Browns vs. Ravens preview

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
8:00
AM ET
video When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore TV: CBS

There are different motivations and injury concerns in Sunday's season regular-season finale between the Baltimore Ravens (9-6) and Cleveland Browns (7-8).

The Browns are looking for their first non-losing season since 2007, which would be an even bigger accomplishment considering the state of Cleveland's quarterbacks. Undrafted rookie Connor Shaw may have to start after Johnny Manziel went down with a season-ending hamstring injury and Brian Hoyer injured his shoulder and biceps.

The Ravens are trying to make the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. To do that, they have to beat the Browns and the San Diego Chargers have to lose at Kansas City. The Ravens are limping to the end of the regular season, especially at offensive tackle. Starting right tackle Rick Wagner was placed on injured reserve this week, and left tackle Eugene Monroe is dealing with a foot injury.

ESPN Browns reporter Pat McManamon and Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley take a closer look at Sunday's AFC North showdown.

Hensley: The Browns have struggled mightily on offense. How much can be attributed to the play at quarterback?

McManamon: Well, given the same struggles took place with both quarterbacks it’s certainly not all them. The Brown have not run the ball consistently well since Alex Mack broke his leg, and that affects the offense because much of what Kyle Shanahan wants to do is based on play-action. Josh Gordon has been sleepwalking since he returned from a 10-game suspension. And losing Miles Austin took away the team’s best third-down receiver. That being said, the quarterback also has a role to play. Manziel simply was not NFL-ready, so his play was just poor. He appeared completely overmatched -- though he does have an offseason to prove he’s not. Hoyer won 10 games in 16 starts, but he too struggled. His struggles, though, seemed to reflect the offense’s. When the entire offense struggled, Hoyer had his roughest games. So to answer your question, the issues are everyone’s, but at quarterback more Manziel’s than Hoyer’s.

Houston put a big hurt on the Ravens. It's the same defense that made the Browns' offense look bad. Did Joe Flacco struggle and is he that inconsistent, or should some credit be given to Houston's defense?

Hensley: If you're asking coach John Harbaugh and the players, all the credit has to go to the Houston's defense. Flacco and wide receiver Steve Smith both said that they got their butts kicked by the Texans. And while the Texans did physically dominate the Ravens, some of the blame has to go to the coaching staff for not making any adjustments. The Texans blitzed heavily up the middle, which collapsed the pocket and stopped the Ravens from double-teaming J.J. Watt. The Texans gave the blueprint to slowing down the Ravens' offense. If you stop the Ravens' running game, it forces predictable passing situations on second and third downs. When teams blitz, especially on those third-and-longs, the Ravens don't make teams pay by sending extra rushers. The Ravens' offense needs to find a way to get out of its December funk.

The Ravens are concerned about their pass protection after their struggles in Houston and their injury situation at both offensive tackle spots. How would you assess the Browns' ability to pressure the quarterback this season?

McManamon: Fair but not great and not consistent. Paul Kruger has had a solid season with 10 sacks, but Barkevious Mingo has been playing with a harness on his shoulder that does not let him lift his arm above his shoulder. Desmond Bryant has had a strong season, but a 3-4 end doesn’t get many sacks. Were I the Ravens, I’d concentrate on chipping Kruger and perhaps Mingo and taking my chances on holding the interior with the team’s offensive line.

The Ravens seem like a playoff-quality team. If they don't make it, can you put your finger on one game or one area of the team that did not come through?

Hensley: Even though the Ravens' defense has been a strength this month -- two touchdowns allowed in the past three games -- the secondary will be the reason the Ravens don't reach the postseason. In the season opener, cornerback Chykie Brown (since released) gave up a winning 77-yard touchdown to A.J. Green. In early November, the Ravens gave up six touchdown passes to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. In late November, the Ravens watched Philip Rivers throw a winning 1-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal with 38 seconds left. Even if the Ravens could have pulled out one of those games, they would control whether they make the playoffs.

The Browns have lost their last 11 regular-season games in December and January, the longest active streak in the NFL. Is there any chance of them pulling off an upset?

