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Ravens defense desperate to bounce back from Week 1 embarrassment

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Ravens defense desperate to bounce back from Week 1 embarrassment

Posted on 12 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense has heard the snickering and the mocking over the last week since their 49-27 loss to the Denver Broncos.

As if setting team records for points allowed and touchdown passes surrendered in their first game without future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed wasn’t enough, the Ravens also witnessed former teammate Anquan Boldin catch 13 passes for 208 yards. Of course, it was general manager Ozzie Newsome who famously said in a Sports Illustrated interview this summer that the veteran receiver’s $6 million salary for 2013 was used to bolster the Baltimore defense.

Surrendering 510 yards of total offense to quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense clearly wasn’t part of the plan for a defense many expected to be markedly better than last year’s unit.

“It was definitely tough being the punch line for a lot of jokes on the countdown shows and the morning shows opening weekend in the NFL,” said defensive end Chris Canty, who collected a sack and three quarterback hits in his Baltimore debut. “We’re definitely excited about having the opportunity to change the perception of what people think about us.”

No one wore his emotion on his sleeve more than defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who met with the local media for more than 13 minutes on Thursday. The frustration was apparent in his voice, reflecting that his expectations were much higher than the end result in Week 1.

It’s easy to forget after the 35-point second-half debacle, but the defense held the Broncos to a respectable 14 points and 174 yards in the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Of the 510 yards Pees’ unit surrendered, 307 came on the nine plays of 20 yards or more given up — six of which came in the second half.

“This has been a hard week, because I’m disappointed in the outcome,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I’m disappointed in the statistics, which look terrible. I’m not disappointed in the total defensive effort that we gave. I’m disappointed in nine plays.”

So, what exactly did the Week 1 performance mean aside from contributing to the first season-opening loss of the John Harbaugh era? Was the early hype surrounding the new-look defense undeserved with apparent vulnerability in the secondary?

Is enough credit being given to Manning and a Broncos team that treated the opener like their Super Bowl following January’s heartbreaking divisional round defeat at the hands of the eventual world champion Ravens? As much as we discussed the potential of Pees’ unit in 2013, the Ravens featured six new starters from last year and such change doesn’t always come together as quickly as you expect on paper.

The Ravens should view their first-half performance and the 59 defensive snaps in which they held Denver to 203 yards as positives on which to build, but those nine plays were critical in transforming a competitive game into one of the worst defeats in the Harbaugh era.

You can’t sugarcoat the reality of what happened.

“Big plays in this business will kill you,” Canty said. “Offenses are too good. You’ve got to limit the opportunities to drive the ball down the football field. Dean talks a lot about making people go the long, hard way [to score]. We just didn’t do that enough last Thursday and we paid the price for it.”

Much of the frustration expressed by Pees on Thursday stemmed from the fact that he felt so many of the mishaps were either avoidable and correctable. From missed tackles to blown coverages, there wasn’t much to like with the pass defense as Manning threw five touchdowns in the second half.

Should it be chalked up to miscommunications, the infamous Denver altitude, or simply the brilliance of Manning and his ability to exploit any imperfection in technique or positioning?

“Your guess is just as good as mine,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Not every week [do] you get to practice or play against a team that’s explosive like they were. They were a good football team, but that was last week. We’re here to focus on the Cleveland Browns.”

As much as fans and media continue to dwell on last week, the Ravens have turned the page in focusing on Cleveland and an offense lacking the explosiveness of their Week 1 opponent. Second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden is a far cry from Manning and the Browns lack the array of receiving weapons on display in Denver.

The Browns make no secret about their desire to pound the football with bruising running back Trent Richardson, which should play right into the Ravens’ hands. While there were some questions about a secondary featuring new starting safeties Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo entering the season, most agree the strength of the Baltimore defense is its front seven, which didn’t play poorly against the Broncos.

Even with the catastrophic breakdowns in the secondary, the Ravens held the pass-happy Broncos to 2.9 yards per carry on 23 attempts while collecting three sacks and hitting Manning seven times. Much of that came with Baltimore using an extra defensive back, leaving the box more vulnerable against the run. You’d expect the Ravens to play more of their base defense on Sunday, with Courtney Upshaw seeing more than the 37 snaps he played against Denver and defensive tackle Arthur Jones possibly returning to action after a three-week layoff due to an irregular heartbeat.

