Tag Archive | "jerry rosburg"

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Perriman “frustrated” not to be on field, position coach says

Posted on 03 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman hasn’t spoken publicly since the eve of his first NFL training camp, only adding to the mystery of his knee injury suffered on July 30.

Three months later, the 2015 first-round pick still isn’t playing as Baltimore suffered its worst start in franchise history. After suffering a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp, Perriman aggravated the injury on Sept. 27 and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery a few days later.

Head coach John Harbaugh said last week that Perriman still had a “chance” to play this season, a stark contrast from the initial diagnosis that the 6-foot-2 wideout had merely fallen on his knee and would only miss a day or two of practice.

“He has been a little frustrated,” wide receivers coach Bobby Engram said on Tuesday. “I think he wants to be out there. He wants to compete. He wants to play. But at the same time, he realizes he has to go through this process and get himself healthy.”

Harbaugh called Perriman’s injury “one of the all-time slowesthealing sprained PCLs ever” last month, a description that might be accurate but didn’t do much to help the Central Florida product’s perception with some fans questioning his toughness.

With Steve Smith suffering a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in Sunday’s win over San Diego, the Ravens would surely like to see how Perriman would perform as Joe Flacco’s No. 1 receiver, especially if Smith follows through with his previous plan to retire. He’s not the only 2015 first-round receiver not to play this season — Chicago’s first-round pick Kevin White is on the physically unable to perform list with a stress fracture in his lower leg — but Perriman has been frustrated not to be able to prove the Ravens right for selecting him with the 26th overall pick this spring.

“I’ve been disappointed for Breshad, because he put in so much work and preparation to give himself that opportunity,” said Engram, who played 14 years in the NFL. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s a part of this business that we take part in. Football, it’s a physical sport, and sometimes these things happen.

“But he has been around [the facility]. He has been in the meetings. His spirits have been good, and we look forward to getting him healthy and getting him back.”

Upshaw, Z. Smith not filling sacks void

A season ago, Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, and Pernell McPhee combined for a whopping 36 1/2 sacks.

But with McPhee now in Chicago and Suggs lost for the season in Week 1, the Ravens haven’t been able to fill the void with fourth-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw and rookie Za’Darius Smith, who have combined for just two sacks despite extensive opportunities to rush the quarterback. Serving almost exclusively as a run-stopping strong-side linebacker in his first three seasons, Upshaw hasn’t collected a sack since the 2013 season even though he’s received more playing time in 2015.

“You’ll see that Courtney is dominant on the edge of the run game,” linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “He would love to have more production as a pass rusher. We would all love for him to have more production as a pass rusher. We’ve got combination of rush and coverage. We’ve got to find a way to tie those two things together better than what we have.”

The lack of an established threat on the opposite edge has allowed offensive lines to focus more on Dumervil, limiting the Pro Bowl linebacker to just 2 1/2 sacks in eight games. Assuming Suggs’ role as the every-down rush linebacker, Dumervil has still been able to generate pressure — even if not finishing plays with as many quarterback takedowns — and has graded as the ninth-best edge defender in the NFL this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

A fair question for the second half will be how well Dumervil holds up after seeing his most extensive action of his three years in Baltimore.

“I think that Elvis, as a run defender, is improving,” said Monachino, who added that Dumervil had previously served as a full-time player in Denver. “I think Elvis as a first- and second-down guy with some opportunity in the pass rush, I think that helps.

“We all recognize the fact that 55 [snaps in a game] is different than 35 reps for a guy that’s a pass rusher, especially a high-effort pass rusher. We’ve got to continue to find ways to get Elvis singled, and when we can, he has to take advantage of those opportunities.”

J. Smith still “dominating” despite inconsistency

After Jimmy Smith’s play was recently described as “tentative” by defensive coordinator Dean Pees, defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt took a more positive stance in assessing the No. 1 cornerback’s play in 2015.

Smith is returning from last year’s Lisfranc injury, which has led many to wonder whether he’s been fully healthy all season. The 2011 first-round pick’s play is low on Hewitt’s list of concerns for the league’s 30th-ranked pass defense, however.

“He’s giving up a couple of plays, but the guy — if you watch the entire film — the guy has been dominating people,” Hewitt said. “He has had some dominating plays. Has he had dominating games? No, but he has had dominating plays.

“I think he’s continuing to keep on getting better as a player. He’ll be the first to tell you that he wants to be better, and he has put a lot of weight on his shoulders and a lot of stress on himself to become that leader or that big-time playmaker that we need. He’s doing a great job. I’m not pressing too much on Jimmy.”

