Tag Archive | "Jarret Johnson"

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Ravens free agents Grubbs, Redding taking visits elsewhere

Posted on 13 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Two Ravens free agents have already scheduled visits with other teams after failing to come to terms on new contracts prior to hitting the open market on Tuesday afternoon.

Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs has scheduled a Wednesday visit with the New Orleans Saints, according to multiple reports. With Saints guard Carl Nicks the top interior lineman on the open market and rumored to be heading to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Grubbs would be a suitable — and more affordable — replacement on the New Orleans offensive line.

Veteran defensive end Cory Redding was on his way to visit Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday evening, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. With Pagano targeting free agents from the defense he worked with as the Baltimore defensive coordinator in 2011, Redding would provide strong veteran leadership as well as a more affordable price than linebacker Jarret Johnson, who has also been rumored as a potential target for Indianapolis.

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newsome

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With free agency upon us, Ravens will lean on continued growth from within in 2012

Posted on 12 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With the start of the new league year and free agency less than 24 hours away, you can already hear the cries if you listen carefully.

And you know exactly what I’m talking about if you pay attention to talk radio, internet message boards, and Twitter over the opening days of free agency every year.

When are the Ravens going to do something?

Why does Ozzie insist on sitting on his hands?

They’re definitely taking a step back this season.

Never were those exclamations louder than last season, an unprecedented period of free agency that coincided with the start of training camp after the 134-day lockout. General manager Ozzie Newsome waved goodbye to veterans Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg, and Willis McGahee in a series of cap-saving cuts, and a number of veterans including Chris Chester, Dawan Landry, and Josh Wilson found richer contracts elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Ravens’ free-agent additions for 2011 were relatively modest over the course of the preseason, adding fullback Vonta Leach, safety Bernard Pollard, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, center Andre Gurode, and running back Ricky Williams in addition to re-signing right guard Marshal Yanda to a long-term contract. The “offseason” timetable was stunted by the lockout, but Newsome operated in the way he typically does — calculated and conservative. In fact, the most dynamic move he made — trading a fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for veteran receiver Lee Evans — turned out to be the biggest failure.

The history lesson is worth repeating as the Ravens embark on free agency for the 17th time in franchise history. Projected to have approximately $14.45 million in salary cap space (before tendering restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents), Newsome will devote much of that to retaining as many of his own free agents as he can.

Of Baltimore’s 12 unrestricted free agents, five were starters last season, meaning the Ravens could be looking at more significant roster turnover than you’d like from an AFC North championship team that was one touchdown catch from advancing to the Super Bowl.

Expecting a dramatic splash of throwing money at elite free agents such as wide receiver Vincent Jackson or outside linebacker Mario Williams is only setting yourself up for disappointment. Even in the years in which he’s had the most cap room, Newsome rarely targets the players grabbing the headlines in the opening days of free agency, instead focusing on keeping his own and laying plans for value free agents that fulfill a need without eating up precious cap room.

As was the case last season, the Ravens will look for continued growth from within to aid in their quest for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Entering the 2011 season, Terrence Cody, Ed Dickson, and Dennis Pitta were well-known draft picks from the previous season but had yet to emerge as starting-caliber players in the NFL. Even bigger question marks surrounded Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams before they became legitimate starting cornerbacks for one of the league’s top defenses. And fighting serious doubts after a poor preseason, wide receiver Torrey Smith set franchise rookie records for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches.

Their contributions were as critical as any free-agent acquisition the Ravens made en route to a 12-4 record and their first division title in five years.

This season, the Ravens will potentially look to younger players such as defensive ends Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee, offensive lineman Jah Reid, and linebackers Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Albert McClellan to help fill potential voids left behind by free agents Cory Redding, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Jarret Johnson, and Jameel McClain. Of course, the Ravens will add new pieces via free agency and next month’s draft to fill some of those needs, but it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll need to lean on some combination of the aforementioned players for expanded roles in 2012.

After tendering their restricted free agents and exclusive rights players, the Ravens will be left with somewhere between $6 million and $7 million to address their own unrestricted free agents and shop the open market. It doesn’t take an economics major to realize that money will only go so far.

But, as he usually does, Newsome will make the most of it.

As the frenzy of free agency begins on Tuesday and the big names start coming off the board — possibly even a few from the Ravens’ own backyard leaving for greener pastures — remember many of the biggest factors determining how the Ravens fare in 2012 already reside in Owings Mills.

It may get ugly, with many of their unrestricted free agents not expected to return, but Newsome and the Ravens never strive to “win” the first week of free agency. They’ll look closely for that under-the-radar talent that nobody is talking about right now. And, as always, the Ravens will plan to shine during April’s draft.

