Tag Archive | "jim caldwell"

Caldwell to interview with Detroit, Washington for head coach vacancies

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Caldwell to interview with Detroit, Washington for head coach vacancies

Posted on 01 January 2014 by Luke Jones

Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has never shied away from the goal of once again being an NFL head coach, and it appears he’ll pursue that possibility in the coming days.

Multiple outlets are reporting that Caldwell will interview for the open head coaching jobs with the Detroit Lions and the Washington Redskins. Caldwell spent three years as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts before being fired at the end of the 2011 season and joining the Ravens as their quarterbacks coach two winters ago.

Caldwell received much praise for the job he did with the Baltimore offense in helping the Ravens win a Super Bowl after being promoted to offensive coordinator on Dec. 10, 2012. However, his offense struggled mightily in 2013 as the Ravens finished 29th in total yards and 25th in points scored while also setting franchise lows in rushing yards and yards per carry.

Head coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday that he doesn’t anticipate any changes to his coaching staff for now but acknowledged the possibility of some assistants exploring opportunities for other jobs.

“There may or may not be some more things happening as the week goes on,” Harbaugh said, “and I’m sure some of our coaches could be a part of that, as far as opportunities go to move up and move on and to pursue career opportunities. We’re proud of that. I think we’ve had a lot of success here. The fact that we’re not pushing deep into the playoffs will probably give some of our coaches some opportunities to do that.”

Some have called for a change at offensive coordinator after the Ravens’ immense struggles on that side of the ball, but Caldwell’s track record in Indianapolis as well as his work late in the 2012 season make him a viable candidate for another head coaching job at some point.

A former Penn State assistant from 1986 to 1992, Caldwell’s name has also been mentioned as a possibility for the Nittany Lions’ head coaching vacancy after Bill O’Brien was hired as the new head man for the Houston Texans on Tuesday.

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Ravens first step to improving in 2014: A new offensive coordinator

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Ravens first step to improving in 2014: A new offensive coordinator

Posted on 30 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

Anyone who has followed my on-air ramblings or blogging efforts over the years will attest to the fact that I’m not the knee-jerk “fire the coach” guy when something goes wrong in a season.

The Ravens went 8-8 in 2013 for a variety of reasons, many of which are connected more to player performance than anything a coach or coaches did or didn’t do.

In fact, I can think of five players right off the top of my head that deserve to be fired based on their production in 2013, but their contract status and league salary cap rules make that fundamentally unwise.

As we begin the inevitable discourse on what went wrong with the defending champions, let’s remember from the start they lost twelve key performers from the team that beat the 49′ers in last February’s Super Bowl.  Twelve.  That’s a lot of quality to lose in one fell swoop, even if several of them were getting long in the tooth and dreaming of greener pastures.

It’s a quarterback’s league and the guy behind center in Baltimore threw 22 interceptions in sixteen games.  That’s not going to cut it.  I wrote my Joe Flacco piece last week.  You can read it here.  I’m certainly not saying he was the reason why the team failed to make the playoffs in 2013.  But, I also know he was much closer to being the reason why they missed it than he was the reason why they almost made it.  His stock took a hit in ’13.

The team’s offensive line was dismal most of the season.  The running game was a dud.  One of the team’s top receiving threats broke his hip in the first padded practice of training camp.

The Ravens’ defense wasn’t terrible — and in some cases, they were really good — but they gave up a lot of yardage in big chunks and were less than reliable in the 4th quarter throughout the sixteen week regular season.

Make no mistake about it, though.  This 2013 season will go down as the one when the Ravens offense completely fizzled.

Now, settle in for my idea of how to fix it.

Ready?

The Ravens need to make a change at Offensive Coordinator.  Yes, a firing of a coach.

It’s not completely “that simple”, of course, because Joe Flacco needs to play better, Marshal Yanda needs to play better, Ray Rice needs to play better, Torrey Smith needs to play better and so on and so on.

What we just saw, though, for sixteen weeks, was about as boring, pedestrian and unimaginative as it could possibly get from a team in the best football league in the world.

The coaches and minds behind the scenes in the NFL are supposed to be the best-of-the-best.  The cream of the crop.  What the Ravens exhibited on offense in 2013 was far from “cream of the crop” stuff.  It was dreadful.

And, because you can’t fire all the players and start over next August, the guy who runs the offense has to go.  Along with a lot of others who have had their fingerprints on the offensive blueprint in Baltimore over the last couple of years.

The Bengals used that Andy-Dalton-fake-to-the-running-back-quarterback-keeper play to absolute perfection three times during Sunday’s 34-17 win over Baltimore.  The Ravens didn’t use a play like that once the entire season.

Before you tell me Flacco is Flacco and no one can come in and teach him anything, let me remind you what just transpired in Pittsburgh this season.  Todd Haley showed up in 2012 as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, took a year to figure out what changes he thought they needed, then spent nearly four months this past off-season convincing Ben Roethlisberger he needed to shave a second or two off his snap-to-throw time in order to get the ball out more quickly and avoid taking the kind of punishment he’s known to take while running around with the ball in his hand.

