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Dear Joe Flacco: I’ll never let ‘em forget how “elite” you were here in Baltimore

Posted on 17 March 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

Dear Joe:

As I told you when I tossed you a text five minutes after you were traded to the Denver Broncos last month, it was going to take me a little while to process it all and write an appropriate “exit” letter as you graduate on from the Baltimore Ravens and become a guy who is annually “in our way” whilst trying to win the next few Super Bowls.

Over the past few years, I have made it no secret that you are my all-time favorite Baltimore sports athlete. Oh, sure, others have Brooks or Cal or Ray – and I know and greatly respect those arguments and can make them myself – but you will forever be my No. 1 guy for a myriad of reasons both personal and professional that I will finally make public here upon your less-than-flattering departure.

As my WNST partner Brian Billick always likes to point out: “When you win a Super Bowl, they say they can never take it away from you. But that doesn’t stop them from trying…

Perhaps it’s the underdog Dundalk guy and Horatio Alger fire burning within me that admires you so much but your story has been my lifetime favorite to watch unfold and cover as a Baltimore sports fan who has had the pleasure to get to know you better than most since that fateful day in April 2008 when you became the “next quarterback up” after so many broken promises not named Trent Dilfer or Earl Morrall.

And, as you know, I’ve seen them all since the early 1970s and professionally since 1984. Marty Domres. Bert Jones. Art Schlichter. Mike Pagel. And all of the purple branches of the wilted, lavender Vinny Testaverde tree that you learned about upon your arrival.

Through all of the years and all the sports, you are my favorite story – the underdog, Division Not One quarterback who came down from Philly via my Aunt Clara’s hometown of Newark, Delaware and her beloved Blue Hens and delivered Baltimore a Super Bowl parade.

Joe, unless you go out to Denver and find the fountain of Kurt Warner, you’re not going to Canton for a bust measurement so that’ll always be the first knock on you because you’re not a Hall of Famer. And, of course, these last six years of not qualifying for January or winning enough postseason games that no longer made the Ravens believe in you as a franchise quarterback – in name, salary or depth chart – at 34 years old.

Oh, sure, last week there were heartwarming videos from Owings Mills that made the room dusty as your trade became official. And between now and whenever they bring you and your family back after you’ve acquired more silver on your temples and chin, you’ll have an afternoon to address Baltimore again whenever they immortalize you in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor.

But I wanted to wait to see what a press conference would look like with you in another uniform before I inked this farewell tome. I must say, with zero shock, that it looked just like the ones in Owings Mills except for the orange and blue horse and John Elway (as you know, an original Baltimore “Satan” from the history book of Irsay and the Colts) standing next to you.

John Elway says you’re entering your prime.

The Ravens made a teary-eyed video after benching your ass and trading you for a 4th-round draft pick.

From your point of view, let’s skip the formalities and talk Street Philly  – your profane language of choice, which makes me love you even more – for what really happened. They believed in you so little last April that they drafted your replacement, you got hurt midway through another potential playoff year and then you were never heard from again. They wasted no time in throwing your expensive ass outta here. Even though they loved you, they believed you were overpriced, and the “sell by” date on your carton expired sometime around 2017. They never called you “washed up” – but the Baltimore Ravens didn’t believe in you anymore and the world watched it unfold every time John Harbaugh praised Lamar Jackson at the podium after another

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Suggs, Flacco bid farewell to Ravens — and vice versa

Posted on 13 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the start of the new league year Wednesday brought the official departures of two of the best players in franchise history.

Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs and Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player and best quarterback in franchise history Joe Flacco offered their farewells as Suggs, an Arizona native, has joined the Cardinals and Flacco was officially traded to the Denver Broncos. Given his passion for movies, Suggs posting a farewell video on Twitter wasn’t surprising. The stoic Flacco took a simpler approach with his goodbye.

Not to be outdone, the Ravens produced a pair of terrific tribute videos sure to have you reminiscing — and wondering why the room suddenly became so dusty.

