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Ravens center Matt Skura to miss rest of season with knee injury

Posted on 26 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense has sustained its first significant injury loss.

Ravens center Matt Skura will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury late in the first quarter of Monday’s 45-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Skura was carted off the field and eventually ruled out for the game with what was called a knee sprain, but further testing revealed the severity of the injury.

Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari did a commendable job filling in for Skura, playing 62 snaps and helping the Ravens run for a season-high 285 yards. A collaborative effort from the offensive line held two-time Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald to just one assisted tackle.

“I think it says a lot about Pat Mekari and it says a lot about [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] and the job he does with those guys,” Harbaugh said. “To step in there and still play at that high level. I mean, Matt Skura was playing at a very high level. It looks like Patrick did the same; there was no drop-off at all. Rookie, it says a lot.”

A strong preseason led to Mekari making the 53-man roster, but he played only guard and tackle at California, making his performance against the Rams even more impressive. How smoothly he now meshes with quarterback Lamar Jackson will be critical with the Ravens working from the shotgun or pistol an NFL-high 95 percent of the time entering Week 12, according to SharpFootballStats.com.

Mekari has been active for all 11 games serving as one of two game-day backups along with veteran swing lineman James Hurst, but the 6-foot-4, 308-pound rookie had appeared in just five contests prior to Monday.

“I was ready. I knew with the interior three, whatever happened, I’m the next guy up,” Mekari said. “The time presented itself, and I just wanted to go in there and make it happen and come out with the win and just help my team.”

Despite detractors clamoring for the Ravens to upgrade at center this past offseason, Skura was in the midst of a strong campaign and had graded 12th among qualified centers by Pro Football Focus this season. The 26-year-old is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this winter after starting 39 games over the last three seasons.

Unlike a defense that’s dealt with numerous injuries since the start of training camp, the explosive Ravens offense hadn’t sustained a significant injury with wide receiver Marquise Brown’s two-game absence due to a high ankle sprain being the only notable ailment.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hugs Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff after an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Rams

Posted on 26 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning a franchise-record fourth straight road game in a 45-6 rout of the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Five games into what was to be a daunting stretch of six of seven contests against teams over .500, Baltimore is 5-0 by a margin of 202-62. The Ravens haven’t trailed in a game in five weeks, a stretch of 18 quarters. It’s really not supposed to be this easy.

2. Much like they couldn’t know Ray Lewis or Ed Reed would be Hall of Famers when they fell to them, the Ravens didn’t foresee Lamar Jackson being the MVP favorite in his second year or they wouldn’t have risked losing him multiple times. But their innovative vision has been brilliant.

3. Despite 22 quarterbacks having more pass attempts, Jackson pulled into a tie with Russell Wilson for the NFL lead with 24 touchdown passes. He’s doubled his season total over the last three weeks and is now nine shy of Vinny Testaverde’s single-season team record. He also runs pretty well.

4. Against a top-tier rush defense, Baltimore ran for a season-high 285 yards, the fifth-highest total in team history. Between that and Jackson’s 76-percent completion percentage since the bye, I’m not sure how much you’d stop them right now even if the NFL allowed opponents to use a 12th defender.

5. Playing with an offense that scores touchdowns on its first six possessions is much different than protecting a late one-score lead, but the intensity maintained by the Ravens defense was impressive. That group has become a very worthy partner that will be needed more at some point — I think.

6. You hope for the best for Matt Skura, who had many doubters this offseason and has played rock-solid football in the middle of the offensive line. However, the Ravens have to be pleased with how undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in at center, a position he never played in college.

7. The group was already improving, but the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the healthy return of Jimmy Smith returned the Ravens defense to a level its more accustomed to being. Both are in contract years and have been dynamic contributors in the secondary, especially Peters.

8. Speaking of dynamic talents, there hasn’t been a better defensive player in football over the last five years than Aaron Donald, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner. Making the Rams defensive tackle an utter non-factor is the offensive line’s most impressive feat of the season.

9. Running the ball on third-and-12 from the Los Angeles 34 and then going for a fourth-and-1 shows how John Harbaugh, Greg Roman, and this staff are playing chess while most of the league plays checkers. That’s a compliment typically reserved for Bill Belichick and New England, but it’s fitting.

10. A sideline camera showing Sam Koch and Justin Tucker whenever the Ravens approach — and then forgo — a potential kicking situation would be entertaining. Koch has punted just four times since the bye week. He’s getting plenty of work as the holder, however.