Rosburg not impressed with Tucker’s dance moves

Kicker Justin Tucker drew plenty of attention for his celebratory dance that followed his game-winning 39-yard field goal against San Diego, but his nod to Drake was lost on his special teams coordinator.

“I have no reaction whatsoever.” said Jerry Rosburg as he smiled when asked about Tucker’s “Hotline Bling” dance. “I’m not sure what it was, so I’m really not sure if I’ve seen it before.”

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Arizona possesses what Ravens lack in 2015

Posted on 22 October 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will look across the field on Monday night and see exactly what they’re lacking in 2015.

Playmakers on both sides of the ball have led the Arizona Cardinals to a 4-2 record atop the NFC West as well as the best point differential (plus-88) in the NFL. Baltimore’s shortage of playmakers has contributed to the worst start in franchise history and five defeats all decided by six points or fewer.

Offensively, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has a trio of talented receivers — future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, second-year speedster John Brown, and former first-round pick Michael Floyd — on which to rely. That combination of experience, speed, and height has helped Arizona produce the league’s seventh-ranked passing game and 33.8 points per game.

In contrast, Joe Flacco has a 36-year-old Steve Smith playing at a high level and a group of unheralded receivers behind him who have struggled to make a meaningful impact. Making matters worse, the Ravens offense will be facing the league’s ninth-ranked pass defense than includes Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and hybrid safety Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary.

The Cardinals often-explosive offense has lacked consistency — evident by a Week 4 home loss to St. Louis and last week’s 25-13 defeat in Pittsburgh — but it’s not easy envisioning Baltimore’s 27th-ranked pass defense being able to keep up with Arizona’s speed. Even pedestrian offenses have picked apart the Ravens secondary this season, so what will a top 10 unit be able to do?

And given how slowly the Ravens offense has started most games this season, Monday night could get ugly if we see a similar opening act.

Return game progress

One of the few bright spots from the Week 6 loss to San Francisco was another good performance by returner Jeremy Ross, who broke a 41-yard kick return late in the first quarter.

A second look at the return, however, indicated that Ross could have made it even better had he cut behind a block from rookie Nick Boyle toward the right sideline instead of shifting inside where three tacklers were waiting. His special teams coordinator agreed with that sentiment on Thursday.

“We honestly should’ve gotten more out of it than we did,” Jerry Rosburg said. “We didn’t finish it very well, but at least we got it set up. So, we’re making progress. I like what he has done. He has been working really hard on the reads and ball security. He has gotten a lot better.”

In addition to averaging 29.5 yards per kick return and 10.0 yards per punt return, Ross has caught five passes for 58 yards in limited action as a receiver in two games. Given the lack of big-play ability the Ravens have shown on either side of the ball, would Rosburg encourage the speedy Ross to be more aggressive taking kicks out of the end zone like Jacoby Jones was in his three years in Baltimore?

“It depends on what kind of deep kick it is,” Rosburg said. “There are different kinds of deep kicks — high-hanging deep kicks. Even Jacoby didn’t have a green light. Sometimes, he ran the red light.”

Wright bouncing back?

Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t mince words in criticizing the newly-acquired Shareece Wright after he was burned for two touchdowns in the 25-20 loss to the 49ers, but the Ravens will likely be counting on him again this week.

Starter Lardarius Webb is expected to return from a hamstring injury, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees prefers using Webb inside in the nickel package. This leaves the Ravens with Wright or Kyle Arrington to play on the outside opposite Jimmy Smith, and Arrington has also struggled when asked to play on the outside this season

“I really liked the way he responded this week,” said Pees of Wright. “It was going to be interesting to come out here and go through the film with him and come back out here and watch and see how he responded this week. So far, he has responded great. Now, I’ll tell you again Monday night after we get done [playing].

“Sometimes it takes [failure]. We all learn by mistakes, and hopefully that will be his case.”

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Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Dean Pees watches warmups before the NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010, won by the Patriots 23-20. (AP Photo/Robert E. Klein)

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Pees about Ravens defense: “We are our own worst enemy”

Posted on 15 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Four days after Cleveland accumulated more than 500 yards in its first road win over the Ravens since 2007, Dean Pees was in no mood to tip his cap to Josh McCown and the Browns offense.

In a monologue lasting nearly four minutes when responding to a simple question about the play of his safeties, the fourth-year coordinator cited the mistakes that continue to plague his entire 24th-ranked unit that’s allowing 27.4 points per game, on pace to be the second-worst mark in franchise history. It’s clear that Pees doesn’t think the opposition is causing Baltimore’s defensive woes.

