Tag Archive | "jim caldwell"

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Caldwell says Ravens didn’t want to regret not running ball more in his tenure

Posted on 30 January 2013 by WNST Staff

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JIM CALDWELL

 

(on quarterbacks from smaller schools in the NFL) “I just don’t think it’s any different than any other point in time in this league. You’re going to find guys from all the divisions for the most part that are able to come in and compete and play well – some with physical deficiencies that most of us think they’re too small, too short, too slow to play or too tall to play. They’re able to overcome it. That’s the great thing about the National Football League; you have all types.”

 

(on his strategy after he took over as offensive coordinator) “It wasn’t anything that was thought out to that degree in terms of, ‘How do I want to approach these guys?’ I have to be myself. I’ve been in this business a long time. This is my 37th year. It’s too late to change who I am. I basically presented the way I always present, talked about the different issues I thought we had to resolve in terms of being effective every week and move forward.”

 

(on what issues needed to be resolved) “At that particular time, we were very inconsistent in a lot of different areas. So, the big thing was to try to get some consistency. We were getting penalized a little bit too much and certainly those kinds of things weren’t consistent enough in our running game. We gave us maybe a little bit more of an opportunity to be successful – ran the ball more, put an emphasis on it and moved on from there.”

 

(on his Super Bowl experience) “You learn something from both. This game is the biggest stage there is in professional sports. It affords young men the opportunity to go out and show who they are in a very difficult situation. It also does the same thing for coaches as well. But, the big thing is that this game and the things that surround the game – it appears to be different, but the fact of the matter is when that horn sounds and that ball is kicked off, it’s still the same game that we’ve been playing all year long. Just a little different opponent – the best opponent there is in the league – and we have to find a will to win.”

 

(on the ending of his tenure in Indianapolis) “You have to understand. This business is about winning. We didn’t win. It doesn’t matter in this league. It doesn’t matter about injury, it doesn’t matter about players. None of that matters. The bottom line is, you have to win football games. We didn’t win. When you don’t win, you’re subject to get fired, so we were. So you have to go look for employment elsewhere.”

 

(on whether he wants to get another head coaching job) “Certainly. I certainly would like to be at the top of my profession. I think that every coach that’s in this business does want to get an opportunity to do so. I’ve had one in this league and it was my second total overall. I would love another one, but it may or may not happen.”

 

(on Jacoby Jones) “He’s a big play threat. Any time he gets his time on the ball he gives us an opportunity to stretch the field. You put he and Torrey (Smith) on the field at the same time you’re going to have some issues, along with Anquan. But, he’s been able to make some big catches for us and some big plays. He’s done some things that you maybe might not be able to see in terms of his blocking down the field. He’s a tough, competitive guy. He’s helped us stretch the field quite a bit and changed coverages that we see from week to week because everybody has to be concerned.”

 

(on his coaching career path) “The journey has been long, but it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been 37 years, but it only seems like it’s been nine or 10 years. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had a chance to play in championship games in college and in high school and also on this stage. This is the third time I’ve been to this particular game in six years, which often times, some guys never get there. I really feel like I’m blessed in that regard.”

 

(on the team’s success in the playoffs) “That’s what it takes. Sometimes it’s just a matter of who gets hot at the end. Oftentimes we were building and improving, but maybe it didn’t reflect every single week out there on the field. Maybe in spurts. But, we could sense it in practice, we could sense it moving in the right direction. Then, all of the sudden it just sort of clicked right when the playoffs started. We started performing a lot better and things worked out.”

-more-

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Super Bowl XLVII – Tuesday, January 29, 2013

 

 

QUOTES FROM BALTIMORE RAVENS MEDIA DAY

 

MORE OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JIM CALDWELL

 

(on the run game) “One of the things that we wanted to do was just to make sure that we didn’t leave a ball game and say, ‘Could we have run the ball a little bit more?’ We don’t ever want that to be a question – particularly with the two guys we have in the backfield. We have a Pro Bowl fullback and a Pro Bowl tailback. You have to get the ball in their hands and give them an opportunity to make plays for you. Sometimes it takes a little while so you have to have some patience. But we think we have the ability to mix it up a little bit. One thing we’re not going to do is walk out of the stadium and say, ‘Could we have run the ball just a little bit more?’”

