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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-14 win over Denver

Posted on 25 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 2-1 in their 27-14 win over Denver, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Joe Flacco is on pace for 4,741 yards and 32 touchdowns, which would set career highs. His 6.89 yards per attempt could still tick up more and he now needs to play well on the road, but Flacco ranks ninth in Total QBR, a metric usually unkind to him.

2. If we’re going to praise Flacco after he dealt with the lack of pass-catching talent in recent years, Marty Mornhinweg also deserves credit for the strong offensive start. He put together a superb game plan to help neutralize the Denver pass rush and the offensive line excelled in pass protection.

3. The running game ranks 31st at 3.1 yards per attempt. It’s still early, but the comments citing the need to just break a long run are reminding me of 2013 when the Ravens ranked last in yards per carry (3.1). Offensive success won’t continue without better production on the ground.

4. After registering a sack, four quarterback hits, and seven total pressures, Za’Darius Smith now ranks ninth among edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ pass rushing productivity this season. His improvement and ability to pressure from the inside have made for a strong start to a contract year.

5. Kenny Young continues to impress after recording a team-high 10 tackles. The rookie makes his share of mistakes, but you don’t notice because of the speed and aggressiveness with which he plays. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’ll do with more experience and knowledge of the defense.

6. It was a dubious beginning for Ronnie Stanley as he was beaten by rookie Bradley Chubb for a sack on the second play from scrimmage, but he was strong after that, finishing with PFF’s second-highest grade for a Baltimore offensive player behind Flacco. The Ravens need more of that.

7. I’ve been in favor of giving Tyus Bowser more defensive snaps, but it was his whiff on a block that led to Sam Koch’s punt being blocked and an early 7-0 deficit. That’s not going to garner more favor with the coaching staff.

8. Chris Wormley is only 12 defensive snaps shy of matching his rookie season total. His play hasn’t jumped off the page, but he’s been solid filling in at the 3-technique spot for Willie Henry and is stronger and more versatile than he was a year ago.

9. Three of the five field goals made by Justin Tucker have been from 52 yards or longer. Dating back to last year, he’s made eight straight from 50 or more. Remember when Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell made the Pro Bowl instead of him?

10. Regression to the mean is inevitable with the Ravens going 12-for-12 in the red zone to begin the season — Philadelphia ranked first last year at 65.45 percent — but you have to be encouraged by the offensive diversity with seven different players already scoring touchdowns.

11. Mark Andrews is one of the biggest surprises of the young season. Seeing him make plays down the seam makes it that much more enticing to think about what the intermediate passing game could look like when Hayden Hurst returns in the not-too-distant future.

12. Buck Allen leads the Ravens with four touchdowns. He has to be on John Harbaugh’s fantasy team, right?

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 22 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Keep it simple.

Running the football and stopping the run might be as clichéd as it gets when reciting keys to a game, but the Ravens can’t afford to get cute against Denver with three straight road games — two against 2017 playoff teams — looming after Sunday’s home affair. Meanwhile, the Broncos have started 2-0 for the sixth straight year, but winning their first two games — both at home just like this season — didn’t mean much a year ago on their way to a 5-11 campaign in head coach Vance Joseph’s first year.

A win resets positive vibes and puts the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati in the rear-view mirror, but a defeat would conjure memories of last season when the Ravens couldn’t handle their business at home against underwhelming opponents such as Chicago in Week 6 and the Bengals in Week 17, two losses that led to them falling short of the playoffs.

It’s time to go on record as the Ravens play Denver for the 12th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Broncos holding the 6-5 advantage. Baltimore holds a 5-1 edge in games played at M&T Bank Stadium. Of course, the Ravens are 2-0 against Denver in their playoff history.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will double his season total for touches in a better commitment to the run. When you’re crushing an opponent through the air in Week 1 and falling behind by three touchdowns in Week 2, the volume of rushing attempts is always going to suffer. However, the explosive Collins averaging only 10 touches per game isn’t a winning formula, and the Ravens have gained just 3.3 yards per carry so far in 2018, meaning they must be more productive when Marty Mornhinweg does call for runs. Denver led the NFL at just 3.3 yards per carry allowed a year ago and is surrendering 3.6 per attempt so far in 2018, so don’t expect a monster day for Collins. He’ll be more involved, however.

2. Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay will receive a rude awakening after a historic start to his career. The rookie became the first undrafted player in NFL history with more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two games, meaning he’s firmly on the opposition’s radar now. The Ravens are concerned with Linday’s speed, which plays more to the edges as Denver continues to employ principles of Gary Kubiak’s outside-zone system. The potential absences of linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Michael Pierce are clear concerns, but the ability of outside linebackers and defensive ends to contain will be just as critical. The Ravens will hold Lindsay to under 60 yards.

3. Brandon Carr will continue a hot start by intercepting Broncos quarterback Case Keenum. Lost in the disappointment of last week’s performance against the Bengals was how well the veteran continued to play as Pro Football Focus grades Carr as the third-best cornerback in the NFL through two weeks. He won’t continue playing at that elite level, but the Ravens will need him and Marlon Humphrey to lock down the outside because Mosley’s potential absence and Tavon Young’s Week 2 struggles leave concerns about covering the middle of the field. That said, Keenum has already thrown four interceptions in his first two games and will be pressured into throwing another key one.

4. Von Miller will record a sack, but the Ravens offensive line will bounce back. The Ravens are one of only four opponents the six-time Pro Bowl selection hasn’t registered a sack against — he did share one with Elvis Dumervil in the 2012 playoffs — but Miller will present big problems for right tackle James Hurst, leaving tight end Nick Boyle to help him out as much as possible. The key will be Ronnie Stanley elevating his play against rookie first-round pick Bradley Chubb on the opposite side. The offensive line needs to play better collectively, but Stanley has graded just 45th among offensive tackles by PFF. He’ll be better, and the Ravens will protect the pocket more effectively than last week.

5. Joe Flacco will be turnover-free and efficient in a balanced 23-16 win over the Broncos. Whenever Flacco has a monster game throwing the ball at will like he did in Week 1, we’re quickly reminded that he isn’t one of the few quarterbacks who can consistently thrive throwing the ball 40-plus times in a game. The Ravens need to be more productive on the ground moving forward, especially playing four of their next five on the road after Sunday. Denver is talented enough to come into Baltimore and win if John Harbaugh’s team sleepwalks again early, but the Ravens are a better team playing at home and the Broncos’ narrow home wins over Seattle and Oakland were hardly statement games. A win puts the Ravens back on track, but a loss could set off an early-season slide. Home-field advantage and extra rest following a Thursday game will be the difference in a win lacking style points.

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Stanley practices while Mosley, four other Ravens sit out Wednesday

Posted on 19 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Six days after playing their last game, the Ravens remain banged up while continuing preparations to host undefeated Denver in Week 3.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley headlined a list of five non-participants as he continues to recover from a bone bruise in his left knee sustained on the first defensive series in Cincinnati. Running back Alex Collins (illness), defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot), tight end Hayden Hurst (foot), and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) were also absent on Wednesday.

It remains unclear whether Mosley will be able to play against the Broncos, but safety Eric Weddle will wear the coach-to-player communication receiver in his helmet and relay calls in the defensive huddle if the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker is out. Of course, Mosley’s absence would put more pressure on young inside linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young to pick up the slack.

“If C.J. doesn’t play and those linebackers get the practice reps this week, then that will be a big plus, especially with young guys,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But all those guys are in their meetings. They know how we’re playing stuff. Some guys have more experience than other guys, and that’s just how it works. The next guy has to be ready to go. Whoever plays, plays, and they need to play well.”

In more positive injury news, left tackle Ronnie Stanley practiced on a limited basis after missing the final 12 plays of the Bengals loss with an elbow injury. Stanley wore a bulky brace on his right arm while taking part in offensive line drills during the portion of practice open to reporters.

Outside linebacker Matthew Judon was also limited in Wednesday’s practice with a hamstring injury.

The Ravens signed cornerback Makinton Dorleant to their practice squad after New England re-signed cornerback and Baltimore native Cyrus Jones off the Baltimore practice squad. Dorleant, a Northern Iowa product, was with Kansas City in the preseason.

