Posted on 17 December 2013 by Nestor Aparicio
Posted on 17 December 2013 by Luke Jones
All the details seemed to be pointing to a valiant effort but a disappointing loss for the Ravens to the Detroit Lions on Monday night.
The offense was 0-for-3 inside the red zone in the first half and could only muster field goals in trying to go toe to toe with the league’s second-ranked offense, leaving the Ravens defense with little breathing room before it finally buckled and gave up a go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown as it has on more than a few occasions this season.
A last-minute drive orchestrated by a gimpy Joe Flacco moved the Ravens to the Detroit 45 before they inexplicably handed the ball to Ray Rice for a 2-yard gain on third-and-10 and called timeout with 43 seconds remaining. Already 5-for-5 on field goals for the night, Justin Tucker trotted onto the field to attempt a 61-yarder to put the Ravens ahead 18-16.
Really? They couldn’t be serious, right?
John Harbaugh explained after the game that his second-year kicker had told him he would be successful kicking a field goal from that great distance before the Ravens called for the unorthodox run to Rice on third-and-10. The coach would have justifiably faced weeks — and likely an entire offseason — of criticism and second-guessing had Tucker not made the longest kick in franchise history to give the Ravens their fourth consecutive win to improve to 8-6 and retake their current spot as the No. 6 seed in the AFC.
Having faith in your players is one thing, but to willingly attempt the third-longest field goal to win a game in NFL history — and to have made up your mind to do it a play earlier — bordered on lunacy.
Yet it worked.
Of course, much has failed to make sense for these Ravens over the last calendar year except the all-too-familiar outcome of winning when it matters most.
They can thank their 24-year-old kicker who is already entering the previously-unspoken territory of comparisons to Matt Stover, a Ring of Honor member and one of the most beloved players in franchise history. Even the great Stover never had a night like Tucker had Monday in booting a franchise-record six field goals — three from 49 yards or longer — and providing one of the wildest finishes in franchise history.
Tucker has now made 33 straight field goal tries — three shy of Stover’s team record — and his 61-yard field goal to win the game was the longest ever made in a dome and only the 14th of 60 or more yards in NFL history.
The discussion centered around a kicker being a team’s most valuable player is typically absurd when acknowledging how few plays in which he’s actually involved over the course of a game, but it’s impossible to overlook how important Tucker has been for the Ravens as they’ve battled offensive inconsistency all year. Teams never want to settle for field goals in lieu of touchdowns, but a guaranteed three points is wholly valuable with an above-average defense that put forth an exceptional effort against All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson and the high-octane Detroit offense on Monday.
Yes, the Ravens collected another win that could only leave you scratching your head and asking how they did it at the end of the night, but that’s nothing new with Harbaugh’s team.
There is still plenty of work remaining as the Ravens return home to face Tom Brady and New England on Sunday before a potential Week 17 trip to Cincinnati for the AFC North title if they can win their fifth straight in Week 16 against the Patriots.
Baltimore is healthy and appearing poised to make a run once again if they can complete the difficult task of overcoming a 4-6 start to make the postseason for the sixth consecutive year.
But perhaps the best quality the Ravens have is their faith in one another as Harbaugh inexplicably showed in his young kicker to make one of the longest kicks in league history to win a game they desperately needed. It didn’t make sense in the seconds leading up to the try and left you still shaking your head after the ball sailed between the uprights at Ford Field.
The Ravens failed to score a touchdown against the Lions and have gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over their last four games. The defense once again played well before surrendering a late-game touchdown that threatened to doom them for the third straight week.
And, still, Baltimore has won in each of the last four weeks despite their imperfections and shortcomings.
The Ravens certainly went against the book on how to beat a quality team on the road Monday night as Tucker did his best to earn a key to the city. Even so, the Ravens won’t and shouldn’t apologize for the win, either.
They’ve shown time after time that the unconventional works perfectly for them.
Posted on 17 December 2013 by Glenn Clark
After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.
We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each.
Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 18-16 victory over the Detroit Lions Monday night at Ford Field…
Glenn Clark’s Pats…
5. Dean Pees
4. Daryl Smith
3. Jacoby Jones
2. Joe Flacco
1. Jimmy Smith (Pat on Both Cheeks)
(Continued on Page 2…)
Posted on 16 December 2013 by Luke Jones
Trying to stay on pace in the playoff race and keep their AFC North title hopes alive, the Ravens travel to Ford Field in Detroit to take on the Lions, who are pressed with high stakes of their own in a tight NFC North division battle with Chicago and Green Bay.
A win puts the Ravens back into a tie with Miami, who entered Monday as the No. 6 seed in the conference by way of an 8-6 record, but Baltimore holds the head-to-head tiebreaker due to a Week 5 win over the Dolphins. With Cincinnati falling in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the Ravens also know they can win their third straight division title if they’re able to win their final three games to close out the regular season.
As expected, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is active and will play against the Lions after missing his first game of the season last week against Minnesota. The rush specialist suffered a left ankle injury in the Thanksgiving night win over the Steelers and will be expected to provide pressure on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and a potent passing attack.
Veteran tight end Dallas Clark is active this week after sitting out against Minnesota in Dennis Pitta’s return to action. Second-year wideout Deonte Thompson continues to be inactive despite the season-ending injury suffered by veteran slot receiver Brandon Stokley last week.
Lions running back Reggie Bush is active and will make the start after missing last week’s game due to a calf injury suffered in pre-game warmups in Philadelphia. The veteran provides a dangerous pass-catching option out of the backfield for Stafford to complement All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Detroit defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is also active despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week while nursing a shoulder injury.
The Lions will be short in the secondary Monday night as starting cornerback Chris Houston is out with a toe injury and backup corner Darius Slay is also inactive. Jonte Green will start in Houston’s place against the Ravens.
The Ravens are playing indoors for the first time since prevailing in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on February 3, and it’s a welcome development for a team that’s played in harsh weather conditions over the last six weeks that have brought major challenges to both the passing and kicking games. Baltimore is also playing its first Monday night game since last year’s season opener against the Bengals.
Baltimore leads the all-time series against the Lions by a 2-1 margin but lost its only other appearance at Ford Field in 2005, a 35-17 final that included a franchise-record 21 penalties and two player ejections. The Ravens won the last meeting between these teams in 2009 in a convincing 48-3 final at M&T Bank Stadium.
The referee for Monday night’s game will be Carl Cheffers.
The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with black pants while Detroit dons its blue jerseys with silver pants.
Here are Monday night’s inactives:
S Brynden Trawick
S Omar Brown
RB Bernard Scott
C Ryan Jensen
WR Deonte Thompson
OLB John Simon
DT Brandon Williams
CB Chris Houston
CB Darius Slay
QB Kellen Moore
RB Mikel Leshoure
G Rodney Austin
G Leroy Harris
OT Jason Fox
Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the evening for updates and analysis as Nestor Aparicio brings live coverage from Ford Field in Detroit.
Posted on 15 December 2013 by Luke Jones
Playing on the road for the first time in nearly a month, the Ravens know exactly what’s at stake when they travel to Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions on Monday night.
A three-game winning streak has pushed Baltimore above the .500 mark for the first time since October, but a 1-5 road record can’t be overlooked as the Ravens play two of their final three away from M&T Bank Stadium against first-place teams. And with Miami and San Diego also hanging around in the AFC wild-card picture, the margin for error is small.
The Ravens have the clear advantage with health as linebacker Elvis Dumervil was the only player of real consequence listed as questionable and the rush specialist is expected to make his return after missing last week’s game against Minnesota with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, the Lions have three starters listed as questionable or worse on the final injury report of the week.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens aim to improve to two games above .500 for the first time all season. Monday night marks the fourth time these teams have ever met with the Ravens holding a 2-1 all-time advantage. Detroit won the only meeting between the teams at Ford Field, a 35-17 final back in 2005.
Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to maintain their grip on the No. 6 seed in the conference playoff race …
1. Facing a banged-up and below-average secondary, Torrey Smith finds room down the field for a long touchdown. The Lions will be without starting cornerback Chris Houston and rookie backup Darius Slay while starting free safety Louis Delmas missed two practices this week with a knee injury, leaving Detroit’s 25th-ranked pass defense even more vulnerable than normal. Smith has been held to just nine receptions over the last three games, but the return of tight end Dennis Pitta and the recent emergence of Jacoby Jones alleviates the heavy attention he was facing earlier in the season. This will free him up to slip past the secondary for a deep touchdown on Monday night, which will put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his three-year career.
2. Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson will go over 100 yards receiving and catch a touchdown over safety Matt Elam in deep coverage. The rookie’s comments questioning Johnson’s age and physicality earlier in the week were foolish, but the league’s best wideout was already motivated with the Lions fighting Chicago and Green Bay for the NFC North title. Elam has been a disappointment in pass coverage — recording just two pass breakups — as he’s played out of position all season and his small frame doesn’t play well against Johnson if he’s asked to provide help over the top. Cornerback Jimmy Smith has received most of the attention in terms of who will cover Johnson, but the Ravens rarely ever flip their corners and will likely try to offer as many different looks as they can in coverage. It won’t matter as Johnson will still get his yards and a score on Monday.
3. Linebacker Terrell Suggs will collect his first sack since Nov. 3, but the Ravens won’t generate much pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions have only allowed 15 sacks this season, which is a major reason why Stafford has remained healthy and is 24 yards shy of his third consecutive 4,000-yard season. Baltimore hasn’t collected a sack since Week 12, but blitzing will leave the defense vulnerable underneath against running back Reggie Bush coming out of the backfield, leaving defensive coordinator Dean Pees in a difficult position. Suggs will beat left tackle Riley Reiff for a sack in the first half and Dumervil’s return will help, but Stafford’s quick release and the Ravens’ concern with Bush and fellow back Joique Bell catching passes out of the backfield will lead to another week of underwhelming pressure.
4. Joe Flacco will roll out and move from the pocket by design to neutralize the Lions’ interior pressure to throw for 250 yards and two touchdowns. The presence of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley is a major concern for the Ravens as Flacco will need time in the pocket to step up and go vertical to test a poor secondary. Even if right guard Marshal Yanda and center Gino Gradkowski can hold their own against Suh, Fairley is likely to give A.Q. Shipley fits, which will prompt offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to use designed roll-outs and waggles for Flacco to move outside the pocket. Flacco has shown that he can throw effectively on the run and Pitta’s presence will help in that regard with intermediate passes to move the chains. Detroit’s defensive line is too strong to try to play straight up in the passing game, so the Ravens will try to get Flacco in space behind the line of scrimmage.
5. Struggling at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, the Ravens can’t quite keep up in a 27-20 final to Detroit. Most attention has fallen on the likes of Johnson, Stafford, and Bush this week, but the Ravens’ running game and pass rush do not match up well against the Lions, which will be the difference in a game in which points could come liberally for both sides. Baltimore will not be able to find space against the league’s sixth-ranked run defense, putting everything on Flacco’s throwing arm, but the passing game just hasn’t had a consistent 60 minutes of play all season long and that will catch up with them late in a back-and-forth game. With the Ravens unable to pressure Stafford, the Lions will just be too tough to stop as a late score against a defense that’s been unable to finish will be the difference in an entertaining contest.
Posted on 14 December 2013 by Luke Jones
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Making final preparations to begin a critical three-game stretch to close the 2013 regular season, the Ravens appear to be in good shape for Monday’s trip to Detroit to take on the 7-6 Lions.
Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (ankle) practiced for the second straight day on Saturday and is considered a good bet to play despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report. The 29-year-old missed last week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings with a left ankle injury suffered on Thanksgiving night against Pittsburgh but practiced on a limited basis to close this week.
Every player on the 53-man roster practiced over the last two days of the week leading into their first meeting against Detroit since 2009 as the Ravens appear as healthy as they’ve been all season with three regular-season games remaining.
“I’d say so. It probably is,” coach John Harbaugh said. “If you look at the course of the season [and] even last year, this is probably as healthy as we’ve been.”
The Ravens would like to have Dumervil back to boost a pass rush that’s failed to record a sack since the Week 12 win over the New York Jets on Nov. 24. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has only been sacked 15 times this season, but the Baltimore defense would like to disrupt the league’s third-ranked passing game as much as possible with Dumervil providing speed off the opposite edge to rush linebacker Terrell Suggs.
