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Ravens-related thoughts on Super Bowl 50

Posted on 08 February 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but notice parallels between Peyton Manning’s improbable run to a win in Super Bowl 50 and Ray Lewis finishing his “last ride” with a championship in New Orleans three years ago.

The future Hall of Famers both missed substantial time with injuries in the regular season before returning in time for the playoffs. Each made important contributions on the playoff path to the Super Bowl as Lewis averaged just under 15 tackles per game in the first three rounds of the 2012 postseason and Manning threw for 222 yards against Pittsburgh — overcoming a number of dropped passes — and had two touchdown passes against New England in the AFC championship game.

But as much as we might have enjoyed seeing two of the greatest players in NFL history go out on top, it was apparent that each needed to retire after watching them play in the Super Bowl. While we remember Joe Flacco earning Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors, we try to forget Lewis looking slow and hopeless covering San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis or chasing after 49ers running back Frank Gore in that game.

Like the great Ravens linebacker against the 49ers, Manning had little to do with Denver winning its third Super Bowl title as the Broncos defense suffocated Carolina on Sunday night. Perhaps the 39-year-old Manning was owed one by the football gods after playing with some less-than-stellar defenses over the years in the same way that Lewis had some of his best years wasted by ineptitude on the other side of the ball.

If you’re a Ravens fan struggling to be happy for the quarterback who twice broke Baltimore’s heart in the playoffs — including the 2006 postseason defeat that was the most devastating home loss in franchise history — don’t forget his touching gesture in the playoffs three years ago. More than an hour after the Ravens had defeated the Broncos in an epic double-overtime contest in the divisional round, Manning and his family waited in the Baltimore locker room to congratulate Lewis personally.

Despite dealing with one of the most disappointing losses of his storied career, Manning still wanted to offer his respect to Lewis after the last of their many entertaining chess matches over the years.

It doesn’t matter if Manning — or Lewis — was no longer the same player when tasting championship glory for a final time. Seeing one of the all-time greats exit that way is special and rare.

Let’s just hope Manning actually retires now as most people expect.

Miller time

Four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller already had a résumé impressive enough to land a lucrative contract this offseason, but the Super Bowl 50 MVP took his performance to another level in the postseason.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the 26-year-old had a combined five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. That’s the kind of timing that Flacco can appreciate after the Ravens quarterback threw for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the 2012 postseason to fetch a six-year, $120.6 million contract a few weeks later.

ESPN has already reported that Denver will use the franchise tag if a long-term deal isn’t reached, meaning Ravens fans should stop dreaming about Miller reuniting with Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore.

Kubiak turns to dark side

Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak did a masterful job of handling a difficult quarterback situation this season.

Leading 16-10 and facing a third-and-9 from his own 26 with less than six minutes remaining, the Broncos head coach didn’t allow Manning to even attempt a pass and ran the ball with C.J. Anderson before punting. It was both the right decision and a clear sign that Manning needs to retire.

Possessing a championship defense, the offensive-minded Kubiak turned to the “dark side” in a way reminiscent of how Brian Billick handled the 2000 Ravens by deferring to his defense and being conservative. The difference is that it was much easier to do such a thing with Trent Dilfer than with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Stewart shines

Darian Stewart was a nondescript performer in his lone year with the Ravens, but the Denver safety stood out in the Super Bowl.

He collected three tackles, a sack, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble when he put his helmet right on the ball to knock it away from Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert. It wasn’t just a one-game aberration, either, after Pro Football Focus graded Stewart 14th among NFL safeties during the 2015 season.

It really makes you wonder where that player was in Baltimore a year ago.

False start

After Panthers left tackle Michael Oher committed a false start late in the second quarter, you couldn’t help but be amused by the social-media reaction of Ravens fans who had seen that act often in Baltimore.

The 2009 first-round pick deserves much credit for working hard to get his career back on track in Carolina, but Super Bowl 50 was a forgettable performance for him and the rest of the Panthers offensive line.

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Former Ravens coordinator Kubiak going to Super Bowl 50

Posted on 24 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Gary Kubiak had every intention of staying with the Ravens until his dream job suddenly opened up.

A year later, the former offensive coordinator is now going to the Super Bowl. A strong effort by his defense led the Denver Broncos to a 20-18 win over New England, giving Kubiak a shot at his first NFL championship as a head coach.

