Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2016

Posted on 11 February 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are coming off their worst season of the John Harbaugh era, and most offseason discussion has centered around the draft and how active general manager Ozzie Newsome can be in free agency.

There’s no disputing the need for more high-impact talent, but improvement from within will go a long way in determining how quickly the Ravens can return to contention after a 5-11 campaign. With limited salary cap space and only so many holes that can be filled through the draft, Baltimore needs young players already on the roster to make a difference this coming fall with some experience and another offseason under their belts.

Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in order to bounce back from their disappointing 2015 campaign:

1. WR Breshad Perriman

Who else could it be in the top spot? The Ravens put all their eggs in one basket trying to replace Torrey Smith with their 2015 first-round pick before he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first full day of training camp and left the offense without any speed. General manager Ozzie Newsome said he had a smile on his face watching the 6-foot-2 Perriman practice before the injury, and the Baltimore offense will desperately need his speed for a passing attack that struggled to push the ball down the field in 2015. The Ravens will wisely look for additional help at the position this offseason, but Perriman will be the biggest key in making the passing game more explosive and less reliant on a 37-year-old Steve Smith and emerging possession receiver Kamar Aiken.

2. LB Za’Darius Smith

The 2015 fourth-round pick’s 3 1/2 sacks over the final three games of 2015 are something to build on from what was mostly a quiet rookie season. In fairness, the Ravens expected a smaller role for the 275-pound linebacker, but the season-ending Achilles injury to Terrell Suggs in the opener made Smith the primary backup to Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw. Denver showed again in Super Bowl 50 how important it is to have disruptive pass rushers, but how much longer can the Ravens expect Suggs and Dumervil to perform at a high level? Even if Newsome is lucky enough to come away with an impact edge rusher like Joey Bosa or Noah Spence in this spring’s draft, Smith needs to take a big step forward if the Ravens want to boost a pass rush that was too inconsistent in 2015.

3. DT Carl Davis

Many have discussed the second-half improvement of the pass defense, but the Ravens gave up more than 100 yards rushing in each of their final five games after surrendering that amount just twice in their first 11 contests. Brandon Williams played at a Pro Bowl-level and Timmy Jernigan improved after a slow start, but the Ravens needed more contributions from Davis after he began the season looking like one of the steals of the draft. The Iowa product played well early and started three games, but he appeared to wear down and was a non-factor in the second half of the season, seeing just 17 defensive snaps over the final six games. Baltimore doesn’t need Davis to be Haloti Ngata, but his emergence as a run-stopping force next to Williams would allow the Ravens to keep Jernigan fresh for pass-rushing situations.

4. S Terrence Brooks

It’s never good for a player to show up on a list like this two years in a row, but the 2014 third-round pick is just one of many safeties the Ravens have added over the last few years to try to bring stability to the spot once occupied by future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. Brooks made an impressive recovery from the serious knee surgery suffered in the final month of his rookie year, but he saw just 67 defensive snaps in 2015. Kendrick Lewis remains under contract and Lardarius Webb is an option if the Ravens adjust his $9.5 million cap figure for 2016, but Brooks has the athleticism to be more of a playmaker at the position than anyone else on the current roster. Unfortunately, coaches haven’t trusted him from a mental standpoint, so it appears this could be the make-or-break year for the Florida State product.

5. RB Buck Allen

Allen’s inclusion is more about circumstance than his rookie season in which he accumulated 867 total yards of offense, most coming after the season-ending injury to veteran Justin Forsett in Week 11. The Ravens have plenty of depth at running back, but Forsett will be 31, Lorenzo Taliaferro hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a full season, and local product Terrance West has been with three teams in two years. Allen caught an impressive 45 passes, but his 3.8 yards per carry average leaves you wondering whether he can be a feature back in the NFL. The Ravens need more of a home-run hitter in the backfield, and the 2015 fourth-rounder figures to have the best chance to be that guy. Ray Rice averaged 4.2 yards per carry as a rookie before making the Pro Bowl a year later. Can Allen make a jump anywhere close to that?

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Denver’s path reminds Ravens of NFL’s slim margin for error

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As Denver prepared for Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, it was difficult not to think back to the Ravens’ season-opening 19-13 loss to the Broncos last September and remember the high expectations entering 2015.

An interception returned for a touchdown by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib was the difference as the Ravens owned the lead late in the third quarter before a Joe Flacco pass intended for Steve Smith was returned 51 yards in the other direction. Perhaps the season plays out differently if John Harbaugh’s team holds on to steal a difficult road win to kick off 2015 on a high note.

