Predicting Ravens Record Over Next Five Games
Baltimore has a big opportunity to take control of its season with four of the next five games at M&T Bank Stadium and three of those coming against division opponents.
In the video below, CSNMidAtlantic.com analyst and former Ravens wide receiver Qadry Ismail predicts the Ravens' record will be 7-5 by the end of these next five contests. Here's a breakdown of each:
Week 9: Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)The Ravens haven't lost to the Steelers since November 2, 2014, and if they can pull off a fourth-straight victory Sunday, it will set the new longest win streak in the rivalry. Head Coach Mike Tomlin said starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger "could play," but didn't confirm his status one way or the other. Even if Big Ben is out, the Steelers still have major threats in wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell. The Ravens should be much healthier with the expected returns of right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. (ankle) and linebackers Terrell Suggs (biceps) and C.J. Mosley (thigh). The top spot in the division will be decided by this game.
Ismail = Ravens win
Week 10: Cleveland Browns (0-8)The Thursday night matchup will be a quick turnaround for the Ravens after what might be their most physical opponent of the season. But there are no excuses because the Browns will also be coming off three days of rest after a tough matchup against the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys and traveling to Baltimore. Assuming Dallas wins, the Ravens won't want to be the first team to give Cleveland a victory this season, but the two teams always play each other close. We witnessed that again in the Ravens' 25-20 win in Week 2 when they came back from 20 points down.
Ismail = Ravens win
Week 11: @ Dallas Cowboys (6-1)The Cowboys are proof of how quickly a strong draft can turn a team around as rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have led Dallas to a phenomenal start after going 5-11 last season. Maybe the Ravens will find a way to rattle the first-year quarterback – assuming by then they don't go back to Tony Romo – but Ismail doesn't see Baltimore stopping the Cowboys' winning train.Ismail = Ravens lose
Week 12: Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1)The Bengals' early record may be deceiving as they've played some of the best teams in the conference, including the Steelers, Denver Broncos, Cowboys and New England Patriots. They could start to make a real run at the division lead with only one of their remaining opponents (Philadelphia Eagles) having a record above .500. Cincinnati has beaten the Ravens in the last five contests, but Ismail says the Ravens will "do the impossible" and stop the bleeding.Ismail = Ravens win
Week 13: Miami Dolphins (3-4)The Dolphins and Ravens have identical records, but their seasons are currently headed in opposite directions. Miami only won one of its first five games, but is on a two-game winning streak in which second-year running back Jay Ajayi has caught fire and ran for 418 combined yards in the two victories. Ismail = Ravens win
If Ismail's optimistic outlook proves correct, the Ravens will be 7-5 with an undefeated record in the AFC North. That could be good enough to maintain the top spot in the division. There will be a small margin of error going forward, however, as the Ravens get ready for a brutal four-game stretch to end the season at the Patriots (7-1), vs. Eagles (4-3), at Steelers (4-3) and at Bengals (3-4-1).
Tomlin No Longer Sees Wallace Used As A One-Trick Pony
Mike Wallace looks a bit different in the eyes of his former Steelers coach.
Tomlin once called Wallace a "one-trick pony" as he was mostly used in the early part of his career as a speedy deep threat, per ESPN. While Wallace has helped revive the Ravens' deep game, Baltimore has used him in many more ways.
"You see him doing normal Mike Wallace things, in terms of stretching and getting behind the defense, but you are also seeing him doing some new things, some things that I haven't seen a lot of from Mike," Tomlin told reporters at his Tuesday press conference. "Some route-running things. Some underneath coverage attacking things. He is quickly developing a nice rapport with Joe [Flacco]."
The Steeler-turned-Raven has 490 receiving yards and three touchdowns so far this season, but of his 35 catches, 25 of them have been on passes of 10 yards or shorter, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
Tomlin wanted to make clear that Wallace may have always been able to run a greater variety of routes, but the Ravens seem to be the first among his stops (Pittsburgh, Miami and Minnesota), that have used him for more.
"I'm not acknowledging he's gotten better at anything," Tomlin said. "I'm just acknowledging you're seeing him do some things that I haven't seen teams he's been on ask him to do – some underneath route running and so forth. Largely, he's been a deep-ball guy for most teams he's been on, because of his unique traits. I wasn't identifying it as any known area of weakness in his game or play, or anything from that perspective."
Johnson's Retirement Amplifies Smith's Greatness
One of the NFL's all-time great receivers, Andre Johnson,* *announced his retirement from the NFL Monday, and Smith was quick to show his respect.
"The retirement of Johnson] ended a great career. By contrast, it [also amplified the greatness of Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.," wrote CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown.
Johnson retired after brief stops with the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans, but previously played for 12 years with the Houston Texans. He is 35 years old (two years younger than Smith is now) and finishes at No. 10 on the NFL's all-time list for receiving yards (14,185). Smith is one spot ahead of Johnson on the list (14,242 yards), and needs just 253 more yards to pass Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison.
"Johnson made a quiet exit from the game Monday, with no statement or interviews," wrote Brown. "That was his style. Smith still has plenty to say, and more plays to make. The sooner he gets back for the slumping Ravens (3-4), the better."
Pierce Makes PFF's Top-10 Rookies List
Before a foot injury caused him to miss the last four games, it was No. 6 overall pick Ronnie Stanley who usually represented the Ravens in Pro Football Focus' (PFF) top-10 rookies list.
Now the Ravens have a new representative, and he didn't even get drafted. Michael Pierce, who signed as a free agent out of small-school Samford, is listed at No. 8, one spot ahead of Miami first-round offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil.
"Ozzie Newsome knows how to scout nose tackles," wrote PFF's Michael Renner. "After going from Haloti Ngata to Brandon Williams, the Ravens appear to have found another gem in UDFA Michael Pierce.
"Pierce made this list early on in the season before a few average weeks, and is back again after a four-stop performance against the Jets. What's maybe most impressive for the rookie isn't that he's stopping the run at a high level—it's that he's already adding value as a pass-rusher from the NT position. Pierce has two sacks, three QB hits, and three QB hurries on 80 pass-rushing snaps."