Tag Archive | "cam newton"

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton greets Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, left, at midfield after a preseason NFL football game in Baltimore, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. The Panthers defeated the Ravens 34-27. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Ravens-related thoughts on conference championship weekend

Posted on 25 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The lack of weapons surrounding Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been a major topic of discussion in two of the last three years.

That’s why Cam Newton’s season for the NFC champion Carolina Panthers is nothing short of exceptional. The fifth-year quarterback wasn’t exactly a popular pick to be the league MVP — especially after the Panthers lost No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury in August — but he’s done everything he can to silence critics about his play on the field.

To be clear, Newton hasn’t done it alone as he has a Pro Bowl tight end in Greg Olsen and the league’s No. 1 rushing attack — to go along with an excellent defense — but to watch him throw for 35 touchdown passes and a 99.4 passer rating with former first-round bust Ted Ginn Jr., journeyman Jerricho Cotchery, 2014 undrafted free agent Philly Brown, and second-round rookie Devin Funchess as his top four wide receivers?

That’s not exactly a group that instilled fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators.

We’re used to seeing the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers put up impressive passing numbers despite not always having elite talent around them, but Newton deserves the praise he’s receiving as he prepares to play in his first Super Bowl. He’s always been dangerous with his legs — he’s rushed for 500 or more yards in each of his five NFL seasons — but to see his passing prowess take off this season with a less-than-stellar group of receivers is worthy of praise.

This isn’t meant as a knock on Flacco as plenty of good quarterbacks struggle to post big numbers without enough high-end talent around them, but Newton has had a special season.

Blind side surprise

Another reason that Newton has had such a successful year has been the play of Carolina’s offensive line, which includes former Raven Michael Oher playing left tackle.

Oher was mostly solid but still considered a disappointment in Baltimore as a first-round pick in the 2009 draft. The Ole Miss product was even worse with Tennessee in 2014 and was cut just one year after signing a four-year, $20 million contract with the Titans.

So, why the turnaround with the Panthers?

Oher has been reunited with John Matsko, the Ravens’ offensive line coach in his first two NFL seasons. The two share a good relationship, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that Oher has gotten his career back on track working with his old offensive line coach.

According to Pro Football Focus, Oher has graded 32nd among all offensive tackles in the NFL — Eugene Monroe was 22nd and Rick Wagner was 53rd — so it’s not as though he’s suddenly blossomed into a Pro Bowl player in his seventh season. But there’s no doubt that he’s played a key part in transforming what was a poor offensive line in 2014 into one of the better ones in the league.

Orange crush pass rush

The Denver Broncos registered a remarkable 20 quarterback hits on Tom Brady — the most any quarterback had taken in a game all season — over the course of Sunday’s 20-18 win in the AFC championship game.

But even more impressive was the fact that Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips blitzed a season-low 17.2 percent of the time, according to PFF. It certainly helps when you have a special pair of edge rushers like Von Miller — who will be a free agent this offseason — and DeMarcus Ware, but the Broncos’ success was a reminder that you need to be able to disrupt quarterbacks without leaving your pass coverage compromised.

After losing Terrell Suggs in the opener and having already lost Pernell McPhee via free agency, Dean Pees was left with a front unable to generate consistent pressure with a four-man rush for most of the season. As a result, the Ravens defensive coordinator felt compelled to blitz more, which left an underwhelming secondary even more vulnerable in coverage if the pressure didn’t get there in time. It wasn’t until late in the year with the improvement of rookie Za’Darius Smith that Baltimore started to be more disruptive without blitzing.

It’s easier said than done, but the Ravens need to improve their pass rush for 2016 and can’t just hope that the healthy return of Suggs alone will do the trick.

