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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:

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

BUFFALO
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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Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Detroit

Posted on 28 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down the preseason with a 30-9 win over Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Solid in his preseason debut, Joe Flacco got rid of the ball quickly, which did disrupt the timing on a few throws. Such a strategy was hardly surprising in his first game back from a major knee injury, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this going into the season.

2. In 10 plays, Terrell Suggs registered two tackles and the Baltimore defense just had a different look and feel with him on the field. I’m not sure if that says more about the 33-year-old linebacker or the rest of the defensive personnel at this point.

3. He may not be ready for an every-down role, but rookie Matt Judon reinforced why he’s deserving of being a situational pass rusher in sub packages. He did impressive work against starting right tackle Riley Reiff and collected a sack, five tackles, and a pass defense.

4. Considered a threat to win the starting job entering the summer, Buck Allen was the last of the Ravens’ top four running backs to receive action and ran for just 15 yards on eight carries. Averaging only 1.9 yards per carry this preseason, he hasn’t impressed running between the tackles.

5. Injuries at safety gave Terrence Brooks the chance to go the distance on Saturday, but he dropped an easy interception and missed a couple tackles leading to big gains. He still hasn’t been able to put it all together despite looking the part on paper.

6. We’re now three games into the preseason and there are no signs that rookie Ronnie Stanley can’t handle protecting Flacco’s blindside after he more than held his own against Pro Bowl defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. It wasn’t a sexy pick, but Stanley is already looking like a gem.

7. A year ago at this time, Carl Davis looked like the early star of the 2015 draft class, but he continues to have a quiet preseason and failed to register a statistic in 18 snaps. His performance is especially concerning after he hit the rookie wall last year.

8. With the season-ending injury to Benjamin Watson, the coaching staff has to be watching Darren Waller and wishing he hadn’t drawn himself a four-game suspension. Other than a drop that led to an interception in the preseason opener, he’s flashed appealing upside at his new position.

9. Remembering his special-teams prowess, I never thought Anthony Levine was in real danger of not making the roster, but he added an interception and a sack on Saturday to go along with his late-game heroics in Indianapolis. Seeing him work as a dime back will be interesting.

10. The Ravens were wise not to risk playing Lardarius Webb due to back tightness since he’s had his healthiest summer in a few years. If he’s right physically, his tackling ability cannot be overlooked at the safety position and the Ravens can move him around a bit.

11. You couldn’t ask for more from Jeremy Butler in his quest to earn a roster spot, but it was interesting to note that he only participated in two plays on special teams. If he’s going to be active on game days, he’ll need to be a part of those units.

12. It was hardly surprising, but seeing Haloti Ngata recognized in the second half of Saturday’s game was still a special moment. Despite an unceremonious departure after nine years in Baltimore, the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and future Ring of Honor member deserved a big ovation.

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Depth being tested for Ravens before season even begins

Posted on 28 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The returns of Joe Flacco and Terrell Suggs and a 30-9 win over Detroit should have made Saturday a great night for the Ravens.

Instead, they were left with the familiar sting from the injury bug that bit them too many times in 2015.

Nothing really compares to the losses of a franchise quarterback and one of the top defensive players in franchise history — who both looked good in their first live-game action since last season — but injuries to veteran tight end Benjamin Watson and rookie running back Kenneth Dixon soiled what should have been a good feeling for the Ravens in the final real tuneup before the start of the 2016 season. Fortunately, the injuries come at positions where Baltimore has good depth, but you hate to lose play-making depth and potential before the season even kicks off, especially when coming off a 5-11 season in which there was a shortage of difference-makers on either side of the ball.

Watson suffered the more catastrophic injury as he suffered a torn right Achilles tendon on the first offensive play of the night, ending his first season with the Ravens before it even began. No one realistically expected him to duplicate his career season from a year ago in which he caught 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns, but the Ravens thought Watson would bring veteran leadership and dependability to the position after he had missed a total of four games in his last seven seasons.

“He’s been a great teammate and was really developing into a weapon for us,” said Flacco, who’s often leaned on tight ends in the passing game throughout his career. “I was really excited about getting to play with him this year. That’s going to be really tough on us.”

