Tag Archive | "Anquan Boldin"

Steve Smith not looking to be Boldin, Andre Johnson in Kubiak’s system

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Steve Smith not looking to be Boldin, Andre Johnson in Kubiak’s system

Posted on 15 March 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope that much of what new wide receiver Steve Smith brings to the field won’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet every week.

That’s not to say Baltimore won’t take advantage of the remnants of the 14th-year receiver’s ability in a career that includes five Pro Bowl selections, 12,197 receiving yards, and 67 touchdown receptions, but Smith’s intangibles were equally attractive to an offense that lacked a vocal leader willing to ruffle some feathers when needed last year. Smith has occasionally come under fire for his willingness to speak his mind and tell others what they might not want to hear, but coach John Harbaugh told the veteran during his free-agent visit that the Ravens want him to be himself.

The Ravens signed Smith to a three-year, $11 million contract on Friday afternoon.

“We’ve added one of the top competitors in the NFL to the Ravens,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a released statement. “Steve is a proven player who has performed his best in big games and on the biggest stages like the playoffs and Super Bowl. He adds toughness to our offense, big-play ability, and leadership to our team.”

Those intangibles aside, what should the Ravens expect from a wide receiver set to turn 35 in May?

From the start of the offseason when Newsome and Harbaugh spoke about the Ravens’ need to add a wide receiver who can move the chains and pick up the tough yards after a catch, it sounded as though they were envisioning Anquan Boldin’s replacement as someone who can line up in the slot and make difficult catches over the short-to-intermediate middle portion of the field. The similarities in attitude between Boldin and Smith are clear, but the 5-foot-9 Smith has relied more on his speed on the outside throughout his career while Boldin is bigger and slower but has always made catches in traffic.

You can hardly blame Smith for not wanting to be compared to someone else after being one of the better receivers in the NFL over the last decade.

“I’m not Anquan Boldin,” said Smith when asked if he can fill the void of the former’s departure from a year ago. “I respect the heck out of ‘Q,’ and what ‘Q’ brings to the table is what ‘Q’ brings to the table. I’m Steve Smith, and what I bring to the table as a Baltimore Raven, I have to earn that, and my time on the field will display what I bring to the table.

“We play similar games; we want to win and we go all-out. But we’re also individuals, and I’m not here to replace anyone. I’m here to be myself.”

Determining what role Smith will play isn’t easy as many believe he’s lost a step after recording only 64 receptions for 745 yards last season, his lowest totals since 2010 when the Carolina Panthers were the worst team in the NFL with a 2-14 record. And the Ravens offense will clearly present a different look under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Smith met with Kubiak to discuss what his role would be in the Baltimore offense, using the coach’s offenses in Houston as a point of reference. The former Texans coach really didn’t have any player in Houston who compared to Smith in terms of physical makeup, but the veteran made it clear he’s not expecting to have the extensive role of No. 1 wide receiver Andre Johnson during all those years he played with Kubiak.

This is good news for an offense that can’t put all its hopes in a veteran receiver whose best days are behind him. Until proving otherwise, Smith should be a complementary option to fourth-year receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta as the featured parts of the passing game while Pitta and 6-foot-4 wideout Marlon Brown profile as better red-zone threats.

Quarterback Joe Flacco certainly doesn’t need a veteran nearing the end of his career demanding to be the focal point of the passing attack, so Smith’s position had to be a breath of fresh air for Harbaugh and his coaching staff.

“I know his system. I’ve seen his system,” Smith said about his discussion with Kubiak. “I’ve seen the very creative ways they’ve gotten other guys the ball. I want to be a part of that. One of the things I’ve seen for myself — I don’t see myself in coach Kubiak’s system like Andre Johnson. I see the complementary dude of Kevin Walter. I see how he contributed and how he was instrumental in getting Andre the ball but also getting his own opportunities.”

Smith said new teammate Torrey Smith is going to be a “fantastic” player, but it was interesting that the former Panther went out of his way to compare himself to Walter, who never recorded more than 900 yards in Kubiak’s offense. Walter’s run with the Texans came to an end in 2012, but he served as Houston’s No. 2 wideout behind the Pro Bowl receiver Johnson for several years and averaged 732.8 receiving yards per season as a possession receiver from 2007 through 2010.

Kubiak’s use of Walter in the slot fluctuated from year to year as he ran 45.8 percent of his routes from that spot in 2012 but ran less than 20 percent of his routes there in 2009 and 2010, two seasons in which he eclipsed 600 receiving yards. In contrast, Smith was rarely used in the slot under current Panthers coach Ron Rivera the last three seasons — only 15.5 percent of his routes last season and less than 10 percent of the time in 2011 and 2012 –  and was only used in the slot about a third of the time from 2007 through 2010.

Given the perception of his declining speed and lack of previous work in the slot, Smith compares favorably to former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, who didn’t work very often in the slot after 2008 and caught 73 passes for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns at age 35 in 2009. The Ravens would be thrilled if Smith can post numbers even remotely approaching those of the 5-foot-10 Mason that season. He isn’t the deep-ball threat that he was in his prime, but Smith doesn’t need to be with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones as available vertical threats on the outside.

