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Ravens defensive coordinator Pagano set to interview for Colts’ coaching job

Posted on 24 January 2012 by Luke Jones

After a successful first season as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano will interview for the head coaching vacancy for the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday.

The Baltimore defense finished third in the league in fewest points and yards allowed while sending linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, safety Ed Reed, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. Pagano was praised for his close relationship with players and his aggressive play-calling approach was a major reason why the Ravens increased their sack total from a franchise-low 27 in 2010 to 48 in 2011.

Pagano replaced Greg Mattison, who spent two years as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator before taking the same position with the University of Michigan last offseason.

Indianapolis has reportedly interviewed former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and would like to have a new head coach in place this week, according to Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Should Pagano become the Colts’ head coach, in-house candidates to replace him could include defensive line coach Clarence Brooks, linebackers coach Deen Pees, and outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino. Before joining the Ravens’ coaching staff in 2010, Pees served as the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots for four seasons (2006-09).

Former Baltimore defensive coordinators to received head coaching positions elsewhere include Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, and Rex Ryan.

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 January 2012 by Luke Jones

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Sixty minutes will decide whether the Ravens advance to Indianapolis or find themselves falling short for the fourth season in a row.

Standing in their way is the high-powered New England Patriots, winners of nine straight including last week’s 45-10 blowout of the Denver Broncos in the divisional round. The Ravens own a 1-6 all-time record against New England and are 1-4 in Foxborough.

However, that one victory came in the form of a 33-14 beatdown of the Patriots two years ago in the wild card round of the playoffs as Ray Rice ran for a playoff franchise-record 159 yards, including an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage. The performance handed New England its first home playoff defeat since 1978 as the Ravens forced quarterback Tom Brady to commit four turnovers.

What happened on that day doesn’t amount to much as far as what transpires at Gillette Stadium on Sunday – for example, the personnel has changed dramatically for the New England defense – but the victory does provide a psychological boost at a place where many teams are intimidated by the Patriots’ mystique.

The AFC championship features the ultimate contrast in styles as New England represents the new era of high-scoring, pass-happy offense while Baltimore still thrives on its strong defense to win ugly year in and year out.

Here’s what will happen in Foxborough on Sunday afternoon …

1. Needing to make Tom Brady as uncomfortable as possible in the pocket, Terrell Suggs will lead the charge with two sacks. For all the talk of sticking with the Patriots’ talented tight ends and the video-game production of Wes Welker the key to beating the New England offense is pressuring the future Hall of Fame quarterback. The Ravens have done it effectively over their last three games against the Patriots, sacking Brady nine times. Suggs leads the charge for the pass rush and will need to come up big against New England left tackle Matt Light on Sunday. Suggs has been quiet over the last month, collecting only one sack over the last four games, but the Pro Bowl linebacker was a one-man wrecking crew in the 2010 postseason when he collected five sacks in two games. The 29-year-old has posted 10 sacks in his 10 career playoff games. The New England offensive line allowed 32 sacks in the regular season, but the unit is banged up with left guard Logan Mankins dealing with a knee issue and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer ailing with back and foot injuries. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has been masterful in finding the proper balance between sending extra defenders and dropping enough men into coverage, and he’ll need his best plan yet on Sunday against the most explosive offense in the AFC.

2. The Ravens will not be able to stop tight end Rob Gronkowski from making big plays, but Lardarius Webb will hold wide receiver Wes Welker in check. Analysts and fans have spent the better part of the week trying to figure out how the Baltimore defense will account for the 6-foot-6 Gronkowski. Pagano will call for bracketed coverage as much as possible and likely entrust strong safety Bernard Pollard to hold his own in one-on-one coverage in certain instances. However, it’s clear that few have had any luck against the second-year tight end who caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns in the regular season. In fairness, the Ravens have held their own against tight ends despite questionable pass-coverage ability for their linebackers, but Gronkowski’s combination of size and talent is something they haven’t seen all season. What could be the great equalizer in creating stops against the New England offense is Webb’s coverage against Wes Welker, who caught 122 passes for 1,569 yards this season. The third-year cornerback hasn’t allowed a touchdown pass all season and can play Welker when he lines up on the outside or from the slot since Webb moves inside for the nickel package. Even if the Ravens allow a couple touchdowns to Gronkowski, Webb’s coverage skills should keep Welker from going off against the secondary, which would be a major feather in the hat of the defense.

