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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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Ravens hoping to avoid being held up by “pistol” attack

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Ravens hoping to avoid being held up by “pistol” attack

Posted on 06 December 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A pair of rookies in Washington has given NFL defenses fits all season long as the Ravens will become the latest team to encounter Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris on Sunday afternoon.

As if their talents alone weren’t challenging enough, the use of the pistol formation and the option attack have made it even more difficult to contain Washington’s top-ranked rushing attack. The alignment involves Griffin lining up in an abbreviated shotgun look — four yards behind the center — with Morris lining up behind him. This allows the quarterback to get a better look at the defensive alignment and often dupes defensive fronts into focusing on motion in the backfield instead of playing assignments and maintaining gap control.

On what do you key to slow the unique offensive scheme? Is it the zone stretch plays or occasional inside handoffs to Morris, who enters Week 14 tied for third in the NFL with 1,106 rushing yards? Is the focus on Griffin’s speed and athleticism that have led to 714 rushing yards and six touchdowns? Or on his impressive passing skills in play-action that have led to the league’s third-best quarterback rating at 104.4?

What’s the most crucial factor?

“Discipline,” linebacker Jameel McClain said. “Discipline, because you must count on the next man. You must because everybody is going to have a certain assignment and if one person falls off his assignment, everything collapses. It’s definitely the understanding that we are all on a chain.”

Facing an offense with so many moving parts and possibilities — including fullback Darrel Young and tight end Logan Paulsen who will occasionally flank Griffin in the pistol — it’s important for each defender to focus less on the movement in the backfield and more on his specific job on a given play. Unlike most passing-challenged quarterbacks who run the option in college, however, Griffin’s rare blend of physical tools makes stopping the novelty offense much more of a headache.

The Ravens can only hope practice squad quarterback Dennis Dixon can provide the type of look needed to prepare the defense for Griffin’s play-making ability.

“Have your eyes on what your responsibility is,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “If it’s a dive, if it’s the quarterback, if it’s the pitch in the option, whatever it is, having your eyes on what you have. You have a responsibility, you have a technique, and you have to perform that thing.”

The Redskins have relied on the running game for most of the season — with Griffin’s legs heavily involved as well — but the return of top wide receiver Pierre Garcon has allowed the Washington passing attack to take off in recent weeks.

In his last three games, Griffin has tossed nine touchdown passes compared to one interception, including back-to-back four-touchdown games against Philadelphia and Dallas. Meanwhile, Garcon — limited all season with a foot injury — has caught 12 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games.

Garcon’s return from injury has transformed an ordinary group of wide receivers that includes Santana Moss and Josh Morgan into a dangerous unit Baltimore defensive backs must stay with in coverage despite the temptation of keeping their eyes in the backfield at the Redskins’ rushing attack.

All other factors aside, Washington’s offensive success begins and ends with Griffin, the No. 2 overall pick of April’s draft. A threat to run or pass while rolling out or standing in the pocket, there’s no simple way to stop him as few defenses have been successful in slowing him down despite the Redskins’ underwhelming 6-6 record.

“He’s the perfect quarterback for that [offense],” said McClain, who hasn’t played against an option attack since his days at Syracuse facing Pat White and West Virginia. “He has the arm to get all of the passes done out of that, and he definitely goes through with all the actions. Everybody knows he has the speed, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

Sunday might be the rare instance in which the Ravens’ inconsistent pass rush — which could be without linebacker Terrell Suggs — might be a blessing in disguise with Griffin a threat to leave the pocket at any moment.

Pees’ defense will still try to make Griffin uncomfortable when he drops back, but out-of-control spins and moves in which pass rushers crash inside will defer to proper positioning at the line of scrimmage to collapse the pocket while keeping the rookie quarterback surrounded. Unlike the manner in which teams dealt with athletic quarterback Michael Vick early in his career, however, teams have a greater fear of this rookie quarterback burning them with his throwing arm if they simply allow him to stand tall in the pocket.

A defense can play its assignment, but there’s only so much you can do after that from a schematic standpoint against a rare talent like his.

“You need to still rush the passer,” Pees said. “You can’t go in there thinking this guy is going to scramble. You have to come in with the right leverage, the right spot. He may still get out of it because he is such a great athlete. I can’t coach [against] athleticism — you really can’t.”

If all else breaks down for the Baltimore defense in trying to attack the many layers of Washington’s pistol formation, the Ravens won’t hesitate in simplifying their approach against Griffin and the entire offense.

“We’ve got to hit him,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “Every chance we get. Just hit him, hit whoever has the ball.”

 

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Ravens preparing to face returning foe Polamalu

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Ravens preparing to face returning foe Polamalu

Posted on 29 November 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will enter Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers having not lost a contest at M&T Bank Stadium in 727 days, possessing the longest active home winning streak in the NFL with 15 straight regular-season victories.

