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Ravens-Lions: Five predictions for Monday night

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Ravens-Lions: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 15 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Playing on the road for the first time in nearly a month, the Ravens know exactly what’s at stake when they travel to Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions on Monday night.

A three-game winning streak has pushed Baltimore above the .500 mark for the first time since October, but a 1-5 road record can’t be overlooked as the Ravens play two of their final three away from M&T Bank Stadium against first-place teams. And with Miami and San Diego also hanging around in the AFC wild-card picture, the margin for error is small.

The Ravens have the clear advantage with health as linebacker Elvis Dumervil was the only player of real consequence listed as questionable and the rush specialist is expected to make his return after missing last week’s game against Minnesota with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, the Lions have three starters listed as questionable or worse on the final injury report of the week.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens aim to improve to two games above .500 for the first time all season. Monday night marks the fourth time these teams have ever met with the Ravens holding a 2-1 all-time advantage. Detroit won the only meeting between the teams at Ford Field, a 35-17 final back in 2005.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to maintain their grip on the No. 6 seed in the conference playoff race …

1. Facing a banged-up and below-average secondary, Torrey Smith finds room down the field for a long touchdown. The Lions will be without starting cornerback Chris Houston and rookie backup Darius Slay while starting free safety Louis Delmas missed two practices this week with a knee injury, leaving Detroit’s 25th-ranked pass defense even more vulnerable than normal. Smith has been held to just nine receptions over the last three games, but the return of tight end Dennis Pitta and the recent emergence of Jacoby Jones alleviates the heavy attention he was facing earlier in the season. This will free him up to slip past the secondary for a deep touchdown on Monday night, which will put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his three-year career.

2. Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson will go over 100 yards receiving and catch a touchdown over safety Matt Elam in deep coverage. The rookie’s comments questioning Johnson’s age and physicality earlier in the week were foolish, but the league’s best wideout was already motivated with the Lions fighting Chicago and Green Bay for the NFC North title. Elam has been a disappointment in pass coverage — recording just two pass breakups — as he’s played out of position all season and his small frame doesn’t play well against Johnson if he’s asked to provide help over the top. Cornerback Jimmy Smith has received most of the attention in terms of who will cover Johnson, but the Ravens rarely ever flip their corners and will likely try to offer as many different looks as they can in coverage. It won’t matter as Johnson will still get his yards and a score on Monday.

3. Linebacker Terrell Suggs will collect his first sack since Nov. 3, but the Ravens won’t generate much pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions have only allowed 15 sacks this season, which is a major reason why Stafford has remained healthy and is 24 yards shy of his third consecutive 4,000-yard season. Baltimore hasn’t collected a sack since Week 12, but blitzing will leave the defense vulnerable underneath against running back Reggie Bush coming out of the backfield, leaving defensive coordinator Dean Pees in a difficult position. Suggs will beat left tackle Riley Reiff for a sack in the first half and Dumervil’s return will help, but Stafford’s quick release and the Ravens’ concern with Bush and fellow back Joique Bell catching passes out of the backfield will lead to another week of underwhelming pressure.

4. Joe Flacco will roll out and move from the pocket by design to neutralize the Lions’ interior pressure to throw for 250 yards and two touchdowns. The presence of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley is a major concern for the Ravens as Flacco will need time in the pocket to step up and go vertical to test a poor secondary. Even if right guard Marshal Yanda and center Gino Gradkowski can hold their own against Suh, Fairley is likely to give A.Q. Shipley fits, which will prompt offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to use designed roll-outs and waggles for Flacco to move outside the pocket. Flacco has shown that he can throw effectively on the run and Pitta’s presence will help in that regard with intermediate passes to move the chains. Detroit’s defensive line is too strong to try to play straight up in the passing game, so the Ravens will try to get Flacco in space behind the line of scrimmage.

