AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

Observed and heard in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 23-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns:

Smith
Give him the ball: Wide receiver Steve Smith was asked whether he knew he was going to get the pass just before he made the clutch 32-yard catch that put the Ravens in range for the winning field goal in the final minute of the fourth quarter. "When I line up, I think there is no better option than myself," Smith said. "That's how I practice. That's how I play."

Key adjustment: Asa Jackson provided a major momentum swing when he came off the edge and blocked Billy Cundiff's 36-yard field goal attempt in the middle of the fourth quarter. He gave a nod to special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, who told Jackson during the middle of the week to switch pushing off from his right foot to his left foot. It gave him a better angle to the ball. "It ended up working out," Jackson said. "I saw the ball go. I just ran and jumped, and luckily it looked like Billy kicked it low and I was able to get a piece of it."

Half speed: Cornerback Lardarius Webb still looked like his lower-back injury was bothering him in his first game of the season. Even though he didn't start and he played limited snaps, Webb looked like he could barely move. "You can never really push something because he hasn't played much," coach John Harbaugh said. "He is coming off injury in the lower back, and he's going to have to play full speed and get his wheels back. I saw the same thing. He's going to have to get his wheels back. Hopefully, we can play him back."
The Baltimore Ravens signed undrafted rookie running back Fitzgerald Toussaint on Saturday, which could be an indication the team is unsure of Bernard Pierce's availability for Sunday's game at the Cleveland Browns.

Pierce
Pierce, who has started the first two games of the season, is questionable with a thigh injury. He was limited in Thursday's practice and had full participation on Friday. Pierce has never missed a game in his NFL career despite battling numerous injuries.

If Pierce is unable to play, the Ravens would start Justin Forsett and use rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro as the primary backup. Forsett has rushed for 126 yards, which leads the Ravens, and one touchdown. Taliaferro has yet to receive a carry.

Toussaint would provide depth at running back. He flashed his explosiveness in the preseason finale with several big runs and finished with 103 yards at New Orleans.

Undrafted out of Michigan, Toussaint was on the Ravens' 53-man roster for the season opener but was among the team's inactives.

The Ravens released wide receiver Deonte Thompson to make room for Toussaint on the 53-man roster.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Running back Bernard Pierce was added to the Baltimore Ravens' injury report after he was limited Thursday with a thigh injury.

Pierce, who has started the Ravens' first two games of the season, has never missed a game in his three-year NFL career. But there have been durability concerns about Pierce, who has been listed on the injury report 11 times. His most recent injury was a concussion heading into the season opener.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (illness) and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) both had full participation after missing Wednesday's practice. The only player who didn't practice was defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee).

RAVENS INJURY REPORT

Did not participate: DT Timmy Jernigan (knee)

Limited participation: RB Bernard Pierce (thigh)

Full participation: QB Joe Flacco (illness), CB Asa Jackson (concussion), OT Eugene Monroe (knee), CB Lardarius Webb (back).
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the Baltimore Ravens play the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, they come face-to-face with what might have been at running back.

Four months ago, it looked like Terrance West had a good chance of playing in Baltimore, where he played his high school and college football. But the Browns traded back into the third round to get five spots ahead of the Ravens and selected West with the No. 94 overall pick.

While the Ravens are pleased with the upside of rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro (who has no carries this season), they could've used another Ray Rice-type back like West especially after the team cut Rice.

"Terrance is a guy that we really liked, as you know," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We had designs on him in the draft, certainly, and Cleveland jumped up there and got him and he has not disappointed. He has played really downhill. [He is a] hard runner, make-you-miss type back [who] understands the scheme they’re running really well."

The Browns are thankful they were aggressive in going after West in the draft. Ben Tate, a free-agent addition, sprained his knee in the season opener and is not expected to play Sunday against the Ravens.

West has taken advantage of the opportunity, becoming the first rookie running back with at least 90 yards from scrimmage in their team's first two games since Chris Johnson and Matt Forte in 2008.

He said he hasn't thought about how close he got to playing for his hometown team instead of against it.

