Baltimore Ravens: Owen Daniels
"I have [the sheet] with me in the house," Daniels said. "I don't have it up in my locker. I can see it. I have a decent memory."
The 32-year-old tight end left as the Texans' No. 2 all-time leading receiver with 385 catches and 4,617 yards. Daniels, who still lives in Houston, was one of the most popular players in franchise history as a result of his community work and two Pro Bowl seasons.
Leaving no doubt that his ties to the Texans still tug at his emotions, he didn't downplay the motivation of stepping on the same field where he starred for eight years.
"Obviously, when you work somewhere for so long and they say you're not good enough to play there anymore and you get a chance to play them that following season, you definitely want to prove to them that they made a mistake," Daniels said. "But I've been trying to do that all season with my play, and not just in this one game."
Daniels has exceeded expectations with the Ravens, filling the void left when tight end Dennis Pitta went down with a season-ending hip injury in Week 3. He is the Ravens' second-leading receiver with 45 catches and has scored four touchdowns. In last Sunday's 20-12 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Daniels delivered the two clutch catches -- a 29-yard reception followed by a 3-yard touchdown catch -- that helped the Ravens avoid the upset.
"I want to get him more involved because he is a good player," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I think he makes us go when we get him involved."
The biggest concern about Daniels throughout his career has been durability. Last season, he missed the final 11 games because of a broken leg. This year, Daniels has only missed one game, and the Ravens have been keeping him fresh by giving him one day off from practice each week.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said you can see the difference in Daniels when you compare the tape of the tight end from last year to this year.
"I'm just amazed at how well he's done as far as getting himself ready to play coming off the injury last year -- how fresh and young and how well he's running," Harbaugh said.
It's not lost on Daniels that he could possibly clinch a playoff berth against his former team. "A 'W.' That's the best thing that can happen," he said. But he made it clear that he still respects his original team.
"That organization gave me a chance to play in the NFL for the first time," Daniels said. "I can't be more thankful for Mr. [Bob] McNair and that organization for giving me that opportunity. They did what they had to do business-wise last year. I'm trying to be the best player I can be here. I have no ill will toward them at all."
"I think if we protect the football and protect Joe -- keep him upright and take the hits off of him -- we’ll be really, really tough to beat," he said.
The Ravens have similar success when they're able to protect Flacco. Since 2008, the Ravens allow an average of 1.9 sacks in wins and 2.9 sacks in losses.
When you combine pass protection and turnovers -- just like Daniels suggested -- the Ravens are very tough to beat. In fact, they're nearly unbeatable. Over the past three seasons, the Ravens are 15-1 (.937) when they allow two or fewer sacks and don't turn the ball over more than once. The Ravens were able to do that in five victories this season: home against Pittsburgh, at Cleveland, home against Carolina, at Tampa Bay and home against Tennessee.
The Ravens' pass protection hasn't been as strong as earlier in the season, but it's certainly a significant improvement from last season. Flacco is on pace to be sacked 22 times; he was sacked 48 times last season.
This would mark only the second time in Ravens history that they've allowed less than 30 sacks in a season. In 2006, Steve McNair and Kyle Boller were sacked a total of 17 times.
How much of an impact could Daniels make Sunday night? Tight ends typically play a big role in this rivalry for the Ravens. Seven of Joe Flacco's 15 touchdown passes against Pittsburgh have gone to tight ends.
The surprise inactive was rookie safety Terrence Brooks. It's only the second time this season that the third-round pick didn't suit up, and it comes one week after Brooks allowed a critical 53-yard, third-down catch on the game-winning drive against Cincinnati.
Inside linebacker Arthur Brown is active for the first time this season, taking Zach Orr's spot on special teams. The 2013 second-round pick hasn't played since the 2013 season finale.
WR Michael Campanaro (hamstring), CB Jimmy Smith (foot), S Terrence Brooks, LB Zach Orr, OL Gino Gradkowski, DE Lawrence Guy and OL Jah Reid.
