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Does John Harbaugh’s style need changing? It’s a fair question…

Posted on 05 November 2013 by Drew Forrester

Football players can’t change much, but a coach sure can.

Can John Harbaugh change?

Should he?

Will he?

Those are all fair questions now as the Ravens are in the midst of only their second 3-game losing streak in Harbaugh’s outstanding 6-year run as Baltimore’s NFL coach.

First, let’s get this straight from the start:  In and of itself, a 3-game losing streak is NOT a reason to panic.  It’s NOT a reason to change the great things you’ve done.  And it’s NOT incumbent upon one person to say, “I’ll fix this whole thing…”

That said, when you’ve been around for five-plus seasons, any significant bump in the road – and a 3-game losing streak, to a high-level franchise like the Ravens, is SIGNIFICANT – has to be looked at by the head coach as an opportunity to evaluate himself and his work.

I hope John is doing that today in Owings Mills.

Anyone who has read my work here or listened to my radio show knows what I think about John Harbaugh.  For the record, again, I’ll simply say this:  John is an outstanding football coach.  He’s an equally outstanding “man”.  He’s a champion.  And, of course, he still has plenty to learn in his profession.

I’ve been around athletes for the last thirty years of my life and one thing I can say for sure is that players rarely change their own style.  They can’t, really.  They are what they are.  If you’re a striker in professional soccer and you’re a right footed player with little or no ability to play left-footed, you’re always going to be a player that goes to his right and uses his right foot to pass or shoot the ball.  The same goes for a basketball player who’s a “right sided” player.  You’re going to your right, virtually every time, and that’s just the way it goes.  You do what got you there, for lack of a better term.  Football players are the same.  Their style is their style.  Some of that is predicated on things outside of their control — size and speed are two factors — but for the most part, a pro football player is going to use the tools that got him there in the first place.

Coaches are different.

They can change.

That doesn’t mean they have to undergo a wholesale change that comes across as “obviously phony”.

But, a coach who’s soft can develop a new, stronger edge and a coach that’s known to be a drill sergeant can soften his edges and  learn to be more accomodating with his players.  The most obvious NFL example of the latter is Tom Coughlin in New York, who has worked hard over the last five years to listen more and yell less.  It’s worked, of course.  He’s a 2-time Super Bowl champion and likely headed for the Hall of Fame someday.

I’d ask John Harbaugh to go through the same self-evaluation as Coughlin did five years ago.

I’m not TELLING John to change.  That’s not the point of this.

I’m simply suggesting to the coach that now, season six of his tenure, might be the time to carefully evaluate his style to see if it still works with this group of players he has in Baltimore.

One thing I know for sure.  If John Harbaugh thinks his style can be tweaked, improved or altered and doing so would help the team win, he’d surely consider doing it.  Another thing I know without hesitation:  No one on the football team or football staff wants to win more than Harbaugh.  No one.  He’d sell his mother to win a football game.  And then he’d pay double to get her back afterwards.  He wants to win, badly.

Then again, the players want to win, too.  How you get them to win, though, is the challenge.  As someone in the Ravens organization said to me last week, “We have an interesting collection of players.  Some of the veterans need an ass-kicking and some don’t.  Some of our young players get it and some of them don’t.  Usually, the vets don’t need to be reminded to take every snap seriously and the kids do, but our locker room is a unique blend of guys, for some reason.”

One of those veteran players who needed an ass kicking got it last week.  Michael Huff was sent packing after three months of showing little desire to do anything except pick up a paycheck.  Marcus Spears was also let go, but that was much more about his degenerative knee condition limiting him, physically.  Cornerback Asa Jackson returns this week after his 2nd run-in with the league’s Substance Abuse Policy.  He’s on life number eight of his nine lives in Baltimore.  Will he take advantage of it or will he fall from grace the way most people in Owings Mills assume he will?

And, how does John Harbaugh go about his own business now, dealing with a locker room that’s reeling with three straight losses and has both sides of the ball stinking it up at crucial times during the games?  A fractured locker room is a bad locker room.  Once the offense and defense start taking up sides, you’re in big trouble.  I can only guess there’s an element of that existing right now at 1 Winning Drive, but that atmosphere likely exists in most locker rooms of 3-5 teams.

This, again, is on Harbaugh’s shoulders right now.

Is he working with a depleted roster, minus eleven critically important players from a season ago?

Absolutely.

If you suddenly re-inserted these jerseys in the Ravens locker room, would the team be a lot better?  Dennis Pitta, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Cary Williams, Brendon Ayanbedejo, Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk, Bryant McKinnie, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe.

Answer, of course:  Yes.

But, that was then, this is now.  Those guys are gone.  And this new edition of Ravens football might not react to the head coach the way the championship team did a season ago.

Is John just going with his style because it’s his style or is willing to look at himself and say, “For this team, now, I might need to change the way I do things?”

More bible verses?  Or less bible verses?

Harder practices?  Lighter practices?

More hugs to the special team players…the fringe guys?  Or less hugs and more questions like “Are you ever going to be good enough to start in this league?”

More critical analysis of his coaching staff?  Longer days?  Shorter days?  More “come to Jesus” meetings with position coaches who see their own struggling game in and game out?

More thorough review of John’s own in-game style and strategy?  More of a gambler?  Less of a gambler?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions and I’m not suggesting any, honestly.

I’m merely asking the coach if his style, the one that has made him a champion, is etched in stone and non-negotiable?

