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Ravens notebook: Harbaugh continues aggressive approach on fourth downs

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has not been shy this season about attempting to earn a first down on fourth down, and that confidence was on display in Sunday's 38-6 dismantling of the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

On the offense's second possession of the game, rookie running back Kenneth Dixon took a pitch left from quarterback Joe Flacco for a 10-yard gain on fourth-and-1 from the Ravens' own 46-yard line. The team eventually scored on a touchdown pass from Flacco to Dennis Pitta to make the score 14-0.

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Two drives later, on fourth-and-2 from Miami's 43, Flacco connected with wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. for eight yards and another first down. That contributed to a second Flacco-to-Pitta score to extend the advantage to 21-0.

In both cases, many NFL coaches might have been content with punting the ball and pinning their opponent deep in their own end. Not Harbaugh.

"We had a good fourth-down plan, let's put it that way," he said. "It wasn't something where we said we're going to go for it on fourth down. That wasn't the idea. When you feel like you have a play and have a situation where we can find a play or find a way to find a play, you want to give it a shot.

"Really, the important thing is that the guys make the play and execute. That's what Joe and our guys on offense did. It's really not so much about going for it – it's about executing and making a play, and getting it done. I think that's the way tougher thing. It's easy to say, 'Go for it.' It's tougher to make it work. Those guys made it work."

With 15 attempts on fourth down thus far, the Ravens are tied with the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers for third in the NFL in that department. Only the Philadelphia Eagles (19) and Houston Texans (16) have gone for it more often on fourth down.

The pair of fourth-down conversions were the team's first since going 2-for-2 against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 10. While the Ravens' 46.7 success rate on fourth downs is tied with Green Bay for 19th in the league, the players on offense appreciate Harbaugh's faith in them.

"The mindset was to keep the foot on the gas and don't let up," wide receiver Breshad Perriman said of building on the team's 14-0 lead. "That's not enough points in this league. …That was our mindset. Keep your foot on the gas and don't let go of the lead."

Injury update: Rookie Alex Lewis, who made five starts at left guard and three at left tackle before sustaining a high right ankle sprain on Nov. 10 against the Cleveland Browns, made a brief appearance at the team's training facility Thursday, moving a little slowly before declining an interview request.

A timetable for the fourth-round pick's return has not been outlined, but Harbaugh characterized Lewis as "a good ways away." Lewis' absence has been filled by Vladimir Ducasse, who is starting at right guard after Marshal Yanda moved to the left side.

Harbaugh also said the availability of tight end Crockett Gillmore and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro is cloudy because of the fickle nature of their hamstring injuries.

"You never know with hamstrings," he said. "They think they're close, and they try it, and it grabs on them. So we'll just see how it goes."
No quibble from Ravens on new grass: After Sunday's game, several Dolphins players complained about the middle section of turf extending from end zone to end zone between the numbers at M&T Bank Stadium.

Defensive end Andre Branch called the new grass "terrible," while running back Jay Ajayi described it as "slick." Coach Adam Gase said the team would have to go back and review whether the players had the proper cleats for the field.

On Monday, Harbaugh praised head groundskeeper Don Follett for the job he and his grounds crew had done.

"I think it's held up quite well," Harbaugh said. "It was re-sodded for this game. You saw the stretch in the middle that was re-sodded. I thought Don did a great job getting the field ready. It felt good when I walked on it. I didn't slip, but our players didn't slip, either. Our guys were prepared for it. That's really an individual thing as a player. You have to go out there and find your footing in pregame. Our guys did a good job of that."

Weddle makes amends: A week after dropping a potential interception in a win against the Cincinnati Bengals, Eric Weddle redeemed himself on Sunday.

The strong safety snatched a pass intended for wide receiver Jarvis Landry but tipped by cornerback Jerraud Powers in the third quarter. It marked Weddle's third interception of the season, pulling him into a tie with inside linebacker C.J. Mosley for the team lead.

Weddle proved to be a quick learner after he scolded himself for committing the cardinal sin of trying to catch an errant pass with his chest against Cincinnati.

"Hey, you get humbled," he admitted. "You go back to work, and anytime you've struggled, anytime you don't play well, you make mistakes, I only know one way, and that's to work harder and to continue to believe in yourself. And [when] you've got a group, this organization, my teammates and coaches, that believe in you, it makes it easy to move past those not-so-good plays you have and move forward."

End zone: With his 53-yard catch-and-run for a score in the fourth quarter Sunday, Perriman has now reached the end zone three times in his last four games. His touchdown against Miami entailed making the grab at the 50-yard line before outracing Miami's defense the rest of the way. Even Harbaugh thought the Dolphins players would stop Perriman from scoring. "I would think most people watching, including myself, with the angle I had, thought that he was going to get boxed in. And he didn't get boxed in," Harbaugh said. "He just outran the angles and that was exciting to see. And he did it with confidence. He's a quiet guy, he works really hard. It really matters to him. He's only going to continue improving with how hard he works."

… Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. were flagged for taunting and illegal use of hands, respectively, in the first half. Harbaugh confirmed that he expressed his perspective to both players. "I still have great respect for both of those guys," he said. "In no way are they intending to hurt the team in any way. Just the opposite, they want to help the team in any way they can, and I respect that about them. That's where that stands, and we communicated about that."

… Former Ravens running back Justin Forsett was claimed off waivers Monday by the Denver Broncos. Forsett, who was released by the Detroit Lions on Friday, rejoins Denver coach Gary Kubiak, who guided Forsett to 1,266 yards, a 5.4 yards-per-carry average, and eight touchdowns in 2014.


edward.lee@baltsun.com

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