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Ravens-related thoughts on Super Bowl 50

Posted on 08 February 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but notice parallels between Peyton Manning’s improbable run to a win in Super Bowl 50 and Ray Lewis finishing his “last ride” with a championship in New Orleans three years ago.

The future Hall of Famers both missed substantial time with injuries in the regular season before returning in time for the playoffs. Each made important contributions on the playoff path to the Super Bowl as Lewis averaged just under 15 tackles per game in the first three rounds of the 2012 postseason and Manning threw for 222 yards against Pittsburgh — overcoming a number of dropped passes — and had two touchdown passes against New England in the AFC championship game.

But as much as we might have enjoyed seeing two of the greatest players in NFL history go out on top, it was apparent that each needed to retire after watching them play in the Super Bowl. While we remember Joe Flacco earning Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors, we try to forget Lewis looking slow and hopeless covering San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis or chasing after 49ers running back Frank Gore in that game.

Like the great Ravens linebacker against the 49ers, Manning had little to do with Denver winning its third Super Bowl title as the Broncos defense suffocated Carolina on Sunday night. Perhaps the 39-year-old Manning was owed one by the football gods after playing with some less-than-stellar defenses over the years in the same way that Lewis had some of his best years wasted by ineptitude on the other side of the ball.

If you’re a Ravens fan struggling to be happy for the quarterback who twice broke Baltimore’s heart in the playoffs — including the 2006 postseason defeat that was the most devastating home loss in franchise history — don’t forget his touching gesture in the playoffs three years ago. More than an hour after the Ravens had defeated the Broncos in an epic double-overtime contest in the divisional round, Manning and his family waited in the Baltimore locker room to congratulate Lewis personally.

Despite dealing with one of the most disappointing losses of his storied career, Manning still wanted to offer his respect to Lewis after the last of their many entertaining chess matches over the years.

It doesn’t matter if Manning — or Lewis — was no longer the same player when tasting championship glory for a final time. Seeing one of the all-time greats exit that way is special and rare.

Let’s just hope Manning actually retires now as most people expect.

Miller time

Four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller already had a résumé impressive enough to land a lucrative contract this offseason, but the Super Bowl 50 MVP took his performance to another level in the postseason.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the 26-year-old had a combined five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. That’s the kind of timing that Flacco can appreciate after the Ravens quarterback threw for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the 2012 postseason to fetch a six-year, $120.6 million contract a few weeks later.

ESPN has already reported that Denver will use the franchise tag if a long-term deal isn’t reached, meaning Ravens fans should stop dreaming about Miller reuniting with Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore.

Kubiak turns to dark side

Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak did a masterful job of handling a difficult quarterback situation this season.

Leading 16-10 and facing a third-and-9 from his own 26 with less than six minutes remaining, the Broncos head coach didn’t allow Manning to even attempt a pass and ran the ball with C.J. Anderson before punting. It was both the right decision and a clear sign that Manning needs to retire.

Possessing a championship defense, the offensive-minded Kubiak turned to the “dark side” in a way reminiscent of how Brian Billick handled the 2000 Ravens by deferring to his defense and being conservative. The difference is that it was much easier to do such a thing with Trent Dilfer than with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Stewart shines

Darian Stewart was a nondescript performer in his lone year with the Ravens, but the Denver safety stood out in the Super Bowl.

He collected three tackles, a sack, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble when he put his helmet right on the ball to knock it away from Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert. It wasn’t just a one-game aberration, either, after Pro Football Focus graded Stewart 14th among NFL safeties during the 2015 season.

It really makes you wonder where that player was in Baltimore a year ago.

False start

After Panthers left tackle Michael Oher committed a false start late in the second quarter, you couldn’t help but be amused by the social-media reaction of Ravens fans who had seen that act often in Baltimore.

The 2009 first-round pick deserves much credit for working hard to get his career back on track in Carolina, but Super Bowl 50 was a forgettable performance for him and the rest of the Panthers offensive line.

