Ravens defense copes with rash of injuries

201212091522553248851-p2.jpeg

Ravens defense copes with rash of injuries

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The once-esteemed defense of the Baltimore Ravens is almost unrecognizable these days.

Many of the unit's most established players - including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb - have sustained serious injuries. Suggs missed first six games of the season on the sideline with a torn right Achillies tendon, returned for a half-dozen games and then sat out last week with a torn right biceps. Lewis has been sidelined since Oct. 14 with a torn right triceps, and Webb is out for the year with a torn ACL.

As a result, the Baltimore defense has been uncharacteristically porous this season, especially in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens are ranked 24th in total defense, which means their nine-year run of top-10 finishes is almost certainly over. Baltimore finished in the top 5 in run defense over the previous six years, but now its ranked 25th among 32 teams.

Although head coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on Monday, the Ravens' current two-game losing streak could be attributed heavily to the defense. Two weeks ago, third-string quarterback Charlie Batch moved Pittsburgh the length of the field in the waning seconds to set up a game-winning field goal. Last Sunday, the Redskins got the tying touchdown and 2-point conversion with 29 seconds left in a 31-28 win.

``We've just got to finish,'' Harbaugh said.

Injuries are mostly to blame. Washington rookie Kirk Cousins victimized reserve cornerback Chris Johnson on the last-minute touchdown pass, and third-string linebacker Josh Bynes was on the field for the conversion play because Suggs, Lewis, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe were unavailable.

Lewis and Suggs have not yet been on the field at the same time on game day, and it's quite possible the Ravens (9-4) will again be without both Pro Bowl stars when they host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (10-3) on Sunday.

``Every team deals with injuries, and just it's a next-man-up mentality,'' Manning said. ``Ray Lewis is a guy we all know is hard to replace, but Baltimore always has young talent and guys ready to step in. They're aggressive on defense no matter who's in there.''

Perhaps, but the Ravens are clearly better with Suggs and Lewis in the lineup. Both practiced Wednesday, but Harbaugh said a decision on their status for Sunday would be made later in the week.

Harbaugh ruled out McClain, who has neck and back injuries. The injuries on defense run so deep that the Ravens activated cornerback Omar Brown from the practice squad on Wednesday to place Asa Jackson, who was suspended four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.

Asked if he's ever been a part of a defense that had so many injuries, safety Ed Reed shook his head before the question was completed.

``This is by far one of those years,'' Reed said. ``I think when coach first got here, second year, we had a lot of injuries. But not like this.''

In addition to Suggs, Lewis, McClain, Ellerbe, Webb and McClain, the Ravens have also been forced to operate at times without tackle Haloti Ngata, cornerback Jimmy Smith and end Pernell McPhee.

``It's been tough,'' Harbaugh said. ``It's been probably as many injuries as we've ever had on defense here during the last five years. We've got confidence in whoever we put out there. We are starting to get a little healthier, so it will be good to get some of those guys back.''

Ellerbe, who has missed two straight games with a sprained ankle, hopes to be available Sunday. This much he does know: Watching from the sideline is no fun.

``That's a terrible feeling, to see your guys out there fighting and trying to win the game and you can't help them,'' Ellerbe said, no doubt echoing the sentiment of many of his injured teammates. ``You know you're an asset to the team but you can't go out there and help. It's just something that's hard to deal with.''

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Ravens quickly convinced Weddle will be difference maker for secondary

healthyperrimanravensrefframe_1.jpg

Ravens quickly convinced Weddle will be difference maker for secondary

Veteran safety Eric Weddle is quickly making a strong impression with the Ravens.

After the first week of OTA’s, both coach Johh Harbaugh and defensive back Lardarius Webb mentioned Weddle as being a difference maker, after being acquired in free agency from the Chargers.

Weddle’s experience as a three-time Pro Bowler should be vital for a Ravens secondary that surrendered too many big plays last season.

Webb sees Weddle seamlessly taking command of the secondary, calling out coverages and making sure teammates are lined up properly.

