Ravens look to end Steelers seven game win streak in prime time matchup

This past Monday night the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals faced off in one of the ugliest games of the year. In fact, it’s probably been the hardest game to watch since the same teams met in the playoffs two seasons ago.

The Steelers’ defense took a huge blow when they lost linebacker Ryan Shazier to an ugly back /spinal injury. Shazier was carted off the field and immediately rushed to a hospital after he told team doctors he had no feeling in his legs. Pittsburgh’s 2014 first-round pick has progressed slowly this week and is showing some signs of improvement, but his timetable remains unknown. The thought now is that he will never play football again.

Shazier wasn’t the only player to be carted off in Monday nights game. Steelers receiver Juju Smith-Schuster may be new to the NFL and AFC North but he didn’t have a problem delivering a huge hit to a defenseless Vontaze Burfict. The hit was followed by a blatant taunt and Burfict had to be carted off the field. After the game, there was plenty of talk and controversy surrounding both injuries and the overall roughness of the game.

With a game against Baltimore on the horizon, the media questioned a few Steelers players about the difference between playing the Bengals and Ravens. Ben Roethlisberger has faced the Ravens many times and he had some interesting words about the rivalry. “The difference between this game and the Cincinnati game is these two teams — us and Baltimore — there’s always a respect involved in it.”

Lost in all of this commotion was the Steelers picking up their seventh straight win thanks to yet another game-winning field goal. Pittsburgh’s schedule gave some Ravens fans a reason to be cautiously optimistic, but after Monday’s game the Steelers are just one win (or Ravens loss) away from locking up the division.

Technically, the Ravens still have a chance to win the division, but they need to win out, and the Steelers need to lose all of their remaining games. This makes Sunday night’s game a little interesting from a playoff perspective, but it is nowhere near as critical as last years infamous Christmas game.

In many ways, this should be a relief for Ravens fans. It’s disappointing that a division title is practically out of reach, but we’ve been anticipating that for weeks now. Instead, fans should be happy that Sunday’s game will not make or break the team’s playoff chances.

Last Meeting: The Ravens hold a 6-4 advantage in the last ten games against their division foe, but the Steelers have won the last two matchups. Pittsburgh’s 26-9 win over the Ravens earlier this season marked their first at M&T Bank Stadium since 2012 and Roethlisberger’s first since 2010. The Steelers are 7-5 when hosting the Ravens since 2008.

Injury Report:

 

Notes on Steelers:

  • Juju Smith-Schuster will miss this Sunday’s game after receiving a one-game suspension for his illegal hit on Burfict. After the game, the rookie seemed to regret the viciousness of the hit but his teammate, but Antonio Brown had a different opinion. Schuster appealed the suspension but the league was quick to uphold it.
  • The Steelers’ current seven-game win streak is tied for the teams longest since 2004 when they finished the season with 14 straight wins for a 15-1 record.

Notes on Ravens:

  • It’s been a rough week for cornerback Jimmy Smith. After suffering an achilles injury in Sunday’s win against Detroit, Smith was handed a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances. The good news is that Smith can serve his suspension during the final four weeks of the 2017 season so it will have no impact on his eventual return next year.
  • After Smith’s injury, the Ravens now have over $44 million invested in injured or released players. This makes up over a quarter of the $167 salary cap.
  • Mike Wallace has averaged over 54 yards-per-game and over 13 yards-per-reception when playing against his former team.
  • Just how much of an impact has Brandon Williams had on the run defense? The stats show that his presence has helped greatly. Without Williams, the Ravens gave up an average of 169.5 rushing yards a game. When he has suited up, the team has given up just 84.25 yards a game.

Details:

When: Sunday, Dec. 10, 8:30 pm

Where: Heinz Field – Pittsburgh, PA

Radio: WBAL 109098 Rock

Commentators: Gerry Sandusky, Jarret Johnson, Stan White

TV: NBC, WBAL-TV

Commentators: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

Image Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Maryland escapes Illinois with 92-91 overtime win

Big Ten conference play is here early this year and you can feel the pressure/excitement in the air. There are still some non-conference games to be played in December, but so far the Terps have been tested with some quality opponents.

