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Dear John Vidalin: Welcome to Birdland where baseball ain’t great and beer ain’t so cold anymore

Posted on 08 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

Dear John:

First, welcome to Baltimore. As I can see from all three of your LinkedIn profiles, you have spent a lot of time running the revenue parts of professional sports organizations all over the continent.

As we both know, it’s the dough that pays for the doughnuts – or the crab cakes in this case. So as the incoming Chief Operating Officer for Business Operations for the Baltimore Orioles, I’m gonna treat you the same way I treat Dick Cass up in Owings Mills. (And if I find out you gave a kidney to save someone’s life, you’ll get even better treatment, too!)

I’m the last of the local sports historians and media moguls around here – and the last one who doesn’t work for Peter or have to answer to the powers that be at MASN or around The Warehouse to dispense facts and information. So, with me you’ll get what my WNST business partner Brian Billick always called the “unfiltered information”– as opposed to the C.Y.A. nonsense and smoke being blown rectally from various parts of what’s left of the Baltimore Orioles brand upon your arrival.

By the way, I’m also the only media guy in Baltimore who loves hockey. And I even loved it before last month! I’m guessing 99 is a magic number in your life and part of the reason why you do this for a living. I hear you’re a nice guy. Calgary Flames. Time in the NFL, Houston and San Francisco, then Miami and the Heat after the chill of a post-Lebron world in the NBA.

All those situations, leagues, people, egos, money, sponsors, expectations – and then the hardest part – winning. And you’ll have nothing to do with that but as you learned along the way, it’ll have everything to do with what you do and your success here in Baltimore.

You were involved in the really awesome Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh parts of the San Francisco 49ers lore before the move from Candlestick to Santa Clara that literally wrecked the franchise. The losing certainly didn’t help what was a shaky proposition all the way around in moving to Levi’s Stadium – but you knew that. You also worked within a “unique” family dynamic there so I know you must be keenly aware of what you signed up for here. Plus, you spent some time with the Washington Caps before they found Alex Ovechkin, so you saw the Orioles demise up close before the Nationals ever existed in the DMV.

You were also part of the remnants of the post-Lebron craze in Miami so you know what it looks like after the party is over. Sports is tough sell down there where the girls are pretty and the beach eternally beckons. So is hockey, as you know, but I must say I was blown away by the brand of the Tampa Bay Lightning and #GoBoltsGo across the Everglades this spring in my travels.

And the Houston Texans have always had everything – a well-funded owner, fresh start, a built-in fan base, lots of money, people and mixed nationalities to market and sell stuff to and a great defense and stadium – but without a quarterback it’s been just another starving place waiting for the Astros or Rockets to come along and win. They might even finally have one in DeShaun Watson!

You run a sports franchise. You need stars. You need wins. You need someone and something to market beyond a cartoon bird, a beautiful stadium and a pricey afternoon or evening of lousy, fifth-place baseball.

I’ve watched it here with Cal Ripken and Ray Lewis. And Johnny Unitas and Bert Jones and Joe Flacco, and Eddie Murray and Ed Reed and Frank Robinson. Stars are stars for a reason. Stars create winning. Stars helps sell stuff. And then the spigot flows from there.

And when you lose, well…

You know.

Just look out that window in your new, spiffy office with that incredible sunset view on any night this summer when the gates are open for business and you’ll see what happens when a team has abandoned its fan base for a generation, is getting its ass kicked 38 miles to the south in an unwinnable war by a far more powerful and better-run baseball brand, and is in the middle of losing 100 games and giving away all of its players.

Welcome to Camden Yards, circa 2019!

You’re in charge of the biggest shitshow in town, John – the Baltimore Orioles!

A chance for a new start?

Or a career risk with plenty of warning signs and dark clouds?

Hey bro, you came from Miami! They’ve won two World Series in a climate conducive to baseball 365 days a year and still couldn’t figure out how to sell beisbol to my kinda people from Venezuela, Cuba and Latin America and a coast full of hibernating New Yorkers and New Englanders.

And you know why, right?

Oh, sure the stadium has been in the wrong place twice but the real reason no one on earth is a Marlins fan is because the owner was the biggest asshole in South Florida and every human being, every politician, every business owner, every fan – black, white and brown – knew it.

Even the manatees and alligators knew it.

