Tag Archive | "haloti ngata"

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Harbaugh doesn’t have any doubt Ngata deal will get done

Posted on 18 February 2015 by Luke Jones

INDIANAPOLIS — Addressing one of the biggest questions of the offseason, head coach John Harbaugh expressed confidence Wednesday that the Ravens will work out a contract extension with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection carries a $16 million salary cap figure in the final season of a five-year, $61 million contract, but Baltimore is desperately trying to clear cap space by working out an extension that would lower his cap figure by several million dollars and allow the 2006 first-round pick to finish his career with the Ravens. Some have expressed doubt over whether the organization should invest more money in a 31-year-old defensive tackle, but Harbaugh sees plenty of good football in Ngata’s future.

“Haloti’s going to play great. He loves Baltimore. He loves the fans. He loves the organization,” the eighth-year head coach told WNST.net at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “He wants to be here. We want him here. It’s just a matter of [senior vice president of football administration] Pat Moriarty and [Ngata’s agent] Mike McCartney coming to terms on something that Haloti feels great about and the organization feels great about. I’m real confident we can get that done. I really believe it will get done. I don’t have any doubt in my mind it’ll get done, but it’s got to get done.”

The Ravens are hoping to re-sign the likes of wide receiver Torrey Smith, running back Justin Forsett, and tight end Owen Daniels before they hit free agency next month, making a Ngata resolution a must to clear cap room. After drafting defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan in the last two years, the Ravens have built substantial depth around Ngata, but it’s clear they want to continue the relationship at a price that makes sense for both sides.

The Ravens would save $8.5 million in cap space by cutting the veteran defensive lineman.

Harbaugh acknowledged it can be difficult assessing the value of cornerstone players approaching the latter stages of their careers, but he applauded the organization’s ability over the years to project how veteran players will perform in the future. This has led to long-term contract extensions for linebackers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis, who were both past the age of 30, in the Harbaugh era.

Despite a four-game suspension for Adderall in December, Ngata had his best season in a few years, making 31 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, seven pass breakups, and two interceptions in 2014.

“Any contract is for what you expect. It’s not for what somebody’s [already] done,” Harbaugh said. “You never pay backwards. You pay forward, so you’ve got to take that into consideration. I think we do a great job of understanding that a lot of what a guy’s done kind of helps predict that in terms of who they are. You’ve got to make a determination.”

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Is Jernigan ready to replace Ngata if needed?

Posted on 09 February 2015 by Luke Jones

As the future of Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata appears to be moving toward a resolution after months of speculation, little focus has been placed on the man who could replace him on the starting defensive line.

The 22-year-old Timmy Jernigan provided a good return in his rookie season after the Ravens selected him with the 48th overall pick last May, but does the Florida State product satisfy the “80-20″ rule quoted by some as justification to release Ngata if the sides are unable to work out a contract extension in the coming weeks? It’s easy to look at Ngata’s scheduled $16 million cap figure for 2015 and a potential $8.5 million in salary-cap savings and sign off on a divorce from a financial standpoint, but general manager Ozzie Newsome must be sure a deep — but young — defensive line has the means to replace the five-time Pro Bowl selection.

Despite missing five games due to knee and ankle injuries in his rookie season in Baltimore, Jernigan flashed his potential on more than one occasion, but did the Ravens see enough in his part-time role to envision heavier responsibilities as soon as this coming season? At least one veteran teammate was impressed as Jernigan filled in for Ngata during the latter’s four-game suspension for Adderall use.

“He’s a dog. He’s going to be a really good football player for a long time in the National Football League,” defensive end Chris Canty said in late December. “I noticed that when I came here for the minicamp [last June], just his aggressive play, his physical nature, his quick twitch jumping off the ball. He’s got a lot of great attributes. He’s constantly learning from [defensive line coach Clarence Brooks] and some of the other vets on the nuances of the game.”

It may be that four-game ban that provided the Ravens with the necessary leverage and confidence to negotiate more rigidly with Ngata this offseason. In four games as his primary replacement to close the regular season, Jernigan collected two sacks and seven tackles and earned a positive grade from Pro Football Focus in all but one contest — the 25-13 loss to Houston in which little went right for the Ravens.

Prior to suffering the ankle injury that forced him out of the regular-season finale against Cleveland and the wild-card round against Pittsburgh, Jernigan played in more than half of the Ravens’ defensive snaps in three straight games and fared well in an increased role. It was the only time all season he held an expanded role as he typically served as a replacement for Ngata or Brandon Williams every few series and as a rush specialist in certain passing situations.