(on 49ers DL Justin Smith) “He should get the headlines. The guy is unbelievable. If you watch him play on the inside, he is very, very difficult to handle. You just have to make sure that you know where he is and you better find a way to give him some assistance to whoever is blocking him. He can wreck your plays in a hurry. He’s a disruptive guy not only in terms of the run, but in the pass rush as well. Inside, he sets it up a lot of times for those guys on the outside. Brooks and Smith take advantage of it because he gets a lot of push in the middle. We know all about this guy. He’s not someone that coaches as they watch the film goes unnoticed. This guy is a player.”

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Ravens not looking to “replace” Lewis — because they can’t

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Ravens not looking to “replace” Lewis — because they can’t

Posted on 22 January 2013 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens begin preparations to play in Super Bowl XLVII, the finality has set in about inside linebacker Ray Lewis playing his final game on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.

The 37-year-old will offer his final pre-game speech prior to the game and, presumably, dance for the final time in front of the entire world as the Ravens seek their second NFL championship and first since Jan. 28, 2001. However, questions and concerns continue to exist about the daunting task of replacing Lewis’ impeccable leadership.

In addition to being regarded as one of the best defensive players in NFL history, Lewis is considered one of the greatest and most emotional leaders the sport has ever seen. Regardless of what happens against the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, how do the Ravens fill that enormous void?

“He’s a guy who is ‘The Raven,’” safety Bernard Pollard said. “We respect him. When he speaks, everybody stops, everybody hears him. He’s kept this team together. He’s kept this organization together in so many ways, and we are all in this together. We want to go win this thing.”

The reality is that the Ravens won’t do anything differently to replace Lewis, in terms of his play on the field or his leadership. The talk in recent drafts of needing to find an “heir apparent” such as Dont’a Hightower or Vontaze Burfict or Manti Te’o has always been amusing in the sense that you never knowingly find a Hall of Fame player. Yes, someone will assume his position next season, but the Ravens will use the same approach they use for any other position on the field in looking for the right player at the right price or value, whether it comes via free agency or the draft.

Even more interesting is the discussion over how Lewis’ leadership will be replaced in the locker room. Candidates certainly exist such as quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice, or even linebacker Terrell Suggs, but the Ravens cannot and will not alter their approach or ask any one individual to change who they are.

Lewis’ absence will be felt throughout the organization, and no one will replace the immense impact he provides in the same way. The post-Lewis era needs to be cultivated organically in the sense that the Ravens have other players they feel can be leaders — even if that leadership won’t include the same demonstrative theatrics or impassioned speeches.

The reality is the Ravens already have other leaders in their locker room, including players who have been drafted over the years and even free-agent signings. Flacco and Rice are leaders in a different sense than Lewis despite only completing their fifth season. General manager Ozzie Newsome has also combed the market in recent seasons for free agents who have provided leadership qualities in different areas such as center Matt Birk, defensive end Cory Redding (now with the Indianapolis Colts), and Pollard.

The Ravens will never look or feel the same way following Super Bowl XLVII, but that doesn’t mean the organization is obsessing over what to do in a life without Lewis. The transformation must happen naturally, just like it did with Lewis over the years after he was initially a 21-year-old rookie who entered a locker room that included veteran leaders such as Rob Burnett, Pepper Johnson, Eric Turner, and Vinny Testaverde in the spring of 1996. He didn’t become the leader that he is now overnight, and Lewis would be the first to tell you that.

“Everybody knows what kind of a player he is and what he has meant to this team and this organization,” said Birk, who could also be playing his final NFL game in New Orleans. “There is probably not another leader like him. There’s no one like him, someone that means as much as he does to this team. Everything that he has been through, being here from Day One and the way he plays and the emotion and the passion that he plays with.”

There’s simply no replacing Lewis, and the Ravens will continue to do things the way they always have and they’ll be just fine in the long run — even if it will never look the exact same way.

Caldwell staying as coordinator

The announcement by coach John Harbaugh at the end of Monday’s press conference that he would be retaining his entire coaching staff and, more notably, Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator was hardly surprising as the Ravens won the AFC Championship.

The dramatic improvement of the Baltimore offense and quarterback Joe Flacco in the postseason made it easy to decide that Caldwell would be Harbaugh’s guy for the 2013 season.

The Ravens haven’t made any dramatic changes to what they do offensively, but Caldwell has offered a new voice, a calming presence, and an open line of communication with fellow assistants and offensive players. The former Indianapolis coach has taken very little credit, citing the execution and hard work of players and the tireless efforts of the rest of the offensive coaching staff as the explanation for the offense’s improved consistency.