He was a ruthless shark with zero regard for the fans or any emotional intelligence beyond the lies and trail of profit in bilking the community politicians, while raiding the tax kitty and sucking on the civic titty. It was a badge of honour for any South Florida sports fan to stay away from that shitty monstrosity out in the middle of nowhere anyone would ever want to be on a summer night in Miami.

I experienced it personally when I tried to swab a few people to save lives down there in 2015 on my MLB 30-30 #GiveASpit tour. The Marlins reputation as a terrible franchise preceded them and they managed to even be worse. Derek Jeter will be spending the next decade trying to find people who can love baseball in a blimp in South Florida. (But he’s got at least one guy in Baltimore who loved the painted girls in the pool at the Clevelander!)

Sure, laugh at them. You sold against them so you know they were a punchline on South Beach! And yet you probably have no idea how close Orioles fans came to having Jeffria Loria be our douchebag owner here in Baltimore. He finished a very close second place.

You can read the history of how your new boss beat out that guy for the kingdom of Baltimore Orioles baseball on a hot summer day in 1993 in The Peter Principles. 

All of your experiences in these mixed markets and various sports will serve you well now that you’ve made it to the dying, fourth American sports brand of baseball in a market that lacrosse has infiltrated as a primary sport like a bacteria on termites in the spring and summer calendar of affluent (and not so affluent) white people in the suburbs of your primary (and now pretty-much only) market.

This would be one of the great turnaround stories in modern times, as I pointed out to Louis and John in their #DearOrioles letter, if this franchise is playing meaningful baseball games in August and September anytime soon.

I would petition the mayor of Baltimore in 2028 to change the name of the Inner Harbor to “Loujon” if they pull off a Rocky Wirtz-style turnaround with the Orioles and we start having parades around here.

I’m pulling for you – even if I never get my legitimate press credential back, which I’ll get to – because what is good for the city is good for me. I’ve been waiting all of my adult life for the Baltimore Orioles to capture the imagination of the community. I’m no longer holding my breath – or words and truths – for a lot of reasons.

I like that you are a hill charger. I’ve liked every Canadian I’ve ever met. (Well, except for Denis Potvin. He still sucks!)

I, too, am a hill charger, a tower jumper and a wall climber. I am a dreamer. I have delusions of grandeur. You can ask, Peter Angelos!

I’ve been charging The Warehouse wall with facts and legitimate questions since it was erected. At some point it’ll fall like Berlin. But it can’t keep going the direction it’s going – older, emptier, poorer, worse, less attractive, more expensive, harder to access, easier to ignore – and survive long term in Baltimore.

You can’t reach for the ceiling if you don’t know where the floor is located. I can assure you that you are closer to the basement than the attic and gravity is winning. Losing on the field is going to be the least of your problems if you’re truly going to be “in charge” of the Baltimore Orioles.

Most people in every lonely cubicle in your new digs at The Warehouse will tell you I’m the village asshole ­and have been for 27 years – “the worst former media guy in Baltimore who still owns his own radio station, broadcasts all day and reaches 100,000 a week but nobody listens to him” – because I ask legitimate and fair questions and don’t like it when I’m lied to or ignored on behalf of the fans after three decades.

Mr. Angelos says I’m fake news.

He’s taken away my access to do what feeds my family over the last dozen years. His actions regarding the press and media – as well as his stance on foreign players and in the international market – have a lot in common with the guy who runs our country.

I can’t be controlled. So, therefore, I must be destroyed.

I’m not worthy of a media credential because I won’t lie for his franchise or associate my name with his deeds without

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Chapter 20: Sup-Harb Bowl – A Crescent City Crowning for Ravens

Posted on 31 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

“We want to win Super Bowls. We want to make history. We want to do things that have never been done in the NFL before. Don’t we all want that in life? Don’t we all have dreams?”

John Harbaugh on WNST.net (March 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

THE NFL ALLOWS THE TWO TEAMS that win their conference championship game an extra week to prepare for the Super Bowl. For the Baltimore Ravens, it was just what the commissioner ordered – a few days to rest and enjoy their monumental accomplishment. Despite the need to prepare to beat the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens were in dire need of a little time to breathe after what had been a physical and emotional roller coaster over the previous 21 days.