Some have pointed to that narrow Week 1 defeat as reason why Baltimore isn’t far from again being a contender despite its worst season since 2007. And, yes, there was some symmetry in the Super Bowl champions having 12 of their 16 regular-season games decided by a single possession while the Ravens saw 14 of their 16 contests decided by eight or fewer points this season.

But that’s life in the NFL as only six teams — Carolina, New England, Arizona, and Cincinnati on the plus side and San Francisco and Cleveland on the negative side — owned a scoring margin of more than eight points points per game in either direction in 2015. Most games are decided in the fourth quarter and are close.

Excruciatingly close.

And that margin of victory — or defeat — is typically decided by the game-changing players on either side of the ball. For all the discussion about Peyton Manning’s decline, the Broncos still have a plethora of playmakers on both sides of the ball, ranging from outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Talib to receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Those are the types of players that separate the winning teams from the losing ones in an otherwise fairly even talent pool from team to team. Denver’s plus-59 point differential during the regular season ranked just sixth in the AFC and 10th in the NFL, but Gary Kubiak’s team figured out ways to win close games while the Ravens consistently fell short in crunch time in 2015.

For years, Baltimore had a number of dynamic players, but most have either departed or have aged too much since Super Bowl XLVII three years ago. The well-documented list of injuries in 2015 merely amplified what was already a flawed roster.

Great players were on display for Denver in Santa Clara on Sunday night.

It will be up to general manager Ozzie Newsome this offseason to find at least a couple game-changers to close that narrow but all-important gap between winning and losing teams.

Otherwise, the Ravens will probably find themselves watching playoff games from their couches again next January.

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NFL reports more concussions in 2015, which may not be bad thing

Posted on 29 January 2016 by Luke Jones

With head injuries continuing to be such a serious topic of discussion, the NFL revealing on Friday that reported concussions rose to the highest level of the last four seasons doesn’t sound like good news.

After the league previously praised the way many players had adapted their style of play as the reason for a decrease in concussions in each of the previous two seasons, we’re now left wondering why there was a 54-percent increase in reported concussions from 2014 (123) to 2015 (190) in regular-season practices and games. The number of concussions in preseason practices and games went largely unchanged (83 in 2014 to 81 this past year).

Perhaps something did change that resulted in decreased safety in 2015 or maybe all involved parties — medical staff, officials, coaches, teammates, and even the concussed players themselves — are becoming more effective and responsible in recognizing and reporting concussion-related symptoms.

In other words, do these numbers represent an increase in actual concussions or is the league merely identifying more of them than it did in the past? According to NFL senior vice president of health and safety policy Jeff Miller, the number of players screened for possible concussions doubled from last year.

Ultimately, do we want concussion numbers that make us feel better or do we want to move closer to the truth and improving player safety?

Considering how skeptical most have been about the NFL’s handling of concussions over the years — and rightfully so — a higher number of reported concussions could reasonably lead us to believe that initiatives such as an independent trainer being stationed in the press box to watch for injuries and the 2015 introduction of the medical timeout rule are working — if even to remind everyone that this is a serious issue that can no longer be overlooked in the heat of competition.

Even if we haven’t solved the concussion problem, awareness has never been higher.

Errors are still being made as we saw with the concussion suffered by St. Louis quarterback Case Keenum in Baltimore in late November, but Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger self-reported symptoms in a game a week later, an act that likely would have been viewed as out of the question even a few years ago. You can only hope that more players take his lead as an example of not trying to play through a possible concussion.

The Ravens came under some scrutiny for the way they handled a situation in Miami on Dec. 6 when quarterback Matt Schaub slammed his head on the ground and immediately clutched his helmet with his hands, a sign of a potential head injury. The veteran wasn’t formally checked until a timeout was called a play later, but he remained in the game after passing concussion testing and the league cleared the organization of any wrongdoing the next day.

“I think whatever they do for safety — whatever they feel they need to do — is great,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the day after the Dolphins game. “To me, you have one here that worked. We have experts who went out there and went through the process, and they’re very diligent and very conscious of concussions right now. That’s something that everybody is thinking about.

“I know mistakes have been made — I understand that — but I think you trust professionals to do their job and respect the fact that they know what they’re doing.”

It’s clear that the perception of head injuries in the NFL has changed dramatically as we no longer glorify “kill” shots that used to be featured on weekly highlight shows. Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s penalized hit on Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in the final moments of a tight playoff game earlier this month wouldn’t have drawn near the same outrage six or seven years ago.

