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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Thursday night

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 04 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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It was less than eight months ago when the Ravens met the Denver Broncos in one of the great contests in NFL playoff history as Baltimore prevailed in a 38-35 double-overtime thriller to advance to the AFC Championship game.

Now, fast-forward to the present as the Ravens return to the scene with a different look than includes 19 new players on the 53-man roster and the Broncos will see former Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil wearing purple, creating plenty of intrigue for the NFL’s season-opening game.

It’s time to go on record as the Ravens meet Denver for the 10th time ever in the regular season and own a 5-4 advantage despite a 1-3 regular-season record in Denver. Of course, the Ravens are also 2-0 against the Broncos in postseason play as Denver stewed over its disappointing loss as the No. 1 seed in the AFC throughout the offseason.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens open their season in prime time for the third time in the last four seasons …

1. Much like last January, the Ravens will go vertical early on as Joe Flacco connects with Torrey Smith for a long touchdown in the first half. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell may need to rely more on the running game this season because of the uncertainty at wide receiver and tight end, but a conservative approach isn’t the way to beat Peyton Manning and an explosive Denver passing game. The Broncos will not have Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller due to his six-game suspension, meaning the offensive line should give Flacco plenty of time to throw deep. Some deep shots will also back up the Denver safeties, opening up some intermediate space for tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark and slot receiver Brandon Stokley to work. If Flacco can find success with those throws, it will only create more room in the box to get Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce going in the running game.

2. Daryl Smith will lead the Ravens in tackles in the first game of the post-Ray Lewis era. Dumervil’s signing received the most attention this offseason, but the presence of the 31-year-old Smith has been a welcome addition to an otherwise inexperienced group of inside linebackers that includes Josh Bynes and second-round pick Arthur Brown. For what it’s worth, Smith looked like the Ravens’ best defensive player of the preseason and while you wouldn’t expect that to hold true during the season, he had the reputation for being stout against the run and serving capably in pass coverage in his nine years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The additions of Smith and Brown will hopefully help the pass defense in the middle intermediate portion of the field, which has been a major weakness for several years now. Smith’s quiet demeanor and maturity might be the perfect fit for a guy assuming the position formerly held by the future Hall of Famer Lewis.

3. Manning will keep an improved Ravens defense on the field, causing the unit to wilt in the second half. Baltimore did an admirable job handling the altitude in a single-digit temperature last January, but Thursday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-80s, presenting a different challenge in terms of conditioning. Even with the improvements to their front seven, the Ravens are still fielding a secondary with question marks ranging from the effectiveness of Lardarius Webb coming back from his second ACL surgery in four seasons to the ability of Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo to cover the middle of the field. Pressuring Manning will clearly be critical as it was last January, but the Broncos just have too much firepower to hold them down entirely. It will intriguing to see what kind of a rapport Manning has built with free-agent acquisition Wes Welker at this early stage, but the size of wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside will be a very difficult matchup.

4. Struggling to find open targets in the middle of the field, Flacco tosses a second-half interception to Broncos safety Rahim Moore. The most dynamic change that Caldwell brought to the offense when he assumed Cam Cameron’s coordinator duties last season was the willingness to use the middle of the field in the passing game, but continuing that without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta in the mix will be the biggest challenge facing Flacco this season. The reality is no one really knows if the combination of Dickson, Stokley, and Clark will be enough to fill the void of two outstanding targets the sixth-year quarterback used in the middle of the field to the point that he could be bold in throwing passes up for grabs. In contrast, Moore has heard the criticism and jokes throughout the offseason about his gaffe of allowing Jones to get behind him on the game-tying score at the end of regulation last January. Trailing late in the game, Flacco will try to force a pass down the seam to Dickson that’s picked off by Moore, which gives the maligned safety a tiny sliver of revenge.

5. The Ravens will compete ferociously, but an incomplete offense will be the deciding factor in handing John Harbaugh the first Week 1 loss of his tenure in a 24-21 final. Baltimore is a good football team, but trying to figure out how good is anyone’s guess with so many question marks offensively and new pieces defensively. It’s a lot to ask that all to come together against such a formidable opponent in the opening game of the season. The Ravens undoubtedly feel motivated to perform well on a national stage as the defending Super Bowl champions who were also forced to open the season on the road, but the Broncos and their fans have thought about this opportunity for the entire offseason and will treat the game like it’s the Super Bowl. Not enough offense and a few too many leaks defensively against an elite opponent will lead to the Ravens coming up a little short. To beat a team like Denver, you’re often faced with a shootout and the Ravens aren’t built for that just yet.

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Decisions looming for Ravens at underwhelming receiver position

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Decisions looming for Ravens at underwhelming receiver position

Posted on 26 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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

The Ravens are less than a week away from making final decisions for their 53-man roster with no position currently in more flux than wide receiver.

After an offseason full of discussion around a young but unproven group of wide receivers, the preseason has provided little knowledge in projecting how the Ravens plan to flourish in the passing game without 2012 key targets Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. The decision to sign 37-year-old Brandon Stokley and 34-year-old tight end Dallas Clark after the preseason opener was all you needed to know about the level of concern general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh felt after an underwhelming start to the summer for the passing game.

Just days away from the preseason finale that’s likely to feature very few starters, the Ravens have three locks to make the roster at the wide receiver position: Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Stokley. Smith remains the only option at the position with which you feel comfortable while Jones’ speed and Stokley’s ability to move the chains from the slot receiver position are specialized skills that will work well in different formations.