A pair of loses to Syracuse and Purdue have some fans and pundits concerned about Maryland but both of these games came down to one possession in the final seconds. While this young team may not have the best killer instinct come crunch time, they have shown the ability to hang with their opponent until the end.

On Sunday, the Terps traveled to Illinois to play their second conference game of the year. Despite taking a 22-point lead at one point in the first half, the Terps allowed Illinois to come all the way back in the second half. For the fourth time in the last five games, Maryland found themselves in a stressful situation late in the game. This time they would walk away victorious.

Maryland got right after their opponent in the early minutes of Sunday night’s game. The Fighting Illini looked completely lost as the Terps practically bullied them for the ball. Illinois coughed up the ball five times in the first five minutes as the Terps enjoyed a 10-0 advantage right from the tip.

As the half progressed Maryland would slowly extend their lead while shooting over 60% from the field. Anthony Cowan Jr. was the catalyst, scoring 16 points on 6-8 shooting. By the end of the half, Maryland was enjoying the benefits of a 23-8 scoring run, giving them a 19-point lead over Illinois at the half.

The script was flipped at the half and the Illini looked more alive with their back against the ropes. A couple of lopsided scoring runs allowed them to cut the large Maryland lead down fairly quickly. Before you knew it, the Illini had battled their way within six points of Maryland and brought the home crowd back into the game as well.

With about seven minutes left to play in the second half, Illinois looked unstoppable as they shoot well over 70% from the field. Turgeon tried to stop the bleeding by calling a few timeouts but the Terps never regained their footing.

Cowan Jr. helped put the team up by 19 in the first half but he went scoreless until the five-minute mark of the second half. The problem wasn’t with Cowan Jr. though, because the rest of the team went ice cold too. It wasn’t long until the Illini grabbed their first lead of the game and forced the Terps to go into full panic mode.

With just a four seconds left it looked like Illinois had everything wrapped up. The only thing left to do was inbound the ball cleanly but a terrible pass sailed out-of-bounds and Maryland was given one last opportunity. Turgeon drew up a play and called upon Kevin Huerter to take the big shot. His three ball from the corner went over the rim but Bruno Fernando was right there to muscle it back in for a game-tying bucket at the buzzer.

In overtime, the Terps’ offense came back to life but Illinois still wouldn’t let up. The teams traded baskets and free throws for the entirety of overtime but in the end the Terps held the ball last. Cowan Jr. dribbled the ball up the court as the clock worked it’s way under 10 seconds and it was clear to everyone in the arena that he planned on taking it to the hoop himself.

The sophomore guard pulled up inside the key and drew the contact he wanted. The Illinois crowd erupted in boos but the damage had already been done. Cowan Jr. went to the line and sunk the necessary free throw to take the lead and after purposefully missing the second. The Illini were left with no time to get a shot off.

Maryland escaped with a 92-91 win but it could have been so much easier had they forced themselves to the free throw line in the second half. The Terps will return to College Park with five non-conference home games on the horizon. They will not see another Big Ten opponent until the beginning of January when they take on Penn State.

Image Credit: Austin Yattoni

Ravens dominate fourth quarter in 44-20 win over Lions

BALTIMORE — It was pointed out earlier this week that teams become cursed after facing the Houston Texans. Teams are just 1-9 this season after facing Houston for some odd reason but the Ravens were able to buck that trend with a 44-20 victory over the visiting Detroit Lions on Sunday.

Since the Lions have been known to struggle in the first quarter all season, the Ravens needed to jump out to a good start. Despite a couple of missed opportunities, they were able to do just that. After taking a 3-0 lead in the first quarter the Ravens offense was able to “let it loose” as Joe Flacco would like to describe it.