McManamon: It’s pretty slim. The Browns are out of it and going through the same old routine of playing hard because it’s one of 16 and all that stuff. But with Manziel out with a hamstring injury and Hoyer questionable with a throwing-shoulder injury, Shaw may have to come off the practice squad to start. I know Case Keenum came off the street last Sunday to win in Houston, but Keenum at least had a decent idea of NFL game speed because he had played before. Shaw is an eminently nice guy and good talent, but we saw what happened to Manziel in his first start against a team with playoff aspirations. Shaw will be making his first start as an undrafted free agent. The Browns played well with Hoyer the first time the teams played, but his availability won't be known until probably Sunday.

Do people in Baltimore marvel at the Browns' inability to get it right? Or do they just think, "Better them than us"?

Hensley: When the Browns first came back into the league, there were sympathetic feelings toward Cleveland. Baltimore football fans know what it feels like when a storied franchise gets ripped from a city. These days, there is a "shake my head" attitude toward the Browns after the countless changes at head coach, the front office and quarterback. Since 2008, the Ravens have had one starting quarterback (Flacco) while the Browns have gone through 13 (and Shaw would make it No. 14 on Sunday). I will say that the Ravens themselves didn't think the Browns would be pushovers this season. The Ravens have a strong respect for the defense that the Browns are building. And, after the Ravens struggled against Jacksonville and lost in Houston, they know they can't afford to take any team lightly.

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CINCINNATI -- Four Cincinnati Bengals missed practice Wednesday, being told to stay away because a flu has run amok throughout the team.

The virus has affected different position groups and different corners of the locker room.

Quarterback Andy Dalton was the biggest name player who was sidelined because of it, forced to head home about a half hour before his regularly-scheduled Wednesday news conference. Along with him, tight end Jermaine Gresham, safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Terence Newman had illnesses, too.

It's the second time a contagious bug has hit the team, following the spread of a stomach bug four and five weeks ago. In all, seven Bengals were hit by that one, including Dalton who got it the night before the Bengals' Week 13 game at Tampa Bay. After taking three IVs before the game and throwing up in the locker room during pregame introductions, Dalton threw three first-half interceptions before tossing a touchdown pass and running for another in the second half.

Along with the sick quartet, the Bengals were unsurprisingly without receiver A.J. Green, too. Although he participated in the stretching period, he didn't go through any other part of the practice as he starts trying to recover from a right biceps bruise. Green suffered the injury Monday night when the helmet of a Broncos defensive back barreled hard into him as he leaped for a high pass.

When the ball deflected off Green's hand, it ricocheted into cornerback's Aqib Talib's hands. Untouched, he got off the ground and ran 33 yards for a touchdown on the Bengals' fifth offensive play.

Green told ESPN on Wednesday that he initially thought he had broken his arm on the hit.

During his news conference, coach Marvin Lewis said Green was "progressing." Lewis added that he thought Green had a shot to play Sunday at Pittsburgh in the unofficial AFC North title game. The winner of the matchup will win the division.

Along with the notes on Dalton and Green, the Bengals also are hopeful that receiver James Wright and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur will return this week. Both missed Monday night's game, and Wright missed the two before that. They both practiced Wednesday, going in limited capacity during the Christmas Eve session.

Unlike most teams the Bengals will practice on Christmas Day. Part of the reason they aren't taking the day off is because this keeps them in a daily rhythm ahead of the big Sunday game. It also made sense that they practice after being done no favors by the NFL schedule-makers.

The same week as Christmas, the Bengals had a Monday night game and a Sunday one immediately after it. Normally they'd have six days of practice between games. They would have had only four if they took Thursday off.

Here's the full Wednesday injury report:

DID NOT PRACTICE
QB Andy Dalton (illness)
TE Jermaine Gresham (illness)
CB Terence Newman (illness)
S Reggie Nelson (illness)
LB Chris Carter (knee)
DE Wallace Gilberry (hamstring)

LIMITED PRACTICE PARTICIPATION
CB Darqueze Dennard (shin)
LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring)
WR James Wright (knee)
Baltimore Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury.

This injury is even more significant because the Ravens placed right tackle Rick Wagner on injured reserve Tuesday. If Monroe is sidelined for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens would likely start undrafted rookie James Hurst at left tackle, move right guard Marshal Yanda to right tackle and put rookie fifth-round pick John Urschel in at right guard.

