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Now fully healthy, the Ravens' secondary has its sights set on being elite

Now fully healthy, the Ravens' secondary has its sights set on being elite

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the weeks mounted this season for the Ravens, so did their injury list in the secondary. 

It started in the preseason when Tavon Young was lost for the season with a neck injury. Things only worsened from there as Jimmy Smith sprained his MCL, Tony Jefferson suffered a significant knee injury, DeShon Elliott was lost for the season and Justin Bethel had to be waived to save a compensatory pick.

But the status of the secondary, it appears, is nearing the end of its darkest days.

Baltimore traded for Marcus Peters from Los Angeles a week before the trade deadline, Smith got healthy and Chuck Clark stepped into a new role in the defensive backfield. With all on the field, the result was the Ravens’ most impressive win of the season.

“Now that everybody is healthy and we’re out there, our game-planning can expand a little bit more each week, just based on the talent that we have back there,” Smith said. “I’m excited to see what the coaches come up with.”

The Ravens, after the host of injuries and the acquisition of Peters, were able to experiment a little more in the secondary with a host of various packages. 

Last Sunday against the Patriots, of the four Ravens which played 100% of the snaps, all were defensive backs. Peters, Clark, Marlon Humphrey and Earl Thomas never left the field, while Smith and Carr played 81% and 70% of the snaps, respectively. 

That versatility gives Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale as much freedom as he needs to get players in the right positions to succeed. 

“There were quite a few times against New England when we didn’t even have a linebacker on the field because of their flexibility,” Martindale said. “Each week, it changes. You have a different set of problems, if you will, to attack, and week to week, it will change.”

Two of the biggest changes in the secondary involve Carr and Humphrey. 

Humphrey, who spent the beginning part of the season on the outside, has moved at times to the slot in the last two weeks to let Carr and Peters patrol the outside. Humphrey, who is having an All-Pro type season, has typically neutralized the opponent's top receivers this season.

“I think Jimmy and Marcus and B-Carr, we can be a really elite alignment,” Humphrey said.

The second big change involved moving Carr to safety, which allows the Ravens to keep all four of their cornerbacks on the field. 

“Brandon is our Swiss Army Knife,” Thomas said. “I really don't have to say too much. Just make sure our communication is right and let him kind of add his own flavor to the game.”

Carr’s move to the safety spot gives the Ravens even more versatility, a spot that seemed impossible for the Ravens to reach about a month ago.

“It was the first time that he was back there live and in action, and it was fun to watch,” Martindale said. “He’s such a great teammate and so selfless in his approach.”

Now that they’ve shown the look on film, the Ravens know it’s in their arsenal moving forward should teams try to spread them out and make plays on the outside.  

“We were pretty confident going in that it was going to be good for us because you know the players, and we knew what we wanted to do with the matchups,” coach John Harbaugh said. “But sure, it’s good to see it in action, and it worked. So, it won’t be everything we do, but it will definitely be in the tool bag going forward.”

The secondary, which was once struggling to stay healthy and communicate well with one another, now is one of the best units in the NFL.

“The best thing is that we still have got a lot of football left to figure out what we’re going to do with everybody and how we’re going to do it,” Peters said. “We can do a lot of things, that’s what makes us so versatile. So we’ll have to see.”

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Ravens looking for playoff berth, AFC North title in trip to Buffalo

Ravens looking for playoff berth, AFC North title in trip to Buffalo

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens haven’t had to stress too much over the last month or so of football.

Aside from a last-second win over the 49ers, the Ravens have climbed to the top of the AFC standings, and with four games to play, control their destiny for home-field advantage. 

But while the Bills aren’t in first place in their division, Sunday’s game at New Era Field could be one that has a large impact on the AFC standings. 

“We know the goal is to win the game, and what follows with that is what follows with that,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I did mention to the team, I said, ‘Where are we? We’re nowhere until we get there. And when we get there, we’ll be there. And we’ll take it from there.’ How’s that? That’s actually pretty good.

At 10-2, the Ravens are in pole position headed to the final quarter of the season. But the slope that they sit atop of is quite slippery. 

A loss to the 9-3 Bills would tie the two teams in the standings, with the Bills then owning the tiebreaker with just three games to play.

In that scenario, the AFC East champion Bills would have the inside track to home-field advantage in the playoffs over the Ravens. 