By the time July arrives, they’ll address the offensive line and the linebacker position in some form as well as add a few pieces in other areas to optimize a team that was only a few tenths of a second away from going to the Super Bowl back in January.

Just remember that when you or someone else feels the urge to panic and ask if Newsome is asleep at the wheel over the next week or so.

To borrow an expression from another era and another sport here in Baltimore, it’s “The Raven Way” of doing business.

And if history is any indication, it’s worked pretty well.

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johnson

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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest defensive needs

Posted on 15 February 2012 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin on March 13 and the draft to follow in late April, the Ravens continue to evaluate their needs in all three phases of the game.

After evaluating the biggest offensive needs on Monday, I offer my thoughts on the defensive side of the football by ranking the biggest positions of need entering the offseason.

1. Outside linebacker

For a team as rich as any at the linebacker position over the last 15 years, it’s unusual to see the Ravens with such glaring needs within the unit. Veteran Jarret Johnson is an unrestricted free agent and will be 31 by the start of the 2012 season, suggesting he would be a necessary casualty when addressing a list of 13 unrestricted free agents.

However, there isn’t a single option on the roster with which the Ravens would feel comfortable as a starting strongside linebacker. Paul Kruger shows ability as a pass rusher but has not shown the necessary ability in pass coverage or run defense to consider him an option as a three-down player at this point.

After appearing in only two games this past season, former second-round pick Sergio Kindle is probably more likely to be cut than to find himself in the starting lineup next season. The former Texas product has struggled to learn the Baltimore defense and still feels effects of a fractured skull suffered just days before what would have been his first training camp in 2010, but the 24-year-old will benefit from a full offseason at the team’s Owings Mills facility. Along the same lines as Kindle, Michael McAdoo — who spent the 2011 season on injured reserve — is an intriguing name to monitor but shouldn’t be in the discussion for a starting position at this point.

With that in mind, the Ravens might be more inclined to re-sign Johnson than many would think. Much like they did with Ray Lewis in the winter of 2009, the Ravens will allow the veteran linebacker to explore his value in the open market and see if they can come to an agreement that makes sense for both sides. Of course, new Indianapolis head coach and former Ravens defense coordinator Chuck Pagano could try to overpay for Johnson to bring a Baltimore flavor to the Colts defense. One factor working against the Ravens is a relatively-thin market for outside linebackers, which would not only drive up the price for Johnson but also mean they’d still have to pay handsomely for a replacement.

The Ravens would love to find a young outside backer who can play the run as effectively as Johnson while showing more ability in pass coverage. They could look to a draft prospect such as North Carolina’s Zach Brown, Oklahoma’s Ronnell Lewis, or Utah State’s Bobby Wagner in the early rounds, but the Ravens have rarely shown enough confidence in rookies to step into a starting job at the linebacker position.

The dream scenario would be to find an outside linebacker with enough pass-rushing ability to alleviate attention from Terrell Suggs on the opposite side, but Kruger did an adequate job in getting after the quarterback in passing situations.

2. Inside linebacker

The talk has only grown louder regarding the need to find the heir apparent to future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, but the Ravens first need to figure out who will be playing next to him in 2012.

Jameel McClain is an unrestricted free agent and while the Ravens have to be pleased with his development after signing him as a rookie free agent in 2008, the 26-year-old will likely command more money than Baltimore is willing to pay to retain his services. This would leave Dannell Ellerbe, Albert McClellan, and Josh Bynes as potential replacements. Ellerbe is an restricted free agent while the latter two are exclusive rights players, meaning all three are very likely to return.

Veteran Brendon Ayanbadejo is also a free agent, meaning the Ravens could be in danger of losing arguably their best linebacker in terms of pass coverage.

Ellerbe has shown impressive potential in limited doses, but his work ethic has come into question on a number of occasions to draw the ire of coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens might be content with plugging Ellerbe into the other inside linebacker spot for now, but he’s far from a safe bet to be an answer beyond the 2012 season.

The Ravens face a difficult proposition in how to handle Lewis, who still plays the run effectively but is a liability in pass coverage. The prudent answer would be to limit the veteran to action on first and second down, but explaining that to one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history is easier said than done. You also need to have a viable replacement before you tell the defensive leader he comes off the field in passing situations.

While there has been plenty of talk over the last year or two to find Lewis’ eventual replacement, this year’s draft appears to be a critical time to find an up-and-coming inside linebacker. The Ravens have been linked to both Dont’a Hightower of Alabama and Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State in various mock drafts. The problem is Hightower may be off the board by the time the 29th pick rolls around and Burfict’s character has come into question with a reputation for delivering cheap shots and reportedly sucker-punching a teammate in practice last August.

