Tag Archive | "afc north"

Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens staked their claim as the best team in the AFC North with a 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday to move into first place ahead of Cincinnati.

With their fourth 5-2 start in the last five years, the Ravens have put themselves in prime position to return to the playoffs as they approach the midway point of the 2014 season. But how much does that mean as we approach the final week of October?

“Meaningful in Week 7, so, it’s good to be there in that situation at this time,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But you have to build on it, you have to keep getting better. We’re not a good enough team to do the things that we want to do right now, so we have to keep improving.”

Baltimore may not be a flawless team — there’s no such thing in the modern NFL — but it’s difficult to look at the numbers and not be impressed with what Harbaugh’s group has done through the first seven weeks of 2014. Even with 14 teams having played only six games at the end of business on Sunday, the Ravens have allowed the fewest points (104) and own the best point differential (plus 89) in the NFL.

Yes, they appear to have drawn the right year to play the woeful NFC South — a division where 3-3-1 Carolina currently sits in first place — but you can’t control which teams are on the schedule. The Ravens are not only beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, but they’re throttling them, which doesn’t often happen in the parity-driven NFL.

Already securing four wins of 20 or more points, the improved Ravens offense has received much of the attention, but the defense is taking major strides with its second straight game collecting five sacks, the first time that’s happened since the 2006 season. It was no surprising feat to limit the hapless Tampa Bay offense last week, but holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ third-ranked unit to just seven points was an impressive task.

With the pass rush coming alive and the play of the secondary stabilizing, the confidence on the defensive side of the ball is growing. Several defensive players spoke after the game about the speech linebackers coach Ted Monachino offered Saturday night, challenging a talented group of outside linebackers to raise its level of play to where it belongs.

It’s safe to say the message was received on Sunday as Ryan was hit nine times a week after Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon was hit 15 times.

“We’re dangerous, and we’re real serious. We’re coming out playing with an attitude,” said rush specialist Pernell McPhee, who added two more sacks on Sunday to continue his strong season. “Our [secondary] needs us, and I know we need them. I think [defensive coordinator] Dean Pees is doing a great job of calling the plays and setting us up to get the sacks. We’re just focusing in and trying to play ball.”

Much credit should go to Pees, who has shown various looks up front by moving around Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and McPhee to cause confusion while using a safety-by-committee approach in the secondary. Matt Elam and Darian Stewart started the game, but rookie Terrence Brooks and the returning Will Hill also saw extensive action at the safety position.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was known for bringing “organized chaos,” but Pees’ decision to substitute so frequently in the secondary reminded the 65-year-old coordinator of his college coaching days at Miami of Ohio when he used various personnel looks in a 1986 upset win over a top 10 LSU team in Baton Rouge. Of course, Baltimore didn’t face that kind of a talent disadvantage Sunday, but it illustrates the creative lengths used to help mask what’s been a deficiency of the defense to this point in the season.

Time will tell whether the safety rotation will continue, but the best weapon to neutralize a shaky secondary has been the major heat in the pocket. It’s also created more opportunities for turnovers as defensive backs got their hands on several Ryan passes despite not coming away with any interceptions.

“Those dudes are our best friends,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the pass rush. “They get in there, they disrupt things, they cause havoc, they make quarterbacks panic and throw the ball in the air. And on our end, we have to do a better job of coming up with some more turnovers. We’ve had a lot of opportunities, and we have a lot of drops.”

Unlike last season’s 8-8 team that remained static with issues on each side of the ball showing up on a weekly basis, these Ravens appear to be improving as the year progresses. Their only loss since Week 1 came on the road two weeks ago against Indianapolis, a team that’s won five straight games and only beat them by seven points at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It’s true that no one should confuse Tampa Bay or Atlanta for juggernauts, but the Ravens have a tremendous opportunity to not only seize commanding control of the AFC North but to make an emphatic claim as one of the best teams in the NFL if they can take care of business in trips to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the next two weeks. It won’t be easy playing on the road against their two biggest rivals, but the Ravens have looked like the class of the division through seven weeks while the Bengals have gone 0-2-1 since their bye with two road losses of 26 or more points.

The Ravens continue to show improvement on both sides of the ball while stacking wins as they now have a chance to pay back Cincinnati for its Week 1 win in Baltimore.

“We have everything that we want to do right in front of us,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We just have to go out there and continue to play well. We have a tough opponent next week that we didn’t play necessarily good against, at least for a half, in the first game. We have to come back out there and prove ourselves. They’re a good football team, and they’re going to be hungry, and we’re [playing] there. It’s going to be a tough test; I can’t wait for it.”

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

Posted on 06 September 2014 by Luke Jones

As everyone else goes through the endeavor of making division-by-division forecasts that will ultimately mean very little, these predictions focus on the Ravens and their effort to bounce back from the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era.

1. Joe Flacco will be the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player.

The quarterback won’t suddenly transform into a 5,000-yard passer with 35 touchdowns, but the arrival of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will bring the most efficient Flacco we’ve seen since the 2010 season when he completed nearly 63 percent of his passes and posted a 93.6 passer rating. A steadier running game will alleviate pressure on the seventh-year signal-caller to feel the need to do it all like he encountered last year, which will only make him more effective with better weapons to target. Flacco will throw 25 touchdown passes for the second time in his career.

