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Faltering against 49ers offense no option for Ravens

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Faltering against 49ers offense no option for Ravens

Posted on 30 January 2013 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — After toppling two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks on their way to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, the Ravens defense now faces a different challenge entirely.

As unconventional as an offense comes in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers reinvented themselves in the second half of the season, utilizing the pistol read-option attack behind second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick. A once-conservative offense that relied heavily on the shoulders of running back Frank Gore has now become a dynamic one, scoring a combined 73 points in playoff wins over Green Bay and Atlanta to give the 49ers their first Super Bowl berth in 18 years.

Whether the pistol formation is the latest flavor of the month or not is irrelevant as it pertains to Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, but coach John Harbaugh sees lasting appeal in the possibilities the formation provides. The Ravens certainly aren’t treating it like a gimmick after falling to a similar attack that was run by the Washington Redskins in Week 14.

“You can run your whole offense on it. You aren’t limited to an option type attack out of it,” Harbaugh said. “Not just the entire run game but the entire pass game as well. The backs get position to protect. You can run all your drop back stuff, you can run power run game inside and outside, and you can run read option, triple option. So it’s just a very versatile-type offense and it forces you to defend a lot of different elements of the offensive attack.”

The Ravens struggled against the Redskins’ version of the pistol formation, which featured Robert Griffin III, a shiftier runner than the bigger Kaepernick who relies more on his impressive straight-line speed. In the 31-28 overtime loss on Dec. 9, the Ravens allowed 179 rushing yards on 35 carries but were playing without linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Dannell Ellerbe.

San Francisco’s preference for getting Kaepernick to the edge will provide a challenge to Lewis, who struggles when trying to play outside the tackles, but the 37-year-old’s cerebral presence should offer a boost in trying to accomplish what opposing defenses have failed to do against Kaepernick since he took over for former Alex Smith in the middle of the season.

“A lot of people who played against them just never communicated at all,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “I believe that’s one of the advantages of what we have as a defense. We do a job of communicating real very well, whether you have the dive, whether you have the quarterback. It’s really hard to play that type of package as individuals. You have to play it as a group. The only way to slow it down is to play it as a group. Make sure before the ball is snapped, everybody is on the same page.”

A major key echoed by numerous defensive players has been patience in believing in individual assignments and carrying out jobs within the defense. Against Washington, the Ravens used unblocked defenders largely to attack the backfield, but staying under control and reacting to Kaepernick by forcing him to either hand off to the back or to keep the ball himself inside will be the wisest choice.

It’s a fine balance between being too aggressive and getting caught on your heels against a physical offensive line and talented running backs Gore and LaMichael James. The blocking angles and hand-offs from the pistol formation simply provide looks defenders aren’t familiar in dealing with on a weekly basis. Of course, an extra week of preparation will be beneficial to a Baltimore defense that was on the field extensively in its three playoff wins prior to Sunday’s Super Bowl.

“You can’t force it. You’ve got to be patient,” linebacker Albert McClellan said. “You can’t be too patient though, so you have to kind of be on the edge. You’ve just got to have good eyes. Do your job — don’t try to do somebody else’s job. Once you miss your assignment, that’s when the triple-option and the pistol pretty much take advantage of you. You do your job and everybody’s assigned a man, things will work out.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will rely on rush linebacker Terrell Suggs and the combination of Courtney Upshaw, Paul Kruger, and Albert McClellan at the strongside linebacker position to maintain the edges, coaxing Kaepernick to settle for inside hand-offs to Gore and preventing the mobile quarterback from getting free into open space to utilize his great speed. The 49ers prefer to run behind left tackle Joe Staley when they aren’t rushing up the middle, which will put pressure on Suggs to make plays against the run like he did in the Denver game when he finished with 10 solo tackles.

Forcing Kaepernick to settle for the inside hand-off will put plenty of responsibility on the Baltimore defensive line, a unit that struggled much of the season due to injuries but has played well in the postseason. The Ravens contained a strong Denver running game and put pressure on Peyton Manning in the divisional round and hounded Tom Brady in the second half of the AFC Championship.

The combination of Ma’ake Kemoeatu and Terrence Cody at the nose tackle position will have a major chore in controlling the line of scrimmage and allowing Lewis and Ellerbe to clean up against Gore’s inside runs.

“Assignment football. Being where you are supposed to be without failure,” defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said. “Right gap, right responsibility on the run, right foot on the blocking schemes, disciplined pass-rushing lanes. Assignment football, being where you’re supposed to be and doing your job. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”

Even if the Ravens play their assignments to perfection, Kaepernick’s big-play ability may not be completely avoidable as he has proven to be a prolific passer, utilizing tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree with great effectiveness. Still, the second-year signal-caller’s legs are the biggest concern after the Ravens were able to handle two top — but also one-dimensional — passers in their last two wins.

“You get through it and everybody knows what to do, and then all of a sudden, the guy pulls the ball and is gone,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “You can’t really replicate that in practice as much as you would like to. That’s always a concern.”

