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Suggs, Ravens defense dominate in Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 17 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Leaping high in the air to snatch a Joe Flacco pass at the line of scrimmage, Terrell Suggs returned the ball the other way before heaving it into a crowd of Ravens fans on Wednesday.

It was one of the highlight plays in all of training camp in what was only the third day of practice for the 33-year-old linebacker. In good shape and increasing his activity level from the first two days of limited work, Suggs looked a lot like the high-impact force he’s been for well over a decade in Baltimore.

“I saw Anthony Levine and said, ‘I guess he’s back,'” said head coach John Harbaugh about the impressive interception. “We heard him before that. It was good to see him make a play like that though.”

Suggs wasn’t the only one to shine on Wednesday as the defense dominated the offense in a fully-padded practice ahead of Saturday’s preseason contest in Indianapolis.

Third-year safety Terrence Brooks intercepted an overthrown Flacco pass during a seven-on-seven period of practice. Ryan Mallett was also victimized by the secondary as cornerback Jerraud Powers picked him off and later broke up another pass from the backup quarterback.

It’s likely no coincidence that the defense has picked up its intensity this week with Suggs back on the field for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon in Denver just over 11 months ago. Younger players also value his underrated mental preparation and the knowledge he shares when stepping on the field.

“He brings a special kind of energy with him,” defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. “He’s definitely one of those guys that’s almost like having another coach on the field with you. When we’re out there together and he sees something, sometimes he’s telling me, ‘The play’s coming to you.’ Before the ball is snapped, it’s easier to make pre-snap reads and things like that with a guy like Suggs beside you.

“He hasn’t told me anything wrong in three years. Every time he has been beside me and said, ‘This is what is about to happen,’ it has happened.”

The Ravens are still dealing with a long list of absences just a few days before their second preseason contest, but Harbaugh confirmed that running back Justin Forsett, offensive linemen Marshal Yanda and Jeremy Zuttah, and wide receiver Michael Campanaro were just given Wednesday’s practice off.

Tight ends Dennis Pitta, Maxx Williams, and Daniel Brown, wide receiver Chris Matthews, guard John Urschel, defensive backs Kendrick Lewis, Kyle Arrington, Sheldon Price, and Sam Brown, and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi were all missing due to various ailments. Wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro remain on the physically unable to perform list and did not participate.

However, the Ravens confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Smith has passed his physical and will return to the practice field in the near future, putting him on track to be ready for the start of the season.

Rookie cornerback Tavon Young returned to practice after missing three days of practice with a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason opener.

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Powers passes conditioning test, but others added to Ravens’ injury list

Posted on 30 July 2016 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of BaltimoreRavens.com)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Cornerback Jerraud Powers made his training camp debut after finally passing the conditioning test, but the Ravens added two to their growing list of absences on Saturday.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan left the field with what appeared to be an upper-body issue and did not return in the second half of practice. His absence allowed Kapron Lewis-Moore to receive more reps along the first-team defensive line.

An unexplained absence from Saturday’s practice was rookie wide receiver Chris Moore, who was a standout performer in the first two days of training camp. There was no obvious sign of an injury on Friday as the University of Cincinnati product finished the entire practice and caught a long touchdown from quarterback Joe Flacco at one point.

Others missing from the workout included tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), linebackers Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and Elvis Dumervil (foot), wide receivers Steve Smith (Achilles) and Breshad Perriman (knee), and running backs Kenneth Dixon (knee), Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), and Trent Richardson (knee).

With an open roster spot after their initial agreement with offensive tackle Jake Long fell through, the Ravens signed punter Michael Palardy to their 90-man roster. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said Palardy being a left-footed punter added appeal to better evaluate a young group of candidates vying for the return specialist job while also preventing veteran Sam Koch from having to take too many reps.

Camp highlights

** Taking part in his first full-contact training camp practice in almost two years, tight end Dennis Pitta took a big hit from linebacker Zach Orr as he tried to catch a short pass, but he immediately popped back up without hesitation. Pitta is moving around smoothly over the first few days of camp.

** Serving as an inside linebacker in the starting base defense, rookie Kamalei Correa made an acrobatic one-handed interception on a Joe Flacco pass intended for tight end Maxx Williams down the seam. Correa has moved to the outside in sub packages, but he appears to be the very early favorite to start at inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley.

** It was a sloppy day for the offense overall with bad snaps, dropped passes, and off-target throws from the first and second units, but running back Terrance West and wide receivers Kamar Aiken and Chris Matthews turned in good performances. Keenan Reynolds and Michael Campanaro were among the receivers who dropped passes.

