Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

Ravens built for strong finish in tight AFC playoff picture

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Ravens built for strong finish in tight AFC playoff picture

Posted on 25 November 2014 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — The Ravens spent much of the spring and summer insisting they weren’t going to entertain thoughts of last season when they missed the playoffs for the first time under head coach John Harbaugh.

But linebacker Terrell Suggs wanted his teammates to remember exactly what happened a year ago as they returned from their bye this past week with a crucial road game at New Orleans staring them in the eye. It’s safe to say the Ravens responded to the veteran’s message with a crucial 34-27 win over the Saints to improve to 7-4, keeping pace in a combative and tight AFC North.

“Down this stretch, this is important,” said Suggs, who pressured quarterback Drew Brees into throwing an interception returned for a touchdown by safety Will Hill to give Baltimore the lead for good in the third quarter. “Last year, this is where we kind of lost ourselves, we kind of lost our way. Unfortunately, we were left out of the playoffs on the outside looking in. We don’t want to feel like that this year.”

Over the years, the Ravens have taken pride in saying they’re built for December and January, but the label didn’t fit last season as they couldn’t run the ball and struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks down the stretch. Needing only one win in their final two weeks to secure a playoff spot, the Ravens lost their final two games by a combined 51 points.

If Monday night’s win was any indicator, the Ravens are primed to finish strong and make it back to the postseason — even with a very tight playoff picture. And it begins with Justin Forsett and the improved play of the offensive line under new coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Rushing for a career-high 182 yards and two touchdowns, Forsett continues to be one of the best stories of the 2014 season as his 5.8 yards per carry average leads all NFL running backs by a sizable margin. The offensive line consistently opens running lanes and the 29-year-old keeps finding daylight as he did repeatedly against New Orleans Monday night.

It’s the kind of style that should hold up nicely down the stretch for three more cold-weather games in Baltimore and whatever January could bring.

“Justin — awesome job, obviously, all year,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who was very efficient in completing 18 of 24 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown. “The work he’s putting in, the results he’s getting and what he’s doing for this team was huge. Our offensive line’s doing a good job, and they’re creating those seams. He’s got good vision. He’s not letting the guy tackle him in the hole with his arms or anything like that. He’s breaking those little things.”

Defensively, the numbers looked ugly Monday as the Ravens surrendered 525 total yards, but the eyeball test was far more acceptable. Aside from Joseph Morgan’s 67-yard run on the second play from scrimmage, the Saints only ran for 59 yards on 20 carries.

The Ravens put plenty of heat on Brees as Elvis Dumervil collected two of four sacks total and the pass rush recorded eight quarterback hits in all. The secondary continues to be an area of concern and will likely remain that way for the rest of the season, but the emergence of Hill gives coordinator Dean Pees at least one defensive back with some playmaking ability and a consistent pass rush goes a long way in hiding vulnerabilities on the back end.

Much of the success of a 7-4 start can be attributed to the Ravens’ ability to win at the line of scrimmage, whether talking about their offensive line or the front seven’s ability to stop the run and wreak havoc on quarterbacks. It’s cliched to talk about dominating the trenches, but Baltimore has a great chance to punch its ticket to the playoffs by continuing to do just that.

How would the Ravens stack up against the likes of high-powered offenses like New England or Denver in the playoffs? They have to worry about getting to January first playing in a division where all teams are three games above .500 — the first time that’s happened in NFL history, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

“You’re going to have to win a lot of games to win the division,” Harbaugh said. “You’re going to have win a lot of games to make the playoffs in our conference. It’s just a fact. You’re going to need every win you can get.”

The Ravens appear well equipped to play into January with a strong running game and one of the best front sevens in football. It’s a profile that holds up well against most opponents, home or away.

And it allows them to overcome their weaknesses, something they were able to do Monday night in one of their biggest road wins in recent memory.