After that? Unknown commodities and unfulfilled promise fill out the rest of the pack.

Aaron Mellette and Marlon Brown? A 2013 seventh-round pick and a rookie free agent respectively.

LaQuan Williams? A solid special-teams player but inconsistent as a wide receiver in both practices and preseason games.

Deonte Thompson? Injured since the preseason opener.

And Tandon Doss? He’s become the whipping boy of a concerned fan base after a very disappointing summer.

The discussion over who stays and who goes has heated up over the last couple weeks as fans and media alike try to predict how many receivers will make the regular-season roster.

“I’m not quite certain of what the numbers will be,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “That’s John and Ozzie — they take care of that. They look at it and determine [and] look at the entire team.”

While many fixate on a given number of receivers to make the final roster — five, six, even seven? — the Ravens look at the roster from a global view in determining which 53 players will be the best fit to win games in 2013. As unlikely as it might be, all eight receivers could make it through final cuts if Harbaugh and his staff determine they contribute enough both offensively and through special teams.

Caldwell has even suggested that strength in numbers might be the unit’s best bet while also providing more time to determine which receivers build the best rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco in the early weeks of the season. Eight receivers would certainly be a stretch, but it’s not difficult envisioning scenarios in which seven wideouts crack the 53-man roster without too much trouble.

It comes down to special-teams play, team health, and positional needs — or the lack of needs — elsewhere.

“There could be a situation where we’re using quite a few guys at the wide receiver position, which I think is a plus for us because it helps us mix up personnel packages,” Caldwell said. “We do have some versatility because we have a number of guys who can play multiple positions.”

With that in mind, it’s time to make the case for and against each of the five wide receivers projected to be on the roster bubble.

Each receiver’s career NFL regular-season numbers are noted in parentheses.

Tandon Doss (seven catches, 123 yards, 20 targets)

The case for: The Ravens typically don’t give up on their high draft picks easily and the 2011 fourth-round pick has practiced well at different points over the last three years despite a very underwhelming preseason performance of just two catches for 10 yards and a touchdown in three games this summer. He hasn’t stepped up in the manner the Ravens had hoped in filling Boldin’s shoes as the slot receiver, but the rest of the bunch hasn’t outperformed him so dramatically to make him out to be the slam-dunk cut that some critics have made him out to be over the last few days. Another factor helping Doss’ case for a roster spot is the lack of a healthy option behind Stokley as a slot receiver in the passing game with Thompson currently injured. He’s shown good hands and route-running ability in practices, which still counts for something despite magnified mistakes in preseason games.

The case against: It never speaks well for your future when two rookies appear to have leapfrogged you on the depth chart after Brown and Mellette saw playing time before Doss against Carolina in the third preseason game. His inability to recognize a blitz led to a Flacco interception against the Panthers, and the third-year wideout didn’t exactly come across as a player trying to take accountability in his explanation after the game. Doss can serve as a backup punt returner, but his ability to play special teams is very limited beyond that. Of the five players currently on the bubble at the position, he has received the greatest number of opportunities and has done very little with them, making you wonder how much patience the Ravens have left. Expectations were high for him, but he’s performed poorly in the preseason.

Marlon Brown (rookie)

The case for: The undrafted product did what no other young receiver had done all summer last Thursday when he took advantage of an opportunity to work with the starting offense by making four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers. You can’t teach 6-foot-5 height, and Brown has shown the potential to be the tall red-zone target the Ravens envisioned with the selection of the recently-cut Tommy Streeter in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. Brown runs solid routes and has shown consistent hands for much of the summer in both practices and games while working his way back from a torn ACL suffered last fall. His performance in a nationally-televised preseason game makes it highly unlikely that he will clear waivers to allow the Ravens to sign him to their practice squad as they may have planned a couple weeks ago.

The case against: It’s important to remember one preseason performance means very little in the big picture as the Ravens aren’t exactly sure how Brown will fit in the short-term future or whether he will pan out in the long term. Despite being a five-star recruit for the University of Georgia, he didn’t exactly live up to expectations playing in the SEC, the greatest stage college football has to offer. Brown has occasionally missed some practice time this summer while working his way back to 100 percent, so that will be something to watch in his first season in the NFL where rookies can often hit the proverbial wall late in the 16-game schedule.

Aaron Mellette (rookie)

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Without Pitta and Boldin, Flacco must take the next step as a franchise quarterback

Posted on 29 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

Like many Ravens fans, my heart sank when I heard about the injury to Dennis Pitta. Now, Flacco is without two targets that produced 7 of his eleven postseason touchdowns.

Pitta is a huge loss for the Ravens. Made worse by the lackluster supporting class which remains. We all know about Torrey Smith who has excelled as a deep threat in his short career. Smith also displayed signs of developing as an all-around receiver in 2012.

Behind Smith, there are major question marks. If the season started tomorrow (that would be awesome), Jacoby Jones would likely line up across from Torrey Smith. That could be an issue from several standpoints.

For several seasons in Houston, Jones was expected to be the second receiver across from Andre Johnson, one of the best receivers over the last ten years. Jones consistently struggled to make the type of impact the Texans desperately needed to take attention away from Andre Johnson and therefore, take the offense to another level. If Jones struggled to make an impact with a Hall of Fame receiver, how much of an impact can he make with Torrey Smith?