Perhaps the Ravens will simply need to rely on Kubiak’s creativity to maximize Smith’s ability at this stage of his career, but there’s no questioning how pleased they are to acquire a player with his pedigree to add to an offense that finished 29th in the league last season. And they hope his addition will be part of the solution to put Baltimore back among the elite in the AFC, even if there’s more work to be done on the offensive side of the ball.

“I believe and the Baltimore Ravens believe that I can help increase the chances of us being successful,” Smith said. “So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to swing for the fence, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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Ravens now look to future after not being good enough in 2013

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Ravens now look to future after not being good enough in 2013

Posted on 29 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Head coach John Harbaugh said it all in the aftermath of a 34-17 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday that resulted in the Ravens missing the postseason for the first time since 2007.

Despite reaching the pinnacle of the NFL last February in winning their second Super Bowl title in franchise history, the Ravens simply weren’t good enough a year later.

“We’re not ever going to be content with not making the playoffs,” Harbaugh said. “That’s just not something that’s going to be OK with any of us.”

Harbaugh is right, and it’s the Ravens’ vast success over the last five years that’s cultivated such an appropriate mindset. It’s easy and fair to be disappointed, but the Ravens gave this city a terrific run that included five straight playoff appearances, three AFC Championship appearances, and a Super Bowl title. History has proven over and over that you can’t be great every year and no run of success will last forever.

General manager Ozzie Newsome, Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco, and others have built a great deal of equity for fans to remain confident that the Ravens will be back in 2014 and beyond, but this winter brings a critical offseason with many issues to address. A proven track record is invaluable, but the NFL is a results-driven endeavor and Baltimore didn’t meet its own high standards laid out in recent years.

Season-long issues once again reared their head Sunday as a poor offense doomed the Ravens in Cincinnati. An overwhelmed offensive line was unable to handle the Bengals’ pressure, the running game was a non-factor, wide receivers were unable to gain separation, and a hobbled Flacco made poor decisions and couldn’t connect on deep balls throughout the day.

Defensively, the Ravens were able to force four turnovers but also allowed nearly 400 yards of offense and 27 points — the Bengals’ final touchdown came on an interception returned for a touchdown. The Baltimore defense was an above-average unit this season but gave up big plays and long drives at critical junctures, failing to be the game-changing unit Newsome envisioned when he allocated most of his available cap space to upgrading that side of the ball this past offseason.

So, what do the Ravens need to change, improve, and address this winter?

The heavy lifting will be done by Newsome, who didn’t have a good offseason this past winter in trading away veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin and failing to improve the offense around Flacco. The injury to tight end Dennis Pitta couldn’t be predicted, but the failure to address the receiver position in the wake of Boldin’s departure was a mistake. Philosophically, the Ravens turned away from what won them a Super Bowl last February in sacrificing offense for defense and the former suffered dramatically because of it.

Newsome will also be dealing with a tight salary cap that includes a projected $70.9 million in space devoted to just six players: defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ($16 million), Flacco ($14.8 million), linebacker Terrell Suggs ($12.4 million), cornerback Lardarius Webb ($10.5 million), running back Ray Rice ($8.75 million), and right guard Marshal Yanda ($8.45 million). Barring any restructuring of the other contracts, only the release of Suggs would provide substantial cap relief as he’s scheduled to receive a $7.8 million base salary in the final year of his current deal.

That could spell the end of Suggs’ 11-year run in Baltimore unless Newsome and the Ravens try to work out a short-term extension that gives the veteran some upfront money and a lower cap figure for 2014. Suggs finished the year with 10 sacks but collected only one in his final eight games and made very little impact down the stretch.

The Ravens must address an offensive line that includes two free-agent tackles (Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher) and second-year center Gino Gradkowski, who struggled immensely in his first year as a starter. It’s unlikely that Oher will return, but Baltimore would surely like to retain Monroe after giving up two 2014 draft picks to acquire him from Jacksonville earlier in the season. They could then look to the draft to address the right tackle position or consider moving Kelechi Osemele back to the position where he played during most of his rookie year and look at guard prospects.

Improving the offensive line would go a long way in fixing a running game that was the worst in franchise history, though questions will remain about Rice’s future as a feature back.

Tight end Dennis Pitta will be an unrestricted free agent and gauging his value in the open market will be difficult after he missed most of the season with a serious hip injury, making the franchise tag a possibility to keep him in Baltimore for another season. Jacoby Jones will also hit the open market, and the Ravens must decide whether the value of his big-play ability as a returner is worth a new contract despite his shortcomings as a wideout.

The Ravens need more offensive play-makers as Torrey Smith wasn’t as productive in the second half of the season and Rice battled through injuries and ineffectiveness in the worst campaign of his career. Flacco’s underwhelming 2013 performance suggests he isn’t the rare quarterback who can dramatically elevate the play of lesser talent around him.

