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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, right, is tackled by Los Angeles Rams defensive end Dante Fowler during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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NFL milestone could come exactly as Lamar Jackson prefers it

Posted on 05 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The records and achievements have come at such a prolific rate for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson that they’ve almost become white noise in an MVP-caliber season.

On Wednesday, the 22-year-old became the first Ravens quarterback to ever be named AFC Offensive Player of the Month after an incredible November that included 13 touchdown passes, three touchdown runs, a 76.2 completion percentage, a 143.7 passer rating, 777 passing yards, 300 rushing yards, no turnovers, and — what he cares about most — a 4-0 record. But his next potential feat isn’t a run-of-the-mill weekly award or an obscure record you’d need the Elias Sports Bureau to confirm.

A week after surpassing Randall Cunningham and Bobby Douglass on the single-season list, Jackson needs only 63 rushing yards — a total he’s eclipsed in nine of his last 11 games — to break Michael Vick’s NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season. Vick rushed for 1,039 yards in 2006, but Jackson is currently on pace to run for an amazing 1,302 yards in his first full season as a starter. For context, a player rushed for 1,300 yards only eight times over the previous four NFL seasons and no Raven has reached that mark since Ray Rice (1,364) in 2011.

For a young player who’s tried to downplay weekly awards and MVP hype in favor of team-oriented goals throughout the season, this record certainly carries meaning.

“It would be an honor. Like I’ve said, Michael Vick is my favorite player,” Jackson said. “For me to do such a thing, it’s incredible. He had that record for a long time, and it will be pretty cool. But I’m focused on the win regardless.”

With winning always at the forefront of Jackson’s mind, breaking Vick’s record on the same day the Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win at Buffalo — and possibly their second straight AFC North division championship if Pittsburgh also loses at Arizona — would be exactly how he likes it.

Jackson has now rushed for at least 60 yards in nine straight games, the kind of consistency for which the best running backs in the league strive. That he’s continued to run at such a historic pace while also being a top 10-caliber passer — if not even better than that — is why he’s the clear favorite to be NFL MVP. It’s the stuff of video games if a game of Madden were as fun as watching the electrifying Jackson make defenders look silly in the open field.

“Lamar is a generational talent in my opinion running the ball, and a lot of people understand that,” right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “People want to stop him. People want to slow him down and all those different things. People haven’t really figured out how to do it yet. I’m sure there isn’t an answer.”

There really isn’t one at this point, but Jackson would gladly take a quiet day with his legs against the Bills as long as the Ravens officially punch their ticket for January football. And that mindset is part of what makes him so special.

Cleaning up run defense

The 174 rushing yards allowed — 146 by Raheem Mostert — in last Sunday’s 20-17 win over San Francisco grabbed the Ravens’ attention preparing for Buffalo’s fifth-ranked ground attack this week.

The Bills rank 10th in the NFL in rushing efficiency while the Baltimore run defense will try to bounce back from its worst game since the Week 4 loss to Cleveland. The Ravens did limit the 49ers to just nine yards on five carries in the fourth quarter after San Francisco had much success running outside.

“There were some edge issues that we had with Jaylon [Ferguson], and it was just a different look that a rookie hasn’t seen,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We worked on it because we know how this league is. If they see a scab scratched, they’re going to keep trying to attack it and we’ve worked on it. That’s been a point of emphasis for us going into this game. We just had too many missed tackles on that [40-yard touchdown run], and what I liked is how we bounced back in the second half.”

Should Ferguson’s Week 13 problems holding the edge carry over against Buffalo, veteran Jihad Ward seeing more snaps at outside linebacker wouldn’t be surprising.

Special moment for Humphrey

Marlon Humphrey said he’d never blocked a field goal in practice, college, or even high school, but his deflection of 49ers kicker Robbie Gould’s 51-yard attempt to end the first half proved to be a critical play in the three-point win.