** Matched up against speedy receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Shareece Wright picked off Ryan Mallett in an 11-on-11 drill.

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Surprise candidate surfacing for Ravens at inside linebacker?

Posted on 27 May 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You should never read too much into what you see during spring non-contact practices, but the Ravens clearly face questions at inside linebacker after the offseason release of veteran Daryl Smith.

That’s why it was interesting to see second-round rookie Kamalei Correa taking extensive reps inside during Thursday’s voluntary workout. The Boise State product even broke up a pass intended for veteran tight end Dennis Pitta near the goal line during an 11-on-11 drill and proceeded to do pushups as punished for failing to secure the interception.

Projected by many to serve as a situational pass rusher to spell veterans Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil as a rookie, Correa could end up being an interesting candidate to compete with the likes of Zach Orr and Arthur Brown for the starting inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley, who will assume Smith’s “Mike” linebacker position. Wearing Smith’s old No. 51 jersey, Correa has a 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame that would seem to fit inside if he’s able to hold up in pass coverage, the biggest unknown about his game at this point.

“They all need to learn all the positions, and I think K.C. has inside linebacker traits,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who noted that the “Will” linebacker spot has outside backer characteristics. “He played it in college quite a bit. They moved him around at Boise. The more he can do, the better. We’re definitely going to look at him, and you have Albert [McClellan] that can play the different [linebacker] spots.

“We’ll look at different guys at different spots for sure.”

It’s worth noting that Mosley wasn’t present for Thursday’s workout, but neither were Suggs and Dumervil, which would lead you to assume Correa would have spent more time at either outside position if the Ravens weren’t serious about evaluating him as an inside linebacker. This all could mean nothing in even a couple weeks, but Correa’s development will definitely be worth monitoring as the Ravens desperately need to get faster and more athletic on the defensive side of the ball.

Injuries won’t help bubble players

Neither wide receiver Michael Campanaro nor running back Trent Richardson are locks to make the 53-man roster, so it’s disappointing for both to be sidelined with injuries — even for spring workouts.

Harbaugh has been outspoken in the past about Campanaro’s inability to stay on the field, but the coach took a more empathetic tone in discussing the latest injury — a “tweaked” calf suffered a couple weeks ago. The 2014 seventh-round pick has been limited to eight games in his first two seasons.

“There will be a time when he will get past this stuff,” Harbaugh said. “This stuff will stop happening and hopefully it’s training camp. That’s what we’re hoping for him. The guy works tremendously hard and was in phenomenal shape, and we’re still expecting really good things from him.”

Meanwhile, Richardson faces an uphill climb to resurrect his career as he will compete with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West for what figures to be three or four roster spots at the most.

Much was made about the former first-round pick’s efforts to lose weight and get in better shape before the Ravens signed him this spring, but Harbaugh apparently wants to see more from the Alabama product. He could only observe Thursday’s workout after injuring his hamstring last week.

“I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world-class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

Jernigan number change

Despite being a Florida State product, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan interestingly changed his jersey number to honor a former University of Miami legend.

The 2014 second-round pick is now wearing No. 99, a nod to Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. Veteran Chris Canty had worn the number most recently while Jernigan donned No. 97 in his first two seasons.

“Nasty, ferocious, he came every play,” said Jernigan about his appreciation for Sapp’s career. “You definitely knew he was there and when he made a play. Another thing, he played down in Florida, too, so he was definitely one of the greats from our state.”

The admiration may not be mutual, however, as Sapp tweeted to the Ravens asking how he could stop this. It’s unclear whether this was more of a playful jab at someone from a rival Florida school or that the cantankerous Sapp has a serious — and, frankly, inexplicable — objection.

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Ngata trade proved to be winner for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2016 by Luke Jones

There is plenty to question about the offseason that preceded a disappointing 5-11 campaign for the Ravens in 2015.

But the decision to trade five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata proved to be a good one.

Of course, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens were never going to allow Ngata to carry a $16 million salary cap figure in the final season of a five-year, $61 million contract, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to keep him. The organization attempted to work out an extension like it did with Terrell Suggs a year earlier, but the sides didn’t come to an agreement before the 2006 first-round pick was traded to Detroit in the final moments before free agency began on March 10.

It turns out that the Ravens were probably fortunate not to extend Ngata. As Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey used to say, “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”

The trade was praised by many at the time, but the possibility of Ngata producing another Pro Bowl season and the Ravens struggling mightily up front was still there.