Roethlisberger gave in, took to the new philosophy, and had one of his best seasons ever in 2013.

The Ravens need that sort of interjection in their offense.

They need someone to come in and say, “This needs an overhaul and I’m just the mechanic to do it.”

The quarterback might get offended at hearing that.  The running back might not like hearing it, either.  Hell, the head coach might not even be all that thrilled to hear it.

That said, it’s the truth.

The Ravens need a completely new offensive structure.  They need better players, for starters, particularly on the offensive line.  There’s no question about that.  None at all.  They can either add better players and improve or do what the Orioles do every off-season and add scrubs and/or no one and lose.

But, once they add those players, they need a new voice running the offense.

Jim Caldwell had sixteen games to convince everyone he’s the man for the job, long-term.  Unless I’m really off-base here, I don’t think he did anything to prove he should be the team’s offensive coordinator next season.

The quarterback might not like that, but, like Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Joe Flacco will need to come to grips with the fact that he still has room to improve his game despite owning a Super Bowl ring and MVP trophy.

Privately this past season, some Ravens officials were concerned with Flacco’s attitude, particularly as it related to his public comments about the wildcat offense and the insertion of Tyrod Taylor for a handful of plays against the Jets in November.

While he’s not a malcontent by any means, Flacco can also be set in his ways to the point that he becomes unwilling to consider other options that could benefit the team.

With a new offensive coordinator in town – especially one who shows up and says, “I’m here to make Flacco better” – the stage would be set for a showdown of sorts between the quarterback who signed a $120 million contract last spring and the new voice who says, “Yeah, and then you went 8-8 after that…let’s get back to work and make you really good again.”

Rob Chudzinski was a name the Ravens talked about back in 2008 when they started evaluating head coach candidates and they thought of him mainly because of his offensive acumen.  He’s expected to be fired as the Browns’ head coach after just one season as their head honcho.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ravens renew their interest in him if, in fact, a change is made with Jim Caldwell.

If Jim Schwartz gets fired in Detroit, Lions’ offensive coordinator Scott Linehan might be looking for a new gig.  He’s had the luxury of coaching one of the game’s most dynamic weapons in Calvin Johnson, but Linehan is a respected offensive mind throughout the NFL.

I’m not campaigning for either of those men and I haven’t seen someone at Owings Mills creating a “reserved parking spot” sign for either of them.  But, let’s just say I didn’t pick those two names out of a hat, either.

There are lots of other names to consider, of course, and the Ravens are known as one of the best “hiring organizations” in the NFL.

And, for all I know, they’re going to keep Jim Caldwell on board.

After what I saw for sixteen weeks this season, I don’t know how they can possibly do that, but I also know coaches around the league are hesitant to make huge changes in their coaching staff unless something really goes terribly wrong.

Well…2013 came and went for the Ravens and, offensively, it went “terribly wrong”.

Time for a change.

Let’s get back to work.

 

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Ravens hoping tough mystique resurfaces in Cincinnati

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Ravens hoping tough mystique resurfaces in Cincinnati

Posted on 26 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens say they’ve turned the page from their embarrassing loss to New England last Sunday, but the truth is staring them right in the face.

In addition to their playoff hopes taking a hit, their pride was significantly wounded by the Patriots, who beat them up for 60 minutes at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens simply aren’t used to losing games of that significance in that manner under head coach John Harbaugh, making you wonder how they’ll respond in traveling to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in a must-win game on Sunday.

This year marks the fourth consecutive time Baltimore will conclude the regular season against the Bengals, who clinched the AFC North title and their third consecutive playoff berth with a win over Minnesota in Week 16. The Ravens will finish their 16-game schedule at Paul Brown Stadium for the third straight year, but the stakes have never been quite like this.

After beating Cincinnati in a 20-17 overtime final in Baltimore earlier this season, the Ravens hope their familiarity and winning mystique will be major assets in trying to top the Bengals while hoping that either Miami or San Diego will fall to give them the No. 6 seed and a sixth consecutive trip to the postseason. However, the Bengals still have eyes on a first-round bye if they can dispose of the Ravens and receive some help from Buffalo against the Patriots.

“We’re used to these guys. They’re a good defense,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “They have been for a few years now. It’s always a good test to play a division opponent, especially in their place. They have a lot to play for; we have a lot to play for. It’s going to be a good game, a good test.”

A good test, indeed, as the Bengals are 7-0 at home on the season and have scored more than 40 points in each of their last four home games. In contrast, Baltimore has scored more than 20 points on the road just twice this season on the way to posting a 2-5 away record.

The Ravens must fight the urge to watch the scoreboard while facing the daunting task of slowing the league’s 10th-ranked offense and moving the ball against the NFL’s fifth-best defense in yards allowed. Given the Bengals’ long history of losing and the Ravens’ great success against them — winning five of the last six meetings — there are reasons to be optimistic that the Ravens will find a way as they often have with their backs against the wall, but it’s still difficult to eliminate the bad taste from last Sunday.

