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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.


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

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

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.”

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Shayne Graham

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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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Baltimore Ravens v San Diego Chargers

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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

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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Ravens hope to avoid losing formula against underwhelming Browns offense

Posted on 02 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There’s no big secret to beating the Baltimore Ravens despite how difficult it might be to actually carry out the plan.

Create turnovers, build an early lead, and control the tempo with the running game to wear down the defense and keep the offense on the sideline.

The Jaguars did it when they built a 9-0 lead behind a dominating defensive effort and rode the back of Maurice Jones-Drew in the second half to a 12-7 victory in October.

Three turnovers gave Seattle a 22-7 lead early in the second half as Marshawn Lynch’s 109 yards on 32 carries wore out the Baltimore defense, and the Seahawks controlled the ball for the final six minutes of the fourth quarter in a 22-17 final. The rushing totals by each team were eerily similar: 42 carries for 132 yards by Jacksonville and 42 carries for 119 yards by Seattle.

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The Cleveland Browns will try to find a similar formula to hand the Ravens their fourth loss to a sub-.500 team this season and put a dent in their goal for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the AFC. They fit the same profile with an offense that won’t strike fear in anyone. Cleveland ranks 28th in total offense and averages just 15.0 points per game this season.

Colt McCoy is more game manager and less quarterback in his second NFL season, as Browns head coach Pat Shurmur preaches efficiency and high-percentage pass plays for the second-round pick who starred at Texas. Though clearly a bigger threat than Blaine Gabbert, who the Jaguars won in spite of in their meeting with the Ravens, McCoy isn’t going to strike fear into Ravens defenders’ hearts.

“You look at the breakdown, there’s a bunch of [third-and-short situations],” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “He’s doing a great job managing the game. They’re making it simple for him. He’s getting the ball out, simple reads, and then he’s athletic and he’s scrambling.

In fairness, McCoy doesn’t exactly have a plethora of weapons to which to throw, with his leading receiver being rookie Greg Little, a second-round pick from North Carolina, who caught his first career touchdown against the Bengals last Sunday. He also soiled the day with four big drops in the Browns’ 23-20 loss in Cincinnati.

Much like their meetings with Jacksonville and Seattle, the Ravens won’t be facing a prolific offense that can light up the scoreboard. However, if the sixth-ranked Cleveland defense can force turnovers and set up the offense on a short field to score some early points, the Browns might be well-equipped to copy the second-half strategy used by the Jaguars and Seahawks.

Big, bruising running back Peyton Hillis is finally healthy and can wear down a defense in the same way Jones-Drew and Lynch were able to do in the Ravens’ last two losses. If the Ravens fall behind early in Cleveland on Sunday, they can expect plenty of Hillis, who’s rushed for only 276 yards on 79 carries this year after off-season accolades that included being on the cover of the Madden NFL 12 video game.

“I think I can make a huge difference,” Hillis said. “Including last game, I’ve only played [five] games all year, so I haven’t been out there too much, but I feel like when I get out there I can produce and help the team win.”

Of course, Hillis’ breakout performance came against the Ravens last season when he rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in a 24-17 loss in Baltimore. The big day put the 250-pound back on the map and put the Ravens on notice that Hillis was no one to take lightly.

After an injury-riddled season in which he’s dealt with a hamstring injury and even a bout of strep throat, Hillis might be the great equalizer should the Browns be able to build an early lead against the Ravens on Sunday.

“He’s a downhill guy, so it’s a huge challenge,” Pagano said. “I think our guys fully understand and they know what they’re up against. They’ve got a good offensive line, and they’re blocking well. We’ve got respect for them. We understand what style of game he plays.”

With Hillis unavailable for most of the season, the Browns rank 29th in run offense with backup Montario Hardesty unable to stay healthy and previous unknown Chris Ogbonnaya receiving a bulk of the carries. But a healthy Hillis might just be enough to move the chains and keep the Browns in control if the Ravens shoot themselves in the foot as they did in their previous losses.

If the Ravens are their own worst enemy for a third straight time on the road against a team with a losing record, Hillis just might turn in a performance reminiscent of what he did in Baltimore last season.

“That was the first time we played them last season,” defensive end Cory Redding said. “It was early in the year. We played them later on in the year, and we stopped him. And, we put that behind us. Of course, you will go back and look at those games and see what hurt us – this, that and the other – just to get refreshed about how he runs and the blocking schemes, all that kind of stuff. But, for the most part, this is a new day and a new era. [He is] the same guy, same team, and you just go out there and do it one more time.”