Ngata wasn’t awful in Detroit, but he hardly played at a Pro Bowl level as he registered a career-low 24 tackles in 14 games and dealt with hamstring and calf injuries. Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s 39th-best interior defender in 2015 while Brandon Williams was 21st and Timmy Jernigan 49th. The production certainly didn’t warrant the $8.5 million base salary he was paid by the Lions, who were desperate to fill the void left behind by four-time Pro Bowl selection Ndamukong Suh.

Meanwhile, the Ravens drafted outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith with the fourth-round pick they received from Detroit and used their new fifth-round selection to trade up a few spots in the second round to take tight end Maxx Williams. Time will tell whether these players will make major contributions after mostly-quiet rookie seasons that did finish on high notes, but the potential value alone trumps what Baltimore might have gotten from Ngata in 2015.

If we’re being honest, the Ravens probably missed the 345-pounder to some degree as the run defense ranked 12th in the NFL and allowed 4.0 yards per carry after finishing fourth and surrendering just 3.6 per attempt in 2014. His primary replacement Jernigan shook off a slow start to play well in the second half of 2015, but he was stronger as a pass rusher than as a run-stopping defender at Ngata’s old 3-technique spot.

Ngata would have made the defensive line more stout, but his expensive presence hardly would have transformed the Ravens from a 5-11 team into a 10-6 playoff contender. If the Ravens had signed him to an extension last winter, we’d also be wondering how much football he has left in the way we’re now asking about his longtime teammate Suggs, who will be coming off his second Achilles tendon tear in four years and carries a $7.45 million cap figure for 2016.

The 32-year-old Ngata has expressed desire to re-sign with Detroit, but he is not committed to playing beyond 2016, which should make Ravens fans feel even better about the organization not signing him last winter. Given the issues Baltimore has with its salary cap, the fewer contracts awarded to aging players near the end of their careers, the better.

It became apparent over the course of the 2015 season that the Ravens need to get younger at several key spots, something they’ve done along the defensive line without significant drop-off. Ngata was one of the best players in the 20-year history of the franchise, but parting ways with an aging defensive tackle was the right call with only minimal short-term fallout.

Little went right for the Ravens in one of the most disappointing seasons in team history, but the Ngata trade has already proven to be a winner without even knowing what Smith and Maxx Williams will offer in the future.

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Allen’s benching a head-scratcher in lost season for Ravens

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens’ performance on Sunday matched their new uniform pants.

Ugly.

Of course, we’re used to this by now as the 4-10 Ravens clinched just the fifth campaign of double-digit losses in franchise history with the 34-14 defeat against Kansas City. For the second straight week, it was a Buck Allen fumble in the first half transforming a close game into a lopsided affair.

This time, however, head coach John Harbaugh had seen enough and benched the rookie fourth-round pick for the remainder of the game after Chiefs safety Tyvon Branch returned the fumble 73 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter.

“You play the best players. At running back, the best players don’t fumble,” said Harbaugh, who added that the benching “probably” won’t continue next week. “Fumbling — it is what it is. You have to hold on to the football. He knows that. I have a lot of love and respect for Buck. No way is Buck going to be banished by any stretch. He has done a lot for us. He has a great future for us.”

Allen took the demotion in stride and said himself that fumbling is unacceptable, but what is really accomplished by benching him for the rest of the game, especially when you’re 4-9 and in evaluation mode for the rest of 2015? If you’re still in playoff contention and are afraid of him putting the ball on the turf again, then, fine, go in a different direction if you have a better option.

But what did Harbaugh hope to gain by keeping Allen out for the remainder of the game with just two weeks remaining in a lost season?

Benching him for the rest of the first half and using Terrance West — a former third-round pick with his upside of his own — as the No. 1 option would have been a reasonable punishment, but making the rookie sit for nearly 48 minutes of action and giving former practice-squad member Terrence Magee his playing time only created a bigger headline and more embarrassment for the lone bright spot of a disappointing rookie draft class in 2015.

Ball security is of the utmost importance — no one is saying it isn’t. But even the best running backs fumble sometimes as the great Adrian Peterson has seven this year. Allen has fumbled twice all season, hardly making this an epidemic despite one in each of the last two weeks.

“You have to hold on to the football,” Harbaugh said. “That football belongs to everybody in the organization, every fan, everybody that cares about the Ravens, and it’s a precious commodity. You don’t win football games when you turn the ball over.”

