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martindale

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Can Martindale take Ravens defense to another level?

Posted on 18 January 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is no stranger to feeling pressure.

Try having one of the best defensive minds in NFL history looking over your shoulder while coaching in an NCAA Division-IAA playoff game. Having worked with both Rex and Rob Ryan, Martindale called their father, the late Buddy Ryan, a “big influence” on his coaching career on Thursday. The two-time Super Bowl champion assistant and former NFL head coach spent his later years in the state of Kentucky where Martindale made his final collegiate coaching stop.

“I called a game at Western Kentucky, and he was standing next to me on the sideline at a playoff game,” said Martindale, who worked for former Hilltoppers head coach Jack Harbaugh from 2001-02 and finished his stint there a year later. “You want to talk about pressure? That was a little bit of pressure — not blitzing when he wanted to blitz.”

With the Ravens coming off a second straight season in which the defense’s failure to get a late stop left them short of the playoffs, the former linebackers coach steps into a role surrounded by high expectations. And with most of the offseason focus expected to be on the other side of the ball — though we’ve made that incorrect assumption in the past — Martindale will be asked to reach another level with a defense that’s received a plethora of resources in recent years.

Upon being promoted last week, the 54-year-old received congratulatory messages from many of the greatest defensive players in franchise history, ranging from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to Haloti Ngata and current 16th-year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Martindale also received strong endorsements from other current players such as Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, showing he has plenty of support in the locker room despite not being a sexy choice for fans who were intrigued by the possibility of Chuck Pagano returning to Baltimore.

This will be Martindale’s second stint as an NFL defensive coordinator after serving in that capacity with Denver in 2010. Having lost All-Pro defensive end Elvis Dumervil to a season-ending pectoral injury that summer, Martindale didn’t have much talent with which to work as the Broncos finished last in the league in total yards and points allowed and head coach Josh McDaniels was fired in December.

“I know it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to work out,” said Martindale, who was dismissed at season’s end and hired as Ravens inside linebackers coach a year later. “Not at the time, but eight years later, I’m glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It’s like I tell my guys — you either win or you learn.”

Martindale now inherits a talented defense that impressively pitched three shutouts and led the NFL in takeaways this season, but the unit finished sixth in points allowed, 10th in passing yards allowed, 15th in rushing yards allowed, and 12th in total yards surrendered and saw its performance slip over the final month when Baltimore blew late leads against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The stunning home loss to the Bengals on New Year’s Eve resulted in John Harbaugh’s team missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

The Ravens are already devoting more cap space to their defense than the other side of the ball and have used 13 of their last 17 Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks on defensive players. In other words, Martindale needs to find more consistency than retired defensive coordinator Dean Pees did with the current group and probably shouldn’t be expecting major additions this offseason.

“We’re close. Obviously, the last two years it has been the last play that’s knocked us out of it,” Martindale said. “We are going to work diligently — all of us — with our package and situational football. That’s going to be the next step I think that’ll skyrocket us. That is the big thing that I see.

“We are going to take our ‘good’ and make it great. We were really good. Let’s make it great.”

With numerous holes on offense and a limited amount of projected salary-cap space for 2018, Martindale could be the X factor for the defense. Of course, some recent draft picks will need to step up in a way similar to how Matthew Judon progressed this past season with Pro Bowl veterans such as Suggs and safety Eric Weddle not getting any younger and high-priced cornerback Jimmy Smith returning from a torn Achilles tendon.

But many will be eager to see how Martindale’s fingerprints compare to Pees, who was criticized for too many late-game collapses and not being more aggressive in certain situations. The new defensive coordinator emphasized that success is ultimately about the players and putting them in the right positions to succeed.

Without being disrespectful when asked how he’d compare to his predecessor, Martindale made his intentions clear.

“I think personality-wise and just calls, there’s going to be some things that are the same,” Martindale said. “And then there’s going to be some times where I’m going to pressure more. I think I have a more aggressive personality in calling a game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That’s some of the things I’ve learned from the past, so there’s that fine line — what quarterback you’re playing and things of that nature.”

Finding that fine line could be the difference for a good defense striving to be great.

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campanaro

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Three Ravens named to PFWA’s All-AFC team

Posted on 15 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Three Ravens players were named to the 2017 All-AFC team voted on by the Pro Football Writers of America, but it’s not the same trio going to the Pro Bowl later this month.

Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle also received All-AFC honors after finishing tied for second in the conference with six interceptions, returning one for a touchdown in Week 13 to earn AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. The 33-year-old finished with 63 tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles in his second season with the Ravens.

Those miffed about Justin Tucker not making it to the Pro Bowl can take some satisfaction in him being named to the All-AFC team over Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker went 34-for-37 on field goals and did not miss an extra point this season, continuing his run as arguably the best kicker in the NFL over the last five years. He was also named to the PFWA’s 2016 All-AFC team.

