Tag Archive | "Jimmy Smith"

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Jimmy Smith trying to shake off disappointing start to 2015

Posted on 29 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked how he shakes off one of the most difficult games of his NFL career, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith demonstrated by literally shaking his arms and shoulders while smiling.

Even when dealing with an 0-3 start, it’s important to have a sense of humor — and a short memory — when competing in an NFL secondary. That’s not to say that Smith didn’t take his poor performance hard on Sunday, declining to speak to the media after giving up the game-winning touchdown pass to four-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green in the 28-24 loss to Cincinnati.

“I took the loss as a loss,” said Smith, who apologized Monday for being “too emotional” to talk after the defeat. “It wasn’t so much that I was just so down on myself, it was just a loss. I didn’t play as well as I wanted to, so all of that affected it.”

Signed in the offseason to a four-year, $41 million contract extension through 2019, Smith appeared ready to pick up where he left off last season, returning a Peyton Manning interception for the Ravens’ only touchdown in a 19-13 season-opening loss to Denver. However, the 27-year-old cornerback has struggled since then, allowing a long touchdown to Amari Cooper in the Week 2 loss at Oakland before being torched by Green in Week 3.

In three games, Smith has been thrown at 28 times and has allowed 18 receptions for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s a stark contrast from a year ago when the 2011 first-round pick was targeted just 39 times in eight games and allowed 20 receptions for 163 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. A Lisfranc injury that required season-ending surgery last November short-circuited a Pro Bowl-caliber campaign and forced Smith to spend much of the offseason rehabbing, but he was mostly a full participant in training camp and played in two preseason games.

The early-season woes have led many to wonder if his left foot is still an issue 11 months after the injury. A problem to the foot area can be debilitating at a position requiring backpedaling and such frequent changes in direction, but Smith wouldn’t comment on the possibility of any lingering effects.

“People come back from injuries; they play,” said Smith, who’s missed 17 games due to injuries in his young career. “Until this season is over, I’ll never talk about my foot.”

Identified as one of the leaders of a defense trying to fill the void of the injured Terrell Suggs, Smith said he isn’t lacking confidence despite allowing Green to make seven catches for 126 yards and a touchdown when they were matched on Sunday. He cited his preparation and film study as the biggest reasons why his recent play won’t shake his confidence moving forward.

Of course, the proof lies on the field where he’s appeared hesitant to engage in press coverage such as when he was beaten badly by Cooper on the 2015 first-round pick’s touchdown in Week 2. His early third-quarter interception of Andy Dalton on Sunday was a flash of what he’s capable of doing, but Smith hasn’t carried the same swagger on the field that he did a year ago when he had appeared to finally arrive as one of the best cornerbacks in the AFC.

The struggles have been across the board in the secondary as the Ravens currently rank 29th in pass defense. Miscommunication, technique flaws, and poor tackling have plagued Baltimore in each of the last two weeks, but Smith views these issues as correctable with better preparation as well as “effort and will” to bring down ball-carriers.

“There are times when we’re playing at a high level; it’s just we’ve got to be way more consistent,” Smith said. “Even though they’re huge plays, it’s a minor technique that we’re missing or that we’re not completing. So, it’s not even the calls; it’s things we have to fix and clean up, and we’ll get that done.”

Trying to rebound from the first 0-3 start in team history to save their season, the Ravens need Smith playing at his highest level in order to do so. Other than the passing combination of quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Steve Smith, there may not be a more important player to the Ravens’ success than Smith when he’s playing at his best.

For what it’s worth, teammates and coaches haven’t lost faith in him despite the last two weeks.

“Jimmy is one of our best corners,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “He’s one of the good players on our team — great guy, great teammate. Some days you give up plays; some days you make plays. That’s just the National Football League, and I wouldn’t want to take any other corner but him.”

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Too many issues for winless Ravens to hide from truth

Posted on 28 September 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens had chances to win in the fourth quarter of each of their first three games, but that doesn’t hide the truth after a 28-24 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday.

This is a bad football team at 0-3.

At least right now.

A loss in Denver wasn’t unexpected despite it being a winnable game. Falling to Oakland was surprising, but the Ravens have laid the occasional egg on the road in the John Harbaugh era. But failing to prevail in a must-win game at M&T Bank Stadium when they owned two separate leads late in the game?

The difference between most good teams and most bad teams in the NFL isn’t that much, but the Ravens have shown it through the first three weeks of the 2015 season. They’re not bad in the same sense as an 0-3 Chicago Bears team that’s been outscored by 59 points this season, but that’s no consolation for a franchise so used to success over the last 15 years.

