Tag Archive | "Ben Roethlisberger"

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 2: “We know what kind of quarterback we have”

Posted on 26 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 3 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens had clobbered Pittsburgh in the 2011 opener in Baltimore.

But that didn’t matter now as they traveled to Heinz Field to take on a Steelers team that had won four straight entering November. A loss would drop the Ravens to third place behind both Pittsburgh and surprising Cincinnati in the AFC North, making their Week 9 clash on Sunday Night Football a crucial one.

Doubts about quarterback Joe Flacco persisted despite his comeback win in Pittsburgh the previous year as the Ravens had lost their home rematch in December — costing themselves the AFC North and a first-round bye in the process — and had blown a 14-point halftime lead in the their 2010 divisional-round defeat to the Steelers. Flacco was far from the only reason the Ravens lost those games, but he hadn’t played particularly well in some key moments as questions continued about his ability to lead his team to a championship. A stretch of lackluster performances in October hadn’t helped perceptions either.

The game started with a bang as Ray Rice took an inside hand-off, cut left, and galloped 76 yards for an apparent touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, reminiscent of the way the Ravens had begun the Week 1 blowout win. However, rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith was flagged for holding, negating the score and setting the tone for what would be a defensive battle for much of the night. The teams combined for five field goals in the first half with Billy Cundiff’s 51-yarder sending the Ravens to the locker room with a 9-6 lead at intermission.

The Steelers drove to the Baltimore red zone on the first drive of the second half before 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs intercepted Ben Roethlisberger’s pass in the short flat. With that turnover, the Ravens methodically moved down the field and took advantage of a 23-yard pass interference penalty as Rice’s 4-yard touchdown run increased the lead to 16-6 with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter.

The Steelers weren’t going away, however, as Roethlisberger bounced back from his mistake to lead an 11-play, 80-yard drive resulting in a 1-yard touchdown run for Rashard Mendenhall to make it 16-13 early in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens then marched to the Pittsburgh 36 before an all-too-familiar feeling of dread returned. On third-and-8, Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison sacked Flacco, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Steelers. Moving to the Baltimore 25 on five plays, Roethlisberger scrambled right on third-and-5 and found Mike Wallace in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:59 to play.

On the ensuing possession, three straight Flacco incompletions resulted in a punt that Steelers receiver Antonio Brown returned to his own 46. The Ravens were in serious trouble as Pittsburgh had the ball, good field position, and a 20-16 lead with 4:30 remaining.

After converting a big third down, the Steelers moved into field-goal range before making a costly error. On fourth-and-5 from the 29, indecisiveness struck the Pittsburgh sideline as Roethlisberger initially lobbied to go for the first down and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was late sending kicker Shaun Suisham onto the field, resulting in a delay of game. With Suisham kicking into the tricky open end of Heinz Field, a 47-yard attempt would have been far from a sure thing, but the penalty instead prompted a Jeremy Kapinos punt that pinned the Ravens back at their own 8-yard line.

Ninety-two yards were needed with just 2:24 and one timeout remaining, a far more difficult position than the previous fall when Flacco had found T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the game-winner in Pittsburgh.

A 21-yard completion over the middle to Anquan Boldin got the Ravens out of the shadow of their own end zone at the two-minute warning. A 13-yard sideline strike to seldom-used undrafted rookie LaQuan Williams moved them to their own 42. A few plays later, Baltimore faced a fourth-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 49 when Flacco again found Boldin over the middle for 10 yards to extend the game.

But that’s when the drive began going sideways. On second-and-8 from the 37, Flacco escaped pressure, climbed the pocket, and threw deep to a wide-open Smith, who dropped the ball in the end zone. Boldin would catch the third-down pass to move the chains on the next snap, but the veteran receiver then dropped a perfect throw over the middle that would have moved the Ravens inside the 10.

As Cris Collinsworth remarked on the NBC broadcast, “Joe Flacco is doing a great job on this drive, and his receivers are completely letting him down.”

Facing third-and-10 from the 26, Flacco and the Ravens still had a timeout, but only 16 seconds remained. Undeterred by Smith’s drop moments earlier, Flacco threw deep to the sideline as the second-round rookie gave a veteran-like nudge to Steelers cornerback William Gay and caught the redemptive touchdown with eight seconds to go.

There was instant silence in Pittsburgh. In a throwback rivalry in which the most defining moments had always gone the other way, the Ravens finally enjoyed theirs in the national spotlight.

The 23-20 win proved to be the difference in the Ravens winning their first division title in five years and clinching a first-round bye. But it meant more than that for Flacco, who had orchestrated the most brilliant drive of his career. The touchdown pass in Pittsburgh the previous year had flashed his late-game ability, but leading a 92-yard march in a Sunday night road game against his biggest adversary was special, especially considering the aforementioned drops and the celebrated Ravens defense had given up 14 points in the final quarter.