To be clear, concussions will never be eliminated entirely unless we entirely eliminate football — as well as a number of other contact sports — but we can all invest in making the game as safe as possible at every level, which includes teaching proper tackling technique and recognizing and treating concussions effectively. Ultimately, players should know the risks now more than ever — even if we still have a long way to go in continuing to research concussions and the human brain — but we’re seeing longer recovery times than in the past, which is a positive with the NFL’s more-extensive concussion protocol.

This must also come with an understanding that recovering from a concussion has nothing to do with someone’s toughness or manhood, an antiquated notion that needs to be removed from the football culture entirely.

All of us — media and fans included — need to be smarter than that in 2016.

Concussions are an unfortunate part of the game that will not go away altogether, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do all we can to avoid and minimize their impact.

Unfortunately, it’s just difficult to know what to make of the numbers released by the NFL on Friday.

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Better for Reed to get coaching feet wet elsewhere

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens great Ed Reed may become a “phenomenal” coach as Rex Ryan predicted upon hiring him to join the Buffalo Bills staff as his assistant defensive backs coach on Wednesday.

But a Hall of Fame playing career doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be a successful coach as players in multiple sports have learned. That’s why it’s better for Reed to get his coaching feet wet elsewhere before potentially joining the Ravens staff down the line.

Even if many Ravens fans don’t like it.

Coincidentally, Reed is indirectly replacing Buffalo assistant Donnie Henderson, who was his first defensive backs coach in Baltimore and has been with eight different teams since then. It’s a reminder of the frequent turnover in the profession with many coaching changes coming in the form of termination.

It would be an awkward position for the Ravens to fire one of the best players in franchise history should he not have what it takes to be a coach. In Buffalo, fans won’t be sentimental about an assistant coach who had a Hall of Fame career in Baltimore if Ryan would need to let him go in a year or two.

Reed will be able to fly under the radar more with the Bills as he learns the craft.

How would Ravens fans react if Reed were their secondary coach and the group struggled mightily? Many fans couldn’t name Baltimore’s secondary coaches right now — Chris Hewitt and Matt Weiss — but everyone would know one of the best players in franchise history would hold the job.

The 37-year-old gaining valuable experience elsewhere first is a better plan for success.

There are also still some remnants of Reed’s playing career in Baltimore as coaches and remaining players remember the mercurial safety who wasn’t always the most coachable talent and even skipped mandatory minicamp in his final season with the Ravens. As unpredictable as he could be on the field, that same trait followed him off the field as well.

It may just be too soon.

This isn’t to suggest there’s a rift — many fans immediately concluded that Reed must be on poor terms with John Harbaugh if he’s going to work for Ryan instead — but the memories of Reed as a player are still fresh, which could have made for an awkward transition in the present. That said, Reed’s affinity for Ryan makes it unsurprising that the nine-time Pro Bowl selection would want to work with his former defensive coordinator, who was also the final head coach of his playing career with the New York Jets in 2013.

Every great player who transitions to coaching faces the challenge of relating to players who will lack the same talents and desire to be great. Reed has exceptional football intellect and has rightly been praised for mentoring younger teammates late in his career, but he was ultimately still the one in control on the field come Sunday.

The chances that Reed took — some wiser than others — because of his incredible range and ball skills will not be in play for the less-talented defensive backs he will coach. Ultimately, he’ll be the one accountable for getting them ready to play, but those players simply won’t be able to do things the same way that Reed did and he’ll need to recognize and embrace that reality to succeed.

If Reed proves capable and enjoys the extensive commitment needed to be an NFL coach — he only coached flag football for kids this past year — the Ravens should welcome the future Hall of Fame safety with open arms.

But it’s better for everyone that he begins his coaching career elsewhere.

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Pondering the Ravens’ potential 2016 salary cap cuts

Posted on 12 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are facing their most critical offseason of the John Harbaugh era, but revamping a 5-11 team won’t be easy with a salary cap lacking flexibility.

Having entered the offseason with an estimated 2016 commitment of just under $146 million to 47 players, general manager Ozzie Newsome can only hope that the salary cap will rise to the highest reported estimate of $153.4 million, an increase of $10 million from this past season. However, that would still leave little room to sign some of their own free agents, let alone try to make other additions.

The direction of the offseason hinges on Baltimore’s ability to adjust quarterback Joe Flacco’s $28.55 million salary cap figure for the 2016 season, but additional cap-related moves will likely still need to be made. The Ravens may not have an extensive list of high-priority free agents, but standing pat after missing the playoffs in two of the last three seasons won’t sit well with the fan base — or owner Steve Bisciotti.