“Very disappointing,” said Harbaugh after the Ravens fell to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. “We had the lead twice in the fourth quarter and couldn’t hold onto it. It’s happened too much lately. It’s on us.”

The sad thing is that the Ravens of old flashed at a few different points in the second half, making you think they would find a way to steal one that they really had no business winning after being dominated in the first half. The defense was even the catalyst as Elvis Dumervil stripped Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton of the football and C.J. Mosley picked up the fumble and ran 41 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:49 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The narrative was there for an ugly — but season-saving — win around which the Ravens could rally and remove the bad taste of the first two losses from their palates.

But then four-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green took over, catching an 80-yard touchdown against a confused and poor-tackling secondary. And he did it again after the Ravens had punched back with a Joe Flacco touchdown to Steve Smith that put them back in front with just under four minutes remaining.

After fourth-quarter failures against the Broncos and Raiders in the previous two weeks, the defense once again melted down when the Ravens needed it to make just one last stop.

“Once we had the lead in the fourth quarter, we’re supposed to keep it,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “With this defense, we’re supposed to get off the field. We haven’t been getting off the field this whole year, and that’s what you get when you don’t get off the field on third down.”

Even with the healthy returns of Jimmy Smith and Webb and the free-agent additions of Kendrick Lewis and Kyle Arrington, we knew the Ravens secondary might still be an issue, but the defense has allowed 291 passing yards per game and six touchdowns so far in 2015. Two of those performances came against Oakland’s second-year quarterback Derek Carr and then Dalton, who has been the quarterback punchline of playoff failures over the last four years.

Is it the talent, the execution, or the coaching? When a team is 0-3, it’s all of the above.

The pass rush without Terrell Suggs, Pernell McPhee, and Haloti Ngata is a shell of its former self, leading to quite a predicament for defensive coordinator Dean Pees. When you need to blitz to pressure the pocket, you make shaky defensive backs even more vulnerable to giving up the big play, but rushing three or four while dropping extra defenders in coverage hasn’t worked either.

There’s been too much miscommunication on the back end of the defense — seeing Lewis trying to cover Green on his 80-yard score in a three-deep zone was a perfect example on Sunday — not to question Pees’ calls while also holding players accountable for their performance. You could certainly interpret Harbaugh’s thoughts on Green’s final touchdown as a critique of both.

“You take responsibility across the board,” Harbaugh said. “It’s execution, it’s finding a better way to play. There are options that you have on that last play down there in the red zone on the [7]-yard line besides man coverage, but we decided to blitz them and get after them and they beat us. We have an option there, we can check to a zone coverage. We didn’t have that on, but there are always options.”

Understandably, the defense is receiving most of the blame for Sunday’s loss, but let’s not pretend all is well with the offense, either. Not only did the group sleepwalk through the entire first half, but the passing game remains too dependent on Steve Smith as he was targeted 17 times on his way to 13 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Other than maybe second-year tight end Crockett Gillmore — who sat out the second half with an undisclosed injury — Flacco doesn’t have a single pass-catcher he can trust beyond the 36-year-old wideout, who was terrific on Sunday but can’t be expected to repeat this every week.

Perhaps the biggest — and easily the most surprising — concern on either side of the ball for the Ravens has been their running game, which was a non-factor against the Cincinnati defense on Sunday. After running for just 35 yards on 13 carries in the first half, the Ravens gained only one yard on five second-half carries.

For a team that pledged to maintain the blocking principles introduced by Gary Kubiak a year ago, the running game under Marc Trestman has more closely resembled the disastrous 2013 ground attack so far, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry in three games. That spells trouble for a team lacking play-makers through the air and a pass defense that needs to be protected as much as possible.

With concerns on both sides of the ball, the 0-3 Ravens can only push forward while trying to resolve at least some of the problems.

“If [those losses are] in your head, then you’re just going to be constantly trying to crawl out of a hole that you can’t get out of right away,” said Flacco, who thought the offense “wasted” the entire first half not taking advantage of the Bengals playing “conservative” defensive looks. “It’s going to take time. We’ve had opportunities to win each one of these three games, and we’re just not good enough to be good in crunch-time situations and it’s getting us beat.”

Numerous players spoke about getting their heads right as the talented Steelers — even without Ben Roethlisberger — loom on Thursday night. There was plenty of talk about accountability and being better than their record indicates, but actions speak louder than words and the Ravens know that.

Players and coaches need to be better, including Harbaugh after he burned a precious timeout on a spot challenge he had no chance of winning early in the fourth quarter.

There are just too many problems to go around for the Ravens to hide from the truth that they’ve been a bad football team through three weeks. And if they want to have any visions of becoming the fourth 0-3 team since 1990 to make the playoffs, much needs to change in a hurry.

