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Ravens' red zone defense among best

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Ravens' red zone defense among best

The dropoff for the Ravens defense has been alarming this season, Perennially among the best defenses in the NFL, the Ravens through the first half of this season rank 26th overall,  allowing 386.3 yards a game, and 28th against the run (139.5).

But one area where the Ravens have hardly slipped at all is in red zone defense. Playing without Terrell Suggs for much of the season so far, and without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb now, this might not be the Ravens defense of yesteryear, but get inside their 20-yard line and it's still tough sledding.

The Ravens rank third in the league in red zone defense, yielding touchdowns on 39.4 percent of opposing drives inside the Ravens' 20-yard line. Last season the Ravens led the league in that department at 38.8 percent.

Last week, the Browns advanced inside the Ravens 20-yard line five times, and were stuffed five times. Once inside the 20, the Browns never recorded a first down and had to settle for five field goals.

Running back Ray Rice said that during the game, while the offense was in deep freeze -- failing to record a first down for nearly two quarters -- Suggs came to the offense and told them that, "We’ll hold them from scoring touchdowns. You guys go ahead and put a drive together and let’s win this game.”

That's what happened, as the Ravens marched 81 yards in nine plays for the eventual winning score in their 25-15 win.

“Our guys take (red zone defense) seriously," coach John Harbaugh said at his Wednesday news conference. "They  understand how important it is. We work on it all the time. We work on it every practice, from minicamp right til now.

" It’s the most important part of the field," he added. "It determines whether points are scored, so it's an important part of the game. It’s probably been one of the major keys, along with turnovers ... to our success so far."

The Ravens also held the Chiefs out of the end zone on all three of their red-zone chances in a 9-6 Ravens win.

Suggs, who has played in just two games since returning from an offseason Achilles injury, says the defense espouses a "bend but don't break" philosophy.

Plus, he says, having Ed Reed patrolling the back of a shortened field in the red zone certainly helps.

"We have probably one of the best safeties ever to play the game. and when he gets too close, when he gets constricted room back there, he don't like it," Suggs said on Wednesday, "so the fire kind of gets lit again and we're ready to go."

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Steelers players plunder Le'Veon Bell's locker a day after missed deadline

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Steelers players plunder Le'Veon Bell's locker a day after missed deadline

Le'Veon Bell decided not to return to the Steelers this season, and his former teammates have apparently decided they can have his belongings. 

The All-Pro running back didn't sign his $14.5 million franchise tag by Tuesday's deadline, and thus is ineligible to play this season.

Steelers player were seen plundering his locker Wednesday in front of reporters. Defensive end Bud Dupree went right for Bell's cleats, thanking him for the Jordan brand shoes and saying he wishes Bell success.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters he sent Bell his well-wishes, but got no response from his former backfield mate. 

It's unclear what Bell plans to do next, but it's crystal clear the Steelers have moved on, with his shoes in tow. 

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Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III prepared to start if hip injury sidelines Joe Flacco

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Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III prepared to start if hip injury sidelines Joe Flacco

Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has had his fair share of life changing moments. 

Winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016, being drafted by the Ravens in the first-round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and come Sunday, possibly his first NFL start.

With Joe Flacco nursing a hip injury suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 9, the 21-year-old could be leading the Ravens for a full 60 minutes against division rival Cincinnati Bengals in what could be a defining moment of their season.

"I'm just going into it like any other week," Jackson said Wednesday. "Just preparing for whatever."

While Jackson has appeared in all nine games going 7-for-12 for 87 passing yards and one touchdown, he is the only first-round quarterback out of the 2018 draft that has yet to start this season. 

When asked how he would feel if his name is called Sunday, Jackson said he would have butterflies at first but added once the ball is snapped, "it's on."

Through the Ravens' first half of the season, how and when Jackson is utilized at either quarterback or receiver, has lacked consistency. Add in the lack of highlight reel passes from him and many are concerned he's not ready for an NFL start. 

The fast style of NFL play compared to that of college football was something Jackson admittedly struggled with throughout the preseason. But with nine regular season games under his belt, Jackson feels that is the area where he's taken the biggest strides. 

"Calling the plays," Jackson said. "Before I'd have to ask coach a hundred times, 'say it again, say it again,' but now he says it one time to me. Don't get me wrong, sometimes if [the call] is long or whatever I have to ask [coach to] say it again, but other than that I'm getting better with that."

Head coach John Harbaugh offered no insight on who would be their starting quarterback on Sunday and it can be expected he'll keep hush up until the last moment. Flacco was not on the practice field during media availability Wednesday, either. 

But let's not forget the other veteran quarterback on their roster; Robert Griffin III

For the first time since 2009, the Ravens decided to keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster for this very reason.

After sitting out of football for a year, RGIII was given a second chance in Baltimore, but has been a gameday inactive since the start of the season. If the week progresses and neither Flacco or Jackson seem ready, it could be the comeback of the once Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

"That's my job. That's why they brought me here," Griffin III said Wednesday on if he feels prepared to possibly start. "They brought me here to be a pro. They brought me here to help this team if need be. I try to help the defense every week on scout team and then do those [reps], and if my number's called I'll be able to go out there and lead this team."

Both RGIII and Jackson said that it would be "awesome" if they were named the starting QB on Sunday, but that no matter who it ends up being they're all here for one another.

"I'm going to continue to help [Lamar] just like I have all season because we're about the Ravens here," Griffin III said. "It's not about individuals. We've got a pretty daunting task ahead with this Bengals team and then just with the rest of our schedule, so we've got to make sure we make the most of every opportunity."

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