3. Safety*

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RicePats

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Sizing up the Ravens’ 2012 free-agent class

Posted on 26 January 2012 by Luke Jones

In the aftermath of the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship on Sunday, the finality of the season coming to an abrupt end was accompanied by the all-too-familiar feeling knowing that same team will never be together again.

The reality of the NFL’s offseason brings substantial change to all 32 teams — some more than others — and forces players to say goodbye to others for the final time as teammates.

“It’s tough to really think about that,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You know it’s going to happen, but you don’t know which guys it’s going to be, so it’s tough to be in our shoes and go through that. You finally just take it for what it is, and before you know it, you hope you had a good relationship with everybody on the team and said as much as you could say to that guy. We hope we can bring as many people back as we can.”

While other moves will be made — cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr and wide receiver Lee Evans are the strongest candidates to be cut despite being under contract for the 2012 season — the Ravens have 13 unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and four exclusive-rights free agents entering the offseason. I’ve included the entire list with a brief thought on each player’s potential future in Baltimore.

Two dates to keep in mind as the offseason begins are the March 5 deadline to designate a franchise player and the start of free agency on March 13 at 4:00 p.m.

Unrestricted free agents

RB Ray Rice
2011 stats: 16 starts, 2,068 yards from scrimmage, 15 touchdowns
Skinny: Rice isn’t going anywhere as the Ravens will either use their franchise tag on the Pro Bowl back or sign him to a long-term deal, though the latter would certainly create more cap space for 2012.

G Ben Grubbs
2011 stats: 10 starts, first Pro Bowl selection
Skinny: The Ravens clearly would like to bring the left guard back, but with Marshal Yanda receiving a sizable deal a few months ago, can the organization afford to invest so much money in the guard position?

C Matt Birk
2011 stats: 16 starts
Skinny: After 14 seasons in the league, Birk may decide to retire, but the Ravens could elect to go with the slightly-younger Andre Gurode or look to the draft for the center position.

LB Jarret Johnson
2011 stats: 16 starts, 56 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks
Skinny: With Johnson on the wrong side of 30, it might be time to part ways with the veteran linebacker, but the Ravens lack a logical replacement on the current roster with the disappointing development of 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle and the limitations of pass rusher Paul Kruger.

LB Jameel McClain
2011 stats: 16 starts, 81 tackles, one sack, one interception
Skinny: The former undrafted free agent credits Ray Lewis for his growth, so you have to wonder if McClain becomes the next Baltimore linebacker to receive an inflated contract elsewhere.

DE Cory Redding
2011 stats: 15 games (11 starts), 43 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks
Skinny: Before an ankle injury slowed Redding over the final month of 2011, he was having his best season in years, but the Ravens could elect to go with younger — and cheaper — defensive lineman Arthur Jones at this position.

LB Brendon Ayanbadejo
2011 stats: 16 games, 27 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, nine special teams tackles
Skinny: The 35-year-old intends to play in 2012 and expects to be back with the Ravens, but the nickel linebacker may not be on the same page as Baltimore in terms of a contract to make his return feasible.

S Tom Zbikowski
2011 stats: 14 games (four starts), 16 tackles, one sack
Skinny: Largely a forgotten man after Bernard Pollard wrestled away the strong safety job early in the season, it appears Zbikowski will likely try to find a new home where he can start.

S Haruki Nakamura
2011 stats: 15 games, three tackles, nine special-teams tackles
Skinny: In a similar position to Zbikowski, the Ravens will likely make a harder push to keep Nakamura due to his exceptional ability as as special teams player.

OL Andre Gurode
2011 stats: 13 games (five starts)
Skinny: Signed as an insurance policy behind Matt Birk, the 10-year veteran wound up being needed at left guard for an injured Grubbs and could be the short-term replacement at center next season.

DT Brandon McKinney
2011 stats: 12 games, 14 tackles
Skinny: A regular part of the rotation along the defensive line, it’s hard to envision teams beating down McKinney’s door, but the Ravens may try to go younger and cheaper than the six-year veteran.

TE Kris Wilson
2011 stats: 15 games, four special teams tackles
Skinny: His touchdown catch in the divisional round was his claim to fame, but the veteran’s competent special teams ability may not be enough to keep him in Baltimore next season.

LB Edgar Jones
2011 stats: nine games, three special teams tackles
Skinny: Though he was active all nine games after being signed in early November, there’s a reason why Jones was unemployed when the Ravens were looking for special-teams depth.

Restricted free agents
(The Ravens can offer a tender attached to a draft pick and then have the right to match any offer from an opposing team and would receive that team’s draft pick if they choose not to match it.)

