Tag Archive | "jim caldwell"

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>

Comments Off on Ravens hoping T. Smith continues big production against Patriots

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>

Comments (2)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Unlikely events led to new destinations for Pagano, Caldwell

Posted on 03 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As much as Lee Evans’ failed effort to catch the game-winning touchdown and Billy Cundiff’s subsequent missed field goal broke the hearts of the Ravens and their fans in last year’s AFC Championship, the pair of unfortunate events created a unique opportunity for one member of the organization.

The chance to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts may not have come for Chuck Pagano had the Ravens advanced to the Super Bowl. The former defensive coordinator departed Baltimore on the day following the conference championship game and never looked back as he was hired to replace Jim Caldwell, who is now the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Ravens. The Colts may not have waited an additional two weeks to talk to Pagano had Evans made that catch or Cundiff converted the 32-yard field goal and the Ravens prevailed in overtime.

Having defeated leukemia before retaking his place on the sideline last Sunday, Pagano now brings his Colts to Baltimore for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game, knowing he might still be in Baltimore if not for the failures of two former players.

“We had the catch we thought that was a touchdown and then [Cundiff] runs off and pulls that one,” Pagano said. “There’s a lot of things that transpired through the course of the end of that football game that you look at and say, ‘Yeah we make that catch and score that touchdown or make that kick and go to overtime and win that football game and you don’t have an opportunity to visit with somebody about a job.’ It’s funny how things happen.”

Caldwell could say the same about his final year in Indianapolis after he saw his longtime quarterback Peyton Manning miss the entire 2011 season after undergoing several neck surgeries. The current Denver Broncos signal-caller had never missed a game prior to that point in his first 13 NFL seasons.

Left without a viable quarterback, Indianapolis went an abysmal 2-14 and Caldwell was fired after his third season as head coach of the Colts. A few months later, the organization drafted rookie quarterback Andrew Lucky and began a turnaround that left them with an 11-5 record and a trip to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

A year later, does Caldwell wonder what would have happened had Manning not been injured or if Indianapolis had stuck with him another year with the veteran quarterback departing and Luck joining the fray?

“It doesn’t even cross my mind — not one second,” said Caldwell, who was promoted to offensive coordinator following the firing of Cam Cameron on Dec. 10. “I think for the most part, I believe that the good Lord has a plan for us. Often times, it’s not as picturesque as we might like it. It may not unfold exactly the way that we had it planned, but it unfolded in [the way] He wanted it.”

The feelings toward Pagano are conflicted this week as he brings the Colts to M&T Bank Stadium to face the Ravens in the postseason for the third time — and second in Baltimore — in the last seven seasons. It’s in a Baltimorean’s DNA to hate the Indianapolis Colts for obvious reasons, but Pagano’s inspiring story makes that more and more difficult every day.

His courageous fight against leukemia inspired not only his own team but also players in the Ravens locker room, including a defensive line that shaved their heads and facial hair in support of the former coordinator. Veteran Ray Lewis estimated that he exchanged text messages with Pagano “every other day” as the linebacker rehabbed his surgically-repaired triceps and the coach underwent cancer treatments during the regular season.

There are nothing but positive memories for Pagano, who spent four seasons as a member of Harbaugh’s coaching staff in Baltimore.

“[I] love all those guys. [I have] great relationships with so many people in that organization,” Pagano said. “They were so good to me and my family. I wouldn’t be sitting where I’m at today if John Harbaugh hadn’t given me the opportunity to join him when he was first hired as a head football coach there.”

The Baltimore defense received extra motivation with the expected return to action but unexpected retirement announcement of Lewis earlier this week, but many players were already eager to show Pagano what his former unit was still capable of doing. Despite struggling for most of the season, an improving Baltimore defense finished 17th in yards allowed and tied for 12th in points allowed despite a plethora of injuries.

The admiration is still there almost a year after Pagano last coached the prideful group.

“It’ll be great; Chuck is a motivation to all of us with all he went through,” linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. “Just to know a person that strong says a lot. Chuck always shot you straight. He was great in the meeting rooms. He was never one of those coaches to [get] down his players or cuss them out. He’s a very likable guy.”