Without Watson, a once-deep tight end group looks more uncertain with Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, and Dennis Pitta all having struggled to stay on the field to varying degrees and second-year options Darren Waller and Nick Boyle facing suspensions to begin the regular season. With Williams and Pitta currently sidelined, you wonder if converted wide receiver and former practice-squad member Daniel Brown will now find his way onto the 53-man roster to begin the year.

Fortunately, head coach John Harbaugh said Dixon’s left knee injury does not look “overly serious,” but that doesn’t mean the 2016 fourth-round pick won’t miss some valuable time. It certainly didn’t look good when ex-Raven and Detroit defensive tackle Haloti Ngata buckled Dixon’s left knee making a tackle at the 1-yard line late in the first half, but a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Sunday will hopefully confirm the optimism expressed by the Ravens after the game.

Terrance West has received much of the attention for his improvement this summer, but the rookie Dixon looks like the running back most capable of hitting a home run whenever he touches the ball, a trait the Ravens have consistently lacked in the backfield since Ray Rice was in his prime. Dixon was the first young back to see action behind veteran starter Justin Forsett on Saturday, gaining 41 yards on six carries and catching one pass for nine yards before leaving the game just before halftime.

Dixon leads all Ravens running backs with 107 yards on 22 carries in the preseason and has displayed a different level of explosiveness from West, Forsett, or Buck Allen and shows surprising physicality for a 5-foot-10, 212-pound back, making his injury all the more disappointing for a team needing to get off to a fast start in 2016.

“It hurts seeing him go down because he’s in our room every day,” said West, who also had a good night with 43 rushing yards on seven carries against the Lions. “Everybody wants to play, but at the same time we care about each other. To see him go down, it hurts all of us.”

To be clear, these injuries won’t ruin the season as there are other options at each position to help pick up the slack.

But on a night when the Ravens were celebrating the much-anticipated returns of Flacco and Suggs, things just got more difficult again.

And, deep down, Harbaugh probably couldn’t help but think, “Here we go again.”

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Ravens lose veteran tight end Watson for season

Posted on 27 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same night the Ravens officially welcomed back Terrell Suggs from an Achilles tear suffered almost a year ago, they lost another veteran to the same injury.

Tight end Benjamin Watson sustained a torn right Achilles tendon on the first offensive play of Saturday’s preseason game against the Detroit Lions and will miss the rest of the season. The 35-year-old went down immediately as the passing play began and had to be helped off the field and to the locker room.

The Ravens lost both Suggs and wide receiver Steve Smith to Achilles injuries last season.

“It’s a horrible feeling,” said Suggs, who saw his first live-game action since tearing his left Achilles on Sept. 13, 2015. “When you work hard all offseason and you prepare to have a really good year, to lose it on an injury — especially an injury like that — it’s heartbreaking. But it’s not the end of the world, and you just start with the next day.”

Signed to a two-year, $7 million contract in March, Watson was expected to be Baltimore’s starting tight end after a career year with New Orleans in 2015. He has caught 434 passes for 4,963 yards and 38 touchdowns in his 13-year career.

Tight end was expected to be a position of strength for the Ravens this season, but veteran Dennis Pitta and 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams have missed extensive time with injuries this preseason and Darren Waller and Nick Boyle are both suspended to begin the regular season. Watson’s injury moves third-year tight end Crockett Gillmore to the top of the current depth chart, but injuries have hampered him at various times in his brief career.

Converted wide receiver Daniel Brown will now become more of a player of interest with final cuts only a week away and Pitta and Williams missing Saturday’s game due to injury.

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Ravens-Lions preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 26 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Our longest look at Ravens starters in the preseason will be our only look at some in Saturday’s game against Detroit on Saturday night.

The much-awaited return of starting quarterback Joe Flacco will be the dominating story in the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, but head coach John Harbaugh would like to see a good showing from his starting units that likely will still be without the likes of Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, and Elvis Dumervil. For a team that did more minor tweaking than overhauling after a 5-11 season, many questions remains.