The hard-nosed and winning pedigree that had so many labeling the Ravens as the team no one would want to face in the AFC playoffs just a week ago now appears to be in grave doubt. Losing their grip on a direct path to the postseason, the Ravens can only focus on beating the Bengals on the road like they did two years ago to clinch a division title and first-round bye.

Nothing else really matters if they can’t handle their own business.

“The guys know the scenarios. They’re not living in a vacuum,” Harbaugh said. “They understand what else has to happen. But our job and our task as one single-minded purpose is to win the next game.”

As much as the Ravens will point to their track record in big games, that history came with more-talented teams than this year’s version. Major offensive deficiencies coupled with a good — but not elite — defense won’t breed confidence in being able to defeat one of the AFC’s best teams who has been unbeatable at home this season.

Faced with the prospects of needing a win in the final week of the season for the first time since 2009 to make the playoffs — though that team didn’t need other help that season — the Ravens hope their long-term history repeats itself and their swagger against the Bengals in a critical game will resurface. But the sting of last Sunday is difficult to shake, no matter what the Ravens tell you.

“We take pride in being battle-tested,” running back Ray Rice said. “Last week was last week. If I know this group that’s going to show up Sunday, the group is going to fight until the last whistle until it’s all over. Hopefully, it’s good enough to take care of business.”

Rice out to prove himself next year

The Ravens have rushed for 90 or more yards in three straight games for the first time all season, but their running game won’t avoid a few dubious franchise records for ineptitude.

In addition to their current 3.1 yards per carry average being on pace to shatter the franchise-worst 3.4 mark set in 2006, the Ravens would need to run for 308 yards against the Bengals just to equal the franchise-low 1,589 rushing yards gained in 1997. Running behind an ineffective offensive line all season, three-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has gained 645 yards on the ground, his lowest total since his rookie year when he was part of a three-headed attack that included Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee.

A Week 2 hip injury has also hobbled Rice for much of the season, robbing him of his once-dangerous elusiveness. However, the sixth-year back has taken consolation in only missing one game this season despite his poor production.

“From a personal standpoint, [it's] understanding that I played through a lot this year,” Rice said. “I’m just going to get back out there and battle and not worry about what I’ve got to do statistically week-in and week-out. Statistically, I put all of that stuff aside, but personally, I’m glad I was able to overcome some things.”

Rice has heard the doubts and questions about whether he’s reached the downside of his career as he’s averaging 3.1 yards per carry and only 5.6 yards per reception — both career lows — but he’s already vowed to return in 2014 to erase those thoughts.

Averaging just under 4.1 yards per carry over the last three weeks, Rice is now battling a mild quadriceps injury he says is unrelated to the hip flexor strain suffered in Week 2.

“Everything has been great, even for some of the people who say that you lost a step,” said Rice, who reiterated he’s still focused on the remainder of this season. “It’s different when you have an injury that controls things that you’re normally good at doing. I had to battle that this year. I’ll make sure I come back in the best shape, bigger, faster, stronger — whatever you want to call it — to prove myself again that I can still be a premier running back in the NFL.”

The Bengals are allowing 99.8 yards per game on the ground and rank sixth in the NFL in rush defense.

Pees complimentary of Bengals personnel

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Our Ravens/Patriots “Slaps to the Head”

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Our Ravens/Patriots “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 22 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show on AM1570 WNST.net.

The Ravens fell to the New England Patriots 41-7 Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. Lardarius Webb

4. Jimmy Smith

3. Michael Oher

2. John Harbaugh

1. Joe Flacco (Two Slaps)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens preparing for Lions’ monstrous defensive tackles

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Ravens preparing for Lions’ monstrous defensive tackles

Posted on 13 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As if preparing for arguably the NFL’s most explosive offensive player in Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson wasn’t enough, the Ravens must also deal with a pair of monsters in the middle of the Lions defensive line on Monday night.

And while Detroit’s defense ranks an ordinary 17th in yards allowed and 18th in points surrendered this season, tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley can wreak havoc on an offense in a variety of ways. Effective in shutting down the run as well as providing pressure up the middle, the tackles also bring an intimidation factor that walks a fine line between intimidating and dirty at times.

“Their reputation, they definitely live up to it,” running back Ray Rice said. “I don’t know if you want to call it physical or dirty. Whatever the refs see, that’s what they see. But needless to say, I’m not going to spark any fire. No. 1 is those two guys there in the middle, Ndamukong Suh and Fairley. They are great football players. We know we have our hands full with those guys.”

The Lions rank sixth against the run, which doesn’t bode well for a Baltimore running game that’s last in the league in yards per carry, but Suh’s biggest asset is his ability to put pressure on the quarterback. His 5 1/2 sacks rank second on the Lions behind defensive end Ziggy Ansah while Fairley has added 3 1/2 sacks on the season.