CB Lardarius Webb
2011 stats: 16 games (15 starts), 68 tackles, five interceptions, sack
Skinny: With another season like he had in 2011, Webb will be looking for a large payday and deservedly so.

CB Cary Williams
2011 stats: 16 starts, 77 tackles, two forced fumbles
Skinny: Easily the most pleasant surprise on the Baltimore defense, Williams will battle 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith for a starting corner job in training camp.

LB Dannell Ellerbe
2011 stats: nine games (three starts), 17 tackles
Skinny: The third-year linebacker always leaves you wanting more but could find himself in position to compete for a starting role depending on how the Ravens address the inside linebacker position this offseason.

RB Matt Lawrence
2011 stats: Did not play (injured reserve)
Skinny: Though a competent special-teams player when he’s been healthy in his three-year career, you have to think the Ravens are ready to cut ties with the injury-plagued back.

Exclusive-rights free agents
(These are players with two or fewer accrued seasons and own no negotiating rights.)

LS Morgan Cox
2011 stats: 16 games
Skinny: There’s no reason to think the Ravens are displeased with Cox’s performance as the long snapper.

CB Danny Gorrer
2011 stats: 11 games, three tackles, four pass breakups
Skinny: Considering he was pushing Chris Carr for the No. 4 corner spot by season’s end and was strong on special teams, Gorrer should have no reason to think the Ravens won’t bring him back.

LB Sergio Kindle
2011 stats: two games
Skinny: The Ravens will bring Kindle back, but he’ll need to make major strides in the offseason and training camp to make the 53-man roster again.

LB Albert McClellan
2011 stats: 16 games (one start), seven tackles, 12 special teams tackles
Skinny: He drew a start for the injured Ray Lewis on Thanksgiving night and is one of the best special teams players on the team, making his return a certainty.

 

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Chuck Pagano, Terrell Suggs

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Ravens’ Pagano to become next head coach of Colts

Posted on 25 January 2012 by Luke Jones

In what’s easily been the most frustrating week in the history of the franchise, the Ravens will now need to look for a new defensive coordinator as Chuck Pagano has been hired as the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Leading the Ravens to the No. 3 overall defensive ranking in his first season as coordinator, Pagano interviewed with Indianapolis on Tuesday before being offered the job on Wednesday. The 51-year-old spent three seasons as the Baltimore secondary coach before being promoted to replace former defensive coordinator Greg Mattison last offseason.

“It’s difficult to leave the Ravens but I couldn’t pass up on this great opportunity,” Pagano said to the Ravens’ official website. “I’m just thrilled and so excited.”

Pagano was extremely popular with his defensive players and brought a more aggressive play-calling style than Mattison, helping the Ravens improve from a franchise-low 27 sacks in 2010 to an AFC-best 48 this season.

“He just had an inkling for [making the right calls],” linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo told AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday afternoon. “More than anything, he wasn’t going to rely on just going vanilla and saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to beat everybody just going vanilla.’ That’s what coach Mattison liked to do.”

The Ravens sent four defensive starters to the Pro Bowl this year, including linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and free safety Ed Reed.

Pagano will be introduced to the Indianapolis media in a press conference on Thursday afternoon. The Colts fired general manager Bill Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell following a disastrous 2-14 season without quarterback Peyton Manning.

“We are so happy for Chuck, [his wife] Tina and their daughters,” coach John Harbaugh said in an official statement. “We are proud of him. Like me, Chuck grew up in the game and loves it. We will miss him and thank him for all he did for the Ravens.”

The 51-year-old will likely usher in a new era with Indianapolis primed to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in April’s draft. Ayanbadejo said the Colts will immediately take to Pagano’s infectious personality.

“He was one of those guys [where] it was like he was out on the field of battle with you and you’d never want to let him down, because he’s such a good guy,” Ayanbadejo said. “He’s also a family guy and a great person. You really felt like you knew him, and more than anything, you just didn’t want to let him down.”

Pagano had previous stints as a defensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders and also coached at several colleges, including most recently at the University of North Carolina before being hired by Harbaugh in 2008.

The Ravens will also wonder what impact Pagano’s departure might have on their list of defensive players with expiring contracts. Linebackers Jarret Johnson, Jameel McClain, and Ayanbadejo, defensive end Cory Redding, safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, and defensive tackle Brandon McKinney are all set to become unrestricted free agents and could now view Indianapolis as a viable alternative to the Ravens, who will not have a great deal of salary cap space.

After former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was hired as the head coach of the New York Jets in 2009, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard joined him in the Big Apple as free-agent signings.

Baltimore will now have its fourth defensive coordinator in five years after Rex Ryan, Mattison, and Pagano all held the job under Harbaugh. The most logical in-house candidate to fill the role would be linebackers coach Dean Pees, who was the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots from 2006 to 2009 before moving on to Baltimore.

