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Changing Ravens’ song at wide receiver will be one of DeCosta’s biggest tasks

Posted on 26 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The early reviews have been positive for new Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta.

Many doubted the trade value for former starting quarterback Joe Flacco before DeCosta struck an agreement to send the former Super Bowl MVP to Denver for a fourth-round pick in April’s draft. The Ravens are counting on Tavon Young to still grow into the three-year, $25.8 million extension that makes him — at least temporarily — the NFL’s highest-paid slot cornerback, but the organization keeping a talented player entering his age-25 season is a welcome sight.

However, the Monday release of wide receiver Michael Crabtree ends the honeymoon for DeCosta. That’s not to say the veteran’s departure was unexpected or the wrong decision after a disappointing lone season in Baltimore, but it officially signals the latest instance of Phil Connors waking up to “I Got You Babe” in “Groundhog Day.”

The Ravens are about to embark on their latest rebuild of a wide receiver room that currently includes Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley, and Quincy Adeboyejo — the latter three without a single NFL target to their names — so let’s get the usual platitudes out of the way.

We know it’s a challenging position to scout, draft, and develop. Top-shelf options on the free-agent market are expensive. Talented receivers could be on the board in any round of the draft. And, yes, there are other positions of need — like the interior offensive line — to address this offseason.

The aforementioned statements are both true and weary excuses. And the arrival of 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson has brought additional comments this offseason, ranging from the Baltimore brass stating a desire to have receivers with strong run-blocking ability to others stating wide receivers aren’t as important for a mobile quarterback in a run-first offense. There may be some truth in those sentiments, especially with a young tight end group trending upward, but that remains a limited outlook for the side of the ball that’s gotten the short end of the stick for years. And you’re forgiven for not being enthused about the idea of blocking-minded receivers when the organization can’t find those sporting the traditional requirements of the position.

Jackson needs high-quality wide receivers to help in his development if the Ravens truly hope to maximize their investment in a first-round quarterback. There’s no telling how Flacco’s early career would have gone without Derrick Mason or Anquan Boldin after that, but can you imagine what might have been had the Ravens not fumbled the position so much over the last several years? You hope a lesson has been learned, even with the organization now boasting an exciting young quarterback with a unique skill set.

But that’s where it’s tricky trying to determine whether anything will really change under a new general manager who isn’t new at all. DeCosta surely didn’t agree with every move made by his mentor and former general manager Ozzie Newsome over the years, but it would be just as naive to assume he was opposed to every misstep ultimately taken at the wide receiver position.

Considering the Ravens have selected just one wide receiver — Breshad Perriman — in the first three rounds of the last seven drafts despite the position being an annual concern, how do you explain away DeCosta’s responsibility knowing the draft has long been his baby? Before last year’s draft, he was asked about that recent track record and whether the organization valued the wide receiver position enough on their board compared to other teams around the league:

“To get a good player at any position, you’ve got to swing. You can get one at-bat in a baseball game and strike out and everyone’s going to say you’re a bad hitter. But if you get up four times and you hit two singles or two doubles, you’re a .500 hitter, so your whole perception changes. You’ve got to swing. We probably haven’t swung quite as much, quite honestly, for a lot of different reasons.

“I think that [with] the receiver position and skill players in general, what I see is a sense of inflation. The value of the skill players has been affected by inflation. Players are getting drafted probably higher than where we actually see their skill levels necessarily being. What I mean by that is we see players that we think are second-round or third-round players getting drafted in the first round. And we see first-round players at some of the skill positions that may be lower-half-of-the-first-round players sometimes getting drafted in the top half of the first round. I think some of that is because of the perception and the pressure to find skill players. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re any better than other players that they’re drafted in front of, but that the value of these players has changed.

“We have to make a decision. Are we going to react to that as well in order to get players? For instance, you might have a quarterback as being the 20th-best player in the draft, but the chances that you’re going to get him with the 20th pick are basically nonexistent. He’s going to be a top-10 player because he’s a quarterback. The various positions [and] the values of the various positions in terms of winning and losing football games, it seems like the media, the fan base, draft pundits, the NFL teams, everybody has a different opinion. But that makes the value of those skills players greater than probably if you just graded all those players clinically across board. They would be taken higher than what you have them rated, and we have to make a decision of do we want to participate in that inflationary process basically.”