Guards Marshal Yanda and A.Q. Shipley along with center Gino Gradkowski will be entrusted to keep quarterback Joe Flacco upright and to give him room to step up to throw against a vulnerable Detroit secondary. Yanda’s task will be especially challenging as Suh has graded out as the second-best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

“One of the things that you notice about them is the fact that they can push the pocket,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “They can keep you from stepping up in it, and therefore you aren’t able to get the ball down the field with the kind of precision that you like. They do that quite often to quarterbacks. They get free.”

One man on ‘Megatron?’

Plenty of discussion this week has centered around how the Ravens will try to cover Johnson with third-year cornerback Jimmy Smith being named as the most popular candidate.

As you’d expect, the Ravens aren’t giving away how they plan to defend the 6-foot-5 receiver, but Smith is their most effective defender in press coverage should they try to play a physical brand of football against him like they did earlier this season against standout receivers such as Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall.

“How many corners are 6-foot-2 [with] long arms, a physical guy, a strong guy and the guy can run?” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Those are all the things you look for in a corner. Besides that, I think his confidence is growing. That’s the other side of it and the more it grows, the better you become.”

Pees would only say that fans and media would find out Monday night if the Ravens have decided to match Smith against Johnson exclusively, but the strategy isn’t as simple for a defense that plays extensive zone coverage.

In fact, the defensive coordinator provided a pretty convincing explanation for why the Ravens shouldn’t move away from their typical strategy of keeping Smith at right corner and Lardarius Webb on the left side in the base defense. Matching Smith up with the star receiver would require adjustments everywhere else and defenders to have new responsibilities if the Ravens are to show anything other than man coverage.

“You can’t go into a game, and every time I walk over with [No.81], they know you’re in man coverage, so a red flag is going to go up,” Pees said. “You’ve got to be able to play all of your coverages if you are going to play it that way. There’s a lot more involved in playing that, and all of a sudden the guy is in the slot, and he’s not an outside receiver, and you’re in sub defense, and Jimmy is in a nickel, or your guy is not a nickel. There’s a lot more involved when you try to play matchup coverage. It’s easy when you play man; go get your guy. But I wouldn’t want to be a coordinator in this league that tells the offensive coordinator every time I’m in man coverage.”

Indoor football

After dealing with a tornado-prompted delay in Chicago, a snowstorm in Baltimore, and high winds during a number of games over the last six weeks, the Ravens are embracing the opportunity to play indoors for the first time since Super Bowl XLVII.

It doesn’t result in any distinct advantage against an opponent that plays all home games inside, but the fast track and controlled climate of Ford Field just might be the elixir for a passing game that now possesses tight end Dennis Pitta and is looking for more consistency.

“I never make a big deal about playing outside,” Flacco said, “but every time you go into a dome and you start warming up, you realize how awesome it is to be able to throw the ball inside. It won’t have too much of an effect on the outcome of the game. As a quarterback, you always want great conditions and a dome obviously presents that.”

In addition to an easier time in the passing game, the Ravens will receive a respite in the kicking game after excellent work from kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch in some very difficult conditions.

The Ravens have even needed to adjust to the idea of not needing to prepare for harsh weather conditions.

“It’s been interesting,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “I gave the players the weather report this morning in the meeting, and I said it’s going to be 72 and calm. And there was a long pause. They weren’t sure they understood. ‘Oh, yeah. That’s right!!’ So, yes, we don’t have to deal with that. I think the people that are most happy about that are the specialists.”

 

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How will Pitta fit into Ravens offense upon returning?

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How will Pitta fit into Ravens offense upon returning?

Posted on 05 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Since being placed on injured reserve with the designation to return in early September, tight end Dennis Pitta has been imagined as the potential late-season savior for the Ravens.

With the league’s 29th-ranked offense and 19th in passing offense, the Ravens certainly can use whatever boost Pitta might offer as Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings represents his first realistic chance of playing in 2013. Though the fourth-year tight end’s return in Week 14 isn’t set in stone, the meeting with the Vikings seems like a logical tuneup to work him back into live-game action before three crucial games against projected playoff teams to conclude the regular season.

But what exactly can the Ravens expect when Pitta makes his long-awaited return to the field?

“I’m sure he probably still feels a little weak, and there are probably some things he is going to have to feel himself through,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “He hasn’t run a full-speed route against defenders in a long time, so you have to allow some adjustment time for that. We’ll see how it goes.”

When healthy, Pitta’s attributes are unquestioned as his 6-foot-4 frame creates matchup problems for safeties and linebackers and his ability to find windows within zone coverage is as good as any in the league. Whether lining up as a traditional tight end or in the slot, Pitta’s chemistry with Flacco is something that should return more quickly than the typical rapport between a quarterback and pass-catcher.

But the offseason hype of Pitta stepping into the role of departed slot receiver Anquan Boldin is unlikely to be realized at this late juncture and after such a long layoff. Like many players coming off major leg injuries such as a torn ACL, his speed may not be up to par initially despite a clean bill of health to return to the field just over fourth months after dislocating and fracturing his right hip. Asking Pitta to do things on the field with which he isn’t familiar probably isn’t in the Ravens’ best interest in the final month of the regular season.