The play sparked an enthusiastic embrace as part of a big day for the Baltimore special-teams units.

“We prepared, we talked about it. We said, ‘We have an opportunity,’ if we got in that situation,” special teams coach Chris Horton said. “I was really excited for him. It was our first blocked kick as a staff, so it was just a really exciting moment. And I think it was deserving of a big hug.”

Thursday’s injury report

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was the only player on the 53-man roster not to practice on Thursday as he received a veteran day off.

Wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) was added to the injury report as a limited participant, which hasn’t been uncommon over the course of the season.

Below is the full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marquise Brown (ankle), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), LB Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), WR Seth Roberts (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Nick Boyle (illness), CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury)

BUFFALO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Lorenzo Alexander (non-injury), RB Frank Gore (non-injury), OT Ty Nsekhe (ankle), G Quinton Spain (illness), RB T.J. Yeldon (illness)

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San Francisco 49ers defensive back Marcell Harris (36) strips the ball from Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) to cause a fumble in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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On imperfect day, everything still falls into place for Ravens

Posted on 02 December 2019 by Luke Jones

The weather was miserable.

The defense allowed its first opening-drive touchdown of the season and its highest rushing total since Week 4, the last time the Ravens actually lost a game.

The Baltimore offense produced its season low for points while Lamar Jackson lost a fumble for the first time since January and produced his lowest passing yardage total of the season.

Sunday felt far from perfect as the Ravens trailed in a game for the first time since before Halloween, yet they still beat the best team in the NFC. And they went to bed Sunday night knowing they now occupy the top spot in the AFC and control their path to securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time in team history.

The 20-17 win over San Francisco was both a commentary on the 49ers being a dangerous adversary and how our expectations have changed watching the Ravens play nearly flawlessly over the previous six weeks. Beating a 10-1 opponent by any means and score should be celebrated unconditionally, but perceptions are warped when you’ve beaten the previous five opponents — four of them with winning records — by an average margin of four touchdowns, leaving some to ask a question or two about what happened after the grind-it-out win.

The truth is this was as valuable a victory for John Harbaugh’s team as any this season in how it relates to the big picture. The Ravens earned an abundance of style points in recent weeks and have really tested conventional thinking, but we know winning in the NFL isn’t easy. That’s a lesson that probably doesn’t need to be reiterated to the likes of Marshal Yanda, Earl Thomas, or Jimmy Smith at this point, but there were just enough mistakes on each side of the ball Sunday for the coaching staff to have the attention of anyone who might have been feeling a little too invincible after winning the previous three games by a combined 109 points.

You’re unlikely to see many plays from Sunday’s performance in Jackson’s 2019 highlight reel — other than his juke on 49ers cornerback K’Waun Williams that left Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams to “hope his ankles are OK” after the game — but the 22-year-old again played like an MVP when it mattered, going 3-for-3 for 27 yards and picking up two critical first downs on short-yardage runs on the final drive. After the game, Jackson said the cold, rainy weather messed with him “a lot” as a passer and he was still angry about the third-quarter fumble that threatened to swing the game in favor of the 49ers, but the ball remained in his hands whenever the Ravens needed a play against a tough San Francisco defense that was determined to hit the young quarterback hard and often. He rushed for over 100 yards for the fourth time this year, an NFL single-season record for a quarterback.

Sunday was also a reminder of what the Ravens still have in their back pocket despite not needing them as often this season. The light workload for veteran punter Sam Koch has served as a punchline for weeks, but his 61-yard punt pinned the 49ers back at their own 1 late in a third quarter that had featured Jackson’s fumble, a long San Francisco drive that ended with a field goal to tie the game at 17, and another Baltimore series that had stalled.

Then, there was Justin Tucker making his 15th career game-winning field goal. Attempting such a high-leverage kick from 49 yards away in those conditions, many kickers would probably hope for it be a coin flip. But Tucker again showed why he’s the NFL’s best, even if he’s kicking more extra points than field goals these days.

