Tag Archive | "gary kubiak"

Marlon Brown key to Ravens unlocking more red-zone production?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Marlon Brown key to Ravens unlocking more red-zone production?

Posted on 20 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Some expected wide receiver Marlon Brown’s production to dip this year after a 2013 campaign in which he caught 49 passes for 524 yards as the Ravens’ most surprising rookie.

The free-agent acquisitions of Steven Smith and Owen Daniels as well as the expected presence of a healthy Dennis Pitta meant the 6-foot-5 undrafted free agent from the University of Georgia would likely fall down at least a couple pegs in the receiving hierarchy, but Brown has been an afterthought through the first 10 weeks of the 2014 season. Catching only 10 passes for 93 yards in eight games — he missed two games with a pelvic injury — Brown keeps waiting and working for his opportunity while learning from seasoned veterans who weren’t on the roster when he was a rookie.

“I’m a competitor and I love to make plays and make the team [better],” said Brown, who has seen more playing time recently and has caught five passes for 45 yards over the Ravens’ last two games. “Obviously, I would like to be able to make more plays and be put in that position. At the end of the day, I tip my hat to Owen Daniels and Steve Smith. Those are the vets. I’m learning every day from these two greats, so I can’t complain about anything.”

Anyone who watched Brown play as a rookie knew his extensive playing time was as much about attrition at the wide receiver position as any other factor, but it was difficult not to be impressed with his size and potential as a target inside the 20. The Ravens ranked 31st in the red zone in 2013, but Brown was often their only option in that area of the field as he made all seven of his touchdown receptions on plays starting inside the opponent’s 20.

A year later, the Baltimore offense is much better under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, ranking 12th in total yards and tied for seventh in points per game. But the red zone remains an area in which the Ravens could improve as they’re eighth in the NFL in trips inside the 20, but they’ve scored touchdowns on only 54.1 percent of those drives, ranking 19th in the league.

“We need to be more efficient down there. We had some bad games early,” said Kubiak, pointing to the Week 2 win over Pittsburgh when the Ravens were only 2-for-6 inside the 20. “That puts you behind the eight ball pretty quick. But the red zone is an interesting stat, because sometimes you may come out of a game 2-for-2 and you didn’t win the game. It’s about the importance of when you’re down there, in my opinion, and it’s fixing to get very important here over the next six weeks. Usually, we’re at our best when we run the ball pretty well.”

The dramatic improvement with the offense this year has largely been the result of a consistent ground game, but the question lingers over who quarterback Joe Flacco can really depend on inside the red zone after Pitta was lost for the season in Week 3.

Smith has been Baltimore’s leading receiver this year, but his 5-foot-9 frame and ability to work in space is neutralized in a constricted area as he’s caught only four passes for 22 yards inside the 20 this season. Torrey Smith caught two touchdowns inside the red zone against Tampa Bay in Week 6, but he’s generally not the receiver who’s going to attack the ball when it’s up for grabs.

All three of Daniels’ touchdown receptions this season have come inside the red zone, but opposing defenses have keyed on him in the middle portion of the field as the Ravens move closer to the goal line, meaning someone else needs to emerge.

Despite his encouraging work inside the red zone during his rookie year, Brown has yet to be targeted inside the 20 in 2014. He’s an option Kubiak would be wise to consider as the Ravens have rarely used the jump ball in the end zone. Brown’s frame makes him the perfect candidate for occasionally featuring that strategy close to the goal line.

“He’s much more involved right now,” Kubiak said. “He has a big body, a chance to make some plays. So, it’s going to take all of us, and I’m sure Marlon will get his opportunities.”

At this point, Brown shouldn’t be mistaken for a starting-caliber receiver or a player on which you can rely to run precise routes all over the field, but his size is something the Ravens should try to utilize. And even if the offense has more overall talent than it did a year ago, Brown made plays against NFL defenses inside the red zone last season, proving he has the ability to contribute in an area that needs more efficiency.

It’s worth giving him a look as the Ravens try to make it back to the postseason in their final six games.

“I’m definitely trying to improve as a player, as a receiver in all the routes,” said Brown, who downplayed any difficulty he had learning Kubiak’s system as some have speculated. “I don’t want to be a guy who just runs red-zone routes or just runs [certain] routes. I want to run all the routes. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from all these guys while they’re here. I’m just trying to take advantage and soak in anything.”

Brown soaking in a few touchdowns inside the red zone would be an encouraging development for the Ravens down the stretch.

Comments (0)

Ravens hoping old foe brings out best in Steve Smith

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Ravens hoping old foe brings out best in Steve Smith

Posted on 19 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith wasn’t hiding his enthusiasm for playing on Monday Night Football as the Ravens are preparing to travel to the Big Easy this weekend to take on the New Orleans Saints.

He knows the entire country will be watching as this was the platform last year in which Smith uttered his now famous post-game phrase, “Ice up, son.”

“You get real excited,” Smith said on Wednesday. “Family members get to see you play. Ex-girlfriends that wished they wouldn’t have dumped you, they’re questioning themselves right now. It’s fun.”

The Ravens hope their top wide receiver will break a few more hearts Monday as he faces an opponent he’s very familiar with going back to his days playing in the NFC South. Entering 2014, his 99 catches, 1,493 receiving yards, and 10 touchdown receptions in 23 career games against New Orleans were more than he had produced against any other team. The Saints’ 24th-ranked pass defense could certainly lend a hand in a happy reunion as well.