Monroe was injured late in last Sunday's loss at Houston. He missed four games earlier this year after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (back and thigh) and defensive end Chris Canty (ankle and thigh) also did not practice. Both missed practices last week and still played.
BEREA, Ohio -- Maligned corner Justin Gilbert is one of three top picks from the Browns' 2014 class that the team is openly hoping will improve this offseason.

Gilbert
This punctuates a bigger problem. They need to publicly state they are hoping for this.

Coach Mike Pettine doesn't have to say the same about second-round offensive guard Joel Bitonio or third-round linebacker Christian Kirksey. Both have played significant snaps from Day 1 and have acquitted themselves well. It's understood those two are pros. They are considered hits on the draft board.

The Browns will be more patient with Johnny Manziel than most reactionary fans because the intricacies of the quarterback position require a larger sample size. But Manziel alluded to the fact that his 2014 preparation wasn't where it needed to be. He plans to change that, and seems to know he's officially in prove-it mode.

Two veteran defensive teammates have spoken out about No. 8 overall pick Justin Gilbert, who's struggled in Pettine's press-man scheme and apparently has more to learn about being a pro. Safety Donte Whitner told ESPN that Gilbert needs to "grow up" and "stop being a kid," that his 2014 campaign was a wasted one. Linebacker Karlos Dansby said young players must "look in the mirror" while discussing Gilbert's future.

"I'm confident we'll see a much better version of Justin next year," said Pettine, who added Gilbert has been dealing with some personal issues.

Teams absolutely must hit on top-10 picks, and Gilbert will need a major resurgence next year to ensure the Browns do. Pettine believes players have spoken out on Gilbert because "they see how good he can be" with talent that he isn't maximizing.

Third-round pick Terrance West's erratic stat lines say it all -- four games of 60-plus yards, four games of less than 15, and that's not counting a stint on the inactive list.

The Browns' top half of last year's draft is accentuated by the lack of late-round picks . What will the Browns' batting average be in 12-to-24 months from now? If you don't believe in Manziel, the early average would be, at the highest, .500 as the current production stands.

Gilbert and West aren't busts yet -- they'll get at least one more year to rebound -- but they aren't surefire hits yet. Fourth-rounder Pierre Desir has promise but has yet to play extended snaps. He can be considered a hit based on his fourth-round draft positioning.

Left tackle Joe Thomas never had the problem these rookies are having, but he sees it every year.

"Some guys get that maturity in college from the type of program they play in and what their coaches demanded. Some guys don't," Thomas said. "It's a wake-up call. When you get in the NFL they realize everybody's as talented as they are. The ones that succeed in the NFL are the ones that put in the work in practice and in the meeting room and take it seriously and show how important it is every day.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and strong safety Troy Polamalu each practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau liked what he saw from the veteran defensive backs.

“I saw Ike running very well today and Troy took several plays in the practice so we’re staying optimistic on them,” LeBeau said after practice.

Polamalu has missed the last two games because of a knee injury while Taylor has been out during that same span because of shoulder and forearm injuries.

The Steelers are in good shape from a health standpoint as they prepare for their Sunday night game against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals.

Every player practiced in at least some capacity on Christmas Eve.

Left tackle Kelvin Beachum (back), linebacker Vince Williams (ankle) and tight end Matt Spaeth (elbow) were all full participants in practice.

The Bengals, who will battle the Steelers for the AFC North title, had a couple of key players out Wednesday.

A.J. Green sustained a bruised bicep last Monday night and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis gruffly said Wednesday that the Pro Bowl wide receiver did not practice and is day to day. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, meanwhile, left the team facility early because he is sick.

LeBeau said he expects Green to play against the Bengals.
BEREA, Ohio -- It hasn’t been a great run recently for the Cleveland Browns' 2014 first-round draft picks.

Johnny Manziel started two games, struggled much more than any backup even should and said Tuesday he didn’t take the transition from college to pros seriously enough.

[+] EnlargeJustin Gilbert
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY SportsWhile Justin Gilbert has disappointed as a rookie, coach Mike Pettine said it's unfair to call him a draft bust.
Justin Gilbert watched in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week as Pierre Desir and Jordan Poyer took his playing time, then had to read as safety Donte Whitner said Gilbert had to “stop being a kid.”

Whitner said there was no reaction from Gilbert on the remarks.