Of all 3-4 defensive ends who appeared in at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps, Jernigan earned PFF’s 14th-highest cumulative grade while Ngata finished ninth. The optimist views such an assessment as there being room for Jernigan to grade even higher with more opportunities while skeptics may wonder if extensive playing time might expose the young defensive lineman’s shortcomings.

At 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, the undersized Jernigan doesn’t compare to Ngata’s 6-foot-4, 340-pound presence, but few players do. And let’s not forget how third-year nose tackle Brandon Williams will fit into the picture after emerging as an above-average player in his first season as a starter. Comparing Jernigan’s skill set to Ngata in his prime would be unfair, but his quickness, strength, and leverage at the 3-technique project well — even if he lacks Ngata’s massive frame — against the run and as a rusher.

In 330 defensive snaps last year, Jernigan amassed 23 tackles and four sacks. Ngata collected 31 tackles, two sacks, seven pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions in 546 defensive snaps. According to PFF, Jernigan’s 12 quarterback hurries and seven quarterback hits outdid Ngata (14 hurries and two quarterback hits) and the rookie registered 14 “stops” (defined as the number of solo tackles including sacks made which constituted an offensive failure) compared to Ngata’s 16.

Durability is a question as meniscus surgery sidelined Jernigan for four games early in the season, but he rebounded quickly from the ankle injury in Week 17 to return for the divisional round after only a one-game absence. Returning to a rotational role, Jernigan sacked New England quarterback Tom Brady and collected another tackle in the 35-31 loss that ended Baltimore’s season.

It might be unfair to ask whether Jernigan will be the better player in 2015, but wondering if the young defensive tackle will outperform Ngata by 2016 and 2017 when the veteran is approaching his mid-30s is an entirely different matter. And that could be the tipping point as the Ravens try to determine a dollar figure that makes sense for extending their 31-year-old defensive tackle, who had a strong 2014 season but battled nagging injuries that hindered his play in the previous two years.

“Once he puts it all together and the game slows down for him, it’s going to be scary,” said Canty late last season about Jernigan’s potential. “It’s going to be really scary. He’s going to be really, really good.”

Depending on what happens with Ngata, the Ravens may need Jernigan’s full potential to be realized sooner rather than later.

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Examining the Ravens’ possible 2015 salary cap cuts

Posted on 03 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With Super Bowl XLIX now in the books and the 2014 season officially over, the Ravens are continuing to make plans for 2015 as they evaluate a tight salary cap and try to improve from a 10-6 campaign that resulted in a trip to the divisional round of the playoffs.

The NFL has yet to set the 2015 salary cap, which is projected to increase from $133 million this past season to somewhere between $138 million and $142 million for the upcoming year. That’s good news for the Ravens as they currently own a commitment of over $137 million for players currently under contract, per Spotrac.com.

With a slew of key free agents to address as well as visions of trying to improve other areas of the roster, general manager Ozzie Newsome will face some difficult decisions pertaining to several veterans on the roster. That begins and ends with five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata, who is entering the final season of a five-year, $61 million deal signed in 2011. Easily one of the best players in franchise history, the 31-year-old defensive tackle finds himself in a similar position to the one Terrell Suggs was in last year before he signed a contract extension to lower his 2014 cap figure.

A name not included on the list of potential cap casualties below is tight end Dennis Pitta, whose $4 million base salary for 2015 is guaranteed. It remains unclear whether Pitta will play football again after suffering two serious hip injuries in two years, but cutting him this offseason would increase his cap figure for 2015.

It’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player are offset in part by an additional player jumping into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $405,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.595 million savings on the salary cap.

Here’s how I’d rank the list of possible candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the pre-June 1 cap savings noted in parentheses), in order from most likely to least likely:

1. DE Chris Canty ($2.66 million)
Skinny: The 32-year-old may take this decision out of the Ravens’ hands as he acknowledged at the end of the season that he’s contemplating retirement. Injuries limited his production in 2014, and the Ravens will likely push to re-sign the underrated Lawrence Guy while looking toward young defensive linemen Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore to be factors at Canty’s 5-technique defensive end spot. With so many other pressing needs elsewhere and a few younger options at this position, Canty returning would be more of a luxury than a necessity for next season, making it likely that he’s played his final game with Baltimore.

2. WR Jacoby Jones ($750,000)
Skinny: On the surface, the minimal savings gained by cutting the return specialist now wouldn’t appear worth it, but you have to wonder where Jones fits after falling behind the likes of Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken on the depth chart and not appearing as explosive in the return game in 2014. A possible strategy would be to designate Jones as a post-June 1 cut, which would create $2.5 million in savings for the summer and autumn when the Ravens need a “rainy day” fund to account for injuries. The only problem with that strategy is his scheduled 2015 cap number of $3.375 million staying on the books during the first few months of free agency, but it just doesn’t feel like there’s a place for Jones moving forward.