Comments (1)

Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Monday night

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

Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 23 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Fresh off their bye week and trying to complete a 2014 sweep of the NFC South, the Ravens return to the site of Super Bowl XLVII to take on the reeling New Orleans Saints Monday night.

Baltimore hopes that a Week 11 bye coupled with the Saints’ two-game losing streak will create enough momentum to snap New Orleans’ 14-game winning streak in prime-time home games. The 4-6 Saints are trying to find some semblance of consistency in a division in which no team has made a strong claim as a viable playoff contender.

The Ravens are 5-1 in games coming off their bye week in the John Harbaugh era and will attempt to win their third road game of the season. While they were able to find success against an underwhelming Tennessee offense in Week 10, the Baltimore secondary will have its hands full against the league’s third-ranked passing attack.

Monday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 4-1 advantage. This is the first contest between these teams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since the 2006 season — which resulted in a 35-22 win for Baltimore — but the Ravens are obviously familiar with the surroundings after winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans two years ago.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 7-4 to keep pace in the AFC North …

1. Will Hill will draw the bulk of the assignment against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who will catch a touchdown and eclipse 80 receiving yards. Much was made about Cincinnati’s physicality last week in limiting the All-Pro tight end to just three catches for 29 yards, but the Ravens haven’t exactly been imposing in the back end of the defense aside from Terrence Brooks’ big hit on Tennessee’s Delanie Walker two weeks ago. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to mix it up as much as possible against Graham, but Hill is the best fit with his 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame and ability in coverage. The Ravens have held tight ends in check for most of the season, but they haven’t encountered a talent like Graham and he will bounce back from a tough week against the Bengals with a strong game in Week 12.

2. Steve Smith and Marlon Brown will catch touchdowns passes against a banged-up New Orleans secondary. A week off and a meeting with an old foe he tormented year after year as a member of the Carolina Panthers are just what the doctor ordered for the 35-year-old Smith whose production has declined in recent weeks. The Saints are down to their third-string free safety and top cornerback Keenan Lewis has been dealing with a knee issue, which will lead to the veteran wideout finding the end zone for the first time since Week 6. Looking to boost their 19th-ranked red-zone offense, the Ravens will rediscover Brown as a viable option inside the 20 as the 6-foot-5 receiver will rein in a pass in the back of the end zone for his first touchdown of the 2014 season.

3. The Ravens will contain top rusher Mark Ingram, but a returning Pierre Thomas will create problems as a receiver out of the backfield. After a very slow start to his NFL career, Ingram has emerged in 2014 with a 4.5 yards per carry average to take over the feature back role for New Orleans, but the Baltimore defense has allowed only 3.4 yards per carry and won’t have an issue keeping him in check. The return of Thomas — who hasn’t played since Week 7 — will be critical for a passing game that will miss the injured Brandin Cooks, who was becoming the Saints’ second-best receiver behind Graham as a short-to-intermediate target. With the secondary providing plenty of cushion and linebackers paying close attention to wherever Graham is, the Saints will slip Thomas free out of the backfield repeatedly to move the chains.

4. C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith will both collect sacks as the Ravens use inside blitzing to try to get to Drew Brees. Pees knows his defense must create pressure in the pocket against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but Saints tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief have been the strengths of their offensive line, meaning it won’t be a given that Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs will create enough heat. The best way to pressure Brees is up the middle where center Jonathan Goodwin and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs have struggled in pass protection. Smith and Mosley have both been effective as A-gap blitzers, making it a good bet that the Ravens will try to ambush Brees up the middle. The strategy will pay off with each inside linebacker collecting a sack on Monday night.

5. Joe Flacco and Brees will each throw for over 250 yards, but the veteran will be a little better in a 31-23 win for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, it would have been tough to give the Ravens much of a chance in this one following the injury to Jimmy Smith on top of the Saints’ reputation for playing so well at home. But New Orleans is difficult to figure out with two straight losses at home that came after blowing out mighty Green Bay less than a month ago. On the other hand, a solid performance against the Titans isn’t enough to ease concerns that the Ravens secondary will be able to prevent the Saints from passing up and down the field all night. Flacco and the offense will put together one of their better road performances of the year, but it won’t be quite enough to put the Ravens over the top on Monday night.