As confident as the Baltimore defense is, the unit is preparing for an unfamiliar look. The similarities are there with Washington’s offensive attack, but the 49ers have a dangerous set of receivers in the passing game and a quarterback reaching an unparalleled level of success with only a half-season of starts under his belt.

The San Francisco offense may not strike fear into opponents’ hearts in the same way the Patriots and Broncos did this season, but the sight of Kaepernick escaping to the outside, looking to run or throw is a scary proposition standing in the way of the Ravens’ second Super Bowl title.

“If he runs, you’ve got to hit him,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “He’s basically a running back who can throw the ball very well. He’s showing people that he’s capable of playing in this league. He’s able to win.”

 

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DC Pees has familiarity with Moss from New England

Posted on 29 January 2013 by WNST Staff

BALTIMORE RAVENS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR DEAN PEES

 

(on Randy Moss)“When I was at New England I knew Randy very well and don’t go to sleep on Randy. I don’t care how many years he’s been in the League or what everybody thinks he has lost, I know everybody thinks Ray Lewis lost a little bit too but I know he is playing very well. When the Giants beat us in the Super Bowl when I was at New England there were a lot of guys that had experience, but I think sometimes kind of not brought up but we won’t go to sleep on Randy, trust me.”

 

(on what John Harbaugh is like)“I really respect him, I was John’s college coach. I have a little different rapport with him. I figured he hired me to get back at me for all the times I yelled at him.  The thing I like about John is I might be in my office working on something really late and he just comes in and starts talking. It may not be on the opposition of football, it may be about my grandkids, we have so many experiences we have shared through college but that’s what I respect most about him. What you see about John Harbaugh is what you get from John.”

 

(on Ed Reed coming back)“Absolutely I want him back, along with Ray Lewis. He is an integral part of this defense. When you got guys like that, when you got guys like Ed and Ray it’s like coaching coaches. They know so much about the defense already you don’t have to explain a lot of things.  Like you’re not losing a good player, you’re losing a good locker room guy and losing a big part of your whole program.”

 

(on playing in the Super Bowl)“Well the good thing is that this is my third Super Bowl and I have a good idea of what everything will be like. You just have to keep everything is perspective because you have a game to win on Sunday.”

 

(on trying to stop an offense)“Its starts up front trying to stop the run and make sure you have all the aspects of the option  of zone read down. So its starts up front.”

 

(on focusing on the quarterback) “Well the key is always going to be the quarterback because he is making the read. The back is  part of it, but it’s really the quarterback because he is the guy who makes the decisions. It really starts with him but along with that you have to stop the back first. You can’t let them beat you with the ball.”

(on guys having assignments)“You have to be fundamentally sound.  You have to know what your assignment is and be on the same page.”

 

(on guys moving into new roles)“Well the challenge is simply those guys from day one,  we expect those guys to come in here and know everything. Our guys learn from the best. If you ever see Ray Lewis sit and take notes, he takes notes like a rookie.  So when other guys come in and see those types of things they do them to. There are no prima donna’s everybody is in there to learn a great deal of accountability in our room. So a backup player is told early on the very first day we expect you to know everything that these guys know because at the drop of a hat you could be playing. We don’t all of a sudden want to drop off and all of a sudden start losing games and being able to blame it on injuries.  So I think our guys do a great job really because of the examples set by other players being ready to go.”

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Ravens hoping T. Smith continues big production against Patriots

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Ravens hoping T. Smith continues big production against Patriots

Posted on 17 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Much has been made about the acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib and the effect it’s had on the New England secondary, but you’ll forgive the Ravens and wide receiver Torrey Smith if they aren’t overly impressed.

Of course, Baltimore wouldn’t share such a sentiment publicly about the Patriots’ 29th-ranked pass defense, but a 38-35 victory over the Denver Broncos in which Smith shredded All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey for two long touchdowns won’t exactly cause you to fear New England’s underwhelming unit. Talib has provided a boost to New England’s defense, allowing the Patriots to move cornerback Devin McCourty to free safety, but they still struggle against the pass.

In two career games against the Patriots, Smith has caught nine passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. His Week 3 performance in which he reined in two touchdowns less than 24 hours following the tragic death of his younger brother was one of the most inspiring efforts in the NFL this season.

“It’s not that there’s any difference against those guys,” Smith said. “I just play the game. I just happened to play well against them the past few times. It’s not like I have their number or anything. I just go out there and run our offense. I’ve been able to be OK against them – hopefully, it continues. But it’s going to be tough.”

During the regular season, the Patriots allowed a league-worst 74 passes of 20 yards or more, which should leave quarterback Joe Flacco licking his chops as the Ravens completed 62 passes of at least 20 yards and have repeatedly gone vertical in each of their two postseason wins this month.

Acquired for a fourth-round pick from Tampa Bay on Nov. 1, the mercurial Talib has stabilized the New England pass defense, but it’s difficult to imagine offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell shying away from the Patriots’ No. 1 corner after the Ravens went after Bailey repeatedly in the divisional round. In six regular-season games with New England, Talib made 19 tackles, broke up two passes, and intercepted one.

