Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

Ravens facing big challenge in Patriots secondary this time around

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Ravens facing big challenge in Patriots secondary this time around

Posted on 07 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens and New England Patriots have uttered similar thoughts throughout the week about Saturday’s divisional playoff meeting in Foxborough.

As the rest of the world focuses on their three previous postseason encounters at Gillette Stadium, coaches and players from each side put little stock in what happened in the past. It’s difficult to argue the point from the Ravens’ side as just 19 players on the current 53-man roster were with the organization when they topped New England in the AFC Championship to go to the Super Bowl two years ago.

The biggest on-field difference between these teams may lie in the Patriots’ secondary, a unit that was their Achilles heel in recent years. When the Ravens met them in consecutive conference championship games, the Patriots ranked 31st in pass defense in 2011 and 29th in 2012, but the unit improved to 17th in the NFL this season because of two key offseason additions at cornerback.

The arrivals of six-time Pro Bowl selection Darrelle Revis and the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner have transformed one of the Patriots’ biggest positional weaknesses into a strength, especially as the season has progressed. In addition to the veteran free-agent signings, 2013 third-round pick Logan Ryan has emerged as a solid option at the nickel in his second year.

“All three of those guys give them the ability to play man coverage more than they ever have before,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They play a lot of single-high [safety]. They have a lot of people down in the box to stop the run. They’ll press you. They’ll play combinations where they double a certain player, take him out of the game. They can do that because they have corners that can single people up.”

The combination presents a problem for the Ravens, who have traditionally struggled against press coverage. Veteran Steve Smith certainly won’t shy away from physical play, but it’s fair to wonder if the 35-year-old has enough speed at this stage of the season to take advantage of any upper hand he can gain when the 5-foot-11 Revis tries to press him at the line of scrimmage.

After only one year in Tampa Bay that saw the Buccaneers wasting his talents in zone coverage, the 29-year-old Revis — two years removed from a serious knee injury suffered in his final season with the New York Jets — has retaken his place as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. And he’ll likely be asked to take the veteran Smith out of the game on Saturday.

“Is Revis still Revis? I think his ID and his social security number and those things [still say] ‘Revis,’” said Steve Smith as he smiled. “Revis can play. He’s a great corner. He’s a corner that you have to prepare for; you have to watch film. You can’t just walk in there thinking [it will be easy]. He’s a professional, and you have to approach it with a professional mindset.

“I have to be patient and understand he’s going to make his plays. That’s it. Be patient. It’s a long game. A lot of things happen.”

On the opposite side of the field, Browner will likely match up against Torrey Smith, who has improved against press coverage since his rookie season but generally doesn’t play with much physicality. What Browner may lack in speed he makes up for with a massive frame used to try to knock receivers off their spot.

It will present an interesting matchup as Torrey Smith has repeatedly drawn penalties from the opposition this season while Browner was flagged 15 times to lead the Patriots despite playing in only nine games during the regular season. The University of Maryland product could be in line for a big day if he can win the first couple steps of his routes, but New England will likely be inclined to shade safety help his way while entrusting Revis to handle Steve Smith.

Now in his fourth year, Torrey Smith hopes his experiences playing against both Revis and Browner as a rookie will pay dividends despite being held without a catch on three total targets matched up against them in games against the Jets and Seattle Seahawks in 2011.

“I just think they’re going to try to have a bigger body on me [and] try to be a little physical at the line,” Torrey Smith said. “I’ll check [Browner] out a little more, but I’ve played against both of them. I was a young pup, but I’ve played against them both and I’ve gotten a lot better since then. I’ll be ready for it. It was definitely different seeing Revis walk out on me as a rookie, but that’s just pretty cool.”

How can the Ravens combat the Patriots cornerbacks’ physical play?

Bunch formations, motion, and pick plays can be used to offset press coverage, but the Ravens won’t shy away from using double-moves as well as an improved play-action passing game to gain separation.

However, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak warned that the Ravens can’t reinvent the wheel in an effort to account for tough press coverage. And Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are also masters of changing up strategies and giving opponents different looks than they anticipated after a full week of preparation.

“We have to go do what we do. We can’t sit here and assume, ‘Well, this guy is going to play that guy,’” Kubiak said. “We can’t do that. We have to go out and run the things we run and do them well. But that’s a strength of their defense, and if we’re going to find a way to get it done, we’re going to have to beat as good of a man coverage as there is in football, and we understand that.”

As the Ravens have come to expect with so much postseason success over the last seven years, quarterback Joe Flacco will be the biggest factor in beating the Patriots secondary and he won’t be afraid to test Revis if the opportunities are there.

It was an aggressive approach that led to an impressive 30-17 victory over Pittsburgh last Saturday, and Flacco says the Ravens could run into trouble if they try to deviate too much from what they do best.

