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How much more can the Ravens endure in 2014?

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How much more can the Ravens endure in 2014?

Posted on 04 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — No matter what lies ahead for the Ravens in the final four weeks of the regular season, 2014 has been a year to forget.

Thursday brought the latest reminder with the news of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being suspended four games for testing positive for Adderall.

The black cloud from the Ray Rice saga that continues to linger nearly three months after his release, four other offseason player arrests, the season-ending injuries to Dennis Pitta and Jimmy Smith, and one of their longest-tenured players and a team leader being busted for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy just days before the biggest game of the season in Miami.

What’s next?

With the news of Haloti Ngata's suspension, will the Ravens make the playoffs?

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“It does feel like it’s always something, but, shoot, that’s life,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “Stuff pops up all the time. It’s all about how you deal with it. If Haloti’s back, we’ll be looking back at it like, ‘Alright, that’s something we already brushed off.’ Again, we’ll be in the playoffs [then].”

The loss of Ngata for the rest of the regular season hurts, but it doesn’t necessarily doom the Ravens’ chances of making the playoffs as they’ll now turn to a deep group of defensive linemen led by rookie second-round pick Timmy Jernigan. The league’s fourth-ranked run defense certainly takes a hit, but it’s not unreasonable to expect younger options to step in and do a respectable job in Ngata’s place.

News of the suspension was surprising as it was such a lapse in judgment from a nine-year veteran who has served as one of the Ravens’ most prominent leaders and has earned a positive reputation in the locker room and in the local community. In addition to the stigma of being linked to performance-enhancing drugs — even if it is Adderall — tainting Ngata’s impeccable career, failing a drug test in his ninth year reeks of foolishness more than anything else.

“We know the rules and we have to abide by them,” rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “It is what it is. We have to move on. We just wish the best for him and hope we make it to the playoffs so we can have him back.”

After enduring the loss of Jimmy Smith in late October, the Ravens have now suffered a major blow to the defense up front where they have been robust enough to help account for arguably the worst secondary in franchise history en route to a 7-5 record. From a mental standpoint, the Ravens must handle Ngata’s absence in the same way they would an injury, but his self-inflicted blow certainly can’t sit well with his teammates.

Whether we see the big defensive tackle again this season now falls on the shoulders of a roster that’s endured more than its share of off-field turmoil.

“It was definitely difficult to hear,” Torrey Smith said. “He’s expressed how disappointed he is. I know he’s hurt for it, and we’re going to be hurt by it. We have a lot of guys who have the ability and they’ve got to step up. That’s the philosophy around here.”

To their credit, the Ravens have held true to that mindset as they responded to Rice’s release with a convincing Thursday night win over Pittsburgh in Week 2. The organization continues to come under scrutiny from top to bottom for its handling of the Rice situation, but you’ve never gotten the sense that it’s impacted the play on the field, especially with such a surprising season from veteran Justin Forsett.

The Ravens lost Pitta for a second straight year and then Smith — their most important defensive player — and have still remained within striking distance of the playoffs as they enter the final quarter of the season.

Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, head coach John Harbaugh and his players deserve credit for navigating through such rough waters in 2014.

But at some point, it’s human nature to throw your hands up and wonder if it’s just not your year.

“We’ve dealt with adversity throughout the course of the season in one form or another,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “We’ll step up and meet the challenge. We’ll try to put ourselves in the best position we can to be successful.”

You wonder when enough will be enough.

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Torrey Smith remains sidelined for Thursday’s practice

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Torrey Smith remains sidelined for Thursday’s practice

Posted on 04 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Hitting the practice field for the first time since the news of the Haloti Ngata suspension, the Ravens were again without starting wide receiver Torrey Smith on Thursday.

The fourth-year wideout continues to nurse a sore right knee that isn’t expected to keep him out of Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins. However, it remains unclear how close to 100 percent he will be as the Ravens desperately need a win over Miami to stay in good position in a crowded AFC wild-card race.

“The only way I’m not going to play is if I need crutches,” Smith said. “I’m good to go. We’ll see what happens, but hopefully everything works out.”

Wide receiver Marlon Brown (concussion) returned to the practice field while running back Justin Forsett (knee) made a brief appearance during the media viewing portion before returning to the indoor facility adjacent to the practice fields. Forsett downplayed the extent of his injury on Wednesday, describing it as general soreness, but he was once again listed as a non-participant on the official injury report.

Players missing from practice also included tight ends Owen Daniels and Crockett Gillmore (back), center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle), linebacker Daryl Smith, and defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson. Daniels and Smith received a veteran day off on Thursday while Tyson was summoned for jury duty.

