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Ravens-Jaguars: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 24 September 2017 by Luke Jones

LONDON — For the first time in the 22-year history of the franchise, the Ravens are playing a game outside the United States as they take on Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium in London.

Having arrived Friday morning, Baltimore aims to start 3-0 for the second year in a row and just the third time in the John Harbaugh era. The Jaguars are playing in London for the fifth straight year, giving them the experience edge in adjusting to the five-hour time change and playing in the iconic venue. However, the number of Baltimore fans witnessed on the streets of London compared to Jacksonville fans this week could give the Ravens a home-field feel at Wembley.

The biggest surprise on the list of inactives was offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, who filled in for the injured Marshal Yanda in the second half of last Sunday’s game. Recently promoted from the practice squad, Matt Skura was lining up as the starting right guard during pre-game warmups and did start all four preseason games last month.

Rookie offensive lineman and London native Jermaine Eluemunor is also active for the first time this season.

The Ravens will be without their anchor on the defensive line after Brandon Williams (foot) was already ruled out on Friday. Third-year defensive tackle Carl Davis will start in his place in the base defense, but second-year defensive lineman Willie Henry is also active for the first time this season.

Despite missing practices in Owings Mills on Wednesday and Thursday, running back Terrance West (calf) is active and will play. He received just two carries in the second half of the 24-10 win over Cleveland as Buck Allen and Alex Collins handled the workload in the backfield.

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (knee/ankle) is also active and will return to action for the first time since the season opener. He was a full participant in practice all week and was moving around well during a pre-game workout.

There were no surprises among the Jacksonville inactives as both left tackle Cam Robinson (shoulder) and cornerback Jalen Ramsey (ankle) were activated despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report.

Sunday’s referee is Pete Morelli.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in London calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching 70 degrees with winds up to 10 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with black pants while the Jaguars don black tops with black pants for Week 3.

Sunday marks the 21st all-time meeting between these former AFC Central rivals with Jacksonville holding an 11-9 advantage. However, the Ravens are 9-3 against the Jaguars since the start of the 2000 season and won last year’s Week 3 meeting between the teams in Jacksonville.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
OL Tony Bergstrom
DE Chris Wormley
DE Bronson Kaufusi
DT Brandon Williams
CB Jaylen Hill
OT Diegot Joseph
TE Maxx Williams

JACKSONVILLE
QB Ryan Nassib
RB T.J. Yeldon
LB Lerentee McCray
OL William Poehls
OL Josh Walker
CB Jalen Myrick
WR Jaelen Strong

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Ravens officially rule out Brandon Williams, three others for Sunday

Posted on 22 September 2017 by Luke Jones

LONDON — Already facing the challenge of replacing six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda for the remainder of the season, the Ravens will also be without their best defensive lineman in London.

After missing practices in Owings Mills this week with a foot injury, defensive tackle Brandon Williams did not make the trip across the Atlantic Ocean and was officially ruled out for Sunday’s contest against Jacksonville. The absence of Williams presents a bigger challenge against a Jaguars offense committed to running the ball with first-round rookie Leonard Fournette and veteran Chris Ivory.

Third-year defensive tackle Carl Davis is expected to start in Williams’ place at Wembley Stadium. In 13 snaps against Cleveland in Week 2, the 2015 third-round pick from Iowa finished with two tackles.

“Carl is going to have to step up,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Thursday. “We played him a little bit last week, and we thought he did a pretty good job against the run. He had a nice tackle for loss down there in the backed-up area.”

The Ravens also ruled out tight end Maxx Williams (ankle), cornerback Jaylen Hill (thigh), and recently-signed offensive tackle Dieugot Joseph (non-injury related) for Sunday’s game, leaving them with just three other players to deactivate for Week 3. Maxx Williams injured his left ankle late in last Sunday’s win over the Browns and exited the post-game locker room wearing a walking boot.

In more encouraging news, running back Terrance West (calf) returned to practice as a full participant Friday after missing the first two practices of the week. The starter received only two carries in the second half of the Browns game and is officially listed as questionable to play on Sunday, but his participation level in the final workout of the week would appear to bode well for his status.

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (knee/ankle) was also listed as questionable, but he is poised to return to action after practicing fully all week. He did not play in Week 2 after injuring his leg early in the second quarter of the season opener on Sept. 10.

The Jaguars officially ruled out recently-acquired wide receiver Jaelen Strong with a hamstring injury while 2016 first-round cornerback Jalen Ramsey (ankle) was designated as questionable. The latter is expected to play, however.

