With starters due back, Ravens out of ex­cuses

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Mike.pre­ston@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikePre­stonSun

Smith can draw dou­ble-teams, which should open up the in­ter­me­di­ate pass­ing game, and Stan­ley is much bet­ter on the left side than ei­ther of his re­place­ments, Alex Lewis or James Hurt. Be­hind an ail­ing line, quar­ter­back Joe Flacco has been sacked 15 times this sea­son and hur­ried many oth­ers.

A year ago, the Ravens pointed to their high num­ber of in­juries as the big­gest rea­son for fin­ish­ing 5-11. Some of those same play­ers have gone down this sea­son, but the Ravens have no one to blame but them­selves for not get­ting rid of sev­eral in the off­sea­son.

Now it’s time to play again. The Ravens were for­tu­nate their first three games be­cause they were healthy and played the Buf­falo Bills, Cleve­land Browns and Jack­sonville Jaguars. They have since lost four in a row.

The fate of this team will be de­ter­mined in the next nine games, when the Ravens face the Steel­ers and Cincin­nati Ben­gals twice as well as the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, Philadel­phia Ea­gles and Dal­las Cow­boys. There is no room to wig­gle. The Ravens haven’t been to the play­offs two of the past three years and have had five of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors in five sea­sons, and time is run­ning out. Look­ing else­where: It wouldn’t be a Steel­ers week un­less there was uncer­tainty about the sta­tus of Pitts­burgh quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger for Sun­day’s game.

I won’t call him a “drama king” the way CBS com­men­ta­tor Bart Scott did, but there is al­ways sus­pense with Roeth­lis­berger. There have been con­flict­ing re­ports about his hav­ing re­cov­ered from surgery on his left menis­cus and his readi­ness for the Ravens.

His avail­abil­ity is not in­trigu­ing any­more. I am more in­ter­ested in how Steel­ers coach Mike Tom­lin will blow the game. He pan­ics when play­ing the Ravens, whether it’s try­ing to trip re­turner Ja­coby Jones along the side­line or fail­ing to have quar­ter­back Michael Vick throw downfield against one of the NFL’s worst sec­on­daries last sea­son.

There is some­thing about the Ravens that brings out the worst in Tom­lin, and some­thing about the Steel­ers that brings out the best in the Ravens. Per­ri­man’s no T. Smith: For­mer Mary­land and Ravens re­ceiver Tor­rey Smith, now with the San Fran­cisco 49ers, is of­ten com­pared to Ravens sec­ond-year re­ceiver Bre­shad Per­ri­man.

To me, the only things they have in com­mon are speed and stiff­ness. Nei­ther is great at run­ning routes, and they are ba­si­cally speed guys who can get ver­ti­cal and run slant pat­terns.

I’d still like to see Per­ri­man be more ag­gres­sive and get some yards af­ter the catch. He seems to shy away from con­tact like his rookie team­mate, run­ning back Ken­neth Dixon. Both might be gun-shy af­ter suf­fer­ing in­juries ear­lier this sea­son. Young and old reign: It was good to see two ris­ing young quar­ter­backs play against each other Sun­day, as Dak Prescott led the Cow­boys to a 29-23 win over Car­son Wentz and the Ea­gles. Both will be around for a while.

But be­fore the torch is passed, two elder states­men went at it as At­lanta’s Matt Wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr. can draw dou­ble-teams, which should open up the Ravens’ in­ter­me­di­ate pass­ing game. Ryan led the Fal­cons to a 33-32 win over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Pack­ers. Be­tween the two, they threw some nice, long touch passes and also some darts in­side the red zone for touch­downs.

Of course, there was also New Eng­land’s Tom Brady. He took some pun­ish­ment Sun­day but still lit up the Bills for 315 pass­ing yards and 41points in a Pa­tri­ots vic­tory. Not good looks: Wear­ing a pink suit and green hat dur­ing his postgame news con­fer­ence Sun­day, Carolina Pan­thers quar­ter­back Cam New­ton re­minded me of some char­ac­ter who would ap­pear with a lep­rechaun on a box of Lucky Charms ce­real. He might need to un­dergo con­cus­sion pro­to­col for that wardrobe mal­func­tion.

The only thing uglier was Oak­land’s 23 penal­ties for 200 yards against the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers. The Raiders still won, 30-24 in over­time. Give Flacco a break: Flacco isn’t hav­ing a good sea­son, and he ac­knowl­edges it. But these emails I keep get­ting about bench­ing Flacco for Ryan Mal­lett are ridicu­lous.

Ap­par­ently, those folks didn’t see Mal­lett per­form in the off­sea­son mini­camp and train­ing camp prac­tices, or dur­ing his two years in Hous­ton with the Tex­ans.

Just about ev­ery player in the NFL strug­gles at some point, so Flacco de­serves more time. In fact, I wouldn’t be sur­prised if that right shoul­der is more in­jured than we sus­pect. Fight­ing words: Did any­one catch a lit­tle ten­sion be­tween Scott, a for­mer Raven, and Steve Smith Sr. dur­ing Sun­day’s “NFL To­day”?

Scott said Smith needed to pre­pare bet­ter be­fore talk­ing about some sta­tis­tics, a com­ment Smith didn’t ap­pear to like.

It would have been in­ter­est­ing if those two butted heads on­stage; both are “al­pha males,” and nei­ther will back down. The show seemed to end on a good note af­ter some urg­ing from their col­leagues.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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