2. Haloti Ngata will be playing his final season in Baltimore.

The Ravens and Ngata talked about a new contract this offseason in the same way the organization extended Terrell Suggs’ deal, but talks didn’t go anywhere with the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle carrying a $16 million salary cap figure this year and next. The difference next year will be the ability to save $8.5 million in cap space by releasing him, which will be easier to execute with the emergence of second-round rookie Timmy Jernigan and nose tackle Brandon Williams this season. Though Ngata is still a good defensive tackle, anyone who’s closely watched him play over the last few years has seen a decline in impact and durability, making it likely this is his final season with the Ravens unless he alters his financial expectations significantly.

3. Kyle Juszczyk and Brandon Williams will be players to take a step forward.

The second-year fullback was a non-factor offensively as a rookie, but it’s clear Kubiak envisions a role for Juszczyk as a receiver out of the backfield, making it possible he catches 30 passes in the way H-back James Casey did in Kubiak’s Houston offense a few years ago. Meanwhile, Williams will need to emerge to soften the blow from the loss of defensive tackle Arthur Jones in free agency, and the 2013 third-round pick was impressive against the run in the preseason. The Ravens need more young players to emerge to offset the reality of several core players approaching the end of their careers, and Juszczyk and Williams will make a bigger impact in 2014 after very quiet rookie campaigns.

4. Marlon Brown and Elvis Dumervil will be players to take a step back.

Even though the second-year receiver had an inconsistent summer, his inclusion in this prediction has more to do with the sheer number of weapons added to the equation with a fully-healthy Dennis Pitta back and the free-agent additions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. Brown won’t catch 49 passes again, but he will still be a target in the red zone, which will give him a chance to make his limited opportunities count. Dumervil collected 9 1/2 sacks in his first season with the Ravens, but had only one in his final seven games. He added weight in the offseason, which sounds like a questionable strategy for a 30-year-old rush specialist dependent on speed to get around the edge.

5. Jimmy Smith will be the player who deserves to make the Pro Bowl but won’t.

Before a scary fall that caused bruising and bleeding from his lungs in the second preseason game, Smith was having the best summer of any Baltimore defensive player and appears primed for a breakout campaign after taking significant strides in his first season as a starter. The rest of the secondary is a major concern right now, but Smith could be chosen by defensive coordinator Dean Pees to shadow Cincinnati wideout A.J. Green and the other elite receivers the Ravens encounter in 2014. It may take another year for Smith to finally receive league-wide recognition after an injury-riddled start to his career, but he will play at a Pro Bowl level for an otherwise shaky secondary this season.

6. Terrence Brooks will be starting at free safety before Halloween.

If Smith and Lardarius Webb are healthy, the Ravens should be alright at cornerback even with uncertainty at the No. 3 spot, but there is no such comfort at safety where 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and veteran newcomer Darian Stewart will start. The Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage allows him to make a bigger impact, but his summer was quiet as he still struggled to cover and tackle consistently. Stewart didn’t show any signs of being an impact defender playing deep center field and the third-round rookie Brooks took major strides at the end of the summer, making it only a matter of time before the Florida State product supplants him in the starting defense.

7. Steve Smith will be the top veteran newcomer.

It’s easy to be skeptical of the impact Smith will bring at age 35 by pointing to his yards per catch average steadily decreasing over the last three seasons, but the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was too impressive this summer to think he won’t be a substantial upgrade to the offense. His swagger and attitude will pump life into an offense that lacked any a year ago, and he has the ability to help move the chains and provide production similar to what Anquan Boldin did in his three years with the Ravens when he averaged 882 receiving yards per season. He won’t be able to bring the same explosiveness all 16 weeks that we saw this summer, but he will still be a significant reason why the offense improves from its 29th overall ranking a year ago.

8. Owen Daniels will be the disappointing veteran newcomer.

The 31-year-old tight end revealed a few days ago that he was dealing with a hamstring injury to clarify Harbaugh’s vague “leg soreness” diagnosis that forced him out of practice for two weeks, but Daniels wasn’t impressive when he was practicing in training camp, struggling to gain separation and make plays to complement Pitta at the tight end position. The Ravens have given Daniels the benefit of the doubt because he is so familiar with Kubiak’s system, but it’s difficult not to be reminded of how little Dallas Clark had remaining in the tank last season while watching Daniels practice this summer. Rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore will need to be ready to step up if Daniels can’t provide what the Ravens need in 2014.

9. C.J. Mosley will be the top Ravens rookie.

This prediction isn’t exactly going out on a limb as he’s the only first-year player currently starting on either side of the football for the Ravens. The Alabama product could occasionally struggle to hold up against physical blockers in defending the run, but he has shown impressive ability in pass coverage, which will make him a three-down linebacker in Week 1. The selection of Mosley raised eyebrows considering the Ravens already had depth at inside linebacker and needs at a number of other positions, but he’s been as good as advertised and has the potential to be a dynamic defensive player in the years to come.

10. The Ravens will make the playoffs with a 9-7 record as a wild card, but they will exit in the first round.

The Ravens will move into the top half of the offensive rankings in 2014, but the defense will slide from last season’s 12th overall spot with an aging front seven and a shaky secondary. This adds up to only modest improvement from 2013 when Baltimore finished 8-8 and fell short of the postseason. Cincinnati will prevail in the AFC North with a 10-6 record, but the overall mediocrity of the AFC will leave the door open for the Ravens to finish 3-1 in the month of December and grab one of the two wild-card spots before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs to Indianapolis.