3. LB Albert McClellan ($1 million)
Skinny: A core member of Jerry Rosburgh’s special teams units over the last few years, McClellan has been a reliable player, but other young inside linebackers such as Arthur Brown and Zachary Orr are cheaper and should be ready to handle more responsibility. Of course, we’re not talking about a great deal of savings here, but veteran special-teams players are typically among the first to go when teams are dealing with cap pains.

4. P Sam Koch ($2.5 million)
Skinny: Many assumed Koch would be a cap casualty last year with his high price tag for a punter, but the Ravens value his ability a great deal and regard him as one of the best in the NFL. That said, Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker is a restricted free agent and will be looking for a long-term contract over the next 12 months. If Koch is willing to sign a team-friendly extension to lower his cap number, the Ravens would be more than happy to keep him around, but they probably can’t afford to pay their kicker and punter in the top 10 at their respective positions. Entering the final year of his contract, Koch is more likely to be a casualty this year than he was last offseason.

5. DT Haloti Ngata ($8.5 million)
Skinny: The only certainty is that the longtime Raven won’t be playing for his scheduled $16 million cap figure. Whether that means he signs an extension like Suggs or is cut remains to be seen. Ngata’s 2014 season was his best in a few years, but his four-game suspension for Adderall use allowed the Ravens to take an extended look at 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, who played very well in the 31-year-old’s absence. The sides talked about an extension last season with little progress, so it will be interesting to see how motivated Ngata is to make amends for his suspension and finish his career in Baltimore. The Ravens must be smart as it’s typically unwise to throw money at defensive linemen on the wrong side of 30.

6. CB Lardarius Webb ($2 million)
Skinny: It was a disappointing year for the 29-year-old after he missed all of training camp and three of the first four games of the season with a back injury. Since suffering the second anterior cruciate ligament tear of his career in 2012, Webb has looked like nothing better than average, which is problematic when he’s carrying a $12 million cap figure for 2015. However, cutting him this winter would only save $2 million and create less depth at a position where the Ravens are already looking to improve. Newsome may ask Webb to take a pay cut, but it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens depleting their depth at cornerback further — even if he’s no more than average at this pointby cutting him outright for minimal savings.

 

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Saturday

Posted on 09 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have made a mostly-pleasant habit of traveling to Foxborough in January to take on the New England Patriots.

The latest chapter in this underrated rivalry will be written Saturday with Baltimore eyeing its fourth trip to the AFC Championship game under head coach John Harbaugh. Meanwhile, the No. 1 seed Patriots are seeking their first championship in a decade with 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady not getting any younger.

Joe Flacco will try to continue an impeccable postseason run in which he’s thrown 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his last nine playoff games. The seventh-year signal-caller has thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception in leading the Ravens to wins in their last five postseason contests.

Who will win on Saturday?

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It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Patriots meet for the fourth time ever in the playoffs — all have been in Foxborough — with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge. New England leads the all-time regular-season series by a 7-1 margin despite the Ravens’ postseason success at Gillette Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to hand New England another loss in the postseason …

1. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will be chased by Will Hill most of the day while catching a touchdown and posting 100 receiving yards. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will throw the kitchen sink at New England in trying to cover the All-Pro tight end, but Hill will draw most of the responsibility with little success. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound safety did an admirable job in holding New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham to six catches for 47 yards in late November, but Gronkowski has played at a different level than anyone at his position this year and is more physical. Brady will go to him early and often to try to offset a Baltimore pass rush bearing down on him.

2. Three of the Ravens’ sacks against Brady will come from inside pressure. Four has been the magic number for the Ravens as they’ve collected at least four sacks in their last eight wins and are 0-4 when failing to reach the plateau over that stretch. Brady was sacked just 21 times this year, but his quick release was a bigger factor in that statistic than an offensive line that’s been shaky in pass protection this year. The Ravens will exploit rookie center Bryan Stork and guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell with A-gap blitzing as well as the presence of Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, and Timmy Jernigan in passing situations. Inside pressure will force Brady backward and give Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil time to reach him off the edges.

3. Steve Smith will have a quiet game, but Torrey Smith will catch a touchdown and fetch a key pass interference call. Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis is expected to match up against Steve Smith, which will spell trouble for the veteran wideout as Revis will match the 35-year-old’s physicality with press coverage. This will leave the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner against Torrey Smith in a matchup that could determine the outcome of the game. The Maryland product will be challenged by Browner’s physicality, but the former Seattle defensive back is prone to penalties, drawing 15 flags in nine games in the regular season. The speedy fourth-year wideout draws pass interference calls as well as anyone and will fetch a big one inside the red zone in addition to catching a first-half touchdown.