Torrey Smith's strength is beating his defender and running straight down the field. Last year at this time, Joe Flacco threw 21 passes of more than 20 yards to Smith. This year, he Smith has been targeted 12 times on such throws. The Ravens have been running more short and intermediate routes in Gary Kubiak's offense. They started taking more shots downfield in Weeks 4 to 7, and Smith had his best stretch of the season. He caught 12 passes and averaged 18.6 yards per reception. Sunday's game at Pittsburgh is a favorable matchup for Smith. The Steelers have given up 22 completions on throws over 20 yards, which are second-most in the NFL.
@jamisonhensley: I wouldn't rule out that possibility. Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 60 receptions and is averaging 106.5 yards receiving per game. A few years ago, I remember asking Lardarius Webb about Mike Wallace and he told me that Brown was the most dangerous receiver on the Steelers. So, there is a high level of respect there. The Ravens, though, have held Brown in check. In eight games against the Ravens, Brown has 34 catches and no touchdowns. Would I put Webb on Brown? Probably not. It might be best for the Ravens to play zone against a Steelers offense that has three legitimate receivers (Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant), tight end Heath Miller and a pass-catching running back like Le'Veon Bell. What the Ravens can't afford to do is miss tackles, as they did in Cincinnati. The Ravens know the Steelers will catch passes, but they have to limit yards after the catch.
@jamisonhensley Will Lardarius Webb follow Antonio Brown around the field this week ?— Teon Ransom (@King_Ransom44) October 30, 2014
Owen Daniels a "game-time decision," and this doesn't sound like coach-speak. Daniels practiced Wednesday, sat out Thursday and returned Friday. I am surprised that Daniels even has a chance to play. Harbaugh said Daniels had a chance to come back after missing one game, but I thought he would be out a minimum of a couple games after having his knee scoped. The status of Daniels will figure heavily in the Ravens' game plan, especially in the red zone. Daniels caught two touchdown passes in the previous meeting, and tight ends have accounted for seven of Flacco's 15 touchdown passes against the Steelers.
"It'll probably be a game-time [decision] with Owen, realistically," coach John Harbaugh said after Friday's practice.
Defensive end Chris Canty and guard Marshal Yanda are listed as questionable, although both had full participation in Friday's practice. Canty has been sidelined the past four games with an infection in his wrist.
"Overall, I feel good and I feel healthy," Canty. "I think the coaches think I'm coming along nicely, and hopefully I'll have an opportunity to help this team win Sunday."
RAVENS INJURY REPORT
Out: CB Jimmy Smith (foot, did not practice Friday), WR Michael Campanaro (hamstring, did not practice Friday).
Questionable: DE Canty (wrist, full participation Friday), G Yanda (knee, full participation Friday), TE Daniels (knee, full participation Friday).
Probable: RB Justin Forsett (ankle, full participation Friday), DT Haloti Ngata (shin, full participation Friday), LB Terrell Suggs (neck, full participation Friday), CB Lardarius Webb (not injury related).
Running back Justin Forsett (ankle), guard Marshal Yanda (knee), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shin) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (rest day) all were back on the field in preparation for Sunday night's game at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tight end Owen Daniels (knee) did not practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday, but the Ravens typically give Daniels a day off during the week.
The only players who missed practice the past two days were: cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot), linebacker Terrell Suggs (neck) and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (thigh).
RAVENS INJURY REPORT
Did not practice: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), TE Owen Daniels (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (neck).
Limited participation: RB Justin Forsett (ankle), G Marshal Yanda (knee).
Full participation: DE Chris Canty (wrist), DT Haloti Ngata (shin), CB Lardarius Webb (not injury related).
Over the past three weeks, the Bengals have allowed tight ends to average 121 yards receiving and score four touchdowns. In the season opener, Daniels and Dennis Pitta combined for 14 catches for 117 yards against the Bengals.
So, with Daniels out at least one game, who steps up in his absence? Crockett Gillmore will become the third Ravens rookie to start a game on offense this season, but he doesn't come across as a player who wants to become the next Jimmy Graham.
"I'm going to do what I can in the pass game, but I know why I'm here, and I'm going to continue to block," Gillmore said earlier this week.