Perhaps the decision to adapt is coming, but DeCosta’s assessment preceded the Ravens passing on first-round wide receivers DJ Moore and Calvin Ridley in favor of trading down to take tight end Hayden Hurst and trading back into the first round to select Jackson. Wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley were grabbed in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, but neither appeared in a single game last season with Scott stashed on injured reserve and Lasley inactive every week.

The jury is still out, but the Ravens can’t continue to point to one failed first-round pick every decade as reason for not taking swings beyond late-round fliers at the position.

In the same way DeCosta deserves his portion of credit for the great success that includes two Super Bowl championships in the last two decades, he shares in the blame for the lack of draft success at the wide receiver position. And while they’ve found some success — and duds — signing past-their-prime receivers at a discount, this new era for the organization signals the need for a long-term answer or two.

There may be no better way for DeCosta to make his mark on the roster as the new man in charge than putting this longstanding criticism to bed and positioning his young quarterback to reach greater heights. No, wide receiver isn’t the only order of business this offseason, but it’s an important one deserving more than just the typical band-aid or two.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or we’ll be back here again next year as Sonny & Cher plays in the background.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Flacco trade to Denver

Posted on 13 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to trade longtime quarterback Joe Flacco to Denver for a fourth-round pick next month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Credit Eric DeCosta for extracting value from an inevitable divorce, especially after the organization hadn’t even tried to be coy about its intentions. I was skeptical he’d find a trade partner. Taking the entire $16 million dead money hit in 2019 will leave a clean salary cap for 2020.

2. Flacco will be remembered in part for what he never became — below-average post-Super Bowl numbers bear that out — but he was the best quarterback in team history and, most importantly, a champion. The Ravens are lucky he passed their way after years wasted in the quarterback doldrums.

3. It’s easy to say Flacco didn’t live up to his historic contract signed after his 2012 postseason, but the organization never adjusted upon seeing he couldn’t do it by himself, continuing to prioritize defense and putting far fewer resources into the offense. The letdown was mutual at the very least.

4. He’d never admit something that’s subconscious anyway, but I don’t think Flacco has recovered mentally from his 2015 ACL injury. Some free-agent departures on the offensive line didn’t help, but his tendencies to check down and feel pressure even when it wasn’t there became more pronounced after the injury.

5. The Ravens dumping Anquan Boldin remains indefensible six years later, but the post-Super Bowl fall of Ray Rice was even more devastating to Flacco’s career considering what he produced as a receiver out of the backfield. Baltimore still hasn’t come close to replacing that element.

6. Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata are among the best Ravens ever, but they didn’t own a single playoff win until 2008. Flacco benefited greatly from them too, of course, but you wonder what could have been if he’d come along five years earlier instead of Kyle Boller.

7. Of the Ravens’ 17 Day 1 and 2 draft picks from 2013-17, Crockett Gillmore, Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Ronnie Stanley were the only offensive players selected. Flacco’s hefty contract never explained that.

8. Durability was one of Flacco’s biggest strengths early in his career, but injuries have either disrupted his preparation or cost him games in each of the last four seasons. It’s tough seeing that trend improving as the 34-year-old enters his 12th year in the NFL.

9. I never understood the criticism of Flacco not making his receivers better. Steve Smith and Mike Wallace became 1,000-yard receivers again after appearing to be in decline elsewhere. Torrey Smith’s numbers crashed as soon as he departed. Who are these former Ravens receivers who suddenly blossomed elsewhere?

10. It’s strange to think exactly six years, two months, and one day after the “Mile High Miracle,” the Broncos will officially welcome Flacco to Denver. I’m guessing Rahim Moore and Jacoby Jones won’t be at the introductory press conference.

11. Flacco didn’t perform to his record contract, but he remained a good teammate and never complained about the aforementioned variables that didn’t help his cause. Yes, he made a ton of money, but that hasn’t stopped other high-priced athletes from being malcontents over the years.