“We’ve got to get going,” Dumervil said. “We have a short turnaround against a good team [on the road]. We’ve got to have a short memory and get going.”

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 26 September 2015 by Luke Jones


It’s a word unfamiliar to the Ravens at this early stage of a season under eighth-year head coach John Harbaugh as they find themselves 0-2 for the first time since 2005. Not only must they beat the Cincinnati Bengals to avoid the first 0-3 start in franchise history, but a Thursday road game at Pittsburgh awaits just four days later.

In other words, the Ravens know their season could be all but doomed before Columbus Day if they don’t answer the bell for these next two games. The Bengals, however, would like nothing more than to continue their recent success against the Ravens while improving to 3-0 in the young 2015 season.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Cincinnati for the 39th time in franchise history as they own a 20-18 mark. Baltimore has lost three straight and four of the last five to the Bengals, who last year handed the Ravens a season-opening loss at M&T Bank Stadium and swept the season series for the first time since 2009.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 46-11 in home games under Harbaugh, the second-best mark in the NFL since 2008 …

1. As Jimmy Smith tries to lock down A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard will present matchup problems with a combined 125 receiving yards and a touchdown. Last week was a forgettable performance for the Ravens’ top cornerback, but he will bounce back to prevent Green from singlehandedly wrecking the game. The third-year tight end Eifert is emerging as a dangerous weapon and strong safety Will Hill is dealing with a knee ailment, a worrisome combination. Eifert and Bernard matching up against Ravens linebackers will favor Cincinnati and the pair will help Andy Dalton move the chains on several occasions on Sunday.

2. The Ravens will get their running game on track as Justin Forsett rushes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Through two games, Baltimore has averaged just 2.1 yards per carry in under-center formations as Forsett has largely been bottled up. The Ravens have gained 91 yards on 13 carries from the shotgun, but that’s not a viable long-term plan, putting pressure on the offensive line to open running lanes. The Bengals defense gave up 5.2 yards per carry a week ago, and you can bet that Harbaugh wants the Ravens to get back to their roots in all phases of the game after an 0-2 start. That means heavy doses of Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Buck Allen, and more running room will be there.

3. Elvis Dumervil will pick up his first sack of the season, but the pass rush will remain largely ineffective. The Ravens hope that Jason Babin can bring some life to a front seven missing Terrell Suggs, but putting consistent pressure on the quarterback will be an issue for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the Bengals offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack yet this season and the Ravens only sacked Dalton twice in two games last year with Suggs and Haloti Ngata having one each in the second meeting. Dumervil will slip by Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth for a takedown, but this is not a good matchup for a group trying to find its way and going against a passing game that gets the ball out quickly

4. Rookie Maxx Williams will catch his first career touchdown. The offense took some encouraging steps forward last week in Oakland with Crockett Gillmore catching two touchdowns and Kamar Aiken adding 89 receiving yards to shake off a brutal first-quarter fumble, but the Ravens need their 2015 second-round tight end to become a bigger part of what they do in the passing game, especially with limited speed at the receiver position. The Bengals’ otherwise-stout defense is average at the linebacker position and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will try to create favorable matchups for the talented but raw Williams. He’ll take advantage with a touchdown inside the red zone.

5. Joe Flacco will fight off the demons of past Cincinnati performances to lead the Ravens to a much-needed 23-21 win. These are the desperate times in which you lean on your stars, but Flacco has thrown more than twice as many career interceptions against the Bengals than any other team, making this one difficult to predict. Cincinnati is the more balanced team on paper and the early-season results for both teams speak for themselves, but Flacco plays better at home and will play an efficient game with minimal mistakes to lead the Ravens to a win. It won’t be pretty as the defense will bend plenty without breaking and the offense will struggle to finish off a few drives, but the Ravens will make just a few more plays than the Bengals to earn their first win of 2015.

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Ravens acquire former third-round cornerback Will Davis

Posted on 21 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Trying to augment a thin secondary that was torched by the Oakland Raiders in Week 2, the Ravens acquired cornerback Will Davis from Miami on Monday.

General manager Ozzie Newsome traded a 2016 seventh-round pick to the Dolphins to complete the trade.

The 25-year-old cornerback was a third-round pick in the 2013 draft, but he never lived up to his potential and had been inactive in each of the Dolphins’ first two games this season. Davis appeared in 15 games in his first two seasons, collecting 25 tackles and two pass breakups.

His 2014 campaign was cut short by a torn ACL that sidelined him for the final six games.