Gillmore was a limited participant during Wednesday’s practice.

Cornerback Asa Jackson (turf toe) continues to practice and eyes a return from the injured reserve-designated to return list this Sunday. The Ravens currently have 52 players on their active roster with Ngata being moved to the reserve-suspended list, so they could elect to use his roster spot to activate Jackson.

“You can’t really tell out here in practice until the bullets start flying if he’s back to where he was,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “But he seems to be moving well and doing fine. I think he’ll really help us back there, at least basically in the slot.”

There were no changes to Miami’s injury report from the previous day except for the addition of linebacker Chris McCain (ankle) as a limited participant.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), RB Justin Forsett (knee), TE Crockett Gillmore (back), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), WR Torrey Smith (knee), DT DeAngelo Tyson (non-injury), C Jeremy Zuttah (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Tramain Jacobs (thigh), LB Albert McClellan (thigh), LB Courtney Upshaw (hand)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Marlon Brown (concussion), WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (wrist)

MIAMI
OUT: LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring), CB Jamar Taylor (shoulder)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Nate Garner (illness)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Charles Clay (hamstring), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle), WR Brian Hartline (knee), LB Chris McCain (ankle), C Samson Satele (ribs), WR Mike Wallace (chest)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Daryn Colledge (back), T Ja’Wuan James (neck), LB Jelani Jenkins (shoulder)

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Forsett, Torrey Smith absent from Wednesday’s practice

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Forsett, Torrey Smith absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing for this Sunday’s critical meeting with the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens were without three offensive starters for practice on Wednesday afternoon.

Wide receivers Torrey Smith (knee) and Marlon Brown (concussion), running back Justin Forsett (knee), and center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) were absent from the portion of the workout open to reporters. Smith and Brown left the San Diego game with injuries and didn’t return, but head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the significance of Smith appearing to injure his right knee in the fourth quarter of the 34-33 loss to the Chargers.

Brown’s absence was not unexpected as he continues to go through the NFL’s concussion protocol. He left Sunday’s game early in the second quarter after hitting his head hard on the M&T Bank Stadium turf.

Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged both receivers were making progress on Wednesday without going into detail.

Forsett downplayed his absence from practice as little more than a day to rest and to stay fresh for the final month of the season. He has carried 179 times for 1,009 rushing yards this season, both career highs.

“Just resting up [and] regular soreness, especially coming into December,” Forsett said. “Just trying to take care of the body and take care of the little nicks and knacks I’ve gotten over the course of the year.”

Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) was a full participant in practice after working on a very limited basis last week. He hasn’t played in a game since Oct. 26 while his recovery from a hamstring injury has been slow.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins officially ruled out linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) and cornerback Jamar Taylor (shoulder) for Sunday’s game while tight end Charles Clay (hamstring), cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle), and wide receivers Brian Hartline (knee) and Mike Wallace (chest) were all limited participants on Wednesday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Marlon Brown (concussion), RB Justin Forsett (knee), WR Torrey Smith (knee), C Jeremy Zuttah (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (back), CB Tramain Jacobs (thigh), LB Albert McClellan (thigh), LB Courtney Upshaw (hand)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (wrist)

MIAMI
OUT: LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring), CB Jamar Taylor (shoulder)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Nate Garner (illness)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Charles Clay (hamstring), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle), WR Brian Hartline (knee), C Samson Satele (ribs), WR Mike Wallace (chest)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Daryn Colledge (back), T Ja’Wuan James (neck), LB Jelani Jenkins (shoulder)

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Harbaugh calls Torrey Smith “day-to-day” with apparent knee injury

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Harbaugh calls Torrey Smith “day-to-day” with apparent knee injury

Posted on 01 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Uncertainty continues to surround the health of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound overly concerned about his status on Monday.

Despite Smith leaving Sunday’s game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent right knee injury, Harbaugh downplayed the severity of any injury and didn’t even acknowledge what was wrong with the fourth-year receiver after he missed the final two offensive series.

“Torrey really didn’t have anything too serious,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t even know how to describe it right now. [Head athletic trainer Mark Smith] hasn’t explained to me what it was. He’ll just be getting ready for Miami. I guess I’d call him day-to-day.”

Smith spoke to reporters following Sunday’s 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but he declined to discuss his injury and was seen walking with a limp. He caught six passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort.