11. My only nitpick from Monday — other than the Rams’ Big Bird uniforms — was Jackson taking a few too many hits, especially when the game was out of hand. I believe in his ability to avoid contact, but there’s no need to test that when up by four or five touchdowns.

12. Hearing Jackson talk Super Bowl, I recall Brian Billick’s words to the 2000 Ravens after clinching a playoff spot in Week 15: “The time is here. It’s time to go to a Super Bowl.” Competitive windows aren’t guaranteed; the moment is now for a team capable of winning it all.

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Ravens-Rams: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 25 November 2019 by Luke Jones

How long has it been since the Ravens last lost a game?

Kenny Young started at weak-side inside linebacker in that ugly home loss to Cleveland on Sept. 29, was benched a week later, and has now been a Los Angeles Ram for six weeks. The Ravens will try to extend their longest winning streak since 2000 with a seventh straight victory Monday night against a desperate Rams team that has won three of its last four and is trying to stay in the NFC wild-card race.

As expected, Baltimore will be without starting nose tackle Michael Pierce, who was deactivated for a second straight game with a right ankle injury. Pierce practiced on a limited basis Thursday before missing the rest of the week and was listed as doubtful on the final injury report. Reserve defensive tackles Domata Peko and Justin Ellis will again be counted on to step up in Pierce’s place.

Wide receiver Chris Moore is active and will make his return from a two-game absence due to a broken thumb. The Ravens are happy to have Moore’s special-teams contributions back in the picture.

Rookie cornerback and USC product Iman Marshall is active and expected to make his NFL debut after missing most of the season with toe and hamstring injuries. With safety Bennett Jackson and cornerback Anthony Averett both being healthy scratches for Monday’s game, Marshall will play on special teams and serve as a reserve cornerback for a defense that relies heavily on its secondary play.

The Rams will welcome back wide receivers Brandin Cooks (concussion) and Robert Woods (non-injury) after both missed game action recently. Their presence will provide a needed boost for Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff and a once-explosive offense struggling to find its 2018 form.

Monday’s referee is Craig Wrolstad.

According to Weather.com, the Monday night forecast in Los Angeles calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid-60s with calm winds and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens will be wearing their all-purple “Color Rush” uniforms while the Rams don gold jerseys and gold pants for Week 12.

Monday marks the seventh all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 4-2 edge. Baltimore is aiming for a team-record fourth consecutive road victory that would clinch its first winning away record in the regular season since 2010. The Ravens aim to improve to 9-5 on Monday Night Football in the John Harbaugh era despite this marking the 12th time they’ve played on the road.

Below are Monday night’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
DT Michael Pierce
CB Anthony Averett
S Bennett Jackson
DL Zach Sieler
G Ben Powers
WR Jaleel Scott
QB Trace McSorley

LOS ANGELES
OT Rob Havenstein
WR Nsimba Webster
DB Darious Williams
CB Dont’e Deayon
S Jake Gervase
LB Natrez Patrick
OL Jamil Demby

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Ravens-Rams: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 24 November 2019 by Luke Jones

You win on the road in the regular season to play at home in January.

The 8-2 Ravens travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in hopes of improving to 5-1 on the road and winning what would be a team-record fourth straight regular-season away game. Baltimore hasn’t posted a winning road record since 2010, but an explosive offense and a rapidly improving defense have traveled well, making John Harbaugh’s team the best in the NFL in the eyes of many.

Meanwhile, the 6-4 Rams are aiming to record their fourth win in five games as they enter Week 12 three games out in the NFC West and 1 1/2 games behind the second wild-card spot in the NFC. The urgency is certainly there for Los Angeles to take care of business at home.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the seventh time ever in the regular season and first time since 2015. The Ravens lead the all-time series by a 4-2 margin and are 2-0 in the Harbaugh era, but this is their first ever trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Marcus Peters will register an interception against his former team. The Ravens defensive back insists he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder returning to Los Angeles after being traded last month, but that won’t stop the man Wink Martindale called a cornerback “savant” from preying on Rams quarterback Jared Goff, whose superb first two seasons under coach Sean McVay feel like a long time ago. Peters came away with an interception against Kansas City on Monday Night Football last year, and he’ll pull off the same trick against another former team.