“As a quarterback, you have to go out there and just go through your reads. If he’s open, throw it to him; if he’s not, don’t,” Flacco said. “We’re going to have to make contested catches, contested throws — all those things. But I know in the past when we’ve played against some guys and you’ve tried to avoid him or done things game plan-wise to get matchups in other places, it usually just takes your attention away from what you should be doing.

“I think that has a bigger effect than sometimes the actual guy can.”

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Ravens show their toughness in exorcising Pittsburgh demons

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Ravens show their toughness in exorcising Pittsburgh demons

Posted on 04 January 2015 by Luke Jones

PITTSBURGH — The Ravens surely didn’t need validation before their 30-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night.

Beating their fiercest rival in the playoffs for the first time doesn’t trump two Super Bowl titles and a wild-card win wouldn’t appear to register as more than a footnote for a franchise that’s made the postseason 10 times in the last 15 years, but the fans of Baltimore know the truth. After watching Pittsburgh get the best of the Charm City in postseason battles for the better part of four decades, the Ravens exacted a little revenge and it felt good.

It may not have erased the pain of the Ravens’ three prior postseason defeats at Heinz Field, the disappointment of back-to-back playoff losses suffered by the Colts to the Steelers in 1975 and 1976, or the agony of the Orioles’ two Game 7 World Series losses to the Pirates in 1971 and 1979, but Baltimore is entitled to bask in the satisfaction of ending the Steelers’ season.

“This is a very special victory for us, not just because it’s a playoff win,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But because of who it comes against, which is our most respected rival.”

You know how important it was to the Ravens for Harbaugh, a man who loathes making comparisons because it diminishes someone or something in the process, to acknowledge this one meant a little bit more that the typical playoff victory. And it allowed the likes of Elvis Grbac, Daren Stone, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to rest easy knowing the Ravens finally came through against Pittsburgh when it really mattered.

A look at the final statistics won’t overwhelm you as the Ravens failed to reach 300 yards of total offense and averaged just 2.0 yards per carry. Harbaugh labeled Saturday his team’s best game of the season, but the Ravens have scored more and allowed fewer points in other games this season.

More than anything, the performance was the perfect display of the toughness some doubted the Ravens had after an underwhelming month of December. Baltimore was aggressive on both sides of the ball and proved themselves as the more physical team despite the final numbers not blowing you away. A banged-up offensive line allowed only one sack while the pass rush continued to be ferocious in sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times, making life in the shaky secondary much easier as the Steelers were made one-dimensional by the absence of Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell.

But no one showed that toughness more than quarterback Joe Flacco, who picked up where he left off in his historic 2012 postseason by throwing for 259 yards and two touchdowns while posting a 114.0 passer rating. He’s now undefeated in his last five playoffs games and has tossed 13 touchdowns without throwing an interception in that span. In his last seven postseason contests, the 29-year-old has 17 touchdown passes and only one pick.

What is it about the postseason that makes Flacco so great?

“I really don’t know. I say that a lot, but it’s a tough question to answer,” Flacco said. “I come out here and do the same thing all the time. The biggest thing is to come out here and play a consistent football game.”

Of course, Flacco would be the first to tell you he wasn’t alone in disposing of the Steelers as the Ravens received spectacular plays such as Steve Smith’s 40-yard reception midway through the third quarter and Terrell Suggs’ legs-aided interception in the fourth that set up a quick score. But there were also a number of under-the-radar contributions that proved critical such as safety Darian Stewart driving Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown out of bounds to prevent a 29-yard touchdown in the second quarter and left guard Kelechi Osemele stymieing rush specialist James Harrison from a potential sack-strip of Flacco on the 11-yard touchdown strike to Torrey Smith that put the Ravens up 20-9 late in the third quarter.

The Ravens weathered adversity after Justin Forsett’s fumble and a quick Steelers touchdown — the kind of sequence that doomed them in previous playoff experiences against Pittsburgh — by responding with 10 points on their next two possessions to put the game away.

Baltimore was simply better than Pittsburgh on Saturday, and it’s been a long time coming for fans who’ve endured plenty of disappointment at the hands of the Steel City over the years. Flacco said earlier in the week that the Ravens weren’t brooding over previous playoff failures in Pittsburgh in the same way that they couldn’t dwell on the struggles of the final month of the regular season.

January brings a new season, and the Ravens certainly responded in the best way possible.

“You have to play these games to win,” Flacco said. “You can’t play not to lose. You have to go out there and you have to let everything go. You can’t worry about the outcome.”

And in not worrying, the Ravens were able to finally exorcise those old Pittsburgh demons.

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Please join me this weekend in New England for Ravens playoff fun

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Please join me this weekend in New England for Ravens playoff fun

Posted on 04 January 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

In what has become an almost-annual pilgrimage to visit our dreaded neighbors to the north, WNST once again presents an  opportunity to head to New England to watch the Ravens do playoff battle with the dreaded Patriots for a 4:30 p.m. game this Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015.

REGRETTABLY, OUR BOSTON OVER NIGHT TRIP IS SOLD OUT!!!!!