“Because it’s the truth,” Whitner said. “That’s all I’m going to say about that. He understands that and we’re going to move forward. We need him to be that fourth or fifth guy in the secondary and go out and make plays that we can rely on.”

Mike Pettine didn’t hide from the remarks, or the assessments.

But when asked what it said about the first-rounders, he responded pointedly as well.

“What do you mean, ‘What does it say?’” Pettine said. “Are we ready to write both these players off as busts because they didn’t produce as rookies? I’m nowhere near that point. That’s a knee-jerk.”

Which is accurate.

But it’s not knee-jerk to say that both have been disappointing, especially late in the season -- Gilbert far more so than Manziel. A quarterback has a tough transition to the NFL, and rookies typically struggle early.

Manziel may have struggled more than expected, but he promised (again) on Tuesday to be more dedicated next season. Next season is a phrase Browns fans are accustomed to hearing, but Manziel’s words indicate he knows there is work to do.

Pettine said it was equal parts alarming and encouraging with what Manziel said.

The words about Gilbert are troubling, though. Both Whitner and Karlos Dansby said it’s up to Gilbert to grow up and become a professional. He had one two-week stretch of training camp when he played well, but other than that his season has been a disappointment.

The reason veterans are so pointed?

They are veterans. They know what it takes to succeed, to win, and they didn’t see it. Every year that a 7-4 start disintegrates makes them another year older, and brings in two or three younger guys to take their place.

“You can’t teach toughness,” Whitner said. “But you can teach a guy how to be focused and how to go about his job and be a pro.”

The Browns have said several times that few rookies step in immediately at cornerback. But while they say that K’Waun Williams, an undrafted rookie, stepped in and contributed, another rookie, Desir, originally was slated to spend the season learning. Gilbert’s struggles, though, forced the Browns to put Desir on the field and he responded well.

Pettine said over and over that he’s confident the Browns will “see a better Justin Gilbert” in 2015.

“It’s not his ability, but it’s a lot of the little things,” Pettine said. “It’s how he prepares each week. It’s just a lot of stuff that’s internal, and our guys see it. … If he didn’t have the potential to kind of live up to the hype, live up to the where we took him then I think our guys wouldn’t really deal with him.”

The problem is that 2014 became a wasted season -- which is never good when a team takes a guy in the top 10.
BEREA, Ohio — Mike Pettine had a message for Joe Thomas on Wednesday, the morning after Thomas had been named to his eighth Pro Bowl in eight years.

“I told hiim they’re going to rename it,” said Pettine, who has been very quick with a quip even as the Browns' strong start faded in the final month “Call it the Joe Thomas Invitational. Or the Joe Thomas and Friend Pro Bowl.”

That’s because Thomas is a regular in the game the way he has been a regular at left tackle for the Browns from the day he was drafted. Thomas has not missed a snap for the Browns, and he has not missed a Pro Bowl.

Thomas
Pro Football Focus rates him the second best tackle in the NFL, and Stats Inc. reported that Thomas gave up two sacks in 15 games while PFF had it at one sack.

Either way the total is miniscule.

Thomas was flagged for nine penalties (six enforced), but there is nothing but consensus that he was deserving of being the first offensive lineman in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight season. The only Browns to go to more were Jim Brown and Lou Groza, with nine each.

“Consistently superb play,” is the way Pettine described Thomas.

As for renaming the game in his honor, Thomas laughed.

“It’s a good thing to be kidded about,” he said.

Pettine also was emotional about free safety Tashaun Gipson, who made the Pro Bowl despite missing the season’s last five games with a knee injury.

Gipson led the league in interceptions much of the season, but the way he got to the league made his story endearing.

Gipson was barely recruited out of Dallas, followed his brother to Wyoming where he underwent a serious culture shock and made his way to the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2012.

In 2013 he had worked his way into the starting lineup, and in 2014 he became the first undrafted defensive free agent to make the Pro Bowl (Josh Cribbs made it as a returner).

“That’s a special one,” Pettine said.

“It was huge,” Gipson said. “It was definitely emotional for me and my family. It was just a blessing to hear my name called and be among the game’s elite. It’s truly a blessing.”

Gipson was placed on injured reserve, but he said his injured left knee is healed and he should be able to play in the game, which is set for Jan. 25 in Arizona.

