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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

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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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Ravens CB Smith out indefinitely after undergoing groin surgery

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Ravens CB Smith out indefinitely after undergoing groin surgery

Posted on 15 November 2012 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 2:55 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ depth at cornerback took another serious hit Thursday after the announcement that 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith has undergone groin surgery in Philadelphia.

Smith sat out Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders after he was unable to loosen up the injured groin during pre-game activities. The 24-year-old was listed as active but was unable to play, prompting coach John Harbaugh to express concern following the game about the need to reevaluate the defensive back earlier this week.

The Ravens say they expect Smith to return before the end of the season.

“That’s a tough loss obviously,” veteran cornerback Corey Graham said. “Jimmy makes a lot of plays for us. He’s been playing here all this year and last year also. It’s big for us, but other guys have to step up. You’ve just got to go out there and make plays and find a way to get it done.”

Smith had replaced top cornerback Lardarius Webb in the starting lineup after the latter tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Oct. 14, the same day on which Smith first tweaked his groin. The cornerback had been limited in some practices, but he had never appeared to be in danger of not playing prior to sitting out in Week 10.

Graham is expected to assume starting duties after he played in Smith’s place in the 55-20 win over the Raiders. Second-year cornerback Chykie Brown played in the nickel package as Graham slid inside to cover the slot receiver.

“We’ve got to get the next guy ready and just get ready to go,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I have a lot of confidence in them. They played OK. There were some plays they made and some plays they didn’t make. I think both of them are improving every day, and we’ve got to do a good job of putting them in the right spot.”

To boost their depth in the secondary, the Ravens signed former Oakland cornerback Chris Johnson earlier this week.

The 33-year-old is being brought up to speed quickly and could see action as early as this Sunday despite not even going to training camp with an NFL team this summer. Johnson made 29 starts and recorded eight interceptions for the Raiders from 2007 through last season.

It would be quite a set of circumstances for a debut with the Ravens facing their biggest rival at Heinz Field.

“I’m still catching up myself, but coaches and some of the players have shown me how to do it and what this rivalry is about,” the speedy cornerback said. “They say there’s nothing like Pittsburgh-Baltimore.”

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Ngata fighting through injuries as Ravens defensive line struggles

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Ngata fighting through injuries as Ravens defensive line struggles

Posted on 05 November 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With a slew of injuries hampering a depleted Ravens defensive line, All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has tried to play through two ailments of his own over the last month of the season.

Listed as questionable on the final injury report in the Ravens’ last two games against the Texans and Browns, the seventh-year defensive lineman has played with knee and shoulder injuries, but his performance hasn’t lived up to his usual standards as one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Though stat sheets rarely tell the story in describing the effectiveness of a defensive tackle, Ngata has just one tackle over his last two games as he’s played in a reduced number of snaps.

Ngata registered one tackle in the 43-13 loss to Houston two weeks ago as he played 48 of the Ravens’ 80 defensive snaps. In Cleveland on Sunday, the 28-year old increased his workload to 53 of 70 possible defensive reps, but he failed to record a tackle and appeared unable to control and beat blockers at the line of scrimmage in the way he typically does.

“I thought he played solidly,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s not 100 percent — he’s got the shoulder and the knee a little bit — but he’s fighting through it. He’s playing well.”

Harbaugh remained noncommittal in how the Ravens will handle his practice work as many are beginning to suggest the possibility of sitting down the Pro Bowl defensive tackle in hopes of improved health for the final stretch of the regular season. It doesn’t help that the Baltimore defensive line has struggled to find any play-makers to complement Ngata as younger players such as Terrence Cody, Pernell McPhee, and Arthur Jones have failed to step up.

For now, the Ravens are likely to continue limiting his practice time, but they desperately need Ngata to regain the dominant form not seen since early last year when he was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate prior to sustaining a thigh injury that hampered him in the second half of the season.

“I think you take that day by day and week by week,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see. We need to win every game. Every game the division championship’s on the line.”