On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Arthur Jones, linebacker Daryl Smith, strong safety James Ihedigbo, and cornerback Corey Graham are all scheduled to become free agents. Each is a capable player that makes a defense better, but younger and cheaper alternatives will be preferred in most cases with much work to do on the other side of the ball and little available cap space.

The Ravens will need to take a look at a pass rush that was ineffective down the stretch as well as the safety position where defensive coordinator Dean Pees was essentially forced to play two strong safeties — Ihedigbo and rookie Matt Elam — in the starting secondary. However, Newsome and the Ravens can’t make the same mistake they did this past year in focusing too much on the defense while allowing the offense to suffer.

As for coaching, Harbaugh has his flaws when it comes to time management and in-game decisions that must be assessed internally, but his track record speaks for itself after missing the playoffs for the first time in his six-year run with the Ravens. The addition of run-game coordinator Juan Castillo did not work with the Ravens finishing last in the NFL in yards per carry, so it will be interesting to see if the former Eagles offensive line coach quietly parts ways with the organization this winter.

Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell deserves plenty of credit for his role in jump-starting the Ravens offense when he took over for Cam Cameron last December, but his calls this season too often lacked imagination in trying to overcome personnel deficiencies and the red-zone offense was another major deficiency. It’s worth noting that Caldwell had never been an offensive coordinator prior to his late-season promotion in 2012, so you wonder if the Ravens will — and should — at least take a look at the possibility of adding another strong offensive mind to the equation if not making a change at coordinator altogether.

It won’t be an easy offseason as Harbaugh, Flacco, and a number of others face the reality of not being good enough to play in January for the first time. It’s uncharted territory for the head coach and quarterback, and it will be interesting to see how the pair responds in overcoming that failure.

Sunday marked the official end of the Ravens’ reign as Super Bowl champions as well as a five-year run of success that may never be seen again in Baltimore. They battled all season, but the Ravens just weren’t good enough to overcome their many weaknesses and ran out of gas in their final two games against better opponents.

Nothing lasts forever, but a strong nucleus is in place to rebound in 2014 and beyond.

And Ravens fans can take satisfaction in that simple truth while coping with the unfamiliar disappointment of a quiet January and an uncertain offseason to follow.

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Pitta’s impact slow to be felt in Ravens offense

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Pitta’s impact slow to be felt in Ravens offense

Posted on 24 December 2013 by Luke Jones

The mere sight of Dennis Pitta returning to the field less than four months after a horrific hip injury was a victory itself, but the Ravens had visions of the tight end providing their underwhelming offense a major boost.

Pitta provided exactly that in his 2013 debut against Minnesota on Dec. 8, catching six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown, but his impact hasn’t been felt in the two games since in which the Ravens have been held to just one touchdown. The fourth-year tight end has caught only six passes for 58 yards over the last two contests when Baltimore failed to score a touchdown in the win over Detroit and only produced seven points in the 41-7 loss to New England.

It’s fair to assume that Pitta is still working his way back into the flow of the offense after such a long layoff, but opponents aren’t taking much pity as he faced bracketed coverage against the Lions and a physical brand of play from the Patriots. Often being held up at the line of scrimmage, Pitta managed just four receptions for 34 yards on seven targets against the New England defense and saw a slighly-errant Flacco pass go through his hands for an interception in the third quarter.

“Whenever he was aligned within striking range of the box, the defensive ends came out and took shots at him,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I think they were hitting him pretty much every opportunity within five yards on crossing routes and things like that. They did quite a bit to keep him under control.”

Entering training camp with expectations of an increased role following the offseason trade of Anquan Boldin, Pitta has been missed by quarterback Joe Flacco in the league’s 19th-ranked passing game. However, it’s clear the Ravens have tried to bring him along slowly as he’s played in just over 42 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps in his three games, down from last year when he took part in roughly 60 percent of plays.

When he has been on the field, Pitta has seen more extensive time in the slot than in the past with 67 of his 79 total routes run from that position, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s a dramatic increase from last season when the pass-catching tight end ran only 64.6 percent of his routes from the slot position when Boldin was still a major presence at that spot.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the Ravens with using Pitta so far this season has been too much predictability as a pass play has been called on 88 percent of his snaps. Pitta is certainly not known for his ability as a run blocker, but calling such a high number of passing plays eliminates the anticipated advantage of defenses not stacking the box against the run because of the need to account for him in the middle intermediate portion of the passing game.

Pitta is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, which further complicates the aftermath of his hip injury. The 28-year-old has alleviated concerns about being healthy enough to resume his NFL career, but the Ravens haven’t been able to truly gauge whether he can be a bigger slot threat in a way similar to what Boldin provided. And Pitta certainly hasn’t been able to use this season to show he belongs among the elite tight ends and cash in with a hefty contract.

It will be interesting to see how the offseason plays out as the Ravens clearly want Pitta back but will be working with limited cap resources and will have other positions of need to address. Should general manager Ozzie Newsome and Pitta’s agent Justin Schulman not be able to reach a long-term agreement, the Ravens could use the franchise tag, which is projected to be a reasonable $6.8 million for tight ends in 2014.