No, Flacco wasn’t Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning and never would be, but he had touched greatness when it mattered most. And while the misfortunes of Cundiff and Lee Evans 2 1/2 months later in New England meant the Ravens would wait another year to finally taste Super Bowl glory, that 2011 win in Pittsburgh eliminated any doubt that such a postseason run was possible, whether Flacco’s critics wanted to admit it or not.

“Maybe people will stop putting him down now. We know what kind of quarterback we have,” Boldin said after the season-sweeping win over the Steelers. “There was no panic with our offense, and I think you saw that. A lot of it starts with our quarterback. He was real poised.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 21: Scott blows up Roethlisberger

Posted on 14 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 22 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The first decade of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry wasn’t what it is today.

Yes, there had been some bright spots for Baltimore over the years, but Pittsburgh had won 14 of the first 21 overall meetings, swept the season series three times, and won the only playoff meeting in the 2001 postseason. The intensity was there, but the results largely hadn’t been for the Ravens, who had missed the playoffs in back-to-back years while the Steelers had just won their fifth Super Bowl title.

The 2006 season was different, however, as the Ravens exploded to a franchise-best 8-2 start behind the top defense in the NFL while Pittsburgh was 4-6 and struggling to hang in the playoff race at Thanksgiving. A Week 12 meeting at M&T Bank Stadium would either cement Baltimore’s AFC North lead and all but bury the Steelers’ postseason chances or give Pittsburgh new life for the final month of the regular season.

After forcing a three-and-out to open the game, the Ravens jumped to a 7-0 lead as quarterback Steve McNair found a wide-open Todd Heap for a 20-yard touchdown. With the Steelers unable to move the ball past their own 45-yard line on their first four drives, Baltimore pushed its lead to 14-0 on a Jamal Lewis 1-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes remaining in the first half.

To that point in the game, Rex Ryan’s blitz-happy defense had smothered Pittsburgh, but it was about to get worse for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had already been sacked twice. On a second-and-8 from the Pittsburgh 14 with under four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Roethlisberger dropped back to pass as Ravens linebacker Bart Scott blitzed off the right edge completely untouched.

Despite the deafening noise generated by nearly 71,000 fans, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said he could hear the crushing blow while in pass coverage downfield. To his credit, Roethlisberger would return to the game on the next series after being helped from the field, but it wouldn’t matter as the Ravens added another field goal to take a commanding 17-0 lead before halftime.

“That’s probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my life,” Roethlisberger said after the game. “I just kind of remember my head hitting the ground. I couldn’t really breathe very well.”

The defensive party continued in the second half as Baltimore sacked Roethlisberger six more times and linebacker Adalius Thomas returned a fumble 57 yards for a touchdown in a 27-0 blowout win that was the Ravens’ most dominant performance against the Steelers to date. It was also their second shutout of the season as Pittsburgh crossed midfield only three times, managed a measly 172 yards, committed three turnovers, rushed 11 times for 21 yards, went 1-for-12 on third down, and averaged only 2.8 yards per play.

After a game Pittsburgh had desperately wanted to save its season, head coach Bill Cowher lamented “a pitiful performance” as Baltimore basked in a convincing victory. The Steelers would manage to hang around in the wild-card race by winning their next three games before the Ravens came to Heinz Field on Christmas Eve and flattened their postseason hopes once and for all with a 31-7 win nearly as dominant as the first encounter.

No season series in the history of Ravens-Steelers has been as one-sided with Scott’s monstrous hit becoming one of the great moments in the rivalry from Baltimore’s perspective. Starting with their first sweep of the Steelers that season, the Ravens have gone 17-14 against Pittsburgh as the rivalry has remained one of the NFL’s best for the better part of two decades.

Many other Ravens-Steelers games have been more competitive and meaningful — and there would be other big hits and convincing victories to come — but the sight of Scott knocking the 240-pound Roethlisberger right off his feet was unforgettable.

“It’s a dream shot,” Scott said. “You dream as a child of hitting the quarterback like that.”

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) scrambles against the Cleveland Browns during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Cleveland. The Ravens won 31-15. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 16 win at Cleveland

Posted on 23 December 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs for the first time in team history in a 31-15 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The turning point of Sunday’s victory was the 14-0 run over the final 78 seconds of the first half, but the defense forcing a three-and-out between those two touchdown drives without cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith on the field was enormous.

2. I saw a little Ben Roethlisberger in Lamar Jackson’s second touchdown pass in which he evaded pressure in the pocket and then muscled an end-zone throw to Mark Andrews. His speed and agility are givens, but Jackson doesn’t get enough credit for his strength.