“I’m past that point right now," West said. "I’m looking forward to playing against the Ravens right now. That was the combine time when they could have drafted me, but I’m looking forward to playing against them right now. That’s my main focus.”

West was a two-time All-Baltimore City selection at Northwestern High School before starring at Towson University. He set the FCS single-season rushing record with 2,509 yards as he helped Towson to the national championship game.

So far, preparing for Baltimore hasn't been too much of a distraction for West. He hasn't received many calls from family in Baltimore about tickets for Sunday's game. It may be because he posted "Tickets are not free" on Facebook.

"So, they probably got the hint," West said. "My main focus is playing against them on Sunday. I’m not worried about tickets right now.”

Ravens vs. Browns preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET

The Cleveland Browns ended an 11-game losing streak to the Baltimore Ravens in November. That was the first time Joe Flacco had lost to the Browns.

The Browns are coming off an emotional and exciting last-second 26-24 win against New Orleans in Week 2. Baltimore is coming off a dominant 26-6 win against the Steelers on Thursday night, giving them three extra days off for this game.

The Browns have a chance to make a statement that they belong in the AFC North, and the Ravens have a chance to show that this division belongs to them or the Bengals.

ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley and Browns reporter Pat McManamon discuss a few key elements of Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game.

McManamon: It's an obvious but important question: What is the state of Baltimore's running game at this point of the season?

Hensley: It's not as bad as you would think for a team that just cut the second-leading rusher in franchise history. The combination of Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett is more than serviceable.

These running backs also complement each other. Pierce's strength is power running and getting yards between the tackles. Forsett is more explosive and is at his best when he reaches the edge. They have combined for 239 yards against the Bengals and Steelers. No one is suggesting the Ravens have a top-10 rushing attack. It was only a season ago that Pierce averaged 2.9 yards per carry and Forsett ran the ball six times. But the Ravens are going to rely on them against the Browns because they have historically grinded out yards in Cleveland. In six games there, the Ravens have averaged 160 yards rushing.

Pat, the Browns' track record with handling success is not very strong. Is this team more equipped -- from the head coach to the locker room -- to deal with a big win against the Saints and put together another strong performance against the Ravens?

McManamon: On paper, the Browns should have the elements to prove they are more equipped to handle a big win, but it remains an unknown until they actually do it. The message Monday morning during the team meeting from coach Mike Pettine was blunt: Don't screw this up. Pettine said a mature team does not get caught up in one win; it turns quickly to the next game. Pettine reminded the team that though they could be 2-0, they also could easily be 0-2. Players seem to like Pettine's straightforward approach. He doesn't dance around topics, merely says it like it is. That should help.

What also should help is the Browns have leadership from guys such as Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner. Joe Thomas can help, as can Brian Hoyer, but both are a little softer spoken. The Browns have had leaders before, but never people like Whitner -- a guy who will challenge teammates and get in their face a la Ray Lewis if need be.

The bottom line is the Browns almost beat Pittsburgh on the road and did beat New Orleans at home. They are good enough to win right now because they are getting good quarterback play the last six quarters. But they have to play. The last thing they need to do is get caught up in the success of one win -- not when wins have been so few and far between.

Do the Ravens expect any kind of hostile reaction this weekend? Not only is it Cleveland -- and we both learned this offseason that the anger remains from the Art Modell era -- but it's the first road game since the team (mis)handled the Ray Rice situation.

Hensley: Like you said, Pat, it wouldn't be a trip to Cleveland without some hostility. To a large portion of the Browns fan base, the Ravens still represent the team that was stolen away. The Rice saga provides the Dawg Pound with another reason to vent anger at the Ravens. But if last week's game against the Steelers is any indication, this will be a nonfactor. The Ravens had every excuse to lose to Pittsburgh, from the players' emotional fatigue in losing Rice to the distraction from the national media onslaught. This situation has forced the Ravens to take a bunker mentality.

Playing on the road will be a different test, but it was going to be a difficult challenge anyway. The Ravens lost six of eight games on the road in 2013, including their first loss in Cleveland since 2007.