3. Whichever team fares better on third down will win on Sunday. It’s a simple thought, but the Ravens must limit the possessions of the New England offense has much as possible. To do that, they’ll need positive yardage on first and second down to set up third-and-manageable situations. Baltimore ranked seventh in third-down conversion percentage (42.4 percent) while the New England defense allowed conversions on third down at 43.1 percent of the time, ranking 28th in the NFL. Rice and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta will be critical in moving the chains on third down and keeping the Patriots off the field. On the flip side, the New England offense ranked fifth in third-down efficiency (45.9 percent), but the Ravens were second in the league in third-down defense with opponents converting only 32.1 percent of the time. Of course, the Patriots can score so quickly that third down isn’t even a factor on some drives, but the Ravens will be more meticulous with their opportunities while mixing in an occasional vertical shot against the Patriots’ secondary. An inordinate amount of turnovers one way or the other could always negate the significance of third-down conversions, but the team that can move the chains and force punts will likely raise the Lamar Hunt trophy at the end of the afternoon.

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Laurence Maroney on how to beat old team: “The first thing to do is really blitz and keep Brady uncomfortable”

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Laurence Maroney on how to beat old team: “The first thing to do is really blitz and keep Brady uncomfortable”

Posted on 20 January 2012 by Ryan Chell

If anyone knows how to stop a high-powered offense in the New England Patriots, you’re going to have to go right to an insightful source to find that answer.

Unfortunately for a tight-knit organization led by Bill Belichick-the master of secrets, there aren’t a lot of those guys who have that kind of information to hand out.

But WNST’s own Thyrl Nelson caught up with a guy who used to line up in the backfield behind the Patriots future Hall-of-Famer in quarterback Tom Brady in running back Laurence Maroney on Thursday.

Maroney, who was a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2006 out of Minnesota, is currently a free agent and is anxiously trying to work his way back onto an NFL team for next year.

Having been a part of Patriot-style offenses in New England and Denver run by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, he knows the team very well.

Nelson asked Maroney how the Ravens should handle the Patriots if he was a consultant, and Maroney had a quick answer.

You have go get Tom Brady out of rhythm by bringing the pressure on the blitz.

“The first thing to do is really blitz and keep Brady uncomfortable,” Maroney told Nelson. “He’s going to sit there and read defenses and get comfortable. He can pick you apart once the momentum’s going and the lineman get going.”

Maroney said it was his role as Patriots back to be the final nail in the coffin for opposing defenses.

“That’s what starts the running game and it just starts to trickle down.”

But at the same time though, Maroney told Raven nation to understand this.  John Harbaugh and Chuck Pagano may have the greatest defensive game-plan available to them, but Tom Brady is going to make some plays just because of his game smarts and preparation.

“Brady is one of the smartest…if not the smartest quarterback that I’ve played with,” Maroney said. “He’s just going to sit there if you give him time with the type of receivers and tight ends he has. They’re going to find a way to get open. And he’s going to find a way to get them the ball.”

Obviously as a running back, Maroney pushed across the idea of pacing the game for the Ravens by handing the ball off to Ray Rice in the second half should the Ravens jump ahead.

“Ray Rice is definitely a great running back,” Maroney said, “that’s definitely a proven guy in this league. It’s going to be difficult-especially the wild card game that I was last with them-and he definitely showed when he broke the game out when he ran for 80 yards that he’s a game-changer. If you don’t control that guy, he’s definitely going to do his thing.”

If the Ravens are on their game, Maroney says-you can’t ever count them out.

“You can never overlook the Ravens cause you can tell the history,” Maroney said. “This is a team you can’t count out, especially with their defense. They have one of the best defenses that you can’t overlook them and you have to be ready and prepared for that game.”

And who knows-with Ray Rice scheduled to be a free agent and the uncertainty regarding the future career of backup running back Ricky Williams, could the Ravens maybe be interested in the seldom-used, 26-year first-round pick?

He’ll welcome any opportunity to prove himself yet again to an NFL team.

“I just want a job,” Maroney said. “I just want to get back in the league.”

“I’m only 26 years old. I’m still young-this would have only been my sixth-year in the league. I’ve got the fresh legs. I still have a lot to offer to the league.”

WNST thanks Laurence Maroney for joining Thyrl Nelson this week in preparation for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game! Check the  BuyaToyota.com Audio Vault for the full conversation! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

 

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Ravens looking to prove defense still king against high-scoring Patriots

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Ravens looking to prove defense still king against high-scoring Patriots

Posted on 20 January 2012 by Luke Jones

For more than a decade, one mantra has been held with the highest regard by the Baltimore Ravens in spite of changing trends in the NFL over the last several seasons.