Bonus Super Bowl XLIX prediction no one asked for: New Orleans will beat Denver in a 30-24 final.

A defense that continues to improve under coordinator Rob Ryan will offset last year’s road struggles and put Drew Brees and the Saints in position to win their second Super Bowl title in the last six years while Peyton Manning and the Broncos fall short on the NFL’s biggest stage for the second straight year.

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Bovada makes Ravens third choice to win AFC North

Posted on 31 July 2014 by WNST Staff

Courtesy of Bovada, (www.Bovada.lv, Twitter: @BovadaLV). The Super Bowl odds are from the day after the Super Bowl, the day after the draft, and today before the first set of games before the pre-season.

 

Odds to win the 2015 Super Bowl XLIX (Teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same…the colors are from one date to the next) 

Odds on 2/3/14             Odds on 5/12/14           Current Odds               Notes

Denver Broncos                                    8/1                    7/1                                13/2                              Broncos are now the favorite after trailing the Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks                                  9/2                    6/1                                7/1                                Odds have slowly gotten longer

San Francisco 49ers                              15/2                  15/2                              15/2                              One of three teams whose odds didn’t move

New England Patriots                            14/1                  15/2                              8/1                                Much shorter after initial SB odds, a little longer since

Green Bay Packers                                16/1                  12/1                              10/1                              Odds have gotten shorter each time

Chicago Bears                                      25/1                  20/1                              14/1                              Odds have gotten shorter each time

Indianapolis Colts                                  28/1                  20/1                              14/1                              Odds have gotten shorter each time

New Orleans Saints                               18/1                  20/1                              14/1                              Odds went longer then shorter

Philadelphia Eagles                               25/1                  22/1                              25/1                              Odds went shorter then longer

Pittsburgh Steelers                                33/1                  33/1                              28/1                              Odds were stagnant, then shorter

Detroit Lions                                         33/1                  50/1                              33/1                              Odds flip flopped

Arizona Cardinals                                  33/1                  40/1                              40/1                              Odds went longer, now stagnant

Atlanta Falcons                                     25/1                  40/1                              40/1                              Odds went longer, now stagnant

Baltimore Ravens                                  40/1                  40/1                              40/1                              One of three teams whose odds didn’t move

Carolina Panthers                                  25/1                  28/1                              40/1                              Odds went longer each time

Cincinnati Bengals                                 25/1                  40/1                              40/1                              Odds went longer, now stagnant

New York Giants                                   33/1                  40/1                              40/1                              Odds went longer, now stagnant

San Diego Chargers                              33/1                  40/1                              40/1                              Odds went longer, now stagnant

Dallas Cowboys                                    33/1                  40/1                              50/1                              Odds went longer each time

Kansas City Chiefs                                28/1                  33/1                              50/1                              Odds went longer each time

St. Louis Rams                                     40/1                  50/1                              50/1                              Odds went longer, now stagnant

Washington Redskins                            40/1                  50/1                              50/1                              Odds went longer, now stagnant

Houston Texans                                    40/1                  40/1                              66/1                              Odds were stagnant, now longer

Miami Dolphins                                     50/1                  50/1                              66/1                              Odds were stagnant, now longer

New York Jets                                       50/1                  66/1                              66/1                              Odds went longer, now stagnant

Tampa Bay Buccaneers                         50/1                  50/1                              66/1                              Odds were stagnant, now longer

Buffalo Bills                                          75/1                  75/1                              75/1                              One of three teams whose odds didn’t move

Cleveland Browns                                  66/1                  50/1                              75/1                              Odds went shorter, then longer

Minnesota Vikings                                 75/1                  50/1                              100/1                            Odds went shorter, then longer      

Oakland Raiders                                    75/1                  100/1                            100/1                            Odds went longer, now stagnant

Tennessee Titans                                   50/1                  75/1                              100/1                            Odds went longer each time

Jacksonville Jaguars                             100/1                100/1                            250/1                            Odds were stagnant, now much longer

Odds to win the 2015 AFC Conference  

Denver Broncos                        9/4

New England Patriots                3/1

Indianapolis Colts                      6/1

Pittsburgh Steelers                    12/1

Cincinnati Bengals                     16/1

Baltimore Ravens                      18/1

San Diego Chargers                  18/1

Kansas City Chiefs                    22/1

Houston Texans                        28/1

Miami Dolphins                         28/1

New York Jets                           28/1

Cleveland Browns                      33/1

Buffalo Bills                              40/1

Tennessee Titans                       40/1

Oakland Raiders                        50/1

Jacksonville Jaguars                 100/1

 

Odds to win the 2015 NFC Conference  

Seattle Seahawks                      17/4

San Francisco 49ers                  9/2

Green Bay Packers                    6/1

Chicago Bears                          15/2

New Orleans Saints                   15/2

Philadelphia Eagles                   14/1

Detroit Lions                             18/1

Arizona Cardinals                      22/1

Atlanta Falcons                         22/1

Carolina Panthers                      22/1

New York Giants                       25/1

St. Louis Rams                         25/1

Washington Redskins                25/1

Dallas Cowboys                        28/1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers             33/1