The third Baltimore player named to the All-AFC team was punt returner Michael Campanaro, who led the conference in punt return average at 10.8 yards per attempt. He returned a fourth-quarter punt 77 yards for a touchdown to force overtime in the Week 6 loss to Chicago and was a positive contributor for one of the best special-teams units in the NFL.

Despite being named to this year’s Pro Bowl, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs were not voted to the All-AFC team. Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier was voted the middle linebacker while Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney and Denver’s Von Miller were the outside linebackers for the conference.

No Ravens players were named to the 2017 PFWA All-NFL team.

Below are the full All-NFL, All-AFC, and All-NFC teams:

2017 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers; Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers&; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

TE – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

G – David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys#

T – Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles; Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

Defense

DE – Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars; Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints

DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams#; Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles

OLB – Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals; Von Miller, Denver Broncos&

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks*

CB – Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings

S – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans; Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings

Special Teams

PK – Greg Zuerlein, Los Angeles Rams

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams#

KR – Pharoh Cooper, Los Angeles Rams

PR – Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions

ST – Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

 

2017 PFWA ALL-AFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots&

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers*; Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers+; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

TE – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

C – Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers

G – David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders*

T – Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs and Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers (tie)

Defense

DE – Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers; Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars

DT – Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals#; Malik Jackson, Jacksonville Jaguars

OLB – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Von Miller, Denver Broncos+

MLB – Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers

CB – A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars; Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars

S – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans; Eric Weddle, Baltimore Ravens

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens*

P – Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans

KR – Dion Lewis, New England Patriots

PR – Michael Campanaro, Baltimore Ravens

ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots@

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

+ – consecutive selections from 2013-17

@ – consecutive selections from 2011-17

 

2017 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

RB – Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams; Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

WR –Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons#; Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

TE – Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

G – Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia Eagles; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys&

T – Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles; Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

Defense

DE – Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints; DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys

DT – Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams#

OLB – Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals; Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins

MLB – Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

CB – Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints; Darius Slay, Detroit Lions

S – Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings; Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

Special Teams

PK – Greg Zuerlein, Los Angeles Rams

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams+

KR – Pharoh Cooper, Los Angeles Rams

PR – Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions

ST – Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

+ – consecutive selections from 2013-17

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jefferson

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Examining the Ravens’ top 10 cap numbers for 2018

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face an all-too-familiar offseason after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but concerns about the 2018 salary cap have already surfaced with free agency still two months away.

It’s no secret that the draft is the lifeblood of any organization wanting to create and sustain long-term success, but teams need to receive appropriate production from their highest-paid veterans to maintain a balanced roster capable of competing for championships. As things stand now, the Ravens will devote $109.503 million in 2018 cap space to their 10 players with the highest cap numbers. The 2018 salary cap hasn’t yet been set, but it’s believed to fall somewhere between $174 million and $178 million.

Below is a look at those 10 players:

1. QB Joe Flacco
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $24.75 million
Synopsis: This is hardly a new topic of discussion with most opinions formulated over the last five years unlikely to budge. Flacco certainly needs to play at a much higher level, but consider just two other members of the top 10 are offensive players and $17.625 million of the remaining $84.753 million in 2018 cap dollars for spots No. 2 through No. 10 are devoted to offensive talent. On top of that, only four offensive players have been taken with Baltimore’s 17 Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks since Super Bowl XLVII. Is this a recipe for a balanced roster setting up its quarterback for success? The results don’t lie.

2. CB Jimmy Smith
2018 Week 1 age: 30
2018 cap number: $15.675 million
Synopsis: Smith is a great example of the dangers of restructuring contracts as adjustments made the last two years to create cap relief have added more than $4 million to his original 2018 cap number from when he signed his big extension in 2015. Smith will be coming back from a torn Achilles tendon and has played more than 12 games in a season just twice in his career, but cutting him would create more than $13 million in dead money for 2018. He was having the best season of his career before the early-December injury, but the organization is now stuck and can only hope he makes a successful comeback.

3. DT Brandon Williams
2018 Week 1 age: 29
2018 cap number: $11.545 million
Synopsis: There was a fair argument to be made whether re-signing Williams was the best use of cap resources last offseason, but the Ravens allowing more rushing yards than anyone in the NFL during his four-game absence in September and October made a very strong case in support of the decision. You’d like to see more productivity from Williams as a pass rusher at that salary, but he’s as good as interior defensive linemen come at stopping the run. His age makes you nervous from a long-term standpoint, but his cap figures remain relatively flat over the duration of his deal that runs through 2021.