The eighth-year coach is correct, but you don’t win when players commit foolish penalties, either.

That begs the question why second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan wasn’t disciplined in a harsher manner for an inexcusable late hit on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on a third-and-11 play that extended Kansas City’s opening drive. Instead of punting from their own territory, the Chiefs scored on a 38-yard run by Charcandrick West three plays later to give them a 7-0 lead.

In Week 2, Jernigan committed a senseless roughing-the-passer penalty on Oakland’s game-winning touchdown drive with less than two minutes to go, proving his talent has been overshadowed by a lack of discipline on more than one occasion. He was also flagged for unnecessary roughness in last week’s loss to Seattle.

“I took him out for a play and put him back in,” said Harbaugh when asked about Jernigan’s penalty after he had just explained Allen’s benching. “I don’t need to justify that. Timmy Jernigan is a guy that I’ve talked to about that. He understands where we’re at. I made the decision to keep him in the game.”

But has the 2014 second-round pick gotten the message?

It didn’t sound that way after the game.

“If he’s going to run along the sideline, I’m going to hit him every time,” Jernigan said. “I’m not going to apologize for that one any time. I was running to the ball, and I saw the quarterback running along the sideline.

“To me, it doesn’t look like the guy is noticeably slowing down and running out of bounds. If you’re along the sideline, I’m going to hit you. I don’t care who you are unless you make it obvious that you’re going out of bounds. If you’re running along the sideline, and you don’t go out, I’m going to have cameras in my face asking me why I didn’t hit you. And then the quarterback runs for an 80-yard touchdown. I feel like I’m just doing what I can to help the team.”

You’d really like to give Jernigan the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t see a replay of his obvious infraction before talking to reporters. But if he did see it and failed to recognize that Smith was obviously out of bounds when he hit him, it just reinforces the lack of discipline the Ravens have shown all season as they entered Week 15 ranked 25th in penalties and 29th in penalty yards.

Either way, benching Allen for the remainder of the game was excessive, especially after Jernigan came away with what amounted to barely a slap on the wrist. It’s not as though the latter is an established veteran or multi-time Pro Bowl selection beyond reproach.

The Ravens repeatedly hurting themselves on Sunday was nothing new in this disappointing season.

But Harbaugh abruptly sending a rookie to the doghouse was a head-scratcher.

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Youth comes up big for Ravens in thrilling victory

Posted on 01 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Monday will go down as one of the most thrilling finishes in the 20-year history of the Ravens as well as in the annals of Monday Night Football.

But as Crash Davis from “Bull Durham” would remind you, “The moment’s over.”

If you’re trying to focus on the long haul, what can the 4-7 Ravens really take away from Monday’s win that worsened their 2016 draft position?

Though all players and coaches continue to fight admirably with all 11 of Baltimore’s games being decided by a single possession in 2015, the performances of five players under the age of 25 might bring the most hope from Monday’s win as it relates to the Ravens’ goal of returning to a championship level.

Below is a look at each in no particular order of significance:

WR/RS Kaelin Clay
Age: 23
Impact: Prior to Monday, the rookie from Utah was best known for a major gaffe against Oregon last season, but the sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced his presence with authority by returning the Browns’ first punt of the game 82 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. Even better was the fact that Clay returned three other punts and two kickoffs without putting the ball on the ground, a factor that’s been a concern for Baltimore returners this season. Clay played only one offensive snap, so it remains to be seen what he can offer as a receiver, but his big return energized the Ravens early.

DE Brent Urban
Age: 24
Impact: After missing the first 26 regular-season games of his NFL career due to injuries, the 6-foot-7 Urban made a major impact in blocking Travis Coons’ 51-yard field goal attempt, which allowed safety Will Hill to return the ball 64 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining. The 2014 fourth-round pick also made two tackles in his 11 defensive snaps and offered a glimpse of why the Ravens elected to use their designation to return on him after he tore his biceps early in training camp. He will be one of the most intriguing young players to watch over the final five weeks of the season.

RB Terrance West
Age: 24
Impact: We all know the local kid’s story and the baggage he already carries in only his second NFL season, but the 225-pound back showed good vision against his old team, rushing for 37 yards on seven carries in his Ravens debut. With Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro both out for the season, West will have every opportunity to make an impact for an offense lacking established weapons. It will be up to him to show the maturity and work ethic that will warrant more carries in the coming weeks, but the former Towson star made valuable contributions for his hometown team in Week 12.

