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The Five Plays That Determined The Game-Ravens/Broncos

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game-Ravens/Broncos

Posted on 18 December 2012 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Bernard Pierce 15 yard run negated by Matt Birk holding penalty (2nd quarter)

4. Rahim Moore recovers Joe Flacco fumble on 3rd & 1 forced by Justin Bannan (1st quarter)

3. Eric Decker 51 yard TD catch from Peyton Manning (3rd quarter)

2. Joe Flacco pass intended for Torrey Smith incomplete on 3rd & 10 (3rd quarter)

1. Chris Harris 98 yard TD return of Joe Flacco interception (2nd quarter)

(Ryan’s Plays on Page 2…)

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T. Smith, Pierce exit Sunday’s game with concussions

Posted on 16 December 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As if the sting of a third straight loss wasn’t enough, the Ravens’ list of injuries grew even longer on Sunday as wide receiver Torrey Smith and running back Bernard Pierce both left the game with concussions.

Pierce sustained his concussion in the second quarter while Smith was injured attempting to make a long reception early in the third quarter. Neither player returned to the game.

“We’ll have to check those out later this week,” coach John Harbaugh said after the game.

Smith made just one reception for 14 yards against the Broncos while Pierce carried the ball five times for 20 yards in the 34-17 loss at M&T Bank Stadium.

Wide receiver Tandon Doss suffered a twisted ankle and linebacker Albert McClellan was dealing with a hamstring issue but returned to the game. Neither player appeared to be in bad shape in the locker room following the game.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs return to action two weeks after suffering a torn right biceps, but his impact was minimal as he was forced to leave at a few different points in dealing with pain in the arm. The five-time Pro Bowl linebacker finished with only one tackle as he played 42 of the Ravens’ 77 defensive snaps.

The 2011 Defensive Player of the Year declined to talk to reporters following the Ravens’ third consecutive loss.

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Can the Ravens Overcome the Injuries to Lewis and Webb?

Posted on 15 October 2012 by jeffreygilley

Lets start with the good news, which many are overlooking.  The Ravens have lost one game despite losing one of the most dynamic defensive players in the NFL earlier in the offseason.  This team could even be undefeated.

So what does all of this mean?  It means that the Ravens are one of the most battle-tested teams in the NFL right now.  They are used to playing in close games and have shown they can win close games, which is an improvement from last year.

But, as many know by now, there is also bad news, very bad news.  The Ravens will be without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb for the rest of the season.  Lewis suffered a torn triceps injury and Webb tore his ACL in the first quarter of yesterday’s game.  Not only are Webb and Lewis great players, but they are also great leaders.

Webb is a lesser known player in the NFL.  Many people outside of Baltimore might not know who he is.  But when healthy, Webb is one of the best cornerbacks in the league.  He consistently shut down opposing wide receivers last season and is tied with Eric Weddle for the most interceptions since the 2011 season.

Carry Williams and Jimmy Smith will be the starters for the rest of the season.  Both are capable of taking Webb’s place but neither will play up to the level that Webb is capable of.  The Ravens were already struggling to defend the pass, so the outlook does not look very good.

Jimmy Smith was a first round pick in 2011 and played very well at the end of last season.  But he is still a young player and has not looked the same through the first six games of 2012.  He will be tested this week when he lines up across from Andre Johnson.

Losing Ray Lewis is devastating.  He is the heart and soul of the team and is still playing well in his 17th season.  Losing Lewis means that Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain will be the two starters.  But, if Terrell Suggs returns in the next few weeks, the Ravens could change things around.

For one, Albert McClellan could move to the inside.  McClellan has been a starter at outside linebacker and has played well but has yet to register a sack.  McClellan started one game at middle linebacker last season against the 49ers when Ray Lewis was sidelined with an injury.  McClellan was impressive in that game and recorded four tackles.

The bottom line is that Joe Flacco needs to keep playing at a high level.  He was practically handed the starting job in 2008 when Troy Smith was sick and the rest is history.  If Flacco can keep playing at a high level and carry this team despite all these injuries, the Ravens will hand him something else, a blank check.

No matter what happens for the rest of the season, we are going to learn a lot about the Baltimore Ravens.