“To ask our line to play a six-man box all game against their running game and hold them to [65] yards?” Pees said. “Best we’ve ever done. To hit Manning that many times? [That’s the] best we’ve ever done. But it all negates because of the other. That’s why it is personal. It bothers me, and the only thing that’s going to take the stink off of it is you know what.”

The most intriguing aspect of Sunday’s game might be potential adjustments made in the secondary from Week 1. After Corey Graham struggled playing the nickel against veteran slot receiver Wes Welker, Pees moved Lardarius Webb to the inside when the Ravens used three cornerbacks.

As he did prior to last year’s ACL injury, Webb can lock down the slot receiver while serving a more active role in stopping the run, which wouldn’t be a bad idea with the Browns more committed to the ground attack than most teams. However, it will be interesting to see how Pees handles the nickel this year considering neither Webb nor Graham has the size of former cornerback Cary Williams to play on the outside opposite Jimmy Smith in the nickel package, leaving the secondary potentially vulnerable against taller wideouts.

Cleveland offensive coordinator Norv Turner is surely aware of the Ravens’ struggles against Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, who caught five passes for 110 yards and two touchdown while abusing linebackers and safeties. Browns tight end Jordan Cameron was one of the lone highlights of his team’s Week 1 loss to Miami as he caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Rookie inside linebacker Arthur Brown saw only six defensive snaps and could be an option to spell Josh Bynes in the nickel package — as he did through much of the preseason — and first-round safety Matt Elam could be called upon if either Huff or Ihedigbo falter in pass coverage. Elam replaced Huff late in the game in Denver and figures to be a major factor defensively sooner rather than later.

Even with potential personnel and scheme adjustments made by Pees moving forward, the most improvement will need to come from within as the Ravens are convinced the season opener was more aberration than reality against one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Lewis and Reed may no longer be in the defensive huddle, but their high defensive standard still remains as holdovers and newcomers always reference it.

But talking about it and actually showing it are two different things, a lesson the Ravens learned in embarrassing fashion last week.

“We know we have some things we need to work on, so this week, we go back to work, because we want to be better,” Webb said. “[It was] kind of an embarrassment. Raven football, we don’t play that way.”

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No changes to Ravens’ injury report for Thursday

Posted on 12 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There were no changes to the Ravens’ official injury report for Thursday as right tackle Michael Oher continues to look like a good bet to play against the Cleveland Browns in the home opener.

The fifth-year lineman was a full participant for the second straight day as he continues to receive treatment for the sprained right ankle sustained in the season-opening loss to Denver. He appeared to be moving well as he took his normal spot with the offensive line in the portion of practice open to the media.

“[He’s an] unusual guy – extremely tough, extremely dedicated and disciplined,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “He has a very, very high tolerance for pain. He’s been able to get back out. He’s obviously committed to this team, and he’s working at it extremely hard.”

Defensive tackle Arthur Jones was a limited participant once again after being cleared to begin practicing earlier in the week. The lineman told reporters he had been dealing with an irregular heartbeat since the third preseason game on Aug. 22.

The biggest question facing Jones in terms of his status for Week 2 will be his conditioning after missing a few weeks of practice and not being cleared to do much of anything while doctors ran a battery of tests on his heart.

Running back Bernard Pierce was listed as limited for the second straight day with what was listed as a thigh injury.

Wide receivers Jacoby Jones (knee) and Deonte Thompson (foot), offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot), and defensive tackle Brandon Williams (toe) did not practice on Thursday as Jones has already been ruled out and the other three are not expected to play against Cleveland.

For the Browns, first-round linebacker Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung) was upgraded to being a full participant after making his return to the practice field on a limited basis Wednesday. Starting cornerback Buster Skrine (shoulder) was also a full participant after being limited a day earlier.