“I wouldn’t miss that opportunity,” he said.

Joe Haden was the third Browns player named to the Pro Bowl. Haden makes it for the second year in a row.
BEREA, Ohio – Connor Shaw got one predraft workout invite to an NFL campus while coming out of South Carolina.

One.

So he flew to Cleveland.

“All I needed was one,” said Shaw on the Tuesday before Christmas, surrounded by reporters by his Browns locker.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
AP Photo/David RichardConnor Shaw, shown in a preseason game against the Bears in August, has spent the season on the Browns' practice squad.
Those words have validation as Shaw prepares to possibly start for the Browns in the season finale against the Baltimore Ravens. With Johnny Manziel sidelined by a hamstring injury and Brian Hoyer questionable with deep bruising to his right shoulder area, the Browns didn’t hesitate calling up Shaw from the practice squad.

Not overly big or strong, but finds a way to make plays – that’s coach Mike Pettine’s description of Shaw.

That sounds like the feel-for-the-game mold that only a coach’s son can produce. Shaw’s father, Lee Shaw, is the head coach at Rabun County High in Tiger, Georgia.

The 6-foot, 206-pound Shaw ran a 4.66-second 40-yard dash at the combine, 0.02 seconds faster than Manziel, and finished his senior season with 24 touchdown passes to one interception, best among FBS quarterbacks. He’s the winningest quarterback in Gamecocks history (27-5). He made a big leap from his junior to senior year in the completion rate of passes beyond 25 yards downfield, from 22.6 percent to 45.9 percent.

The Browns might have no idea what Shaw would do against Baltimore, but the opportunity is what Shaw has wanted since “I was 5 years old.”

“It’s a dream come true if I’m able to start and able to play,” Shaw said. “It’s such a blessing. Such an awesome year for me and my family.”

Shaw and his wife, Molly, whom he calls his high school sweetheart, have a 4-month-old girl named Mila. The Shaws married in June. Two months later, Shaw completed 8-of-9 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown in a preseason game against Washington, securing a practice-squad spot.

His one-week salary on the 53-man roster this week should pay more than $20,000, more than doubling typical practice-squad money.

Molly and Mila won’t make the trip to Baltimore, but Shaw will have plenty of reminders of what’s at home. Molly sends him videos and pictures of Mila doing fun things – cracking a smile, waving her hands – when Shaw’s at a team hotel the night before a game or on his way to the stadium.

“Hopefully we can cap [the "awesome year"] off with a win,” Shaw said.
CINCINNATI -- Our friends at numberfire.com have been kind enough to once again provide us with the exact odds the Cincinnati Bengals have of winning their division.

According to the sports analytics site, the Bengals have a 39 percent chance of winning Sunday night's game at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A victory over the Steelers in the unofficial AFC North championship game means the Bengals would win the division for a second straight year.

This all means the odds obviously are on the Steelers' side on Sunday. Not only is Pittsburgh hosting this regular-season finale, one of the biggest late-year games the Bengals have played in recent seasons, but the Steelers also won the previous meeting Dec. 28 in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh scored 25 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to roll to a 42-21 victory.

The Steelers opened as three-point favorites for Sunday's game.

The above percentage isn't the only one from the people at NumberFire. The site has crunched the percentages and come up with these other findings:
  • If the Bengals win Sunday and the Broncos lose, the Bengals will be the AFC's No. 2 seed entering the playoffs, giving them a first-round bye. There's a 5.5 percent chance of that happening.
  • It is slightly more likely that the Bengals will be the No. 3 seed if they win Sunday. This scenario also factors in a Broncos victory over the Raiders. There's a 33.5 percent chance of that happening.
  • The most anticipated outcome, though, is that the Bengals lose and the Broncos win. If that happens, the Bengals would be the No. 5 seed and travel to Indianapolis for a wild-card round game. There is a 61 percent chance of that happening.
BEREA, Ohio -- The numbers, as they say, do not lie, and the numbers for the Cleveland Browns indicate that the team’s offensive struggles in many ways go back to the loss of Alex Mack.

Rarely has a center been so valuable.

“I think,” tackle Joe Thomas said, “the two most important positions for stability are your center and your quarterback because those are the two guys that kind of get everyone else organized on the offense.”