The Ravens now find themselves in the top spot via their head-to-head tiebreaker win over New England in Week 9. Baltimore will be favored to win each of its final four games to close the regular season. But a tweet from retired linebacker and current director of player engagement Jameel McClain late Sunday should resonate after the Ravens won their eighth straight game, their longest ever regular-season stretch.

Sunday showed the Ravens don’t need to be at their best to beat a top-tier opponent, a terrifying proposition for the rest of the NFL. But the narrow win reiterated that it won’t be easy the rest of the way.

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pierce

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Pierce absent again after making limited return to Ravens practice

Posted on 22 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after making his return to the practice field, Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce was back on the sidelines.

It’s unclear whether Pierce suffered a setback in his recovery from a right ankle injury sustained early in the Week 10 win in Cincinnati, but the fourth-year defensive lineman had said Thursday would be a litmus test for his chances to play against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night.

“We will know after practice,” said Pierce, who was listed as a limited participant on Thursday. “We’ll get some things done and see how my ankle responds to individual and some team drills, and we’ll go from there. The swelling’s gone down tremendously. We had to get that out of the way before I could be able to play. We’ll see how it feels, and we’ll go from there.”

With Pierce unable to make it back-to-back practices, the Ravens may need to again lean more heavily on veteran newcomers Domata Peko and Justin Ellis. Just days after being signed, the two run-stopping defensive tackles combined to play 43 defensive snaps in the 41-7 win over Houston.

Their presence and the dominant play of Brandon Williams quell concerns about Pierce’s uncertain status.

“It definitely eases your mind. Just to see the way those guys played this week was awesome,” Pierce said. “They’re awesome dudes. One thing I told Peko — obviously, he was across the division [with Cincinnati] for so many years — I studied his film when I was a young defensive lineman as well as ‘Jelly’s.’ I’ve definitely picked some things from that game just not knowing them, and then we kind of bounced some ideas off each other in meetings.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday’s session with what was listed as an ankle issue. Wide receiver Chris Moore (broken left thumb) continues to practice on a limited basis in hopes of being cleared to return to game action after a two-week absence.

The Rams didn’t practice on Friday, offering only an estimated injury report.

Below is Friday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), DT Michael Pierce (ankle), DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Chris Moore (thumb), G Ben Powers (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury), Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Malcolm Brown (non-injury), OT Rob Havenstein (knee), DB Darious Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: P Johnny Hekker (illness), WR Josh Reynolds (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Brandin Cooks (concussion)

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peters

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win at Cincinnati

Posted on 12 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their fifth consecutive game in a 49-13 final at Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After posting a 158.3 passer rating 30 miles from his hometown in Week 1, Lamar Jackson had another perfect day 100 miles from where he won a Heisman Trophy at Louisville. Playing like that in front of so many who watched him on his path to NFL stardom is special.

2. Being traded in the middle of a contract year can be a challenging transition, but Marcus Peters has now returned two interceptions for touchdowns over his first three games as a Raven. A cornerback with a boom-or-bust reputation is putting himself in position for a huge payday.

3. Marquise Brown has caught seven of eight targets for 128 yards and a touchdown since returning from an ankle sprain. The rookie performing like this at less than 100 percent continues to be impressive and encouraging for his future if he can stay healthy.

4. The Ravens haven’t posted a winning road record in the regular season since 2010, but they’re 4-1 in away games this season and 6-2 on the road since Jackson became the starter last year. Road success in the regular season is what allows teams to play at home in January.

5. Brandon Williams has played some of the best football of his career in recent weeks, which included a season-best seven tackles in 59 defensive snaps with Michael Pierce exiting Sunday’s game early. Williams’ Week 4 spat with Earl Thomas feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

6. Nick Boyle had four catches for a career-high 78 yards and has now set a new single-season high in receiving yards nine games into 2019. Mark Andrews headlines, but all three Baltimore tight ends have been superb, combining to catch 71.6 percent of targets for 949 yards and seven touchdowns.