Our WNST Jerry’s Collision Center Purple Playoff Roadtrips to Foxborough up-and-back trip directly to the game (no hotel stay) that will depart from White Marsh at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning and leave approximately 90 minutes after the final whistle in New England.

The trip is expected to return to White Marsh at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN “BUS ONLY” TRANSPORTATION OPTION BECAUSE YOU ALREADY HAVE A TICKET TO THE GAME, please see bottom of thread to purchase that option. We’re happy to help all Baltimore Ravens fans get to the big game in Foxborough.

ONE DAY UP-AND-BACK TO FOXBOROUGH TRIP INCLUDES:

Roundtrip Gunther Motorcoach transportation

One upper deck game ticket at Gillette Stadium (all groups will be kept together!)

Snack and sandwiches from Royal Farms for the ride to be washed down with a limited supply of beer, soda and water en route to Foxborough

Plenty of DVDs, purple films and trivia for the ride to and from Foxborough

Free copies of Purple Reign 1 and 2

TRIP COST: $350 per person

Simply click on ADD TO CART below…

Mobile #:

 

IF YOU ALREADY HAVE TICKETS TO THE GAME AND JUST NEED A RIDE:

Simply click on ADD TO CART below…

TRIP COST: $175 per person

 

 

 

 

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Join us: WNST offering two ways to travel to New England for Ravens playoff

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Join us: WNST offering two ways to travel to New England for Ravens playoff

Posted on 03 January 2015 by WNST Trips

In what has become an almost-annual pilgrimage to visit our dreaded neighbors to the north, WNST once again presents an  opportunity to head to New England to watch the Ravens do playoff battle with the dreaded Patriots for a 4:30 p.m. game this Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015.

REGRETTABLY, OUR BOSTON OVER NIGHT TRIP IS SOLD OUT!!!!!

Our WNST Jerry’s Collision Center Purple Playoff Roadtrips to Foxborough up-and-back trip directly to the game (no hotel stay) that will depart from White Marsh at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning and leave approximately 90 minutes after the final whistle in New England.

The trip is expected to return to White Marsh at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN “BUS ONLY” TRANSPORTATION OPTION BECAUSE YOU ALREADY HAVE A TICKET TO THE GAME, please see bottom of thread to purchase that option. We’re happy to help all Baltimore Ravens fans get to the big game in Foxborough.

ONE DAY UP-AND-BACK TO FOXBOROUGH TRIP INCLUDES:

Roundtrip Gunther Motorcoach transportation

One upper deck game ticket at Gillette Stadium (all groups will be kept together!)

Snack and sandwiches from Royal Farms for the ride to be washed down with a limited supply of beer, soda and water en route to Foxborough

Plenty of DVDs, purple films and trivia for the ride to and from Foxborough

Free copies of Purple Reign 1 and 2

TRIP COST: $350 per person

Simply click on ADD TO CART below…

Mobile #:

 

IF YOU ALREADY HAVE TICKETS TO THE GAME AND JUST NEED A RIDE:

Simply click on ADD TO CART below…

TRIP COST: $175 per person

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (1)

Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Saturday night

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 02 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Here we go again.

Regarded by many as the best rivalry in the NFL, the Ravens and Steelers meet for the third time this season and the fourth time ever in the postseason at Heinz Field on Saturday night. Baltimore and Pittsburgh split a pair of 20-point finals during the regular season with each team winning on its home field.

The weather figures to be a significant storyline as the forecast continues to call for a 90 to 100 percent chance of rain with temperatures in the mid-40s and winds that could reach 20 miles per hour.

Both teams will be dealing with significant injuries as the Steelers will be without Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell while the Ravens are missing left tackle Eugene Monroe for the second straight game, meaning rookie free agent James Hurst will start in his place. Pittsburgh will rely on rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer as well as newly-signed veteran Ben Tate to pick up the slack in Bell’s absence.

In more positive news, the Ravens will welcome back five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata from suspension, which will more than offset the loss of rookie Timmy Jernigan (foot) in Week 17.

Of course, both team will lean heavily on Super Bowl winning quarterbacks to lead the way as Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger both know what it takes to make a meaningful run in January. Roethlisberger owns a 10-4 postseason record while Flacco owns a 9-4 mark in the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the fourth time in postseason history with Pittsburgh holding a 3-0 mark with all previous playoff games being played at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh also leads the all-time regular-season series 21-17, but 13 of the 16 games — including the postseason — played between the Ravens and Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by one possession.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to beat Pittsburgh for the first time ever in the postseason …

1. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will each collect a sack, but a sloppy field will neutralize some of their ability to wreak havoc. Bell’s absence will put plenty of attention on the Pittsburgh passing game, which will have the Ravens’ rush licking its chops over the possibility of being able to tee off on Roethlisberger. However, the Steelers offensive line is much better than it’s been in several years and the wet surface at Heinz Field will slow the rush for both teams. Suggs and Dumervil often try to jump snap counts to utilize their speed off the edge, but hard counts and a chewed-up field will make things easier for tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert.