Jones’s impact on special teams will also come into question if he starts at receiver. Remember when the Bears tried to turn Devin Hester into a receiver? Hester has struggled as a return man ever since. Jones’s ability to return kicks and punts for touchdowns can change the momentum of a game in an instant. If Jones is counted on to make an impact at receiver, Jones might not be able to change games as a return man.

However, Jones can make an impact on the offense if the Ravens use him as a third option where he isn’t counted to make a large contribution to the offense.

Now, back to the topic at hand. What must Joe Flacco do to make the next step as a franchise quarterback? Make something out of nothing.

Name as many receivers Tom Brady has worked with as you can. It’s difficult, isn’t it? Outside of Randy Moss, Deion Branch, Troy Brown, and Wes Welker, the names are difficult to remember. For years, Brady has made household names out of receivers no one has heard of.

Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and even Phillip Rivers have done the same exact thing.

In 2013, Flacco will have to do this as well. Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, LaQuan Williams, David Reed, and Aaron Mellette are all competing for the second receiver position.

Tandon Doss was hand picked by Flacco in the 2011 draft. Doss’s size, speed, and hands perfectly compliment Torrey Smith. But, Doss has yet to translate those skills to the field. Coaches have raved about Doss’s hands but he dropped every ball thrown his way in the playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Other young receivers have showcased their ability in training camp. Second year receivers Deonte Thompson and Tommy Streeter have been praised for their physical attributes. But those tangibles will only take them so far.

Flacco has the ability to make everyone around him better. The offense Jim Caldwell implemented last season is up-tempo and aggressive. Those attributes perfectly fit Joe Flacco’s mentality and rocket arm.

Yesterday, veteran tight end Visanthe Siancoe was added to the Ravens roster. Shiancoe is athletic enough to create mismatches and he catches almost everything. While Shiancoe is a nice addition, he won’t be expected to make a huge impact. But Shiancoe’s role might increase should the Ravens younger receivers struggle early in the season.

The Ravens aren’t doomed for the 2013 season. The running game is still elite and the defense will greatly improve. Flacco is perfectly positioned to take the reigns as the Ravens leader and make everyone better. After all, the Ravens are paying him like a quarterback who can do just that.

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Pitta done for season with dislocated hip

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Pitta done for season with dislocated hip

Posted on 27 July 2013 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens suffered a major blow during practice Saturday.

“Dennis (Pitta) has a dislocated hip” head coach John Harbaugh announced following practice. “We’ll have to take a look at that and see exactly what it is. It’s a serious injury. He’s going to be out for awhile, he will not be in the Denver game (Week 1). We’ll just have to play it from there to see how long it goes.”

ESPN reported Saturday night that Pitta, who was transported to a local hospital and underwent surgery immediately, is expected to miss the entire season.

The injury occurred after the tight end collided with S James Ihedigbo on a pass play in the back of the end zone. Saturday’s practice was the first padded practice of this year’s Training Camp.

The injury is a major blow for the Baltimore Ravens, who traded WR Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason. Pitta had been hoped to build on his 2012 season (61 catches, 669 yards, seven touchdowns) to help replace Boldin.

Ed Dickson, Billy Bajema and rookie Matt Furstenburg all saw snaps with the first team offense after Pitta’s departure. Free agent TE Visanthe Shiancoe (Morgan State) visited the Ravens’ facility earlier in the week but did not sign. Rookie FB Kyle Juszczek could also be asked to help out in the process, especially if the Ravens were to re-sign current free agent FB Vonta Leach as the Newark Star-Ledger reported Thursday night they are expected to do.

Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell suggested the Ravens would continue their “next man up” mentality.

“Somebody’s going to have to step up and we do have some capable guys. All across the flanks we do have some weapons. We’re just going to have to have some guys make some plays for us.”

Dickson-a fellow fourth year tight end-moves to the top of the tight end depth chart in Pitta’s absence. Dickson told WNST.net “it’s on me to go out there and build chemistry with (QB) Joe (Flacco) and to do the things that I do to the best of my ability.”

Dickson also told WNST.net he sent Pitta a text after practice saying “Keep your head up…the injury’s not going to hold you down. We need you. Praying for you…I’m holding down the fort for you.”

Dickson’s 2012 numbers were disappointing as he fought through injuries. The tight end played in just 13 games and caught 21 balls for 225 yards without a touchdown grab. “Ed has been playing and performing extremely well” Caldwell said. “He’s had a good camp thus far. He’s moving well, he’s catching the ball for us, he has a lot of big play potential. Ed is a very capable guy. We’re going to have to have some other guys step up as well.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, a dislocated hip usually takes upwards of 2-3 months for recovery and rehabilitation.

Making matters worse for the Ravens is their lack of depth at receiver as well. Without Boldin, only Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones have more than even 123 career receiving yards. Doss has those 123, David Reed 66, Deonte Thompson 51, LaQuan Williams 46. Neither Tommy Streeter nor rookie Aaron Mellette has ever played in a NFL game.

YANDA REMAINS OUT: Despite being removed from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list Friday, OL Marshal Yanda (shoulder) was not present Saturday, but is expected to return shortly. S Anthony Levine (shoulder) was on the practice for a second straight day after being removed from the PUP list. LB Jameel McClain (back) remains on the PUP list and did not practice Saturday.

OT Bryant McKinnie (conditioning) left practice early Friday as coach John Harbaugh had concerns for how he’d hold up in the heat, he was back on the practice field Saturday afternoon. OL Kelechi Osemele (hamstring) and Ryan Jensen (leg) were not present for Saturday’s practice. WR LaQuan Williams (arm) and Marlon Brown (knee) were not present as well.