DT Timmy Jernigan
Age: 23
Impact: After beginning the season in John Harbaugh’s doghouse due to a foolish roughing the passer penalty in Oakland, the 2014 second-round pick has quietly picked up his play over the last seven games, registering three sacks and eight quarterback hits. In 42 defensive snaps against Cleveland, Jernigan finished with three tackles, a half-sack, and three quarterback hits to wreak havoc in the pocket along with veterans Elvis Dumervil and Chris Canty. Jernigan’s sack total doesn’t stand out, but he ranks second behind Dumervil with 10 quarterback hits and has been the Ravens’ best interior rusher.

RB Buck Allen
Age: 24
Impact: It helped facing the league’s 32nd-ranked run defense, but the 2015 fourth-round pick continued to impress in his first start, carrying 12 times for 55 yards and catching four passes for 29 yards that included a 13-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It remains to be seen whether the 220-pound Allen can consistently thrive running between the tackles, but his receiving ability out of the backfield is as dynamic as anyone the Ravens have used since Ray Rice at his best. After facing questions at running back for a few years now, the Ravens would love to see Allen show No. 1 back production.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 10 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Hosting Cleveland has been the Ravens’ closest experience to a homecoming game for more than 15 years.

Owning a 13-3 all-time mark over the Browns in Baltimore and winning 13 of the last 14 meetings overall, the Ravens have appeared to barely break a sweat if you only look at the win-loss record. But the narrative has changed ever so slightly with five of the last seven games being decided by one possession.

In the 2014 regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens trailed Cleveland in the fourth quarter before scoring 17 points to send them to victory and their sixth trip to the playoffs in seven years. Now, both teams are fighting for their 2015 lives with matching 1-3 records and plenty of question marks on both sides of the ball.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to overcome injuries to Steve Smith and Crockett Gillmore to improve their all-time record to 25-8 over the Browns and climb back into the early AFC playoff race.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to win their first game in Baltimore this season …

1. Justin Forsett will eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark for the second consecutive week. There’s a danger here of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman trying to outsmart himself as one could argue that the Ravens should come out throwing while Cleveland stacks the box trying to stop the run with Smith out. But why mess around when the Browns ranked last in the NFL in run defense last year and are 31st so far in 2015? Baltimore will use play-action fakes and Flacco will take shots here and there, but the Browns need to prove they can stop the run first and the Ravens will pound the ball until that happens. The offensive line play will pick up where it left off in Pittsburgh last week.

2. Browns running back Duke Johnson and tight end Gary Barnidge will combine to make 10 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. Cleveland has allowed 14 sacks in four games this year and will be focused on stopping Elvis Dumervil coming off the edge, leading to lots of chips by Barnidge before quarterback Josh McCown checks down to him with short passes. The rookie Johnson has also proven to be an effective target out of the backfield, which could create issues for C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith. With the Ravens devoting safety attention to the big-play capability of Travis Benjamin, Browns tight ends and running backs will have more success in the passing game.

3. Darren Waller will catch the first touchdown of his NFL career. Anyone telling you they have a good idea how the passing game is going to shake out on Sunday is only guessing as you just don’t remove a talent like Smith from the equation without major adjustments needing to be made. Kamar Aiken will receive opportunities as the No. 1 guy, but his performances against Denver (one catch for minus-1 yard) and Cincinnati (zero catches) make it difficult to trust him. After making his first NFL reception on the Ravens’ game-tying drive at the end of regulation a week ago, the 6-foot-6 Waller will catch his first touchdown as Flacco throws him a pretty fade inside the red zone in the first half.

4. Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan will each collect their first sack of the 2015 season. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try his best to move Dumervil away from Joe Thomas, but the Ravens need to continue to get inside pressure to minimize the glaring void left behind by Terrell Suggs. Za’Darius Smith provided the boost last week, but it will be Williams and Jernigan stepping up on Sunday. More of a run-stopping tackle, Williams has had a Pro Bowl-caliber season and has been the Ravens’ best defensive player in 2015. Meanwhile, Jernigan’s second season has been a disappointment so far as he’s fallen behind rookie Carl Davis and needs a strong performance against the Browns.