2. With the Ravens focused on slowing Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown, rookie Martavis Bryant will beat Rashaan Melvin for a long touchdown. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees knows Brown is the Steelers’ most dangerous weapon, which will make it even more important to focus on him in coverage with Bell unavailable. The Ravens will shade safety help to where Brown lines up as much as possible, but that could leave Melvin matched up against the 6-foot-4 Bryant. Melvin has played well since being thrown into the mix last month, but this will be his first NFL game against an elite quarterback and he’ll bite on a double move by Bryant for a score.

3. Justin Forsett will be the only running back from either team to find modest success on Saturday night with 70 yards and a touchdown. Considering few have run with any success against the Ravens this season, the Steelers won’t be able to do much without Bell, who will also be missed as a receiver and in pass protection. However, Baltimore has struggled to run consistently in recent weeks and will face the league’s sixth-ranked run defense. The Ravens will run wide and use counters to get the Steelers’ front seven moving laterally — something they also want to do with play-action plays to neutralize the pass rush — and Forsett will do enough to keep the Pittsburgh defense on its toes with the rain falling.

4. Both Flacco and Roethlisberger will throw more than 35 times despite a forecast conducive to running the ball. In the old days of this rivalry, Saturday’s forecast would have meant both sides grinding it out with the rushing attack, but the run defenses are too stout and the secondaries too vulnerable for the game not to be put in the hands of these franchise quarterbacks. The Ravens will mix in more runs than the Steelers, but Roethlisberger has better weapons to throw to in the passing game. As Harbaugh pointed out earlier in the week, both Flacco and Roethlisberger are used to playing in poor weather and the rain won’t prevent them from making some plays through the air.

5. The weather will contribute to another low-scoring tight one, but the Steelers will find a way to prevail in a 20-17 final. The loss of Bell is a major blow to Pittsburgh and could be enough to tip the scale in Baltimore’s favor, but the Ravens haven’t risen to the occasion against good teams, sporting only one win all season against a team that finished with a winning record. Many are pointing to 2012 as enough reason for the Ravens to be able to make a run, but even in the midst of losing four of their last five to close that regular season, there was the Week 16 demolition of the New York Giants that flashed what the offense would be able to do in the postseason. Despite a strong fourth quarter to beat Cleveland in Week 17, the Ravens have failed to inspire on offense for almost a month now, making it too difficult to believe the unit suddenly clicks in January with a banged-up offensive line. And after an admirable run against pedestrian passing games in December, a patchwork secondary isn’t going to hold up as well against the NFL’s second-ranked passing attack. Harbaugh’s group will give a one-dimensional Pittsburgh offense everything it can handle, but Roethlisberger has played the best football of his career this season and will do just enough at home to get by the Ravens yet again in the postseason.

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Ravens preparing for sloppy conditions at Heinz Field

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Ravens preparing for sloppy conditions at Heinz Field

Posted on 01 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After going through an entire season of mild weather, the Ravens are preparing for ugly conditions in Pittsburgh for Saturday night’s playoff meeting with the Steelers.

Forecasts continue to call for a 100 percent chance of rain with winds that could reach 20 miles per hour on Saturday night. It may create a fitting scene for what many consider a throwback rivalry, but which team has the advantage?

With the Steelers possessing the NFL’s second-ranked passing game and Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell’s status up in the air, the Ravens probably don’t mind a rainy forecast at Heinz Field. Head coach John Harbaugh sees drawbacks for each side of the ball if conditions are poor, but he doesn’t envision Joe Flacco or Ben Roethlisberger being dramatically impacted.

“Some days you feel like it’s an advantage to the defense, because maybe [the offense] can’t throw it quite as well,” Harbaugh said. “Other times you think it’s an advantage to the offense, because they know where they’re cutting and braking and things like that. I think both these quarterbacks are good bad-weather quarterbacks. That’s why they’re both successful in the AFC North.”

Despite showing inconsistency on the ground in recent weeks, the Ravens rank eighth in rush offense while Pittsburgh is only 16th and could be without Bell, who rushed for 1,361 yards in his second NFL season. Both teams have questionable depth at the position behind their starters as the Ravens lost rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro for the season and the Steelers had to sign veteran Ben Tate earlier this week.

Coming off the best regular season of his career, Justin Forsett sees nothing wrong with the wet conditions being predicted for Saturday. His impressive ability to change direction and low center of gravity are conducive traits to running effectively in wet conditions.

“As a running back, you love it,” Forsett said. “Usually, it means that you’re running the ball, but you never know. But I’m excited for it, either way.”

Beyond how much the weather itself might impact both teams’ game plans, the field conditions will be under scrutiny as the natural grass at Heinz Field holds up poorly late in the season. The Ravens haven’t played in substantially wet conditions in Pittsburgh since a 38-7 blowout loss suffered in a Monday night game in 2007.