Here is Thursday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
OUT: WR Jacoby Jones (knee)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: C Ryan Jensen (foot), WR Deonte Thompson (foot), DT Brandon Williams (toe)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DT Art Jones (illness – NFI), RB Bernard Pierce (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Michael Oher (ankle)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Shawn Lauvao (ankle), DL Ahtyba Rubin (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Travis Benjamin (thigh), DB T.J. Ward (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DB Buster Skrine (shoulder), LB Barkevious Mingo (lung)

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Ravens offense looking for instant improvement in friendly surroundings

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Ravens offense looking for instant improvement in friendly surroundings

Posted on 11 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Every meeting with the Cleveland Browns draws the predictable kind words from the Ravens despite the fact that Baltimore hasn’t lost to the AFC North foe in their last 10 meetings.

The final outcomes haven’t always been convincing or overly impressive, but the Ravens have beaten Cleveland every time they’ve played since coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco arrived on the scene in 2008. The words of flattery aren’t exactly convincing when considering the opposite ends of the spectrum on which these teams have stood over the last five seasons.

“It’s a challenge. It always is in the division,” Harbaugh said. “We are very impressed with what we see on tape, and it’s a very important week for us.”

The Browns may not pose an overwhelming threat after a 23-10 home loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, but the final part of Harbaugh’s statement rings true for the Ravens after a humbling 49-27 loss of their own in Denver. It was the first season-opening defeat of the Harbaugh era and a painful reminder that the euphoria of last year’s Super Bowl title is long gone.

Running back Ray Rice called it a reality check as the Ravens now shift their attention to the home opener and an opportunity to improve their record to 1-1. Much attention has been paid to the Baltimore defense allowing a franchise-record 49 points, but the Ravens offense has been under the microscope since the start of the offseason. The decision to send wide receiver Anquan Boldin to San Francisco in a move that provided $6 million of salary cap space created concern in the passing game that transformed into a full-blown crisis with the long-term hip injury suffered by tight end Dennis Pitta at the start of training camp.

There are still no clear answers to quell those concerns as the Ravens failed to significantly address the wide receiver position after Boldin’s departure, erroneously depending on a young group of holdover receivers that wasn’t up to the task.

Graybeards Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark and rookie free agent Marlon Brown have emerged — out of attrition and because of the latter’s impressive skill set — as critical pieces in the passing game. And the Week 1 injury to speedy receiver Jacoby Jones puts a dent in the vertical passing game, the one area of the field in which the Ravens could really feel confident in throwing the football.

To make matters worse, the Ravens couldn’t run the football as they averaged just 2.8 yards per carry and were limited to just five carries in the second half after falling behind big in a disastrous third quarter. Many have pondered whether that running game will need to be leaned upon more heavily this season despite having a franchise quarterback to throw the football.

The pressure on the offense to show instant improvement falls on the shoulders of Flacco, who attempted a career-high 62 passes for 362 yards but was picked off twice against a Denver defense lacking Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller and future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey. Without Boldin or Pitta on which to depend, life suddenly isn’t as easy for the franchise quarterback.

“That’s the name of the game when you’re a quarterback in this league,” said Flacco, who acknowledged that working with so much new personnel has caused the little things such as timing to take more time to perfect. “You want your organization to be able to [make changes], and you have to prove that you can adapt to whatever is necessary to win football games, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The challenge this week will be a talented Cleveland front seven that will only get stronger with the return of first-round linebacker Barkevious Mingo from a bruised lung. He, former Raven Paul Kruger, and Jabaal Sheard form an imposing pass rush on paper, but the Ravens will the expected return of right tackle Michael Oher, who missed the entire second half against Denver with a right ankle injury.

Browns cornerback Joe Haden will draw the assignment of covering No.1 receiver Torrey Smith, who dealt with bracketed coverage against Denver after Jones’ exit with a knee injury. Jones’ absence means Stokley and Brown will need to keep the rest of the secondary honest enough to give the speedy Smith some opportunities in one-on-one matchups against Haden.

Flacco certainly needs more help from Clark, who dropped a sure touchdown pass right before halftime in Week 1 and struggled to gain separation, and fellow tight end Ed Dickson, who couldn’t rein in a number of catchable passes. The quarterback took the high road when asked to address the high number of drops on Wednesday, but the sense of urgency is there to limit unforced errors with the overall talent level of the wide receivers and tight ends coming into question.