Not to be outdone, Caldwell acknowledges it will be different coaching against the team with which he spent a decade, but the Ravens offensive coordinator denied any chance of it impacting his performance on Sunday. With a new coaching staff in place in Indianapolis, Caldwell hardly recognizes what new coordinator Bruce Arians has done with the offense and Pagano has implemented a defense similar to what he did with the Ravens.

It’s a battle both men are looking forward to as they now look on from the opposite side.

“It’s ironic that we get an opportunity to play against them, which is going to be a lot of fun,” Caldwell said. “You have two teams with great desire. Chuck probably feels the same way on the other side of it. It’s going to be fun.”

Both can look back on the ironic events of last season to explain where they are today.

 

Comments Off on Unlikely events led to new destinations for Pagano, Caldwell

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens-Giants: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 22 December 2012 by Luke Jones

Two teams each going in the wrong direction in recent weeks will clash at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday as the Ravens take on the New York Giants for the fourth time in their regular-season history.

Mired in a three-game losing streak and needing a win to clinch their second straight AFC North title, Baltimore takes on the 8-6 Giants, who are in need of two wins in their final two games to have the opportunity to defend their Super Bowl title in January. Having lost four of the last six games it’s played, New York has been even more inconsistent than the Ravens this season, looking like arguably the best team in the NFL in dominating wins over San Francisco and Green Bay and turning in terrible road performances at Cincinnati and Atlanta.

The Ravens hold a 2-1 all-time record over New York in the regular season and, of course, own a victory in the only postseason meeting between the teams, which occurred in Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28, 2001.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens will look to finally lock up the division title and secure a home playoff game after failing to do so the last few weeks …

1. Ray Lewis will not play against the Giants, but the returning Dannell Ellerbe will pay dividends for the Baltimore run defense, which will hold New York to less than 110 rushing yards. Maligned all season despite allowing the ninth-lowest yards per carry average (4.1) in the NFL, the rush defense has struggled immensely in the last two weeks as Washington and Denver have run all over the Ravens. The Giants rank 15th in rush offense, but the shifty Ahmad Bradshaw has been hampered by knee and foot injuries. Ellerbe is expected to be a game-time decision, but he practiced all week on a limited basis and the Ravens didn’t promote inside linebacker Nigel Carr from the practice squad to take injured Jameel McClain’s place on the 53-man roster, an indication that they may feel confident in Ellerbe’s status against the Giants. The fourth-year linebacker ranks third on the team with 78 tackles despite beginning the season in a reserve role and missing the last three games with an ankle injury. His presence will help in slowing the Giants’ rushing attack.

2. Giants tight end Martellus Bennett will catch a touchdown and produce 75 receiving yards against the Baltimore pass defense. The Ravens’ struggles against tight ends have been overblown this season as Brent Celek, Jason Witten, and Heath Miller are the only three opponents to have more than 60 receiving yards in a game from that position. However, the middle of the field has been vulnerable and the Giants have been happy with their return for Bennett, who has 50 receptions for 584 yards and five touchdowns in his first season in New York. Ellerbe is regarded as the Ravens’ best linebacker in pass coverage, but he would be playing at less than 100 percent and has struggled to use the backpedal. Baltimore linebackers take too many false steps to account for the run and don’t get enough depth in coverage, which will lead to the talented Bennett getting open in the intermediate portion of the field as the Ravens secondary is focused on stopping Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Domenik Hixon in the passing game.

3. Ray Rice will collect only his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season. With Joe Flacco and the offense sputtering in recent weeks, new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell must rely on his unit’s biggest strength and that’s Rice. Though on pace for his lowest rushing total since his rookie year, Rice’s 4.5 yards per carry average doesn’t reflect a poor season, but his 263 projected carries would be his lowest amount since 2009. Marshal Yanda’s expected return will allow the Ravens to run effectively to the right side as they normally like to do, and the Giants have allowed 4.6 yards per carry, which is 26th in the NFL. New York’s front seven is filled with plenty of big names, but the group hasn’t performed well this season and Rice will receive plenty of opportunities as the Ravens try to control the tempo of the game. The uncertain status of rookie Bernard Pierce will likely force the Ravens to rely more heavily on Rice than normal, which won’t necessarily be a bad thing as they need production from their best offensive player.