“I don’t think you’ll see any letdown if Dean Pees takes over,” said Ayanbadejo, who described Pees’ relationship with players as one based more on respect than the emotional Pagano. “You might even see a better defense if Dean Pees takes over because he likes things done a certain way, and he’s really particular about the way he does things.”

Pagano becomes the fourth defensive coordinator in the history of the franchise to depart for a head coaching position elsewhere, joining Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, and Ryan.

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Buffalo Bills v Baltimore Ravens

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After inspiring playoff performance, Flacco reiterates desire for new deal

Posted on 23 January 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A Fu-Manchu-free Joe Flacco cleaned out his locker with the rest of his teammates at the Ravens’ Owings Mills facility on Monday morning, still feeling the hurt of a heartbreaking 23-20 loss in the AFC championship less than 24 hours earlier.

However, the dramatic conclusion to the season doesn’t prevent the Ravens from turning an eye toward the future with difficult personnel decisions needing to be made on a number of veteran free agents. Players knew they were greeting some teammates for the final time, and that uncertainty only adds to the sting of the last-second disappointment in Foxborough.

“It’s tough to really think about that,” Flacco said. “You know it’s going to happen, but you don’t know which guys it’s going to be. It’s tough to kind of be in our shoes and go through that. You kind of just take it for what it is.”

Of course, Flacco remains under contract for one more season under the five-year deal he signed when the Ravens drafted the Delaware quarterback with 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft. The 27-year-old expressed his desire for an extension last offseason and only improved his stock with a strong performance against the Patriots in which he outplayed future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.

Muting many of his doubters with a 306-yard, two-touchdown performance despite the Ravens falling to New England, Flacco reconfirmed his preference to not have to play out the final year of his contract. The quarterback feels confident in his play to command a long-term extension with Baltimore.

“Definitely,” Flacco said. “We’ll see how it goes. If it goes, it goes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Though Flacco came under plenty of fire this season after failing to take a leap in his development — at least, statistically speaking — he also orchestrated comeback victories against Pittsburgh and Arizona.

He would have done it again if wide receiver Lee Evans had maintained control of a beautifully-thrown ball that dropped right in his breadbasket before rookie Sterling Moore punched the ball loose. Regardless of the final outcome, Flacco proved capable of having a major part in the outcome of a championship game with running back Ray Rice being a non-factor for most of the game.

“I said it all along, I’m the quarterback I am,” Flacco said. “The first four years that I’ve played here, we’ve gone to the playoffs every time [and] won a game. I think the last two years I’ve played in the playoffs I’ve played well in the playoffs. If you watched the film and you’re a guy in this organization, I think that you can say, ‘Hey, he’s played really good for us.’ Like I said, you never know what’s going to happen, so we’ll see.”

Linebacker decisions

While recent talk has centered around the future of veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens will face difficult decisions with starting backers Jarret Johnson and Jameel McClain set to become unrestricted free agents.

With the Ravens likely discussing the possibility of Lewis’ role in the defense being altered — specifically in passing situations — they will also try to determine McClain’s value before the fourth-year linebacker hits the open market. Since being signed as a rookie free agent from Syracuse in 2008, McClain has transformed his role as a special teams player into a starting inside linebacker.

With past Ravens linebackers such as Edgerton Hartwell and Bart Scott receiving lucrative offers from other teams, could McClain be the next Ray Lewis protege to leave the nest?

“I don’t know,” said McClain, who expressed a preference to remain in Baltimore. “I’ve been in this game long enough to know that everything is unpredictable, so expect the unexpected.”

Speaking of Hartwell and Scott, it’s no secret that many defensive players have left the Ravens, only to find the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere. Aside from the simple economics, McClain will consider all his options before making a decision on his future.

“You weigh everything,” McClain said. “You weigh the relationships that you build, you weigh how your family is going to be situated, you weigh how good you fit in on a system. All of those things aren’t up to me. At this point, it’s out of my hands. I feel like I did the best I could do. I gave what I gave, and I give my heart every day and won’t regret [anything]. Right now, if it’s out of your hands, there’s no need to worry about something you can’t control.”

Carr in limbo

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Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots - Wild Card Round

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With Patriots standing in way, Ravens embracing familiar role as underdog

Posted on 17 January 2012 by Luke Jones

Depending on who you talk to this week, the Ravens are a very good football team only 60 minutes of strong play away from going to the Super Bowl or an inconsistent group unable to get out of its own way as it prepares to take on the almighty New England Patriots in Foxborough.