3. Jackson recorded his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season — equaling the total produced by all Ravens players from 2015-17 — and now owns the ninth 1,200-yard rushing season in franchise history. Not bad for a quarterback.

4. The Baltimore run defense has been fairly scrutinized despite a shiny ranking in yards per game allowed, but it answered the bell holding Nick Chubb to 45 yards after he embarrassed the Ravens in Week 4. The dime package sometimes springs leaks against the run, but not this week.

5. The decline of the ground game was a major part of the post-Super Bowl XLVII era with the Ravens producing only one 1,000-yard rusher — Justin Forsett in 2014 — over six seasons. To now have only the seventh 1,000-yard rushing duo in NFL history with one being their quarterback is remarkable.

6. You never want to see fumbles, but it really is amazing that miscues at the mesh point between Jackson and Mark Ingram have been so rare this season. John Harbaugh will now hope his team got that seemingly overdue sloppiness out of its system after a season-high three fumbles.

7. On a day when the defense had some trouble getting off the field due to several drive-extending penalties, Chuck Clark was credited with four pass breakups to continue his breakout season. Two of those breakups came on Cleveland’s final three-and-out of the first half.

8. Mark Andrews is three receiving yards shy of Todd Heap’s single-season team record for a tight end, but a tender ankle could impact his Week 17 status. He may need to settle for becoming the third Raven to catch 10 touchdowns in a season, joining Michael Jackson and Torrey Smith.

9. Ingram will have nearly three weeks to recover from a left calf strain, but Justice Hill scoring his first NFL touchdown should provide a confidence boost if the Ravens need to lean on the rookie a little more in the postseason. The fourth-round pick’s opportunities have been limited.

10. L.J. Fort having two interceptions wiped away by a penalty and a replay review prompted me to look up whether he’d ever picked off a pass. His only career interception came in his first NFL game seven years ago — in Cleveland. Quite the coincidence that likely prompted some memories.

11. We know the 2019 Ravens’ legacy will ultimately be defined in the postseason, but Football Outsiders ranks them very favorably among the greatest regular-season teams of the last 35 years. Knowing the best team doesn’t always win the Super Bowl, remember to enjoy the journey — even as the favorite.

12. We place such importance on the postseason while oddly marginalizing it in the record book. That’s why I had bristled some over this year’s team being recognized as having the longest winning streak in franchise history when the 2000 Ravens won 11 in a row overall. They’re now even.

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New chapter upon us in old Ravens-Steelers rivalry

Posted on 04 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson wasn’t even born yet when the Ravens played the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time, reminding how long this rivalry has now existed.

It transformed from early Pittsburgh dominance to hostile nastiness to begrudging respect in quite possibly the NFL’s best rivalry over the last two decades. The annual meetings have become downright civil compared to the days of Ray Lewis, Chris McAlister, Hines Ward, Joey Porter, and so many others exchanging barbs off the field and violent hits on it.

If we’re being honest, the rivalry has aged in recent years with the 2016 Christmas Day game — a painful memory for Baltimore — being the most notable encounter. That’s not to say the games are any less competitive — 11 of the last 16 overall meetings have been decided by one score — but this year marks the first time since 2006 that neither Baltimore-Pittsburgh affair was scheduled for prime time if we’re including that nationally-televised Christmas meeting three years ago. Sunday’s encounter is the first time since 2013 these teams will meet in Pittsburgh for a run-of-the-mill afternoon game.

This AFC North rivalry inevitably cooled with the retirements of legends such as Lewis, Ward, Ed Reed, and Troy Polamalu, but this offseason brought the departures of Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell from their respective teams. Sunday will mark the first Ravens-Steelers game not including any of Suggs, Flacco, or Ben Roethlisberger — who’s out for the year with an elbow injury — since the final game of the 2002 season when Jeff Blake and Tommy Maddox were the quarterbacks and Todd Heap and Amos Zereoue were the standout performers of the day.

Only nine current Ravens were with the organization the last time these teams met in the playoffs five years ago, but one of them — outside linebacker Pernell McPhee in his second stint with Baltimore — offered what felt like a relic this week compared to the tame, respect-filled talk we’ve heard from both sides in recent years.

“We hate each other. I know for sure we hate them. We hate them,” said McPhee, who last played in a Ravens-Steelers game in the 2014 playoffs. “We respect them as men, but we really hate them.

“That’s just how it is. That’s the blood between the teams. It’s like God versus the Devil.”

Those words brought back plenty of fond memories, but the rivalry is now in need of a spark and a new chapter as much as each team could use a win with the Steelers trying to regroup from an 0-3 start and the Ravens aiming to snap their two-game losing streak. We’ve made mention of the “Bizarro” Ravens with a top-shelf offense and a bottom-10 defense so far, but the once-elite Steelers offense is suddenly counting on second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph to lead a group short on play-making ability with Bell now a New York Jet and Brown somewhere in his own little world.

