Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

jimmysmith

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Waiting on Peters, Ravens practice without seven others Wednesday

Posted on 16 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens readying for a challenging trip to Seattle to take on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, the arrival of cornerback Marcus Peters headlined the conversation.

The two-time Pro Bowl cornerback didn’t arrive at the Ravens’ training facility in time to take part in Wednesday’s practice, but the deal sending inside linebacker Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for Peters was finalized, paving the way for his Thursday practice debut. Learning Baltimore’s complex defensive system in just a few days will pose a challenge, but head coach John Harbaugh expects Peters to play “as much as he can” against Seattle with the bye week to immediately follow.

“He’s one of the top corners in the league. He plays the way we play,” Harbaugh said. “When I say that, you know the coverages we play. You watch us every day, so he fits in really well that way and gives us another weapon back there so we can do the things we want to do defensively. That’s what I’m excited about.

“We don’t want to be hamstrung. We want to be able to play the way we want to play. He’s going to help us do that.”

Having lost slot cornerback Tavon Young for the season in August and outside cornerback Jimmy Smith for the last five games, the Ravens took a meaningful step to rebuild their depth at the position in hopes of being more flexible and dynamic in the secondary. Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr played every snap in last Sunday’s win over Cincinnati, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale had the luxury of rotating his top four corners last season to help keep players fresher and healthier, something the Ravens would like having the option of doing again.

How the secondary alignment shakes out remains to be seen, but it’s a good problem to have with six of the next seven games coming against teams .500 or better.

“Definitely excited anytime you can get a Pro Bowl corner,” said Humphrey about Peters. “Another thing I thought about was, ‘What can I learn from him?’ Twenty-four interceptions in four, five years, however many years. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working pretty well.”

The Peters trade wasn’t the only positive news for the secondary Wednesday as Smith returned to the practice field for the first time since injuring his right knee in the season opener against Miami. Wearing a thick brace, the 31-year-old went through individual drills during the portion of practice open to reporters.

Four players were absent for injury-related reasons as wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle), inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), cornerback Maurice Canady (hamstring), and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) all sat out. Brown and Onwuasor haven’t practiced since sustaining their right ankle injuries in the Week 5 win at Pittsburgh while Canady hurt his hamstring late in Sunday’s victory over Cincinnati.

Stanley hurt his knee in the second half of the Bengals win, but he didn’t miss any snaps until the final three plays in victory formation and was initially expected to practice on a limited basis Wednesday.

“Ronnie is going to be good. He did a good job of fighting through it in the game,” said Harbaugh prior to practice. “It was painful, but it was something that we expect him to be out there to some degree today. We’ll see how it goes, and [we] expect him to be ready to go on Sunday.”

Safety Earl Thomas, running back Mark Ingram, and Carr were each given a veteran day off from practice.

The Seahawks are dealing with their own injury concerns with left tackle Duane Brown (biceps) and right guard D.J. Fluker (hamstring) both missing Wednesday’s practice after sitting out their Week 6 win at Cleveland. Outside linebacker K.J. Wright (knee) and defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle) also sat out with ailments.

Seattle lost tight end Will Dissly to a torn Achilles tendon against the Browns.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Marquise Brown (ankle), CB Maurice Canady (thigh), CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), LB Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), S Earl Thomas (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (knee)

SEATTLE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Will Dissly (Achilles), OT Duane Brown (biceps), G D.J. Fluker (hamstring), S Lano Hill (elbow), S Bradley McDougald (back), LB K.J. Wright (knee), DE Ziggy Ansah (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Tyler Lockett (non-injury), RB Chris Carson (non-injury)

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Ravens sign safety Bennett Jackson, place DeShon Elliott on IR

Posted on 15 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have brought back a familiar preseason face in the wake of their latest injury at the safety position.

General manager Eric DeCosta signed veteran safety Bennett Jackson off the New York Jets practice squad after placing DeShon Elliott (knee) on injured reserve Tuesday morning. Jackson, 28, spent the last two offseasons with the organization and knows Baltimore’s defensive system, but he’d been a victim of the numbers game in a once-deep secondary that’s now lost three safeties — Elliott, Tony Jefferson, and Brynden Trawick — to injuries over the last month.