Or, like the truly GREAT coaches in all sports, can he re-invent himself and use his strengths to mold a new character that changes with the seasons and the players he leads?

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Loss of a dozen starters has really hurt the Ravens

Posted on 22 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

Everywhere I went on Monday, the question was basically the same:  “What’s wrong with the Ravens?”

A few folks who asked that of me quickly followed up with, “You shouldn’t be this bad a year after winning the Super Bowl.”

Well, what’s wrong with the Ravens is, in fact, a by-product of winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans last February.

The 2013 edition of John Harbaugh’s team isn’t the same one that won the title in 2012.  Simple, right?  Well, yes, it sort of IS that simple, actually, even though people are always trying to find the “hidden secret” or “untold story” of the team.

Try this simple exercise for a second.  You’re going to have to put your pre-conceived negative opinions of John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice on the side for a moment, because this little game won’t work if you can’t do that.

OK…ready?

I want you to rewind your brain all the way back to last January.  The Ravens have just finished 10-6, won the AFC North, and get to take on the Colts in the first round of the playoffs.  If they win there, their “prize” is a trip to Denver to take on a Peyton Manning team that rocked you in Baltimore a month earlier.  And, if you’re somehow fortunate enough to get past the Broncos, the last remaining hurdle between you and the Super Bowl is a visit to Tom Brady’s house in Foxboro.

Still with me?

OK — the week before the Colts game, a crippling virus races through the Ravens locker room and these ten players are deemed OUT for the remainder of the playoffs:  Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Brendon Ayanbedejo, Bernard Pollard, Cary Williams and Dennis Pitta.  Add Bryant McKinnie to the mix after Monday’s trade and that makes eleven key players gone. (Keep in mind, as much as people like to beat up McKinnie, the Ravens are 0-2 since they jettisoned him to the bench in favor of Eugene Monroe.)

Could the Ravens have won four straight games in January and February without those eleven players a year ago?

Honestly?

Of course not.  They wouldn’t have moved past Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs given those ten starters missing the game due to the mythical “virus” I described above.

Well — of those eleven players I listed, nine of them were STARTERS from a year ago who haven’t played a single down for the Ravens this season.  McKinnie played 5 of 7 games before they sent him packing on Monday afternoon.

Of the players listed above, only Dennis Pitta remains on the roster, and he’s injured and was unavailable through seven games of 2013.

If you’re looking for the biggest reason why the Ravens are 3-4 at the bye, you just saw ten of them above.  There are, generally speaking, 22 “starters” in any game.  Ayanbedejo wasn’t technically a starter, but he WAS a special teams ace, so I deem him to be an important cog in the machine.  So, ten starters – out of 22 – are gone.  That’s not quite 50%, but it’s a huge chunk of quality missing that needed to be replaced.

(Please see next page)

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MobTown Sports Beat Monday Ravens Roundup

Posted on 23 September 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

 

The Ravens improved to 2-1 on the season yesterday with a one-sided, 30-9 win over the Houston Texans. After the way that the Texans handled the Ravens last season, there were a number of reasons to be concerned beforehand. Truth be told, I had a much worse feeling about what might happen against Houston than I did before the beat down the Ravens suffered in Denver in Week1. Hindsight however is 20/20, so here’s a quick rundown of what we know now after the Ravens latest victory:

5. Justin Tucker is Back on Track

…for now at least. Maybe it was the reception that Billy Cundiff received from the Ravens faithful last week that had Tucker out of sorts. Maybe it was just the presence of Cundiff in the building that infected Tucker’s right foot last Sunday. Regardless, Tucker made enough big kicks in his rookie year to have some equity built up with fans. That equity though wouldn’t have lasted through too many 0-for-2 performances like he had last week vs. Cleveland, especially if those misses began to cost the Ravens games.

While concern over the kicking game was mild at most, it was nice to see Tucker get back on track with a 3-for-3 game against the Texans, hitting from 28, 45 and 43 yards. Even though the two from 40+ came in late, low leverage situations, any concerns fans had about the Ravens kicking game can be shelved…for now.

4. Dirty Birds

After struggling with penalties last year, the Ravens still appear to have some work to do in that regard. The 2013 Ravens have 20 penalties for 181 yards through 3 games, including 10 for 87 yards in yesterday’s affair. Despite their most penalized performance of the season vs. Houston, the Ravens still managed to win the “penalty battle” as the Texans racked up 14 for 113 yards.

3. Cheering for Laundry

On the day that Ed Reed returned to Baltimore as a member of a new team, and Ray Lewis returned to be honored by the Ravens, it was the guys who suited up in their places that stole the show. James Ihedigbo picked up 9 tackles, 2 for a loss along with 2 defended passes and simply seemed to be everywhere while covering Ed Reed’s old spot. Daryl Smith, playing in Ray Lewis’ former domain plucked a Matt Schaub pass away from a waiting Owen Daniels, and at a time where the Ravens offense was struggling to make hay, made some on his own, hustling it 37 yards to pay dirt.

For all of the Ravens off-season pick-ups, Daryl Smith might have been the least heralded. He was grabbed on the same day the Ravens visited the White House and his signing went basically under the radar. If he continues to play like he did on Sunday, he could be the team’s most impactful addition. It’s also pretty encouraging that his big play came defending a tight end, which has been an issue for the Ravens of late.  