This is when we come back to Jackson, who played a combined 22 snaps as a rookie in last season’s split against the Steelers. He’s rapidly become the face of the franchise since the last time Baltimore played Pittsburgh last November, Flacco’s final start as a Raven. Jackson’s comments on the rivalry and his first start at Heinz Field this week were both refreshing and a reminder of how much things have changed with the influx of youth on both sides.

“They play that little song (“Renegade”), and they wave their little flags and stuff with the little towels around,” Jackson said. “It was pretty dope. I enjoyed it. I did, I really did.”

Off to a terrific start to 2019 with 10 touchdown passes, a 109.4 passer rating, and a combined 1,348 yards through the air and on the ground, Jackson has his first real chance to make his mark against the Steelers after playing little more than a cameo role last season. With their defense reeling after giving up 73 points and 1,033 yards over the last two games, the Ravens need their 22-year-old quarterback to lead the way and give the Steelers fits for the first of what they hope will be many times in the coming years.

There’s no better candidate on either side to become the next star in Ravens-Steelers lore. Baltimore has the overwhelming advantage at the most important position on the field, but we’ve seen the likes of Charlie Batch and Ryan Mallett win games against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in this rivalry.

Nothing is guaranteed and you throw out the numbers for this one, but the Ravens need a win to get that “throw-up taste” out of their mouths from last week as McPhee described it. They can drop the Steelers to 1-4 and strengthen the notion of the AFC North being a two-team race with Cleveland. However, a Pittsburgh win gives Mike Tomlin’s team even more life and leaves us wondering if the Ravens are all that good at all.

Even if the rivalry isn’t what it used to be — at least for now — it’s time for Jackson and so many others stepping into larger roles on both sides of the ball to find out what Ravens-Steelers is all about.

“They’re becoming Ravens,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “One of the things that was said in the meeting [Wednesday] is, ‘You’re not a Raven until you beat the Steelers.’ Well, we have some young guys that still need to beat the Steelers.”

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Ravens rule out both starting offensive tackles for Pittsburgh game

Posted on 02 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will enter one of the most critical regular-season games of the John Harbaugh era without their starting offensive tackles.

After missing practices all week, left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and right tackle James Hurst (back) have been ruled out against Pittsburgh, leaving an offensive line that’s already had its problems this season in a precarious position against a Steelers defense tied for second in the NFL with 24 sacks. Hurst will be sitting out his third straight game while Stanley was injured in the second half of last Sunday’s loss at Carolina. Their absence will likely mean more max protect using Nick Boyle and other Ravens tight ends to try to keep quarterback Joe Flacco clean in the pocket.

“Our coaches do a great job with [adjustments], and I’m very confident in the guys that are going to play,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see how they do. That’s the nature of it.  We’re not as healthy as they are, but we’re healthy enough to win the game; I promise you that. I can’t wait to go out and play.”

With Stanley missing the sixth game of his NFL career, the assumption is that second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor will start at left tackle after he played 19 snaps there last week. The 2017 fifth-round pick was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster less than two weeks ago and said Friday he hasn’t played left tackle on a regular basis since his junior college days. However, Eluemunor believes last week’s snaps against the Panthers as well as extensive practice reps as a scout-team offensive tackle facing outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon have prepared him for this opportunity.

“I’m pretty comfortable,” said Eluemunor about playing left tackle. “I’ve been going against ‘Sizz’ every day for the past eight weeks of the regular season. If I did get put in that position, I feel like ‘Sizz’ and Judon did a good job of helping me during practice and showing what I can do better with.”

If the coaching staff isn’t comfortable with Eluemunor at left tackle, another possibility would be moving rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the left side — where he played at Oklahoma — and shifting right guard Marshal Yanda out to right tackle, something the Ravens have done in the past. Needless to say, any alternative to Stanley at left tackle is far from ideal.

The good news for the offensive line is the anticipated return of left guard Alex Lewis, who is on track to play after a two-game absence. Lewis practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday and expressed confidence that he’ll be on the field against the Steelers. The 2016 fourth-round pick did start three games at left tackle in place of Stanley during his rookie year, but the Ravens would likely settle for just having him back at his usual position after his scary neck injury in Week 6.

“I felt good out there running around fast, playing fast. I’m going to go out and try to roll on Sunday,” Lewis said. “We tried to go last week. I just wasn’t ready. I still felt some pain back there, but it’s gone away now. We’ve strengthened the muscles around it, and we should be able to roll.”

The Ravens defense is also less than 100 percent as cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh), and safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) were all listed as questionable on the final injury report. After missing the last two games, Humphrey appears to have a good chance to return since he was able to practice on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.