Harbaugh confirmed wide receiver Marlon Brown will continue to go through the concussion testing protocol after leaving in the second quarter of Sunday’s game and not returning. Brown caught three passes for 25 yards in a little over a quarter of play in what was easily his best performance of the year.

He was ruled out for the game with a diagnosed concussion shortly before halftime.

Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) missed his fourth straight game on Sunday, but Harbaugh expressed cautious optimism that he might be ready to return while also acknowledging frustration with the slow healing process. The 5-foot-9 wideout returned to practice on a very limited basis last week.

“It’s just been slow. I don’t know what else to say,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been slow. It was supposed to be two weeks ago. Now you’re just at the point where it’s, ‘Let me know when you’re ready.’ And hamstrings are like that. That’s just the fact of it. He’s working really hard, and I think there’s a chance for this week. Now you get to the point where I’m just not going to count on it until he’s back.”

The Ravens hope Sunday will bring the return of cornerback Asa Jackson to the secondary for the first time since suffering a turf toe injury on Oct. 5. The third-year defensive back was placed on injured reserve-designated to return and is eligible to return to game action in Week 14.

Jackson returned to practice on Nov. 21 after he started four of five games earlier this season when veteran Lardarius Webb was still working his way back to form after a summer back injury.

“We’ve just got to see that he’s moving and he’s bursting,” Harbaugh said. “Then, the [toe] feels good the next day and you get back out and do it again. [We have to see] that he’s healthy and that he can play at an NFL level, which is a high level. He had a good week last week, and I’m very optimistic. You don’t know until you see it.”

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Marlon Brown key to Ravens unlocking more red-zone production?

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Marlon Brown key to Ravens unlocking more red-zone production?

Posted on 20 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Some expected wide receiver Marlon Brown’s production to dip this year after a 2013 campaign in which he caught 49 passes for 524 yards as the Ravens’ most surprising rookie.

The free-agent acquisitions of Steven Smith and Owen Daniels as well as the expected presence of a healthy Dennis Pitta meant the 6-foot-5 undrafted free agent from the University of Georgia would likely fall down at least a couple pegs in the receiving hierarchy, but Brown has been an afterthought through the first 10 weeks of the 2014 season. Catching only 10 passes for 93 yards in eight games — he missed two games with a pelvic injury — Brown keeps waiting and working for his opportunity while learning from seasoned veterans who weren’t on the roster when he was a rookie.

“I’m a competitor and I love to make plays and make the team [better],” said Brown, who has seen more playing time recently and has caught five passes for 45 yards over the Ravens’ last two games. “Obviously, I would like to be able to make more plays and be put in that position. At the end of the day, I tip my hat to Owen Daniels and Steve Smith. Those are the vets. I’m learning every day from these two greats, so I can’t complain about anything.”

Anyone who watched Brown play as a rookie knew his extensive playing time was as much about attrition at the wide receiver position as any other factor, but it was difficult not to be impressed with his size and potential as a target inside the 20. The Ravens ranked 31st in the red zone in 2013, but Brown was often their only option in that area of the field as he made all seven of his touchdown receptions on plays starting inside the opponent’s 20.

A year later, the Baltimore offense is much better under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, ranking 12th in total yards and tied for seventh in points per game. But the red zone remains an area in which the Ravens could improve as they’re eighth in the NFL in trips inside the 20, but they’ve scored touchdowns on only 54.1 percent of those drives, ranking 19th in the league.

“We need to be more efficient down there. We had some bad games early,” said Kubiak, pointing to the Week 2 win over Pittsburgh when the Ravens were only 2-for-6 inside the 20. “That puts you behind the eight ball pretty quick. But the red zone is an interesting stat, because sometimes you may come out of a game 2-for-2 and you didn’t win the game. It’s about the importance of when you’re down there, in my opinion, and it’s fixing to get very important here over the next six weeks. Usually, we’re at our best when we run the ball pretty well.”

The dramatic improvement with the offense this year has largely been the result of a consistent ground game, but the question lingers over who quarterback Joe Flacco can really depend on inside the red zone after Pitta was lost for the season in Week 3.

Smith has been Baltimore’s leading receiver this year, but his 5-foot-9 frame and ability to work in space is neutralized in a constricted area as he’s caught only four passes for 22 yards inside the 20 this season. Torrey Smith caught two touchdowns inside the red zone against Tampa Bay in Week 6, but he’s generally not the receiver who’s going to attack the ball when it’s up for grabs.

All three of Daniels’ touchdown receptions this season have come inside the red zone, but opposing defenses have keyed on him in the middle portion of the field as the Ravens move closer to the goal line, meaning someone else needs to emerge.