Those sharing the latter thought continue to doubt quarterback Joe Flacco, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, and the team in general. Even safety Ed Reed spouted off about Flacco and the offense’s uneven performance against the second-ranked Houston defense in the divisional round, which was not only a purposeless act for his team but is sure to add fuel to the critics’ fire this week.

Baltimore faces the immense challenge of traveling to Gillette Stadium to best a Patriots team that hasn’t lost since before Veterans Day. New England has been held below 30 points only once in its last eight games while the Ravens’ offensive attack has only reached the 30-point plateau one time over its last nine contests.

Yes, the Ravens are the underdogs this Sunday. From fans and media to even within the locker room, the pressure to play their best game of the season — to give themselves their optimum chance to win — is coming from a variety of sources.

And that’s just fine in their minds.

“We like being the underdog,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “We’re used to it. I think we handle it better. Psychologically, I don’t really know why, but I think we do. Should we be? I don’t know. Obviously, it’s their place, they are the No. 1 seed, they have earned it, they are one of the top offenses in the league. They deserve to be the top team, but I like being [the underdog].”

Though their 33-14 win over the Patriots in the playoffs two years ago doesn’t mean much in terms of breaking down the play on the field this Sunday, it does provide a psychological boost as the Ravens once again prepare to head on the road for the playoffs.

There is no team in the NFL better equipped to win a road playoff game than the Ravens, who have won four in seven postseason games away from M&T Bank Stadium over the last four years. Meanwhile, the Patriots have reaped the benefits of home playoff games but were knocked out of the postseason in their home stadium in each of the last two seasons.

The Ravens’ veterans and young players alike know what to expect on the road in January.

“It helps, just by the fact that we’ve done it,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Most of our team has been there before, and then those young guys can relate to the older guys, and the older guys can share some wisdom. But it’s not going to impact necessarily this game, except to the extent that our guys have been there before and it’s certainly not going to be anything new for them. And that’s a good thing.”

While naysayers point to two disappointing losses in Pittsburgh and a blowout defeat to Indianapolis when mentioning the Ravens’ postseason track record under Harbaugh, his teams have also shown the ability to win games in which few gave them a chance. In Harbaugh’s first season, the Ravens knocked off the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in the divisional round and followed it up the next season with a surprising blowout of the Patriots.

The Ravens play better with a chip on their shoulder when they know few believe they can get the job done. There’s no question the veterans in the locker room will point out that the Patriots didn’t defeat a team with a winning record all season despite being crowned the clear favorite on Sunday.

And while the media has swooned over the Patriots’ explosive offense, the Ravens will remind everyone their defense finished in the top four in every significant statistical category this season.

A win on Sunday will likely require the Ravens’ best performance of the season, but their 6-1 record against teams that finished with a winning record in 2011 provides plenty of evidence that they’re more than capable of getting the job done.

Baltimore will need to sustain drives, score touchdowns instead of field goals in the red zone, and play a turnover-free game — or close to it — to win a contest in the neighborhood of 31-27. It’s not the easiest task on paper, especially against an offense that scored 513 points in the regular season and a much-maligned New England defense that finished a respectable 15th in points allowed.

But every time you think you’ve sentenced the Ravens’ to failure due to their flaws and write them off, they do something to surprise you, much as they did two years ago in Foxborough when they sent the Patriots home early after barely qualifying for the playoffs the week before.

It’s rarely easy on the eyes, but just ask Green Bay or New Orleans if style points really matter in January.

“I always say there is a right way to do things, there is a wrong way to do things, and there is just the Ravens’ way of doing things,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said following Sunday’s win over the Texans. “It wasn’t pretty, but we’re not really a pretty team.”

And the Ravens are comfortable in that position, with everyone counting them out.

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Browns at Ravens

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Rice the clear choice for Ravens’ team MVP

Posted on 05 January 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The awards continue piling up for the Ravens’ Pro Bowl running back, but Ray Rice took home another on Thursday when he was named the team’s Most Valuable Player by the local media.

After leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,068, Rice earned his second team MVP award in three years. The fourth-year running back was especially potential in the Ravens’ last five games of the regular season, rushing for 642 yards and accumulating 809 yards from scrimmage.

Rice was named to his second Pro Bowl team last week and will start for the AFC on the last Sunday in January unless the Ravens are playing in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis the following week.

“This has been the healthiest I’ve been [and] this is the best I’ve ever felt,” Rice said. “And [coach John Harbaugh] would tell you himself that this year I got after the weight room a little bit harder this year coming into the season, and I’ve having the ability to get stronger during the season.”

The 24-year-old finished second in the league in rushing yards with 1,364, trailing only Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew who collected 1,606 yards on the ground in 2011.