“If that’s all we have to worry about is a couple of guys that have very sure hands not coming up with a couple really tough catches, then I think we’re going to be OK,” Flacco said. “Over the long run, we’re going to make a lot of those catches, and it’s going to lend itself to a lot of good things.”

The Ravens hope those good things begin coming to fruition quickly against the Browns, who aren’t nearly the opponent that Denver was but have played them closer than expected at M&T Bank Stadium in each of the last three seasons. Baltimore needs its $120.6 million man to be on his game to elevate the play of a pedestrian group of pass catchers as much as he can — he can’t catch it, too, of course.

Flacco’s 99.0 quarterback rating at home last season only continued his career-long trend of thriving against defenses on his home turf, and it’s the kind of precision the Ravens will need this year to make the offense click. The Ravens have made it a point this week to emphasize that the running game must improve — it’s the truth with two talented running backs at their disposal — but the offense will only go as far as Flacco can take them.

His 92.5 quarterback rating in 10 career games against the Browns and the first contest of the year in Baltimore are the perfect combination for a bounce-back performance. A win is never a guarantee, but the setting doesn’t get much better than this, especially with the backdrop of 71,000 fans stoked to see a Super Bowl championship banner unveiled.

The bad taste from the second-half debacle in Denver will have lingered for 10 days by the time kickoff arrives on Sunday afternoon.

“We’re not going to overreact, but we are going to react and respond where we need to,” Harbaugh said. “The first game is always a good barometer. The old saying is true: It’s never as good or it’s never as bad as what you initially feel.”

And the Ravens hope they’ll be feeling much better about themselves on both sides of the ball by 4:15 p.m. on Sunday.

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

Posted on 10 September 2013 by Glenn Clark

Honorable Mention: Mixed Martial Arts-Bellator MMA (Friday 9pm from Temecula, CA live on SpikeTV); WNBA: Connecticut Sun @ Washington Mystics (Friday 7pm from Verizon Center live on Monumental Network), New York Liberty @ Washington Mystics (Sunday 4pm from Verizon Center live on Monumental Network); High School Football: Towson @ Perry Hall (Thursday 7pm), Good Counsel @ Calvert Hall (Friday 7pm), Anacostia (DC) @ Gilman (Friday 2:10pm)

10. Shindig Festival feat. The Gaslight Anthem/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/Mighty Mighty Bosstones/Dropkick Murphys/Jimmie’s Chicken Shack (Saturday Carroll Park); Rebelution/Matisyahu (Wednesday 6pm Pier Six Pavilion); Muse/Cage The Elephant (Wednesday 7pm Verizon Center); Fall Out Boy/Panic! At The Disco (Tuesday 7pm Patriot Center); Depeche Mode (Tuesday 7:30pm Jiffy Lube Live), Jason Aldean (Saturday 7:30pm Jiffy Lube Live); ZZ Top (Wednesday 8pm Wolf Trap); Cage The Elephant/Diamond Youth (Thursday 7pm Power Plant Live); Eve 6 (Friday 8pm Power Plant Live); The Airborne Toxic Event (Thursday 8pm Rams Head Live); Cris Jacobs Band (Friday 8pm 8×10 Club); Rusted Root (Wednesday 8pm Rams Head on Stage); Blue October (Friday 7:30pm Fillmore Silver Spring); Eve (Friday 8pm Howard Theatre); Shovels and Rope (Wednesday 7pm 9:30 Club), Jake Bugg (Saturday 7pm 9:30 Club); Graham Nash (Sunday 7:30pm Birchmere); Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Thursday 7:30pm The Hamilton); North Mississippi All-Stars (Friday 9pm State Theatre); Keith Urban “Fuse”, Arctic Monkeys “AM”, Janelle Monae “The Electric Lady”, J. Roddy Walston & The Business “Essential Tremors”  and Trombone Shorty “Say That to Say This” available in stores/on iTunes (Tuesday)

I’ll be in Pigtown Saturday. I’ve never seen Gaslight Anthem. They might be the best band (right now) I haven’t seen.