Labeled a “riverboat gambler” by Caldwell, Talib will likely be entrusted with slowing down Smith or Jacoby Jones in the vertical passing game, but the Ravens proved once again last Saturday that they won’t hesitate to attack any cornerback in the league.

“You don’t always go into a ballgame [with the thought] in mind that you are going to go after this guy or that guy,” Caldwell said. “You try to spread it around and look at what they do from a schematic standpoint and see where you can attack what best suits your offense. That’s kind of how we look at it more so than anything else.”

In other words, if Smith or Jones is matched up in single-man coverage against Talib with no safety help, you can bet Flacco will be ready to take a shot vertically.

Pees hiring hit man?

Asked how to make life uncomfortable for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees offered a humorous but candid suggestion about the man he watched closely in his days as a New England assistant to Bill Belichick.

“Hire Tonya Harding,” said Pees as he laughed. “If they were getting off the bus, I’d spray water outside the bus and hope it freezes. He is who he is. I went against him up there in practice for six years. He’s as competitive of a person as I’ve ever been around.”

In addition to trying to pressure Brady inside the pocket, Pees explained how critical it is to mix up coverages against New England’s many talented weapons, ranging from Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez to Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen out of the backfield.

Welker operates almost exclusively from the slot as he was targeted 125 times for 1,040 receiving yards from that position, according to Pro Football Focus. Cornerback Corey Graham will draw the daunting task of staying with Welker as the Ravens are expected to play the nickel package extensively, with Graham sliding inside as No. 3 cornerback Chykie Brown enters the game to play on the outside opposite Cary Williams.

“He is a very quick guy. He catches the ball well,” Graham said. “Brady is looking for him a lot, and he makes a lot of guys miss with fakes and things like that, so he is a complete receiver. I have my hands full in the slot, but I am up to the challenge.”

The Ravens will not have to deal with the matchup nightmare that is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was placed on injured reserve Thursday after re-injuring his forearm against Houston last Sunday, but Hernandez also provides a unique blend of speed and athleticism at the position. Such an athlete at that position creates matchup problems as Pees must decide whether to use a linebacker such as Dannell Ellerbe or strong safety Bernard Pollard in coverage.

The answer will vary depending on the situation while facing a Hall of Fame quarterback, according to Pees.

“You can’t go in there and say, ‘The whole game, OK, I’m going to put a strong safety on this guy.’” Pees said. “That’s not going to take Brady very long to figure that one out, nor is it going to be the same if we end up putting a linebacker on him all the time. The key is to let them have to figure it out after the ball is snapped, who’s on him, and then you just can’t keep doing the same thing over and over with Tom, or he’ll gash you.”

Bouncing back from “special” kind of nightmare

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Suggs, Ngata trying to finish strong in injury-riddled campaigns

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Suggs, Ngata trying to finish strong in injury-riddled campaigns

Posted on 09 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After winning their second consecutive AFC North division title with a 10-6 record and winning a postseason game for the fifth straight season, the Ravens could easily be described as a group that’s overachieved when taking into account the extensive list of injuries sustained.

Among those are two players whose combined salary cap number accounts for $21.9 million of the $120.6 million limit for the 2012 season. As decorated as anyone on the roster with a combined nine Pro Bowl selections, linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata are supposed to be the Ravens’ best defensive players. Instead, they’ve made little impact this season as the Baltimore defense slipped to 17th in yards allowed and tied for 12th in points per game.

Injuries have told the story for both players as Suggs returned in October from an offseason Achilles tendon surgery that most assumed would end his season. As remarkable as the recovery has been, many predicted Suggs would not regain his explosiveness this season, which has appeared to be the case as the 30-year-old was held to just two sacks and 22 tackles in eight games played. Not helping matters was an additional injury as Suggs suffered a torn right biceps on Dec. 2, which forced him to miss another game and has limited his ability to tackle and even fire out of a three-point stance as he tries to keep weight off the injured arm.

“I am marveled the guy has played at all this year,” Pees said. “I think anything that we’ve gotten out of Terrell Suggs has been a positive. I don’t look at it at all like he hasn’t done something successfully. I look at it as this has been a bonus that we ever had the guy. I never dreamed that we’d ever have the guy at all this year.”

Of course, Suggs’ mere presence forces opponents to identify him and takes attention away from others such as linebacker Paul Kruger, but his production hasn’t matched the $11.5 million cap figure he carries. This accounts for nearly 10 percent of the entire salary cap this year.

Also taking up a huge portion of the cap with a $10.4 million number, Ngata suffered a sprained MCL on Oct. 14 and hasn’t been effective for much of the season. Missing two games — one of them coming in the regular-season finale when the Ravens rested numerous starters — Ngata finished with his lowest tackle total (51) since 2009 and five sacks, but the 28-year-old failed to provide consistent pressure or control the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis.