The only notable injuries suffered in Sunday’s game came along the offensive line as right guard Marshal Yanda tweaked his knee and ankle and was replaced by backup Jah Reid for five offensive plays while he received treatment. Right guard Bobbie Williams also suffered a mild ankle sprain, so the Ravens will closely monitor their practice time leading into this Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders.

Yanda would figure to be ready to play, but it will be interesting to see how Williams responds after suffering a fractured ankle last season in his final weeks with the Cincinnati Bengals.

“[Yanda's] moving around. The MRIs were all positive, nothing there,” Harbaugh said. “Bobbie Williams had an ankle — nothing on the MRI — sprain, so we’ll see. We’ll probably give him some rest during the week sometime and try to get him to Sunday. Those were the only two things that were really anything that were significant injury-wise.”

Should either player be deemed unfit to play, Reid would likely receive the first opportunity in the starting lineup after he was active for the first time all season against the Browns. He took nine offensive snaps, with five coming at left guard and the others as a blocking tight end in run-play situations.

“Jah played well,” Harbaugh said. “He played 10 or 15 snaps at different positions in there, and he played well and did a nice job. First time of really taking any kind of extended time out there and he wasn’t overwhelmed at all. That’s kind of what you look for in a young guy.”

Pees goes upstairs

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Ravens offense aiming to be “on same page” on road

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Ravens offense aiming to be “on same page” on road

Posted on 01 November 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A common theme has been echoed by Ravens players and coaches alike in describing the offensive woes away from M&T Bank Stadium this season.

In pinpointing what needs to be done after mustering just 28 points in their last 10 quarters of play on the road, members of the organization have uttered “execution” over and over, but making it happen is the challenge. An offense that’s looked like one of the NFL’s elite in four home games this season — averaging just over 32 points per contest — has been out of sync and unproductive in three road games this season in which they’ve scored a total of 45 points.

Taking the bye week to assess what’s gone wrong and how to fix it, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron reminded everyone the tools are there to be successful away from M&T Bank Stadium. The productive numbers at home prove the personnel and scheme are more than capable of being successful, but overcoming the challenges of communication and simply remaining calm have plagued the Ravens far too often in road contests.

“The one thing that we’re not as good at on the road as we are at home is being on the same page,” Cameron said. “It might be any combination — it could be in the passing game, it could be in protection, it could be in the run game. So, we’re looking at everything from a communication standpoint, how we can make sure, on the road, that we’re on the same page.”

Questions have once again surfaced about quarterback Joe Flacco and the amount of freedom he has to operate at the line of scrimmage and make adjustments if necessary. Cameron repeated the fifth-year signal caller has all the freedom he needs to read opposing defenses and make changes on the fly.

With the increased use of the no-huddle attack this season, the proclamation shouldn’t come as a shock despite some critics suggesting otherwise.

“It’s common knowledge all the leeway that Joe has at the line of scrimmage now,” Cameron said. “Everybody knows the options that he has.”

If Flacco holds as much influence as his offensive coordinator suggests, perhaps a more important question that hasn’t been asked very often is the amount of responsibility the on-field leader of the offense holds in explaining why Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has seemingly disappeared at certain points in road games this season.

Has the Baltimore quarterback checked out of plays designed to feed Rice the football when it may not have been the best choice to do so? Or, has the quarterback simply made the necessary adjustments against certain defensive looks? Does the audible menu itself needs to be adjusted to include Rice more often?

The answer is open for interpretation based on comments made by Cameron on Thursday.

“We are at our best when everyone is involved,” Cameron said. “Ray is a big part of what we’re doing. We have to make sure that within our audible system, the audibles don’t take the ball out of his hands, based on what the defense might be dictating.”

Whether it’s making a concerted effort to give Rice more carries early in games or to target him more often out of the backfield in the passing game, nearly everyone invested in the Ravens’ offense has suggested the two-time Pro Bowl running back needs to have a bigger workload.