“If he has anything to tell me I’m always listening,” Webb said. “He’s going to be big for this defense – for this team. He speaks up. I told him, `We want Eric Weddle. Don’t hold back. Don’t be quiet. We want you. If you yelled when you were with the Chargers, I want you coming out here yelling. Just be yourself. Grow the beard back, because we want the beard. If that’s who you were, grow the beard. He’s growing it back. He’s being himself and we’re loving it. It was a great move.”

Weddle has been offering advice to Webb on making the transition from cornerback to safety. Weddle can also lead by example, helping the development of young safeties like Terrence Brooks and Matt Elam.

At age 31, Weddle wants to show he can still play at a Pro Bowl level, and he desperately wants to make the playoffs. Harbaugh seems to have no doubt Weddle will make the Ravens’ defense better.

“I just really appreciate his attitude,” Harbaugh said. “He’s got an enthusiasm for the work day. He loves football. He loves every part of the work day. He loves every part of being in here and being a football player. There’s never something that you look at him and he’s not excited to do. That is infectious. That’s something that makes us all better, and to me, that’s one of the things that a great leader does and he’s got those qualities.

“He fits in with how we do things around here perfectly. I give (general manager) Ozzie (Newsome) all the credit in the world. That was a great signing.”

RELATED: CONDITIONING REMAINS AN ISSUE FOR RB RICHARDSON

Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

healthyperrimanravensrefframe_1.jpg

Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

Will running back Trent Richardson’s lack of conditioning be his downfall with the Ravens?

Richardson missed the first week of OTA’s with a hamstring issue, which was not the kind of early impression he wanted to make. Some injuries are unavoidable. But conditioning has been an issue for Richardson throughout his brief and so far undistinguished NFL career.

Entering the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns in 2012, Richardson has disappointed in Cleveland and Indianapolis, and spent 2015 out of the league after the Raiders cut him before the season. When the Ravens signed Richardson in April, he knew it might be his last NFL chance. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to see even more commitment from Richardson when it comes to staying in shape.

RELATED: IN LATEST COMEBACK BID, RAVENS TE DENNIS PITTA'S CONFIDENCE NOT A PROBLEM

“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh said after the first week of OTA’s. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

The Ravens don’t have to wait on Richardson. Their running back competition is already intense, with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West all fighting for carries and roles.

Whether Richardson even threatens to make the team remains to be seen. His bigger priority is improving his conditioning, and getting back on the field.

MORE RAVENS: MIKE TOMLIN, ANTONIO BROWN GO TO PENGUINS PLAYOFF GAME

In latest comeback bid, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's confidence not a problem

ravensotas052716refframe_1.jpg

In latest comeback bid, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's confidence not a problem

Not everyone close to Dennis Pitta was immediately sold on his second NFL comeback attempt. Will his twice-fractured hip hold up? How much is Pitta risking his long-term health?

Pitta has pondered those questions for months. But after the first week of OTA’s, the Ravens’ 30-year-old tight end remained confident he had made the right decision.

“I had to convince a few people, and I’m thankful for those who have been in my corner all along and had my best interests in mind,” Pitta said. “Like I’ve said before, I know my situation better than anyone else, and I’m confident in the decision I made to come back, and certainly there were people who wanted to make sure that I was confident in that decision. I have a great support team behind me, and we all feel good about this move.”

Pitta first fractured his hip during training camp in 2013, then again on a non-contact play against the Browns in 2014. However, Pitta says he doesn’t think about his right hip when he’s on the field. He’s also not lowering his expectations, despite not playing at all in 2015, and not playing a full season since 2012.

Pitta was one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, catching 61 passes for 669 yards during the 2012 regular season, then adding 14 catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns during the Ravens’ playoff run to a Super Bowl title.

Asked if he could return that level of play, Pitta suggested, “Why not?”

“No, my expectations haven’t changed from four years ago, to two years ago, to now,” Pitta said. “My level of expectation is extremely high going into this year. Like I said, I feel confident in how I can run, how I can move, how I can play and it’s just a matter of getting those reps back to where I’m confident in doing all of that. So, yes, expectations personally are very high.”

Pitta obviously wasn’t ready to end his career. If he is on the 53-man roster Week 1, it will be a terrific comeback story.