Despite fans’ daydreams of what his return might mean for a passing game that’s lacked a reliable option in the middle of the field, Pitta shouldn’t be confused for Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham after he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. Even after the promotion of Jim Caldwell to offensive coordinator last December and the increased emphasis on using the middle of the field, Pitta only played 60 to 70 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps in most games and isn’t known for his blocking ability.

That reality coupled with the uncertainty surrounding Pitta from a physical standpoint means tight end Ed Dickson will continue to play a significant role in the offense. Clearly a disappointment as a receiver in only making 16 catches for 211 yards this season, Dickson is the only capable blocking tight end on the 53-man roster.

“In things that you don’t see, he’s been doing a great job in terms of his blocking at the line of scrimmage and out on the perimeter as well,” said Caldwell of Dickson. “He’s doing a good job, he’s working extremely hard at it, and he continues to improve.”

What Pitta’s return means for veteran backup Dallas Clark will be more interesting as the two have fairly similar skill sets in working best while flanked out from a normal tight end position. The 34-year-old Clark only played nine snaps two weeks ago against the New York Jets and 23 against Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving, and his role only figures to diminish with Pitta back in the picture.

However, with the Ravens’ lack of consistent targets inside the red zone this season, the combination of Pitta and Clark on the field together is an intriguing possibility for Flacco. The only problem with such a look near the goal line would be further limiting the Ravens’ ability to run the football, which has already been brutally ineffective this season.

Should Pitta quickly show he is 100 percent upon his return, Clark’s presence would appear unnecessary, but Caldwell seems more than open to finding ways to keep the veteran involved in the offense.

“Dallas has made some great plays for us along the stretch,” Caldwell said. “You still flash in your head the fourth-down play in Chicago he made with one hand. The guy has made some great catches, some touchdown catches for us as well. We’ll be able to figure it out and work it out. We’ll just see what the doctors say in terms of Dennis, how much he can play or if he can play — all those kinds of things. Those are yet to be seen. Until then, we work them and give the guys the snaps that they can get. We can’t give them enough snaps in practice.”

Likely to play a limited number of snaps if he does return on Sunday, Pitta will be monitored closely as there is no way to fully simulate how he’ll respond to live-game contact during practices at this late stage of the season. If he’s holding up well, Pitta’s logical fit would be to simply fill the role that he did last year in lining up at tight end in three-wide, one-back sets and occasionally working out of the slot.

But the tight end also has the rest of his career to think about and is deserving of a nice payday as an unrestricted free agent. The Ravens desperately want him for their final playoff push and Pitta wants to show general manager Ozzie Newsome that he’s healthy and ready to resume his playing career after such a serious injury while helping the offense down the stretch.

But common sense must prevail as the Ravens will lean heavily on how Pitta is feeling, trying to resist the urge to push him too hard too fast. There’s little precedent for a player to return from this kind of an injury in such a short amount of time, meaning the Ravens, Pitta, and the medical staff have been forced to feel it out as they go along.

Any production they get will just be the icing on the cake.

“The health of the player comes first,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s the No. 1 thing — his ability to withstand the rigors of a game. I think we’re on track that way, but we’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

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Ravens running game trying to fight off reality check against Jets

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Ravens running game trying to fight off reality check against Jets

Posted on 21 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even after a difficult overtime defeat in Chicago last weekend, you’d almost excuse the members of the Ravens’ running game for breathing a sigh of relief.

On pace to become the worst rushing offense in the 18-year history of the franchise, the Ravens ran for a season-high 174 yards — which included Ray Rice’s season-long run of 47 yards — in the 23-20 overtime defeat to the Bears, temporarily quieting critics who’ve doubted their ability to gain ground against anyone this season. Still, they also realize those yards came against the league’s 31st-ranked run defense and Sunday’s game against the New York Jets will present a much steeper task.

“That’s one game; the results still weren’t what we wanted in terms of the end result,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “We’ve got a real challenge ahead of us this week, [and the Jets are] maybe the finest run defense in the league.”

Ranked first in the league in allowing just 73.2 yards per game on the ground, the Jets have surrendered just 2.9 yards per carry in their first 10 games. That stingy mark puts them on pace to have the best average in the NFL since the 2007 Ravens, who gave up just 2.8 yards per rush despite an abysmal 5-11 record.

Jets head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan not only possesses a formidable group of players up front but offers some of the most exotic looks schematically in the NFL year after year. And considering the Ravens’ issues this season with Juan Castillo’s zone blocking scheme and communication at the line of scrimmage, New York will be less forgiving than the banged-up Bears defense in making Baltimore pay for missed blocking assignments.

With Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson, and Kenrick Ellis combining to form the best run-stopping defensive line in the league, Rice offered a realistic approach to the ground game in Sunday’s contest at M&T Bank Stadium. It resembled a plea for patience and not trying to do too much against a very talented front.