4. Brady will pass for more yards, but Flacco will throw more touchdown passes. The Patriots will try to establish the run with their extensive collection of running backs, but they won’t find much room against the league’s fourth-ranked run defense, meaning the ball will be in their franchise quarterback’s hands all day. Brady will make amends for his 56.8 passer rating in his three previous playoff games against the Ravens, but Baltimore will clamp down inside the red zone. In contrast, the Ravens will find enough running room to keep Justin Forsett involved, and Flacco will have another efficient game like he did in Pittsburgh with 220 yards and two touchdowns to put his team in position to grab a victory in the fourth quarter.

5. Justin Tucker will kick the game-winning field goal to give the Ravens a 24-23 win. New England was the better team this season, but Baltimore has history on its side and — more importantly – the right tools to match up with the Patriots. If the Ravens are able to pressure Brady inside and out, it will make up for potential problems in the secondary and allow the Baltimore offense to keep up as it deals with an improved Patriots defense. This game could go either way, but it’s getting to the point where you just can’t pick against Flacco in the playoffs until someone finally cools him off. The Ravens won’t be scared playing in familiar Foxborough, and they’ll find a way to win there once again in January.

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Snap Counts

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Baltimore Ravens – Snap Counts vs Steelers

Posted on 08 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Here is a break down of the snap count of every offensive and defensive player, in the Ravens’ win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Offense:

57 – LT James Hurst – he played the whole game, and struggled mightily vs James Harrison

57 – LG Kelechi Osemele – had some problems in pass protection, but was an absolute mauler in the run game

57 – C Jeremy Zuttah – got pushed back in to Joe Flacco time and time again. He has to do better against the Patriots

57 – RG John Urshel – graded out well overall. Had a better night pass blocking than run blocking

57 – RT Marshal Yanda – best offensive lineman in the league. Pass blocked well and was a road grader in the run game

57 – QB Joe Flacco – threw 2 TDs, managed the offense well, and didn’t turn the ball over. “January Joe.”

54 – TE Owen Daniels – struggled with pass blocking, but was a factor in the passing game; caught 4 for 70 yards

50 – RB Justin Forsett – didn’t have a great running night running the ball, lost a fumble, but capably blocked blitzing LBs from the A gaps

40 – WR Torrey Smith – caught an 11 yard TD pass from Flacco; missed a certain TD when he didn’t drag his foot in the end zone

39 – TE Crockett Gillmore – caught a 21 yard TD from Flacco; blocked whistle to whistle

35 – WR Steve Smith – made a couple of tough catches in traffic; caught 5 for 101 yards

25 – WR Kamar Aiken – caught just 1 pass for 4 yards

20 – FB Kyle Juszczyk – caught 2 for 16 yards

13 – WR Marlon Brown – caught 1 for 9 yards

5 – WR Jacoby Jones – caught 1 for 9 yards

4 – RB Bernard Pierce – just 1 rushing attempt but it was good for a 5 yard TD

Defense:

76 – ILB Daryl Smith – save for the TD pass given up to Antonio Brown, he was stout vs the pass as well as the run

75 – CB Lardarius Webb – he was targeted a lot by Roethlisberger, and had an ok game overall

74 – ILB CJ Mosley – was solid vs the run but struggled in pass coverage

72 – FS Will Hill – was solid vs the run and even better vs the pass; defended well all night long

66 – CB  Rashaan Melvin – did a really good job in pass coverage, came up in run support

56 – OLB Terrell Suggs – stopped the run, pressured the QB, didn’t get a sack, but got a sick interception

52 – DT Haloti Ngata – looked fresh all game long, collapsed the pocket and applied pressure up the middle, got one sack

49 – SS – Darian Stewart – played one of his best games all season; got the game ending pick

47 – OLB Elvis Dumervil – applied great pressure from the edge consistently; ended up with 2 sacks

46 – OLB Pernell McPhee – had an outstanding game overall; was a force vs the run, and hit the QB a few times

39 – OLB Courtney Upshaw – did a great job setting the edge as usual; defended the pass well

31 – NT Brandon Williams – no one is going to move him backwards; applied consistent pressure through the A gaps; 1 sack

31 – DE Chris Canty – stopped the run and pressured the QB on numerous occassions

31 – CB Anthony Levine – the converted safety struggled in pass coverage; it was clear Roethlisberger was looking for him

29 – FS Jeromy Miles – solid game overall, but had a couple of lapses in pass coverage

29 – CB Matt Elam – yes, the SS played corner most of the night, and played the position well overall; was strong in pass coverage

13 – DE DeAngelo Tyson – was brought in on obvious passing downs; did not have a good night, did not apply pressure