4. G Marshal Yanda
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $10.125 million
Synopsis: There’s no underselling how much the Ravens missed the man regarded by many as the best guard in football over the last six or seven years, but the six-time Pro Bowl selection will be coming off a serious ankle injury and is entering his 12th NFL campaign, making his cap number something to monitor next season. If he returns to his previous level of play, his eight-digit cap cost remains well worth it, but it’s fair to worry if this is when Father Time begins catching up with Yanda, who will turn 34 in the first month of the new season.

5. S Tony Jefferson
2018 Week 1 age: 26
2018 cap number: $8.99 million
Synopsis: I never understood the organization’s infatuation with giving a box safety — accomplished as he may have been in Arizona — a four-year, $34 million contract, and nothing about Jefferson’s play in his first season refuted that notion as he often struggled in pass coverage. In fairness to him, the coaching staff needs to be more creative to better utilize his skills as a blitzer and run defender, but there was little evidence of him making the kind of splash plays that justify this price tag. This signing might be the poster child of the Ravens’ obsession with defense while neglecting the other side of the ball.

6. LB C.J. Mosley
2018 Week 1 age: 26
2018 cap number: $8.718 million
Synopsis: The 2014 first-round pick made his third Pro Bowl in four years, but nagging injuries took their toll at times and his pass coverage wasn’t as strong as you’d like to see from a player on the verge of a massive pay day. Signing Mosley to an extension this spring would lower his 2018 cap figure and keep him in Baltimore for the long haul, but he ranked an underwhelming 37th among qualified linebackers in Pro Football Focus’ grading system in 2017. Mosley will always be judged unfairly against the memory of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, but he’s certainly lived up to his first-round billing.

7. S Eric Weddle
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $8.25 million
Synopsis: It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that a once-turnover-starved defense recorded more takeaways than anyone in the NFL over the last two seasons upon Weddle’s arrival. He shook off a shaky start to 2017 to finish tied for second in the league with six interceptions and serves as the quarterback of a secondary that has had fewer communication breakdowns over the last two years. Weddle has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two years, but his increasing cap number does make you a bit nervous about his advancing age as he enters his 12th season. Two years in, this has been a very good signing.

8. WR Jeremy Maclin
2018 Week 1 age: 30
2018 cap number: $7.5 million
Synopsis: The Ravens hoped they were getting their next Anquan Boldin or Steve Smith as Maclin was envisioned as the next just-past-his-prime wide receiver to save the day in Baltimore, but Flacco’s back injury as well as Maclin’s various ailments never allowed the two to get on the same page, making this a very disappointing signing. Whether those realities will be enough to earn Maclin a second chance with the Ravens remains to be seen, but he’s never really felt like a good fit and you’d have to think both sides are probably better off moving on. Cutting him would save the Ravens $5 million in 2018 cap space.

9. CB Brandon Carr
2018 Week 1 age: 32
2018 cap number: $7 million
Synopsis: The veteran served his purpose as an acceptable No. 2 cornerback and would have been a likely cut before Jimmy Smith’s Achilles injury that now makes it unclear whether the top corner will be ready for the start of next season. The Ravens may need to roll the dice on the promising trio of Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Maurice Canady holding down the fort if Smith isn’t quite ready to go by Week 1. Electing to keep Carr around would be understandable, but that’s an expensive insurance policy when the roster has so many other needs. Cutting him would save $4 million in space this offseason.

10. LB Terrell Suggs
2018 Week 1 age: 35
2018 cap number: $6.95 million
Synopsis: While Suggs is approaching the end of a brilliant career, I haven’t quite understood some of the speculation out there about him being a potential cap casualty as he comes off an 11-sack season and his first Pro Bowl invitation since 2013. Of the Ravens’ young edge defenders, only Matthew Judon has emerged to look the part of a rock-solid starter while the likes of Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams still have much to prove. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale would be wise to limit Suggs’ snaps more to keep him fresh next year, but he’s still a good value compared to some other names in the top 10.

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kroft

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-27 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 02 January 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years in a 31-27 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I initially called it the most devastating home loss in team history and was quickly reminded by several folks on Twitter of the crushing 2006 playoff defeat to Indianapolis. They were right, but I’ll still say this was the most stunning home defeat in 22 seasons of Ravens football.

2. Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown to Tyler Boyd will be remembered, but don’t forget the horrendous first half that put the Ravens in a hole. His team looking flat and unprepared with the season on the line was a poor reflection on John Harbaugh, especially after a shaky performance against Indianapolis.

3. Maurice Canady was a Week 16 hero, but he was picked on during the final drive and was out of position to make a play on the ball or the tackle on Boyd’s touchdown. Eric Weddle was also in no man’s land in zone after showing blitz before the snap.

4. Remember the talk about the Ravens not letting A.J. Green beat them? The seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver finished with two catches for 17 yards. Feel any better that the “Tylers” — Boyd and Kroft — did it instead? Yeah, didn’t think so.

