If Ravens want to make playoffs, coaching staff, Flacco must stay out of their own way

BALTIMORE, MD – The Ravens may have won their game against the Eagles on Sunday, but they made it extremely difficult on themselves. Up 10 points with six minutes left to go in the game, the Ravens had the ball on Philadelphia’s 11-yard line. Instead of running the ball and letting the clock run down, the Ravens decided to throw the ball. Quarterback Joe Flacco just needed to complete a pass and keep the clock running, so he threw the ball to his most reliable receiver, Steve Smith Sr.

The pass was intercepted by Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks.

Philadelphia answered the turnover by kicking a field goal to make it a seven-point game with 2:22 on the clock. How did the Ravens offense answer, you ask? By going three-and-out and punting the ball back to Philadelphia, who had 1:50 left on the clock and a timeout to work with. Quarterback Carson Wentz led the Eagles right down the field, and the Eagles scored a touchdown with four seconds left in the game.

With nothing to lose, and no realistic shot of making the playoffs, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson elected to go for the two-point conversion in an attempt to win the game. The attempt was unsuccessful, giving the Ravens the 27-26 win. By a thread.

I don’t even want to call the margin that Baltimore won by a thread. I have too much respect for threads. More like a hair. A leg hair.

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The Ravens coaching staff on the sideline, including head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Credit: WNSTr

The funny thing is, the entire heart-stopping six minutes of the game could have all been avoided. When the Ravens had the ball in the red-zone, they could have easily run the ball three times in a row. There is a good chance that they could have picked up a first down just by handing the ball off three times. In the case that they do not pick up a first down, then okay, they kick a field goal and go up 13 points with roughly four minutes left in the game. Even if Philadelphia is able to score a touchdown on their next drive, the Ravens would still get the ball back and would likely have enough time to run out the clock.

As we all know, that is not how it played out. Instead, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and head coach John Harbaugh allowed Flacco to run the pass play, and Flacco ended up throwing a terrible pass that was intercepted.

“I didn’t see the guy,” Flacco said after the game.

Wow Joe, you didn’t? Hello, captain obvious.

As soon as Flacco got that play call, he should have changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Flacco admitted that he was a little selfish, trying to throw his third touchdown pass of the afternoon. Come on Joe. You’re a ninth-year veteran quarterback. Put the team above yourself and try to win the game instead of trying to put up points for your very few fantasy owners. If your offensive coordinator gives you a stupid play call, you’re allowed to say “screw you” and change it.

What’s so concerning about this situation is that both Flacco and Harbaugh are in their ninth seasons; they should know better. Harbaugh even called it “the worst play call ever” after the game, and took responsibility for the miscue.

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Quarterback Joe Flacco must take better care of the football if the Ravens are to make the playoffs. Credit: USA Today

“I feel in that situation that we got a little greedy,” Harbaugh said. “We should have played it a little more conservatively.”

No matter who has been running the offense in 2016, the play-calling by both Marc Trestman and Mornhinweg has been a problem for the Ravens. This coaching staff has not utilized their run game all season, and they should have on that fourth quarter drive. It’s not like the Ravens weren’t having any success running the football on Sunday; Terrance West had 77 yards on 14 carries, averaging 5.9 yards-per-carry. With West having a game like that, there is no reason to not give him the ball in that situation. The coaching staff’s refusal of running the football has been a head-scratcher all season.

One could argue that the coaching has costed the Ravens games, particularly in October when the Ravens went through a four-game losing streak. The Ravens lost their week 4 game against the Raiders 28-27 after Harbaugh accepted a penalty that he should have declined. On an Oakland third down play,  a Raiders offensive guard was flagged for unnecessary roughness. If Harbaugh declined the penalty it would have been fourth down and the Raiders would have had to kick a field goal, meaning Baltimore would still have the lead. Instead, Harbaugh accepted the penalty, the Raiders immediately converted the third down, and then scored the winning touchdown.