The longtime Carolina Panther has continued his success against his old division this season, catching 15 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns in three games against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta. Baltimore would benefit from another huge game in trying to hand New Orleans a third consecutive home loss.

And it would be a comforting rebound for the veteran considering he caught only 11 passes for 88 yards and no touchdowns in the last three games prior to the bye — two of them losses to AFC North rivals.

“If we’re playing the way we want to, then he and everybody are going to be a big part of it,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who downplayed Smith’s recent decline in production. “He’s had some pretty good games against these guys. Obviously, he’s played these guys for a long time, so hopefully when we get there, he feels comfortable and we get him another big game against these guys.”

After recharging from a physical standpoint last week, Smith has been all business returning to Owings Mills this week as he spent more than an hour with wide receivers coach Bobby Engram on Tuesday. The pair watched more than 100 plays together as Smith evaluated his own performance over the first 10 games of the season after posting four 100-yard games to tie a single-season franchise record.

Acknowledging he walked into the film room “kind of down” as he prepared to jot down his critique in a notebook, Smith said he felt encouraged after seeing so much positive while also identifying what he needs to do better. In the midst of his 14th NFL season, Smith leads the Ravens with 49 catches and 728 receiving yards.

“I need to be more dependable in certain areas,” Smith said. “And that falls on me. That doesn’t fall on Joe, doesn’t fall on [offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak], it doesn’t fall on [head coach John Harbaugh], or anybody. That falls directly on me. I’m a professional. I’ve been in this game for a long time. And if you can’t hold yourself accountable, you can’t expect anybody else to do it for you.

“I can’t expect Joe to believe in me that I’m going to win on a route if I haven’t done the proper technique, lined up, and run a route the way it’s suppose to be run for him to depend on me. That falls on me first. And that’s what I did in my bye week — enjoy my family — but I sat back and took some time and said, ‘What am I not bringing to the table, and why am I not doing it?’”

One of those areas to which Smith was referring could have been inside the red zone as the veteran has made just four receptions for 22 yards inside the opponent’s 20 this season. Of course, his 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame doesn’t make him the prototypical target for that area of the field, but one doesn’t accumulate 71 career touchdown receptions without at least some production near the goal line.

Despite Smith’s concerns and self-evaluation, the Ravens don’t appear overly concerned as Kubiak acknowledged last week that it falls on his shoulders to keep various weapons involved in the offseason while taking Smith’s recent production in stride with the overall ebb and flow of a 16-game schedule.

Needless to say, Smith and the Ravens are hoping he finishes the season with the same explosiveness in which he started, but some doubts will naturally linger about a 35-year-old receiver.

“I have to always find ways to get guys the ball,” Kubiak said. “I wish I could get them all the perfect amount every week, but those things usually don’t work that way. You have to get all of your play-makers the ball. Steve is doing a good job, and hopefully we get him back on the track that he was on earlier in the year. But he’s playing hard, working hard.”

Comments (0)

Kubiak examining Flacco’s recent uneven play during bye

Tags: , , , , , ,

Kubiak examining Flacco’s recent uneven play during bye

Posted on 12 November 2014 by Luke Jones

After players departed the Owings Mills facility for their bye earlier this week, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was asked to assess the recent play of quarterback Joe Flacco with the Ravens standing at 6-4 in the AFC North.

Such questions about individual players are typically met with generic responses stating the individual is playing well or making a lot of progress, but Kubiak didn’t shy away from addressing the recent struggles of his quarterback. Since throwing 14 touchdowns and five interceptions while posting a 97.3 passer rating through the first seven games, Flacco has thrown three touchdowns and three interceptions with a 75.5 rating over the last three contests with the Ravens losing to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh before rebounding at home to beat lowly Tennessee last Sunday.

“That’s kind of what I’m looking at right now,” Kubiak said. “You go through phases throughout the course of a season. Joe went through a really hot stage [for] about three or four weeks. Then, we went through a stage here where we turned the ball over. We calmed that down last weekend, which is a big reason why we were able to be successful.”

Of course, the performance of the Ravens quarterback is always a polarizing topic as his biggest detractors blame him for all of the team’s failures while inevitably reminding everyone of his hefty contract. This then prompts a segment of Flacco’s strongest supporters pointing out all other offensive issues out of his hands while seemingly giving the seventh-year signal-caller a pass for how he’s played. As is typically the case, the reason for his recent decline in performance lies somewhere in between.

It’s no secret that the Ravens’ offensive line struggled to handle the pass rush of both the Bengals and the Steelers as Flacco was often harassed with pressure up the middle. Center Jeremy Zuttah was repeatedly pushed back in the pocket in both games and Steelers linebacker James Harrison suddenly looked like the 2008 version of himself in Week 9, but the quarterback can’t be completely absolved from criticism as he made some poor decisions that led to critical interceptions and often appeared rattled, which affected his accuracy and decision-making at times in both games.

The recent struggles with interior pressure carried over to the start of the Tennessee game as the quarterback continued the recent habit of throwing off his back foot, even when pressure wasn’t coming. And this is where some blame lies with the quarterback as Kubiak preaches good footwork and Flacco has often been quick to move when he hasn’t needed to or he has failed to step up in the pocket when pressure is coming off the edge.

