period and currently playing with a torn biceps, Terrell Suggs played a season-high 61 snaps and had two strip-sacks. Though not the consistent force he was in his prime, he’s earned even more respect as a player this season.

4. Don’t forget that Sam Koch’s safety went down as a run for minus-23 yards in the final statistics. Otherwise, the Baltimore running game gained 115 yards on 29 carries, a respectable average of just under 4.0 yards per attempt compared to the official 3.1 mark.

5. It’s difficult to recall a defensive line batting down four passes on a single drive, let alone doing it on the final series of a one-score game. It was a brilliant way to offset an inconsistent pass rush for much of the afternoon.

6. Nothing illustrated the up-and-down nature of the offense more than its third-down conversion rate against the Bengals. After going a strong 5-for-10 in a 16-point first half, the Ravens were 0-for-6 after intermission. Baltimore ranks last in the NFL with a 33.3 percent conversion rate on the season.

7. The decision to call an end-around hand-off to Mike Wallace on the final drive was questionable at best, but I applaud any extra attempts to get him the football otherwise. His explosive speed needs to be utilized as much as possible.

8. It came down to the numbers game with Elvis Dumervil returning, but Za’Darius Smith being a healthy inactive illustrates how much finding an edge pass rusher remains a priority this offseason. Rookie Matt Judon flashes potential, but Smith’s second season has been a disappointment.

9. Kamar Aiken caught a pass to move the chains on a key third down on each of the first two scoring drives and wasn’t targeted again after that. No one expected him to be Baltimore’s leading receiver again this season, but he shouldn’t have fewer receptions than Kyle Juszczyk.

10. I’m still surprised how reluctant some have been to embrace this defense. It may lack much star power, but this has been a top 5 unit all year. If your standard is the 2000 Ravens or you’re waiting for the next Ray Lewis to appear, you’ll never be satisfied.

11. Many are clamoring for the Ravens to use the no-huddle offense even more, but it bogged down after a fast start against Cincinnati. This group hasn’t shown the kind of precision or communication required to run it exclusively, but it can still be used plenty.

12. Coaches always receive criticism when teams lose, but John Harbaugh deserves praise for the way he handled the game-ending safety. He said all teams have that strategy in their special-teams playbook, but I highly doubt that.

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Ravens take care of business using same flawed formula

Posted on 28 November 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens did what they needed to do to snap their five-game losing streak against Cincinnati.

No matter how depleted the current Bengals might be, you don’t take a victory for granted when you haven’t beaten the division rival in over three years and you need to win. The 19-14 final drew Baltimore even with Pittsburgh for first place with the calendar turning to December this week.

The Ravens couldn’t ask to be in better position, especially when you recall where they were a month ago.

But several offensive starters lamented the inability to build off a fast start that included a Joe Flacco 14-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman and a field goal on their first two drives of the game. Leading 16-3 at halftime, the Ravens went 0-for-6 on third down and managed only one field goal the rest of the way, which gave the Bengals a chance to tie the game before Elvis Dumervil’s strip-sack and Lawrence Guy’s recovery with just over a minute remaining.

Yet again, a good defensive performance and a perfect Justin Tucker played the leading roles in the win while the offense spun its wheels after some early success.

“I’m confident in my ability to play games like this and win down the stretch and do the right thing with the football,” said Flacco, who was a relatively efficient 25 of 36 for 234 yards and an interception to go with the opening-drive score. “But in order for us to take that next step and be the kind of team that we want to be and be a championship football team, we’re not going to survive week in and week out doing things like this. We’ve got to keep the foot on the gas and learn how to put teams away.”

The ninth-year quarterback offered the same sentiment after the Week 3 win in Jacksonville two months ago. Fortunately, the offense has recovered from its miserable — and injury-plagued — October, but Flacco’s words reflect the lack of overall improvement from the opening month of the season until now.

The Ravens have scored just 19 touchdowns this season, ranking 31st of 32 teams in the NFL. The offense certainly deserves credit for the work required to put Justin Tucker in position to go a league-best 27-for-27 on field goal tries, but 18 were from 40 yards or longer, meaning the Ravens haven’t exactly been all that close to the end zone on most of those drives.

Baltimore has managed more than one offensive touchdown in just five of 11 games and has scored fewer than 20 points six times. The Ravens have scored 25 or more in just three games with two coming against winless Cleveland.

