OWINGS Baltimore Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis is definitely expected to miss at least Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a toe injury, and possibly more games depending on how quickly it heals.
Lewis went to visit a specialist in South Florida to get another opinion on his toe after suffering the injury against the Seattle Seahawks. And the diagnosis confirmed the extent of the damage.
Lewis hasn't practiced for the past two days.
The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year has started 57 consecutive games, not missing a start since the 2007 season.
Lewis, 36, leads the Ravens with 68 tackles, also recording two sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles.
The Ravens' options at middle linebacker include shifting over inside linebacker Jameel McClain or starting Dannell Ellerbe, who was upgraded to full participation after missing time with a hamstring injury.
The Ravens also have Pro Bowl special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo in the mix.
Bengals' QB Dalton doesn't play like a rookie
OWINGS MILLS – Precision spirals, intuitive decisions, decent zip on the football and physical and mental toughness have defined precocious Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.
Although he's not in the gunslinger category like former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, Dalton has capably replaced the former Pro Bowl passer with leadership qualities and acumen that have made up for a lack of a cannon arm.
"The kid's playing really well," Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "He's playing beyond his years: great release, really poised in the pocket. He's playing at a really high level and gets the ball out quick. So, we've got our hands full."
Heading into Sunday's pivotal AFC North clash against the Ravens (6-3) at M&T Bank Stadium, Dalton has spearheaded the Bengals' turnaround with an uncommonly good start during his first season in the NFL.
Since being drafted in the second round out of Texas Christian, Dalton has led the Bengals (6-3) to a surprising spot of contention.
And he's been historically productive so far.
With 14 touchdown passes, Dalton has delivered more scoring tosses in the first nine games of his career than any NFL quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 as he's eclipsed the 13 touchdown passes during the same span of time by Jim Plunkett (1971) and Dan Marino (1983).
Dalton needs two touchdown passes against the Ravens for the most by a rookie in his first 10 games as the record is 15 shared by Marino and Peyton Manning. Manning owns the full-season record for touchdown passes by a rookie with 26, and Dalton is on pace for 25 scores through the air.
"I feel like I've grown a lot," Dalton said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "I feel like I'm seeing things a lot better, and I have a really good understanding of what we're doing and what the defenses are doing. So, the biggest thing I've just got to keep improving, keep getting better each week."
That's just what Dalton has done since hsi arrival in the NFL.
He's thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game other than a 13-8 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the third game of the season.
Dalton has completed 60.3 percent of his throws for 1,866 yards with nine interceptions for a respectable 82.6 passer rating.
Although he fell short against the Pittsburgh Steelers a week ago in a 24-17 loss as he threw a critical interception against the defending AFC champions, Dalton passed Greg Cook for the most passing yards by a rookie in franchise history.
"First and foremost, the coaches have done a great job with him," Ravens strong safety Bernard Pollard said. "You look at Andy Dalton, and he's not playing like a rookie. The coaches allow him to run their game plan and put it on his shoulders."
Dalton has impressed everyone from Steelers veteran middle linebacker James Farrior to Super Bowl Most Valuable Player quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
He ranks 17th in the NFL in passer rating, 20th in passing yards and 24th in yards per pass, fairly ordinary statistics.
With Dalton, though, it's about more than numbers. He's a winner, and he has defied erroneous predictions that he would struggle initially as a rookie starter following the NFL lockout.
It's been exactly the opposite case for the 6-foot-2, 220-pound red head.
"He's a good quarterback," Farrior said. "He's a young guy with a lot of potential, a lot of upside and I think he held his own. He had a lot of poise. He's got a good pocket presence and got rid of the ball when he needed to.
"He didn't get rattled. A lot of young quarterbacks can get a little in awe of our defense and get confused, but he did a good job on us."
Dalton has already engineered a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks to beat the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans.
With four victories and no defeats in October, Dalton was named NFL Rookie of the Month.
Ever since an eye-opening Senior Bowl week and going 42-7 as a starter in college, Dalton has been proving doubters wrong.