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Ravens Grades After a Quarter of the Season

Posted on 02 October 2012 by jeffreygilley

After a quarter of the 2012 season, the Ravens are 3-1.  The three victories have come against the Bengals, Patriots, and Browns with the only loss coming against the Eagles in week two.  The road ahead has some difficult stretches which includes the Steelers in week 11, the Chargers in week 12, and the Steelers again in week 13.

Here are my grades for the Ravens through the first quarter of the season:

Joe Flacco – A.

Statistics: 63.5 completion percentage, 1,269 yards, 7 TD, 3 INT, 95.8 QB rating.

Joe Flacco looks much different this season.  He is more decisive and has a great supporting cast of receivers, tight ends, and running backs.  For the first time in Flacco’s NFL career, he has a receiving core that is complete and showcases his arm talent.  Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are speedy wide outs that have the potential to take the top off a defense.  Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin work underneath and act as Flacco’s security blankets but can also make big time plays when needed.  Finally, Ray Rice can come out of the backfield and even run routes in the slot to give Flacco an extra target.

Flacco is very comfortable in the new no-huddle offense.  If Flacco can keep playing at a high level, the Ravens might find themselves in the Super Bowl.

Offensive Line: B

When considering all the changes the offensive line has gone through, they have been fantastic this season.  Ramon Harewood is by far the biggest surprise and has been one of the Ravens best offensive lineman through the first quater of the season.  He is a talented run blocker and is good in pass protection.  The line has given up 9 sacks which puts them on pase for 36.  This would be tied for the second highest in Flacco’s career.  Even though the line has struggled at times, keep in mind that they are going through a lot of changes and by the end of the season, this line will continue to improve and could be one of the best in the league.

Running backs: B+

Ray Rice Statistics: 64 carries, 317 yards, 3 TD

Bernard Pierce Statistics: 17 carries, 88 yards, 0 TD

Both the Ravens running backs are averaging at least five yards per carry.  Obviously, Rice is the better of the two players but Pierce has provided a good second option and is a very powerful runner.  Rice is averaging just under 80 yards rushing per game but has done a lot for the Ravens in the play-action passing game.  Rice is very valuable to this offense and Cam Cameron is using him very effectively.

Receivers: B

This receiving core is the most complete that I can remember.  Smith and Jones are down field threats but the Ravens also have a myriad of underneath threats that provide good match ups against linebackers and safeties.  At times, the receivers have struggled to get separation but for the most part, they have been fantastic.  Tandon Doss is a name to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.  The third year receiver out of Indiana has recently received a lot of praise from John Harbaugh.  Harbaugh said Doss will be a threat all season after his 39 yard catch against the Browns.  Doss offers a lot of upside but has to compete with Jacoby Jones who is ahead of Doss on the depth chart.

Defensive Line: C+

The Ravens have struggled to create a pass rush throughout the season.  Haloti Ngata is playing at an all-pro level but Pernell McPhee  has not been the force many thought he would be this season.  Luckily, the season is still young so expect McPhee to play at a higher level.  Although they have struggled at times to generate pass rush, they have been great at stopping the run.  They held LeSean McCoy, one of the league’s elite running backs to 81 yards on 25 attempts and have looked been good in the other games with the exception of the Bengals.

Linebackers: C

The loss of Terrell Suggs has been devastating.  Younger players like Paul Kruger, Courtney UpShaw, and Albert McClellan havent been able to get the job done and win one-on-one match ups.     Combined, the three players have only amassed two sacks.  UpShaw has received much more playing time lately and has played much better than he did in the preseason.  Terrell Suggs is expected to return around week seven.  Suggs wont be himself for the first few games but the Ravens really need him late in the season when they play the Steelers twice in three weeks.  If Suggs returns by week seven, which is his target return date, he might be one hundred percent healthy by the playoffs, should the Ravens make the playoffs.

Defensive backs: C

The Ravens have struggled mightily against the pass this season.  They have given up an average of 295 yards in each game and most recently gave up 320 passing yards to rookie Brandon Weeden in Baltimore.  Overall, the weak spot for the secondary has been Carry Williams.  With the exception of the pick-six last week, Williams has struggled.  Teams have been avoiding Lardarius Webb who is one of the better cornerbacks in the league and Jimmy Smith has played well at times.  I would like to see the Ravens play more press coverage to take advantage of the size Smith and Williams possess.

Special Teams: A

The special teams unit has greatly improved from last season.  Corey Graham, Chykie Brown, Deonte Thompson, and Justin Tucker have all played at a high level.  Tucker is the biggest story because he won the kicking job from Billy Cundiff and has only missed one kick.