It’s scary to think where they might be without Tucker, who is rapidly cementing himself as the league’s best kicker and is an impressive 7-for-7 from 50 yards and beyond after converting three from that range in the first half on Sunday. He’s been to the Ravens what All-Star closer Zach Britton was to the Orioles this past season, the difference in making them a playoff contender despite other flaws.

For now, the offense can only continue working to improve, pointing to the recent stabilization of the offensive line and the steady emergence of rookie running back Kenneth Dixon as reasons for optimism.

“I know that we’re getting better on offense,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think we’re doing a good job, but we’re striving for more than that. Our guys are going to tell you, we want to put a lot more points up than that. That’s what we’re working towards.”

The most encouraging development from Sunday’s game may have come on the opposite side of the ball with the return of Dumervil, who was rusty in his first action in seven weeks until the final defensive play when he blew past Bengals right tackle Eric Winston to strip quarterback Andy Dalton of the football inside the red zone. The turnover sealed the victory for the Ravens defense, who buckled but didn’t break against a Cincinnati offense lacking its best player in wide receiver A.J. Green.

The Ravens need top cornerback Jimmy Smith to return from a back injury that’s sidelined him for the last two games, but a healthy Dumervil could work wonders for an edge pass rush that’s relied heavily on fellow veteran Terrell Suggs, who collected two strip-sacks of his own on Sunday. It was just the third game of the season for Dumervil, who’s dealt with a frustrating rehab from offseason foot surgery.

“You get a guy and add that to the defense that we already have, it just opens up the possibilities of being even better than what we are right now,” safety Eric Weddle said. “It was huge. He practiced outstanding the last two weeks. We knew it was going to give us a boost, and adding him across from [Suggs] and our other rushers and [to] our game plans, we’re going to be a tough team to stop.”

The Ravens keep hoping for their offense to improve, but maybe the current formula can be enough. After all, it’s earned them a 6-5 mark to this point, which is good enough for a first-place tie with a Steelers team sporting a very good offense but a below-average defense.

Baltimore plays two of the next three at home against Miami and Philadelphia, who are formidable teams but hardly juggernauts. The surprising Dolphins have won six straight, but the last five have been by a single possession and they rely heavily on their running game, a favorable matchup for the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

Whether the Ravens will find enough wins over the final five games to make the playoffs remains to be seen, but Sunday was another reminder that it will probably look the way it has all season — a good defense, a frustrating and below-average offense, and the best kicker in football.

“If it ain’t tough, it ain’t the Raven way,” Suggs said. “I really wish we could have got off the field instead of scaring everybody and having Elvis make a fantastic play. But that’s the Raven way. It ain’t pretty, but we’ll take it.”

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J. Smith, Jernigan absent from Thursday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 17 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Moving closer to their big Week 11 encounter with the Dallas Cowboys, the Ravens were without seven players during Thursday’s practice session.

Headlining the list was No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, who missed his second straight workout with a back issue. Head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the ailment on Wednesday and expressed confidence that Smith would be able to play on Sunday.

Harbaugh also said that he expected Smith to practice this week, making his status for Friday’s workout worth monitoring. Assuming he is able to play, the sixth-year defensive back will likely be trusted to match up with two-time Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (shoulder) was a new absences on Thursday after not being listed on the injury report a day earlier.

Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh), and left guard Alex Lewis (ankle) were also missing from Thursday’s practice. Taliaferro was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday, making it likely that he suffered the injury during practice.

The Ravens also gave linebacker Terrell Suggs and center Jeremy Zuttah the day off. Zuttah played through a mild ankle sprain in last week’s win over Cleveland while it’s no secret that Suggs is playing with a torn left biceps.

For the second straight day, right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) were present and working as full participants. Dumervil wouldn’t confirm Thursday whether he would play against Dallas, but he believes he’s “really close” to being his old self from a physical standpoint after being shut down just over five weeks ago.

“Just the strength [is better],” said Dumervil, who has appeared in only two games this year after undergoing offseason foot surgery. “I think last time, as a competitor, as a winner, you just want to go out [and play]. Sometimes it is good to listen, and I learned that.”

Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith (back/hip) returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out on Wednesday.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder), G Alex Lewis (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (back), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Kamalei Correa (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), CB Shareece Wright (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

DALLAS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Barry Church (forearm), CB Morris Claiborne (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Chaz Green (foot/back), DE DeMarcus Lawrence (back), OT Tyron Smith (back/hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Tony Romo (back)

 

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Ravens, Cowboys looking to reign supreme in running game

Posted on 16 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Something has to give between the Ravens and the Cowboys on Sunday.

It’s the No. 1 run defense against the top rushing attack in the NFL.

The Cowboys have run for more than 100 yards in every game this season while Baltimore has allowed more than 65 rushing yards in a game just twice. It’s the kind of game outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has relished throughout his 14-year career while playing on some of the better defenses in franchise history.

These Ravens are out to prove they belong in that conversation.

“You want to play against the best,” Suggs said. “When you were 10 years old, you were like, ‘I want to go play in the NFL. I want to be considered one of the best players in the NFL.’ To be the best, you have to play the best. It is a challenge for our defense, but we accept it.”

No one anticipated this kind of success for the Cowboys, who have been led by two rookies on their way to an 8-1 start. Fourth-round quarterback Dak Prescott has taken the league by storm after replacing an injured Tony Romo in the preseason, but first-round running back Ezekiel Elliott has proven why he was the first running back selected in the top five overall picks of the draft in four years.

Leading the NFL with 1,0005 rushing yards and ranking fourth among qualified players in yards per carry (5.1), Elliott would have garnered much consideration from the Ravens had he fallen to the sixth overall pick, according to head coach John Harbaugh. The Ohio State product has emerged as a league MVP candidate with a combination of rare explosiveness and mature vision.

“I think he already had that. I don’t think they had to teach it to him,” Harbaugh said. “That’s why they drafted him where he was. He’s a special guy. The offensive line [also] deserves a lot of credit for the success they’re having.”

Though Elliott is a unique talent, the Dallas offensive line is the primary reason why he has a legitimate chance to break the rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards set by Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson in 1983. Comprised of three former first-round picks, the Cowboys unit is the highest graded in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

Elliott has gained a whopping 439 rushing yards before contact, illustrating how much his offensive line has aided in his instant stardom. In contrast, the Ravens have run for a total of just 773 yards in 2016.

The Cowboys have played their share of shoddy run defenses — a list including San Francisco, Washington, Cincinnati, and Cleveland — but they largely had their way with top 10 run defenses in Green Bay, Chicago, and the New York Giants as well. In fact, the Packers entered Week 6 as the No. 1 run defense in the league and proceeded to give up 191 yards on 33 rushing attempts in a 30-16 home loss to Dallas.

“I definitely think they’re the most athletic,” said defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan about the Cowboys offensive line. “They can go from sideline to sideline, make the cut, blocks on the backside and those different things. It’s going to be a challenge for us. But at the same time, I don’t think they’ve seen a front like ours, either.

“It’s going to be on, and we’re going to be ready for the challenge.”

As impressive as the Dallas ground game has been, the Ravens’ run defense may own a more eye-popping résumé.

Consider that Baltimore has allowed a league-low 3.3 yards per carry while also giving up the longest run of the entire NFL season when Cleveland’s Isaiah Crowell ran for an 85-yard touchdown in Week 2. That blemish can’t be erased, of course, but the Ravens have surrendered just under 2.9 yards per carry in opponents’ other 193 rushing attempts this season.

Baltimore has given up just two other runs of 20 or more yards this season while facing five teams — Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland, Washington, and the New York Jets — currently ranking in the top 10 in yards per carry. Of the two occasions the Ravens have surrendered more than 65 rushing yards, one was the game in which Crowell recorded his league-long run and the other was against the Jets in Week 7 when Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley — two of the Ravens’ best run defenders — were out with injuries.

This stingy run defense falls well short of the 2000 Ravens who allowed a microscopic 2.68 rushing yards per carry in a historic season, but an imposing front seven led by nose tackle Brandon Williams, Mosley, and Suggs has its chance to make its biggest statement of the year by slowing Elliott and the red-hot Cowboys. That will be Baltimore’s best chance in trying to pull off the upset on Sunday.

Something will have to give.

“It’s what, nine games in? We’ve stopped the run, but are we going to slip up now and not be able to stop the run?” Harbaugh said. “You have to play every game the next week like it’s the most important game of the season. Our guys understand that. Our guys are going to get ready to play.”

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