2. Brandin Cooks will catch a touchdown as the Rams use a no-huddle approach. Teams need to be aggressive and step outside their comfort zone if they want to have a real chance to beat Baltimore on either side of the ball right now. An up-tempo, no-huddle attack is a risky proposition with the Ravens’ ability to control the clock on the other side, but it neutralizes Martindale’s ability to substitute and tests the stamina of what’s still an ordinary group of pass rushers. New England had some success with this strategy in Week 9, but no Baltimore opponent has really tried it since then.

3. Lamar Jackson will throw touchdowns to Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst. The Rams have a talented trio at cornerback, but Ravens wide receivers aren’t a big part of the passing attack anyway, which will make it interesting to see how Los Angeles defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tries to use top corner Jalen Ramsey. Rams linebacker Cory Littleton is strong in coverage and safety Taylor Rapp is capable as well, but their responsibilities against the run will make it difficult to consistently stick with Baltimore’s tight ends. Hurst has caught 20 of his 24 targets and is long overdue for a score.

4. Aaron Donald will record a sack for the sixth straight game. You need Pro Bowl-caliber talent and discipline at every level to have any meaningful chance of slowing down Jackson and the Ravens offense, but the biggest key might be having an interior player who can control the line of scrimmage against the run and pass. Pittsburgh’s Cam Heyward did it in Week 5 — the Ravens’ worst offensive showing of 2019 at just 3.8 yards per play — and Donald is widely considered the NFL’s best defensive player. Marshal Yanda, Matt Skura, and Bradley Bozeman will have their hands full.

5. Another strong dual-threat showing from Jackson will be the difference in a 27-16 win. The more desperate Rams coming away with a victory wouldn’t shock me as this is one of Baltimore’s more difficult remaining games on the schedule and I’m not expecting Harbaugh’s team to win out looking from a macro perspective. At the same time, it’s tough envisioning the Los Angeles defense getting enough stops and a middling Rams offense producing enough touchdown drives for the math to add up unless the Ravens beat themselves with turnovers and penalties. Over the last four games, Baltimore has committed just three turnovers with ex-Raven Cyrus Jones and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III accounting for two. This team is making explosive plays and playing smart football, a good formula for winning anywhere. It doesn’t hurt having the current MVP favorite on your side either.

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Ravens defensive tackle Pierce doubtful to play against Rams on Monday

Posted on 23 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are expected to be without nose tackle Michael Pierce for the second straight game as they travel to Los Angeles to meet the Rams for Monday Night Football.

Pierce was officially listed as doubtful on the final injury report after logging only one limited practice on Thursday. The fourth-year defensive lineman missed his second straight workout on Saturday, a clear sign that his right ankle isn’t quite ready for a return to action.

With Pierce unlikely to play in Week 12, the Ravens will again lean more heavily on veteran newcomers Domata Peko and Justin Ellis next to starting defensive tackle Brandon Williams. Peko and Ellis combined to play 43 defensive snaps and make five tackles in the 41-7 win over Houston last Sunday.

“That’s what gives us an opportunity not to push Michael out there unless he’s really ready to go because those guys played so well and they practiced well and they’re ready to go,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who added that Pierce didn’t suffer a setback. “Maybe he could go if we really, really had to have him go, but we have those guys available. Let’s go with those healthy guys probably.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle), reserve guard Ben Powers (thumb), and wide receiver and special-teams standout Chris Moore (thumb) were listed as questionable, but all three practiced fully on Friday. Moore has missed the last two games with a broken left thumb, but his upgrade in participation suggests an improved chance for him to play against the Rams.

Los Angeles ruled out starting right tackle Rob Havenstein (knee) and former Ravens cornerback Darious Williams (ankle) for Monday night’s game. Havenstein, a Mount Airy native, will miss his second straight game.

Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks was removed from the final injury report after practicing fully all week and will make his return from a concussion that sidelined him for the last two games.

The Ravens will be making their first ever trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which hasn’t hosted a Baltimore NFL team since the Colts lost to the Rams there back in 1975. Harbaugh has never been there, but it was the site of a very special football memory for his brother.

“I’ve never been there, yes. The Coliseum, John Robinson, Student Body Right, you grew up with that,” Harbaugh said. “But the biggest game to me in the Coliseum that I remember watching on TV was the greatest upset in the history of college football: Stanford-USC [in 2007]. Jim Harbaugh taking down Pete Carroll’s No. 1-ranked Trojans when they were [41]-point favorites. That was big, right?”