The next week, the Ravens lost their game against the Redskins, 16-10. In that game, after running an unsuccessful draw play on 3rd-and-11, the Ravens lined up to kick a field goal. But something was fishy; Justin Tucker, a right-footed kicker, lined up on the left-hand side. The ball was snapped to Tucker, who threw an incomplete pass. The Ravens threw an easy three points in the garbage can there; no way to sugarcoat it.

Yes, the Ravens have won six of their last eight games, but the coaching issues have popped up here and there all season. This team is looking to win their final two games and win the AFC North. If the Ravens want to do that, they cannot get in their own way and make things harder on themselves. They may have been able to get away with their miscues against a team like the Eagles, but that won’t happen against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas Day. It also won’t happen against teams they would face in the playoffs, like the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs or the Raiders.

This game on Christmas may very well decide whether or not the Ravens make the playoffs. The Steelers have won five straight games and lead the Ravens by a game in the division. Their offense is extremely high-powered, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown. It is still a possibility that the Ravens are going to be without shut-down corner-back Jimmy Smith, so the Steelers could have a big day on offense if the Ravens defense does not come to play.

I changed my focus to the defense in that last paragraph, but my point is that if the Ravens defense struggles on Sunday, the offense and the coaching staff will need to make minimal mistakes if they want to walk out of Pittsburgh with a win. At this point, I doubt that they can do that. Dating back to the 2014 playoffs, the Ravens have won four straight games against the Steelers. Getting that fifth straight win appears to be a daunting task, because the Ravens not only have to overcome the Steelers, but also themselves.

Are the Ravens capable of winning in Pittsburgh? Absolutely. They have won their last two games at Heinz Field and are not intimidated of playing there. But, Mornhinweg appears to be throwing darts when it comes to play-calling, and Flacco is prone to making crucial mistakes in big-time situations. The Ravens have the talent to beat Pittsburgh, but they need to get out of their own way if they are going to do that.

 

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Podcast: Jack Fritz offers his take on the upcoming Eagles & Ravens match-up

Tomorrow marks the first time in four years that the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens square off in a regular season match-up. To break down the game, 2016 Bloomsburg University alum. Jack Fritz joined me. Fritz is a co-founder of Philly Fan Life, an Eagles writer for Philly Football Talk, and the host of the If I were a Gambling Man podcast.

Be sure to check out Jack’s work on all of these platforms and enjoy his take on what should be an interesting December match-up tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium.

 

Ravens, Steelers set to battle for AFC North dominance

To be published in The Voice, Bloomsburg University’s student-run newspaper.

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Quarterbacks Joe Flacco of the Ravens and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, both Super Bowl champions, hope to lead their team to an AFC North crown. Credit: clicRBS.

There are four weeks left in the NFL regular season. The playoff picture is becoming clearer by the week, but some divisions are going to take longer to sort out. One of those divisions is the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, both with records of 7-5, look to finish ahead of the other and host a home playoff game.

It is no secret that these two teams are bitter enemies. There have been countless battles between the teams over the years. Baltimore Ravens legends like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have dueled with legends of the Steelers, including Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward. While many of the players involved in this rivalry have either switched teams or retired, there are still some old faces as well as some fresh young talent to keep this envious battle alive.

In one corner, you have the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens got off to a hot start this season, starting 3-0 before going on their first four-game losing streak in the John Harbaugh era. Since that four-game skid, the Ravens have made up some ground, winning four of their last five games. One of those wins was a 21-14 win over the Steelers in week nine.

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Last Sunday Flacco threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns, including two touchdown passes to tight end Dennis Pitta – Pitta’s first scores since 2013. Credit: Russell Street Report

Last Sunday, the Ravens defeated the Miami Dolphins 38-6. It was just the second double-digit victory for the Ravens this season. Quarterback Joe Flacco played his best game in recent memory, throwing for 381 yards and four touchdowns. Baltimore’s offense has struggled all season, but the unit finally put together 60 minutes of pure dominance.