And after last week’s revelation that Harbaugh doesn’t plan to make any changes to his coaching staff, the Ravens are signaling that the roster was the bigger problem in 2015.

In evaluating cap space and potential cuts, it’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player is offset in part by an additional player jumping into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $450,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.55 million savings on the salary cap.

Below is a list of veteran candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the pre-June 1 cap savings noted in parentheses):

CB Kyle Arrington ($1.433 million)
Skinnny: Signed last spring to serve as Baltimore’s No. 3 corner, Arrington struggled and saw his playing time dwindle dramatically until the late-season move of Lardarius Webb to safety. With younger options such as Will Davis and Tray Walker already on the roster and the Ravens mentioning cornerback as a need to address this offseason, Arrington’s roster spot would appear to be in serious jeopardy.

DE Chris Canty ($2.15 million)
Skinny: The 33-year-old is still a useful player when healthy, but injuries and the presence of Lawrence Guy and Brent Urban for the 5-technique spot make it likely that the Ravens will elect to cut Canty this winter. The organization decided to bring the veteran back after terminating his contract a year ago, but you wonder if either side would have interest in doing that again.

S Matt Elam ($1.328 million)
Skinny: The Ravens would still like to salvage some production out of the worst defensive first-round pick in franchise history, but Elam is making enough money now to wonder if it’s worth it. With Will Hill manning the strong safety spot, where does the University of Florida product even fit? Elam would be an expensive backup and special-teams player at a crowded position.

RB Justin Forsett ($2.3 million)
Skinny: The Ravens have three young running backs behind him on the depth chart, but Lorenzo Taliaferro hasn’t been able to stay healthy, Buck Allen had ball-security issues late in the season, and Terrance West wore out his welcome with two other NFL teams in less than two years. Forsett may not be a home-run hitter, but his $3.7 million cap figure is reasonable and Allen didn’t quite show enough for the Ravens to sign off on him being ready to be a No. 1 running back just yet.

S Kendrick Lewis ($933,333)
Skinny: Though Lewis didn’t bring the impact to the free safety position that the Ravens hoped when they signed him last offseason, his release wouldn’t bring much in the way of cap savings. That being said, if the Ravens truly intend to make Webb their starting free safety, cutting Lewis might be a football move more than one related to the salary cap.

OT Eugene Monroe ($2.1 million)
Skinny: This could be the most complicated decision of the offseason as Monroe has started only 16 games since signing a five-year, $37.5 million contract two years ago. Cutting Monroe leaves $6.6 million in dead money on the 2016 cap, and re-signing Kelechi Osemele won’t be an easy task. If Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss or Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley falls into their laps in the first round, the Ravens could wave goodbye to Monroe. Otherwise, they may look to draft a tackle in the second or third round and hold their breath that Monroe bounces back in 2016.

TE Dennis Pitta ($600,000)
Skinny: The veteran tight end said at the end of the season that nothing has changed in terms of his hopes to play again, but things have changed for the Ravens as his 2016 base salary ($5 million) is not guaranteed like it was this past year. There’s always a chance that Pitta agrees to an incentive-laden deal with no guaranteed money to continue with a potential comeback, but he is more likely to be released or to retire. The question will be whether the Ravens want $6.6 million in dead money to be absorbed in 2016 or to give him a post-June 1 designation to push $4.4 million of that to 2017. Either way, Pitta’s exit isn’t going to be of great assistance when it comes to making moves this offseason.

LB Daryl Smith ($2.625 million)
Skinny: The veteran has done a fine job stepping into the position once held by Ray Lewis, but he wore down as 2015 progressed and was being replaced by Zach Orr in nickel situations late in the season. There isn’t an obvious every-down replacement waiting in the wings, but Smith will be 34 and carries a $4.375 million cap figure for 2016. In a perfect world, 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown already would have stepped into the spot next to C.J. Mosley, but we know how that story has played out.

CB Lardarius Webb ($3.5 million)
Skinny: Newsome spoke with conviction at the season-ending press conference about the Ravens moving Webb to free safety, but his $9.5 million cap figure for 2016 would make him one of the most expensive safeties in the league despite his inexperience there. Webb accepted a pay cut a year ago and will likely need to take another one unless the Ravens are that blindly confident in him being a Pro Bowl-caliber safety. The fact that Webb already proclaimed himself to be a safety moving forward probably won’t help his cause in negotiating with the Ravens or on the open market if he’s let go.

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Making sense of Ravens’ running game in 2015

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Plenty of factors interfered with the Ravens’ ability to run the football in 2015.