According to Weather.com, the Monday night forecast in Los Angeles calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid-60s with calm winds and only a slight chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: DT Michael Pierce (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Chris Moore (thumb), G Ben Powers (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle)

LOS ANGELES
OUT: OT Rob Havenstein (knee), CB Darious Williams (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Natrez Patrick (illness)

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Old question flipped as high-powered Ravens take on Rams

Posted on 23 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The question would have been flipped if the Ravens had traveled to Los Angeles to take on the eventual NFC champion Rams a year ago.

How do you make enough stops against an elite offense and produce enough touchdown drives of your own to pull off the upset?

It was the challenge going up against Peyton Manning or Tom Brady for years and most recently facing the Kansas City Chiefs. But that’s all changed in 2019 with MVP favorite Lamar Jackson and the NFL’s top-scoring offense on Baltimore’s side. The Ravens have scored at least 40 points in a game three times — they’d done it only 14 times in their previous 23 years — and have scored no fewer than 23 points in a single game all season after averaging 24.3 per contest last year.

The debate is no longer whether this Ravens offense can be “figured out” as defensive coordinators have lost plenty of sleep trying — and failing — this season. The more realistic challenge is whether an opposing unit can slow it down, something a Rams defense with Pro Bowl talent at every level might be capable of doing on Monday night.

But that brings us to the second part of the original question that’s becoming more problematic for opponents and will be for a middle-of-the-pack Rams offense on Monday. A Ravens defense that was largely a mess after the season’s opening month has arguably been the NFL’s best over the last five weeks. That improvement has made Baltimore the best team in football entering Week 12.

“Go back to the Seahawks game. They got that turnover, and they gave us a boost,” said Jackson, referencing Marcus Peters’ interception return for a touchdown late in the first half of Week 7 win. “We started off very slow, and we needed that edge from our defense. Those guys showed it, and they’ve been proving it each and every week. It just helps us, relying on those guys to stop offenses — great offenses at that.”

The Ravens scored two defensive touchdowns in that road win and held Russell Wilson and Seattle to a season-low 16 points. After the bye, Baltimore registered another defensive touchdown and held Tom Brady and New England to 20 points, the Patriots’ third-worst output of the season. But the most impressive defensive showing of the season came last Sunday when Deshaun Watson and Houston managed only a single touchdown in a 41-7 final, a rare game in which the Ravens offense started slowly with a scoreless first quarter before exploding with points on seven of its next eight drives. Such a slow start two months ago might have left Baltimore in an early hole, but the defense didn’t flinch against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Jackson and the offense haven’t needed help very often this season, but this newfound balance in the midst of a six-game winning streak — the Ravens’ longest in 19 years — is what transforms a Super Bowl hopeful into the favorite to win it all. Offense may drive the modern NFL, but just ask the Patriots how important their defense was in last year’s Super Bowl after being a middling unit during the regular season.

Through the first month of the season, the Ravens looked more like a team that would have to win shootouts against elite competition, something they fell short in doing against Kansas City in Week 3. Surrendering 33 points and more than 500 yards of offense to the Chiefs was one thing, but Cleveland coming into M&T Bank Stadium the following week to score 40 and go over the 500-yard mark was the breaking point. Changes were in order for defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s unit that had lost outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and safety Eric Weddle in the offseason and was searching for its identity.

“Every team makes mistakes on the field. But early in the year when a guy would make a mistake, another guy didn’t just fall into that place and cover for him,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “I think it was new guys and some new spots. It took us a while to gel, but now we’ve been gelling. Yes, there have still been some same mistakes, but guys are covering for guys and we’re seeing things a little bit differently just because the communication and really knowing each other has really helped out.

“That’s really come from Wink, too. We put our foot down after those two losses and said, ‘Look, if we’re going to be a great defense, we have to do some things a little differently.'”

Dissatisfied with a young group of inside linebackers that was struggling to fill the void left by Mosley, the Ravens signed veterans Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, moved Patrick Onwuasor from the middle back to his old weak-side position, and benched Kenny Young and Chris Board. Those changes paid immediate dividends in a road win at Pittsburgh with Bynes taking over as the “Mike” linebacker and recording an interception on the second defensive drive of the game. Bynes and Fort weren’t Pro Bowl-caliber additions, but they brought more down-to-down consistency to a position that had been highly problematic early on.