Jackson played well this past preseason, finishing with nine tackles, one interception, and a pass breakup. That performance resulted in the Jets claiming him off waivers after final roster cuts, but he spent only one week on their 53-man roster before being cut and re-signed to their practice squad.

“He’s been around a long time. He’s worked hard,” said head coach John Harbaugh in August. “He’s faced a lot of adversity with the injuries and different things. It’s good to see him play well, and he’s definitely good enough play in the National Football League.”

The 2014 sixth-round pick of the New York Giants battled injuries early in his career and has never played in a regular-season game, making him an impressive example of perseverance more than five years after being drafted out of Notre Dame. Jackson will likely fill a special-teams role for the Ravens and could factor into certain sub packages if defensive coordinator Wink Martindale wants to continue using some of the four-safety looks we saw in the Week 6 win over Cincinnati.

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elliott

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Elliott goes down with latest season-ending injury in Ravens secondary

Posted on 14 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The injury hits to the Ravens secondary keep on coming.

A week after starting safety Tony Jefferson suffered a torn ACL, reserve safety DeShon Elliott sustained a knee injury against Cincinnati that’s expected to sideline him for the rest of the season. The second-year defensive back hurt his left knee in a collision with teammate Justin Bethel on a deep pass intended for Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson late in the fourth quarter.

“It’s just way worse than we thought it was going to be — that the doctors thought after the game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s preliminary, but it sounded like they were pretty confident that it wasn’t good. We’ll go with that until further notice, and that’s where we’re at. We’ll have to find a replacement there and move forward.”

A 2018 sixth-round pick out of Texas, Elliott had just stepped into a larger role as the top backup behind starters Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark, playing a career-high 27 defensive snaps and finishing with one tackle and a pass breakup in the 23-17 win. The 22-year-old missed his entire rookie season with a fractured forearm and turned heads with his play during spring and summer practices.

With the Ravens revamping the inside linebacker position over the last two weeks and playing without starter Patrick Onwuasor against Cincinnati, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale frequently used sub packages that didn’t include any traditional inside linebackers as Elliott entered at safety and Clark played in the box. Elliott’s injury leaves Baltimore with only one healthy reserve safety — dime back Anthony Levine — behind Thomas and Clark, making an outside addition likely. Safety A.J. Howard was signed to the practice squad last week, but the Appalachian State product hasn’t appeared in an NFL game after going undrafted last year.

The Ravens began the regular season with six safeties on the 53-man roster before losing veteran reserve Brynden Trawick (elbow), Jefferson, and now Elliott. Cornerback Maurice Canady also left Sunday’s game with a hamstring issue, which forced Bethel — almost exclusively a special-teams player — into fourth-quarter action against the Bengals.

“I don’t know to what degree,” said Harbaugh about Canady’s hamstring injury. “I’d say he’s probably day-to-day. We’ll see how he does Wednesday, Thursday.”

It remains unclear when cornerback Jimmy Smith will return to practice after missing his fifth straight game with a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee. The Ravens lost slot cornerback Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury and rookie corner Iman Marshall to a toe injury in August, but the latter remains eligible to return later this season.

Harbaugh was noncommittal about the Week 7 availability of Onwuasor and top wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both missed Sunday’s game with right ankle injuries suffered against Pittsburgh. The two remain “day-to-day” after missing practices all last week.

“If we see them practicing as the week goes on, we’ll be confident that they can play,” Harbaugh said. “If we don’t, then we won’t. They both have ankles that they’re dealing with, and those things just kind of heal when they heal.

“They had a chance [to play Sunday]; I was told that they had a chance for the game. After Friday, it didn’t look as good. They just didn’t feel that they were there, and they weren’t.”

After this Sunday’s game at Seattle, the Ravens will welcome their Week 8 bye to try to get healthy for a challenging second-half schedule.

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marquisebrown

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 13 October 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens will be without their leading wide receiver as they welcome Cincinnati to town for Week 6.

After missing the entire week of practice with a right ankle injury sustained in last Sunday’s overtime win at Pittsburgh, rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown is inactive. Head coach John Harbaugh had labeled the first-round pick a game-time decision after Friday’s practice, but Brown didn’t work out on the field at M&T Bank Stadium in the hour leading up to the inactive list being released.