2. Doss is a Boss

What more can you say about a guy who was shown the door by the team when they pared down to their final 53 men, only to come back with an emphatic impact? Life out of football, brief as it may have been, seems to have brought out the best in Tandon Doss who is making the most out of his second chance with the Ravens. Maybe in the coming weeks Doss can become more a part of the Ravens passing game, and finally show fans those hands we heard so much about from the team about throughout his first 2 seasons. It’s not like the Ravens offense couldn’t use a pair of hands that they can trust between the hash marks.

1. Who Says Joe Flacco Can’t Act?

While Joe Flacco’s increased, post-Super Bowl public profile has led to some pretty clunky performances as a pitchman in various commercials, Flacco’s acting skills were on full display yesterday. After last season’s debacle at the hands of the Texans, JJ Watt and the rest of the Houston pass rush broke the huddle with their ears pinned back more often than not on Sunday. Flacco used that aggression against the Texans inducing 5 encroachment or defensive offsides penalties on the anxious Texans defense.

Elsewhere in the AFC North

The Bengals picked up a big win and remain tied with the Ravens at 2-1 atop the division. For now at least, it’s shaping up to be an interesting battle between these 2 for the division. They’ll meet again in Week 17 this year, maybe with something actually on the line this time.

The Steelers looked really bad to start against the Bears on Sunday night, but showed some real resilience closing the gap from 24-3 to 27-23. It looked like Pittsburgh had really found their resolve in the face of an 0-3 start. In the end though, their comeback attempt was little more than a chance for Ben Roethlisberger to cough up the ball in a late critical situation…it’s kind of their thing.

Leave it to the Browns to all but announce that they’re going into full tank mode by trading RB Trent Richardson and skipping right over Jason Campbell on the depth chart to 3rd stringer Brian Hoyer to replace injured starter Brandon Weeden, and then pick up a win on Sunday. There are even reports that the Browns are shopping receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little. Of course the Browns can’t even tank right. If they had only known that the best way to win was to actually try to lose, they could have saved themselves and their fans years of heartache.

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Ravens-Texans: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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

BALTIMORE — It won’t be easy for the banged-up Ravens as they welcome the Houston Texans to Baltimore for an early-season AFC showdown.

Seven Ravens players were listed as doubtful or out on the final injury report of the week, with Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice headlining the list. Rice missed practice all week after suffering a left hip flexor strain in the Week 2 win over Cleveland and will miss his first game since his rookie season in 2008 when he was sidelined for the final three games of the regular season before returning for the playoffs.

Also out for Sunday’s game is defensive end Chris Canty (groin), which will force a shuffle along the Ravens defensive line with Arthur Jones expected to slide to the 5-technique defensive end spot normally occupied by Canty and veteran Marcus Spears moving into Jones’ normal 3-technique defensive tackle position in the base 3-4 defense. The Ravens will also be without rookie linebacker Arthur Brown (pectoral strain), which will impact their nickel defense against the Texans.

Second-year running back Bernard Pierce will start in Rice’s place and figures to be a decent matchup due to his physical running style, but Rice’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield will be missed in the Baltimore passing game. Rice had played in 66 consecutive regular-season games prior to Sunday.

Former Ravens safety Ed Reed will make his debut with the Texans in his return to Baltimore after departing via free agency in the offseason. The 35-year-old missed the first two games of the season while still recovering from offseason hip surgery.

Texans left tackle Duane Brown was downgraded to out on Saturday, which is good news for the Baltimore pass rush as linebacker Terrell Suggs will match up with backup Ryan Harris for much of the afternoon. Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson is active and will play despite sustaining a concussion in the Texans’ Week 2 overtime win over Tennessee.

It will be an emotional day in Baltimore as future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis joins the team’s Ring of Honor. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year and 13-time Pro Bowl selection will be introduced before the game, and the induction ceremony will take place at halftime.

The Ravens are meeting the Texans for the seventh time in the regular season with Baltimore owning a 5-1 edge, and the teams met in the postseason once, a 20-13 victory for Baltimore on Jan. 15, 2012.

Sunday’s referee will be John Parry as the forecast calls for clear skies and temperatures in the 70s Sunday afternoon.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys and white pants while Houston is donning white jerseys with blue pants.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
RB Ray Rice
DE Chris Canty
LB Arthur Brown
DT Brandon Williams
WR Deonte Thompson
WR Jacoby Jones
OL Ryan Jensen

HOUSTON
OT Duane Brown
QB Case Keenum
WR Lestar Jean
OLB Sam Montgomery
G Cody White
ILB Justin Tuggle
DE Tim Jamison

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the afternoon for updates and analysis as Drew Forrester, Nestor Aparicio, and I bring live coverage from M&T Bank Stadium.

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Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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

The memory of last year’s 43-13 thrashing is still on the Ravens’ minds as they welcome the Houston Texans to Baltimore for an important early-season showdown in the AFC and an opportunity to exact revenge.

The Ravens are still trying to find their identity on each side of the football while Houston feels fortunate to be 2-0 after earning victories on the final play of each game, including an overtime win over the Tennessee Titans last week.

Sunday will be an emotional day at M&T Bank Stadium as future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor while longtime safety Ed Reed returns to Baltimore as a member of the Houston Texans after departing via free agency in the offseason.