The Ravens are currently thin at cornerback behind their top trio of Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, and Kyle Arrington with Rashaan Melvin missing two games with a hamstring issue and rookie fourth-rounder Tray Walker lacking the experience to truly be trusted. Of course, the performance of the entire secondary left much to be desired Sunday as Oakland quarterback Derek Carr threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-33 loss to drop the Ravens’ record to 0-2 for the first time since 2005.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Davis doesn’t sport a track record that suggests he’ll make a major impact, but his addition probably also serves as a message to the incumbents in the secondary that Sunday’s performance was not acceptable. A year ago, the Ravens cut cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks after a Week 9 loss in Pittsburgh in which Ben Roethlisberger threw for 340 yards and six touchdown passes.

Davis played his college football at Utah State before being selected by Miami with the 93rd overall pick in 2013.

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Ten Ravens prophecies for the 2015 season

Posted on 13 September 2015 by Luke Jones

As many go through the endeavor of making division-by-division forecasts, these predictions focus on the Ravens and their quest to advance to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years and to possibly win their third Super Bowl title in their 20th season in Baltimore.

A look back at last year’s predictions show a mixed bag — predicting Elvis Dumervil would take a step back before he went on to set the Ravens’ single-season sack record was particularly embarrassing — but it’s fun to envision how the next four months or so will play out.

Below is a new forecast to tear apart:

1. Joe Flacco will finally be named the team’s Most Valuable Player in his eighth season.

The fact that the quarterback hasn’t won a team MVP award from local media — for what it’s worth, I voted for him over winner Justin Forsett last year — illustrates how much he is taken for granted. After having arguably his best statistical season a year ago, Flacco will post similar numbers despite having a slew of inexperienced weapons behind 36-year-old Steve Smith, a testament to his ability.

2. Brandon Williams will play at a Pro Bowl level, but he will not receive that recognition.

The third-year nose tackle is one of the NFL’s best-kept secrets and the Ravens will need him to anchor the defensive line with Haloti Ngata now a member of the Detroit Lions. Williams will be Baltimore’s best defensive lineman by a wide margin, but playing a position where statistics don’t jump out will force him to wait another year to receive a Pro Bowl nod.

3. Rashaan Melvin will be starting over Lardarius Webb by the end of the year.

Even if you can forgive Webb’s play in 2014 because of a back injury, how much can he really bounce back as he turns 30 in October? A hamstring issue prevented the seventh-year cornerback from playing in the preseason, creating more questions about Webb’s durability. Though Melvin’s play in last year’s playoff loss to New England was brutal, the Ravens think they have something with the 6-foot-2 corner.

4. Will Hill and Crockett Gillmore will be players to take a step forward.

His troubled history is no secret, but Hill has done everything that Ozzie Newsome asked of him when he came to Baltimore last summer and the Ravens rewarded the 25-year-old safety with an extension through 2016. Gillmore is probably receiving too much hype after a quiet rookie year, but the Ravens would be very pleased if he can match Owen Daniels’ 2014 production (48 catches for 527 yards).

5. Marlon Brown and Chris Canty will be players to take a step back.

It seems unfair to pick Brown for this again, but he had a quiet summer and just never seems to play as big as his frame while the Ravens drafted the 6-foot-6 Darren Waller in May. The 32-year-old Canty was re-signed after being cut this offseason, but Brent Urban receiving the designation to return reflects the Ravens’ vision of him taking over the 5-technique defensive end spot sooner rather than later.

6. Third-round pick Carl Davis will be the Ravens’ most impressive rookie.

Without knowing what injured first-round pick Breshad Perriman can bring to the table after missing the entire preseason, Davis looks to be the most NFL-ready rookie that the Ravens have as he will receive plenty of time in the defensive line rotation and could push Timmy Jernigan to start. At 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, Davis brings impressive size that could eventually make him a poor man’s Haloti Ngata.

7. Free safety Kendrick Lewis will be the disappointing veteran newcomer.

The 27-year-old has received positive reviews from coaches and teammates, but Lewis did not have a good preseason and was merely an average starting safety in Houston and Kansas City. He will be a better free-agent acquisition than monumental bust Michael Huff, but I’m not convinced that he’ll be a noticeable upgrade from Darian Stewart at the free safety spot.

8. Marshal Yanda, C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith, and Kelechi Osemele will be Baltimore’s Pro Bowl selections.

The choices of Yanda and Mosley would hardly be surprising, but Smith and Osemele will receive recognition that they deserve. This will be especially meaningful for Osemele in the final year of his rookie deal as he’ll position himself for a payday that’s unlikely to come from the Ravens. Yanda will earn his fifth straight trip to the Pro Bowl to cement his status as one of the top players in franchise history.