Baltimore saw its early offensive success fizzle when Brown left the Steelers game midway through the second quarter, and he was ineffective upon returning in the fourth quarter, making only one catch for three yards. The speedy Oklahoma product has registered 21 catches for a team-leading 326 yards and three touchdowns in his first five NFL games while other Baltimore wide receivers have combined for 24 receptions for 336 yards and four touchdowns this season. Needless to say, the Ravens need some combination of Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, and rookie Miles Boykin to step up against the Bengals.

The Ravens will also be without starting inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (right ankle), who didn’t practice all week and was spotted wearing a walking boot on Tuesday. His absence further complicates a struggling position group that turned to the just-signed Josh Bynes as the starting “Mike” linebacker against the Steelers. That move allowed Onwuasor to move back to the weak-side spot where he had played well in the previous two seasons.

With Onwuasor out, veteran L.J. Fort was lining up at the weak-side spot during warmups while Kenny Young and Chris Board lined up with the second defense. Young was a healthy scratch last week after starting three of the first four games while Board played only one defensive snap in Pittsburgh.

Onwuasor’s absence and Tony Jefferson’s season-ending knee injury last week leave Sunday’s Ravens defense with just two remaining starters — defensive tackle Brandon Williams and cornerback Brandon Carr — from the group that lined up on the first defensive snap against the Bengals in Week 11 last November (see below). Of course, that doesn’t include cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who played 42 of 55 defensive snaps in that contest.

Third-year safety Chuck Clark is expected to wear the “green-dot” helmet with the speaker to relay calls to the defensive huddle after Onwuasor and Jefferson were the ones to previously handle those responsibilities this season. It’s a lot to ask of someone who’s made just three career NFL starts, but Clark is regarded by teammates and coaches as one of the smartest players on the team.

With Brown sidelined for Sunday’s game, second-year wide receiver Jaleel Scott is active for the first time in his NFL career. It will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Greg Roman gives the 6-foot-5 Scott any looks in the passing game with the Ravens lacking play-making ability at the position without Brown.

Recently-signed defensive lineman Jihad Ward is also active for Baltimore.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) is missing his fifth straight game.

There were no surprises among the Cincinnati inactives after the Bengals officially ruled out six players on Friday, a list including seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle), two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap (knee), and offensive tackles Cordy Glenn (concussion) and Andre Smith (ankle). John Jerry — officially listed as a guard — is expected to start at left tackle, which is not an encouraging situation for an 0-5 Bengals team that’s already surrendered 20 sacks this season.

Sunday’s referee is Clay Martin.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the mid-60s with winds light and variable and only a slight chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their purple jerseys with white pants while Cincinnati dons white tops with black pants for Week 6.

Sunday marks the 47th all-time meeting between these teams with the series tied at 23-23. The Ravens are seeking back-to-back wins against the Bengals for the first time since the regular-season finale of the 2011 campaign and the 2012 season opener. Yes, it’s been a long time.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Marquise Brown
ILB Patrick Onwuasor
CB Jimmy Smith
CB Anthony Averett
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack
QB Trace McSorley

CINCINNATI
DE Carlos Dunlap
DT Ryan Glasgow
OT Cordy Glenn
WR A.J. Green
OT Andre Smith
DE Kerry Wynn
QB Jake Dolegala

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 12 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Recent history tells us Sunday’s game with Cincinnati should be a major concern for the Ravens, but the present paints a different picture.

John Harbaugh’s team is not without its issues, of course, but the Bengals are 0-5 under new coach Zac Taylor, rank in the bottom six in both scoring offense and scoring defense, and have already ruled out six players for Week 6. That list includes seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap, two players who’ve tormented the Ravens over the years.

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals collide for the 47th time in the all-time regular-season series with each team owning 23 victories and the Ravens enjoying a 15-8 advantage at home. However, Baltimore is 10-12 against the Bengals under Harbaugh and has lost three of the last five meetings at M&T Bank Stadium.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Rookie Jaylon Ferguson will register his first sack as part of a season-best four for the Baltimore defense. The Bengals drafted Jonah Williams in the first round to be their left tackle before he underwent shoulder surgery. Incumbent left tackle Cordy Glenn has yet to play this year due to a concussion while backup Andre Smith is also out with an ankle injury. Cincinnati has already allowed 20 sacks. If the Ravens can’t get their pass rush going this week, it could be hopeless.