Meanwhile, the Broncos held out starting quarterback Case Keenum from practice due to knee soreness, but head coach Vance Joseph confirmed in a conference call that it was a precautionary measure and Keenum would be back on the field on Thursday. Starting inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee), starting right tackle Jared Veldheer (concussion), and former Bengals cornerback Adam Jones (thigh) were also held out on Wednesday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Alex Collins (illness), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Matthew Judon (hamstring), OT Ronnie Stanley (elbow)

DENVER
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Adam Jones (thigh), QB Case Keenum (knee), LB Brandon Marshall (knee), T Jared Veldheer (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Shane Ray (wrist), CB Bradley Roby (wrist)

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Ravens aiming to get back to their roots in Week 3

Posted on 18 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens had made it a one-possession game for the first time since the opening period and needed a defensive stop in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati last Thursday.

Instead, the Bengals marched 65 yards and took more than six minutes off the clock before Randy Bullock’s 28-yard field goal made it a 31-23 deficit with 2:59 remaining. Just under half of that yardage came on the ground as Cincinnati rushed six times for 32 yards, including Joe Mixon’s 21-yard cutback run that was the key play in setting up an easy field goal.

No, the Bengals’ rushing attack didn’t gash the Ravens, but 108 yards on 28 carries over the course of the night helped control the tempo after quarterback Andy Dalton connected with wide receiver A.J. Green for three touchdown passes in the game’s first 17 minutes.

“It was OK — not great. It needs to be better. It’s not to our standards,” said head coach John Harbaugh of his run defense. “All our guys will probably echo that. We have a high, high standard. It might be good enough for other teams around the league, but it’s not going to be good enough for us.”

Lost in the heartbreak of “fourth-and-12” and the focus on Jimmy Smith’s absence at the end of last season was the declining standard of the rush defense. Stopping the run has defined the Ravens more than any other quality over two-plus decades in Baltimore as they finished in the top 10 in yards per carry allowed for 20 straight seasons and had only four finishes outside the top nine in rushing yards surrendered from 1999-2016.

In 2017, however, the Ravens finished just 16th in yards per carry allowed and surrendered a full 4.0 yards per carry — without rounding up or down — for the first time in franchise history last season. They also ranked 15th in rushing yards per game surrendered. The four-game absence of run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams in the first half of the season didn’t help those numbers, but the Ravens still allowed more than 3.9 yards per carry in the 12 games he played, which would have left them 10th in the NFL.

It was less than two years ago when the Ravens ranked first in run defense entering Week 14 of the 2016 season and some were even singing the group’s praises from a historical context. Baltimore lost three of the final four games that season while giving up 544 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry to drop them from that all-time-great conversation to fifth in the league. The Ravens’ run defense has had strong games since then, but the unit has yet to recapture its aura or same level of consistency.

To be clear, the run defense hardly qualifies as a weakness, but when you devote the kind of resources the Ravens have to the defensive side of the ball in terms of cap dollars and draft picks in recent years, you’d like to see more dominant results and less wavering at critical times. It’s certainly something Harbaugh’s team wants to get back to in 2018, beginning with Sunday’s tilt against 2-0 Denver.

The surprising Broncos enter Week 3 ranked second in the NFL in rushing offense and are trying not to put too much on the right shoulder of quarterback Case Keenum, who is coming off a surprising 2017 season with Minnesota after years as a journeyman. Despite being listed third on the Broncos’ current depth chart, rookie running back Phillip Lindsay is third in the league in rushing and became the first undrafted player in NFL history to eclipse 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two games.

“It’s incredible, these [rookie] free agent running backs around the league,” Harbaugh said. “He’s fast — that’s what stands out about him. He’s quick, he’s kind of fearless. They put him in good situations, [and] they get the ball to both rookie backs — [Royce] Freeman from Oregon, too.

“They get the ball outside quick on the edge a couple different ways. They run a lot of draws really well, some screens. They get him in space. The offensive line has done a good job, but this kid is running and he’s making plays with his speed and his fearlessness.”

The Ravens could be without three-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley on Sunday, but it will be up to the rest of the front seven to slow the backfield trio of Lindsay, Freeman, and Devontae Booker. Even with talented Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to consider, the Ravens will try to force Keenum to beat them through the air as he’s already thrown four interceptions in two home games with his new team.

On the flip side, Baltimore needs to get its own running game going after averaging just 3.3 yards per carry in the first two weeks. Game situation has certainly impacted the ground attack as the Ravens were throwing the ball against Buffalo at will in the season opener and the Bengals exploded to an early 21-point lead last Thursday, but quarterback Joe Flacco throwing 50-plus times just hasn’t been a formula for success over the years.