5. Struggling at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, the Ravens can’t quite keep up in a 27-20 final to Detroit. Most attention has fallen on the likes of Johnson, Stafford, and Bush this week, but the Ravens’ running game and pass rush do not match up well against the Lions, which will be the difference in a game in which points could come liberally for both sides. Baltimore will not be able to find space against the league’s sixth-ranked run defense, putting everything on Flacco’s throwing arm, but the passing game just hasn’t had a consistent 60 minutes of play all season long and that will catch up with them late in a back-and-forth game. With the Ravens unable to pressure Stafford, the Lions will just be too tough to stop as a late score against a defense that’s been unable to finish will be the difference in an entertaining contest.

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Extra motivation not required for Lions’ Johnson

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Extra motivation not required for Lions’ Johnson

Posted on 12 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens safety Matt Elam certainly provided the flavor needed for an extra day of buildup for Monday’s meeting with the Detroit Lions.

While also offering words of praise for All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Elam naively called the 28-year-old receiver “pretty old” while questioning the 6-foot-5, 236-pound wideout’s physicality on Wednesday. Johnson took the bait in Thursday’s conference call with the Baltimore media, vowing to show Elam and the Baltimore secondary his “old-man strength,” but anyone extending the rookie’s comments any further in thinking it will impact Monday’s outcome is reaching.

Though the 22-year-old Elam put a target on his back and left himself open for criticism should Johnson get behind him for a long touchdown or two, you don’t need outside motivation when you’re the best wide receiver on the planet and on track to become one of the greatest in NFL history. Those pointing to Johnson’s 329-yard receiving day against Dallas that followed Dez Bryant’s inflammatory comments earlier this year overlook the role the Cowboys’ 32nd-ranked pass defense played in the career day.

Simply put, there’s no such thing as waking a sleeping giant when he’s already been stomping on opponents every week.

“Would you think that Calvin Johnson is going to come to a Monday night game on national television and not play his best game anyway [until] a rookie said something? I doubt it,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who would suffer as much as anyone if Elam’s comments actually impacted the receiver’s Monday performance. “If they’re going to take it as, ‘That’s poster-board [material]; we’re going to take it even harder now,’ then they don’t have the right mentality coming to play a Monday night game anyway.”

Elam’s silly comments aside, the Ravens face arguably the biggest nightmare in the NFL today in trying to slow the seventh-year receiver, who last year set an NFL single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards. Johnson ranks second in the league with 1,351 receiving yards and second with 12 touchdown catches as he’s reined in 75 passes this season.

Fortunate to only have to face Johnson once every four years, the Ravens will need to contain the monstrous playmaker to earn only their second road win of the season and maintain their enviable position as the current No. 6 seed in the AFC. Meanwhile, the Lions find themselves in a dogfight with Chicago and Green Bay for the NFC North division title.

“‘Megatron.’ Anytime somebody has a nickname like that, the kid is real,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He is probably arguably the best receiver in the game. It’s going to take all 11 guys, especially tending to him. The pass rush is going to be key; running the ball is going to be key. They do a lot of things with him, [and] he ends up in a lot of places. But it’s also fun [when] you get to play against a guy like that.”

Looking beyond his obvious physical gifts, scheming how to cover Johnson is problematic because he’ll line up in a variety of different ways in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s system. Double teams and bracketed coverage sound great — and necessary — in principle, but the Lions effectively move him around various formations to create favorable matchups for him against the defense.

With that in mind, many have suggested that defensive coordinator Dean Pees assign the 6-foot-2 Smith — who’s been the team’s best cornerback this season — to follow Johnson wherever he lines up. Such a strategy goes against the Ravens’ normal way of keeping Smith at right cornerback and Lardarius Webb on the left side in the base defense.

The third-year defensive back Smith has embraced being physical against top receivers such as Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall, often getting the best of those matchups this season. Finally living up to the hype of being a first-round pick in the 2011 draft, Smith said he’d embrace the opportunity to shadow Johnson wherever he lines up if that’s what the Ravens ask him to do.

“Absolutely,” Smith said. “Prime-time television in front of the nation? We don’t move around a lot because we’ve got a lot of confidence in our corners. Whatever the game plan we bring on Monday night, that’s how we’re going to bring it. If they ask us to move and do things, we’re always going to be willing to do that.”

The Ravens secondary has spoken this week of embracing the challenge of slowing down Johnson, but they’ll need to avoid giving up the big play that’s plagued them all season. Baltimore has surrendered 16 pass plays of 40 or more yards this season — most in the NFL — while lacking a true free safety in the secondary.