9. This will be Terrell Suggs’ final season.

This is a shot in the dark and not at all an indictment of how I anticipate Suggs playing this year, but the soon-to-be 33-year-old admitted this spring that he pondered his football future and didn’t work out in the same way that he would in past offseasons. The six-time Pro Bowl selection knows he’s the last man standing from the old Baltimore guard, so it wouldn’t be stunning to see him call it a career after 2015.

10. The Ravens will qualify for the postseason as a wild card with a 10-6 record and will exit in the second round.

Too many questions on the offensive side of the ball will stunt the Ravens’ growth just enough to prevent them from winning the AFC North. With their questions in the passing game and Pittsburgh’s defensive problems, Cincinnati quietly has the most stability in the division and is built to be a strong regular-season team. That said, Baltimore will top the Bengals in a wild-card round meeting to extend the playoff misery of Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton. The Ravens will then lose a close one at Indianapolis in the divisional round before the Colts go on to win the AFC championship.

Bonus Super Bowl pick that no one asked for: Green Bay will prevail over Indianapolis as Aaron Rodgers wins his second championship in a 34-24 final in Santa Clara.

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Ravens trying to erase memory of last trip to Denver

Posted on 10 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Everyone remembers what happened the last time the Ravens visited Denver two years ago as the defending Super Bowl champions to begin the 2013 season.

A franchise record for points allowed and an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes thrown by Peyton Manning in a 49-27 demolition. Many forget that the Ravens actually led 17-14 at the half before the 30 minutes from hell that cornerback Jimmy Smith and many of his teammates say they’ve erased from their minds.

“My memories of the last one? I forgot; I’m a corner,” said Smith while smiling. “Let me really think about this. Is that the one he put up seven on us? I did forget about that. I did.”

Of course, much has changed on both sides as players have come and gone over the last two years. The Broncos have a new head coach in Gary Kubiak after he spent last season as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator.

Even Manning quipped this week that the 2013 season opener had “passed the statute of limitations” for discussion. The likes of Julius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker may be gone, but the Broncos have two 2014 Pro Bowl receivers — Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders — and former Ravens tight end Owen Daniels to add to the mix.

And Manning’s mind is as dangerous as ever with two more years of experience under his belt since that last meeting.

“It’s a chess match out there. You give him one look, he’s going to check to a different play,” said veteran newcomer Kyle Arrington, who faced Manning many times while playing for the New England Patriots. “Shoot, it might be a dummy check. He might run the same play that he has called, and then our ‘quarterback’ on our defense, Daryl [Smith], is out there doing the same thing. It’s going to be a good matchup.”

After finishing 23rd in pass defense and enduring a slew of injuries in the secondary in 2014, the Ravens know their secondary will be under the microscope with Smith and Lardarius Webb coming back from injuries and a new safety duo in Will Hill and veteran newcomer Kendrick Lewis on the back end of the defense. General manager Ozzie Newsome also added depth at cornerback in the offseason with the free-agent signing of Arrington and the fourth-round selection of Tray Walker.

The group will face one of its toughest tests right off the bat, with Ravens holdovers hoping for a much better showing against Manning and the Broncos this time around.

“Obviously, [there’s] a lot of eyes on our group back there,” Smith said. “But we have a sense of urgency just to be that voice on defense as a unit — as a group. Going into this game, it’s a big game for us just to make sure all our communication is down and that in our first game, we actually look like the unit we want to be.”

There’s plenty of unknown on each side.

Is Smith fully recovered from a Lisfranc injury that short-circuited what was shaping up to be a Pro Bowl campaign last October? If so, is he ready to shadow the explosive Thomas all over the field?

Will Webb be ready to play at a high level after missing the entire preseason with a nagging hamstring injury, the latest ailment to plague him over these last few years? Can the combination of Hill and Lewis stop the revolving door we saw at the safety position a year ago?

The Broncos offense might be more of a mystery with Kubiak attempting to marry his West Coast offense with his future Hall of Fame quarterback’s strengths — and obvious limitations — at age 39. The offensive line features new ingredients and is without Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in May.

The last time we saw Manning in a meaningful game, he looked old and was playing with a torn quadriceps in a home playoff defeat to Indianapolis. It was a performance that made nearly everyone wonder if one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history was washed up as he struggled to push the ball down the field to even a moderate degree.

But the Ravens aren’t buying into the idea that Manning is finished after watching him this preseason.

“He’s wearing No. 18. He’s patting the ball. He’s making checks,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s under center a little more than he has been in the past, but we don’t know what we’re going to get in terms of scheme. We’ve just have to anticipate and play our game and play the way we want to play. He looks as good as ever from the reps that I’ve seen.”