There’s also been the issue of how effectively the Ravens are adjusting to blitzes with many questioning Flacco’s ability to audible at the line of scrimmage and Kubiak’s route concepts when opposing defenses are consistently pinning their ears back. If adjustments aren’t made on both fronts, opposing defenses will continue to copy the blueprint of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

“We have to clean up some of our decision-making,” Kubiak said, “and I think I can help him with that by how I call plays, too. So, that’s what I’m kind of trying to really check myself probably first before I go to Joe and say, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do.’ That’s kind of what I’m trying to do right now.”

The truth is Flacco is having a good year overall as he’s on pace to throw a career-high 27 touchdowns and eclipse the 4,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. His 62.4 percent completion rate is his best since 2010, but the Ravens will need him to elevate his play down the stretch considering the defensive concerns in the secondary.

It is worth noting that Flacco has thrown 10 of his 17 touchdowns in three games against the lowly NFC South as Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta all currently rank in the bottom eight in the NFL in total defense. In his other seven games this season — five against the AFC North — Flacco has thrown seven touchdowns and six interceptions for a 77.2 passer rating.

Overall, the offensive line has done a good job protecting Flacco as he’s only been pressured on 30 percent of his dropbacks — the 10th-best mark in the league, per Pro Football Focus — but his 61 percent accuracy rate (passes completed including drops) under pressure ranks only 16th in the NFL. Flacco’s receivers have often let him down this year as they’re tied for third in the NFL with 23 dropped passes, according to PFF, and questions will remain about how many consistent playmakers the quarterback really has to throw to.

Kubiak’s comments shouldn’t be interpreted as sounding the alarm over how Flacco has played, but the Ravens offense must be better down the stretch in all phases. The season-ending loss of Dennis Pitta has limited Baltimore’s options over the middle portion of the field, but the return of Michael Campanaro could provide a complement to Owen Daniels in that area of the field as the rookie was slowly beginning to emerge as a short-to-intermediate target prior to his hamstring injury in Week 8.

More than anything, the last three weeks have shown the offense under Kubiak remains a work in progress with more room to grow down the stretch. And Kubiak trying to bring out the best in Flacco will be critical in determining the Ravens’ fate at the end of the season as they’ll likely need to win at least one or two of their last three road games (New Orleans, Miami, and Houston) to put themselves in position to return to the playoffs.

“I’m trying to go back and really look at the things that he’s very comfortable with and doing very well, and maybe some of the things I’ve asked him to do here over the course of a few weeks that maybe got him out of that comfort zone,” Kubiak said. “I’m trying to find that as a coach as we get into these last six weeks [and] get him as comfortable as I can. But Joe is working really hard.”

 

 

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , ,

Mosley second among NFL inside linebackers in Pro Bowl voting

Posted on 12 November 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

Denver Broncos quarterback PEYTON MANNING, with 359,598 votes, leads all NFL players in balloting for the 2015 Pro Bowl, NFL.com announced today.

Fan voting for the 2015 Pro Bowl, presented by McDonald’s, will continue online and on web-enabled mobile phones by going to www.NFL.com/probowl/ballot until Monday, December 15.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback ANDREW LUCK (284,575 votes) ranks second overall, while Green Bay Packers quarterback AARON RODGERS (280,394 votes), Dallas Cowboys running back

DE MARCO MURRAY (263,097 votes) and New England Patriots quarterback TOM BRADY (254,807 votes) round out the top five on NFL.com.

Balloting will conclude on Monday, December 15. The Pro Bowl players will be announced on Tuesday, December 23.

Players will later be assigned to teams through the Pro Bowl Draft during the week leading up to the game, which will also air on NFL Network.

The 2015 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 25, 2015 and televised live on ESPN at 8:00 PM ET from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, site of Super Bowl XLIX.

The Pro Bowl will be “unconferenced” for the second consecutive year.

Last season, the familiar AFC vs. NFC match-up that had existed since 1971 was eliminated. Instead, players are selected without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and players. For example, the top six quarterbacks following voting will earn distinction as All-Stars, regardless of how many are from AFC or NFC teams.

Then, the NFL’s All-Stars will be realigned through a fantasy football-style draft.

The Pro Bowl players are determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining the 88 All-Star players who will be eligible for the Pro Bowl Draft.

NFL players and coaches will cast their votes on December 19. The NFL is the only sports league that combines voting by fans, coaches and players to determine its all-star teams. It was the first professional sports league to offer online all-star voting in 1995.

Fans interested in purchasing Pro Bowl game tickets may go to NFL.com/probowl for more information.

NFL ALL-STAR TOP-TEN VOTE-GETTERS

 

POS.

NAME, TEAM

VOTES

QB

Peyton Manning, Denver

359,598

QB

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis

284,575

QB

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

280,394

RB

DeMarco Murray, Dallas

263,097

QB

Tom Brady, New England

254,807

RB

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

210,331

WR

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

200,230

QB

Philip Rivers, San Diego

199,720

RB

Arian Foster, Houston

196,306

RB

Matt Forte, Chicago

182,940

 

NFL LEADING VOTE-GETTERS BY POSITION

 

POS.

NAME, TEAM

VOTES

POS.