“We just need to be honest with ourselves and get a hat on a hat,” said Rice, who eclipsed the century mark on the ground for the first time all season in running for 131 yards against the Bears. “If it’s two yards, we need to take the two yards. If it’s a 20-yard gain and it happens, we need to make the 20. If they’re going to give you something where you’ve got to plow in there for two yards, [you take it]. One thing that we want to get out of is getting tackled for a loss. We always want to be on the plus side of things.”

The Ravens took advantage of the Chicago defense with more man-on-man blocking than the zone approach that’s given the running game little room this season. The offensive line also did a commendable job with combination blocks as well as identifying defenders to block at the second level, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

Even with their success, the Ravens understand one performance doesn’t erase nine weeks of severe struggles as they are still only averaging 83.2 rushing yards per game (27th in the NFL) and 3.0 yards per attempt, which ranks 31st in the league ahead of only Jacksonville.

“We took a step, but it’s still not consistent enough,” left tackle Eugene Monroe said. “We’ll continue to work on it. The mood is positive. We understand that we’ve got to continue to win, but pressing out that issue isn’t going to help that. We’ve just got to continue to stay focused.”

A step down from last week statistically is almost inevitable against the New York defense — a unit that hasn’t given up more than 90 rushing yards in a game since Week 3 — but a key to a victory on Sunday will be whether the Ravens have the ability to do just enough to keep the Jets’ back end of the defense honest. Ryan’s unit ranks 23rd against the pass and has allowed 33 passing plays of 20 or more yards this season, so even the slightest room created in the running game would go a long way in establishing play-action fakes and the ability for quarterback Joe Flacco to roll out to find open receivers.

New York, however, will try to make an offense ranked 30th in the league in total yards one-dimensional as it has been far too many times this season en route to a 4-6 start.

The Ravens are not only determined to begin a three-game homestand on a winning note — improving their AFC wild-card standing in the process — but to prove their running-game explosion last week in sloppy, windy Chicago was a sign of better days to come and not just a pleasant aberration.

As Rice professed, the Ravens can only look at one game, one drive, and one carry at a time against a stout Jets defense.

“You have to get movement to even gain a yard,” Rice said. “You can’t let them feast in one position, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. Our big guys have been working, but needless to say, we are getting prepared for a very physical football game.”

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Ravens defense aiming to reverse trend of late-game struggles

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Ravens defense aiming to reverse trend of late-game struggles

Posted on 07 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees recollected Thursday that his defense came under fire a year ago for being lousy statistically despite the Ravens’ 6-2 record midway through the 2012 season.

Of course, a 3-5 record this season doesn’t sit well with Pees despite his unit’s overall improvement, but problems still exist on his side of the ball. Ranked 10th overall in total yards and points per game allowed, the Ravens have forced only 10 turnovers — ranked 11th in the AFC — and have struggled to get defensive stops late in games when they’ve been trailing. And with an offense that’s struggled immensely, those defensive shortcomings have contributed to three straight losses.

“More games are lost than won in the National Football League,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “We’ve got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot, stop doing the things that cause you to lose games, and just play solid ball.”

According to Football Outsiders, the Baltimore defense ranks fifth in the NFL in average defensive drive time (2:21), making their late-game struggles even more puzzling. In losses to Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, the Ravens have surrendered a drive of six minutes or longer that’s been pivotal in either allowing the opposition to build on a second-half lead or to prevent the Baltimore offense from having a final opportunity to tie the game or take the lead.

Many have pondered how much the offense’s first-half struggles have tired out the defense, but the final time of possession wasn’t lopsided in any of the three losses with the Ravens having the ball for at least 28:38 in each game. In Week 9, the Browns took possession of the ball with a 21-18 lead and 6:44 remaining in the fourth quarter and remained on the field until kicking a field goal with 14 seconds remaining. On that drive in which the Browns converted a third-and-3 from their own 36 and a fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 43 with 3:12 remaining, Pees opined that his defense played tentatively instead of aggressively in trying to make a play.

“You’ve got to feel good enough about yourself that you don’t worry about making a mistake,” Pees said. “You guys have heard me tell you the analogy before – and that’s what I told them this week – you practice that way out here and you go 100 miles an hour, because there’s really not a lot on the line. Somehow, mentally, you’ve got to make yourself play it the same way in a game. I know it’s on the line, we all know it’s on the line, but you’ve got to go. And you’ve just got to make a play.”

Regardless of the exact reasons why, the Ravens are frustrated with their growing reputation of being unable to finish defensively after generally playing well over the first three quarters of the game.

And that recent trend, coupled with the offense’s extremely slow starts all season, has led to the Ravens being as close to must-win mode as they can be against the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

“It’s always frustrating. You’ve got to win games,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They’re on scholarship, too, so to say – the opposing team – and they’re making plays. It’s just one of those things. You’ve just got to get after it and do it.”

Punting problems

Sam Koch is just one of several established veterans experiencing rough seasons as the longtime punter struggled again last Sunday in Cleveland, three times failing to pin the Browns inside the 20 when kicking near midfield.

