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Ravens narrowly avoided Atlanta’s fate four years ago

Posted on 06 February 2017 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Continuity still rules at top of organization for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Luke Jones

As open positions go, the Indianapolis general manager job figured to present some appeal to Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta.

Baltimore’s bitter feelings aside, the Colts have built a nice tradition of winning over the last two decades with much of the credit going to the arrival of Peyton Manning in 1998. Indianapolis currently has a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career in Andrew Luck, something most teams with a GM opening can’t proclaim.

DeCosta obviously knows head coach Chuck Pagano, who served as a defensive assistant for the Ravens for four years.

Colts owner Jim Irsay hardly has a spotless reputation, but Bill Polian ran his football team for 14 years before the recently-fired Ryan Grigson was in charge over the last five seasons. He’s far from perfect, but there are worse — and less patient — owners for which to work.

Still, DeCosta didn’t surface among the candidates the Colts announced they’d interview despite a report earlier this week about their wish to talk to him about the job. He’s once again staying put.

Perhaps it’s a sign that the Ravens brass doesn’t perceive things to be as dire and broken as some critics do. Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in early January that “the pitchforks are out” for head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, but the Ravens owner also spent plenty of time expressing confidence in his guys and never gave the impression that 2017 was a nonnegotiable “playoffs-or-bust” scenario.

“You have a bad team when people are pointing fingers, and you see that with dysfunctional GMs and coaches that can’t get along and things like that, and we just don’t have that,” Bisciotti said. “I have a coach that is carrying a burden, I have a GM that is carrying a burden, and I have a quarterback that’s carrying a burden. They’re all stepping up and taking a greater percentage of the blame than they probably deserve. To me, that’s the definition of quality leadership.”

Bisciotti is a man of conviction and won’t fire people simply because the outside world is calling for it. It’s become obvious that DeCosta has a similar will after passing on plenty of chances to run other football teams over the last several years.

If DeCosta sensed the boss was on the verge of blowing things up next offseason, you’d think he would have at least wanted to explore the possibility with the Colts.

We’ll see if valuing continuity pays off for both Bisciotti and DeCosta over the next few years.

“I want my fans to know that I think John can coach better. I think Ozzie and Eric can draft better. I think Joe [Flacco] can play better,” Biscotti said earlier this month. “If all of them do it — and I think they’re capable and determined to be better — then I think next year we’re sitting here with a playoff-caliber team, and I really believe that. If you get improvement from quality people, I believe that they can collectively bring this team back to prominence.”

Birds of a feather

I wouldn’t expect many fans to be pulling for New England in Super Bowl LI anyway, but there are several former Ravens with the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

The list is headlined by 2012 second-round pick Courtney Upshaw, who has converted from outside linebacker to the defensive line for the Falcons. Guard Chris Chester was a reliable member of the Ravens’ offensive line for the first five years of his career and started 16 games for Atlanta in his 11th season.

Of course, Matt Schaub served as the Baltimore backup in 2015 and became the first Ravens quarterback not named Flacco to start a game since Troy Smith at the end of the 2007 season. Cornerback Deji Olatoye and wide receiver Aldrick Robinson also had brief stints with the Ravens.

Falcons tight ends coach Wade Harman spent 15 years with the Ravens and was part of the coaching staffs that won Super Bowls in 2000 and 2012.

If that’s not enough, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn is a Salisbury graduate, adding another local flavor to the mix.

Give Tucker a chance

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Ravens kicker Justin Tucker hit a 75-yard field goal during Wednesday’s Pro Bowl practice.

There was no defensive line for Tucker to kick over and the ball was on a tee, but I’d still like to see AFC head coach Andy Reid give him a chance to try one from 65 yards or longer at some point during Sunday’s Pro Bowl. It’s a meaningless game, so why not?

No love for Juszczyk

It’s bad enough that Kyle Juszczyk’s last name was misspelled on his Pro Bowl practice shirt on Wednesday, but then the fullback was left out of the dodgeball tournament, something in which he wanted to take part.

I guess fullbacks still aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

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Ravens add veteran depth with offensive tackle Jake Long

Posted on 26 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Seeking veteran depth for their offensive line, the Ravens are adding offensive tackle and former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long to the mix.