This year will mark the first time in team history the roster will not feature Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Suggs as the first two members of that old defensive guard have taken their places in Canton. Suggs seems poised to join them one day after 16 superb seasons with the Ravens.

The coming season will also feature Lamar Jackson as Baltimore’s first opening day starting quarterback not named Flacco since Brian Billick’s final season as head coach. Flacco’s 2012 postseason run epitomized his ability to raise his play when it mattered most, a trait we can all appreciate in this game called life.

It’s truly the end of an era in Baltimore.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Flacco trade to Denver

Posted on 13 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to trade longtime quarterback Joe Flacco to Denver for a fourth-round pick next month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Credit Eric DeCosta for extracting value from an inevitable divorce, especially after the organization hadn’t even tried to be coy about its intentions. I was skeptical he’d find a trade partner. Taking the entire $16 million dead money hit in 2019 will leave a clean salary cap for 2020.

2. Flacco will be remembered in part for what he never became — below-average post-Super Bowl numbers bear that out — but he was the best quarterback in team history and, most importantly, a champion. The Ravens are lucky he passed their way after years wasted in the quarterback doldrums.

3. It’s easy to say Flacco didn’t live up to his historic contract signed after his 2012 postseason, but the organization never adjusted upon seeing he couldn’t do it by himself, continuing to prioritize defense and putting far fewer resources into the offense. The letdown was mutual at the very least.

4. He’d never admit something that’s subconscious anyway, but I don’t think Flacco has recovered mentally from his 2015 ACL injury. Some free-agent departures on the offensive line didn’t help, but his tendencies to check down and feel pressure even when it wasn’t there became more pronounced after the injury.

5. The Ravens dumping Anquan Boldin remains indefensible six years later, but the post-Super Bowl fall of Ray Rice was even more devastating to Flacco’s career considering what he produced as a receiver out of the backfield. Baltimore still hasn’t come close to replacing that element.

6. Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata are among the best Ravens ever, but they didn’t own a single playoff win until 2008. Flacco benefited greatly from them too, of course, but you wonder what could have been if he’d come along five years earlier instead of Kyle Boller.

7. Of the Ravens’ 17 Day 1 and 2 draft picks from 2013-17, Crockett Gillmore, Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Ronnie Stanley were the only offensive players selected. Flacco’s hefty contract never explained that.

8. Durability was one of Flacco’s biggest strengths early in his career, but injuries have either disrupted his preparation or cost him games in each of the last four seasons. It’s tough seeing that trend improving as the 34-year-old enters his 12th year in the NFL.

9. I never understood the criticism of Flacco not making his receivers better. Steve Smith and Mike Wallace became 1,000-yard receivers again after appearing to be in decline elsewhere. Torrey Smith’s numbers crashed as soon as he departed. Who are these former Ravens receivers who suddenly blossomed elsewhere?

10. It’s strange to think exactly six years, two months, and one day after the “Mile High Miracle,” the Broncos will officially welcome Flacco to Denver. I’m guessing Rahim Moore and Jacoby Jones won’t be at the introductory press conference.

11. Flacco didn’t perform to his record contract, but he remained a good teammate and never complained about the aforementioned variables that didn’t help his cause. Yes, he made a ton of money, but that hasn’t stopped other high-priced athletes from being malcontents over the years.

12. What would you really change about the Flacco era? The Ravens weren’t letting the Super Bowl MVP walk, and he had extraordinary contract leverage. The success early in his career should far outweigh the last several years in which he and Baltimore remained competitive but weren’t quite good enough.

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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 take care of business with tough stretch looming

Posted on 24 September 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Beating Denver was hardly a headline-grabbing win, but it wasn’t difficult picturing Sunday’s game falling into that dreaded “bad loss” department if the Ravens weren’t careful.