As solid as the Ravens’ offensive showing on Sunday was, their defense has held their team together all season long. The Ravens’ defense ranks first in the NFL against the run and seventh against the pass. It is almost impossible to run the football on this defense with Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams blocking all the holes. Linebackers CJ Mosley and Zachary Orr are playing out of their minds. Terrell Suggs, playing on one arm, and Elvis Dumervil, recently returning from a foot injury, provide a formidable pass rush. The secondary is the weakest part of this unit, but with a veteran like Eric Weddle at the helm and corner-back Jimmy Smith shutting down receivers, the Ravens have been kept in games even when it seemed impossible that they could overcome their offensive struggles.

Oh, and let’s not forget kicker Justin Tucker, who many are already naming team MVP for the Ravens. Tucker is a perfect 28-for-28 this season in field goal attempts, including eight successful kicks from 50 or more yards. With several NFL kickers struggling to make extra points (under the new rule), Tucker’s brilliance has certainly eased the stress of Baltimore fans concerned about an offense that has struggled, particularly in the red zone.

If the Ravens are to win this division, they are going to need to become road warriors. Three of Baltimore’s final four games will be played on the road – at New England, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The Ravens are 2-3 on the road so far this season, so if they plan on hosting a home playoff game, they are going to have to perform well in enemy territory.

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Free-agent aquisiiton Ladarius Green had a breakout game against the Giants, hauling in over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown catch. Credit: Ramblin’ Fan

In the other corner stands the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have been a streaky team as of late, going on a four-game losing streak before winning their last three games. This past weekend, the Steelers convincingly defeated the New York Giants 24-14 and held the Giants scoreless in the first half. Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdowns, and Le’Veon Bell ran for 118 yards on 29 carries. Free agent acquisition Ladarius Green also had a stellar day, recording 110 receiving yards and a touchdown.

From the outside looking in, everyone wants to focus on Pittsburgh’s offense. In fact, many experts were picking the Steelers to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl solely based on how strong their offense is. While the Steelers may still reach the Super Bowl, it is no secret that the offense has not performed as well as most people had predicted. In a three-game stretch earlier this season, the Steelers’ offense was held to under 20 points. However, the Steelers are capable of putting up big offensive numbers on any given Sunday. After that three-game stretch, the Steelers have put up at least 24 points in every game.

The Steelers have pro-bowl caliber players at several positions on offense. Roethlisberger continues to be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, doing so with a bad knee. Roethlisberger has now played five games since injuring his meniscus against the Dolphins, throwing nine touchdowns during that stretch. Big Ben has several weapons at his disposal, including Bell, Green and receivers Antonio Brown and Sammie Coates. The defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers features a great front seven that ranks sixth against the run, but their secondary is suspect, having been a weakness for a few years now.

The Steelers have an easier four-game stretch to finish out the season, playing the Bills and the Bengals on the road before returning home to face the Ravens and the winless Browns. That game against the Ravens will be played on Christmas Day, and could possibly determine the winner of the AFC North. As of this writing, the Ravens possess a half-game lead over the Steelers because of their victory over them in week nine. The Ravens have also won four-straight games against the Steelers, including the playoffs.

As the NFL playoff picture transpires, the AFC North race is one of the top storylines to watch for the rest of the season. With that being said, this Christmas Day game might be the single most-important game remaining on the NFL schedule. You might have to wait to finish up opening your presents, because this game will be must-watch television.

Ravens fall to .500 with 27-23 loss to Giants

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Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. races past a group of Ravens defenders. Beckham Jr. finished Sunday’s game with 22 reception yards and two touchdowns on eight catches. Credit: Giants website.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – After winning their first three games of the 2016 season, the Ravens suffered their third consecutive loss on Sunday, falling to the New York Giants 27-23. The loss drops Baltimore’s season record to 3-3 with one game remaining before their bye week.

The Ravens allowed New York’s top play-maker, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., to have a career day. Beckham Jr. caught eight passes from quarterback Eli Manning for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Beckham Jr.’s touchdowns, which were receptions of 75 and 66 yards, both came in the second half. Ravens corner-back Jimmy Smith left the game in the second quarter with a concussion and did not return. Before Smith’s exit, Beckham Jr. was held to two receptions for 11 yards. After Smith left the game, the likes of Shareece Wright, Tavon Young and Will Davis could not contain the speedy wideout.