5. We certainly saw a less-accurate Joe Flacco than we’d seen in recent weeks and his third-down throwaway before Cincinnati’s final drive was terrible — Mike Wallace was wide open underneath to at least attempt to keep the clock moving — but five drops from his receivers did him no favors.

6. Wallace had a few and is no better than a No. 2 wideout, but letting him walk would feel similar to Torrey Smith’s exit. I also have doubts about Jeremy Maclin’s future, so do you trust the Ravens to add at least two impactful receivers this offseason? I certainly don’t.

7. The defense allowed a whopping 126 rushing yards in the first half and surrendered over 4.0 yards per carry in a season for the first time in team history. Brandon Williams’ four-game absence explains much of that, but the run defense was still quite disappointing relative to expectations.

8. After all the discussion about the impact of Danny Woodhead returning, the 32-year-old caught 30 passes for 167 yards after the bye and eclipsed 40 yards from scrimmage in a game twice. The Ravens touted his signing as their major offensive addition last offseason before Maclin fell into their laps.

9. Breshad Perriman was a healthy scratch in favor of an undrafted rookie receiver who was making his NFL debut in Quincy Adeboyejo. What else is there to say about the 2015 first-round pick?

10. Speaking of underwhelming draft choices, Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley, and Tim Williams combined for seven defensive snaps Sunday. The last three are rookies and absolutely deserve more time before judgment, but that’s not much of an early return from Day 2 of the last two drafts.

11. Flacco throwing well short of the chains on fourth-and-14 was a fitting way to close the book on the 2017 Ravens, but there were only two healthy wide receivers on the field and one was a rookie who had been on the practice squad all year. Not ideal.

12. This had to be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever seen in terms of time of possession. The Ravens held the ball for barely more than nine minutes in the first half while Cincinnati possessed it for less than eight minutes after intermission. Strange.

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suggs

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Suggs was fitting choice for Ravens MVP in grind-it-out season

Posted on 29 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Identifying a team MVP wasn’t a slam-dunk proposition in a grind-it-out season for the Ravens.

There were a number of reasonable candidates, ranging from surprising running back Alex Collins to Pro Bowl selections Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley, but none jumped off the page as the obvious choice. If not for injuries that cost them substantial portions of the season, defensive tackle Brandon Williams and cornerback Jimmy Smith would have garnered stronger consideration. And when you consider how dependent the Ravens have been on field position, even punter Sam Koch deserved mention for his strong campaign.

But the strong play, mental prowess, and veteran leadership of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs made him a fitting choice to receive the local media’s award. Amazingly, it’s the first time the 35-year-old has received the honor, but his mere candidacy in his 15th season — along with his seventh trip to the Pro Bowl — may have helped cement his eventual place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Looking and sounding genuinely touched and surprised to be named team MVP, Suggs says his primary focus is on the Ravens clinching their first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

“This is flattering. I’m speechless. I didn’t know this was this award,” said Suggs, who initially thought he was receiving the local media’s “Good Guy” award on Friday. “This is awesome. It would be a sour note if we don’t win on Sunday, so that is pretty much my big focus right now. This is great among the achievements that we all have achieved this year, but we want to be having a football game next week.”

After changing up his offseason routine by training at the team’s Owings Mills facility rather than in his home state of Arizona, Suggs has enjoyed his finest season in a few years, recording a team-leading 11 sacks and forcing four fumbles. The 2003 first-round pick will play in all 16 regular-season games for the first time since 2014 and has played just over 76 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps, dismissing any notions about him becoming more of a situational player this season.

It’s an outcome few would have predicted after he suffered the second torn Achilles tendon of his career just two years ago.

Suggs has credited the revamped offseason regimen for improved health and conditioning, helping him record double-digit sacks for the seventh time in his career. His veteran teammates have also pointed to his presence at spring workouts and meetings as a positive influence on younger players as the Ravens were coming off their second straight season without a playoff berth.

His on-field production and colorful personality have been givens for years, but his underrated cerebral approach to the game has allowed him to continue playing at a high level despite his advancing age. Over the years, opponents have repeatedly noted Suggs’ ability to sometimes call out their offensive plays before the snap, a product of his rigid preparation.

“You see how much fun he is and how much energy he brings to practice,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I don’t think you fully understand what he’s like off the field studying. He is from the book of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis and those guys.”

In a season in which the Ravens rebounded from a rash of early injuries and a 4-5 start, a healthy and productive Suggs receiving the MVP nod was an appropriate outcome as he moves closer to his eventual place in Canton.

Weddle receives “Good Guy” honor

The local media named Weddle the 2017 recipient of the “Good Guy” award, an honor bestowed upon the player deemed most helpful to reporters.