Sunday’s meeting with the Cleveland Browns will provide the first post-bye test in determining what breakthroughs the Ravens have made offensively, albeit against an underwhelming opposing defense.

Pees searching for answers defensively

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Flacco, Ravens getting close to that “homer” tag they’d like to avoid…

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Flacco, Ravens getting close to that “homer” tag they’d like to avoid…

Posted on 21 October 2012 by Drew Forrester

There’s a policy in the NFL that all teams get a 10-minute “cooling off period” before the media is allowed to enter the locker room following a game.

Today, in the aftermath of the shellacking in Houston, I gave myself a two-hour grace period before sitting down to opine on what we all witnessed at Reliant Stadium.

Strangely, my opinion hasn’t changed much since 4:15 pm.

The Ravens appear as if they’ve become “homers”.

You know the story by now.  They’ve won 14 straight games at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

They can’t break an egg on the road.

But they sure can lay one.

I saw a lot of armchair coaches pointing the finger at Joe Flacco and the offense on Sunday as the Texans piled on the points in that 43-13 beatdown.

And I observed gobs of folks blaming the Baltimore defense for “not being able to stop anyone” as Houston controlled the ball and the game for the final 53 minutes.

Here’s the truth.

On the road, the offense isn’t very good.  Remember last week against Dallas?  They put up 31 points in a 2-point win over the Cowboys.  There was that 31 point effort at home against New England and the 44-pointer over the Bengals on September 10.

At home, the Ravens offense is alive and creative and mobile, not to mention efficient both on the ground and in the air.

On the road, they have as much energy as a hammock. They don’t do anything well.

The rest of the truth?

The defense isn’t very good, home or away, but Sunday in Houston it was pretty much a disaster throughout the afternoon as the Texans picked them apart in the air and ran through them on the ground.

If you’re of the mindset that “someone” has to get the blame, go ahead and blame away.

Cam Cameron absolutely deserves to be criticized.  At home, he puts together a game plan that helps garner points and win games.  On the road, his game-plan mostly brings snickers and f-bombs from those of us who don’t cover our eyes when the Ravens go on offense.

There was a point mid-way through the 4th quarter on Sunday when the Ravens were faced with 3rd and 3 and they were in four-down territory, trailing 36-10.  The third down play was a pass.  As was the fourth down play.  The Ravens were saved by a questionable pass interference call that extended the drive, but you get the point.  Looking at 3rd and 3 and knowing his offense was in a four-down situation, Cameron elected to pass on 3rd down.  Why not run there?  If you only pick up one or two yards, you run again on 4th down to get the first down.  If you can’t pick up three yards on two running plays in the NFL, you – as the coordinator of that sorry group – and your offensive line and running back shouldn’t get a meal or refreshments on the plane flight home.

Joe Flacco is going to get the hot-seat treatment this week from fans and media and let’s be fair, he deserves it.  He had the ball in his hand and the game in the balance in week #2 at Philly and couldn’t do anything.  Under his direction, the Ravens offense managed three measly field goals in a sleepy 9-6 win at Kansas City three weeks ago.  At home, he’s been spectacular at times.  On the road, he’s looked like a 15-handicapper playing against Tiger Woods.  There were also some lackluster offensive efforts last season in Jacksonville and Seattle, but in all fairness to the quarterback, last year is last year.  I’m only worried about this season.  And so far, in three away games, the offense and the quarterback of John Harbaugh’s team have been borderline woeful.

(Please see next page for more)

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Pees entrusted with slowing former team’s offense

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Pees entrusted with slowing former team’s offense

Posted on 20 September 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dean Pees spent 25 years in coaching before Bill Belichick gave him his first opportunity in the NFL.

So, you’ll forgive the new Ravens defensive coordinator if this Sunday’s meeting with the New England Patriots means a lot more than just a rematch of last January’s AFC Championship game. After spending six years working under Belichick, it’s always special for Pees to go up against his old team.