Players and their agents are often unhappy to receive the tag, but this situation might be unique with Pitta not having much of an opportunity to create a big market for himself after his 2012 season in which he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. A one-year contract might be the perfect way for the Ravens to assess the tight end’s true worth and for Pitta to have another year to try to elevate his value for next offseason.

For now, however, the Ravens will continue to work Pitta back into the offense in hopes of winning Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals and advancing to the postseason for a sixth consecutive season.

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Ravens, Patriots both hope red zone doesn’t mean “stop” on Sunday

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Ravens, Patriots both hope red zone doesn’t mean “stop” on Sunday

Posted on 19 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s the dirty little secret that can’t be overlooked despite a four-game winning streak that’s put the Ravens in control of their path to a sixth consecutive playoff appearance as they welcome the New England Patriots to Baltimore on Sunday.

While improving on a 4-6 start to move two games above .500 with their Monday win over the Detroit Lions, the Ravens have gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over their last four games. Finishing drives inside the 20 with a touchdown just 42.9 percent of the time, coach John Harbaugh and his team know they can’t continue to depend on good fortune and 61-yard field goals to overcome the league’s 29th-ranked red-zone offense.

But fixing the problem is easier said than done at this late stage in the season.

“There are things that we’ve come up with that we’ve noticed that we have addressed and will continue to work on,” Harbaugh said. “That’s as much as I would like to share with you at this time.”

Of course, the Ravens coach doesn’t feel like broadcasting the details, but a simple look at the offensive personnel makes it easier to explain. A strong running game is clearly ideal once you push closer to the goal line, but the Ravens’ struggles in that department are nothing new by now.

The Ravens’ passing game largely depends on the speed of receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, but the red zone is constricted and depends more on size and precision, two areas in which there have been deficiencies this season. Until the recent return of tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens have lacked a big receiving target inside the 20 beyond rookie Marlon Brown, who has made plays but needs to run more precise routes to be a consistent threat.

And while veterans Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley — the latter now on injured reserve — earned reputations as brilliant route-runners earlier in their career, their declining speed neutralized their ability to find windows in coverage near the goal line this season.

Those shortcomings along with some untimely penalties have added up to a small margin for error that quarterback Joe Flacco has often been unable to overcome, forcing the Ravens to depend on the right leg of kicker Justin Tucker to convert field goals. In their 18-16 win over the Lions, the Ravens were 0-for-3 on trips inside the 20 and needed a franchise-record six field goals to pull off the victory.

“Just little things, one thing here and one thing there,” Flacco said. “When you don’t take advantage of the one play that you get down there to score a touchdown or if you are giving yourself one play to do it, if you have one little slip up, then you are putting yourselves in a tough situation to really convert and put the ball in the end zone. That is kind of what happened to us the other night. We didn’t take advantage of some of the good opportunities we had and left ourselves in bad situations and then didn’t convert.”

The Ravens hope that Pitta’s return will boost their shoddy red-zone play over the final two weeks of the regular season and beyond, but the play-making tight end wasn’t targeted once in their three red-zone trips against the Lions and finished the game with only two catches for 24 yards.

His 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame and reputation for running exceptional routes should help considerably on both third down and near the goal line, but Pitta acknowledged that Detroit used some bracketed coverage to neutralize his dangerous abilities.

The book is certainly out by now on his reputation as Flacco’s favorite target on the current roster.

“It just depends on who is open, what coverages they deploy, and how we respond to them,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “That could change up. Some guys are going to have big games; some guys are not going to have a great game. We usually have somebody that shows up week after week.”

Of course, Sunday’s game will provide a major test in future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, but the Patriots have been dealing with their own offensive struggles with the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski to an ACL injury and the recent absences of rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.

Entering Week 16 ranked 16th in the league in red-zone offense, the Patriots were 1-for-4 inside the 20 in their loss to Miami last Sunday — their first game since Gronkowski’s season-ending knee injury — as Brady was forced to throw to 5-foot-10 Julian Edelman and 5-foot-11 Danny Amendola inside the 20. The two are talented route-runners and productive receivers, but they are targets unable to go up and get the ball in traffic like the Pro Bowl tight end Gronkowski.

With the 6-foot-3 Dobson back at practice this week, he and talented receiving back Shane Vereen are likely to see opportunities when New England moves inside the red zone, but neither should be considered an easy fix to the Patriots’ offensive problems.

That said, the 10-4 Patriots have found success throughout the year despite Gronkowski missing all but seven games this season. Much like Flacco adjusting to life without Pitta and departed wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Brady has continued to succeed without the likes of Gronkowski, former slot receiver Wes Welker, and tight end Aaron Hernandez this season.

“When they haven’t been full-strength, they have found ways to win football games,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve had a lot of those same situations, and we’re just now starting to capitalize on them and win them. Earlier in the year, we probably weren’t able to win quite as much, and these guys have.

The casts have noticeably changed on each side of the ball, but Sunday’s contest is still likely to come down to which quarterback makes more plays as Flacco has gotten the best of Brady over the last few meetings between the teams, including last January’s AFC Championship game.