The Ravens are hoping for a new day, indeed.

One that involves them taking care of an inferior opponent in the way they’re expected to.

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Ravens musings for Week 13

Posted on 29 November 2011 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens prepare to return to the practice field after a much-needed layoff following two games in a five-day period and ahead of a AFC North matchup in Cleveland on Sunday, here are five thoughts to ponder …

1. The Ravens will face another sub-.500 team on the road this Sunday, but this one has a different feel than their previous failures in Jacksonville and Seattle. The question has already been asked and will continue to be tossed at coaches and players as the Ravens prepare to face the Browns: Can Baltimore beat a team it’s supposed to beat on the road? The Ravens will say all the right things in Owings Mills this week, but actions speak louder than words after a 1-3 road record against teams with losing marks this season. The Ravens are more familiar with the Browns than they were the Jaguars and Seahawks since they play them twice a year in the AFC North. Baltimore has annual first-hand experience with the difficulty of playing — and winning — games in Cleveland. New head coach Pat Shurmur will have some new wrinkles for the Ravens, but the personnel remains similar as the Browns will try to run the ball with Peyton Hillis and force Joe Flacco into making mistakes against the top-ranked pass defense in the NFL. Perhaps the most significant difference between this game and the Ravens’ past troubles on the road is the run defense they’ll be facing. Cleveland is 29th against the run while Jacksonville and Seattle were far more formidable in stopping a ground attack. With no room for error in the strongly-contested AFC, it’s hard to imagine the Ravens laying another egg on the road against an inferior team. Then again, I said the same thing about their game in Jacksonville. And in Seattle.

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2. With five games remaining in the regular season, Ray Lewis would be wise to heed any medical advice he receives regarding his injured toe. The 36-year-old linebacker desperately wants to return to the field, and no one can question his tolerance for pain over the course of his 16 seasons in the NFL. But if the Ravens learned anything from their two victories over playoff-caliber teams in five days last week, it should be that they’re capable of winning football games without their defensive leader. As soon as Lewis is as close to 100 percent as he can possibly get with the toe, he’ll make his return to the field, even if it’s against Cleveland on Sunday or winless Indianapolis next week. There’s no such thing as simply holding him out for “better” opponents as some like to suggest. However, with the Ravens receiving such strong play from Jameel McClain and having competent backups in Dannell Ellerbe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, and Albert McClellan, there’s no need for Lewis to return to the field before his injured toe is ready. At some point, Lewis may need to force the issue and play at much less than 100 percent, but it might as well come in January and not against the likes of four straight opponents with sub-.500 records. By no means will I diminish Lewis’ impact on the defense and the team in general, but if the Ravens fall to the likes of the Browns or the Colts, Lewis’ potential absence won’t be the primary reason why.

3. The return of Lee Evans’ opens up more possibilities in the vertical passing game, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron shouldn’t shy away from using two tight ends in the process. The veteran receiver saw his workload increase against the 49ers as Evans even replaced rookie Torrey Smith on a couple occasions in two-receiver sets, and the Ravens intend to use him more and more as he proves to be fully healthy. Cameron and quarterback Joe Flacco are licking their chops at the thought of Evans and Smith lining up on opposite sides as two deep threats on the outside, but the Ravens shouldn’t forget the success they’ve had in using tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta on the field at the same time. Linebackers can’t cover them while cornerbacks and many safeties can’t handle their size. The increased role for Evans would logically cut into Pitta’s opportunities, which is a slippery slope given the rapport he’s developed with Flacco, especially on third down as we saw once again against the 49ers.

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Our Ravens-49ers Pats on The Ass

Posted on 25 November 2011 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan & I select five different players to receive pats.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 16-6 Thanksgiving victory over the San Francisco 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. Vonta Leach & 4. Matt Birk

3. Lardarius Webb

(Webb is confirmed to join WNST & Ravens LB Brendon Ayanbadejo for Monday Night Live at Hightopps Backstage Grille in Timonium Monday night at 7pm)

2. Terrell Suggs

1. Cory Redding (Pat on Both Cheeks)

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Gloomy prognosis for Ray Lewis and injured toe for Sunday

Posted on 17 November 2011 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 6:00 a.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Ravens inch closer to an AFC North showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, doubts began to grow surrounding linebacker Ray Lewis, who was absent from practice for the second straight day on Thursday.