11 – DE Lawrence Guy – did a solid job defending the run in his limited action on the field

6 – CB Antone Cason – came is when Melvin was shaken up; let up a catch during Melvin’s short absence

2 – ILB Albert McClellan – was only in for two plays; obviously not enough field time to analyze performance

1- SS Brynden Trawick – same as McClellan

Special Team notes – Justin Tucker was lights out as usual. The 52 yarder was particularly special, as you don’t see too many successful field goals at Heinz Field over 50 yards. Sam Koch had a good night – save for the blocked punt which was due to blocking assignment breakdowns. He was also directionally kicking it away from Antonio Brown, and that factored in as well. Jacoby Jones did not have a good night. He lost his footing and slipped during his first kick off return, and seemed tentative after that. Michael Campanaro had a couple of fair catches on punt returns. Hope his hamstring has healed to the point where he could be a factor vs the Patriots

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Is the 2014 season Harbaugh’s best coaching job?

Posted on 06 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite admittedly being a history buff, John Harbaugh was in no mood to reflect on the past less than 48 hours after the Ravens’ 30-17 first-round playoff win over Pittsburgh.

The seventh-year head coach tied Tom Landry and Tom Coughlin for the most road playoff wins (seven) in NFL history on Saturday as the Ravens matched the Green Bay Packers for the most postseason road victories (10) in league history. Harbaugh has guided Baltimore to at least one playoff win in six of his first seven seasons as well as a Super Bowl title and three conference championship appearances.

“It’s great after you do it, but it doesn’t mean much for the next game,” said Harbaugh when asked to reflect on his postseason achievements. “We’re excited about the challenge — looking forward to New England.”

With the Ravens defeating the Steelers in the playoffs for the first time in four tries, it would be difficult to deem this season as anything but a success regardless of what happens against the Patriots on Saturday. And with the well-documented adversity the Ravens have experienced from the Ray Rice saga to 19 players landing on season-ending injured reserve this season, a simple question must be asked.

Has this year been Harbaugh’s finest coaching job?

It’s tough to argue against his 2012 campaign in which the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII after changing offensive coordinators in the middle of December. And his 2008 debut season garners strong consideration after the Ravens had finished 5-11 the previous year and went all the way to the AFC Championship with a rookie quarterback named Joe Flacco starting all 16 games and also having 19 players on IR.

But the adversity has never been greater than it was this season as the Ravens dealt with off-field turmoil that brought the entire organization under fire as well as a plethora of injuries while maintaining an impressive level of focus en route to a 10-6 regular season. Countless players have credited Harbaugh’s encouragement and ability to keep the focus on the task at hand as major reasons why they’ve overcome so many trials.

“Just like any teacher, if you’re proud of anything, you’re proud of the accomplishments of your students,” Harbaugh said. “You’re proud of the fact that you’re associated with them and you get to be a part of their journey. That’s the most important thing for a coach or a teacher.”

Which season was John Harbaugh's best coaching job?

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Like any head coach, Harbaugh isn’t perfect as his in-game decision-making and clock management often come under scrutiny, but any suggestion that he has simply been along for the ride — a phrase his biggest critics have had the nerve to utter — is absurd after such an extended period of success. Many questioned the team’s leadership after the retirement of Ray Lewis and the departure of Ed Reed, but Saturday’s playoff win in Pittsburgh — something neither future Hall of Famer accomplished, mind you — suggests the Ravens continue to be in good hands moving forward.

Even if the former Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator lacks a perceived expertise on either side of the ball, he’s proven himself to be an excellent motivator and delegator, traits that a successful NFL head coach must have. Harbaugh has also done an exceptional job of assembling and restocking his coaching staff over the years with a few assistants moving on to become head coaches elsewhere.

Asked to react to longtime Cleveland sportswriter Tony Grossi’s proclamation over the weekend that the Ravens have the best overall coaching staff in the NFL, Harbaugh showed self-deprecating humor in his response that should also serve as a dig to his harshest detractors.

“Well, then I’ll try not to drag us down too much, you know?” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “Hopefully, they’ll carry me. We have a great staff. They do a great job.”

Brotherly support

Harbaugh was unsure if his younger brother Jim would be accompanying the Ravens to Foxborough, but it was clear he was appreciative of the new University of Michigan head coach’s support in attending Saturday’s playoff game in Pittsburgh.

It had to be a surreal feeling for the former San Francisco 49ers head coach wearing Ravens gear less than two years after falling to them in the Super Bowl, but the older Harbaugh saw an extra perk with his brother being on the sideline.

“I told him, ‘That’s probably pretty good recruiting, you know?'” John Harbaugh said. “You tell those guys, ‘You want to play in the National Football League, come to Michigan.’ That’s a recruiting pitch, right?