Sunday’s forecast at Wembley Stadium calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching the low 70s and only a 10 percent chance of precipitation, according to Weather.com.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), OT Dieugot Joseph (non-injury), DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Michael Campanaro (ankle), DB Anthony Levine (chest), WR Chris Matthews (ankle), LB Za’Darius Smith (knee/ankle), RB Terrance West (calf)

JACKSONVILLE
OUT: WR Jaelen Strong (hamstring), LB Lerentee McCray (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: QB Chad Henne (illness), CB Jalen Ramsey (ankle), OL Cam Robinson (shoulder)

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Za’Darius Smith returns to practice as Ravens set sights on London

Posted on 21 September 2017 by Luke Jones

LONDON — On the eve of their departure for London, the Ravens welcomed back a member of their pass rush as Za’Darius Smith was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice.

The third-year outside linebacker missed the Week 2 victory over Cleveland after injuring his knee and ankle in the first half of the season opener. It now appears he’ll return for Sunday’s game against rookie running back Leonard Fournette and the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium.

Smith’s return was overshadowed by the absences of five other players, a list headlined by star defensive tackle Brandon Williams as he continues to recover from a foot injury. Head coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Williams is not dealing with a “long-term” injury, but it remains unclear when he will return to action.

Baltimore’s depth in the trenches does ease concerns over Williams’ absence as three defensive linemen — Bronson Kaufusi, Willie Henry, and Chris Wormley — have been healthy scratches for the first two games of the 2017 season. With Williams missing the second half of the Browns game, third-year defensive tackle Carl Davis saw 13 snaps in the 24-10 win.

“Those guys want to play, and they are fighting like crazy in practice,” Harbaugh said. “It makes our practices better. We have young players that need to get better, and when they get their chance, they need to play well. Carl stepped up and played well last game. We’ll see what happens.”

Running back Terrance West (calf), wide receiver Michael Campanaro (ankle), tight end Maxx Williams (ankle), and cornerback Jaylen Hill (thigh) were also listed as non-participants in Wednesday’s practice. West received only two carries in the second half of the Cleveland game, leading to more opportunities for backup Buck Allen and the recently-promoted Alex Collins.

Offensive linemen Matt Skura and Dieugot Joseph both took part in practice after being added to the 53-man roster Tuesday to take the places of six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda (ankle) and rookie linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), who were both placed on injured reserve. Skura started all four preseason games for the Ravens before being waived at the end of the summer and signed to the practice squad while Joseph had been a member of Chicago’s developmental squad.

The Ravens were scheduled to fly to London following Thursday afternoon’s practice. Harbaugh said the organization is basically following what other teams have done in their trips across the Atlantic Ocean in recent years. The biggest challenge will be adjusting to the five-hour time change just two days ahead of their meeting with the Jaguars, a team the Ravens are facing for the fourth consecutive season.

Jacksonville is also playing a game at Wembley Stadium for the fifth consecutive season.

“I do not know if any teams lately have gone over the whole week [based on] our research that [team president] Dick Cass did,” Harbaugh said. “Dick really spearheaded this for us. He was out in front of this and did the homework on it and came up with the basic format for what we are doing and did a great job with it.”

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Campanaro (ankle), CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), RB Terrance West (calf), DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DB Anthony Levine (chest)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Za’Darius Smith (knee/ankle)

JACKSONVILLE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Tashaun Gipson (ankle), LB Lerentee McCray (knee), C Brandon Linder (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Jaelen Strong (hamstring), CB Jalen Ramsey (ankle), DT Malik Jackson (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Blake Bortles (right wrist), WR Allen Hurns (shoulder)

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Brandon Williams not dealing with “long-term” foot injury

Posted on 18 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens won’t have the services of veteran right guard Marshal Yanda for the rest of the season, and it remains unclear when another pillar of their roster will return to action.

The news wasn’t as bleak on defensive tackle Brandon Williams after he left Sunday’s game with a foot injury, but his status for the Week 3 tilt against Jacksonville in London remains unclear after he played only 19 snaps against Cleveland.

Third-year tight end Maxx Williams also appeared to injure his left foot in the second half and left the post-game locker room wearing a walking boot.

“I don’t have any word on those guys at this time,” Harbaugh said. “Those were not long-term injuries, so you probably won’t be getting any updates on that.”

What Harbaugh considers a “long-term” injury to be is open for interpretation, of course. The first injury report of the week will be released on Wednesday afternoon.