DL Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee) remains on the non-football injury list and is not expected to practice during Training Camp.

OTHER PRACTICE NOTES: S Omar Brown appears to have switched jersey numbers, going from number 38 to number 31.

K Justin Tucker stood out during Saturday’s practice, including makes from 60 yards and 65 yards out. After the make from 65, Tucker let out an exclamation of “Come on!”

LB Terrell Suggs had the quote of the day. After making a tackle on a goal line stop against the first team offense, Suggs yelled out “Where the f*ck is Vonta Leach when you need him?”

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Jacoby Jones dancing back onto field facing higher expectations

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Jacoby Jones dancing back onto field facing higher expectations

Posted on 31 May 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. — Wrapping up his first week back with the Ravens since a third-place finish on “Dancing with the Stars,” wide receiver Jacoby Jones made it clear he’s no longer in a mood to dance.

At least until this fall.

Asked whether teammates have teased him since he returned from pairing up with the lovely Karina Smirnoff, Jones indicated his teammates were jealous of the skills he displayed on national television. Of course, Jones is ready to focus once again on the skills that made him a first-time Pro Bowl selection 2012 and doesn’t plan to share his dancing secrets with teammates.

“They’re all just trying to get me to teach them how to dance now,” Jones said. “I’m not about to teach. I’m tired of dancing.”

Looking leaner than last year but still claiming to be at his playing weight of 215 pounds, Jones said the biggest adjustment in returning to the Ravens is getting used to high outdoor temperatures compared to the air-conditioned confines of the dance studio. Jones feels his footwork for running routes is better than ever after learning a variety of new steps on the dance floor.

The sleek and speedy receiver got behind third-year cornerback Jimmy Smith for a long touchdown on Friday afternoon for the concluding day of the second week of organized team activities, which are voluntary workouts at this stage of the spring. Jones missed the first week due to his final days on the ABC hit program, but the 28-year-old feels he’s in better condition at this point than he’s ever been in his NFL career.

Upon his return, he finds a very different team from the one he remembered last February, with veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin the biggest departure to directly impact Jones. However, the New Orleans native offered a pragmatic approach to moving on from the departures of so many veteran players.

“There are guys that are gone [and] we’re going to miss them, but the spirit is the same,” Jones said. “The guys they brought in, we all have the same type of personality, the same spirits. [General manager Ozzie Newsome] knows what he’s doing when he brings those types of guys in.”

How Jones will fit into the Boldin-free passing game is one of the biggest questions the Ravens face as they inch closer to training camp. It’s all but guaranteed that the 6-foot-2 receiver will line up on the opposite side of Torrey Smith in the three-wide set as he did last season, but whether he’ll ultimately start in the two-wide base offense remains to be seen.

His playoff heroics in Denver (a 70-yard touchdown catch to force overtime) and in Super Bowl XLVII (a 56-yard touchdown shortly before halftime) have become part of franchise lore, but Jones was little more than a decoy for most of the regular season as he caught just 30 passes for 406 yards and a Week 2 touchdown while being targeted 54 times in 16 games. Even after Jim Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator in mid-December, Jones only appeared in 41 percent of the Ravens’ offensive plays (not including the regular-season finale in Cincinnati that was treated much like a preseason game).

The knock on Jones during his five seasons with the Houston Texans was his inability to catch the football consistently. In addition to looking at younger wide receivers such as Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson to play in the slot, Caldwell will look to Jones to help fill in the production gap left behind by Boldin.

“I do think that he has the ability. There’s no question about that,” Caldwell said. “He has the ability to do it. He can catch. He can run. Obviously, he is still going to serve our special teams and serve them well in his role that he plays for them. Then obviously, we will use him as a big part of our offense as well.”

Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged earlier in the offseason that the Ravens will need to monitor how much they use Jones as a receiver as well as a return specialist to keep him as fresh and productive as possible over the course of the season. His emergence as a bigger part of the passing game would certainly quell concerns over Newsome not adding a veteran wide receiver.

Jones doesn’t feel any additional pressure individually but views Boldin’s departure as reason for the entire group of wideouts to increase their production.

“You all know how I am, I just play my role,” Jones said. “Whatever they want me to do, I’m ready to do it. I think the whole receiving corps as a whole, we’ve all got to step up and make plays.”

The dancing star is certainly right as he’ll be under more scrutiny after missing the early portion of the offseason workout program in order to compete on “Dancing with the Stars.” The Ravens hope his big-play ability on display in the postseason is a precursor for more touchdowns to come in the regular season as he plays out the final year of a two-year contract paying him $4 million this season.

It would certainly aid in their bid to repeat as Super Bowl champs.

And why else did you think he elected to keep so busy this offseason after exercising an initial collection of touchdown dances last season?

“You think I was doing that dancing for nothing?” said Jones, drawing laughter from the gathered media. “I can’t wait to get in the end zone. I’m not going to dance until I get in the end zone.”

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Flacco unwavering despite changes all around him

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Flacco unwavering despite changes all around him

Posted on 22 May 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. — Joe Flacco has the Super Bowl ring — or at least he officially will in a couple weeks.

The Ravens quarterback has the lucrative $120.6 million contract and the long-term security it provides.

And he has a heightened level of respect, even if some of his biggest critics now want to see him replicate some semblance of his record-setting playoff run in the regular season.