Unlike former coordinator Cam Cameron who had a reputation for wanting things done his way and for not being receptive to suggestions from others, Caldwell has welcomed feedback from his players and other assistants, in part because of his lack of experience having never been an offensive coordinator prior to being elevated on Dec. 10.

He has identified the need to highlight Flacco’s strengths by being aggressive in the vertical passing game and moving the pocket to neutralize potent pass rushes. The Ravens have also used the middle of the field more effectively in the passing game, which was first evident when they scored 33 points against the New York Giants in Week 16.

If for no other reason, Caldwell deserved to remain as offensive coordinator because of the outstanding play of Flacco, who was the best quarterback in the AFC in the postseason and is on the cusp of joining a select group of NFL quarterbacks if the Ravens can topple San Francisco. It remains to be seen what type of stamp Caldwell will put on the offense with a full offseason of work, but his efforts are a significant reason why the Ravens are making plans for a trip to New Orleans.

McPhee finally making impact

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Changes for the Ravens and 49ers Since the First Harbaugh Bowl

Posted on 21 January 2013 by jeffreygilley

New England and Denver fans were wrong. The Ray Lewis retirement party did not start on January 12 or January 20. Instead, the Ravens will be playing the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl!!!

This will not be the first time the Harbaugh brothers have coached against each other. They played in Baltimore week twelve of the 2011 season, on Thanksgiving night.

The game was dominated by the Ravens’ front seven as they registered nine sacks. Alex Smith is still having nightmares courtesy of Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Corey Redding.

Things have changed on both sides of the ball for the Ravens and 49ers. Most of which, are similar.

Similar Changes:
1.Regression on defense
Last year’s game was advertised as a defensive battle and did not disappoint. However, both defenses have regressed. The 49ers defense was impenetrable in 2011, especially against the run.

This year’s 49ers defense is still great, but not dominant like last season. They are giving up almost three more points per game, and are a top five defense in only one category, which is rushing yards allowed per game.

The Ravens on the other hand have suffered a serious regression on defense, at least until the past few weeks. Still, the defense is not up to par with last season’s.

In addition to the injuries the team has suffered, players like Pernell McPhee, Jimmy Smith (when he has played), Terrence Cody, and Courtney UpShaw have not lived up to expectations.

2.Significant changes on offense
Remember when the Ravens replaced Tony Banks with Trent Dilfer in 2000? Well the 49ers have made a similar change from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick has only started nine games but is mature beyond his years. Not only is he a dynamic athlete, he can throw the ball with great velocity and accuracy.

Many Ravens fans rejoiced with the firing of Cam Cameron. After the Broncos game in week fifteen, the changes on offense did not look very promising. Flacco and Jim Caldwell responded the next week with one of the greatest games of Flacco’s career against the Giants.

Since Jim Caldwell took over, Flacco has completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,142 yards, has thrown 10 touchdowns, and ZERO interceptions. (I did not count the Bengals game since Flacco did not play for a majority of the game).

What I like about Caldwell’s offense is his ability to find mismatches and attack them. With Cam Cameron, he seemed conservative at times and did not have a good relationship with Joe Flacco. In contrast, Caldwell makes tremendous adjustments to find mismatches. Once that has happened, the offense has been dominant.

If the Ravens keep it close through the first half, the offense will eventually find favorable match-ups against a defense that Flacco had success against last season.

3.Both offensive lines have improved
As I said multiple times, the Ravens defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage the last time these two teams played. Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, and Corey Redding could do anything they wanted. Luckily for the 49ers, Redding is with the Colts, and Ngata and Suggs are not playing at 100 percent.

Despite the Ravens injuries, this should be a good battle with great individual matchups. Perhaps the best of which will be Mike Iupati against Haloti Ngata. Iupati is a young player but is already one of the best guards in the league. Despite Iupati’s talent, Ngata should win this battle more often than not.

Some question if the Ravens can handle the 49ers physical running attack. I guess they have forgotten the Ravens play in the AFC North. They will be able to handle this running game and should have success stopping Frank Gore.

Remember last year’s AFC Championship when Vince Wilfork dominated Matt Birk? Well the same can’t be said for last Sunday night. Birk played well but Kelechi Osemele played just as well.

He is bigger than Ben Grubbs, who left for New Orleans via free agency and also struggled against Wilfork. When Osemele was matched up with Wilfork, he more than held his own. Osemele should be matched up with Justin Smith for most of the game and will be able to hold his own physically.