12. What would you really change about the Flacco era? The Ravens weren’t letting the Super Bowl MVP walk, and he had extraordinary contract leverage. The success early in his career should far outweigh the last several years in which he and Baltimore remained competitive but weren’t quite good enough.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2018 season opener

Posted on 04 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens opening the 2018 season by hosting Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I’m more optimistic about the Ravens than I’ve been in a few years, but it has very little to do with the 5-0 preseason beyond staying pretty healthy. The Indianapolis game was the only time Baltimore played at full strength — or close to it — against another team at full strength.

2. Is it more surprising that Alex Collins, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead combined to touch the ball only eight times in the preseason or that no one is talking about that? To be clear, that’s not a criticism, but it speaks to the unknown still at work here.

3. Is anyone else tired of talking about the backup quarterback situation? A healthy Joe Flacco playing at a higher level is the key to this season — not whether Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III is backing him up. In a perfect world, Griffin doesn’t take a snap all season.

4. Bills coach Sean McDermott made the right call naming Nathan Peterman his starting quarterback and protecting first-round pick Josh Allen from playing on the road against a tough Baltimore defense that’s frequently eaten rookie quarterbacks alive over the years. That won’t save Peterman though.

5. Remember how the Ravens had $17 million in dead money on their salary cap in 2015, the year they finished 5-11? Fresh off their first playoff appearance of the millennium, the Bills are carrying an unthinkable $53.1 million in dead money on this year’s cap. You can’t win that way.

6. Willie Henry’s early absence could change things, but I like the decision to shift Brandon Williams back to nose tackle after he played more of the 3-technique spot with Michael Pierce at the nose last year. Williams is excellent against the run, so you want to maximize his biggest strength.

7. The practice-squad signings of Cyrus Jones and Tim White should signal to Janarion Grant not to get too comfortable as the return specialist. I’m not convinced the Ravens have found their answer in this department or if that individual is currently in the organization.

8. I’m not sure how long rookie cornerback Darious Williams will be on the 53-man roster, but he began his Alabama-Birmingham career as a walk-on and stayed put through the football program’s temporary disbandment and two-year hiatus from playing games. That’s quite a journey to the NFL.

9. Four teams making waiver claims on Carl Davis and his release even after Henry’s injury should speak to the depth of the Baltimore defensive line. Seeing Cleveland grab the versatile Davis wasn’t remotely surprising.

10. The Ravens are starting their second decade of the John Harbaugh-Flacco era. Some would argue that isn’t a good thing, but that kind of continuity isn’t fully appreciated until it’s gone. Over the last decade, the Browns have had six head coaches and used 19 starting quarterbacks.

11. Questions remain about the circumstances that led to Kaare Vedvik being found with head and upper-body injuries early Saturday in East Baltimore. I feel for the 24-year-old as he had a good chance to be kicking in the NFL this year, but the outcome could have been much worse.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for naming Anquan Boldin their “Legend of the Game” for the opener. Does this reverse the “Boldin Curse” that’s resulted in four non-playoff seasons since he was traded for a sixth-round pick five weeks after Super Bowl XLVII?

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Chapter 17: The Last Ride of 52

Posted on 02 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

Your lowest moment is always when you feel your greatest pain. When I tore my triceps, and the doctor looked at me and she told me that, you know, I was out for the year. And I said, ‘Doc, are you sure?’ I said, ‘Nah. Doc – there’s no way I’m [going] to be out for the year with just a torn triceps. I’ve been through way worse.’ And she was like, ‘Ray, you know, nobody’s ever come back from this.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, nobody’s ever been Ray Lewis, either.’ ”

– Ray Lewis (January 2013)

 

 

 

AFTER ALL THAT THE RAVENS had been through in their rocky December – three losses in a row, the firing of Cam Cameron, the preseason-style game in Cincinnati to end 2012 – the road to a Super Bowl was still very much alive in January. And there’s nothing to stir the passions of Baltimore football fans like seeing the stolen blue horseshoe and the five-letter word that’s associated with evil in the land of pleasant living: I-R-S-A-Y. The Indianapolis Colts were coming to Baltimore again, a visit that still elicits plenty of emotion from the over-40 crowd.