It’s apparent that neither offense is clicking on all cylinders with the end of the season quickly approaching, putting more expectations on each signal-caller to carry his team on his back. The Ravens have essentially been in must-win mode for the better part of a month while New England still needs one more win to lock up its fifth consecutive AFC East championship.

The battle inside the 20 will be critical like always, but the Ravens will be facing the league’s 21st-ranked red-zone defense while the Patriots must deal with the fourth-ranked unit in those situations and Brady has often struggled against Baltimore’s defensive schemes throughout his career.

Both Flacco and Brady will need to be at their best to give their flawed units a chance to succeed in what figures to be another classic matchup between the Ravens and Patriots. But with so many changes everywhere you look on these rosters, the spotlight will be even brighter on the quarterbacks than usual.

“Being able to execute under pressure, being smart, knowing the situation, keeping their poise, knowing how to handle [adversity],” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “[It’s] all the things — the play, the defense, clock management — [and] just good situational football. Each situation is a little bit different, no matter how much you practice it or how many situations you practice. [It’s about] being able to adjust and have that gamesmanship, poise and intelligence on the field to make good decisions at critical times.”

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I’m glad the Red Sox won.  I hope it ticks off the Orioles…

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I’m glad the Red Sox won. I hope it ticks off the Orioles…

Posted on 31 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

Back in October of 2009, I wrote right here and said on the air that I hoped the Yankees would win the World Series against the Phillies.

I got clobbered by people who couldn’t believe a Baltimore guy would stoop to such a low level.

I had my reasons for doing it, and it looks like I might have been right.

And, for those same reasons, still, I’m happy the Red Sox won the World Series last night.

Really, I am.

I’m happy the Red Sox won because their success might light a fire under the Orioles front office this winter, in the same way the Yankees winning in 2009 might have been the kick-starter for Peter Angelos waking up and realizing that trotting out inferior managers like Perlozzo and Trembley wasn’t going to cut it.  Five months into the 2010 season, Buck Showalter arrived on the scene at Camden Yards and things haven’t been the same – in a good way – since that move.

I’m happy for the Red Sox and I’m glad they won.

They’re an organization that TRIES to win.  Their fans…yeah, they might be jerks, but the football fans in Charm City aren’t exactly gold medal “good winners” either.  The Red Sox, though, understand the same concept the Yankees employ: “We owe it to our fans to be a champion.”

It’s been 30 years since the Orioles played in the World Series and nearly 20 years since the team advanced to the A.L. Championship Series.

I’m all for anything that gets Peter Angelos and Dan Duquette to say, “Enough is enough.  We’re tired of seeing New York and Boston win.”

Does seeing the Red Sox win bother those two enough?

My guess is probably not.

Which, of course, explains why the club has never been to the World Series in the Peter Angelos era of ownership.

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Two vested veterans like Huff and Spears getting cut is a very telling statement from the Ravens.

They’re basically saying, “Neither of those players could have helped us for the remainder of the season.”

Quite an admission.

And, a rare swing and miss from Ozzie Newsome.  Make that TWO swings — and TWO misses.

A few people e-mailed me on Wednesday after the news of Huff and Spears getting the boot was made public and once again tried to pigeon-hole a player move into why the Ravens should have kept Anquan Boldin instead of signing those two players.

Let me, I promise, try and educate you all on this one final time.

Anquan Boldin was due to make $6 million this season with the Ravens.

In the Ravens opinion, he wasn’t a $6 million football player anymore.

So, in their estimation, he was worth $4 million and they asked him to play for that.

He said “no”.  The Ravens said, “Well, we don’t think you’re worth $6 million, so we’ll have to part company.”

And that’s that.

The Ravens DID use the money they saved by trading Boldin on other players, yes, but they were going to go out and get football players in the off-season whether or not Anquan Boldin was retained or not.

If Anquan Boldin would have agreed to play for $4 million, he’d be in Baltimore.  Instead, he’s making $6 million in San Francisco, which is what he wanted.

The Ravens wanted Boldin, too.  But, they didn’t think he was a $6 million football player anymore.

Were they wrong on that estimation?  I’d say based on his overall performance in San Francisco this season, probably not.  That said, with Dennis Pitta on the sidelines in Baltimore, Boldin would have been a welcome sight here over the last seven weeks of the 2013 season.

Without money being a consideration, if you asked me “would you rather the Ravens HAVE Boldin on their team or NOT HAVE him on their team?”, I’d absolutely say, “Have…”

Only problem?  Money is always a consideration in the NFL.  It’s the driving force behind the structural formula that gives each franchise hope every March.

We must also keep this in mind anytime we’re discussing a player in one city vs. another city:  Nothing is ever the same.  These aren’t pieces of a puzzle that fit in next to one another.  What Boldin does in San Francisco can’t just be cookie-cuttered into “look at what he would have done in Baltimore for us…”  It just doesn’t work that way.  For all we know, Boldin might have torn his ACL in week two against the Browns if, in fact, he played for the Ravens this season.

People who don’t know sports like to generalize and say stuff like, “Look at what Boldin is doing in San Francisco.  He’d be doing the same thing here for us if Ozzie wouldn’t have let him go.”