Regarded as one of the biggest forces in the NFL, Ngata’s presence has gone unnoticed for large portions of the season as he’s lacked the same speed and power he enjoyed prior to a thigh injury midway through the 2011 season. Ngata signed a five-year, $61 million contract early last season, which included $40 million to be paid in the first two years of the deal.

It’s fair to say physical issues have prevented him from living up to that contract so far despite Ngata being named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons.

“Haloti has been hurt all year, and the fact that we’ve gotten a lot out of him – we’ve tried to rest him a couple of times, tried to take some reps off of him – the guy never says a word,” Pees said. “He just comes out and plays, does what he’s supposed to do, and it’s a credit to him. I think he probably, production-wise, hasn’t had the year that he has had in some other years, but he really has been hurt.”

The Ravens hope the rest awarded to both players in Week 17 will pay dividends as they travel to Denver to take on the red-hot Broncos, who finished fourth in total offense (397.9 yards per game) and second in points scored (30.1 per contest).

In the 24-9 win over Indianapolis, Ngata finished with four tackles and knocked down a pass while Suggs had two tackles and two quarterback hits. The two will need to bring a bigger presence to Denver in order to slow quarterback Peyton Manning. In the teams’ first meeting, the duo combined for two tackles and no sacks.

Pees has seen improvement in Ngata in recent weeks after acknowledging how banged up the defensive tackle was during the middle portion of the season. The seventh-year lineman did not play in the Ravens’ 55-20 win over Oakland on Nov. 11.

“I think taking some of the reps off of him with DeAngelo Tyson and Art Jones and some of those guys getting some playing experience, whether we wanted him to or whether we didn’t want him to, in the long run, I think it was a good thing,” Pees said. “We got to take some plays off of him, which has been a little bit better here towards late in the season.”

Gaining separation against Denver secondary

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Pees says Lewis “going to play” Sunday, but how much remains to be seen

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Pees says Lewis “going to play” Sunday, but how much remains to be seen

Posted on 03 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s all but confirmed that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will make his return to the field for the first round of the playoffs against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, but trying to project the role he’ll play remains a bit of a mystery.

Only 11 weeks removed from surgery to repair a torn right triceps suffered against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14, Lewis has accelerated a recovery process that typically takes a minimum of four months. Of course, his announcement Wednesday stating his intention to retire after the season further complicated how defensive coordinator Dean Pees might like to handle his workload in his first game since Week 6.

“I can’t be real specific on how or what he is going to be doing other than the fact that we are more than happy to have him back and just having him out there on the field is an inspiration,” Pees said. “I don’t know how else to explain it other than — he’s going to play.”

Lewis is expected to start next to fellow inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, but how the 37-year-old will handle blockers and full contact remains to be seen. The Ravens haven’t practiced in full pads since earlier in the season and Lewis was limited in his first few weeks since returning to practice on Dec. 5.

It’s possible that Pees and the Ravens will handle Lewis in a similar manner to how they re-acclimated linebacker Terrell Suggs when he returned from an Achilles tendon injury earlier this season. Suggs played just over 50 percent of the defensive snaps against the Houston Texans on Oct. 21 and took several series off during the course of the game.

Young linebacker Josh Bynes, who made three starts with Lewis, Ellerbe, and Jameel McClain all missing time over the last six weeks, will be ready to spell Lewis if needed. However, it’s difficult to envision the veteran asking out of the game knowing it will likely be his final game in Baltimore — or even of his career.

“I don’t think the people that I work with would tell me no [on] Sunday,” Lewis said. “We’ve got a great relationship with each other that I trust them, and they trust me. I’ve worked my butt off to get to this point. There is no reason for me not to be playing on Sunday.”

Crunch time for Flacco

The common theme that emerged following the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on Dec. 10 was the need for quarterback Joe Flacco to finish strong over the final weeks of the season before his rookie contract expires.

The Ravens hope Flacco’s performance against the New York Giants in Week 16 is a harbinger of strong performances to come in the postseason. And the quarterback would improve his chances of securing the type of long-term deal he prefers with a deep run through the month of January.

If Baltimore is unable to come to an agreement with Flacco and agent Joe Linta, the organization would be faced with allowing the 27-year-old to hit free agency or using the franchise tag, which is projected to be $14.6 million in 2013. Flacco dismissed the notion of contract negotiations being a major motivator for him to perform well in his fifth trip to the postseason in five years.

“I go out there, and I play football,” Flacco said. “You try to lead this team to victories. That’s what we are trying to do right now. That’s all I’m concerned about is making a playoff run and making the Super Bowl. All that other stuff will take care of itself.”

Flacco appeared to take a quantum leap forward in outperforming New England’s Tom Brady in last season’s AFC Championship game, but his play was as schizophrenic as ever in comparing how he fared at home and on the road during the regular season. He threw 15 touchdowns and five interceptions for a 99.0 passer rating in eight home contests, but Flacco passed for only seven touchdowns to go along with five interceptions and a 74.9 rating on the road.