I don’t think I’ve seen The Mighty Mighty Bosstones since I was 14. It doesn’t mean I won’t sing along to every word of “Royal Oil.”

I’ll be “Grabbing A Bud” at Hooters Towson Friday 7pm-8pm. Then I’ll IMMEDIATELY be trying to talk my fiancee into hitting PPL so I can ALSO sing along to every word to far too many Eve 6 songs.

I will probably post about J. Roddy Walston a time or two on Facebook Tuesday. You can thank me later.

9. Dane Cook (Thursday 8pm D.A.R. Constitution Hall); Russell Brand (Thursday 8pm Warner Theatre); Charlie Murphy (Thursday-Sunday Baltimore Comedy Factory); Shaquille O’Neal’s All-Star Comedy Jam (Friday 8pm); “The Gathering” Food Truck Rally (Friday 5pm Keswick Castle); Maryland Renaissance Festival (Saturday & Sunday RennFest Fairgrounds); Hampdenfest (Saturday 36th Street); “Star Trek Into Darkness” available on Blu-Ray/DVD (Tuesday); The Family” and “Insidious Chapter 2″ out in theaters (Friday)

If you couldn’t remember which Star Trek movie this one was, it was this one.

If you’ve forgotten which superstar’s brother Charlie Murphy was, this one. (Language NSFW.)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Kruger leaves Ravens to sign five-year deal in Cleveland

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Kruger leaves Ravens to sign five-year deal in Cleveland

Posted on 12 March 2013 by Luke Jones

Less than an hour into the start of free agency, the Ravens have sustained their first loss as linebacker Paul Kruger has signed a five-year deal with the Cleveland Browns.

Multiple reports are saying the contract is worth an estimated $41 million with $20 million in guaranteed money. Despite not being the Ravens’ top priority among their unrestricted free agents after quarterback Joe Flacco was inked to a $120.6 million contract, Kruger was the Ravens’ most attractive commodity on the open market and didn’t last very long after the start of free agency at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Finishing with a team-high nine sacks in the regular season and adding 4 1/2 more in the playoffs, the 2009 second-round pick was hitting the open market at the perfect time after serving as a reserve in his first three seasons with the Ravens.

Kruger thrived in a situational pass-rusher role and saw his production increase with the mid-October return of Terrell Suggs this season. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound linebacker collected 12 sacks in the final 12 games of the season including the playoffs.

It was determined early in the offseason that Kruger’s asking price would not be met by the Ravens, who were unlikely to offer such a steep contract to a player not particularly strong against the run or in pass coverage. Kruger played in only 22 of the Ravens’ 62 defensive snaps in Super Bowl XLVII but collected two sacks in the 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

The Ravens will likely depend more heavily on 2012 second-round pick Courtney Upshaw, who started at the strong-side linebacker position in the base defense and played primarily in running situations. Baltimore will also look to the draft as well as young pass rushers Michael McAdoo and Adrian Hamilton to help fill the void left behind by Kruger.

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Ravens musings for Week 10

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Ravens musings for Week 10

Posted on 06 November 2012 by Luke Jones

It’s difficult to recall a 6-2 start ever coming under more scrutiny than that of the 2012 Ravens, with major concerns existing on each side of the football and many doubting their ability to even make the playoffs despite being in excellent mathematical position in the AFC.

This marks the third straight year Baltimore has started 6-2, but the climate of this campaign has been much more uncomfortable as Sunday’s 25-15 win over Cleveland marked only their second margin of victory exceeding a single possession. In their first six wins last season, four had come by multiple scores as the Ravens looked the part of one of the best teams in the NFL.

Aside from expectations that were at opposite ends of the spectrum at the start of their respective seasons, the Ravens and Orioles share stunningly similar qualities in showing an ability to win close games and seemingly outperforming the eyeball tests suggesting they’re not as good as their records indicate. In the same way that many pointed to the Orioles’ run differential proving they were little more than a .500 baseball team that ran into plenty of luck, the Ravens’ plus-23 point differential would put them between four and five wins using similar metrics.

