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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Few Ravens-Steelers games over the years have meant so little — at least on Baltimore’s side.

While John Harbaugh’s team has already clinched the top seed in the AFC, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage throughout the postseason, Pittsburgh needs a win over the Ravens and a Tennessee loss in Houston as the most feasible scenario to qualify for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.

Ravens players and coaches have said all the right things by insisting that any game against their AFC North rival carries meaning, but Harbaugh is playing it safe with his top players by officially deactivating quarterback and MVP favorite Lamar Jackson, right guard Marshal Yanda, safety Earl Thomas, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Running back Mark Ingram was already ruled out Friday as he continues to recover from a left calf injury sustained in Week 16, but the Ravens have also deactivated tight end Mark Andrews, who missed most of the practice week with a minor right ankle injury suffered in Cleveland last week.

All 46 active players were suited up and going through pre-game warmups, but you’d have to assume Harbaugh will hold out or limit the snaps for at least a few more players in addition to the seven inactives. The starting offensive line during full-team warmups included James Hurst in place of Stanley at left tackle and Parker Ehinger at right guard in place of Yanda.

Making his first NFL start in three years, veteran quarterback Robert Griffin III was the first Ravens player on the field roughly two hours prior to kickoff. The 29-year-old has seen action in six other games this season, completing 12 of 17 passes for one touchdown and one interception. Rookie Trace McSorley will serve as Griffin’s backup after being a healthy scratch for the first 15 games of the regular season.

The Steelers will be without eight-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey (knee) and top running back James Conner (quadriceps), who were both ruled out on Friday. Even facing a Baltimore defense at less than full strength, those are challenging absences for rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges and a struggling Pittsburgh offense to overcome.

The ugly forecast in Baltimore calls for rain and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and a 100-percent chance of preciptation, according to Weather.com.

Referee Bill Vinovich and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with black pants while Pittsburgh dons its white tops with yellow pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Lamar Jackson
RB Mark Ingram
S Earl Thomas
G Marshal Yanda
OT Ronnie Stanley
TE Mark Andrews
DT Brandon Williams

PITTSBURGH
RB James Conner
C Maurkice Pouncey
CB Artie Burns
LB Tuzar Skipper
OL Chukwuma Okorafor
TE Zach Gentry
WR Amara Darboh

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Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) celebrates his touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers with teammate Mark Ingram (21) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Ravens’ additional plans for regular-season finale remain unclear

Posted on 27 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that the Ravens would make further decisions regarding playing time for the regular-season finale, but the head coach revealed no new plans Friday.

Running back Mark Ingram (calf) was officially declared out on the final injury report for Sunday’s meeting with Pittsburgh, but the veteran was already part of Harbaugh’s announced list including quarterback Lamar Jackson, safety Earl Thomas, right guard Marshal Yanda, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams that would sit out against the Steelers. Having already locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Ravens seem likely to rest at least a few more key starters, but those decisions could be impacted by the availability of four others officially listed as questionable on the Week 17 injury report.

Teams must deactivate seven players on game days, but Baltimore could still rest additional starters or at least limit their playing time. In the 2012 regular-season finale in Cincinnati, the Ravens deactivated seven players, held out another injured player, and limited 10 other starters or key contributors to 16 or fewer snaps after wrapping up the AFC North championship the previous week. That’s the closest situation to this one that Harbaugh has faced in his 12 seasons as head coach.

“The injury things in terms of who can make it to the game and who can’t, we’ll factor that in,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to factor all of that in between now and Sunday. I don’t really have any announcements to make beyond those guys [ruled out on Monday]. … We’ll just get to the game and see where we’re at and try to put our best team out there that we choose to have available.”

Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews (ankle) was officially listed as questionable after returning to practice on a limited basis Friday. He is just four receiving yards shy of breaking Todd Heap’s team record for most in a season by a tight end (855 in 2005), but Andrews wasn’t moving around all that much during the portion of practice open to reporters. He turned his right ankle in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s win in Cleveland.

Cornerbacks Marcus Peters (chest) and Jimmy Smith (groin) were limited in practices this week while wide receiver Marquise Brown missed Friday’s practice with an illness, leaving them all questionable on the injury report.

Thomas didn’t practice all week and was officially designated as questionable despite Harbaugh already saying the seven-time Pro Bowl safety wouldn’t play against the Steelers.

Another situation to monitor will be the status of inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, who left the field early in Friday’s practice after what appeared to be an animated exchange with Harbaugh. The Baltimore coach wouldn’t comment on the details of what happened beyond describing it as “an internal matter.”

After focusing on individual drills and fundamentals work early in the practice week, Jackson ran the Ravens’ scout team in Friday’s workout as backup quarterback Robert Griffin III prepared to make his first NFL start in three years. It was quite the unique situation having the league MVP favorite playing the role of Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges in practice.

“He looked good. It was a good look,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “He made some plays.”

Needing a win over the Ravens and a Tennessee loss to Houston to secure the No. 6 seed in the AFC, the Steelers will be without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey (knee) and starting running back James Conner (quad), who both missed the entire week of practice. Those absences won’t help a Pittsburgh offense that’s scored fewer than 20 points in five of its last seven games.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for rain and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds light and variable and a 70-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report for Week 17:

BALTIMORE
OUT: RB Mark Ingram (calf)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Mark Andrews (ankle), WR Marquise Brown (illness), CB Marcus Peters (chest), CB Jimmy Smith (groin), S Earl Thomas (knee/hand)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: RB James Conner (quad), C Maurkice Pouncey (knee)

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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, 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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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 29 September 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

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

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

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

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

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

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