It’s time to go on record as Baltimore and Houston meet for the seventh time in the regular-season series with the Ravens holding a 5-1 edge. These teams met in the 2011 postseason with the Ravens winning a 20-13 final as the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens play the Texans for the fourth straight year in the regular season …

1. Bernard Pierce will grind out 75 tough yards on the ground against a physical Texans front seven and find the end zone once. The expected absence of running back Ray Rice hurts the Ravens offense with his ability to catch passes out of the backfield not at their disposal, but Pierce’s physical running style is better suited against a physical Houston defense that surprisingly ranks 18th against the run (99.5 yards allowed per game) through two games. However, the Ravens’ ability to run the ball will be much more about their offensive line as Baltimore is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry so far this season. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell saw the need to stick with the run in the second half against Cleveland and will use a similar approach against the Texans, but Pierce’s yards per carry average won’t be much better than last week’s 3.0 on 19 carries.

2. The Ravens defense will struggle to cover tight ends for the third straight week as Owen Daniels catches a touchdown from Matt Schaub. Houston wide receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins will keep cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith busy on the outside, but Texans tight ends have caught five touchdown passes in two games this season. It’s no secret that Ravens linebackers and safeties have struggled immensely to cover the middle of the field and Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and Schaub will be aware of the deficiency. The expected absence of rookie linebacker Arthur Brown — who played in the nickel last week before suffering a pectoral strain — only hurts the Ravens’ ability in that department as Daniels finds the end zone. Backup tight end Garrett Graham is questionable with a groin injury, but he will need to be watched carefully as well if he plays.

3. With Texans left tackle Duane Brown unlikely to play and the right side of the Houston offensive line suspect, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will each collect a sack. Brown is listed as questionable, but all indications from Houston indicate he will not be able to play on Sunday, giving the Ravens an opportunity to put significant heat on Schaub. The Baltimore pass rush and front seven overall will compete nicely against the Texans upfront, keeping the Ravens in the game throughout the day against a unit that will try to run the football with Arian Foster and Ben Tate and move the chains with the intermediate passing game. Suggs matching up against backup left tackle Ryan Harris and Dumervil going against right tackle Derek Newton will add up to another big day for the pass-rushing duo and the third straight game in which they’ve each collected a sack.

4. Reed won’t make a significant impact, but the Houston defense will be in Joe Flacco’s face too much on Sunday. I’d be surprised if Reed didn’t play on Sunday, but a 35-year-old safety coming off his second major hip surgery in four years and acknowledging that he’s not 100 percent shouldn’t create much fear in Flacco’s mind as long as the quarterback doesn’t sleep on Reed’s cerebral presence in the secondary. However, the Ravens need their offensive line to begin playing like it did in last year’s postseason with the shortage of offensive weapons at Flacco’s disposal. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie and left guard Kelechi Osemele both struggled in Week 2, and the challenge is only greater for the line this week against the likes of left defensive end and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt — who will also move around on the defensive line — as well as other pass rushers all over the place in Wade Phillips’ defense. The Texans were just too fast for Flacco and the Ravens offense in last year’s blowout and the offensive line will have a major challenge once again on Sunday. Pressure upfront will only help a Houston pass defense that’s thrived early this season against underwhelming offenses.

5. With Rice and Jacoby Jones sidelined, the Ravens will simply lack enough offensive firepower to overcome a balanced Texans team in a 21-16 loss. As difficult as it is to bet against the Ravens in Baltimore, nothing about their offense through two weeks suggests they’re ready to beat one of the big boys in the conference and the absence of Rice and Jones significantly hurts their speed on offense. A strength last season, the vertical passing game has been nonexistent with Torrey Smith facing bracketed coverage, and rookie Marlon Brown won’t find life as easy against the cornerback duo of Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. The defense is certainly good enough to make some stops and limit the Texans’ scoring opportunities to keep the Ravens in the game, but the offense just won’t produce enough big plays with Flacco facing pressure and unable to rely on enough targets in the passing game.

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Ed Reed: “I always will be a Raven”

Posted on 19 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In typical fashion, former Ravens safety Ed Reed initially labeled his return to Baltimore as “another away game” as a member of the Houston Texans, but we all knew better.

Spending more time reminiscing about his 11 years with the organization that drafted him with the 24th overall pick of the 2002 draft, the 35-year-old’s true feelings shined through to no one’s surprise. It’s impossible not to be a little sentimental as Reed prepares to potentially play in his first game with another NFL franchise after missing the start of the season recovering from offseason hip surgery.

“Baltimore is family. I miss walking into ‘The Bank’ on Sunday,” Reed said in a conference call with the local media. “I have a lot of memories; I cherish that and always will be a Raven. That’s where I was raised in the NFL. I did a lot of growing; we did a lot of special things. That’s something that could never be taken away.”

The reactions from former teammates have been awkward but respectful this week as the thought of Reed wearing enemy colors at M&T Bank Stadium seems foreign. Some teammates have even joked that they hope Reed won’t be ready to return to action as he acknowledges being less than 100 percent after missing the entire preseason and the Texans’ first two regular-season games.

Even Reed doesn’t know exactly what to expect from the hometown fans, joking that it will depend on how the morning tailgating goes prior to Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoff.

“It’s going to be weird with him being here such a long time,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “It’s going to be weird seeing him in a different uniform. He moved on, and we moved on, and hopefully he cannot play so we don’t have to play against him.”

While Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has spoken positively about Reed’s status, the veteran defensive back was noncommittal about playing Sunday after practicing on a limited basis each of the last two days. It’s expected that Reed would only play on a part-time basis against the Ravens in his first game action since Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.

It’s anyone’s guess what Reed will have to offer this season as he enters his 12th season and is coming off his second major hip surgery in the last four years.

“I’m not confident about [anything] but going day to day the way I’ve been,” Reed said. “There’s no confidence about it if I haven’t played. You can’t be confident if you haven’t been on the field.”

Even with Reed’s physical skills in decline, the Ravens are fully aware of his mental prowess in the secondary and know he is still able to take advantage of mistakes like he did when picking off an overthrown pass by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl. A ferocious Texans pass rush makes Reed’s stalking in the secondary even more dangerous for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Facing the man who challenged him on a daily basis in practices for years, Flacco understands how significant Reed’s return is for both Baltimore fans and his organization, regardless of what kind of player Reed will be in 2013.

“If he was in his fifth year, it probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal, because he wouldn’t have been here for that long,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who teamed with Reed for five seasons. “But the fact that all the fans know him as a Baltimore Raven, and the fact that I was a fan of his at one point [before being his teammate], yeah, it probably makes it a little bit different.”

Reed’s decision to depart for Houston on a three-year, $15 milllion wasn’t the storybook ending many had hoped for after he finally raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February, but his return to Baltimore will still be memorable as fans will inevitably recognize one of the greatest players in franchise history.

The Ravens just hope Reed doesn’t make them pay with his play on the field.

“It’s like playing against your brothers again while I’m out there coaching,” said Reed, who insisted he holds no hard feelings over the way his exit from the Ravens played out. “I’ve been having this feeling for a long time. It’s different being here and coming to see my guys, who I’ve been fighting with for a long time.”

Lewis to speak or not to speak

Only adding to the emotion of Reed’s return to Baltimore will be the Ring of Honor induction of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who ended his remarkable 17-year career in February.

His presence on Sunday has sparked questions over whether Lewis will address the team prior to kickoff. Truthfully, it’s an awkward proposition for an organization that spent the offseason trying to move on from the era in which Lewis and Reed were the biggest faces of the franchise.

“I think we’ll leave that up to Ray, but I think he should just enjoy his moment,” Suggs said. “It’s his day. He’s going in [to the Ring of Honor], and if he feels he needs to say something to the team, he can say something. If anybody has the right of way, it’s him. If he just wants to enjoy it, take it in and be a fan of football, that’s fine, too.”

It would be nearly impossible for the Ravens to deny Lewis the opportunity to speak to his former teammates if he asks, but one wonders if it would be counterproductive to the leadership-by-committee approach that continues to be a work in progress in the early stages of the season.

Numerous members of the organization have made it clear throughout the offseason and summer that it’s a new era of Ravens football, so Lewis’ presence beyond the details of the halftime celebration could be considered a potential distraction.

“I don’t have a philosophical position on that,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Either way would be fine. If it happened and it felt right, it would be great. And if it didn’t happen because it didn’t make sense, that’d be fine, too.”

Watch out for Watt

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Rice won’t need to practice to play against Texans on Sunday

Posted on 16 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens continued to present a positive outlook for running back Ray Rice’s status following the left hip flexor strain he suffered in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Cleveland.

Rice did not return to the game, but the sixth-year back did not undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test, a good sign that the injury isn’t considered a long-term concern. The Ravens were held 99 yards on 36 carries with Rice carrying 13 times for 36 yards before exiting the game, but coach John Harbaugh was optimistic once again about Rice’s prognosis moving forward.

“That’s the indication, that it’s not anything that’s really serious,” Harbaugh said. “They would be looking at it if they thought it was. We’ll just be day to day with him.”

With the Ravens struggling to run the ball in each of their first two games of the regular season, Rice’s availability will be crucial with the Houston Texans coming to Baltimore on Sunday. However, the injury reports for practices this week probably won’t provide a strong indication of Rice’s progress and you’d assume his hip ailment will lead to more opportunities than normal for backup Bernard Pierce on Sunday.

Pierce gained 57 yards on 19 carries, including a 5-yard touchdown to put the Ravens in front of Cleveland for the first time with 5:13 remaining in the third quarter. Through two weeks, the Ravens rank 22nd in the NFL with 78.5 rushing yards per game and their 2.8 yards per carry average is 28th in the league.

“Ray’s a guy I’d probably lean toward resting him this week [during practices] and then seeing how he looks this weekend,” Harbaugh said. “He’s not going to need the practice to play in the game, but if he feels great, we’ll put him out there. If he doesn’t, we’ll probably rest him and get him ready to go on Sunday if possible.”

Harbaugh did not have any significant updates on the Ravens’ other injuries from Sunday’s game aside from defensive end Chris Canty undergoing an MRI for his injured groin. Cornerback Chykie Brown (knee) and linebacker Arthur Brown (pectoral strain) both underwent MRIs on Monday, but the latter took part in Monday’s walk-through, which could be an indication that his pectoral injury isn’t too serious.

Ready for Reed’s return

Former Ravens safety Ed Reed has yet to make his debut with the Houston Texans due to offseason hip surgery, but Harbaugh and the Ravens fully expect to see the future Hall of Famer lurking in the secondary in his return to Baltimore on Sunday.

