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Harbaugh on Ravens: 'We need to get better'

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Harbaugh on Ravens: 'We need to get better'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) There's really nothing eye-catching about the Baltimore Ravens this season - except their record.

Baltimore's inconsistent offense and defensive deficiencies were on full display Sunday in Cleveland, yet the Ravens emerged with another lackluster victory to improve to 6-2 and remain atop the AFC North.

At the midpoint in its season, Baltimore owns the second-best record in the conference and appears on course to reach the playoffs in a fifth straight year.

``By the same token, we're not the team that we need to be. We need to be better,'' coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Monday. ``We need be better on third down. We need to run the ball more consistently. We need to protect our quarterback more consistently. We need to throw and catch better. And that's just on the offensive side.''

Baltimore went six straight possessions without a first down in Sunday's 25-15 win. Ray Rice gained 66 yards rushing in the first half and finished with 98. Joe Flacco completed 15 of 24 passes for 153 yards.

Not exactly the production that Ravens want from an offense that has been called upon to offset a struggling defense that's without injured starters Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb.

``A lot of things have to get better or we're not going to be 6-2 in the second half,'' Harbaugh said.

The offense begins with Rice, a Pro Bowl running back who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last year. Against Cleveland, he started strong but garnered only 40 yards on the ground after the opening two series.

``We need to be able to run the ball. Absolutely. That's kind of our identity,'' Harbaugh said. ``We want to be a physical football team. ... The truth is, it's going to take different things in different games to win.''

Against the Browns (2-6), it took a fast start and a fourth-quarter rally for Baltimore to secure its 11th consecutive division win. But the Ravens gave up five scoring drives, were outgained 290-282 and allowed 105 yards rushing to rookie Trent Richardson.

Following a season-opening 44-13 win over Cincinnati, Baltimore has won by 1, 7, 3, 2 and 10 points.

``I'm all for blowouts - as long as we're the ones doing the blowing out,'' Harbaugh said. ``We were on the short end of one two weeks ago (43-13 at Houston) and that wasn't too much fun. But blowouts are tough to come by.''

That's why the Ravens aren't about to complain about winning ugly. Especially on the road, where they evened their record at 2-2 after squeezing past the lowly Browns.

``To win a division game on the road is huge,'' Rice said. ``We've never been fancy and pretty, but we find ourselves on top most of the time. That's Ravens football. Our wins are not pretty, but when you are 6-2, there's no complaining about it.''

The second half of the season offers a challenging schedule that begins Sunday at home against Oakland, includes two games with Pittsburgh and features home matchups with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos.

``We've got the men for the job,'' Harbaugh said. ``We're going to work hard and we're going to improve.''

If the Ravens can perform as they did during the first two series against the Browns - both of which ended in touchdowns - they will flourish. But that kind of consistency has eluded them since the season opener.

``I wish we would go out there and continue to play like we were in the first quarter, and go up and down the field the whole game,'' Flacco said. ``But sometimes it doesn't work out that way, and you have to be ready to continue to play the whole game and play the full 60 minutes, take whatever is thrown your way and go make the best of it.

``Hey, we're a good team. We've been in a lot of situations like this before. So when it does happen, we know how to react, we know how to go out there and keep our heads down and play until it's all over.''

Watching tape of Sunday's game probably caused Harbaugh and more than a few players to wince. But it wasn't all bad.

``Lost in all the talk about things we have to get better at was the fact that we had to win that game,'' Harbaugh said. ``We did not turn the ball over, we had no major negative play in our own end that cost us the game. ... It took some patience, but I was proud of the fact we were able to pull it off.''

Notes: Harbaugh said G Marshal Yanda, who missed several series Sunday, ``tweaked a knee a little bit and tweaked his ankle a little bit.'' Yanda received an MRI and the results showed nothing significant, Harbaugh said. ... G Bobbie Williams sprained an ankle and will likely be rested during the week but is expected to play Sunday.

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Running back by committee system could be Ravens' best option

Running back by committee system could be Ravens' best option

A running-back-by-committee system could be the Ravens’ best option in 2016. Not only do the Ravens have ample depth at the position, but the incumbent starter, Justin Forsett, will turn 31 years old in October.