After the defense made incremental improvement against the Steelers and Cincinnati, general manager Eric DeCosta made the season-altering acquisition of Peters, sending only the benched Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Rams in return. A secondary that had lost slot cornerback Tavon Young and starting safety Tony Jefferson to season-ending injuries and veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith to a multi-week knee injury now had a legitimate play-maker in Peters to begin the daunting stretch of six out of seven games against teams with winning records.

Peters wasted no time making an impact, returning a Wilson interception 67 yards for a touchdown in his first game as a Raven and following that with another interception return for a score against Cincinnati two weeks later. Baltimore knew it was getting a two-time Pro Bowl selection who had led the NFL in interceptions since the start of 2015, but Peters’ football intellect is what has resonated with teammates and coaches since he arrived in Owings Mills less than six weeks ago.

“You really don’t know until a guy gets into your locker room and into the defensive meetings of how football smart they are,” Martindale said. “He’s a savant when it comes to playing corner and routes and everything else. That’s been really refreshing because as I’ve said many times, knowledge is power in this league. You can see with his play that he has a lot of knowledge, and that’s what has jumped out the most to me.”

Peters was the marquee addition, but the in-season reset of the defense has been a collaborative effort, starting with DeCosta and the pro personnel department bringing in the aforementioned names as well as other role players such as Jihad Ward, Domata Peko, and Justin Ellis to fortify depth. Martindale and his coaching staff have done an exceptional job making strategic adjustments and bringing new players up to speed to be able to contribute immediately. And incumbents have stepped up, ranging from longtime veteran Brandon Williams playing his best football in recent memory to former reserve safety Chuck Clark stepping into a starting role and relaying calls in the defensive huddle.

The details of the path weren’t anticipated, but this Ravens defense was always built for the secondary to lead the way, which is exactly what we’ve seen in recent weeks. The addition of Peters and Smith’s return from injury have made the group as versatile as ever, evident by the amount of dime and quarter looks deployed in which Clark moves into the box and veteran cornerback Brandon Carr enters at safety.

Such sub packages allow Martindale to be more selective with his use of inside linebackers, who have fared much better as situational contributors than every-down players. It’s a far cry from the days of the Ravens having a perennial Pro Bowl selection like Ray Lewis or Mosley in the middle, but the defense being so multiple is working.

Last week, the tight coverage on the back end finally paid off for a maligned pass rush that registered a season-high seven sacks against Watson and a top-10 passing game. What the Ravens lack in standout pass rushers they’ve made up for with lock-down coverage that forces quarterbacks to hold the ball — against frequent blitzing — or attempt throws into tighter windows. It’s a defensive roster-building philosophy endorsed by the football analytics community that’s now paying off with roster tweaking and improved health in the secondary.

Opponents are now discovering they not only need to find a way to slow Jackson and the Ravens offense but also crack a confident defense growing stingier by the week. Seattle, New England, and Houston learned the hard way, and the increasingly desperate Rams face that unenviable task Monday night.

Even if the talented Los Angeles defense is able to make some stops, will Rams quarterback Jared Goff and his offense be able to do enough against the Baltimore defense for it to matter?

“It just starts to reveal who we are and what we can be if we keep doing what we’ve been doing. It’s been fun. It’s been going by like that though,” said safety Earl Thomas as he snapped his fingers. “We’ve been at it with some tough opponents, but we’ve been standing up. It’s just been one after another.

“We’ve just been proving people wrong. Let’s just keep doing it.”

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Pierce absent again after making limited return to Ravens practice

Posted on 22 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after making his return to the practice field, Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce was back on the sidelines.

It’s unclear whether Pierce suffered a setback in his recovery from a right ankle injury sustained early in the Week 10 win in Cincinnati, but the fourth-year defensive lineman had said Thursday would be a litmus test for his chances to play against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night.

“We will know after practice,” said Pierce, who was listed as a limited participant on Thursday. “We’ll get some things done and see how my ankle responds to individual and some team drills, and we’ll go from there. The swelling’s gone down tremendously. We had to get that out of the way before I could be able to play. We’ll see how it feels, and we’ll go from there.”

With Pierce unable to make it back-to-back practices, the Ravens may need to again lean more heavily on veteran newcomers Domata Peko and Justin Ellis. Just days after being signed, the two run-stopping defensive tackles combined to play 43 defensive snaps in the 41-7 win over Houston.