The Baltimore defense is now tied for ninth in the NFL with 37 sacks after a two-game drought as Dumervil and Suggs have combined for 18 1/2 this season. Baltimore has pointed to the pocket prowess of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger two weeks ago and the poor field conditions last Sunday to explain why the sacks haven’t come over the last two games.
“Obviously, we’d like to get sacks,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think you’d be surprised, though, how many times we actually hit the quarterback. When you watch the film, we may not be getting a sack if the ball is coming out quick, and there’s no way a guy can do that. He can’t get there in time if the ball is coming out quick. But you’re also getting what you want by the ball coming out quick. We’re getting quite a few hits.
“Elvis has been out, and that’s been a little bit of a factor, but the truth is the ball is coming out a lot quicker in these last two games. That’s smart football by their part.”
Cornerback Lardarius Webb (abs) was listed as probable and rookie safety Brynden Trawick (ankle) is questionable for Monday night’s game after both practiced on a limited basis all week. Webb was never considered to be in danger of missing the Detroit game, but Trawick is more of a question mark after missing the last two contests due to a high ankle sprain.
Meanwhile, the Lions are dealing with injuries in their secondary as cornerbacks Chris Houston (toe) and Darius Slay (knee) were both designated as doubtful after missing practices all week. With Houston unlikely to go, Detroit will likely start Jonte Green in his place opposite other starting corner Rashean Mathis. Starting free safety Louis Delmas also missed two practices this week with a knee issue despite being listed as probable on the final injury report.
Running back Reggie Bush (calf) and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder) were both listed as questionable, but they are expected to play after practicing on Friday and Saturday.
All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson is probable after being limited in practices all week.
The referee for Monday night’s game will be Carl Cheffers.
With strong ties to the state of Michigan, Harbaugh handled a slew of ticket requests for Monday night’s game but provided the stipulation that friends receiving tickets must wear purple in lieu of Lions blue. Harbaugh admitted that the requests got “a little more expensive” than he initially planned in his first trip to Detroit as the Ravens coach.
“There will be some purple there,” said Harbaugh, referencing the Lions’ instructions to have all fans wear Honolulu blue for Monday’s game. “You can count on that.”
Here is the final injury report of the week:
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle), S Brynden Trawick (ankle)
PROBABLE: CB Lardarius Webb (abs)
DOUBTFUL: CB Chris Houston (toe), CB Darius Slay (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), RB Reggie Bush (calf)
PROBABLE: S Louis Delmas (knee), WR Calvin Johnson (knee), DE Isreal Idonije (knee), T LaAdrian Waddle (elbow), S John Wendling (illness)
Posted on 13 December 2013 by Luke Jones
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As if preparing for arguably the NFL’s most explosive offensive player in Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson wasn’t enough, the Ravens must also deal with a pair of monsters in the middle of the Lions defensive line on Monday night.
And while Detroit’s defense ranks an ordinary 17th in yards allowed and 18th in points surrendered this season, tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley can wreak havoc on an offense in a variety of ways. Effective in shutting down the run as well as providing pressure up the middle, the tackles also bring an intimidation factor that walks a fine line between intimidating and dirty at times.
“Their reputation, they definitely live up to it,” running back Ray Rice said. “I don’t know if you want to call it physical or dirty. Whatever the refs see, that’s what they see. But needless to say, I’m not going to spark any fire. No. 1 is those two guys there in the middle, Ndamukong Suh and Fairley. They are great football players. We know we have our hands full with those guys.”
The Lions rank sixth against the run, which doesn’t bode well for a Baltimore running game that’s last in the league in yards per carry, but Suh’s biggest asset is his ability to put pressure on the quarterback. His 5 1/2 sacks rank second on the Lions behind defensive end Ziggy Ansah while Fairley has added 3 1/2 sacks on the season.
Guards Marshal Yanda and A.Q. Shipley along with center Gino Gradkowski will be entrusted to keep quarterback Joe Flacco upright and to give him room to step up to throw against a vulnerable Detroit secondary. Yanda’s task will be especially challenging as Suh has graded out as the second-best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
“One of the things that you notice about them is the fact that they can push the pocket,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “They can keep you from stepping up in it, and therefore you aren’t able to get the ball down the field with the kind of precision that you like. They do that quite often to quarterbacks. They get free.”