5. The better quarterback and the team with the home-field advantage will do enough to earn a 20-13 win. It’s unfair to expect too much from Joe Flacco when you look at the group of pass-catchers he’ll be throwing to on Sunday, but he needs to limit his mistakes, something he didn’t do in Pittsburgh last week. He won’t post gaudy numbers, but Flacco will play smarter football than McCown and the Baltimore defense will clamp down on a Cleveland offense short on playmakers in a sometimes-ugly, points-challenged contest. Neither team has shown many signs of being a good football team so far, but the Ravens own the edge playing at home in Week 5 and they’ll take advantage of it.

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With pains at receiver, Ravens facing Cleveland at perfect time

Posted on 06 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Expecting to take the field without the services of Steve Smith on Sunday, the Ravens are hurting at the wide receiver position entering Week 5.

Their projected No. 1 receiver against the Browns, Kamar Aiken, has just 11 receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown through the first four games of the season. Those numbers don’t even match what the 36-year-old Smith did in Week 3 against Cincinnati alone.

That’s why the Ravens’ 191-yard rushing performance in last Thursday’s win at Pittsburgh couldn’t have come at a better time. Prior to Week 4, Baltimore had averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in its 0-3 start, perhaps the most surprising development of the early season.

Now, head coach John Harbaugh hopes the ground performance against the Steelers is a sign of better things to come.

“Sometimes you have to keep pounding that rock,” Harbaugh said. “They made a lot of plays against the run — especially early — and finally it kind of opened up toward the end there a little bit more. But it’s always important for us. It’s something that we count on doing well, and we need to continue to improve. I don’t think we’re where we need to be with the run game, yet. That’s something we need to continue to work on really hard.”

With Smith sidelined and starting tight end Crockett Gillmore still recovering from a calf injury, the Ravens are playing the 1-3 Browns at a perfect time. Cleveland brings the league’s 32nd-ranked defense in total yards and its rush defense ranks 31st in giving up 141.5 yards per game.

The Browns rank 29th in allowing 4.8 yards per carry, which comes a year after their defense surrendered more rushing yards than any team in the NFL. Those 2014 struggles prompted the selection of defensive tackle Danny Shelton with the 12th overall pick of this spring’s draft, but the 339-pounder’s presence has yet to make a major difference for the Browns’ front.

Of course, quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens will need to do enough through the air to prevent the Cleveland defense from consistently stacking the box, but there appears to be little reason why Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Buck Allen won’t find running room to move the chains and take pressure off an undermanned group of pass-catchers. The Ravens will need a produtive running game moving forward, especially until Smith is ready to return to action.

Even if they’re playing at M&T Bank Stadium where the Browns haven’t won since 2007, Harbaugh made it clear that the Ravens are in no position to take Cleveland lightly.

“I mean, hey, we’re 1-3, too,” Harbaugh said. “We have two 1-3 teams going at it here. We’re battling to be third place in the division right now. That’s where we stand, and that’s a tall order and we have work to do. But they have a heck of a front seven. They have good pass rushers on both edges. They have some of the most talented secondary players in the league, and we’ve seen them up close and personal every time we play them.”

Pass-rushing reinforcements

The Ravens enter Week 5 tied for sixth in the NFL with 11 sacks, but the pass rush remains a topic of concern for the league’s 16th-ranked pass defense.

The good news was the boost defensive coordinator Dean Pees received from Za’Darius Smith, who collected the first two sacks of his NFL career in the third quarter of the win at Pittsburgh. In 19 snaps, the rookie collected two other tackles in addition to his takedowns of Mike Vick, flashing the skills he showed at Kentucky that prompted the Ravens to draft him in the fourth round.

“I think he has really been ramping up his intensity level,” Harbaugh said, “how he plays from one play to the next, understanding at this level the edge that you have to play on to be successful, and how hard you have to play. He applied that in that Pittsburgh game better than he has at any point in time. He has always been good, but not really good enough to make a difference until this game, and that was really good to see.”

With Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw taking on heavier workloads since the season-ending injury to Terrell Suggs, the Ravens need Za’Darius Smith and veteran Jason Babin to be productive when asked to spell the starters.

Making his Ravens debut after being inactive for two games, Babin only played seven snaps and did not record any official statistics, but Pro Football Focus credited him with a quarterback hurry.

“He was really disciplined with his pass rush,” Harbaugh said. “The thing we asked our guys to do in this game was be very disciplined with their pass rush and treat it almost like run defense, because you have  a guy back there who can throw and can run and can really hurt you with him arm and with his legs.”

Challenging Jernigan

One of the quieter stories of the early season has been the demotion of second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who has been replaced by rookie Carl Davis in the base defense in each of the last two games.