Many in Baltimore know about running back Terrance West. He played high school football in the city and went to college at nearby Towson. What has stood out the most about West in the season's first two weeks?

McManamon: His lack of fear. The Browns threw him in the fray as a rookie behind Ben Tate, and when Tate hurt his knee, they made West the starter with no hesitation. West responded with 168 yards in two games, a 4.8-yard average, one touchdown and a nifty end zone shimmy shake on top of it. West is finding that the opposition is not like he saw at Towson, but he has played well. Most important, he has done a more than adequate job in blitz protection, an area of the offense many rookies find tough to learn. West and Isaiah Crowell are two rookie backs who are not playing like rookies.

Baltimore stuffed Pittsburgh pretty well last Thursday and always seems to be stronger and more physical than the Browns. Is this Ravens defense as physical and effective as they all have been?

Hensley: The talk throughout training camp was about how this Ravens defense was going to be the fastest in memory. Instead, the Ravens have pounded offenses in the first two games with physical play. Defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams have stuffed the run inside. Elvis Dumervil has bulled his way past blockers. Cornerback Jimmy Smith has turned into a shutdown corner with his ability to jam receivers. And safety Matt Elam has made an impact by hitting running backs and receivers alike.

These are the reasons why the Ravens have allowed one touchdown in the first two games. And that one touchdown was the result of backup cornerback Chykie Brown getting beat on a 77-yard pass to A.J. Green. The Ravens' defense will get better if cornerback Lardarius Webb can return Sunday after missing the first two games with a back injury. Everyone expected this Ravens defense to be younger and more athletic than recent ones. What has really stood out has been the defense's intensity, especially when backed inside its own red zone.

The Browns have certainly invested in their defense in recent years, and it's showing early this season. What changed from the dismal first half in Pittsburgh to the strong past six quarters?

McManamon: The easy answer is attitude. At halftime in Pittsburgh, the Browns got sick and tired of being sick and tired. They have given up 27 points in the last six quarters after giving up 27 the first two.

A combination of factors come into play. The defense has talent. But in the first half in Pittsburgh, instead of trusting the talent, they were flying out of position and trying too hard. Since then, they have followed the mantra of doing your job and trusting your teammate. It's helped.

Second, Pettine sold the players on the chance of success with this Rex Ryan system. It's worked in Baltimore, New York and Buffalo, and the players see it can work in Cleveland.

Finally, the addition of Dansby and Whitner has played out well. Dansby is active all over the field, and Whitner is a steadying but challenging force. The combination of factors has combined for positive results through two games.

When breaking down how the Baltimore Ravens crushed the Pittsburgh Steelers by 20 points, it starts with how their offensive line bullied their division rivals up front.

The weakest position on the Ravens' last season, the offensive line paved the way for quarterback Joe Flacco and the running backs.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyThe offensive line allowed Joe Flacco and the Ravens to push ahead against the Steelers.
The improvement is based on upgrading the makeup of the line. The Ravens traded for center Jeremy Zuttah, promoted right tackle Rick Wagner to the starting lineup and welcomed back a healthy Kelechi Osemele at left guard.

The progress is also the result of hard work. When players are coming off the field at the end of practice, it's common to see the offensive linemen going through drills with assistant Juan Castillo.

The offensive line made Flacco's night easier against the Steelers. He didn't get hit or sacked in any of his 29 dropbacks.

How significant is that? It's the first time Flacco has played the Steelers and not been sacked. In his previous 13 meetings with Pittsburgh, Flacco was sacked 33 times.

"Anytime you go against the Pittsburgh Steelers and I can stand back there and be pretty much untouched, it’s a nice feeling," Flacco said.

Flacco wasn't the only beneficiary of the offensive line's strong performance. The Ravens' running backs averaged 2.6 yards before contact, according to Pro Football Focus. That shows how much push the Ravens had on the line.

"The offensive line did a great job making holes," said running back Bernard Pierce, who ran for 96 yards, "and we just wore them down in the second half."

