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1st and 10: Ten predictions for Ravens-Steelers

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1st and 10: Ten predictions for Ravens-Steelers

1. Joe Flacco will throw for 200+ yards ...

On Flacco's past two regular-season visits to Pittsburgh, he threw for 300 and 256 yards, respectively, and the Ravens won both. He was held under 200 yards in his first two games there. Flacco will be staring down the No. 1 pass defense in the league, as the Steelers allow 171 passing yards a game. Flacco hasn't played well at times on the road, but Heinz Field has been a very notable exception.

2. ... But Byron Leftwich will not.

Byron Leftwich will be making his first start since 2009 in place of Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, ribs), and the Steelers' passing strategy tends to emphasize short 'dink and dunk' throws. The Ravens need to make sure they wrap up and tackle, so short passes don't turn into long gains. Leftwich has the arm to make big throws, but one of his big-play threats, wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) is also out.

3. Torrey Smith will have a catch of 25+ yards.

If Smith proved anything last year at Heinz Field, it's that he can get behind the Steelers secondary. He dropped what would have been a 37-yard touchdown pass in the final minute when he was open by two steps, and then a few plays later, he hauled in a 26-yard touchdown after he got behind cornerback William Gay. Flacco will look deep to Smith again.

4. The Steelers will run more than they pass.

With Roethlisberger out, and running back Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) likely back, the Steelers game plan likely will be to be run, run and run some more with a three-headed monster of Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. They will likely keep doing it until the Ravens, ranked 26th against the run, shows they can stop it.

5. The Steelers will have at least 140 yards rushing.

See above. The Steelers average about 103 yards a game rushing, which ranks 21st in the league, right behind the Ravens. But with Roethlisberger out, the running game takes on much greater importance. They will pound the ball on the ground, and even if the Ravens make them earn it, the yardage will ultimately pile up.

6. There will be a missed field goal.

Heinz Field, with its swirling winds along the Allegheny River, has not been kind to kickers over the years. This season, the Steelers' Shaun Suisham has defied the odds, going 10-for-10 at home thus far. There has been at least one missed field goal in the past three Ravens-Steelers games at Heinz Field.

7. Steelers tight end Heath Miller will have at least five catches.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) is out. The Steelers offense insists it will keep its same short-passing scheme with Byron Leftwich in there in place of Ben Roethlisberger. All signs point to Miller being a big part of the Steelers passing attack. He has a team-high 43 receptions, which works out to about five a game.

8. Byron Leftwich will be sacked at least twice.

Leftwich is known to have a slow delivery, and the Ravens need to expose that with pressure. The Steelers have allowed 19 sacks, same as the Ravens. Two keys will be Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. Can Ngata, who sat out last week (shoulder, knee), destroy the pocket up the middle? Can Suggs regain his explosiveness on the edge?

9. There will be at least one personal foul penalty.

This is Ravens-Steelers. Some of the game's classic archvillains -- Hines Ward, Ray Lewis -- are out of action, but this game figures to be physical, intense and chippy from the start. Thank goodness the replacement refs are gone or this could get out of hand. The regular officials will have their hands full, though.

10. Steelers 17, Ravens 16

A lot of signs point to a Ravens win, the biggest ones being on the Steelers sideline -- Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown all in street clothes. Plus, Joe Flacco has played well at Heinz Field. But the Ravens aren't at 100 percent either, especially on defense, and they have to find a way to stop the Steelers' running game. It's the league's No. 27 defense (Ravens) against the league's No. 1 defense (Steelers), and in a game like this, I'll take the better defense at home.

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Baltimore Ravens 2018 Training Camp preview

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Baltimore Ravens 2018 Training Camp preview

The Ravens’ 2018 season is one of the most anticipated seasons in the last decade. 

From the coaching staff to the quarterback, the future of the franchise will be determined over 16 weeks. The work, however, beings now. 

The Ravens’ first training camp practice kicks off Thursday and there is a lot to keep a close eye on. Let's take a look at the many talking points of the 2018 preseason.

The Great Quarterback Debate:

Unless you’ve been in hiding since the NFL Draft, you know what all the hoopla is about. Joe Flacco remains the Ravens’ starter, but the competition at QB1 just got a little more interesting. The addition of Lamar Jackson has hopefully ignited a fire under Flacco and Jackson will get a year to learn under the 11-year veteran. If the season starts to go south early on, Jackson could come in as their starter and begin his role as the team’s next franchise quarterback. 

A lot could happen at the quarterback position over the next year, but one thing that is certain is all eyes will be on Lamar Jackson when he hits the field at training camp. You can't deny your intrigue. The Heisman winner had success both in the air and on the ground over his three years at Louisville, racking up record-breaking numbers. How the Ravens utilize Jackson will be interesting. Coach Harbaugh has already stated he will be active on game days and that they're experimenting with having Jackson and Flacco on the field at the same time. 