In his only season in Baltimore, Kubiak not only fixed an abysmal running game, but the Ravens set franchise records by scoring 25.6 points per game and producing 364.9 yards per game. After the season-ending playoff loss to New England last January, the 54-year-old declined interview requests from other NFL teams and even issued a statement that he would be staying with the Ravens before the Broncos parted ways with head coach John Fox the next day.

The subsequent call from former teammate and longtime friend John Elway was the “game-changer” for Kubiak, who had previously spent a combined 20 years in Denver as a player and assistant coach. The Ravens hired current offensive coordinator Marc Trestman soon after Kubiak became the head coach in Denver.

Two other ex-Ravens had big days for Denver on Sunday as tight end Owen Daniels caught two touchdown passes from Peyton Manning in the first half and safety Darian Stewart intercepted a Tom Brady pass in Broncos territory in the second quarter. Stewart later left the game with a knee injury, but he told reporters after the AFC championship game that he expected to be ready for Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif. on Feb. 7.

Three other former Ravens will meet Denver in the Super Bowl as Michael Oher, Ed Dickson, and Dwan Edwards were part of Carolina’s dominating 49-15 win over Arizona. While Oher started at left tackle for the Panthers, Edwards had a tackle and a quarterback hit as part of the defensive line rotation and Dickson failed to rein in two passes from quarterback Cam Newton.

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What brought the 2015 Ravens to this point?

Posted on 28 September 2015 by Luke Jones

An 0-3 record has brought many questions for the Baltimore Ravens.

Who’s to blame? Is it a lack of talent, poor execution, or the coaching?

A week after head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees questioned the effort and energy of their defense, the Ravens were gashed to the tune of 28 points and 458 total yards by Cincinnati to fall to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. Meanwhile, an offense too reliant on Steve Smith in the passing game has lost its way on the ground, ranking 28th in the NFL at just 3.3 yards per carry.

While fans and media try to hand out blame to coaches and players or point to a tough schedule for the poor start, below are seven realities that have contributed to the predicament of the Ravens being the only winless team in the AFC. Some were the result of bad decisions while others were out of their control.

These factors are in no particular order and some clearly hold more weight than others.

Dead cap money

Dead cap space is a reality for every NFL team from year to year, but the Ravens are carrying an incredible $17 million in dead money for two former Pro Bowl players no longer on the roster: Ray Rice and Haloti Ngata. With the cap set at $143.28 million for the 2015 season, general manager Ozzie Newsome was without nearly 12 percent of his cap because of those two alone. When you combine that with the rest of their dead money, the Ravens were unable to utilize more than $21 million (just under 15 percent) of the salary cap for 2015. Baltimore rarely spends big in free agency, but they might have been able to make an impact signing or two with those resources tied to star players who aren’t even on the roster anymore.

Recent draft history

To be clear, not even the great Newsome can be expected to bat 1.000 in the draft, but C.J. Mosley was the first Pro Bowl player the Ravens had drafted since Rice in 2008. The 2013 draft is particularly glaring with the top two draft picks — Matt Elam and Arthur Brown — being non-factors, but the later selections of Brandon Williams and Rick Wagner prevented that class from being a total disaster. Of course, the Ravens’ recent draft issues are only relative to their high standards, but they have selected just one player in the first or second round since 2009 — Jimmy Smith — whom they’ve signed to a second long-term contract at this point. They’ve still found talent, but Newsome must find new game-changers to be pillars of the roster moving forward. And when you miss badly on high picks like Elam and Brown, those positions have to be accounted for with additional resources that could have gone to other areas of need.

Departure of assistant coaches 

Not only did the Ravens begin 2015 with their fourth offensive coordinator in four years, but the absence of Gary Kubiak has been even more pronounced with the running game looking very 2013-esque so far. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Marc Trestman is a fit in Baltimore, but it’s difficult to continue enduring annual coaching changes without a few hiccups at some point. Another oft-overlooked coaching departure from two years ago was secondary coach and current Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Highly respected by the likes of Ed Reed, Lardarius Webb, and Jimmy Smith, Austin was succeeded by Steve Spagnuolo for a year and the combination of Chris Hewitt and Matt Weiss are now coaching the secondary. It’s not an excuse for the poor performance, but that’s a lot of coaching turnover in what’s been the biggest weakness on the field for the Ravens dating back to last season.

Veteran exits

It’s been a testament to the Ravens to seemingly be able to replace departing veterans with cheaper, younger replacements every year, but the exit of Ngata, starting wide receiver Torrey Smith, rush specialist Pernell McPhee, and starting tight end Owen Daniels was a large group to replace in one offseason, especially when you factor in the dead cap space working against Newsome. At some point, you can only lose so many established players and not have the well run dry — at least temporarily — as young players are still maturing.