“We are our own worst enemy,” Pees said. “It really, right now, is not about San Francisco, and it wasn’t about Cleveland. It’s about us. We just have to be consistent in what we do.”

Pees cited an example on Sunday in which the Ravens forced McCown to throw away a third-down pass on a specific blitz early in the game before the same player failed to run the same blitz correctly later in the game as the Browns once again failed to account for it. Such inconsistency has made it difficult for Pees to know which play calls to come back to later in games when the biggest stops need to be made.

At several points during his rant, Pees made it clear that it was the coaches’ responsibility to do a better job of making sure players are prepared, but he wasn’t absolving his defenders, either.

“We just have to keep harping on it and building on it,” Pees said. “It’s not a secret. It’s not a panic. It’s not, ‘OK, we have to change the scheme.’ It’s not [that] we have to do anything. We just have to learn to do the same things all the time.

“It’s all of our faults. It’s not just that guy’s fault. Somehow, as coaches, we just have to make it right. I know you guys can sense my frustration with it. It’s the same thing in coverage. We aren’t consistent [in the secondary]. They work well together. They’ll work well together. And then from one play [to the next] — even though they got the right call — they don’t work well together. It’s not only them, it’s everybody. It’s across the board.”

Players have repeatedly said — sometimes unprovoked — that the issues don’t stem from the overall schemes or Pees’ calls on game day, but they’ve repeatedly self-destructed at critical times, losing fourth-quarter leads in three of their four defeats this season. The Ravens are also tied for 26th in the NFL with 8.4 penalties per game while only four teams have racked up more penalty yardage.

Despite a slew of injuries and inexperienced players being asked to fill key roles, Pees doesn’t want to hear the excuses, particularly when it comes to drawing flags at the worst times. The lack of discipline has contributed to the Ravens ranking 31st in third-down defense with opponents converting 49.4 percent of the time.

“I’m tired [of] ‘young.’ We can also say, ‘This guy is out. That guy is out,'” Pees said. “I don’t care. It wasn’t that. If I thought it was that, then I’d say, ‘OK, it’s different.’ But we had so many opportunities in that game. We’re terrible on third down — because of us. If we [don’t] have a hands-to-the-face [penalty], we’re off the field in the red zone and they don’t have a touchdown [late in the third quarter], right? On third down-and-9, we get an interception [in the second quarter], and we’re setting the offense up on the 48-yard line. What do we get? Roughing the quarterback. It’s those things. We have to eliminate those things.”

Allen starting?

With starter Justin Forsett missing his second straight practice with an ankle injury on Thursday and No. 2 running back Lorenzo Taliaferro being placed on injured reserve with a foot injury, rookie Buck Allen could make his first NFL start against San Francisco on Sunday.

The fourth-round selection picked up the longest run of his career last Sunday with a 44-yard gain, an achievement on which he hopes to build if thrown into a starting role.

“It’s opportunity I’ve been waiting for,” Allen said. “I feel like my coaches did a great job preparing me for this moment. [Running backs coach Thomas Hammock] just preached being ready when your time is called.”

Allen is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, but that mark is somewhat deceiving as he has gained only 3.2 yards per carry on his 25 other attempts beyond his 44-yard scamper against the Browns.

With the only other healthy options being the newly-claimed rookie Raheem Mostert and practice-squad member Terrence Magee, the Ravens will have no choice but to give Allen the ball if Forsett can’t play in Week 6.

“He’s running the ball better in terms of how he’s finishing and seeing the holes,” said offensive coordinator Marc Trestman about Allen. “He’s taking the opportunities to make plays when he gets a chance to do that. We’ve seen his pass protection improve, and his entire focus. He is taking the opportunity to seize the moment with the opportunities that he has had.”

“Special” prediction

Asked if there’s an extra challenge getting accustomed to the kicking conditions at Levi’s Stadium since the Ravens haven’t played a game there, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg answered with a bold proclamation — or good sense of humor? — despite Baltimore’s disappointing 1-4 start.

“We’ll take notes, and next time we go back there in February, we’ll be ready,” said Rosburg, smiling in reference to Super Bowl 50 being played there. “I said it!”

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Ravens receivers continue shuffling in and out of practice

Posted on 17 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Health at the receiver position continues to be one of the Ravens’ biggest concerns of the summer with players shuffling in and out of workouts.

Monday brought the return of Kamar Aiken (foot) and Marlon Brown (back) to the practice field while second-year wideout Michael Campanaro (undisclosed) joined rookie Breshad Perriman as an absentee. Of course, the most pressing issue has been with Baltimore’s first-round pick, who hasn’t practiced since sustaining a knee injury on July 30.