4. The Giants’ play action coupled with the the Ravens’ ineffective pass rush and undisciplined secondary will lead to a long touchdown to Victor Cruz. Paul Kruger and Arthur Jones have been the only consistent contributors to the pass rush in recent weeks, but the biceps injury to Terrell Suggs now makes you wonder if teams will begin turning more attention toward Kruger as they did early in the season when he rarely was able to make an impact. New York has allowed just 16 sacks all season, so it’s difficult to envision the Ravens putting much heat on Eli Manning. The Giants quarterback loves using play-action passing, and the Ravens secondary has been burned all season due to miscommunication and biting on double moves. Cruz leads the Giants with 79 catches, 1,019 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. He’ll add a 10th to those totals on Sunday to bounce back from his poor performance in Atlanta last week.

5. I trust Manning more than Flacco and the Ravens offense, and it will be the difference in a 27-21 win for the Giants. Both teams have flaws on each side of the football, but it’s difficult to overlook Flacco’s six turnovers in the last three games. Manning has been inconsistent as well and has similar season totals to the Baltimore quarterback, but his pedigree and track record for playing well when his back is against the wall should give the Giants confidence in these final two games. Flacco was playing exceptionally well at home this season until the last two contests at M&T Bank Stadium when he posted absolute duds. The Giants will be a desperate football team after being thoroughly embarrassed in Atlanta last week, and I can’t bet against a two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. It will be the difference in Sunday’s game as I just can’t put any faith in Flacco, Caldwell, and the Ravens offense at this point. The group lacks confidence and won’t do enough to overcome a banged-up defense and an opponent needing a win even more than they do.

Comments Off on Ravens-Giants: Five predictions for Sunday

Tags: , , , , , , ,

New offensive coordinator Caldwell planning to call plays from booth

Posted on 13 December 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Holding court with the media for the first time since being promoted to the Ravens’ offensive coordinator position, Jim Caldwell plans to remain in the same spot during game days as he did as the quarterbacks coach.

Caldwell worked from the upstairs booth during previous games and plans to remain there in his first game since succeeding Cam Cameron in the play-calling duties. Wide receivers coach Jim Hostler will then be on the sideline and relay Caldwell’s calls to quarterback Joe Flacco

“That’s my plan, but obviously, that could change,” Caldwell said. “Whatever John [Harbaugh] wants me to do, that’s where I’ll be. At this point, that’s where I plan to be.”

Calling plays from upstairs will not only give Caldwell a better view of what the defense is trying to do but will keep him away from the chaotic nature of an NFL sideline with players and staff members often chirping in the heat of the moment during game action.

He has received tips from Hostler, who served as the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers in 2007. Despite having never served as an offensive coordinator before, Caldwell expressed confidence in his ability to call the plays, citing how the offense always runs through quarterbacks and how he’s spent a large portion of his NFL career coaching that position.

Caldwell was the quarterbacks coach for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis for seven years before becoming his head coach.

Several players have expressed optimism that the offense will employ a quicker tempo than used in recent weeks as the no-huddle offense had virtually disappeared. Caldwell didn’t specifically confirm whether the uptempo offense would be making its return on a more significant basis.

“One of the good things, I think, about our system is the fact that it’s versatile,” Caldwell said. “We can do whatever it takes. It just depends on who we are playing, how we want to attack them and what we think best suites our personnel. We kind of bounce in and out of it, but every game will take on its own personality.”

With the Ravens taking on Manning and the red-hot Broncos, winners of eight consecutive games, Caldwell and the offense know they will need to produce at a high level as the Baltimore defense continues to be ravaged by injuries.

Asked to share his philosophy for leading the Ravens offense, the new coordinator offered a simple response.

“Score as many as you can as often as you can,” said Caldwell, smiling at reporters.

Comments Off on New offensive coordinator Caldwell planning to call plays from booth

Tags: , , , , , , ,

All eyes on Flacco as he begins next phase of NFL career

Posted on 12 December 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It looked like the typical Wednesday in Owings Mills as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco stepped to the podium to meet with the media, but the circumstances had never been more different.

No matter how you feel about Flacco and where he ranks in the hierarchy of NFL quarterbacks, all eyes will be on him for the remainder of the season as the 27-year-old begins the next phase of his career without offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. It’s no secret the two struggled to coexist as the years progressed, even if Flacco downplayed that perception in his first interview since Cameron was fired on Monday.

Some think the quarterback has plateaued because of Cameron’s inconsistent play-calling, conservative nature, and reputation for being a control freak while others wonder if Flacco simply isn’t good enough to handle more responsibility within an offensive system or to take his game to another level.

With quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell promoted to offensive coordinator, Flacco will have his first chance to prove just how good he can be without Cameron’s involvement this Sunday against the Denver Broncos and their fourth-ranked defense. And if the Ravens are to snap a two-game losing streak and right the ship in time to make a deep postseason run, Flacco must take command of an offense in transition and desperately needing leadership and consistency at the most important position on the field.

Flacco acknowledged his part in Cameron’s dismissal when asked if he feels any responsibility for the coordinator’s demise. Of course, he’s not the only one to blame as inconsistent play from the offensive line and wide receivers has also plagued the Baltimore offense this season.

“I think as an offense, we have to look at ourselves and see what we can do to be better,” Flacco said. “Obviously, we weren’t good enough.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way after last season’s AFC Championship loss in which the Baltimore quarterback outplayed future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady despite Lee Evans’ failure to catch the game-winning touchdown and Billy Cundiff’s subsequent miss of the game-tying 32-yard field goal. The silver lining was Flacco’s 306-yard, two-touchdown performance that was to springboard him and the Ravens offense to bigger and better things in the final year of his rookie contract.

Instead, the 2012 season has brought much of the same from the 2008 first-round pick — a few great performances, some decent games, and still too many bad ones — as the offense hasn’t taken the significant leap many believed the Ravens needed with the anticipated decline of the long-vaunted defense. Looking elite at home with a 100.7 passer rating in six home games, Flacco has struggled on the road (a 75.4 rating) and still struggles to protect the football as he’s thrown a tolerable nine interceptions but has also fumbled eight times.

Leading the league’s 16th-ranked passing offense, Flacco has completed 60 percent of his passes, has averaged 7.2 yards per attempt, and has thrown for 3,220 yards and 18 touchdowns. Aside from being on pace to set a new career high in passing yards, Flacco has posted numbers mostly in line with his career averages. Good, but not great and certainly not worthy of the $100 million contract he desires.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti shouldn’t be swayed too dramatically over Flacco’s performance for the remainder of the season — barring a deep postseason run — but Cameron’s dismissal is a clear sign of the Ravens wanting to see what they really have with their franchise quarterback before deciding how much they ultimately invest in a long-term contract, regardless of when it’s ultimately signed. For now, it appears Flacco has received a new lease on life with the promotion of Caldwell, who has never held the title of offensive coordinator in his career.

“Joe seems like he’s happy about it,” left tackle Michael Oher said. “I’ve seen him smiling and stuff, so I’m pretty sure he’s OK with everything.”

All accounts point to Caldwell and Flacco holding a good relationship in their first season working together, and the former Colts head coach was credited by current Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning Wednesday for helping him take his play to another level in their years together in Indianapolis. However, it’s been difficult to pinpoint any particular part of Flacco’s game that’s noticeably improved this season while working with Caldwell. And there’s no telling how that relationship might be tested as inevitable disagreements occur over play calls and philosophy.

Whether it’s the possible reintroduction of the no-huddle offense that’s virtually disappeared in recent weeks or just a different voice and mind calling the plays, the Ravens offense isn’t expected to be reinvented in any dramatic way and how could it entering Week 15? But a change of this magnitude will force all offensive coaches and players to bring a renewed level of focus to account for potential growing pains.

“The biggest thing we’ve talked about is just coming together as an offense and everybody helping and giving their input because we’re going to need it,” Flacco said, “It’s a quick change, it’s late in the year, and it’s going to require all of us to be focused and work hard.”

Even with Cameron out of the picture and the possible mental boost that might bring for the quarterback — any employee finally escaping the thumb of an undesirable boss could attest to the notion — the flaws and shortcomings of the quarterback’s game are still there.

Flacco has struggled to throw the deep ball as he and speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith have frequently failed to be on the same page. The quarterback has been inconsistent in making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, either in changing plays or protections.

And his shortcomings with pocket awareness have led to sack-and-strip opportunities that have led to turnovers in two straight games. Of course, an inconsistent offensive line — now facing the possibility of no Marshal Yanda for the time being — hasn’t helped matters in that department, but the Ravens have acknowledged the need for Flacco to be more protective of the football in those situations. Entering this Sunday’s game, Flacco has fumbled 47 times in 77 regular-season games while Manning — a quarterback also lacking mobility — has fumbled just 59 times in 221 career regular-season contests.