Mosley’s status remains uncertain after the three-time Pro Bowl selection only returned to the practice field on a limited basis on Friday, but Jefferson made his intentions clear after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday sessions.

“I’m definitely playing. I wouldn’t miss this game for the world,” said Jefferson, who was a limited participant on Friday. “Last week’s behind us. It’s a new week and it’s Pittsburgh week, so not much that needs to be said about that. It’s our rival opponent. It’s going to be a tough-fought game, so we’re ready for it.”

Running back Alex Collins (foot) was a full participant in Friday’s practice after missing the previous day and was moving well during the portion of practice open to media. His availability eases the pressure on the just-acquired Ty Montgomery, who could make his Ravens debut after being acquired from Green Bay at the trade deadline.

Harbaugh is pleased with how quickly Montgomery has acclimated himself to the Baltimore playbook and views him as an option to contribute on both offense and special teams against the Steelers.

“The good thing is the terminology is somewhat similar [to the Packers],” Harbaugh said. “Not exactly; there are always different terms. But the systems are rooted in the same kind of background, so he has a very good understanding of the plays. And special teams are fine; he’ll have no problem with that. We’ll just have to see how the numbers work out.”

As Harbaugh noted, the Steelers are the healthier team for Week 9, but they are unlikely to have the services of starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) for the second straight week after he was listed as doubtful. Pittsburgh cornerback Artie Burns was added to the injury report after hurting his ankle during Friday’s workout and is questionable to play.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was not included in the final game status report despite having a fractured left index finger.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday’s game calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching the high 50s and winds five to 10 miles per hour. There is only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

The Ravens will be wearing their alternate black jerseys for the first time this season to begin a crucial stretch of three straight home games.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: OT James Hurst (back), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), RB Alex Collins (foot), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), S Tony Jefferson (hamstring), WR Jordan Lasley (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh)

PITTSBURGH
DOUBTFUL: OT Marcus Gilbert (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Coty Sensabaugh (toe), CB Artie Burns (ankle)

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Eight injured Ravens sit out practice to begin Pittsburgh week

Posted on 31 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens face a slew of health concerns on both sides of the ball as they try to right their season against rival Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Eight players sat out Wednesday’s practice for injury-related reasons, a list that includes six starters and four offensive linemen. The timing couldn’t be much worse as Baltimore tries to snap its two-game losing streak and keep pace with the first-place Steelers in the AFC North. The 4-4 Ravens are trying to avoid falling below .500 entering their bye week for the fourth consecutive season.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) is the newest addition to the group of injured offensive linemen already counting starting left guard Alex Lewis (neck) and starting right tackle James Hurst (back). The latter two have missed the last two games while Stanley hurt his left ankle early in the second half of the 36-21 loss to Carolina. Rookie backup Bradley Bozeman (calf) was active for the Panthers game, but he did not play, leaving veteran reserve Hroniss Grasu to make his first start of the season. Second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor played 19 snaps at left tackle in place of Stanley.

Starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey remains sidelined with a thigh injury that’s cost him the last two games, but starting inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh) and starting safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) were also absent from Wednesday’s session, creating greater concern as the Ravens have already allowed 53 points over their last five quarters of play and will now face the league’s fifth-ranked scoring offense. Both Mosley and Jefferson played 63 of the total 65 defensive snaps against the Panthers, making it unclear when they sustained their injuries.

Running back Alex Collins was a limited participant with a foot issue.

Newly-acquired running back Ty Montgomery took part in his first practice after arriving at the team facility on Wednesday morning, but it remains to be seen whether the former Green Bay Packer will be ready to play against the Steelers. Head coach John Harbaugh downplayed any notion of the trade being a direct response to the Ravens ranking 31st in the NFL in yards per carry this season, noting his versatility as a former wide receiver and his ability in pass protection.

“We always want good players, and Ty can help us run the ball,” Harbaugh said. “That’s good. I don’t want to frame it like he can’t help us. It certainly can, but that wasn’t part of the conversation. It happened late. Ozzie [Newsome] came in at about 3 p.m. and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this,’ and we’re rolling. We’re excited about it.”

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not practice on Wednesday after suffering a fractured left index finger in their Week 8 win over Cleveland, but he is fully expected to play against the Ravens. Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree missed the workout due to an illness.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), OT James Hurst (back), S Tony Jefferson (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Alex Collins (foot)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Bud Dupree (illness), C Maurkice Pouncey (non-injury), QB Ben Roethlisberger (left finger/coaches’ decision), CB Coty Sensabaugh (toe)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Marcus Gilbert (knee)

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Signs there, but Ravens still learning how to become really good team

Posted on 22 October 2018 by Luke Jones

Nothing really changed about the Ravens with their 24-23 loss to New Orleans.