And this time it wasn’t the bravado and no huddle mastery of Peyton Manning that would confront the Ravens. Peyton was staying warm in Denver, waiting to see if the Ravens would be journeying to the Mile High City next week. This time, the Colts had a different hotshot quarterback in Andrew Luck. The Ravens could never solve Manning – and still couldn’t earlier in December – but this time it would be a different look and a different team coming from Indy. In 2011, a gimpy version of the Colts on the last legs of the Dungy era and the Jim Caldwell head coaching run, were shellacked 24-10 by the Ravens in Baltimore as quarterback Dan Orlovsky ran for his life amidst a purple swarm all afternoon. Orlovsky wouldn’t be running the show this time.

This time, Caldwell would be running the Ravens offense and the guy who was running the Baltimore defense in 2001 would be the head coach of the Colts. There were plenty of emotions with the return of Chuck Pagano to Baltimore and the quarterback prodigy of John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, who groomed Luck at Stanford as head coach of the Cardinal, before Indianapolis and owner Jim Irsay made him the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in April 2012 after jettisoning Manning, who wound up in Denver.

Pagano had successfully battled leukemia over the previous three months, and the #Chuckstrong campaign in social media was as solid as the Colts had been on the field in his absence. During his absence, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians stabilized a youthful team around Luck. Indianapolis was the surprise team in the AFC with an 11-5 record, including 9-2 down the stretch. They had played a last-place schedule all year, but had been impressive throughout the year and brought a wave of emotion with them from the friendly heart of the Midwest as Pagano’s health and strength was a rallying point for them all season.

Pagano had believed it a cruel, strange twist of fate that he even got the Colts head coaching job the previous January. As the Ravens went down the field on the final Lee Evans-Billy Cundiff drive in Foxborough, Pagano was thinking that he was finally going to the Super Bowl.

“If we win that AFC Championship Game that would’ve put me two weeks further out and no coach can have any discussion about a job,” Pagano said. “I would venture to say that Indy would’ve had to get their guy in place and they had already interviewed with a bunch of guys. I don’t think that it would’ve happened for me with the Colts. I know there were more qualified candidates than me, guys they had talked to in the process.”

Instead, the Ravens suffered the agonizing defeat and Pagano got the Indy job the next day. “It’s crazy how fate and destiny works,” he said. “I thought I’d be going to Indy that week. I just had no idea it’d be to be coaching the Colts. I thought I’d be coaching the Ravens defense in the Super Bowl.”

Now, a cancer survivor in remission with thin strands of gray hair returning to his previously bald head, Pagano was back in Baltimore on the sidelines as the head coach of an NFL playoff team almost 12 months later. He was coming back to Baltimore in an attempt to end

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Ravens use old habit in landing veteran receiver Crabtree

Posted on 16 March 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After one of the more bizarre starts to free agency in team history, the Ravens turned to an old habit at the wide receiver position by courting a veteran cast aside by his former team.

A day after voiding a four-year, $29 million agreement with the largely-unproven Ryan Grant because of a failed physical, Baltimore signed former Oakland wide receiver Michael Crabtree to a three-year contract on Friday. The deal is worth a total of $21 million and includes a $7 million signing bonus and $11 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network.

Upon being released by the Raiders on Thursday, the 30-year-old said his first call came from the Ravens before he caught the first flight to Baltimore and arrived for a visit at the team’s Owings Mills facility early Friday morning. The daylong negotiation reflected the Ravens’ urgency to strike a deal after what had transpired the previous day with Grant, a sequence of events that’s drawn skepticism and even accusations of wrongdoing from some critics.

A former San Francisco 49er who was targeted on the fourth-down incompletion in the end zone on the famous goal-line stand in Super Bowl XLVII, Crabtree becomes the latest in a long line of veteran wideouts to join the Ravens in the latter stages of their career.

Familiarity contributed to Crabtree’s decision as he previously played for Ravens assistant head coach Greg Roman and wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, both former 49ers assistants. Of course, he also played for the brother of Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh as Jim Harbaugh served as 49ers head coach for Crabtree’s final four seasons in San Francisco.

“Jim and John, they’re like the same to me. When I talk to them, it’s like I’m talking to the same person,” said Crabtree as he laughed during his conference call with local reporters. “It’s almost as if they were twins or something. It’s weird, but it’s a new team for me, a new journey.”