Defense wins championships.

In this current era of 5,000-yard passers, high scoring, and rules that cater to offense, the Ravens’ defensive dominance is considered a dying breed by many. Of course, don’t bother telling that to veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, who is preparing to play in the third AFC championship of his 16-year career and has gone to the playoffs eight times despite never enjoying the luxury of an explosive offense supporting his defense.

“I’ve been doing it for so long, when you do watch how the games are played, nine times out of 10, I just truly believe defense is going to find a way to win the championship,” Lewis said. “You can go back however many years you want to go back, and defenses have a way to come out to make a play that changes the outcome of games.”

In reality, the cliche isn’t true in the purest sense of defense alone winning championships, as even the 2000 Ravens needed a run-first offense that took care of the football and positioned their defense to impose its will on weaker opponents. The 2011 Ravens clearly enjoy a more productive offensive attack than the Super Bowl XXXV winners but still generally rely on that old-fashioned formula of winning ugly.

For that reason, the media have focused on the high-octane offense of the New England Patriots and have wondered how the Ravens can possibly stop quarterback Tom Brady and a unit that averaged 32.1 points per game this season. In contrast, few of considered the possibility of the New England offense running into a buzz saw of a defense that finished third overall in points and yards allowed in the regular season.

Has the lack of attention — or even a perceived lack of respect — rubbed the Ravens the wrong way as they prepare to travel to Foxborough?

“We always have a chip on our shoulder,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “We’ve always felt this way about ourselves.”

That’s not to say the Ravens don’t respect Brady and the New England offense. The weapons are everywhere, from wide receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch on the outside to young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez wreaking havoc all over the field.

But much like Lewis’ command of the Ravens defense for the last 16 years, Brady is the mastermind that makes New England the dynamic offense that’s scored 30 or more points in eight of its last nine games, including 45 against Denver in the Patriots’ divisional-round win last Saturday.

“You’ve got your hands full from Day One, before you even step on the field with him, because it’s a film study game with him,” Lewis said. “He wants to [identify] everything that’s coming out and know what you’re in. Your job is to disguise and not show him all of that. It’s a chess match, almost.”

The Baltimore defense and the New England offense provide an interesting juxtaposition. While the former has a reputation of physical play and intimidation and the latter is built on finesse, both units are extremely cerebral, built to deceive and confuse the opposition as much as possible. Adjustments at the line of scrimmage are a regular part of each unit’s plan.

That deception will be critical for the Ravens as Brady tries to dissect coverage and to identify potential blitzes, allowing him to make adjustments on the fly with so many options in the passing game.

“You try to do everything you can to try to disguise and hide what you’re doing,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “At the end of the day, if we just sit and play one or two things and let the tempo of the [Patriots] dictate what we do, then he’ll shred us, he’ll pick us apart. They’re just too good.”

While much time has been spent discussing exactly how the Ravens plan to defend Welker (Webb will draw the assignment in most instances) and the monstrous Gronkowski (a likely combination of a linebacker and safety Bernard Pollard), the true key will be making Brady uncomfortable in the pocket, something Baltimore has been able to do in recent years against the Patriots.

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After years of holding off Father Time, Lewis needs help fighting

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After years of holding off Father Time, Lewis needs help fighting

Posted on 04 January 2012 by Luke Jones

For years, future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis has been fighting an opponent more daunting than the Pittsburgh Steelers, an enemy aiming to take his livelihood no matter how many accolades he collects to suggest otherwise.

It’s a number, one that’s far more intimidating than the No. 52 jersey opponents have lined up against for 16 years. And it’s a battle Lewis cannot win, making him as mortal as the hundreds of men he’s played with and the thousands more with which he’s clashed on the football field.

Age.

It’s no secret that Lewis has sparred with Father Time for years. A simple look back at some of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game shows how remarkable it’s been for the Baltimore linebacker to have played at such a high level for such a long time.

Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, and Mike Singletary? Lewis has played significantly longer than all of them. He’s the same age that Packers legend Ray Nitschke was when calling it quits. On the short list of the NFL’s greatest linebackers, only Junior Seau played longer than Lewis has at this point, as the Chargers standout held on long enough to become a shell of the great player he once was.

“Where I am now in my career, I appreciate the game,” Lewis said. “I appreciate the mistakes. I appreciate the ups and the downs because there is always a learning curve that I have already been through many times.”