Running back Alex Collins has touched the ball just 20 times for 109 total yards over the first two contests after nearly rushing for 1,000 yards and ranking ninth in the league in yards per carry last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins has forced 10 missed tackles on those 20 touches in 2018, which would suggest a need to block better and to give him the ball more frequently.

“We’re not in any way pleased with the numbers,” Harbaugh said. “And we’re very determined to run the ball well because we think it fits our offense. It’s something that opens everything else up, so we have to get that going.”

Stopping the run and running the ball, two staples of success the Ravens need to rediscover entering a critical early-season stretch that includes four road games in the next six weeks.

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Ravens-Rams: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Nothing is a given for the disappointing Ravens.

The fact that all nine of their games have been decided by one possession leads you to believe that the 2-7 Ravens are likely to win at least a couple more games in 2015, but last Sunday’s home loss to Jacksonville further changed their perception after the bye week. Baltimore may be able to compete — even win — any of its seven remaining game, but none can be pointed to as a predicted win with any level of confidence, either.

That principle certainly applies against a St. Louis team that sports the NFL’s 31st-ranked offense but also the sixth-ranked defense int he league. However, the Rams will be missing Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn, which will hurt one of the best pass rushes in the league.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and St. Louis meet for the sixth time in their regular-season history and for the first time at M&T Bank Stadium since 2007. Baltimore holds a 3-2 advantage in the all-time series as the Rams are seeking their first road win in three tries against the Ravens.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win just its second home game this season …

1. Lardarius Webb will see more snaps as a safety and secure another interception. The veteran cornerback saw a handful of opportunities at the new position against Jacksonville, and head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees like his range and ball skills in that spot. It would be even more interesting to see the Ravens work Terrence Brooks into the mix and use him and Webb interchangeably between safety and the nickel spot in passing situations. The new look will result in Webb picking off a pass for the second straight week against the worst passing game in the league.

2. Todd Gurley will remind us why he’s the next big thing at the running back position. With Case Keenum taking over for the benched Nick Foles at quarterback and winds that could approach 20 miles per hour on Sunday, the Rams figure to ride their rookie running back, who is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He’ll approach his career high of 30 carries and eclipse the century mark with a touchdown on the ground against a good Baltimore run defense that has given up just 3.8 yards per attempt. Gurley once lived in Baltimore and rooted for the Ravens, so it will be a nice homecoming.

3. John Urschel will hold up respectably in his first NFL start at center. With left guard Kelechi Osemele likely departing via free agency this offseason, Urschel figures to step into a permanent starting role next season, but he’ll be filling in for the injured Jeremy Zuttah for the rest of 2015. It won’t be an easy task blocking 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald, but Urschel proved his worth as a blocker filling in late last season. He won’t shut Donald down completely, but there won’t be much drop-off from Zuttah and he’ll quell concerns about his shaky shotgun snaps from Week 8.

4. Keenum will make some plays as a passer while still looking like a backup. Yes, the 27-year-old quarterback played against the Ravens last year in an embarrassing defeat at Houston, but Keenum only completed 47.6 percent of his passes in that game. With Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin as pass-catching weapons, Keenum will be able to make some throws, but this is a very poor passing game that hasn’t been able to sustain drives all season. Rams offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti will rely on the running game, but Keenum will commit two turnovers to go along with his 160 passing yards.

5. The Ravens defense will be the difference in a 17-16 win for Baltimore. The long touchdown to Malcom Floyd in Week 8 and a heartbreaking ending last week have masked the fact that Pees’ unit has played better in recent weeks, and that improvement will continue against a bad offense now turning to its backup quarterback. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense won’t be able to consistently march up and down the field against a talented Rams front seven, but they’ll do enough to narrowly pull out a victory in what looks like another coin-flip game between two disappointing teams.

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Harbaugh critical of Ross, Jackson for mistakes in Sunday’s loss

Posted on 16 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On Monday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh dissected plenty that went wrong in the 22-20 loss to Jacksonville, but the criticism was particularly strong for special-teams players Jeremy Ross and Asa Jackson.

Ross’ fumbled punt early in the fourth quarter led to a go-ahead touchdown for Jacksonville and was the return specialist’s second lost fumble in the last three games. It was Baltimore’s fourth turnover of the second half after quarterback Joe Flacco threw two interceptions and fumbled in the third quarter.