Minnesota Vikings                     40/1

 

Odds to Win the 2014 NFC East (Teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same)          

Odds on 5/28/14           Current Odds

Philadelphia Eagles                   3/2                                5/4

New York Giants                       11/4                              3/1                               

Washington Redskins                4/1                                15/4

Dallas Cowboys                        13/4                              4/1

 

Odds to Win the 2014 NFC North (Teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same)          

Odds on 5/28/14           Current Odds

Green Bay Packers                    4/5                                10/11

Chicago Bears                          11/4                              5/2

Detroit Lions                             17/4                              4/1

Minnesota Vikings                     12/1                              10/1

 

Odds to Win the 2014 NFC South (Teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same)          

Odds on 5/28/14           Current Odds

New Orleans Saints                   7/5                                5/7

Carolina Panthers                      11/4                              9/2

Atlanta Falcons                         11/4                              17/4

Tampa Bay Buccaneers             5/1                                11/2

 

Odds to Win the 2014 NFC West (Teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same)          

Odds on 5/28/14           Current Odds

Seattle Seahawks                      11/10                            5/4

San Francisco 49ers                  7/5                                7/5

Arizona Cardinals                      7/1                                7/1

St. Louis Rams                         9/1                                7/1

 

Odds to Win the 2014 AFC East (Teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same)          

Odds on 5/28/14           Current Odds

New England Patriots                1/2                                1/3

Miami Dolphins                         4/1                                13/2

New York Jets                           15/2                              13/2

Buffalo Bills                              15/2                              9/1

 

Odds to Win the 2014 AFC North (Teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same)          

Odds on 5/28/14           Current Odds

Pittsburgh Steelers                    2/1                                2/1

Cincinnati Bengals                     2/1                                11/5

Baltimore Ravens                      5/2                                11/4

Cleveland Browns                      5/1                                5/1

 

Odds to Win the 2014 AFC South (Teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same)          

Odds on 5/28/14           Current Odds

Indianapolis Colts                      5/6                                1/2

Houston Texans                        9/4                                3/1

Tennessee Titans                       4/1                                7/1

Jacksonville Jaguars                 20/1                              14/1

 

Odds to Win the 2014 AFC West (Teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same)          

Odds on 5/28/14           Current Odds

Denver Broncos                        4/11                              1/3

San Diego Chargers                  11/2                              5/1

Kansas City Chiefs                    5/1                                6/1

Oakland Raiders                        18/1                              18/1

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A Baltimore guy hoping Cleveland football fans taste success?  Really?

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A Baltimore guy hoping Cleveland football fans taste success? Really?

Posted on 31 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

“How many of us have conflicts with someone else- and how many of us pray for that person? We have individuals with whom we are competitive, or whom we dislike or have a quarrel with; but very few of us have true enemies in the martial sense. And yet if Lincoln could pray fervently- and contemporary reports indicate he did- for the people who were opposing him, how much more can we do for someone we just find a little irritating?” — John Wooden

As 2013 merges into 2014, I look at that quote from the great UCLA basketball coach and I wonder, “Is there someone I consider a rival or an enemy, even, that I believe deserves prayer and good fortune?”

Yes, there is.

I don’t consider football fans in Cleveland to be my “enemy”, per-se.  They’re much more of a rival, really, in the traditional sense of city-to-city support for our respective sports teams.  That said, because of the situation involving the transfer of the Browns to Baltimore in 1996, we’ve probably considered ourselves enemies if for no other reason than we stole their football team and then clenched our fists when those in Cleveland took us to task for it.

After all, in Baltimore, we’ve “been there, done that” when it comes to having a team swiped from us.  Our cries and outrage?  Laughed at by those folks in Indianapolis who were just glad to have a team.

The firing of Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland and the press conference yesterday — where the owner of the team looked outrageously out-of-touch with reality — got me to thinking about the football fans in Northeast Ohio.

I realized, with sadness, that football fans in Cleveland are just like baseball fans here in Baltimore.

Saddled with a poor philosophy that seems almost magnetized to losing, the folks who cheer for the Browns haven’t tasted a Super Bowl win (or, trip, even) since — well…since forever.

Our baseball team hasn’t been to a World Series since 1983.

Cleveland football fans haven’t seen their team play in the biggest football game in the world — EVER.

The baseball organization in Baltimore, save three years since 1993, hasn’t been competitive for nearly 20 seasons now.  Along the way, they’ve embarrassed us, poked at us, infuriated us and, most agonizing of all, used our resources to pad their pockets and make us suffer through year after year of bad baseball.

But if you think we’ve had it bad in Baltimore – baseball wise – it pales in comparison to what they’ve experienced in Cleveland since 1996.

The football fans there lost their team.  It wasn’t because they did something wrong.  Like us, in Baltimore, they woke up one morning and the newscast said “Browns leaving Cleveland”.  And that was it.

Three years later, football started again in Cleveland.

They had a sprinkling of success early in the last decade, but for the most part, it’s been nothing but embarrassment in Cleveland as it relates to the Browns.

Yesterday, of course, they fired their head coach after giving him one season in charge.