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Rice says Cameron firing is “wake up call for everybody” with Ravens

Posted on 12 December 2012 by WNSTV

Comments Off on Rice says Cameron firing is “wake up call for everybody” with Ravens

Tags: , , , , , ,

Caldwell entrusted to deal with same problems left behind by Cameron

Posted on 10 December 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after their highest point total on the road all season, the Ravens finally decided they needed to go in a new direction Monday by firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

Discussion will continue over the circumstances and motivation behind dismissing the long-maligned assistant with three games remaining in the regular season, but coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens will now entrust quarterbacks coach and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell to do what Cameron was unable to accomplish — regardless of who was to blame — in guiding an up-and-down offense during the 2012 season. At times, the unit has looked as good as any in the league, particularly when playing at M&T Bank Stadium. Other times, the offense has looked as inept as the worst attacks in the NFL.

In the Ravens’ eyes, Cameron wasn’t going to figure it out, so they decided to hand the reins to Caldwell with hopes of salvaging what still appears to be an enviable position with a 9-4 team despite its current two-game losing streak. It was becoming more and more apparent that Baltimore needed a new vision and voice to lead its offense, but the decision to make the change at this late juncture of the season was very unlike an organization that rarely makes decisions with haste. It smelled of desperation in not wanting to waste an opportunity.

“What we’re trying to do is just to get about that much better,” said Caldwell, holding his thumb and index finger roughly an inch apart. “That’s about it. And that’s a difficult task, obviously, trying to get that done in this league. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

It’s a daunting challenge, indeed, for a man with extensive coaching experience at the collegiate and professional levels but none of it coming as an offensive coordinator. Caldwell tutored future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning — or was it the other way around? — for seven years before taking over as his head coach for three years, which included a trip to the Super Bowl following the 2009 season, but he never called the plays for Manning and the high-powered Colts offense.

There’s no predicting how the 57-year-old coach will respond to the pressures of making in-game play calls with only seconds to make a decision and other coaches or players chattering in his ear. According to Harbaugh, the Ravens haven’t determined whether Caldwell will call plays from the upstairs coaches’ booth or the sideline. It’s a risky proposition trading in a known commodity — flawed as it may have been — for an alternative with question marks and very little time to adjust to his new title.

“Jim is qualified. Jim is a heck of a coach,” Harbaugh said. “And we have a heck of a staff. They’ll do a great job, and I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out.”

While fans may have visions of the offense finally being cured with Cameron no longer calling the plays, Caldwell will deal with the same problems that have plagued the Ravens all season. He’ll try to overcome an underwhelming offensive line, a group of wide receivers that struggles to gain separation consistently, and a quarterback who’s struggled with pre-snap adjustments, pocket awareness, and finding overall consistency.

How much Cameron impacted those areas is up for debate, but to assume Caldwell will significantly remedy those weaknesses in a matter of a few weeks isn’t realistic — or even fair. The Ravens’ offensive problems run deeper than their former coordinator, and we’ll see whether players are able to rise to the occasion with the shadow of Cameron no longer a built-in excuse for their shortcomings.

I suspect we’ll see much of the same offensively as the Ravens desperately need to improve their offensive line and take a long look at their future at the wide receiver position. As much as some of his toughest critics might hesitate to admit it, Cameron wasn’t the left tackle failing to protect the blind side, the receiver dropping passes or failing to get open, or the quarterback turning the ball over at critical times. There are only so many protection schemes and play designs that can mask talent deficiencies, so it will be interesting to see what Caldwell can do.

“We all take responsibility for that when something like this takes place,” Harbaugh said. “It’s real. You’re talking about anytime guys leave a program who put their heart and soul into the thing — be it a coach or player — that is real. The burden falls on everybody who’s still here.”

As for what we’ll see offensively, the Ravens don’t plan to change their offensive system, nor would it be possible to make such drastic changes without a full offseason to prepare. A rebirth of the no-huddle offense that’s virtually disappeared over the last four weeks is a distinct possibility given Caldwell’s background with Manning in Indianapolis, but the Ravens weren’t exactly thriving with the up-tempo attack in road games earlier this season and the defense was paying a major price as a result.

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>

Comments (3)