Overall, I am very optimistic about the Ravens.  They have a favorable matchup this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs and then have the Dallas Cowboys who looked dreadful against the Bears on Monday Night Football.  If Flacco continues to play at a high level and Terrell Suggs can return and play well, the Ravens will have a high playoff seed.

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Jones Brothers Take Center Stage as the Ravens Take on the Patriots

Posted on 22 September 2012 by jeffreygilley

When the Baltimore Ravens line up against the New England Patriots Sunday night, the Ravens will be looking for revenge.  The Patriots ended the Ravens season in the AFC Championship but the Ravens had many chances to win the game.  Joe Flacco outplayed Brady and the defense bailed him out of the rare mistakes and reads he did not make.

Although the Ravens will be looking for revenge, this game does not hold any real significance come Monday morning.  Sure, both of these teams are considered Super Bowl contenders but the season is still young.  This game does however, have the potential to determine the playoff standings come the end of the regular season.

Throughout the first two weeks of the 2012 season, the Ravens and Patriots have not lived up to expectations.  Both had a disappointing week two loss and have not been particularly good in their areas of usual strength.  The Patriots added new weapons in the offseason such as Brandon Lloyd.  Although Brady has new pieces to work with, the offense has showcased the explosive potential they are capable of.  The Ravens on the other hand have struggled defensively.  The defense gave up 371 passing yards to Michael Vick and struggled defending the Bengals rushing attack in week one.

Many are picking the Ravens to win this game, and I hope they are right but I dont see the Ravens winning this game.  Tom Brady doesn’t lose back to back games and the Patriots have improved defensively.  The loss of Aaron Hernandez will prove to be significant though.  Hernandez can play every skill position on offense and with his absence, the Patriots and Tom Brady are going to have to be more creative.  I expect the Patriots to spread the Ravens out and force the Ravens to play in space.

If the Ravens want to win this game, they will have to stop Rob Gronkowski.  They have the cornerback depth to deal with the Patriots receivers but their linebacking core is a different story.  Many of the Ravens outside linebackers are young and inexperienced.  Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan will have to play well in run and pass defense.

Although the Ravens outside linebackers are young, I think Courtney UpShaw has a chance to have a breakout game.  He wont play as much seeing as Paul Kruger is healthy but he has a chance to make a big impact on this game.  The Patriots will be so focused on stopping Haloti Ngata that Upshaw, when playing on third downs, will not be facing many double teams.  Look for UpShaw to have a good game.

Last time the Patriots played in Baltimore, they were undefeated but the Ravens almost pulled off the upset of the century.  All of the recent games between the Patriots and Ravens have been very close and this game will be no different.  In my opinion, the Patriots will win this game by a field goal but I really hope I am wrong.  Having Arthur and Chandler Jones playing for opposing teams will make this game much more interesting.

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Tuesday musings from the Ravens beat

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Tuesday musings from the Ravens beat

Posted on 18 September 2012 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enjoying their customary Tuesday off before turning their full attention to the New England Patriots on Sunday night, I offer some thoughts from the beat through the first two weeks of the regular season …

> One of the few defensive bright spots of the 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday was the play of outside linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan. Drawing the start in place of the injured Paul Kruger at the strongside linebacker spot, the rookie Upshaw did a solid job setting the edge on run plays and was one of the few players to pressure quarterback Michael Vick with any level of consistency.

Compared to his preseason performances in which he seemed sluggish and hesitant in his defensive responsibilities, Upshaw displayed a good motor in backside pursuit and finished with six tackles with one going for a loss. He wore down a bit in the second half after receiving his most extensive action to date and still looks uncomfortable when asked to drop into pass coverage, but Upshaw looks to be in much better shape and is finally starting to show the potential general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens saw in him with the 35th overall selection in April’s draft.

McClellan was one of the best players on the field for the Baltimore defense against the Eagles, finishing with six tackles with two going for losses and breaking up a pass in coverage. Though undersized at 6-feet-2 and 245 pounds, McClellan did an excellent job setting the edge as the Eagles averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.

With Upshaw showing signs of improvement and Kruger’s struggles at the strongside linebacker position going back to the preseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see defensive coordinator Dean Pees settle on McClellan and Upshaw as his starting outside linebackers and move Kruger to the situational pass-rushing role he held in past seasons. McClellan hasn’t shown an ability to get to the quarterback, so it might be in the Ravens’ best interests to replace him on third down with Kruger and allow Upshaw to line up at the other defensive end spot in obvious passing situations.