“Either we’re going to be good or we’re not,” Harbaugh said. “It’s what we do, not what we say. We can talk about it all we want. I have reasons for optimism, and I have reasons for pessimism. It’s just going to matter how well we coach, how well we play.

“You have to do your part. Your part is to get better. Your part is not to stay the same. If you stay the same, you’re getting worse. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. You never stay the same. Your goal has to be to come out here and get better, and it’s hard to do.”

Most starters are expected to play the entire first half before giving way to younger players and fringe veterans fighting for roster spots. It will be a good opportunity for Flacco to get his first live-game reps with veteran newcomers Benjamin Watson and Mike Wallace, who have played very little in the preseason and have yet to register as much as a catch between them.

The Ravens will see a number of old friends across the field on Saturday night. Not only will five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata be making his return to M&T Bank Stadium, but fellow Super Bowl XLVII champions Anquan Boldin and Josh Bynes and former assistant coaches Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin will be on the opposing side.

Flacco was asked whether he’d ask the 345-pound Ngata before the game to take care of him should the two meet in the pocket during Saturday’s game.

“I don’t think so,” said the 31-year-old quarterback as he laughed. “It will be interesting to see him. I’m used to seeing him over there [on defense during practices], but it will be interesting seeing him in some other colors for sure.”

Saturday marks the fourth time that these teams have met in the preseason with the Ravens holding a 2-1 edge to go with their 3-1 advantage in all-time regular-season meetings. Baltimore has built a 22-12 record in preseason games during the Harbaugh era.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Saturday night’s game against Detroit.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not consider any veteran players who could be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: WR Steve Smith (Achilles), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (finger/hip), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), S Matt Elam (knee), DE Bronson Kaufusi (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), LB Za’Darius Smith (ankle), CB Kyle Arrington (head), S Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed), TE Maxx Williams (undisclosed), G John Urschel (contusion)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles), DT Brandon Williams (undisclosed), WR Chris Matthews (soft tissue injury), CB Maurice Canady (hamstring), TE Darren Waller (jaw), CB Jerraud Powers (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Saturday night

LB Matt Judon

With other edge defenders expected to be sidelined against the Lions, the rookie fifth-round pick has a great opportunity to etch out a role as a rotational pass rusher if he can build on what he’s done in the first two preseason games against tougher competition on Saturday. Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have spoken highly of Judon’s combination of size and quickness, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against first-team blockers. The Ravens need someone to emerge as an impact pass rusher behind Suggs and Dumervil, and Judon has propelled himself into that conversation.

RB Buck Allen

The second-year back had a 19-yard touchdown reception in the preseason opener, but he’s carried the ball 10 times for only 20 yards and has no other receiving yards beyond that score. Allen has clear ability as a receiver out of the backfield, but you’d like to see him show more as a runner between the tackles after he averaged an unspectacular 3.8 yards per carry as a rookie. With Terrance West showing improvement as a rusher and rookie Kenneth Dixon looking like a potential change-of-pace back, the 2015 fourth-round pick is still waiting to make a statement of his own this summer.

CB Will Davis

While Shareece Wright and Jerraud Powers have struggled in the preseason, Davis is trending upward as he has looked healthier and quicker since struggling early in camp. The Ravens knew he had the ability to play on the outside, but he held up surprisingly well playing some slot cornerback against Indianapolis, which is something worth monitoring moving forward. The organization obviously thought enough of Davis to send a seventh-round pick to Miami last year, so it will be interesting to see if the 2013 third-round pick will climb the depth chart as he moves further away from knee surgery.

G Vlad Ducasse

The seventh-year veteran isn’t a lock to make the team, but the other options in the competition at left guard lack experience while he’s started 22 games over his career. His performance against the Colts wasn’t quite as stellar as it was against Carolina, but Ducasse figures to improve his chances with a strong showing against the Lions while third-year guard John Urschel is expected to be sidelined again. The Ravens don’t have great depth at tackle, but Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis have the ability to play outside, meaning a guard like Ducasse could receive the nod over a reserve tackle like De’Ondre Wesley.