Ravens report card vs. the Steelers

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
10:20
AM ET
Grading the Baltimore Ravens in their 26-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night:

Flacco
Quarterback: This was one of the most efficient games of Joe Flacco's career. He completed 72.4 percent of his throws (21 of 29). Not forcing the deep pass, Flacco showed patience and accuracy in hitting his targets on the short to intermediate passes. His improved play-action fakes led to both touchdown throws near the goal line. Flacco also extended two drives by converting on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 with sneaks. Grade: B-plus.

Running backs: It was slow going early on, but the Ravens' running game was the reason why the team finished off the Steelers so decisively. Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett combined for 95 yards in the fourth quarter. Pierce, who started after being benched Sunday, ran with determination. Forsett is dangerous when he gets to the edges. Has anyone seen Kyle Juszczyk this season? Grade: B.

Wide receivers/tight ends: It was a big night for the tight ends. Owen Daniels caught two touchdown passes on goal-line plays. Dennis Pitta kept both of those touchdown drives alive by converting a third down on each one. Even though Flacco talked about Torrey Smith being a 100-catch receiver, he was more focused on wide receiver Steve Smith for a second consecutive week. Steve Smith was targeted on over one-third of Flacco's passes, catching six of them for 71 yards. Grade: B-plus.

Offensive line: The reason why the Ravens beat the Steelers by 20 points starts with the domination up front. Flacco was barely touched. The Ravens didn't allow a sack or hit, and they pushed the Steelers back on run plays. Left tackle Eugene Monroe had one of his best games as a Raven. Center Jeremy Zuttah knocked the Steelers' interior back, which allowed Flacco to easily convert both of his quarterback sneaks. Grade: A.

Ngata
Defensive line: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata showed his athleticism in the fourth quarter when he batted a pass and intercepted it. Nose tackle Brandon Williams recorded two tackles and got some pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Backup DeAngelo Tyson recovered a fumble deep in Ravens territory. Grade: B-minus.

Linebackers: Inside linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley again struggled against a speedy back and had trouble chasing down Le'Veon Bell. Mosley had two missed tackles. But Smith and Mosley came up with big stops with each forcing a fumble. Terrell Suggs got caught crashing inside and the Steelers made him pay on reverses. Elvis Dumervil had two sacks. On one of them, he ran through tackle Marcus Gilbert before taking down Roethlisberger. Grade: C-plus.

Secondary: Jimmy Smith did a good job keeping wide receiver Antonio Brown in check. Safety Matt Elam was around the ball for a second straight week, leading the team with 10 tackles. Pass coverage, though, still isn't one of his strengths (he gave up five receptions). Chykie Brown was removed from the starting lineup but was forced back in after Asa Jackson suffered a concussion. But Brown only allowed one catch. Grade: B.

Special teams: Justin Tucker converted four field goals: 30, 23, 22 and 20 yards. He also had six touchbacks on kickoffs. Sam Koch netted an impressive 48.5 yards on two punts. Jacoby Jones was a nonfactor until he returned a punt 33 yards in the fourth quarter. Grade: B-plus.

CB Webb out again for Ravens

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
7:35
PM ET
BALTIMORE -- The Ravens will be without their top cornerback for the second consecutive game.

Lardarius Webb won’t play tonight against the Steelers because of a back injury. Chykie Brown will start at left cornerback in the 8:25 p.m. ET game at M&T Bank Stadium.

Webb is the only starter who won’t play in the first Steelers-Ravens game of the season.

The Steelers are without No. 3 wide receiver Lance Moore (groin) and rookie running back Dri Archer (ankle) because of injuries.

Joining them on the Steelers' inactives list are wide receiver Martavis Bryant, nose tackle Daniel McCullers, guard Chris Hubbard, offensive lineman Wesley Johnson and quarterback Landry Jones.

Joining Webb on the Ravens’ inactives list are linebacker Arthur Brown, guard Jah Reid, wide receivers Deonte Thompson and Michael Campanaro, defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi and guard John Urschel.