[+] EnlargeAlex Mack
AP Photo/Tony DejakWhen Alex Mack was sidelined for the season, part of the Browns' offensive identity was lost as well.
Mack’s injury combined with the reality that the front office left the team without a viable replacement combined to submarine much of what the Browns wanted to do offensively.

“I just think overall, it also falls back to us being productive in the run game to start with,” coach Mike Pettine said. “What I’ve talked about for a long time is, given our circumstances, our best chance to be successful when we were was we stayed ahead of the sticks and we ran the ball well.”

Since Mack was hurt, the Browns have struggled to run and have had zero stability with three different starters at center (John Greco, Nick McDonald and Ryan Seymour). The numbers have suffered predictably:

In the five games Mack started the Browns averaged 146.4 yards rushing per game; in the 10 games he’s been out the rushing average is 88.7 yards.

The Browns had 100 yards rushing in four of the first five games. They have less than 100 in seven of 10 with Mack out.

All the other key numbers have a similar downturn, with points going from 27 per game to 16, and the record going from 3-2 with Mack to 4-6 without him.

It’s clear why Jacksonville signed Mack to a deal that paid him $10 million this season, a deal the Browns quickly matched, as Mack was a transition player.

A Pro Bowl center works in anonymity until he’s not there. Now his value cannot be questioned.

But the way the team tried to replace him compounded the problems caused by his injury.

Neither Greco or Seymour played center before the Browns put them at the position. Greco’s in-game transition in the game Mack was injured worked, but it didn’t work the week after. Paul McQuistan was the team’s major offseason offensive line signing, and he started at guard against Jacksonville. The next week he was out of the lineup as Greco moved back to guard with Nick McDonald moving in at center. McDonald hadn’t played in a game in 18 months and had two weeks of practice after he came off the Physically Unable to Perform List to prepare for his first start.

These things matter because line calls are made by the center, and often are done in a very few seconds.

“Communication at the NFL level happens very quickly,” Thomas said. “You have to analyze and diagnose the defense in seconds and then communicate to the other four guys exactly what you have to do within only a fraction of a second.

“That’s the type of thing that takes years and years of practice to get really good at and proficient. When you throw a couple new guys in there, they do their best, but there’s always going to be little hiccups.”

The Browns ended preseason by gutting their backup line corps, cutting Alex Parsons, who had worked at center during camp, along the way.

Parsons did not have a glittering career before joining the Browns, and teams can’t make roster decisions based on possible injuries, but the Browns left themselves without a legitimate backup center. GIven the importance of the running game, it seems a bit puzzling in hindsight.

The team might have assumed that Mack would not get injured, as he had not missed a down until this season. The Browns did do a good job of providing depth at other positions (receiver, inside linebacker, cornerback).

But serious, freak injury is only one play away.

Mack’s took the steam out of the Browns season because of what he brings to the table and the lack of options behind him.
When the Baltimore Ravens drafted C.J. Mosley, team officials said it was unfair to call him "the next Ray Lewis." It would have placed unrealistic expectations on Mosley to compare him to one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history.

Mosley
On Tuesday, Mosley accomplished something Lewis was unable to do -- reach the Pro Bowl as a rookie. In fact, Mosley became the first rookie to receive an invitation to the all-star event in the Ravens' 19-year history.

This is quite an accomplishment given the Ravens' impeccable draft success. Jonathan Ogden is already in the Hall of Fame, and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are expected to join him. Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. Jamal Lewis led the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl team in rushing in his first season.

But it wasn't until Mosley -- the 19th first-round pick in team history -- that a Ravens' rookie made a Pro Bowl. He joined a select group on inside linebackers on this year's Pro Bowl team, which includes Carolina's Luke Kuechly (the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year) and Seattle's Bobby Wagner (the leading tackler for last season's Super Bowl champions).

Mosley is the NFL’s only player with at least 115 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions this season.

"He is playing special, phenomenal," Suggs told The Baltimore Sun. "That's why we call him half-man, half-amazing."