> Speaking of passing plays, much has already been said about the Ravens’ decisions in short-yardage situations on Sunday with few supporting the calls of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

The Ravens were faced with six situations in which it was third or fourth down and two or less yards to go and the offense elected to pass every single time. Running all six plays from the shotgun formation, the Ravens failed to convert on any as the final two offensive plays with less than a minute remaining drew the most scrutiny.

Whether observers want to admit it or not, third-and-short has become a passing situation more often than not in today’s NFL. The Ravens aren’t the only team in the league to throw the football in those spots as it’s become a more wide-open game than what we watched in the past.

That said, it’s perplexing to not only watch the Ravens throw exclusively on that down and distance but also do it from the shotgun formation, a package in which your choice of running plays is more limited. Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice said it best following Sunday’s game when reminding everyone that the Ravens have arguably the best fullback in the league in Vonta Leach. It seems wasteful not to at least present a bigger threat of a run in those situations by having quarterback Joe Flacco line up under center, with Leach and Rice behind him. Even if the Ravens still elect to throw, this simple alteration might keep defenses guessing more in those short-yardage spots.

Coach John Harbaugh said it best Monday when reminding everyone that hindsight is 20-20 and that any play call looks great when it works and foolish when it doesn’t, and it is worth reminding everyone that Flacco missed an open Dennis Pitta on that third-and-1 play on the game’s final drive. However, the Ravens’ 0-for-6 showing in short-yardage situations on third and fourth down screams that it might be time to change up their philosophies a bit.

> Through the first two weeks of the season, it’s no secret that Flacco has picked up right where he left off late last season in targeting Pitta frequently in the passing game as the pair has connected 13 times for 128 yards and a touchdown. Seven of those catches have gone for first downs as the third-year tight end has been a go-to target when the Ravens need to move the chains.

CONTINUE >>>

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Keys to Sunday’s Game Against the Eagles

Posted on 16 September 2012 by jeffreygilley

The Baltimore Ravens looked very impressive against the Cincinnati Bengals in week one.  While the Ravens were feasting on the Bengals, the Philadelphia Eagles were struggling against the Cleveland Browns.  Michael Vick turned the ball over five times but also led a game winning drive with a touchdown pass to Clay Harbor.  Although the Eagles looked awful, expect them to bounce back and challenge the Ravens.

The offensive line must protect Flacco

With the exception of Matt Birk, the Ravens offensive line was impressive in their victory over the Bengals.  Ramon Harewood, a sixth round pick in 2010, made a surprising start at left guard.  He struggled at times but was a devastating run blocker.  With his size and athleticism, the Ravens can have success running the ball against the wide-nine in Philadelphia.

If the Ravens want to have success on offense, Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele must perform at a high level.  The Ravens new offense seems to be based on the vertical passing game which makes protecting Flacco even more pivotal.  If Flacco doesn’t have time to throw, the Ravens can turn to the run game which is a weakness of playing the wide-nine.

Stop LeSean McCoy

When this game is over, Ravens fans will miss Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson even more.  Both excelled at setting the edge and forcing ball carriers back inside.  The Eagles like to run to the outside and LeSean McCoy has the speed to turn the corner and get upfield extremely fast.  Therefore, the Ravens young linebackers must be able to set the edge and shed blockers.  Luckily for the Ravens, the Eagles are without Jason Peters which should make stopping the run much easier for the Ravens.  Expect the Eagles to challenge the Ravens to the outside throughout the entire game.

Pressure Michael Vick

This seems obvious but if the Ravens can pressure Vick like the Browns did in week one, the Ravens have a very good chance to win the game.  Young linebackers like Courtney UpShaw, Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan, and Sergio Kindle must pressure Vick early and often.  Courtney UpShaw received more playing time than expected last week and is pushing Albert McClellan and Paul Kruger for either of the starting outside linebacker spots.  UpShaw was unimpressive in the preseason but showed a lot of promise in week one.  Expect to see UpShaw a lot more as the season progresses.

Prediction

I see the Ravens winning this game but it will be no easy task.  Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson are expected to play for the Eagles and pose a home run threat on every play.