Those numbers won’t be on his mind starting Sunday when he begins the journey to try to lead the Ravens a step further than he did a year ago. What bearing that has on a new contract remains to be seen.

“Whatever happens, happens,” Flacco said. “It’s not really that big of a deal at the end of the day.”

Flacco better hope it is — for his own sake — as he plays out the final days of his rookie contract.

Ellerbe’s future with Lewis exiting

With Lewis walking away from the game after the season, the Ravens would presumably turn to Ellerbe to take his place — at least in the short-term future — next to McClain at the inside linebacker position.

However, the Ravens will need to re-sign the fourth-year linebacker, who will become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Lewis’ retirement will clear approximately $4.4 million from the projected 2013 salary cap, but it will be interesting to see how much Ellerbe will command in the open market.

“I love Baltimore. I started my career here, I’d love to finish it here,” Ellerbe said. “It’s a business, so it’s not up to me. If it was up to me, I’d be here.”

Possessing better coverage skills than McClain, who inked a three-year, $10.5 million deal to remain in Baltimore after lukewarm interest last offseason, Ellerbe would likely be more appealing to other teams, but his injury history will likely be a factor in keeping his price tag at a reasonable level.

The University of Georgia product missed three straight games with an ankle injury last month and missed seven games with groin and hamstring injuries last season.

In 13 games this season, Ellerbe finished second on the team with 98 tackles and collected 4 1/2 sacks as an effective blitzer from the inside linebacker position.

 

 

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Unlikely events led to new destinations for Pagano, Caldwell

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Unlikely events led to new destinations for Pagano, Caldwell

Posted on 03 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As much as Lee Evans’ failed effort to catch the game-winning touchdown and Billy Cundiff’s subsequent missed field goal broke the hearts of the Ravens and their fans in last year’s AFC Championship, the pair of unfortunate events created a unique opportunity for one member of the organization.

The chance to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts may not have come for Chuck Pagano had the Ravens advanced to the Super Bowl. The former defensive coordinator departed Baltimore on the day following the conference championship game and never looked back as he was hired to replace Jim Caldwell, who is now the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Ravens. The Colts may not have waited an additional two weeks to talk to Pagano had Evans made that catch or Cundiff converted the 32-yard field goal and the Ravens prevailed in overtime.

Having defeated leukemia before retaking his place on the sideline last Sunday, Pagano now brings his Colts to Baltimore for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game, knowing he might still be in Baltimore if not for the failures of two former players.

“We had the catch we thought that was a touchdown and then [Cundiff] runs off and pulls that one,” Pagano said. “There’s a lot of things that transpired through the course of the end of that football game that you look at and say, ‘Yeah we make that catch and score that touchdown or make that kick and go to overtime and win that football game and you don’t have an opportunity to visit with somebody about a job.’ It’s funny how things happen.”

Caldwell could say the same about his final year in Indianapolis after he saw his longtime quarterback Peyton Manning miss the entire 2011 season after undergoing several neck surgeries. The current Denver Broncos signal-caller had never missed a game prior to that point in his first 13 NFL seasons.

Left without a viable quarterback, Indianapolis went an abysmal 2-14 and Caldwell was fired after his third season as head coach of the Colts. A few months later, the organization drafted rookie quarterback Andrew Lucky and began a turnaround that left them with an 11-5 record and a trip to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

A year later, does Caldwell wonder what would have happened had Manning not been injured or if Indianapolis had stuck with him another year with the veteran quarterback departing and Luck joining the fray?

“It doesn’t even cross my mind — not one second,” said Caldwell, who was promoted to offensive coordinator following the firing of Cam Cameron on Dec. 10. “I think for the most part, I believe that the good Lord has a plan for us. Often times, it’s not as picturesque as we might like it. It may not unfold exactly the way that we had it planned, but it unfolded in [the way] He wanted it.”

The feelings toward Pagano are conflicted this week as he brings the Colts to M&T Bank Stadium to face the Ravens in the postseason for the third time — and second in Baltimore — in the last seven seasons. It’s in a Baltimorean’s DNA to hate the Indianapolis Colts for obvious reasons, but Pagano’s inspiring story makes that more and more difficult every day.

His courageous fight against leukemia inspired not only his own team but also players in the Ravens locker room, including a defensive line that shaved their heads and facial hair in support of the former coordinator. Veteran Ray Lewis estimated that he exchanged text messages with Pagano “every other day” as the linebacker rehabbed his surgically-repaired triceps and the coach underwent cancer treatments during the regular season.

There are nothing but positive memories for Pagano, who spent four seasons as a member of Harbaugh’s coaching staff in Baltimore.

“[I] love all those guys. [I have] great relationships with so many people in that organization,” Pagano said. “They were so good to me and my family. I wouldn’t be sitting where I’m at today if John Harbaugh hadn’t given me the opportunity to join him when he was first hired as a head football coach there.”