The Ray Lewis Last Ride. Beating the Colts. A new offensive coordinator. New personnel on both sides of the ball over three games. The brutal cold in Denver. The drama in Denver. The miracle in Denver. The emotions of Denver. And then the exorcising of some old demons in Foxborough, beating Tom Brady and overcoming the role of being a huge, road underdog two weeks in a row in the biggest games of their lives. It was indeed time to rest.

Sure, the Ravens were lucky to win in Denver. But statistically, and if not for shoddy coverage on the two Trindon Holliday returns for touchdowns, the Ravens played extremely well on offense and defense at Mile High. But it was in New England, where they fell behind early and took no mercy after halftime, that they showed true championship mettle. The Ravens beat the snot out of the Patriots in the second half on both sides of the ball. Flacco ran the offense up and down the field, and the Ravens defense held Brady scoreless in the second half. “When is the last time that happened at Foxboro?” said center Matt Birk. “Like, never? It’s unbelievable!”

But it was Flacco and the offense that put the pedal down and attacked the banged-up and depleted Patriots defense. “We realized that we just needed to put some pressure on them in that way,” Flacco said after the game in the Gillette Stadium locker room. “In the first half we were probably a little bit run-heavy, and they did a good job of stopping it, and we came out in the second half and decided to go with what we went with. We didn’t come all the way here to play it safe and hope to win. We came here to win the AFC Championship Game, and you have to play to win and you have to do some of those things, and our guys made plays – Anquan [Boldin] came up huge – all of our receivers [and] all of our tight ends, our linemen, everyone came up big when they needed to. We’ve definitely overcome a lot, but I think that – if you look at the Super Bowl winners over the past few years – I’d probably say that we’d have a lot in common with that. It’s about who can get ready and who can become their best at the right time and hit the ground running and that’s what we’re doing.”

The Ravens wouldn’t need to run to New Orleans. Like Fats Domino sang, they could’ve walked or floated with the emotional high they were on after New England.

The Big Easy would be waiting in seven days, and even though the strategy on the field would take a backseat to the Super Bowl media madness and storylines, the Ravens knew they had their hands full with upstart quarterback sensation Colin Kaepernick and his hard-to-mark “Pistol” offense. San Francisco also prided itself on a stingy defense led by a head coach that Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh knew all too well.

And as much as John Harbaugh begged the media to not delve to deeply into this unique story of brother vs. brother, he knew there was no stopping that train.

Let’s just cut that right out,” Harbaugh joked with the media from the podium immediately following the win in Foxborough. “Can we all agree? Just forget about that stuff. We did that last year, OK? It was fine. It got old last year. Did it not? My dad is definitely on board with that. [My parents] don’t take any interviews anyway. He’s in the basement down in Mequon [Wisconsin], and I hope he’s on his fourth or fifth beer

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Ravens bring back veteran Jeremy Zuttah to boost offensive line depth

Posted on 18 August 2017 by Luke Jones

Just over five months after being traded to San Francisco, veteran offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah is returning to the Ravens.

On Friday, the sides agreed to a two-year contract worth just under $4 million in base salary and up to $6 million with incentives, according to NFL Network. Zuttah had also drawn interest from Indianapolis after being released by the 49ers last week.

The 31-year-old started 41 games at center for the Ravens from 2014-2016 and was invited to play in the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season, but he was bothered by nagging injuries over the last two years. Baltimore aimed to have a more physical presence at the center position this offseason, prompting the trade to San Francisco that included an exchange of sixth-round picks in April’s draft.

Last year, Zuttah was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 13th-best center in the NFL and was ranked 26th in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 system. It remains unclear what Zuttah’s role will be as Ryan Jensen has shown steady play as the starting center this summer, but the former’s return could push Jensen to left guard where the Ravens are trying to fill the void left by the injured Alex Lewis.

Zuttah also started 41 games at left guard early in his career with Tampa Bay.

No matter where Zuttah fits, the Ravens needed depth for the interior line after losing Lewis (shoulder) and 2017 fourth-round guard Nico Siragusa (knee) to season-ending injuries and fourth-year lineman John Urschel to retirement since the start of training camp. Baltimore started unknown third-stringer Jarrod Pughsley at right guard against Miami on Thursday night, a reflection of how thin their depth had become.