In recent years, many have clamored for Pittsburgh to install an artificial surface at Heinz Field, which also serves as the home of University of Pittsburgh football and high school football playoff games.

“It’s terrible, man. They need to go ahead and put some turf up there or something,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “But you know that’s the case. Apparently the field gets a lot of use, so that’s good for them, but it’s terrible for [the players] playing this late. I’m sure they’ll do a great job prepping it, but if we use our fundamentals, the field shouldn’t matter.”

Versatile Yanda

With right tackle Rick Wagner out for the season and left tackle Eugene Monroe’s status for Saturday in doubt, the Ravens may be forced to use Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda at right tackle for a second straight start.

Of course, Yanda is no stranger to the position after playing the entire 2010 season there, but it’s a testament to the four-time Pro Bowl selection’s preparation and ability that he barely missed a beat in the regular-season finale against Cleveland. It’s another example of the 2007 third-round pick quietly establishing himself as one of the best players in franchise history.

“I told Marshal, ‘You’ll be fine. You could probably play quarterback.’” said offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak of the position change. “That’s the way he is. He’s an amazing player. His attention to detail, his commitment to the football team and what he does is as good as I’ve ever been around. So, [I’m] not surprised at all.”

Yanda’s versatility has allowed the Ravens to insert rookie John Urschel at right guard while rookie James Hurst has played left tackle in place of Monroe.

Taking the late-season change in stride, Yanda denied any ability or interest in lining up under center, but Kubiak has repeatedly said he’s as good as any offensive lineman he’s ever coached. The standout lineman’s focus remains on trying to beat Pittsburgh in the postseason for the first time in franchise history.

“I appreciate it, that’s for sure,” Yanda said. “Right now, you’re worried about playing well, practicing, and getting ready for the Steelers. There will be time to reflect back on the season after the season is over.”

Thursday’s injury report

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Arthur Brown (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (foot/ankle), T Eugene Monroe (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Chris Canty (thigh/ankle), TE Owen Daniels (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Le’Veon Bell (knee), LB James Harrison (illness), QB Landry Jones (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Mike Adams (illness), DT Steve McLendon (shoulder), TE Heath Miller (non-injury), TE Michael Palmer (groin), S Troy Polamalu (knee), QB Ben Roethlisberger (non-injury), CB Ike Taylor (shoulder/forearm)

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Even with long odds, Ravens still rolling shiny dice in January

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Even with long odds, Ravens still rolling shiny dice in January

Posted on 28 December 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It had been a forgettable seven quarters of football for Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense.

Coming off one of the worst games of his career in the offensive meltdown in Houston, Flacco and the Ravens weren’t faring much better Sunday as they trailed 10-3 to the Cleveland Browns entering the fourth quarter. Knowing they were getting the necessary help from Kansas City to make the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, the Ravens needed to break through the thick fog that was threatening to wreck their season.

Even if it took an extra quarter to take effect, the message came loud and clear from their franchise quarterback at halftime.

“Joe stepped up at halftime when he talked to the team briefly,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He just made a point, kept it simple and said, ‘Let’s just go win a game.’ That kind of summed it all up for us. Let’s go do what we have to do to win a football game.”

Win is what the Ravens did in a 20-10 final to punch their ticket to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. The performance wasn’t pretty and does little to quell concerns about an offense that continues to start games at a glacial pace.

But with it also came a reminder why Baltimore can’t be counted out in the postseason despite a banged-up offensive line, a recently-inconsistent running game, and a patchwork secondary. Few expect a long playoff run for the Ravens as they face the prospects of three straight road games just to make it to Super Bowl XLIX, but don’t tell that to their seventh-year quarterback.

After completing just 14 of 27 passes for 151 yards and a 68.6 passer rating through the first three quarters Sunday, Flacco went 8-for-9 for 161 yards, two touchdown passes, and a perfect 158.3 rating in the final 15 minutes as the Ravens scored 17 unanswered points to finish off the Browns. It was the kind of performance that reminds you how dangerous Flacco can be when he heats up, just like he did in his historic 2012 postseason that resulted in a Super Bowl title.

“Anything can happen once you get into the playoffs, but I don’t necessarily want to approach it [with that mindset] with us,” Flacco said. “I’m not going to be surprised if, three weeks from now, we’re sitting here and still playing. I think when I say anything can happen — or if I was to say that — that’s implying we don’t deserve to win any games in the playoffs.”

Of course, Flacco wasn’t alone in stepping up in the fourth quarter as Torrey Smith beat Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden to make a spectacular 53-yard reception to swing the momentum with just over eight minutes to go. The fourth-year wideout then reined in a 16-yard touchdown catch on the next play as the Ravens took a 13-10 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Ravens know they’ll need to rediscover their running game for a full four quarters and to lean on a potent pass rush when potentially facing the AFC’s top quarterbacks in January — starting with Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger on Saturday night — but any chance of a meaningful playoff run will begin and end with Flacco, who had the best regular season of his career despite the poor showing in Houston and the shaky beginning to Sunday’s game. The 29-year-old threw for 3,986 yards and 27 touchdowns this season, which were both career highs.