The departure of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, injuries along the offensive line and to 2014 Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett, more eight-man boxes due to limited weapons in the passing game, and a questionable commitment from new coordinator Marc Trestman all contributed to the Baltimore rushing game dropping from eighth in 2014 all the way to 26th this past season. The Ravens averaged 4.5 yards per attempt in Kubiak’s lone season in Baltimore and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in 2015 (24th in the NFL).

“To the extent that we didn’t run the ball well, yes, we lost our identity a little bit and we have to be able to do that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re going to find our way back that way, and we’re going to work on that right now.”

Media and fans frequently speak about the commitment — or lack thereof — to the running game, citing overused stats about a team’s record when they rush a certain number of times in a game. For this reason, some have pointed to the Ravens’ 383 rushing attempts — fewest in franchise history and tied for 25th in the NFL — as the biggest culprit in the struggles.

That simply isn’t the case.

Research has shown over and over that running the ball more often doesn’t cause a team to win more games just like simply trying to bench-press the most weight doesn’t magically make you stronger. Being strong to begin with (having leads) puts you in position to lift that heavier weight (carrying the ball more frequently). Otherwise, a team would mindlessly run the ball for the first 20 or 25 plays of a game to hit those statistical landmarks and have a big lead in the first half, right?

There are always exceptions, but teams that run the most generally do so because they have the lead with Carolina being a perfect example with a league-high 526 rushing attempts despite a 4.3 average that ranked only 10th in the NFL. It’s no coincidence that the 15-1 Panthers led for a league-best average of 39:47 per game and trailed an average of just 8:57 — also best in the NFL — according to Football Outsiders. They also averaged fewer runs in the first quarter than in any of the final three quarters, reflecting again that it’s more about running when you have the lead than “establishing the run” early.

In contrast, the 5-11 Ravens led an average of just 14:37 per game (27th in the NFL) and trailed for 32:13 per contest (26th in the league), easily their worst marks since Football Outsiders began keeping track in 1997. Of the 66 periods (counting two overtimes) in which they played during the 2015 season, the Ravens led at the conclusion of just 19 of them.

Of the five teams that led less frequently than the Ravens in 2015 — Miami, Chicago, Jacksonville, San Francisco, and Cleveland — only the Bears finished outside the bottom 10 in rushing attempts. All five of those teams also averaged better than Baltimore’s 3.9 yards per carry clip.

Whether they take it too far or not, teams pass more frequently when they’re behind as even the worst passing teams in the NFL average more yards per throwing attempt than the most efficient rushing teams average yards per carry. It’s common sense that you can catch up more quickly by going through the air, even if that leaves you prone to more turnovers.

The 2010 Ravens averaged 3.8 yards per carry — a mark slightly worse than this year’s team — but carried the ball 104 more times in a 12-4 season. Yes, you can argue that Cam Cameron had a stronger affinity for the running game than Trestman, but Baltimore also enjoyed the lead an average of 38:26 per contest, the best in the NFL that season.

It’s easy to run the ball when you’re protecting a lead.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the running game wasn’t problematic or one of many reasons leading to the first losing season of the Harbaugh era. The issues with the running game just didn’t have as much to do with the number of attempts as it did the lack of efficiency and how regularly the Ravens trailed in games.

In looking at the breakdown of rushes by quarter, however, there’s little excusing Trestman for the Ravens only having 91 rushing attempts in the first quarter compared to the league average of 106.3. Strangely, the Ravens collected more rushing attempts (105) in the fourth quarter than in any other period — a trend usually indicative of a winning team — but that number was skewed by a combined 25 fourth-quarter carries against Pittsburgh and Cleveland in Weeks 4 and 5, their best rushing performances of the season by a significant margin.

At times, there was certainly a questionable commitment to the running game — a knock on Trestman before he was hired by Harbaugh last January — but the Ravens’ frequent deficits magnified the problem.

“Part of that is scheme, part of that is how many times we call it and when we call it,” said Harbaugh about the problems with the running game. “There’s play-action that goes with it [and] passes behind runs that keep the linebackers off your run game — all of those things that we need to build into our run game to be as good as we can be.”

The healthy returns of Forsett and starting center Jeremy Zuttah, finding stability at left tackle, and the continued development of Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West should help to improve the running game. Gaining more leads by playing better on both sides of the ball will create more opportunities that weren’t there for a ground game that struggled to find its groove throughout the season.

But it will ultimately be about running the ball better — not just more often — in 2016.