He joins the long list of coaches they’ve had in Cleveland over the last decade.

In Baltimore, since 1996, there have been THREE head coaches, period.  Marchibroda, Billick and Harbaugh.

In Cleveland, since 1999, they’ve had Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Terry Robiskie, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmer and yesterday’s departed, Rob Chudzinski.

The people in Cleveland deserve better from the football organization.

Just like the people in Baltimore deserve better as it relates to the baseball franchise we’ve supported since the late 1950′s.

If you’re a man or woman of faith and you believe in the power of prayer, it would be kind of cool for you to throw one or two the way of the football fans in Cleveland as 2014 begins and another season of losing football starts to disappear in the rear view mirror of 2013.

I’m going to do it, for sure.

I don’t necessarily want the Browns to be better than the Ravens, but that, in and of itself, is completely out of my control.

Instead, I’ll just privately hope those football fans in Cleveland get to experience some of the joy we’ve experienced in Baltimore with our football franchise.

And, of course, I’ll continue to hope that someday soon, our baseball organization in Baltimore rivals the football franchise in terms of class, integrity and on-field success.

Above all, though, in 2014, I truly hope the people of Cleveland get some sort of reward for their years of support for a franchise that, frankly, probably doesn’t even deserve it.

If John Wooden says it’s OK, it must be.

 

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Ravens first step to improving in 2014: A new offensive coordinator

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Ravens first step to improving in 2014: A new offensive coordinator

Posted on 30 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

Anyone who has followed my on-air ramblings or blogging efforts over the years will attest to the fact that I’m not the knee-jerk “fire the coach” guy when something goes wrong in a season.

The Ravens went 8-8 in 2013 for a variety of reasons, many of which are connected more to player performance than anything a coach or coaches did or didn’t do.

In fact, I can think of five players right off the top of my head that deserve to be fired based on their production in 2013, but their contract status and league salary cap rules make that fundamentally unwise.

As we begin the inevitable discourse on what went wrong with the defending champions, let’s remember from the start they lost twelve key performers from the team that beat the 49′ers in last February’s Super Bowl.  Twelve.  That’s a lot of quality to lose in one fell swoop, even if several of them were getting long in the tooth and dreaming of greener pastures.

It’s a quarterback’s league and the guy behind center in Baltimore threw 22 interceptions in sixteen games.  That’s not going to cut it.  I wrote my Joe Flacco piece last week.  You can read it here.  I’m certainly not saying he was the reason why the team failed to make the playoffs in 2013.  But, I also know he was much closer to being the reason why they missed it than he was the reason why they almost made it.  His stock took a hit in ’13.

The team’s offensive line was dismal most of the season.  The running game was a dud.  One of the team’s top receiving threats broke his hip in the first padded practice of training camp.

The Ravens’ defense wasn’t terrible — and in some cases, they were really good — but they gave up a lot of yardage in big chunks and were less than reliable in the 4th quarter throughout the sixteen week regular season.

Make no mistake about it, though.  This 2013 season will go down as the one when the Ravens offense completely fizzled.

Now, settle in for my idea of how to fix it.

Ready?

The Ravens need to make a change at Offensive Coordinator.  Yes, a firing of a coach.

It’s not completely “that simple”, of course, because Joe Flacco needs to play better, Marshal Yanda needs to play better, Ray Rice needs to play better, Torrey Smith needs to play better and so on and so on.

What we just saw, though, for sixteen weeks, was about as boring, pedestrian and unimaginative as it could possibly get from a team in the best football league in the world.

The coaches and minds behind the scenes in the NFL are supposed to be the best-of-the-best.  The cream of the crop.  What the Ravens exhibited on offense in 2013 was far from “cream of the crop” stuff.  It was dreadful.

And, because you can’t fire all the players and start over next August, the guy who runs the offense has to go.  Along with a lot of others who have had their fingerprints on the offensive blueprint in Baltimore over the last couple of years.

The Bengals used that Andy-Dalton-fake-to-the-running-back-quarterback-keeper play to absolute perfection three times during Sunday’s 34-17 win over Baltimore.  The Ravens didn’t use a play like that once the entire season.

Before you tell me Flacco is Flacco and no one can come in and teach him anything, let me remind you what just transpired in Pittsburgh this season.  Todd Haley showed up in 2012 as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, took a year to figure out what changes he thought they needed, then spent nearly four months this past off-season convincing Ben Roethlisberger he needed to shave a second or two off his snap-to-throw time in order to get the ball out more quickly and avoid taking the kind of punishment he’s known to take while running around with the ball in his hand.

Roethlisberger gave in, took to the new philosophy, and had one of his best seasons ever in 2013.

The Ravens need that sort of interjection in their offense.

They need someone to come in and say, “This needs an overhaul and I’m just the mechanic to do it.”

The quarterback might get offended at hearing that.  The running back might not like hearing it, either.  Hell, the head coach might not even be all that thrilled to hear it.

That said, it’s the truth.

The Ravens need a completely new offensive structure.  They need better players, for starters, particularly on the offensive line.  There’s no question about that.  None at all.  They can either add better players and improve or do what the Orioles do every off-season and add scrubs and/or no one and lose.

But, once they add those players, they need a new voice running the offense.