The 2014 second-round pick missed the season opener with a knee injury and started against Oakland in Week 2, but a foolish roughing-the-passer penalty on the Raiders’ game-winning drive landed him behind Davis on the depth chart. Jernigan played just 17 of 63 defensive snaps against the Steelers, but the Ravens will need him to be a major part of their inside pass rush as the season progresses.

“Timmy is getting better and better,” Harbaugh said. “He really stepped it up the last week or so — in practice and in games. He’s very capable of being a real factor inside there, and it’s especially true when he plays a certain way, when he really gets after it, when he cuts it loose. That’s what we’re trying to get him to do — get off the ball, get off blocks, run to the football, be a physical force in there, and play fast.

“Sometimes, too much thinking is not good. He knows the defense now, and we expect him to play with a real high motor. And when he does that, he’s very effective.”

Returning questions in return game

With Michael Campanaro now out for the season with a back injury, the Ravens have gone back to the drawing board with their return game.

The latest depth chart lists veteran Lardarius Webb as the No. 1 punt returner, but the kick returner is listed as “to be determined.” Newly-acquired Chris Givens has experience returning kicks in St. Louis while Taliaferro and Allen also practiced handling kickoffs over the summer.

However, the Ravens’ best option might be on their practice squad where receiver Jeremy Ross currently resides. Ross returned kicks and punts in Detroit for two years and scored a touchdown doing each during the 2013 season.

“We’ll look at all our options. We have guys on the roster that can do it,” Harbaugh said. “Chris is a guy that can do it, too, as far as the kick return stuff. We’ll just see where we’re at come Sunday on that, but it could be someone here. Obviously, it could be somebody outside, too.”

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 37-33 loss in Oakland

Posted on 22 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll examine five numbers stemming from the Ravens’ latest game, this one being the surprising 37-33 loss at Oakland in Week 2 …

1 — Combined tackles from Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, and Carl Davis
Skinny: With issues at outside linebacker due to the season-ending injury to Terrell Suggs, the Ravens need the early-round draft investments they’ve made on the defensive line to come up big and they didn’t in Oakland. The lack of a pass rush and poor coverage in the secondary were bad enough, but the Ravens also allowed 5.1 yards per carry, much of that due to the ineffectiveness of the defensive line.

10 — Years it’s been since the Ravens started a season 0-2
Skinny: Maybe the Ravens should refrain from wearing the commemorative jersey patches for their 20th season in Baltimore. They also wore a jersey patch in 2005 for their 10th season in Charm City when they last started 0-2. It’s certainly been a credit to the organization that 0-2 starts have been few and far between, but the timing of the last two are a strange coincidence.

11 — Missed tackles by the Ravens counted by Pro Football Focus
Skinny: Truthfully, you might have expected the number to be even higher as Baltimore posted its highest total of tackling miscues since last season’s Week 9 debacle in Pittsburgh. Much attention has been paid to the lack of a pass rush on Sunday, but the poor tackling on short passes was even more detrimental since the ball was coming out quickly quite often.

62 — Snaps played by Elvis Dumervil
Skinny: This was Dumervil’s highest single-game total in his three seasons with the Ravens and is a concern as the defense tries to account for Suggs’ absence on the field. Baltimore needs to have the fresh Dumervil who collected the franchise’s single-season record with 17 sacks a year ago. A worn-down version of him trying to be Suggs will only make the pass rush worse over the course of the season.

351 — Net passing yards for Derek Carr and the Raiders offense
Skinny: Why is this number significant? It’s the highest total allowed by a Baltimore defense against a non-Pro Bowl quarterback since rookie Andy Dalton and Cincinnati finished with 364 net passing yards on Nov. 20, 2011. If you want to eliminate Dalton since he made his first Pro Bowl later that season, Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the last signal-caller never to make a Pro Bowl to post that many net passing yards against the Ravens when he finished with 382 as Buffalo’s quarterback on Oct. 24, 2010.

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Harbaugh: “Our defense has to step up and play like the Ravens play”

Posted on 21 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — John Harbaugh didn’t mince words in assessing a defense that allowed 37 points in Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Oakland Raiders to drop the Ravens’ record to 0-2.

The performance was out of character for a franchise known for its defensive tradition over 20 seasons in Baltimore. The eighth-year head coach put his players and coaches on notice that the defense needs to be fixed quickly as the Ravens now try to become the 25th 0-2 team to bounce back to make the playoffs since 1990.