One man on ‘Megatron?’
Plenty of discussion this week has centered around how the Ravens will try to cover Johnson with third-year cornerback Jimmy Smith being named as the most popular candidate.
As you’d expect, the Ravens aren’t giving away how they plan to defend the 6-foot-5 receiver, but Smith is their most effective defender in press coverage should they try to play a physical brand of football against him like they did earlier this season against standout receivers such as Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall.
“How many corners are 6-foot-2 [with] long arms, a physical guy, a strong guy and the guy can run?” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Those are all the things you look for in a corner. Besides that, I think his confidence is growing. That’s the other side of it and the more it grows, the better you become.”
Pees would only say that fans and media would find out Monday night if the Ravens have decided to match Smith against Johnson exclusively, but the strategy isn’t as simple for a defense that plays extensive zone coverage.
In fact, the defensive coordinator provided a pretty convincing explanation for why the Ravens shouldn’t move away from their typical strategy of keeping Smith at right corner and Lardarius Webb on the left side in the base defense. Matching Smith up with the star receiver would require adjustments everywhere else and defenders to have new responsibilities if the Ravens are to show anything other than man coverage.
“You can’t go into a game, and every time I walk over with [No.81], they know you’re in man coverage, so a red flag is going to go up,” Pees said. “You’ve got to be able to play all of your coverages if you are going to play it that way. There’s a lot more involved in playing that, and all of a sudden the guy is in the slot, and he’s not an outside receiver, and you’re in sub defense, and Jimmy is in a nickel, or your guy is not a nickel. There’s a lot more involved when you try to play matchup coverage. It’s easy when you play man; go get your guy. But I wouldn’t want to be a coordinator in this league that tells the offensive coordinator every time I’m in man coverage.”
After dealing with a tornado-prompted delay in Chicago, a snowstorm in Baltimore, and high winds during a number of games over the last six weeks, the Ravens are embracing the opportunity to play indoors for the first time since Super Bowl XLVII.
It doesn’t result in any distinct advantage against an opponent that plays all home games inside, but the fast track and controlled climate of Ford Field just might be the elixir for a passing game that now possesses tight end Dennis Pitta and is looking for more consistency.
“I never make a big deal about playing outside,” Flacco said, “but every time you go into a dome and you start warming up, you realize how awesome it is to be able to throw the ball inside. It won’t have too much of an effect on the outcome of the game. As a quarterback, you always want great conditions and a dome obviously presents that.”
In addition to an easier time in the passing game, the Ravens will receive a respite in the kicking game after excellent work from kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch in some very difficult conditions.
The Ravens have even needed to adjust to the idea of not needing to prepare for harsh weather conditions.
“It’s been interesting,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “I gave the players the weather report this morning in the meeting, and I said it’s going to be 72 and calm. And there was a long pause. They weren’t sure they understood. ‘Oh, yeah. That’s right!!’ So, yes, we don’t have to deal with that. I think the people that are most happy about that are the specialists.”
Posted on 13 December 2013 by Luke Jones
Here are this weekend’s picks as The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction will pick every NFL game and local college games this season.
Luke Jones finished Week 14 with a 13-3 record while Drew Forrester was 10-6 on his picks. Entering Week 15, Jones is 128-79 on the season while Forrester is 123-84. Official standings are based only on the NFL picks.
Jones and Forrester incorrectly picked Denver to beat San Diego to kick off Week 15 action.
You can listen to Friday’s “Picks and Comment” segment HERE.