“We're not looking at everything like, ‘Oh my gosh, we're unstoppable,’ or anything like that,” Josh Bynes said. “Because it's any given Sunday, and we know how this league works. Any team can come out and beat you at any given moment. So, all we're focused on right now is just winning one game at a time and just taking it day by day and game by game.”

The Bills offense has took a turn for the better in recent weeks, as quarterback Josh Allen has thrown just one interception since Week 5. But the true strength of the Bills is their defense, which has kept them in games all season long. 

It’s yet another top defense that the Ravens will have to go through on their stretch of top defenses. 

“I think they're very talented,” Orlando Brown Jr. said. “I think they play very hard, and they've got a great scheme and a ton of great players in great positions. Their defensive backs are playing really well. They have a great group of front seven, again. It seems like we can't get a break, but it's all good.”

Buffalo’s defense ranks third in yards-allowed-per game (300) and third in pass yards allowed (195.8).

Baltimore is set to catch a break before the game even starts, as the weather in Buffalo is predicted to be mild — for New York. The projected high temperature is 45 degrees, and no snow is in the forecast.

“I don’t really care about cold games,” Lamar Jackson said. “I played at Louisville, so there were a lot of cold games there. And last year, I played here, so it is what it is. But I’d rather it not be raining and cold. That doesn’t mix. Cold and snow, I’ve never been in that. So, I’ll find out what it’s like, and I have to play ball.”

Jackson, against another of the league’s top defensive units, will look to add an exclamation point to his MVP resume. 

Should he do that and the Ravens win, they’ll clinch a playoff berth. And paired with a win over the Bills and a Steelers loss, they’ll have back-to-back AFC North titles. 

“It's going to be a good test,” Michael Pierce said. “I think it'll be another playoff-type atmosphere there on the road. They're 9-3. Josh Allen is playing really well, and we know the kind of (running) back Frank Gore is. And (Devin) Singletary is pretty smooth, too, so yes, they have a good team. It'll be a good game.” 

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Ravens at Bills Week 14: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Ravens at Bills Week 14: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Baltimore Ravens (10-2) are heading north to take on the Buffalo Bills (9-3) in a Week 14 AFC Showdown that will likely have the energy of a playoff game.

The Ravens are coming off a buzzer-beater 20-17 win against the San Francisco 49ers that pushed their win streak to a franchise-record eight games. Leading the way for the Ravens is Lamar Jackson, who has cemented his MVP candidacy during a season in which he has taken the league by storm.

The Bills are coming off three wins of their own, most recently a 26-15 stomping of the Dallas Cowboys. Despite the impressive 9-3 record, the Bills' only win against a .500 or better team came on Thanksgiving Day against the then 6-5 Cowboys.

Here's what you should know about the game:

RAVENS at BILLS WEEK 14:

What: Week 14 of the NFL regular season

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills

Where: New Era Field, Orchard Park, NY

When: Sunday, Dec. 8, at 1:00 p.m.

TV Channel: CBS

Live Stream: Stream on FuboTV 

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090, 98Rock and 101.5 FM

Spread: Ravens, -5.5

Over/Under: 43.5

Weather: 44 degrees, mostly cloudy

RAVENS 2019 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1: Sun., 9/8 at Dolphins, 1:00 p.m. (W, 59-10)

Week 2: Sun., 9/15 vs. Cardinals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 3: Sun., 9/22 at Chiefs. 1:00 p.m. (L, 33-28)

Week 4: Sun., 9/29 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m. (L, 40-25)

Week 5: Sun., 10/6 at Steelers, 1:00 p.m. (W (OT), 26-23)

Week 6: Sun., 10/13 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 7: Sun., 10/20 at Seahawks, 4:25 p.m. (W, 30-16)

Week 8: BYE week

Week 9: Sun., 11/3 vs. Patriots, 8:20 p.m. (W, 37-20)

Week 10:  Sun., 11/10 at Bengals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 49-13)

Week 11: Sun., 11/17 vs. Texans, 1:00 p.m. (W, 41-7)

Week 12: Mon., 11/25 at Rams, 8:15 p.m. (W, 45-6)

Week 13: Sun., 12/1 vs. 49ers, 1:00 p.m. (W, 20-17)

Week 14: Sun., 12/8 at Bills, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Thu., 12/12 vs. Jets, 8:20 p.m.

Week 16: Sun., 12/22 at Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 17: Sun., 12/29 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

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