“It’s always an emotional day,” Pees said. “I’m not going to lie about that and act like it’s just another game. It’s a big game for me. It’s kind of like when you go out and you play golf against somebody and you want to win, but when you play your brothers, you really want to win. There’s a lot of friends over there on the other sideline, a lot of old colleagues, a lot of players that I coached.”

Sunday night’s game marks the first time that Pees faces the Patriots as a defensive coordinator, which is the post he held with New England from 2006 through 2009. His defenses ranked in the top 11 in total yards allowed in all four of those seasons and ranked no worse than eighth in points surrendered.

His departure from the Patriots still remains a mystery as Pees cited “personal reasons” for electing not to return upon having his contract expire after the 2009 season. It was widely speculated that Pees chose to leave the organization for health reasons as he experienced shortness of breath and was taken to the hospital in the regular-season finale of that season.

Others believe the Patriots weren’t completely enamored with his work as the defensive coordinator and privately didn’t want him to return. Regardless of what caused his departure, Pees immediately joined the Baltimore staff to coach the linebackers and became the defensive coordinator this offseason when Chuck Pagano was hired as the new coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

“Dean’s a very experienced coach,” Belichick said. “He’s done very well at a lot of different levels. [He] did a good job for us here — coached the linebackers, coached the secondary, was the defensive coordinator — and had a great experience on that side of the ball.”

Now Pees will be asked to slow one of the best offenses in the NFL over the last decade. Having already employed extensive use of the nickel package in the team’s first two games, Pees will likely copy the formula used by the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 — they played the nickel for nearly the entire game — to slow quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots passing game.

Unfortunately for the 63-year-old coordinator, he won’t have one of his sounding boards to offer ideas for this week. Pees remains close with his former boss in New England, who is regarded as one of the best defensive minds in NFL history.

“We still speak on occasion when we’re playing a team that’s a common opponent and we aren’t playing each other,” Pees said. “In certain years, we’ll discuss things. It’s a great relationship.”

Special teams improvement

After being ranked 30th in the league in special teams efficiency by FootballOutsiders.com last season, the Ravens have shown much improvement through the first two weeks of the regular season.

In addition to rookie kicker Justin Tucker going 6-for-6 on field goals — with 2 beyond 50 yards — and Sam Koch punting effectively, the coverage units have shown marked improvement after allowing three return touchdowns last season. After finishing 31st in kickoff coverage last season, the Ravens are sixth in the league with opponents averaging only 18.8 yards per return. Baltimore is tied for 15th in punt return coverage as opponents have gained 10.4 yards per return attempt.

Improving the special teams units was an offseason priority as the Ravens added a few veterans with special teams experience and re-signed three-time Pro Bowl special teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo.

“Our players that we look to make plays on special teams and coverage aspect – and in blocking – really played well,” Rosburg said. “Brendon had an excellent game; he had three tackles. Sean Considine had a couple of tackles. Corey Graham had a couple tackles. Sam [Koch] punted the ball very well. So, our players were making plays, and that was encouraging.”

Ayanbadejo has been honest in his assessment of the Ravens’ special teams units last season, citing a lack of commitment from younger players more interested in improving their standing on offense or defense and the lack of an offseason to fine-tune the coverage units.

“We took turns making mistakes,” Ayanbadejo said. “This year, the main thing is just consistency, not making those mistakes. And if we do, just make it one time and don’t have everybody rotate making mistakes because one breakdown can lead to a touchdown. That’s kind of what you saw last year.”

On Sunday, the Ravens even attempted to run a fake punt on a fourth-and-4 play from their own 43 in the first series of the second quarter. Considine appeared to have daylight in front of him after taking the snap but tripped over teammate James Ihedigbo, stopping him short of the first down. Rosburg took the blame Wednesday when asked what went wrong with the trick play.

The special teams coach went as far as to suggest it could have gone for a touchdown.

“I didn’t coach the timing of that play well enough,” Rosburg said. “If we had the timing down, it wouldn’t have mattered what happened. He probably would have stopped somewhere out there by General Washington’s encampment.”