The Baltimore running back’s only real competition for team MVP honors was linebacker Terrell Suggs, who finished with a career-high 14 sacks and has earned Defensive Player of the Year consideration. However, Rice was the clear choice as the most valuable player due to his consistent output every week for a Ravens offense that lacks any other elite players.

Suggs, on the other hand, turned in three three-sack games but was held to five sacks in the Ravens’ other 13 contests. The 29-year-old linebacker was the team’s best defensive player by a sizable margin, but his unit is simply more talented and would still provide some level of competence without his services.

The same cannot be said about the Ravens offense, which depends on Rice for his dynamic play-making ability and would likely be lost without the 5-foot-8 back.

Rice became just the second player to be named a two-time team MVP winner, joining Ed Reed, who won the award in 2004 and 2008. In case you’re wondering about Ray Lewis, the local media did not begin naming a team MVP until 2003. As a result, Lewis has failed to win even one team MVP award, though it’s easy to say he would have been a multiple-time winner had the honor started with the birth of the franchise in 1996.

Boldin back in the swing

Two weeks after undergoing surgery to have his partially-torn meniscus repaired, wide receiver Anquan Boldin was completing his second straight day of practice and appeared close to full health as the Ravens completed their bye-week workouts in Owings Mills.

To everyone’s surprise, Boldin return to the practice field on a limited basis last Friday, provoking the team to upgrade him from “out” to “doubtful” for the team’s Week 17 showdown in Cincinnati. Of course, Boldin didn’t play against the Bengals, but his ability to practice only eight days after the procedure was an encouraging sign.

Boldin finished the season with 57 catches for 887 yards and three touchdowns, but the 31-year-old wideout was held to just 16 catches over his final six games before undergoing the procedure.

“I played with it partially torn all year,” said Boldin, who believes this is the best he’s felt all season. “I just felt like I’d just play until it [tore], and that’s what it did. It tore enough to where it flipped up and my knee started catching. I couldn’t run or anything like that. I felt it necessary to go ahead and get it taken care of.”

If Boldin is showing any lingering effects from the surgery, it’s not apparent with his teammates, who say he hasn’t missed a beat since returning to the practice field. While it was speculated that Boldin may not have been ready to return had the Ravens played in the first round of the playoffs, all indications are the veteran would have been ready to go.

Instead, he’ll have extra time to prepare to make an impact when the Ravens will need him most.

“He looks really good,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I think he’ll provide that spark for us. I’m sure he’d be ready to go if we had to play this week, but I think this bye definitely helps that out.”

Bye week work

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Indianapolis Colts v Baltimore Ravens

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In absence of leader, Suggs in full control of Ravens defense

Posted on 11 December 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As I watched the Ravens’ 24-10 dismantling of the hapless Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon, the same theme kept sounding in my head.

As strange as it was watching a Baltimore-Indianapolis matchup without quarterback Peyton Manning and linebacker Ray Lewis lining up on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage, it was painfully clear how much more the Colts offense missed Manning than the Ravens defense missed Lewis. Of course, that’s no knock on Lewis, whose impact as an inside linebacker simply cannot match the effect of a team missing its future Hall of Fame quarterback, but it’s a statement you thought you’d never hear given his unquantifiable effect on the Baltimore defense.

Before Indianapolis’ 76-yard touchdown drive that concluded the game — against several backups on the Ravens defense — Baltimore had a chance to set a franchise record for fewest yards allowed as the Colts had just 91 before taking over with 2:18 remaining in the fourth quarter. With Lewis out of action for the Ravens’ last four games, not only has the defense survived but it’s flourished, allowing just 12.5 points and 263.3 yards per game over that span.

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In Lewis’ absence, linebacker Terrell Suggs has gone to the head of the pack, posting seven sacks over the Ravens’ last three games. His three-sack performance against Indianapolis matched his single-game high and gave him 13 for the season, setting a new career best for the nine-year veteran.

But ask the boisterous pass rusher if he’s having the best year of his career and you’ll get the humble version of “T-Sizzle” who’s more concerned with winning championships than hearing his name in the Defensive Player of the Year discussions.

“I don’t know,” said Suggs in response to the career-year query. “It only counts if we get to [the Super Bowl in Indianapolis] and the confetti drops. Right now, I think we are all just doing our parts — holding [the] levee until the general gets back. That’s how I honestly think we are playing.”

While the Ravens are certainly looking forward to Lewis’ return — quite possibly next week in San Diego — the lieutenant general is leading the troops with similar success, even if Suggs’ leadership style isn’t quite as obvious as the authoritative 36-year-old linebacker leading the Baltimore defense for the last 16 seasons. Injury or not, it’s becoming more and more apparent we’re seeing a changing of the guard with Suggs subtly taking the reins of the defense as Lewis and safety Ed Reed move closer to the end of their respective careers.