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak was optimistic on Monday when asked about Reed’s status after the safety appeared to be close to playing in Houston’s Week 2 win over Tennessee before being ruled inactive. Reed has taken his time in rehabbing his surgically-repaired hip, but you know he had the Week 3 meeting with the Ravens circled on his calendar as a game in which he desperately wanted to play.

“We’ll have to assume that he is going to play,” Harbaugh said. “We’d be surprised if he didn’t play in this game, and we’ll have to assume he’s going to play the way he’s played in the past.”

The Ravens are clearly familiar with Reed’s skill set and mental prowess in the secondary, but there is some level of unknown in how he’ll fit in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ system. Harbaugh acknowledged the Texans’ 3-4 system has similar elements to what the Ravens run in Baltimore, but quarterback Joe Flacco will now face the 35-year-old defensive back for the first time in a non-practice setting.

Harbaugh acknowledged that it will be strange seeing No. 20 on the enemy sideline after his 11 years spent in Baltimore.

“It’s going to be like it was for other teams game planning against us in the past, I suppose,” Harbaugh said. “It will be a different feeling. I’ll let you know afterwards. It’s a little tougher because we haven’t seen him on tape, so we really don’t know how he fits in their defense.”

Lewis entering Ring of Honor

In addition to Reed, the Ravens will also induct future Hall of Fame linebacker into their Ring of Honor on Sunday, adding to what will already be a special day and a meaningful game against one of the best teams in the AFC.

Lewis will speak to the media through a national conference call on Tuesday afternoon before being honored during halftime of Sunday’s game.

The Ravens might even ask for an extra lift from the 38-year-old, who is now making a name for himself off the field as an NFL analyst on ESPN.

“We’ll be emotional about the game, and we’ll feel great about Ray being here for that,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a great honor. It’s something that we’ll all take pride in. Maybe Ray will be ready to give us a little [pep] talk? We’ll be looking for that as well.”

Flacco spends day with family

With his wife Dana giving birth to the couple’s second son on Sunday, Flacco left M&T Bank Stadium immediately after the 14-6 win over the Browns and was given the day off Monday to spend time with baby Daniel.

“We did give Joe some time today to stay up [in New Jersey], because of getting up there so late last night,” Harbaugh said. “I just talked to him through texts, and he seems pretty happy.”

Players will have their regular day off on Tuesday before returning to their Owings Mills facility on Wednesday to continue preparations for Houston.

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Ravens defense aiming to make expectations reality in post-Lewis era

Posted on 03 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens heard the questions, the concerns, and the doubts about their once-proud defense in the weeks and months that followed their win in Super Bowl XLVII.

How would they survive without the retiring Ray Lewis, arguably the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history and unquestionably the leader and face of the franchise for their entire 17-year existence? What would they do to replace future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed’s presence in the defensive backfield as well as in the locker room? And how could they afford to lose younger talents such as Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard, and Cary Williams in a quest to rebuild an aging and frequently-ineffective defense?

Those who downplayed Lewis’ departure because of his declining play over the final seasons of his career couldn’t overlook the colossal void in leadership and identity that needed to be addressed for an organization that both empowered and depended upon his presence. And after years of watching former Baltimore defensive players escape Lewis’ shadow before finding that the grass wasn’t greener elsewhere, the Ravens themselves will now see how they fare without him.

“In the spring, everybody was hitting the panic button on us because of the guys we lost,” Pro Bowl linebacker and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs said. “Even though we were very sad to see those guys go, the show must go on.”

The time for change was right as general manager Ozzie Newsome remembered what some had seemingly forgotten while basking in the image of confetti dropping in New Orleans in a storybook ending for the 2012 Ravens. Though praised for a “bend but don’t break” style that was good enough to complement quarterback Joe Flacco’s incredible postseason performance, the Baltimore defense finished 17th in total defense, tied for 12th in points allowed, 20th against the run, 17th against the pass, and tied for 15th in sacks.

Frankly, the defensive numbers and overall performance were un-Raven-like as Baltimore was weak along the defensive line as well as at safety, prompting Newsome to trade wide receiver Anquan Boldin and his $6 million base salary in 2013 to clear just enough salary cap space to rebuild the defense in terms of both talent and leadership. Defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears would provide improved depth upfront while free safety Michael Huff seemed like a good bet to, at worst, match the declining play of Reed for a fraction of the cost that the Houston Texans paid for the longtime Raven’s services in free agency.

The prize of the group, however, was Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was released due to a contract-restructuring snafu made by his former agent and joined the Ravens after signing a five-year deal worth a maximum value of $35 million. It appeared to be a bargain for a three-time Pro Bowl selection whose work ethic and leadership have been praised by everyone in the organization from the moment he stepped foot in Owings Mills in the spring.

“I think [it comes with] the way you play on the field and how you lead by example,” Dumervil said. “Leadership doesn’t come with talking or speech — it’s just how you carry yourself. I’ve always been a leader. That’s just natural for me, and I think I’ve learned how to follow before I can lead.”

After drafting four defensive players in the first four rounds of April’s draft, Newsome had one more trick up his sleeve in signing longtime Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith to a one-year deal on the same day the Super Bowl champs visited President Barack Obama at the White House. The 31-year-old has stepped in to play Lewis’ Mike linebacker position while looking like the team’s best player in the preseason, recording 14 tackles and a sack while showing steady ability in pass coverage.