Ravens at Lions: Detroit 35-17 (Drew), Detroit 27-20 (Luke)
Redskins at Falcons: Washington 30-20 (Drew), Atlanta 27-21 (Luke)
49ers at Buccaneers: Tampa Bay 24-21 (Drew), San Francisco 21-13 (Luke)
Cardinals at Titans: Tennessee 28-20 (Drew), Arizona 26-21 (Luke)
Saints at Rams: New Orleans 38-24 (Drew), New Orleans 34-20 (Luke)
Seahawks at Giants: Seattle 19-14 (Drew), Seattle 20-16 (Luke)
Bears at Browns: Cleveland 20-13 (Drew), Cleveland 24-23 (Luke)
Texans at Colts: Indianapolis 30-17 (Drew), Indianapolis 31-20 (Luke)
Bills at Jaguars: Jacksonville 27-21 (Drew), Jacksonville 21-16 (Luke)
Patriots at Dolphins: Miami 23-20 (Drew), New England 24-17 (Luke)
Eagles at Vikings: Philadelphia 34-21 (Drew), Philadelphia 32-20 (Luke)
Jets at Panthers: Carolina 30-13 (Drew), Carolina 27-12 (Luke)
Chiefs at Raiders: Kansas City 27-17 (Drew), Kansas City 24-14 (Luke)
Packers at Cowboys: Green Bay 27-24 (Drew), Dallas 31-20 (Luke)
Bengals at Steelers: Cincinnati 33-27 (Drew), Cincinnati 23-20 (Luke)
Towson at Eastern Illinois: Panthers 44-39 (Drew), Panthers 34-24 (Luke)
Army vs. Navy: Midshipmen 27-6 (Drew), Midshipmen 23-17 (Luke)
Posted on 13 December 2013 by Luke Jones
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after telling reporters he was on the verge of returning to the practice field, Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil worked on a limited basis on Friday.
With Baltimore preparing for a Monday night meeting with the Detroit Lions, Dumervil was the only player on the roster to miss Thursday’s practice as he continues to work his way back from a left ankle injury suffered in Week 13. The 29-year-old missed last Sunday’s game over the Minnesota Vikings and hadn’t practiced since before the Ravens’ Thanksgiving game with Pittsburgh.
“It’s an unusual ankle sprain. It’s sort of a bruise [and] strain at once,” Dumervil said Thursday. “It’s kind of awkward, so you feel things from different areas. I’m getting better, so thank God about that. I’m going to try to go out tomorrow with the guys and get some work in. They’ve got a good team in Detroit, so I’ve got to make sure I’m ready.”
After failing to collect any sacks in their last two games, the Ravens could use Dumervil’s pass-rush ability against the league’s third-ranked passing game. Dumervil leads Baltimore with 9 1/2 sacks this season while serving primarily as a rush specialist.
Starting cornerback Lardarius Webb (abs) and rookie safety Brynden Trawick (ankle) both worked on a limited basis Friday for the second straight day.
For the Lions, standout running back Reggie Bush (calf) returned to practice on Friday, which is a promising sign for his status after he missed last Sunday’s game in Philadelphia.
Here is Friday’s official injury report:
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle), S Brynden Trawick (ankle), CB Lardarius Webb (abs)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Chris Houston (toe), CB Darius Slay (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), RB Reggie Bush (calf), S Louis Delmas (knee), DE Isreal Idonije (knee), WR Calvin Johnson (knee), T LaAdrian Waddle (elbow)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S John Wendling (illness)
Posted on 12 December 2013 by Luke Jones
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens safety Matt Elam certainly provided the flavor needed for an extra day of buildup for Monday’s meeting with the Detroit Lions.
While also offering words of praise for All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Elam naively called the 28-year-old receiver “pretty old” while questioning the 6-foot-5, 236-pound wideout’s physicality on Wednesday. Johnson took the bait in Thursday’s conference call with the Baltimore media, vowing to show Elam and the Baltimore secondary his “old-man strength,” but anyone extending the rookie’s comments any further in thinking it will impact Monday’s outcome is reaching.
Though the 22-year-old Elam put a target on his back and left himself open for criticism should Johnson get behind him for a long touchdown or two, you don’t need outside motivation when you’re the best wide receiver on the planet and on track to become one of the greatest in NFL history. Those pointing to Johnson’s 329-yard receiving day against Dallas that followed Dez Bryant’s inflammatory comments earlier this year overlook the role the Cowboys’ 32nd-ranked pass defense played in the career day.
Simply put, there’s no such thing as waking a sleeping giant when he’s already been stomping on opponents every week.
“Would you think that Calvin Johnson is going to come to a Monday night game on national television and not play his best game anyway [until] a rookie said something? I doubt it,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who would suffer as much as anyone if Elam’s comments actually impacted the receiver’s Monday performance. “If they’re going to take it as, ‘That’s poster-board [material]; we’re going to take it even harder now,’ then they don’t have the right mentality coming to play a Monday night game anyway.”