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Newsome expecting Suggs back for 2016 season

Posted on 08 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Uncertainty has surrounded Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs since he suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in the 2015 opener, but Ozzie Newsome brought clarity on Thursday.

The general manager said he’s had numerous conversations with the six-time Pro Bowl selection and expects him to return for his 14th season. Suggs will be attempting to come back from his second Achilles injury — one to each heel — in less than four years.

“In my last conversation with him, his answer to me was, ‘I don’t want to leave the game the way I left it out in Denver,'” Newsome said. “I think he is using that as motivation. He’s had that injury before, so he knows what it takes to get back. I’m just looking forward to him getting back in here when he does, being involved in the [organized team activities], going through training camp, and just seeing where he is.”

While coaches, teammates, and fans tried to respond to his loss with the “next man up” mantra at the time of the injury, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said he found new appreciation for Suggs over the course of the 2015 season. In his absence, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil had to step into an every-down role after defensive coordinator Dean Pees was previously able to maximize his pass-rush ability as a platoon player with Courtney Upshaw. The injury also increased the workload of rookie Za’Darius Smith, who was drafted in the fourth round to replace situational rusher Pernell McPhee.

The trickle-down effect of the Suggs injury extended beyond the pass rush, according to the Baltimore owner.

“You start to create pressure, you start blitzing linebackers and then you get exposed in the underneath routes and they take advantage of that and it makes our linebackers look bad,” Bisciotti said. “Then, the corners and the safeties have to hold on a second longer, and they get exposed. It was the biggest domino effect of losing one guy.

“If anybody in this league said, ‘If we lost Joe Flacco in Week 1, where would we be?’ We’d say, ‘Not good.’ If you had said, ‘What one guy can’t you afford to lose on defense?’ I think most of you would have said Suggs.”

The loss of Suggs had a sizable impact on the defense, but it’s also concerning that the unit was so dependent on a 13th-year linebacker who turned 33 in October. The Ravens cannot afford to lean so heavily on the veteran again as he will be another year older and coming off a major injury.

For that reason, adding a high-impact pass rusher could be Baltimore’s biggest priority this offseason. After collecting 49 sacks in 2014, the Ravens managed just 37 this season with Dumervil’s total dropping from a franchise-record 17 to only six.

“Pass rush is really important,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You lose Terrell Suggs, you lose Pernell McPhee, [and] you try to replace them, move guys into those spots, and you work with them. Elvis Dumervil, I’ll tell you what, he was bringing it week in and week out. But he was getting a lot of attention, too. That made it a little bit tougher for him.”

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Ravens better hope losing doesn’t stick with continuity

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Owner Steve Bisciotti’s description of his reaction to the 2015 season best summarizes the reaction to Thursday’s “State of the Ravens” press conference.

“Disappointed, yes. Mad, no.”

Any Ravens fan demanding a pound of flesh was probably going to be unhappy. Successful organizations don’t panic, and it would have been wrong for Bisciotti to do anything drastic in response to eighth-year coach John Harbaugh’s first losing season and the organization’s first since 2007.

But that doesn’t mean the Ravens are only a couple minor tweaks away from being back in the playoffs a year from now, either, and that’s where the tone of the decision-makers fell a little flat after a nightmare season that began with lofty expectations.

“I don’t really think that a lot has to be done,” Bisciotti said. “One thing that I’m proud of is that we all view continuity as a strength. Continuity doesn’t stem from laziness. It comes from confidence, and I believe in these guys. I have a lot of faith that we’ll get it straightened out. I hope we don’t have as many injuries, and I hope we have a whole lot more turnovers. I think those kind of differences would get us back to where we want to be.”

Going 8-8 is one thing, but seasons of double-digit losses don’t just happen without some issues stretching beyond injuries and that shortage of takeaways that has been a trend for several seasons now. The Ravens lacked play-makers at key positions long before an absurd run of injuries midway through the season cost them quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Justin Forsett, and others. Baltimore was 1-6 at a time when the only missing players of great significance were linebacker Terrell Suggs and rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman.

Those injuries certainly hurt, but they shouldn’t bring a free fall in the standings for a balanced and talented football team.

Harbaugh said Thursday that he does not plan to make any changes to his coaching staff beyond the departure of linebackers coach Ted Monachino to Indianapolis. Of course, some tweaks could always be made in the coming weeks, but it was fair to wonder whether some different voices needed to be injected after a disappointing 5-11 season.

Instead, the status quo will prevail.