Mosley is one of three rookies to make the Pro Bowl this season, joining Dallas Cowboys guard Zack Martin and St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

The 17th overall pick, Mosley was the fourth linebacker drafted, getting picked after Oakland's Khalil Mack (No. 5), Minnesota's Anthony Barr (No. 9) and Pittsburgh's Ryan Shazier (No. 15).
» Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster

SELECTIONS

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, third Pro Bowl selection: Roethlisberger has been one of the NFL’s most prolific passers. He threw six touchdown passes in back-to-back games and the 11th-year veteran has 4,635 passing yards, trailing only New Orleans’ Drew Brees (4,671 yards) going into the final week of the season. Roethlisberger can break his own Steelers record for touchdown passes in a season (32) if he tosses three scoring passes Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. Opponents have picked off Roethlisberger just eight times and he has a current streak of 132 passes without an interception.

Who he beat out: Brees is the first alternate at quarterback even though the perennial Pro Bowler leads the NFL in passing yards. The Saints’ decline cost Brees a chance of making the Pro Bowl -- for now.

Le'Veon Bell, RB, first Pro Bowl selection: The second-year man made the first of what should be many Pro Bowls on the same day his teammates voted him Steelers MVP. Bell’s emergence is one of the main reasons why the Steelers are second in the NFL in total offense (415.4 yards per game). Bell leads the AFC with 1,341 yards rushing and the 6-1, 225-pounder has established a Steelers single-season record in yards from scrimmage (2,115). There is not a more complete back in the NFL.

Who he beat out: The back with whom Bell most favorably compares, Chicago’s Matt Forte, is a startling omission. Forte leads all NFL running backs in catches (94) and receiving yards (785). He is also third in yards from scrimmage with 1,772 yards.

Antonio Brown, WR, third Pro Bowl selection: The former sixth-round draft pick leads the NFL in catches (122) and receiving yards (1,570). Brown needs just two catches against the Bengals to pass Herman Moore and Wes Welker for the second-most receptions in a season in NFL history. Brown has caught at least five passes in 31 consecutive games. There were questions about whether Brown could approach his production in 2013, when he caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards. The fifth-year veteran has been even better this season even though opposing teams have tried all manner of coverages to take him out of the game.

Who he beat out: Wow, a tough group to crack. Rookie sensation Odell Beckham Jr., Golden Tate and Jeremy Maclin are among the wideouts who made the Pro Bowl only as alternates. Former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has caught 95 passes for 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns, is also an alternate after a breakout season.

Maurkice Pouncey, C, fourth Pro Bowl selection: The fifth-year veteran has had a heck of a bounce-back season after missing most of 2013 because of a torn ACL. Pouncey has re-established himself as one of the premier centers in the NFL while playing in every game. Stout and athletic, Pouncey is effective pulling in the run game and his return is a big reason why the Steelers are tied with the Green Bay Packers in yards per play (6.2) and second in the NFL with 24.1 first downs per game.

Who he beat out: Chris Myers is an alternate despite anchoring a line that has the Houston Texans among the top rushing teams in the NFL. The Texans are fourth in the NFL with 135.9 rushing yards per game despite cycling through quarterbacks because of injuries and ineffectiveness.

Lawrence Timmons, LB, first Pro Bowl selection: Consistency finally earned the eighth-year veteran a Pro Bowl nod. Timmons, who has missed just two games in his career, is third in the AFC with 121 tackles and he has been a stabilizing force on a defense that has been besieged by injuries. The 6-1, 234-pounder has regularly played both inside linebacker positions in the same game this season and he has recorded at least 10 tackles in six of the Steelers’ 15 games. Timmons recorded 13 tackles last Sunday in a 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. One of those stops came on a fourth-and-1 at the end of the first half with the Chiefs on the verge of scoring.

Who he beat out: Detroit's DeAndre Levy is third in the NFL with 140 tackles, and he is one of the best players on a defense that is second in the NFL in scoring (16.8 points allowed per game) and total yards (295.9 yards per game).
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Elvis Dumervil, LB, fourth Pro Bowl selection: His 17 sacks set a Ravens single-season record and ranks third in the NFL. Only Kansas City's Justin Houston (18 sacks) and Houston's J.J. Watt (17.5) have more. He also has seven multisack performances in 2014, bringing his career total to 29, which is tied with DeMarcus Ware for the league’s second-most since 2006.

Who he beat out: Washington Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan didn't make the cut despite ranking fifth with 13.5 sacks.

