The Jaguars are by no means an easy game for anyone this season, especially not for the banged-up Ravens.
The Ravens’ injuries at cornerback continue to be a concern, but there is some good news for the unit.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith (rib/shoulder) did not practice Wednesday after leaving Monday night’s game in Cleveland early. Smith had already missed the game the week prior against Dallas because of a groin injury.
Head coach John Harbaugh said Smith, who has a lengthy injury history, is frustrated by the various ailments this season in what has otherwise been a superb year for the veteran.
“He wants to play. He’s really been pushing himself back on the field every time, and it just seems like he just keeps coming up with these things,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes you have to be patient through these things, just be patient, keep fighting through them, and good things happen.”
Cornerbacks Marcus Peters (calf) and Davontae Harris (ankle) also did not practice after getting banged up against the Browns. Peters went off for a couple plays before returning to the game.
The positives are that veteran cornerback Tramon Williams (thigh) was a limited practice participant and cornerback Terrell Bonds returned to practice, as he was designated for return from injured reserve. Bonds has not yet been officially placed on the 53-man roster.
Bonds was placed on IR on Nov. 17 with a knee injury. Before that, he had played in four games, including a whopping 87 percent of the defensive snaps in the Ravens’ win over the Indianapolis Colts.
The Ravens do have more depth now to handle Smith’s injury. Anthony Averett returned to practice last week but was inactive for the game because the Ravens went “heavy” to have more fortification against the Browns’ strong rushing attack. Injuries piled up at cornerback, however, forcing safety/linebacker Anthony Levine Sr. to have to step in at cornerback at one point.
Like the Browns, the Jaguars are also a heavy run team, Harbaugh noted.
Defensive end Calais Campbell (calf) and linebacker Kristian Welch (foot) also did not practice Wednesday. Campbell acknowledged Wednesday that he is not 100 percent after suffering a calf injury midway through the season, but he’s played the past two weeks and said he’s getting better.
“This game right here, I would love to be at even better strength than I was last week,” Campbell said. “So, just keep making progress as the week goes along.”
Tight end Luke Willson (hip) and Levine (abdomen) were limited. Defensive tackle Broderick Washington (concussion) practiced fully.
For the Jaguars, running back James Robinson (knee), safety Josh Jones (shoulder), cornerbacks Sidney Jones IV (Achilles) and Greg Mabin (hamstring), and defensive end Adam Gotsis (hip) were limited.
Add some bad blood to the mix, too…
Yannick Ngakoue made it clear that he wanted out of Jacksonville. Calais Campbell was surprised the Jaguars sent him packing.
The Ravens defensive ends will go against their former team Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, but their emotions around the reunion probably won’t be the same.
Sure, they both obviously want to have a big game against their former teammates and coaches, but Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew summed up the difference best.
“I’m not going to talk trash to Calais,” Minshew said this week. “I know Calais. Calais is too nice of a guy, like I know it’s not real coming from Calais. We’re too cool, I hope. Now Yannick’s going to be out for blood.”
The Jaguars drafted Ngakoue out of the University of Maryland in the third round in 2016. He made a name for himself as one of the league’s premier pass rushers, piling up 37.5 sacks through his first four seasons. But Ngakoue grew tired of losing in Jacksonville and wanted out.
The Jaguars are 1-12 while the Ravens are 8-5 and making a playoff push. And Ngakoue is keeping his focus on that.
“I’m just treating it as another game. We need the rest of these wins to get to where we’re trying to get to,” Ngakoue said Thursday. “At the end of the day, I had my time with Jacksonville – that’s not a secret.”
After the Jaguars placed the non-exclusive $17.8 million franchise tag on Ngakoue, he turned up the volume on his trade request.
Eventually, the Jaguars traded Ngakoue to the Minnesota Vikings on Aug. 30, just before the start of the regular season. Ngakoue wanted out of Jacksonville so bad that he took a reported 30 percent pay cut (about $6 million).
Ngokoue flourished in Minnesota, racking up five sacks in six games, but the Vikings traded him to Baltimore in late October, which was perfect for Ngakoue considering he’s a Maryland native with a very close relationship with his mom and was joining a Super Bowl contender.
Ngokoue is still looking for his long-term contract, hoping that it will be in Baltimore. He hasn’t filled the box score as much as anticipated yet. Ngakoue has one sack in his seven games in Baltimore.
Ngakoue has certainly flashed at various times as a Raven, and he came extremely close to a sack/strip of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield late in Monday night’s game. There are times when he will take over a series. But one of the game’s premier pass rush finishers wants to finish with more sacks, and he’d love to get the run started Sunday against the Jaguars.
“Continue to do what I’m doing every day – practicing hard, studying and continuing to rush violently and winning violently,” Ngakoue said. “This game is about inches. So, I just have to continue to keep working my craft.”
What’s the same about Ngakoue and Campbell’s approach is they want to win. There were some tough years in Jacksonville and now they want to help push Baltimore over the hump.
“When you get the opportunity, you have to take advantage of it, because you never know when it’s going to come again,” Campbell said. “Being on that [Jaguars] team and going to the AFC Championship game, we’re up 10 [points] with five minutes to go, or whatever … It’s just like, you have to find a way to win that ball game, because in this business, the only thing that’s guaranteed is change. … You have to take advantage of the opportunities when they come. That’s why I try to make sure that this team understands that this opportunity to go to the playoffs, to win these next couple of ball games, really this next ball game to have an opportunity for the next couple [of games], it’s so crucial.”