Although Flacco played very well against the Bengals, he cant test the Eagles secondary too much.  Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha are very talented cornerbacks and can blanket receivers.

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Run defense has “hands full” trying to stop Eagles’ McCoy

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Run defense has “hands full” trying to stop Eagles’ McCoy

Posted on 12 September 2012 by Luke Jones

There was plenty to like about the Ravens’ 44-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, but one area of concern coming from an otherwise dominating performance was the lackluster run defense on display in the season opener.

The Ravens allowed 129 rushing yards on 28 carries as Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the way with 91 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. It was an uncharacteristic performance in comparison to what you’d expect from a Baltimore defense, but personnel changes have led many to wonder whether the Ravens will continue their tradition of stuffing the run this season.

Defensive end Pernell McPhee struggled to get much of a push at the line of scrimmage while outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan were inconsistent setting the edge as the Bengals consistently gained yardage on the ground to set up short-yardage situations on third down. Fortunately for the defense, the Ravens’ offensive explosion forced the Bengals to abandon the run, and the defense buckled down in the second half.

“It was just little minor technique errors on our part that we can fix, we should fix,” said Harbaugh, who deemed stopping the run as a staple for the Baltimore defense. “[It was] probably guys trying to do more than they actually should try to do and continue to have confidence in the guys around them a little more.”

The Ravens will face an even bigger challenge in stopping the run this Sunday when they take on the Eagles in Philadelphia. In addition to the big-play ability and speed of quarterback Michael Vick, the defense must deal with fourth-year running back LeSean McCoy, who’s already earned the reputation as one of the best backs in the NFL.

Named to his first Pro Bowl last season, McCoy rushed for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns and is a dangerous runner when able to get into space. Also a threat out of the backfield, the 2009 second-round pick caught 48 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees must preach discipline to his defense when facing a player with the ability to cut back and make tacklers miss in the open field. Still in the early stages of his pro career, McCoy earned high praise from the elder statesman of the Baltimore defense on Wednesday.

“He is one of those guys that he has a little flavor,” inside linebacker Ray Lewis said. “I don’t want to put him that high up there with [Hall of Fame running back] Barry Sanders, but he has that type of ability to really jump in the hole, jump out of the hole the way you saw many highlights of the many people he made miss time and time again. You really have to cradle him. You have to keep him in the box and make him play football inside those boxes, kind of where he doesn’t want to be.”

That responsibility will fall heavily on the shoulders of Kruger and McClellan, who struggled to make much of an impact in the season opener. The outside linebackers combined for just three total tackles as questions remain whether they can do a sufficient job in place of the departed Jarret Johnson — who is now in San Diego — and the injured Terrell Suggs.

Making their job even more difficult is the nightmarish threat of Vick taking off when plays break down, but anyone who pays close attention to the Eagles will tell you McCoy is the key to making the Eagles offense thrive.

In Philadelphia’s Week 1 win over the Cleveland Browns, he ran for 110 yards and caught six passes for 26 yards.

“He will test the edges,” said Harbaugh, who is reminded of former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook when watching McCoy. “I think our guys out there did a good job this last game, but they are going to get tested like they’ve never been tested before in this game against this back. ‘Shady’ [McCoy], we had fun interviewing him when he was coming out from [the University of Pittsburgh]. He is a great guy. He has a tremendous personality, and I think the flair of his play matches the flair of his personality. He is a home-run hitter.”

Avoiding those home runs and keeping McCoy between the tackles — where he becomes more pedestrian as a runner — will be the ultimate test on Sunday as the Ravens will look to prove that Cincinnati’s success on the ground was more of an aberration than a harbinger of what’s to come this season.

The Ravens have never faced the shifty McCoy as the teams last met in 2008, but it’s clear the 5-foot-11, 208-pound back has their full attention this week.

“He is a complete back,” Lewis said. “[He will be] catching the ball out of the backfield, catching the ball on screens, running inside and outside. Yeah, we have our hands full this week.”

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Five pressing questions for the 2012 season

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Five pressing questions for the 2012 season

Posted on 09 September 2012 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens begin defense of their AFC North division crown against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night and hope to embark on a journey to Super Bowl XLVII in John Harbaugh’s fifth year as head coach, they play the fourth-toughest schedule in the league statistically as their opponents held a .523 winning percentage (134-122) last season.

Expectations remain sky-high in Baltimore, even after a trying offseason than included key injuries and significant departures due to limited salary cap room.