Zuttah is the second notable addition to the offensive line this month as general manager Ozzie Newsome signed veteran right tackle Austin Howard to a three-year contract on Aug. 4.

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Former Ravens center Zuttah released by San Francisco

Posted on 09 August 2017 by Luke Jones

Less than five months after being traded, former Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah has been released by San Francisco.

The 49ers chose to part ways with the 31-year-old Wednesday after it was apparent that he wasn’t going to win the starting job from incumbent Daniel Kilgore. The Ravens swapped Zuttah and their 2017 sixth-round pick for San Francisco’s 2017 sixth-round pick on March 15, a move that led to general manager Ozzie Newsome selecting Virginia Tech safety Chuck Clark with the 186th overall pick in April’s draft.

Zuttah was scheduled to make $3.5 million in base salary for the 2017 season.

Baltimore’s decision to trade Zuttah was more about his underwhelming play in 2016 and the desire to get bigger and stronger at the position than about his salary, but the organization didn’t add a veteran center in the offseason and lost fourth-year interior lineman John Urschel to his surprising retirement at the start of training camp.

It’s unclear if the Ravens would be interested in re-signing Zuttah at a lower salary for depth with Ryan Jensen currently slated to start at center. In addition to Urschel’s retirement, the Ravens lost fourth-round rookie guard Nico Siragusa to a season-ending knee injury in training camp, leaving former practice-squad member Matt Skura as their top reserve interior lineman behind Jensen and starting guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis.

Zuttah has started 117 games in his NFL career and was added to the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season, but nagging injuries contributed to a decline in his play over the last two seasons. He started 41 games at center in his three seasons with the Ravens.

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Proposed rule change aimed at Ravens’ end-game holding strategy

Posted on 23 March 2017 by Luke Jones

A tactic used by the Ravens to preserve a narrow victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last season may no longer be legal in the future.

The NFL’s competition committed has proposed a rule to prohibit the act of committing multiple fouls on the same down to manipulate the game clock. If approved, such an act would draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and prompt the game clock to be reset to where it was at the snap. The official reason given for the suggested change was “competitive fairness,” according to the committee.

This proposal comes after multiple members of the Baltimore punt team intentionally committed holding to allow punter Sam Koch to stall and run out the final 11 seconds of the fourth quarter and take a safety to conclude a 19-14 win at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 27. The same strategy was used by the Ravens at the end of Super Bowl XLVII four years ago, but Koch took a safety before time completely expired against San Francisco.

The 49ers used a similar defensive holding tactic late in the first half of a game last year that forced New Orleans to settle for a field goal try instead of having more time to try to score a touchdown.

This would hardly be the first time that the league has eliminated a loophole in the rule book that’s perceived by some as a violation of the game’s competitive spirit. It was a little over two years ago that the New England Patriots’ use of eligible and ineligible receivers bewildered the Ravens in a playoff contest and led to the NFL tightening up the rule a few months later.

No matter the aftermath, it’s wise to be aware of the intricacies of the rule book in hopes of finding a competitive edge to help win a game. The Ravens used that same tactic to help secure their second NFL championship four years ago and to win a crucial game to remain in the playoff hunt last season.

Owners will debate and vote on proposed rule changes at next week’s league meetings in Phoenix.

Check out the full list of proposed changes HERE.

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Ravens narrowly avoided Atlanta’s fate four years ago

Posted on 06 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Atlanta Falcons are predictably the butt of many jokes after surrendering the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history on Sunday night.

Coughing up a 25-point lead in the second half will do that to you, but Ravens fans should pause a moment or two before piling on Matt Ryan and company with too much enthusiasm. After all, Baltimore nearly suffered a similar fate in Super Bowl XLVII four years ago.

No one will forget the image of Joe Flacco raising the first Vince Lombardi Trophy or Ray Lewis celebrating the euphoric conclusion of his “last ride” in New Orleans, but the Ravens came dangerously close to squandering a 22-point lead in the second half. Such a notion felt impossible after Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to begin the third quarter, but San Francisco finally found its offense while the Ravens offense couldn’t run and managed only two field goals in the second half.

It didn’t take long for a comfortable 28-6 lead to become a heart-stopping affair.

You can blame the Superdome blackout if you’d like, but a defense led by Lewis and Ed Reed at the end of their careers gave up three second-half touchdowns and a field goal, which is exactly what the Falcons did before the Patriots marched down the field for the winning touchdown in overtime.