After a disappointing season from Jeremy Maclin that resulted in his release earlier this week, general manager Ozzie Newsome hopes another 2009 first-round wide receiver can provide the physical presence on third down and in the red zone the Ravens have mostly lacked since trading Anquan Boldin in 2013. Crabtree is coming off a down season in which he caught only 58 passes for 618 yards — reflecting the struggles of the entire Oakland offense — but he still caught eight touchdowns, only three fewer than Baltimore’s entire collection of wide receivers in 2017.

In nine NFL seasons, the Texas Tech product has totaled 579 receptions for 6,870 yards and 51 touchdowns. Despite coming off his lowest catch and yardage totals since his injury-shortened 2013 campaign, Crabtree recorded the second 1,000-yard season of his career in 2016, helping the Raiders return to the playoffs for the first time in well over a decade.

Crabtree has registered 33 catches for 444 yards and six touchdowns in five career games against the Ravens, something that didn’t go unnoticed by Newsome in the pursuit of the veteran. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound wideout collected six receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown in Baltimore’s Week 5 win at Oakland last season.

“We know firsthand the attributes he brings to the game,” Newsome said in a statement released by the team. “He is a smart, tough, physical receiver who battles for the ball. We like his temperament and believe he is a good fit for our football team, on and off the field.”

Crabtree is now the second receiver to officially sign with the Ravens this week after a one-year, $5 million contract with former Arizona speedster John Brown was finalized on Thursday. It’s the continuation of Newsome’s stated desire to revamp the wide receiver position after the Ravens finished 29th in passing offense last season. Despite receiving much scrutiny over the timing of Grant’s voided deal coinciding with Crabtree’s release, Newsome said earlier Friday that the Ravens were interested in the veteran before receiving the results of Grant’s physical.

Baltimore wide receivers combined for 34 touchdown receptions over the last three seasons while Crabtree recorded 25 over that time with the Raiders. With Maclin gone and speedy veteran Mike Wallace currently an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens will be counting on Crabtree to provide veteran leadership as well as consistent production for a group lacking experience and accomplishments.

They also envision a motivated veteran eager to prove he has plenty of good football left despite being jettisoned by the Raiders.

“I felt like I was the leader in the room at [age] 21. But it was more off example, leading by example,” Crabtree said. “The older I’ve gotten, it seems like it’s more verbal. It’s more speaking, showing these guys and telling these guys instead of just showing them by example.

“It’s a little different when you get older. I’m comfortable with it. I feel like I’m in my prime right now. I’m ready to go. I feel young; I feel like I’m still 25.”

Crabtree’s mercurial personality has sometimes led to a reputation for having attitude problems and he was even ejected for fighting with former Denver cornerback Aqib Talib in a game last season, but the Ravens could stand to benefit from more attitude on the offensive side of the ball, especially with the free-agent departure of starting center Ryan Jensen becoming official Friday night. Despite being a Dallas native, Crabtree said he grew up a Ravens fan because of their “hard-nosed” defense, which could partly explain his fiery personality that occasionally crosses the line.

Newsome says he’s not finished addressing the wide receiver position despite two free-agent additions in the first week of free agency, also noting Friday that the door was still open for Wallace and fellow free agent Michael Campanaro to potentially return. Next month’s draft may lack a clear-cut franchise-changing receiver, but the depth of talent projected to go in the second and third rounds should be appealing for an organization that struck out on 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman and has otherwise waited until the later rounds to draft receivers who amounted to little more than fliers.

The Ravens also continue to search for help at tight end with their reported interest in former Detroit first-round pick Eric Ebron, who was released earlier this week.

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

Posted on 31 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

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

John Harbaugh on WNST.net (March 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 19: The purple revolution in New England

Posted on 30 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

“You guys will write great stories and can put it in way better words than I can. We’ve always believed in Joe. For Joe to come out and have this kind of game, on this kind of a stage, three weeks in a row…[Andrew] Luck’s a pretty good quarterback, [Peyton] Manning’s a pretty good quarterback, [Tom] Brady’s a great quarterback; all those guys are great players. But Joe’s a great quarterback. He’s proven that, and he’s not just proven that this year, he’s proven it for five years.”