Excessive reliance on rookies and inexperienced players

This goes hand in hand with the veteran departures, but the Ravens are relying on more young players at key spots than they have in quite some time. Ideally, even your first-rounders can be worked in slowly like the Ravens did with the likes of Terrell Suggs (one start in 2003) and Todd Heap (six starts in 2001). The 2015 draft class looked great on paper in addressing so many positional needs, but that never meant those rookies would be ready to contribute immediately. So far, third-round defensive tackle Carl Davis is the only pick to make a significant contribution, but the Ravens will hope to see others come on sooner rather than later to prove they can be part of the future. The presence of so many inexperienced wideouts beyond Steve Smith has hindered the offense so far in 2015.

Injuries to Terrell Suggs and Breshad Perriman

All teams endure injuries, but these two have been difficult to overcome in the early stages of 2015 with Suggs being the emotional leader of the defense and an important part of the pass rush and Perriman representing offensive upside. When you consider the exits of Ray Lewis, Reed, and Ngata over the last few years, Suggs’ season-ending injury brought the end of the old guard of Baltimore defense. Meanwhile, it was no secret that Perriman would be the replacement for Torrey Smith as the vertical threat in the passing game. The Ravens hope their 2015 first-round pick will still contribute in his rookie season at some point, but the passing game has been too dependent on Steve Smith with only a collection of late-round picks and former rookie free agents behind him in the receiver pecking order.

Big contracts not paying off

No, Joe Flacco’s record-setting deal is not part of this discussion, regardless of arguments that some fans and media have tried to make over the last couple years. But the Ravens haven’t had an impressive run with other long-term deals over the last few years for various reasons, some out of their control. Starting in 2012, Newsome has rewarded the likes of Rice, cornerback Lardarius Webb, tight end Dennis Pitta, and left tackle Eugene Monroe with big contracts that have produced disappointing results. Other deals such as the ones given to Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and four-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda have worked out, but the overall return hasn’t been what the organization anticipated with most of these big-money contracts. It’s too early to judge Jimmy Smith’s contract despite a rough 2015 start, but he’s certainly the next one under the microscope.

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Too many issues for winless Ravens to hide from truth

Posted on 28 September 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens had chances to win in the fourth quarter of each of their first three games, but that doesn’t hide the truth after a 28-24 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday.

This is a bad football team at 0-3.

At least right now.

A loss in Denver wasn’t unexpected despite it being a winnable game. Falling to Oakland was surprising, but the Ravens have laid the occasional egg on the road in the John Harbaugh era. But failing to prevail in a must-win game at M&T Bank Stadium when they owned two separate leads late in the game?

The difference between most good teams and most bad teams in the NFL isn’t that much, but the Ravens have shown it through the first three weeks of the 2015 season. They’re not bad in the same sense as an 0-3 Chicago Bears team that’s been outscored by 59 points this season, but that’s no consolation for a franchise so used to success over the last 15 years.

“Very disappointing,” said Harbaugh after the Ravens fell to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. “We had the lead twice in the fourth quarter and couldn’t hold onto it. It’s happened too much lately. It’s on us.”

The sad thing is that the Ravens of old flashed at a few different points in the second half, making you think they would find a way to steal one that they really had no business winning after being dominated in the first half. The defense was even the catalyst as Elvis Dumervil stripped Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton of the football and C.J. Mosley picked up the fumble and ran 41 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:49 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The narrative was there for an ugly — but season-saving — win around which the Ravens could rally and remove the bad taste of the first two losses from their palates.

But then four-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green took over, catching an 80-yard touchdown against a confused and poor-tackling secondary. And he did it again after the Ravens had punched back with a Joe Flacco touchdown to Steve Smith that put them back in front with just under four minutes remaining.

After fourth-quarter failures against the Broncos and Raiders in the previous two weeks, the defense once again melted down when the Ravens needed it to make just one last stop.

“Once we had the lead in the fourth quarter, we’re supposed to keep it,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “With this defense, we’re supposed to get off the field. We haven’t been getting off the field this whole year, and that’s what you get when you don’t get off the field on third down.”

Even with the healthy returns of Jimmy Smith and Webb and the free-agent additions of Kendrick Lewis and Kyle Arrington, we knew the Ravens secondary might still be an issue, but the defense has allowed 291 passing yards per game and six touchdowns so far in 2015. Two of those performances came against Oakland’s second-year quarterback Derek Carr and then Dalton, who has been the quarterback punchline of playoff failures over the last four years.