Despite his encouraging work inside the red zone during his rookie year, Brown has yet to be targeted inside the 20 in 2014. He’s an option Kubiak would be wise to consider as the Ravens have rarely used the jump ball in the end zone. Brown’s frame makes him the perfect candidate for occasionally featuring that strategy close to the goal line.

“He’s much more involved right now,” Kubiak said. “He has a big body, a chance to make some plays. So, it’s going to take all of us, and I’m sure Marlon will get his opportunities.”

At this point, Brown shouldn’t be mistaken for a starting-caliber receiver or a player on which you can rely to run precise routes all over the field, but his size is something the Ravens should try to utilize. And even if the offense has more overall talent than it did a year ago, Brown made plays against NFL defenses inside the red zone last season, proving he has the ability to contribute in an area that needs more efficiency.

It’s worth giving him a look as the Ravens try to make it back to the postseason in their final six games.

“I’m definitely trying to improve as a player, as a receiver in all the routes,” said Brown, who downplayed any difficulty he had learning Kubiak’s system as some have speculated. “I don’t want to be a guy who just runs red-zone routes or just runs [certain] routes. I want to run all the routes. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from all these guys while they’re here. I’m just trying to take advantage and soak in anything.”

Brown soaking in a few touchdowns inside the red zone would be an encouraging development for the Ravens down the stretch.

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Five up, five down: Ravens stock at midway point

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Five up, five down: Ravens stock at midway point

Posted on 29 October 2014 by Luke Jones

At the midway point of the season, we take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is up and down after the first eight games of 2014 …

STOCK UP

1. Justin Forsett
Skinny: What else can be said about the 29-year-old journeyman who currently ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing yards (571) and second among running backs in yards per carry (5.5). Forsett said it best last week in quipping that many people didn’t even know he was still in the NFL entering 2014, but he’s been a saving grace in the aftermath of the Ray Rice saga. For an organization that’s found plenty of diamonds in the rough over the years, Forsett has been as good of a story as any.

2. Pernell McPhee
Skinny: The rush specialist has picked the perfect time to have a career year with his rookie contract set to expire. McPhee is second on the team in sacks (four) despite playing fewer snaps than Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil, a reflection of how effective he’s been in putting pressure on quarterbacks. The 2011 fifth-round pick’s improved health as well as defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ effective use of McPhee have added up to the Ravens having their best interior rusher in quite some time.

3. C.J. Mosley
Skinny: Many were obviously high on the 2014 first-round pick, but Mosley has been better than advertised in serving as the Ravens’ best inside linebacker and a top candidate for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Mosley ranks fourth in the NFL in tackles entering Week 9 and has recorded two interceptions, six pass breakups, five quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. For a front seven that needed some new blood, Mosley has been a high-impact addition.

4. Rick Wagner
Skinny: Remember when right tackle was a major topic of discussion throughout the offseason? Wagner has not only quelled those concerns, but the 2013 fifth-round selection has been an above-average player at his position, a major reason why the offensive line has been one of the strengths of the 2014 Ravens. He and perennial Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda have been an impressive tandem opening lanes on the right side of the line for the league’s eighth-ranked running game.

5. Brandon Williams
Skinny: There were high hopes for the second-year nose tackle to slide into a starting role and Williams hasn’t disappointed while wreaking havoc for interior offensive linemen against the run. He is seventh on the team in tackles and has made it far more difficult for teams to focus their attention on defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Very athletic for his size, Williams has recorded 25 tackles, 1/2 sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in his first year as a starter.

Others receiving consideration: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Steve Smith

STOCK DOWN

1. Jacoby Jones
Skinny: His season has been nothing short of disastrous as he’s dropped more passes (five) than he’s caught (four) and has twice lost fumbles on returns. The Ravens re-signed him to a four-year, $12 million contract that included a $3.5 million signing bonus in March, which is now looking like one of the worst contracts the organization has handed out in recent memory. He’ll need a big second half just to avoid being cut after the 2014 season, but his role has all but disappeared in the offense.

2. Bernard Pierce
Skinny: It’s been a dramatic fall for the 2012 third-round pick, who began the year as the starting running back and was a healthy inactive in Sunday’s game against Cincinnati. Pierce’s 3.6 yards per carry average is nearly two yards worse than Forsett’s (5.5) and lags behind rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro (4.4), which reflects his struggles and indecisiveness running in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking system. Pierce hasn’t taken advantage of what was a huge chance to prove himself as a feature back.