Asked about his secondary, general manager Ozzie Newsome spoke about the impact the move of Lardarius Webb to safety could have without mentioning his $9.5 million salary cap figure next year, which would make him one of the most expensive — and unproven — safeties in the game. The lack of  play-making safeties has been one of the organization’s biggest weaknesses since the departure of Ed Reed three years ago, and pointing to Webb as the answer seems shaky at best.

Bisciotti discussed the dramatic impact of Suggs’ absence on the defense, but the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year will be 34 in October and is coming off his second Achilles injury in less than four years. The collapse of the unit without him is a compliment to his talents over the years, but the Ravens banking on him to be the Suggs of old would be unwise, if not reckless.

Left tackle, cornerback, pass rusher, and wide receiver were all mentioned as positions to address, but the Ravens’ cap situation will hinge on the potential reworking of Flacco’s contract and there are only so many high draft picks to go around.

Those four positions are arguably the most critical ones on the field after the quarterback in today’s NFL, and the Ravens are either lacking options or have substantial question marks at all of them.

That sounds like a lot that needs to be done.

“We need to augment our team, but John and his staff do a very good job of developing players, and we depend on that,” Newsome said. “You need to have some players that when the game is on the line, they have the ability to make a play. We will be trying to add some of that to our team, but a lot of that can be done through development.”

Harbaugh’s decision to keep his coaching staff intact reflects that confidence, but it will be up to Newsome to find high-impact talent starting with the sixth overall choice of the draft, Baltimore’s earliest pick since 2000. The Ravens will see special play-makers like Antonio Brown and A.J. Green on display when AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati face off in the postseason while they watch the playoffs from home for the second time in three years.

The Bengals in particular have been a problem as they’ve won five straight over the Ravens.

“If we get all of our players back, I think we’ll close that gap,” Bisciotti said. “If we have a good draft, if we do well in free agency, we can compete with them. But that’s a stain — Cincinnati beating us as frequently as they have recently.”

Plenty of ifs.

No, Bisciotti, Newsome, and Harbaugh didn’t flinch or show panic on Thursday, but you hope that there’s more urgency beneath the surface than they expressed publicly after a 5-11 campaign.

There’s a fine line between confidence and complacency in what you do.

Their actions in the coming months and the results in 2016 will determine which one it was for the Ravens brass on Thursday.

After all, success on the field is far more important than winning a press conference.

Even if the message wasn’t all that inspiring on Thursday.

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Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees listens to a reporter's question at a news conference after an NFL football training camp practice on Saturday, July 26, 2014, in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Pees staying, Monachino leaving Ravens coaching staff

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Head coach John Harbaugh says he won’t be making any changes to his 2016 coaching staff, but he will be losing a key defensive assistant.

Linebackers coach Ted Monachino has been hired as the new defensive coordinator in Indianapolis, joining friend and former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. The Colts fired defensive coordinator Greg Manusky earlier this week, and Monachino immediately emerged as the top candidate to replace him.

Having coached the Baltimore outside linebackers since 2010, Monachino is extremely close with six-time Pro Bowl selection Terrell Suggs and served as his defensive line coach at Arizona State.

“That’s a great opportunity for him,” Harbaugh said. “It speaks to the quality of the guys that we have.”

Some had thought Monachino might be the eventual successor to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who will return despite the Ravens finishing 24th in the NFL in points allowed and shattering the franchise record for fewest takeaways in a season with only 14. First-year defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt will also return after drawing criticism as Baltimore allowed 30 touchdown passes and collected a league-worst six interceptions, both franchise worsts.

Many fans and media had wondered if Pees’ job might be in jeopardy, but Harbaugh expressed confidence in his entire coaching staff while acknowledging they will make adjustments in schemes and other processes this offseason. With Pees and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman both set to return, the Ravens will begin consecutive seasons with the same coordinators for the first time since 2009 and 2010 with Greg Mattison and Cam Cameron.

“I know what kind of coach Dean Pees is,” Harbaugh said. “I look at the season and the improvements that we made — especially in the back end — throughout the course of the season, and that’s what you look for. You’re going to face struggles and trials, and things don’t always play out the way you want them to.”

The Baltimore defense improved substantially in the second half of the season after ranking 25th in total defense through the first eight weeks. The Ravens finished eighth in the league in total defense — they also finished in the same spot in 2014 — and were second in yards allowed over their final eight games.

Harbaugh hopes that second-half improvement will carry over to 2016.

“We were up and down and inconsistent throughout the first eight games of the season, for sure,” Harbaugh said. “We went to battle and went to work to correct those things and found a way to correct most of them throughout the course of the season.