Even as he enters his 18th year in the NFL, Manning still carries an aura that can grab hold of a defense trying its best not to let him deliver the knockout blow. But that thinking could prove dangerous in Kubiak’s system that always employs a strong running game.

The Ravens hold the longest active streak in the NFL by not allowing a 100-yard rusher in 26 consecutive games. It’s a stat that was even mentioned by Manning in his conference call with the Baltimore media, making you wonder if Kubiak and Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will spread the Ravens out before trying to gash them in the running game.

Denver feels so good about its ground attack led by starter C.J. Anderson and backup Ronnie Hillman that 2013 second-round pick Montee Ball was cut over the weekend. The Ravens’ front seven will carry the burden of not only putting pressure on Manning but making sure the Broncos don’t run all over them on Sunday.

“It’s always going to be Gary’s offense,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “It’s always going to be Gary’s philosophy that they’re going to have a good running team. Even [if you] forget Gary, even back when the Colts had Manning and you think clear back to when he was in Indianapolis, they still could run the ball.”

The schedule-makers did the Ravens no favors with five of their first seven games coming on the road in 2015, and they’re likely to see Manning at his best from a physical standpoint on Sunday. With his well-documented neck surgeries and struggles playing in cold weather, there’s no disputing that teams have better odds against Manning later in the season. The Ravens exploited that reality when they won in Denver in a double-overtime thriller in the 2012 divisional round en route to their Super Bowl XLVII title.

Since signing with the Broncos in 2012, Manning has thrown 47 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 14 home games played in September and October compared to only 23 touchdowns and six interceptions in 10 regular-season home games played in the second half of seasons.

But the Ravens can’t dwell on the timing of the matchup. They have too much to prove in putting the memory of two years ago behind them as well as getting the 2015 season off on the right foot.

“He’s going to be dangerous. He’s still Peyton Manning, no matter what,” Smith said. “All the hoopla about him in December compared to September, obviously, it’s real. But that’s none of my concern. I know we’ve got him Week 1, and he’s going to be ready Week 1. That’s all of our concern.”

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Five questions pondering Ravens preseason opener

Posted on 14 August 2015 by Luke Jones

Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or was rookie Carl Davis the most impressive player on the field for the Ravens on Thursday? With Timmy Jernigan, Chris Canty, and DeAngelo Tyson all sitting out the preseason opener, the third-round defensive tackle was told to not only expect to start but play extensively and he did, taking 41 snaps and not exiting the game until the fourth quarter when he began cramping up. Davis consistently controlled the line of scrimmage, maintaining gap control while also making a tackle for a loss and batting down a pass. Assuming Jernigan’s foot issue isn’t a long-term concern, it appears the combination of him and Davis will be more than sufficient in helping fill the void left behind by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said last week that the Ravens need Davis to contribute immediately, and he looks more than capable of doing so.

2. Is it just me or was the handling of Jimmy Smith a reflection of just how important the Ravens think he is to their success? Even though head coach John Harbaugh also sat Lardarius Webb against New Orleans, the decision to rest Smith showed how critical he is to the Ravens’ fate in 2015. The fifth-year corner has played very well in training camp, showing no effects of the season-ending Lisfranc injury suffered last October, but it was wise for the Ravens to keep his surgically-repaired foot off the turf at M&T Bank Stadium with a month remaining until the start of the regular season. Now, Smith can make his preseason debut on natural grass in Philadelphia before then playing on the home turf in the all-important third preseason game as a final tuneup for the regular season. Questions remain about Webb and the rest of the secondary, but Smith appears to only be getting better.

3. Is it just me or is the writing on the wall for former second-round pick Arthur Brown? Watching special-teams standouts Albert McClellan and Zach Orr struggle at inside linebacker for much of the evening spoke volumes about Brown, who didn’t see extensive playing time on defense until the fourth quarter. In his 21 defensive snaps, Brown made six tackles — one for a loss — but that all came against the Saints’ third-string offensive players. Perhaps the struggles of the other two and Brown’s fourth-quarter showing earn him an earlier look over the next three preseason games, but he’s consistently been behind McClellan and Orr during practices and doesn’t have the same special-teams prowess. The Ravens hate giving up on their early draft picks and there’s still time for Brown to turn his career around, but it’s fairly obvious that he finds himself firmly on the roster bubble this summer.

4. Is it just me or was Jeremy Butler a disappointment after much hype this spring and summer? While I haven’t been quite as enamored with the 6-foot-2 Butler as some observers, there’s no denying that he’s played well in practices, making his showing against the Saints an underwhelming development. After dropping what would have been a nice catch, Butler was too passive on a curl route and allowed backup Matt Schaub’s pass to easily be intercepted, a play that was mentioned by Harbaugh after the game. Butler caught one pass for 14 yards, but he played 40 snaps, more than any other receiver on the roster. In fairness to him, none of Baltimore’s young wideouts really stood out beyond Michael Campanaro, but Thursday seemed like a golden opportunity for Butler to shine with first-round rookie Breshad Perriman and third-year receiver Marlon Brown both on the sideline.