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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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Former Ravens coordinator Kubiak going to Super Bowl 50

Posted on 24 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Gary Kubiak had every intention of staying with the Ravens until his dream job suddenly opened up.

A year later, the former offensive coordinator is now going to the Super Bowl. A strong effort by his defense led the Denver Broncos to a 20-18 win over New England, giving Kubiak a shot at his first NFL championship as a head coach.

In his only season in Baltimore, Kubiak not only fixed an abysmal running game, but the Ravens set franchise records by scoring 25.6 points per game and producing 364.9 yards per game. After the season-ending playoff loss to New England last January, the 54-year-old declined interview requests from other NFL teams and even issued a statement that he would be staying with the Ravens before the Broncos parted ways with head coach John Fox the next day.

The subsequent call from former teammate and longtime friend John Elway was the “game-changer” for Kubiak, who had previously spent a combined 20 years in Denver as a player and assistant coach. The Ravens hired current offensive coordinator Marc Trestman soon after Kubiak became the head coach in Denver.

Two other ex-Ravens had big days for Denver on Sunday as tight end Owen Daniels caught two touchdown passes from Peyton Manning in the first half and safety Darian Stewart intercepted a Tom Brady pass in Broncos territory in the second quarter. Stewart later left the game with a knee injury, but he told reporters after the AFC championship game that he expected to be ready for Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif. on Feb. 7.

Three other former Ravens will meet Denver in the Super Bowl as Michael Oher, Ed Dickson, and Dwan Edwards were part of Carolina’s dominating 49-15 win over Arizona. While Oher started at left tackle for the Panthers, Edwards had a tackle and a quarterback hit as part of the defensive line rotation and Dickson failed to rein in two passes from quarterback Cam Newton.

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Ravens-related thoughts from divisional round

Posted on 18 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Ravens fans undoubtedly took satisfaction from watching Pittsburgh lose to Denver in the divisional round on Sunday, but you couldn’t help but be in awe of the Steelers’ speed at the wide receiver position.

Playing without arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger still threw for over 300 yards against the Broncos’ top-ranked pass defense thanks to a 154-yard receiving day from Martavis Bryant as well as contributions from the speedy trio of Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Markus Wheaton. Having caught just one pass in the regular season, the rookie Coates caught two passes for 61 yards to show off the speed that Pittsburgh barely even used in 2015 after taking him in the third round out of Auburn.

That collection of speed nearly overcame a depleted running game that was without DeAngelo Williams as Bryant’s 40-yard run in the first quarter helped set up the Steelers’ lone touchdown of the game. Of course, speed isn’t everything — just ask Pittsburgh’s colossal 2014 third-round bust Dri Archer — but you could easily understand why Joe Flacco cited the AFC North rival’s offense when asked at the end of the season whether he believes the Ravens need to add more speed to the passing game.

“You see what speed does. It does a lot for football teams,” Flacco said. “You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there. I’m not saying that it’s something that we need, but when we’ve had it here, it’s definitely made a little bit of a difference. It helps.”

If the Ravens want to close the gap with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the AFC North, they must find more speed at the receiver position in addition to hoping that 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman is fully recovered from the partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that cost him his entire rookie season. Watching the Steelers on Sunday was just a reminder that Baltimore was playing a different game in 2015 with receivers incapable of consistently gaining separation or running away from anyone.

The combination of Kamar Aiken and a returning Steve Smith — Jeremy Butler also showed some promise late in the season — should leave the Ravens in good shape in terms of possession receivers, but general manager Ozzie Newsome needs to find another high-end speed guy to go with the unproven Perriman, whether that player comes via free agency or the draft.

When asked at the season-ending press conference, Newsome made it very clear that he would like to add another receiver or two this offseason. Fans will just hope one will make a substantial impact unlike the late-round picks over the last several drafts who’ve been nothing more than roster filler.

The Ravens have an abundance of No. 5 and No. 6 options, but they need to aim higher when looking for a wide receiver this offseason.