Regardless of how the second half of the season unfolds for the Ravens, this calendar year has brought an interesting case study of fan psychology with locals struggling to embrace an Orioles team playing over their heads all season and bracing for an inevitable collapse that never did happen. In comparison, many of these same fans have failed to enjoy the Ravens’ 6-2 start and are insisting the prosperity won’t continue against a beefier schedule over the final two months of the regular season. Others have even gone as far as suggesting the Ravens have underachieved, though it’s difficult to be much better than a 6-2 record when remembering the personnel losses this offseason and the injuries sustained on the defensive side of the football.

In an NFL season consumed with convoluted mediocrity as only a few teams have distinguished themselves as appearing to be very good at this point, it’s important to remember how little we actually know about the entire league and who the real contenders will be by season’s end. Few would have envisioned the New York Giants of a year ago or the Green Bay Packers of 2010 as Super Bowl champions at the midway points of those seasons.

What’s not to say the Ravens’ formula for offensive success at home doesn’t suddenly appear for road games later this season or that the defense can’t make some improvement with healthier versions of Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata in the fold? Or, will reality set in during the second half of the season, sending the Ravens crashing back to earth?

The truth is none of us really know what to make of this year’s Ravens, but it’s a much more enviable position to be 6-2 while coaches and players try to figure it all out.

> One of the central themes of the first half of the Ravens’ season has been the failure of young defensive players to fill the void left behind by free-agent departures and injured players, but fourth-year linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has been the exception to the rule while emerging as one of the best players on the Baltimore defense.

That doesn’t speak highly for the rest of a unit ranked 26th in yards allowed, 28th in run defense, and 15th in points surrendered per game, but Ellerbe deserves credit in not only being the Ravens’ best linebacker in pass coverage but also providing some juice to a listless pass rush as he leads the team with 3 1/2 sacks. Always thought of as an effective “thumper” while playing the run, Ellerbe has been a capable blitzer and recorded three quarterback hits and a sack against Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden on Sunday.

Some were surprised the Ravens offered Ellerbe a second-round tender when he was a restricted free agent this offseason, but the former rookie free agent from Georgia has more than earned his $1.92 million salary to this point. Fellow inside linebacker Jameel McClain received a three-year contract this offseason, but Ellerbe has had the better season and might be finding himself as part of the team’s long-term plans if he can remain healthy and effective.

Coach John Harbaugh has pointed to the young linebacker’s heightened level of professionalism after it was no secret that Ellerbe wasn’t always in the best physical shape in past seasons and had a reputation of lacking passion for the game. Another key for Ellerbe has been his ability to stay healthy as he missed seven games last season while dealing with hamstring and groin injuries.

Ellerbe’s 49 tackles rank third on the team and are already a new career high, but he is a sure bet to lead the unit in that category by season’s end as he’s topped the Ravens defense in tackles in each of the last two games.

> As I wrote on Monday, Ngata’s play over the last two games must be a concern for a defense already struggling to control the line of scrimmage. It’s clear that knee and shoulder injuries are hindering his ability to take on blockers and make plays, and you have to wonder if the Ravens missed an opportunity to provide a useful period of extended rest for the All-Pro defensive tackle by not sitting him out against Houston in Week 7.

Perhaps the extra week of rest coupled with the Week 8 bye would have done the trick, but now the Ravens are staring at two critical matchups with the Pittsburgh Steelers over the next four weeks without knowing how effective the three-time Pro Bowl selection will be moving forward. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees is desperately looking for others to emerge as viable options up front, so you can understand the Ravens’ hesitation in sitting down Ngata right now, but they must also weigh the long-term implications of continuing to play him at substantially less than 100 percent.

Considering the Oakland Raiders are banged up at the running back position — starter Darren McFadden and backup Mike Goodson are both dealing with high ankle sprains — and will likely lean heavily on Carson Palmer and the passing attack, it might be worth considering resting the big defensive tackle in hopes that he can look more like his normal self when the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh next week. But as Harbaugh said Monday, the Ravens are trying to win every game and this season has proven none are guaranteed victories.