The Baltimore defense received extra motivation with the expected return to action but unexpected retirement announcement of Lewis earlier this week, but many players were already eager to show Pagano what his former unit was still capable of doing. Despite struggling for most of the season, an improving Baltimore defense finished 17th in yards allowed and tied for 12th in points allowed despite a plethora of injuries.

The admiration is still there almost a year after Pagano last coached the prideful group.

“It’ll be great; Chuck is a motivation to all of us with all he went through,” linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. “Just to know a person that strong says a lot. Chuck always shot you straight. He was great in the meeting rooms. He was never one of those coaches to [get] down his players or cuss them out. He’s a very likable guy.”

Not to be outdone, Caldwell acknowledges it will be different coaching against the team with which he spent a decade, but the Ravens offensive coordinator denied any chance of it impacting his performance on Sunday. With a new coaching staff in place in Indianapolis, Caldwell hardly recognizes what new coordinator Bruce Arians has done with the offense and Pagano has implemented a defense similar to what he did with the Ravens.

It’s a battle both men are looking forward to as they now look on from the opposite side.

“It’s ironic that we get an opportunity to play against them, which is going to be a lot of fun,” Caldwell said. “You have two teams with great desire. Chuck probably feels the same way on the other side of it. It’s going to be fun.”

Both can look back on the ironic events of last season to explain where they are today.

 

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Report: Lewis not expected to return prior to playoffs

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Report: Lewis not expected to return prior to playoffs

Posted on 22 December 2012 by Luke Jones

Less than 10 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair the torn triceps in his right arm, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis appeared poised to make his improbable return to the field against the New York Giants on Sunday.

Instead, his comeback will apparently be delayed for a couple more weeks.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported early Saturday afternoon that Lewis is not expected to return until the playoffs despite growing optimism this week that the 37-year-old linebacker would play in the regular-season home finale.

Baltimore would have needed to activate Lewis from the injured reserve-designated to return list on Saturday afternoon for him to  play in his first game since Oct. 14 when he suffered the injury to his right upper arm against the Dallas Cowboys. Originally declared to be lost for the season by coach John Harbaugh, Lewis was placed on IR with this season’s new designation to return after a minimum of eight weeks.

At the time, many assumed the Ravens were simply granting Lewis a courtesy as most medical experts declared a minimum of four months for a recovery from such a serious procedure. However, the 13-time Pro Bowl selection returned to practice on Dec. 5, which was far ahead of even the most optimistic timetables suggesting Lewis could return for a postseason run.

With three weeks of practice now under his belt and fellow inside linebacker Jameel McClain sidelined for the rest of the season to open up a spot on the 53-man roster, Lewis hoped to come out of the tunnel to do his famous dance Sunday afternoon as the Ravens introduced the starting defense. The veteran’s spirits appeared to be higher this week and he spent more time in the locker room, two

“The guy’s still in great shape. The guy doesn’t look like he missed a day of practice,” said defensive lineman Arthur Jones, who added that Lewis has spent extra time with him to help him with his conditioning and the mental aspects of the game. “This is a guy who’s a great leader and is passionate and is an emotional leader. We love having him out there.”

With Lewis already practicing, the Ravens will face a decision this week with the 21-day window after his beginning practice date closing. They would have to place him on the 53-man roster or he’d remain on IR for the remainder of the year.

Ravaged by injuries at linebacker, the Ravens have relied on the combination of former practice squad members Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan as well as special-teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo in recent weeks to hold down the inside linebacker positions in the absence of Lewis, McClain, and Dannell Ellerbe. The Baltimore run defense ranks 26th in the league, and opposing offenses have had success throwing over the middle of the field as linebackers have struggled in coverage.

Even as his eventual return will be celebrated by many longtime Ravens fans, the question remains how effective Lewis can be in the postseason as he continues to build strength in his right upper arm, which understandably experienced atrophy after the surgical procedure.

“Ray’s looked great. It’s his triceps, so he’s going to be able to move around and look like Ray Lewis,” said Ellerbe following Friday’s practice. “We haven’t had any full-speed practices, so you can’t tell how his arm is when tackling and getting off blocks. But shape-wise, he’s in shape. If he could go right now, I feel he would go.”

Though only playing in six games, Lewis ranks fifth on the team with 57 tackles. However, he struggled to shed blockers early in the season and has shown declining ability in pass coverage over the last few seasons, making his accelerated return an uncertain one in terms of what exactly the Ravens will be getting from the future Hall of Fame linebacker when he’s back on the field.

With the Ravens needing a win to clinch the AFC North and a home playoff game, there’s no guarantee that Lewis will play another game in Baltimore since his future with the organization remains in some doubt.

Plenty of rumors have circulated about whether Lewis will retire after the season and he carries a $7.2 million salary cap number in 2013, which is a hefty figure for what would be a 38-year-old linebacker. The team would be forgiven from paying his $5.4 million base salary in 2013 should they release him and would save approximately $4.35 million on their 2013 cap when subtracting the accelerated bonus money that would count as dead weight against the cap.