Initially perceived as little more than an insurance policy for injured inside linebacker Jameel McClain, Smith has been praised by everyone in the organization, ranging from his new defensive teammates to quarterback Joe Flacco. Smith’s personality couldn’t be more different from Lewis, which might be a positive while handling such an unenviable task of replacing a legend.

“He doesn’t say a lot, because he’s just about business, and then you sit down and talk to him and realize the depth of his character and personality,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a great family man, he’s a mature guy, he’s a man. And he’s also – I really believe – one of the most underrated defensive players in football over the last eight [or] nine years. We feel pretty fortunate that he’s here right now.”

The common threads among the five veteran newcomers were the leadership qualities they displayed with their former teams. It was clear the Ravens weren’t simply placing the defensive leadership crown on the heads of Suggs and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata alone.

There was no replacing Lewis or Reed, but the Ravens appear to be pleased with their by-committee approach as they enter Thursday night’s opener against the Denver Broncos. On paper and in the controlled environment of spring and summer practices, the transition has appeared organic and seamless.

Suggs will be viewed as the new figurehead, but the 30-year-old has acknowledged repeatedly that he’s not looking to be the next Lewis and has appeared more subdued than in past seasons. Overall, it’s a Baltimore defense that lacks the bravado of past units without the camera-friendly Lewis out in front, but the quiet confidence veteran newcomers and young players alike have expressed seems appropriate in a new era.

“It’s different like in any organization when you lose guys that have been there for so long that they kind of assume those roles,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think everybody else kind of sat back and just said, ‘Well, that’s really kind of not my role. That’s kind of Ed [Reed] and Ray’s [Lewis] role.’ Now those guys are stepping up, and I don’t think it’s any one particular guy who’s saying, ‘OK, I’m going to be the new Ray Lewis.’ It’s just a bunch of guys collectively stepping up and showing some leadership.”

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Suggs not ready to stare own football mortality in face

Posted on 24 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has never experienced a training camp quite like this as he enters his 11th season in the NFL.

Longtime teammates and mentors Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are no longer in the building, not to mention several other veteran leaders of the defending Super Bowl champions as the Ravens have undergone a more substantial makeover than any past champion in league history.

Those departures coupled with an injury-plagued 2012 season that limited the five-time Pro Bowl selection to just eight games and a career-low two sacks would make just about anyone ponder his own football mortality. But Suggs quickly dispelled any notion that he’s rapidly approaching the same age bracket as the retired Lewis or Reed, who will turn 35 in September.

“I’m 30, so I’m alright,” said Suggs, cracking a half-smile. “A lot of these guys were a lot older than me, but I’m 30. If you ask me, I’m probably entering my football prime right now. I’m not going to think about that this year definitely. At the end of the year, probably — I don’t know. It depends on how the year goes.”

And it might be a more important year for Suggs than most realize as he tries to show he is 100 percent after suffering a torn Achilles tendon on the weekend of the 2012 draft and a torn right biceps in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 2 of last year. The 2011 Defensive Player of the Year played courageously through significant pain, but he will be out to prove he remains closer to that award-winning performer he was two years ago than the pass rusher who struggled to make a consistent impact last season.

Suggs does have another year remaining on the six-year, $62.5 million contract he signed in the summer of 2009, but that deal carries a $12.4 million cap number in 2014, which is projected to account for roughly 10 percent of next season’s total cap. Unlike this season when cutting Suggs would have netted the Ravens only $1.8 million in cap savings to go along with $11.2 million in dead money, general manager Ozzie Newsome would gain $7.8 million in cap space if he decided to part ways with the 2003 first-round pick next winter.

Knowing the way in which Newsome and the front office view every player as a commodity with an appraised monetary figure, it’s likely that the Ravens will attempt to address that 2014 number in any number of ways — regardless of how Suggs performs this season.

Asked what he expects of himself this season, Suggs wouldn’t offer specifics, saying only that he plans to continue working hard while hoping to stay healthy. Noticeably slimmer this year, the elder statesman of the Baltimore defense is happy to just be able to take part in training camp this year, a notion he wouldn’t have expressed in the past. At this point last year, Suggs was more than two months away from even returning to the practice field.

“It put a lot of things in perspective with things I took for granted,” Suggs said. “Just like the opportunity to go to work and play with my teammates. Every football player will tell you reporting to camp is not really our happiest time, but it’s definitely needed to get our bodies in football shape. I wish I had the opportunity to do training camp last year.”

Dealing with a plethora of personnel changes to the defense has been made easier by the free-agent addition of fellow Pro Bowl linebacker Elvis Dumervil. Suggs paid compliments to former teammates Jarret Johnson and Paul Kruger but recognized Dumervil as the most talented outside linebacker he’s ever played with. The two have combined for a remarkable 148 sacks in their careers.

Asked how effective the pass-rushing tandem can be for the Ravens defense this season, Suggs paused and smiled before offering his answer.

“We can be pretty good,” Suggs said, “if everything goes according to plan and we keep everybody healthy. It’s going to take more than just us two though for the duo to work. There are other guys in the front. It’s a collaborative effort of everybody doing their job in the back end.”

It’s a task that won’t be easy as the Ravens will feature their first defense of the post-Lewis era and could feature as many as nine different starters from the starting defensive unit we saw in Super Bowl XLVII.

With the iconic leader affectionately known as “Mufasa” — a reference to the Disney movie “The Lion King” — and Reed now gone, Suggs admits feeling more responsibility as the longest-tenured player on the roster. However, he plans to remain his playful self in the locker room and on the practice field while acknowledging that the massive shoes of Lewis can’t be filled by any one player individually.