Just imagine how differently we’d view Super Bowl XLVII had Jimmy Smith been flagged on fourth-and-goal from the 5 or the 49ers hadn’t forgotten over their final four plays inside the 10 that Frank Gore was gashing a Baltimore front playing without the injured Haloti Ngata. Of course, unlike the Falcons, the Ravens were able to make a few plays to protect their narrow lead in the end, and that’s all that matters.

Super Bowl LI reminded us that you should never count out the New England Patriots and that the margin between winning and losing can be so razor thin. It also might help to run the ball when you’re protecting a 28-20 lead and are comfortably in field-goal range with under five minutes remaining.

But before mocking Atlanta too much, remember that the Ravens nearly became the Falcons four years ago and breathe a quick sigh of relief that a storybook ending didn’t turn into a nightmare.

** Many Ravens fans predictably went to social media to use Sunday’s result as validation for Flacco being better than Ryan — a tired debate that needs to end — but I’d hardly pin that loss on the quarterback as much as I would on the offensive play-calling of Kyle Shanahan and a defense that couldn’t stop a nosebleed in the second half.

Regardless, Flacco and the Ravens have a lot of work to do to give fans something more current to brag about. Even with the fallout of a devastating Super Bowl defeat, Ryan and the Falcons have a lot more going for them right now.

** After watching his limitations as a pass rusher with just five total sacks in his four seasons in Baltimore, Courtney Upshaw collecting the first quarterback takedown of Super Bowl LI wasn’t what I expected to see.

The former Ravens linebacker added weight to play on the Falcons defensive line this year, and that sack was his only tackle of the postseason.

** Every organization and fan base would love to be the Patriots, but Ravens director of public relations Patrick Gleason offered some perspective hours before Sunday’s kickoff in Houston.

It’s understandable to be discouraged by the Ravens missing the playoffs in three of the last four years and improvements certainly need to be made from top to bottom, but this organization has built up a ton of equity over the last two decades and is still just four years removed from winning the ultimate prize. Relative to most teams around the NFL, the Ravens have spoiled their fans for a long time, which isn’t easy to do.

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Ex-Ravens receiver Boldin named Walter Payton Man of the Year

Posted on 06 February 2016 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin was named the 2015 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, the NFL announced today. The award, which is presented by Nationwide, recognizes a player for his excellence on and off the field.

The announcement was made during NFL HONORS, a two-hour primetime awards special that will air nationally tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on CBS.

Thomas Davis, the 2014 Man of the Year winner, will honor Boldin on-field tomorrow before kickoff of Super Bowl 50.

“The word humbled does not even come close to describing what it feels like to be selected Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year,” said Boldin. “Walter Payton was a player I idolized as a kid for what he could do on the football field, but he became even more of an inspiration to me as I learned about his legacy as a humanitarian.”

“I commend the other finalists throughout the National Football League who continue to use the tremendous platform we as professional athletes have to positively influence the lives of others. May we all continue to open our hearts and make an impact in our own communities throughout this world.”

While Anquan Boldin has amassed an impressive on-field record, he has never lost sight of the importance of giving back to the community. The Anquan Boldin Foundation was formed in 2004 by Boldin with a mission to expand the educational and life opportunities of underprivileged youth. In early 2015, he and his wife Dionne announced a $1 million pledge to increase the impact of their Foundation.

The Foundation offers programs throughout the year, including a summer enrichment program, Thanksgiving food drives offering 300 meals annually and holiday shopping sprees. In the fall of 2015, the Foundation awarded $10,000 academic scholarships to five students entering college and since its inception has awarded 13 four-year scholarships through the “Q81” Foundation Scholarship Fund.

A three-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time Offensive Player of the Week Award winner and Super Bowl champion, Boldin is one of the NFL’s most dynamic receivers. In his first two seasons with the 49ers, he led the team in total receptions (168) and receiving yards (2,241). With 1,062 receiving yards last season, Boldin joined Jerry Rice as the only two players in NFL history to record 600 or more receiving yards in each of their first 12 seasons.