NAME, TEAM

VOTES

QB

Peyton Manning, Denver

359,598

DE

J.J. Watt, Houston

155,819

QB

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis

284,575

DE

DeMarcus Ware, Denver

134,126

RB

DeMarco Murray, Dallas

263,097

DT

Marcell Dareus, Buffalo

104,416

RB

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

210,331

DT

Muhammad Wilkerson, NYJ

91,610

FB

John Kuhn, Green Bay

78,995

OLB

Von Miller, Denver

101,875

FB

Darrel Young, Washington   78,138

OLB

Justin Houston, Kansas City

71,063

WR

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

200,230

ILB

Luke Kuechly, Carolina

105,730

WR

Demaryius Thomas, Denver

182,922

ILB

C.J. Mosley, Baltimore

71,246

TE

Rob Gronkowski, New England

166,066

CB

Kyle Fuller, Chicago

83,363

TE

Julius Thomas, Denver

148,461

CB

Aqib Talib, Denver

83,223

T

Tyron Smith, Dallas

77,959

SS

Kam Chancellor, Seattle

47,667

T

Ryan Clady, Denver

77,442

SS

Antrel Rolle, NYG

36,979

G

Zack Martin, Dallas

68,896

FS

Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland

48,674

G

Josh Sitton, Green Bay

55,333

FS

Earl Thomas, Seattle

40,246

C

Travis Frederick, Dallas

79,612

P

Tress Way, Washington

34,520

C

Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh

72,836

P

Pat McAfee, Indianapolis

27,015

K

Stephen Gostkowski, New England

67,814

ST

Matt Slater, New England

36,679

K

Dan Bailey, Dallas

57,618

ST

Jarrett Bush, Green Bay

25,224

RS

Devin Hester, Atlanta

50,897

 

RS

Adam Jones, Cincinnati

33,157

 

 

Comments (0)

Slow starts by Ravens offense could prevent strong finish

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Slow starts by Ravens offense could prevent strong finish

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday was a good day for the Ravens as they embarked on their bye week with a 6-4 record and remained right in the thick of an AFC North race that features all four teams with winning records.

In addition to making it through Sunday’s victory over the Tennessee Titans without any significant injuries, a revamped secondary passed its first test and the Pittsburgh Steelers stubbed their toe to leave Cleveland alone in first place, further jumbling the AFC North with less than two months remaining in the regular season. Even with their struggles, injuries, and missed opportunities through the first 10 weeks, the Ravens are in perfect position to make a run in a division in which just a half-game separates first and last place.

But it would be a lie to suggest the 21-7 win over the 2-7 Titans went exactly as planned as the final score didn’t reflect just how uncomfortable the Ravens were for a sizable portion of the afternoon. In fact, Baltimore was fortunate to be tied 7-7 at halftime after the Titans had fumbled at the Ravens’ 1-yard line on the opening drive of the game.

“We weren’t playing very well,” Harbaugh said about his team’s performance in the first half. “We were out of sync, we weren’t handling pressures, we couldn’t run the ball, we couldn’t cut them off in the back side. They owned the line of scrimmage there in the first half, but we managed to figure out a couple ideas, hit a couple passes, and start to crack them in the run game.”

The Ravens did make the adjustments to make some plays through the air in the second half and rush for an impressive 151 yards while committing zero turnovers, but Sunday marked the third straight week in which the offense has started slowly. It’s a frustrating development after the unit appeared to be finding its stride last month when the Ravens scored a combined 77 points in wins over Tampa Bay and Atlanta.

In their last three games, the Ravens have managed to score just 23 total points in the first half. Of course, struggling on the road against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh isn’t shocking, but managing just seven points and 86 total yards in the first half at home against the Titans’ 23rd-ranked defense isn’t encouraging with consecutive games against top 10 passing offenses — New Orleans and San Diego — coming right after the bye. A difficult road game at playoff-contending Miami follows after that.

It’s fair to point out that the Titans were coming off their own bye and had an extra week to prepare, but Gary Kubiak’s offense should have been able to jump on a defense that ranked 28th against the run and 22nd in points allowed per game. Instead, the Ravens couldn’t pass, run, or block for much of the first 30 minutes of the game aside from a 46-yard touchdown drive midway through the second quarter that was set up by excellent field position.

“They really came up after us and played a lot of cover zero and tried to get us off balance as much as they could,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 169 yards and a 32-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith in the fourth quarter. “They were able to get some guys free to defend our passing game. It was tough sledding in there, but I thought we hung in there really well. It was a really tough game and nothing came easy and we really had to grind it out.”

The Ravens did what was needed in the second half and rushed 16 times for 85 yards in the fourth quarter to chew the clock, but they’ll need much more from their offense over the final six weeks of the season to keep themselves in good position to make it back to the playoffs. New cornerbacks Anthony Levine and Danny Gorrer deserve credit for the way they held up in the secondary, but Baltimore can’t depend on its defense to turn in the same kind of performance against teams with proven offenses.

And Kubiak needs to figure out a way to get his offense going more quickly than it has in the last few weeks. Whether it’s making quicker adjustments to counteract the A-gap blitzes that have given Flacco and the offensive line difficulty or being more imaginative with passing routes, the Ravens offense needs to be able to find a tempo from the very beginning instead of having it dictated to them like it has over the last three games.