Rather than give 200-plus carries to Forsett if he wins the starting job, it might behoove the Ravens to spread the workload among Forsett, Buck Allen, rookie Kenneth Dixon and any remaining backs, whether it be Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro, or Trent Richardson.

Running back roles will begin to sort themselves out during training camp, with the first full-squad practice scheduled for Thursday. However, more NFL teams are relying on more than just one back.

During the 2012 season, 23 running backs had at least 200 carries. That number has steadily declined, from 22 backs with 200+ carries in 2013, to 17 backs in 2014, to just 15 backs last season with 200+ carries.

Forsett is just two years removed from his best NFL campaign, when he rushed for 1,266 yards on 235 carries. However, there’s no way Forsett figures to get 235 carries in 2016, and that’s a good thing for the Ravens. For Forsett to be fresh and healthy in November and December, the Ravens will have to be careful not to overwork him.

Allen had a solid rookie season and should push Forsett for the starting job. Dixon is a highly-touted rookie. West is in the best shape of his young career, while Taliaferro wants to prove he can stay healthy after an injury-plagued first two seasons.

Richardson is starting camp on the PUP list with a knee injury, so he needs to return quickly to capitalize on his long-shot opportunity. But even if the Ravens don’t have a 1,000-yard rusher, they could still run the ball effectively by making the most of their depth.

RELATED: ​Can Flacco return to 'elite' status?

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NFL reinstates Browns receiver Josh Gordon

NFL reinstates Browns receiver Josh Gordon

Browns receiver Josh Gordon will play in 2016. If he can keep his act together, that is. 

The NFL has conditionally reinstated Gordon and handed him a four-game ban to start the season, according to a Monday announcement. The 25-year-old had been suspended indefinitely for repeated violations of the league's substance abuse policy, distinct from its performance enhancing drug policy. 

He will be eligible to return on October 3, the day after the Browns play the Redskins at FedEx Field. He will not appear in the Week 2 matchup hosting the Ravens, but will eligible for the Week 10 game in Baltimore. 

While suspended, Gordon will be allowed to attend team meetings. He will also take part in training camp and participate in preseason games. 

The NFL release also included a letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell to Gordon. 

As we discussed at our [July 19] meeting, as Commissioner, I want nothing more than to see you turn your circumstances around and succeed. Countless others including your agent, teammates and coaches, Mr. Haslam and the leadership of the organization, the Program professionals and Jim Brown also have pledged to provide you with every resource at their disposal. But as you acknowledged, ultimately, your future is your responsibility. I have every belief that you can make the right choices, but it will be up to you to do so.

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NFL finds no credible evidence Peyton Manning used HGH

NFL finds no credible evidence Peyton Manning used HGH

The NFL released a statement on Monday in which the league cleared former Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning after a seven-month investigation to determine if the two-time Super Bowl champion was provided with or took performance-enhancing drugs.

The investigation stemmed from an Al-Jazeera America report in December that listed Manning among the professional athletes to receive shipments ofhuman growth hormones.

The five-time NFL MVP vehemently denied the claims and welcomed the league to investigate the matter.

"Following a comprehensive seven-month investigation into allegations made in a documentary by Al-Jazeera America, the NFL found no credible evidence that Peyton Manning was provided with or used HGH or other substances prohibited by the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances," the league said in a statement.

"The Mannings were fully cooperative with the investigation and provided both interviews and access to all records sought by the investigators."

The Al-Jazeera America report alleged that Manning was sent shipments of HGH to his house under his wife's name from Charlie Sly, a pharmacist who worked at an anti-aging clinic in Indianapolis in 2011. Sly was Al Jazeera's key source, but then recanted his statements making the report all the more questionable.

Manning retired from the NFL in February following the Broncos' victory in Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers.

Initiated in January, the investigation was led by the NFL’s security and legal teams with support from expert consultants and other professionals. The investigation involved witness interviews, a review of relevant records and other materials, online research, and laboratory analysis and review.

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