Up-and-down Sunday for ex-Ravens

While former Ravens such as Michael Oher, Ed Dickson, Dwan Edwards, Darian Stewart, and Owen Daniels helped their respective teams move closer to Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, ex-Raven Fitz Toussaint wore the goat horns for the Steelers.

The running back’s fumble with 10 minutes to play not only ended a potential scoring drive, but it was the catalyst for Denver’s only touchdown drive of the game in a 23-16 final. Even as Ravens fans took delight in watching Pittsburgh lose, you couldn’t help but feel for the 2014 rookie free agent from Michigan who was very emotional after the game.

Toussaint has received more postseason carries (31) than regular-season rushing attempts (24) in his first two NFL seasons and had 118 total yards in Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati, but Sunday is a day he’ll surely want to forget despite scoring his first NFL touchdown in the first quarter.

Coverage linebackers

It’s almost unfair to compare most linebackers to Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in Carolina, but the Ravens need to find a way to improve their pass coverage with that positional group.

Still one of the better coverage linebackers in the league when the Ravens signed him three years ago, Daryl Smith clearly floundered in that department to the point that second-year linebacker Zach Orr was replacing him in the nickel package late in the season. More concerning, however, were the continued struggles of C.J. Mosley in pass coverage in his second season.

After Mosley became the first rookie to make the Pro Bowl in franchise history, many concluded he would be the next great Ravens defensive player, but 2015 didn’t go as smoothly for him. To his credit, the Alabama product overcame a slow start to play better as the season progressed, but he must improve in pass coverage if he’s to take his game from good to great.

Nod to Manning

This item isn’t related to the Ravens, but I find myself becoming an unabashed supporter for Peyton Manning at this late stage of his career.

You don’t have to be an NFL scout to recognize he’s a shell of his former self physically, but he also wasn’t responsible for a number of dropped passes from Broncos receivers that would have made for a very respectable day against Pittsburgh if some had been secured.

We all break down in various ways as we get older — the man underwent multiple neck surgeries in 2011 and still threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes and won the MVP two years later at age 37 — but instead of laughing over Manning’s decline, I appreciate seeing one of the greatest players in NFL history trying to use his incomparable football intellect and years of experience to overcome a once-powerful arm that won’t cooperate anymore. After years at the top of the mountain, Manning has strangely become the underdog trying to hold on at the end of his career.

Even if you’re not rooting for him, that fight still deserves respect.

Manning and the Broncos look like the least likely of the four remaining teams to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara next month, but I’ll be happy for him if he’s somehow still standing in the end — even if everyone will obnoxiously remind you over and over that it was more about Denver’s stout defense than him.

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Steve Smith announces return to Ravens for 2016

Posted on 30 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith will return for his 16th NFL season in 2016.

Though the Ravens wide receiver originally intended to retire at the end of the season, a Achilles tendon injury prompted many to speculate that Smith would return in 2016. Multiple reports in recent weeks had indicated the fiery 36-year-old was leaning toward a return, but he made it official on his Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon.

Smith had cited a desire to spend more time with his family when he announced his retirement plans on Aug. 10.

“I don’t want to hold on,” Smith said. “I said it this summer: Jerry Rice is the best wide receiver to ever play, but I don’t believe that chasing whatever it is to chase for four more years would be conducive to my family or be conducive to me. I would be having to give up something.”

Smith was among the league leaders at the time of his injury on Nov. 1, catching 46 passes for 670 yards and three touchdowns in seven games. With the Ravens off to a 1-6 start, many had speculated that the 5-foot-9, 195-pound receiver was already contemplating a return for 2016 as he has never won a Super Bowl in his career.

Head coach John Harbaugh and many of Smith’s teammates expressed their belief at the time of the injury that he would return for one more season.

Some of his teammates already knew he would be returning.

“I’m not surprised at all about that,” guard Kelechi Osemele said. “He’s not the type of guy to go out like that. Obviously, we can’t wait to have him back. I know he’s going to come back in the best shape of his life, and he’s going to dominate, because that’s just the type of person he is.”