The Ravens were already without outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (knee/ankle) and cornerback Jaylen Hill (thigh) for Sunday’s 24-10 win over the Browns. Smith was injured in the first half of the season opener in Cincinnati while Hill has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since the final week of the preseason.

With Yanda and rookie linebacker Bam Bradley (knee) lost for the season in Week 2, the Ravens will have an incredible 15 players on injured reserve when those transactions become official. In the former’s case, the fractured ankle will snap an impressive stretch of six consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl.

“He’ll have his surgery soon. He had a couple things in there he had to deal with,” said Harbaugh, who added that Yanda would need some “plating” to repair the fracture. “But he was really disappointed. You’ll get a chance to speak with him. He’ll definitely speak for himself on that, but it’d be sufficed to say [that] it was tough, hard for him. As tough as it is for the team, and for all of us, the thing you have to keep in mind how tough it is for the player.”

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 17 September 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens aim to continue their dominance over Cleveland that spans nearly two decades.

Playing their 20th home opener at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday afternoon, Baltimore looks to improve to 2-0 after a superb defensive performance in Cincinnati last week to kick off the 2017 season. Meanwhile, the Browns try to rebound from a close home loss to Pittsburgh and avoid an 0-2 start in head coach Hue Jackson’s second season.

Wide receiver Michael Campanaro (ankle) and outside linebacker Tim Williams (illness) are both active despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week. Campanaro completed an early pre-game workout and showed no lingering effects from the ankle issue that surfaced during Friday’s practice. Williams’ availability is a positive development with outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith out after suffering a knee-ankle injury in Week 1.

The Ravens’ most notable healthy scratch was second-year wide receiver Chris Moore, who is listed as the primary kick returner on the team’s official depth chart. The 2016 fourth-round pick is coming off a disappointing training camp and did not play a single offensive snap in Week 1.

On Saturday, the Ravens promoted running back Alex Collins and cornerback Tony McRae from their practice squad, waived running back Jeremy Langford, and placed cornerback Sheldon Price (concussion) on injured reserve. Both Collins and McRae are active for Sunday’s game.

For the second straight week, the Ravens deactivated three of their eight defensive linemen on the 53-man roster, making one wonder how much longer they can continue to carry so many players in that positional group.

The Browns will be without the first overall pick of the 2017 draft as defensive end Myles Garrett remains sidelined with an ankle injury. He was officially declared out on Friday.

Sunday’s referee is Gene Steratore.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the low 80s with winds up to six miles per hour and only a 15 percent chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with white pants for their home opener while the Browns don white tops with white pants.

Sunday marks the 37th all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with Baltimore enjoying an overwhelming 27-9 advantage dating back to 1999. The Ravens are 16-2 against Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Chris Moore
CB Jaylen Hill
DT Willie Henry
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
LB Za’Darius Smith
DE Bronson Kaufusi
DE Chris Wormley

CLEVELAND
QB Cody Kessler
WR Reggie Davis
OL Marcus Martin
OL Zach Banner
WR Kasen Williams
DL Myles Garrett
DL T.Y. McGill

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Ravens rule out Z. Smith; declare Campanaro, T. Williams questionable

Posted on 15 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens could find themselves thin at outside linebacker for their home opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

As expected, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was declared out with a knee and ankle injury sustained in last week’s win over Cincinnati, but rookie outside linebacker Tim Williams was listed as questionable on the final injury report after missing practice time with an illness this week. The third-round pick from Alabama did return to the field on a limited basis Friday, but his absence could be detrimental to his game-day status after he was already a healthy scratch in Week 1.

If Williams were to be inactive, the Ravens would have only three healthy outside linebackers in starters Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon and rookie second-round pick Tyus Bowser. In past seasons, the presence of Albert McClellan would help as the veteran can play all four linebacker positions, but he was lost for the season with a torn ACL last month.

Baltimore added wide receiver Michael Campanaro to Friday’s injury report after he was a limited practice participant because of an ankle issue. He was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium.

With veteran running back Danny Woodhead placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury earlier this week, many have identified Campanaro as someone who could see more targets from the slot and in the underneath passing game. Of course, injuries have mostly derailed the start of the River Hill graduate’s NFL career.

