Durable Flacco gives Ravens edge against Steelers

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Durable Flacco gives Ravens edge against Steelers

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) If a Super Bowl ring is necessary for an NFL quarterback to earn elite status, then Joe Flacco has some work to do before joining the ranks.

If durability, victories and playoff appearances are the necessary attributes, then Flacco - the leading passer in Baltimore Ravens history - has few peers.

During a week in which the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) face the Ravens (7-2) without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Flacco is preparing to make his 74th consecutive start for Baltimore. He has never missed a game since being drafted in 2008, and under his direction, the Ravens are the only team to reach the postseason in each of the last four years.

No other quarterback in NFL history has ever led his team to the playoffs in his first four seasons.

``We've always said we think the world of Joe,'' Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. ``I personally hold him in the highest regard. We all believe in him, and we're excited to go into this game with him as our guy.''

And why not? Including the playoffs, Flacco has more wins over the past 4 1/2 years (63) than any other quarterback. Included in that total are two comeback victories in Pittsburgh, most notably last year's classic when Flacco connected with Torrey Smith for a 26-yard touchdown in the final minute of a 23-20 triumph.

Just as impressive is Flacco's ability to line up under center every week. Since the start of the 2008 season, only Eli Manning (129) and Phillip Rivers (105) have more consecutive starts among NFL quarterbacks. Tom Brady is a distant fourth with 57.

``I haven't played too long yet, but you want to show up for your teammates every Sunday,'' Flacco said. ``You do everything to make sure that happens.''

The Ravens have confidence in backup Tyrod Taylor, but Harbaugh will do whatever it takes to keep Flacco healthy.

Well, almost.

``My wife rides horses and she says when a horse throws you, you're supposed to kind of lean forward, grab the neck and then when you jump off, you're supposed to roll to take away the momentum out of it. We have not worked on that drill with Joe,'' Harbaugh said with a grin. ``But he is durable. I think he's just a tough guy and we've protected him over the years.''

No one is prepared to compare Flacco to Cal Ripken, who put together a major league record run of 2,632 consecutive games with the hometown Baltimore Orioles. But Flacco's streak is impressive enough to bring up the question as to whether there have ever been any close calls.

``The toughest was back whenever we beat New England in that (January 2010) playoff game,'' Flacco said, recalling a deep hip and thigh bruise. ``I never thought I wasn't going to go, but I definitely had a tough time moving around that week. At times at practice it was tough to keep my legs underneath me. I could drop back and throw pretty comfortable, but moving around was tough.''

Flacco didn't have to do much that game except hand the ball to Ray Rice, who ran for 159 yards in a 33-14 victory. But there have been other games when Flacco had to carry load, such as last week against Oakland when he passed for 341 yards and three touchdowns. The quarterback took a seat during the fourth quarter of the 55-20 rout, but there have been plenty of Sundays when he was knocked on the rear of his pants after taking a tough hit in the pocket.

Every time, though, Flacco bounced back.

``Joe's tough. I don't want to go into weight room numbers, but the quarterback is actually pretty strong,'' Rice said. ``Our goal as an offensive group is to not let Joe get hit. We take pride in that. But even when he does get hit, I always look back and check on him and he's getting up and ready to roll.

``It says something about our quarterback. He's really unprotected. They say the running back position is tough, but I get to brace for some of those hits. I can protect my body. Usually when you get a hit on the quarterback, it's a free shot. He's taken a few of them but has been able to bounce back.''

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Michigan defensive tackle goes from playing for one Harbaugh to another

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Michigan defensive tackle goes from playing for one Harbaugh to another

Ravens fourth-round pick Willie Henry is going from one coach Harbaugh to another. After playing defensive tackle for Michigan’s Jim Harbuagh, Henry will play for John Harbaugh, after the Ravens selected him with the 132nd overall selection.

Clearly, the Ravens received inside information on Henry, and were impressed enough to take him. During a conference call, Henry was asked about playing for another coach named Harbaugh.

“It’s going to be great,” Henry said. “Two great coaches who know what they’re talking about and have great schemes…I can’t wait to go play for another coach Harbaugh. Right now, I’m just ecstatic.”

The Ravens are fairly well stocked at defensive tackle, starting with Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan. However, the Ravens like rotating tackles to keep them fresh, and Henry will be given an opportunity to play his way into the rotation. Henry was particularly strong against the run at Michigan, and he also brought consistent pressure up the middle on opposing quarterbacks.

Ravens take RB with record 5th pick in fourth round of NFL Draft

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Ravens take RB with record 5th pick in fourth round of NFL Draft

The Ravens hope they got a fourth-round steal in running back Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech, who ran for a school record 4,480 yards and 72 touchdowns during his college career at Louisiana Tech. By taking Dixon, the Ravens became the first team in NFL history to make five fourth-round picks.

Not only was Dixon a prolific runner, he averaged 10.4 yards per pass reception. At 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, Dixon also showed plenty of elusiveness avoiding tackles in tight spaces, or in the open field. He will join a crowded running back group with the Ravens that includes Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West, and Trent Richardson. Clearly, carries will be hard-earned next season.

Some scouts thought Dixon would be gone by the third round, and when he was still available at pick No. 134, the Ravens thought the time was right to get him. Even if Forsett remains the Ravens’ starter, they want to make sure he remains fresh all season. Running back is one of the easier positions to make the transition from college to the NFL. Dixon will be given a chance to show that he should earn some touches.

Once facing felony charges, Nebraska OL picked by Ravens in 4th round

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Once facing felony charges, Nebraska OL picked by Ravens in 4th round

Ravens’ fourth-round pick Alex Lewis did not take the smoothest path to the NFL.

Lewis began his college career at the University of Colorado, but in 2013, he was arrested in Boulder, Colo. for an altercation with an Air Force cadet. According to the police report, the cadet was knocked unconscious after having his head repeatedly slammed into a wall by Lewis.

Lewis faced two felony charges and has his Colorado scholarship withdrawn. He eventually served 28 days in jail for a conviction of third-degree assault.

By many accounts, Lewis has been a changed man since that incident. Obviously, the Ravens have done their research on Lewis and felt comfortable enough to take him. He became a team captain at Nebraska, where he started 26 games at left tackle.

Looking for more offensive line depth, the Ravens selected tackle Lewis with the 130th pick, their third pick in the fourth round. Lewis could be more suited to play right tackle in the NFL. where Rick Wagner is currently the Ravens’ starter.