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Ravens keeping Caldwell as coordinator, hire Castillo as consultant

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Ravens keeping Caldwell as coordinator, hire Castillo as consultant

Posted on 21 January 2013 by Luke Jones

Concluding his weekly Monday press conference less than 24 hours after the Ravens’ 28-13 victory in the AFC Championship, coach John Harbaugh made two announcements regarding his staff for the upcoming 2013 season.

Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will remain in that position next season after resurrecting a Baltimore offense that was sputtering in the month of December. Replacing Cam Cameron on Dec. 10, Caldwell has been credited for creating an open line of communication with both players and fellow offensive assistants that has catapulted the unit to terrific production, specifically from quarterback Joe Flacco in the postseason.

“It was a move that was the best move at the time we felt,” said Harbaugh while reflecting on the decision on Monday. “That was the best thing for our football team. All the contributions and all the work that had gone into what we’d done before that had gotten us to that point and put us in position to move on from there. To me, it all goes kind of together in total.”

The news was hardly surprising after the Ravens advanced to their first Super Bowl since Jan. 28, 2001.

Harbaugh also announced former Eagles defensive coordinator and offensive line coach Juan Castillo has been hired as a consultant for the remainder of this season and will serve as the Ravens’ run-game coordinator next season. Harbaugh and Castillo spent 10 years together coaching in Philadelphia, so it makes sense for the latter to join the Baltimore staff.

It was interesting to note that Harbaugh made the announcements at the end of his press conference, which prohibited media from asking questions regarding the coaching moves.

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Our Ravens/Patriots “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Patriots “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 20 January 2013 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 28-13 win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship Game to clinch a trip to Super Bowl XLVII…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. Jim Caldwell

4. Pernell McPhee

3. Marshal Yanda

2. Bernard Pollard

1. Joe Flacco (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Ryan’s Pats on Page 2…)

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Ravens hoping T. Smith continues big production against Patriots

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Ravens hoping T. Smith continues big production against Patriots

Posted on 17 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Much has been made about the acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib and the effect it’s had on the New England secondary, but you’ll forgive the Ravens and wide receiver Torrey Smith if they aren’t overly impressed.

Of course, Baltimore wouldn’t share such a sentiment publicly about the Patriots’ 29th-ranked pass defense, but a 38-35 victory over the Denver Broncos in which Smith shredded All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey for two long touchdowns won’t exactly cause you to fear New England’s underwhelming unit. Talib has provided a boost to New England’s defense, allowing the Patriots to move cornerback Devin McCourty to free safety, but they still struggle against the pass.

In two career games against the Patriots, Smith has caught nine passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. His Week 3 performance in which he reined in two touchdowns less than 24 hours following the tragic death of his younger brother was one of the most inspiring efforts in the NFL this season.

“It’s not that there’s any difference against those guys,” Smith said. “I just play the game. I just happened to play well against them the past few times. It’s not like I have their number or anything. I just go out there and run our offense. I’ve been able to be OK against them – hopefully, it continues. But it’s going to be tough.”

During the regular season, the Patriots allowed a league-worst 74 passes of 20 yards or more, which should leave quarterback Joe Flacco licking his chops as the Ravens completed 62 passes of at least 20 yards and have repeatedly gone vertical in each of their two postseason wins this month.

Acquired for a fourth-round pick from Tampa Bay on Nov. 1, the mercurial Talib has stabilized the New England pass defense, but it’s difficult to imagine offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell shying away from the Patriots’ No. 1 corner after the Ravens went after Bailey repeatedly in the divisional round. In six regular-season games with New England, Talib made 19 tackles, broke up two passes, and intercepted one.

Labeled a “riverboat gambler” by Caldwell, Talib will likely be entrusted with slowing down Smith or Jacoby Jones in the vertical passing game, but the Ravens proved once again last Saturday that they won’t hesitate to attack any cornerback in the league.

“You don’t always go into a ballgame [with the thought] in mind that you are going to go after this guy or that guy,” Caldwell said. “You try to spread it around and look at what they do from a schematic standpoint and see where you can attack what best suits your offense. That’s kind of how we look at it more so than anything else.”

In other words, if Smith or Jones is matched up in single-man coverage against Talib with no safety help, you can bet Flacco will be ready to take a shot vertically.

Pees hiring hit man?

Asked how to make life uncomfortable for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees offered a humorous but candid suggestion about the man he watched closely in his days as a New England assistant to Bill Belichick.

“Hire Tonya Harding,” said Pees as he laughed. “If they were getting off the bus, I’d spray water outside the bus and hope it freezes. He is who he is. I went against him up there in practice for six years. He’s as competitive of a person as I’ve ever been around.”

