AFC North: Justin Forsett

How Pierce's absence affects Ravens

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:15
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CLEVELAND -- Sunday's game at the Cleveland Browns marks the first time in four years that the Baltimore Ravens won't have either Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce as their starting running back.

The Ravens are expected to go with veteran journeyman Justin Forsett, which could change the team's game plan. It's a valid question to ask whether the Ravens can commit to the run with Forsett, who is making his first NFL start since the 2010 season finale.

Even though he's been productive this season, Forsett is considered more of a third-down back. In two games this season, he has 19 carries and nine catches. In fact, the Ravens have run the ball only 23.5 percent of the time when Forsett is on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Forsett's efficiency has been impressive for a player who is on his fourth team in four seasons. He is averaging 6.6 yards per carry this season for the Ravens. It's an indication that he is comfortable in Gary Kubiak's offense. The last time Forsett played under Kubiak was 2012, when he averaged 5.9 yards per carry for the Houston Texans.

The Ravens have another option with rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro. But he has yet to carry the ball in an NFL regular-season game.

By the numbers: Ravens Week 2

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
11:00
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Here are some numbers to remember for Thursday night's game between the Baltimore Ravens (0-1) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0):

3: Teams that failed to record a sack in Week 1, which includes the Ravens, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons. The Ravens pressured the quarterback at the second-lowest rate in Week 1 (12.8 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

4: Wins by Joe Flacco in his past six games against the Steelers. He has completed 61 percent of his throws over that span, throwing seven touchdowns and one interception.

8: Number of seasons since the Ravens have started 0-2. That's the fourth-longest streak in the NFL. Only the Denver Broncos (14 seasons), New England Patriots (12) and Chicago Bears (10) have longer streaks.

Forsett
11: Rushes by running back Justin Forsett in the season opener. That's five more attempts than he had all of last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Forsett received 54 snaps at running back while Bernard Pierce (eight snaps) and Lorenzo Taliaferro (three) combined for 11.

16.5: Number of times Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (in 23 meetings). It's the most sacks of Roethlisberger by any NFL defender. But Suggs has just one sack in his past four games against Pittsburgh.

18.1: Points per game allowed by the Ravens since the start of the 2008 season, which was John Harbaugh's first in Baltimore. Only the Steelers (17.7 points) have allowed fewer points than the Ravens.

23: Joe Flacco's interceptions since winning the Super Bowl. That's the second-most by an NFL quarterback since the start of the 2013 season. Only Eli Manning (29 interceptions) has thrown more.

30: Receptions by Dennis Pitta in his past five games. It's the second-most by a tight end in that span. Carolina's Greg Olsen has the most with 31 receptions.

44: Career 100-yard receiving games for wide receiver Steve Smith. That is 11th in NFL history. He needs one more 100-yard game to tie Isaac Bruce.

129: Consecutive games played by punter Sam Koch, tying him with linebacker Jarret Johnson for the longest streak in Ravens history. Koch will set a team record Thursday night.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- For the first time since 2008, the Baltimore Ravens are starting a season without knowing who will be their featured running back.

The release of Ray Rice on Monday puts a major question mark in the Ravens' backfield. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he doesn't have to make a decision on who'll be the team's top back in Thursday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers or the other 14 remaining games on the schedule. The play of the running backs will provide the answer for him.

[+] EnlargeJustin Forsett
AP Photo/Nick WassJustin Forsett is likely to get the start on Thursday after gaining 70 yards on 11 carries in Week 1.
"You go with guys that are making plays at those positions," Harbaugh said, "probably more so at running back than any position, when you have a number of guys kind of in the same spot.”

As I touched upon Monday, the Ravens will likely go with a running back by committee approach because there is no established starter. The three tailbacks on the roster -- Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro -- have a combined nine NFL starts. That's a stark contrast to Rice's 80 career starts.

Forsett is the favorite to start Thursday night after he gained 70 yards on 11 carries in the season opener and played most of the snaps in the second half. Harbaugh explained that Forsett got the chance because Pierce fumbled in the second quarter, but Forsett's production kept Pierce on the sideline.

"It’s just [that] Justin was rolling," Harbaugh said. "He was making good decisions; he was picking up pass protection. We had confidence in him at that time more so than the other running backs."