Head coach John Harbaugh said over the weekend that he still expects Perriman to return during the preseason, but he has missed extensive practice time, making you wonder how prepared he’ll be to play a meaningful role by Week 1. Projected to be the team’s No. 3 or No. 4 receiver, Brown has also missed extensive practice time during training camp and only worked on a limited basis on Monday.

Those absences have led to more prominent looks for Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, and Darren Waller, but the Ravens know Perriman is the only wideout on the roster likely to be a high-ceiling threat in the vertical passing game.

“We’re disappointed for him, No. 1, that he can’t be out there to work,” said offensive coordinator Marc Trestman about Perriman’s extended absence. “There’s nothing we can do [about] it. We have to turn it into a positive, and the guys do so by understanding they have a great opportunity here to have another rep, another opportunity. We’ve got to continue to work to develop the guys we’re with, and that’s the positive side of it.

“That’s all we can control in this moment. We can’t control Breshad being out there. We’ll just go from there, and we’re very, very hopeful that he’ll be with us soon.”

Monday also brought the return of defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson, who primarily worked on an individual basis after missing a week with what Harbaugh described only as a strain.

In addition to Perriman and Campanaro, the Ravens were missing several other key players on Monday including left guard Kelechi Osemele (foot), cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (hamstring) and Asa Jackson (knee), linebacker Steven Means (knee), and reserve offensive linemen John Urschel (concussion), Robert Myers (concussion), and Jah Reid (undisclosed). Jackson injured his knee in the preseason opener after he was given the first opportunity to return punts and kickoffs against New Orleans.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg was pleased with the performance of both Jackson and Campanaro returning punts as the former returned two for 17 yards and the latter registered a 10-yard return. However, both players have dealt with injuries too often in their young careers.

“It’s a long way to go; we have a lot of practice [to go],” Rosburg said. “We get good opportunities again this week against Philadelphia in practice. Then, hopefully, we’ll make them punt a lot and get some more opportunities in the game. We can’t control the injuries; they are what they are. Hopefully, we get them back soon.”

Several players dealt with heat-related challenges throughout Monday’s practice as rookie wide receiver Darren Waller and tight end Maxx Williams both left the field early and did not return. Wideout Jeremy Butler left the field during practice but later returned.

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Released “Deflategate” document says Ravens tipped off Indianapolis

Posted on 05 August 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have repeatedly denied tipping off the Indianapolis Colts about problems with footballs in their divisional round loss to the New England Patriots, but a “Deflategate” document released on Tuesday suggests otherwise.

Included with a 457-page transcript of Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” appeal hearing released by the NFL Players Association on Tuesday, an email from Indianapolis equipment manager Sean Sullivan sent to Colts general manager Ryan Grigson indicated that Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg called Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano to alert him of problems Baltimore had with the kicking balls in the 35-31 loss to the Patriots in the divisional round.

Of course, many have speculated throughout the offseason that the Ravens communicated their concerns with Indianapolis, but the organization has repeatedly denied doing such a thing.

“We did not notice anything. We never had a ball that they were using on offense, so we don’t know anything about that in our game,” head coach John Harbaugh said in January. “We didn’t have a chance to handle any of their offensive footballs. As far as the kicking balls, it was 20 degrees outside. The balls were softer. Our guys told us during the game, and I just chalked that up to the fact that it was cold. Both teams were kicking the same kicking balls, so I didn’t really think anything of it during the game. Other than that, it’s not something that I’ve really given any thought to at all.”

In an interview before Super Bowl XLIX, Harbaugh also denied anyone in the organization tipping off Indianapolis before the AFC championship game.

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Ravens open to numerous possibilities in return game

Posted on 10 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Of the various position battles expected to take place this summer, the uneasiest ones for the Ravens come at the punt and kick returner spots.

With the Ravens jettisoning 2012 Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones earlier in the offseason, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg is casting a wide net in trying to find his replacement. If voluntary organized team activities are any indication, numerous veterans and rookies alike will be in the competition mix.

“I think we’ll limit it to keeping the offensive linemen out of there,” said Rosburg as he laughed on Monday afternoon. “We’re not going to let any of those guys go out there, but we are going to have a long line when it comes to that time.”

Younger players such as cornerback Asa Jackson, wide receivers Michael Campanaro and DeAndre Carter, and running back Fitz Toussaint figure to receive plenty of opportunities this summer, but Rosburg has also given veteran wideout Steve Smith some reps this spring and will do the same with veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb during training camp. Smith and Webb have shown plenty of ability in the return game throughout their careers, but the Ravens would obviously prefer not to use key veteran starters to return kicks on any kind of a regular basis.