With the Ravens enjoying a bye week before playing their first home playoff game in five years, much has been opined about Lewis’ decline, particularly in pass coverage. It hasn’t happened over night, mind you, but the turf toe injury that sidelined him four games has shined a spotlight on his diminished skills as opposing teams have attacked Lewis in the passing game with much success.

The debate whether Lewis has lost a step or two has gone on in Baltimore for the last three to four years. The argument always working in the linebacker’s favor was his cerebral approach that may be second to none in the history of professional football. We’ve seen it time and time again when Lewis calls out the opposition’s plays after spending all week dissecting their tendencies in film study.

The viewpoint was always held that whatever Lewis had lost in physical ability he had likely made up for it in experience and football IQ tenfold.

“I would never want to go back to being a young Ray Lewis,” Lewis said. “The young Ray Lewis, he was good, he was good, but he was out of control a lot of times. The way I am now is a much wiser person.”

But, at some point, a declining body can no longer keep up with the blossoming mind. It happens to every professional athlete, as not one has yet to figure out how to avoid one thing: the end of his or her career.

It’s unfair to conclude whether Lewis is at that point, especially with a painful toe injury that’s likely impacting his play substantially, but there’s no denying the end is inching much closer. And for a Ravens team with its best chance to win a Super Bowl in five years, it’s time to offer any assistance it can to help Lewis in this losing fight.

Though it will lead to interesting discussions and decisions following the season, taking Lewis off the field in certain situations is not an option as the Ravens begin their postseason run in less than two weeks. The psychological fracture it would potentially create for a defense built prominently on emotion would be too much to risk, especially considering the roster isn’t exactly breeding linebackers who are strong in pass coverage.

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 31 December 2011 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have never dropped a regular-season finale under coach John Harbaugh, a trend they hope to continue on Sunday when they travel to Paul Brown Stadium to take on the Cincinnati Bengals.

The objective is simple for both teams as Baltimore needs a win to clinch its third AFC North title and a first-round bye in the postseason while the Bengals would clinch a postseason berth with a victory. A loss by either side puts their respective fates in the hands of others.

Baltimore has won seven consecutive AFC North division games and nine of their last 10. A win would give the Ravens an undefeated mark in division play for the first time in the history of the franchise.

Of course, these teams met in Baltimore on Nov. 20 as the Ravens held on for a 31-24 victory at M&T Bank Stadium. However, the 483 total yards from the Bengals offense were the most allowed by the Baltimore defense all season.

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Here’s what to expect when the Ravens try to win in Cincinnati for the first time since the 2008 season …

1. With Marshal Yanda unlikely to play, Ray Rice will find little running room against a stout Cincinnati run defense. It’s true that Rice ran for 104 yards on 20 carries in the first meeting with the Bengals, but 59 of those came on one run, which reflects why offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should continue feeding Rice the ball as long as the Ravens aren’t facing a multiple-possession deficit. It also spells out how well the Cincinnati run defense — ranked fifth in the entire NFL — did against the Pro Bowl back aside from that long run, holding him to 45 yards on his other 19 attempts. If veteran Andre Gurode or rookie Jah Reid is filling in at right guard for Yanda, it limits what the Ravens are able to do in the running game as Yanda is often used to pull and get out in space to block for the shifty Rice. While many have pointed to the return of Ben Grubbs for the Ravens’ improvement in the running game, Rice has run the ball to the right side 106 times (441 yards) this season as opposed to 102 times (512 yards) to the left when most teams generally prefer left more than right. Given their current lack of depth at wide receiver, the Ravens would love to control the tempo with the ground game, but the Bengals will make that very difficult to do, likely holding Rice to 60 rushing yards or less.

2. The Baltimore defense will once again lack the necessary pass rush on the road to shake rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. The Ravens lead the AFC with 47 sacks this season, but only 14 have come away from home as the defense has struggled to get to the quarterback on the road, a major factor contributing to their 3-4 record in road contests. Linebacker Terrell Suggs has earned Defensive Player of the Year consideration after a 13-sack season, but the 29-year-old has only three away from M&T Bank Stadium. He has struggled to do much against Cincinnati left tackle Andrew Whitworth — just one sack in the last five games against the Bengals — and the Ravens sacked Dalton only twice in their November meeting. Chuck Pagano’s defense thrives on the emotion of its home stadium and just doesn’t have the same impact on the road, generating only seven takeaways in seven road games as opposed to 17 turnovers at home. Dalton threw for 373 yards — and three interceptions — in his first meeting against the Ravens and played with far more confidence in the fourth quarter as the Bengals nearly erased a 17-point deficit.

3. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green will require safety help deep, leaving the Ravens secondary vulnerable elsewhere. The Ravens were fortunate to avoid the rookie phenom in their first meeting with the Bengals, but Green has drawn comparisons to the impact Randy Moss made as a rookie in Minnesota in 1998. His 1,031 yards earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl as he’s rewritten the Bengals’ record book for rookie receivers. The Ravens will have little choice but to provide safety help to whomever guards the 6-foot-4 Green, which will open things up for 6-foot-5 tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who toasted the Baltimore defense for eight catches and 152 yards in November. The Ravens would benefit greatly if Cary Williams is cleared to play in time for Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion in Week 16, but Dalton will have plenty of open targets to throw to if Baltimore is unable to dial up pressure. Green may not be the one to make the big catches on Sunday afternoon, but his presence will have the Ravens scrambling to keep up with open Cincinnati receivers. Assuming Ed Reed is providing the deep help for Green, Gresham could have a field day matching up in single coverage against the likes of strong safety Bernard Pollard and the Ravens linebackers. It won’t be as bad as it was against San Diego two weeks ago, but the Bengals will continue what they started against the Baltimore secondary last month.

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Cameron takes Flacco’s play-calling criticism in stride

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Cameron takes Flacco’s play-calling criticism in stride

Posted on 29 December 2011 by Luke Jones

Quarterback Joe Flacco raised eyebrows on Wednesday by criticizing what he believed to be conservative play-calling in the second half of the Ravens’ 20-14 win over the Cleveland Browns on Christmas Eve.

Without naming names, it was a clear jab at the offensive coordinator, even if Flacco’s comments were made with a tongue-in-cheek tone.

So, how would Cam Cameron respond on Thursday?

“I almost thought of telling Joe, ‘Those words are hurtful. I am not coming to the pancake social,’” said Cameron, drawing laughs from the media. “No. That’s why Joe wins. I really believe that. He’s a competitor. He wants the ball in his hands every play that matters.”

Of course, Cameron was joking about their breakfast plans, but it’s just the latest example supporting the perception of the two not being on the same page when it comes to a vision for the Baltimore offense. The offensive coordinator handled the quarterback’s comments impressively, even if he did stand his ground when assessing Saturday’s game and the need to be conservative in certain game situations in any given week.

“Every now and then, I am going to look out there, and I even say to Joe, I’ll beep in [to his helmet], ‘Hey now, I am being a little conservative here.’ I didn’t say that a lot the other day, to be honest with you. I think we’re playing a team offense.”

Of the Ravens’ 62 offensive plays, 37 were rushing attempts as Flacco attempted 24 passes and was sacked once by the Cleveland defense.

Right guard contingency plans

With Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda missing his second straight practice on Thursday as he continues to recover from severe rib and thigh contusions, the Ravens face the possibility of being without their best offensive lineman when they take on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Veteran Andre Gurode replaced Yanda against the Browns, playing the right guard position for the first time since his early years with the Dallas Cowboys. A 10-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowl center before being released by Dallas in the preseason, Gurode made five starts at left guard in place of Ben Grubbs earlier this season.

Signed by the Ravens as an insurance policy for veteran Matt Birk, who missed the preseason after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, Gurode instead has been needed at both guard positions this season. Reviews have been mixed on his performance, but the high standard of play set by Grubbs and Yanda is difficult to reach.

“He did fine [against Cleveland],” coach John Harbaugh said. “He did a good job. It’s a tough duty. Andre has been put in that situation a few times. He continues to compete in there, and battle and do a good job.”

Gurode is the favorite to replace Yanda at the right guard position if he’s unable to play on Sunday, but rookie Jah Reid could be a sleeper candidate to fill the role. The 6-foot-7 tackle has occasionally been used as a blocking tight end in jumbo packages and is capable of playing guard. The promotion of offensive tackle D.J. Jones to the 53-man roster earlier this week would support such a possiblity, as Reid is the primary backup behind starting tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher.

Conventional thinking would scoff at the notion of an interior lineman with such stature, but the 6-foot-6 Flacco would not have the same difficulty seeing as most quarterbacks would. If the rookie lineman would get the call instead of the veteran Gurode, the coaching staff is confident in his development over the course of the season.

“No one wants to be the one to let somebody down – whether it be our fans, teammates, coaches, whatever it is,” Cameron said. “All those things give this guy a chance. If we need this guy, I think he’ll play well.”

Pagano’s nightmare

If defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is having difficulty sleeping this week, a certain rookie grabbing headlines in Cincinnati is the reason why.

Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green was not only named to the Pro Bowl earlier this week, but the former Georgia product broke Cris Collinsworth’s franchise record for receiving yards by a rookie with 1,031. His 63 catches lead all NFL rookies while his seven touchdowns lead the team.

“He’s a nightmare,” said Pagano in describing the 6-foot-3 Green. “He’s leading the NFL in rebounds, you know? They just throw the ball up to him and it doesn’t matter if there are two or three guys [covering him].”

Green has four 100-yard receiving games this season to set another rookie record for the franchise. His phenomenal rookie year has even drawn comparisons with another rookie who exploded onto the scene with the Minnesota Vikings in 1998.

“I heard some refer to him [that] he is the new Randy Moss,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He’s like Randy was when Randy first got into the league. Randy is becoming noun in the NFL. You get beat deep, that’s called a ‘Randy!’ He is definitely one of those type of guys. If we don’t get the ball, we definitely have to contain him.”

Assessing Evans

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Comfortable situation for reunion between Graham, Ravens

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Comfortable situation for reunion between Graham, Ravens

Posted on 21 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Shayne Graham walked into the locker room he thought he’d be inhabiting as the Ravens kicker a year ago.

That was before he was beaten out in training camp by incumbent Billy Cundiff. Since then, their respective careers have gone in opposite directions as Cundiff was selected to the Pro Bowl last season while Graham split time with the Giants and Patriots a season ago and has played just two games this season, filling in for the Miami Dolphins’ Dan Carpenter last month.

However, a left calf injury to Cundiff has brought Graham back to Baltimore, a place where he signed a one-year contract potentially worth $2.5 million last season before he failed to make the team.

“It’s nice to actually come into this locker room,” Graham said. “A lot of these guys were in camp when I was here a couple of years ago. A lot of the guys are familiar with me. There’s a lot of good guys here, so it’s a real smooth transition for me. Having the operation here, the snapper and holder, those guys are phenomenal. So, I couldn’t ask to be in a better position or be around a better bunch of guys. I’ve played in this stadium a few times. It will be nice to be out there.”

With Cundiff only 2-for-5 on field goals in the month of December, including a missed 36-yard on the opening drive of the Ravens’ 34-14 loss in San Diego last Sunday, the Ravens had no choice but to address their kicking situation. It’s an uncomfortable position for a team trying to win their final two games of the regular season to secure the AFC North title and a minimum of a first-round bye.

“[Bringing in Graham] is a real plus for us,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said, “because we know we’re bringing in a guy that not only is a quality NFL kicker but has been in the NFL environment and understands playoff-caliber football at the end of the season. We expect him to come in here and add that veteran experience.”

In his 11th professional season, Graham provides a veteran pedigree that includes some experiences kicking in the postseason while a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. However, the final game of his seven-year tenure with the Bengals was a playoff loss to the New York Jets in which he missed two second-half field goals, including a 28-yarder that essentially sealed the 24-14 defeat.

Graham said all the right things in not wanting to create a kicker controversy in Week 16 of the season, reminding everyone he was brought in due to an injury and not simple ineffectiveness.

“I hope he gets healthy as soon as he can,” Graham said. “All I can control is what I’m asked to do. If I’m asked to go out and play then I go out and play and play my best to help these guys win. If it’s for one week, it’s for one week. If it’s for two, it’s two. If it takes more or less, that’s really out of my hands. All I can do is line up and kick when they ask me to.”

Rookie memory loss

Coordinator Chuck Pagano did not mince any words in assessing his defense’s poor showing against the Chargers in which they surrendered 34 points and 415 yards of offense.

There was plenty of blame to go around, but much of the focus has centered around the struggles of rookie first-round pick Jimmy Smith, who was torched by Chargers wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. Pagano believes there’s no time for Smith to dwell on his mistakes; he’ll be busy learning from them instead.

“No. 1, they’re going to go after rookies, and No. 2, you’ve got to have amnesia to play that spot,” Pagano said. “It’s, physically, one of the most demanding positions to play on the field, especially when you’re playing against that caliber of a quarterback and wide receivers. You’ve got to go back and you’ve got to look at the tape and you’ve got to study yourself and you’ve got to look at yourself as the next offensive coordinator is looking at you. Until you put the fire out, they’re going to keep coming.”

It’s typical for young cornerbacks to find themselves in learning situations as Smith did on Sunday night, but his defensive coordinator believes his mindset is equipped for moving on quickly and becoming a better player because of it.