Even with long odds as the No. 6 seed, the Ravens know Flacco can be the lucky dice at the playoff table.

“When Joe is hot, he’s tough to handle,” Smith said. “And that’s on us at times to get him hot and our offensive line to do a great job protecting him. When you get him hot, we’ve seen what he can do. Hopefully, that last quarter, or whatever amount it was he got hot, hopefully that continues on.”

The comparisons to 2012 will be made by optimists this week as the 10-6 Ravens return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, but they won’t be afforded the luxury of a wild-card round home game like they enjoyed two years ago. Baltimore only won consecutive road contests once this season in topping New Orleans and Miami over a three-week stretch and would need three straight to make it to Arizona.

Only one of the Ravens’ 10 wins this season came against an opponent that finished the year with a winning record — Pittsburgh in Week 2. They were 1-6 against teams that finished the season above .500.

The health of left tackle Eugene Monroe will be closely monitored after he missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. It’s difficult envisioning the Ravens surviving very long without either starting tackle as Rick Wagner was lost for the season last week.

A band-aid secondary has played admirably over the last four weeks, but too much optimism would be fool’s gold after the Ravens faced the likes of Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Connor Shaw in December. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata’s return from suspension will provide a boost to an already-imposing defensive line, but the foot injury suffered by improving rookie Timmy Jernigan on Sunday could neutralize the overall impact.

On top of it all, the Ravens will travel to Pittsburgh, a place where they’re winless in three previous playoff trips with the most recent coming at the end of the 2010 season.

There are plenty of reasons not to like the Ravens’ chances in the 2014 postseason, but could Flacco’s awakening in the fourth quarter on Sunday be a sign of what’s to come in January?

“I have no idea. If we go win the Super Bowl, I guess it will be,” Flacco said. “The goal is not to make the playoffs. That’s the first part. That has to happen in order to achieve your goal. That’s really not the goal. I’ve been here through plenty of wins in the playoffs and then losses in the AFC championship game, losses in the division round, and believe me, people aren’t any happier just because you made the playoffs. It’s not a good feeling.

“Like I said, I think if we go do what we’re capable of doing then a game like this will mean something.”

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 27 December 2014 by Luke Jones

(Editor’s note: The Browns announced that wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for a team violation after this post was published.)

Needing help in Week 17 is never a comfortable feeling, but it’s reality for the Ravens as they welcome the Cleveland Browns to town for the regular-season finale on Sunday.

Baltimore needs a win coupled with a Kansas City victory over San Diego to advance to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years under head coach John Harbaugh. Should the Ravens win and not receive help from the Chiefs — who will be starting backup Chase Daniel in place of injured quarterback Alex Smith — it would be the first time in franchise history that they’d finish a year with double-digit wins and not make the postseason.

Of course, the Ravens wouldn’t trade their current predicament with the Browns, who are losers of four straight and are forced to start rookie free agent Connor Shaw due to Week 16 injuries suffered by Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. While many in Baltimore are displeased by the possibility of the Ravens missing the playoffs for a second straight year, Cleveland needs a win just to complete its third non-losing season since 1999.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 32nd time in regular-season history. Baltimore is 12-3 against Cleveland at M&T Bank Stadium and has won 12 of the last 13 over the Browns under Harbaugh. The Browns haven’t beaten the Ravens in Baltimore since 2007.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens hope to extend their season beyond Week 17 …

1. Torrey Smith will catch a touchdown in what could be his final game with the Ravens. The Browns own the league’s seventh-ranked pass defense, but top cornerback Joe Haden is questionable with a shoulder injury that limited him in practice all week. Meanwhile, Smith is facing the possibility of Sunday being his last game with Baltimore. It will be interesting to see what kind of market potentially develops for the 2011 second-round pick as he’s proven himself as a solid — and occasionally spectacular — No. 2 receiver, but the Ravens cannot and should not pay him as anything more than that. Regardless of what happens this offseason, Smith will catch his team-leading 11th touchdown of the 2014 campaign.

2. Browns wideout Josh Gordon will have his best game since his 2014 season debut in Week 12. Draw whatever conclusion you’d like, but Cleveland’s once-promising season crashed right around the time that the talented receiver returned from a lengthy suspension. There’s no doubting Gordon’s immense talent, but he hasn’t provided the shot in the arm the Browns needed as they’ve lost four of the five games in which he’s played. Gordon will have a chance to finish the season on a high note against the league’s 28th-ranked pass defense and even with Shaw under center, the 6-foot-3 receiver will eclipse 75 receiving yards and catch his first touchdown of the year, beating Rashaan Melvin in coverage.