By the numbers: Ravens Week 2

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
11:00
AM ET
Here are some numbers to remember for Thursday night's game between the Baltimore Ravens (0-1) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0):

3: Teams that failed to record a sack in Week 1, which includes the Ravens, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons. The Ravens pressured the quarterback at the second-lowest rate in Week 1 (12.8 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

4: Wins by Joe Flacco in his past six games against the Steelers. He has completed 61 percent of his throws over that span, throwing seven touchdowns and one interception.

8: Number of seasons since the Ravens have started 0-2. That's the fourth-longest streak in the NFL. Only the Denver Broncos (14 seasons), New England Patriots (12) and Chicago Bears (10) have longer streaks.

Forsett
11: Rushes by running back Justin Forsett in the season opener. That's five more attempts than he had all of last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Forsett received 54 snaps at running back while Bernard Pierce (eight snaps) and Lorenzo Taliaferro (three) combined for 11.

16.5: Number of times Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (in 23 meetings). It's the most sacks of Roethlisberger by any NFL defender. But Suggs has just one sack in his past four games against Pittsburgh.

18.1: Points per game allowed by the Ravens since the start of the 2008 season, which was John Harbaugh's first in Baltimore. Only the Steelers (17.7 points) have allowed fewer points than the Ravens.

23: Joe Flacco's interceptions since winning the Super Bowl. That's the second-most by an NFL quarterback since the start of the 2013 season. Only Eli Manning (29 interceptions) has thrown more.

30: Receptions by Dennis Pitta in his past five games. It's the second-most by a tight end in that span. Carolina's Greg Olsen has the most with 31 receptions.

44: Career 100-yard receiving games for wide receiver Steve Smith. That is 11th in NFL history. He needs one more 100-yard game to tie Isaac Bruce.

129: Consecutive games played by punter Sam Koch, tying him with linebacker Jarret Johnson for the longest streak in Ravens history. Koch will set a team record Thursday night.

Steelers vs. Ravens preview

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
8:00
AM ET

The AFC North's most heated rivalry will come down to focus as much as ferocious hits this time. The Baltimore Ravens host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday (8:25 p.m. ET), just three days after the Ravens released three-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice.

The Ravens have to contend with the emotions of the week, a strong-armed Ben Roethlisberger and a high-kicking Antonio Brown to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2005. Losing two home games against division opponents would be a devastating start for the Ravens. The Steelers are looking for their first 2-0 start since 2010, which is the latest time they won the AFC North.

This rivalry has been defined by physical play and close games. Incredibly, 10 of the past 12 games between the Ravens and Steelers have been decided by three points or fewer. Since 2008, Ravens coach John Harbaugh's first season, the teams have split the regular-season series at six wins apiece.

For this prime-time matchup, let's turn to Steelers reporter Scott Brown and Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley for a game preview.

Hensley: This is Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's first game back in Baltimore since he nearly collided with Jacoby Jones. Who do you think makes a bigger impact on the game this time: Tomlin or Jones?

Brown: I am going with Tomlin because the Steelers should be able to kick the ball out of the end zone if they want to keep it away from Jones on kickoffs. Also, I'm not sure how much of an impact he will make in the passing game. There are a few mouths to feed ahead of Jones, and that might leave only a few scraps for him after Steve Smith, Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta have gotten their fill of passes. Tomlin, on the other hand, should have a major impact on the game, and probably his biggest challenge will be making sure his assistants get calls from the sideline to the players in a timely manner. The Steelers had a major issue with this -- as well as on-field communication between the players -- the past Sunday, when the Browns went into their hurry-up offense and erased a 24-point halftime deficit. The Steelers' defense has to play better than it did in the final two quarters against the Browns, and that all starts with communication flowing on all levels, something for which Tomlin is ultimately responsible.

I'm usually not big on distractions affecting a game's outcome, particularly when the Steelers and Ravens are involved. But will the fallout from Rice's release carry over to the field for the Ravens?