Is it the talent, the execution, or the coaching? When a team is 0-3, it’s all of the above.

The pass rush without Terrell Suggs, Pernell McPhee, and Haloti Ngata is a shell of its former self, leading to quite a predicament for defensive coordinator Dean Pees. When you need to blitz to pressure the pocket, you make shaky defensive backs even more vulnerable to giving up the big play, but rushing three or four while dropping extra defenders in coverage hasn’t worked either.

There’s been too much miscommunication on the back end of the defense — seeing Lewis trying to cover Green on his 80-yard score in a three-deep zone was a perfect example on Sunday — not to question Pees’ calls while also holding players accountable for their performance. You could certainly interpret Harbaugh’s thoughts on Green’s final touchdown as a critique of both.

“You take responsibility across the board,” Harbaugh said. “It’s execution, it’s finding a better way to play. There are options that you have on that last play down there in the red zone on the [7]-yard line besides man coverage, but we decided to blitz them and get after them and they beat us. We have an option there, we can check to a zone coverage. We didn’t have that on, but there are always options.”

Understandably, the defense is receiving most of the blame for Sunday’s loss, but let’s not pretend all is well with the offense, either. Not only did the group sleepwalk through the entire first half, but the passing game remains too dependent on Steve Smith as he was targeted 17 times on his way to 13 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Other than maybe second-year tight end Crockett Gillmore — who sat out the second half with an undisclosed injury — Flacco doesn’t have a single pass-catcher he can trust beyond the 36-year-old wideout, who was terrific on Sunday but can’t be expected to repeat this every week.

Perhaps the biggest — and easily the most surprising — concern on either side of the ball for the Ravens has been their running game, which was a non-factor against the Cincinnati defense on Sunday. After running for just 35 yards on 13 carries in the first half, the Ravens gained only one yard on five second-half carries.

For a team that pledged to maintain the blocking principles introduced by Gary Kubiak a year ago, the running game under Marc Trestman has more closely resembled the disastrous 2013 ground attack so far, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry in three games. That spells trouble for a team lacking play-makers through the air and a pass defense that needs to be protected as much as possible.

With concerns on both sides of the ball, the 0-3 Ravens can only push forward while trying to resolve at least some of the problems.

“If [those losses are] in your head, then you’re just going to be constantly trying to crawl out of a hole that you can’t get out of right away,” said Flacco, who thought the offense “wasted” the entire first half not taking advantage of the Bengals playing “conservative” defensive looks. “It’s going to take time. We’ve had opportunities to win each one of these three games, and we’re just not good enough to be good in crunch-time situations and it’s getting us beat.”

Numerous players spoke about getting their heads right as the talented Steelers — even without Ben Roethlisberger — loom on Thursday night. There was plenty of talk about accountability and being better than their record indicates, but actions speak louder than words and the Ravens know that.

Players and coaches need to be better, including Harbaugh after he burned a precious timeout on a spot challenge he had no chance of winning early in the fourth quarter.

There are just too many problems to go around for the Ravens to hide from the truth that they’ve been a bad football team through three weeks. And if they want to have any visions of becoming the fourth 0-3 team since 1990 to make the playoffs, much needs to change in a hurry.

“We’ve got to get going,” Dumervil said. “We have a short turnaround against a good team [on the road]. We’ve got to have a short memory and get going.”

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Ravens trying to erase memory of last trip to Denver

Posted on 10 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Everyone remembers what happened the last time the Ravens visited Denver two years ago as the defending Super Bowl champions to begin the 2013 season.

A franchise record for points allowed and an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes thrown by Peyton Manning in a 49-27 demolition. Many forget that the Ravens actually led 17-14 at the half before the 30 minutes from hell that cornerback Jimmy Smith and many of his teammates say they’ve erased from their minds.

“My memories of the last one? I forgot; I’m a corner,” said Smith while smiling. “Let me really think about this. Is that the one he put up seven on us? I did forget about that. I did.”

Of course, much has changed on both sides as players have come and gone over the last two years. The Broncos have a new head coach in Gary Kubiak after he spent last season as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator.

Even Manning quipped this week that the 2013 season opener had “passed the statute of limitations” for discussion. The likes of Julius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker may be gone, but the Broncos have two 2014 Pro Bowl receivers — Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders — and former Ravens tight end Owen Daniels to add to the mix.

And Manning’s mind is as dangerous as ever with two more years of experience under his belt since that last meeting.

