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Ravens prepared to contain Bills’ Manuel, read option

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Ravens prepared to contain Bills’ Manuel, read option

Posted on 26 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens spent time throughout the offseason preparing to stop the read option after the offensive attack took the league by storm during the 2012 season.

According to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, the Ravens spent every other day during organized team activities and training camp completing a read-option period during practices to prepare themselves for matchups like Sunday when they travel to Buffalo to take on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and standout running back C.J. Spiller. Under new head coach Doug Marrone, the Bills’ have used the read option at points during their first three games, giving the Ravens their first look at the wide-open rushing attack since facing San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII last February.

“You enjoy a challenge. If you’re a football player, you don’t want the same thing every week,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You want a little different [offense], and we love that we get the opportunity again to play against one of these up-and-coming quarterbacks [and] dual threat like EJ Manuel. It’s going to be a challenge.”

The Bills’ version of the read option appears to be working well on the surface with their rushing attack ranked fifth in the NFL, but the transition has been a work in progress as Manuel and Spiller haven’t always made proper reads and the offensive line’s blocking has been suspect. Of particular concern is Spilller, who is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry after averaging an astonishing 6.0 yards per rushing attempt a year ago.

Fortunately for Buffalo, backup Fred Jackson has picked up the slack by running for 169 yards on 32 carries, making him another dangerous weapon to watch for when the Bills try to run the read option. Patience and following one’s assignment is the key to slowing the novelty offense that hasn’t found the same success this season around the league as it did last year.

“Have good eyes,” said Pees, who credited mobile backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor for giving the Ravens a good look in practices. “That’s the No. 1 thing. When you’re playing any kind of option team, when you start looking at things you shouldn’t look at, that’s when you get beat. If I’ve got the quarterback, my eyes have got to be on the quarterback. It’s a little bit like in coverage. Most of the time when a guy gets beat in coverage, it’s because of the eyes.”

Manuel was sacked an astonishing eight times in the Bills’ loss to the Jets last Sunday, so the Ravens will be licking their chops to make life miserable for the rookie quarterback. However, pocket containment will be vitally important as Manuel is a bigger threat to take off and run compared to the three starting quarterbacks the Ravens have faced so far this season.

The Florida State product has carried 13 times for 76 yards in three games, but the Ravens rank sixth in the league with 11 sacks.

“You just definitely have to make sure we can contain him every time,” linebacker Daryl Smith said. “If whoever is coming off the edge, whether it’s an end or linebacker, if they take the inside move, the quarterback definitely can escape and has the speed to get out and get the first down or do whatever he wants to do. We’ve been talking about it this week and definitely have a plan to make sure we always have edges on the defense.”

Looking for improvement from McKinnie

After appearing to be laboring during Wednesday’s practice, left tackle Bryant McKinnie appeared more active and mobile a day later as the Ravens hope to see improvement from the 34-year-old veteran.

The entire offensive line has struggled to block in the running game — an area that’s never been McKinnie’s biggest strength — but the left tackle has struggled in pass protection the last two weeks and was flagged for two facemask penalties in the first half of the win over the Texans.

“There’s always a work in progress in that area, and I think he’s working at it, trying to get better at what he does,” said offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who emphasized a need for everyone — including him — to improve. “He’s a professional and he’s trying to improve every single day. [Run-game coordinator Juan Castillo] does a great job with those guys. They work and they work extremely hard. I think Juan is getting him to the point where he’s moving in the right direction.”

McKinnie’s three-year tenure in Baltimore has been bumpy to say the least as he didn’t start a game in the regular season last year and reported to training camp overweight this summer and was held out of the first day of practice for veterans.

Thompson in mix as kick returner

With Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones still sidelined with an MCL injury in his right knee and No. 3 running back Shaun Draughn dealing with a high ankle sprain, the Ravens could have a new face in the return game in Buffalo.

Wide receiver Deonte Thompson has practiced on a limited basis for two straight days and is listed as the Ravens’ backup kickoff returner behind Jones on the depth chart. In his rookie season, the speedy wideout served as the kick returner before a critical fumble against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5.