Hensley: When these teams kick off, the Ravens will be focused on the game. There's too much riding on this one for Baltimore. The players understand how much a loss would derail their season. The Ravens can't lose their first two home games, especially against two division opponents. That being said, the players were clearly affected by the news Monday. It's difficult to think the Ravens had a normal practice only four hours after the team cut the second-leading rusher in team history. Torrey Smith was noticeably stunned that day because Rice is a close friend. Defensive end Chris Canty was teary-eyed in the locker room because domestic violence is a personal issue for him. No one is going to say the Rice saga is a non-factor in this game. But the Ravens have more pressing priorities when they step on the field Thursday.

Running the ball is going to be one of the big keys, given that the Steelers struggled to stop the Browns' ground attack in the season opener. There are three new starters -- rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, defensive end Cam Thomas and safety Mike Mitchell -- on the Steelers' defense. How different does the defense look since the latest time the Ravens played Pittsburgh?

Brown: The Steelers should be faster than what the Ravens saw the latest time the two AFC North rivals met. Shazier runs like a safety, if not a cornerback, and Mitchell adds some much-needed speed on the back end of the defense. The two, however, are still getting used to playing in a new defense -- as is Thomas -- and the Steelers are asking a lot from Shazier. This past Sunday, he became the first defensive rookie since Kendrell Bell to start a Steelers' season opener, and one of the biggest adjustments Shazier has to make is taking on bigger offensive lineman at this level and consistently shedding blocks. The first-round pick flashed a couple times in the opener, but he also got out of position a handful of times in the second half, when the Steelers couldn't stop the Browns. The Steelers need Shazier to grow up in a hurry and Mitchell to provide the big plays that were his signature the past season in Carolina.

The Steelers have struggled to defend the no-huddle attack, and it almost cost them dearly against the Browns. How much do you think the Ravens will try to use the no-huddle offense, especially given they will be at home, where crowd noise shouldn't be an issue?

Hensley: Based on the opener, the no-huddle doesn't look like it's going to be a big part of Gary Kubiak's offense in Baltimore. The Ravens ran the no-huddle on just 16 of 85 plays (19 percent), and 12 of them occurred after the Ravens fell behind 15-0. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was only moderately effective in going without a huddle. He was 8-of-13 for 79 yards passing. Maybe the Ravens should turn to the no-huddle to get some kind of rhythm early in games. Flacco and the Ravens are slow starters. The Ravens haven't scored in the first quarter of seven of their past 16 games, which dates back to the past season.

The Steelers handed the ball off 26 times and threw it 34 times. Is this the type of balance you'd expect from the Steelers' offense this season? Or will they have a different identity?

Brown: The Steelers would love nothing more than to have that type of balance, and they think they can do it with the talent they have at running back. Le'Veon Bell is poised for a breakout season after piling up 197 rushing and receiving yards in the season opener. What the Steelers really like about Bell is they can get him the ball in a lot of different ways, which makes 25 to 30 touches a game realistic without leaning too heavily on him at the expense of others. LeGarrette Blount gives the Steelers a starting-caliber back behind Bell, and the 6-foot, 250-pound bruiser can wear down opposing defenses. Rookie Dri Archer, who is unlikely to play because of a sprained ankle, is the fastest player on the team, and teams have to account for his world-class speed. Roethlisberger has long said the Steelers have to establish the run consistently to be successful, so he should be fine if the offense runs through Bell. If that is the case, it will only open things up more for Roethlisberger and Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown when the Steelers throw the ball and make the offense much more symbiotic than it has been in recent seasons.

This doesn't have the feel of a typical Steelers-Ravens game, which is about defense, defense and more defense. Where are the Ravens vulnerable on defense, and how do you see the Steelers trying to attack them?

Hensley: The Ravens are most vulnerable in the secondary. Case in point: the game-winning 77-yard touchdown they allowed to A.J. Green in the opener. The Ravens are hoping Lardarius Webb is healthy enough to replace Chykie Brown, who was beaten by Green for the big-play score. Webb missed the opener as well as the entire preseason because of a back injury. If Webb is back, the Ravens have one of the best young cornerback tandems -- that is, if Webb doesn't have too much rust. What hurts the Ravens on deep throws is their safeties. Matt Elam and Darian Stewart are both at their best when they play close to the line. Their strength is not in coverage. In his past five games in Baltimore, Roethlisberger has thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions for a 70.6 passer rating.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh declined to name a starting running back after the team released Ray Rice on Monday.