Elam’s silly comments aside, the Ravens face arguably the biggest nightmare in the NFL today in trying to slow the seventh-year receiver, who last year set an NFL single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards. Johnson ranks second in the league with 1,351 receiving yards and second with 12 touchdown catches as he’s reined in 75 passes this season.
Fortunate to only have to face Johnson once every four years, the Ravens will need to contain the monstrous playmaker to earn only their second road win of the season and maintain their enviable position as the current No. 6 seed in the AFC. Meanwhile, the Lions find themselves in a dogfight with Chicago and Green Bay for the NFC North division title.
“‘Megatron.’ Anytime somebody has a nickname like that, the kid is real,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He is probably arguably the best receiver in the game. It’s going to take all 11 guys, especially tending to him. The pass rush is going to be key; running the ball is going to be key. They do a lot of things with him, [and] he ends up in a lot of places. But it’s also fun [when] you get to play against a guy like that.”
Looking beyond his obvious physical gifts, scheming how to cover Johnson is problematic because he’ll line up in a variety of different ways in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s system. Double teams and bracketed coverage sound great — and necessary — in principle, but the Lions effectively move him around various formations to create favorable matchups for him against the defense.
With that in mind, many have suggested that defensive coordinator Dean Pees assign the 6-foot-2 Smith — who’s been the team’s best cornerback this season — to follow Johnson wherever he lines up. Such a strategy goes against the Ravens’ normal way of keeping Smith at right cornerback and Lardarius Webb on the left side in the base defense.
The third-year defensive back Smith has embraced being physical against top receivers such as Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall, often getting the best of those matchups this season. Finally living up to the hype of being a first-round pick in the 2011 draft, Smith said he’d embrace the opportunity to shadow Johnson wherever he lines up if that’s what the Ravens ask him to do.
“Absolutely,” Smith said. “Prime-time television in front of the nation? We don’t move around a lot because we’ve got a lot of confidence in our corners. Whatever the game plan we bring on Monday night, that’s how we’re going to bring it. If they ask us to move and do things, we’re always going to be willing to do that.”
The Ravens secondary has spoken this week of embracing the challenge of slowing down Johnson, but they’ll need to avoid giving up the big play that’s plagued them all season. Baltimore has surrendered 16 pass plays of 40 or more yards this season — most in the NFL — while lacking a true free safety in the secondary.
Johnson alone has 20 receptions of 20 or more yards this season as his speed coupled with his ability to break tackles often leads to explosive plays on even shorter passes from quarterback Matthew Stafford. Missed assignments and shaky tackling have plagued the back end of the defense at various points this season, including the final two minutes of their win over Minnesota in which the Ravens gave up a 41-yard touchdown run and a 79-yard touchdown pass.
“Sometimes a team makes a great play,” Smith said. “Sometimes, it’s us with a mental error, doing something that we don’t usually do throughout the first four quarters of our game. Something like that [happens], and some big plays pops.”
Even if Smith, Webb, and No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham are at the top of their game in trying to cover Johnson, the Ravens must try to revitalize a pass rush that’s largely been in hibernation over the last two games. Baltimore didn’t record a quarterback sack against Pittsburgh or Minnesota as the defense battled Ben Roethlisberger and snow-covered field conditions in successive weeks.
Getting pressure won’t be easy as the Detroit offensive line has allowed only 15 sacks all season and Stafford likes to get rid of the ball quickly, meaning the Ravens must get hands up in passing lanes and at least provide enough discomfort to force quicker-than-normal throws if they can’t get to the Lions signal-caller in the pocket. Turnovers have been a problem for an otherwise-explosive offense as Stafford will rush through his progressions and force throws that sometimes aren’t there — even to Johnson.
The Ravens know their task is a tall one as they face the league’s second-ranked offense with Johnson the biggest reason why. The defense’s goal will be to keep him in front of the secondary, settling for completions with the goal of preventing game-changing plays.
But that’s the intention of opposing defenses week after week, with few units finding success.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “These are the games that we have to put that work in and definitely put that work in for earlier in the year. It will be a great challenge.”