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Ravens corner-back Jimmy Smith defends a pass intended for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Credit: Newsday

Smith was not the only Ravens defender to suffer an injury on Sunday. Linebacker Terrell Suggs left the game in the fourth quarter and did not return. NFL FOX reporter Jay Glazer reportedly said on TV that Suggs tore his left Biceps. Suggs tore his right biceps in 2012 and played through the injury. It is unknown at this time if this tear will require surgery.

Aside from Suggs, corner-back Jerraud Powers left the game in the first half with a groin injury and did not return. The two injuries to the secondary occurred before the Giants got on the scoreboard. The first four Giants’ drives ended on a fumble and three punts, and New York’s first offensive touchdown came on their fifth drive.

It is safe to say that Smith and Powers’ injuries opened things up for Manning and the Giants offense.

“[Injuries] make it a challenge,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the loss. “But, we are certainly capable of not giving up big plays. You can’t let that happen.”

Injuries certainly took their toll on the Ravens on Sunday, but penalties were once again a problem. Baltimore committed 15 penalties in the loss to the Giants, including 10 on offense. There were two false starts, five holding penalties, two delay of games and an illegal formation. These penalties forced the Ravens to face several situations where they were more than 10 yards away from the first down markers. This made it extremely difficult for new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to get the Ravens’ offense going.

“We’ve been running into [penalties] for the first six weeks now,” quarterback Joe Flacco said after the game. “There were a couple of time

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Ravens running back Terrance West runs the ball. Credit: Ravens’ website

s where we get down there with good field position and [went] backwards instead of forwards. It definitely hurts, its frustrating.”

The Ravens were missing three starters on the offensive line for this game. Tackle Ronnie
Stanley and guard Marshal Yanda were already doubtful to play, but tackle Rick Wagner dressed for the game. Wagner would not play, however, which left backup James Hurst to play right tackle.

Missing three starters on the offensive line was something the Ravens could not control, but the penalties were. According to NFL Penalties.com, the Ravens are tied with the Oakland Raiders for the most penalties committed in the NFL this season (52).

For the second week in a row, the Ravens’ offense got off to a good start. Baltimore got the ball first to start the game, and the Ravens ran 10 plays to go 70 yards, including two third down conversions. The Ravens got the ball down to New York’s 10-yard line, but after an incomplete pass the ball was moved to the 15-yard line because of a false start on second down. The Ravens could not get the ball into the end-zone, and settled for a field goal.

On New York’s first offensive play of the game, Beckham Jr. fumbled the ball after a reception, and linebacker Zachary Orr recovered the fumble to give the Ravens the ball on the Giants’ 30-yard line. Baltimore would score a touchdown on a one-yard run by Terrance West, giving the Ravens a 10-0 lead with 6:42 remaining in the first quarter.

After the first two drives, however, the Ravens’ offense stalled. Baltimore would not score at all in the second quarter and was held to a field goal in the third quarter before scoring 10 more points in the fourth quarter.

Another crucial coaching decision was made in the third quarter. Trailing 17-13,  Flacco threw a 70-yard bomb to receiver Mike Wallace, which gave the Ravens the ball at New York’s three-yard line. Following that pass, the Ravens unsuccessfully tried to get the ball in the end zone on a quarterback sneak and a run by West. Instead of kicking the field goal and cutting New York’s lead to one, Harbaugh decided to go for it on fourth down, and the Ravens ran a pitch-out to West, who was tackled at the two-yard line.

On Baltimore’s ensuing drive, they kicked a field goal, but had Harbaugh decided to kick the field goal on the previous possession, the Ravens would have had a 19-17 lead. There is no way of telling how the game would have played out from there, but the decision to go for it on fourth down ended up coming back to haunt the Ravens.