3. Timmy Jernigan and Pernell McPhee will combine for three sacks against a vulnerable Browns interior line. All eyes will be on Elvis Dumervil and his quest to lead the league in sacks, but the Ravens should have few problems exploiting the interior portion of the Cleveland line as Nick McDonald is expected to start at center for the injured Ryan Seymour. The Browns have struggled inside since the loss of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack earlier in the year, and McPhee and Jernigan have had plenty of success as interior rushers in passing situations. While Cleveland will do whatever it can to contain Dumervil and Terrell Suggs off the edges, the Ravens will wreak havoc on the rookie Shaw with pressure right up the middle.

4. Justin Forsett will crack the century mark to complete one of the most surprising seasons in franchise history. The running game has suddenly become a concern over the last couple weeks, but the Browns are dead last in the NFL against the run, which will soften the blow of neither Eugene Monroe or Rick Wagner playing on Sunday. Even without his starting tackles to block for him, Forsett will take advantage of a front seven that will struggle to set the edge and will fail to protect cutback lanes, leading to a couple long runs. Forsett will join Jamal Lewis, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice as the only running backs in franchise history to post a 1,200-yard season.

5. The Ravens will win 24-13 before learning they will miss the postseason after not receiving the necessary help from Kansas City. Sunday’s game will be one of those contests that’s closer than it should be, but the Browns’ inability to consistently move the ball will allow the Ravens to stay ahead until they put together a fourth-quarter drive to make it a two-score game. Unfortunately, the Chargers will continue their late-season mojo with a win over the Chiefs to clinch the No. 6 spot. Considering the adversity and injuries the Ravens experienced in 2014, a 10-win season looks good on paper, but the memory of late-season losses to San Diego and Houston will lead to the most offseason pressure Harbaugh has felt since coming to Baltimore.

 

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Control of playoff path slips away along with Ravens’ late-season mettle

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Control of playoff path slips away along with Ravens’ late-season mettle

Posted on 21 December 2014 by Luke Jones

There are tough losses and then there’s that rare defeat that forces you to reevaluate everything you thought you knew about a football team.

The Ravens experienced the latter Sunday in falling to the Houston Texans in a 25-13 final with numbers that don’t do justice to how miserable the performance was. Baltimore has experienced bigger margins of defeat in the John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco era, but most haven’t come in a spot in which the Ravens had so much to lose.

Sunday was easily the worst offensive performance of the season as the Ravens were held to an anemic 64 yards through the first three quarters. From Flacco and the running game to the offensive line and the wide receivers, no part of the performance was remotely acceptable, including a coaching staff that failed to account for the Texans’ pass rush throughout the day or to find answers to get the all-important running game on track.

For the second straight year, the Ravens entered Week 16 in complete control of their path to the playoffs, needing two wins to guarantee a trip to the postseason. And just like last year’s home defeat to New England in the penultimate game of the regular season, the Ravens were dominated while watching that playoff power slip through their fingers.

Losing big at home to the Patriots last season was bad enough, but at least it came against a team regarded as one of the NFL’s best. On Sunday, the Ravens fell on the road to a team sporting a .500 record and starting a fourth-string quarterback who was signed off another team’s practice squad earlier in the week.

Of course, Sunday’s defeat had very little to do with Texans quarterback Case Keenum and everything to do with a Houston defense that overwhelmed Flacco and the offense. The Texans deserve plenty of credit and have the best defensive player on the planet in J.J. Watt, but the Ravens offense coming up so small with the stakes so high negates much of the progress made in Gary Kubiak’s first year as coordinator.

It reeked of the ineptitude of last year.

As much scrutiny as the Ravens defense has drawn over a secondary ravaged by injuries, Dean Pees’ unit played admirably in limiting the Texans to just one touchdown in seven trips inside the red zone. You could have almost stomached a defeat in which Texans receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins kept running free and Keenum caught lightning in a bottle, but the Baltimore defense was acceptable on Sunday.

The Ravens can still make the playoffs with a win over Cleveland next Sunday and either two losses by Cincinnati or a San Diego loss at Kansas City, but their loss on Sunday makes you wonder if they’ve lost the late-season mettle made famous in Harbaugh’s first five years at the helm. Maybe it’s because of certain talent deficiencies, something missing in their current DNA, or both, but the Ravens just didn’t lose games like Sunday’s in Harbaugh’s first five seasons.

After 15 games and just two wins over teams currently holding a .500 record, the 9-6 Ravens just might not be all that good. Their biggest critics have repeatedly pointed out how they’ve benefited from playing the woeful NFC South as Baltimore holds a 5-6 record against the rest of the league. Beating bad teams is well and good, but you have to rise to the occasion to put yourself in position to do something special by beating quality opponents.

Are the Ravens good enough to make the playoffs in 2014? Sure, as long as they win next week and receive some outside help from other less-than-stellar talent in the AFC. Plenty of teams have made the playoffs without looking like they “deserve” it.