In his second season with the Ravens, the veteran safety has regularly been available after losses and during tough times when it isn’t as easy to talk to the media.

“The media out here is great. It’s always an obligation for us and for myself,” said Weddle, who was named to his fifth Pro Bowl earlier this month. “I’ve always said that I will always be honest and upfront — good, bad, or indifferent. I’m a man of my word and respect everyone’s jobs. It’s pretty sweet that you guys think that highly of me.”

As a token of their appreciation for Weddle’s cooperation this season, the local media will make a donation in his name to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.

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Suggs, Mosley, Weddle named to this year’s Pro Bowl

Posted on 19 December 2017 by Luke Jones

At an age when many of the greatest players in NFL history were already a couple years into retirement, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is instead going back to the Pro Bowl.

The 35-year-old was one of three Baltimore players to receive this year’s honor, joining inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Eric Weddle. Suggs was named to his seventh Pro Bowl and first since the 2013 season, a feat that could cement his case for an eventual invitation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 14 games, Suggs leads the Ravens with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles while holding the franchise’s career record in each category. This is the seventh time in his career that the 2003 first-round pick and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year has reached double-digit sacks.

Suggs ranks 16th among all NFL edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ grading system entering Week 16. He will serve as the reserve behind Denver’s Von Miller and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney in the AFC.

“I’m speechless,” said Suggs, who credited good health and hard work in the offseason for his best campaign in several years. “Every time you make it, it’s like making it for the first time all over again. It’s a really great feeling.”

Mosley continues an impressive start to his NFL career with his third invitation to the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons. The 2014 first-round selection ranks sixth in the NFL with 121 tackles while adding two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

The 25-year-old ranks 39th among qualified linebackers in PFF’s grading and will be the starting middle linebacker for the AFC.

“It’s always great to represent your teammates and the organization,” said Mosley, who gave much credit to his coaches. “All the blood, sweat, and tears you go through during the season — it’s all worth it to make the All-Star game. I give a lot of credit to the [defensive] line for keeping linemen off me.”

After being named an alternate and eventually being invited to play in last year’s game, Weddle has received the fifth Pro Bowl nod of his 11-year career with his first three coming as a member of the San Diego Chargers. The 32-year-old is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions and has six pass breakups and two forced fumbles in his second season with Baltimore.

His slow start to the season helps explain why he ranks 30th among qualified NFL safeties in PFF’s grading system, but he has risen to 18th in pass coverage with a strong second half. His leadership and experience have been major reasons why the Ravens have ranked in the top 10 in pass defense all year and lead all 32 teams with 22 interceptions.

He will be the starting free safety for the AFC.

“I’ve never worked as hard as I did this past year to try and get better from last season and help this team and lead even more so,” said Weddle, whose 10 interceptions over the last two seasons lead all NFL safeties. “I’m ecstatic because I’ve done so much over the last year to get back to this point, to help my team win, and to hopefully get back to the playoffs.”

The biggest Ravens snub was kicker Justin Tucker, who was denied his third career trip to the Pro Bowl despite having missed only three field goal tries and not missing an extra point all season. He had misfires from 58 and 62 yards while a 46-yard attempt was blocked, but he has connected on five other field goals of 50 or more yards.

Tucker was named the first alternate behind Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell, who has benefited from the opportunity to make four game-winning field goals in the final minute this season. Considered the best kicker in the league by many, Tucker hasn’t had the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter all season.

Punter Sam Koch was also left out of the Pro Bowl despite leading the NFL with 37 punts inside the 20-yard line. Tennessee’s Brett Kern was named the AFC punter and leads the league in both gross and net average, but he has placed only 22 inside the 20.

This marks the 12th consecutive year that the Ravens will have had at least three players in the Pro Bowl.

The exhibition game will take place on Jan. 28 in Orlando with selections from the two teams playing in Super Bowl LII not taking part.

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weddle

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 44-20 win over Detroit

Posted on 05 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens securing their first three-game winning streak since the start of last season with a 44-20 victory over Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Where has this offense been all year? While recording season highs in points and yards while committing no turnovers, the Ravens were aggressive and effectively used play fakes. The group’s response after Detroit made it a one-score game late in the third quarter was the best drive of the season.

2. Joe Flacco was superb with active feet in the pocket and his most accurate passing of the season. His best throw was the 23-yard back-shoulder connection to Mike Wallace as he was being hit. Flacco would have eclipsed 300 yards if not for four drops by receivers.

3. The key to the offensive success was first-down productivity as Baltimore averaged 7.7 yards on first down and still came in at 5.8 if you want to take away the outlier of Wallace’s 66-yard catch. Marty Mornhinweg deserves credit for mixing up tendencies to help keep the offense on schedule.