7. In a combined 30 snaps between offense and defense, Patrick Ricard had a big block on Mark Ingram’s touchdown run, recorded a tackle for no gain, logged a strip-sack returned by Tyus Bowser for a touchdown, and had another tackle for a minimal gain. That’s quite a splash.

8. The “Heisman Package” resulted in a 12-yard gain as Jackson pitched to Robert Griffin III on the option. As John Harbaugh said, “Guys like to have fun,” but I’m now expecting Vinny Testaverde, Ricky Williams, and Troy Smith to come back if they’re serious about this Heisman thing.

9. With the return of Jimmy Smith, the arrival of Peters, and the shift of Brandon Carr to safety and Chuck Clark to the box in the dime, Anthony Levine has played only 11 defensive snaps since the bye. Levine is a good player, but it speaks to improved secondary depth.

10. Sam Koch didn’t have to punt until the 1:14 mark of the fourth quarter in Cincinnati. His career low for punts in a season is 60, but the longtime Raven is currently on pace to punt only 37 times in 2019. Things sure have changed here in Baltimore.

11. Jackson did the heavy lifting, but CBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan’s call of the electric 47-yard touchdown run was a lot of fun. Harlan is one of the more underrated broadcasters in the business. “He is Houdini!” will be remembered by Ravens fans for a long time.

12. I couldn’t have been the only one who thought of Tony Siragusa late in the Ravens’ 2000 playoff win over Tennessee when Jackson was shown wearing sunglasses on the sideline. Siragusa gets bonus points for taking those shades from Brian Billick and that being a more important game, however.

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pierce

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Ravens defensive tackle Pierce “day-to-day” with ankle injury

Posted on 11 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Little went wrong in the Ravens’ blowout win over Cincinnati, but an ankle injury to defensive tackle Michael Pierce could loom large with AFC South-leading Houston coming to town Sunday.

The run-stopping lineman hurt his right ankle on the first defensive play against the Bengals and tried to return on the following drive before exiting the game for good after only two more snaps. Sunday’s X-ray was negative, but Pierce could miss some time, which would be significant for a run defense currently ranking eighth in yards per game allowed but only 18th in yards per carry surrendered.

“I would say he’s day-to-day right now. Nothing serious,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It won’t be a long-term injury, which is good news based on the MRI today. There’s a chance he’ll play on Sunday. We’ll just have to see how he does.”

With Pierce missing all but three defensive snaps on Sunday, the Ravens struggled to stop the Cincinnati run game, allowing 102 yards and 5.7 yards per carry in the first half before settling in to give up just 55 yards on 22 carries over the final two quarters. Baltimore allowed a season-worst 6.7 yards per carry in the Week 4 loss to Cleveland in which Brandon Williams sat out with a knee injury, making it clear the run defense isn’t the same without the two hulking defensive tackles in the middle.

With Pierce out, Williams made a season-high seven tackles and played 59 defensive snaps, the fifth-highest total of his career. Second-year defensive lineman Zach Sieler played a career-high 24 defensive snaps while third-year defensive end Chris Wormley picked up a sack and played 47 defensive snaps, the second-highest total of his career.

“Zach fought in there and got better as the game went on. He played well in the second half,” Harbaugh said. “‘Worm’ fought through there and had a lot of good plays. And like anything, probably plays he’d want to have back too and improve upon.

“But Brandon was a force. Brandon kind of took it upon himself to get that run stopped, especially in the second half. He played a lot of plays, played super hard, very physical in there. We needed him to, and he did a great job with it.”

Fullback and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard was impressive in just 12 defensive snaps with a strip-sack and three other tackles, but his role on offense will make it challenging to manage his workload if Pierce can’t play against the Texans in Week 11.