Jim Caldwell had sixteen games to convince everyone he’s the man for the job, long-term.  Unless I’m really off-base here, I don’t think he did anything to prove he should be the team’s offensive coordinator next season.

The quarterback might not like that, but, like Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Joe Flacco will need to come to grips with the fact that he still has room to improve his game despite owning a Super Bowl ring and MVP trophy.

Privately this past season, some Ravens officials were concerned with Flacco’s attitude, particularly as it related to his public comments about the wildcat offense and the insertion of Tyrod Taylor for a handful of plays against the Jets in November.

While he’s not a malcontent by any means, Flacco can also be set in his ways to the point that he becomes unwilling to consider other options that could benefit the team.

With a new offensive coordinator in town – especially one who shows up and says, “I’m here to make Flacco better” – the stage would be set for a showdown of sorts between the quarterback who signed a $120 million contract last spring and the new voice who says, “Yeah, and then you went 8-8 after that…let’s get back to work and make you really good again.”

Rob Chudzinski was a name the Ravens talked about back in 2008 when they started evaluating head coach candidates and they thought of him mainly because of his offensive acumen.  He’s expected to be fired as the Browns’ head coach after just one season as their head honcho.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ravens renew their interest in him if, in fact, a change is made with Jim Caldwell.

If Jim Schwartz gets fired in Detroit, Lions’ offensive coordinator Scott Linehan might be looking for a new gig.  He’s had the luxury of coaching one of the game’s most dynamic weapons in Calvin Johnson, but Linehan is a respected offensive mind throughout the NFL.

I’m not campaigning for either of those men and I haven’t seen someone at Owings Mills creating a “reserved parking spot” sign for either of them.  But, let’s just say I didn’t pick those two names out of a hat, either.

There are lots of other names to consider, of course, and the Ravens are known as one of the best “hiring organizations” in the NFL.

And, for all I know, they’re going to keep Jim Caldwell on board.

After what I saw for sixteen weeks this season, I don’t know how they can possibly do that, but I also know coaches around the league are hesitant to make huge changes in their coaching staff unless something really goes terribly wrong.

Well…2013 came and went for the Ravens and, offensively, it went “terribly wrong”.

Time for a change.

Let’s get back to work.

 

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Ravens 2014 opponents finalized

Posted on 29 December 2013 by WNST Staff

With the end of the NFL regular season Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens’ list of 2013 opponents was finalized. The Ravens were already slated to play both the AFC South and NFC South as well as their regular AFC North schedule. Additionally they will face the two other third place teams in the AFC after finishing third in their division.

HOME OPPONENTS: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers.

AWAY OPPONENTS: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers.

Dates and times will be announced when the full NFL schedule is released in the spring.

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Ravens handed worst home loss ever as Patriots deliver “cleat of reality”

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Ravens handed worst home loss ever as Patriots deliver “cleat of reality”

Posted on 22 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

This time, there was no late-game heroics to save the Ravens.

No half-a-world-away kick from Justin Tucker.

No final minute punt return from Jacoby Jones.

No last gasp drive from Joe Flacco and the offense.

This time, it was just football for sixty minutes.

And, the Ravens got their rear ends handed to them by Tom Brady and the Patriots.  There’s no other way to slice it.  No fancy way to sugarcoat it.  Not on Sunday.  It was 41-7 in favor of the Patriots and the beating was as bad as the score would indicate, even if two of the New England TD’s were scored in garbage time.

It was a day to forget for Joe Flacco and the offense.  Going up against a beleaguered and injured New England defense, the Baltimore offense simply laid a colossal Christmas egg, coughing up the ball on four different occasions and failing to pick up a first down on two separate 4th and short situations in the second half.

On the first occasion, the Ravens were faced with a 4th and 2 at the New England 39.  They had already run the ball twice in the series — once for five yards and the other for three yards, but offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell eschewed the reasonable solution of running off the edge and instead asked Flacco to connect with Jacoby Jones on a short pass.  It failed.

Later on, at the New England four yard line, the Ravens had two chances to pick up one yard.  On 3rd and 1, Caldwell again called for a pass play, which was incomplete.  Facing a 20-0 deficit, the Ravens rightfully went for it on 4th down.  Flacco initially lined up in the shotgun with Rice to his right.  Just prior to the snap, the QB scooted under center and gave Rice the ball off tackle, where he was stopped for no gain.  Was that the play design coming out of a Baltimore time-out where the Ravens discussed a critical play-call?  If so, it looked sloppy at best, ill-executed at worst.

Those two 4th down failures didn’t cost the Ravens the game, but you can’t win football games in the NFL when you can’t pick up two yards and one yard with your season perhaps on the line.

Later, the Ravens made the wrong call on a field goal decision that all but sewed up the game for the visitors.  Trailing 20-0 and faced with a 4th and 5 at the Patriots’ 19 yard line early in the 4th quarter, John Harbaugh elected to send Justin Tucker on the field for a 36 yard field goal.  That Tucker would miss the field goal was almost poetic justice, for even if he would have connected, the Ravens still trailed by three scores at 20-3.  He missed it.

Sure, Tucker should make a 36-yarder every time, but the call there should have been to go for it on 4th down to try and get a TD on that series and make it a two score game.

If the game wasn’t over prior to Tucker attempting the field goal, it was over when he failed to connect.