Despite coming off extra rest and facing a 2-0 team that was probably more paper tiger than strong contender — no one really knows in today’s NFL — Baltimore was missing two of its best defensive players (C.J. Mosley and Jimmy Smith) as well as two key defensive linemen (Michael Pierce and Willie Henry) against one of the league’s strongest rushing attacks. No team stays fully healthy all season, of course, but missing that many chess pieces on one side of the ball is going to be problematic against any opponent with talent and a competitive pulse, which the Broncos certainly had.

A blocked punt leading to a 7-0 deficit right off the bat and a blocked field goal later in the first half — even if illegal — provided the weirdness typically witnessed in recent years when a banged-up Ravens team has dropped a home game to an underwhelming opponent such as Washington two years ago (Jamison Crowder’s 85-yard punt return) or Chicago last year (Adrian Amos’ 90-yard interception return). It’s easy to remember the 2016 Christmas loss to Pittsburgh and “fourth-and-12″ last season, but the aforementioned early-season home defeats were nearly as damaging to their playoff hopes.

There was no panic after Sunday’s nightmare start as the defense pressured Broncos quarterback Case Keenum in the pocket and pitched a shutout after the opening quarter and the offense finished the day with 20 unanswered points and was a perfect 3-for-3 inside the red zone.

“It’s early. You have 58 1/2 minutes to get back in the game, and it’s 7-0,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who completed 25 of 40 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown. “At some point during the course of the 16-game season — obviously we’ve already lost one and we’ve already [been] behind a little bit — there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve just got to go out there and continue to execute and just let the game come to you, and that’s what we were able to do.”

Perhaps what was so encouraging about Sunday’s 27-14 win was that the Ravens overcame both injuries and some shortcomings to improve to 2-1 in relatively comfortable fashion.

Having two kicks blocked in the same game is often a recipe for disaster and out of character for a special-teams group that’s normally superb. Impressive rookie inside linebacker Kenny Young led the Ravens defense in tackles (10) and Patrick Onwuasor collected a critical interception when Denver was threatening to make it a one-score game with nine minutes remaining, but the Ravens did struggle to stop the run without Mosley and Pierce up the middle, allowing 5.0 yards per carry even as speedy rookie Phillip Lindsay was ejected in the first half. And despite a two-score lead for most of the second half, the offense again struggled to run the ball, averaging only 2.8 yards per carry.

There’s reason to anticipate improvement in each of those areas, however, based on track record and reasonable health. If the offensive line rebounded from its Week 2 struggles in pass protection to hold the Broncos’ vaunted pass rush to just two sacks — none by Von Miller — the Ravens can still figure on improving on the ground in the coming weeks as this group gels.

Improvement in those areas will be needed as the Ravens play four of their next five games on the road with four of those opponents having qualified for the playoffs a year ago. It isn’t difficult envisioning John Harbaugh’s team winning or losing any of these next five games with even a Week 5 trip to Cleveland looking more uncertain than usual after the standout debut of No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield. Anything less than a 3-2 record over this stretch would put the Ravens in the all-too-familiar position of having little margin for error in the second half of the season, which is why stubbing their toe against the Broncos just wasn’t an option for a team desperate to get back to the playoffs after a three-year absence.

No, Sunday won’t be remembered as the season’s biggest win, but it won’t be that bad loss that helps keep the Ravens out of the playoffs, either.

“I’m sure the outside looking in were like, ‘Uh-oh, the same old Ravens,’ right?” said safety Eric Weddle about the rough first quarter. “It ain’t the same Ravens. I’m telling you that right now.”

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Ravens-Broncos: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 23 September 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens will be without two key defensive players for their Week 3 meeting with the Denver Broncos.

Ten days after suffering a bone bruise in his left knee, three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is inactive and will miss only the third game in his NFL career. The news wasn’t surprising as the 2014 first-round pick sat out Friday’s practice after participating in Thursday’s session on only a limited basis. Rookie young Kenny Young is expected to make his first NFL start next to fellow inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor for the Baltimore defense, and safety Eric Weddle will relay calls from the sideline in the defensive huddle as he did in the second half of the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati.