But an offseason full of changes brings more questions for the franchise quarterback. The retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Ed Reed have left a gigantic leadership void that many expect the 28-year-old to fill as he enters his sixth season. The exits of center Matt Birk and wide receiver Anquan Boldin suddenly makes Flacco one of the elder statesmen on the offensive side of the football.

Ask anyone in the Baltimore locker room whether Flacco is treating this offseason or his style of leadership any differently and you’ll receive a similar response. The Super Bowl XLVII MVP was already the kind of leader teammates respect, even if it lacks Lewis’ camera-friendly fire or Reed’s outspoken nature.

“Joe has done a great job throughout his career in his own way,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Nothing is going to change Joe. Joe is going to be who he is. I don’t think a change in the roster is going to change Joe [and] who he is. A change in the contract isn’t going to change Joe. Joe is Joe, and that’s what you love about him.”

Flacco is also experiencing his first full offseason with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. While many have wondered what the former Indianapolis head coach can do with the offensive system with ample time to plan after being thrown to the fire last December, Flacco downplayed any notion that the Ravens will look dramatically different on offense in 2013.

Of course, the start of the regular season is still more than three months away, so much could happen, both from schematics and personnel standpoints. The Ravens will hope the dramatic breakthroughs made in December that carried over into their postseason run to a Super Bowl title were only scratching the surface in terms of production under Caldwell.

“We may have changed a couple things here and there, but for the most part, it’s the same,” Flacco said. “He’ll probably add some of his concepts in just because he’s the guy that is driving things for the most part now. So, we’ll have new wrinkles in there, but for the most part, it’s pretty similar.”

Perhaps the biggest change we’ll see between now and the start of the season is at the wide receiver position as the Ravens continue to adjust to life without Boldin as their most reliable receiver. To this point, general manager Ozzie Newsome hasn’t added a veteran receiver with a track record to supplement the outside threats that Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones provide.

Instead of looking at a scrap heap of free-agent receivers headlined by the productive but baggage-heavy Brandon Lloyd, the Ravens appear content with evaluating a cast of young receivers that includes Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, and David Reed. All three saw time working with Smith and the starting offense during Wednesday’s practice as Jones was absent on the heels of his third-place finish in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

Asked if outsiders have made too much of the Ravens’ need to add an established wideout to the mix, Flacco sees potential in the homegrown players who have received few opportunities to this point in their respective careers. The three young receivers who’ve been sharing time with the first unit this week have combined for 17 receptions and just 35 targets.

With tight end Dennis Pitta expected to work more from the slot, the Ravens don’t need any of the young options to match Boldin’s impressive production, but they do need at least one to become a viable target. And much of that development will fall on a veteran quarterback entering the prime years of his career. For years, it was veteran pass catchers such as Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, and Boldin nurturing Flacco’s development, but the Ravens believe Flacco can now do the same for younger receivers.

“I like the idea of having guys that we’ve had, we’ve drafted here, or we’ve picked up here and grooming them and getting those guys to become great wide receivers,” Flacco said. “They definitely have the talent to do it; I think we just need to get them some [game-time] reps and their confidence can take off.

“One of the biggest things about Anquan is that he knew he was the man. So, when he went out there, he didn’t care what happened. He was the man. You don’t realize how much that helps out your play and your team’s play. And when these young guys can get to the point where they’re out there and their attitude is that, they have all the ability in the world, and I feel very confident with those guys.”

None of the Ravens’ many youthful options are a sure thing. Doss has drawn the strongest comparisons to Boldin because of his crisp routes and strong hands shown in practices, but those skills haven’t transferred to game action in limited opportunities and he’s struggled to stay healthy. Thompson shows breakaway speed, but the biggest knock on him at the University of Florida was his inconsistent hands. Reed faces questions about both his durability and his hands.

Perhaps a receiver from a second tier of players that includes LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter, and Aaron Mellette will turn heads over the next few weeks and push their way into the conversation.

And there remains a very real possibility that the Ravens make that veteran addition through a trade or by simply waiting until cuts are made over the course of the preseason.

None of these uncertainties seem to faze Flacco, who views change as part of life in the NFL. He simply takes the lessons learned from the veterans before him and passes them along to newcomers. The Ravens hope the confidence Flacco holds in his own ability will hopefully rub off on an unproven group of players in which he sees much promise.

His style hasn’t changed, but his success speaks for itself in terms of how he’s viewed as a leader in the locker room and on the field. It’s a major reason why the Ravens aren’t nearly as concerned about the veteran leadership lost this offseason as everyone else seems to be.

“We’ve always had a locker room where everybody kind of shares roles,” Flacco said. “You have so many guys that are very responsible and know how to go to work, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to continuously have success even though our team has changed a lot. It’s because all of those guys that have been there before us really show us how to do it and then everybody just kind of takes that lead.

“And I think that’s where we are. I think that’s where I am.”

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No Rest for the Wizard

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No Rest for the Wizard

Posted on 19 February 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

Obviously when setting the tone for the Ravens’ off-season, everything takes a back seat to resolving the Joe Flacco contract situation. The importance thereof is only magnified by the realization that there are so many questions still to be answered, so many decisions still to be made; but until the Ravens know for sure what their quarterback’s financial future may hold, everything else is essentially on hold. That however doesn’t diminish the fact that there are important decisions outside the QB position to be made before the Ravens begin their title defense and prepare for the 2013 campaign.