Johnson alone has 20 receptions of 20 or more yards this season as his speed coupled with his ability to break tackles often leads to explosive plays on even shorter passes from quarterback Matthew Stafford. Missed assignments and shaky tackling have plagued the back end of the defense at various points this season, including the final two minutes of their win over Minnesota in which the Ravens gave up a 41-yard touchdown run and a 79-yard touchdown pass.

“Sometimes a team makes a great play,” Smith said. “Sometimes, it’s us with a mental error, doing something that we don’t usually do throughout the first four quarters of our game. Something like that [happens], and some big plays pops.”

Even if Smith, Webb, and No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham are at the top of their game in trying to cover Johnson, the Ravens must try to revitalize a pass rush that’s largely been in hibernation over the last two games. Baltimore didn’t record a quarterback sack against Pittsburgh or Minnesota as the defense battled Ben Roethlisberger and snow-covered field conditions in successive weeks.

Getting pressure won’t be easy as the Detroit offensive line has allowed only 15 sacks all season and Stafford likes to get rid of the ball quickly, meaning the Ravens must get hands up in passing lanes and at least provide enough discomfort to force quicker-than-normal throws if they can’t get to the Lions signal-caller in the pocket. Turnovers have been a problem for an otherwise-explosive offense as Stafford will rush through his progressions and force throws that sometimes aren’t there — even to Johnson.

The Ravens know their task is a tall one as they face the league’s second-ranked offense with Johnson the biggest reason why. The defense’s goal will be to keep him in front of the secondary, settling for completions with the goal of preventing game-changing plays.

But that’s the intention of opposing defenses week after week, with few units finding success.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “These are the games that we have to put that work in and definitely put that work in for earlier in the year. It will be a great challenge.”

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The 15-7-0 thinks Calvin Johnson is probably worth screaming about

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The 15-7-0 thinks Calvin Johnson is probably worth screaming about

Posted on 28 October 2013 by Glenn Clark

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

Oh and candy corn. Actually this week…mostly candy corn.

15 Positive Observations…

1. I assume what Dez Bryant was yelling on the sidelines was something along the lines of “HEY COACH! YOU KNOW THOSE GUYS WHO SAY THAT WHEN YOU FACE THE LIONS YOU SHOULD LET CALVIN JOHNSON GET HIS BUT DON’T LET ANYONE ELSE BEAT YOU? THOSE GUYS ARE IDIOTS!”

Pretty much just simple lip-reading.

Dez would like to remind you why he’s yelling.

Megatron posted the second greatest receiving (yards) day in NFL history. No one even as much as blinked at any of it.

Matt Stafford’s fake spike is obviously the highlight of his entire life.

2. If there’s one person in the world you’re happy for right now it’s Navy kicker Nick Sloan. If there’s a second, it’s…umm….I don’t know, the guy who helped Naya Rivera pick out her sexy Carmen Sandiego Halloween costume?

You’ll remember Sloan missed an extra point in 2OT a week ago as the Midshipmen lost to Toledo. The result was different against Pitt Saturday.

If the Mids won, that means we get to enjoy something.

Oh and about that costume.

Yeah that works.

3. Ohio State would like you to go ahead and move on to your next question, please.

The Buckeyes demolished Penn State 63-14. They admitted after the game that they’re simply trying to keep up with their own Marching Band.

Elsewhere in the B1G, Michigan State really dug deep in their bag of tricks.

4. The Kansas City Chiefs are still undefeated. It’s probably about time that when we talk about them, we don’t use that same inflection on the term “undefeated” that we use when we describe Northern Illinois.

The more significant news from this game? JASON CAMPBELL DID SOMETHING!

5. No, Patriots fans were NOT booing their team at halftime. Of course not. Yeah, they were actually saying “YOOOUUUUUU…..guys are probably going to put together a dominant second half and easily beat the Dolphins.” Sometimes you just don’t hear all of that.

In fairness, Pats fans could have no idea their team had practiced the new sport of “synchronized intercepting”.