Regardless of what happens after this season, Lewis’ return — whenever it occurs — will be a welcome sight for a team suffering a three-game losing streak late in the season and needing a spark. The defensive help wouldn’t hurt, either.

“I’d love to have him,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think it would be a great emotional lift, but more than that, we could use some bodies in there at linebacker.”

It appears the Ravens will need to wait a couple more weeks for that to become a possibility.

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Pees hoping two recovering stars give Ravens defense boost down final stretch

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Pees hoping two recovering stars give Ravens defense boost down final stretch

Posted on 20 December 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ranked 26th in yards allowed and ravaged by injuries, the Ravens defense is heading in the wrong direction after allowing 65 points over its last two games.

But could the late-season returns of linebackers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis provide the emotional spark and improvement the defense needs to put the Ravens in better position for a postseason run? The pair could be on the field together for the first time all season against the New York Giants on Sunday afternoon, which would certainly provide a spiritual boost for a team in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

Of course, Suggs returned to action this past Sunday against Denver — two weeks removed from a torn right biceps — but it was difficult to recognize his presence aside from his familiar No. 55 jersey lining up at the rush linebacker spot. Clearly laboring as he employed a four-point stance to keep his body weight off his upper right arm, Suggs appeared tentative at several points and removed himself from the game on a few occasions while appearing to be in pain on the sideline.

He finished with only one tackle, and the performance has left more questions than answers about his impact for the rest of the season.

“He’s coming back. He’s not back full, but he’s back, and he’s playing hard,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think if you ask him, I don’t think he would tell you that he’s playing at 100 percent like he has, but he certainly is giving us a great effort and giving us what we need in there.”

Even before the biceps injury, Suggs wasn’t making his normal impact after a remarkable recovery from a partially-torn Achilles tendon in less than six months. In seven games this season, Suggs has 20 tackles and only two sacks.

Meanwhile, it was just a few weeks ago when many were wondering if Lewis truly deserved to be an every-down linebacker whenever he’d make his return from triceps surgery, but a season-ending injury to Jameel McClain and an ankle injury to Dannell Ellerbe has left the Ravens bare at the inside linebacker position as Josh Bynes, Brendon Ayanbadejo, and Albert McClellan have manned the “Mike” and “Will” positions in the last two weeks.

The Ravens are not only hoping for the pick-me-up of Lewis’ impeccable on-field leadership, but they’re now desperate for him to bring an improved level of play to the middle of the field. With Baltimore electing to wait to place McClain on season-ending injured reserve, it’s apparent the organization is hoping to place Lewis on the 53-man roster by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

Lewis is just nine weeks removed from surgery, an incredible fact considering the normal recovery time for such an injury is a minimum of four months.

“I’d love to have him. I think it would be a great emotional lift, but more than that, we could use some bodies in there at linebacker,” said Pees with a chuckle. “We’ll just have to wait and see whatever they say is a go. We’d love to have him back.”

The Ravens hope to get back Ellerbe and strong safety Bernard Pollard from injuries this week, but the latter’s status appears to be in doubt after missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Pollard aggravated a rib injury in the Ravens’ Week 14 loss against Washington and hasn’t practiced ever since.

Only two defensive starters from Week 1 have played in every game this season — cornerback Cary Williams and safety Ed Reed.

“I think if anybody can be fully healthy throughout a season, it’s going to be a great team,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “And with us, we definitely had an injury bug this year, but we had guys step up and make some plays for us. And hopefully, we can get some guys back and see what we can do there.”

As is the case with Suggs, it remains to be seen how well Lewis can hold up physically after such an abbreviated recovery time following surgery. Amazingly, Lewis ranks fifth on the team with 57 tackles despite playing in only six games this season.

The coaching staff isn’t exactly sure where Lewis is at physically due to the light nature of practices, but Lewis’ mental prowess has kept him as sharp while he continues to rebuild the strength in his right upper arm. Whether that can translate to success on the field is the question as Lewis struggled to shed blockers early in the season and has shown declining ability in pass coverage over the last few seasons.

“At this time in the year, I don’t think there are very many teams out there hitting like you do in training camp,” Pees said. “So, you don’t necessarily see the physical part, but the mental part, it’s not going to leave you after 17 years [with] missing a couple of weeks.”

Third corner carousel

With 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith making his return from sports hernia surgery this past Sunday, it was assumed the Ravens had solidified their nickel package with the second-year defensive back playing on the outside opposite Cary Williams while Corey Graham slid inside to the nickel spot to cover slot receivers.

Instead, Pees used a combination of Smith, veteran Chris Johnson, and special-teams standout Chykie Brown as the extra cornerback against the Broncos. Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged on Monday that Smith didn’t show as much speed as they anticipated he would. Smith is just over a month removed from the surgical procedure.

As a result, Smith took only 12 defensive snaps. Johnson took part in 20 defensive plays and Brown was on the field for nine defensive snaps. It’s not a good problem to have with the Giants’ ninth-ranked passing game coming to Baltimore on Sunday, and Pees would like to sure up the role sooner rather than later.