Maybe.  Maybe not.  He might be doing worse.  Or, he might be doing better.

The Ravens – in their expert opinion – felt like Anquan Boldin wasn’t worth $6 million anymore and he wasn’t going to be worth it even if they didn’t sign Marcus Spears or Michael Huff.

Now — pay attention here:  If you want to beat up the Ravens for signing a couple of stiffs, that’s where you should point your angry finger.  Huff was a complete zero here.  Spears tried, but he’s not healthy anymore.

Those were bad signings.

But they had nothing at all to do with the fact that the Ravens didn’t think Anquan Boldin was a $6 million football player anymore.

 

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Loss of a dozen starters has really hurt the Ravens

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Loss of a dozen starters has really hurt the Ravens

Posted on 22 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

Everywhere I went on Monday, the question was basically the same:  ”What’s wrong with the Ravens?”

A few folks who asked that of me quickly followed up with, “You shouldn’t be this bad a year after winning the Super Bowl.”

Well, what’s wrong with the Ravens is, in fact, a by-product of winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans last February.

The 2013 edition of John Harbaugh’s team isn’t the same one that won the title in 2012.  Simple, right?  Well, yes, it sort of IS that simple, actually, even though people are always trying to find the “hidden secret” or “untold story” of the team.

Try this simple exercise for a second.  You’re going to have to put your pre-conceived negative opinions of John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice on the side for a moment, because this little game won’t work if you can’t do that.

OK…ready?

I want you to rewind your brain all the way back to last January.  The Ravens have just finished 10-6, won the AFC North, and get to take on the Colts in the first round of the playoffs.  If they win there, their “prize” is a trip to Denver to take on a Peyton Manning team that rocked you in Baltimore a month earlier.  And, if you’re somehow fortunate enough to get past the Broncos, the last remaining hurdle between you and the Super Bowl is a visit to Tom Brady’s house in Foxboro.

Still with me?

OK — the week before the Colts game, a crippling virus races through the Ravens locker room and these ten players are deemed OUT for the remainder of the playoffs:  Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Brendon Ayanbedejo, Bernard Pollard, Cary Williams and Dennis Pitta.  Add Bryant McKinnie to the mix after Monday’s trade and that makes eleven key players gone. (Keep in mind, as much as people like to beat up McKinnie, the Ravens are 0-2 since they jettisoned him to the bench in favor of Eugene Monroe.)

Could the Ravens have won four straight games in January and February without those eleven players a year ago?

Honestly?

Of course not.  They wouldn’t have moved past Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs given those ten starters missing the game due to the mythical “virus” I described above.

Well — of those eleven players I listed, nine of them were STARTERS from a year ago who haven’t played a single down for the Ravens this season.  McKinnie played 5 of 7 games before they sent him packing on Monday afternoon.

Of the players listed above, only Dennis Pitta remains on the roster, and he’s injured and was unavailable through seven games of 2013.

If you’re looking for the biggest reason why the Ravens are 3-4 at the bye, you just saw ten of them above.  There are, generally speaking, 22 “starters” in any game.  Ayanbedejo wasn’t technically a starter, but he WAS a special teams ace, so I deem him to be an important cog in the machine.  So, ten starters – out of 22 – are gone.  That’s not quite 50%, but it’s a huge chunk of quality missing that needed to be replaced.

(Please see next page)

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You would never trade the 15-7-0 for a sixth round pick

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You would never trade the 15-7-0 for a sixth round pick

Posted on 09 September 2013 by Glenn Clark

Do you remember how this goes?

15 positive observations from the weekend of football, seven not so positive observations and we acknowledge a “zero” from outside the world of football. A reminder, there’s never any Ravens game analysis here. It’s a trip through the weekend of football via videos, GIFs, memes, pictures, links, Tweets and shtick.

It’s been awhile. Be gentle. You know I would be.

15 Positive Observations…

1. Dear Tennessee Titans. Remember that thing Brian Billick said in the locker room that one time? Can we forget about all of that? We love you. A lot. Like MORE than we love red velvet funnel cake. No. Really.

This particular level of beautiful idiocy is even more delicious because former Terps LB Moise Fokou was the one to come up with the ball. I cried. I hugged a stranger.

Look, the Steelers were awful (which is delicious), but Troy Polamalu still did something AMAZING.

But hey Steel City, at least you didn’t do this.

2. Joe Flacco is so jealous of the guys CJ Brown is able to throw the football to.

Dave Stinebaugh is capable. Deon Long is good. Stefon Diggs is absurd.

3. I don’t really want to get too emotional this early in the season, but if you don’t want to give Ken Niumatalolo a “bro-hug” you’re a terrible American.

Navy is amazing. Just days after Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s mother passed away, they go to Bloomington and beat the Hoosiers for the second straight year. They’re just absolutely amazing. It was their 20th win over a BCS program since 2003. You might ask yourself, is that good? Well…yes.

Much love to you Coach Niumatalolo. And with the return of Navy football, the return of the amazing Navy football pregame videos.