According to ESPN, the sides agreed to a one-year deal on Tuesday that is pending a physical. Long, 31, will need to prove he is healthy as injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in 2013 and 2014 have derailed the four-time Pro Bowl selection’s NFL career.

Long hasn’t started a game since suffering the second injury to his right knee on Oct. 26, 2014 and appeared in just four contests for the Atlanta Falcons last season. The University of Michigan product told ESPN last month that he was ready to help a team and feels healthier than he has in several years.

The 6-foot-7, 322-pound lineman confirmed the news of his agreement with the Ravens via Twitter.

With the Ravens selecting left tackle Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick in April’s draft and cutting oft-injured veteran Eugene Monroe last month, Long figures to have a chance to compete for a roster spot and to serve as a more established backup tackle. Last November, it was reserve left tackle James Hurst who was driven back into franchise quarterback Joe Flacco’s left knee, causing a season-ending ACL injury.

Since the Ravens already had an open spot on their 90-man training camp roster, they do not need to make a corresponding move upon officially signing Long.

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Orioles trade Matusz to Atlanta for two minor-league pitchers

Posted on 23 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Unable to overcome his early-season struggles and having never fulfilled his potential as a former first-round pick, Orioles left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz was traded to Atlanta on Monday.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette sent the 29-year-old and the 76th overall pick in this year’s draft to the Braves in exchange for minor-league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. According to multiple outlets, the Braves will designate Matusz for assignment, reflecting their willingness to take on the remainder of the lefty’s $3.9 million salary to acquire the draft pick.

The move saves the Orioles money while opening a spot in the bullpen for another reliever. Baltimore also announced it signed left-handed relief pitcher Brian Duensing to a minor-league contract on Monday. Most recently with the Kansas City Royals organization, the 33-year-old Duensing has pitched to a 4.13 ERA over 649 1/3 major league innings in his seven-year career.

The fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft, Matusz had struggled mightily since being activated from the 15-day disabled list last month. In seven appearances covering six innings, the lefty had pitched to a 12.00 ERA with seven walks and one strikeout while surrendering three home runs and 11 hits.

His velocity was down after returning from a left intercostal strain suffered in spring training. Matusz was set to become a free agent at the end of the 2016 season and was not expected to be in the club’s plans for the future.

After serving as a reliable lefty specialist for the better part of four seasons, Matusz had retired just five of the 16 lefty bats he’d faced in 2016 and had appeared in just four games this month. Lefties have hit just .211 with a .627 on-base plus slugging percentage over his eight-year major league career, which allowed him to find a role as a lefty specialist after failing to establish himself as a major league starter.

The 23-year-old Barker went 3-2 with a 2.00 ERA and struck out 40 batters in 45 innings that included eight starts for Double-A Mississippi this season. The Braves’ 16th-round pick of the 2014 draft is expected to be assigned to Double-A Bowie.

The lefty Belicek has gone 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 28 1/3 innings while walking one and striking out 32 in 12 games between Class-A Rome and Double-A Mississippi this season. The 23-year-old was Atlanta’s 16th-round pick last year and will go to Single-A Frederick.

Though Matusz found modest success as a reliever in his final few seasons with Baltimore, he will be remembered as a disappointment for not panning out as the top-half-of-the-rotation starter many expected him to become. The University of San Diego product was taken just one pick ahead of future National League MVP Buster Posey.

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Ravens unveil 2015 preseason schedule

Posted on 09 April 2015 by Luke Jones

As we wait for the NFL to release the 2015 regular-season schedule later this month, the Ravens announced their preseason schedule for their 20th year in Baltimore on Thursday.

The slate of preseason contests features home contests against the New Orleans Saints and the Washington Redskins while the Ravens will travel to Philadelphia and Atlanta. Baltimore isn’t schedule to meet any of its exhibition opponents in the regular season.

After the teams played their preseason finale in New Orleans last August, the Saints will travel to M&T Bank Stadium to meet the Ravens to kick off the preseason on Aug. 13. This will mark the third time that the Ravens have played New Orleans in the summer, but this will be the first contest played in Baltimore.

The Ravens will take on the Eagles in their first road preseason game on either Aug. 21 or Aug. 22 at Lincoln Financial Field. This will mark the 12th time these teams will have played against each other in the preseason with the Ravens owning the 7-4 series advantage.