"He fits into the offense," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Dalton. "I think they've built it very well for him. He has, obviously, a very quick release. He has a nice release. He's an accurate passer.
"He gets the ball out quick when he needs to. He moves around the pocket pretty well. And, he's made good decisions. I think he's protected the ball really well. That's what winning quarterbacks do, and he's done a good job of that."
Dalton established a franchise record for single-game passing yardage by a rookie quarterback with 332 yards against the Denver Broncos.
And Dalton is sharp enough to take advantage of his downfield targets, connecting 41 times so far with rookie first-round wide receiver A.J. Green for 635 yards and six touchdowns. Green leads all rookie receivers in every category.
"He's a great quarterback," Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "He's making great, solid, accurate throws with great timing. They're growing well together, he and A.J. We're going to see him for a long time."
One week after being unable to finish off the Steelers, another huge challenge looms for Dalton and an emerging offense that only ranks 24th in the league in total offense and 15th in scoring with a 23.6 average per contest.
He'll square off Sunday with Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, All-Pro free safety Ed Reed, All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the leaders of the third-ranked defense in the NFL.
"They've been really good, and they've been really good for a while," Dalton said. "So, it's definitely going to be a big test for us. You see the heart and soul of the defense with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. They get the guys going, and they're the guys doing a lot of the communication. So, you've got to find where those guys are, and we've just got to execute. We've got to go out and just execute our plan."
Ravenes notebook: Cameron insists he wants to get
Rice the ball more
Under serious scrutiny from critics after orchestrating a play sheet where star running back Ray Rice was barely involved Sunday, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron insists that having Rice be a focal point of the offense remains a major priority.
"There's nobody that wants to get Ray the ball more than I do or we do as a staff," Cameron said. "Sometimes, circumstances dictate. Now, you are trying to throw it to a guy instead of handing it to him. That has its challenges.
"By the end of this season, he needs to be a guy who is getting the ball as much or more than anybody in the league. That gives us the best chance to win."
However, there seems to be a disconnect between those words and how the offense is run considering that Rice only had 13 touches in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks to equal his season-low established earlier this season in a glaringly similar defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Overall, Rice touches the ball plenty.
He has rushed for 559 yards and six touchdowns on 138 carries, catching a team-high 46 passes for 470 yards and two touchdowns.
So, why did he only have five runs for 27 yards against the Seahawks with one caarry in the second half?
And why did Cameron have quarterback Joe Flacco launch a career-high 52 passes?
Cameron cited how the Ravens fell behind 22-7 as they were plagued by turnovers and field position issues.
"Every game kind of takes on a life of its own," Cameron said. "We're not looking at it big picture as runs and passes. We want to run the football better. We want to run it more, but sometimes circumstances dictate that you have to do whatever you need to do to win the game."
What does Rice think about what happened? As he politely said Wednesday: "Five carries isn't going to cut it."
Although the Seahawks' time of possession edge of 35:01 to the Ravens' 24:59 seemed to make a difference as running back Marshawn Lynch grinded out yards to keep the offense off the field against a tired Ravens defense, Cameron doesn't think running the ball would have made a difference in terms of wearing out the opponent and allowing the defense to rest.
"Really, it's the opposite," Cameron said. "You talk to guys that can rush the passer, rush the passer, rush passer. That takes it out of them. There aren't a ton of teams just bruising people up all the time now, but you can take just as much out of them making them rush the passer, and our guys did a great job. It just depends on how you want to look at it. There are times you want to be physical. We are going to be physical in pass protection. I think we have to kind of get away from stereotyping things as run or pass.
"It's really about execution, it's about throwing it and catching it, when you run it, hanging onto it, because our No. 1 issue is ball security. We've done a tremendous job here the last few years of ball security, and it doesn't get talked about. Our goal is to keep our defense on the sideline, and if we put them back out there, make sure those men don't have a short field behind them."