As has been the case several times this season, Suggs took over the game on Sunday, chasing overwhelmed Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky all over the pocket as the Ravens improved to 10-3 to remain tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC North.

“Terrell Suggs was just a game-wrecker,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He was a game-wrecker in the run. He was a game-wrecker in the pass rush. I think he had three caused fumbles. Unfortunately, we didn’t come up with any of them.”

Despite Suggs’ reluctance in discussing the personal accolades, his 2011 season may go down as one of the best in the history of Ravens defenders. His 13 sacks are tied with the number Trevor Pryce collected in 2006 for third in team history, and only defensive end Michael McCrary (14 1/2 in 1998) and linebacker Peter Boulware (15 in 2001) remain ahead of Suggs, who still has three games remaining to set a new franchise mark.

Even if the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker isn’t willing to acknowledge his increasing role as a leader, there’s no question who’s become the best player among a plethora of greats on the Baltimore defense. Lewis may remain the general inspiring his troops with pre-game speeches, but Suggs is the most gifted soldier in the trenches, the guy you want on your side when the stakes are at their highest.

“Don’t be fooled; this is still Ray Lewis’ team,” Suggs said. “He is still the general of this team, and he has a personal relationship with everybody on this team, and it’s showing. As I said, his presence is still very much there.”

Suggs may be right about Lewis’ presence, but the Ravens are just as fortunate to have No. 55 standing right next to him. His performance in Lewis’ absence proves it.

Rice running all over

Following his career-high 204-yard performance against the Cleveland Browns, running back Ray Rice hit triple digits again on Sunday, rushing for 103 yards on 26 carries in the win over Indianapolis.

It was the first time in his four-year career that Rice was able to achieve back-to-back 100-yard rushing games. The 2008 second-round pick has reached the century mark in rushing in three of the Ravens’ last four games after offensive coordinator Cam Cameron came under fire at several points earlier this season for not giving enough carries to the 5-foot-8 running back.

“I guess I have to say I’m pretty fresh right now considering the amount of workload I had in the first half of the season,” Rice said. “I’m not saying I saved my best for the end of the season, but I’m doing a great job of keeping myself fresh. I get a great relief when Ricky Williams is in there. I am just looking forward to being consistent.”

Rice has now compiled 30 games with at least 100 total yards from scrimmage during his career, including 28 since he became the full-time starter in 2009. His 28 games dating back to that season are the most in the NFL.

His 103 yards against the Colts also gave Rice 1,029 yards in 2011, marking the third straight season he’s surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing barrier. Rice joins Jamal Lewis as the second Raven to post at least 1,000 in three straight campaigns. Lewis accomplished the feat from 2002 to 2004.

“It means a lot to me,” Rice said. “Anytime I do something, I give my credit to the offensive line. But to do three straight [1,000-yard seasons], it does say something, consistency-wise. I try to just stay the course.”

Cundiff’s calf

After veteran Shayne Graham was on standby all weekend in case Billy Cundiff’s left calf wasn’t ready for action, the Ravens kicker proved able to play on Sunday, making his only field goal attempt, which came from 36 yards near the end of the first quarter.

However, Cundiff experienced some soreness on kickoffs in the first half, prompting Harbaugh to turn to punter Sam Koch in the second half. Fortunately, the Ravens would only need Koch to kick off one time and Cundiff was still available for field goals and extra points.

The move was considered more precautionary with the Ravens holding a 14-point lead at halftime.

“It was important for [Cundiff] to be able to kick,” Harbaugh said, “but he started feeling [something] on the kickoffs as we progressed in the first half, so we went with Sam in the second half on kickoffs.”

Odds & ends

Wide receiver Torrey Smith tied Jamal Lewis’ rookie record for touchdowns in a season when he posted his sixth score of 2011, an 8-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. … The Ravens accumulated four sacks against Indianapolis, giving them a league-high 45 on the season. With three games remaining, Baltimore is on pace to record 55 sacks in 2011, more than doubling its total of 27 last season. … Opponents have now gone 21 straight games without scoring on their opening drive against the Ravens, the NFL’s longest streak over the past 20 seasons. … Veteran wideout Lee Evans passed the 6,000-yard mark for his career with a 21-yard reception in the third quarter. … The Ravens have now won 17 of their last 18 games at M&T Bank Stadium and are 7-0 at home this year. Baltimore is 26-5 at home in four seasons under Harbaugh.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice, Jarret Johnson, Torrey Smith, Bernard Pollard, and Jameel McClain right here.

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Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots - Wild Card Round

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Jarret Johnson claims this Ravens team best he’s been on

Posted on 09 December 2011 by WNST Audio

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