Harbaugh confirmed rookie cornerback Iman Marshall could be activated from injured reserve as soon as this week. The fourth-round pick from USC has been sidelined with toe and hamstring injuries since early in the preseason, but he was designated to return from IR on Oct. 28, which triggered a 21-day window in which he can practice and the coaching staff can evaluate him. The Ravens would need to make a decision by early next week whether to active him to the 53-man roster or to leave him on IR for the remainder of the season.

Given the depth of the secondary, Marshall’s path to a game-day role would be on special teams, an area that’s taken some significant hits in recent weeks.

“We plan on bringing him up,” Harbaugh said. “Whether he’s active or not just kind of depends on how the roster shakes out. He has practiced well. He looks healthy, and hopefully he can contribute to us. … That’s an area that could use some bolstering, personnel-wise, so that’s one option for us.”

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lamarjackson

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Lamar Jackson misses Thursday’s Ravens practice due to illness

Posted on 07 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson missed Thursday’s practice with an illness that isn’t expected to jeopardize his availability for Sunday’s game at Cincinnati.

Jackson was the second Baltimore player to miss practice due to being under the weather this week after seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda didn’t participate in Wednesday’s workout. It’s never ideal for your starting quarterback to miss practice time three days before a game, but the Ravens are preparing to face a winless Bengals team ranking last in the NFL in total defense and rush defense, which should ease concerns. Baltimore is aiming for its first season sweep of Cincinnati since 2011 after winning 23-17 at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 6.

Third-string quarterback Trace McSorley did his usual work on the scout-team special-teams units as No. 2 quarterback Robert Griffin III threw passes to tight ends Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle during the media viewing portion of practice, another indication that the Ravens expect Jackson to be OK to play on Sunday.

Coincidentally, the only other time Jackson has missed a regular-season practice in his brief NFL career was the Thursday prior to his first start against the Bengals last November, which was also because of illness. Two of Jackson’s four career 100-yard rushing performances have come against Cincinnati, including his career-high 152-yard outburst on Oct. 13.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday wearing a brace on his left knee after tweaking it in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over New England.

After receiving a veteran day off on Wednesday, safety Earl Thomas was listed as limited as he continues to nurse a minor knee issue. Wide receiver Chris Moore was limited with a left thumb injury for the second straight day and didn’t attempt to catch any passes with that hand during the portion of practice open to the media.

A day after suffering a setback with the ankle injury that’s sidelined him since the start of training camp, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has all but ruled himself out for Week 10. Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor indicated Green was ready to make his season debut prior to Wednesday’s practice, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection is experiencing swelling in his ankle that’s prevented him from practicing this week. It’s another tough blow for a struggling team whose chances for Sunday’s game already weren’t great with rookie fourth-round quarterback Ryan Finley making his first NFL start.

Green, a 2011 first-round pick who’s given the Ravens defense significant problems over the years, is in the final year of his contract.

“I’m a competitor. I want to play, but sometimes you go through these bumps in the road that you’ve got to stay focused,” Green told reporters in Cincinnati on Thursday. “You’ve got to look at the long-term picture. I’ve got to make sure I can play for another five years without having to worry about this thing, not just thinking of the now.”

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Lamar Jackson (illness), DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Chris Moore (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), S Earl Thomas (knee), G Marshal Yanda (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Mark Ingram (non-injury)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR A.J. Green (ankle), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), G Alex Redmond (knee/ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Darqueze Denard (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (non-injury), OT Cordy Glenn (concussion), DE Carl Lawson (hamstring), G John Miller (groin)

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earlthomas

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 05 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The sizzle in this AFC North rivalry is currently lacking, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens and Pittsburgh aren’t both eager for a victory to reverse their early-season fortunes.