But it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens going on any kind of a significant run in January, especially with the offense regressing over the last few weeks and a defense with band-aids upon band-aids in the secondary. The uncertainty after injuries to offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner certainly won’t help, either.

Sunday brought reality into a nightmarish focus.

The Ravens not only lost control of their path to the postseason, but their proven late-season mettle appeared to slip away with it.

They can begin trying to find it again next week, but there’s no guarantee the ride will continue beyond that.

And they have no one to blame but themselves.

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Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 20 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Sunday represents a homecoming for a number of players and coaches as the Ravens travel to Houston to take on the Texans.

From offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and assistants Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani to tight end Owen Daniels, running back Justin Forsett, and wide receiver Jacoby Jones, plenty of Ravens will be returning to a place they called home for a number of years, but there’s little time for sentimentality when you’re in the playoff race. At 9-5, Baltimore can clinch a playoff spot in Week 16 with a win and losses by both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh or a win over the Texans coupled with defeats by both San Diego and Kansas City.

On the surface, the Ravens should feel very confident as the Texans are turning to their fourth quarterback of the season — expected to be the newly-signed Case Keenum — but Houston still possesses the best defensive player on the planet in J.J. Watt and a powerful running game that ranks fourth in the NFL. The 7-7 Texans are a long shot to sneak into the playoffs at this point, but they’d like nothing more than to spoil Baltimore’s playoff chances on Sunday.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Texans meet for the seventh time in regular-season history with the Ravens holding a 6-1 edge, which doesn’t include their 20-13 win over Houston in the 2011 postseason. Baltimore is 3-1 against Houston at NRG Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens hope to clinch a playoff spot in Week 16 …

1. Baltimore will advance its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 25 games, but Arian Foster will have a season-high total against the Ravens defense. No opposing running back has even gotten close to the century mark this season as Ahmad Bradshaw of Indianapolis has the highest total of the year against the Ravens with just 68 in Week 5. However, Foster will represent the greatest test the Ravens have seen since Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended for Adderall use. Both defenses will be familiar with the opposing rushing attack as the Ravens and Texans both use the zone stretch, but Houston will be a bit too predictable relying on the run due to the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Foster will rush for more yards against the Ravens than any back this season, but his total will remain south of 100 yards.

2. Daniels will catch a touchdown and have his best game of the season against his former team. The longtime Texans tight end having a strong day against his former team would be a feel-good story, but quarterback Joe Flacco went out of his way earlier in the week to say Daniels needs to be more involved in the offense. Against Jacksonville, Daniels was targeted nine times — the most he’s been thrown to since Week 9 — and caught four passes for 62 yards and his first touchdown since Week 7. The Ravens’ 17th-ranked red-zone attack remains a weakness of a strong offensive attack, but the reemergence of Daniels would be a major factor in a potential trip to the playoffs. His familiarity with the Texans’ defensive personnel will help him produce a season-high in yards, besting the 70 he had against the Colts in Week 5.

3. Watt will collect a sack and bat down a pass, but the Ravens will throw away from him and run plenty of counters to try to minimize his impact. The Texans defensive end might go down as the most disruptive defensive force the NFL has seen since Lawrence Taylor, but the Ravens can only focus on minimizing his impact as much as possible on Sunday. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will move Watt all over the defensive line, so the key is identifying where he lines up and running the play away from him. Flacco will throw to the opposite side of where Watt lines up to try to minimize his ability to use his 6-foot-5 frame to disrupt passing lanes, but running the counter is effective in slowing his motor as well as the rest of the Houston pass rush. Watt will see double-teams, chip blocks, and max protect as well, but play selection will be just as important.

4. Daryl Smith will pick up his second interception of the year to continue his strong finish to the season. A slow start and the emergence of rookie C.J. Mosley have led many to overlook how well the veteran linebacker has played in the second half of the season. An effective blitzer and still the Ravens’ best linebacker in pass coverage, Smith could be a key factor in trying to confuse Keenum, who proved to be an aggressive passer who couldn’t handle a pass rush in eight games for the Texans last season. It’s obvious the Baltimore defense will try to pressure the young quarterback, but Smith could prove key by showing blitz up the middle before dropping into pass coverage. The secondary will have its hands full with wide receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins — if the latter plays — but Smith will come away with a pick with Keenum facing a heavy rush.

5. Baltimore’s advantage at the quarterback position will be the ultimate difference in a tight 23-16 win for the Ravens. Last week’s struggles against the Jaguars should remind everyone that nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, and the Texans remained competitive in Indianapolis last week despite veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick going down with a broken leg. Bill O’Brien’s team has talent on both sides of the ball, but it’s very difficult imagining John Harbaugh and the Ravens losing to a fourth-string quarterback under these critical circumstances. Flacco will need to stand tall against a formidable pass rush, but he’s played very well since the bye week, a trend that will continue against a mediocre secondary. It will be a tight game in Houston, but the Ravens will get some revenge for Kubiak and find a way to move to 10-5 on the season.

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