Pierce remains in the Ravens' plan at running back despite being benched for the entire second half Sunday, Harbaugh said. Of all of the Ravens' backs, Pierce figures to be the back who ends up with the most carries by the end of the season.

He has more size than Forsett and more experience than Taliaferro, a rookie fourth-round pick. It should be noted that Pierce's fumble was the first of his career; he previously had a stretch of 265 carries without one.

"You don’t lose faith in a player because of a bad play," Harbaugh said. "Bernard is still on his way to becoming, I would say, a very good player, and I’ve been saying that all along. I have the utmost confidence in him. He’s going to fight and battle. He’s not going to be perfect -- none of us are -- but Bernard Pierce is a big part of what we’re doing, just as are Justin [and] Lorenzo [Taliaferro] as well.”

The Steelers have just as many question marks regarding their run defense. Pittsburgh allowed 183 yards rushing to the Browns on Sunday, and Cleveland's top two backs (Terrance West and Ben Tate) combined for 141 yards on 22 carries (6.4-yard average).

"If you saw our run defense last week, you know that we have respect for anybody’s ability to run the football," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We have a lot of work to do in that regard.”
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh declined to name a starting running back after the team released Ray Rice on Monday.

Forsett
 Asked who would start Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Harbaugh said, "Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett -- they’ll both play a lot. Lorenzo Taliaferro will be a big part of it, too."

If you didn't pick up on it, Harbaugh named every tailback on the roster. As I wrote earlier, Forsett earned the right to start against the Steelers after gaining 70 yards on 11 carries in the season opener.

But, since no one in the backfield is an established starter, Harbaugh will likely go with the hot hand each game. The approach is probably a running-back-by-committee, so Harbaugh would be right in naming everyone a starter.

Forsett, though, deserves the first shot after showing more burst and elusiveness than the Ravens' other backs. The question mark with Forsett is how long he can hold up considering he's a small back at 5-foot-8 and 197 pounds.

He's only made seven starts in his seven-year career. The last came four years ago.

"I’m ready to seize the moment," said Forsett, who is comfortable with Gary Kubiak's offense after playing in Houston in 2012. "My job is to go out and perform when my number is called. I’m excited about [the] opportunity. Hopefully [there will] be some great things to come on Thursday night.”

Pierce
 Pierce deserves another chance as well. He was benched in the second quarter Sunday after fumbling, but it was his first career fumble.

The Ravens don't have enough depth at running back to keep Pierce standing on the sideline. A third-round pick in 2012, Pierce showed flashes in his rookie season (averaged 4.9 yards per carry) before struggling last season (2.9-yard average).

On the depth chart in the team's weekly press release (which is unofficial), Pierce is listed as the starting running back.

Pierce said he doesn't know whether he'll play against the Steelers because he doesn't control that. But he does think he can turn his season around if he gets on the field.

"I’ve just got to make sure first things first, protect the ball," he said.

The Ravens' ground game is among the biggest keys of the game after the Steelers couldn't slow down the Cleveland Browns' running backs. The Steelers allowed 183 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 30 attempts (a 6.1-yard average).

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
4:18
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BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 23-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.

What it means: The Ravens lost their first season opener at home since 2005 in heartbreaking fashion, falling short of knocking off last year's AFC North champion. The Ravens were close to another comeback but Joe Flacco was sacked twice to end the game. Baltimore had driven down to the Bengals' 16-yard line before Flacco couldn't get a pass off on his final two dropbacks. Flacco finished 35 of 62 for 345 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Emotional swing: After the Ravens went ahead 16-15 on an 80-yard touchdown catch by Steve Smith, the Bengals answered with a 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green late in the fourth quarter. The Ravens' secondary let the team down. Green ran past cornerback Chykie Brown, who replaced the injured Lardarius Webb, and then faked out safety Darian Stewart to walk into the end zone for the game-winner.

Stock watch: Down -- running back Bernard Pierce. He was benched after fumbling at his own 20-yard line in the second quarter. The Bengals converted that turnover into their fifth field goal of the game. Pierce, who was starting in place of the suspended Ray Rice, finished with 14 yards rushing on six carries.

Poor time management: At the end of the first half, Joe Flacco drove the Ravens down to the Bengals' 15-yard line before making a crushing blunder. Taking the snap with 8 seconds left in the first half, Flacco rolled out of the pocket instead of throwing the ball away. By the time he threw it out of bounds, time had run out and the Ravens didn't get a chance at a field goal.