– John Harbaugh (January 20, 2013)

 

 

 

 

 

IF REVENGE IS A DISH best served cold, then at least the elements and the weather in New England would cooperate accordingly. What could provide a better stage for a tale of vindication in Charm City than the Baltimore Ravens returning to Foxborough for a rematch of the AFC Championship Game?

It was like a Steel Cage Match.

Tom Brady vs. Joe Flacco. Ray Lewis and The Last Ride. Bill Belichick and the Patriots with yet another chance to make America groan by going to a sixth Super Bowl in 13 seasons in New England. There were no shortage of stories to be told.

When the Ravens boarded their happy flight for Baltimore from Denver two hours after the miraculous win over the Broncos, they were unsure of their destination for the final step toward Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The Texans, who had whipped them in Houston back in October, were visiting New England the following afternoon. The Patriots, led by Tom Brady’s three TD passes, dispatched of the Texans in a 41-28 win, but lost tight end Rob Gronkowski with a left wrist injury.

A huge weapon for the Patriots was gone before the Ravens even had to assemble the game plan.

By late Sunday afternoon the travel plans were made for a trip that the Ravens knew all too well. They were heading to Foxborough. For more than 40 players and the entire coaching staff, it was back to Gillette Stadium 52 weeks later – 364 days after the most disappointing day of their lives. The Lee Evans drop. The Billy Cundiff kick. The cold, empty feeling in that locker room and Ray Lewis telling them to go make someone smile. The quiet flight home. And those long days afterward, when you just wanted to pull the blankets over your head in the morning because you still couldn’t accept that you lost that game.

It’s not one of those days you quickly forget.

Motivating players was not going to be an issue for head coach John Harbaugh this week. Calming them down, however, might be.

On Sunday night, in the middle of the Texans-Patriots game, Brendon Ayanbadejo fired the opening salvo via his Twitter page:

Are you watching the game pats vs. texans? If so you see the hurry snap offense catch em b4 they set up. It’s a gimmick.

Then, he followed with: New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can’t really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight

Then: You know the same organization that did spygate and cut a guy the day b4 the Super Bowl

Then: In a sport that is predicated on mano y mano, “lets hurry n snap it” = bitchassness

And finally: 18-1 …a reference to the Patriots losing in the Super Bowl to Giants in 2008

Ayanbadejo is no stranger to the back and forth of social media, yet his controversial stand on social issues were always consistent and relatively polite given the forum. But, something about watching the Patriots play the Texans in Foxborough clearly rubbed him the wrong way. And with his fingers on the trigger of his mobile device, and filled with emotion given the outcome and his role, he simply fired off his thoughts.

By lunchtime on Monday, Ayanbadejo had issued an apology on Twitter:

I made selfish comments on twitter last night that reflected poorly upon myself, my teammates, and the organization. For that I apologize.

One thing he was correct about was that the Patriots were going to try to snap the ball before the Ravens were ready. Harbaugh was more diplomatic. “They look to create advantages for themselves, and they do it with tempo a lot of times,” he said. “ It’s not just the fact that they go fast sometimes. They force you to line up. Sometimes they’ll force the defense to show their hand because you have to defend the play. If you don’t, they’ll run the play. You saw last week they got Houston in some tough situations, and it was big plays for them. It usually results in a big

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Chapter 13: The Legend of 4th and 29

Posted on 24 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“It’s the greatest play I have ever seen.”

– John Harbaugh (November 25, 2012)

 

 

FIVE DAYS AWAY FROM FOOTBALL was just what the doctor ordered as far as everyone in the building was concerned. The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time, almost exactly in the middle of the season. As much as the players use the down time to get away, see their families, go “home” – wherever that might be in 53 directions – the coaches used the final three weekdays of the week without a game to do what they call “self scouting.”

The NFL schedule is meat grinder, where the games happen Sunday; Monday and Tuesday are game-planning installment days; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are practices days; and Saturday means walk-through and a plane ride every other weekend. There are no off days for NFL coaches once training camp begins in late July. The fan in Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti always marvels at the level of commitment of football coaches, who he’s said work more than any other category of business he’s ever seen.