C.J. Mosley, LB, first Pro Bowl selection: The first Ravens rookie to make the Pro Bowl, Mosley is the NFL’s only player with at least 115 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions this season. His 122 tackles rank seventh in the league and first among rookies. He is considered the favorite to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and would become the first Ravens player to earn that honor since Terrell Suggs in 2003.

Who he beat out: Tampa Bay's Lavonte David ranks second in the NFL with 141 tackles and has forced three fumbles.

Marshal Yanda, G, fourth Pro Bowl selection: He's the highest-ranked offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. Yanda is a mauling run-blocker and solid pass protector, giving up one sack this season. With Yanda, the Ravens have allowed 18 sacks (second fewest in the NFL) and have averaged 126 yards rushing per game (seventh most in the NFL).

Who he beat out: He's arguably the best lineman in football, so technically he beat out everyone. But Cleveland Browns rookie Joel Bitonio got snubbed after receiving the second-highest grade for a guard.

SNUBS

Justin Forsett, RB: His career season should've been recognized with a Pro Bowl invitation. Forsett ranks first in yards per carry (5.3) and sixth in the NFL in rushing with 1,147 yards. His 14 runs of 20 yards or longer is tied with DeMarco Murray for most in the NFL.

Who he should have beaten out: Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy averages fewer yards per carry (4.1) than Forsett and has scored three fewer touchdowns than him.

Sam Koch, P: He ranks first in the NFL in net average (43.5) and second in gross average (47.4). Koch has also placed 48 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, which is fifth-best in the league. That should've been enough to earn him his first Pro Bowl selection.

Who he should have beaten out: Cincinnati's Kevin Huber ranks behind Koch in both average and net average. Huber has three more punts inside the 20-yard line but he has 16 more punts than Koch.

Terrell Suggs, LB: The six-time Pro Bowl player is still among the top all-around linebackers in the game. Suggs is one of seven players with 50-plus tackles and at least 11 sacks.

Who he should have beaten out: Kansas City's Tamba Hali has totaled six sacks (five fewer than Suggs) and 57 tackles (one fewer than Suggs). Suggs is also the highest-ranked run-stopper at outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus, and Hali is No. 28.
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Tashaun Gipson, FS, first Pro Bowl selection: Gipson becomes the Browns' first undrafted defensive player since 1991 to be honored. Gipson came out of Wyoming and earned the starting job with the Browns last season, when only a lack of publicity kept him unknown. This season, he led the NFL in interceptions much of the year with six (he's now second) and made the Pro Bowl despite missing the final five games with a knee injury. That alone is testament to how well he plays.

Who he beat out: The New England Patriots' Devin McCourty is the biggest name not to go at free safety.

Joe Thomas, LT, eighth Pro Bowl: Thomas has become an annual no-brainer at left tackle, as his play puts him among the best in the league at the position every season. Thomas becomes the first offensive lineman in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight seasons -- and he has not missed a snap since he was drafted. Critics will snipe that Thomas had too many penalties (nine) to merit consideration, but that oversimplifies the position. Thomas gave up one sack, three hits and nine hurries this season, and ranks among the top two tackles in the AFC, according to Pro Football Focus. As one offensive line guru said this season, the Browns can start every game plan with the idea that Thomas will handle his man in a one-on-one matchup. Jim Brown and Lou Groza (nine each) are the only Browns to go to more Pro Bowls than Thomas. Soon enough, Thomas will be speaking in Canton when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Who he beat out: It’s silly to say that Thomas doesn’t deserve to go, but guys such as New England’s Sebastian Vollmer and Cincinnati Bengals' Andrew Whitworth will have their day. Whitworth being left off the team is a major surprise.

Joe Haden, CB, second Pro Bowl: Haden overcame a slow start to play some of the best football of his career in the final games before he hurt his shoulder. Haden regularly drew the best receiver on the opposition -- A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton -- and more than held his own with his aggressiveness and quickness. Quarterbacks have a 74.6 rating throwing at Haden. Haden gave up three touchdowns, but intercepted three and broke up eight. He deserves to be among an impressive group of corners.

Who he beat out: The Kansas City Chiefs' Sean Smith had a strong and unheralded season, as did the Buffalo Bills' Leodis McKelvin.

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