“Anquan Boldin’s passionate dedication to community service and philanthropic causes demonstrate the high standards of character and conduct that we all strive for in the NFL,” said commissioner Roger Goodell. “Anquan stands out among his peers and is well-deserving of this award, but he is part of the overwhelming majority of NFL players who live out the NFL tradition of community service and inspire us all. We are extremely proud of Anquan and grateful for the way he represents the NFL.”

Boldin will receive a $55,000 donation in his name to a charity of his choice. The two additional finalists for the award, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, will receive $11,000 donations to charities of their choice. Donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.

“Nationwide would like to congratulate Anquan Boldin on being named the 2015 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year,” said Terrance Williams, chief marketing officer for Nationwide. “Boldin’s dedication to enriching the lives of those in his community is truly inspiring and Nationwide is honored to be able to help him continue his foundation’s work.”

Boldin was chosen from among the 32 team nominees for the award. The selection panel is comprised of Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, Connie Payton, football greats Anthony Munoz and LaDainian Tomlinson, and Davis.

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Big plays — or lack thereof — hurting Ravens in 2015

Posted on 19 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Big plays — or the lack thereof — have plagued the Ravens in their nightmarish 1-5 start to 2015.

The league’s 27th-ranked pass defense allowed three pass plays of 50 or more yards in Sunday’s 25-20 loss to San Francisco, bringing the total surrendered for the season to six. In all, Baltimore has given up 12 pass plays of 30 or more yards despite facing a relatively pedestrian list of quarterbacks through the first six weeks of the regular season.

Head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees are beginning to sound like a broken record when discussing the pass defense, but there’s been no apparent improvement as the Ravens are in the midst of the worst start in the 20-year history of the franchise.

“If we stop giving up big plays, we’re playing very good defense,” Harbaugh said. “But that’s how it always works when you give up big plays. That’s where all the yards are. That’s how most of the yards are made in this league — by big plays.

“It’s hard to methodically go down the field every single series and execute perfectly. There’s no margin for error with that, so you have to be able to make big plays. If you can stop big plays, then you’re going to stop an offense.”

After saying only three of Pees’ calls in a total of 90 defensive snaps in last week’s loss to Cleveland were bad decisions, Harbaugh acknowledged a “scheme issue” that resulted in 49ers fullback Bruce Miller’s 52-yard catch late in the first quarter that led to a field goal. The Ravens were in a heavy run defense for a third-and-1 play when Colin Kaepernick connected with a wide-open Miller, a play Harbaugh credited as good scheming on the 49ers’ part.

The Baltimore coach said San Francisco’s other long pass plays — the 76-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith and the 51-yard completion to Anquan Boldin — were results of poor coverage technique from cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Jimmy Smith, respectively.

“I didn’t have any problem with any of the [other] calls yesterday,” Harbaugh said, “but there are always calls that you’re going to look at and you’re going to say, ‘Hey, we could be better.’ You’re going to always try to find things that you could do better. There were no major issues with that yesterday.”

Opponents making big plays has been a theme in their five losses, but the Ravens have made very few big plays of their own, failing to recover a fumbled punt or to come away with two potential interceptions against San Francisco on Sunday. Baltimore ranks 30th in the NFL with just four takeaways in 2015 and hasn’t come away with one since the Week 3 loss to Cincinnati.

In the 20-year history of the franchise, the Ravens have had six or more takeaways in a single game seven times.

Meanwhile, the Ravens offense continued to struggle to push the ball down the field with only one pass play of 30 or more yards on Sunday — the 34-yard touchdown from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith in the third quarter. Through six games, Flacco has completed seven passes of 30 or more yards and only one of 50 or more.

“Offensively, we need to start making some big plays,” Harbaugh said. “We need to scheme some big plays in. We need to attack some weaknesses in coverages a little bit better, and we need to make some of those plays. We need to make some catches, need to make some throws, need to make some runs, some run blocks. And we have to do a better job of finding those things for our guys, as well as a coaching staff.”

Timeout questions

Facing criticism for the use of two of his second-half timeouts in Sunday’s loss, Harbaugh defended his decisions a day later.

After a 17-yard completion to fullback Kyle Juszczyk to open the second half, the Ravens burned a timeout less than a minute into the third quarter because of a play call that was “going to be a disaster” on a first-and-10 at their own 37-yard line with San Francisco leading 16-6.