“It’s a chess match out there. You give him one look, he’s going to check to a different play,” said veteran newcomer Kyle Arrington, who faced Manning many times while playing for the New England Patriots. “Shoot, it might be a dummy check. He might run the same play that he has called, and then our ‘quarterback’ on our defense, Daryl [Smith], is out there doing the same thing. It’s going to be a good matchup.”

After finishing 23rd in pass defense and enduring a slew of injuries in the secondary in 2014, the Ravens know their secondary will be under the microscope with Smith and Lardarius Webb coming back from injuries and a new safety duo in Will Hill and veteran newcomer Kendrick Lewis on the back end of the defense. General manager Ozzie Newsome also added depth at cornerback in the offseason with the free-agent signing of Arrington and the fourth-round selection of Tray Walker.

The group will face one of its toughest tests right off the bat, with Ravens holdovers hoping for a much better showing against Manning and the Broncos this time around.

“Obviously, [there’s] a lot of eyes on our group back there,” Smith said. “But we have a sense of urgency just to be that voice on defense as a unit — as a group. Going into this game, it’s a big game for us just to make sure all our communication is down and that in our first game, we actually look like the unit we want to be.”

There’s plenty of unknown on each side.

Is Smith fully recovered from a Lisfranc injury that short-circuited what was shaping up to be a Pro Bowl campaign last October? If so, is he ready to shadow the explosive Thomas all over the field?

Will Webb be ready to play at a high level after missing the entire preseason with a nagging hamstring injury, the latest ailment to plague him over these last few years? Can the combination of Hill and Lewis stop the revolving door we saw at the safety position a year ago?

The Broncos offense might be more of a mystery with Kubiak attempting to marry his West Coast offense with his future Hall of Fame quarterback’s strengths — and obvious limitations — at age 39. The offensive line features new ingredients and is without Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in May.

The last time we saw Manning in a meaningful game, he looked old and was playing with a torn quadriceps in a home playoff defeat to Indianapolis. It was a performance that made nearly everyone wonder if one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history was washed up as he struggled to push the ball down the field to even a moderate degree.

But the Ravens aren’t buying into the idea that Manning is finished after watching him this preseason.

“He’s wearing No. 18. He’s patting the ball. He’s making checks,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s under center a little more than he has been in the past, but we don’t know what we’re going to get in terms of scheme. We’ve just have to anticipate and play our game and play the way we want to play. He looks as good as ever from the reps that I’ve seen.”

Even as he enters his 18th year in the NFL, Manning still carries an aura that can grab hold of a defense trying its best not to let him deliver the knockout blow. But that thinking could prove dangerous in Kubiak’s system that always employs a strong running game.

The Ravens hold the longest active streak in the NFL by not allowing a 100-yard rusher in 26 consecutive games. It’s a stat that was even mentioned by Manning in his conference call with the Baltimore media, making you wonder if Kubiak and Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will spread the Ravens out before trying to gash them in the running game.

Denver feels so good about its ground attack led by starter C.J. Anderson and backup Ronnie Hillman that 2013 second-round pick Montee Ball was cut over the weekend. The Ravens’ front seven will carry the burden of not only putting pressure on Manning but making sure the Broncos don’t run all over them on Sunday.

“It’s always going to be Gary’s offense,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “It’s always going to be Gary’s philosophy that they’re going to have a good running team. Even [if you] forget Gary, even back when the Colts had Manning and you think clear back to when he was in Indianapolis, they still could run the ball.”

The schedule-makers did the Ravens no favors with five of their first seven games coming on the road in 2015, and they’re likely to see Manning at his best from a physical standpoint on Sunday. With his well-documented neck surgeries and struggles playing in cold weather, there’s no disputing that teams have better odds against Manning later in the season. The Ravens exploited that reality when they won in Denver in a double-overtime thriller in the 2012 divisional round en route to their Super Bowl XLVII title.

Since signing with the Broncos in 2012, Manning has thrown 47 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 14 home games played in September and October compared to only 23 touchdowns and six interceptions in 10 regular-season home games played in the second half of seasons.

But the Ravens can’t dwell on the timing of the matchup. They have too much to prove in putting the memory of two years ago behind them as well as getting the 2015 season off on the right foot.

“He’s going to be dangerous. He’s still Peyton Manning, no matter what,” Smith said. “All the hoopla about him in December compared to September, obviously, it’s real. But that’s none of my concern. I know we’ve got him Week 1, and he’s going to be ready Week 1. That’s all of our concern.”