The Ravens seem to have more confidence in him in the passing game than Gillmore himself. After not getting a pass thrown his way for the first five games, Gillmore has caught all three passes thrown in his direction the past two weeks.
"He gets better every day as a receiver," coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s not the fastest guy in the world -- not to be confused with a speed merchant -- but he has good hands. He has very good body control. The big tight ends are really valuable in this league because they have catch radius and they can get away from a defender. It’s hard to cover them one-on-one. That’d be a big asset for us if he could keep growing that way.”
Still, no one should be surprised if fullback Kyle Juszczyk is the Ravens player who fills Daniels' void in the passing game.
He hasn't made the impact as many expected (eight catches for 95 yards and one touchdown), but he is a more polished receiver than Gillmore and he can stretch defenses down the seam. A fourth-round pick in 2013, Juszczyk led the Ravens with 10 catches for 90 yards in the preseason.
The other option for the Ravens is to use more three-wide receiver sets. But teams haven't fared well when trying to spread out the Bengals' defense. Cincinnati has held quarterbacks to the fifth-worst passer rating (73.7) when offenses line up three or more wide receivers.
Tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener have had a great deal of success going against the Bengals' linebackers. The Ravens can only hope Juszczyk and Gillmore will continue that trend.
But offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak sounded like he had no doubts that the Ravens' second-leading receiver will be lining up Sunday at the Cincinnati Bengals.
That's bad news for the Bengals, based on Daniels' track record against them. Since 2011 (including playoffs), Daniels has the fifth-most receiving yards (254) of any player in the NFL against the Bengals. He has averaged 5 1/2 catches in four meetings, as Bengals linebackers have had trouble covering him in the middle of the field.
Daniels has certainly come through for the Ravens in his first season, filling the void left after Dennis Pitta sustained a season-ending hip injury. Among NFL tight ends, he ranks in the top 10 in receptions (27, tied for eighth), touchdowns (three, tied for ninth) and targets (36, tied for ninth). He has as many touchdowns as New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.
“He’s a big target, but the big thing is he’s very defined in where he’s going and what he’s doing," quarterback Joe Flacco said of Daniels. "You can see just by how he runs routes and pushes on people and gains the leverage and all that. He does a good job, and that’s why he gets open. Obviously, he’s caught the ball when he has gotten open. He’s been big for us, and he’s going to have to be big for us down the line.”
Daniels, the team's second-leading receiver, missed practice with a knee injury. Although Daniels has played in all seven games this season, he only played two full seasons in his previous eight years in the NFL.
He caught a season-high six passes on Sunday and scored a touchdown on the opening drive. Daniels has 27 catches for 275 yards and three touchdowns this season.
As I wrote earlier, offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele both practiced.
RAVENS INJURY REPORT
Did not participate: TE Owen Daniels (knee), DE Chris Canty (wrist).
Full participation: G Kelechi Osemele (knee), OT Eugene Monroe (knee).
1. The Ravens are going to give up at least two touchdown passes to Andrew Luck: The Ravens have the 24th-ranked pass defense, which is not what you want to have when facing the NFL's hottest quarterback. Luck has thrown 11 touchdown passes in his past three games. The Colts' offensive line is suspect, but the Ravens' defensive backs are a bigger question mark. Quarterbacks are completing nearly 80 percent of their passes when throwing against cornerback Asa Jackson and safeties Matt Elam and Darian Stewart.
3. Owen Daniels is going to score a touchdown: Daniels has been quiet recently after catching two touchdown passes in Week 2. He has only had five catches the past two games. But four of the seven touchdown passes allowed by the Colts have been scored by opposing tight ends. Denver's Julius Thomas, Philadelphia's Zach Ertz and Tennessee's Delanie Walker have each produced at least 84 yards receiving against Indianapolis as well. In terms of fantasy football, the Colts have allowed the second-most points to tight ends in the NFL (only the Jaguars are worse).
How did my predictions fare last week?
Prediction: Panthers won't score a touchdown. Result: Carolina got into the end zone once, on a blown coverage by safety Darian Stewart.
Prediction: Terrell Suggs will get his first sack of the season. Result: Suggs got a half sack.