“The muffed punt killed us. It was one of the four turnovers that shouldn’t happen,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged that the Ravens will need to decide whether to replace Ross at punt returner. “It wasn’t an easy catch. The ball was moving from left to right and behind him, but it’s still a catch that you have to make in that situation for sure.”

Harbaugh’s words were even more critical for Jackson, who cost the Ravens a combined 30 yards in penalties on a low block in the first quarter and an unnecessary roughness foul in the third period. Jackson committed another unnecessary roughness penalty against Arizona in Week 7.

It’s clear the lack of discipline is wearing thin on the Baltimore coach after Jackson was already waived once at the end of the preseason for ball security issues in the return game.

“There’s no place for that,” Harbaugh said. “There’s absolutely no reason to leave your feet [on the first penalty]. I don’t care if you are slipping or not. You might be slipping, but if you are out of position to make the block, you don’t make that block, and you certainly don’t throw yourself back into a guy’s legs on a kickoff return. That’s blatantly illegal. And then blocking a guy after the ball is down and dead — that’s just foolish. That’s what we call a foolish penalty.

“For one guy to have three personal foul penalties in a season — in a career, let alone a season — let alone two in a game, is unacceptable.”

Webb at safety

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees revealed several new wrinkles after the bye week with the most interesting being cornerback Lardarius Webb lining up at safety for a number of plays in the nickel package.

Webb and starting free safety Kendrick Lewis swapped positions several times, often waiting until right before the snap in an effort to confuse Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles. The seventh-year defensive back also secured Baltimore’s first takeaway since Week 3 with a second-quarter interception while playing cornerback.

“We felt like he could be a factor in the back end, as far as chasing balls and being a ball hawk, and he may be kind of a natural that way,” Harbaugh said. “We tried him there on Tuesday and Wednesday of the bye week; he looked good.

“We built a couple packages for him, and we were able to play him at three different spots at least throughout the course of the game. They had a tougher time knowing where he was going to be, and I really think that’s something we can build on going forward.”

Arthur Brown sighting

All but forgotten as the Ravens’ 2013 second-round pick, inside linebacker Arthur Brown saw his first defensive snaps since the end of his rookie season on Sunday.

Brown was part of the nickel package for eight plays, but he did not register a defensive statistic. The Kansas State product was active for each of the first eight games of 2015 while only seeing action on special teams.

“He played fast and was excited to be out there,” Harbaugh said. “He ran to the ball, made a couple plays — nothing spectacular, but nothing that made you concerned, either. He had done a really good job in practice, and Arthur deserved a little more playing time. He did well with it.”

Urban could return this week

Starting his second week of practice, second-year defensive end Brent Urban is moving closer to making his NFL debut and could be activated in time to play St. Louis on Sunday.

“There’s a chance,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not something we’ve talked about yet, but I think physically — based on what I’ve seen physically — he’s ready to go. But again, we’ll talk about this week as we go.”

Urban was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return at the start of the season after suffering a torn biceps in early August.

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Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 20 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Sunday represents a homecoming for a number of players and coaches as the Ravens travel to Houston to take on the Texans.

From offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and assistants Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani to tight end Owen Daniels, running back Justin Forsett, and wide receiver Jacoby Jones, plenty of Ravens will be returning to a place they called home for a number of years, but there’s little time for sentimentality when you’re in the playoff race. At 9-5, Baltimore can clinch a playoff spot in Week 16 with a win and losses by both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh or a win over the Texans coupled with defeats by both San Diego and Kansas City.

On the surface, the Ravens should feel very confident as the Texans are turning to their fourth quarterback of the season — expected to be the newly-signed Case Keenum — but Houston still possesses the best defensive player on the planet in J.J. Watt and a powerful running game that ranks fourth in the NFL. The 7-7 Texans are a long shot to sneak into the playoffs at this point, but they’d like nothing more than to spoil Baltimore’s playoff chances on Sunday.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Texans meet for the seventh time in regular-season history with the Ravens holding a 6-1 edge, which doesn’t include their 20-13 win over Houston in the 2011 postseason. Baltimore is 3-1 against Houston at NRG Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens hope to clinch a playoff spot in Week 16 …

1. Baltimore will advance its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 25 games, but Arian Foster will have a season-high total against the Ravens defense. No opposing running back has even gotten close to the century mark this season as Ahmad Bradshaw of Indianapolis has the highest total of the year against the Ravens with just 68 in Week 5. However, Foster will represent the greatest test the Ravens have seen since Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended for Adderall use. Both defenses will be familiar with the opposing rushing attack as the Ravens and Texans both use the zone stretch, but Houston will be a bit too predictable relying on the run due to the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Foster will rush for more yards against the Ravens than any back this season, but his total will remain south of 100 yards.