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Trestman bringing tweaks, passion to Ravens offense

Posted on 08 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Since Marc Trestman was hired in January to become the Ravens’ fourth offensive coordinator in four years, the same question has been asked over and over.

How would the offense change from a year ago when the Ravens finished eighth in the NFL in points scored and 12th in total yards in their only season under Gary Kubiak?

At the time of Trestman’s hire, head coach John Harbaugh vowed to maintain the same principles and zone-blocking schemes in the running game that worked so well in 2014 and there’s little evidence at this stage to suggest that won’t be the case. Several players have described the transition from Kubiak to Trestman as smooth, but that doesn’t mean the former Chicago Bears head coach hasn’t added a few wrinkles here and there.

“The verbiage is the same, [but] some of it’s new,” wide receiver Steve Smith said. “If you don’t listen very carefully, you can easily get tricked. It’s good; it keeps you sharp.”

Known for his fondness for the passing game for much of his coaching career, Trestman is using the shotgun formation more than Kubiak based on limited looks during voluntary organized team activities. Vertical passes, waggles, and swing passes to running backs have stood out in voluntary practices without several starters on each side of the football taking part.

The most visible departure from Kubiak might be the new coordinator’s demeanor as Trestman has taken more of a hands-on approach during practices — regularly conversing in the huddle and sometimes running downfield to congratulate players — while the former coordinator would observe and typically allow his position coaches to handle the bulk of the on-field instruction.

“I’ve always been pretty active coaching on the field in a positive way,” Trestman said. “Very passionate, outwardly emotional at the right time. Just kind of let it happen the way it does during practice and in games, but more in practice where you have a chance to move around a little bit more, be a little bit more verbal with the player. There is time to do that and to coach on the run.”

While acknowledging the season opener is more than three months away, it appears that Trestman has won over quarterback Joe Flacco, who has shown an impressive propensity to succeed with a laundry list of coordinators and quarterbacks coaches as he enters his eighth season. The 59-year-old coordinator says he’s impressed with Flacco’s “quiet confidence” on the practice field but admits the two are still getting to know each other.

Of the three practices open to media over the last couple weeks, Flacco easily had his finest performance on Monday, throwing two touchdowns to tight end Crockett Gillmore inside the red zone and a long score to rookie first-round pick Breshad Perriman against cornerback Asa Jackson during 11-on-11 team drills. You could forgive the franchise quarterback for being skeptical after enjoying arguably the best regular season of his career in 2014, but his early reviews have been positive for the man who’s worked with the likes of Steve Young, Rich Gannon, and Bernie Kosar in his long coaching career.

“It’s been great to work with him so far,” Flacco said during the first week of OTAs. “He’s very detailed in what he wants and how he puts things in and making sure that he teaches it in a way that everybody understands it and gets it pretty quickly. I think he’s doing a great job of motivating and getting everybody going, so it’s been good.”

While comparisons to Kubiak are inevitable, Trestman is working with a different deck of cards following the free-agent departures of wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Owen Daniels in the offseason. It will be up to the new coordinator to make it work with Perriman and second-round tight end Maxx Williams as important parts of the offense in their rookie season.

Both have much to learn, but Trestman thinks the Ravens have found a good one in Perriman, who is primarily working with the second offense at this point but has made big plays in practices.

“What we saw on tape is what we are getting. What we’re getting is a guy who is continually improving,” Trestman said. “He has a good understanding of the game. He’s not just a fast guy; he’s a smart guy. He is going to learn how to use technique and use patience and use other aspects of playing the position — his size, his hand speed — to get off the line of scrimmage. That’s really awesome to see that he’s a quick learner, and he’s catching the ball and making plays just like we saw him do on tape.”

Ten starters missing from Monday’s voluntary workout

The Ravens continued to be without a number of key players as 10 projected starters were not on the field on Monday.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb, linebackers Daryl Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Elvis Dumervil, offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner (foot), center Jeremy Zuttah (offseason hip surgery), guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, defensive ends Chris Canty and Steven Means, and wide receivers Michael Campanaro (quadriceps) and Aldrick Robinson (knee) were absent during the session open to reporters.

After missing last Wednesday’s workout, starting cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot) was practicing and working on a limited basis. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (offseason wrist surgery) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee) also continued to participate on a limited basis.

Baltimore will hold its final three voluntary OTA workouts on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday before beginning mandatory minicamp on June 16.