In addition to trying to pressure Brady inside the pocket, Pees explained how critical it is to mix up coverages against New England’s many talented weapons, ranging from Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez to Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen out of the backfield.

Welker operates almost exclusively from the slot as he was targeted 125 times for 1,040 receiving yards from that position, according to Pro Football Focus. Cornerback Corey Graham will draw the daunting task of staying with Welker as the Ravens are expected to play the nickel package extensively, with Graham sliding inside as No. 3 cornerback Chykie Brown enters the game to play on the outside opposite Cary Williams.

“He is a very quick guy. He catches the ball well,” Graham said. “Brady is looking for him a lot, and he makes a lot of guys miss with fakes and things like that, so he is a complete receiver. I have my hands full in the slot, but I am up to the challenge.”

The Ravens will not have to deal with the matchup nightmare that is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was placed on injured reserve Thursday after re-injuring his forearm against Houston last Sunday, but Hernandez also provides a unique blend of speed and athleticism at the position. Such an athlete at that position creates matchup problems as Pees must decide whether to use a linebacker such as Dannell Ellerbe or strong safety Bernard Pollard in coverage.

The answer will vary depending on the situation while facing a Hall of Fame quarterback, according to Pees.

“You can’t go in there and say, ‘The whole game, OK, I’m going to put a strong safety on this guy.’” Pees said. “That’s not going to take Brady very long to figure that one out, nor is it going to be the same if we end up putting a linebacker on him all the time. The key is to let them have to figure it out after the ball is snapped, who’s on him, and then you just can’t keep doing the same thing over and over with Tom, or he’ll gash you.”

Bouncing back from “special” kind of nightmare

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Ravens’ improbable run may not be fate, but sure feels like storybook

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Ravens’ improbable run may not be fate, but sure feels like storybook

Posted on 15 January 2013 by Luke Jones

At some point over the final seven minutes of regulation in Denver on Saturday night, Steve Bisciotti saw the big picture while everyone else wondered if the Ravens’ season was coming to an end after Peyton Manning threw a touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas midway through the fourth quarter.

Under the weather and unable to make the trip to Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Ravens owner did something he’d never done before by reaching out to John Harbaugh as the fourth quarter pressed on. Bisciotti knew the head coach wouldn’t see the text message until after the game, of course, but he wanted Harbaugh to know how impressed he was with such a valiant effort against the No. 1 seed Broncos.

“I’ve never texted you during a game,” Harbaugh read to his team following the 38-35 double-overtime win. “We are down 35-28. And I think it’s the best game I’ve ever seen us in the playoffs since 2000. Win or lose, I am so proud of the team and proud of you.”

Though not prophetic in the sense that Bisciotti predicted the final outcome or could foresee what would unfold, the gesture was just the latest in a list of special occurrences that make you wonder about these Ravens. Harbaugh and inside linebacker Ray Lewis have consistently referenced their faith and while I don’t subscribe to the idea that God or any divine being is concerned with the outcome of football games, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to support that notion if you so choose.

The Ravens’ run to a second consecutive AFC championship game may not be fate, but it sure feels like a storybook tale, filled with trials, tragedy, and triumph. Perhaps that’s what Bisciotti was acknowledging in reaching out to his head coach in those closing minutes of regulation on Saturday night. Harbaugh couldn’t help but share it with his team following one of the greatest wins in the history of the franchise.

“It was just something I thought the team needed to hear, coming from him,” Harbaugh said. “He is a great leader. Our players love him. They love when he is around. He is an inspiration to all of our guys. To me, this organization, he sets the tone here. It’s a great organization because of his vision. The guys needed to hear that in that moment. I’ll tell you, I think they appreciated hearing it.”

And why wouldn’t they after such a remarkable season, filled with highs and lows?

The Ravens lost their original owner Arthur B. Modell just days before the start of the regular season. The man responsible for the very existence of the franchise here in Baltimore has been memorialized with a simple patch reading “Art” on the team’s jerseys all season long.

Personal tragedy struck young wide receiver Torrey Smith when his younger brother Tevin was killed in a motorcyle accident the night before the Ravens’ Week 3 meeting with the New England Patriots. Unsure if he would play earlier in the day, Smith caught two touchdown passes to lead the Ravens to a 31-30 victory as a national audience marveled at his courage on that Sunday night in September.