Smith ranks eighth on the NFL’s all-time list for combined yards (18,381), 15th for receptions (961), and 11th for receiving yards (13,932). Smith and recent Hall of Fame inductee Tim Brown are the only players in NFL history to eclipse 13,000 receiving yards and 4,000 return yards.

Originally selected in the third round of the 2001 draft, Smith spent his first 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers before signing a three-year, $10.5 million contract on March 14, 2014. Though he continues to make his home in Charlotte, N.C. and will be remembered most for what he did with Carolina, Smith has rapidly made his mark in Baltimore both on and off the field.

Now, he’ll have one more year to add to that legacy with the Ravens.

“If you’re in a war, there’s no better guy that you want on your sideline with you in that war than Steve,” five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda said. “I’m fired up about it, but I respected whatever he was going to do. If he was going to retire, I was going to be happy. If he was going to play for us, I was going to be happy, because he has earned that respect over the years playing in this league.”

Smith is already the oldest receiver in the NFL and will turn 37 in May.

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Nicklas Backstrom has a goal and two assists in his return to the Caps lineup on Saturday night.

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Nicklas Backstrom Shines in His Caps Season Debut

Posted on 17 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

For those who routinely watch the Washington Capitals, they know just how good Nicklas Backstrom is at hockey. Just in case anyone forgot, Nicky took care of that quickly on Saturday night as he scored a goal and set up two others in his season debut, a 4-1 Caps victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Backstrom’s performance in his first game back even impressed his head coach.

“A guy who hasn’t played any exhibition games and comes into the National Hockey League, in a fast game, against a fast team, and he looks like he didn’t miss a beat – we realize how good he is….it looked pretty easy for him,” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz following the win.

Saturday’s game really was as one-sided as it gets in terms of scoring chances. Washington was all over a Carolina club that played on Friday night and if not for Cam Ward, it could’ve easily been five or six to nothing after two periods. Amazingly the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion goalie stopped 26 of 27 Capitals shots through forty minutes and Washington was forced to sweat this one out a bit in the final frame.

T.J. Oshie, Backstrom, John Carlson, and Alex Ovechkin all scored against Carolina with the last three coming in the third period. The Caps first and third goals were on the power play, the only two opportunities they received all evening. Carolina had four power plays, including a 38 second two man advantage in the middle stanza, but Washington killed that sequence off. As is often the case, a team that fails to score on a two man advantage usually loses the hockey game.

With Backstrom back in the lineup, the Capitals moved Andre Burakovsky down to the fourth line. The 20 year old forward had struggled a bit at center in the first three games and with Marcus Johansson playing so well, #65 was the odd top six forward out. As I blogged after Thursday night’s win, the key will be for Burakovsky to just keep working hard and keep his confidence level up. He will be a big part of this team this season and the Caps will need him in the playoffs, when things really matter.

As for Johansson, well he was dynamite despite being held without a point. MJ90 has been doing a great job of going to the net and creating screens and the Caps don’t score goals two and three without “Jojo” doing just that. Marcus also had some quality scoring attempts in the game, but Ward was very strong on this night.

Oshie now has two power play goals and he is a huge upgrade over Troy Brouwer as the man in the middle with the man advantage. Eventually teams will have to shift more attention to him, which will open things up for Ovechkin and the others. Speaking of Ovechkin, he now has three goals in three games and he, Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were really good as a first unit, once again. Backstrom, Johansson, and Justin Williams formed a potent second line. Basically, trying to stop the Caps is going to be a lot harder this season now that GM Brian MacLellan has upgraded the skill on the top two lines.

On defense, the top two pairs were solid, but the third defensive pair is still working through things. Dmitry Orlov only logged 13:36 and Taylor Chorney played 15:31. Against an Auston Matthews sweepstakes team like Carolina, you’d like to see that pairing get more ice time, but until they earn it, Coach Trotz can’t risk victories for the team in order to develop that new duo.