“It was great to have him there, and it seemed like he enjoyed it. He was able to enjoy the environment. When you are coaching, you don’t really enjoy the environment that much. I saw him looking around up at the crowd and the players and interacting with guys, and that stuff was neat to see.”

Fresher Ngata

Several Ravens players commented on how fresh defensive tackle Haloti Ngata appeared to be in his return on Saturday, but it was apparent that his head coach had no interest trying to glean any positive from his four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

“We don’t have the ‘fresh leg’ meter to give you an empirical answer to the question,” Harbaugh said. “I’ll just go with what the players saw. They probably have a pretty good eye for that.”

The five-time Pro Bowl selection Ngata played in 50 of 75 defensive snaps against the Steelers, finishing with two tackles, a sack, and a pass breakup in his first action since Nov. 30.

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Ravens pass rush in race against quick-release Brady on Saturday

Posted on 05 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have come to expect strong play from quarterback Joe Flacco in the postseason like they witnessed in the wild-card win in Pittsburgh, but the biggest key in beating the New England Patriots on Saturday may lie on the opposite side of the ball.

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady presents a great challenge to the NFL’s 24th-ranked pass defense, but Baltimore possesses the single-best weapon you can have to potentially slow the league’s No. 9 passing attack.

A dominating pass rush.

How significant has it been to Baltimore’s success during the 2014 season? The Ravens have collected four or more sacks in each of their last eight wins, including the 30-17 victory over the Steelers in which they sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times. Over that same time, they are 0-4 when failing to reach the four-sack plateau.

A quick look at the numbers suggests pass protection isn’t a concern for the Patriots as Brady was sacked only 21 times in the regular season — backup Jimmy Garoppolo was also dropped five times — but that is more a reflection of the 37-year-old getting the ball out more quickly that just about any quarterback in the league. Per Pro Football Focus, Brady’s average time of 2.39 seconds before throwing, being sacked, or scrambling is the third quickest in the league behind only Denver’s Peyton Manning and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton.

The Patriots received the fourth-worst pass-blocking grade in the league from PFF, suggesting Baltimore shouldn’t be overly concerned with New England’s offensive line. Only right tackle Sebastian Vollmer received a positive cumulative grade in pass blocking among the Patriots’ starters during the regular season.

New England is particularly vulnerable inside with starting guards — Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell — who are much stronger as run blockers than in pass protection. This could spell trouble with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and situational rusher Pernell McPhee primed to bring inside heat while Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil come off the edges.

But how do you reach Brady when he’s so adept at getting rid of the ball quickly?

The Ravens have made no secret about their attempts to jump the opposition’s snap count to get to the quarterback this season. This leads to some pre-snap penalties, which head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees don’t condone but acknowledge as an occasional “cost of doing business.” They view them in a similar manner to how many great power hitters in baseball are also prone to striking out.

Of course, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Brady will be aware of Baltimore’s aggression up front, making you believe they’ll throw some hard counts and cadence variations into the mix Saturday to keep the pass rush at bay.

Baltimore could also mix in some press coverage from defensive backs to temporarily hold up receivers in hopes that the rush gets to Brady after an extra split-second or two of holding the ball. In doing so, the Ravens do run the risk of giving up a big play if the pressure doesn’t get there, but they made it clear against the Steelers that they weren’t afraid to be aggressive on either side of the ball.

The Ravens’ biggest problem will be All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame doesn’t make it feasible to jam him at the line of scrimmage. Will Hill did a commendable job against New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham during the regular season, and you’d expect the safety to receive a bulk of the coverage duties against Gronkowski on Saturday.

The defense showed once again that it can make up for an injury-plagued secondary by consistently pressuring the Steelers in the wild-card round, and the Ravens will need to do it again Saturday to be in position to continue their playoff run.

 

 

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 03 January 2015 by Luke Jones

PITTSBURGH — One of the best rivalries in the NFL is renewed Saturday night as the Ravens meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card round.

After much discussion about the weather being a major factor in these teams’ first postseason meeting since the 2010 season, heavy rain subsided a few hours prior to kickoff and the updated Weather.com forecast calls for only a small chance of precipitation throughout the night with temperatures in the mid-40s and winds up to 12 miles per hour. The improved conditions likely aren’t good news for the Ravens as they had hoped heavy rain would hinder a Pittsburgh passing attack that ranked second in the NFL during the regular season.

The condition of the playing surface itself will remain a question, however, as the natural grass at Heinz Field typically doesn’t hold up late in the season. Tarps were covering the length of the field until they were removed a little less than three hours before kickoff.