Following a missed field goal by Matt Prater, Flacco connected with Mike Wallace for a 66-yard bomb. Wallace came up just shy of the end zone but the play was still the longest of the year for the Baltimore offense. Flacco didn’t waste any time finishing off the drive as he connected with a wide open Ben Watson on the next play for a one-yard score.

The defense picked up on this unexpected burst of offense and came up with a turnover on the ensuing Lions possession. It hasn’t happened often this season but Eric Weddle was given the chance to blitz the quarterback and he didn’t miss his opportunity for a big play. The veteran safety went untouched off the blind side, catching Matt Stafford off guard and forcing a fumble. Willie Henry scooped up the loose ball for an extra 16 yards.

Flacco and the offense quickly turned this takeaway into another touchdown, jumping out to a 17-0 lead. By halftime, Flacco had racked up 192 yards to accompany his two touchdowns. It’s safe to say that this was a breakout performance as Flacco has only thrown for 200 yards in four games this season.

The only blemish for the Ravens in the first half was the loss of Jimmy Smith. The Ravens #1 corner has been having trouble with his achilles all year and it finally gave on him in the second quarter. Smith dropped back to cover his receiver but collapsed without making any contact. As soon as it happened, a hush came over the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium because everyone immediately knew what had happened.

Despite playing poorly in the first half, Detroit was prepared to make this a close game. The Lions have had a lot of experience playing from behind this season and they started the second half with a quality touchdown drive. A 42-yard pass from Stafford to Marvin Jones jump-started their offense similar to Flacco’s deep pass earlier in the game. The momentum continued to swing in Detroit’s favor as they forced the Ravens to punt on their next drive.

The Lions added another touchdown before the end of the third quarter but Prater missed the extra point. After dominating the first half, the Ravens quickly found themselves under pressure with just a one possession lead. Perhaps this is just what they needed though because nobody could have predicted what happened int he fourth quarter.

With the Lions knocking at the door, Flacco lead his offense down the field for a nine play, 74-yard touchdown drive. This score put Baltimore up by 14 but it still wasn’t enough to put the game away. However, the Ravens offense did not look complacent at any point down the stretch. With under eight minutes to play, Justin Tucker added a field goal and the defense picked up another turnover to officially put the game on ice.

The Ravens finished with 24 points in the fourth quarter thanks to another Alex Collins touchdown run and a pick six by Weddle. Flacco finished with 269 passing yards, Wallace racked up 116 receiving yards, and the team put up an impressive total of 44 points. All three of these are season highs.

This win is very big for a Baltimore team with its eyes on the postseason. For the first time all year they have a three-game win streak and the road ahead looks very nice. The Steelers are up next on the schedule but they are the only challenging opponent remaining.

For once, a late season meeting between these rivals will not mean much in terms of playoff implications. However, this rivalry is always going to be exciting and a win for either team would be a big confidence boost as the postseason approaches.

Image Credit: Daniel Mears, Detroit News

Maryland fails to overcome Purdue’s seniors, opens conference play with 80-75 loss

COLLEGE PARK, MD — After losing a road game against Syracuse earlier this week, Maryland was faced with a quick turnaround. There was no time to stew over the loss because Purdue was on their way to College Park to begin conference play early.

Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland hasn’t had much trouble creating potential rivalries. Purdue is one of those teams that the Terps have had exciting battles with the past few years. Possibly the most exiting game took place last season when both teams squared off as members of the top 25. Maryland jumped out to a 12 point lead about mid-way through the second half but collapsed down the stretch, allowing the Boilermakers to come all the way back and win with a pair of free throws in the final seconds.

This year Purdue found themselves ranked as a preseason top 20 team. A pair of disappointing losses to Tennessee and Western Kentucky knocked them out of the poll but they have since bounced back with great wins against #2 Arizona and #17 Louisville.

