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Five changes in store for Ravens' defense in 2016

Five changes in store for Ravens' defense in 2016

Whatever the Ravens do in 2016, it’s clear their defense will have a different look. Here are five changes in store for the Ravens’ defense:

A different starter at inside linebacker next to C. J. Mosley

Mosley spent his first two NFL seasons working next to Daryl Smith, a mentor and close friend. Smith is now with the Buccaneers. So who will be Mosley’s primary running mate at inside linebacker? It could be Zach Orr. It could be Arthur Brown. It could be rookie Kamalei Correa, drafted as a pass rushing outside linebacker, but perhaps versatile enough to play inside. Or the Ravens could still sign a veteran linebacker, if nobody else looks good enough after training camp.

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A more hybrid secondary

We know Eric Weddle is a lock to start at one safety spot. We know Lardarius Webb is moving from corner to safety. But we don’t know who will be the primary cornerback opposite Jimmy Smith. We don’t know how often the Ravens will actually play two safeties, or three corners, or other combinations.

The Ravens had difficulty in pass coverage last season, and part of the problem was a lack of versatility.  Regardless of who emerges as the primary cornerback opposite Jimmy Smith, the Ravens want to do a better job covering tight ends, slot receivers, and deep threats. They’re willing to try whatever combinations are necessary to accomplish that.

A deeper pass rush rotation

The Ravens’ pass rush fizzled last season after Terrell Suggs (Achilles) went down in Week 1. The Ravens gave Suggs and Elvis Dumervil pass-rushing help by drafting Correa, defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, and outside linebacker-defensive end Matt Judon. They are also expecting outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith to improve on his rookie sack total (5 ½) after getting 3 ½ sacks over the final three games. The hope is that the Ravens’ pass rush will be more effective, and less reliant on Suggs and Dumervil.

More disguises for blitzing

The Ravens would love to get more pressure on quarterbacks without having to blitz. But when they do blitz, defensive coordinator Dean Pees should have more options. Webb and Weddle have experience blitzing from the secondary. Mosley has seven career sacks. If Pees can surprise quarterbacks with well-timed blitzes, he may call more of them.

A younger front seven

With Daryl Smith and defensive end Chris Canty gone, the Ravens’ front seven is younger. They also hope it’s getting more athletic. With the rookie pass rushers, and the continued emergence of defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan, the Ravens hope to win more battles up front, forcing opposing quarterbacks into more uncomfortable situations.

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Ravens bruised but hopeful after Buffalo win ahead of short week  

Ravens bruised but hopeful after Buffalo win ahead of short week  

The Ravens entered Week 14 as healthy as they’d been all season. 

They had perfect attendance at Friday’s practice — 53-for-53 — and didn’t have injury concerns at any spot of the roster. 

Sunday in Buffalo, plans changed. 

Baltimore had three players — Mark Andrews, Anthony Levine and Chris Board — leave with injuries and never return. Chris Moore, Chuck Clark and Jihad Ward were also injured, but returned at some point to the field. 

“Mark is not serious, thigh bruise type of thing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Anthony is not serious, ankle, low. Both of those guys told me they’d be back Thursday. We’ll see how that goes as the week goes on.”

Andrews entered Sunday leading the team in targets with 79 and 53 receptions. Levine is one of the team’s top special teams players and an integral part of what the Ravens do in every facet of special teams. 

The loss of Andrews was mitigated by the performance of Hayden Hurst, who burst onto the scene and scored a 61-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He had three catches for 73 yards total.

“Hayden, to come out and make that play...you can see his ability there,” Harbaugh said. “He ran a good route. It was predicated on the fact that they were going to come down on the run real hard, and they did...Hayden accelerated, he caught it and ran. He was running away from defensive backs there.”

Without Board, another special teams player, the Ravens didn’t suffer any notable lapses on special teams all afternoon. 

It actually could have been worse, as Moore, Clark and Ward all returned after leaving the game with injuries.

The defense wasn’t any worse for wear, as they sacked Bills quarterback Josh Allen six times and made him uncomfortable throughout the day. The secondary came up large when it needed to, allowing just 146 yards through the air. 

Baltimore won’t have much time to address the injuries as it will now have to turn its attention to the Jets, who come to Baltimore on Thursday night. 

In a short week, there might actually be true injury concerns now for some of the most impactful players on the roster.

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Ravens win ninth straight game to clinch playoff spot in Buffalo

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USA Today Sports Images

Ravens win ninth straight game to clinch playoff spot in Buffalo

Coach John Harbaugh tried to make a big deal out of the Ravens’ playoff berth in the locker room. 

With a 24-17 win over the Bills at New Era Field, the Ravens clinched their second-straight postseason berth — a just reason to celebrate. 

But Harbaugh said the team only gave a brief applause, not a wholesale roar of cheers like he expected.

“I tried to make a big deal out of it in the locker room, and the guys kind of gave me a smattering of applause,” Harbaugh said. “I think they expected that, they earned the right to expect that. We’ve got three more games and things to accomplish still.”

Baltimore, at 11-2, is now mathematically guaranteed a spot in the AFC Playoffs come January. The news wasn’t unexpected, as it would’ve taken a complete collapse, and some help, for the Ravens to miss the playoffs. 

It’s the second year in a row the Ravens are playoff bound, and with a win next week, they would clinch the AFC North, too. 

“It’s great to lock up that playoff spot, but I think everybody in that locker room has aspirations to lock up that one-seed,” Hayden Hurst said. “We want the home-field advantage. We’ve got a couple games left to play and we’ve just got to focus on us.” 

The win wasn’t pretty, as the Ravens had to use their defense once again to get past a top opponent in the NFL.  Baltimore had just 257 yards of total offense, including 180 total yards from Lamar Jackson. 

He threw three touchdown passes, but all three were deep in Bills territory as the offense struggled to find a consistent rhythm all afternoon. 

Thus, the game was left on the shoulders of the defense to carry the load. 

“We want to be the heroes sometimes,” Matthew Judon said. “It’s usually Lamar and the offensive line, the heroes of the game and they milk the clock. Today, we were called upon and we practiced and we focused on our situations even though they drove the ball down the field. We knew bend but never break.”

Thanks to the defense’s standout performance, the Ravens were able to shut down the Bills and dance into the playoffs. 

They’ll have a short week before the Jets come to Baltimore on Thursday, but while Harbaugh tries to play up the playoff berth, that’s not what they have their minds set on. 

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Judon said. “Just getting in isn’t enough. We got in last year and it wasn’t enough. This game always leaves you wanting more, and you’ve got to make it to the next day.”

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