McClain on outside looking in

The Ravens spent plenty of time in the nickel package against the Eagles in Week 2, meaning inside linebacker Jameel McClain was often replaced by fourth-year linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who is regarded to be stronger in pass coverage.

This left the Ravens with more flexibility to experiment with McClain at outside linebacker since Paul Kruger missed Sunday’s game with a back injury. A former defensive end at Syracuse, the fifth-year linebacker hadn’t played on the outside since his rookie season in which he mostly played special teams and saw limited action in passing situations.

Pees has struggled to generate a consistent pass rush without the use of blitzes, so it was an interesting choice to see McClain line up at rush linebacker on a few occasions.

“It’s something that I did in college. It’s a learning curve,” McClain said. “It’s something I’ve got to get back used to if I ever get the opportunity again. But, I got the chance and I hope the coaches believe I made the best out of it. With more opportunity, [there are] a lot more things I can do.”

 

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Defensive coordinator Pees tired of Kruger being compared to Suggs

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Defensive coordinator Pees tired of Kruger being compared to Suggs

Posted on 07 September 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ever since the revelation in early May of linebacker Terrell Suggs suffering a partial tear of his Achilles tendon, the Ravens have been peppered with questions about what it means for their pass rush and overall defense in 2012.

On the Friday before the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, it appeared defensive coordinator Dean Pees had heard enough when asked how critical it would be for linebacker Paul Kruger to accumulate more sacks with Suggs expected to be out of the lineup until at least November. Pees reiterated the common theme of multiple players needing to step up in the star pass-rusher’s absence.

Only he didn’t sound nearly as cordial in expressing that this time in comparison to previous statements.

“It has nothing to do with Sizzle. It has to do with playing outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens,” Pees said. “You guys keep comparing; you can never compare two people. It has nothing to do with another guy. There’s no comparison; I never compare them.

“It’s playing outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Period. Whether it’s the Sam, the rush, the Mike, the Will, when Ray [Lewis] was out, it has nothing to do with a guy having to take another guy’s position. It has to do with that guy playing his position.”

The Ravens’ pass rush will receive its first test against a Cincinnati offensive line with three new starters inside, meaning defensive end Pernell McPhee and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata may have opportunities to pressure second-year quarterback Andy Dalton.

Uncertainty remains at both outside linebacker positions with Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan both unproven as three-down players, so Pees will need to be more creative in generating heat on the passer until the Ravens can accurately assess where they’re at in that department. Baltimore is still hoping rookie Courtney Upshaw can also provide a bigger impact than what he showed in an injury-plagued preseason.

No one player has the ability to replace Suggs, but the Ravens hope a combination of rushers along with a deep group of cornerbacks will minimize the damage in the Pro Bowl linebacker’s absence.

“Terrell is a big part of our team, a big part of what we do, and guys are going to have to step up,” safety Ed Reed said. “Not just one player, every guy that’s on offense, defense, and special teams. We’ve all got to pick up that slack, because we know what Terrell brings to the table.”

Suggs was held to one sack in two games against Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, which could mean Kruger and McClellan will have their hands full generating any pressure on Dalton. The question is nothing new as the loss of the Pro Bowl linebacker may knock the Ravens defense from the elite status it enjoys annually.

Pees is right that Kruger shouldn’t be held in comparison to Suggs, but asking whether the sum of the parts can not only match the 14 sacks accumulated by Suggs a season ago but also force teams to game-plan and account for pressure in the same way they’ve done in the past is a relevant and fair query.

“I don’t want to come across stirred up about it,” Pees said. “I’m not, it’s just when you compare players, you take everything so far out of context. It’s not about that; it’s about how he fits in the defense, how does he do his part. He’s one of 11 of this defense and so is Sizzle when he’s in there — he’s one of 11. Whether you game plan certain ways or whatever, that’s what they are. They all have one-eleventh stock in this defense.”