The other concerning Week 3 absence for the Ravens is defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who missed practices all week with a foot injury. The Broncos entered Sunday ranked second in the NFL in rushing offense, so not having Pierce’s 6-foot, 340-pound frame in the defensive line rotation will be significant. With Pierce inactive and Willie Henry still recovering from August hernia surgery, rookie defensive lineman Zach Sieler — active for the first time in his career — and Patrick Ricard will need to offer contributions behind starters Brandon Williams, Chris Wormley, and Brent Urban.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is active and will start despite injuring his right elbow late in the fourth quarter of the Bengals game. He practiced with a brace on his right arm all week, but the Ravens waiving reserve offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor on Saturday signaled that Stanley would play against the Broncos.

Linebacker Albert McClellan, cornerback Robertson Daniel, and wide receiver and return specialist Tim White are all active after being added to the 53-man roster this week. White will take over the return duties for Janarion Grant, who was waived Saturday after fumbling a return in each of the first two games. Daniel gives Baltimore a fifth healthy cornerback after rookie Anthony Averett injured his hamstring late in the week.

Broncos defensive back Adam Jones (thigh) is inactive, but starting right tackle Jared Veldheer will play for Denver after passing concussion protocol late in the week.

As was the case in the season opener two weeks ago, rain will be a factor as Weather.com forecasts a 90-percent chance of light-to-moderate precipitation throughout the afternoon with temperatures in the low 60s. Winds will be six to seven miles per hour, making for a better playing environment than what we saw in Week 1.

Sunday’s referee is Ron Torbert.

The Ravens are wearing their purple jerseys with white pants while Denver dons white tops with white pants for Week 3.

Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis is Sunday’s “Ravens Legend of the Game” and will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony

Sunday marks the 12th all-time meeting between these teams with the Broncos holding a 6-5 advantage and winning the last three regular-season encounters. The Ravens are 5-1 against Denver in regular-season games at M&T Bank Stadium and, of course, topped the Broncos in their 2000 and 2012 playoff runs that resulted in Super Bowl championships.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
LB C.J. Mosley
DT Willie Henry
TE Hayden Hurst
DT Michael Pierce

DENVER
QB Kevin Hogan
CB Adam Jones
S Dymonte Thomas
LB Alexander Johnson
DE DeMarcus Walker
OT Elijah Wilkinson
G Sam Jones

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Ravens swap returners, add defensive back ahead of Denver game

Posted on 22 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Dissatisfied with their return game and concerned about their depth at cornerback, the Ravens elevated two players from the practice squad to their 53-man roster on Saturday.

General manager Ozzie Newsome promoted wide receiver and return specialist Tim White and cornerback Robertson Daniel while waiving primary returner Janarion Grant and offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor ahead of the Week 3 meeting with the Denver Broncos.

Grant had won the preseason competition for the return specialist job over White and even broke off a 51-yard punt return in the opener against Buffalo, but he also fumbled a punt in each of the first two games. The Ravens lost neither fumble, but White had been receiving more return reps during practices this week, leaving one to wonder if a change was being pondered.

“Janarion understands the importance of hanging on to the ball,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said on Thursday. “It’s the first and foremost thing of being a returner. It’s having the ball at the end of the play. He gets it; he’s working on it. We all understand it. The fact that his teammates have been there to rescue the situation doesn’t lessen the importance of hanging on to the ball.”

White also had problems with ball security this summer, losing a fumble in the preseason win at Indianapolis.

Daniel’s promotion to the 53-man roster stemmed from the hamstring injury suffered by rookie cornerback Anthony Averett late in the week. With Jimmy Smith serving two more games of a four-game suspension and Maurice Canady recently going to injured reserve, the Ravens found themselves with just four healthy cornerbacks on the roster: Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and rookie free agent Darious Williams. Daniel has played in just one career NFL game, but he’s spent parts of the last three seasons with the Ravens, making him familiar with their defensive and special-teams playbooks.