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Five questions pondering Flacco, Webb, Monroe, Ravens guards

Posted on 05 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or should the Cam Newton contract put all discussion to rest about the deal Joe Flacco received two years ago? To some degree, criticism we heard about Flacco’s contract is now being thrown Newton’s way as he received an extension that pays him an average yearly salary of $20.8 million. We spend so much time ranking quarterbacks and determining which ones are “elite” when it really comes down to a very simple question for NFL teams. Can your quarterback win you a Super Bowl with a reasonable supporting cast around him or not? If the answer is yes, you pay him — plain and simple. Of course, determining the line of demarcation is the challenge as Miami recently paying Ryan Tannehill was an example of that. In terms of average annual salary, does Newton deserve to be the fourth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL? No, but it was his turn in line and Carolina has enough reason to think he can eventually lead the Panthers to the promised land. That’s all that matters.

2. Is it just me or does the Ravens’ current guard situation remind you of the 2011 season? Most assume Baltimore will ultimately re-sign Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda while fourth-year left guard Kelechi Osemele will likely depart via free agency after this season, but I do wonder if that would be the best path for the Ravens. Yanda is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the best guard in the NFL, but he’ll also be 31 in September. If his demands are through the roof, can you justify giving lucrative money to a player who will be approaching his mid-30s during the life of the contract? Meanwhile, Osemele turns just 26 later this month is likely to get even better over the next couple years. The situation isn’t identical, but it reminds me of 2011 when Ben Grubbs and Yanda were both scheduled to become free agents. Many thought the Ravens should sign Grubbs, but Yanda received an affordable extension that summer and the 2007 first-round pick departed the following winter. I’ll still assume that the Ravens keep Yanda, but it would be tough allowing a much younger player to depart.

3. Is it just me or should Lardarius Webb and Eugene Monroe be attending voluntary organized team activities after injury-plagued campaigns last season? Any veteran player has the right to skip voluntary spring practices, but I can’t help but think the Ravens aren’t thrilled to see Webb and Monroe missing OTA workouts — at least the ones that have been open to media thus far. Counting the playoffs, injuries forced Monroe to miss seven starts last season and the left tackle’s contract is structured in a way that the Ravens could release him next offseason if they’re not thrilled with his performance, as was the case last year. Meanwhile, Webb may have restructured his current contract this offseason, but Baltimore could easily cut the veteran cornerback next winter if his play doesn’t improve substantially from 2014. It’s one thing for established veterans to skip spring workouts, but those with question marks from the previous year are taking a chance to further fall out of good graces when they’re not around in the spring.

4. Is it just me or could a healthy Brent Urban be a difference-maker for a revamped defensive line? Much attention has been paid to the interior part of the line following the trade of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but the 5-technique defensive end spot is a position of interest as veteran Chris Canty was cut and re-signed at a cheaper rate earlier this year. Canty has been mostly solid in his two years with Baltimore, but he will also be 33 in November and contemplated retirement this past winter. Urban has been quite active during spring workouts and appears fully recovered from last summer’s knee injury. Not only could he challenge Canty for his starting spot, but the 6-foot-7 University of Virginia product could be an intriguing option to replace Pernell McPhee as an interior pass rusher on third down. Urban will need to prove himself this summer, but it was no secret that the 2014 fourth-round pick was going to be a big part of the rotation as a rookie. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him become a key contributor for the Ravens’ front this season.

5. Is it just me or are the Ravens getting more than enough love this offseason? I’ve made no secret about how impressed I was with general manager Ozzie Newsome’s work in the 2015 draft and the savvy signing of slot cornerback Kyle Arrington last month, but I was surprised to see Sports Illustrated’s Peter King list the Ravens first in his preseason power rankings. Looking at it objectively, Ravens fans would be incensed if Pittsburgh were ranked No. 1 after losing a starting wide receiver, a starting tight end, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, an impact pass rusher, and a good offensive coordinator. Make no mistake, I expect the Ravens to be a playoff team in 2015 and they could very well be poised to make a championship run if wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams are ready to make meaningful contributions as rookies. Everything the Ravens have done looks strong on paper, but that doesn’t always mean it comes to fruition on the field as quickly as you’d like, especially when relying on unproven players. For the fans who like to play the disrespect card in terms of how the national media views their team, King is taking a leap of faith to put Baltimore at the top of the list.

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope to hit the quarter pole of the season on a winning note when they welcome the Carolina Panthers to Baltimore on Sunday afternoon.