The defense remains at or near the top of most statistical categories after holding the high-powered Saints — with an extra week to prepare coming off a bye, mind you — to 12 points below their season average, a number many fans would have taken going into Sunday’s game. Even while struggling to run the football, the offense ranks in the top half of the league, which is substantial improvement from the last few years.

We did learn Justin Tucker is human after all, but he remains the best kicker in the NFL and has won a slew of games over the years, earning him plenty of slack for missing the game-tying extra point.

To be clear, there’s no shame in losing to the Saints, who might be the second-best team in the NFC and are viewed by many as a serious Super Bowl contender. Perhaps you expected John Harbaugh’s team to go undefeated at M&T Bank Stadium, but New Orleans was easily one of the season’s two most difficult home games on paper — the other being Pittsburgh — entering the season. This loss hardly breaks them.

Sunday’s defeat was a missed opportunity, however, and a reminder that the Ravens are still learning how to truly become a very good team. The components are there for a return to the playoffs and to perhaps make some noise if they get there, but just 13 players remain from Baltimore’s last playoff team in 2014, meaning a number of key individuals — including the last four draft classes — are still seeking what it takes to make it to January.

You have to finish when owning a 17-7 lead entering the fourth quarter, something the Ravens have struggled to do against top-flight teams these last few seasons. Yes, they went toe to toe with the Saints in an intense game and were only an extra point from likely forcing overtime, but let’s not pretend the last couple non-playoff teams were always blown out in such affairs either. The truth is this one hurt because the Ravens have had more than their share of “moral victories” as some have tried to label this one to be.

Holding future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints offense to a single touchdown through three quarters is a very impressive feat, but surrendering 17 points in the final three drives — not counting Brees’ final kneel-down — left the defense licking its wounds. The turning point really came late in the third quarter when Brees converted a third-and-8 pass to wide receiver Michael Thomas as safety Tony Jefferson was bringing the 39-year-old quarterback to the ground. From there, the run began in a way not unlike an NBA team erasing a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit in the blink of an eye.

Just like when playing Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning several years back, the best defense is only going to hold down Brees for so long. That’s just reality in today’s offense-driven game, especially without a game-changing turnover or a few more sacks to help get you off the field in crunch time. You’re only going to make so many stops straight up when facing an explosive offense, and the Ravens defense just couldn’t make a big play when the momentum shifted.

More to blame than the defense was a Ravens offense that sleepwalked through most of the fourth quarter and didn’t awaken until a 10-point lead had turned into a seven-point deficit with just over two minutes remaining. Injuries along the offensive line and a shortage of possessions in the first half didn’t help the overall output, but responding to two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter with a three-and-out and a turnover on downs against a below-average New Orleans defense isn’t a winning formula against a great opponent. Games against Brees have been rare for the Ravens, but they’ve played Brady and Ben Roethlisberger too many times not to know how a low-scoring affair can morph into a shootout at a moment’s notice. The offense wasn’t prepared to counter-punch until it proved too late with Tucker’s rare misfire.

Asked after the game about his 14-yard touchdown pass to John Brown that looked like it would tie the game with 24 seconds remaining, quarterback Joe Flacco regretted the offense not coming away with some points on the previous two drives. A poor running game didn’t help as the Ravens offense neither provided rest nor scoring reinforcements for its defense after the Saints came alive. Scoring 23 points usually isn’t going to get the job done against an elite offense.

How the Ravens respond over these next two weeks will go a long way in determining whether they’re closer to becoming a really good team. Rebounding from Sunday’s loss to top a tough Carolina team on the road and to beat Pittsburgh at home would give them a 6-3 record entering the bye week and put them in really good shape to contend for their first AFC North championship since 2012. Anything less feels too much like the last couple years and leaves a tiny margin for error down the stretch with road games still to be played at Atlanta, Kansas City, and the Los Angeles Chargers.

If the Ravens want to make it back to the playoffs, they’ll need to get on a roll at some point. It looked like they might have graduated after their huge road victory at Pittsburgh, but they produced a dud in Cleveland the next week. Their dominating shutout at Tennessee was followed by a potential win slipping through their fingers on Sunday.

At some point, they’ll have to break the pattern of one step forward and one step back to get to the next level.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 29 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Making predictions for a Ravens-Steelers game is often a fool’s errand.

We know it’s typically close — 17 of the last 23 meetings including the playoffs have been decided by a single possession — but something crazy usually happens in the process.