Conceding that the importance of Flacco’s deal is paramount to everything else, here are the next 5 major points of consideration for the Ravens to deal with this off-season in order to have hopes of a 6th straight post-season trip.

 

#1 – Suring Up the Left Tackle Situation

 

If Flacco was the biggest difference maker for the Ravens in the playoffs, then further investigation is merited in determining what helped him turn his season, and his reputation, around. For my money, it began with the offensive line. After a season in the proverbial “dog house” Bryant McKinnie was finally given a chance to show and prove, and from there the offense never seemed to look back.

 

In the lead up to the Broncos game, no one seemed to have any concerns about the Denver secondary. Hindsight might suggest that to have been a result of the constant quarterback pressure the Broncos were able to count on from Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Without that pressure however, the Ravens found and readily exploited cracks in the Broncos secondary that no one seemed to know were there in the first place.

 

McKinnie and the Ravens began this season on unceremonious terms, and pretty much kept things that way until the end. Having proven his value, albeit over a 4-game stretch, there’s still no real assurance that the Ravens will or should trust McKinneie enough to agree to terms on a multi-year deal. On the other side of that coin, there’s no good reason to think McKinnie will feel any special brand of loyalty to the Ravens when others come calling on the open market.

 

What’s undeniable about the whole episode is that by replacing Michael Oher with McKinnie at LT, the Ravens were able to move Oher to his natural RT position where he represented an improvement over Kelechi Osemele. Osemele then moved to the LG position that the Ravens struggled to find an answer for all season too. This three-fold improvement made the Ravens line exponentially better; and no matter how they address LT going forward, any “solution” involving moving Oher and Osemele back to the positions they played for the majority of 2012 has to be considered multiple steps backward.

 

#2 – Replacing Jim Caldwell

 

Continuing with the theme of what was different for the Ravens offense at the end, the departure of Cam Cameron and the elevation of Jim Caldwell to the offensive coordinator position would seem to be the other major factor. The performance of Caldwell’s offense has been celebrated widely within the fan base, and certainly hasn’t been lost on the league at large either.

 

In an off-season where everyone seems dissatisfied with the impact of the Rooney Rule and the lack of minority hires made in filling head coaching vacancies, Caldwell will all but surely be a hot head coaching candidate at the end of next season. Even getting to the Super Bowl again, and therefore delaying the process for teams interested in Caldwell might not be enough to slow his roll.

 

In what looks to be a lame duck season for Caldwell with the Ravens, it’s important to figure out if the next guy in line is someone already on staff, or how the team can look to groom a next guy in line, potentially by hiring him as a quarterback coach / OC in waiting.

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Caldwell says Flacco gets respect from people who matter most

Posted on 31 January 2013 by WNST Staff

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JIM CALDWELL

(on if he was considered for the Ravens head coach job in 2008 and the sense he had after meeting with them) “Yes, I interviewed for it. I’d been in Indy at that time for about five years, and often times guys that worked there had been very successful. Bill Polian, Chris Polian, Tom Telesco, all those guys. They all talked about different organizations that did things the right way, and they always talked about Baltimore when you look at all the stats in terms of teams that were able to draft well and do a great job with their personnel, got their teams ready to play. When you play there’s always a battle. It certainly felt that it was one of the better organizations in the National Football League. It was a lot of fun and interesting exercise for the interview.”

 

(on what he’s trying to find out when he goes on an interview) “First of all, before I go, I research. I research them from a personnel standpoint. That’s the nice thing about this league, they have a guy in house and his job is to know every single team in the league and their personnel incase someone’s released, you can decide if you’d like to pick him up or not. There’s a guy in house that’s an expert, so I’ll usually confer with him and talk about their roster and blend that with what I see and what we’d be able to do from an offense, defense, special teams standpoint, but then also, how they operate. I knew there were going to be some sticking points in different groups in terms of how I see things, and I wanted to make certain those things were brought forward so there weren’t any surprises. I also try to find out if there would be any surprises on their end of it, things they wanted me to do, or a certain protocol they wanted me to follow, things of that nature.”

 

(on his contribution to quarterback Joe Flacco) “That’s probably a great question for him. That’s the thing about that position in this league, if you don’t find a way to improve every week and every single week, in every facet, you’re going to find that you have a weakness that develops that the opposition can take advantage of. If the opposition sees that you don’t read coverages then they’re going to disguise you of that. If the opposition sees that you can’t handle the blitz, they’re going to give you some problems with the blitz. If the opposition sees you throw one side of the field better than the other, they’re going to shove one side down and overload their coverages. You cannot go into it focusing on just one efficiency. What you try to do is make certain that as a complete player, you want to go across the board and attack all of those areas. Even if they’re areas that you’re good at, you want to continue to improve, because it’s so completive. We’ve tried to make certain that we do all the little things right. There’s an old saying that ‘Big things will take care of themselves.’ Fundamentals, foot work, ball handling, ball security, accuracy, and timing, those are the things that evolve into quarterback plays.”

 

(on Joe Flacco’s demeanor in clutch situations) “He doesn’t get rattled. He has a real good grasp of what’s going on around him. He’s highly observant and it doesn’t change from situation to situation. What does change is that he performs well in big games, and I think it’s because of the fact that he doesn’t get so hyped up that it affects his play.”