2. Tyler Eifert will catch his first touchdown against the Ravens since 2016. Injuries derailed what looked like a promising career for the 2013 first-round pick, but Eifert is healthy and off to a decent start. Meanwhile, the Ravens could be without Patrick Onwuasor Sunday and lost Tony Jefferson for the season last week. The Bengals would be foolish not to test the inside linebackers and whoever is playing strong safety in coverage with tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

3. Lamar Jackson will throw for 200 yards and run for 100 without a turnover. The 22-year-old is coming off his worst passing performance of the season, but it’s hardly panic time with a young quarterback making his 13th career regular-season start. The game looks to be moving a little faster for Jackson than it was over the first couple games, but the Cincinnati defense has been woeful against both the pass and run, which should leave plenty of ways for offensive coordinator Greg Roman to get his quarterback moving in the right direction again.

4. Andy Dalton will throw two interceptions to go with his 250 yards. The Bengals are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season and going against a Baltimore front with a healthy Brandon Williams, which will put it all on the Cincinnati quarterback’s right shoulder. Even without Green, the Bengals still have Tyler Boyd and the improving Auden Tate at the wide receiver position. The Ravens defense will bend, but Dalton will make too many mistakes playing from behind.

5. Three Ravens players will each rush for over 50 yards in a 27-14 win. Last season’s home victory over the Bengals was Jackson’s first start and the debut of a run-heavy offensive attack that took the league by storm down the stretch. Cincinnati is giving up 167.6 rushing yards per game and an unseemly 5.0 yards per carry this season. The Ravens will be more aggressive and balanced in the first half to jump in front before settling into last year’s second-half formula as Jackson, Mark Ingram, and Gus Edwards gash the Bengals on the ground and control the clock in a relatively comfortable win.

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onwuasor

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Onwuasor, M. Brown “game-time decisions” after not practicing all week

Posted on 11 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have listed wide receiver Marquise Brown and inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor as questionable for Sunday’s game against Cincinnati.

Both missed the entire week of practice after sustaining right ankle injuries in the Week 5 win at Pittsburgh. Brown and Onwuasor were able to finish the game — the former did miss much of the second quarter and the entire third quarter — but they’re now in danger of sitting out against the Bengals.

Under 12th-year head coach John Harbaugh, it’s been rare for players to suit up and play after missing an entire week of practice.

“They’ll both be game-time decisions, so we’ll see how they do come Sunday morning,” Harbaugh said. “If they can go, they go. I thought they’d practice today, so we’ll see how they are Sunday.”

If Brown doesn’t play, the Ravens would likely lean more heavily on veteran Seth Roberts and rookie third-round pick Miles Boykin. Brown leads all Baltimore wide receivers with 21 receptions for 326 yards and three touchdowns while Willie Snead ranks second with just 12 catches for 205 yards and two touchdowns.

Onwuasor’s injury complicates an inside linebacker position that had finally found some stability last week with the arrival of veteran Josh Bynes, who surprisingly started and played well at the “Mike” linebacker spot. Onwuasor moved back to the weak-side position where he had started and played well the previous two seasons next to former Raven C.J. Mosley.

Should Onwuasor not be able to play Sunday, the Ravens would turn to some combination of Kenny Young, Chris Board, and veteran L.J. Fort to play next to Bynes. Young was a healthy scratch last week despite starting three of the first four games of the season while Board was limited to one defensive snap after the reshuffling at inside linebacker.

“I’m sure that they want to have a bigger role, absolutely, and they’re competitive guys,” said Harbaugh about Young and Board. “But the attitude has stayed positive. They want to help us win. They want to practice well. They both practiced well again, so that will just shake itself out as we go.”

The Ravens also listed tight end Mark Andrews (left shoulder) as questionable, but he practiced fully Friday, leaving little question about his availability. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (right knee) was officially ruled out and will miss his fifth straight game after being injured in the season opener.

The 0-5 Bengals are in much worse shape from a health standpoint after ruling out six players, a list including seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle), two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap (knee), and offensive tackles Cordy Glenn (concussion) and Andre Smith (ankle). Smith had already been filling in for Glenn at left tackle to begin the season, leaving a struggling offensive line in even worse shape for Week 6.

