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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 03 November 2018 by Luke Jones

Rarely has a Week 9 game felt so important for the Ravens.

A win over Pittsburgh snaps a two-game slide and leaves Baltimore in solid shape in the AFC North entering their much-needed bye week. A loss leaves the Ravens under .500 at the bye for the fourth straight year and needing to win five of their final seven games just to finish with a 9-7 record — familiar territory — while outside talk of wholesale changes will only grow louder in the off-week.

They understand what’s at stake, but focusing too much on the big picture is a slippery slope, especially when playing against the Steelers.

“When you worry about the outcome of things before it has actually happened, that’s when you start making mistakes,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “That’s when you start playing tentative.”

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals meet for the 50th time — counting the postseason — with Pittsburgh owning a 27-22 advantage. Including the playoffs, the series is tied 12-12 in the John Harbaugh era with 17 of those contests decided by a single possession. A victory would give the Ravens their fourth season sweep of the Steelers in their 23-year history.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. First-round rookies Hayden Hurst and Lamar Jackson will each score a touchdown. Hurst grew up a Steelers fan and was drafted by the Pirates, making him eager to make his mark after sitting out the first meeting. The Ravens must start seeing a return for their first pick in this year’s draft, and Pittsburgh has struggled to defend tight ends this season. Meanwhile, a good Steelers run defense and multiple injuries along the offensive line should compel offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use Jackson more than usual to gain yardage on the ground and keep some pressure off Flacco.

2. Flacco will be sacked a season-high five times behind a patchwork offensive line. The 11th-year quarterback has played some of his best football against Pittsburgh over the years, but the absence of Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst leaves the Ravens in a tough spot against a defense that has 24 sacks in 2018. Baltimore will use plenty of max protect, but that will allow the Steelers to devote more attention to John Brown. The key to moving the ball will be quick throws over the middle of the field, but Pittsburgh rushers T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Bud Dupree will still be licking their chops.

3. The Baltimore defense will force its first second-half turnover since Week 4. The consensus message from players and coaches this week was that the takeaways will come, but the Ravens have only seven through their first eight games and really could have used one trying to protect a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against New Orleans or to spark a comeback against Carolina. Wink Martindale’s defense did a good job confusing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first meeting and will need more of the same to set up a struggling Baltimore offense on a short field.

4. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald will catch touchdowns for the Steelers. Much like the Steelers defense, the Ravens are most vulnerable over the middle, which is problematic against Smith-Schuster in the slot and a capable pair of tight ends in McDonald and Jesse James. That area of the field is even more concerning as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Tony Jefferson deal with injuries. A returning Marlon Humphrey makes you feel better about keeping Antonio Brown from wrecking the game, but the linebackers and safeties must rebound from a poor showing in Carolina.

5. The banged-up Ravens will suffer their third straight loss in a 23-17 final. Harbaugh expressed confidence Friday that his offensive line is healthy enough to win the game, and I fully expect his team to battle after last week’s clunker against the Panthers. However, Jermaine Eluemunor being trusted to block Flacco’s blindside is a scary proposition, and this offensive line hasn’t been effective enough in the run game to alleviate pressure in the pocket. On the flip side, the Ravens defense is also banged up and facing a Pittsburgh offense averaging just under 30 points per game. Playing at home will help, but 10 of the 24 Ravens-Steelers contests since 2008 have been won by the visitor and these teams have been moving in opposite directions since Week 4. I just haven’t seen enough of an “it” factor from the Ravens to believe they’ll overcome their current injuries and get the job done against a tough foe.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 21-0 win over Tennessee

Posted on 16 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 4-2 in their 21-0 win at Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Ravens defenders said all the right things about Dean Pees last week, but the group’s post-game celebration with Wink Martindale reflected how much the record-setting shutout in front of their old defensive coordinator really meant. They wanted to prove they’re a better defense now.

2. What gives Za’Darius Smith a slight edge over Terrell Suggs as the Ravens’ best pass rusher? His ability to pressure from the inside is so crucial with today’s quarterbacks getting the ball out as quickly as possible. He continues to be on the Pernell McPhee contract year plan.

3. One of the undersold aspects of this terrific defensive start is the depth the Ravens continue to use as 20 players took defensive snaps against the Titans. Rotating defensive linemen and edge rushers have long been common practices, but the Ravens are doing this at every level of their defense.

4. Getting Michael Crabtree involved early was a prudent move to help his confidence after last week’s performance, but remember this is a veteran who caught 25 touchdowns from 2015-17. The real test will be the next time he has a chance to make a defining catch in the closing minutes.