Their presence and the dominant play of Brandon Williams quell concerns about Pierce’s uncertain status.

“It definitely eases your mind. Just to see the way those guys played this week was awesome,” Pierce said. “They’re awesome dudes. One thing I told Peko — obviously, he was across the division [with Cincinnati] for so many years — I studied his film when I was a young defensive lineman as well as ‘Jelly’s.’ I’ve definitely picked some things from that game just not knowing them, and then we kind of bounced some ideas off each other in meetings.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday’s session with what was listed as an ankle issue. Wide receiver Chris Moore (broken left thumb) continues to practice on a limited basis in hopes of being cleared to return to game action after a two-week absence.

The Rams didn’t practice on Friday, offering only an estimated injury report.

Below is Friday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), DT Michael Pierce (ankle), DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Chris Moore (thumb), G Ben Powers (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury), Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Malcolm Brown (non-injury), OT Rob Havenstein (knee), DB Darious Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: P Johnny Hekker (illness), WR Josh Reynolds (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Brandin Cooks (concussion)

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Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, far right, throws a pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Latest signings once again pay off for Ravens defense

Posted on 18 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Nose tackle Michael Pierce’s absence didn’t stop the Ravens defense from turning in its best performance of the season in Sunday’s dominant 41-7 win over Houston.

Thanks in part to general manager Eric DeCosta’s latest in-season signings of veteran defensive tackles Domata Peko and Justin Ellis, Baltimore held the Texans to 57 rushing yards on 15 carries through the first three quarters before giving up a Carlos Hyde 41-yard touchdown run long after the outcome had long been decided. Peko and Ellis had yet to play in the NFL this season, but the pair combined to play 43 snaps and make five tackles.

“Both of those guys stepped right in there, and you have to give them a lot of credit,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “To step in there like that, off the street, so to speak, they hadn’t been playing for the last few weeks. To be in that kind of shape, that’s not easy to do. They had over 20 plays apiece out there and did a heck of a job.

“It’s really good for our team. It gives us depth. It gives us top-level depth, starter-type level depth across the board.”

Peko and Ellis were two of six Ravens players who were not part of the organization in Week 1 to play 20 or more defensive snaps on Sunday. Those roster additions — headlined by last month’s acquisition of two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters — and the healthy post-bye return of cornerback Jimmy Smith have helped Baltimore improve from 27th in total defense and 23rd in points allowed after Week 4 to a respectable 14th in total yards allowed per game and seventh in scoring defense entering Monday. The Ravens allowed a season-low seven points and just 232 total yards against the Texans, the lowest yardage total they’ve surrendered since the season-opening 59-10 win at Miami.

Despite how pleased he was with the performance of Peko and Ellis, Harbaugh remains hopeful that Pierce can return in time for Monday night’s road game against the Los Angeles Rams. The fourth-year defensive lineman hasn’t played or practiced since injuring his right ankle early in the Week 10 win at Cincinnati.

“He had a chance for Sunday. I was told he had a chance for Sunday. He didn’t make it,” Harbaugh said. “If you start trying to predict things and you don’t know — I’m told he has a chance. I assume he has a better chance for this Sunday, and I’m kind of counting on him right now. But you just never know how healing is going to go.”

Special-teams standout and reserve wide receiver Chris Moore is also a possibility to play in Week 12 after missing the last two games with what Harbaugh confirmed to be a broken thumb. Moore has continued to practice on a limited basis, but he hasn’t been cleared for contact while practicing with a cast on his left thumb.

“We can protect it,” Harbaugh said. “He just has to feel good running and doing the things he has to do with his hands. He has a real good shot, but it’ll be really up to him and how it feels.”

The 8-2 Ravens will make their first appearance on Monday Night Football in two years as they play at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but it will mark the 12th time in 14 Monday games under Harbaugh in which Baltimore has been the away team. The Ravens have gone 8-5 despite that extreme road disadvantage.

The bigger challenge could be the quick turnaround in flying home Tuesday morning and immediately beginning preparations for the Week 13 showdown with NFC-leading San Francisco.

“We’ve been everywhere on Monday night. It’s like Johnny Cash,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “We’ve been everywhere, man, on Monday night — just not in Baltimore. Everywhere but Baltimore. I’m not complaining.

“It’s just something that you deal with, and we’ll be excited.”