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Veteran tight end Daniels follows Kubiak to Denver

Posted on 10 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens tight end Owen Daniels will reunite again with Gary Kubiak again after agreeing to a three-year contract with the Denver Broncos on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old veteran followed Kubiak to Baltimore last year after they had spent eight years together in Houston and will now catch passes from future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. The deal is worth a total of $12 million, according to The Denver Post.

Daniels’ departure leaves the Ravens lacking at the tight end position with their only healthy options with experience on the current roster being 2014 third-round pick Crockett Gillmore and former practice-squad member Phillip Supernaw. The status of Dennis Pitta has yet to be determined for the 2015 season after he suffered a second serious hip injury in 14 months last September, but the Ravens cannot count on his availability.

In 15 games last season, Daniels caught 48 passes for 527 yards and four touchdowns while serving as a reliable option for quarterback Joe Flacco. Head coach John Harbaugh expressed hope last month that Daniels would return to the Ravens.

“We’ve talked to Owen, and Owen says he wants to come back,” Harbaugh said. “I’m sure that he and his agent will talk about what’s best for them financially, and every other way, but he’s very interested in coming back here.”

Of course, with the Ravens’ limited salary cap space and Daniels’ history with Kubiak, Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, and Broncos tight end coach Brian Pariani, Denver was the natural landing spot for the two-time Pro Bowl selection.

The Ravens will see Daniels in 2015 as they visit Denver during the regular season.

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Kubiak calls “elite” Flacco as good as anyone he’s coached

Posted on 18 February 2015 by Luke Jones

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has fielded countless questions about the future of Peyton Manning since becoming the head coach of the Denver Broncos last month.

At the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, a reporter asked Kubiak an oft-repeated question about his old quarterback in Baltimore.

Is Joe Flacco elite?

“You bet he is. He helped me. It’s probably why I’m standing up here today,” said Kubiak as he laughed. “Joe was tremendous. I really enjoyed working with him — as talented a young man as I’ve ever coached and as good a person as I’ve ever coached. I think we’ll be talking about Joe for a long, long time. I really appreciated my time with him, and I wish him the best.”

Not only leading the Ravens offense to franchise-best marks in total yards and points scored, Kubiak guided Flacco to arguably the best regular season of his seven-year career. The 30-year-old threw a career-best 27 touchdowns and completed 62.1 percent of his passes, his best completion rate since 2010.

And while Kubiak already owned a coaching résumé that included an eight-year stint as the head coach of the Houston Texans, the 53-year-old once again praised the Ravens organization for the opportunity it provided last season. He’s using that experience in Denver, a place he previously spent two decades as a player and assistant coach.

“I took a lot of things,” Kubiak said. “I went there because I knew what the organization stood for. I knew what John [Harbaugh] stood for. That’s what I wanted to be a part of — the tremendous expectations there. I just think the job that they do as an organization, everybody’s on the same page and working together. I think Ozzie [Newsome] was tremendous for me to watch him in the draft and Eric DeCosta. That was very beneficial for me.

“To watch the team go through [the Ray Rice] situation early in the season and watch the organization deal with that. For me as a head coach, watching them deal with that situation and bring the football team out of it in a very positive way was very beneficial. Football-wise, a very experienced staff [with] Dean Pees and some of the coaches I got a chance to work with. The bottom line is watching a successful organization go about it every day — one that’s been there each and every year — I take a lot of that with me.”

Kubiak reiterated Wednesday that he wants Manning to return as the Broncos quarterback and said all indications are pointing toward that happening in 2015. Though the schedule won’t be finalized with dates until this spring, the Ravens will travel to Denver to take on the Broncos this coming season.

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New Ravens coordinator Trestman eases concerns with first impression

Posted on 21 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The most frustrating aspect of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s departure was a fear that the Ravens would be forced to fix something that wasn’t broken.

After a 2014 season in which Baltimore set franchise records in points scored and total yards, head coach John Harbaugh knew he wouldn’t have to start from scratch like he did a year ago in his search for a new offensive coordinator and system, but the Ravens needed someone to keep the offense moving in the same direction. Former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman has been entrusted with the job, and the 59-year-old made it clear Wednesday that he doesn’t intend to bring sweeping changes to Kubiak’s version of the West Coast offense.

“My idea would be, ‘Why would I have 40-some guys learn a new offense when I’m just one person?'” Trestman said. “Isn’t it easier for me to learn it than to start over with everybody else including coaches? I think the formula going in is certainly to learn the language and the nuances of the offense and what has been established there with the coaching staff and with the players, and then move forward from there.”