CB Tavon Young

A hamstring injury sustained in the preseason opener slowed a fast start to his first training camp, but Young figures to have a chance to show what he can do at the nickel spot while veterans such as Powers and Kyle Arrington are likely to be sidelined against the Lions. Despite only being 5-foot-9, Young has shown a nose for the football and impressive confidence for a rookie cornerback. At the very least, the Ravens are looking for him to be a major contributor on kickoff and punt coverage units and potentially as a kick returner, which remains an unsettled position on this current roster.

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Za’Darius Smith, Steve Smith not expected to play for Ravens on Saturday

Posted on 25 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Quarterback Joe Flacco will make his much-anticipated return to the field against Detroit on Saturday, but the Ravens are expecting to be without several key figures for the “dress rehearsal” before the start of the 2016 season.

Veterans recently returning from injury such as wide receiver Steve Smith and linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil were never considered sure bets to play against Detroit, but second-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was absent from Thursday’s walk-through with a sprained ankle.

“Za’Darius has a little ankle issue that he had yesterday in practice,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s not a major thing. I doubt he’ll play. There’s no sense putting him out there with a sprained ankle.”

Harbaugh said Suggs was “fine” despite not being present for Thursday’s light practice, but his absence leads one to believe his status could be in doubt for the third preseason game. The 33-year-old rush linebacker returned to the practice field on Aug. 15 after an 11-month absence due to a torn left Achilles tendon and expressed interest last week in getting some live-game reps in the preseason.

Dumervil and Steve Smith were both present for Thursday’s walk-through, but they only returned to the practice field in the last few days.

“He’s not playing in this game, at least that I know of,” said Harbaugh about the 37-year-old Smith, who tore his right Achilles tendon less than 10 months ago. “We’ll see. Maybe he’ll decide [he wants to play] tomorrow.”

The potential absences of Za’Darius Smith, Suggs, and Dumervil would open the door for rookie edge defender Matt Judon to receive action against Detroit’s first-team offense. Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees said this week that they’d like to evaluate the fifth-round pick against tougher competition after he collected two sacks and nine tackles over the first two preseason games against second- and third-team offenses.

Harbaugh wouldn’t officially rule out second-year receiver Breshad Perriman from Saturday’s game, but he’s all but guaranteed to sit out against Detroit after only returning to practice on Tuesday.

“We’ll see. It’s up to the doctors,” Harbaugh said. “They’ll let me know. We’ll meet on that this afternoon — docs and trainers — and see where he’s at with that. He hasn’t gone full speed in practice, as you know, but today’s not a full-speed practice for anybody, so we’ll just have to see.”

Others unlikely to play on Saturday after extended absences from practice include nose tackle Brandon Williams (undisclosed), guard John Urschel (contusion), tight ends Dennis Pitta (broken finger) and Maxx Williams (undisclosed), cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion) and Jerraud Powers (undisclosed), and safety Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed).

Players definitely out for Saturday’s game include running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), safety Matt Elam (knee), and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (broken ankle). Taliaferro remains on the physically unable to perform list while Elam and Kaufusi are candidates to be placed on injured reserve at the end of the summer.

Tight end Darren Waller (jaw) and cornerback Maurice Canady (hamstring) both returned to the field to participate in Thursday’s walk-through after exiting the second preseason game early with injuries.

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Ravens-Colts preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 19 August 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are moving closer to looking like a complete team.

Saturday’s preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts probably won’t reflect that, but both Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith returned to the practice field this week and are on track to be ready for the season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 11.

After resting a number of healthy veterans against Carolina, head coach John Harbaugh isn’t sharing his plans for playing time on Saturday night. In the past, Harbaugh had played most of his starters into the second quarter of the second preseason game, but the Ravens are merely following a league-wide trend of trying to keep veteran players out of harm’s way as much as possible while maximizing the opportunity to evaluate unknown commodities.

“You want to see the young guys play in game situations when the tackling is live,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged the artificial surface at Lucas Oil Stadium being one of many factors to consider in determining which veterans will play. “There’s not quite as much practice as there was before — certainly not even close to as much as it was way before. We practice really well, and we see a lot from our guys in practice. The game is a confirmation. Or, sometimes, guys that don’t practice as well play well in games. Sometimes guys practice great and don’t show up in games. That’s something you really need to know.”