The Baltimore offense has now scored one touchdown in its last eight quarters of action.  Six field goals last Monday night in Detroit and one “we don’t care if you score” TD allowed by New England on Sunday.  In fairness, one of those days where the ineptness of the offense finally catches up to the Ravens was bound to happen.  Other Sunday’s, Flacco and Company would figure out a way to put up a TD or two and add a few Justin Tucker field goals to win 23-20.

This was the Sunday where the football gods finally said, “You boys are gonna have to play some legit football on offense today.”

And, the Ravens didn’t answer the bell.

The Baltimore defense got picked apart early by Tom Brady, who used Julian Edelman like a fiddler with his bow.  When the Patriots took advantage of a pass interference call on Jimmy Smith in the end zone and a Flacco interception to go up 14-0, all they had to do from there was play smart, use the clock and not turn the ball over.  What quarterback in the world is better than doing those things than New England’s #12?

Brady expertly used the middle of the field as the Ravens’ secondary played a soft cover-2 that put little emphasis on physicality.

One week ago in Detroit, the Ravens defensive backs went toe-to-toe with Calvin Johnson from the first whistle and physically challenged him.

Against New England, there was very little of that press coverage scheme from Jimmy Smith or Corey Graham, although it’s fair to note Lardarius Webb was tight on his man most of the day.

The Baltimore defense put little pressure on the quarterback all afternoon.  Strong?  Yes.  Big in size?  Yes.  But the Ravens lack pace and speed in their defensive front seven and when they face a quick-release quarterback like the one in New England, there’s not much damage being done.

When Brady gets time to do his thing, it can get ugly.  Like it did on Sunday.

On the flip side, the Ravens offense was unable to solve the mystery of the New England defense that somehow constructed a method to beat Baltimore on the inside and give Flacco something to think about most of the day.  Horrible against the run, the Patriots weren’t challenged that much by Caldwell, who went to the air 42 times.  It was a weird combination, it seemed.  New England WANTED the Ravens to throw it and the Baltimore coaching staff did just that.

It all added up to the worst home loss of the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era.  With their playoff lives on the line, the Ravens turned in a stinker for the ages, at home no less, and made next Sunday’s game in Cincinnati a must-win affair.

Everyone’s shorts smelled on Sunday.

The coaches had a long day.

The offense had a longer day.

And the defense, which played respectably overall, got a lesson in how Tom Brady operates when the calls and the balls are both working in his favor.  He’s tough to beat.

Hell, Justin Tucker missed a 36 yard field goal.

You know you’re not winning if that happens.

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Ravens’ playoff scenarios come into focus following Monday night win

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Ravens’ playoff scenarios come into focus following Monday night win

Posted on 17 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Following their biggest win of the season against the Detroit Lions on Monday night, the Ravens now see their playoff possibilities coming into sharp focus with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

Paths to a division title or the second wild-card spot in the AFC remain very reasonable with the Ravens having complete control over both of those outcomes, but Baltimore still has a chance — unlikely as it might be — to earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye after the top three teams in the conference all lost in Week 15.

While there are clearly no scenarios in which the Ravens could clinch the division or the No. 2 seed in Week 16, they could punch their ticket to the postseason if they continue their current winning streak and receive help from other teams on Sunday.

Here are the Ravens’ current playoff scenarios entering Week 16:

The Ravens will clinch a playoff spot on Sunday with:

A win over New England AND a Miami loss at Buffalo AND a San Diego loss or tie against Oakland

Skinny: Some have erroneously said the Ravens would clinch the No. 6 seed with a win over the Patriots and a Dolphins loss, but the Chargers remain in the hunt with a 7-7 record, leaving open the possibility of a three-way tie for the No. 6 seed at the end of Week 17. Though the Ravens would win individual tiebreakers against Miami (their Week 5 win) or San Diego (superior conference record), the Dolphins would win the three-way tiebreaker with the best conference record should all three teams finish 9-7 or 8-8.

The Ravens can win the AFC North with:

Two wins OR two Cincinnati losses (home games against Minnesota and Baltimore)

Skinny: The Bengals would clinch the division with a win or a tie against the Vikings and a Baltimore loss against New England in Week 16, but a Ravens win over the Patriots or a Bengals loss to Minnesota would guarantee an AFC North championship game in Week 17. Baltimore would own the head-to-head tiebreaker with a win over the Bengals after defeating them once earlier in the season.

The Ravens would clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with:

Two wins AND two New England losses (at Baltimore and home against Buffalo) AND one Indianapolis loss (at Kansas City or home against Jacksonville) AND one Miami loss (at Buffalo or home against the New York Jets)

OR

Two wins AND two New England losses AND two Indianapolis losses

Skinny: Under the first scenario presented, the Ravens would finish with a better conference record than New England and a better record against common opponents than Indianapolis. However, if the Patriots would lose out and the Dolphins would win out, Miami would win the AFC East and the door would remain open for a three-way tie among Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Miami that would give the Dolphins the No. 2 seed by way of the best conference record. This possibility would be eliminated if the Colts were to lose two games as the Ravens would still own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins, meaning a Miami loss wouldn’t be needed.