4. The Saints’ decision to have a head coach be the head coach this season has gotten them off to a better start.

Pretty neat moment at the start of the game in The Big Easy, as Sean Payton and former Saint Steve Gleason lead the team out together.

This was one of the better games of the day, and came down to Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro making a damn fine play to end the game. I hope his family treated him to an eclair as a reward. (Raise your hand if you got it.)

5. High five to the guy who randomly picked Shane Vereen because “what the hell he’s still sitting there” late in his fantasy football draft.

Vereen came into the game because Stevan Ridley had a fumbling problem. But it’s understandable when you’re getting by tough opponents like “Air” and “Ground”…

For some inexplicable reason, Tom Brady decided to do his best Mark Sanchez impression.

Bills fans of course handled the arrival of the Pats with class and dignity and…yeah.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ozzie Admits Mistake with Recent Signings

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Ozzie Admits Mistake with Recent Signings

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Brett Dickinson

Now Ozzie Newsome is one of (and probably the best) General Manager in the NFL, for his entire career in Baltimore.  But that does not make him impervious to mistakes. His “Achilles Heel” has always been the pass-catcher situation; namely Wide Receiver.

He has made smart moves in the past to find targets for Joe Flacco, Trent Dilfer and Steve McNair, such as Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Shannon Sharpe.  But none of them had the monster careers that Baltimore fans hoped for.  Add in his track record in the draft with receiving threats (i.e. Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton, Patrick Robinson, Demetrius Williams, etc.) and you could say Ozzie has been somewhat unsuccessful filling that spot.

Most recently, Anquan Boldin was due $6 million for the 2013-14 season.  After a failed attempt to renegotiate Boldin’s contract, the Ravens sent him Super Bowl foe, San Francisco 49ers, for a 6th round pick.  The move was made thinking that the young core, namely Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss and Dennis Pitta, would take their games to the next level.  The team has already lost Pitta for the season, and seem to be underwhelmed by the rest of pass-catchers.

Since Training Camp began, Baltimore has signed a trio of aging veterans, who made a living across the middle of the field (Brandon Stokley, Visanthe Shiancoe and Dallas Clark).  The argument would be that those signings were to supplant what was lost in Pitta’s tragic hip injury.  But the team had already brought in Shiancoe, before their up-and-coming star TE went down.

Ozzie found the need to bring three guys, on the wrong side of 30, to fill the void left by the key losses of their TE and top WR in 2012. Though the organization did not want to pay Anquan Boldin, they sure have spent a lot of time and effort trying to find a replacement.  Unless one of the young players, like Aaron Mellete, Deonte Thompson or Tommy Streeter, begins to wow the Ravens’ brain-trust, those vets will see a lot of time in 2013.  

Anyone is hoping to see the 2007 version of any of those signings walk through the doors in Owings Mills, will be highly disappointed.  Stokley had a somewhat of a rebound season, but had the luxury of playing with Peyton Manning (again), Shiancoe caught zero passes for the Patriots in five games and Clark played his first full season in three years for Tampa Bay in 2012.

The fact that Ozzie started digging at the bottom of barrel, for players no other team wanted, shows a lack of confidence in the players currently on the roster.  Hindsight is always “20/20,” but moving on from a trusted big-game target, like Anquan Boldin, looks like a bigger mistake several months later. His production is clearly already missed and Ozzie has realized that.  Let’s just hope it has not been “too little, too late.”

 

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Ravens face several question marks on offense

Posted on 26 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

In exactly two weeks, the Baltimore Ravens will play their first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Until then, we have training camp to diagnose the Ravens. Training camp will not be without intense competitions as the team has a few holes to fill.

Let’s start with the wide receiver position.

Anquan Boldin’s departure from Baltimore to San Francisco was well documented. Boldin was a stud in the postseason. Even if he wasn’t open, he found ways to make catches in clutch moments. But, the Ravens decided to move on and traded Boldin to the 49ers for a late round draft pick.

As of now, Jacoby Jones is projected to play across from Torrey Smith, the team’s unquestioned number one receiver. Behind Jones, the Ravens don’t have many options. Tandon Doss hasn’t proven anything and Tommy Streeter and Deonte Thompson are project players. True, Deonte Thompson has great physical abilities but those will only take him so far. In addition, Jones’s impact on the offense is a question mark in itself. When faced with a larger role in Houston, Jones struggled. If Jones struggled with Andre Johnson, how productive can he be with Torrey Smith?

Replacing Boldin’s production will fall on the shoulders of Dennis Pitta. Pitta is a versatile tight end that has played out wide at times throughout his short career. I expect to see Pitta play a hybrid role this season, switching between a slot receiver and tight end. Playing in the slot will allow Ed Dickson to make more of an impact in the passing game. Don’t forget, before Pitta broke out last season, Dickson had 54 receptions for 528 yards and five touchdowns in 2011.

If that weren’t enough, the Ravens can throw rookie Kyle Juszczyk into the picture. Juszczyk won’t play the role of a traditional full in Jim Caldwell’s offense. Therefore, Caldwell could use him as a third tight end in certain packages.