4. Eric Weddle got off to a rough start this season, but his strip-sack led to excellent field position for a touchdown in the second quarter and his interception returned for a touchdown capped a dominant fourth. The secondary needs his leadership more than ever with the Jimmy Smith injury.

5. There’s no overlooking his rough performance against the Lions, but Marlon Humphrey had already done enough as a rookie to inspire confidence moving forward. Offenses will be looking to attack him now, but he has a good demeanor and all the talent he needs to contribute in Smith’s place.

6. Wallace was in the slot on the 66-yard bomb from Flacco, an example of personnel shuffling within a formation to create a favorable matchup against a safety. Mornhinweg also used a trips bunch formation to get Jeremy Maclin free on a crossing route. The Ravens need more of this.

7. Seeing Willie Henry scoop up a fumble and run 16 yards was amusing enough, but the second-year defensive tackle diagnosed a screen to make a tackle for a loss and registered a quarterback hit. “Big Earl” continues to be a significant contributor in the rotation.

8. Patrick Ricard registered his first touchdown since high school Sunday, but the converted defensive lineman also delivered several impressive blocks and matched a season high with 18 offensive snaps. The rookie is making more of an impact at fullback recently.

9. Maurice Canady appears to have overtaken Lardarius Webb as the primary nickel. In addition to five tackles and the hit on Jake Rudock’s interception to Weddle, Canady recovered Michael Campanaro’s fumble. He plays with much confidence and aggression for someone with such little NFL experience.

10. I’ve been clamoring for Tyus Bowser to receive more opportunities in this defense, but the rookie whiffing when he had a straight path to Matthew Stafford in the second quarter isn’t going to help his cause in the short term.

11. He only missed a couple plays after passing concussion screening, but C.J. Mosley suffered a stinger for the second straight week. You hope there’s no underlying cause for those because the Ravens can’t afford to be without him.

12. The Lions had nine players on the field for Flacco’s key third-down throw to a wide-open Chris Moore on the touchdown drive early in the fourth. That summed up the uninspiring football Detroit played for large stretches of a game they needed to have in a crowded NFC playoff race.

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Jimmy Smith suspended four games for PED violation

Posted on 04 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The aftermath of Jimmy Smith’s season-ending Achilles injury took on a different tone Monday as the Ravens cornerback was already facing a suspension.

As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Smith has been suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. The seventh-year defensive back had been appealing the ruling, but he will now serve the ban while on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

It remains unclear what substance Smith tested positive for or whether any usage may have been in response to the Achilles tendinitis he’d been dealing with for more than two months. With the 2011 first-round pick tearing his left Achilles tendon in Sunday’s win over Detroit, some have questioned whether he should have been playing in the first place, citing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman sustaining his own Achilles rupture last month after experiencing pain in the weeks leading up to the injury.

Of course, it’s easy to feel that way after the fact and there’s no way of knowing if more extensive rest would have been beneficial or would have only delayed the inevitable.

“The doctors will tell you that you just can’t predict that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If you have the tightness or the soreness, it doesn’t [always] lead to a [tear], you know? Doing it for all of these years, I’ve seen them not tear, and I’ve seen them tear. Obviously, that’s what you kind of suspect, but that’s not what the doctors tell us, so that’s why guys continue to play.”

It’s possible that Smith could have been dealing with a partial tear, but former Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil played with a partially-torn Achilles two years ago and was even named to the Pro Bowl playing all 16 games that season. Partial tears still run the risk of a full rupture and frequently require the same reconstruction surgery and lengthy recovery and rehabilitation of a full tear.

Harbaugh’s assessment of the Ravens’ handling of Smith was in line with the reaction from Dr. David Chao, the former team doctor of the San Diego Chargers who now writes about sports injuries at ProFootballDoc.com.

“There is no reason for him to have not been playing,” Chao wrote Sunday. “There is a higher rate of rupture with antecedent Achilles pain, but the majority of players with Achilles tendinitis do not suffer tears.”

Unlike past instances when Smith was out of the lineup, Baltimore has greater depth in the secondary and will hand his starting job over to rookie first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, who ranks 45th among qualified cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system this season. Humphrey shook off a rocky performance to intercept Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter of the 44-20 win.

With Humphrey and veteran Brandon Carr now serving as the starting outside cornerbacks, second-year nickel back Maurice Canady will likely see more practice time on the outside and will serve as their primary backup. A healthy scratch for the last three weeks, rookie Jaylen Hill could also be in the mix and turned heads during training camp to earn a roster spot before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out for the first six weeks of the season.

The Ravens could also elevate cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste from their practice squad upon placing Smith on IR.

“Our secondary is the strength of our team, so we’re not going to sit back and be sorry for ourselves,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Maurice is back. Marlon’s got to step up. Jaylen’s got to step up. That’s why we have so much depth.