In the first half of Fridays game the Terps found themselves down by ten early despite only turning the ball over once. Earlier this week that would have seemed impossible but when you go up against Purdue, you have to stop their big men and Maryland couldn’t do that. Freshman, Bruno Fernando has been flashy so far this year but he hasn’t had to defend anyone like Isaac Haas. The Boilermakers center dominated early on, picking up eight points and block by the 11 minute mark.

Maryland found themselves down by 14 on multiple occasions in the first half because of some lights out shooting by Haas and Dakota Mathias. The Purdue seniors combined to shoot 13/14 from the field for 30 points.

Given all of this, it’s pretty surprising that Maryland was able to make it a 43-37 game by the half. The Terps enjoyed a significant advantage in the rebound column, grabbing ten on offense and eight on defense. Throw in 12 free throw opportunities and all of a sudden things aren’t looking as lopsided in Purdue’s favor.

The Terps carried this momentum into the second half by going on a small 7-0 run. The quick burst of offense gave Maryland their first lead of the game but it wouldn’t last long. As the half progressed Purdue regained the lead, forcing the Terps to continue playing from behind.

Just like the first half, Maryland would be given a chance to come back at the foul line. The Boilermakers were called for seven fouls in the span of four minutes, putting Maryland in the bonus with eleven to play. Purdue was able to work their way into the bonus as well, making the final minutes of Friday’s game a slow and grueling experience.

As the final minutes approached it looked like Purdue had wrapped up yet another quality win but the Terps weren’t done yet. Down by eight with under a minute to play Anthony Cowan Jr. put the team on his back. The sophomore guard scored seven points in the span of ten seconds after getting fouled on a three pointer and a layup. This late game surge brought Maryland back within three, but just like their game against Syracuse, the Terps couldn’t finish late.

Mark Turgeon called a timeout to draw up a play and to his credit, it was run very smoothly. A pick allowed Jarred Nickens to get free for an open shot from the corner but he came up short. The Boilermakers rebounded and made the ensuing foul shots to walk away with a nice 80-75 road win.

The Terps answered the turnover problems that caused their first two loses and even finished with an advantage in rebounds, but it was not enough for a win. Once again this young team has been tested by a tough opponent but their inexperience continues to show in crunch time. More playtime will likely bring this young team together as conference play progresses but the Big Ten is always a slug fest.

Maryland will have another quick turnaround as they prepare to play Illinois on the road this Sunday. After losing three of their last four, the Terps are just looking for a win to get their groove back. Tip off is at 8:00 pm.

Image Credit: Patrick Semansky / AP

Huerter drops 23 but Maryland falls short in battle with Syracuse 72-70

SYRACUSE — Maryland basketball has been back in swing for a few weeks now but their Monday night matchup with Syracuse marks their first opportunity for a quality win. Through the first seven games the Terps have been able to take care of business for the most part. They did get caught by St. Bonaventure this past weekend in a 63-61 loss, but overall things have been progressing smoothly for Mark Turgeon’s young squad.

With the departure of Melo Trimble this past offseason, many thought Maryland would be at a disadvantage in 2017-2018. So far this post-Trimble team has managed to find success by sharing the wealth. We got a glimpse of this last year when Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson ended up as major contributors as freshman. Last season, some pressure was taken off of Trimble but as the season wore on, he ended up shooting more than his teammates but the shots just weren’t falling.

Maryland is certainly lacking some on court leadership with Trimble gone, but it looks like the depth of this year’s team will make up for that. The foundation of Huerter, Jackson, and Anthony Cowan Jr. will lead the way but there are other exciting players to look out for. Junior Dion Wiley is finally back from an injury-plagued 2016-17 while Bruno Fernando and Darryl Morsell will look to make waves in their freshman year.

The Terps’ downfall so far this season has been turnovers. A lopsided 20-9 turnover margin was a major factor in their loss to St. Bonaventure and it certainly had an impact in the early goings of Monday nights game.