In a perfect world, the Ravens would find someone to return both punts and kickoffs, but versatility will be critical as they’re not looking for a player to solely be a return man. That’s the biggest reason why the organization cut Jones, whose role as a wide receiver all but disappeared as he struggled with drops in his final season in Baltimore.

“You’d like to see a return specialist do both, and also contribute on offense or defense,” Rosburg said. “My personal philosophy is I don’t want just a return specialist. That’s not enough value to the roster. It doesn’t help the team enough.”

While training camp practices provide opportunities for evaluation, limits on contact during special-teams drills make it difficult for Rosburg to truly determine what he has. It’s easy to know what veterans such as Webb or Smith have to offer, but determining whether a rookie free agent like Carter can handle the job is best assessed during preseason games.

Securing the ball and turning upfield is simple enough on a Wednesday afternoon at the team’s Owings Mills training complex in early August, but doing it consistently when it matters is a different story.

“I like to see guys in games,” Rosburg said. “Practice is practice. It’s really valuable [and] it is important. You see what skills guys have, you watch them play, and you get a feel for them. Having said that, there’s nothing like game reps. Handling a crowd [and] handling a game situation is really important. We’ll make the decision based on who is best in preseason.”

Predicting which candidate that might be at this point is anyone’s guess.

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Slowing Antonio Brown critical to Ravens continuing playoff run

Posted on 31 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As many focus on the status of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell for Saturday’s playoff game in Pittsburgh, the Ravens know an ability to contain Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown would go a long way in trying to advance to the divisional round.

The 5-foot-10 Brown continues to defy the odds as a former sixth-round pick who led the NFL with 129 receptions and 1,698 receiving yards while catching a career-high 13 touchdown passes in 2014. And he presents the biggest challenge to a Ravens pass defense that’s played better in recent weeks but still ranked 24th in pass defense during the regular season.

“A lot of guys when they [discuss] who the best receiver in the game is, they want to look at the big, tall, dominant guys like Calvin [Johnson] and Dez [Bryant],” said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who labeled Brown as an elite receiver a few years ago when he was still playing in the shadow of former Steeler Mike Wallace. “With Antonio, he can do it all. He’s not the biggest guy, so a lot of guys might not want to say he’s the best receiver in the game because of his size. He can do a lot of things on that field to say, ‘Man, why not be the best receiver in the game?’”

After Jimmy Smith shadowed Brown in holding him to a quiet seven catches for 90 yards in a 26-6 win over the Steelers in Week 2, the Ravens faced Brown’s wrath in the regular-season rematch in Pittsburgh — a week after their top cornerback was lost for the season — in which he caught 11 passes for 144 yards and a 54-yard touchdown in a 43-23 final on Nov. 2. It remains to be seen whether Webb will draw the exclusive assignment of following Brown, but the Ravens haven’t done any mirroring of receivers since Smith was injured, instead keeping each starting cornerback on the same sides of the field.

Baltimore will obviously try to roll safety help to Brown’s side as much as possible, but Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley likes moving the speedy receiver all over the field. In addition to being targeted 25 times on passes 20 or more yards down field in the regular season, Brown also lines up in the slot at least a handful of times per game, which would create a significant problem if the Ravens are to use Matt Elam in certain nickel situations.

If a defense shows its hand too drastically in trying to bracket Brown, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been afraid to go elsewhere in throwing for a career-high 4,952 yards in 2014. But Brown remains his most dangerous weapon with his 615 yards after the catch rank third in the NFL.

“He’s all over. They can screen him, they can stack,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “But the thing of it is I think Ben also sees what the coverage is, and all of a sudden, you’re rolling it. He’s not afraid to go to [Martavis Bryant or Markus Wheaton]. [Tight end Heath Miller] has always been a security blanket for him, and the guy has always made a clutch catch in clutch times.”

A Ravens secondary that’s been ravaged by injuries throughout the season is feeling better about itself heading into the postseason, but Roethlisberger and Brown present a far more imposing quarterback-receiver duo than anything seen over the final quarter of the season. Baltimore’s ability to slow the Steelers offense will once again come down to the pass rush, but Roethlisberger has shown an ability to get rid of the ball quickly in averaging just 2.5 seconds in the pocket before throwing, which Pro Football Focus ranked sixth in the NFL.

The faces have changed in the secondary since the Week 9 blowout in Pittsburgh as Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown were both cut and current starting cornerback Rashaan Melvin wasn’t even on the team at the time. Pees and several members of the secondary have credited continuity in recent weeks as a reason for the improvement.