The Weather.com Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-60s with winds light and variable and only a slight chance of a rain shower.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Mark Andrews (shoulder), WR Marquise Brown (ankle), LB Patrick Onwuasor (ankle)

CINCINNATI
OUT: DE Carlos Dunlap (knee), DT Ryan Glasgow (thigh), OT Cordy Glenn (concussion), WR A.J. Green (ankle), OT Andre Smith (ankle), DE Kerry Wynn (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: S Shawn Williams (thigh)

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With tough schedule ahead, Ravens defense hoping for another step forward

Posted on 10 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense took a step in the right direction in Pittsburgh.

Needing overtime to beat Steelers rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges — who still managed a 98.1 passer rating in relief of the injured Mason Rudolph — hardly qualifies as a breakthrough, but standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s strip and recovery against Pro Bowl wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was exactly what the Ravens needed for a 26-23 win and a long exhale after giving up a combined 73 points and over 1,000 yards the previous two weeks. The performance was far from perfect, but it was good enough, especially with a home game against winless Cincinnati looming on Sunday and the rest of the AFC North seemingly in disarray.

Executive vice president and former general manager Ozzie Newsome said it best to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale on the plane ride home to Baltimore.

“He said, ‘Just keep getting better. Just keep getting better,’” said Martindale, who praised his group’s improved tackling and situational work against the Steelers. “And that’s true. That’s the way this National Football League is.”

Of course, the road victory over their struggling division rival didn’t come without another significant setback as strong safety Tony Jefferson was lost for the season with a serious knee injury. Labeled the “heart and soul” of the defense by head coach John Harbaugh and having just taken over the responsibilities of relaying the calls in the defensive huddle, Jefferson was a veteran leader for a group already missing former Ravens Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, and C.J. Mosley. Jefferson’s loss on top of the existing concerns about the pass rush, inside linebacker, and the other injuries in the secondary is tough to take.

Third-year safety Chuck Clark is expected to take his place with 2018 sixth-round pick DeShon Elliott also stepping into a larger role in different sub packages. It’s hardly ideal, but Clark played well in two starts in place of Jefferson last year and has been praised repeatedly for his football intellect. The Ravens are about to find out what they have with their two younger options next to six-time Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas, who is still finding his own way in a more complex system than what he was used to in Seattle.

“We just have to go on with business as usual,” Thomas said. “Chuck will come in, and he’ll help out and I’ll fit right where I need to be. If I know the check-it and I see it, I’ll be vocal about it, but Chuck is going to take on that role as well.”

The Ravens were able to slow their heartbeat at inside linebacker with the addition of veteran Josh Bynes, whose performance as the “Mike” linebacker against Pittsburgh after only three practices and not being with an NFL team since March was nothing short of remarkable. The 30-year-old has rarely been a full-time starter in a nine-year career that began in Baltimore and will surely be tested by better offenses in the coming weeks, but the Ravens hope the stability he brought to the position in Week 5 will continue after the offseason plan to go exclusively younger and faster in the wake of Mosley’s free-agent departure clearly wasn’t working.

Bynes’ arrival has allowed the Ravens to move Patrick Onwuasor back to the weak-side position where he thrived down the stretch last season. It’s a move the fourth-year linebacker is on board with after his early struggles at Mosley’s old position. The shuffling led to 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young being a healthy scratch and fellow second-year linebacker Chris Board playing only one defensive snap against the Steelers.

“I felt way more comfortable. I was flying around,” said Onwuasor, who finished with seven tackles and one for a loss. “That was my natural position. It just felt like it fit me perfectly, and I think Wink could tell a little bit that I like that position a little bit better.”

Martindale will continue to tinker with both the starting lineup and sub packages to find the optimal fits, especially in a secondary ravaged by injuries. Last week brought the promotion of veteran cornerback Maurice Canady to the starting lineup after second-year defensive back Anthony Averett had struggled in place of the injured Jimmy Smith, who will miss his fifth straight game with a knee injury. Brandon Carr continues to play most of the snaps at the nickel position after the preseason loss of Tavon Young, but the 33-year-old would ideally be on more of a pitch count to keep him fresh all year.