But ask anyone with ties to the organization and they’ll tell you the streak should be even longer, as it was the Steelers who last beat the Ravens in Baltimore on Dec. 5, 2010. A run of 23 wins in 24 tries at home is still an incredible feat in the parity-driven NFL, but the efforts of Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu helped prevent the Ravens from holding a flawless home record for well over three years.

As the 31-year-old defensive back prepares to make his long-awaited return from a calf injury on Sunday, the image of his sack-and-strip of quarterback Joe Flacco with just over three minutes remaining to set up the game-winning touchdown for the Steelers two years ago will undoubtedly be on the Ravens’ minds. Instead of collecting a couple first downs to run out the clock and collect a 10-6 victory, Baltimore fell victim once again to a big play by Polamalu and lost hold of the 2010 AFC North title and a first-round bye in the process.

“Everybody watching TV at home, everybody in the stadium, you all know you see 43 at the line, four-minute offense, he’s coming,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs in the moments following that 13-10 loss. “It was just like, I hope we have a plan. It just didn’t feel good when I saw that hair at the line.”

Two years later, the circumstances are dramatically different as the Ravens enjoy a three-game lead in the division and can eliminate the Steelers from AFC North contention and put their playoff hopes in serious peril with a win. Polamalu hasn’t played since Oct. 7 and has appeared in only two games this season while the Pittsburgh defense has still managed to remain first in the league in yards allowed.

But with a healthy Polamalu on the field, the Ravens know they face a unique challenge in addition to the already-stout defense that held them to no offensive touchdowns and just 200 total yards despite a 13-10 win at Heinz Field two weeks ago. Dropping into coverage or lining up to blitz at the line of scrimmage, Polamalu must be identified by Flacco and the Baltimore offense on every play.

“With Troy, you have to be aware of him at all times,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They’ve done a great job of playing defense back there without Troy. So, you add a guy like that in the mix, obviously, what a factor that can be.”

With it looking more unlikely that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will play on Sunday, it’s difficult to imagine many scenarios in which the Pittsburgh offense can provide enough punch with third-string quarterback Charlie Batch in line to receive the start. The Ravens offense must be smart with the football despite their preference for playing aggressively at home, and that’s where Polamalu’s return could be a factor.

Much like Ravens safety Ed Reed, health concerns have taken a toll on Polamalu’s play-making ability, but his presence on the field alone gives Flacco a significant headache he didn’t face two weeks ago when he struggled to make plays against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked secondary. Protecting the football will be paramount, and it was a failure to identify Polamalu late in the game two years ago that netted the Ravens their only loss at M&T Bank Stadium since Nov. 22, 2009.

“He just has a good knack for the game of football,” Flacco said. “He usually can figure out where the ball is going. He just has a feel for the game. While you try to combat that and account for him, there is always a certain amount that you really can’t account for what he is going to do. You just have to go out there, play your game, and take care of him by playing sound, fundamental football.”

Pees with good problem on hands

With linebacker Ray Lewis’ anticipated return before the end of the regular season, the questions have already been raised over how the Ravens should handle his workload with fourth-year player Dannell Ellerbe playing so well in the starting lineup.

A few have taken the extreme position that the Baltimore defense is better off without the 37-year-old, but most would at least agree it’s worth discussing the possibility of Lewis not playing every snap with the thought of keeping him fresh and hiding his suspect coverage in obvious passing situations. It’s not an easy discussion to have should coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome decide on that course of action, but now might be the time to do it with Lewis making a quicker-than-expected recovery from a torn triceps.

It’s too early to speculate how the Ravens will act with Lewis not yet practicing, but it’s a good dilemma to have with Ellerbe and fellow inside linebacker Jameel McClain doing an admirable job filling in for the middle of the defense. The reality is they’d like to have all three on the field as much as possible to enhance their strengths and compensate for potential shortcomings.

“I’d rather have that problem than to try to figure out who the heck is going to be playing because we have a bunch of injuries, which we’ve had to do,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “It’s always a good thing for a coach. It may not be a good thing for the players, but it’s always a good thing for the coaches.”

The better question might be whether the Ravens elect to keep Ellerbe at the “Will” linebacker spot over McClain, who has filled in at Lewis’ “Mike” backer position in the veteran’s absence. Ellerbe is stronger in pass coverage and has had the better overall season, but McClain has raised his level of play in recent weeks as well.

In the mean time, Pees appreciates having Lewis back at the team’s Owings Mills facility this week as he continues to rehab his right arm before returning to the practice field in the not-too-distant future.