Reports late Thursday night indicated Lewis will miss Sunday’s game and possibly more after suffering a toe injury in the loss to the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday.

Lewis saw a specialist in Florida on Thursday, according to a report from the Carroll County Times.

Listed on the injury report with a foot injury, Lewis did not appear to be favoring anything as he walked to the podium to meet reporters on Wednesday afternoon. The injury could prevent Lewis from playing on Sunday afternoon and a second missed practice in as many days cultivated concern after he struggled in last Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks.

The 16-year linebacker has not missed a game since sitting out the final two games of the 2007 season with a hand injury. The 36-year-old has made 57 straight starts for the Ravens.

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Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (concussion) and running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) were also missing from practice for the second straight day. Wide receiver Lee Evans was practicing again, the fifth straight workout in which he’s participated.

Kick returner search

The Ravens conducted their search for a new kickoff returner on Thursday and confirmed that incumbent David Reed will not be back there on Sunday. The news was hardly surprised after Reed fumbled two kickoffs and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the 22-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg would not rule out Reed as a future consideration for the job, but the Ravens believe the second-year receiver needs to prove he can take care of the football before they put him back deep again.

“He’s looking forward for the next opportunity,” Rosburg said. “Now, we don’t know when that is, and I’m certain when he does get in there again, everybody’s going to be watching him with that in mind. David’s a competitive guy, and he understands what he’s got to do to get that job back. He’s got to earn the trust of everybody on this football team that he’s going to hang onto the ball when he gets it.”

Rosburg said the Ravens will consider every possibility in finding a new returner. Candidates include Lardarius Webb, LaQuan Williams, Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, Chris Carr, and Tom Zbikowski. Webb is listed as the backup kick returner — behind Reed — on the team’s most recent depth chart while the rookie Williams is listed as the third-string return man.

“We’re going to have a good kickoff return practice, and we’re going to find out who our kickoff returner is going to be for Sunday,” Rosburg said.

Head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday he believes Webb to be the best kick returner on the team, but his current roles as a starting cornerback and the punt returner may cause the Ravens to look elsewhere. However, they could elect to slide Webb to the kick return spot and to use Carr as the punt returner.

First-round pick ready

With rookie Jimmy Smith now having four games under his belt since returning from an ankle injury last month, many have been asking when the first-round pick can expect to see an increase role on the defense.

Since Webb and Cary Williams have played so well in starting roles, the Baltimore defense hasn’t forced the issue with Smith’s development, allowing him to readjust to the speed of the NFL after a six-week layoff. However, with Carr struggling at the nickelback position on Sunday — allowing a critical 24-yard completion to Seattle receiver Golden Tate on the final drive of the game — the Ravens may be ready to expand Smith’s role. The Colorado product saw limited reps in the dime package against the Seahawks.

“He’ll see a considerable amount of time,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. “We’ve got to get him out there and get him going. He’s ready.”

Though not really suited to play inside at the nickel position, the Ravens could elect to slide Webb inside to the nickel spot, allowing Smith to line up on the outside.

Evans fitting into game plan

Optimism continues to grow around Evans, who took part in his fifth straight practice on Thursday afternoon.

Evans’ imminent return — whether it’s this week or soon thereafter — has sparked plenty of debate on where he will fit within the offense. Though the rookie Smith has displayed late-game heroics, his inconsistent hands have also hurt the Baltimore offense at critical points throughout the season.

After being acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills after the first preseason game in August, Evans appeared to be developing quite a rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco in a short amount of time prior to being stricken with the ankle injury. With Evans missing so much time on the field, it remains to be seen what kind of effect it will have on his comfort level with Flacco.

“That doesn’t really affect Joe a lot,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “He’s one of those unique guys that if a guy can get open, he can hit him whether he’s been with him for a week or a month. It’s really going to be predicated in how he practices. He probably needs a week or two of good practice. I think that will help.”

The improved play of Smith as well as the Ravens’ increasing reliance on tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta appears to have bought some time for Evans to work his way back into the flow of the offense, but his addition would provide a major boost in the final stretch of the regular season.

“Some of our other guys are playing really well, and we’ve got some other options until he comes back,” Cameron said. “We’ll see how the practices go, if he’s practicing at a level that [Harbaugh] feels and we feel he can help us win a game, then I’m sure he’ll be active. That may take a week or two.”

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


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