Most focus has understandably centered around wide receiver Steve Smith playing against his former team this week, but the Ravens will be playing their first game since losing tight end Dennis Pitta for the season and left tackle Eugene Monroe for at least the next few weeks. And they face an imposing stretch of four of their next five games on the road following Sunday’s contest at M&T Bank Stadium, making this a game the Ravens would desperately like to win.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are trying to recover from an embarrassing home loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday night while overcoming a number of injuries in their offensive backfield. Expected to have one of the more potent rushing attacks in the NFL this season, the Panthers currently rank 29th in run offense with just 72.3 rushing yards per contest.

Sunday marks the fifth meeting between these teams as Carolina holds a 3-1 edge. However, the Ravens won the only game against the Panthers of the John Harbaugh era, a 37-13 final in Charlotte in 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their first ever home game against the Panthers …

1. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown pass and be flagged for a 15-yard penalty against his old team. The 35-year-old has tried to downplay the significance of playing the Panthers after spending the first 13 years of his career in Charlotte, but there’s no escaping the prediction of “blood and guts” he made shortly after signing a three-year contract with the Ravens in March. To say Smith will be fired up is an understatement considering how fiery he is on game days anyway, but he’ll bring a little extra passion that will draw a 15-yard penalty for either unnecessary roughness or taunting at some point. He’ll make up for it, however, with a touchdown catch to beat Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason.

2. James Hurst will struggle as a run blocker, but his pass blocking, with help from tight end Crockett Gillmore and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, will keep Joe Flacco clean. If you’re looking for the silver lining with the left tackle situation, Monroe wasn’t playing well before undergoing knee surgery this week, meaning there may not be much of a drop-off with the undrafted rookie. The overall impression of his play in the preseason was that Hurst was a capable pass blocker with good technique, but his blocking ability in the running game left much to be desired. Baltimore will use help on his side to help contain the pass rush from the likes of Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, and Wes Horton and keep Flacco safe. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will also call more running plays inside and to the right to stay away from Hurst’s struggles whenever possible.

3. With Jimmy Smith locked on rookie Kelvin Benjamin, veteran Jerricho Cotchery catches a touchdown from Cam Newton against the Baltimore secondary. The 6-foot-5 Benjamin will pose a problem for any Ravens cornerback other than Smith, so defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have his top defensive back mirror him as much as possible. Veteran Lardarius Webb wasn’t listed on this week’s injury report, so he’s expected to have a bigger workload than the four defensive snaps he took in Cleveland, but it’s still difficult projecting what to expect from him in terms of performance. Carolina’s weapons in the passing game aren’t imposing beyond Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, but the savvy Cotchery is familiar with the Ravens defense from his days with Pittsburgh and will shake free against zone coverage for a red-zone touchdown.

4. Bernard Pierce will start in the backfield, but rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will lead the Ravens in rushing for the second straight week. A national audience watched the Steelers gash the Panthers defense for 264 rushing yards in a 37-19 final in Charlotte last Sunday night, which continued the early-season trend of Carolina struggling to stop the run. Kubiak will look to run early and often to control the tempo of the game and will defer to the returning Pierce at the start of this one. However, the jury is still out whether the 2012 third-round pick is a great fit in the Ravens’ zone-blocking scheme as he’s often looked indecisive in hitting running lanes. The Ravens will lean heavily on Taliaferro in the second half to wear down the Panthers’ front and the rookie will make another emphatic statement that the starting job belongs to him.

5. The injuries to Pitta and Monroe are concerning, but the Ravens will still have enough to handle Carolina in a 26-17 final. The Panthers are still trying to find their bearings on the offensive side of the ball with Newton still not 100 percent and the backfield in disarray with the long-term injury to fullback Mike Tolbert and the uncertain status of Jonathan Stewart. On top of that, the Carolina defense hasn’t been the imposing unit it was last year without defensive end Greg Hardy in the picture. The Ravens will use an effective running game and an improved defensive effort to win in relatively comfortable fashion to begin the season 3-1 before starting what looks to be the most difficult stretch of their regular-season schedule with only one home game over the next five weeks of action.

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