Ravens

Houston looks to improve and clinch home-field

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Houston looks to improve and clinch home-field

HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans blew a chance to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with Sunday's ugly loss to Minnesota.

They'll get another opportunity to do it in the regular-season finale at Indianapolis next Sunday. But a loss could drop them to third in the AFC.

If Houston loses to the Colts and both Denver and New England win, the Texans could fall to the third-seed and lose not only home-field advantage, but also a first-round bye. If Indianapolis beats Houston and Denver loses or New England loses or ties, Houston will still get a bye.

They can also get home-field advantage with a loss if the Broncos lose and the Patriots lose or tie.

``We know what it takes,'' defensive end J.J. Watt said. ``We're going to get focused, and then we're going to come out there and earn ourselves home-field advantage.''

To do that, coach Gary Kubiak will need to correct many problems on his team. The biggest one, he says, is improving on third downs. Houston (12-3) has struggled in that area recently. Against the Vikings was the worst yet as the Texans converted 1 of 11 chances.

``Obviously, we've got a problem on third downs right now,'' he said. ``It has not been good the last three weeks. If there was one problem, we'd go address that. There's many, many issues going on. But there is one consistent issue and the consistent issue is third-and-long.''

A glaring reason why there's been so many long-yardage situations is the inability to run well on first and second downs. Nine of Houston's 11 third downs were 8 yards or longer Sunday. Of those nine, five came after Houston had running plays for no gain or negative yardage on first or second down.

``That's not the type of play we're accustomed to having,'' left tackle Duane Brown said. ``We've got to get 5 and 6 then bust out a big one. When have those 2-yard runs and set up a third-and-8, third-and-7, it's tough. Against a good defense it's going to be hard to convert those third and longs. We just continue to put ourselves in those situations.''

Houston has converted 10 of 38 third down attempts in its last three games, which included two losses. Some have blamed quarterback Matt Schaub for the third down woes. But Kubiak said he's only part of the problem, and that the running backs, linemen, receivers and even the coaches have to get better for things to change.

The success of Kubiak's offense is predicated on running the ball well. So he was troubled when he reviewed the game and realized they didn't have a single running play on third down against the Vikings.

``For us to do what we do best, there's a percentage of those that we need to be in position to line up and run the football, and we haven't done that in the last month,'' Kubiak said. ``Getting back to that is a big point of emphasis. Now that's a lot easier said than done, so we've got to look at ourselves hard to make sure we can get that done.''

The Texans had a season-low 34 yards rushing on Sunday. Their running game was hurt by Arian Foster playing little more than a half before leaving with an irregular heartbeat. Foster, who had a season-worst 10 carries for 15 yards on Sunday, underwent tests Monday and is OK.

``I appreciate all the concern and support,'' Foster tweeted. ``I am doing well. Saw a cardiologist today and everything is back to normal.''

Kubiak expects him to play Sunday.

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Hot day of joint practice between Ravens and Eagles cut short

Hot day of joint practice between Ravens and Eagles cut short

PHILADELPHIA — On a day with the heat index at 100 degrees, the Ravens first joint practice in Philadelphia against one of the favorites to come out of the NFC ended about 45 minutes short.

This week is the Ravens' second joint practice of August, the first of which came when the Jaguars came to Baltimore for two days of practice before the preseason opener. 

“The best thing is I think the tempo ramps up a little bit,” coach John Harbaugh said on joint practices. “You get different guys, different schemes. I do think it notches up one or two clicks, which is good for you. This is a really talented football team, the Eagles, so we get a chance to see some really good players.”

Even with some positive feelings from the practice, there were, and still are, a few question marks about the Ravens and their available bodies. 

Kenneth Dixon, Gus Edwards, and Miles Boykin were notable absences from practice from the start. Left guard Jermaine Eluemanor left practice early, and Ronnie Stanley and Mark Ingram didn’t take reps towards the end of practice.

With the heat beating down, it’s unclear if they were related to the weather. Harbaugh had no updates after practice, for players that missed the entirety, or players that left early.

The practice was ruled by defense, though, as the Ravens offense had trouble scoring in the red zone most of the afternoon. One of the biggest highlights, however, was a diving catch by Mark Andrews in the back of the end zone. 

“The red zone is tough, the red zone is faster, coverage is tighter,” Harbaugh said. “Things have to be executed more quickly, more decisively. The windows are going to be closing quicker, they’re going to be smaller. Timing is really important, execution is everything. For a young quarterback, it’s a fast game as it is.”

Defensively, the Ravens secondary held its own against a talented Eagles offense. 

Notably, however, Earl Thomas was beaten on a deep route by Alshon Jeffery on a pass from Carson Wentz.

“What I’ve drawn from the last two joint practices is the competitive juices you get from going against a new team,” Thomas said. “Carson Wentz is not a pushover, it’s good to go against him. It’s good to go against that offense. Tight ends are pretty good, receivers are pretty good.”

The Ravens will practice with the Eagles once again tomorrow before a day off on Wednesday. The two will play, officially, on Thursday in the team’s third preseason game. 

Until then, they’ll just focus on getting better against a team that’s one of the league’s best.

“You see different routes, you see different combinations in the passing game, you see different quarterbacks,” Thomas said. “All of that is great.”

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Jonathan Allen is experimenting with a new helmet and may wear it in 2019, which would be awesome

Jonathan Allen is experimenting with a new helmet and may wear it in 2019, which would be awesome

One thing stood out on an otherwise quiet August Monday at Redskins Park, and that was Jonathan Allen. More specifically, what Jonathan Allen was wearing on his head.

In fact, if you focused solely on the defensive lineman, you might've gotten confused over what decade you were in.

Usually, Allen suits up in a fairly standard helmet and facemask combo. But on Monday, No. 93 experimented with both a dark visor and a totally different facemask that featured a single, vertical bar down the middle of it, the kind of thing you saw on legends like Deacon Jones or Bruce Smith.

To put it simply, he looked awesome. Soooo awesome:

While walking out of the locker room following practice, Allen explained that he was recently watching NFL Network and felt inspired to try it out after seeing throwback footage on his TV. When asked if he plans on actually bringing it on the field with him for regular season action, he answered: "I'm planning on it."

As you — and the Raiders, especially — are aware of by now, the NFL has specific regulations regarding helmets and facemasks, but Allen seemed to believe he'll have no problem rocking his vintage setup.

Daron Payne, on the other hand, does have a problem with it.

"It's terrible," Payne said, while also shaking his head like a slightly disappointed parent. "It's terrible."

Payne is a smart and reasonable guy most of the time, but here, he's wrong. That look is the exact opposite of terrible. It's sick and it needs to be shared for every one of Washington's 16 games in 2019.

In fact, Allen should probably receive a Pro Bowl nomination strictly for even thinking about making that his new helmet. Bringing back the single bar would be truly epic.

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