Injuries that would have devastated most teams have only strengthened the Ravens’ will as only two defensive players started all 16 games this season. Linebacker Terrell Suggs overcame a torn Achilles tendon in the offseason to return in mid-October before having to play through another debilitating injury when he suffered a torn biceps to begin the month of December. Playing nowhere near full strength all season, Suggs’ two sacks of Manning were critical in Saturday’s divisional-round win.

Ray Lewis, the face of the franchise playing in his 17th season, tore his right triceps on Oct. 14 as nearly everyone but the linebacker thought his season — and potentially his career — was over. Instead, the 37-year-old returned to action just in time for the playoffs and announced he would retire at the end of this “final ride” in the postseason.

A three-game losing streak in December that included the dismissal of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and the promotion of quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell threatened to dismantle the good vibes of a 9-2 start, but the Ravens rebounded to beat the New York Giants in convincing fashion to clinch their second straight AFC North division title in Week 16. An offense described as schizophrenic for most of the season has looked as potent as any in the NFL in disposing of the Indianapolis Colts and outscoring the powerful Denver Broncos in two playoff wins.

It’s rarely been easy or pretty, but here the Ravens stand in the middle of January, one of four remaining teams with a chance of raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the first Sunday in February.

“I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be here,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “For us to overcome a lot of things, not only injuries but some family problems with Torrey’s family, everything that has happened with our team, I think we all just understand that we’re a family here, and we can lean on each other and depend on each other.”

The highs have been as fun as any in franchise history as “Fourth and 29″ and “The Prayer in Thin Air” are words that will now live forever in Baltimore football lore.

Under-the-radar performers such as Corey Graham and Jacoby Jones, signed largely for their special-teams abilities, have been critical to the Ravens’ success in ways few would have envisioned in the offseason. Even the former punchline of the 53-man roster, veteran offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, has finally regained his starting job to bolster an offensive line playing better now than it did all season.

Rookie kicker Justin Tucker, anointed by the Ravens to replace Billy Cundiff after a heartbreaking 32-yard miss in last year’s AFC Championship, rewarded the organization for its decision by nailing the game-winning 47-yard field goal in double overtime Saturday to send Baltimore back to the conference championship game.

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Broncos Busted on to Beating Brady

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Broncos Busted on to Beating Brady

Posted on 15 January 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

When I wrote a few months ago that the Ravens had the look of a championship team, I certainly had my doubts about them actually being able to live up to the legacies of the Packers and Giants as the league’s previous 2 champions by catching lightning in a bottle at just the right time. That however is exactly what has happened so far, and now for the 3rd time in 5 years the Ravens find themselves within one game of the Super Bowl.

The funny thing about the week leading up to the game in Denver was that on paper at least, it seemed to be the most daunting task the Ravens had faced in the playoffs since the Flacco, Harbaugh et al era began. It sounded strange to say that, while still holding out hope that they could win, because obviously they’ve been ousted from the playoffs in each of the last 4 years by teams that didn’t look nearly as frightening as the Broncos seemed to be.

 

The one saving grace in that expectation was that the previous most daunting playoff match-up in Ravens playoff history was probably their game against the Tennessee Titans in their run to Super Bowl 35, and of course we all remember how that one ended.

 

If we were looking for the defining moments and match-ups in Saturday’s game that helped to propel the Ravens to victory we could likely spend at least as long as they spent playing the game…perhaps even longer doing it. Here however are my 7 key elements to Saturday’s win against the Broncos and the questions that arise as a result, relative to the AFC title game and the New England Patriots.

 

#1 – The Offensive Line

 

The newly retooled offensive line has come to play so far in the playoffs and on Saturday they were more than impressive in stymieing the likes of Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and company. Bryant McKinnie was great at left tackle, Michael Oher was comfortable and dominant restored to his natural right tackle spot, Kelechi Osemele seems much better suited (at least for now) at the left guard where he was able to work in concert with Matt Birk, and almost everything the Ravens do on the ground begins with Marshal Yanda who seems healthy once again.

 

The Ravens Offensive line was so effective at stopping a previously dominant Denver pass rush that the Broncos secondary as a result was exposed. The additional time that the Ravens offense had to let routes develop downfield showed weaknesses in the Denver secondary that arguably no one, even the Broncos, knew that they had. Say what you want about Rahim Moore as the goat in Saturday’s game, but at least part of the issue with is big missed play has to be attributed to the fact that he was forced into a role that he hadn’t had to play all year because the Denver corners weren’t able to maintain man coverage vs. the Ravens.

 

The Question: Having dealt effectively with 2 pretty good edge rushing defenses, how do the Ravens, and particularly Matt Birk deal with New England’s interior rush and the disruptive capabilities of Vince Wilfork who was dominant in last year’s AFC title game?