Of course, the Steelers will be without Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell, who was officially ruled out Friday with a hyperextended knee suffered against Cincinnati in Week 17. Not only will Pittsburgh be without the league’s second-leading rusher, but Bell’s ability as a receiver and in pass protection will be missed against a relentless Baltimore pass rush.

On the flip side, the Ravens are hurting on the offensive line with Eugene Monroe (ankle) out and starting right tackle Rick Wagner (foot) already on injured reserve. Rookie free agent James Hurst will face the difficult task of handling the left tackle position and trying to slow veteran rush specialist James Harrison. Fellow rookie John Urschel will start at right guard with four-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda shifting to right tackle.

There were no real surprises on the inactives list for Baltimore as defensive end Chris Canty (ankle/thigh) will start after missing the regular-season finale while rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro is active for the second straight week. Second-year linebacker Arthur Brown was placed on injured reserve Friday with a hamstring injury.

Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor (shoulder/forearm) is inactive despite being listed as probable and participating fully in practices all week, but Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu (knee) is active after missing the final two games of the regular season.

The return of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata will provide a major boost to the league’s fourth-ranked run defense as the Steelers figure to use a committee approach of rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer as well as newly-signed veteran Ben Tate. Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan was ruled out on Friday after suffering a foot injury in the regular-season finale.

Head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens will have some extra support at Heinz Field as his younger brother Jim will be in attendance after accepting the head job at the University of Michigan earlier this week.

The Ravens will be playing Pittsburgh for the fourth time in their playoff history as they have dropped all three of the previous postseason games played at Heinz Field. Baltimore is 17-21 against the Steelers in the all-time regular-season history and owns a 7-12 regular-season record in Pittsburgh. In the Harbaugh era, 11 of the 15 games — including the postseason — played between these teams have been decided by one score.

The referee for Sunday night’s wild-card game will be Clete Blakeman.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with black pants for Saturday night’s game while Pittsburgh dons its black tops with yellow pants.

Below are the inactives for Saturday night:

BALTIMORE
OT Eugene Monroe
DT Timmy Jernigan
TE Phillip Supernaw
DT Casey Walker
DT Terrence Cody
DE Steven Means
CB Chris Greenwood

PITTSBURGH
QB Landry Jones
RB Le’Veon Bell
WR Lance Moore
OL Chris Hubbard
TE Michael Palmer
DE Clifton Geathers
CB Ike Taylor

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Ravens rule out Monroe, Jernigan for Saturday’s game

Posted on 02 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite being labeled earlier in the week as having a “50-50″ chance to return for Saturday’s wild-card game against Pittsburgh, Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe was officially ruled out against the Steelers.

Monroe hasn’t practiced since injuring his ankle in the Week 16 loss at Houston on Dec. 21 and will once again be replaced by rookie free agent James Hurst at the left tackle position. With starting right tackle Rick Wagner already on injured reserve, the Ravens will once again slide Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda out to right tackle with rookie John Urschel playing right guard.

Head coach John Harbaugh expressed optimism at the beginning of the week that Monroe might be able to return for the first round of the playoffs, but he has been in a walking boot since suffering the ankle injury in the penultimate game of the regular season.

Though some have downplayed the loss of Monroe after an injury-plagued season in which he struggled, Hurst has struggled immensely in pass protection and earned a cumulative minus-16.9 grade in pass blocking from Pro Football Focus compared to Monroe’s minus-1.0. Hurst has started five games in Monroe’s place this season.

The Ravens also officially ruled out defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (foot) and inside linebacker Arthur Brown (hamstring). The latter was placed on season-ending IR to make room for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who was officially activated from the reserve-suspended list on Friday afternoon after serving a four-game ban in December.

That transaction brings the total count of Ravens players on IR to 19, matching a high in the Harbaugh era set in 2008.

Veteran defensive end Chris Canty (ankle/thigh) was designated as probable to play on Saturday after participating fully in practices this week. The 32-year-old missed the Ravens’ regular-season finale against Cleveland last week.

Meanwhile, the Steelers officially ruled out Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell after he suffered a hyperextended knee against Cincinnati last week. Even though a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed no structural damage to his knee, Bell’s status had been in doubt all week as he didn’t take part in any practices.

Nine other Steelers players were listed as probable for Saturday’s game, including nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder), rush specialist James Harris (illness), cornerback Ike Taylor (shoulder/forearm), and safety Troy Polamalu (knee).