“Will the guys be as good as Jimmy? No, but we’ll step up and play well in his absence.”

The Achilles tear and suspension are the latest frustrating chapters of Smith’s career that’s been marred by injuries. This will mark the fifth time in his seven seasons that the Colorado product will have played in 12 or fewer games.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound corner was garnering serious Pro Bowl consideration and had arguably been Baltimore’s best player this season, leading the way for the NFL’s second-best pass defense entering Week 13.

“I know he’s going to be back,” said tight end Benjamin Watson, who suffered an Achilles tendon tear last year. “Jimmy’s a fighter, and Jimmy’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever been around. There’s no doubt he’ll be back soon.”

Smith has two years remaining on his current contract and is set to make $9 million in base salary next season. His 2018 salary cap figure is a hefty $15.675 million, but cutting him would save only $2.37 million and leave more than $13 million in dead money on the cap.

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Smith’s injury reiterates Ravens need more of what they did Sunday

Posted on 03 December 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday’s performance by the Ravens felt very familiar.

Joe Flacco and the offense turned in their best performance of the season against Detroit nearly a year to the day after they blew out Miami, a playoff contender turned away at M&T Bank Stadium to begin the final month of 2016. The 44-20 win over the Lions lifted the Ravens to 7-5, the same record they owned after their 38-6 victory over the Dolphins last Dec. 4.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself again when cornerback Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles tendon late in the first half, ending the best season of his career and leaving the defense without arguably its best player. It was Week 14 last year when the Ravens lost Smith to a high ankle sprain, an injury that torpedoed what had been the league’s top-ranked defense at the time.

That injury preceded three losses in the final four weeks as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. The schedule is certainly more favorable this time around with just one game remaining against a winning team — next Sunday in Pittsburgh — and the final two contests coming at home.

Still, there’s no underselling the loss of Smith, especially for a team that’s relied so heavily on its defense all season.

“It’s different than it’s been before,” said head coach John Harbaugh, citing his defense’s struggles without its top corner in 2014 and last year. “We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of good, young players. We’ll step up, and we’ll still play at a really high level in the secondary. I’m very confident of that.”

The Ravens are better equipped to carry on without Smith after signing reliable veteran Brandon Carr — who’s amazingly never missed a game in his 10-year career — and drafting the talented Marlon Humphrey in the first round this past spring. Turning over a starting job to Humphrey is quite an improvement from a year ago when Shareece Wright stepped in for Smith opposite rookie Tavon Young.

But there will still be some drop-off, evident by Humphrey’s difficulties in coverage against speedy Lions receiver Marvin Jones. The Alabama product may eventually be as good as Smith — or even better — but expecting that immediately would be unfair and unrealistic.

That makes it even more critical for this Ravens offense to look more like it did Sunday the rest of the way.

Veterans Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle admitted after the game that the defense was feeling deflated after officially learning of Smith’s fate at halftime. Two touchdown drives orchestrated by Lions quarterback Mathew Stafford in the third quarter transformed a comfortable 20-0 lead into a one-possession game, but Flacco and the offense fought right back with a nine-play, 74-yard drive ending with a 7-yard touchdown run by Alex Collins to make it a 27-13 lead early in the final quarter.

Given the importance of the game and the way it was trending, that touchdown drive may have been the offense’s best and most important of the year to this point. The Ravens then answered a Stafford touchdown pass with another drive resulting in a field goal to put them up by multiple scores for good with 6:54 remaining.

“Well, we have to do our part at some point, right?” said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who finished with 116 yards on five catches. “The offense, we have to come up. Our defense has been incredible. Our special teams have been incredible. The offense, not so much.

“Today, we made strides. This game is about peaking at the right time, so hopefully we can do that.”

The convincing win tightened the Ravens’ grip on the No. 6 seed as they own a one-game lead as well as tiebreakers over the top three teams chasing them in the AFC wild-card race, but building on this performance will be of the utmost importance. Baltimore will be an underdog against the Steelers next Sunday night, but a good showing from Flacco and the offense for a second straight week would create more optimism about this team being able to make noise in January.

The defense should still be more than good enough that the Ravens won’t need to put 44 points on the board every week like they did Sunday, but any expectation of this unit continuing to carry an inept offense likely vanished as Smith collapsed to the ground with 4:21 to go in the second quarter. That unbalanced formula may still be good enough against a soft remaining regular-season schedule, but it certainly won’t fly in the playoffs.

Many saw that as the Ravens’ reality anyway, but losing an elite defensive talent brings it into sharper focus.

The offense stepped up to do the heavy lifting when the defense suddenly found itself on the ropes Sunday.