“Deonte demonstrated a year ago that he has the skills to do that,” said Rosburg, referring to Thompson’s 25.9 yard per return average in 15 attempts. “He’s had success, too, and he understands it. He’d probably be pretty excited about that opportunity should it come his way.”

Should Draughn be inactive, the Ravens would likely turn to either Thompson or fellow wide receiver Tandon Doss, who returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown last week.

Ravens glad Miles now on their side

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg smiled when asked about the acquisition of former Cincinnati safety Jeromy Miles off waivers earlier this week.

A rookie free agent from the University of Massachusetts in 2010, the fourth-year safety can play in all phases of special teams and would figure to play a prominent role considering rookie safety Brynden Trawick was active for all of the Ravens’ first three games. With Miles serving as a prominent special-teams player in the Bengals’ units, the Ravens were very familiar with him.

“We’ve had to block Jeromy Miles for the last few years,” Rosburg said. “We’ve had him blocking us the last few years. We’re excited he’s on our team doing those things for us, because he’s been a force in our division. We’re really happy he’s on our team.”

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Our Ravens/Texans “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Texans “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 22 September 2013 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Creative Deck Designs 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 and I select five different players/coaches each (Tim Horsey played the role of Ryan Chell for Week 4.)

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 30-9 win over the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday…

Glenn’s Pats…

5. Gino Gradkowski

 

4. Dean Pees

 

3. Haloti Ngata

 

2. Torrey Smith

 

1. Daryl Smith (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens defense desperate to bounce back from Week 1 embarrassment

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Ravens defense desperate to bounce back from Week 1 embarrassment

Posted on 12 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense has heard the snickering and the mocking over the last week since their 49-27 loss to the Denver Broncos.

As if setting team records for points allowed and touchdown passes surrendered in their first game without future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed wasn’t enough, the Ravens also witnessed former teammate Anquan Boldin catch 13 passes for 208 yards. Of course, it was general manager Ozzie Newsome who famously said in a Sports Illustrated interview this summer that the veteran receiver’s $6 million salary for 2013 was used to bolster the Baltimore defense.

Surrendering 510 yards of total offense to quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense clearly wasn’t part of the plan for a defense many expected to be markedly better than last year’s unit.

“It was definitely tough being the punch line for a lot of jokes on the countdown shows and the morning shows opening weekend in the NFL,” said defensive end Chris Canty, who collected a sack and three quarterback hits in his Baltimore debut. “We’re definitely excited about having the opportunity to change the perception of what people think about us.”

No one wore his emotion on his sleeve more than defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who met with the local media for more than 13 minutes on Thursday. The frustration was apparent in his voice, reflecting that his expectations were much higher than the end result in Week 1.

It’s easy to forget after the 35-point second-half debacle, but the defense held the Broncos to a respectable 14 points and 174 yards in the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Of the 510 yards Pees’ unit surrendered, 307 came on the nine plays of 20 yards or more given up — six of which came in the second half.

“This has been a hard week, because I’m disappointed in the outcome,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I’m disappointed in the statistics, which look terrible. I’m not disappointed in the total defensive effort that we gave. I’m disappointed in nine plays.”

So, what exactly did the Week 1 performance mean aside from contributing to the first season-opening loss of the John Harbaugh era? Was the early hype surrounding the new-look defense undeserved with apparent vulnerability in the secondary?

Is enough credit being given to Manning and a Broncos team that treated the opener like their Super Bowl following January’s heartbreaking divisional round defeat at the hands of the eventual world champion Ravens? As much as we discussed the potential of Pees’ unit in 2013, the Ravens featured six new starters from last year and such change doesn’t always come together as quickly as you expect on paper.

The Ravens should view their first-half performance and the 59 defensive snaps in which they held Denver to 203 yards as positives on which to build, but those nine plays were critical in transforming a competitive game into one of the worst defeats in the Harbaugh era.

You can’t sugarcoat the reality of what happened.