The worst of the three offenses came on his final opportunity of the day from his own 46 when he produced a 25-yarder that went out of bounds at the Cleveland 29. The shank gave the Browns solid field position that preceded their game-clinching drive that erased all but the final 14 seconds of the game.

“It’s very frustrating,” Koch said of his season. “I put all the time and work and effort into to trying to make that perfect game.”

Koch’s 37.6 yard net punting average ranks 28th in the league and would be his lowest since 2007 (36.0).

“Sam would be the first one to tell you that he’s been inconsistent,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “There have been situations in games where we need a better ball; [the final punt against the Browns] was an example of it. You’ve also seen him in games where he can hit exactly what we want. We put a lot on Sam. We ask him to do things that other punters in this league aren’t asked to do in terms of direction and so forth. He has demonstrated in practice,time and time and time again that he can do all of that. We just need to do that same kind of performance in the game.”

“Ngata”-nough

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If the Ravens lose on Sunday in Cleveland, please let it be on a safety in overtime

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If the Ravens lose on Sunday in Cleveland, please let it be on a safety in overtime

Posted on 01 November 2013 by Drew Forrester

I know the old saying – “beggars can’t be choosers” – but if the Ravens ARE going to lose in Cleveland on Sunday, I sure as hell hope they do it the same way the Bengals did it on Thursday night in Miami.

Can you imagine what doing my job would entail next week if Paul Kruger, for example, sacks Joe Flacco in the end zone in overtime to give Cleveland a 15-13 win?

I wouldn’t have to say anything at all.  Just open the mic, sit back, and listen to it all.

“Welcome back to the D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction, let’s go to the phones to discuss yesterday’s Ravens loss in Cleveland…Smedley’s in Perry Hall.  What’s up Smedley?”

“I can’t believe Jim Caldwell called for a pass play on 3rd and 10 from the 8 yard line…that guy needs go.  I’m telling you, we can’t win the Super Bowl with that bum calling plays.”

“Well, they did win the title last year when he was the offens –”

“That’s not the point, Drew.  We won last year, yes.  But he didn’t have much to do with the offense.  This year the whole offense is his and we can’t get the job done.  Caldwell has to go.”

“Back to the phones we go, Fred’s in Parkville.”

“Harbaugh sucks.”

“OK, anything else?”

“Not really.  That guy has to go, Drew, I’m telling you.  Did you see the start of the game?  We were completely unprepared to play from the jump.  I don’t know what everyone sees in him.”

“Phil’s in Manchester.”

“This is what the Ravens get for giving Flacco a hundred and twenty million.  He has no field vision at all.  Without Boldin, he might as well be Brady Quinn.”

“Dave in Towson, what’s up today?”

“You have to put some of this on the zone blocking scheme.”

“But, the Ravens didn’t use the zone blocking scheme in the game yesterday.”

“That’s what I mean.  They should have used it.  See, the problem is, Drew, Harbaugh has no feel at all for the offense.  One thing about Cam Cameron, he had a feel for that stuff.”

“Steve, you’re up in Towson, what’s going on?”

“Someone mentioned Harbaugh earlier.  I was thinking the same thing.  I’m going all the way back to the coin flip at the beginning of the game.  First, he sends the guys out there to call ‘heads’, which we all know is stupid.  It always comes up tails.  Then, heads comes up, he wins the coin flip, and he defers anyway.  You have to take the ball to start the game.  The whole game went downhill right away, in my opinion.  He has no feel at all for the coin flip.”

————————————————

You might be laughing, but you know what you’re reading above is true.

I don’t know what they’re talking about in Cincinnati this morning, but I can’t imagine they’re saying stupid stuff about their offensive coordinator the way we would be in Baltimore today.

Cameron Wake made one helluva play on the safety to win the game for Miami.

Andy Dalton HAS to get rid of the ball there, yes, but give some credit to Wake for making an All-Pro move to win the game.

————————————————

By the way, none of this will happen next Monday, because the Ravens aren’t going to Cleveland and losing on Sunday.

It won’t be pretty, because it rarely ever is when it comes to the Ravens.

Baltimore 20 — and the Browns 12

 

 

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Monroe trying to overcome learning curve as quickly as possible

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Monroe trying to overcome learning curve as quickly as possible

Posted on 03 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even with all the concerns surrounding the Ravens as they take a 2-2 record to Miami on Sunday, they’ve still matched the total number of wins new left tackle Eugene Monroe experienced in Jacksonville over the last two seasons combined.

To nobody’s surprise, the fifth-year lineman and eighth overall pick of the 2009 draft feels like a new man in joining the defending Super Bowl champions after five years in football purgatory. Monroe said all the right things about his former team on Thursday, but he couldn’t hide his excitement over receiving a fresh start.

“To come into a situation like this with a culture of winning is unique,” Monroe said. “It’s something that I really haven’t been around, so it’s exciting to experience this.”