“We still have plenty of work to do, but I trust Dean. I know he’s a very good coach and all those guys — I know they’re good coaches. You work side by side with a bunch of guys through a season like this, you find out what they’re made of, and I like our guys.”

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suggs

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What’s going on with Terrell Suggs?

Posted on 05 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Among the many interesting topics expected to be covered when the Ravens’ brass gathers for Thursday’s season-ending press conference will be the status of Terrell Suggs.

Lost for the year after tearing his left Achilles tendon in the Sept. 13 opener, the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker spent very little time at the team’s Owings Mills training facility this season and was still wearing a walking boot as he watched the Week 16 upset victory over Pittsburgh from the sideline. In contrast, Suggs was out of a boot a little over two months after tearing his right Achilles tendon in the spring of 2012 — he amazingly returned to action in less than six months to play that season — and 36-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith shed his walking boot on Monday and suffered his Achilles injury seven weeks after the 33-year-old linebacker did.

Asked on Monday if he sought advice from his teammate who has been through a similar rehabilitation process twice, Smith made a cryptic remark that could be taken any number of ways.

“Suggs is a little vulnerable right now, so I’m not going to talk to Suggs about it,” said Smith, who announced last week that he would return for another season after previously planning to retire. “He’s not a ray of sunshine like he usually is.”

It’s worth noting that Smith’s comments were made as he smiled, but the veteran receiver can occasionally be sly with the media, making one wonder if there was more to it than Suggs simply having a bad day.

Suggs hasn’t spoken with reporters since suffering the injury in Denver.

Head coach John Harbaugh said in early November that the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year told him at the time of the injury that he intended to return in 2016, but Suggs was more reflective than usual about his career this past spring and struggled to cope with the departure of his longtime teammate and friend Haloti Ngata, who was traded to the Detroit Lions last March. Suggs wore a hat with No. 92 on it — Ngata’s jersey number for nine years in Baltimore that isn’t currently worn by a Ravens player — as he cheered on his teammates during the Steelers game on Dec. 27.

General manager Ozzie Newsome holds a unique relationship with the 2003 first-round pick, so it will be interesting to hear where the veteran stands in terms of his health and status for next season.

Suggs is under contract through 2018 and is scheduled to carry a $7.45 million salary cap figure for next season.

Hindsight with Osemele

With much discussion centering around the left tackle position, it’s fair to wonder why the Ravens didn’t try Kelechi Osemele at left tackle before the acquisition of Eugene Monroe a few years ago.

Following the win in Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore considered the possibility of moving Osemele to left tackle as Bryant McKinnie hit the free-agent market, but Newsome ultimately re-signed the veteran later that spring. Of course, McKinnie did not perform well and the Ravens traded fourth- and fifth-round draft picks to Jacksonville in exchange for Monroe in early October of 2013.

Had Osemele not been dealing with a chronic back issue at the time that eventually required season-ending surgery, he could have been a real option to move outside, but it’s difficult to fault the Ravens for not wanting to try it when he was already struggling just to perform at his regular left guard position. Instead, Monroe arrived and played so well over the remainder of the season that the Ravens rewarded him with a five-year, $37.5 million contract.

If the 2012 second-round pick had been healthy, perhaps he would have gotten his chance then and become Baltimore’s long-term left tackle a few years ago.

Complicated Webb

Following the season-ending loss to Cincinnati, veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb told reporters he viewed himself as a safety moving forward, but how the Ravens elect to handle that remains to be seen.

Webb and the Ravens already reworked his contract last offseason, but he is still scheduled to carry a $9.5 million salary cap number for 2016, which would put him among the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. Of course, that would come with a very limited sample of Webb playing the position.

The 30-year-old may very well be an upgrade from recent options such as Kendrick Lewis and Darian Stewart, but the Ravens would need Pro Bowl-quality play to justify that price tag. There’s just no way of knowing he can do that, making it likely that Webb will be cut if he isn’t willing to further adjust his contract that expires after the 2017 season.

Need for speed

Asked whether the passing game needs more speed next season, quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t answer with a definitive yes, but he was quick to point out how much it helps an AFC North rival.

“It does a lot for football teams,” said Flacco, who discussed the need to be able to push the ball down the field more at different times this past season. “You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there. I’m not saying that it’s something that we need, but when we’ve had it here, it’s definitely made a little bit of a difference.”

Should the Ravens re-sign restricted free-agent receiver Kamar Aiken, they would have the trio of Aiken, Smith, and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but the latter two have questions about their health and only Perriman brings impact speed. The roster would benefit greatly from another speed option with upside.

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