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Ravens beef up injury-depleted secondary with Peters addition

Posted on 15 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Having watched the Ravens secondary be ravaged by injuries since the start of training camp, general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t wait around until the Oct. 29 trade deadline to act.

Sending disappointing second-year inside linebacker Kenny Young and a reported 2020 fifth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore acquired two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to boost a pass defense ranking a disappointing 25th in the NFL. Peters should immediately step into the starting lineup opposite standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey and help stabilize a secondary that’s gone from one of the league’s deepest to a question mark in only weeks.

A 2015 first-round pick out of Washington, Peters has led the NFL with 24 interceptions over the last five years and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons with Kansas City. Traded to the Rams after the 2017 campaign, the 26-year-old shook off a rough start with his new team last year to help Los Angeles advance to Super Bowl LIII.

Pro Football Focus has graded the 6-foot, 195-pound Peters as the 14th-best cornerback in the NFL this season, the final year of his rookie contract paying him $9.069 million. His uncertain contract status was believed to be the driving force behind the Rams’ decision to part with Peters despite having just placed other starting cornerback Aqib Talib on injured reserve this week.

(Updated 8 p.m. — The Rams acquired cornerback Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville in exchange for two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick Tuesday evening.)

In six games this season, Peters has registered two interceptions, 14 tackles, and four pass breakups.

The Ravens have been decimated by injuries at the cornerback position after losing above-average nickel back Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury in August and veteran starter Jimmy Smith to a Week 1 knee injury that’s sidelined him for the last five games. Making matters worse have been the recent season-ending knee injuries sustained by veteran starter Tony Jefferson and second-year reserve DeShon Elliott at the safety position. In Smith’s absence, Baltimore had been relying on unproven cornerbacks such as Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett, who had both been picked on in coverage at various points since Week 2.

With Smith believed to be nearing a return, it will be interesting to see how the secondary shakes out as the Ravens now have three high-profile cornerbacks who’ve mostly played on the outside in their careers. It’s worth noting, however, that Humphrey has lined up in the slot some when traveling with opponents’ No. 1 receivers in recent weeks.

Veteran Brandon Carr has served as the primary nickel in Tavon Young’s absence this season, but he did practice a good bit at safety in the spring and summer, giving defensive coordinator Wink Martindale another potential wrinkle. In response to their problems at inside linebacker, the Ravens played quite a few snaps in a dime package against Cincinnati in Week 6 that featured strong safety Chuck Clark moving to the “Mike” linebacker spot and Elliott playing on the back end next to free safety Earl Thomas.

After reportedly showing interest in Ramsey last month, DeCosta was still able to address an immediate concern without the same long-term risk by trading a young player who had fallen out of favor and a Day 3 pick. Should the Ravens choose not to re-sign Peters to a lucrative extension in the offseason, they would likely receive an attractive compensatory pick in the 2021 draft.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether DeCosta will be able to address a pass rush that’s been perceived as a greater concern than the depleted secondary since the start of the season. Having lost outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency, Baltimore is tied for 24th in the league with just 11 sacks in six games.

With a two-game lead in the AFC North and about to face six teams with a .500 or better record over their next seven games, the Ravens clearly signaled their strong intentions to contend in the AFC with Tuesday’s trade.

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Ravens to play three prime-time games as part of 2019 schedule

Posted on 17 April 2019 by Luke Jones

Aiming to defend their AFC North championship and make the playoffs in back-to-back years, the Ravens are scheduled to appear in prime time three times during the 2019 season.

Baltimore opens the season at Miami on Sept. 8, but the schedule is headlined by a Sunday night encounter with defending Super Bowl champion New England on Nov. 3. This marks the first time the Ravens will host Sunday Night Football since 2012, which was also against the Patriots. It’s worth noting, however, that three other originally-scheduled Sunday night games — one in 2013 and two in 2015 — were flexed out of the prime-time spot over that time.

The Ravens will also host the New York Jets for a Thursday game in Week 15. They are 6-0 in Thursday home games under 12th-year head coach John Harbaugh.

Making their first trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Ravens will take on the defending NFC champion Rams on Nov. 25 for their lone appearance of the season on Monday Night Football.