The all-important third preseason game will take place on either Aug. 28 or Aug. 29 when the Ravens host Washington. This is typically the game in which starters receive their most extensive playing time of the summer in preparation for the start of the regular season. This year will mark the ninth preseason meeting between the close neighbors with the Ravens owning a 6-2 edge.

Season-ticket holders already miffed by preseason prices can once again take solace in knowing that the painfully-dull final game will be played on the road for the seventh consecutive year when the Ravens travel to Atlanta on Sept. 3. Baltimore owns a 7-3 advantage in the preseason series as this will be the eighth one hosted by the Falcons

The Ravens are 46-29 in their preseason history and have compiled a 19-9 record during the preseason in the John Harbaugh era.

Times and final dates will be announced at a later time.

Week 1: Thursday, Aug. 13 vs. New Orleans Saints
Week 2: Friday, Aug. 21 or Saturday, Aug. 22 at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 3: Friday, Aug. 28 or Saturday, Aug. 29 vs. Washington Redskins
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 3 at Atlanta Falcons

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Cold, hard numbers prevail over emotion with Markakis’ departure

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles faced difficult free-agent decisions entering the offseason after winning their first American League East title in 17 years.

The anticipated departures of slugger Nelson Cruz and shutdown lefty reliever Andrew Miller certainly hurt from an on-field standpoint, but both were hired guns for the 2014 season with little emotional attachment.

But longtime right fielder Nick Markakis?

That one hurts. It hurts a lot.

It stings fans, teammates who adore him and respect his everyday approach, and manager Buck Showalter, who has often said Markakis is the kind of player whose value isn’t fully felt until you don’t have him anymore.

That sentiment now becomes reality, and we’ll learn how true the manager’s words ring.

The organization’s longest-tenured player departing to sign a four-year, $44 million deal with the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday hurts as much as any Oriole to leave via free agency since longtime ace Mike Mussina joined the New York Yankees 14 years ago. After making his home in Monkton, Markakis was supposed to spend his entire career with the Orioles.

One of the lasting images of a wonderful 2014 season was watching Markakis, after enduring years of losing in Baltimore, celebrate the Orioles’ first division title since 1997 when they clinched in mid-September. After he could only watch the Orioles in the 2012 playoffs because of a season-ending thumb injury sustained a month earlier, the 2003 first-round pick finally earned his first taste of postseason play in his ninth major league season.

So, how did it get to this point after nearly everyone assumed that Markakis would be back?

Both local and national outlets reported a month ago that the Orioles and Markakis were working toward a four-year deal in the neighborhood of what the Braves ultimately paid the veteran outfielder. Concerns over a herniated disc in his neck discovered in 2013 reportedly prompted the Orioles to hedge on a guaranteed fourth year as the weeks progressed while Atlanta offered no such trepidation in bringing Markakis back to his home state.

Frustrated fans will understandably question the Orioles’ loyalty in how they negotiated and in ultimately failing to retain their longest-tenured player, but how much responsibility should Markakis hold? If he were truly committed to staying, why not sign a month ago when a similar offer was allegedly on the table instead of holding out for more and giving the Orioles the opportunity to rethink their position?

For as much as Markakis has been valued for his durability and consistency throughout his tenure in Baltimore, let’s not pretend the $30 million he earned in his final two seasons with the Orioles was reciprocated with similar value in production.

And that’s when we begin to view Markakis as the fascinating case study of weighing the old-school “gamer” against the cold, hard numbers he produces.

A look at the negative reaction from players via social media in the hours after the announcement suggests how unpopular the move will be in the Orioles clubhouse. Though a quiet man who doesn’t draw attention to himself, Markakis was a prime example of the club’s sum being better than its parts over the last three winning years. He plays the game the right way and is admired by teammates and fans alike.

But how much can and should you pay for those intangibles?

Assessing his value based solely on what shows up in the box score, Markakis likely isn’t worth close to $44 million over the next four seasons. In fact, observers with no apparent agenda are already saying the Braves will wildly regret investing so much in an outfielder whose numbers have declined over the last couple years.