3. Matt Elam
Skinny: It’s fair to point out that Elam has been out of position for a large portion of his career, playing free safety as a rookie and often filling in at the nickel spot often in 2014. However, it isn’t just his pass coverage that’s been unsatisfactory as the 2013 first-round pick leads the team in missed tackles with 12, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s too early to label Elam a bust, but he hasn’t consistently displayed qualities of a good strong safety, let alone the versatility the Ravens expected him to have.

4. Torrey Smith
Skinny: The fourth-year receiver has had his moments and has drawn several significant pass interference calls, but he’s gone from a wideout who produced 1,128 receiving yards a year ago to one on pace for 36 catches and 616 yards in 2014. The Steve Smith factor is obvious, but Torrey Smith has averaged just 1.22 yards per route run, which is the 14th-worst mark in the NFL among players targeted at least 20 times. A down season couldn’t have come at a worse time with his rookie contract expiring.

5. Arthur Brown
Skinny: The 2013 second-round pick has been a healthy inactive for eight straight games as the Ravens have elected to use the likes of Albert McClellan and rookie free agent Zach Orr on special teams. The re-signing of Daryl Smith and the drafting of Mosley made it pretty obvious that Brown would need to remain patient in terms of expanding his role from a year ago when he served as a nickel linebacker. But for him to not even suit up for games is pretty telling of his current status.

Others receiving consideration: Marlon Brown, Chykie Brown, Lardarius Webb

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Forsett content surprising people on way to career season

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Forsett content surprising people on way to career season

Posted on 22 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The highlights were few and far between in the first half of the Ravens’ season-opening 23-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last month.

With Ray Rice suspended — and about to be released the following day — and fill-in starter Bernard Pierce managing just 17 yards on six carries as the Bengals led 15-0 at halftime, the Ravens began feeding the ball to their 5-foot-8 veteran newcomer considered little more than a temporary placeholder for Rice at the time of his signing. Baltimore fell short that day but discovered one of its greatest reclamation projects in recent years as Justin Forsett finished the afternoon with a game-high 70 yards on 11 carries.

He hasn’t looked back since as he not only leads the Ravens with 503 rushing yards on 87 carries but tops the NFL with a 5.8 yards per carry average through the first seven weeks of the season. Not bad for a 29-year-old who’s played for five different teams in seven years and is entering a stage of his career when most running backs are slowing down considerably.

Forsett smiles when asked about the constant disbelief expressed by media and fans while he continues to rack up yards for the league’s seventh-ranked running game.

“I’m OK with surprising people,” said Forsett, who’s currently on pace to break the franchise’s single-season yards per carry average. “A lot of guys didn’t know I was still in the league. I just take that in stride. It’s all fun.”

Not even the Ravens could have anticipated this much from Forsett, who was signed to a one-year contract on April 4 to serve as an insurance policy for Rice’s unknown status at the time and to bring a veteran presence to help teach new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system. Forsett had averaged 5.9 yards per carry in his only year with Kubiak in Houston in 2012 and owned previous experience working in a zone-blocking system in his four years in Seattle.

Most expected Forsett to be the odd man out once Rice returned from suspension, but that, of course, changed when the three-time Pro Bowl running back was cut on Sept. 8. Even now, there remains a feeling of how long Forsett can keep up this type of play as his 503 yards in 2014 are only 47 fewer than his rushing total from his previous three seasons combined.

Coaches love his ability to pass block — something that hasn’t been taken for granted with the injuries to left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele — and his 23 receptions rank third on the team behind wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels.

“He gets the most out of his ability,” said Kubiak, who knew Forsett’s character was a perfect fit for head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he does a great job in pass protection. He’s a three-down player, so he’s a guy that you can keep on the field all the time in what you’re doing. The thing he’s doing right now [is] he’s finding a way to make a big play every week. I think that’s the key.”

Many have been quick to point to the resurgence of the offensive line to explain Forsett’s impressive numbers after the group couldn’t open any holes last season when the Ravens ran for a franchise-worst 3.1 yards per carry. But the veteran has run with a confidence and decisiveness that Pierce and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro haven’t shown on a consistent basis.

The younger backs are more impressive physical specimens with ideal size for interior runs, but Forsett’s average of 6.63 yards per carry running between the guards is the highest rate in the NFL for backs with at least 20 carries, according to Pro Football Focus. His yards per carry average is substantially better than that of Pierce (3.6) or Taliaferro (4.5), which also illustrates his superior vision in Kubiak’s one-cut system.