Game ball: Running back Justin Forsett. The seven-year journeyman took advantage of Pierce getting benched and ran for 70 yards on 11 carries. His first touchdown since November 2012 moved the Ravens to within 15-7 in the third quarter. Forsett likely earned the start for Thursday night's game.

What's next: The Ravens have a quick turnaround, playing the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday in Baltimore. The Ravens have lost two of their past three meetings to Pittsburgh.
Ray Rice is suspended for the first two games of the regular season and Bernard Pierce didn't make the trip to New Orleans for the final preseason game because of a concussion.

So if Pierce is unable to play in the season opener, who would start at running back for the Baltimore Ravens? Veteran journeyman Justin Forsett, who hasn't made a start since 2010, could be the one to step up.

Of the Ravens' 24 healthy scratches in the preseason finale, 18 are projected to be starters. The fact that Forsett didn't play as well could suggest the Ravens wanted to keep him healthy for the opener.

The Ravens might trust Forsett to handle the starting role because he's more experienced than rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro and is more familiar with Gary Kubiak's offense after playing in Houston in 2012.

But Forsett wouldn't be asked to carry the entire rushing load. He only had six carries all of last season, and the Ravens would probably split carries with Taliaferro, who led the team with 243 yards rushing this preseason.

A small back, Forsett has impressed the Ravens with his burst. He ran for 69 yards on 16 carries (4.3-yard average) and caught three passes for 37 yards in preseason games. His biggest problem has been holding on to the football (two fumbles this preseason).

None of this speculation will matter if Pierce is able to suit up for the Sept. 7 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even though Pierce has been banged up throughout his career, he has never missed a game in his two seasons.

There is just no certainty that he'll be healthy enough this time to play.

"Nowadays, with those things, I don't take any stock in that until they tell me that he's back," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "The concussion thing is hard to predict."

Ravens' preseason stock watch

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
10:00
AM ET
A look at who's rising and falling on the Baltimore Ravens this preseason ...

FALLING

Elam
1. Ravens' tackling. The Ravens' inability to wrap up led to big plays and scores. Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley wasn't the same force in the middle and got stiff-armed on one run. Safeties Matt Elam, Brynden Trawick and Omar Brown also had poor showings as tacklers. Trawick, in particular, went high for a big hit instead of making the stop, which led to a touchdown. The Ravens can't have those lapses by their safeties, especially when their the last line of defense.

2. Ball security. The Ravens' running backs fumbled twice for a second consecutive playoff game. The biggest problem is with Justin Forsett, a smallish back who has coughed it up twice in 12 touches. He has speed and big-play ability, but the Ravens have to be wondering whether they can trust him with the ball. Fumbling hasn't been a major issue with the Ravens. Since coach John Harbaugh took over as coach in 2008, Ravens running backs have lost the ball 18 times, which is tied for the seventh-fewest in the NFL.

3. Owen Daniels. The 31-year-old tight end was among the disappointments in training camp. Daniels lacked explosion and failed to get separation from linebackers. He made only one catch in the preseason opener for six yards. Now, Daniels missed the final two days of camp and didn't play in the second preseason opener because the Ravens wanted to "rest his legs." This is troubling when you consider he broke his leg last season.

RISING

Pierce
1. Bernard Pierce. He looked like an NFL starting running back when he replaced the soon-to-be suspended Ray Rice with the first-team offense in Dallas. Pierce ran with power and decisiveness, hitting lanes that weren't there a season ago. In two preseason games, Pierce has 92 yards on 17 carries, a 5.4-yard average that appears gaudy when compared to his 2.9-yard average in 2013. The impressive part has been his consistency. Nearly half of his 17 carries have produced runs longer than 4 yards.

2. Deonte Thompson. After slipping on the wrong side of the roster bubble, Thompson had a much-needed huge game. He had kickoff returns of 108 and 50 yards. These types of explosive plays stick with teams when they're making their final cuts. What hurts Thompson is he has been a non-factor as a receiver. The Ravens don't need a kickoff returner because Jacoby Jones is one of the most dangerous in the league. There are plenty of other backup options -- cornerback Asa Jackson and wide receiver Michael Campanaro -- who can make an impact beyond special teams.