“Big plays in this business will kill you,” Canty said. “Offenses are too good. You’ve got to limit the opportunities to drive the ball down the football field. Dean talks a lot about making people go the long, hard way [to score]. We just didn’t do that enough last Thursday and we paid the price for it.”

Much of the frustration expressed by Pees on Thursday stemmed from the fact that he felt so many of the mishaps were either avoidable and correctable. From missed tackles to blown coverages, there wasn’t much to like with the pass defense as Manning threw five touchdowns in the second half.

Should it be chalked up to miscommunications, the infamous Denver altitude, or simply the brilliance of Manning and his ability to exploit any imperfection in technique or positioning?

“Your guess is just as good as mine,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Not every week [do] you get to practice or play against a team that’s explosive like they were. They were a good football team, but that was last week. We’re here to focus on the Cleveland Browns.”

As much as fans and media continue to dwell on last week, the Ravens have turned the page in focusing on Cleveland and an offense lacking the explosiveness of their Week 1 opponent. Second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden is a far cry from Manning and the Browns lack the array of receiving weapons on display in Denver.

The Browns make no secret about their desire to pound the football with bruising running back Trent Richardson, which should play right into the Ravens’ hands. While there were some questions about a secondary featuring new starting safeties Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo entering the season, most agree the strength of the Baltimore defense is its front seven, which didn’t play poorly against the Broncos.

Even with the catastrophic breakdowns in the secondary, the Ravens held the pass-happy Broncos to 2.9 yards per carry on 23 attempts while collecting three sacks and hitting Manning seven times. Much of that came with Baltimore using an extra defensive back, leaving the box more vulnerable against the run. You’d expect the Ravens to play more of their base defense on Sunday, with Courtney Upshaw seeing more than the 37 snaps he played against Denver and defensive tackle Arthur Jones possibly returning to action after a three-week layoff due to an irregular heartbeat.

“To ask our line to play a six-man box all game against their running game and hold them to [65] yards?” Pees said. “Best we’ve ever done. To hit Manning that many times? [That’s the] best we’ve ever done. But it all negates because of the other. That’s why it is personal. It bothers me, and the only thing that’s going to take the stink off of it is you know what.”

The most intriguing aspect of Sunday’s game might be potential adjustments made in the secondary from Week 1. After Corey Graham struggled playing the nickel against veteran slot receiver Wes Welker, Pees moved Lardarius Webb to the inside when the Ravens used three cornerbacks.

As he did prior to last year’s ACL injury, Webb can lock down the slot receiver while serving a more active role in stopping the run, which wouldn’t be a bad idea with the Browns more committed to the ground attack than most teams. However, it will be interesting to see how Pees handles the nickel this year considering neither Webb nor Graham has the size of former cornerback Cary Williams to play on the outside opposite Jimmy Smith in the nickel package, leaving the secondary potentially vulnerable against taller wideouts.

Cleveland offensive coordinator Norv Turner is surely aware of the Ravens’ struggles against Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, who caught five passes for 110 yards and two touchdown while abusing linebackers and safeties. Browns tight end Jordan Cameron was one of the lone highlights of his team’s Week 1 loss to Miami as he caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Rookie inside linebacker Arthur Brown saw only six defensive snaps and could be an option to spell Josh Bynes in the nickel package — as he did through much of the preseason — and first-round safety Matt Elam could be called upon if either Huff or Ihedigbo falter in pass coverage. Elam replaced Huff late in the game in Denver and figures to be a major factor defensively sooner rather than later.

Even with potential personnel and scheme adjustments made by Pees moving forward, the most improvement will need to come from within as the Ravens are convinced the season opener was more aberration than reality against one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Lewis and Reed may no longer be in the defensive huddle, but their high defensive standard still remains as holdovers and newcomers always reference it.

But talking about it and actually showing it are two different things, a lesson the Ravens learned in embarrassing fashion last week.

“We know we have some things we need to work on, so this week, we go back to work, because we want to be better,” Webb said. “[It was] kind of an embarrassment. Raven football, we don’t play that way.”