After missing practices all week, cornerbacks Jaylen Hill (hamstring) and Sheldon Price (concussion) were officially ruled out for Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Browns confirmed that defensive linemen Myles Garrett (ankle) and T.Y. McGill (back) will not play in Week 2. Veteran guard Kevin Zeitler (thumb) was removed from the final injury report after practicing fully on Friday.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), CB Sheldon Price (concussion), LB Za’Darius Smith (knee, ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Michael Campanaro (ankle), LB Tim Williams (illness)

CLEVELAND
OUT: DL Myles Garrett (ankle), DL T.Y. McGill (back)

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Ravens place Woodhead on IR, promote Langford from practice squad

Posted on 14 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens officially placed running back Danny Woodhead on injured reserve and promoted former Chicago running back Jeremy Langford from the practice squad on Thursday.

On Wednesday, head coach John Harbaugh alluded to the possibility of Woodhead going to IR after confirming he would miss “multiple weeks” with a left hamstring injury suffered in the first quarter of the season-opening win over Cincinnati. The 32-year-old dealt with a hamstring injury to the same leg in the preseason.

Woodhead would be eligible to return to practice in six weeks and could be activated as soon as the Nov. 19 contest at Green Bay. Teams are allowed to bring two players back from IR this year after only being permitted one in past seasons.

Langford gives Baltimore a third healthy tailback on the active roster behind starter Terrance West and backup Buck Allen. The 25-year-old appeared in 28 games for the Bears over the last two seasons, rushing for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns on 210 carries and catching 41 passes for 421 yards and a touchdown.

The Ravens welcomed safety Eric Weddle back to the practice field Thursday after he missed the previous day with what was officially listed as an illness. Rookie outside linebacker Tim Williams was a new absence due to illness after not being listed on Wednesday’s injury report.

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (knee/ankle) and cornerbacks Sheldon Price (concussion) and Jaylen Hill (thigh) remained sidelined.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), CB Sheldon Price (concussion), LB Za’Darius Smith (knee, ankle), LB Tim Williams (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Eric Weddle (illness)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DL Myles Garrett (ankle), DL T.Y. McGill (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OL Kevin Zeitler (thumb)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DL Caleb Brantley (finger), WR Kenny Britt (knee), RB Duke Johnson (chest), DL Danny Shelton (knee), TE Randall Telfer (knee), OL Joe Thomas (knee)

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Ravens weighing options with Woodhead’s status

Posted on 13 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens haven’t yet decided on the status of running back Danny Woodhead, but they know he’ll be sidelined for an extended period of time.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the 32-year-old will miss at least a month after re-injuring his left hamstring in the first quarter of Sunday’s win at Cincinnati. Woodhead was carted to the locker room after pulling up lame running a pass route on Baltimore’s opening drive.

It’s a frustrating development after the veteran newcomer missed a large portion of training camp with the hamstring issue and had caught three passes in his first regular-season series with the Ravens.

“Danny looks like it is going to be a while,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a hamstring; it’s a little unpredictable. But it is going to be multiple weeks on Danny. We’ll just have to see how Ozzie [Newsome] wants to handle it in terms of the roster and things like that. It is going to take Danny at least four weeks to get back, and we will see where it goes from there.”

The Ravens could elect to place Woodhead on injured reserve with the intention to bring him back later in the season. Such a move would clear a spot on the 53-man roster in his absence and would allow him to begin practicing as soon as six weeks from now should he be designated to return. Woodhead would be permitted to return to game action after eight weeks.

Practice-squad running backs Jeremy Langford and Alex Collins remain candidates to be promoted to the active roster if the Ravens desire another healthy running back for Sunday’s game against Cleveland.

“Those two guys have done a really good job studying the offense,” said Harbaugh, who also didn’t rule out the possibility of adding a back from outside the organization. “They are healthy guys. Those are two very good options for us. We will see by the end of the week where we are at with running back.”

The Ravens received better news on outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith after he was carted to the locker room with what was announced as a left knee sprain early in the second quarter of Sunday’s game. Smith wasn’t present for Wednesday’s practice with what was listed as a knee and ankle injury on the official injury report, but he is not expected to miss significant time.

That comes as a pleasant surprise considering how much he appeared to be hurting when the injury occurred.

“It was a painful one. On the field, I wanted to give him a leather strap and a shot of whiskey just to deal with the pain and to get him off the field,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughter from reporters. “But he came through OK. I don’t know if he’ll be up for this week, but he’ll have a chance next week.”

In addition to Woodhead and Smith, safety Eric Weddle did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. He was officially listed as having an illness on Wednesday, but he did miss the final play of Sunday’s game after taking a low hit to the left leg area. Weddle spoke to reporters after the game and was in good spirits, leading one to believe he hadn’t suffered any kind of serious injury.