And although the Ravens began the season 5-2, there was plenty of “self scouting” to be done and bad habits that they’d like to see their team break especially in light of the meltdown in Houston.

Cam Cameron’s offense had been sputtering week to week, depending on location and opponent. What worked so flawlessly against Cincinnati, New England, and Dallas – the “sugar huddle” tempo, spreading the ball around, creating holes for Rice and time for Flacco to throw – seemed like a distant memory in light of the poor Kansas City and Houston footage. After five years of trying to find more consistency, the Ravens still didn’t know what they were getting on any given Sunday, especially on the road when Mr. Hyde showed up far too often.

On defense, Pees was trying to evaluate combinations and schemes that would serve the personnel he currently had at his disposal, which was far different than the unit that stifled the Bengals eight, long weeks ago. Frankly, the Ravens didn’t have much to be proud of in regard to defensive statistics or categories. They weren’t stopping the run at all. They weren’t rushing the passer. They weren’t tacking particularly well. And without a pass rush and with Webb out and Reed gambling and guessing even more than usual, Romo and Schaub – a pair of legitimate top-shelf NFL quarterbacks – picked the secondary apart, especially running across the middle of the field where the Ravens’ linebackers were sub-par in coverage.

As the Ravens prepared to convene on Monday, October 29th, a monster storm was threatening the East Coast, which would impact millions of people over the next few days and weeks. Hurricane Sandy also took its toll on the organization that week as players scrambled to get back to Baltimore amidst altered flights, long drives, and chaos. Special teamer Sean Considine got stuck at the Chicago airport with his four small children. He and his wife had triplets who were toddlers and a 4-year old. Arthur Jones got stranded in Dallas. Terrell Suggs re-routed a flight into Raleigh and drove seven hours on Sunday night in the driving rain to make it back to Monday’s practice. Harbaugh was giving the team the usual Tuesday off in preparation for the game in Cleveland on Sunday, and the brunt of the storm spared most of Maryland, but created a state of emergency just 150 miles away as parts of New Jersey and New York were devastated and destroyed. The storm that eventually helped elect a President was wreaking havoc.

By Wednesday, it became a normal week and once again the Ravens had the thankless task of trying to find a way to sneak in and out of Cleveland with their 10th straight victory over the AFC North-rival Browns. The history of the Ravens and Browns and Art Modell was all written two decades ago. Now, it was simply a matter of a great franchise coming to a city with a poor franchise and continuing to rub more purple salt in the festering wounds. The fans of Cleveland still have incredible disdain for anything related to Art Modell’s Baltimore Ravens and probably always will.

“Everything we’ve done since our last game is geared towards going to Cleveland and being the best team we can be,” said Harbaugh, the sting of the Houston beating now in the rearview mirror. “We have everything we need – players and schemes – to play well. We have to organize it in a way that gives our players the opportunity to play their fastest and best under pressure, on the road and at home. We’ve had the chance with the bye to go into deep study and into the laboratory to figure out what we do best, and we want to take that into this game – and the other eight after that. We think we’ve learned a lot, and we’ll continue to push the envelope to be the best we can be. Our players are definitely good enough to get the job done.”

“There were some very real concerns. There are things that we need to do a lot better, not just from [Houston], but through the whole seven-game period that we felt like we needed to take a hard look at and we did, and I did feel good about it. I felt like our coaches, our players, the communication, we really went to work, and we really had some great conversations. We had some great discussions. We had some great study watching the tape. Guys did some great studies looking at numbers and things like that. In the end, what you try to do is make good counsel then make wise solid judgments about what makes us our best as we move forward. I am really excited about that – I really am. The proof will be in the pudding. So, if I say I am excited about it

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Revamped Ravens defense better live up to expectations

Posted on 29 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stayed true to their board, but that doesn’t change reality after going defense with their first four picks of the 2017 draft.

This is an unbalanced roster with the heaviest lifting of the offseason now in the books. Yes, general manager Ozzie Newsome reminded us again Saturday that the Ravens aren’t done building this year’s team, but there are only so many viable free agents still out there to move the meter in any meaningful way. Right now, Baltimore has a below-average offense that’s going to be difficult to improve dramatically without some substantial improvement from players already on the roster.