Here are the five biggest questions weighing on my mind for the Ravens’ 2012 season:

1. Is the starting line good enough for the offense to take the next step?

Deemed a priority to upgrade at the beginning of the season, the offensive line remains a major question mark as the Ravens tinkered with various alignments throughout the preseason. Even determining which starting five will line up has been quite a challenge considering the circumstances the organization has dealt with since last January.

The Ravens knew Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs — now with New Orleans — would be difficult to replace as they eventually settled on former Bengals guard Bobbie Williams. Playing with a surgically-repaired right ankle, the 35-year-old has dealt with swelling as scar tissue is still breaking up in the ankle, making you wonder if Williams will hold up over the course of a 16-game regular season.

The bigger surprise has been the uncertainty at the tackle position as the Ravens weren’t satisfied with Bryant McKinnie’s weight and conditioning this offseason and the tackle reported late to training camp, opening the door to the idea of Michael Oher returning to left tackle. All seemed to be straightened out when McKinnie started at left tackle and Oher shifted back to the right side in the third preseason game, but the Ravens surprisingly played hardball with McKinnie by cutting his pay last week, a tactic that nearly led to his departure.

In another twist, rookie Kelechi Osemele revealed Saturday that he expected to start at right tackle against the Bengals, meaning Michael Oher will play on the left side and McKinnie will hold a backup role for now. Osemele played well at the position in the preseason and is the most pleasant surprise of the 2012 draft class to this point, but his insertion in the starting lineup creates the question whether Oher can handle protecting quarterback Joe Flacco’s blind side, which led to the Ravens signing McKinnie in the first place last August.

The Ravens’ handling of their line is unsettling considering the offense is expected to take a significant step forward this season. The combination of Oher and Osemele is more athletic and better conditioned, factors worth remembering when you consider how much they expect to run a no-huddle offense, but much doubt remains about their ability as pass blockers. Though McKinnie is considered a below-average run blocker, he is still the best pass blocker among the Baltimore tackles, which should be the most important factor in trying to protect the most important player on the field.

It’s clear the Ravens have grown tired of McKinnie’s act, but they also didn’t have enough confidence in life without him or they would have pulled the trigger in releasing him last week when he balked at their original pay-cut demand. They appear set to try the younger duo against Cincinnati, but you have to wonder if it will work week in and week out, especially when considering Williams’ health and age at left guard and the fact that there’s no viable option behind him other than Osemele on the 53-man roster.

Even when finally appearing to settle on a starting five moving forward, the Ravens will need to show improvement in short-yardage run situations, an area in which they struggled immensely last season.

Regardless of the factors working against them, the Ravens deemed upgrading the offensive line a major priority in the offseason and even the optimistic takes on the current group couldn’t possibly feel more confident about it than last season’s group.

2. How will the defense find a consistent pass rush without Terrell Suggs?

No one knows if and when the Pro Bowl linebacker will return this season and whether he’ll display the same explosiveness he displayed last season on his way to the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year award. His absence has created a gigantic black cloud over a defense ranking among the NFL’s elite annually for over a decade.

The Ravens have used their “next man up” mantra since the news broke about the injury in early May, but they appear no closer to answering their pass-rush question than they were when first learning about Suggs’ partially-torn Achilles tendon. And it’s a sobering thought when you remember the defense will encounter 11 quarterbacks who have made at least one Pro Bowl this season.

Fourth-year linebacker Paul Kruger is being asked to play the strongside linebacker position in place of the departed Jarret Johnson and struggled setting the edge against the run in the preseason. However, an even more disappointing outcome of the summer was the slow development of rookie Courtney Upshaw, who dealt with a shoulder injury for much of training camp. Upshaw appeared overweight and lacked explosiveness coming off the edge and was beaten out by former practice squad member Albert McClellan for the rush linebacker spot.

While no one should have expected Upshaw to immediately enter the league as a poor man’s version of Suggs, the fact that he was unable to show any tangible signs of being a threat as a pass rusher in the preseason is disheartening after he was selected with the 35th overall pick in late April. To suggest Upshaw is a draft bust is absurdly premature, but the Ravens hope the light comes on quickly for the rookie from Alabama to be a bigger factor on passing downs.