A victory would allow Baltimore to exhale after a two-game losing streak and would keep John Harbaugh’s team at least tied for first place in the division with two games to go until the Week 8 bye. The Steelers are trying to avoid falling to 1-4, a record from which only 14 teams since 1970 have rebounded to make the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals meet for the 51st time — counting the postseason — with Pittsburgh owning a 25-21 advantage in the regular season and a 3-1 edge in the playoffs. Including the playoffs, the Ravens are 12-13 against the Steelers in the Harbaugh era with 18 of those games decided by a single score.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Earl Thomas will come away with his second interception of the season. The truth is somewhere in between regarding Thomas’ start as he’s been neither dynamic nor the problem some have suggested him to be. Hearing him admit he’s still adjusting to playing different coverages from what he did in Seattle is disconcerting, but it’s not as though he’s been directly responsible for most of the big plays the Ravens have surrendered. The 30-year-old does need to be a bigger part of the solution, and a pick of second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph will be a step in the right direction.

2. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels will each score a touchdown. The Steelers have averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, so finding running room against a front expecting to have Brandon Williams back won’t be easy. However, Conner and Samuels caught a combined 16 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in Week 4 and will be facing a Baltimore linebacker group that’s been a total liability in coverage. As they did against Cincinnati, the Steelers will use gadget plays, screens, and short passes to keep life simple for Rudolph. The Ravens have struggled against those kinds of plays.

3. Lamar Jackson will rush for 75 yards and throw for two touchdowns. The Pittsburgh defense is moving in a better direction after a rough start, but the Steelers haven’t yet encountered the full Jackson experience, which is difficult for anyone to prepare for. We’ll see a more aggressive Jackson running to the edges like he did in Week 2, which will force Pittsburgh’s secondary to creep forward and create chances for the second-year quarterback to throw the ball down the field. The Ravens would love to get Marquise Brown going again after he had a total of six catches for 71 yards over the last two games.

4. Steelers defensive linemen Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt will combine for two sacks and force a fumble. One of the reasons why Jackson will run more frequently to the edges is to offset the advantage Pittsburgh has inside, especially with center Matt Skura questionable to play due to a knee injury. The Ravens did a solid job against the Cleveland front last week, but the Steelers’ interior line is a handful with Heyward and Tuitt off to great starts this season. Baltimore’s top-ranked rush offense will be seeing its biggest test inside the tackles so far this season.

5. The Baltimore defense will regroup — somewhat — in a 24-20 win over Pittsburgh. There are too many problems to expect the Ravens defense to just snap its fingers and be fine, but I still believe that group is better than the bottom-10 unit its shown to be so far this season. There will still be mistakes and the Steelers will throw plenty of bells and whistles at them, but Rudolph doesn’t appear to be capable yet of exploiting the Ravens’ woes like Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield did. Jackson and the offense will play an efficient game against a defense better than the numbers suggest, and the Ravens will escape Heinz Field with a victory for the second straight year.

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skura

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Skura, Williams questionable for Ravens’ tilt in Pittsburgh

Posted on 04 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The only man to play every offensive snap for the Ravens since the start of the 2018 season is questionable for Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh.

Center Matt Skura missed practice for the second straight day with a knee injury, leaving his availability uncertain for Week 5. The Ravens have expressed optimism about his status, but no Baltimore player who’s missed the final two practices of a week this season has played that Sunday.

“He had something happen in practice. I think there’s a real good chance he’ll play,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m very encouraged, so we’ll just have to see. If not, we’ll go with the guys we have.”

Starting left guard Bradley Bozeman is listed as the backup center on the depth chart included in this week’s game release, but the Ravens may not want to disrupt two positions on an offensive line that’s shown promising continuity through the first quarter of the season. Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari would be the other candidate to start in Skura’s place after being active as a reserve in each of the first four games of 2019.

Not only would a change at center be unsettling with Pittsburgh’s interior defensive line regarded as one of the NFL’s best, but 97 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps this season have come from the shotgun or pistol formation, according to SharpFootballStats.com. Accuracy problems with snaps are detrimental to the timing of read-option and run-pass option plays that require a precise mesh point between the quarterback and running back.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was also listed as questionable on the final injury report, but he practiced fully Friday, a good sign for his availability after he missed last Sunday’s loss to Cleveland due to a knee injury. Punt returner and reserve cornerback Cyrus Jones was also designated as questionable after being limited in Friday’s practice with a foot issue.