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Ravens enter Monday night controlling own path to AFC North title

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Ravens enter Monday night controlling own path to AFC North title

Posted on 16 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Sunday’s NFL action brought good and bad news to the Ravens as they traveled to Detroit for a critical nationally-televised meeting with the Lions.

With Cincinnati falling hard to Pittsburgh in a 30-20 final at Heinz Field Sunday night, the Ravens now control their own path to a third consecutive AFC North title if they are able to win their final three games to conclude the regular season. Should Baltimore beat Detroit and New England next Sunday, a Week 17 meeting with the Bengals would decide the division as the Ravens would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cincinnati with a victory in the season finale.

However, the bad news for the 7-6 Ravens Sunday was the Miami Dolphins earning an impressive win over New England to temporarily land in the No. 6 spot in the AFC with an 8-6 record. Baltimore owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami with a Week 5 win earlier in the season, but the Dolphins finish the season with a road game against Buffalo in Week 16 and a home game against the Jets in Week 17, leaving the Ravens with an even smaller margin for error than anticipated a couple weeks ago.

With Miami and 7-7 San Diego both scoring big wins in Week 15, the Ravens were reminded that there will be no such thing as backing into the playoffs like they did a year ago in losing four of their last five to finish 10-6 before making their remarkable run to Super Bowl XLVII. It’s becoming apparent that the AFC postseason is void of any juggernauts — like Seattle is shaping up to be in the NFC — and is setting up nicely for any one team to get hot at the perfect time, but the Ravens’ biggest obstacle is now to simply qualify for the tournament.

Perhaps the biggest message to take away from Sunday’s action is that the Ravens need to continue to win and build on the momentum created by a three-game winning streak to finish out their recent homestand. Otherwise, they’ll be depending on help from other teams to advance to the postseason for a sixth consecutive season, and that’s never a good feeling to be playing difficult games at the end of the season while needing to keep an eye on the scoreboard.

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Wacky finish…yes, referee aided…yes — but Ravens saved their season on Sunday

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Wacky finish…yes, referee aided…yes — but Ravens saved their season on Sunday

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

Championship teams figure out a way to win those games like the one the Ravens stole from the Vikings on Sunday in snowy Baltimore.

Bad teams like the Vikings – whose star player might have thrown in the towel in the 2nd quarter – produce all kinds of comical ways to lose in a 16-game season.  They’ll never author a laugher quite as side-splitting as the one they choked away on Sunday in a 29-26 loss to the Ravens.

The Ravens improved to 7-6 on the season and remained firmly in the AFC playoff race by pulling off a miracle — not once, but twice — at M&T Bank Stadium, getting great assistance from the referees along the way in one of those “better to be lucky than good” kind of outcomes.  The refs somehow upheld an early fumble by Minnesota that clearly wasn’t a fumble to anyone with eyes and then, on the game’s final drive, a pass interference penalty that was certainly ticky-tack went Baltimore’s way, paving a snowy path to the end zone with four ticks left on the clock.

It wasn’t just a miracle.  It was a season-saver, potentially.

If the Ravens somehow wiggle their way into post-season and then beat a team or two in January to earn a trip to the AFC title game, they’ll look back at the final minute of the game against the Vikings and say, “We were dead…the season was over…but we didn’t give up.  And something good happened.”

That something good was their $60 million quarterback, who refused to give in late in the 4th quarter when the Ravens looked all but cooked after a Minnesota TD put them up 12-7.

Flacco led the Ravens downfield late in the contest and connected with long-lost pal Dennis Pitta on a 1-yard TD throw that everyone ASSUMED would be good enough for the win.

But, the Vikings connected on a TD of their own, then Jacoby Jones ran the ensuing kick-off back while the Minnesota kicker played two-hand touch with him along the sidelines.

Over now, right?

Wrong.

Cordarrelle Patterson burned the entire Ravens defensive backfield with a catch and run that gave the visitors yet another lead.

Then, it was up to Flacco to earn his money.

And, he did.

Granted, the Ravens got a fairly soft pass interference call on an interception that would have sealed the game, but no one said the referees were flawless.

With four seconds left, the Super Bowl MVP found Marlon Brown in the end zone and the Ravens were winners.

Somehow.

They didn’t deserve it, honestly.

Anyone watching the game would admit they were vastly outplayed by the Vikings.

The Baltimore defense got shredded like cheese in the prep room at Chipotle in the final two minutes.

But, these games reveal a team’s character.

The Ravens have heart.  They showed that a few weeks back against Cincinnati and again on Thanksgiving night when the Steelers came to town and left with their feelings hurt.

The Vikings have nothing under the hood.  When you give up three touchdowns in the final two minutes of a football game, you’re a choker, plain and simple.

Speaking of “nothing under the hood”, I saw the replay about five times while I was in the press box and then again another ten times on the DVR when I got home from the game and I don’t see how Adrian Peterson got injured that seriously in the second quarter.  He looked a lot like an Italian soccer player rolling around on the ground and grabbing his leg.  I’m not saying he threw in the towel — but it might have been an underhanded toss, at the very least.  He looked disinterested all game, if you ask me.

It was lucky, no doubt.

Anyone who says it wasn’t isn’t really being honest with themselves.

But that Ravens win over the Vikings on Sunday showed why they’re a championship organization.

They’ll fight you until the end.

And if you can’t take their last punch, you’re losing.

 

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