Eluemunor had been a healthy scratch in each of the first two weeks as Baltimore elected to go with rookies Orlando Brown Jr. and Bradley Bozeman as the only active reserves. Waiving him signals that left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s injured right elbow isn’t a big concern as you’d expect the Ravens to carry an extra lineman if there were real doubt about his status.

The Ravens are unlikely to carry only seven offensive linemen on the 53-man roster for long, leading one to believe Eluemunor could be re-signed next week or at least added to the practice squad if he clears waivers. Grant would also be a logical candidate to be added to the practice squad.

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Ravens list Mosley, Stanley, two others questionable for Denver game

Posted on 21 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ injury report took a turn for the worse just two days before the Week 3 meeting with Denver.

Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) was designated as questionable to play against the Broncos, but he didn’t practice a day after taking part on a limited basis. His presence on the field Thursday had been an encouraging sign after he was carted off the field with a bone bruise in his left knee in Week 2, but it now appears more likely he’ll miss just the third game of his NFL career. Asked about Mosley’s status following Friday’s practice, head coach John Harbaugh provided no comment other than deferring to the pending release of the injury report.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (right elbow), linebacker Matthew Judon (hamstring), and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) were also listed as questionable on the final injury report, but Stanley and Judon are expected to play after being upgraded to full participation in Friday’s practice. Pierce was suited up and on the field during the portion of Friday’s workout open to the media, but he was listed as a non-participant on the injury report. The potential absence of both Mosley and Pierce could spell trouble against the Broncos’ second-ranked running game.

Baltimore ruled out rookie cornerback Anthony Averett, who hadn’t been listed on the injury report this week before apparently suffering a hamstring injury on Thursday. The fourth-round pick’s absence means the Ravens have only four healthy cornerbacks on their 53-man roster: Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and rookie free agent Darious Williams.

What was considered a position of great depth in the preseason now looks perilously thin as Jimmy Smith serves the final two games of his suspension, Maurice Canady and Stanley Jean-Baptiste are on injured reserve, and the promising Averett is now sidelined. Defensive backs Robertson Daniel and Makinton Dorleant are both on the practice squad while dime back Anthony Levine has experience playing corner and safety Chuck Clark has played some in big nickel packages, leaving the Ravens some internal options to try to address their depth concerns.

There had been some speculation that the Ravens could move on from veteran cornerback Brandon Carr this past offseason, but the durable 32-year-old has instead been the third-best cornerback in the league in Pro Football Focus’ grading system through two weeks while extending his impressive consecutive games streak to 162. Needless to say, the organization is fortunate to have both his leadership and strong play in the secondary so far this season.

“He’s done a great job. Brandon is a pro. He has a track record,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been a real honor to sit here and watch him work and see how he goes about his business every single day. I’ve enjoyed that, and that’s who he is. It’s incredible. It’s a statement. He deserves a lot of credit for what he continues to accomplish in this league.”

Running back Alex Collins and outside linebacker Tim Williams were not included in the final injury report despite dealing with illnesses earlier in the week.

Four Broncos players were listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, but Denver head coach Vance Joseph confirmed starting right tackle Jared Veldheer has cleared concussion protocol, making him a good bet to play against the Ravens. Starting inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee) practiced on a limited basis Friday and is questionable for Sunday’s game while veteran defensive back Adam Jones (thigh) missed practices all week.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for periods of rain and temperatures reaching the mid-60s with winds up to six miles per hour. The chance of rain is listed at 80 percent.

Below is the final injury report for Week 3:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Matthew Judon (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (elbow)

DENVER
QUESTIONABLE: CB Adam Jones (thigh), LB Brandon Marshall (knee), S Dymonte Thomas (abdomen), OT Jared Veldheer (concussion)

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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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