Prediction: Torrey Smith won't get on track. Result: Smith caught two passes for 53 yards and one touchdown.
Pass protection: The Ravens haven't allowed a sack in their past two games, the first time they've gone back-to-back games without giving up one since 2007. For the season, quarterback Joe Flacco has been sacked three times. Only four teams have allowed fewer sacks. Compare that to last season when Flacco was sacked a career-worst 48 times (an average of three per game). The last time Flacco was sacked was his final play of the season opener. That means he's gone 60 dropbacks without being sacked.
Discipline on the field: The Ravens are tied with the New Orleans Saints for the fewest penalties in the NFL with 12. Half of those penalties have come from three players (who each have been flagged twice): linebacker C.J. Mosley, tight end Owen Daniels and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe. The San Francisco 49ers lead the NFL with 36 penalties. Jim Harbaugh's team has lost 303 yards because of penalties, while John Harbaugh's team has lost only 96 yards.
Blocked field goals: It had been five years since the Ravens had blocked a field goal. Now, they've done it twice in the first three games of the season. Asa Jackson blocked Billy Cundiff's 36-yard attempt Sunday, and Jeromy Miles got a hand on Mike Nugent's 45-yarder in the season opener. The Ravens now have two blocked field goals this season, while the rest of the league has combined for five.
Tackling by the secondary: The Ravens' defensive backs have to do a better job of getting receivers on the ground. They've accounted for 13 of the Ravens' 23 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. Four defensive backs are among the Ravens' top six players in missed tackles. Safety Matt Elam and Jackson lead the Ravens with four missed tackles each.
Production from receivers not named Steve Smith: Through three games, Steve Smith has 18 catches for 290 yards and one touchdown. The other receivers (Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken) have combined for 14 receptions for 150 yards and no touchdowns. Torrey Smith has been the most disappointing with six catches for 85 yards.
Performance of those playing in pain: It's admirable that Monroe and cornerback Lardarius Webb gutted it out with injuries. Monroe is dealing with a knee injury and Webb is trying to overcome a back issue. But both struggled mightily against the Browns. Monroe allowed four quarterback hurries and looked limited in run blocking. Webb appeared stiff in coverage and got turned around on a 24-yard catch. The Ravens, though, need them because there is a significant drop-off if they replaced them.
You're probably not going to like the Ravens' answer.
"We're going to play our good players," Harbaugh said. "So, who's on the field is going to depend on who are good players are and how the coaches decide to attack."
All of these options can collectively help fill Pitta's void in the red zone and on third downs. Since 2011, Pitta has scored the second-most red-zone touchdowns on the Ravens with eight and has the second-most third-down catches with 46.
Here is what each of the replacements can provide:
TE Owen Daniels: He won't get much separation at this stage of his career, but he knows the offense better than anyone. This is his ninth season with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. He's also gained the trust of Joe Flacco with his toughness over the middle. Much like with Pitta, the biggest concern with Daniels is durability. He's missed 26 games the previous five seasons.
FB Kyle Juszczyk: The 2013 fourth-round pick is the option who has the most breakout potential. Juszczyk led the Ravens in catches in the preseason, and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak compared him to James Casey, who caught 34 passes and three touchdowns with Kubiak two years ago. What will help Juszczyk get on the field is his versatility. He can play every skill position, from fullback to tight end to wide receiver. Plus, he's the answer to a trivia question. Juszczyk is the first Harvard player to catch a touchdown passion the NFL since Pat McInally on Dec. 21, 1980.
WR Marlon Brown: He was primed to regress this season. The Ravens added more weapons in the passing game, and Brown uncharacteristically dropped a lot of passes in offseason workouts and training camp. Still, it's hard to dismiss Brown's 49 catches and seven touchdowns as a rookie last season. His size (6-foot-5) makes him a great target in the red zone. Brown's playing time will increase if the Ravens go from a two-tight end offense to a three-receiver one.
This is the second straight year where the Ravens have to replace Pitta after he had hip surgery. Last year, the Ravens attempted to address his loss by signing Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark. It's safe to say the Ravens are in a much better position to handle losing Pitta this season.