2. Daniels will catch a touchdown and have his best game of the season against his former team. The longtime Texans tight end having a strong day against his former team would be a feel-good story, but quarterback Joe Flacco went out of his way earlier in the week to say Daniels needs to be more involved in the offense. Against Jacksonville, Daniels was targeted nine times — the most he’s been thrown to since Week 9 — and caught four passes for 62 yards and his first touchdown since Week 7. The Ravens’ 17th-ranked red-zone attack remains a weakness of a strong offensive attack, but the reemergence of Daniels would be a major factor in a potential trip to the playoffs. His familiarity with the Texans’ defensive personnel will help him produce a season-high in yards, besting the 70 he had against the Colts in Week 5.

3. Watt will collect a sack and bat down a pass, but the Ravens will throw away from him and run plenty of counters to try to minimize his impact. The Texans defensive end might go down as the most disruptive defensive force the NFL has seen since Lawrence Taylor, but the Ravens can only focus on minimizing his impact as much as possible on Sunday. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will move Watt all over the defensive line, so the key is identifying where he lines up and running the play away from him. Flacco will throw to the opposite side of where Watt lines up to try to minimize his ability to use his 6-foot-5 frame to disrupt passing lanes, but running the counter is effective in slowing his motor as well as the rest of the Houston pass rush. Watt will see double-teams, chip blocks, and max protect as well, but play selection will be just as important.

4. Daryl Smith will pick up his second interception of the year to continue his strong finish to the season. A slow start and the emergence of rookie C.J. Mosley have led many to overlook how well the veteran linebacker has played in the second half of the season. An effective blitzer and still the Ravens’ best linebacker in pass coverage, Smith could be a key factor in trying to confuse Keenum, who proved to be an aggressive passer who couldn’t handle a pass rush in eight games for the Texans last season. It’s obvious the Baltimore defense will try to pressure the young quarterback, but Smith could prove key by showing blitz up the middle before dropping into pass coverage. The secondary will have its hands full with wide receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins — if the latter plays — but Smith will come away with a pick with Keenum facing a heavy rush.

5. Baltimore’s advantage at the quarterback position will be the ultimate difference in a tight 23-16 win for the Ravens. Last week’s struggles against the Jaguars should remind everyone that nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, and the Texans remained competitive in Indianapolis last week despite veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick going down with a broken leg. Bill O’Brien’s team has talent on both sides of the ball, but it’s very difficult imagining John Harbaugh and the Ravens losing to a fourth-string quarterback under these critical circumstances. Flacco will need to stand tall against a formidable pass rush, but he’s played very well since the bye week, a trend that will continue against a mediocre secondary. It will be a tight game in Houston, but the Ravens will get some revenge for Kubiak and find a way to move to 10-5 on the season.

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Canty questionable for Sunday’s game in Houston

Posted on 19 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens only listed one player as much as questionable on their final injury report of the week as defensive end Chris Canty’s status remains up in the air.

The veteran did not practice all week as he continues to deal with an ankle injury. Canty told reporters Wednesday that he wasn’t concerned about his status for Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans, but the Ravens would likely use reserve Lawrence Guy in his place at the 5-technique defensive end spot should he not be able to play.

John Harbaugh acknowledged Canty has progressed while resting this week, but the head coach wouldn’t bite when asked if he’d call the defensive lineman a “game-time decision.”

“I wouldn’t call it anything,” the seventh-year head coach said.

Eight other Ravens players were listed as probable on the final injury report as linebacker Terrell Suggs was the only new name added. The 2011 Defensive Player of the Year received the day off as head coach John Harbaugh has done for several Fridays now.

Houston’s injury report was gloomier as tight end Garrett Graham was ruled out due to a high ankle sprain. Second-year wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (ankle) is questionable and considered a game-time decision to play against the Ravens after not practicing all week.

Seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson (concussion) has been officially cleared and is listed as probable after missing last Sunday’s game against Indianapolis.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien still hasn’t named his starting quarterback for Sunday’s game publicly, but reports from Houston indicate Case Keenum is expected to be under center instead of Thad Lewis. A member of the St. Louis Rams practice squad before being re-signed by the Texans on Monday, Keenum made eight starts last season, throwing nine touchdowns and six interceptions while failing to win a game.

Keenum spent the entire offseason and preseason learning O’Brien’s system, giving him a mental edge over Lewis, who was only signed by the Texans after Ryan Mallett suffered a season-ending pectoral injury late last month.

The University of Houston product will become the fourth quarterback to play for the Texans this season, but the Ravens shouldn’t sleep on his aggressive nature. In his first three starts against Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Arizona last year, Keenum threw for 822 yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions, showing he’s capable of playing well in small sample sizes.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Walt Coleman.

It’s unclear whether the NRG Stadium roof will be open or closed for Sunday’s game, but Weather.com is calling for partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 60s and light winds up to five miles per hour in Houston.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: DE Chris Canty (ankle)
PROBABLE: TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), S Will Hill (non-injury), WR Jacoby Jones (illness), CB Anthony Levine (ankle), G Kelechi Osemele (non-injury), RB Bernard Pierce (back), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury)

HOUSTON
OUT: TE Garrett Graham (ankle), LB Mike Mohamed (concussion), QB Tom Savage (knee), G Xavier Su’a-Filo (back)
QUESTIONABLE: WR DeAndre Hopkins (ankle)
PROBABLE: T Tyson Clabo (foot), LB Brian Cushing (ankle), LB Akeem Dent (neck), RB Arian Foster (hip), CB Kareem Jackson (knee), WR Andre Johnson (concussion), CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle), LB Whitney Mercilus (back), WR DeVier Posey (calf), LB Jeff Tarpinian (knee)

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Ravens cornerback Jackson to miss rest of season with knee injury

Posted on 15 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — An unfortunate year at the cornerback position only got worse Monday with the news that Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed that Jackson suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury to his right knee in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Harbaugh ruled out safety Terrence Brooks (knee) for the rest of the season immediately after Sunday’s game as the rookie suffered a PCL injury on the opening kickoff against the Jaguars.

Jackson’s injury doesn’t sound as serious as Brooks’ ailment, but the timetable would not allow him to return quickly enough to justify carrying him on the roster for the final weeks of the season.

“He’s got a PCL [injury]. It’s like a five-week injury,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll be ruling him out the rest of the way.”

With Jackson becoming the fifth Ravens cornerback to be placed on injured reserve this season, four cornerbacks remain on the 53-man roster — Lardarius Webb, Rashaan Melvin, Anthony Levine, and the recently-signed veteran Antoine Cason. Jackson spent two months on IR-designated to return with a turf toe injury earlier this season and had just been activated in Week 14.

The Ravens have yet to officially place Jackson and Brooks on IR, but they will take another peek at what’s available on the free-agent market, something general manager Ozzie Newsome should be used to doing this season.

“I don’t think you ever feel like you have enough depth to get you through, so we’ll be looking at all of our options,” Harbaugh said. “It’s one thing to hope to have a guy, and it’s another thing to find a guy. We’re just looking at our options right now as we speak, and we’ll have some answers probably over the next two days on that.”

Melvin received the bulk of the opportunities when Jackson exited on Sunday, making five tackles and a pass breakup in his first NFL game. The sixth-year veteran Cason

Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are in even worse shape at the quarterback position as they’re set to welcome the Ravens to NRG Stadium in Week 16.

Head coach Bill O’Brien announced rookie quarterback Tom Savage will miss this Sunday’s game with a knee injury after he replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick in their Sunday loss to Indianapolis after the veteran suffered a broken leg. Those injuries coupled with Ryan Mallett previously going down for the season with a shoulder injury mean the Texans will be turning to their fourth quarterback of the 2014 seson.

Who that will be remains to be seen as O’Brien will choose between Thad Lewis and Case Keenum, who was waived by the Texans at the end of the preseason and spent most of the year with the St. Louis Rams before being signed off their practice squad by Houston on Monday morning.

“We’ll try to anticipate as best we can how we think they’ll attack us — scheme-wise and philosophically how they’ll approach the game — and try to gear our game plan and our reps accordingly as best we can,” Harbaugh said. “Who plays quarterback is definitely a part of that. We’ll be looking at that, and we’ll have to prepare for both of those two [quarterbacks].”

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