“I’ve told you guys before that going in and coaching him and watching him in the meetings sit back there and take notes like a rookie, that’s why he is who he is,” Pees sad. “Really for the younger guys, but really for us older guys — to me — he’s a perfect pro.”

Jones continues to receive accolades

CONTINUE >>>

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Rice’s miracle play grabs headline, but Ravens defense made comeback possible

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Rice’s miracle play grabs headline, but Ravens defense made comeback possible

Posted on 25 November 2012 by Luke Jones

Ray Rice’s miraculous catch and run on fourth-and-29 will go down as one of the greatest regular-season plays in the 17-year history of the Ravens and will be remembered in the years to come.

A late awakening by quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense completed an improbable 16-13 comeback victory over the San Diego Chargers and pushed the Ravens to 9-2, matching their best start in franchise history.

But none of it would have been possible if not for the stout performance of an undermanned, banged-up Baltimore defense at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday. As much grief as he received early in the season, first-year defensive coordinator Dean Pees deserves a pat on the back after the last two weeks in which the Ravens have held opponents to a combined 23 points in two road victories.

The injuries are well-documented and the struggles have been scrutinized throughout the season, but the defense came to play in what appeared to be a difficult matchup against a Chargers attack that’s struggled all season but still possesses the weapons to be dangerous on any given Sunday. The Ravens held San Diego to 13 points, surrendered 280 yards, and sacked quarterback Philip Rivers a season-high six times in their most impressive defensive performance of the year.

San Diego was just 3-for-15 on third down and 0-for-1 in the red zone as the Ravens continued an incredible streak of four straight games without allowing a red-zone touchdown. Baltimore has kept opponents out of the end zone in their last 10 trips inside the 20-yard line.

The numbers barely make you blink in the context of what’s been one of the greatest defenses in the NFL for more than a decade, but a simple look around the field reminds you just how impressive the group has been recently. A 10-point effort against Pittsburgh was brushed off because backup Byron Leftwich was at the helm for the Steelers, but to hold Rivers and the Chargers to 13 points in nearly 75 minutes of play Sunday is worthy of recognition.

That is, if you can recognize who’s making the plays. By no means have they become a no-name defense — Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Ed Reed are still on the field, even if less than 100 percent in each case — but the Ravens continued to receive contributions from unlikely sources.

Replacing inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who left the game with an ankle injury, 36-year-old special-teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo was a factor in pass coverage, making four tackles and defending a pass in extensive action. Filling in for the man who was already replacing the injured Ray Lewis and has arguably been the Ravens’ best defender this season, Ayanbadejo made several key tackles in the second half to help stall San Diego drives.

Another special-teams player, cornerback Corey Graham, continued his strong play in the secondary by making five tackles and defending two passes as he continues to fill in effectively for the injured Jimmy Smith. He and Cary Williams held up well against taller wide receivers Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander in what looked like a mismatch on paper heading into Sunday’s game.

More impressive than anyone, however, was third-year defensive end Arthur Jones, who collected the first two sacks of his career and added another tackle for a loss as he manhandled the Chargers up front. Largely considered a disappointment in increased action this season, Jones has played his best games of the season the last two weeks, making the extended absence of Pernell McPhee little more than an afterthought at this point.

The key to the defensive prosperity on Sunday was the Ravens’ pass rush as Suggs, Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, and rookie Courtney Upshaw collected sacks in addition to the two secured by Jones. Baltimore took advantage of a poor San Diego offensive line and made Rivers uncomfortable in the pocket, allowing the secondary to tighten its coverage.

Aside from a lone drive for a field goal surrendered in the game’s final 41 minutes, the defense was exceptional, forcing four three-and-outs in the second half and keeping the Baltimore offense within striking distance when it finally awoke from its game-long slumber midway through the fourth quarter.

The numbers won’t blow you away and the defensive stars aren’t playing at the same level they did in the past, but Pees has seemingly cracked the code to repair the crisis this defense was facing during its bye week. In the four games played since the break, the Ravens have allowed a total of 58 points after giving up 43 alone against Houston on Oct. 21.

Maybe it was Pees’ decision to move upstairs to the coaches’ booth. Perhaps unheralded players are finally living up to the mantra of “next man up” that’s constantly uttered in the Ravens locker room.

Whatever the case, the defense is figuring it out and it makes the 9-2 Ravens that much more dangerous down the stretch — even with their many flaws that will once again be discussed this week.

It’s not the Ravens’ dominating defense of old, but the unit saved the day on Sunday.

Even if the late-game heroics of Rice and the offense will be what everyone remembers.

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Our Ravens/Steelers “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Steelers “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 19 November 2012 by Glenn Clark

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

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

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. Cary Williams

4. Ray Rice

3. James Ihedigbo

2. Anquan Boldin

1. Corey Graham (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Ryan’s Pats on Page 2…)

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