Safety Eric Weddle said this week these aren’t the same old Ravens and they’ve learned from the last two heartbreaking defeats at Heinz Field in which they held double-digit fourth-quarter leads, but this is the chance to prove it and make an early statement that 2018 will be different than the last three non-playoff seasons. Sunday night marks the fifth consecutive season the Ravens’ trip to Pittsburgh will be televised before a national audience.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 45th time in the all-time regular-season series. Pittsburgh holds a 24-20 advantage and is 12-11 — including the playoffs — against Baltimore in the John Harbaugh era. The Steelers have won the last three meetings in this AFC North rivalry.

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the Steelers wide receiver giving the Ravens the biggest headache. It remains to be seen how defensive coordinator Wink Martindale approaches the challenge of covering Antonio Brown, but the 6-foot-1 Smith-Schuster does most of his damage from the slot, presenting a challenge for the 5-foot-9 Tavon Young. The nickel corner was exposed in Cincinnati in Week 2 and is still looking to regain his rookie form after last year’s knee injury. The Ravens will change up their coverages, but the defense needs a strong night from Young in order to get off the field.

2. John Brown and Willie Snead will each catch a touchdown against an injury-depleted Steelers secondary. Pittsburgh ranks 28th in the NFL in pass defense and is expected to be without starting safety Morgan Burnett and nickel corner Mike Hilton. It will be interesting to see how Steelers cornerback Joe Haden is used, but no one in the Pittsburgh secondary can run with the speedy Brown, who leads the Ravens with 222 receiving yards. If the protection can slow a capable Pittsburgh pass rush, Brown could be in line for a big night while Snead should find room in the middle of the field.

3. Pittsburgh tight ends and running backs will combine for 13 catches and a touchdown reception. Le’Veon Bell won’t be out there, but Steelers running backs and tight ends combined for 24 catches and two touchdown catches last December. The Ravens won’t have quite that much trouble, but C.J. Mosley will be less than 100 percent and the Steelers won’t hesitate to test Tony Jefferson and Weddle in coverage. Even with so much attention paid to Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner and tight ends Jesse James and Vance McDonald can’t be ignored.

4. Terrell Suggs will collect his first full sack against the Steelers since 2013. The personal rivalry between Suggs and Ben Roethlisberger goes back to 2004, but the seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker has just one-half sack in his last eight games against Pittsburgh. The Steelers will be welcoming right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert back to the lineup, which will only increase the challenge of pressuring the pocket. The Ravens finished with three sacks in the last meeting when Roethlisberger threw an absurd 66 passes. That can’t happen again if they want to win.

5. Joe Flacco and the offense will show up, but the Ravens defense falls short in a 31-27 loss. A rivalry once known for low-scoring affairs saw a whopping 77 points scored in the Week 14 contest played at Heinz Field last year. This one will follow a similar script as the Ravens offense will move the ball and score points, but the absence of Jimmy Smith once again looms large. After incorrectly picking Baltimore to win in Pittsburgh last December and watching Andy Dalton carve up the secondary in the first half of the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati, I need to see the Ravens prove they can get over the hump this time around. If it’s a different outcome, special teams could be the difference as Justin Tucker remains the best kicker in the NFL and Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell is a total mess now.

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Getting over Pittsburgh road hump would help push Ravens to next level

Posted on 28 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — We know what the Ravens-Steelers rivalry is all about.

It’s physical, intense, and ultra competitive with all but six of the 23 games played in the John Harbaugh era — including the postseason — decided by one possession. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said this week that you don’t earn your “badge of honor” as a Raven until you’ve played in a Pittsburgh game. In an evolving NFL catering more to the offense, this game still evokes that old-school feeling, even as the teams combined to score a whopping 77 points in their most recent showdown last December.

But putting those recycled narratives aside and acknowledging there’s much football to be played after Week 4, the Ravens could really use a win on Sunday night. “Need” is an overused word in the sports realm and doesn’t really apply this week, but a victory at Heinz Field would be as beneficial psychologically as it would be in the standings for a team with some key veterans running out of time and young players needing to grow up quickly.

Despite the predictable claims of every game being important, this one carries more gravity than a another notch in the win or loss column. There’s been too much disappointment in recent years for the Ravens to suggest otherwise.

The Steelers have won three straight over Baltimore for the first time since Harbaugh’s debut season as head coach, and we all witnessed what happened at Heinz Field in each of the last two Decembers. Still, the significance of Sunday’s game goes beyond trying to beat the Steelers, who appear as vulnerable as they’ve been in a while without All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell or much evidence of an effective defense.

There’s the Jimmy Smith narrative that Ravens defensive players are sick of hearing about, but what better way to welcome back their top cornerback from suspension next week than by beating an elite passing attack on the road without him?

It’s much more than just playing without Smith, however. The Ravens need to make a winning statement on the road against an accomplished quarterback at some point if they want to get over the hump and back to the postseason for the first time since 2014. If it isn’t against the Steelers this week, Baltimore is scheduled to deal with the likes of Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, the upstart Patrick Mahomes, and Philip Rivers in away games later this season.