Still, the greatest concern remains with the pass rush as the Ravens are tied for 24th in the NFL with only nine sacks and 26th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, which is adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. Unlike the secondary that has Smith’s return to look forward to, there are no pass-rushing reinforcements on the way unless general manager Eric DeCosta pulls off a significant trade by the Oct. 29 deadline. Harbaugh and Martindale both expressed optimism this week about an increasing role for rookie Jaylon Ferguson, but 2017 third-round pick Tim Williams was waived just over a week ago after being advertised this offseason as part of the solution to replace Suggs and fellow free-agent departure Za’Darius Smith. Those two combined for 15 1/2 sacks last season and have a total of 8 1/2 for their new teams so far.

The Ravens have received three sacks apiece from starting outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, but they’re playing too many snaps, putting strain on their second-half performances as well as their long-term stamina for a 16-game season. Judon is playing 82.1 percent of the snaps on defense after taking 65.1 percent of them a year ago while McPhee is averaging a career-high 42.6 defensive snaps per game, far from ideal for a 30-year-old with an injury history.

Despite Martindale bringing plenty of blitzes in hopes of pressuring and overwhelming two inexperienced quarterbacks in Pittsburgh, the Ravens managed only one sack and three quarterback hits in nearly 65 minutes of play.

“When it really comes down to it, we have to win our one-on-ones up front,” Judon said. “We have to help our defense. We have to do a better job of getting to the quarterback and applying pressure and helping our secondary out, so they don’t have to cover forever.”

The reality is this is a much different defense than the top-shelf group that last played Cincinnati in Week 11 last season, meaning expectations for improvement must be realistic. Of the 11 defensive players who started against the Bengals in Lamar Jackson’s first NFL start 11 months ago, eight are either no longer with the organization or sidelined with long-term injuries. When dealing with that much change, you’ll gladly take another step or two in the right direction against a struggling opponent Sunday — even if the Bengals’ recent history of success against Baltimore shouldn’t be forgotten.

The schedule picks up considerably in Week 7 and beyond, meaning the Ravens must take advantage of this opportunity for a win and another confidence boost. Yes, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has broken the Ravens’ hearts in the past, but the Bengals have already allowed 20 sacks and rank in the bottom 10 in many offensive categories. The continued absence of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green will certainly help as the Baltimore secondary tries to find its way with another key cog now out of the picture.

“We’re seeing what we’re good at. We’re seeing what we’re struggling at, and we’re making the right corrections,” Thomas said. “It might not show up right off, but it’s going to pay off in the end.”

After Sunday, the Ravens will play six of their next seven games against teams currently holding winning records. The defense is going to need those growing pains and adjustments to start paying off much sooner than later.

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jihadward

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Ravens sign defensive lineman Jihad Ward, place Tony Jefferson on IR

Posted on 07 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Aiming to breathe life into a floundering pass rush, the Ravens are taking a flier on a former second-round pick.

Baltimore signed defensive lineman Jihad Ward to try to help a defense tied for 24th in the NFL with nine sacks in their first five games. Oakland’s second-round pick in 2016, the Illinois product has collected four sacks in 30 career games with the Raiders and Indianapolis.

“We have to find a way to get more sacks,” said head coach John Harbaugh before the Monday evening signing. “We have to find a way to get more pressure. We have to find a way to get more turnovers. All of those things are things that we really want to work hard at doing better at.”

Ward, 25, was waived earlier this month by the Colts, who signed defensive lineman Trevon Coley off the Ravens practice squad. The 6-foot-5, 287-pound Ward appeared in three games this season and registered one pass breakup.

Baltimore officially placed safety Tony Jefferson on injured reserve after he sustained a torn ACL and other damage to his left knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win in Pittsburgh. Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott are expected to see larger roles in place of Jefferson, who is one of Baltimore’s most respected players on the field and in the locker room.

“He’s a leader. He’s a great player, just a high-energy player,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a guy that flies around and makes plays. He’s a communicator for us in the back end. Those are going to be challenging things. At the same time, these are things that happen in this game. You just have to deal with them.”

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earlthomas

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 05 October 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

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

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

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

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

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

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Skura, 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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