Cornerbacks Jaylen Hill (thigh) and Sheldon Price (concussion) remained absent from practice after sitting out the season opener.

The Browns were without defensive lineman Myles Garrett (ankle) and offensive linemen Joe Thomas (knee) and Kevin Zeitler (thumb). Garrett, the first overall pick of the 2017 draft, is unlikely to suit up, but Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson said Zeitler will play despite undergoing a procedure on his thumb.

A 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Thomas is four snaps shy of 10,000 consecutive in his future Hall of Fame career. In other words, there’s no doubt about his status for Sunday as the team frequently rests him during the practice week.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), CB Sheldon Price (concussion), LB Za’Darius Smith (knee, ankle), S Eric Weddle (illness), RB Danny Woodhead (thigh)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DL Myles Garrett (ankle), OL Joe Thomas (knee), OL Kevin Zeitler (thumb)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DL Danny Shelton (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DL Caleb Brantley (finger), WR Kenny Britt (knee), RB Duke Johnson (chest), TE Randall Telfer (knee)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 20-0 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 12 September 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens posting their first shutout since 2009 in a 20-0 win over Cincinnati to begin the 2017 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. C.J. Mosley’s end-zone interception in the second quarter was the turning point. Between that red-zone turnover and Andy Dalton’s poor throw to a wide-open Cody Core streaking down the sideline on the next drive, the Bengals could have led 10-3 late in the half. Instead, the Ravens dominated after that.

2. If that Mosley pick was the turning point, the 17-play drive lasting nearly 10 minutes in the third quarter killed what was left of Cincinnati’s spirit. The Ravens converted three times with runs on third-and-short on that long march. How many times has that happened in recent years?

3. I had to laugh at hearing some take exception with Joe Flacco’s quip that it wasn’t that fun for the offense while overlooking him saying winning was what mattered. So many complain about athletes being disingenuous in interviews, but then we never like what they have to say when honest.

4. Watching Terrell Suggs play at this stage of his career reminds me of Ray Lewis in his final few seasons. What he might lack physically compared to his younger self he makes up for with his impeccable mental preparation and instincts. He took Bengals left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to school.

5. Other than a few exceptions, the Ravens generated most of their pocket pressure without using blitzes against the Bengals. Sending an extra defender or two in the right spot is great, but the special defenses can wreak havoc on the quarterback with a four-man rush.

6. It didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but Brandon Williams had one of the better games of his career as a pass rusher. His pressure on Dalton impacted the aforementioned poor pass that could have easily been a touchdown, and Pro Football Focus credited him with four quarterback pressures.

7. You can only hope Danny Woodhead is able to return sooner than later as you could see what kind of weapon he can be as a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot. Alas, the Ravens were aware of his injury history when they signed him in March.

8. Za’Darius Smith silenced critics with a strong preseason and looked like one of the best players on the field before injuring his left leg in the second quarter. Losing him would hurt Baltimore’s versatility as he can be used as an interior rusher in sub packages.

9. Buck Allen handled the No. 2 running back duties as his 21 carries more than doubled the nine total he received in his disappointing 2016 season. The running game wasn’t overwhelming, but it was up to the task of controlling the clock and protecting a sizable lead.

10. Between Marvin Lewis’ white-flag-waving punt from the Baltimore 43 with less than 10 minutes to go and trailing by 20 and Dalton throwing the ball away on fourth down inside the red zone on the following drive, the reaction is summed up nicely here:

11. Perhaps they haven’t yet realized, but it sure looks like the Bengals’ window with the current regime slammed shut after their colossal meltdown against Pittsburgh in the wild-card playoffs two years ago. Cincinnati’s offensive line made the Ravens’ questionable group look like the Dallas Cowboys.

12. I enjoyed seeing Zach Orr on the sideline and celebrating with Mosley after the latter’s key interception. You know Sunday had to be a bittersweet day for the retired linebacker, but he’ll have every opportunity to learn what it takes to be a coach or a scout this season.

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Season-opening win for Ravens brings different feeling

Posted on 11 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The results of the first week of the season can often be fool’s gold.

Even the mighty New England Patriots lost Week 1 contests in three of their five Super Bowl championship campaigns this century. In 2003, they were embarrassed in a 31-0 final at Buffalo before winning 17 of their next 18 games while the Bills would finish with a 6-10 record. That’s why no one with a brain is counting them out despite being beaten by Kansas City in decisive fashion at home last Thursday night.

Cincinnati will try to lean on that example after being dominated by the Ravens in a 20-0 final at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, but Baltimore hopes its first season-opening shutout since 2006 is a sign of better things to come after missing the playoffs in three of the last four years.