Eleven first half turnovers helped Syracuse take a 36-35 lead but the Terps’ shooting kept them in the game. Maryland finished the half with a 10-4 scoring run and a three-point shooting percentage of 41.7%. Huerter was on fire from beyond the arc and Fernando dominated inside for a balanced Terrapin attack.

Both of these players continued to produce for the Terps in the second half. With the lead bouncing back and forth, the Terps needed to rely on them to stay hot down the stretch.

With under two minutes to play, Huerter nailed his seventh three-pointer of the game to take a 66-65 lead. However, Syracuse’s Tyus Battle would respond quickly with a three of his own. The Terps were looking to score again as the clock winded down but a very untimely turnover by Cowan handed Syracuse the game. Huerter added yet another desperation three-pointer but it was too late for Maryland and the Orange held on for a 72-70 win.

This loss is disappointing for the Terps but the blueprint for success is clear. As long as they can clean up the turnovers, they will have a chance in a competitive Big Ten conference. This was also a good road test for a young team and they played a very solid game besides the turnovers. The freshman – Fernando and Morsell – were especially impressive for me. I’m looking forward to seeing how much they can contribute this year without having the pressure of carrying the team.

Image Credit: Patrick Semansky / Associated Press

 

Ravens set to host first Monday night game since 2012

BALTIMORE — We at Charm City Bird Watch hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving with friends and family but now that the holiday rush is over, it’s time to get back to Ravens football. After last week’s 23-0 win over the Green Bay Packers, the team and fan base has been given new life but there remains a lot of work to be do as the Ravens approach the last six games.

The victory in Green Bay marked the third shutout of the year for this Baltimore defense but the team still only has five wins. Their .500 record is good enough for the second wildcard spot in a weakened AFC but there’s barely any space separating the Ravens from other playoff hopefuls like the Buffalo Bills.

Going into this final stretch of the year, we know that the Ravens have a chance simply based on their schedule. Four of the final six games will be against a team with a losing record. The other two are the Lions (6-5) and Steelers (8-2). In addition to this, the Ravens defense will get the chance to face yet another backup quarterback on Monday night in Tom Savage. They are 3-1 so far this year in games against backup QB’s.

Savage did start the season. as the Texans’ starting quarterback, but he got replaced by DeShaun Watson after he struggled mightily in Houston’s season opener. A torn ACL suffered in practice by Watson  means Savage has been thrown right back into the fold, going 1-3 as the Texans’ starting signal-caller.

The visiting Houston Texans are struggling, winning just two of their last six. However, they find themselves just one game behind the Ravens in a crowded playoff race. Many pundits are already counting Houston out, largely due to the loss of Watson. When it comes to the playoffs, this game means just as much for the Texans as it does for the Ravens.

Last Meeting: These teams haven’t seen each other in a few years. The Texans hosted the Ravens during week 16 of the 2014 season and came away with a 25-13 win. This was just the second win against Baltimore in Texans history as the Ravens lead the all time series 7-2. After four previous tries, the Texans have yet to win at M&T Bank Stadium.

Injury Report: As of Saturday Nov. 25

Notes on Texans:

  • Since losing Watson to a season ending injury, the Texans’ offense has averaged 15 points a game. That’s not a very comfortable number to work with if you are the Texans defense, especially when you are giving up over 24 points a game in the same span.
  • If the Texans want to beat the Ravens the blueprint is simple. Get pressure on Joe Flacco. Houston defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney has managed to get after the QB despite commanding double coverage after injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Clowney has posted five sacks in his last four games.

Notes on Ravens:

  • There has been a lot of talk about Flacco’s quality of play this season but lets look at the numbers. Last week Flacco had a decent game but he failed to throw for 200 yards for the sixth time this season. Through ten games, Flacco is also averaging a career low 5.44 yards-per-completion. His passer rating of 74.4 is also the second lowest of his career with 2013 (73.1) coming in just slightly worse.
  • This weeks matchup against Houston marks just the second home Monday night game for the Ravens in the last ten seasons. Even though Flacco’s stats listed above are abysmal, lets give him credit for his 11-1 career record in prime time games.