“The last couple games we’ve been playing good ball all over the field,” Melvin said. “That confidence going into the playoffs is going to help us a lot. We just want to go in and play the best ball we can play as a second and as a defense in general and to go in there and do our assignments.”

Even if the Ravens are able to limit Brown’s opportunities as a receiver, they’ll need to watch out for him as a punt returner as Cincinnati found out last week when he returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. He ranked eighth in the NFL in punt return average this season and tied for sixth in return attempts, showing he isn’t conservative as a returner despite being valued as one of the best wide receivers in football.

His expansive skill set not only makes him one of the best receivers in the NFL but one of the best players overall. And the Ravens will have their hands full in trying to slow him enough to be able to continue playing beyond Saturday night.

“The same thing that makes him dangerous as a receiver makes him dangerous as a returner,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He’s very aggressive. He’s highly talented. He has a competitive spirit about him. He wants to make plays, and he has done it. He’s a very good player. We have to be at our best.”

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Ravens readying for challenge against tough San Diego secondary

Posted on 27 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates still garner the headlines, but the defense has been the most consistent unit for the San Diego Chargers en route to a 7-4 start in 2014.

The Chargers rank sixth in the NFL in pass defense this season, making them one of the bigger challenges quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ passing game have faced all season. Led by two-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, the Chargers are allowing only 221 passing yards per game and 6.8 yards per attempt from opposing quarterbacks.

“It could arguably be the best safety tandem we’ve played this year,” said offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak about Weddle and strong safety Marcus Gilchrist. “Those two guys are really good players and like quarterbacks back there. They do a great job.”

It’s quite a change from last season when San Diego qualified for the playoffs despite having the league’s 23rd-ranked defense and finishing 29th against the pass. The offseason acquisition of Brandon Flowers has paid major dividends as the 5-foot-9 veteran has the fourth-highest grade of any cornerback in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Chargers rank 15th against the run in 2014, but Kubiak added that their depth has been a major reason why they’ve allowed only 19.6 points per game, good for fifth in the league. They’ve only collected 18 sacks all season, but veteran Dwight Freeney remains a player to watch despite being relegated to a situational pass-rush role at age 34.

“I think the biggest thing with this team is they’re playing a lot of people,” Kubiak said. “You have Dwight Freeney on your team and he’s playing 25 or 30 snaps a game, it tells you how deep they are. They’re rotating a lot of people [and] a lot of new faces when it’s third down and time to rush the passer. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Another “basketball” tight end to deal with

After doing an admirable job against All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham last Monday, the Ravens will face another challenge at the tight end position with the 34-year-old Gates still creating problems for defenses.

“You’re hoping that he’s going to age out at some point,” said head coach John Harbaugh as he laughed. “We all do at some point, but he hasn’t yet. He continues to adjust his game. He really does a great job of bodying up and making plays as a receiver. He’s still a downfield threat. He’s a go-to guy for Philip Rivers.”

He’s no longer a candidate to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but Gates has nine touchdown catches — the fourth-highest total of his career — and 491 receiving yards this season.

His 6-foot-4, 255-pound frame presents a challenge as he uses his physicality to outmuscle defensive backs and still has the speed to beat linebackers in coverage.

“He’s kind of a basketball player, kind of like how Graham is,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “When I’m on him or whenever we cover him, we’ve just got to make sure that we keep our hands on him. The big thing as far as covering guys like him is to just keep our eyes on him. He’ll pop out of the ground and make good plays.”

Koch, Mosley honored to be among Pro Bowl fan vote leaders

The latest Pro Bowl voting update had Sam Koch leading all punters and rookie C.J. Mosley second among inside linebackers.

After seeing teammate Justin Tucker make the Pro Bowl last year, the nine-year veteran Koch has been close before in his career and acknowledged how meaningful a trip to Honolulu would be. He ranks third in the NFL in net punting and seventh on punts inside the 20 this year.

“It would mean a lot,” said Koch, who was also the holder for 2010 Pro Bowl selection Billy Cundiff. “For all the support I’ve had from my family and my kids and all the people here, just going out and almost making it a couple of times, winning the fan vote to one year to becoming an alternate [in 2010], it’s on my bucket list in football.”

Meanwhile, Mosley is sixth in the league in tackles and has graded as the sixth-best inside linebacker in the NFL by PFF.

“It’s an honor and a blessing for people to notice all the hard work I put in and the great coaching I’ve received here,” Mosley said. “At the end of the day, the last thing I want is a Pro Bowl. We all want that Super Bowl and to play in the last game. But when your play is going good, you like to be recognized.”