“If we’re going to have a chance to be a successful football team, our defense has to step up and play like the Ravens play,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the expectation. That’s where the bar is set, and we’re going to have the guys out there that do that. And it’s on us as coaches to put the right guys out there, teach them to do the right things, and have the right schemes in place.”

Not only were the Ravens playing an Oakland offense that was shut out by Cincinnati through three quarters the previous week, but they was feeling confident about a defense that didn’t allow an offensive touchdown against future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and a talented Denver offense in the season opener.

Against the Raiders offense, however, everything went wrong as second-year quarterback Derek Carr threw three touchdown passes and Oakland accumulated 448 yards of offense. The Ravens collected just one sack and Pro Football Focus credited them with 11 missed tackles, their highest total since last year’s Week 9 blowout loss in Pittsburgh.

“We had missed tackles. We had missed assignments. We had breakdowns in coverage. We had missed alignments,” Harbaugh said. “We played about as unsound as you can play in a lot of different ways. We had effort for the most part, but I’ll even say we didn’t have the kind of effort we need to have on defense — the kind of all-out, flying-around effort that we expect from a Ravens’ defense.”

Playing without the injured Terrell Suggs, the Ravens struggled to create any semblance of consistent pressure on Carr as Elvis Dumervil played his highest number of snaps (62) since his days with the Denver Broncos and Courtney Upshaw didn’t capitalize on more opportunities to rush. As a result, Carr had a career day through the air with his 351 yards.

Harbaugh was quick to point out that Oakland designed plenty of short passes to neutralize the rush, but he did not forgive the inability of linebackers and defensive backs to neutralize those throws.

“When a team is determined to get the ball out fast, then you’re not going to get a lot of quarterback hits and you’re not going to get a lot of sacks,” Harbaugh said. “What you have to do is defend those quick throws, and we didn’t defend the quick throws as well as we need to because of the missed tackles and some of the missed alignments.

“If you force those throws to be no-gains, one gain, minus-2, 3-yard gains, when the ball is coming out fast, then you force them to hold the ball a little bit longer and to gain some yards and you get to the quarterback. That’s the No. 1 issue there.”

Though there’s truth to Harbaugh’s point, the Ravens didn’t get to Carr when he took deeper drops either, further making the decision to deactivate veteran newcomer Jason Babin puzzling after he was signed to provide more depth behind Dumervil, Upshaw, and rookie Za’Darius Smith.

Against an underwhelming offense, the Ravens showed no sign of being close to figuring out their pass-rush equation without Suggs.

“I think he had way too much time on the [bootlegs],” Harbaugh said. “He was able to stand back there on the keepers and boots almost forever and throw the ball. We have to figure out how to get that changed. But from a pass-rush standpoint, those are the two situations — the quick throws and the boots.”

Penalties on final drive

Two critical penalties hurt the Ravens on Oakland’s game-winning touchdown drive as defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan committed a senseless roughing-the-passer foul that marched the Raiders into field-goal range and safety Will Hill was flagged for holding before he made what looked to be the game-clinching interception with under a minute remaining.

Harbaugh offered a strong opinion on each one, with one player being chastised and the other forgiven.

“The Timmy Jernigan one was a foolish penalty — really inexcusable,” Harbaugh said. “There was no reason for that whatsoever at any time during the game, but especially in two-minute. But that was just a way late hit, and I don’t understand that one. It hurt us.

“The other one, I’m still looking for it. I don’t see it on tape, so I’m not sure what to tell Will on that. It looked like a good play to me.”

Second long trip out west being reconsidered

After previously saying they planned to stay out west for the week between their Oct. 18 game at San Francisco and Oct. 26 contest at Arizona, the Ravens are now reconsidering those plans.

Harbaugh said it would be a “no-brainer” to stay in Phoenix if the week were shorter between games — the second game takes place on a Monday night — but critics will understandably wonder how much the results of their first extended trip between the Denver and Oakland games will factor into a decision expected to be made in the next few days.

“If we stay [out there], it’ll be because we and the players feel like it would be the best thing,” Harbaugh said. “And if we don’t, it would be because we’d rather get back here and be in our home confines. [We’ll decide] which is best, especially in a long week.”

No word on Perriman

Injured rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) was seen doing some light running during his pre-game workout on Sunday, an increased level of activity shown from previous weeks when he was restricted to making catches from a stationary position.

The Ravens coach added no clarity when asked whether that was a sign of the first-round pick being close to finally returning after he sprained his knee on July 30.

“Not that I’ve been told,” Harbaugh said. “I have no update on it.”

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