R. LEWIS SIDELINED AGAIN: Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis didn't practice for the second consecutive day due to a foot injury.
Concern is beginning to grow about Lewis heading into Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Lee Evans (left ankle) practiced again on a limited basis. It's his fifth practice in a row dating back to last week when he started practicing after missing seven games in a row.
Cameron suggested that Evans might not necessarily return this week, though.
"It's really going to be predicated on how he practices," Cameron said. "He probably needs a week or two of good practice. I think that will help because some of our other guys are playing really well and we have some other options until he comes back.
"We'll see how the practices go. If he is practicing at a level that John [Harbaugh] feels and we feel he can help us win the game, then I am sure he will be active. That may take a week or two."
Not practicing: rookie running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) and defensive tackle Arthur Jones (concussion).
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) was upgraded to full participation.
For the Bengals, wide receiver AJ Green (hyperextended right knee) didn't practice for the second day in a row as well as tight end Donald Lee (foot). Outside linebacker Dontay Moch didn't practice due to an illness.
The following players were limited: defensive end Carlos Dunlap (hamstring), cornerback Adam Jones (groin), defensive end Michael Johnson (non-injury reasons), running back Brian Leonard (knee), defensive end Frostee Rucker (knee) and safety Gibril Wilson (ankle).
Cornerback Nate Clements (knee) participated fully as well as center Kyle Cook (foot), safety Chris Crocker (knee), defensive end Jonathan Fanene (illness) and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (hamstring).
NEW KICK RETURNER
Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg confirmed that David Reed won't be returning kickoffs against the Bengals after losing two fumbles in Seattle.
"David is a competitive athlete, he's looking forward to the next opportunity," Rosburg said. "We don't know when that is. He will not be returning kicks for us Sunday."
Rosburg said the team will practice kickoff returns today and choose a kick returner for Sunday. The pool of candidates includes Chris Carr, LaQuan Williams, Torrey Smith and Tom Zbikowski.
Williams and Zbikowski are regarded as the leaders for the position.
"That's what we're working on," Rosburg said. "We're going to have a good kick returner practice and we'll find out who our kick returner is."
Reed led the NFL with a 29.3 kickoff return average as a rookie last year.
However, his three fumbles also lead the NFL.
"I feel good, it's like I'm starting with a new slate," Reed said. "I was at the bottom and now I have to work my way back up to the top. I got to do me."
Reed ranks fourth in the league with a 28.6 kick return average.
For now, though, he'll be watching someone else operate as the Ravens' primary kick returner.
The Ravens are expected to give Reed another chance at some point.
"I'm sure he can bounce back," Rosburg said. "David's a competitive athlete, and he's looking forward to the next opportunity. Now we don't know when that is, but I'm certain that when he does get in there again, everybody's going to be watching him with that in mind.
"David's a competitive guy, and he understands what he has to do to get that job back. He's got to earn the trust of everybody on this football team, that he's going to hang onto the ball when he gets it, and he started that path yesterday."
Reed also fumbled against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it was recovered by Baltimore.
"We took David aside and spent a good deal of time going back to the fundamentals of ball security," Rosburg said. "It's fundamental flaws. It's not a lightning strike. It doesn't happen by accident. We went about trying to correct it and fix it. We like David back there as a returner, but he won't be our returner if he puts the ball on the ground."
Reed left his feet on the returns, which tends to increase the chances of a fumble.
"We don't want that," Rosburg said. "The first one, he left his feet. The second one, he left his feet because he got cut out from the backside. That is something we don't teach. That is something we don't want David to do. That's part of ball security, too, how you protect the ball not only with your hands but with the rest of your body as well."
TIME IS NOW: For rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith, his playing time is about to expand against the Bengals.
Drafted in the first round out of Colorado, Smith is beginning to see more playing time on defense after primarily working on special teams since he returned from a high left ankle sprain.
He has just one pass deflection and one special-teams tackle.
"He'll see a considerable amount of time," Pagano said. "We've got to get him out there and get him going. So, yeah, he's ready."
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