This is the third week in a row now that coaching decisions have had a negative impact on the Ravens. The play on the field certainly has to improve, but the coaching staff continues to out-think themselves, and the team has not shown that they have the talent to be able to overcome the coaching decisions. Going forward, the coaching decisions should be monitored more closely than they have in recent history.

Next week, Baltimore will play its final game before their week eight bye. The Ravens will return to MetLife Stadium next Sunday, but this time they will face the New York Jets. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.

 

 

Podcast: Baltimore Ravens Columnist John Eisenberg

On today’s edition of the Jake McDonnell sports podcast, Baltimore Ravens columnist John Eisenberg calls in.

Eisenberg and Jake break down the latest Ravens news to get you ready for week 1.

Topics covered:
-Recapping the Justin Forsett situation that occurred over the weekend
-Who is playing and not playing against the Bills on Sunday
-The return of Rex Ryan, Ed Reed and Tyrod Taylor to M&T Bank Stadium
-The key to the game for the Ravens

Thanks for listening!

Two Ravens activated off PUP, Harbaugh provides several injury updates

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With the preseason halfway over, the Ravens practiced on Monday with no fans in attendance, as training camp has officially ended. This also meant that members of the media saw a very limited amount of practice.

Even though practice was much more quiet than it has been so far, there were several pieces of news that came out on Monday for the Ravens. The attention was directed at injuries, with two players being activated off of the “Physically Unable to Perform” list. There were also updates given on two injured players. Below is a recap of every situation in regards to the four players, as well as some thoughts to go along with each scenario.

1. Elvis Dumervil activated off of PUP

This morning, pass-rush specialist Elvis Dumervil was activated off of the PUP list and practiced for the first time since undergoing an offseason foot procedure. The operation held Dumervil out of OTA’s and minicamp, so he has not set foot on a football field since the Ravens wrapped up the 2015 season. There was never really any details given of what exactly the procedure was, but it was serious enough to knock Dumervil out for all of training camp.

With Dumervil returning just six days before the Ravens play their “dress rehearsal” preseason game against the Lions, it is unlikely that he will play, but he is expected to be ready for week 1 against Buffalo.

“It’s a day by day situation,” Dumervil said when asked if he would play at all in the preseason. “The goal is the opener for sure.”

Thoughts: It was reasonable to expect Dumervil’s return to take place this week, considering his foot surgery was never described as serious. It is also reasonable to not expect the 32-year-old linebacker to play on Saturday, as the Ravens want him 100% for week 1.

2. Breshad Perriman activated off of PUP

Head coach John Harbaugh announced after Monday’s practice that 2015 first-round pick wide-out Breshad Perriman had also been activated off of PUP. Perriman missed his rookie season with a partially torn PCL ligament in his right knee. In June he also suffered a partially torn ACL in his left knee during OTA’s. Perriman avoided season-ending surgery, but received a stem cell injection into his knee to speed up the healing process. After receiving the injection, a mid-August return date was expected for Perriman.

Even though Perriman has been pulled off PUP, he will not practice fully right away. Instead, he will participate in “AACT” practice, which stands for alignment, assignment, corrections, technique. This is what Perriman will do until he is ready to participate in full team practices.

“[Perriman’s return is] very exciting,” Harbaugh said on Monday. I’m sure we will all be holding our breath a little bit. That’s just natural.”

Perriman will be on the field in the afternoon portion of the Ravens’ Monday practice.

“I didn’t know [his return] was going to happen right away, but I felt that watching him run, my diagnosis was that he was pretty close,” Harbaugh said.

Thoughts: It’s great that Perriman is getting back on the field at least for some individual work, but until he suits up for a game, let’s not get too excited. Remember, the dude hasn’t even made it through a full practice yet. With not playing in an actual football game in almost two years, and being in the trainers room for a good chunk of that time, there is no way that Perriman is in football shape. It will probably be awhile before that happens.

Also keep in mind that Perriman may have had all of the time in the world to study the playbook, but no one knows what he brings to the table until he gets in shape, stays healthy, and gets reps. Even if Perriman gets to that point, there will still be concern of whether or not he can continue to stay healthy.