Details:

When: Monday, Nov. 27, 8:30 pm

Where: M&T Bank Stadium – Baltimore, MD

Radio: WBAL 109098 Rock

Commentators: Gerry SanduskyJustin Forsett, Stan White

TV: ESPNWBAL-TV

Commentators: Sean McDonough, John Gruden, Lisa Salters

Image Credit: Fanspeak

Ravens defense picks apart Hundley and Packers offense in 23-0 win

GREEN BAY, WI — Coming out of a bye week the Ravens needed a strong performance to kick-start the final stretch of their season. If the Ravens are to make the postseason, the window is still open but there is not much room left for error. However, a 23-0 road win against the Green Bay Packers is an awfully good start.

In terms of health the Ravens were not exactly better off than they were a few weeks ago. Getting running back Danny Woodhead back was certainly a big difference maker for the anemic offense. The Ravens found themselves down another offensive lineman as second-year man Ronnie Stanley was unable to suit up as he deals with a concussion. The Ravens also had two healthy scratches – Terrance West and Breshad Perriman – that could have been attributed to Woodhead’s return.

After winning the coin toss the Ravens chose to kick and send their defense out first. This would end up paying off as Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle picked up a pair of interceptions on the first two Green Bay possessions. Brett Hundley and the Packers offense had gone their last two games without a turnover.

The defense continued to feast on the Packers at the beginning of the second quarter. Patrick Onwuasor got to Green Bay running back Devante Mays and force a fumble. The turnover marked the Packers first fumble by a running back this season.

Despite forcing three turnovers after just eighteen minutes of play, the Ravens only put three points on the board. Marty Mornhinweg continued to show how incompetent of a play-caller he is with more head-scratching decisions. Joe Flacco was 13-for-17 on completions at the half but only averaged 5.8 yards-per-completion. Even in third-and-long situations, there was absolutely no urgency to throw the ball past the line of scrimmage.

The screen pass is an important piece in running a successful offense but that’s because you should only be calling it a handful of times per game, not a handful of times per drive. I don’t care how banged up you offensive line is, this is unacceptable on Mornhinweg’s part.

These mind-numbing play calls were not reserved to the pass game. Alex Collins got off to a hot start by running up the middle, yet Mornhinweg decided to call some pitch runs to the outside in third and short scenarios. All of this, combined with an ugly Flacco interception, resulted in a slim 6-0 Ravens lead at halftime.

The Ravens offense looked completely rejuvenated coming out of the half. Chris Moore set the offense up nicely after returning the kick 59 yards. Flacco took over from there, completing three passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. Mike Wallace brought in Flacco’s precise pass with one arm while fighting with the defender for space.

Considering how well the defense performed in the first half, the new 13-0 lead felt twice as large. Even with a larger lead, the defense did not let up, forcing the Packers to punt or turn the ball over on eight straight drives. Hundley was under pressure for a majority of the second half. When he did manage to escape the Ravens defenders, he was forced to throw it away.

The Ravens offense was just as lost as the Packers following their touchdown but the pressure was not on them. Just one score would have been enough to officially put the game away but the offense didn’t look too concerned with closing it out themselves. Luckily, the defense remained on point, forcing one more turnover while keeping Green Bay scoreless.

Had it not been for this forced fumble by Terrell Suggs, the offense likely would have run out the clock without another score, but excellent field position allowed them to finally put more points on the board in the final minutes of the game.

The Ravens defense finished the 23-0 win with five forced turnovers and six sacks for their third shutout performance of the season.

The Ravens will get a little extra rest before returning home for a Monday Night game against the Texans next week. Earlier this year, this matchup looked like it could be trouble for the Ravens but injuries have decimated the Texans to the point where they are no longer contenders. With that being said, the Ravens will have to make some changes on offense if they want to avoid the upset.

Image Credit: Jeffrey Phelps / Associated Press