A humble man of Christian faith, Forsett is more interested in complimenting the men blocking for him than accepting praise for himself after years of less-than-ideal opportunities.

“I think it’s the offensive line,” said Forsett when asked how to attribute his success. “They’re doing a heck of a job going out there and executing, getting those guys cut backside and stretching a defense. I’m just able to find holes. I just thank God for the opportunity, and the guys are just working for me.”

The Ravens’ biggest concern at this point might be trying to keep the veteran fresh as he ran a career-high 23 times against Atlanta last Sunday and is only 31 rushing attempts shy of his highest total in any season. Listed at 197 pounds, Forsett has a good frame for a back of his stature, but his current pace would have him approaching 200 carries by the end of the season.

Forsett was incredibly durable throughout his career until turf toe and a stress fracture in his foot limited him to nine games with the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago, making him confident that he’ll continue to hold up with an expanded workload in his seventh NFL season. He says he’s always prepared physically to be a starting back, even if the opportunity hasn’t been there for most of his career.

“I’ve always taken care of my body, because I had great veterans when I came into the league like T.J. Duckett, Maurice Morris, and Edgerrin James,” Forsett said. “They taught me early on, no matter if you’re playing special teams or running and busting the wedge, take care of your body, because that’s one thing that can get you out of the league. I stay on top of that, so it’s not that bad.”

Signing on the same day that the Ravens added Daniels, Forsett told reporters at the time that he carried a chip on his shoulder “the size of Texas” to prove he still had plenty of good football ahead of him. It was the kind of message you typically hear from a veteran cast aside by his former team, but perhaps his career 4.88 yards per carry average entering 2014 suggested he deserved a better opportunity than the ones he’d received in recent years.

In fairness, his size doesn’t scream feature back and the label of being a special-teams player is often difficult to shake. Maybe the Ravens knew they had a diamond in the rough, but even they continue to be surprised with how much Forsett has brought to an offense on pace to be one of the most productive in franchise history.

No one may have blinked when he was added in the offseason, but Forsett’s play has led many to rub their eyes in disbelief through the first two months of the 2014 season.

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “I’m surprised that he’s even here right now. I feel like he’s a guy that could be the lead guy anywhere. I’m glad he got his shot here, and he’s able to showcase his talent.”

 

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Ravens’ blowout win over Tampa Bay more fun than educational

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Ravens’ blowout win over Tampa Bay more fun than educational

Posted on 12 October 2014 by Luke Jones

If you missed the Ravens’ 48-17 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, don’t feel bad.

So did the Buccaneers.

Earning their largest road win since a 31-point victory in Cincinnati in 2008, the Ravens responded exactly how you’d like after a disappointing defeat at Indianapolis in Week 5. There may not be such a thing as a statement game against what looked like the worst team in the NFL, but it was encouraging seeing Baltimore win so impressively on the road after struggling so often away from M&T Bank Stadium over the last couple seasons.

The Ravens’ 48 points were the second-highest single-game total in franchise history as they moved the ball with no resistance from the league’s 30th-ranked defense, particularly in the first half. It doesn’t get much better than that.

“It’s not going to always be like that, obviously, but you chase perfection,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s nice to see a reward like this for the guys.”

Beyond that, there probably isn’t anything earth-shattering to glean from Sunday’s win as the Buccaneers are now 1-5 after entering Week 6 with the second-worst point differential in the NFL. The 4-2 Ravens just reinforced the idea that they’re a good team that dominated a really bad one in sparsely-filled Raymond James Stadium.

Quarterback Joe Flacco tied Tony Banks’ single-game franchise record with five touchdown passes and did it in just over 16 minutes, the quickest to accomplish the feat in one contest since the NFL-AFL merger. But we already knew Flacco can be brilliant when his offensive line protects the pocket — even with rookies James Hurst and John Urschel blocking on the blindside — and he has sufficient weapons to throw to.

The seventh-year signal-caller continues to have one of the best seasons of his career after completing 21 of 29 passes for 306 yards and a 146.0 passer rating, which was also a personal best to go with the five touchdowns he threw. Through six games, Flacco has thrown 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions and has appeared a natural fit for Gary Kubiak’s system.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from Sunday’s performance was struggling wide receiver Torrey Smith catching two touchdown passes in the first six minutes of the game as he twice beat the Buccaneers secondary on inside routes. The fourth-year wideout said earlier in the week that he remained confident despite his slow start to the season, but it was tough not to wonder how his psyche was holding up after only 11 receptions and one touchdown through the first five games of 2014.