3. Pernell McPhee. The pass rusher looks like he's carrying a few extra pounds. But McPhee is driving that weight into quarterbacks. He has been collapsing the pocket whether he's lined up on the inside or out on the edges. McPhee was the only consistent pass rusher in Dallas, and his ability to hurry throws is even more important with the current state of the Ravens' secondary.

Ravens Camp Report: Day 5

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
10:45
PM ET
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:


  • Wide receiver Torrey Smith made the catch of camp, when he pulled in a high Joe Flacco throw with one hand. For most of camp, Steve Smith had stolen the spotlight from Torrey Smith. But Torrey Smith showed off his athleticism with that catch during the red zone drill.
  • Safety Matt Elam became the first to intercept Flacco in this year's camp. He nearly paid a price for it, though. Owner Steve Bisciotti playfully drove his golf cart onto the field and nearly hit Elam to stop him from reaching the end zone on the return.
  • Running back Justin Forsett has an impressive burst. If you didn't know it, he put it on display when he caught a short slant and beat four defenders to score a touchdown. Forsett is a smallish back who is competing with rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro for the No. 3 running back spot.
  • Cornerback Chykie Brown struggled mightily in the first week of camp. After sitting out yesterday with a tweaked hamstring, he came back and broke up two passes. The extra rest may have helped him refocus mentally. His biggest mistake of the night was a defensive holding penalty.
  • A little more than 28,000 fans attended the Ravens' practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday night. It was the team's first workout at the stadium in this year's camp.
  • Ray Lewis made an appearance at the stadium and revealed what his statue may look like during an on-field interview. He said the statue, which will be placed in the same plaza as Johnny Unitas, will feature him doing his signature dance. It will be unveiled at some point this year.
  • Schedule: The Ravens have their first day off on Tuesday. They return to practice Wednesday at 1 p.m.
  • Injury wire: Brown (tweaked hamstring) returned after missing one day of practice. ... CB Lardarius Webb (back) missed his third practice. ... DE Chris Canty (family issue) was the only other starter who didn't practice. ... Will Rackley (head) and OT Parker Graham (groin) also didn't practice. ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Now that the Baltimore Ravens know they will be without Ray Rice for two games, they have to figure out who will be replacing him at running back when they face the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rice is coming off the worst season of his career, averaging 3.1 yards per carry last season. But he clearly remains the team's best running back.

Pierce
The Ravens' top choice to fill in for Rice is Bernard Pierce. A year ago, he appeared to be on the verge of a breakout season after being a key factor in the Ravens' Super Bowl run. Then, just like Rice last season, Pierce struggled mightily, averaging 2.9 yards per carry -- second worst in the NFL among qualifying running backs.

Pierce, who was limited all offseason after having shoulder surgery, looked to be in good shape as the Ravens opened training camp this week. Still, Pierce has one career start in the NFL.

“I’m very confident in Bernard. I've always liked Bernard," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's a heck of a player. He’s worked very hard, he’s 217 pounds, [and] he's in the best shape of his life. He looked good out here the last couple of days. We'll know more by Tuesday once we get the pads on and seeing him move with the pads on and how the shoulder holds up -- that'll be important."

There are other question marks in the backfield after the Ravens were unable to lure the likes of Chris Johnson and LeGarrette Blount in free agency.

The Ravens' biggest free-agent addition at running back was Justin Forsett. He's been impressive in offseason practices with his elusiveness and burst. The Ravens consider him underrated, and he's the only back who has a familiarity with Gary Kubiak's offense. But there are concerns about the durability of Forsett, a smallish back who had a grand total of six carries last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The other options for Baltimore is rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro. Unlike Forsett, Taliaferro is a big, power back. The challenge for Taliaferro is adjusting to the NFL after playing for Coastal Carolina.

"I have a lot of confidence in all of our guys," Harbaugh said.
It's time to click open this weekend's Baltimore Ravens mailbag ...

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Ray RiceAP Photo/Tom DiPaceRay Rice has been the Ravens' lead running back the past five seasons. Are those days over?
BALTIMORE -- Shortly after becoming the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak made this pronouncement: "As Ray Rice goes, we’ll go." Two months later, Kubiak obviously has to make his first audible.

The Ravens need to take a running back in this year's draft, because they need insurance not only for this season but for the future. The best investment the Ravens could make in the middle rounds is to select a running back such as Towson's Terrance West, Washington's Bishop Sankey, Florida State's Devonta Freeman, Boston College's Andre Williams or West Virginia's Charles Sims.