The Ravens made the trade for Monroe official on Thursday, releasing veteran tight end Billy Bajema to clear a spot on their 53-man roster. To ease concerns about the tackle’s 2013 base salary, the Jaguars agreed to pay all but $547,000 of his remaining salary, leaving the Ravens with enough room to fit Monroe underneath the salary cap.

With all the business details out of the way, the Ravens were noncommittal about Monroe’s status for Sunday’s game with only a couple days of practice time to get him up to speed on the Baltimore playbook, but offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell knows how much potential the lineman holds. As the former head coach of Indianapolis, Caldwell saw Monroe twice a year in AFC South meetings and claimed that Colts pass rushers Dwight Freeney — now with San Diego — and Robert Mathis often had difficulty against the University of Virginia product.

“The two pass rushers we had down there certainly respected him quite a bit because of the fact that he did such a tremendous job against them,” said Caldwell, who acknowledged it would be conceivable for Monroe to at least play a limited role on Sunday. “We’re happy to have him. He’s a great young man with an abundance of talent.”

It’s simply a matter of when, not if, Monroe will take veteran Bryant McKinnie’s place with the starting offensive line, but the newcomer appeared to be in a strict learning and observing mode during the portion of practice open to media on Thursday. Monroe told reporters he feels great physically after playing in Jacksonville’s first four games of the season, but the mental challenge of absorbing the Ravens’ playbook so quickly won’t be easy.

The Ravens find themselves in a difficult spot in deciding between an understandably-disgruntled McKinnie and an underprepared Monroe facing a talented Miami front that could include a returning Cameron Wake, who is regarded as one of the league’s best pass rushers after collecting 15 sacks last season.

“When you’re speaking a different language, you have to be on page with the other guys or it’s not going to be a good outcome,” said Monroe, who acknowledged that some of the Ravens’ techniques and assignments share similarities with what he used in Jacksonville. “Overcoming the learning curve and getting acclimated with how things are done around here is going to be the big challenge.”

Once Monroe grasps the playbook, the Ravens are not only hoping to have a clear upgrade at left tackle in the present but also a long-term option at the position that they’ve lacked since the retirement of Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden following the 2007 season.

Monroe is scheduled to become a free agent after this season, but even he acknowledged the Ravens’ willingness to surrender fourth- and fifth-round picks is a good indication that he could fit into their future plans.

“It doesn’t look like they brought me here the way they did to not have me here for a long time,” Monroe said. “But again, I have to do my thing on the field, prove that I deserve this opportunity, which I’m fully confident that I will.”

Caldwell’s take on running game

Coach John Harbaugh stood by the Ravens rushing a franchise-low nine times during their 23-20 loss to Buffalo in Week 4, but Caldwell didn’t echo that exact sentiment with a few more days to think about the offensive attack.

The Ravens dropped back to pass on 31 straight plays at one point and did not record a rushing attempt in the third quarter against the Bills. Harbaugh said it was his call to abandon the run game because he didn’t feel the rushing attack was working well enough to help them win the game.

“If you had a chance to do it all over again, perhaps we’d have to consider and look at running that ball a little bit more,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think we ran it quite enough [against Buffalo]. Oftentimes, you just try to look at how the game is going, how you are faring in terms of blocking them up front, and then make a determination on how you’re going to go win it.”

The Ravens are averaging just 2.6 yards per carry, which ranks 30th in the league.

First-down woes defensively

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees clearly wasn’t played with his unit’s performance against the run in Week 4 after the Ravens surrendered 203 yards on 55 carries to the Bills.

After crediting Buffalo’s game plan that caught Baltimore coaches and players off guard, Pees offered an explanation of what exactly led to the Ravens nearly giving up as many yards on the ground against the Bills as they had in their first three games combined (224 on 66 carries).

“We’re doing OK on third down. We’re doing well on third-and-short, which we didn’t do well a year ago,” Pees said. “We’re doing well in the red area. And up until this game, we were doing well on the run. But the run was primarily first-down run. That’s where we got in trouble. It’s hard when it’s second down-and-four and second down-and-three. All of a sudden, now you’ve got to really try to tighten it down to get to third.”

Not counting Bills quarterback EJ Manuel’s kneel-downs at the end of the game, the Ravens gave up 143 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries on first-down plays. For the season, Baltimore has surrendered 253 rushing yards on 64 first-down attempts.

Jones back in return mix

Wide receiver Jacoby Jones was practicing for the second straight day Thursday and could provide a much-needed boost to the passing game should his knee be deemed ready to go against the Dolphins.

Fellow wide receiver Tandon Doss has down an admirable job as a punt returner, but the Ravens would love to have Jones’ explosiveness back in the return game as soon as possible. Ideally, they’d like to take it slow with Jones, but the current injury situations for rookie Marlon Brown (hamstring) and Deonte Thompson (knee) could make Jones’ availability a necessity in Miami.

“He’s catching balls, he’s doing what he can in practice,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “We look forward to having him back.”

Jones injured the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the season opener on Sept. 5 and has been sidelined ever since.

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