Surprisingly, this marks the first time since 2006 that the Ravens and Pittsburgh aren’t scheduled to square off in a prime-time game — if including the 2016 Christmas Day classic that kicked off in the late afternoon — but these AFC North rivals will play in the regular-season finale for the first time since 2007 and the fourth time ever, which could create some captivating drama.

After a few daunting stretches of road games in recent seasons, the Ravens are the only team in the NFL who will alternate home and away games throughout the season, the first time that’s occurred in franchise history. The most challenging stretch of the season appears to be Week 7 through Week 12 when the Ravens play four playoff teams from a year ago, but even that run includes their bye week.

The Ravens will play five games against playoff teams from last season: Houston, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Rams, New England, and Seattle. They have nine games against opponents who finished below .500 in 2018: Arizona, Buffalo, Cincinnati (twice), Cleveland (twice), Miami, the New York Jets, and San Francisco.

For now, 12 of Baltimore’s 16 regular-season games are scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday starts, but most games are subject to flexible scheduling (see below).

2019 SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 8 at Miami Dolphins — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: As road openers go, the Ravens can’t be too unhappy with an opponent considered an early favorite for the first pick in the 2020 draft as these teams meet for the sixth time in the last seven years.

Sunday, Sept. 15 Arizona Cardinals — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: Ed Reed played against the Ravens as a New York Jet in 2013, but Terrell Suggs walking into Baltimore as “the bad guy” after 16 seasons in purple will be surreal.

Sunday, Sept. 22 at Kansas City Chiefs — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny:  A trip to Arrowhead Stadium is always a daunting task, but these teams played one of the best regular-season games of the season there last year.

Sunday, Sept. 29 Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Browns have four all-time wins at M&T Bank Stadium, but last season’s Week 17 meeting between Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson left everyone excited for more.

Sunday, Oct. 6 at Pittsburgh Steelers — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: For the first time since 2013, the Ravens will not play be playing under the lights at Heinz Field, which will make everyone in Baltimore happy.

Sunday, Oct. 13 Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: You can make reasonable arguments for Baltimore, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh to win the AFC North, but it sure feels like the Bengals are “drawing dead” with Andy Dalton at this point.

Sunday, Oct. 20 at Seattle Seahawks — 4:25 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: You know six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas has been thinking about this one since before the ink was dry on his four-year, $55 million contract with his new team.

Sunday, Oct. 27  BYE
Skinny: Baltimore’s break falls no earlier than Week 8 for the eighth consecutive year.

Sunday, Nov. 3 vs. New England Patriots — 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Skinny: Times have definitely changed as just six players remain who were with the Ravens the last time they beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, which was in the 2012 AFC championship game.

Sunday, Nov. 10 at Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: For the second year in a row, the Ravens will not close the regular season against the Bengals. New Year’s will never be the same.

Sunday, Nov. 17 Houston Texans — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: Deshaun Watson went down with a knee injury weeks before the Texans’ last trip to Baltimore, but seeing him match up with the man who beat him out for the 2016 Heisman Trophy should be a blast.

Monday, Nov. 25 at Los Angeles Rams — 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Skinny: After going against the speedy Jackson in practice for a year, former Raven Eric Weddle will certainly share his tendencies with his Rams teammates for this attractive prime-time game.

Sunday, Dec. 1 San Francisco 49ers — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: The 49ers finished 4-12 last year, but a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo would make this late-season encounter far from a layup for the Ravens, who will be playing on a short week.

Sunday, Dec. 8 at Buffalo Bills — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Ravens are 0-2 in their previous trips to western New York with neither of those being played in December when the weather can be major factor.

Thursday, Dec. 12 vs. New York Jets — 8:20 p.m. (FOX/NFL Network)
Skinny: Four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley returns to Baltimore as the Ravens will hope to be jockeying for postseason positioning on a short week, which is always a test.

Sunday, Dec. 22 at Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The upstart Browns have four prime-time games on their schedule, but I’m honestly surprised the Ravens’ trip to Cleveland wasn’t one of them.

Sunday, Dec. 29 Pittsburgh Steelers — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: How exciting would it be for this one to be flexed to Sunday Night Football if the division title happens to be on the line?

Notes: Flexible scheduling can be applied for all Sunday games in Weeks 5 through 17. A flex-scheduling change would be announced at least 12 days before the game except in the final week of the season. For Week 17, the Sunday night game is announced no later than six days prior to Dec. 29.

Another wrinkle implemented in recent years is a select number of games being “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring certain games to wider audiences.

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