5. Is it just me or did the Saints do a disservice to their kickoff team — and the Ravens — by booting the ball through the end zone all night? Understanding New Orleans is currently having a kicking competition between Zach Hocker and Dustin Hopkins, I’m still not sure what the Saints got out of simply kicking six touchbacks on Thursday. Of course, this is only being mentioned because Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg is trying to determine who will be his returner after Jacoby Jones was jettisoned in the offseason, but you’d think the Saints would want to evaluate their coverage team with the understanding that the weather won’t always allow you to kick touchbacks. As for the Ravens’ competition, the oft-injured Asa Jackson appears to be the early leader in the clubhouse, but we’ll wait to see where he stands after tweaking his knee on Thursday.

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Harbaugh “gets a little crazy” during tough practice on Thursday

Posted on 06 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Nobody was safe from John Harbaugh on Thursday as the Ravens held their toughest practice of the first week of training camp.

After the practice officials were slow to blow the whistle on one particular play, the eighth-year head coach chastised them from the middle of the field, screaming, “Get your [stuff] together! You’re getting lunch and you’re getting paid!”

Of course, they weren’t alone as Harbaugh challenged his young defensive linemen to be tougher and quicker firing off the ball during 11-on-11 short-yardage drills during the first half of practice. The coach singled out rookie defensive tackle Carl Davis and second-year defensive end Brent Urban at different points, but the coach said the ranting was calculated in trying to challenge young players the Ravens figure to count on heavily this season.

“It was a very physical, very tough practice,” Harbaugh said. “The guys fought through it really well. It’s always the one where — at least in my case — this coach gets a little crazy, because it’s a tough step to take from the hitting level of intensity to this level of intensity.

“For me, it’s more of a feel thing than anything. If I think I go too far, then I try to let them know I went too far. If I don’t go far enough, I have to grab them again. You always circle back and try to have communication.”

The motivational tactics appeared to work as the defense dominated the trenches by taking advantage of an offensive line without starting left guard Kelechi Osemele or reserve guards John Urschel and Robert Myers.

Second-year inside linebacker Zach Orr and rookie safety Nick Perry had tackles for losses in run support, standout plays for two players fighting for roster spots this summer. In Orr’s case, his emergence as more of a factor at linebacker could put former second-round pick Arthur Brown’s roster spot in jeopardy. After Matt Elam’s season-ending injury, the Alabama product Perry figures to have a better chance to enter the conversation for a reserve safety spot with a strong summer.

On a day with few offensive highlights, quarterback Joe Flacco’s long touchdown pass to Jeremy Butler was a bright spot as Butler beat cornerback Quinton Pointer in coverage.

Thursday was another difficult day for veteran backup quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw an interception returned for a touchdown and also fumbled a snap.

Rookie tight end Nick Boyle has shown more ability as a receiver this summer than many anticipated, but he had two bad drops.


Walking wounded

The Ravens had an extensive list of injured players missing from the practice field at the start of the session before three more left with injuries.

Harbaugh said Urschel and Myers were being evaluated for potential concussions suffered during practice and they will be conservative with both linemen. Urschel’s injury was particularly concerning as he was down on the field for several minutes before ultimately walking to the locker room with assistance.

Rookie tight end Maxx Williams also left practice early after being poked in the eye.

Harbaugh said Osemele was given Thursday off after having his foot stepped on a day earlier and veteran cornerback Kyle Arrington was given the day off to rest.

Players missing at the start of practice included wide receivers Breshad Perriman (knee) and Marlon Brown (back), cornerbacks Tray Walker (hamstring) and Chris Greenwood (hamstring), and linebackers Steven Means (ankle) and Zach Thompson (undisclosed). Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and safety Terrence Brooks remain on the active physically unable to perform list, but both watched portions of Thursday’s practice.

Hands-on Harbaugh

In addition to trying to light a fire under his younger players, Harbaugh took a hands-on approach to test Asa Jackson as a returner, trying to distract the fourth-year cornerback by bearing down on him while trying to field a punt.

Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was particularly amused by the coach’s activity as he yelled to Jackson, “Run his ass over!”

Have a catch

During a special-teams portion of practice, top cornerback Jimmy Smith took some time out to play catch with a handful of young fans in attendance Thursday’s practice.

It was a nice way for a standout player to spend a period of practice in which he wasn’t participating anyway.