This isn’t the first time in Trestman’s career that he’s followed in the footsteps of a successful offense as he replaced Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak as defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco’s offensive coordinator and quarterback in 1995, making him familiar with their version of the West Coast offense. Perhaps the biggest question had been how a new coordinator would impact the zone-blocking schemes the Ravens finally appeared to master under Kubiak last season and whether that style would continue.

Harbaugh made it clear he was looking for a coordinator to fit the vision that will remain for the Ravens’ running game even as Kubiak, quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison and tight ends coach Brian Pariani join the Broncos.

“I thought that Gary and Rick and Brian along with [offensive line coach Juan Castillo] really took that to another level as far as the nuance, the scheme,” Harbaugh said. “Because that’s something they’ve been doing all those years in Houston and in Denver, and they’re probably the four most guys around the stretch-zone. We’ve learned from that, and that’s a part of us now going forward, and we’ll keep it.”

With two decades of NFL coaching experience, Trestman has a good reputation working with quarterbacks, but many have pointed to his pass-happy tendencies as a potential conflict with the Ravens’ offensive identity. The Bears ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing attempts (355) while Baltimore rushed 448 times to finish 11th in 2014. Chicago ranked 19th in the NFL in yards per carry (4.1).

After being asked about using the shotgun formation in Chicago, Trestman reminded everyone that he’s worked in a variety of fashions, pointing out that he rarely ever used the shotgun in his years with Rich Gannon in Oakland. It’s all about adaptation for the new offensive coordinator while adding some wrinkles along the way.

Harbaugh made it clear that the new-found commitment to the running game established last season will not change, and he feels comfortable with his new coordinator buying into the same philosophy.

“It’s never going to be my offense. It’s always going to be the Ravens’ offense,” Trestman said. “John has a vision of playing continuity football and complementary football, and I think that’s what has allowed the Ravens to be so successful. They’re not just an offense, defense and special teams, but they play complementary football. That’s something that I’ve paid attention to and will certainly have in mind each and every day as we work within the framework of the offense.”

Of course, saying the right things in a January conference call is a far cry from executing a successful offense on Sundays in the fall. More critical to the Ravens’ fate than Trestman will be what general manager Ozzie Newsome does to address the running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions that all feature key free agents this offseason.

The NFL is more about talent than it is coaching with few secrets among the 32 teams in how the game is played. Trestman has an exceptional foundation with a 30-year-old quarterback — who shares a similarly calm demeanor — and a strong offensive line on which to build, but the other skill positions are filled with question marks as the statuses of Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and even Dennis Pitta remain unclear for 2015.

As was the case when Kubiak agreed to become the offensive coordinator a year ago, the Ravens have much work ahead to keep the league’s 12th-ranked offense from a year ago moving in the right direction.

“I think Ozzie and John, the way they handle the personnel, it’s really in their hands,” Trestman said. “Certainly, I’ll be the one to be flexible enough that when we bring in good players that we’ll develop them and get them ready to play. Don’t go in there with any pre-existing ideas of who’s there, who’s not there, what we need to do. There’s a tremendous personnel department here. I’m sure we’ll talk about different types of players, but ultimately it’s our job to coach the guys that Ozzie and John and our personnel department bring in.”

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Kubiak clears air on his departure from Baltimore

Posted on 20 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was introduced as the head coach of the Denver Broncos Tuesday, but took a few moments explaining his change of heart from a week ago.

After issuing a statement on Jan. 11 about his intentions to remain with the Ravens in 2015, Kubiak confirmed that the Broncos position becoming available was the only job for which he’d change his mind.

“This is a game changer. It’s as simple as that,” Kubiak said during his introductory press conference in Denver. “Those are the same words I used to coach [John] Harbaugh when we talked. This is where I got my start. This is home for me. This means so much to me.”

The overwhelming response from the Ravens to Kubiak leaving is one that lacks any animosity as the front office, staff, and players recognized his prior 20 years spent with the Broncos as a player and assistant coach. Harbaugh wasted little time finding Kubiak’s replacement by hiring former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman on Tuesday afternoon.

Kubiak began his press conference on Tuesday by thanking the Ravens for the chance to return to his roots as a coordinator after a disappointing end to his eight-year run as the head coach of the Houston Texans.

“First off, I want to thank the Baltimore Ravens,” Kubiak said. “That was extremely important to me. It’s been a heck of year for [me], and without that organization giving me an opportunity about this time last year, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I really want to thank Steve [Bisciotti], Ozzie [Newsome], John, the players, and the organization.”

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