 

(on the media getting hung up on numbers and if the coach or the player cares about that) “There are numbers that certainly count. The ones that matter are the loss counts. ‘That guy knows how to win games, he knows how to win.’ That’s the important fact that I think a lot of times people miss from time to time. That should be the focal point. He’s won more games on the road and in the playoff’s than any other quarterback in the history, I think that’s correct I’m not certain. He’s won more games than any one in our business for the first five years. Anytime you start saying that he’s in a top two or three category in this league, he’s doing something right.”

 

(on Joe Flacco being confident in himself) “He gets excited about ballgames because he loves to play. He has great passion for the game, but it doesn’t disrupt his focus and concentration. He does have a pretty settled and calm demeanor overall. He has poise.”

 

(on Joe Flacco as a person) “He’s a good family man. Joe is from a tight family, and he has a big family. I think he has five brothers and sisters. He grew up in an area where all of his extended family lived fairly close to one another, and that’s important to him. He’s a husband, he’s a father, he has young Steven. He’s a proud father, as well. He’s also a very loyal person, extremely honest and straightforward. He doesn’t shy away from tough questions, and he’s going to tell you what he thinks.”

 

(on trusting Joe Flacco and what makes him special) “One of the things is that, obviously, he’s earned that trust in this league. That fact the he performs so well in difficult situations, his teammates trust him, and the staff trusts him, as well. I think you’re going to continue to see him get better because of his excellence. He works hard, and I think he’s starting to see some of the things he’s been working towards for so many years.”

 

(on if he thinks Joe Flacco gets the respect he deserves) “I think he gets the respect from the people that he cares about most. His teammates, his coaches, and those people that are close to him, and I think that’s what counts. I think everyone else has a way they evaluate different individuals at his position and that relates to our sport, but I think he handles that well.”

 

(on how he feels about the role as offensive coordinator) “It’s been busy, but it’s been a great challenge, so I’ve really enjoyed it.”

 

(on the balance of his attack) “The great thing about our unit is that we have a lot of playmakers. When you have that many playmakers you want to make certain that you find a way that allows them to express their personality and their talent level. We have to change it up quite a bit. We run the ball a good measure, and the reason being is because we have two very fine tailback’s, an outstanding Pro Bowl fullback and an offensive line that can block you as well and come of the ball and be physical, receivers that don’t mind blocking, so we have to make sure that we can give them the ball and the opportunity to do so. We also have some fleet footed receivers, guys that can get down the field, guys that can stretch your defense, and guys that are big playmakers like Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, and the list goes on. With that in mind, that makes us look at a situation and make certain that we do have some balance on our offense because we do have a number of guys that can do something with the ball once they get it in their hands.”

 

(on if it’s a chess match to see what the defense is giving you) “That’s correct. A large portion of our game is also in the audible family depending on what the opposition does to dictate if you run or pass. A lot of it will depend on what they give us.”

 

 

(on what the receiving corps brings to the table) “Torrey Smith has been a big play receiver for us throughout the year. He’s a guy that can get down the field and make big plays. He’s a guy that you have to make certain that you cover because he can cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. He runs a variety of different routes for us; he’s a multidimensional guy. Anquan Boldin, often I think people think he’s a lot bigger than what he actually is because he plays big. He comes up in a lot of big plays, strong hands, strong arms, physical, and a great route runner. His experience, he’s been around a bit, he’s an exceptional leader. Jacoby Jones can certainly break a game open with his talent. He’s got speed. He’s a guy that we use in a variety of different ways. You can see what he’s doing for our team in terms of special teams and punt returns. He’s a threat to break it at any moment, and it gives us that explosiveness on offense also. He’s got length, and can catch the ball and run with it. Dennis Pitta is a very talented tight end. Ed Dickson does a tremendous job for us as well. We have a sound, solid group.”

 

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Like Lewis many years ago, Flacco can define legacy at Super Bowl

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Like Lewis many years ago, Flacco can define legacy at Super Bowl

Posted on 31 January 2013 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — If you go back far enough in time, you’ll find a point when the greatest in NFL history weren’t nearly as accomplished or decorated in their respective careers.

Joe Montana wasn’t always a four-time Super Bowl winner for the San Francisco 49ers. John Elway was long considered the quarterback who couldn’t win the big one before two Super Bowl rings to end his long career in Denver.

In Baltimore, Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense weren’t always associated with the league’s all-time greatest. The soon-to-be-retired linebacker may have been the team’s best defensive player immediately as a rookie in 1996, but the rest of the world didn’t understand his greatness until a victory in Super Bowl XXXV in which he was voted the game’s most valuable player.

That moment in time propelled Lewis into the conversation as one of the greatest defenders in league history and the Baltimore defense into more than a decade of dominance and respect in NFL circles. It’s the shadow quarterback Joe Flacco will try to escape once and for all as the Ravens compete against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday evening.

Even if the fifth-year quarterback doesn’t look at it in the same way, Sunday’s game will be his defining moment.

“This team has had such a great defense for many years, such big faces on that side of the ball,” Flacco said. “That’s what we’re known for. Us guys on the other side, we don’t have any problem with that. We know that in order to win football games we have to go out there and do our job. We’re kind of humble guys on our side of the ball and don’t really care what people say about how we won it.”

Of course, a single championship won’t bring Flacco into the discussion of the all-time greats, but it would forever transform how outsiders perceive both him and the Ravens. With Lewis retiring and safety Ed Reed’s return in doubt, this era of great Baltimore defense is coming to an end. The numbers this season reflected that despite a stalwart performance from Lewis and the defense in three postseason games.