“We wanted to get a good play off there,” said Harbaugh, who did not consider taking a delay-of-game penalty in that situation. “A timeout is not always the most important thing, especially when you’re behind. Sometimes we want to keep drives alive. [When] you start backing yourself up with penalties, I think you’d be asking me that question.”

With the 49ers leading 19-13 early in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh elected to challenge the 51-yard completion to Boldin to the Baltimore 25.

Despite no visual evidence from camera replays that the play had a chance to be reversed, Harbaugh rolled the dice and ultimately lost his second timeout of the half when referee John Parry ruled the catch to stand. The 49ers scored a touchdown three plays later.

“I took a shot there, because it was a big play,” Harbaugh said. “You couldn’t get it on the [stadium video board]. We really didn’t have it on TV [in the booth]. I took a shot there, because it was a big play in the game. We thought we had a chance to win it, and we were hoping we could get it. We had nothing definitive, because we didn’t get much on TV, and we got nothing on the screen.”

No update on Lewis

Harbaugh had no news on starting safety Kendrick Lewis, who injured his left knee in the third quarter of Sunday’s game and didn’t return. Lewis exited the post-game locker room on crutches and was scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Monday.

“I don’t have any updates on injuries, I apologize,” Harbaugh said. “I have been grinding away on [game] tape. I haven’t had a chance to get to that yet.”

James back to Houston

After being waived over the weekend to make room on the 53-man roster for running back Terrence Magee, cornerback Charles James was claimed by Houston on Monday.

The Ravens signed James to their practice squad in early September after he was waived by the Texans at the end of the preseason. The 5-foot-9 defensive back was promoted to the 53-man roster last week after spending more than a month on the practice squad.

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Ravens’ deficiencies at key positions costing them dearly

Posted on 19 October 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s too easy to criticize Shareece Wright after the Ravens’ 25-20 loss to San Francisco on Sunday.

The veteran cornerback had the debut from hell for his new team against his old one, twice being burned for touchdowns in pass coverage. But expecting any better from Wright after signing him off the street less than a week ago is akin to wondering why the car you picked out at the junkyard wouldn’t run without extensive work in the garage.

There was a reason Wright had been inactive four straight weeks for the 49ers before he was finally granted his release earlier this month. Despite being signed to a one-year, $3 million contract by San Francisco in March, Wright was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 103rd-best out of 108 cornerbacks to play at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in 2014.

Head coach John Harbaugh was harsh in his assessment of Wright after the game, but the 5-foot-11 cornerback’s mere presence on the field Sunday was a damning indictment on the state of the 2015 Ravens. And it reflects general manager Ozzie Newsome’s failure to improve one of the most critical positions on the field for a second straight offseason.

Injuries are part of the story, but let’s not pretend that Lardarius Webb has played at a level near what the Ravens envisioned when signing him to a big contract more than three years ago. Will Davis flashed potential in two games before a season-ending knee injury, but he was only acquired when others such as Kyle Arrington and Rashaan Melvin already weren’t cutting it.

After a nightmarish 2014 at the cornerback position, Newsome signed the veteran Arrington — who hasn’t played well — and drafted Tray Walker from Texas Southern to address the problem. To think the fresh-off-the-street Wright was a better option than your fourth-round pick suggests you reached too far in drafting a project you can’t even trust as your No. 4 or No. 5 cornerback on the depth chart.

It doesn’t help that top cornerback Jimmy Smith has been slow to regain his pre-injury form and was burned for a 51-yard reception by the slow-footed Anquan Boldin that set up an eventual touchdown in the fourth quarter. Paid to be a shutdown corner in the offseason, Smith dropped a would-be interception in the first half with plenty of open field in front of him.

A pass rush too dependent on the blitz and suspect safety play — another position that’s struggled the last few years — haven’t done the cornerbacks any favors in 2015, but it’s a position that’s too important in this pass-happy era of the NFL to be this poor. Throwing Wright into such a meaningful role after only a few days to learn the defensive system and with no live-game action under his belt since the preseason was grasping at straws at best. The 49ers knew their former player’s weaknesses and didn’t hesitate to go after him while the Ravens left him on an island with no safety help on Torrey Smith’s 76-yard touchdown catch.

Of course, cornerback isn’t the only position of concern for the 1-5 Ravens as they continue to get little from any receiver not named Steve Smith, who caught seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown but dropped two other throws in the end zone. Not a single wideout other than the veteran registered a catch in the first half on Sunday as the Baltimore offense started slowly and fell behind 16-3 early.