Needless to say, if the Ravens are unable to make Dalton uncomfortable in the pocket Monday, the questions and concerns will only grow louder.

Cameron confident in tight ends getting up to speed

With Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta practicing fully on Thursday and Friday, any notion of the tight ends being game-time decisions was clearly gamesmanship on the part of coach John Harbaugh.

However, with Pitta missing nearly all of training camp and Dickson injuring his shoulder in the first preseason game, it remains to be seen how quickly the pair can become acclimated in a Baltimore offense that focused exclusively on the no-huddle attack this summer. The Ravens relied on both tight ends heavily last season and you’d expect to see the same in 2012, but it will be interesting to gauge how the coaching staff handles their workload after the offense primarily went with three-wide sets in August.

“Both guys – it’s a tribute to both of them – even though they’ve missed practices, they’re not missing meetings, they’re not missing any walk-throughs, they’re not missing any rehab or strength and conditioning,” Cameron said. “[Quarterback Joe Flacco] has such a great rapport with those guys. Not only are they together on the field, they’re around Joe all the time. So I’m thrilled to have them back, and I think they’ll pick up right where they left off with no concerns at all.”

The Ravens used plenty of single-back looks in August, which makes you think we could see Dickson lining up at tight end with Pitta moving to a slot position on a semi-regular basis, but the offense also wants to have more speed on the outside with Jacoby Jones as the No. 3 receiver and possession wideout Anquan Boldin sliding to the slot.

Regardless of how the rotation plays out this season, Monday might be too soon to draw conclusions based on how the playing time is split up against the Bengals as the tight ends are still working their way back into football shape.

Tucker letting it rip on kickoffs

One question asked by fans throughout the preseason has been about rookie kicker Justin Tucker’s unimpressive performance on kickoffs.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg reminded everyone Thursday that the rookie was directed not to send kickoffs as far as he could in order for the staff to evaluate its the kickoff coverage, which struggled a year ago. Tucker was only allowed to take five steps in approaching the ball instead of the ability to take a longer approach to the tee.

With the regular season now upon us, Tucker will be allowed to put his full foot — with full steps included — into each and every kickoff in hopes that the rest of the unit won’t receive as many opportunities to cover.

“He’s certainly going to try,” said Rosburg in describing how Tucker will simply boot it as far as he can. “That is the way we kick off; we try to kick it as far as we can, and we’ll give him that opportunity. You may have seen in the St. Louis game, I believe he did it twice if I’m not mistaken, and one they brought out [of the end zone] and the other one was [kicked] out of the end zone.”

Organization supports Ayanbadejo’s stance on marriage equality

The bizarre story of Maryland House of Delegates member Emmett C. Burns Jr. writing a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti stating his opposition to linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s public support of marriage equality created quite a stir this week.

But the Ravens are standing by the veteran’s side.

Ayanbadejo has spoken openly in support of gay marriage countless times, which promoted Burns to write a letter expressing how “appalled and aghast” he was over the public stance and imploring Bisciotti to silence his player. In response, team president Dick Cass issued a statement supporting Ayanbadejo’s right to free speech and even delivered a message directly to the player regarding the matter.

“He said, ‘We’re in support of you, and it’s good that you’re able to voice your opinion and say how you feel,’” Ayanbadejo said. “But Dick personally told me that we’re not an organization that discriminates and he was telling me how he was on Pro Football Talk and he was reading all the comments that people have said and he was overwhelmingly surprised and happy to see that football fans were supporting me and what I said. He told me that I should go there and I should read it.”

Ayanbadejo believes we’ve seen a dramatic shift in support over the last four or five years, with more people beginning to support marriage equality. Cass also offered him a take on the state of NFL locker rooms as it relates to the issue of equality.

“He believes the culture in locker rooms is changing as well,” Ayanbadejo said. “He believes there are gay players in the NFL — they’re just not publicly gay. He thinks that, for the most part, players just want to play with good players. They don’t care who your mother, your father, who you are, what color or creed you are as long as you can play football at this level.”

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