Since their 2014 playoff win over Roethlisberger and the Steelers — only 10 players from that 53-man roster are still with the team (see below) — the Ravens have won just eight away games. The most accomplished quarterback they’ve beaten on the road is Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, who’s 3-1 against them at Paul Brown Stadium over that time.

The remaining quarterbacks the Ravens have defeated away from M&T Bank Stadium since 2014 are Mike Vick (in his final NFL season), Blake Bortles, EJ Manuel, Brett Hundley, Josh McCown (twice), and DeShone Kizer. Only one of them is currently a starter, and Bortles wasn’t exactly setting the league on fire when the Ravens beat Jacksonville early in the 2016 season.

To be fair, you can’t control your schedule of opponents and blame falls on both sides of the ball in compiling an 8-17 road record over the last three-plus seasons, but no one is taking you seriously as a contender if you can’t beat a top-flight quarterback outside your home stadium from time to time. That’s not too much to ask as we’re talking about a team that won road games over Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back weeks on the way to winning a Super Bowl six years ago.

Players have tried to say the right things publicly this week, acknowledging the rivalry while maintaining this one holds no more significance than any other game. Losing on Sunday hardly derails the young season in the same way that winning guarantees nothing, but flying back from western Pennsylvania early Monday morning with another defeat would only extend doubts about the Ravens’ road pedigree with three of the next four away from home still to come.

The Ravens don’t want to find themselves in a similar position to the last two seasons when they’ve needed to play lights out down the stretch to make the playoffs. We know how that turned out.

With better health and improved offensive weapons, Baltimore hopes the balance of power could finally be shifting in the AFC North this season. After a tough loss at Cincinnati on a short week earlier this month, the next litmus test has arrived.

“I look at it as it’s been a great learning experience for us as players and coaches and this organization,” said safety Eric Weddle about the last two heartbreaking losses in Pittsburgh. “As bad as we wanted to win those games, things have come up in those situations and throughout those games that we’ve gotten better from.”

Maybe so, but the Ravens have to prove it at some point.

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Suggs rests again as Mosley, other Ravens practice fully for Pittsburgh game

Posted on 27 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Several Ravens players returned to practice Thursday while longtime outside linebacker Terrell Suggs continued to rest a sore knee ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Pittsburgh.

The seven-time Pro Bowl selection was absent for a second straight day and has yet to speak to the media this week, an unusual development that brings at least some small question to his status. Suggs wouldn’t need to practice in order to play Sunday night — he’s missed entire practice weeks before playing in past games — but how close to 100 percent he’ll be is a fair concern. The 35-year-old was on the field for the final defensive series of the Week 3 win over Denver, making two tackles and pressuring quarterback Case Keenum into a fourth-down incompletion that gave the ball back to the Ravens.

Assuming he plays, Suggs will renew an individual rivalry with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that dates back to 2004.

“He’s a first-ballot [Hall of Fame] guy for me,” Roethlisberger said in a conference call this week. “I’m not just trying to pump him up because we’re about to play him. I truly feel that way. I know he does a lot of talking about me, too, but I think there’s a lot of mutual respect there between each other. There’s a little bit of talking on the field — I wouldn’t call it trash talking — but there’s some mutual respect trash talking that goes on. It’s a special rivalry he and I have.”

Three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) practiced fully on Thursday, a good sign for his potential return to action after a one-game absence. Mosley and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) — who also sat out the Denver game — were full participants a day after being limited in practice.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) were listed as full participants after sitting out Wednesday’s workout, leaving little doubt about their availability for Sunday night. Quarterback Lamar Jackson also practiced a day after sitting out with an illness.

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst worked on a limited basis once again after practicing for the first time in over a month on Wednesday. The first-round pick acknowledged feeling some soreness in his return from a stress fracture in his foot, but he’s eager to make his NFL debut whenever he receives the green light.

“I’m preparing every day to go out and play like I’m playing on Sunday,” Hurst said. “I think I’m good to go. It’s up to the trainers and what they think is right for me. Like I said, I’m ready to go whenever.”

Pittsburgh wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice as he continues to deal with an abdomen injury, but starting offensive linemen David DeCastro (hand) and Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) practiced fully for the second straight day. The Steelers were without both starters on the right side of their offensive line against Tampa Bay on Monday.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), LB Terrell Suggs (knee),
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), QB Lamar Jackson (illness), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: C Maurkice Pouncey (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Morgan Burnett (groin), CB Mike Hilton (elbow), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (abdomen)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G David DeCastro (hand), OT Ramon Foster (non-injury), OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), QB Ben Roethlisberger (non-injury)

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