Much of the talk at running back has centered on how much time Rice will miss in 2014, and it's a legitimate concern after he was indicted for third-degree aggravated assault after allegedly striking his now-wife unconscious. Rice was arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence Feb. 15 after a physical altercation with Janay Palmer at the Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. Even if Rice is found not guilty or avoids jail time, he is expected to face punishment from the NFL under the league's personal conduct policy.

The Ravens have repeatedly voiced their support for Rice, and owner Steve Bisciotti said he believes Rice has a future with the team. But the Ravens' front office is too shrewd to rest all of its hopes on Rice. No one knows what to expect out of Rice when he does line up in the Ravens' backfield. He is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-worst 3.1 yards per carry and produced more fumbles (two) than 20-yard runs (one).

The Ravens have done their part to help this offseason by re-signing left tackle Eugene Monroe and trading for center Jeremy Zuttah. Rice is working hard to rebound and has reportedly lost 15 pounds. What if this isn't enough? Bisciotti acknowledged at the end of the season that the team did bring up the question of whether Rice is done.

Numbers suggest Rice's days as a premier playmaker in the league are over. The wear and tear of the position has caught up to most of the running backs in the 2008 draft class. Of the top 10 backs taken that year, six averaged less than 4 yards per carry last season, and two are out of the league.

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Those who defend Rice will say he lacked explosion after injuring his hip in Week 2 and he didn't have any running room because of the Ravens' dreadful offensive line. There is just no reasoning behind why Rice failed to make plays when catching the ball in space. He averaged 5.5 yards per reception, which was the worst of his career by an average of two yards. Since that memorable "Hey Diddle Diddle Ray Rice Up The Middle" moment in November 2012 -- when Rice converted a fourth-and-29 in San Diego with a 29-yard catch and run -- he has had three catches over 20 yards. That is over a span of 24 games, and only 13 of those came after Rice's injury.

Rice turned 27 this year, which is a telling age for NFL running backs. As ESPN's Kevin Seifert pointed out, running backs are peaking at 27 before suffering significant drop-offs. This is why 72 percent of running backs currently under contract are 26 or younger.

If Rice misses games or struggles again, the Ravens don't have much of a safety net. Backup running back Bernard Pierce's stock dropped last season. Pierce averaged 2.9 yards per carry, which was second-worst among qualified running backs, and couldn't stay healthy for a second straight year. He won't practice until the start of training camp after offseason shoulder surgery. There is no guarantee that he'll be at full strength when the season begins or whether he has the durability to handle the starting job for an extended period.

The need to draft a running back increased this offseason when the Ravens signed Justin Forsett in free agency instead of LeGarrette Blount as their third running back. Forsett has experience in Kubiak's system, but it's never a good sign to have "cut by the Jaguars" on your résumé.

It's no longer a question of if the Ravens should draft a running back. It's a matter of when. Most draft analysts have the Ravens selecting an offensive lineman and a safety in the first two rounds. The Ravens might consider using a pick on a running back in the third round, where they have two picks (79th and 99th overall), or fourth round (138th overall).

ESPN draft analyst Steve Muench's top picks in the middle rounds are:

  • West Virginia's Sims: "Doesn't have great power but sudden with quick feet and outstanding in the passing game."
  • Boston College's Williams: "Minimal production in passing game, and to a lesser degree, injury history, are concerns. As a runner he's a battering ram, and he shows deceptive speed when he gets a seam."
  • Towson's West: "He's a tough, hard-nosed runner who has flown under radar at Towson, and it would be a great story if he ended up staying in Maryland. If they can get him late fourth he could prove to be a steal."

Running the ball has long been a foundation of the Ravens' offense, and it will be a big part of Kubiak's play calling. Over the past five seasons, only five other teams ran the ball more than Kubiak's Texans. Establishing a strong running game is his blueprint to set up the play-action pass.

The importance of a running back in Kubiak's offense can't be overstated. That is why the Ravens have to make it a priority to draft a running back this year, whether it's for a contingency plan in 2014 or an investment for the future.

No one expected the Ravens to take a running back in 2008, when they drafted Rice in the second round. Six years later, it would be a surprise if the Ravens didn't draft his potential successor.

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