Overall though, the Capitals look like a really strong team. Their three wins have come against hockey teams that played the night before, but you can only face the opponents as they are scheduled. Now at 3-1 after four home games, they head out to Western Canada for a three games in four nights road swing that starts on Tuesday night in Calgary (9 pm on CSN). This will be a good measuring stick to see how improved they are, last season the Caps went 1-2 on this trip with the lone victory against the Flames.

Notes: Braden Holtby made 18 saves. He had a scary moment in the middle period when the Canes had a two man advantage and his helmet was knocked off. Somehow the officials took several seconds to blow what should’ve been an immediate whistle and luckily a shot on net went over a covered up Holtby…Carlson led the Caps in ice time once again, at 23:26…Oshie now has two goals and two assists in the four games…the Caps outshot Carolina 34-19, Oshie led the Caps with six shots on goal…Brooks Orpik had five hits while Ovechkin had four…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 31-29.

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Ravens add veteran cornerback Cason for stretch run

Posted on 09 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens made their latest roster move in the secondary with the addition of veteran cornerback Antoine Cason on Tuesday.

Cason joins the Ravens a week after he was cut by the Carolina Panthers. The 2008 first-round pick out of Arizona will take the roster spot of cornerback Danny Gorrer, who was officially placed on season-ending injured reserve with two torn knee ligaments suffered in the Week 14 win over Miami.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback played in 12 games (11 starts) for the Panthers this season, collecting 58 tackles, two interceptions, four forced fumbles, and six pass breakups. He spent his first five seasons with San Diego and the 2013 campaign with the Arizona Cardinals.

Cason played against the Ravens in Week 4, collecting two tackles as the Panthers fell 38-10 at M&T Bank Stadium.

In 108 career games, the 28-year-old Cason has accumulated 380 tackles, 16 interceptions, 64 pass breakups, and eight forced fumbles.

In other moves, the Ravens signed wide receiver Aldrick Robinson and tight end Allen Reisner to their practice squad and cut Baltimore native and wide receiver LaQuan Williams. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson was signed off the Ravens’ practice squad by the Buffalo Bills and will join their 53-man roster.

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Backstrom, Ovechkin Help Caps Survive Canes

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After blowing a two goal third period lead as a result of a bad turnover and poor goaltending, the Washington Capitals needed their star players to step up and bail the team out.

Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom did just that with 14 seconds left in overtime as #19 fired home the long rebound of a rocket of a shot by the Gr8 that Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin (35 saves) had no chance to handle cleanly. The 4-3 victory was the second win in two nights for the Caps and they improve to 6-5-3 (15 points).

This was a game the Capitals could not afford to lose and they came out ultra strong, out shooting the Canes, 18-3, in the first frame. But Khudobin was pretty good in net and the Capitals gave up a late power play goal and only led 2-1. The second period went okay for the Caps and Eric Fehr scored to give Washington a 3-1 advantage heading into the final frame. But except for Washington’s second line, much of the play was spent in Washington’s own end and Carolina out shot the Caps 14-8 to scratch and claw their way to OT.

Still, if Fehr doesn’t get stripped by Jeff Skinner to lead to Eric Staal’s tally and Peters doesn’t allow a long goal off of a d-zone face off loss, Washington wins in regulation. But things have not been easy for the Capitals early this season. It seems that any little mistake they make results in a goal against right now.

The good news is this team overcame the errors and earned a much needed win. Overall they dominated Carolina over the 64+ minutes out shot attempting them 74-56. The Caps also won 38 of 69 draws, although they lost some key ones in their own zone in the final frame.

On the bad side of the ledger, Peters (24 saves) is not giving the team the solid backup goaltending it needs. His last two starts have been struggles and he was fortunate to get a victory tonight. Two of the three goals were of the long range variety. In addition, Tom Wilson left in the second period with an apparent lower body muscle injury. This news was not needed after it was learned that Brooks Laich was injured once again (upper body) Friday in Chicago and will need to be re-evaluated.