Of course, it was only last year that the Ravens won their first three games before finishing with an underwhelming 8-8 mark. But Sunday’s victory over the Bengals brought a different feeling, the kind that tempts observers to want to rethink their expectations for the new season.

Having not won in Cincinnati in nearly six years, head coach John Harbaugh and his team would have taken a victory no matter how close the score. Winning ugly is always better than losing with style, but a 13-12 final probably wouldn’t have sparked much enthusiasm beyond the typical satisfaction of any victory.

We just haven’t seen the Ravens overwhelm any opponent like that on the road in quite some time. In fact, it was just the third time since Super Bowl XLVII — and first since 2014 — that they won a regular-season away game by more than one possession, a telling reflection of their struggles away from M&T Bank Stadium in recent seasons.

They earned their first shutout since 2009, a stretch of time that contained some still-formidable defenses that included future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Perhaps a brutal offensive line will reveal the 2017 Bengals to be an outfit more closely resembling the Cleveland Browns than a playoff contender as the season progresses, but let’s not pretend the Ravens have blown out the perennial doormats of the AFC North in recent road meetings, either. Simply put, trying to make the final outcome all about the shortcomings of Andy Dalton and the Bengals sells the Ravens short for their sensational defensive work that included five sacks and five takeaways.

We know the Baltimore offense remains a significant work in progress, but the running game was effective enough Sunday to complement the superb defense as a rusty Joe Flacco didn’t even have to complete a pass in the second half. That exact formula won’t work every week, of course, but a similar model carried the 2008 Ravens to the AFC championship game when Flacco was a rookie starter.

And while it’s way too premature — and unfair — to begin making comparisons to the 2000 Ravens, that was the blueprint for the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship team. You didn’t have to squint too hard to see a Trent Dilfer-like performance from Flacco on Sunday even though the overall expectations are obviously much higher for one of the highest-paid players in football.

It could all prove to be fool’s gold, but perhaps the Ravens defense can be really special while the offense improves over the course of the season. Or maybe the Bengals are just that bad. Or it’s some of both.

Only time will tell, but Sunday brought a feeling not experienced in these parts in quite some time. And you can’t blame Ravens fans for hoping it signals a return to being a serious contender after recent years of mediocrity.

Humphrey earning playing time

Rookie first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey didn’t receive extensive preseason action until the finale in New Orleans, but that didn’t stop defensive coordinator Dean Pees from using him in Week 1.

The Alabama product provided a bit of relief to starters Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr in a way you typically see defensive linemen and edge rushers rotated over the course of a 60-minute game. Humphrey didn’t record an official defensive statistic, but he did make a favorable impression in limited work.

“I thought Marlon played really well. He definitely earned more snaps,” Harbaugh said. “He played nine plays on defense and played really well on special teams. I would say he earned more snaps. He played well. All corners played exceptionally well.”

Smith, Carr, and nickel corner Lardarius Webb all recorded interceptions in the blowout victory.

Timeshare at inside linebacker

Starter Kamalei Correa registered a tackle for a loss and former undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor tipped the Dalton pass intercepted by Carr in the first quarter in what amounted to a timeshare at the weakside inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley.

Correa played 27 defensive snaps compared to 20 for Onwuasor, but the lion’s share of the work at that position remains up for grabs as the defense tries to fill the void left behind by the retired Zach Orr.

“If they’re both playing at a Pro Bowl level, then you play them both,” said Harbaugh, who added that rookie Bam Bradley is also in the mix. “If one of them starts to separate from the other, then one would take the job. I’d like to see one of them playing at a Pro Bowl level. Neither of them are doing that right now. But they’re both playing well enough to win.”

Injury updates

Harbaugh provided no definitive outlook on the injuries sustained by running back Danny Woodhead and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith in the first half of Sunday’s win as both underwent MRI exams.

Woodhead is expected to miss some time after suffering a hamstring injury — the same ailment that kept him out for much of the summer — while Smith’s announced knee sprain may not be as serious as initially feared when he was carted to the locker room.

“We know it is not a structural knee thing,” Harbaugh said. “I think I know that. We think we know that, but we will know for sure once he gets out of the MRI.”

The absence of Woodhead could prompt the Ravens to promote a running back from the practice squad as former Chicago Bears starter Jeremy Langford and former Seattle Seahawk Alex Collins joined the organization last week. Terrance West and Buck Allen are the only healthy tailbacks on the current 53-man roster.

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