The coming weeks will determine whether that was merely an aberration or the start of the offense more consistently pulling its own weight.

The latter would make for a more interesting January.

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Ravens defense preparing for rare quarterback test with Stafford

Posted on 29 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have heard the same story over and over this season.

The NFL’s second-ranked pass defense has faced a backup or rookie quarterback in seven of its 11 games and in six of the last seven. The best quarterback Baltimore has beaten all year was Andy Dalton, whose offensive coordinator was fired just five days after that season-opening shutout in Cincinnati.

The underwhelming slate of signal-callers has been both a blessing and a curse as no team would turn down such good fortune over the course of a season, but it’s led many to question just how great this pass defense truly is. That changes this Sunday with Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions coming to town.

“He’s one of the best, so we’ve got to defend that,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “People are giving us all kinds of flak like it’s our fault we had to play against the second-string quarterbacks, but we’ll get to go out and play against a really good one and hopefully show you what we’re capable of doing.”

The Ravens can’t control their schedule or who’s been under center for the opposition and shouldn’t apologize for it. Regardless of the opponent, Baltimore leading the league in both interceptions and takeaways and posting three shutouts are superb feats and reflect the improved talent and good health in the secondary this season. But it is fair to wonder how that translates against upper-tier quarterbacks, especially with the playoff-hopeful Ravens receiving so little help from one of the worst offenses in the league.

Seven members of the secondary have played at least 150 defensive snaps this season with second-year cornerback Maurice Canady also averaging 24 snaps per game since being activated from injured reserve earlier this month. Such a distribution of playing time is usually a product of injuries, but Canady is the only meaningful contributor in the secondary to miss any games if you exclude Tavon Young, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the spring. Smith has missed practice time and some snaps within games due to lingering Achilles tendinitis, but he’s avoided missing a single game, an enormous development for the Pro Bowl-caliber corner and a secondary that’s too often slipped because of his absence in the past.

That depth has allowed defensive coordinator Dean Pees to be creative with his personnel as he’s rotated three outside cornerbacks in the base defense and used three others in nickel and dime packages in addition to Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson manning the starting safety spots. The ability to employ various sub packages and to disguise coverages has frequently overwhelmed lesser quarterbacks, but the Ravens hope those same traits can make a long day for Stafford, who is fourth in the NFL with 21 touchdown passes and ranks eighth in yards per attempt this season.

With the 6-5 Lions ranking 30th in rushing yards per game, there’s no secret to how they try to win.

“[Stafford] has the keys to the offense. He runs the show,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “He has a lot of confidence in his throws, a lot of confidence in his receivers. He throws the ball around the yard. All those guys are capable of making big plays and great catches.”

Stafford may lack the monstrous target he enjoyed throwing to for years after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson two winters ago, but wide receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate both rank in the NFL’s top 20 in receiving yards with Jones ranking ninth in yards per catch (16.6) and Tate fifth in yards after the catch (398). Even No. 3 receiver TJ Jones has only three fewer receiving yards than Jeremy Maclin, which probably says much more more about the state of the Baltimore offense than the Lions’ top-10 passing game.

Detroit ranks sixth in the league in pass plays of 20 or more yards and second with 10 completions of 40 or more yards. That’s a different ballgame than facing the likes of Matt Moore, Brett Hundley, and Tom Savage in recent weeks.

A defense priding itself on forcing quarterbacks into making mistakes will face one who’s thrown only six interceptions despite ranking fourth in the NFL in pass attempts.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge. We are excited about it, obviously,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Every week presents challenges, offensively, schematics, players, etc. But Stafford is one of the best. He can make all the throws. He commands the offense, checks at the line, presents different challenges that we’ve seen in the past.”

The defense is the overwhelming reason why the Ravens have improved to 6-5 and currently hold the No. 6 spot in the mediocre AFC, but that doesn’t mean it’s been perfect. Baltimore hadn’t allowed a 100-yard receiver all season before Green Bay’s Davante Adams and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins reached that benchmark catching passes from backup quarterbacks the last two weeks, which could be viewed as at least a mild sign of caution with matchups against Stafford and then Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger looming.

If there’s been one area to attack the pass defense this season, it’s been the middle of the field, which could spell trouble with Tate’s ability working from the slot.

Make no mistake, the Ravens defense deserves a ton of credit for putting the offense on its back and working with such a small margin for error all season. Sunday presents a substantial test and an opportunity to quiet those who’ve scoffed at the list of opposing quarterbacks faced.

A strong performance and a win over Stafford and the Lions would both fortify the Ravens’ playoff chances and further validate what the flashy numbers already suggest about this defense.

“It’s going to be a good challenge for us in the back end,” Carr said. “This is why we play the game. It’s a great opportunity to play some December football at home again against a high-powered pass attack and see what we can do.”

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