The Wilson loss hurts the rotation as he was fitting in nicely with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Coach Barry Trotz’ second line of Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer played extremely well on Saturday and the Gang Green line of Fehr, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera has been really good too. So if Wilson is out for Tuesday’s game, Trotz has a tough dilemma on his line combinations against Columbus. Jay Beagle filled in for Wilson after the injury, but despite a goal on Saturday (before he was with 8 and 19), he’s not a top 6 forward. So to me, the best option is to put Beagle on the Gang Green line at center and move Fehr up with Backstrom and Ovechkin. The other option would be to slot Evgeny Kuznetsov somewhere in the top nine.

Injuries are a part of the game, so Trotz and company will just have to battle through up front and be happy they have some decent depth.

On the back end, the team continues to be really solid. Nate Schmidt is playing some excellent hockey so the top six defensemen have been very strong. Because all three pairs have been mostly consistent, Trotz can keep the ice time fairly close and not worry about performance drop offs in back to back contests. It’s a nice luxury to have a deep and quality blue line, something this club has not been able to accurately say for several years.

So the end result on Saturday was another dominating puck possession game for Washington. They haven’t been able to translate those into easy wins, though. On Saturday, a key turnover and some shaky goaltending prevented that. In addition, the Capitals are struggling to finish off their grade A chances. 3 of the 4 goals involved lucky bounces so that made up for not converting on the quality opportunities.

However, the Capitals got the key finish when they needed it by Backstrom. Ovechkin’s decision to shoot, and fire hard, was a great one. Good things happen when you put the puck and bodies on net. Washington is getting better in that department. So if they keep maintaining puck possession, they could reel off a nice winning streak if they limit turnovers, penalties, and get some consistent goaltending.

Notes: Oveckhin led the Caps in ice time with 23:39. John Carlson (two assists) was next with 23:35…Backstrom was 16-9 on draws and it looked like the linesman didn’t drop the puck fairly on the draw he lost that led to the tying goal (and Peters needed to make that save)…Kuznetsov only played 9:23, but because of his skating ability (OT is 4 on 4 play), he did receive a shift in overtime…the Caps will not practice on Sunday and they play Columbus at home on Tuesday at the Verizon Center.

 

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 5

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is rising and falling …

STOCK RISING

Steve Smith
Skinny: The former Carolina Panthers wide receiver has impressed since the first day he arrived in Baltimore, but he became the oldest player in NFL history with more than 400 receiving yards in his first four games of a season last Sunday. It’s apparent that Smith has become Joe Flacco’s most-trusted target as the second touchdown the pair connected on against the Panthers came after the quarterback dropped a snap and threw the ball up for grabs in Smith’s direction. He’s unlikely to continue a 1,600-yard pace, but it’s difficult envisioning Smith not blowing past 1,000 receiving yards, assuming he stays healthy.

Joe Flacco
Skinny: Any lingering doubts about the seventh-year quarterback’s ability to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s system are all but gone after Flacco posted a franchise-record 137.4 passer rating in the 38-10 win over Carolina. As if 327 passing yards and three touchdown passes weren’t enough, Flacco was particularly deadly when the Panthers tried to blitz, going 7-for-9 with two scores and 149 yards. After feeling like he had to do it all by himself a year ago, Flacco is once again showing what he’s capable of accomplishing with a good offensive line and strong running game supporting him. 

Terrence Brooks
Skinny: After being inactive in the Ravens’ Week 3 win in Cleveland, the 2014 third-round pick saw the first defensive action of his career against the Panthers, playing 32 snaps and finishing with two tackles while serving as a safety in the nickel package. With the entire secondary in flux beyond No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, Brooks has an opportunity to carve out a role and was complimented by head coach John Harbaugh on Monday. Starting free safety Darian Stewart has struggled in coverage through four games and could be pushed by Brooks or Will Hill when he returns from suspension next month.