Though he never developed the home run power some projected him to earlier in his career, Markakis averaged more than 65 extra-base hits per year from 2007 through 2010. He’s averaged just under 42 in each of the four years since, with only 34 in 160 games in 2013. What was once a gap hitter who regularly hit more than 40 doubles per year has become much more of a singles hitter — with little speed — in recent years.

His slugging percentage has dipped below .400 in each of the last two seasons, and he has only posted an on-base plus slugging percentage above .756 once in the last four years — his injury-abbreviated 2012 campaign when he produced an .834 OPS in only 471 plate appearances. Though a very good and dependable right fielder with a strong arm that resulted in him winning his second Gold Glove in 2014, Markakis’ range in right field has declined and figures to get worse over the next four years.

Those numbers aren’t presented to suggest Markakis no longer has any value as his durability, leadership, and work ethic can’t easily be quantified and will certainly be missed in addition to what he can still bring with the bat. But the numbers do confirm there is strong evidence to suggest he’s not worthy of a four-year investment after already showing substantial decline in recent seasons.

Only time will tell if the Orioles regret their decision based on how effectively they’re able to replace their longtime right fielder and on how he plays in his new home. It’s quite possible executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette made the responsible call, but that will only matter if the Orioles find a quality replacement at the top of the order and in right field to continue the momentum of three straight winning seasons and a 2014 division title.

That will be easier said than done based on what options are available on the open market unless they plan to overpay some other player after drawing a line in the sand with the longest-tenured member of the organization.

The numbers and projections certainly shouldn’t be ignored, but baseball isn’t played in a vacuum, either. Markakis will be missed by teammates and fans alike, but the cold, hard numbers ultimately prevailed.

Markakis wasn’t the biggest or only reason why the Orioles have won over the last three years, but he has been a significant part of what they’ve done. He’s been one of their rare hitters to work counts and get on base — major weaknesses for the club despite their winning record — and one of their most influential presences in a clubhouse that’s been harmonious under Showalter.

Despite the disappointment and the frustration felt by many over the lifelong Oriole’s departure and the questions it creates, four months remain before Opening Day. Duquette deserves some benefit of the doubt after a very rocky start to the offseason in which two key everyday players have bolted.

But the Orioles have a lot of work to do to appease both a shaken fan base and an unhappy clubhouse.

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Longtime Oriole Markakis agrees to four-year deal with Atlanta

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Luke Jones

A 12-year relationship is no more as longtime Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis has agreed to a four-year deal with the Atlanta Braves.

Two days after 2014 home run champion Nelson Cruz departed Baltimore to sign a four-year, $57 million with Seattle, the longest-tenured player in the organization agreed to a contract worth $44 million, according to Yahoo Sports. The 31-year-old Markakis will be returning to his home state of Georgia where he grew up north of Atlanta in nearby Woodstock.

The Orioles and Markakis had engaged in talks last month that appeared to be progressing toward a four-year deal, but discussions stalled as the organization reportedly became hesitant about the idea of guaranteeing four years to the two-time Gold Glove outfielder. Markakis’ offensive production has declined in recent years, but replacing his ability at the top of the order and in right field as well as his presence in the clubhouse will be easier said than done.

After a rough 2013 season in which he hit a career-low .271 with 10 home runs, 59 runs batted in, and only a .685 on-base plus slugging percentage, Markakis rebounded some last season to bat .276 with 14 home runs, 50 RBIs, and a .729 OPS. His slugging percentage fell below the .400 mark in each of the last two years with his once-impressive gap power that once produced more than 40 doubles per season in clear decline.

The seventh overall pick of the 2003 draft, Markakis appeared in his first postseason with the Orioles this past October, hitting .258 with one home runs and three RBIs.

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Ravens walking tightrope with Jacoby Jones’ struggles

Posted on 21 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens trying to improve to 6-2 as they travel to Cincinnati for a key AFC North showdown on Sunday, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player having a worse season than Jacoby Jones.

The return specialist and wide receiver fumbled his second punt in three games in Sunday’s 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons and has virtually disappeared from the offensive game plan with more dropped passes (five) than receptions (four) through the first seven weeks of the season. Head coach John Harbaugh has said on a couple occasions that he feels Jones is pressing as he’s coupled his mishandling of the ball with questionable decisions such as catching a punt at the 2-yard line against Carolina in Week 4.