The fans account for a third of the total voting with players and coaches making up the rest.

Rosburg plays peacemaker

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg found himself in the middle of the sideline altercation between wide receiver Steve Smith and Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro Monday night, which might have created a flashback to the coach’s younger days.

The 59-year-old assistant recalled being a bouncer back in 1976 when asked about his role in breaking up the scrum in New Orleans.

“I was saying the right things,” said Rosburg as he smiled. “I was trying to keep the peace as best I could. It came to me. I didn’t go seek it. It landed on my lap. At first, I defended myself and then I tried to help others.”

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Dumervil on mend as Ravens set sights toward Detroit

Posted on 09 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILL, Md. — The Ravens escaped their win over the Minnesota Vikings without an extensive injury list, but veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley joins linebacker Elvis Dumervil as question marks for next Monday’s game in Detroit.

Stokley left the game with a concussion in a fourth quarter that featured an astonishing 42 points scored between the two teams. It is believed that he was injured catching a 2-yard pass on third down that set the Ravens up for the fourth-and-1 play in which fullback Vonta Leach was stuffed for no gain at the Minnesota 21 with 10:36 remaining.

The 37-year-old wideout missed seven games earlier this season while nursing a groin injury but returned to play in the last three games, catching four passes for 36 yards. Stokley has dealt with at least 14 concussions in his football career dating back to his high school days, which could complicate how quickly he’s able to return to the field.

“He’ll go through the concussion protocol,” coach John Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference. “We’ll have to see how that shakes out. Unfortunately, he’s had a number of those in his career, so that could be problematic for us. We’ll have to see in the next 24 hours or so.”

Dumervil missed his first game of the season against Minnesota after he was unable to recover from a left ankle sprain suffered against Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night. The pass-rush specialist returned to play in that key AFC North game, leaving the Ravens optimistic that he’d be able to play against the Vikings.

However, his progress was slower than expected last week and the snowy conditions at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday likely made the Ravens’ decision to deactivate him even easier. The Baltimore defense has failed to collect a sack in each of the last two games, which is a disturbing trend with meetings against Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and New England’s Tom Brady coming up in the next two weeks.

“I think Elvis has a chance for next week,” Harbaugh said. “He looks pretty good [Monday]. It’s kind of a bruise in his ankle, so we’ll just have to see where he’s at. I was hopeful for him this week, so I’ll be more hopeful for him next week.”

By all accounts, tight end Dennis Pitta made it through Sunday’s game feeling no ill effects after returning to action for the first time since dislocating and fracturing his hip on July 27. Pitta finished with six catches for 48 yards and reined in a 1-yard touchdown pass with 2:05 remaining in the game.

The Ravens were so confident in Pitta’s ability to play extensively against Minnesota that they listed veteran Dallas Clark as inactive, but Harbaugh said the 34-year-old still fits into the team’s plans moving forward. Clark’s limited ability as a blocker and his lack of a special-teams role make him a difficult player to include among the 46 active players on game days, especially if the Ravens plan to emphasize the running game in a given matchup.

“Dallas is going to be a big part of what we’re doing going forward,” Harbaugh said. “It just depends on the game plan and how the offensive coaches decide to put that together.”

Pass rush MIA

Masked in the euphoria of Sunday’s miraculous 29-26 win over Minnesota was the fourth-quarter struggles of the defense and its inability to collect a sack for a second straight week after 19 straight contests with at least two.

Harbaugh expressed concern over his defense’s inability to finish games strongly, but he didn’t seem as concerned with the pass rush, citing the ability of Minneseota quarterback Matt Cassel and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger a week earlier to get the ball out quickly. Of course, the snowy conditions Sunday left a few inches of snow on the field, which also impacted the rush in a way similar to the sloppy conditions in Chicago last month.

“I don’t think it’s a product of what people are doing differently. They’re getting the ball out pretty quick,” Harbaugh said. “There haven’t been a lot of downfield-route-type things. We had some maximum protection yesterday, two backs, and those kinds of things where they try to throw it down the field. They were mostly throwing fades or they threw seams over the middle. Those balls come out pretty quick. Field conditions were a factor … more than anything else.”

The absence of Dumveril left more pass-rushing situations for second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw on Sunday and fellow outside linebacker Terrell Suggs extended his streak of games without a sack to five. Suggs earned at least one sack in seven of the first eight games of the 2013 season but hasn’t collected one since.

Flacco gets taste of own medicine


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Bears passing game dangerous despite backup McCown under center

Posted on 14 November 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Chicago Bears are one of the NFL’s cornerstone franchises built around a reputation of menacing defense that’s stretched across decades of professional football.