“We have to be able to bounce back,” said Forsett, who rushed for a season-high 112 yards and two touchdowns. “Sometimes, you start slow, but you’ve got to be able to finish strong, and we showed some resilience. I’m proud of the way we worked today.”

The Ravens should feel good about the win and where they stand in the playoff hunt while they reap the benefits of a week off, but the offense needs to be able to explode out of the gate for the final six weeks.

They’re going to need faster starts to be able to finish strong down the stretch.

Comments (1)

Forsett content surprising people on way to career season

Tags: , , , , , ,

Forsett content surprising people on way to career season

Posted on 22 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The highlights were few and far between in the first half of the Ravens’ season-opening 23-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last month.

With Ray Rice suspended — and about to be released the following day — and fill-in starter Bernard Pierce managing just 17 yards on six carries as the Bengals led 15-0 at halftime, the Ravens began feeding the ball to their 5-foot-8 veteran newcomer considered little more than a temporary placeholder for Rice at the time of his signing. Baltimore fell short that day but discovered one of its greatest reclamation projects in recent years as Justin Forsett finished the afternoon with a game-high 70 yards on 11 carries.

He hasn’t looked back since as he not only leads the Ravens with 503 rushing yards on 87 carries but tops the NFL with a 5.8 yards per carry average through the first seven weeks of the season. Not bad for a 29-year-old who’s played for five different teams in seven years and is entering a stage of his career when most running backs are slowing down considerably.

Forsett smiles when asked about the constant disbelief expressed by media and fans while he continues to rack up yards for the league’s seventh-ranked running game.

“I’m OK with surprising people,” said Forsett, who’s currently on pace to break the franchise’s single-season yards per carry average. “A lot of guys didn’t know I was still in the league. I just take that in stride. It’s all fun.”

Not even the Ravens could have anticipated this much from Forsett, who was signed to a one-year contract on April 4 to serve as an insurance policy for Rice’s unknown status at the time and to bring a veteran presence to help teach new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system. Forsett had averaged 5.9 yards per carry in his only year with Kubiak in Houston in 2012 and owned previous experience working in a zone-blocking system in his four years in Seattle.

Most expected Forsett to be the odd man out once Rice returned from suspension, but that, of course, changed when the three-time Pro Bowl running back was cut on Sept. 8. Even now, there remains a feeling of how long Forsett can keep up this type of play as his 503 yards in 2014 are only 47 fewer than his rushing total from his previous three seasons combined.

Coaches love his ability to pass block — something that hasn’t been taken for granted with the injuries to left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele — and his 23 receptions rank third on the team behind wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels.

“He gets the most out of his ability,” said Kubiak, who knew Forsett’s character was a perfect fit for head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he does a great job in pass protection. He’s a three-down player, so he’s a guy that you can keep on the field all the time in what you’re doing. The thing he’s doing right now [is] he’s finding a way to make a big play every week. I think that’s the key.”

Many have been quick to point to the resurgence of the offensive line to explain Forsett’s impressive numbers after the group couldn’t open any holes last season when the Ravens ran for a franchise-worst 3.1 yards per carry. But the veteran has run with a confidence and decisiveness that Pierce and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro haven’t shown on a consistent basis.

The younger backs are more impressive physical specimens with ideal size for interior runs, but Forsett’s average of 6.63 yards per carry running between the guards is the highest rate in the NFL for backs with at least 20 carries, according to Pro Football Focus. His yards per carry average is substantially better than that of Pierce (3.6) or Taliaferro (4.5), which also illustrates his superior vision in Kubiak’s one-cut system.

A humble man of Christian faith, Forsett is more interested in complimenting the men blocking for him than accepting praise for himself after years of less-than-ideal opportunities.

“I think it’s the offensive line,” said Forsett when asked how to attribute his success. “They’re doing a heck of a job going out there and executing, getting those guys cut backside and stretching a defense. I’m just able to find holes. I just thank God for the opportunity, and the guys are just working for me.”

The Ravens’ biggest concern at this point might be trying to keep the veteran fresh as he ran a career-high 23 times against Atlanta last Sunday and is only 31 rushing attempts shy of his highest total in any season. Listed at 197 pounds, Forsett has a good frame for a back of his stature, but his current pace would have him approaching 200 carries by the end of the season.

Forsett was incredibly durable throughout his career until turf toe and a stress fracture in his foot limited him to nine games with the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago, making him confident that he’ll continue to hold up with an expanded workload in his seventh NFL season. He says he’s always prepared physically to be a starting back, even if the opportunity hasn’t been there for most of his career.

“I’ve always taken care of my body, because I had great veterans when I came into the league like T.J. Duckett, Maurice Morris, and Edgerrin James,” Forsett said. “They taught me early on, no matter if you’re playing special teams or running and busting the wedge, take care of your body, because that’s one thing that can get you out of the league. I stay on top of that, so it’s not that bad.”

Signing on the same day that the Ravens added Daniels, Forsett told reporters at the time that he carried a chip on his shoulder “the size of Texas” to prove he still had plenty of good football ahead of him. It was the kind of message you typically hear from a veteran cast aside by his former team, but perhaps his career 4.88 yards per carry average entering 2014 suggested he deserved a better opportunity than the ones he’d received in recent years.

