By Aaron Wilson and Matt Vensel, The Baltimore Sun
5:23 PM PST, November 22, 2012
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is accustomed to encountering an instinctive free safety every day, practicing against former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed.
Flacco will have to deal with a similar challenge Sunday against San Diego Chargers Pro Bowl free safety Eric Weddle, who's constantly around the football.
"Weddle has a good feel for where the ball's going to go and how to play certain things," Flacco said. "He tries to hide and bait me a little bit. He covers the field well. He has confidence and he understands the game."
Weddle has intercepted three passes this year after recording a career-high seven interceptions last season. In a loss to the Denver Broncos last week, he returned a Peyton Manning interception 23 yards for a touchdown.
"He doesn't have accolades for no reason," former Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "He's a great player with great ball skills who's very smart at diagnosing stuff and plays with a chip on his shoulder. You have to know where he is."
During a 34-14 loss last season in San Diego, Flacco was intercepted twice and sacked seven times.
Just as Flacco is respectful of his skills, Weddle, who has 65 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, is accounting for the quarterback's ability to throw deep.
"Joe can throw it a mile long," Weddle told San Diego reporters. "We have to be on our toes, especially myself."
McPhee, Pitta on the mend
After missing the past three games with right knee and thigh injuries, starting defensive end Pernell McPhee practiced for the second consecutive day on a limited basis Thursday.
McPhee underwent two arthroscopic knee surgeries prior to training camp, and has only a half-sack after recording six sacks as a rookie last season.
"I'm getting better, getting my feet back under me," McPhee said. "I'm doing all the easy stuff on the field, but coach [John] Harbaugh will make the decision on whether I'm out there Sunday."
Tight end Dennis Pitta will take a baseline neurological test soon to determine if he's medically cleared for contact, but said he no longer has concussion symptoms.
"I've taken a few big hits these last few weeks, but I feel good," Pitta said. "We'll see where we're at, but I feel pretty good."
Reserve cornerback Chris Johnson didn't practice again because of a strained hamstring, but return specialist Jacoby Jones (ankle) was upgraded to limited participation after being held out Wednesday.
Also limited Thursday: nose guard Terrence Cody (left elbow), tight end Ed Dickson (neck), safety James Ihedigbo (neck), outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (shoulder, Achilles), safety Bernard Pollard (ribs), Reed (shoulder), inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (toe, thumbs) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (right knee, right shoulder).
Cornerback Jimmy Smith attended practice for the first time since undergoing sports hernia surgery last week.
Expected to return later this season, Smith declined to comment on his status and said he'll talk when he's healthy.
Rice looking to break out
It was an uncharacteristically quiet game for running back Ray Rice on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers' top-ranked defense
Rice was swarmed, gaining just 40 yards on 20 carries with five receptions for 53 yards.
He gained only 13 yards on 10 carries in the first half, his least in a first half since an Oct. 24, 2011 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars where he was limited to 9 yards on four carries.
Allowing 87.9 rushing yards per game, San Diego has the third-ranked run defense.
"We've got to reinvent ourselves a week later, but obviously it's always been tough-sledding against them," said Rice, who has rushed for 697 yards and seven touchdowns. "You can't just run at the Steelers. This week, same kind of deal. Those are big, heavy guys up front. You get those big guys moving, and hopefully you get a crease."
Upshaw adapting to a new role
Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw lost his starting job when Suggs returned.
The Ravens have tried to find creative ways to keep the second-round draft pick on the field, lining him up at defensive end and nose guard against the Oakland Raiders. However, he played just 35 snaps in Pittsburgh.
"I'm more than happy for them to call on my name when they need somebody," said Upshaw, who has 39 tackles with just 14 over the past four games. "I don't mind. Whatever it is, I'm willing to do it."
Pollard preparing for Gates again
Pollard lined up against Chargers star tight end Antonio Gates several times when he played in the AFC West for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Although Gates has 30 receptions and 355 receiving yards and is on pace for his lowest totals since his rookie year, Pollard said the former basketball player remains a difficult assignment.
"He's still an impact player, still a phenomenal athlete," Pollard said. "I respect him. He can still maneuver and get open. It's going to be a fun matchup."
Keeping an eye on Barnes
The Ravens had no answer last season for Chargers outside linebacker Antwan Barnes. A fourth-round pick by Baltimore in 2007, Barnes sacked Flacco four times in 2011.
Although Barnes has just seven tackles, a sack and two fumble recoveries this season because of a strained hamstring, the Ravens regard him as a dangerous pass rusher. Barnes, who's no longer on the injury report, recorded a career-high 11 sacks last season.
"Barnsie went off," offensive guard Marshal Yanda said. "He can really bring the heat off the edge. We've got to contain him a lot better than we did last time. He's got a lot of speed."
Game blacked out in California
Because the Chargers failed to sell out Sunday's game and have more than 9,000 tickets available, the game has been blacked out in Southern California under NFL rules.
The game will still be shown live in Maryland on CBS.
Harbaugh excused the players early for the Thanksgiving holiday after practicing indoors to simulate the warmer weather anticipated in San Diego. "We know this is a business trip," tight end Ed Dickson said. "It's tough playing around the holidays, but we had a great day and got a good sweat in because it's going to be nice in San Diego. We're focused and ready to play." ... The Ravens expect to hear a lot of good-natured trash-talking from former Baltimore fullback Le'Ron McClain. "There is no clean stuff Le'Ron will say," Suggs said. "You know the kind of vocabulary we use when we're out there. He's definitely going to be jawing, and we're going to give him a little jaw back."
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