Matt Birk was an unheralded piece to the Ravens postseason run. With the offensive line struggling, the Ravens made some changes. Bryant McKinnie was plugged in at left take. This forced Michael Oher to the right side and Kelechi Osemele to left guard. Matt Birk held the offensive line together and redeemed himself after a putrid performance against the Patriots and Vince Wilfork in the 2011 AFC Championship.

Replacing Birk will be just as important as replacing Boldin. Gino Gradkowski is the favorite thus far but veteran AQ Shipley could take the job.

When the Ravens line up against the Broncos, expect Gradkowski to be the starter. Gradkowski was drafted to be the eventual replacement to Birk and played well in spot duty last season.

As for Joe Flacco, many are projecting a regression. Well, I don’t buy that for a second. An average completion percentage is a common argument against Joe Flacco. Flacco’s completion percentage last season ranked 19th in the league at 59.7 percent. But, that must be taken in context. Joe’s strength is down field passing which doesn’t bode well for any quarterback’s completion percentage.

Plus, did you see Joe Flacco in Jim Caldwell’s offense? Caldwell took over in week 15 against the Broncos. While Flacco struggled against the Broncos, he heated up against the Giants and didn’t look back. Flacco only threw one interception to 15 touchdowns with Caldwell calling plays.

The Ravens offense has a lot of potential this season. Although Boldin and Birk are gone, their replacements have the ability to step in and produce. Flacco has the opportunity to make his first Pro Bowl and with him at the helm, the Ravens will always have a chance to win another Super Bowl.

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Baltimore Ravens 2013 Season Preview Part One

Posted on 05 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

Baltimore’s victory in Super Bowl XLVII was bittersweet. The Ravens had a reason to celebrate but it must also be put into perspective. Ray Lewis will never play for the Baltimore Ravens again. Neither will Ed Reed.

Many fan favorites are gone from Baltimore. Guys like Bernard Pollard, Carry Williams, and Anquan Boldin weren’t just great players. They were tempo setters. They brought intangibles to the team that personified the Ravens playing style and can’t be replaced.

Even with all the departures, the Ravens still stand a chance to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. Don’t forget, they still have number five and 27 in the backfield. The Ravens offense will live and die by Flacco and Rice this season. Both are highly regarded by their peers and are a dangerous duo when Rice is involved in the passing game.

Even though Rice remains, the heart and soul of the offense is gone. Anquan Boldin will be wearing a 49ers jersey this season and will be greatly missed. In my opinion, the Ravens received too little for Boldin who is worth much more than a sixth round draft pick. Experts say he was getting old and could not separate but what does it matter if he still catches everything thrown his way?

In the coming season, the Ravens will replace Boldin’s production with Dennis Pitta. Pitta should play a hybrid position in 2013 between tight end and wide receiver. He will line up in the slot more often, which will allow more opportunities for Ed Dickson to be a pass catching threat. Don’t forget that Dickson can be a dangerous weapon when utilized. Before Pitta broke out in the 2012 season, Dickson had nearly 60 catches and 528 receiving yards.

Having Pitta in a hybrid role would also allow the Ravens to utilize versatile rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell could have a lot of fun with Juszczyk who played fullback, running back, and tight end at Harvard last season. His versatility will cause matchup, spelling, and pronunciation nightmares.

Speaking of nightmares, the Ravens defense will cause many of them this season. This defense has the ability to be one of the best in franchise history. Possibly the best Baltimore has seen since 2006. If you have followed the team closely, that must be music to your ears.

The main point behind my argument is this. The Ravens are younger, faster, more athletic, and extremely versatile.

The trio of Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata will be a lethal combination. All three players are elite at their respective positions and can take over games by themselves. Just think of all the fun they will have!

Ngata is so dominant that he will occupy blockers on the inside. In turn, other defensive lineman like Arthur Jones and Chris Canty will have an easier path to the quarterback. Suggs and Dumervil will then face less blockers on the outside but will also open things up for Ngata, Canty, and others when offenses are forced to put more attention on them. So in a way, offenses will have to pick their poison when facing the Ravens defense.

Despite the promise I see for the Ravens, a tough season still lies ahead. Thanks to the Orioles, the Ravens are forced to open on the road against Denver. Unless Jacoby Jones and Joe Flacco have another miracle up their selves, I don’t see this game ending well.

Following a tough opening game, the Ravens return home to face the Browns and Texans in consecutive weeks. If the Ravens do not perform well, the season could easily start with two losses to the Broncos and Texans. Following the Texans, the schedule gets progressively tougher. There are weaker teams on the schedule but the Packers, Steelers, Bears, Vikings, and Patriots will test Baltimore to their limits.

The Ravens have many factors in their favor for the 2013 season. Their recent dominance over the AFC North indicates they should win the division yet again. In addition, Joe Flacco is better than most of the quarterbacks the Ravens will face this year. The only quarterbacks better than Flacco on the Ravens schedule are Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning. Flacco is also very good in clutch situations so the Ravens will have an advantage over 13 teams they will face at the most important position on the field.

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