“I’d just like to see someone take the bull by the horns and take the job,” Pees said. “We are just going to have to make that decision at game time on who that is going to be, and who that’s going to be during the course of the game. The good news is that you do have two or three guys there, but yes I would like to see someone step up and take it.”

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Struggling Ravens find longtime foe Manning standing in way once again

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Struggling Ravens find longtime foe Manning standing in way once again

Posted on 13 December 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked to identify the most dangerous characteristic of Peyton Manning’s game, Ravens free safety Ed Reed smiled and didn’t have to think long about his answer.

After eight previous games against the current Denver Broncos quarterback who formerly starred in Indianapolis, Reed knew the truth all too well, at least in terms of how it relates to the Ravens’ lack of success against the future Hall of Fame signal caller.

“The most deadly part of Peyton is that he gets the ball every play,” said Reed, chuckling as he spoke about the quarterback he’s never beaten in his 11-year career.

The Ravens haven’t defeated a Manning-led team since 2001 when Rod Woodson and Tony Siragusa were elder statesmen in the Baltimore defense and Ray Lewis was a youthful 26 years old. Since beating Manning’s Colts on Dec. 2, 2001, they’ve lost eight straight to the incomparable quarterback, including two heartbreaking losses in the playoffs.

In his 10 career games against the Ravens, Manning is 8-2, throwing for 2,689 yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. However, they haven’t faced him since a 20-3 playoff loss in January 2010.

Plenty has changed since the last time the Ravens played Manning as the 36-year-old has found a new home in Denver and is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season after undergoing spinal fusion surgery that sidelined him for the 2011 season, his final year with the Colts. Meanwhile, the Ravens have seen their vaunted defense take a nosedive this season amidst personnel losses and a slew of injuries.

They now face the prospects of trying to contain the league’s fourth-ranked offense to avoid their first three-game losing streak in over three years. The task won’t be easy as odds-makers have listed the Ravens as a home underdog for the first time since Nov. 22, 2009 — when they played the Manning-led Colts in what resulted in a 17-15 defeat.

Needing to win to keep their hopes for the No. 2 seed in the AFC alive, the Ravens will try to do something they last accomplished when only three players on the current roster — Ray Lewis, Bobbie Williams, and Matt Birk — were even in the NFL.

“Those are team wins and different teams, different players playing in those games,” Manning said about his long winning streak against Baltimore. “I really can’t speak much to the past. All I can speak to is this year, and it’s been such a different year for me – different team and what not.”

The transition has appeared seamless as Manning has passed for 3,812 yards and 30 touchdowns compared to only 10 interceptions. His 104.0 passer rating ranks fourth in the NFL, and Manning has completed 68.3 percent of his passes this season to lead all passers with at least 220 attempts this season.

It was only a few months ago when many wondered if Manning would ever be the same after undergoing four neck surgeries. And while he’s lost some zip on the more difficult throws a quarterback must make — such as the deep out route — his timing remains superb in working with wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (74 catches for 1,197 yards) and Eric Decker (64 receptions for 790 yards).

“He is still as accurate as ever,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “He still does a great job of controlling the tempo of the game, of his offense, which controls your defense. It’s his offense.”

The Baltimore secondary has struggled mightily in each of its last two games against Steelers backup Charlie Batch and Redskins rookie sensation Robert Griffin III as the Ravens have been forced to use the likes of Chykie Brown and Chris Johnson behind current starters Cary Williams and Corey Graham in the nickel package.

Second-year cornerback Jimmy Smith could make his return from sports hernia surgery this week, which would be a boost to their depth at corner, but Manning’s surgical precision and ability to make changes on the fly create the need for the Ravens to not only play tighter coverage but to also disguise what they’re doing as much as possible. It’s not an easy task for a unit currently relying on backups all over the field.

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Report: Change potentially coming to Ravens coaching staff

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Report: Change potentially coming to Ravens coaching staff

Posted on 10 December 2012 by WNST Staff

On the heels of a 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins, the Ravens are reportedly on the verge of shaking up their coaching ranks.

According to Dan Patrick during his Monday morning radio show, the Ravens “will shake things up today or tomorrow” and the change would come on the “side of ball that you wouldn’t expect.” Former NFL coach Tony Dungy joined Patrick during the program, and it’s worth mentioning that Dungy formerly worked with Ravens quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell for years in Indianapolis.

A source told WNST.net’s Drew Forrester that coach John Harbaugh had been in a closed-door meeting Monday morning at the team’s Owings Mills facility, but that was not unusual for a day following a game.

The clear choice speculated most heavily is the future of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who has been maligned throughout his five-year tenure in Baltimore. However, Patrick’s comment suggesting the change would come on the side of the ball that one wouldn’t predict could lead you to believe a change on the defensive staff is coming.

Stay with WNST.net throughout the day as this story continues to develop ahead of Harbaugh’s 4 p.m. press conference in Owings Mills.

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