Joe Flacco continues to practice every day while only experiencing mild soreness in his surgically-repaired left knee, but Harbaugh may rest his franchise quarterback for a second straight game and wait until next week’s “dress rehearsal” for his first preseason action. Such a timetable would be concerning if not for the fact that Flacco has yet to miss a single rep during training camp.

The 31-year-old hasn’t been in a live pocket since last November, but he sees no need to play extensively in the preseason ahead of his ninth NFL season.

“I’m not worried about it; I’ve played plenty of games,” Flacco said. “I think the biggest reason to get back out there is to get back in live action and see what it feels like again. But it doesn’t really take too long to do that, so whatever we do is going to be for a reason. Whatever happens, happens, and I’m going to be comfortable either way.”

Thursday marks the first time these AFC teams have met in the preseason, but Indianapolis holds an 8-3 edge in regular-season matchups and a 2-1 lead in the postseason. Baltimore has compiled a 21-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Saturday night’s game against Indianapolis.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not consider any veteran players — like Flacco — who could be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: WR Steve Smith (Achilles), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), DE Bronson Kaufusi (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles), TE Dennis Pitta (finger/hip), WR Chris Matthews (soft tissue injury), CB Kyle Arrington (head), S Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed), TE Maxx Williams (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: G John Urschel (contusion), WR Chris Moore (foot), CB Tavon Young (hamstring), TE Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), WR Michael Campanaro (unspecified strains), CB Maurice Canady (undisclosed), TE Daniel Brown (undisclosed), CB Sheldon Price (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: QB Joe Flacco (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

RB Justin Forsett

The performance of Terrance West, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon this summer certainly should have the attention of Forsett, who didn’t play in the preseason opener. I’m not buying any sentiment that the 30-year-old is in danger of being pushed off the roster, but he’ll certainly want to present himself well in what game action he sees between now and the start of the season. He’s still the best pass-blocking tailback on the roster and breaks more tackles than you’d expect with a 5-foot-8, 195-pound frame. The young backs might be closing the gap, but Forsett’s experience is still invaluable to the backfield.

CB Jimmy Smith

It was clear that the No. 1 cornerback wasn’t 100 percent last year coming off foot surgery, but the Ravens need much more from the man in which they invested a huge contract. Smith got off to a quiet start in camp after having the surgical screws removed from his right foot this spring, but he’s looked much better in recent practices. If the Baltimore defense is to return to a high level, the 28-year-old needs to be a Pro Bowl-caliber kind of cornerback as he looked to be before suffering the Lisfranc injury. Seeing him stack some quality live-game reps would be encouraging going into the regular season.

OT Ronnie Stanley

The rookie left tackle played 22 snaps and graded out well against Carolina despite having suffered a minor injury less than a week earlier. The Ravens just want to see him continue that in more extensive action against the Indianapolis front. The best compliment you can pay an offensive lineman is that you don’t notice him that much, a description that fits the first-round pick in his first training camp. The Ravens were impressed with his pedigree coming out of Notre Dame, and he’s done everything so far to make you think he can handle a very demanding position in his first NFL season.

LB Albert McClellan

Not many would have predicted McClellan to be atop the depth chart at the strong-side outside linebacker position, but the Ravens need a replacement for Courtney Upshaw and McClellan is more consistent setting the edge on run plays than second-year linebacker Za’Darius Smith at this point. It’s critical that someone — McClellan, Smith, or even rookie Kamalei Correa — emerges to handle the “Sam” spot in order to allow Elvis Dumervil to return to more of a situational role in 2016. A special-teams standout for a number of years, McClellan has more trust with the coaching staff than many would think.

WR Chris Moore

With Breshad Perriman’s status for the start of the regular season looking in doubt, more attention will fall on the rookie fourth-round pick to be a decent complement to veteran Mike Wallace in the vertical passing game. Moore was arguably the biggest star over the first couple days of camp before a foot injury sidelined him until this week. The Ravens have had other receivers in and out of practice, but Moore has received plenty of second-team reps as well as some work with the first team. It’s not a guarantee that Moore will play so soon after a two-week absence, but his explosiveness is worth watching.

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