Tight end Mark Andrews wasn’t listed with a game status after practicing fully Friday, a sign that his health continues to improve after being hampered by a foot injury since Week 2. He sat out Wednesday’s practice and worked on a limited basis Thursday.

Harbaugh said he expects the Ravens to make a 53-man roster addition prior to Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline for Week 5 after placing reserve safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) on injured reserve Thursday. That move would presumably be a promotion from the practice squad.

Trawick had returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday after a two-game absence, but Harbaugh said he’s now a candidate for a designation to return later in the season, a decision that doesn’t have to be made right now.

“It’s just a move we decided to make. It’s kind of the way it worked out,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not really as much medical. I mean he’s not ready to play yet, so we’ve got a little time there.”

As expected, cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) was officially ruled out and will miss his fourth straight game. This marks the seventh time in his nine seasons in which the oft-injured defensive back will miss at least four contests in a campaign.

The Steelers are dealing with their own health concerns as wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe) and tight end Vance McDonald (shoulder) are questionable to play, but both practiced fully Friday. Running back James Conner (ankle) wasn’t listed with a game status despite sitting out the first two practices of the week, meaning he’ll play against the Ravens.

Pittsburgh fullback Roosevelt Nix (knee) was officially ruled out.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday in Pittsburgh calls for cloudy skies with occasional showers and temperatures approaching the mid-70s. There’s a 40-percent chance of rain with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Cyrus Jones (foot), C Matt Skura (knee), DT Brandon Williams (knee)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: LB Anthony Chickillo (foot), RB Roosevelt Nix (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Vance McDonald (shoulder), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe), LB Vince Williams (hamstring)

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brandonwilliams

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B. Williams practices as Thomas says Ravens teammates on “same page”

Posted on 03 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams returned to practice, safety Earl Thomas says the two are “on the same page” after last Sunday’s post-game dispute.

An NFL Network report indicated the two were involved in a “heated” discussion after Williams missed the Week 4 loss to Cleveland with a knee injury. The veteran lineman hadn’t been on the injury report until Saturday and was deactivated after a lackluster on-field workout before Sunday’s game. Without their run-stopping tackle anchoring the defense, the Ravens gave up a season-worst 193 yards in the 40-25 loss to the Browns.

Baltimore is allowing 4.9 yards per carry, which currently ranks 27th in the NFL.

“We talked about it. I just want him out there,” said Thomas about his spat with Williams. “He’s a Pro Bowler. We’re better when he’s out there, so I was a little frustrated. I just wanted to see what was going on with him because I knew he had practiced earlier in the week. I didn’t know.

“It just kind of hit me out of the blindside, but hopefully he’ll play this week. We’ll get it fixed.”

Williams practiced on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday’s session, a positive sign for his availability for Sunday’s trip to Heinz Field to take on Pittsburgh. However, the Ravens were without center Matt Skura, who missed Thursday’s workout with a knee issue. Starting left guard Bradley Bozeman is listed on the team’s depth chart as the backup center, but undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari would be another option if Skura weren’t able to play.

Tight end Mark Andrews (foot) was a limited participant on Thursday after receiving the previous day off. He has now missed parts of four straight practice weeks, but he appeared to be moving better against the Browns than he did in the previous week’s loss to Kansas City, catching four passes for 31 yards and a touchdown in Week 4.

There is no shortage of urgency with the Ravens having lost two straight and not wanting to fall to 0-2 in AFC North play against the Steelers, who registered their first win of the season Monday night.

“We know what this game entails. It’s a rivalry,” Andrews said. “We know it’s going to be a hostile environment. We have a bunch of fighters in this locker room, a bunch of resilient guys, and I trust these guys.”