Forsett
 Asked who would start Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Harbaugh said, "Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett -- they’ll both play a lot. Lorenzo Taliaferro will be a big part of it, too."

If you didn't pick up on it, Harbaugh named every tailback on the roster. As I wrote earlier, Forsett earned the right to start against the Steelers after gaining 70 yards on 11 carries in the season opener.

But, since no one in the backfield is an established starter, Harbaugh will likely go with the hot hand each game. The approach is probably a running-back-by-committee, so Harbaugh would be right in naming everyone a starter.

Forsett, though, deserves the first shot after showing more burst and elusiveness than the Ravens' other backs. The question mark with Forsett is how long he can hold up considering he's a small back at 5-foot-8 and 197 pounds.

He's only made seven starts in his seven-year career. The last came four years ago.

"I’m ready to seize the moment," said Forsett, who is comfortable with Gary Kubiak's offense after playing in Houston in 2012. "My job is to go out and perform when my number is called. I’m excited about [the] opportunity. Hopefully [there will] be some great things to come on Thursday night.”

Pierce
 Pierce deserves another chance as well. He was benched in the second quarter Sunday after fumbling, but it was his first career fumble.

The Ravens don't have enough depth at running back to keep Pierce standing on the sideline. A third-round pick in 2012, Pierce showed flashes in his rookie season (averaged 4.9 yards per carry) before struggling last season (2.9-yard average).

On the depth chart in the team's weekly press release (which is unofficial), Pierce is listed as the starting running back.

Pierce said he doesn't know whether he'll play against the Steelers because he doesn't control that. But he does think he can turn his season around if he gets on the field.

"I’ve just got to make sure first things first, protect the ball," he said.

The Ravens' ground game is among the biggest keys of the game after the Steelers couldn't slow down the Cleveland Browns' running backs. The Steelers allowed 183 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 30 attempts (a 6.1-yard average).
BALTIMORE -- It's easy to say cornerback Chykie Brown was the reason the Baltimore Ravens fell to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Brown did get burned by Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green for a 77-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter for what became the deciding score. That's just not looking at the big picture.

Brown actually held up well in his second career start, and the Ravens would've been able to withstand one deep touchdown pass to Green if the offense had shown up before halftime. By my count, Brown gave up a handful of catches, which is a decent number considering the Ravens rarely got pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton and finished with no sacks.

You can only fault Brown for making his biggest mistake at the biggest point of the game. Two plays after the Ravens took the lead on an 80-yard touchdown to Steve Smith, Brown allowed the momentum-killing completion to Green.

“I blame it on me. I put that one me,” Brown said. “I was looking for the deep ball, but I have to play better technique. I have to stay on top of the man and that didn’t happen.”

Honestly, was anyone really surprised with the result? Brown, who struggled most of the offseason, was trying to cover one of the best wide receivers in the game.

Based on the Ravens' history with Green, it was only a matter of time before it happened. Green caught three passes that traveled at least 40 yards in the air last season against the Ravens.

Brown is just the latest Ravens defender to feel the sting of trying to cover Green.

“The coverage was there,” coach John Harbaugh added. “It’s a matter of a great player that got a step behind us and made a great play. Chykie got a hand in the air; he was beat by a step, though. He should stay on top there and he knows that.”

Before the game, many Ravens fans grimaced when it was announced that Lardarius Webb was inactive with a back injury and Brown would replace the three-year starter. It was assumed that the Bengals would throw in Brown's direction every time Green lined up on right right side.

For the most part, Brown went unnoticed on the field, which is a compliment for cornerbacks. His solid play helped the Ravens stop the Bengals on 10 of 14 third downs and kept them out of the end zone until 4:58 left in the game.