“That’s how I expect to play every week; it just doesn’t happen,” Smith said. “It’s important to build some positive momentum for myself to get going for our team. The better I play, the better situations our team will be put in. I understand that I have a major role on this team, which I love and embrace. It’s important for me to play at a high level all the time.”

The early lead allowed the Baltimore defense to pin its ears back as the pass rush swarmed overwhelmed Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon, sacking him five times and registering an incredible 15 quarterback hits. Tampa Bay managed just 101 total yards and no points in the first half as the game was over by the end of the first quarter.

Dean Pees’ unit didn’t maintain the same intensity level in the second half as the pressure waned and the secondary allowed Glennon to finish the game with 314 yards, but the Ravens didn’t need to take as many chances with such a comfortable lead.

Sunday’s win may not prove that the Ravens are a championship-caliber team just yet, but it was a fun afternoon in which Harbaugh’s team executed a game plan to perfection in the first quarter in another team’s stadium. Nothing really mattered after that, even as they continued to play well against a defeated team.

“It was nice to bounce back after a tough week,” said Flacco about his record day. “All that stuff really doesn’t matter. Really, anything we did after the first three touchdowns didn’t really mean too much at the end of the day. It was all just stats. That stuff feels good and looks good and it’s great and all that, but it really doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about winning the football game. That’s what we came here to do, and that’s what we did.”

And they had a blast doing it in convincing fashion.

 

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 6

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 6

Posted on 07 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is rising and falling …

STOCK RISING

C.J. Mosley
Skinny: The rookie inside linebacker was the best player on the field for the Ravens in Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis as he finished with 14 tackles, a quarterback hit, a pass breakup, and an interception. Baltimore has used plenty of high draft picks on defensive players in recent years with mixed results, so it’s encouraging to see Mosley emerging as a game-changer on that side of the ball with so many aging players around him. Veteran Daryl Smith’s strong play last year was a pleasant surprise the year after Ray Lewis’ retirement, but Mosley has been the better player of the two in 2014.

Marshal Yanda
Skinny: Coming back from offseason shoulder surgery a year ago, the Pro Bowl right guard wasn’t his usual self in 2013, but Yanda has again been one of the best players in the NFL at his position so far in 2014. According to Pro Football Focus, the eighth-year guard is the Ravens’ highest-graded offensive player this season and the running game has been particularly potent with him and second-year tackle Rick Wagner opening running lanes on the right side. The offensive line struggled against Indianapolis, but Yanda had another strong day despite the loss.

Pernell McPhee
Skinny: The Ravens have had difficulty sustaining a pass rush, but the reserve specialist has arguably been their best weapon in that department, whether lining up at end or sliding inside in passing situations. McPhee may have only picked up his first sack of the season against the Colts, but the 2011 fifth-round pick leads the Ravens in Pro Football Focus’ quarterback hurries category despite playing less than Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. The Ravens try to limit McPhee’s snaps to keep him healthy after dealing with nagging knee issues in past years, but he’s been one of their best defensive players this season.

STOCK FALLING

James Hurst
Skinny: The undrafted rookie free agent was a pleasant surprise in his first career start against the Carolina Panthers, but his second game as the starting left tackle was disastrous as Indianapolis beat him repeatedly in the process of harassing quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens didn’t provide Hurst with enough help on the left side, so they’ll need to adjust as they play another road game against Tampa Bay in Week 6. Veteran Eugene Monroe was noncommittal last week when asked when he anticipated returning, so the Ravens can only hope that Hurst bounces back to play like he did against Carolina.

Terrell Suggs
Skinny: The veteran linebacker hasn’t played as poorly as some have suggested while focusing on the fact that he only has 1/2 sack so far this year, but it’s apparent the nagging groin injury he’s been dealing with is taking its toll as he was a non-factor against Indianapolis. Suggs is eighth on the team in tackles and has looked more like the player he was in the second half of 2013 than the linebacker who collected nine sacks in the first eight games of last season. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is still solid against the run, but you have to wonder if his days as a consistent high-impact player are coming to an end.

Torrey Smith
Skinny: Dropping the fourth-down pass from Flacco on the Ravens’ final offensive play of the game Sunday was just the latest example of concern as Smith has just 11 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown through five games. Gary Kubiak’s West Coast offense depends on short-to-intermediate routes that Smith often struggles in running, leaving the fourth-year wideout uncomfortable and on a different page than Flacco for much of the season. Smith has been able to draw a number of pass interference penalties on deep balls, but you wonder how much his struggles are wearing on him in a contract year.