5. Converting 10 of the first 11 third downs of the game was impressive enough, but the Ravens moved the chains on four requiring nine or more yards. You want to avoid those third-and-long situations, but being able to convert some is a mark of a good offense.

6. The running game was functional, but I roll my eyes when someone praises the final run-pass balance as the key to winning. Building a 21-0 lead was the blueprint for running that frequently. Running more effectively remains critical as Baltimore averaged 2.4 yards per carry in the first half.

7. The 14th shutout in team history was aided by the Ravens only playing 44 defensive snaps, an incredibly low number. The defense had much to do with that, of course, but credit the offense for putting together three drives of seven or more minutes each. That’s complementary football.

8. Joe Flacco had a good day, particularly on third down, but his interception on a deep throw down the middle to Willie Snead late in the first half was a little too aggressive with three timeouts and a minute remaining. Titans safety Kevin Byard’s catch also should have been reviewed.

9. Cyrus Jones recorded a 26-yard punt return in his Ravens debut, but what a day to be able to share the field with former Gilman teammate and Titans kick returner Darius Jennings. I also liked seeing Chris Moore back as the kick returner even though he received only one opportunity.

10. Plays like the unnecessary roughness penalty for pushing Titans punter Brett Kern in the back late in the first half are preventing Matt Judon from taking the step from pretty good player to really good player. It happens too often and isn’t smart football.

11. Gus Edwards wasn’t spectacular, but 42 yards on 10 carries should warrant some more opportunities. He runs well for a 238-pound back and certainly brings more physicality to this running game.

12. Remember those old Ramon Harewood-Antonio Brown comparisons from the 2010 draft? A healthy scratch in Week 6, Tyus Bowser was selected 15 spots before JuJu Smith-Schuster in the 2017 second round. The difference this time is Smith-Schuster wasn’t an unknown while playing a position of great need. I’m just saying.

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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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Suggs rests again as Mosley, other Ravens practice fully for Pittsburgh game

Posted on 27 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Several Ravens players returned to practice Thursday while longtime outside linebacker Terrell Suggs continued to rest a sore knee ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Pittsburgh.

The seven-time Pro Bowl selection was absent for a second straight day and has yet to speak to the media this week, an unusual development that brings at least some small question to his status. Suggs wouldn’t need to practice in order to play Sunday night — he’s missed entire practice weeks before playing in past games — but how close to 100 percent he’ll be is a fair concern. The 35-year-old was on the field for the final defensive series of the Week 3 win over Denver, making two tackles and pressuring quarterback Case Keenum into a fourth-down incompletion that gave the ball back to the Ravens.

Assuming he plays, Suggs will renew an individual rivalry with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that dates back to 2004.

“He’s a first-ballot [Hall of Fame] guy for me,” Roethlisberger said in a conference call this week. “I’m not just trying to pump him up because we’re about to play him. I truly feel that way. I know he does a lot of talking about me, too, but I think there’s a lot of mutual respect there between each other. There’s a little bit of talking on the field — I wouldn’t call it trash talking — but there’s some mutual respect trash talking that goes on. It’s a special rivalry he and I have.”

Three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) practiced fully on Thursday, a good sign for his potential return to action after a one-game absence. Mosley and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) — who also sat out the Denver game — were full participants a day after being limited in practice.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) were listed as full participants after sitting out Wednesday’s workout, leaving little doubt about their availability for Sunday night. Quarterback Lamar Jackson also practiced a day after sitting out with an illness.

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst worked on a limited basis once again after practicing for the first time in over a month on Wednesday. The first-round pick acknowledged feeling some soreness in his return from a stress fracture in his foot, but he’s eager to make his NFL debut whenever he receives the green light.

“I’m preparing every day to go out and play like I’m playing on Sunday,” Hurst said. “I think I’m good to go. It’s up to the trainers and what they think is right for me. Like I said, I’m ready to go whenever.”

Pittsburgh wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice as he continues to deal with an abdomen injury, but starting offensive linemen David DeCastro (hand) and Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) practiced fully for the second straight day. The Steelers were without both starters on the right side of their offensive line against Tampa Bay on Monday.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), LB Terrell Suggs (knee),
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), QB Lamar Jackson (illness), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: C Maurkice Pouncey (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Morgan Burnett (groin), CB Mike Hilton (elbow), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (abdomen)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G David DeCastro (hand), OT Ramon Foster (non-injury), OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), QB Ben Roethlisberger (non-injury)

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Ravens put out crowded injury report to start Pittsburgh week

Posted on 26 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to renew a rivalry long known for its brutal physicality, the Ravens are already dealing with a number of ailments ahead of Sunday’s trip to Pittsburgh.