In terms of maximizing their pass rush, the Ravens might be better served by scrapping the idea of Kruger at the “Sam” position and allowing him to move back to the rush linebacker spot where he can focus more often than not on simply getting after the quarterback. His 5 1/2 sacks in limited time last season showed he can put heat on the quarterback, but those also came with a healthy Suggs on the opposite side of the defensive line.

Defensive end Pernell McPhee will also be critical to the pass rush as his six sacks last year were a major surprise. The Ravens will elect to use him more extensively on first and second down given his pass-rushing ability, but McPhee also bulked up to 290 pounds to aid in playing the run. The second-year defensive lineman made positive plays in run support in the preseason, but you also wonder how the extra weight will affect the combination of strength and quickness he displayed as a pass rusher last year.

There’s simply no replacing the loss of Suggs and the secondary will be challenged in coverage much more without him tormenting quarterbacks for at least the bulk of the regular season. It’s difficult envisioning the defense maintaining the same level of excellence we’ve come to expect over the years, meaning the offense will be asked to be more productive if the Ravens are to remain a legitimate Super Bowl threat.

3. With the no-huddle attack expected to become a prominent part of the offense, how will it affect Ray Rice’s touches?

CONTINUE >>>

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Four Questions for the Ravens Season

Posted on 04 September 2012 by jeffreygilley

Personally, I have high hopes and expectations for the Ravens this season.  But then again, when are expectations not high in Baltimore?  The success the Ravens have had in their short existence is truly unbelievable.  As I said, this season is no different and the Ravens are hoping to make the Super Bowl after reaching the AFC Championship in two of the last four years.  But, no team enters a season without question marks.

Can the Ravens young linebackers replace the production of Suggs?  

As we all know, Terrell Suggs tore his ACL in the off-season.  Because of his injury, linebackers Paul Kruger, Courtney UpShaw, Sergio Kindle, and Albert McClellan must step up.  Kruger had a nice season in 2011 but that was when he had Terrell Suggs on the field commanding double teams.  Kruger is not alone though.  He has the help of some young players but young is the key word.  Kindle, UpShaw, and McClellan are all young and unexperienced.

If the Ravens can not produce any pressure, the team will struggle.  Pernell McPhee is a defensive lineman to keep an eye on.  He was most effective last season when he lined up against guards.  Pernell McPhee and Haloti Ngata will be a deadly combination this season and can occupy blockers which will help the Ravens young linebackers.

Can Torrey Smith have a break out season? 

Another way the Ravens can make up for the loss of Terrell Suggs is for the offense to be more productive and the pre-season has looked promising for the offense.  Joe Flacco looks much different.  He seems more composed and is scanning the field more effectively.  His favorite target seems to be Torrey Smith.  Smith also looks better.  His route running is more polished and he is now more than a down field threat.

If Torrey Smith had an 800-yard season in 2011 by being a down field threat only, immagine what he can do now that he is more polished?

How will the Ravens use Bobby Rainey and Deonte Thompson?

Bobby Rainey and Deonte Thompson were both stars of the pre-season.  They were brought into Ravens camp with little expectations but once they got to camp, they did nothing but perform at a high level.  Rainey, a running back out of Western Kentucky has shown a vast skill set throughout the preseason.  Rainey can run the ball effectively, catch the ball out of the backfield, he can block, and he can even return punts and kicks.  I think Rainey will play a role very similar to how Darren Sproles is used in New Orleans.  He is a play maker and the Ravens need as many of them as possible.

Deonte Thompson has also been very impressive in the preseason.  Like Raney, Thompson has been effective in multiple areas.  He has been explosive at wide receiver and as a kick returner.  Thompson has an opportunity to climb the depth chart even more.  Players like LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss are ahead of him but Thompson has been more impressive in the preseason.  I expect Thompson to be used in multiple situations this season.

Will the special teams improve? 

The Ravens are stacked with options to return punts and kicks.  Jacoby Jones, Asa Jackson, Deonte Thompson, and Bobby Rainey have all shown flashes of brilliance in the return game but returning punts and kicks is not the problem.  The coverage was dreadful last season.  To improve the kickoff and punt coverage, the Ravens made several moves in the offseason.  Cory Graham, a special teams ace from the Bears is expected to play a big role on special teams this year and possibly on defense.  Sean Considine was also signed and is expected to contribute in a big way on special teams.

The special teams coverage did not look good in the preseason but it’s only the preseason.  I expect the special teams to be greatly improved from last season.

 

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