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: LB Arthur Brown (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (foot/ankle), T Eugene Monroe (ankle)
PROBABLE: DE Chris Canty (thigh/ankle), TE Owen Daniels (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: RB Le’Veon Bell (knee)
PROBABLE: T Mike Adams (illness), LB James Harrison (illness), QB Landry Jones (illness), DT Steve McLendon (shoulder), TE Heath Miller (non-injury), TE Michael Palmer (groin), S Troy Polamalu (knee), QB Ben Roethlisberger (non-injury), CB Ike Taylor (shoulder/forearm)

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Returning Ngata auditioning for future in playoff run

Posted on 30 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The timing couldn’t have been better for the return of Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata from a four-game suspension.

Not only do the Pittsburgh Steelers loom in the first round of the AFC playoffs, but Baltimore lost rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan — Ngata’s replacement over the last month — to a foot injury in the regular-season finale. Even if the Steelers are without Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell on Saturday night, there’s no understating the boost a five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman can provide for a postseason run.

“He was missed a lot in the locker room, especially by me,” said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who’s teamed with Ngata for the last nine years. “But as soon as we won [last Sunday], we saw the score, we’re in, and we’re like, ‘Yo, we get Haloti back.’ Now the locker room is kind of back [and] complete, so to say. It’s good to have one of the best interior linemen in the game going into a big playoff game like this.”

Teammates and coaches appear to have welcomed Ngata back with open arms after a positive test for Adderall cost him the final four games of the regular season, but it’s fair to wonder how much damage might have been done to his potential future in Baltimore. Ngata is scheduled to carry a $16 million salary cap figure in 2015 — the final year of a $61 million deal signed in 2011 — and many wondered how the Ravens would plan to address his contract long before the news came of his suspension on Dec. 4.

The 2006 first-round pick is one of the best players in franchise history and has been a respected member of the locker room for nearly a decade, which made his suspension as surprising as it was disappointing. In the midst of his strongest season since 2011, Ngata testing positive for Adderall was, at best, a substantial error in judgment as it now makes critics question how long he’s used a drug the NFL considers a performance-enhancing substance without a prescription.

Ngata was noncommittal when asked if he’d seek a prescription to use Adderall in the future, preferring to keep the focus on the Ravens’ fourth all-time postseason meeting with Pittsburgh.

“It was rough — definitely rough,” Ngata said of his ban. “I was talking to a bunch of the guys, and it felt like I was retired watching football during the season while I was just at home watching the game. It felt weird, but I’m just glad that we were able to get the wins and get into the playoffs.”

The 30-year-old has played at a high level this season, but his suspension offered the Baltimore defense an opportunity to see how it would fare without him. Winning three of four games, the Ravens remained stout against the run as second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams and Jernigan anchored the defensive line for the league’s fourth-ranked rush defense. In truth, the unit didn’t appear to miss a beat, which is more of a compliment to the rest of the defensive line than a slight to Ngata.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office have often preached about an “80/20 rule” for valuing players in which the Ravens will seek out players offering 80 percent of the production for 20 percent of the cost of a high-priced player. One wonders if spending high draft picks on Williams and Jernigan over the last two years and their performance in Ngata’s absence will ultimately push the veteran out the door this offseason — and save $8.5 million in cap space in the process.

Ngata will not only be returning to try to help the Ravens make another postseason run, but he’ll be auditioning for his future — in Baltimore or elsewhere. There’s no way the Ravens can justify a $16 million cap figure for Ngata next season, but the 340-pound defensive tackle has the opportunity to remind everyone of how much havoc he can create for an opposing offensive line.

But first, all eyes will be on his conditioning on Saturday after a four-game layoff.

“He’s been training — that’s what he told me,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He looks good, and I’m sure he is. I’m sure he’s busting out of his skin. I’m sure he’s ready to go.”

The Ravens hope he’s ready to help them beat Pittsburgh for the first time ever in the postseason, and Ngata has plenty to prove in bouncing back from the lowest point of his NFL career. A standout showing in the postseason would make the Ravens feel better about pursuing a short-term extension with Ngata like they did with Suggs a year ago, but a quiet performance could reinforce the sentiment that it might be best to move on from the still-talented defensive tackle who is now on the wrong side of 30.

Ultimately, Newsome may decide it’s better to part ways with Ngata a year too early than to throw too much money at a player who isn’t getting any younger. His future may come down to just how much loyalty and regret he feels after putting his team in a bad spot over the final quarter of the regular season and how that could factor into negotiations.

If Ngata is looking for another significant payday, he may need to find it elsewhere. But if he’s willing to play ball with the Ravens in lowering his cap figure in exchange for a couple more seasons at a reasonable rate in Baltimore, he’ll have a chance to finish his career where it started.

“I just feel like I owe these guys,” said Ngata of his teammates. “I’m just going to do whatever I can to help the team, and I’m definitely just ready to get back out there again.”

The Ravens are certainly welcoming him back for what they hope is a meaningful postseason run, but how long will he remain after that?

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