3. Matt Elam injures knee in Saturday’s game against the Colts, out “a number of weeks.” 

Not all of Monday’s news was fine and dandy for the Ravens. Harbaugh announced that safety Matt Elam injured his knee during Saturday’s preseason game in Indianapolis. The injury will require surgery, but Harbaugh said it is not season-ending.

“Matt fell on his knee in the game,” Harbaugh said. “He [needs] an arthroscopic surgery to go in there and clean it out. He had a chip come lose in there.”

After Elam gets the surgery, the Ravens will have to find out how long he will be out. Once they get that information, they can either please him on season-ending injured reserve, or on injured reserve with the “designated to return” tag. If this scenario occurred, Elam would have to be on injured reserve for six weeks before being activated.

Thoughts: This is another blow to the disappointing career of Elam. The 2013 first-round pick missed all of the 2015 season with a torn bicep, and now he will miss even more time. Elam is entering the final year of his rookie deal and was battling for a roster spot, but now his future in Baltimore appears to be even more bleak with now having to rehab another injury.

The good news is that the Ravens are fine at safety. The starters will be Lardarius Webb and Eric Weddle, and the Ravens also have Terrance Brooks, Kendrick Lewis, and Anthony Levine Sr. on the bench. It is unfortunate that Elam will be missing time especially with a mentor like Eric Weddle who was sure to be helping Elam improve his game.

4. Dennis Pitta has broken bone in finger, still no imminent return 

On August 1 at the Ravens’ open training camp practice at M&T Bank Stadium, Dennis Pitta suffered the broken finger when he was trying to break up a fight. Pitta got in a scuffle with rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa, and has been held out of practice since suffering the injury.

“It’s absurd that it even happened,” Harbaugh said. “They’re afraid that if he gets hit again, they will have to put a screw in.”

Pitta has played in only seven games over the past three seasons due to two separate hip dislocations, but looked great in training camp before suffering the injury. Pitta is best friends with quarterback Joe Flacco, and the chemistry between the two looked like it had not lost a step in the early training camp practices.

“He really can’t catch right now,” Harbaugh said. “It’s ridiculous, it’s sad, and I’m upset about it. We need to get him back as soon as we can, but it’s not going to be this week.”

Thoughts: 100% agree with Harbaugh. It is never fun to see fights break out between teammates, especially if an injury is suffered from it. Pitta has had a miserable three years with the hip dislocations, and this finger injury just adds fuel to the fire. Hopefully Pitta’s finger heals and he can catch passes by September 11 for the opener, but as of now it does not look like that will happen.

 

Kaufusi breaks ankle, likely out for season

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The Ravens suffered their first serious injury of the 2016 season on Thursday.

Rookie defensive end Bronson Kaufusi broke his ankle while battling in the trenches with a teammate. The injury occurred during a pass play when Kaufusi made his way into the backfield. Kaufusi’s leg was stepped on and his ankle collapsed. He was carted off of the field.

The severity of the injury was revealed after practice when Ravens head coach John Harbaugh met with reporters.

“He has a broken ankle,” Harbaugh said. “One of our players fell on his leg. That happens, you try to avoid that but sometimes guys fall. I’m sure that he will be out for the year.”

Kaufusi was the Ravens’ 2016 third round draft pick out of Brigham Young. In his short NFL career, the injury bug has already bitten him multiple times; Kaufusi missed the offseason program with a back problem. He was only seven training camp practices into his rookie season that is now lost.

The good news is that the Ravens have plenty of depth along the defensive line. The Ravens had planned to use Kaufusi in pass rush situations, but they still have plenty of defensive ends that can fill that role, including Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban, Kapron-Lewis Moore, and Carl Davis.

A roster move has not been made yet, but the Ravens will likely place Kaufusi on injured reserve. A new injured reserve rule was put into place this offseason that allows every NFL team to activate a single player off of injured reserve once per season. If the Ravens come to find that Kaufusi is able to get back on the field quicker than expected, the Ravens could bring him back. However, considering Harbaugh sounded confident that the injury is season-ending, that situation appears unlikely.