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Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones

A 3-1 record through the first quarter of the season has made a statement that the Ravens are a playoff-caliber team, but a road win against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday would scream they belong among the NFL’s elite.

Despite an offense that was ranked 29th in the NFL last season, the Ravens bring a revamped unit to Lucas Oil Stadium that’s ranked sixth in total yards and tied for seventh in points per game, which could lead to a shootout against an Indianapolis offense ranking first in total yards and averaging a league-leading 34.0 points per game. Of course, the Colts’ numbers benefited from playing two woeful teams, Tennessee and Jacksonville, in their last two games while the Ravens have only played one game away from M&T Bank Stadium so far this season.

The Baltimore secondary has faced much scrutiny this season and will face its biggest test in quarterback Andrew Luck and the NFL’s top-ranked passing game. The Ravens rank 24th in pass defense, but a stout run defense has often made opponents one-dimensional and the pass rush finally showed up in a convincing 38-10 win over Carolina last Sunday.

Sunday marks the 11th all-time meeting between the Ravens and Indianapolis in the regular season with the Colts holding a 7-3 advantage. Baltimore is winless in four regular-season trips to Indianapolis. The good news for the Ravens is they got the best of the Colts in their only meeting against Luck that came in the 2012 postseason, which also served as their only playoff win against Indianapolis in three tries.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to begin a difficult stretch of four of five games on the road with a win on Sunday …

1. The Baltimore running game wins the time of possession battle as Justin Forsett is the leading rusher in an attack that goes over 125 yards on the ground again. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak always prefers establishing the run, but it will be even more critical in a game with such a prolific offense on the opposing side. Indianapolis is allowing 4.4 yards per carry, which indicates the Ravens should be able to move the ball effectively on the ground to set up play-action passes. The recently-injured Bernard Pierce will see some action unlike last week, but Forsett will still lead the Ravens in rushing yards in what will be a three-back timeshare.

2. Indianapolis uses a no-huddle attack to keep the Ravens’ pass rush on its heels and to help a very shaky offensive line. Even with a big lead, the Colts pushed the tempo against Tennessee last week, and they’ll use a similar style to keep the Baltimore front on its heels and to protect an offensive line that’s already surrendered 13 quarterback hits and 22 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s no secret that three-step drops limit any defense’s ability to get to the quarterback, but the Ravens have been especially vulnerable to this over the last couple years and a quicker tempo will make the defense too flatfooted in the second half, especially with Chris Canty unlikely to play and Terrell Suggs less than 100 percent.

3. Colts cornerback Vontae Davis and bracketed coverage finally make Steve Smith look human, but Torrey Smith catches a touchdown and posts a season-high 105 receiving yards. After collecting 429 receiving yards in four weeks, the elder Smith will finally receive consistent attention befitting a No. 1 receiver as Davis will shadow him and receive extra help whenever possible. Steve Smith will still have a presence, but it will be Torrey Smith with a dynamic performance against an Indianapolis defense ranking 21st in pass defense. The fourth-year wideout will catch a long score on an effective play-action fake that makes new starting free safety Sergio Brown — filling in for the suspended LaRon Landry — bite.

4. A secondary that’s been shaky all year finally crumbles as Luck throws for 350 yards and three touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees stood up for the play of his pass defense this week, but the Colts have too many weapons for top cornerback Jimmy Smith to account for and no one else inspires enough confidence to slow such a passing game. Cornerback Lardarius Webb wasn’t listed on the injury report for the second straight week, but it’s impossible to have any expectations for him until he finally takes extensive snaps in live-game action. An improved pass rush against Carolina helped mask issues in coverage, but the Ravens won’t be able to do the same with Indianapolis using an up-tempo attack, which will lead to a long day for the back end of the defense.

5. Quarterback Joe Flacco has another strong afternoon, but the Baltimore offense can’t quite hang with Indianapolis in a 30-24 loss to snap a three-game winning streak. At the start of the season, I wouldn’t have given the Ravens much of a chance to win this one, but a stronger-than-expected Baltimore offense and the Colts’ less-than-impressive offensive line will make this a close one. In the same way that the Colts’ two wins have come against less-than-stellar competition, I can’t be convinced that a shaky road win over Cleveland is enough evidence that the Ravens can carry over performances on the road like what we saw against Carolina last week. Flacco will play at a high level against a very ordinary defense, but the Baltimore defense won’t force enough stops against Luck and the Colts to pull out the road upset.

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