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Webb fails conditioning test at start of Ravens training camp

Posted on 30 July 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Convening for their first practice of the summer, the Ravens were only missing one projected starter as cornerback Lardarius Webb was not working on Thursday after failing his conditioning test.

The seventh-year defensive back was a full participant during last month’s mandatory minicamp, but he was not allowed to take part in the first full-squad workout of training camp. The 29-year-old missed all of last year’s training camp and the beginning of the 2014 regular season due to a lingering back injury.

“It’s always a big deal. You want to see guys pass it,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who cited several former players who had failed to pass the conditioning test in previous summers. “The conditioning test measures anaerobic conditioning. It measures the ability to recover, to get your heart rate way up and recover.

“Webby is in really good shape in a lot of different ways. I can see it in the way he moves in the weight room, but he’s not in the kind of anaerobic shape he needs to be in to come out here and practice. The idea being that if I go play after play after play and I begin to get fatigued and I can’t move the way I need to move, I’m going to have a fatigue type of an injury. That’s why it’s part of the physical.”

The conditioning test consists of six timed 25-yard runs in which players run up and back. Veteran newcomers have often mentioned over the years how difficult the Ravens’ test is compared to those of other teams.

In most cases, a player failing to pass isn’t a problem in the long run, but Webb not being ready to practice isn’t a good look after his disappointing 2014 season. For now, the Ravens won’t put too much stock into the delay to the start of his summer.

“He’s a little behind that way certainly, and he’s going to have to make up the ground,” Harbaugh said. “He took it hard on himself. He’s disappointed in himself just like you’d expect. I know he’s very determined to get through it.”

Webb was placed on the non-football injury list until he passes the test.

Harbaugh said defensive tackle Casey Walker was not practicing because he was placed on the active physically unable to perform list due to knee tendinitis.

Two other starters returned to the practice field after spring absences as center Jeremy Zuttah (hip surgery) and right tackle Right Wagner (foot) were working during the opening portion of practice. The Ravens are expected to bring the two along slowly to begin the summer.

Wide receivers Michael Campanaro (quadriceps) and Aldrick Robinson (knee) both returned to practice after suffering injuries during spring workouts.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (wrist) were present and working after being limited in the spring.

Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee) were limited to watching practice as they both began the summer on the active PUP list.

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Cornerbacks

Posted on 26 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this month, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore cornerbacks:

LOCK: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Kyle Arrington, Tray Walker
BUBBLE: Asa Jackson, Rashaan Melvin, Tramain Jacobs, Cassius Vaughn
LONG SHOT: Chris Greenwood, Quinton Pointer

Synopsis: Five cornerbacks finished the 2014 season on injured reserve for Baltimore, leaving the secondary in tatters for large chunks of the year. This offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome did what he failed to do a year ago in adding depth at the position with the signing of veteran slot cornerback Kyle Arrington and the fourth-round selection of Tray Walker from Texas Southern. The key to this group will be the health of starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, but there does appear to be some decent young depth behind them with options such as Rashaan Melvin receiving meaningful playing time last year. The Ravens hope a healthy offseason will lead to a bounce-back campaign for Webb, who dealt with a lingering back issue and did not play well for most of 2014.

One to watch: Smith agreed to a four-year extension this spring that firmly solidifies him as the No. 1 cornerback moving forward, but the Ravens will gently hold their breath until the 2011 first-round pick proves he is over the Lisfranc injury that ended his 2014 season last October. In the spring, Smith moved around well, but there was still the occasional sign of hesitancy with his surgically-repaired foot. Over the last two years, the 6-foot-2 defensive back showed the sky is the limit with his potential if he can stay healthy, but that’s a fair concern after he missed a combined 17 games in his first four seasons.

One on notice: It wasn’t just that Asa Jackson missed nine games due to injury in 2014, but he played poorly when he was on the field, finishing with the worst Pro Football Focus grade of any Ravens cornerback by a sizable margin. The addition of the veteran Arrington in the slot as well as the presence of some other young cornerbacks on the roster could leave Jackson on the outside looking in if he doesn’t have a good preseason. His ability as a return man would certainly improve his standing, but Jackson has shown little evidence that he’s able to contribute defensively entering the final year of his contract.

Sleeper: He appeared in only three games last year before being placed on IR with a hamstring injury, but Tramain Jacobs grabbed coaches’ attention last summer with a strong training camp to earn a spot on the practice squad and an eventual promotion to the 53-man roster. The former rookie free agent from Texas A&M doesn’t have overwhelming size at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, but he will be in the mix with the likes of Melvin and Jackson for a roster spot. As is always the case with players filling out the bottom of the roster, the ability to contribute on special teams will be the difference.

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