However, this year’s team under new head coach Marc Trestman centers around an explosive passing game despite injuries that have sidelined starting quarterback Jay Cutler and thrust 34-year-old journeyman Josh McCown into action for the better part of the last month. With Cutler sidelined for Sunday’s tilt against the Ravens, McCown will again serve in a starting capacity, but the number of pass-catching targets at his disposal qualifies as a new version of the “Monsters of the Midway.”

Of course, the Baltimore defense did exceptional work against Cincinnati’s talented group of receivers led by A.J. Green last Sunday, but the Bears bring a level of physicality that the tall but wiry Bengals receivers do not provide. Leading the way is the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Brandon Marshall, who is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons and ranks ninth in the NFL with 786 receiving yards and tied for sixth with eight touchdown catches.

“He catches the ball no matter where you put it,” said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who is coming off his best game of the season in Week 10. “If you put it somewhere around him, he can make the catch. That’s what makes him so dangerous. You have to know where he’s at at all times on the field. Wherever he’s lined up, we need to know because he’s a game-changer.”

What makes Marshall so dangerous is Trestman’s willingness to line him up in a variety of places on the field, making it difficult for defenses to find the best matchup consistently. Even if the Ravens are able to harness Marshall, the emergency of second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery has forced pass defenses to pick their poison when electing to bracket coverage on Marshall, leaving the 2012 second-round pick matched up in single coverage.

After an underwhelming rookie season in which he caught just 24 passes for 367 yards, the 6-foot-3 Jeffery is 13th in the league with 735 receiving yards, giving the Bears one of the best pass-catching duos in the NFL. With the Ravens possessing only one cornerback taller than six feet — starter Jimmy Smith — Webb and No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham will need to play in a physical manner similar to how they played last week against the Bengals.

“[Jeffery] catches everything. He goes up and gets the ball,” cornerback Corey Graham said. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen him drop a pass on film. If you’re not attacking the ball and going up and making a play, he’s going to get it.”

The news doesn’t get much better beyond that as 6-foot-6 tight end Martellus Bennett has caught four touchdowns and running back Matt Forte is regarded as one of the most dangerous receivers in the league out of the backfield. The Ravens will find size everywhere they look in the Bears passing game, making their ability to pressure McCown that much more critical in Sunday’s tilt at Soldier Field.

It remains to be seen whether defensive coordinator Dean Pees will once again use Webb inside in the nickel package, but the ability of safeties James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam to gain good position in coverage against Bennett will be a major challenge in containing the Chicago passing attack, especially inside the red zone.

Even with an array of power forward-like targets to throw to, McCown must still deal with a defense tied for third in the NFL with 32 sacks. The Ravens were able to harass Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton into throwing three interceptions and will look for similar results against the career backup, who has completed 60 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions in three games this season.

Baltimore has talked all week about the takeaway outburst against Cincinnati being the result of preparation finally coming together and will try to prove it wasn’t simply the result of some different defensive looks mixed with good fortune against their division rivals in the 20-17 overtime win.

“You all just happened to see a byproduct of all the work that we put in,” linebacker Jameel McClain said. “We got put in the position to get those plays. I always like to say that turnovers and interceptions are an accumulation of preparation and luck. Some of those plays, [the ball] landed in the perfect position. It’s luck, but it’s preparation for being there.”

Rare chance for running game

The struggles of the Ravens’ historically-poor running game have been discussed ad nauseam, but Sunday may represent their best last chance of hope that the ground production can improve in the second half of the season.

The Bears rank 31st in the league against the run and are giving up just under 130 rushing yards per game this season. The season-ending loss of defensive tackle Henry Melton in September and the current shoulder injury sidelining outside linebacker Lance Briggs haven’t done the defense any favors as the Bears have needed to lean heavily on offense to build a 5-4 record.

It remains to be seen how offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will handle the workload in the running game after head coach John Harbaugh suggested performance will dictate how many carries struggling starter Ray Rice and backup Bernard Pierce will receive moving forward. Rice is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry while Pierce isn’t much better at 2.8 as both have battled injuries this season.

“We’re working to get better,” Rice said. “I know I’ve worked my butt off to get back on the field to play at a high level. I’ve just got to keep myself motivated, because I know once the opportunity comes and we rip off one of those big gains, we’ll be saying, ‘Well there it goes.’ The day will come.”

If the day doesn’t come Sunday against one of the league’s worst run defenses, it may be time to close the book on any hope for improvement in the Ravens’ rushing attack.

Hester the home-run hitter


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