The Ravens may still add Nick Mangold or bring back Anquan Boldin, but there’s a reason why they’re still out there. They’re not “Plan A” guys anymore.

Of the seven Ravens players selected in the first three rounds over the last two drafts, just one — left tackle Ronnie Stanley — was an offensive player. It’s difficult to improve on that side of the ball if you’re not spending free-agent dollars or investing early draft picks, which will make life more difficult for quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg as they will likely lean on unproven talent at wide receiver and on the offensive line.

Asked about the state of his offense after the first wave of free agency last month that included lucrative contracts for nose tackle Brandon Williams and safety Tony Jefferson and another deal for cornerback Brandon Carr, Newsome fairly pointed to the draft as the way to build the rest of the roster. But the Ravens came away with fourth-round guard prospect Nico Siragusa and fifth-round developmental right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor as their only picks for that side of the ball.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Ravens should have reached to draft offensive players purely out of need as they did appear to get good value with their picks, but the 2017 draft being so rich in defensive talent was a reason why the offense should have been a bigger focus in free agency. The outcome is an offense that’s lost a starting wide receiver, a starting right tackle, a starting center, and a Pro Bowl fullback and has netted only 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead and two Day 3 offensive linemen.

Which side of the ball had its coordinator fired again last year?

Like it or not, the Ravens prioritized building a great defense above anything else this offseason. The unit collapsed down the stretch in 2016, but the primary cause of that was the absence of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith as John Harbaugh’s team went 2-5 in games in which he missed meaningful time.

When Smith was on the field, the Ravens had a strong defense despite an underwhelming pass rush. And even with the resources used in both free agency and the draft to revamp the secondary and the pass rush, Smith’s availability remains arguably the biggest key for defensive success.

On paper, the Ravens defense does look better than the 2016 edition, but it will need to be great — possibly even special — to justify the use of so many resources and to make up for an offense with a ton of question marks. Taking that kind of a leap is no sure thing, especially in the modern NFL that is geared toward offense.

Will some combination of the pass-rushing group of Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser, and Tim Williams be ready to step up with Terrell Suggs set to turn 35 in October and Elvis Dumervil no longer on the roster? Is first-round rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey going to be ready to play at a high level if Smith goes down again for some period of time? Can Kamalei Correa hold down the inside linebacker spot vacated by the retired Zach Orr? Will defensive coordinator Dean Pees use so many new pieces effectively and maximize their versatility?

The excitement for the defense is understandable with so much youth and potential at every level, but remember there isn’t a 25-year-old Ray Lewis leading this group before waxing nostalgic about replicating the 2000 Ravens. Even if we’re looking for a more contemporary comparison — it’s a different game than it was nearly two decades ago — the 2015 Denver Broncos had a generational talent in Von Miller and two 1,000-yard receivers on the other side of the ball.

A winning blueprint leaning so heavily on defense is very difficult to execute.

But it’s where the Ravens find themselves after free agency and the draft.

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Wide receiver Campanaro agrees to one-year deal with Ravens

Posted on 06 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have agreed to a one-year contract with wide receiver Michael Campanaro.

The 2014 seventh-round pick and River Hill grad was a restricted free agent and had received an original-round tender worth $1.79 million last month. However, his new agreement lowers his base salary and cap number for the 2017 season and is worth a maximum of $2 million, according to The Sun.

Campanaro has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, appearing in just 11 games over three seasons. However, he became Baltimore’s primary punt returner after the release of veteran Devin Hester last December and also carried the ball three times for 72 yards in three games.

With Steve Smith having retired and Kamar Aiken now with Indianapolis, the 5-foot-9 Campanaro could be in line for a bigger role on offense in 2017. He has 12 receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown in his NFL career.

In other wide receiver news, former Raven Anquan Boldin reconfirmed at his charity golf event in Florida that he intends to play in 2017 and will wait to sign with a team until closer to training camp. Asked about a possible reunion with Boldin last month, head coach John Harbaugh expressed interest in having him back, but the Ravens would likely prefer to wait to sign any other unrestricted free agents until next month when the compensatory pick formula is no longer impacted.

Boldin’s 2016 team, the Detroit Lions, have also expressed interest in re-signing him.

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