 

#2 – Variety of Weapons

 

I’ve made arguments throughout the Flacco era in Baltimore that he hasn’t been sufficiently armed with the types of weapons that seemingly every other high level quarterback has at his disposal. That still may be the case, but since Jim Caldwell has taken over the offensive reigns the Ravens have used the middle of the field much more effectively. Torrey Smith has shown tremendous upside in his downfield blocking of late and Anquan Boldin has been a deep threat at times. Ed Dickson has returned to the lineup providing some much needed blocking assurance, and Jacoby Jones has been reincorporated into the offense. Add Bernard Pierce and his complimentary running style to Ray Rice’s and suddenly, despite the lack of any superstars in the receiving corps, Baltimore has a variety of weapons that all have to be accounted for equally. As a result, their ability of spread defenses out, and accept what the defense is allowing has enabled Joe Flacco, behind that newly retooled offensive line, to sit back and pick the opposition apart.

 

The Question(s): Which Flacco target will be the key against New England’s suspect pass defense?

If Bernard Pierce is unable to go, how much faith can the Ravens have in Anthony Allen to spell Ray Rice?

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Other factors aside, upsetting Broncos begins and ends with Flacco

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Other factors aside, upsetting Broncos begins and ends with Flacco

Posted on 10 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s no secret that quarterback Joe Flacco can’t do it by himself if the Ravens are to pull off the upset against the No. 1 seed Denver Broncos in Saturday’s divisional round playoff at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Better pass protection, a more productive running game, and a stronger defensive effort in the second half against quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver offense are just a sampling of the goals the Ravens must accomplish to fare any better than they did in the humbling 34-17 defeat suffered at M&T Bank Stadium last month. But if Baltimore is to have any chance of advancing to the AFC championship game for the second consecutive year, the fifth-year quarterback must play like he did in last year’s conference-deciding game when he outperformed New England’s Tom Brady and was a Lee Evans catch away from sending the Ravens to their first Super Bowl since Jan. 2001.

All other factors aside, the ball will rest in Flacco’s hands at some critical juncture — if the Ravens are fortunate enough to play well in other phases of the game — and he will be counted upon to make a game-changing play.

Flacco did just that in the regular-season loss to Denver, but it was arguably the lowest moment of his career when tossing an interception to Broncos cornerback Chris Harris that was returned 98 yards for a touchdown to create a 17-0 deficit instead of a one-possession game at halftime on Dec. 16. The crucial turnover was Flacco’s second of the afternoon and finished a stretch of three straight games in which the quarterback had lost a fumble and thrown an interception.

The sight of him lying face down on the turf after trying to chase Harris the length of the field threatened to be the defining moment of the season for both him and the Ravens as they suffered their third consecutive loss that afternoon.

“Stuff like that happens sometimes, and believe me, I’m the last guy that wants it to happen,” Flacco said. “But you’ve got to go out there and keep your head up and play the game, and I think I did a great job of rebounding from that, and I think our whole team did. That’s why we are where we are right now.”

Flacco hasn’t thrown another interception since then, a span covering 92 attempts. He threw for 591 yards and four touchdowns in wins over the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts, the two real games the Ravens have played that sandwiched a cameo appearance by starters in the regular-season finale. Baltimore scored a combined 57 points in those victories and posted a combined 974 yards of offense, albeit against two defenses that hardly stack up to the Broncos’ formidable unit.

For the most part, the offense has looked more productive and crisp since new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell’s debut against Denver. The Ravens have shown a more consistent commitment to run the ball and have effectively moved the pocket, using play-action roll-outs and even the occasional bootleg to allow Flacco to throw the ball on the run.

Of course, the Ravens must run the ball effectively to make such calls feasible against the second-ranked Denver defense that includes the best pass-rushing duo in the league in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos teed off on Flacco in their first meeting, hitting him nine times and collecting three sacks. Even the threat of moving Flacco around will make it more difficult for the Denver pass rush to find the same success on Saturday.

“It’s helped us because of the fact we should be able to move the pocket some, particularly with some of the elite pass rushers that we have been facing,” Caldwell said. “If they know your launch point, it’s going to be in the same spot all the time. That can make things a little rough for you.”

Trying to win a shootout against the second-highest scoring offense in the league would be a near-impossible task, so the Ravens must move the chains on third down to sustain drives and keep Manning off the field as much as possible. Baltimore went 0-for-9 on third down against Denver in the regular-season meeting before finally converting for the first time late in the third quarter when the Broncos had already built a 31-3 lead. The Ravens finished that ugly game going 1-for-12 in that department.