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Even with questions, it’s easy to root for new Ravens safety Elam

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Even with questions, it’s easy to root for new Ravens safety Elam

Posted on 26 April 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens appear absolutely thrilled with their first-round selection Matt Elam of Florida.

The 21-year-old safety was a player the Ravens had been targeting all along to add to their defense, but Elam’s addition doesn’t come without questions. His 5-foot-10 height isn’t ideal for matching up with the monstrous tight ends taking over the NFL and his brutally-physical style of play will make some wonder if he’s a young version of Bernard Pollard — complete with the propensity for drawing flags — but a deeper look into his history and motivation for landing where he is today makes him easy to root for.

Dealing with the murder of his 12-year-old sister when he was 8 and then coping with an older brother facing the same fate less than a decade later would have been enough to send just about anyone down the wrong path. Instead, Elam channeled that emotion to work even harder to realize his dream of playing in the NFL.

“It was just me understanding that I’m tired of the frowns and the tears and the funerals and things like that,” said Elam, who grew up in a rough neighborhood in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.. “I was like, ‘I’m going to turn this around. I’m going to do this the right way. I’m going to turn the frowns into smiles. I’m going to make sure my family is happy. I’m going to make sure the happiness overcomes all the tragedy and adversity.”

A decision by his mother to send Elam to another school — he attended William T. Dwyer High in West Palm Beach — to avoid getting in trouble also aided as he eventually enjoyed a standout career with the Gators and was selected with the 32nd overall pick of the NFL Draft on Thursday night. The positive influence of his older brother and current NFL player Abe also kept Elam focused on improving his life and bringing that joy to his family.

It makes his slight stature and questions about his pass coverage seem a little less important as no one really knows how Elam’s skill set in the SEC will translate to Sundays in the NFL. The Ravens seem convinced that it will.

Elam seems to hope you’ll doubt him after he admits having a chip on his shoulder after two safeties — Kenny Vaccaro of Texas and Eric Reid of LSU — were taken before him in the first round. His background makes it easy to see how he might use such perceived slights as motivation.

“A lot of kids my age that have been through the same thing lost siblings and took it negatively and didn’t use it as motivation [or] make it positive,” Elam said. “I used it as positive energy and things like that. I feel like it helped me, growing through that thing helped me.”

His heartfelt story aside, it’s fair to ask questions about Elam’s height as he’ll occasionally be matched up with receivers or tight ends more than a half-foot taller than him. Elam displayed good ball skills in college and appeared competent in coverage when he wasn’t playing in the box to stop the run.

It remains to be seen how the Ravens will use him as defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Elam will be asked to learn both safety positions as well as the nickel spot for certain packages. He could emerge as a Swiss army knife that the Ravens can use all over the field, but it’s clear his physicality stands out, evident by the highlight-reel hits he turned in on a weekly basis in Gainesville.

“The guy can run, the guy can cover, and — most of all — he can hit,” Pees said. “What I like most about him watching him on film is there is a dying art in college football in the secondary, and it’s called tackling. This guy has that heart.”

That description will immediately make Ravens fans think of Pollard, who was popular for his violent collisions but also guilty of infractions with the NFL’s commitment to cracking down on blows to the head of defenseless receivers. Pro football is a changing game and there is at least some question whether Elam’s wild-man approach will sit well with officials and commissioner Roger Goodell.

However, the Ravens don’t seem too concerned and Elam believes he is fundamentally sound with his approach to attacking would-be receivers and ball carriers.

“I feel like I won’t let up a bit. I’ll just rely on my technique,” Elam said. “Like I said, I’ll improve every day in practice, and I feel like it won’t be a problem. I’ll rely on my technique. It won’t slow me down a bit.”

The truth is no one really knows whether Elam will emerge as the next great safety in the Baltimore secondary or simply become a solid defensive back with limitations due to height and a reputation for going overboard in the same way Pollard did. His cover skills looked strong enough in small doses at Florida, but will he be able to hang with tight ends and wide receivers that look like power forwards at the next level?

That remains to be seen, but the simple fact that Elam sat in front of media and answered questions about his NFL career was a victory in and of itself after everything he’s been through.