In fairness, his size doesn’t scream feature back and the label of being a special-teams player is often difficult to shake. Maybe the Ravens knew they had a diamond in the rough, but even they continue to be surprised with how much Forsett has brought to an offense on pace to be one of the most productive in franchise history.

No one may have blinked when he was added in the offseason, but Forsett’s play has led many to rub their eyes in disbelief through the first two months of the 2014 season.

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “I’m surprised that he’s even here right now. I feel like he’s a guy that could be the lead guy anywhere. I’m glad he got his shot here, and he’s able to showcase his talent.”

 

Comments (0)

Personnel diversity providing improved results for Ravens offense

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Personnel diversity providing improved results for Ravens offense

Posted on 16 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New faces, new injuries, and a new system would be more than enough for the Ravens offense to be struggling through the first six weeks of the 2014 season.

Except it hasn’t.

In fact, a year after searching up and down the roster — and outside of it — for solutions to cure the offensive woes, the eighth-ranked unit in the NFL now finds itself with plenty of diversity that’s provided different results as the Ravens are off to a 4-2 record. Tied for fifth in points per game, Baltimore has transformed its offense from a liability to a strength in less than a year’s time as they’ve already scored 26 or more points three times compared to last year’s total of four games reaching that barrier.

Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is still chasing consistency with his unit — the Ravens have two games in which they’ve scored fewer than 17 points — but the overall results have been impressive in his first season on John Harbaugh’s staff.

“We just have to stay focused on us. That’s what I told the guys,” Kubiak said. “Let’s not get too consumed with who’re playing or those types of things. If we play the way we’re capable of playing and do our jobs, we’re probably going to move the football.”

While it’s obvious the offseason additions of Steve Smith, Jeremy Zuttah, Owen Daniels, and Justin Forsett have paid significant dividends, the Ravens have faced plenty of adversity on the offensive side of the ball that could have led to their demise. The abrupt release of Ray Rice and the season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta took away a large portion of production from past seasons, but Baltimore has thrived without them.

Three running backs — Forsett, Bernard Pierce, and Lorenzo Taliaferro — have received at least 40 carries each and the Ravens are averaging 4.7 yards per carry, good for sixth in the NFL. Viewed as little more than a depth signing in the offseason, Forsett has averaged a league-best 6.4 yards per carry, which is more than twice as productive as the Ravens’ league-worst 3.1 yards per attempt in 2013.

“He gets the most out of his ability,” said Kubiak about the 29-year-old Forsett, who’s already rushed for more yards in 2014 than his two previous seasons combined. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he does a great job in pass protection. He’s a three-down player, so he’s a guy that you can keep on the field all the time in what you’re doing. The thing he’s doing right now [is] he’s finding a way to make a big play every week.”

The Ravens’ three-headed monster at running back has been discussed at length, but they continue to use an extensive collection of pass catchers for quarterback Joe Flacco to throw to. The 35-year-old Smith has clearly led the way with 35 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns, but 13 different players have already caught passes this season with rookie Michael Campanaro and former practice-squad member Kamar Aiken catching their first career scores last week.

The different personnel groupings at the receiver position have allowed Kubiak to keep the veteran Smith as well as Torrey Smith fresh during games, but they’ve also created problems for opposing defenses. It’s been a pleasant change from last season when the Ravens did see 15 different players catch passes, but Flacco struggled to find any he could consistently rely on to make plays beyond Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown.

Those weapons have made it easier for Flacco, who’s posted a career-high 97.8 passer rating and is on pace to throw a personal-best 32 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions.

“The one thing as an offense you never want to be is predictable,” Steve Smith said. “A lot of times people may think when these [younger] guys come in, it’s not a pass play — it’s not a play where they’re getting the ball. So, that just shows you that we do have guys that may not be starters but have the big-play ability [against] other teams and in the game. That just shows that those guys can play.”

Perhaps no other position group has benefited from improved depth more than the offensive line, which has become arguably the Ravens’ biggest strength in 2014 after it was nothing short of a disaster last year.

Zuttah and Rick Wagner have solidified the center and right tackle positions, respectively, but the Ravens have remained successful even with injuries to left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele. The Ravens have won two of the three games in which rookie free agent James Hurst has started at left tackle for Monroe and are 1-0 with rookie John Urschel playing in place of Osemele.

Those were the kinds of injuries the Ravens couldn’t overcome last year, but the offensive line has continued to thrive in Kubiak’s system.

“It’s not just us,” said right guard Marhal Yanda about the improvement. “It’s the backs, it’s Joe [Flacco], it’s the tight ends, it’s Gary — it’s everybody. We’re in this thing together, and it’s definitely going well for us. We’ve had a couple of hiccups, but we’re just trying to continue to be consistent and get after them.”

It’s been a “strength in numbers” mindset with results that couldn’t be much better. And the struggles of last year become more and more faint.

Comments (0)

Monroe returns to practice as Ravens continue to get healthier

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monroe returns to practice as Ravens continue to get healthier

Posted on 16 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It remains unclear whether Eugene Monroe will play in Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, but the Ravens left tackle took a significant step in his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery by returning to practice on Thursday.

The 27-year-old worked on a limited basis for the first time since undergoing surgery on Sept. 24. In his absence, the Ravens have turned to rookie free agent James Hurst to handle a starting role with Baltimore going 2-1 over that stretch.