STOCK FALLING

Jacoby Jones
Skinny: The veteran wide receiver was mentioned on this list a couple weeks ago, but his struggles are now impacting his playing time as Jones saw just seven offensive snaps while Marlon Brown played 31 and Kamar Aiken saw 14 against Carolina. In addition to another drop, Jones fielded a punt from his own 2-yard line, which is rarely ever a wise choice. It’s painfully obvious that Jones is pressing and his struggles are in his head, so you wonder how much patience Harbaugh and Kubiak will have and if his limited number of snaps against the Panthers is a sign of things to come.

Darian Stewart
Skinny: The veteran had another rough game against Carolina as he was late reacting in Cover 2 to prevent rookie Kelvin Benjamin from catching a 28-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. You can understand strong safety Matt Elam’s struggles when realizing he’s being asked to play the nickel corner spot, but it’s become apparent that Stewart is not the center-field option the Ravens need in the back end of the defense. It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Dean Pees awards Brooks more opportunities at safety whenever Lardarius Webb returns and Elam can remain at strong safety.

Jeromy Miles
Skinny: After serving as the free safety in the nickel package in consecutive games, the special-teams standout didn’t receive a single snap with the defense in Week 4 as it appears the coaching staff has seen enough of him in the secondary. The Ravens have struggled to find answers for their pass defense, so you never know when Miles’ name might be called again, but he didn’t do anything to make a noticeable impact. At this point, you get the impression that the Ravens are trying to throw anything they can against the wall in hopes of something sticking.

 

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Ravens-Panthers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens hoped they were moving closer to getting their full secondary back a week ago with the season debut of Lardarius Webb, but the moments leading into Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers provided a different outlook.

After practicing fully all week and not even being listed on the injury report, the sixth-year cornerback was ruled inactive for Week 4 as he continues to try to improve his flexibility and quickness from a back injury that sidelined him for all of training camp. Playing only four snaps against Cleveland last week, Webb appeared slow in his backpedal and was unable to quickly change direction, prompting defensive coordinator Dean Pees to keep him on the sideline for most of the game.

Considering Webb has practiced for nearly a month, the Ravens may need to take a long look at how quickly he can get himself back to an acceptable level of play to help a struggling secondary. Third-year cornerback Asa Jackson is expected to take Webb’s place in the starting lineup once again.

Defensive end Chris Canty (knee) is active after missing practice all week and being listed as questionable on the final injury report. He was the only other Ravens player whose status appeared in doubt after left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee surgery) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) were officially ruled out on Friday.

As expected, running back Bernard Pierce (quadriceps), linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee/ankle) are active after being listed as probable on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Panthers will be without two key players on Sunday as running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) and outside linebacker Thomas Davis (hip) were both ruled inactive after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. However, Carolina will have the services of starting running back DeAngelo Williams (thigh) after he missed the last two games.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Craig Wrolstad. He’s a new referee this season after serving as an NFL field judge prior to the promotion.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures around 80 degrees with partly cloudy skies, no chance of precipitation, and winds up to five miles per hour.

The Ravens will be wearing black jerseys and black pants for the first time this season on Sunday while the Panthers will wear all white.

Former Ravens tight end Todd Heap will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday’s game, becoming the eighth Ravens player to receive the honor.

Baltimore and Carolina will be meeting for the fifth time in the all-time regular-season series with the Panthers holding a 3-1 edge. The Ravens lost the only meeting between these teams at M&T Bank Stadium with wide receiver Steve Smith having a big day against his future team in a 23-21 final on Oct. 15, 2006.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Lardarius Webb
WR Michael Campanaro
LB Arthur Brown
LT Eugene Monroe
G John Urschel
DT Timmy Jernigan
DE Lawrence Guy

CAROLINA
QB Joe Webb
RB Jonathan Stewart
S Tre Boston
RB Fozzy Whittaker
LB Thomas Davis
OL Andrew Norwell
TE Brandon Williams

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