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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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Why I’m happy Gary Kubiak took the Broncos job

Posted on 20 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

We heard all the talk the past 10 days or so.  Gary Kubiak isn’t leaving the Ravens. He is very happy being their offensive coordinator. He’s not an administrator, but an X’s and O’s oriented type of a guy. He is a teacher, and has health concerns to boot. He is building a house in Owings Mills. Obviously working for your old roommate whom you were the back up QB to for 9 years up in Denver does have a tendency to change one’s mind. That and the nice contract a head coach would expect, are enough to sway anyone to change their mind.

The Ravens are better off for it, and I’ll tell you why. Gary Kubiak is a good man, a likable man. However, as a head coach, his record stands at 61-64, and he is 2-2 in the post season. He is Norv Turner in a different shell – both much more effective offensive coordinators than head coaches. That bodes well for the Ravens, as they face the Broncos in the future. That is, if the Broncos make the playoffs with the consistency that the Ravens have been making it for the past 7 years. If Peyton Manning doesn’t play in 2015 (he and the Broncos have until March 9 to decide) then Kubiak will start Brock Osweiler at quarterback. I don’t know that either one of these QBs are a good fit for Kubiak’s offense.

There are quite a few people in Denver that feel Elway’s hiring of Kubiak is an attempt to push Manning out the door, since he is owed $19 million on March 9, and he had a dismal outing against the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs. Manning said he had a thigh injury that contributed to his performance, but to my untrained eye it was obvious he had lost quite a bit of steam off of his fastball.

The Ravens are a top notch organization, and will attract the best talent that is out there. They have a history of doing that. Baltimore is an attractive destination for coaches, because due to their consistent success, they frequently spawn head coaches in the NFL. Kubiak, Caldwell, Del Rio & Del Rio (2nd time), Pagano, just to name a few of the most recent one’s. They have a plan in place and will be methodical in their search for an offensive coordinator, but they will not cast as wide a net as they did a year ago. Joe Flacco had his best season in Kubiak’s scheme, and the Ravens are actively looking for a Kubiak clone so to speak.

The word on the street is that the best fit for the Ravens is Denver QB coach Greg Knapp. He is a better fit than Adam Gase, who was Denver’s offensive coordinator. Knapp has been described in some NFL circles as a Rick Dennison clone, and that the two are very similar in their philosophy, approach and execution regarding offensive football. Knapp comes directly from the Mike Shanahan-Gary Kubiak coaching tree, and is very well versed in the zone blocking scheme. Broncos fans are quick to point out that Knapp has been instrumental in Osweiler’s development, and feel that the 6’8″ third year pro out of Arizona State could capably replace the legendary Manning.

The 51 year old Knapp has an impressive body of work in the NFL. He was the Atlanta Falcon’s offensive coordinator and helped Michael Vick develop into a 2-way threat. He was Matt Schaub’s quarterback coach in Houston when Schaub was making the playoffs and Pro Bowls. And he was also the offensive coordinator in Oakland, where he installed the zone blocking scheme. The result was that it launched the career of running back Darren McFadden, who prior to Knapp’s arrival had not lived up to his pre-draft expectations.

The Ravens need to move relatively fast if they want to land the best candidate for their vacant offensive coordinator position, as the demand is heavy for the top coaches that are still available.



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Sifting through potential candiates to replace Kubiak

Posted on 19 January 2015 by Luke Jones

With Gary Kubiak off to Denver and taking Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani with him, the Ravens are essentially back to where they started a year ago as it relates to their offensive coordinator position.

Of course, having a 30-year-old franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco and an above-average offensive line with all five starters under contract for 2015 should make the job attractive to potential suitors. The most logical fit outside the organization appeared to be Kyle Shanahan — who was a finalist for the position a year ago — before reports surfaced Sunday night that he would be accepting the offensive coordinator position with the Atlanta Falcons as part of Dan Quinn’s staff when the Seattle defensive coordinator is officially hired.

It will be interesting to see if head coach John Harbaugh conducts a search as extensive as last year’s when the Ravens replaced Jim Caldwell. The Ravens would likely prefer maintaining the principles that Kubiak brought to the offense, but any new coordinator understandably would want to put his own fingerprints on the system.

Keep in mind that the Ravens will also need to fill their quarterbacks coach, tight ends coach, and secondary coach positions, so those jobs will also be discussed as Harbaugh reaches out to various candidates. If last year was any indication, the head coach will even explore the collegiate ranks as he did when hiring current running backs coach Thomas Hammock and wide receivers coach Bobby Engram.

Below are four candidates who could potentially draw interest with their most recent position in parentheses:

Adam Gase (Denver offensive coordinator)
Why he fits: The 36-year-old is a hot commodity and is “soon” expected to interview with the Ravens, according to NFL Network. Gase has received endorsements from 14-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning and has likely taken valuable lessons from the future Hall of Famer while overseeing the league’s top-ranked offense in 2013 and the No. 4 unit in 2014.
Why he doesn’t fit: The Manning factor could also be viewed as a negative as the veteran quarterback ran his own offense in Gase’s two years as the coordinator in Denver. Based on his limited body of work in Denver, Gase appears to have a higher propensity to throw the ball, which wouldn’t jive with Harbaugh’s mentality to be a physical, run-first offense.

Greg Knapp (Denver quarterbacks coach)
Why he fits: The 51-year-old carries two decades of NFL coaching experience and has served as an offensive coordinator in San Francisco, Atlanta, Oakland (twice), and Seattle. Part of the expansive coaching tree that started in San Francisco, he also served on Kubiak’s staff in Houston for two years and has experience with the West Coast offense the Ravens ran in 2014.
Why he doesn’t fit: Kubiak could entice him to remain on the Broncos staff, and Knapp could be viewed as too much of a retread after mixed results at different points in his career. Even if Kubiak recommends him to Harbaugh, his lack of any clear ties to the Baltimore head coach makes you wonder if it would be a fit.

Marc Trestman (Chicago head coach)
Why he fits: Even if his two-year tenure with the Bears ended in disappointment, the 59-year-old has an excellent offensive mind and has coached the likes of Bernie Kosar, Steve Young, Jake Plummer, Rich Gannon, and even journeymen Josh McCown to good seasons. He worked with Jim Harbaugh for two years in Oakland, so the Ravens coach can draw further insight from his brother.
Why he doesn’t fit: The Bears were so dysfunctional in Trestman’s final year that you wonder if there will be some lingering effects at his next job. With issues along the offensive line, the Bears faltered in the running game under Trestman in 2014, finishing 27th in the NFL. His wide-open approach may not jive with the Ravens’ philosophy unless they’re willing to shake things up.

Marty Mornhinweg (New York Jets offensive coordinator)
Why he fits: The 52-year-old spent five years coaching with Harbaugh in Philadelphia under Andy Reid and worked with some successful offenses with the Eagles. Familiarity is a powerful factor in hiring coaches, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens reach out to the former Detroit Lions head coach to join the staff in some capacity.
Why he doesn’t fit: Mornhinweg spent the last two years in New York as the Jets couldn’t find any success offensively. He didn’t have much to work with, but he also didn’t help Geno Smith’s development after the Jets invested a second-round pick in the quarterback. Mornhinweg is considered a more pass-happy play-caller, which conflicts with the Ravens’ mindset.

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