It would be ambitious to assume Monroe will be ready to play against Atlanta after a three-week layoff, but his return to the practice field bodes well for his status in next week’s key AFC North road meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Four players on the 53-man roster did not participate Thursday as defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi (ankle), defensive end Chris Canty (wrist surgery), tight end Owen Daniels, and linebacker Daryl Smith were listed on the official injury report. Daniels and Smith each received a veteran day off after practicing without incident on Wednesday.

Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day, an encouraging sign for his availability against the Falcons. The third-year lineman missed last Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay after hyperextending his knee in the Week 5 loss to Indianapolis.

The Ravens used Hurst and fifth-round rookie John Urschel on the left side of their line in the 48-17 win over the Buccaneers. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak couldn’t recall every playing a game in which two rookies were starting and entrusted to protect the quarterback’s blindside.

“Never been around that. That was something else,” Kubiak said. “But, boy, you have to be proud of them. They worked really hard, and I think the guys around them played hard. Usually when you have a young guy step in, it’s about everybody else playing a little bit better, so you have to give the whole group credit for the way they stepped up.”

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus surgery) practiced fully for the second straight day and could make his return to game action since injuring his knee in the win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 11.

Safety Will Hill and defensive tackle Terrence Cody continued practicing after making their respective returns to the field Wednesday. The Ravens have a one-week exemption to decide Hill’s status after his six-game suspension expired this past Sunday, and many have pondered whether he’ll eventually emerge as the starting free safety in the secondary.

“We expect him to be a very, very good player back there,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think he’s very smart. He’s really kept up on everything. I think he’s done a good job the few days he’s been back practicing. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses, but we think he’s the real deal.”

Meanwhile, the Falcons continue to be banged up at the wide receiver position as Harry Douglas remains sidelined with a foot injury and wideouts Julio Jones (ankle) and Devin Hester (hamstring) were limited participants for the second consecutive practice. Douglas has missed Atlanta’s last three games with a deep bruise.

Here is Thursday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Christo Bilukidi (ankle), DE Chris Canty (wrist), TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Kamar Aiken (concussion), T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Marlon Brown (pelvis), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee)

ATLANTA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Harry Douglas (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Devin Hester (hamstring), WR Julio Jones (ankle), LB Prince Shembo (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee), G Justin Blalock (back), LB Nate Stupar (knee)

Comments (0)

Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Sunday

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones

A 3-1 record through the first quarter of the season has made a statement that the Ravens are a playoff-caliber team, but a road win against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday would scream they belong among the NFL’s elite.

Despite an offense that was ranked 29th in the NFL last season, the Ravens bring a revamped unit to Lucas Oil Stadium that’s ranked sixth in total yards and tied for seventh in points per game, which could lead to a shootout against an Indianapolis offense ranking first in total yards and averaging a league-leading 34.0 points per game. Of course, the Colts’ numbers benefited from playing two woeful teams, Tennessee and Jacksonville, in their last two games while the Ravens have only played one game away from M&T Bank Stadium so far this season.

The Baltimore secondary has faced much scrutiny this season and will face its biggest test in quarterback Andrew Luck and the NFL’s top-ranked passing game. The Ravens rank 24th in pass defense, but a stout run defense has often made opponents one-dimensional and the pass rush finally showed up in a convincing 38-10 win over Carolina last Sunday.

Sunday marks the 11th all-time meeting between the Ravens and Indianapolis in the regular season with the Colts holding a 7-3 advantage. Baltimore is winless in four regular-season trips to Indianapolis. The good news for the Ravens is they got the best of the Colts in their only meeting against Luck that came in the 2012 postseason, which also served as their only playoff win against Indianapolis in three tries.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to begin a difficult stretch of four of five games on the road with a win on Sunday …

1. The Baltimore running game wins the time of possession battle as Justin Forsett is the leading rusher in an attack that goes over 125 yards on the ground again. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak always prefers establishing the run, but it will be even more critical in a game with such a prolific offense on the opposing side. Indianapolis is allowing 4.4 yards per carry, which indicates the Ravens should be able to move the ball effectively on the ground to set up play-action passes. The recently-injured Bernard Pierce will see some action unlike last week, but Forsett will still lead the Ravens in rushing yards in what will be a three-back timeshare.

2. Indianapolis uses a no-huddle attack to keep the Ravens’ pass rush on its heels and to help a very shaky offensive line. Even with a big lead, the Colts pushed the tempo against Tennessee last week, and they’ll use a similar style to keep the Baltimore front on its heels and to protect an offensive line that’s already surrendered 13 quarterback hits and 22 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s no secret that three-step drops limit any defense’s ability to get to the quarterback, but the Ravens have been especially vulnerable to this over the last couple years and a quicker tempo will make the defense too flatfooted in the second half, especially with Chris Canty unlikely to play and Terrell Suggs less than 100 percent.

3. Colts cornerback Vontae Davis and bracketed coverage finally make Steve Smith look human, but Torrey Smith catches a touchdown and posts a season-high 105 receiving yards. After collecting 429 receiving yards in four weeks, the elder Smith will finally receive consistent attention befitting a No. 1 receiver as Davis will shadow him and receive extra help whenever possible. Steve Smith will still have a presence, but it will be Torrey Smith with a dynamic performance against an Indianapolis defense ranking 21st in pass defense. The fourth-year wideout will catch a long score on an effective play-action fake that makes new starting free safety Sergio Brown — filling in for the suspended LaRon Landry — bite.