“The great thing about Jimmy is he’s kind of unflappable that way,” Pagano said. “He’s pretty calm and looked at what he needed to correct from a technique standpoint. So, we move on from there.”

Boldin bogged down

It’s been an up-and-down year for No. 1 receiver Anquan Boldin, who has caught 57 catches for 887 yards and three touchdowns.

The distribution of that production has been hard to figure out as Boldin began the year slowly, catching just 15 passes for 222 yards in his first four games. His next four games were dramatically better as he made 26 catches for 405 yards.

However, Boldin finds himself in an extensive rut over his last six games, securing only 16 receptions for 260 yards. He has only one touchdown over the stretch, a 35-yard score against Cincinnati on Nov. 20.

Are the Ravens doing enough to make sure their veteran receiver is included in the offensive game plan with the continuing emergence of two young tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, and rookie receiver Torrey Smith over the course of the season?

“He is always involved,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “He is always in our top three progressions. Obviously, he has made some big plays. You are always wanting to get a guy like that the ball more. I think you have to look at the big picture. He has an opportunity to get over 1,000 yards, and there aren’t many guys doing that in the league.”

Though Boldin is miscast as a No. 1 receiver, the Ravens would benefit to see his production increase over the final two games of the regular season to assist in moving the chains on third down and to control the intermediate portion of the field in the passing game. However, those throws to Boldin need to come organically, according to quarterback Joe Flacco.

“You don’t really do anything [extra to get him the ball],” Flacco said. “You run the plays that are called. Anquan is going to get open. It’s just a matter of running those plays and executing them. I think if we execute our game plan and we get first downs and we maximize the amount of plays that we have in a game, then everybody in our offense is going to get a good chance to get the ball.”

Pro Bowl voting in books

Voting for the 2012 Pro Bowl concluded earlier this week as seven players from Baltimore were leading at their respective positions after more than 100 million votes were cast this season.

Inside linebacker Ray Lewis, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, free safety Ed Reed, offensive tackle Michael Oher, fullback Vonta Leach, and special teams player Brendon Ayanbadejo were all leading at the conclusion of voting. However, fan voting accounts for only one third of the decision as coaches and players also vote for the honor.

Leading all NFL players in voting was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Pro Bowl selections will not be announce until next Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on the NFL Network. The game will take place in Honolulu on Sunday, Jan. 29, a week before Super Bowl.

Of course, Ravens players hope to be ineligible for the Pro Bowl game as selected players from the two Super Bowl teams do not participate.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Cam Cameron, Chuck Pagano, Jerry Rosburg, Cory Redding, and Shayne Graham right here.

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Our Ravens & Chargers Slaps to the Head

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Our Ravens & Chargers Slaps to the Head

Posted on 19 December 2011 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the “Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net.

To the surprise of many, there were no Pats to be given following the Ravens’ game Sunday. They fell 34-14 to the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium (or Snapdragon Stadium if you will).

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I instead offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a wild card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. Ben Grubbs

4. Ray Lewis

3. Cary Williams

2. Bryant McKinnie

1. John Harbaugh (Two Slaps)

(See Page 2 for Ryan Chell’s Slaps.)

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First-round pick Smith ready to shine against San Diego receivers

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First-round pick Smith ready to shine against San Diego receivers

Posted on 15 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — His first NFL season hasn’t gone exactly to plan, but cornerback Jimmy Smith is ready to prove to everyone why the Ravens used their 27th overall pick to select him in April’s draft.

With Lardarius Webb suffering from a turf toe injury and unlikely to play against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night, Smith is in line to receive his first assignment as a starting cornerback. And a challenging one it will be as a pair of 6-foot-5 receivers, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, will try to get the best of Smith and Cary Williams.

However, at 6-foot-2, Smith is better-equipped to go up against taller receivers than most cornerbacks in the NFL. Not only are Jackson and Floyd challenges in terms of height, but their speed is deceptive, according to Smith.

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“These are really big dudes,” Smith said. “I’m considered a big corner, so these dudes have to be considered huge as far as receivers. They can run as well. When you watch them on film, they’re big and they can move pretty well.”

With Smith injuring his ankle early in the season opener against Pittsburgh, his development was stunted after a six-week layoff forcing him to miss four games. While the Colorado product needed time to re-adjust to the speed of the NFL, his preparation in meetings and watching films kept him sharp mentally as his ankle healed in the first half of the season.

That mental preparation has enabled Smith to begin playing at a higher level in recent weeks, as he’s intercepted two passes while playing at cornerback in the Ravens’ nickel package on third down and other passing situations.