Baltimore did welcome inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee), defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot), and rookie tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) back to the practice field on Wednesday, but six players did not participate in the workout for health-related reasons. The absentees included linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee), cornerbacks Brandon Carr (knee) and Anthony Averett (hamstring), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), quarterback Lamar Jackson (illness), and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery). Suggs, Carr, and Stanley finished Sunday’s game against Denver without any noticeable incident while Averett and Henry didn’t play against the Broncos.

Mosley’s return to practice was an encouraging sign for the Ravens defense after he sat out in Week 3, marking only the third missed game of his five-year career. Veteran Albert McClellan started in place of Mosley and shared inside linebacker snaps with weak-side starter Patrick Onwuasor and rookie Kenny Young. Mosley, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, described himself as “day by day” before Wednesday’s practice and is trying to avoid a setback with the bone bruise in his left knee.

“I was pretty close [to playing], but I didn’t want any uncertainty,” said Mosley about missing Sunday’s game. “That was really the main reason. And I felt comfortable with Kenny, Bert, and ‘Peanut’ out there without me. They practiced all week without me. I prepared like I was going to play if I did play. I was comfortable with that, but as far as my knee, I just didn’t feel comfortable.”

Hurst was practicing for the first time since having a screw inserted in his foot for a stress fracture on Aug. 24. It remains unclear how much practice time the first-round pick will need to be ready for live-game action again, but the Ravens are eager to have both Hurst and fellow rookie Mark Andrews on the field at the same time. Andrews, a third-round pick, has been a pleasant surprise with eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown in the first three games.

The Steelers appear to be getting healthier as safety Morgan Burnett (groin), right guard David DeCastro (hand), and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) all practiced fully on Wednesday. Those three starters sat out Pittsburgh’s win at Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster sat out Wednesday’s practice with an abdomen injury.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), QB Lamar Jackson (illness), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (knee), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Hayden Hurst (foot), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Ramon Foster (non-injury), CB Mike Hilton (elbow), QB Ben Roethlisberger (non-injury), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (abdomen)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Morgan Burnett (groin), G David DeCastro (hand), OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring)

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Mosley sits out Wednesday’s practice with neck issue

Posted on 06 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley sat out Wednesday’s practice as the Ravens continue preparations for their prime-time showdown with Pittsburgh.

Mosley (neck) was not on the field as Baltimore conducted a walk-through session, but he was available to speak to reporters after practice. The two-time Pro Bowl selection sustained a “stinger” in each of the Ravens’ last two games, but he cleared concussion screening and quickly returned to play in both contests.

It’s been a trying stretch for the 2014 first-round pick, who also sprained his right ankle late in the Week 11 win at Green Bay last month.

“I’m feeling like it’s Week 14,” said Mosley, who has started all 12 games this season and has missed only two games in his four-year career. “As long as I’m ready by Sunday, that’s all that’s going to matter.”

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (shoulder) was also absent from Wednesday’s practice after playing 32 defensive snaps in the 44-20 win over Detroit last Sunday.

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (back) and offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder) were both listed as limited participants on Wednesday. Eleumunor has been inactive for each of the last two games and practiced for the first time since Nov. 17.

As cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) became the first Ravens player to land on injured reserve since defensive end Brent Urban (foot) in late September — but 14th total going back to the preseason — the Steelers are now dealing with their most serious injury of the year. Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ryan Shazier remains hospitalized with a major back injury sustained in their Monday win at Cincinnati, but he was transported to a medical facility in Pittsburgh Wednesday to continues tests and evaluations.

Players and coaches throughout the league have expressed their support as head coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens opened their Wednesday team meeting with a prayer for the injured linebacker, who is one of the Steelers’ best players.

“We want to let everyone know that we all in this locker room are praying for Ryan Shazier,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We are all brothers on this gridiron. I work out with the kid in Arizona [in the offseason]. We are all praying for him. We definitely want to see him get up and walk again. We are staying encouraged for Ryan.”

Steelers safety Mike Mitchell was a full participant in Wednesday’s workout after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury.

Pittsburgh will be without rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on Sunday night after he was suspended one game by the NFL for his illegal block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and subsequent taunting penalty.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB C.J. Mosley (neck), LB Za’Darius Smith (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder), WR Jeremy Maclin (back)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Joe Haden (fibula), LB Tyler Matakevich (shoulder), LB Ryan Shazier (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Vance McDonald (ankle), S Mike Mitchell (ankle)

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