The opinions about Flacco have already been altered as he’s thrown eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in playoff wins over Indianapolis, Denver, and New England. Teammates believes he has nothing left to prove, but the critics and doubters will remain if the Ravens are unable to finish the job against San Francisco.

No one said it was easy — or even fair — to take that final step, but a win against the 49ers is what’s really needed to close the book on one era and open the door to another, presumably with Flacco leading the way. A new-found respect has been penciled in by even his biggest critics this postseason, but his performance on Sunday will be what’s written in permanent ink.

He may not be able to do it alone, but this postseason has fallen heaviest on the broad shoulders of the Baltimore signal-caller.

“This postseason has done that,” tight end Dennis Pitta said. “I don’t know if it will be on one game or not, because we’re going against a really good defense. It’ll be a challenge for us. I think our defense needs to play well, [but] I certainly think the offense has come a long way. That stigma — that perception — that the Baltimore Ravens are only defense has certainly changed through the course of this season and through this postseason.”

Truthfully, there isn’t much more you can ask of Flacco. A loss to the 49ers wouldn’t erase what he’s already done in his first five seasons in the league. Many will debate where he ranks in the quarterback hierarchy, but there’s no disputing his impeccable ability to remain calm in pressure-filled situations.

But a loss would still be a disappointment, leaving him outside a premium group of quarterbacks.

He’s knocking on the door of greatness, but one final push is needed, just as it was when Lewis came through the tunnel and danced in Tampa with the entire world watching on Jan. 28, 2001. In the meantime, those closest to him will continue to sing his praises until the rest of the world finally catches up — at least in their opinions.

“Joe Flacco’s done a hell of a job,” running back Ray Rice said. “He deserves all the credit. Every quarterback out there gets respect, but you’ve got to mention Joe up there with them now because of what he’s done. He just outplayed two Hall of Famers. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will be Hall of Famers. Joe Flacco outplayed them both, and that doesn’t happen often.”

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>

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Caldwell tried to bring stronger commitment to running game

Posted on 30 January 2013 by WNST Staff

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JIM CALDWELL

(on the Rooney Rule) “It has been a great rule and it has worked in the past.  Just like anything else, you have to, after a certain period of time, you have to revisit it and take a look and see if it needs a little tweaking.  I think it does in this particular case. I know for a fact that there are a lot of people interested in making certain that it works across the board, not just for coaching, but also front office jobs.  I think they’re trying to work out a way to make it a little bit more effective.”

 

(on the problem with the Rooney Rule) “I think they’re people that have strong interest in making certain that they get the best candidate.  Obviously, the intent of the rule is that they have an opportunity to talk to several individuals and through the interview process, they find someone that can run their program in the way in which they’d like it to run.”

 

(on if he was disappointed about not being contacted about available positions in the league) “No, sir. I worry about things I can control that.  In Proverbs 16:9 it says, ‘The man can plot his course, but the Lord determines his steps.’ I believe that to be the case.  It’s just the way things are and we have to be able to make the best of it.”

 

(on how disappointing it was to have so many minority coaches fired and not then not have a minority coach hired)  “I’ve coached for a little while and it’s not the first time that we’ve seen it. That’s one of the reasons that the Rooney Rule was put in place, because you’re trying to avoid those situations if possible. We’re at that stage where guys like Lovie Smith, who didn’t get an opportunity who had won and been very successful previously. Tony Dungy was able to get a job after he was released from Tampa, we went to Indianapolis.  Dennis Green went to Minnesota, and he may have taken a year of hiatus in there I’m not cretin, but he ended up at Arizona. Herm Edwards from the New York Jets went to Kansas City. There was a point in time that it indeed did happen, as it does for non-minority candidates. This year it did not. Obviously, there’s some concern there and that’s why I think the rule is going to be revisited.”

 

(on how his faith surrounds him) “We don’t understand everything and it does say that in the scripture in other areas of Proverbs, ‘Lean not to thine own understanding, but trust in the Lord with all thine heart.’ You have to really believe that. You have to believe that there is a greater plan and that he does have everything set fourth for you. You might not always see exactly what that was or is until maybe a year or so down the road, but if you trust and believe and work extremely hard where you are, then just know that at some point in this he’s going to get you to the point where you should be. It may be totally different than what you imagined.”

 

(on making the changes offensively) “It wasn’t like we made many significant changes in terms of what we’re doing from a schematic standpoint, because we were too far down he road for that. What we did was, do the things that we knew how to do well and try to crystalize it. I also want to make sure that you understand that there is no way that I take credit for any of that. We have players that are very good players and have been in the system for four or five years that are maturing and getting better as time goes on. It just so happened that towards the end of the season things were really starting to come together. We’d shown flashes all through the year, but we just had some ups and downs a little bit here and there. Obviously, we’ve played a little more consistently since we’ve been in the playoffs and that’s worked well for us.”

 

(on getting back to the core points on offensive) “We have a Pro Bowl player at fullback and a great Pro Bowl player at tail back.  Our job is to facilitate the talent and we also have great players on the outside on the flanks, Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, you name it. We have to be somewhat balanced, because we’ve got to give everybody the opportunity to run and catch the ball because they’re good at it.”

 

(on what they got away from offensively) “You’d have to look at statistics overall. I think they’ve been somewhat close. I think we were a little more of a running team. Last year, I wasn’t here obviously, but they ran the ball 55 times a game. We haven’t run it quite that much, but our emphasis is that we go into each ballgame knowing that there may be a game we need to run a little more and there may be a game we need to throw a little more.”

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