"We picked a hell of a time to let them in the end zone, if you ask me," linebacker Terrell Suggs.

That's all you can blame Brown for -- bad timing.
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BALTIMORE -- Watching the Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco should come with an advisory: Prepare to experience the most frustrating quarterback in the NFL.

The Ravens' season-opening 23-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was four quarters of the best and worst of Flacco. He continually found ways to torment, enthrall and bewilder the sellout crowd of 70,925 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Flacco can make throws only few can think about attempting, such as throwing across his body and hitting wide receiver Steve Smith on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass that went 58 yards in the air. He also can make bone-headed mistakes you'd expect out of rookie quarterbacks -- not a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player -- such as the time he ran out the clock at the end of the first half to squash any field-goal attempt.

His nickname should be changed from Joe Cool to Joe Cruel.

The emotional roller coaster with Flacco went until the final minute of the game. After the Bengals took back the lead on a 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green, Flacco went 8-of-10 for 65 yards to move the Ravens to within 16 yards of tying the game. But in what summed up the day for Flacco and the Ravens, he was unable to throw a pass on the team's final two offensive plays and got sacked twice.

"It was a bad day," said Flacco, who was 35-of-62 passing for 345 yards. "We got ourselves obviously in position to win the game, but we didn't necessarily play well enough to win it."

There's no question Flacco has all the physical tools you want in a quarterback. He proved that during the Ravens' Super Bowl run 19 months ago. Where he struggles at times is making the quick decisions and adjustments.

That was evident on the final play of the game, when Flacco saw the Bengals overload the right side of the line. The defense was sending three players (including blitzing safety Reggie Nelson), and the Ravens only had two blockers to pick them up.

Right tackle Rick Wagner said he should have done a better job of slowing down Nelson, but Flacco had to assume he'd have to get rid of the ball quickly. On fourth-and-9, the worst option was getting sacked and not making a desperation throw downfield. Still, that's exactly what happened.

"I knew I had Reggie coming off the right corner there, and I thought we'd hold him up a little bit," Flacco said. "I knew I had to make a play to get the first down and just couldn't do it."

All of the blame for the Ravens' first home loss to the Bengals in five years shouldn't be placed on Flacco. His receivers dropped seven passes. Running back Bernard Pierce fumbled at the Ravens' 20-yard line.

Flacco, though, remains the Ravens' barometer of success, and it's difficult for the team to overcome his repeated slow starts. He misfired 13 of his first 23 passes and threw for 78 yards in the first half.

To make matters worse, Flacco scrambled when there were only a few seconds left before halftime and ran out the clock to take away an opportunity for a 32-yard field goal.

"That was probably the stupidest play I've ever made in football," Flacco said. "I kind of just got caught up in the play and forgot about the situation. There's no excuse for it. It can't happen."

Flacco drew the ire of fans in the third quarter when he was intercepted just two plays after the Ravens blocked a field goal, then he was cheered like a hero after he converted a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter by running the ball and taking a hard hit.

It's always up and down with Flacco in the regular season. The only consistent part of Flacco's game is his inconsistency.
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals "barring a surprise," according to the NFL Network.

Webb is listed as questionable with a back injury that sidelined him for the entire preseason, but he had full participation in every practice leading up to Sunday's game. A three-year starter, Webb declined through a spokesman to talk to reporters Friday.

Webb
If Webb is inactive, the Ravens would be down to three cornerbacks: Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson. Smith (chest) and Jackson (ankle) each missed preseason games with injuries, but neither were listed on the injury report.

Losing Webb would be a major blow to the defense because either Brown or Jackson would have to start alongside Smith. In the preseason, the Ravens were more comfortable starting Brown because he has more size to match up on the outside. Jackson typically lined up against the slot receiver.

If Webb doesn't play, it would make Saturday's release of cornerback Derek Cox a peculiar move. Cox, who has 56 career starts, has more experience than Brown and Jackson, who have a combined one NFL start.

Ravens safeties Terrence Brooks and Anthony Levine can each play cornerback as well, which gives the team extra depth at that position.

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