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>

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Morning Reaction Tuesday Top 7 Ravens for Week 9

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Morning Reaction Tuesday Top 7 Ravens for Week 9

Posted on 06 November 2012 by Luke Jones

Below are our Tuesday Top 7 Ravens players in the 25-15 win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 9. We’ll track our rankings throughout the 2012 season using the following point system:

No. 1 – 7 points
No. 2 – 6 points
No. 3 – 5 points
No. 4 – 4 points
No. 5 – 3 points
No. 6 – 2 points
No. 7 – 1 point

To hear the full explanation for the respective lists, click HERE.

Luke Jones’ Top 7 …

7) DeAngelo Tyson
Tyson

6) Bernard Pierce
Pierce

5) Vonta Leach
Leach

4) Torrey Smith
Smith

3) Dannell Ellerbe
Ellerbe

2) Anquan Boldin
Boldin

1) Ray Rice
Rice

Drew Forrester’s Top 7 …

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game-Ravens/Browns

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game-Ravens/Browns

Posted on 06 November 2012 by Glenn Clark

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

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

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

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 25-15 win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium…

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

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Bernard Pierce 12 yard TD run on 3rd & 1 (1st quarter)

4. Brandon Weeden pass intended for Greg Little incomplete on 4th & 2 (4th quarter)

3. TJ Ward roughing the passer called after Joe Flacco incompletion (4th quarter)

2. Torrey Smith 19 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco (4th quarter)

1. Anquan Boldin 21 yard catch from Joe Flacco (4th quarter)

(Ryan Chell’s Plays on Page 2…)

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Ngata fighting through injuries as Ravens defensive line struggles

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Ngata fighting through injuries as Ravens defensive line struggles

Posted on 05 November 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With a slew of injuries hampering a depleted Ravens defensive line, All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has tried to play through two ailments of his own over the last month of the season.

Listed as questionable on the final injury report in the Ravens’ last two games against the Texans and Browns, the seventh-year defensive lineman has played with knee and shoulder injuries, but his performance hasn’t lived up to his usual standards as one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Though stat sheets rarely tell the story in describing the effectiveness of a defensive tackle, Ngata has just one tackle over his last two games as he’s played in a reduced number of snaps.

Ngata registered one tackle in the 43-13 loss to Houston two weeks ago as he played 48 of the Ravens’ 80 defensive snaps. In Cleveland on Sunday, the 28-year old increased his workload to 53 of 70 possible defensive reps, but he failed to record a tackle and appeared unable to control and beat blockers at the line of scrimmage in the way he typically does.

“I thought he played solidly,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s not 100 percent — he’s got the shoulder and the knee a little bit — but he’s fighting through it. He’s playing well.”

Harbaugh remained noncommittal in how the Ravens will handle his practice work as many are beginning to suggest the possibility of sitting down the Pro Bowl defensive tackle in hopes of improved health for the final stretch of the regular season. It doesn’t help that the Baltimore defensive line has struggled to find any play-makers to complement Ngata as younger players such as Terrence Cody, Pernell McPhee, and Arthur Jones have failed to step up.

For now, the Ravens are likely to continue limiting his practice time, but they desperately need Ngata to regain the dominant form not seen since early last year when he was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate prior to sustaining a thigh injury that hampered him in the second half of the season.

“I think you take that day by day and week by week,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see. We need to win every game. Every game the division championship’s on the line.”

The only notable injuries suffered in Sunday’s game came along the offensive line as right guard Marshal Yanda tweaked his knee and ankle and was replaced by backup Jah Reid for five offensive plays while he received treatment. Right guard Bobbie Williams also suffered a mild ankle sprain, so the Ravens will closely monitor their practice time leading into this Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders.

Yanda would figure to be ready to play, but it will be interesting to see how Williams responds after suffering a fractured ankle last season in his final weeks with the Cincinnati Bengals.

“[Yanda's] moving around. The MRIs were all positive, nothing there,” Harbaugh said. “Bobbie Williams had an ankle — nothing on the MRI — sprain, so we’ll see. We’ll probably give him some rest during the week sometime and try to get him to Sunday. Those were the only two things that were really anything that were significant injury-wise.”