In limiting the Ravens to 41 rushing yards on 14 carries in the first half, Denver forced Flacco into third-and-long situations throughout the first half when the game was still undecided. Efficiency will be key in not just creating third-and-manageable chances but also in needing to score touchdowns when the Ravens are able to move the ball inside the red zone. Kicking field goals rarely gets the job done against quarterbacks and offenses the caliber of Manning and Denver.

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Suggs, Ngata trying to finish strong in injury-riddled campaigns

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Suggs, Ngata trying to finish strong in injury-riddled campaigns

Posted on 09 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After winning their second consecutive AFC North division title with a 10-6 record and winning a postseason game for the fifth straight season, the Ravens could easily be described as a group that’s overachieved when taking into account the extensive list of injuries sustained.

Among those are two players whose combined salary cap number accounts for $21.9 million of the $120.6 million limit for the 2012 season. As decorated as anyone on the roster with a combined nine Pro Bowl selections, linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata are supposed to be the Ravens’ best defensive players. Instead, they’ve made little impact this season as the Baltimore defense slipped to 17th in yards allowed and tied for 12th in points per game.

Injuries have told the story for both players as Suggs returned in October from an offseason Achilles tendon surgery that most assumed would end his season. As remarkable as the recovery has been, many predicted Suggs would not regain his explosiveness this season, which has appeared to be the case as the 30-year-old was held to just two sacks and 22 tackles in eight games played. Not helping matters was an additional injury as Suggs suffered a torn right biceps on Dec. 2, which forced him to miss another game and has limited his ability to tackle and even fire out of a three-point stance as he tries to keep weight off the injured arm.

“I am marveled the guy has played at all this year,” Pees said. “I think anything that we’ve gotten out of Terrell Suggs has been a positive. I don’t look at it at all like he hasn’t done something successfully. I look at it as this has been a bonus that we ever had the guy. I never dreamed that we’d ever have the guy at all this year.”

Of course, Suggs’ mere presence forces opponents to identify him and takes attention away from others such as linebacker Paul Kruger, but his production hasn’t matched the $11.5 million cap figure he carries. This accounts for nearly 10 percent of the entire salary cap this year.

Also taking up a huge portion of the cap with a $10.4 million number, Ngata suffered a sprained MCL on Oct. 14 and hasn’t been effective for much of the season. Missing two games — one of them coming in the regular-season finale when the Ravens rested numerous starters — Ngata finished with his lowest tackle total (51) since 2009 and five sacks, but the 28-year-old failed to provide consistent pressure or control the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis.

Regarded as one of the biggest forces in the NFL, Ngata’s presence has gone unnoticed for large portions of the season as he’s lacked the same speed and power he enjoyed prior to a thigh injury midway through the 2011 season. Ngata signed a five-year, $61 million contract early last season, which included $40 million to be paid in the first two years of the deal.

It’s fair to say physical issues have prevented him from living up to that contract so far despite Ngata being named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons.

“Haloti has been hurt all year, and the fact that we’ve gotten a lot out of him – we’ve tried to rest him a couple of times, tried to take some reps off of him – the guy never says a word,” Pees said. “He just comes out and plays, does what he’s supposed to do, and it’s a credit to him. I think he probably, production-wise, hasn’t had the year that he has had in some other years, but he really has been hurt.”

The Ravens hope the rest awarded to both players in Week 17 will pay dividends as they travel to Denver to take on the red-hot Broncos, who finished fourth in total offense (397.9 yards per game) and second in points scored (30.1 per contest).

In the 24-9 win over Indianapolis, Ngata finished with four tackles and knocked down a pass while Suggs had two tackles and two quarterback hits. The two will need to bring a bigger presence to Denver in order to slow quarterback Peyton Manning. In the teams’ first meeting, the duo combined for two tackles and no sacks.

Pees has seen improvement in Ngata in recent weeks after acknowledging how banged up the defensive tackle was during the middle portion of the season. The seventh-year lineman did not play in the Ravens’ 55-20 win over Oakland on Nov. 11.

“I think taking some of the reps off of him with DeAngelo Tyson and Art Jones and some of those guys getting some playing experience, whether we wanted him to or whether we didn’t want him to, in the long run, I think it was a good thing,” Pees said. “We got to take some plays off of him, which has been a little bit better here towards late in the season.”

Gaining separation against Denver secondary

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