Reserve safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) was placed on injured reserve a day after returning to practice on a limited basis. Trawick had missed each of the last two games with the injury. The Ravens did not immediately announce a corresponding roster move.

Meanwhile, the Steelers are dealing with their own health concerns as wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe), running back James Conner (ankle), and tight end Vance McDonald (shoulder) have yet to practice this week. McDonald didn’t play in Week 4 while Smith-Schuster and Conner were banged up in Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: C Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Mark Andrews (foot), DT Brandon Williams (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Earl Thomas (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Anthony Chickillo (foot), RB James Conner (ankle), G Ramon Foster (non-injury), TE Vance McDonald (shoulder), RB Roosevelt Nix (knee), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Mark Barron (non-injury), DT Cameron Heyward (quadricep), C Maurkice Pouncey (non-injury), LB Vince Williams (hamstring)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 4 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 01 October 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens losing their second straight game in a 40-25 setback against Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With 10 of the previous 15 games between these teams decided by one score despite the Ravens’ dominant record, you couldn’t help but think the Browns would “Brown” when Baltimore made it 24-18. Instead, the Ravens didn’t even touch Nick Chubb on his 88-yard touchdown run. Just brutal.

2. The first turnover of the season was inevitable, but Mark Ingram’s fumble in the third quarter summed up the day for the offense. Averaging 5.9 yards per play, the Ravens moved the ball well, but they made too many mistakes at the wrong times.

3. The defense deserves most of the blame for the two-game losing streak, but the offense has scored a total of 13 first-half points the last two weeks. That’s usually not going to get the job done, especially with the current state of this defense.

4. John Harbaugh noted Cleveland was content playing off in coverage to give the Ravens short passes — mostly to the outside — as Lamar Jackson was 6-for-8 for 34 yards in the first half. Still, Greg Roman has to find a better way to test a unit missing both starting cornerbacks.

5. There was no shortage of new defensive looks as Wink Martindale used four safeties — the starters, Chuck Clark, and DeShon Elliott — on occasion and removed Patrick Onwuasor in certain sub packages after he’d previously been an every-snap linebacker. Twenty-one players saw at least seven snaps. Martindale is exploring answers.

6. Tony Jefferson took over the defensive huddle and wore the green-dot helmet to relay the calls from the sideline, a decision made to streamline communication for the secondary and take some responsibilities off Onwuasor’s plate. Baltimore has to get its inside linebackers to play better.

7. Per OverTheCap.com, no team has more money tied to the safety position over the next two years than Baltimore, but Pro Football Focus has graded Earl Thomas 19th and Jefferson 75th among qualified safeties through Week 4. These two need to be a much bigger part of the solution.

8. Brandon Williams’ absence didn’t mean an opportunity for rookie Daylon Mack as much as bigger workloads for Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, and Patrick Ricard. Mack played nine snaps while the veteran trio set season highs in snaps by significant margins. That takes a toll, especially later in the game.

9. Just how problematic has the defense been with surrendering big plays? The Ravens have already allowed six pass plays of 40 or more yards, one shy of last season’s total. Only two teams — Oakland and Jacksonville — have surrendered more completions of 20 or more yards so far.

10. His final stat line wasn’t the most accurate portrayal of his day, but Jackson’s first interception of the season was a product of needing to be aggressive down multiple scores with time dwindling. I’ll take that over dinking and dunking without the necessary urgency. The quarterback wasn’t the problem Sunday.

11. The hand-wringing over the third-quarter scuffle between Marlon Humphrey and Odell Beckham Jr. is getting ridiculous. Each team should be happy its player wasn’t kicked out of the game and just move on.

12. Justice Hill returning kicks looked like a good move to utilize his speed, but his latest drop to open the second half led to Chris Moore replacing him. Coverage has been good, but the Ravens could really use more production out of their kick returns, which rank 21st.

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