When asked about Daniels after Thursday night's win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, quarterback Joe Flacco didn't bring up the two touchdowns that his tight end scored. Something else stood out.
"Owen made some tough catches over the middle for me where he got popped," Flacco said. "He held onto the ball and got up fired up."
The easiest catches of the season so far for Daniels were the ones in the end zone. With the defense buying Flacco's play-action fakes, Daniels was free to get open for scores each time.
His first touchdown extended his streak of recording a catch in 90 consecutive games, the longest active one for NFL tight ends. His second one gave him his fifth career game with multiple touchdowns.
"We put great drives together, with a lot of people contributing in those drives to get us down to that goal line," Daniels said. "I just happened to be that guy to score the touchdown."
Daniels caught only one pass for 6 yards in the preseason because he missed the final three games with what he called a hamstring injury. The two-time Pro Bowl player didn't show much explosion off the line or separation from defenders in training camp, which raised doubts about how he would fit in the team's game plan heading into Sunday's season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I’m just going to do what I can, whatever I’m asked to do," Daniels said after Tuesday's practice. "Hopefully, I’ll be out there a bunch. Hopefully, we’ll run a lot of two-tight end sets and keep defenses off balance. I think Dennis [Pitta] and I complement each other very well, especially when we’re out on the field together. But whether it’s blocking in the running game or pass protection or moving the chains, I’m here to do a job and do it well."
The Bengals were tough on tight ends last season. They limited tight ends to 630 yards receiving, the second fewest in the NFL.
But Daniels has had success against the Bengals. He caught two touchdown passes against them in 2009, produced 100 yards receiving on seven catches in 2011 and caught nine passes for 91 yards receiving in a 2012 playoff game.
The Ravens aren't tipping their hand to the Bengals on any player who missed time in the preseason. Asked about Daniels, coach John Harbaugh said, "I'm not going to comment on any guys where they stand health-wise or anything like that."
Harbaugh insisted Daniels wasn't injured, saying the 31-year-old tight end was dealing with swelling and leg fatigue.
"Everyone’s legs are tired, I think, and I’m not the oldest guy," Daniels said. "It was definitely a hammy issue, but that’s behind us now and we’re just moving forward with it."
Daniels' reputation is that he's very productive when healthy. He's averaged 62 catches in the four seasons in which he's played at least 15 games.
Daniels is coming off a season in which he missed the final 11 games because of a broken leg.
"I’ve felt great all offseason, in minicamps, that first part of training camp. I felt great," Daniels said. "The leg I broke last year is a non-issue. I haven’t even thought about it at all. It’s like it never happened. Other than that, I’m feeling good."
Even though this a new team for Daniels, it's not a new system. He reunited with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who was Daniels' head coach in Houston from 2006-13. That's why the time off recently wasn't a big deal to Daniels.
"I got a ton of good work in those first two weeks," Daniels said. "Obviously, I would have liked to have been out there, but we played it smart. Week 1 is the most important thing."
Daniels returned to practice Monday after missing the past two preseason games and participated in position drills. Harbaugh reiterated that Daniels doesn't have a tear or pull but there is swelling in his legs.
"He's not right, or we would've played him," Harbaugh said. "We also felt like he had so many reps in this offense [that the Ravens felt] let's take a week or week and a half and let him get fully recovered."
Daniels' season ended last year after he broke his leg. He wasn't available for comment Monday.
The plan is to pace Daniels throughout the week.
"We didn't want to bring him back too fast and throw everything at him today," Harbaugh said. "He's working his way back in."
The Ravens signed Daniels to a one-year, $1 million deal that didn't include a signing bonus. If the Ravens were to cut Daniels, there would be no salary-cap implications.
Harbaugh said he expects Daniels to have a full practice by the end of the week, which would indicate he'll be ready for the season opener on Sept. 7.
Daniels is expected to be the Ravens' No. 2 tight end behind Dennis Pitta. He is one of the few Ravens who has previous experience in Gary Kubiak's offense.
"I would be surprised if he doesn't practice on Friday fully," Harbaugh said.