They should however have known their quarterback…

Despite the fact that the QB’s hand looked like this…

(Continued on Page 2…)

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As you’d expect, Ravens still very much a work in progress

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As you’d expect, Ravens still very much a work in progress

Posted on 18 August 2012 by Luke Jones

As was the case in the Ravens’ preseason-opening win over the Atlanta Falcons, you can’t take anything away from the final score after the Detroit Lions won by a 27-12 margin at M&T Bank Stadium Friday night.

On the surface, the first-team units struggled once again as the offense twice drove inside the Detroit 30-yard-line — one taking them all the way to the 7 — before settling for field goals and the defense was unable to stop a high-octane passing attack for the second straight week. However, what’s lost in the scrutiny and excitement of this particular preseason is that the Ravens are reinventing themselves on both sides of the football.

And that remains a major work in progress with 23 days remaining before the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10.

“I thought we played well early,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We just need to finish the drives [offensively], finish the drives on defense and get off the field on third downs.”

Offensively, quarterback Joe Flacco and the starting offense once again utilized a no-huddle attack for their three series of work. Unlike the preseason opener in which they went three-and-out three straight times, the Ravens developed a decent rhythm early as they used three-wide sets of Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones, and LaQuan Williams — Torrey Smith sat out with a lingering ankle injury — and dropped back to pass on 16 of the 26 play-calls the first offense ran.

It remains to be seen how committed the Ravens are to executing the no-huddle offense when the regular season begins, but it’s becoming clear that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is taking a page from new quarterback coach and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell in trying to make the high-speed attack a proficient option they can use in larger doses than in the past. The Ravens are facing the challenge of being without top tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta for the remainder of the preseason, but they’re utilizing a third receiver instead of having Pitta work in the slot as he did late last season.

Success with the no-huddle is contingent upon timing and sustaining drives in order to bring your own defense adequate rest.

However, the same problems we’ve seen in the past crept up when the Ravens were moving the ball well. On their second drive, Flacco guided Baltimore inside the 10 before Williams could not bring it what would have been a touchdown and left tackle Michael Oher committed a holding penalty that pushed the Ravens back to the 17. They settled for a 33-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.

A drive later, they moved the ball to the Detroit 29 before reserve running back Anthony Allen whiffed picking up a blitzer for the second straight week and Flacco was sacked on a third-and-1 situation, leading to a 50-yard field goal by rookie Justin Tucker.

At that point, you could close the book on the starting offense’s night, with the same lack of efficiency — in terms of scoring touchdowns, anyway — inside the 30 hanging over their heads.

“That’s why when you do get those two chances, that’s why it’s all about finishing off, finishing off,” Flacco said. “The biggest thing with that is if we’re going to be the offense that we want to be, in order to put up 30-some points every week, you have to score touchdowns. You don’t want to get in the business of just not converting and kicking.”

The most positive news to take away from the offensive side Friday was the improvement of the offensive line. With veteran Matt Birk back at center, the Ravens once again used Oher at left tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele at right tackle while Bryant McKinnie stood on the sideline. Run blocking had mixed results as the bulk of their rushing yards came courtesy of a 35-yard run by Jones, but the Ravens did a much better job protecting Flacco than they did in Atlanta when the quarterback was repeatedly running for his life.

“We’re definitely starting to come together,” offensive tackle Michael Oher said. “We’re still learning and guys are still getting used to some things, but we’re getting better every day.”

Once again, McKinnie did not work with the starting offensive line as you wonder more and more if the Ravens are serious about going with the more athletic combination of Oher and Osemele and how that might be a better fit for their ability to utilize the no-huddle offense. The mammoth veteran tackle blocked well against second-team defenders, but the assumption that he would eventually regain his starting left tackle job appears more uncertain after he wasn’t even rotated in for some work with the first unit.

Watching the Baltimore defense Friday, the most definitive conclusion I took away is that the Ravens are fortunate only to have to play Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in a game that matters once every four years. The best pass-catcher on the planet torched the Ravens in the second quarter with a 57-yard reception matched up against Cary Williams and an 18-yard touchdown over a well-positioned Jimmy Smith.

CONTINUE >>>

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