Oh, and then there's Robert Griffin III. We think you might know who he is.

The Ravens signed him to a one-year deal back at the beginning of April, but now with the addition of Lamar Jackson, another big training camp question arises. Do the Ravens keep a third QB on their active roster or do they send him on his way? RGIII has mentioned he's looking forward to mentoring the fellow Heisman Trophy winner in his first year in the league, but how much of that he'll get to do remains unseen.

A New Core Of Offensive Weapons: 

Flacco's declining numbers cannot be placed entirely on his shoulders. His options at wide receiver and tight end have been limited, but Ozzie Newsome – in his last year as general manager – made sure that would no longer be an issue.

Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John 'Smokey' Brown became Ravens in free agency and Breshad Perriman will fight for his final chance with the team after they declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. There is also 2018 draft picks Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley and undrafted free agents Jaelon Acklin and Andrew Levrone. Veteran Chris Moore and Quincy Adeboyejo will also be competing. Flacco mentioned during OTAs that he would be rounding up his receivers outside of practice to build chemistry. Come Thursday, we will see if the sparks have begun to fly.

The tight end depth chart will be looking very different for the Ravens as well this season. There was, of course, the additions of Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews – a pair of Top 100 picks – in the draft and undrafted free agent Nick Keizer. Veterans Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are returning, but who will be their starter Week 1 will be interesting to watch. Boyle was on the field for 66 percent of the Ravens' offensive snaps in 2017, but injuries have hindered both Boyle and Williams. Williams missed 12 games in 2016 with a knee tear and five games in 2017 with an ankle sprain. Where he sits on the depth chart will rely heavily on how healthy he remains during an extended training camp. 

Critical Year for the Coaching Staff:

The 2018 season is the most critical one of John Harbaugh's 10-year tenure. As you've read many times this offseason, the Ravens haven't seen the postseason since 2015. And if that trend continues into the 2018 season, big changes to the offensive playcallers should be imminent. 

At his annual State of the Ravens press conference in February, owner Steve Bisciotti was questioned as to why no coaching changes – from head coach to offensive coordinator – were made after the Ravens' offense clearly had trouble getting things going all season long.

"I’m not going to give a ‘playoff or bust’ edict to you all, or to my coach," Bisciotti said.

"He’s under as much pressure, probably, than he’s ever been in his life, and I expect him to keep his chin up and take his positivity and his talents and make the most of this season. I may as well replace him now if I’m going to tell him, ‘Make the playoffs or you’re out of town next year.’ That’s just not the way to run a business.”

That mindset is understandable. Bisciotti noted Flacco has been through four offensive coordinators in five years and was comfortable with OC Marty Mornhinweg. Harbaugh's contract was extended through 2019, but if the season doesn't pan out as expected, the offensive could have a very different look in 2019. 

A Fast and Furious Defense:

Linebackers coach, Don 'Wink' Martindale was promoted to defensive coordinator after Dean Pees' departure. Harbaugh hired within the organization to keep the defensive vision cohesive, but Martindale is bringing something different to the table. 

"He's just putting his personal fix on our defense and expanding it, giving the guys confidence to play fast," safety Eric Weddle said in a recent interview. "The idea is to do what's best for the defense, not what's best the individual."

It appears this year's defense will rely heavily on the instincts of its star players like Pro Bowlers Weddle, Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley. The defense has never had an issue being dominate, but you may be seeing a more creative defense come game days with players given the freedom to make decisions in real time. How well it works will be exciting to see. 

Other Notes: 

The Ravens placed six players, G Marshal Yanda, TE Vince Mayle, DE Brent Urban, CB Jaylen Hill, LB Bam Bradley and WR Quincy Adeboyejo on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to begin training camp. Yanda missed 14 games last season after suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Placing him on the PUP list to begin training camp is most likely out of precaution. He did not participate in any offseason workouts. 

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Lamar Jackson, Ravens rookies report to training camp

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USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Jackson, Ravens rookies report to training camp

Football is back in session for the Ravens.

Their rookies are set to report to the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills, Md Wednesday. Veterans report next Wednesday, the 18th.

The team is reporting to training camp a bit earlier than most NFL teams. Due to Ray Lewis being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Aug. 4 in Canton, Oh, the Ravens will face the Chicago Bears in the annual Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 2. Teams participating are eligible to begin training camp earlier.

This rookie class is already generating national attention. While the Ravens stand by Joe Flacco as their QB1, first-round pick Lamar Jackson could cause a shakeup at some point during the season. And when it comes to much-needed offensive help, tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews could begin to provide relief. 

Third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. begins his journey with the Ravens in a more sentimental fashion. His father, Orlando "Zeus" Brown, also played tackle for the Ravens from 1996-98 and then again from 2003-05. Brown passed away in 2011. 

Stay with NBC Sports Washington throughout the next several weeks as we keep a close eye on the Ravens' preseason. 

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