Should either player be deemed unfit to play, Reid would likely receive the first opportunity in the starting lineup after he was active for the first time all season against the Browns. He took nine offensive snaps, with five coming at left guard and the others as a blocking tight end in run-play situations.

“Jah played well,” Harbaugh said. “He played 10 or 15 snaps at different positions in there, and he played well and did a nice job. First time of really taking any kind of extended time out there and he wasn’t overwhelmed at all. That’s kind of what you look for in a young guy.”

Pees goes upstairs

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Uneven game against Browns shows offensive problems deeper than Cameron

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Uneven game against Browns shows offensive problems deeper than Cameron

Posted on 05 November 2012 by Luke Jones

As crazy as it sounds after going two whole quarters without even picking up a first down in their uneven 25-15 win over Cleveland, the Ravens offense made progress on Sunday.

Their point total nearly matched their output over the previous 10 quarters they’d played on the road (28 points), and their performance over the game’s first 15 minutes might have been the most polished offensive quarter of the season — home or away. The Ravens began the game with 58 rushing yards on 11 carries, went 6-for-6 in the air for 70 yards, were 4-for-4 on third down, and possessed the ball for more than 12 minutes to build a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

A beautiful play-action pass to tight end Dennis Pitta was good for 27 yards and another first down with 8:38 remaining in the second quarter. It was all looking too easy against the Cleveland defense.

And then the Ravens offense disappeared until midway through the fourth quarter.

Completely.

It’s at this point in the narrative when critics typically begin blasting offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for not feeding the ball to Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday. After carrying 11 times for 58 yards in the first quarter, Rice continued to receive carries but couldn’t do much with them, gaining 40 yards on 14 additional rushing attempts the rest of the way.

Rice received his 25 carries and, yes, the Ravens won the game, but anyone who watched a horrendous 30 minutes of offensive play in the middle of Sunday’s win saw they couldn’t move the ball consistently through the air or on the ground, going seven straight drives without collecting a first down.

The criticism against Cameron not involving Rice enough had been fair leading into Sunday’s game, but to point to the play-calling alone for the offensive struggles against the Browns is too simplistic. As has been the case all along, the problems run deeper than just the maligned offensive coordinator, though that doesn’t free him from blame, either.

“I think all of us were probably frustrated a little bit there,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We weren’t able to move the ball, we weren’t converting on third down, and so, yeah, I think you have to deal with it. It’s how well can you deal with the frustration and go back out there and pick yourself up.

“I think we’re tough physically, but being tough mentally is just as important or more important. I think we’re good in both of those areas.”

Fortunately, the offense awoke just in time after a 14-point lead and showed the mental toughness Flacco described, but you have to wonder where that confidence went for two quarters. The Ravens talked over the bye week about the need to be on the same page offensively, but the offense wilted quickly after an encouraging start.

Is the confidence level too fragile after extensive offensive struggles on the road this season?

Did complacency set in after building a two-touchdown lead?

Was the offense simply wearing down after playing a more physical style early on?

The disconnect that’s existed in contrasting the offense’s excellent play at home against their poor work on the road came into full effect Sunday as the good and the bad appeared in tandem at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

”We started fast and we finished strong,” Harbaugh said. ”In the middle? It was a little bit iffy there. But we came together at the end to win the game.”

They were able to snap out of their offensive coma when Flacco threw a 21-yard strike over the middle to Anquan Boldin to give the Ravens a first down with less than nine minutes to play, the first time they had moved the chains since the Pitta completion in the second quarter.

It was the catalyst for the eventual 19-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith who caught a quick throw from Flacco and spun away from cornerback Joe Haden to give the Ravens the go-ahead score with 4:26 to play. The third-down pass was the first third-down conversion for the Ravens since beginning the game 4-for-4 as they finished a meager 5-for-14 on third downs against Cleveland.

Whether it becomes the turning point of the season for a Baltimore offense trying to find its way on the road remains to be seen, but it prevented what would have been a full meltdown after jumping out to a 14-0 lead against the 2-6 Browns.

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