“You can see how fast he’s coming back and now the plays that he’s starting to make,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “That’s only going to continue to go up. From a schematics standpoint, he’s not out there thinking about what his job is anymore. He understands, he knows what to do, and now he’s being able to diagnose and recognize formations and down-and-distance and things like that and just be able to go out and play and make plays.”

From the first day he arrived at the team’s practice facility in Owings Mills after the Ravens selected him in the first round of April’s draft, Smith hasn’t lacked confidence and feels comfortable if called upon to step in for Webb’s starting spot on the defense. He’ll need that swagger matching up against two of the biggest receivers in the NFL.

“I feel confident, I always feel confident,” Smith said. “A corner with no confidence is a corner who’s getting beat. I feel very confident that I can step in and do a good job.”

Pagano Bowl?

Though it lacks the luster of the much-anticipated Harbaugh Bowl that took place on Thanksgiving night, the Ravens defensive coordinator will meet his younger brother John Pagano on Sunday night. John is the linebackers coach for the Chargers as the two will meet on opposite sides for the eighth time.

“We don’t talk this week,” the Baltimore coordinator said. “One text after [last] Sunday’s game — ‘Good job’ — and then we kind of shut it down and then wait till the game’s over and then we visit.”

However, the elder Pagano is looking to improve his lifetime record against his younger brother, who had the upper hand when Pagano was an assistant with the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns before joining the Baltimore staff in 2008. The younger brother is the longest-tenured assistant on the San Diego coaching staff after 10 years with the organization.

“I’m 1-6 [against my brother], so the first six were JV teams that we took in there,” Chuck said. “I took a varsity team (the Ravens) there in 2009 and won. We’re taking a varsity team out there again. So, I’m 1-6 against him. It’s always fun to do it, but when that ball’s kicked off, it’s football, so you forget all about that stuff.”

Backfield awareness

The Ravens lead the NFL with 45 sacks, and they’ll try to collect a few more against San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers on Sunday night. However, the manner in which they go about doing it will have to be carefully designed.

Running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert have combined for 90 catches and 790 yards this season as the Chargers will try to discourage the Ravens from blitzing heavily by releasing their backs in open space. Baltimore will need to create pressure with its front four on passing situations to avoid the problems created by the duo of running backs.

“When we do pressure, if we do pressure them, we have to do a great job of making sure we know exactly where they are, because they will free-release them,” Pagano said. “They will get [the running back] out in a heartbeat, so they are not afraid to do that.”

When asked about the Chargers’ tendency to get the ball to their running backs in the passing game, Pagano said it’s no different than quarterback Joe Flacco finding Ray Rice in open space as vertical threats such as Torrey Smith and Lee Evans stretch the field.

“What you see from our offense, it’s the same thing,” Pagano said. “It’s the same exact offense. That’s why people have to do such a great job with handling Ray Rice. They are throwing balls vertically down the field, and everybody is dropping in coverage. Then, you dump it off to him in space.”

Weddle waiting

Flacco will have to deal with the NFL’s seventh-best pass defense in San Diego that is led by fifth-year safety Eric Weddle.

A second-round pick in the 2007 draft out of Utah, Weddle is tied for the league lead in interceptions with seven this season.

“He’s smart, he’s tough,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “Everybody that watched him coming out of college, you can see why they traded up to get him. He kind of quarterbacks the defense and is having a solid year.”

Punt return problem

With Webb’s status remaining unknown, not only will the Ravens be lacking a starting cornerback but also an impact player in the return game.

After Webb returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown two weeks ago in Cleveland, the Ravens must now scramble to potentially find a replacement for the third-year cornerback. The most likely candidate would be veteran defensive back Chris Carr, who has handled those duties in the past, and rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams.

“We really don’t know yet,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. “Honestly, we have to wait and see how he’s going to be on Sunday, and we’ll make a decision on Sunday.”

The use of Williams at the punt return spot would be a welcome change for the Maryland product after being inactive the last two weeks. The Baltimore native had played in the Ravens’ first 11 games before finding himself on the sidelines against Cleveland and Indianapolis.

“We have high hopes for LaQuan; I think he’s got a very bright future here,” Rosburg said. “I think that as we go forward the rest of the season, his practice reps have been good, and he’s going to be a very good special teams player, I think. The Ravens have a lot of plans for LaQuan.”

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here to hear more from Chuck Pagano, Cam Cameron, Jerry Rosburg, and Haloti Ngata, who was named to USA Football’s All-Fundamentals Team for the third straight year.

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