It would have been easy to take his life in a darker direction, but Elam elected to push past tragedy and attack his goals in the same way he does the opposition. With that in mind, the questions he faces seem quite trivial.

But Elam is taking nothing for granted with his opportunity to join the defending Super Bowl champions.

“Growing up, I had to work through things,” Elam said. “My parents and my brother always made me work at it – made me earn things. Like I said, I don’t want anything given, because if it’s given, it’s not earned.”

 

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Ed Reed resolution coming at this week’s league meetings?

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Ed Reed resolution coming at this week’s league meetings?

Posted on 17 March 2013 by Luke Jones

It looked to be a foregone conclusion last week that Ed Reed would be walking away from the Ravens after 11 years, but the free-agent safety never shies away from keeping everyone guessing.

Leaving Houston without a contract agreement after a two-day visit, Reed may determine his 2013 destination this week at the league meetings in Arizona as the Ravens and Texans are reportedly scheduled to meet with his agent David Dunn. It remains unclear how much the Ravens are willing to offer the 34-year-old, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has remained in touch with Reed’s representation since a meeting with the safety before the start of free agency.

It’s similar to how the Ravens handled the free agency of Ray Lewis — who was also represented by Dunn — following the 2008 season when the linebacker briefly flirted with the idea of joining another team before learning his value wasn’t as high as he hoped and he re-signed with Baltimore. Reed is believed to be seeking a salary approaching the $7.2 million base salary he earned last season, but his decision to leave Houston without a contract is an obvious sign the Texans’ offer wasn’t where he wanted it to be.

Or, he’s simply not ready to pull the trigger in leaving the Ravens behind just yet.

“Four years ago, we went down this same road with Ray,” Newsome told USA Today. “Dave always does a very good job of keeping us in the loop. That doesn’t mean that Ed will come back, and it doesn’t mean that he will leave.”

While some have opined that the Ravens are suddenly jumping back into the Reed sweepstakes, it’s unlikely that Newsome would enter into a bidding war for the nine-time Pro Bowl safety. The Ravens determine a value for each and every player on their roster and rarely deviate from that price, evident by their hardline approach in wanting to slash Anquan Boldin’s 2013 $6 million base salary by $2 million before ultimately dealing him to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick.

A potential Reed return will be far more about him wanting to finish his career with the Ravens and realizing the money may not be dramatically better somewhere else. It just doesn’t seem likely that Newsome would offer him a sexy contract because other teams are potentially in the mix and such a move wouldn’t jive with how the Ravens have handled their offseason in essentially sending the message that they’re starting over on defense after the departure of five starters from the Super Bowl XLVII team.

But as Newsome told USA Today, the Ravens want to be careful in how quickly they make the transition with their defense and Reed’s return — at Baltimore’s price, of course — would provide much-needed leadership as well as an opportunity for the future Hall of Fame safety to mentor an understudy to eventually take his place.

Dumervil in Ravens’ price range?

The unexpected availability of Broncos free-agent defensive end Elvis Dumervil was sure to spark interest from any team looking to improve its pass rush and there is “serious interest” from the Ravens, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Dumervil played outside linebacker in a 3-4 system under former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels and would certainly more than fill the void left behind by Paul Kruger, but it’s difficult to imagine the Ravens having the financial means to be serious players for the 29-year-old with several other areas to address including wide receiver, left tackle, inside linebacker, and safety.

In addition to Denver being interested in bringing back Dumervil since their renegotiated deal fell through after a fax machine fiasco on Friday — that resulted in the termination of agent Marty Magid — the Patriots and the Titans have also been named as teams with potential interest in the defensive end’s services. The reality is Dumervil’s new representation — reported to be Tom Condon and Ben Dogra — will not only be looking to recover the $8 million per year the pass rusher had agreed to accept from the Broncos but also to make their mark by fetching more money for their client if possible.

Those realities wouldn’t suggest the Ravens are a realistic candidate to sign Dumervil, who collected 20 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons.

What about the nose?

In an otherwise disappointing start to free agency with the Ravens seeing their roster gutted, Newsome has fulfilled his promise to address the defensive line by adding veteran defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears this past week.