4. A secondary that’s been shaky all year finally crumbles as Luck throws for 350 yards and three touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees stood up for the play of his pass defense this week, but the Colts have too many weapons for top cornerback Jimmy Smith to account for and no one else inspires enough confidence to slow such a passing game. Cornerback Lardarius Webb wasn’t listed on the injury report for the second straight week, but it’s impossible to have any expectations for him until he finally takes extensive snaps in live-game action. An improved pass rush against Carolina helped mask issues in coverage, but the Ravens won’t be able to do the same with Indianapolis using an up-tempo attack, which will lead to a long day for the back end of the defense.

5. Quarterback Joe Flacco has another strong afternoon, but the Baltimore offense can’t quite hang with Indianapolis in a 30-24 loss to snap a three-game winning streak. At the start of the season, I wouldn’t have given the Ravens much of a chance to win this one, but a stronger-than-expected Baltimore offense and the Colts’ less-than-impressive offensive line will make this a close one. In the same way that the Colts’ two wins have come against less-than-stellar competition, I can’t be convinced that a shaky road win over Cleveland is enough evidence that the Ravens can carry over performances on the road like what we saw against Carolina last week. Flacco will play at a high level against a very ordinary defense, but the Baltimore defense won’t force enough stops against Luck and the Colts to pull out the road upset.

Comments (0)

Ravens offense hoping other Smith gets on track after slow start

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Ravens offense hoping other Smith gets on track after slow start

Posted on 26 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While all eyes will be on Steve Smith when the Ravens welcome the Carolina Panthers to Baltimore on Sunday, Torrey Smith simply hopes to get his 2014 season on track as we approach the quarter pole.

It’s been a slow start for the fourth-year wide receiver who has just six receptions for 85 yards through three games a year after setting career highs with 65 catches and 1,128 receiving yards. Targeted by quarterback Joe Flacco 19 times through three games, Smith has reined in only 31.6 percent of those attempts, which would be a career-low completion percentage for the 2011 second-round pick’s career.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Smith has taken the rough beginning in stride, choosing to focus on a number of close calls that could have gone for big plays. In the Ravens’ win in Cleveland last Sunday, Flacco was hit on a deep ball to Smith that was intercepted and later missed the open wideout in the end zone for what should have been a touchdown. Of course, Smith has brought some misery on himself such as when he dropped a short screen pass that would have gone for big yardage late in the fourth quarter against the Browns.

“You can’t get any closer than we already have been,” Smith said. “I have folks tweeting me how terrible I am, and I could very easily have had three touchdowns and 300 yards the past couple weeks. But that’s how the ball rolls. I’m not used to it, but we’ll get over it soon.”

Most expected Smith’s opportunities to decrease a bit simply because the Ravens added more weapons such as Steve Smith and veteran tight end Owen Daniels to go along with what was a healthy Dennis Pitta returning for the start of the 2014 season. But with Pitta suffering his second right hip injury in the last 14 months, Baltimore will need more production from others beyond Steve Smith, who leads the team with 18 receptions for 290 yards and has quickly become Flacco’s most dependable receiver.

What has been most concerning is the lack of comfort shown by Torrey Smith in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system, which places an emphasis on the precision and timing of short-to-intermediate throws. Smith has improved his route-running ability since his rookie season, but he is at his best when asked to use his straight-line speed and still appears too stiff when asked to quickly change direction while running shorter routes.

Even if Kubiak hasn’t found the perfect way to utilize the younger Smith’s skills just yet, he doesn’t appear discouraged with how the 25-year-old is playing.

“We had five opportunities for him to have big plays in the [Cleveland] game,” Kubiak said. “Joe gets hit one time, and [we] get a [pass interference] the next time. I felt bad for him coming out of the game because, really, he had a chance to make some big plays. We missed him in the end zone. But he’s working extremely well. Like I said, it’s going to take all of us — keep spreading around. Joe [has to get] the ball to the right guy, and that guy has to make a play.”

Of course, it’s important to remember Smith is the kind of receiver who can’t be evaluated too definitively — good or bad — based on a smaller sample of games as all it takes is a couple successful deep balls to put him back on track. In 2011, many were ready to call the rookie a bust when he went without a catch in his first two NFL games before he caught three touchdowns and collected 152 receiving yards in Week 3 that led to a respectable rookie campaign of 841 yards and seven touchdowns. Last year, Smith looked like he was on his way to an All-Pro season with 556 receiving yards through the first five games before collecting just 572 more over the final 11 games.

While it appears that Steve Smith has at least temporarily wrestled away the title of “go-to receiver” — Browns cornerback Joe Haden shadowed the veteran for large portions of the Ravens’ Week 3 win — Torrey Smith is confident he will start capitalizing on the opportunities that have been near misses thus far. And his chances would only figure to increase if opposing defense continue to focus more closely on the elder Smith.

“We were as close as you can get to touchdowns; we just have to be on the same page and get it done,” Torrey Smith said. “It’ll happen. It has no choice, but to happen. The way we’ve been practicing, it has no choice but to happen. I can’t say when. I hope it’s Sunday, but it’ll happen soon.”

Comments (0)