“It’s definitely going to be interesting to see what it looks like,” Suggs said. “I’ve said it before [about] his legacy. He has left a standard here, and every man on this defense will be held accountable in playing to that standard.”

The biggest question for Suggs is whether he can live up to his own impeccable standards that existed prior to the torn Achilles tendon, an injury from which many veterans are unable to regain their full explosiveness. Judging him too harshly on last year’s performance would be unfair after a remarkable — even unprecedented — recovery time of under six months, but the Ravens will be watching closely, hoping the Suggs who collected a combined 25 sacks in 2010 and 2011 resurfaces to lead a revamped defense in 2013.

His future — at least in Baltimore — depends on it.

“You can always do better, especially with this city,” Suggs said. “This is a league of, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ so I don’t want to rest on those laurels. I’m good with those mountains that I’ve climbed, but I’m into climbing more. That’s what we’re in this business for, so I’m looking for my next obstacle. We’ll just determine what that is in the near future.”

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Jameel McClain, John Harbaugh, Arthur Brown, Nigel Carr

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Baltimore Ravens: Bold Predictions for 2013 Season

Posted on 22 July 2013 by benheck

Baltimore’s rookies have officially reported to training camp at the team’s facility in Owings Mills, Maryland, and the veterans are just a couple of days away from joining them on a quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Winning the Super Bowl is a tough task to complete, which makes repeating as Super Bowl champs twice as tough as Baltimore will have a huge target on their back heading into the 2013 regular season. Here are a couple of bold predictions and things to expect from Baltimore this season:

*Joe Flacco Records Career-highs in Passing Yards and Touchdowns

After signing his then-record-setting contract extension this past off-season, just about a month after winning Super Bowl MVP, Flacco has finally gotten the monkey off his back. Now that he’s financially set, you’d think he’d have less pressure to perform and can just sit back and throw touchdown passes. He’s a proven winner and at 28 years of age it appears he’s still got several more seasons of solid play for Baltimore. If a few of his receivers step their games up, there’s no doubt 2013 has the potential to be his most successful season stat-wise.

*Bernard Pierce Becomes Biggest Piece to Baltimore’s 3rd Down Offense

Though the carries will not be split 50/50 between Pro Bowler Ray Rice and second-year Temple alum Bernard Pierce as was originally stated earlier this off-season, Pierce is still poised to become a vital part in John Harbaugh’s offense. Pierce, in his limited role as a rookie, was incredibly effective with the ball in his hands and has the potential to see a lot of playing time in order to keep Rice’s legs fresh. In 2011 veteran running back Ricky Williams saw 108 carries behind Rice, but you can expect Pierce to see much closer to 150 carries and a couple of touchdowns as the team’s primary third down back.

*Dennis Pitta Emerges as Top 5 AFC Tight End

In his third professional season for the Ravens last season, Pitta’s career-highs improved drastically. His 61 receptions, 669 yards and 7 touchdowns were good enough for 2nd (tied with Ray Rice), 3rd and 2nd among his teammates, respectively. The loss of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin will allow for the 6’4″/245 pound tight end to see more targets from his quarterback. Not to mention the fact that Flacco will likely see even more control over the offense, and will be able to air it out more than he ever has after last postseason’s performance. No more Boldin and more confidence from Flacco equals a career season from Pitta.

*Rookie Arthur Brown Leads Team in Tackles

Obviously replacing future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis is not an easy task, and second round selection Arthur Brown will have a lot of pressure on him to perform right from the get-go. But the drafting of Brown with the No. 56 overall pick was a very smart choice and he will be able to make an immediate impact on Harbaugh’s revamped defense. Brown was a tackling machine in his K-State days, posting two consecutive seasons with 100+ total tackles in his junior and senior seasons. The losses of linebackers Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe up the middle opens the door for the rookie to start from Day 1 in Baltimore, and he’ll be a key piece on defense.

*Houston Safety Ed Reed Records a Pick-Six Against Baltimore

Okay, so maybe this isn’t a positive prediction for the Ravens, but the home match-up between Houston and Baltimore on September 23 will obviously be a big deal. Not only is that the day that Ray Lewis will be inducted into Baltimore’s Ring of Honor, but it’s also when the franchise’s best free safety of all-time will make his return to M&T Bank Stadium after winning the Super Bowl with the team last year. It’ll be a highly-anticipated game for both sides, and in honor of his Baltimore playing days it’s only fair for Reed to record a pick-six against his former team. And I’m sure it would be tough for Baltimore fans to be mad at him for doing so, right?

*Baltimore Returns to Postseason, but Not as AFC North Champions

Like I stated before, it’s tough to repeat and Baltimore will be seeing the best of every team they play. And with a very young and talented team on the rise within their division––the Cincinnati Bengals––I can’t say that the Ravens will even be able to repeat as champions of the North. Expect a solid season both offensively and defensively, but Cincinnati is a very talented and overlooked squad that will need to be taken seriously in 2013. Baltimore will be in the postseason for the sixth consecutive season in 2013, but not as division champions.

The Baltimore Ravens will not be able to pull off the rare Super Bowl repeat, but that will not take away from the success that coach Harbaugh and Flacco will see in their sixth season together. The 2013 season will end with Baltimore posting its 11th winning season in its 18-year history.

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