Kamar Aiken did catch a late fourth-quarter touchdown to make it a one-possession game, but watching Jeremy Ross and Chris Givens — two players who weren’t even with the Ravens in the preseason — playing late in the game again showed the failure that the offseason plan has been in replacing Torrey Smith.

Newsome and the Ravens could not envision first-round pick Breshad Perriman injuring his knee on the first day of training camp, but pushing all of their chips to the middle of the table on a rookie has blown up in their faces in 2015. Drafting Perriman wasn’t the real mistake; not having any semblance of a backup plan to stretch the field was the major error when you acknowledge the history of NFL first-round receivers who haven’t found immediate success on the field.

Watching Joe Flacco stand in the pocket time after time on Sunday — he amazingly wasn’t sacked once despite dropping back 53 times — with no one open to throw to was maddening. The quarterback needs to be better as he threw two inexcusable interceptions leading to six points for San Francisco, but how much can you really expect when he has exactly one reliable option who’s 36 and a collection of castoffs, undrafted free agents, and late-round picks to throw to?

Able to effectively run the ball and stop the run, the current Ravens may be built for success in past eras, but the passing game is more important than ever in today’s NFL. If you can’t throw the football, rush the passer, or play in coverage, you’re not going to win many games and that’s where the Ravens find themselves with only one victory in six weeks.

The problems run deeper — injuries, costly penalties, questionable play-calling on both sides of the ball, and poor clock management are among them — but not having enough talent at wide receiver or in the secondary is a major part of the story.

Before the 2015 season began, Baltimore lacked speed and playmakers on both sides of the ball.

And Wright had nothing to do with that.

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Ravens-49ers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 18 October 2015 by Luke Jones

With their pride already wounded after a 1-4 start to 2015, the Ravens’ bodies may feel even worse as five players were officially ruled out or doubtful and five starters were listed as questionable prior to their Week 6 game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Baltimore received good news on Sunday afternoon, however, with wide receiver Steve Smith (back), running back Justin Forsett (ankle), outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (groin), guard Marshal Yanda (ankle), and tight end Crockett Gillmore (calf) all being listed as active. How much each will be able to play remains to be seen as Forsett and Dumervil only returned to practice on Friday while Smith is returning to live-game action a little over two weeks after suffering multiple microfractures in his lower back.

Even with Forsett active, rookie Buck Allen would still figure to receive an increased workload, especially in wake of second-year running back Lorenzo Taliaferro being placed on injured reserve earlier in the week. Rookie free agent Terrence Magee was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday and will serve as the No. 3 running back while the recently-claimed Raheem Mostert was deactivated for Sunday’s game.

With five of their seven deactivated players dealing with injuries — including starting cornerback Lardarius Webb — the Ravens may have pushed the issue a little more with several of their banged-up starters who are less than 100 percent. Newly-signed cornerback Shareece Wright could see extensive playing time with Webb absent, Will Davis gone for the season, and nickel back Terrence Brooks (thumb) also out for Sunday’s game.

Meanwhile, the 49ers officially deactivated veteran running back Reggie Bush with a calf injury, but No. 1 option Carlos Hyde (foot) was active for Sunday’s game. As expected, tight end Vernon Davis (knee) was also active and will make his return to the field after a two-game absence.

John Parry will be the referee for Sunday’s game at Levi’s Stadium.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys and white pants while San Francisco dons its red tops with gold pants.

According to Weather.com, the forecast for San Clara, Calif. calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 60s with winds up to 14 miles per hour on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday marks the fifth regular-season meeting between the Ravens and the 49ers with Baltimore owning the 3-1 edge, which, of course, does not include the 34-31 victory in Super Bowl XLVII. The Ravens are also seeking their seventh straight win against NFC opponents.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Darren Waller
WR Breshad Perriman
CB Lardarius Webb
S Terrence Brooks
RB Raheem Mostert
C Ryan Jensen
DL Chris Canty

SAN FRANCISCO
WR Bruce Ellington
RB Reggie Bush
LB Gerald Hodges
G Brandon Thomas
OL Ian Silberman
NT Mike Purcell
LB Corey Lemonier

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