Those signings leave the Ravens stacked at defensive end as the veterans join Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee, but nose tackle remains an area of concern after Terrence Cody and veteran Ma’ake Kemoeatu struggled to control the line of scrimmage as opposing teams had plenty of success running up the middle in 2012. Kemoeatu is an unrestricted free agent not expected to return and Cody has one year remaining on his rookie contract, leaving many to believe Baltimore will be looking for help in April’s draft.

One option the Ravens might consider is to move All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the nose tackle spot, a position he’s played in the past. Canty, Spears, and Jones are all defensive ends perfectly suited to play in a 3-4 front, but the Ravens would appear to have a surplus if Ngata is to continue playing the 3-technique tackle spot in which he lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will use multiple fronts and the Ravens love to rotate linemen into the lineup to keep everyone fresh, but you have to think the Ravens have something up their sleeve for their defensive line or they wouldn’t have signed two veteran defensive ends after designating Jones with a second-round tender. Spears also dabbled at the nose tackle spot occasionally for the Dallas Cowboys, but Ngata would appear to be the best candidate to move.

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Pees depending on outside guys against 49ers’ running game

Posted on 31 January 2013 by WNST Staff

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR DEAN PEES

(on what he sees in San Francisco that is special) “The option pistol stuff that they’re running, I know Washington runs it some, but it’s a little different. Everyone talks about No. 7 (Colin Kaepernick), but 21 (Frank Gore) can beat you just as easy as 7 can and he’s still, to me, the main focus.”

 

(on the threat of the passing game and on how well Colin Kaepernick can throw the ball deep) “He’s very good, he’s very accurate, but again, I think he’s done a great job and they’ve done a great job with putting him into a system and building a system to make him successful, but to be able to throw the ball deep you have to have guys that can run deep. (Michael) Crabtree and Vernon Davis and Randy Moss can run deep. You can have a guy that can throw a deep ball, but if you don’t have anybody that can actually get to it then it doesn’t make any difference. The difference is, they can really spread the field on you.”

 

(on preparing for the Super Bowl compared to the season) “Every week the quarterback has less and less ability to run. First of all, we had (Andrew) Luck, (Peyton) Manning a little less, (Tom) Brady a whole lot less, and now all of the sudden we’ve got this guy. It’s as different as it could be in the last four weeks.”

 

(on comparing Washington’s offense and San Francisco’s) “There’s a difference in the running game. Really Washington, for the most part, went to the zone read and the option. The difference with San Francisco is that they’ll line up in the pistol and run all the zone options, but they’ll run their whole offense out of that same look, where Washington didn’t necessarily do that. The passing game is a lot different.”

 

(on who will be in the main stress points defensively when the pistol is being run) “Whoever is playing five-technique or six-technique. It’s whoever is over the tackle or at the end of the line of scrimmage. Those are the guys, not that the inside guys aren’t very accountable to it, but the guys that he’s really trying to option are always the guys that are at the end of the line of scrimmage. That could be an outside backer or a five- technique defensive end, either or.”

 

(on how much of a level of discipline and reaction has to be employed) “You’ve got to be a football player. It’s this simple, just like in all defenses, you have an assignment, but they bottom line is we are to tackle the guy who has the football.  That’s the main thing. Going in and blowing up No. 7 (Colin Kaepernick) when you know he doesn’t have the ball really serves no purpose. We need to tackle the guy with the football. If you think 7 has the football, then tackle him. If you know he’s handed it off, then go play football. That’s still the bottom line of defense.”

 

(on the big stage this will be for Colin Kaepernick) “I have no idea of his mental makeup. I don’t have any idea if this is going to be a big stage for him. Obviously it’s a big stage, but he handled the NFC game pretty well, away and in a hostile environment. The way we approach it is that he won’t have any problems handling it and we wouldn’t ever want to handle it any other way.”

 

(on what he sees on the 49er’s tape) “They’ve got a lot of plays. If you chart all their plays, they’ve got a little bit of everything”

 

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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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