Asked if he still felt OK with Jones as his returner following his latest fumble, which took place late in the first half when the Ravens were only holding a 14-0 lead, Harbaugh didn’t go out of his way to provide a ringing endorsement on Monday.

“I do.”

The Falcons did not attempt another punt after Jones fumbled at his own 40 and kicker Matt Bryant missed a 57-yard field goal to hand the ball back to the Ravens late in the first half, so it will be intriguing to see how short of a leash — if any — remains for the Pro Bowl return specialist. Harbaugh’s terse answer doesn’t signal the end of Jones as the returner — he’s not going to tip his hand whether the Ravens will make a change or not — but it doesn’t mean we won’t see others such as rookie Michael Campanaro or safe punt returner Lardarius Webb more involved in the return game as early as Sunday in Cincinnati.

Jones took only four offensive snaps against Atlanta, so it’s clear that coordinator Gary Kubiak is looking elsewhere for complementary receivers behind starters Steve Smith and Torrey Smith. Dropped passes can certainly be drive killers, but turnovers can dramatically change a game when you’re counting on a possession after making the opponent punt or the opponent has just scored.

The 30-year-old signed an extension with the Ravens this past offseason, agreeing to a four-year, $12 million deal that included $3.5 million in guaranteed money.

Counting the postseason, the former Houston Texans has five returns for touchdowns in his three-year run with the Ravens, but that big-play potential only goes so far when you’re unsure if he’s going to secure the ball. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg hasn’t hesitated in the past to make a change as he replaced speedy kick returner David Reed with a more sure-handed option in Tom Zbikowski in 2011.

The Ravens reaped the benefits of Jones being a game-changer on the positive side in his first two years in Baltimore, but he’s been a different kind of game-changer altogether so far in 2014. And it’s a tightrope act that’s feeling more and more perilous to navigate for a team currently leading the AFC North and heading into two key divisional road games.

 

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

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens-Falcons: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Appearing at M&T Bank Stadium for the only time in the month of October, the Ravens hope to improve to 5-2 as they take on the struggling Atlanta Falcons, who have lost three straight games.

Winners in four of their last five games, the Ravens will again be without the starting left side of their offensive line as rookies James Hurst and John Urschel will start in place of the injured Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele. Baltimore is hopeful to have Monroe and Osemele back for next week’s key road game in Cincinnati after both practiced on a limited basis this past week.

The Ravens also deactivated cornerback Chykie Brown and wide receiver Marlon Brown, which doesn’t speak well for either player’s current standing on the depth chart. Chykie Brown is inactive for the first time this season, meaning veteran Dominique Franks is the only backup cornerback behind Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Marlon Brown was listed as probable on the final injury report, but rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro is instead active after catching a touchdown in his NFL debut last week.

After being moved to the 53-man roster on Saturday, safety Will Hill is active and will make his 2014 season debut.

Second-year linebacker Arthur Brown was a healthy scratch for the seventh straight game and is the only player on the 53-man roster all season who has yet to be active for a game.

Meanwhile, the Falcons have embarked on a brutal stretch of their schedule as they were scheduled to fly straight to London from Baltimore following Sunday’s game. Atlanta will not play another true home game at the Georgia Dome until Nov. 23 after having lost three straight entering Sunday’s tilt against the Ravens.

Sunday marks the fifth all-time meeting between these teams in the regular season as both the Ravens and the Falcons have won two apiece. The Ravens won the only meeting between these teams in Baltimore in 2006 and will try to improve to 3-0 against the NFC South with a win over the 2-4 Falcons.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Carl Cheffers.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-50s with sunny skies and winds up to 15 miles per hour.

The Ravens will be wearing black jerseys and black pants — with pink accessories mixed in for Breast Cancer Awareness month — while Atlanta dons white tops and white pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Marlon Brown
CB Chykie Brown
LB Arthur Brown
LT Eugene Monroe
G Kelechi Osemele
TE Ryan Taylor
DE Chris Canty

ATLANTA
QB Sean Renfree
CB Javier Arenas
LB Tyler Starr
OT Cameron Bradfield
G Harland Gunn
WR Harry Douglas
DT Cliff Matthews

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