Comments (1)

Issues with Tate, Blount show how lucky Ravens got with Forsett

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Issues with Tate, Blount show how lucky Ravens got with Forsett

Posted on 18 November 2014 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 1:30 p.m.)

A look at the current AFC North is a great reminder of how volatile the running back position can be and just how lucky the Ravens were signing veteran running back Justin Forsett to a one-year deal back in April.

The Cleveland Browns parted ways with Ben Tate Tuesday as he was growing increasingly unhappy splitting carries with rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. After signing a two-year deal worth up to $6.2 million in a market particularly cool on running backs, Tate averaged just 3.1 yards per attempt and received only two carries in Sunday’s loss to Houston.

Tate’s recent remarks questioning his role followed by Browns head coach Mike Pettine’s response saying the two rookies had more pop and explosiveness made it clear that the relationship was rapidly deteriorating before the Browns officially waived the 26-year-old Tuesday morning.

Things weren’t much better in Pittsburgh for backup running back LeGarrette Blount, who was released a day after embarrassing himself on Monday night by turning his back on his team and going to the locker room before the Steelers had finished off their 27-24 win over Tennessee. Blount didn’t receive a carry against the Titans while surging starter Le’Veon Bell rushed for 204 yards on 33 carries.

Blount signed a two-year, $3.85 million contract with the Steelers this offseason, but he and Bell were arrested for marijuana possession in August and Blount was seeing his role diminish with Bell emerging as one of the top running backs in the NFL. The 27-year-old was averaging 4.1 yards per carry but has just 23 yards on 15 rushing attempts over his last three games.

Meanwhile, the Ravens keep chugging along with Forsett, who signed a one-year, $730,000 contract as an addition viewed strictly as an insurance policy for the troubled Ray Rice at the time. The 29-year-old now ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing and leads all running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry average.

“The role he has played is exactly the one I envisioned for him when he came in here. Saw it all along,” said Harbaugh as he chuckled following the Week 10 win over Tennessee in which Forsett ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns. “But he’s the kind of guy that deserves it. He’s the kind of guy that has had a really good career. When you watch him on tape, he has always been a playmaker, and now he’s getting an opportunity to prove that.”

By all accounts, Forsett has been a great teammate who was just thankful for the opportunity when it looked like his NFL career may have been circling the drain after an injury-riddled season in Jacksonville a year ago. Instead, he’s having a career season in helping the Ravens pick up the pieces left behind by the Rice saga and his positive attitude has made him easy to root for.

Tate and Blount were two talented backs many wanted the Ravens to sign last offseason and there’s no way of knowing if either would have worked out better in Baltimore, but it’s difficult to argue with the production Forsett has provided at a reduced rate.

Even if the Ravens couldn’t have expected anything close to it at the time.

Comments (0)

Harbaugh, Ravens feeling refreshed returning from bye

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

Harbaugh, Ravens feeling refreshed returning from bye

Posted on 17 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning from their latest bye since the 2001 season, the Ravens hope a week of rest is the perfect tonic to propel them to the postseason for the sixth time in seven years under head coach John Harbaugh.

At 6-4, Baltimore finds itself in the thick of the AFC playoff race, but next Monday’s trip to New Orleans will be a challenge for a team that’s just 2-3 on the road in 2014. Harbaugh hopes the late-season bye will allow the Ravens to finish strong as four of their final six games come against teams with records of .500 or better and that’s not including the 4-6 Saints who possess the NFL’s second-ranked offense.

“We’re going to have our hands full, and we better be ready to go,” Harbaugh said. “I like to believe that our guys understand that, but we’ll find out Monday night. I believe they do understand that.”

Players were off Tuesday through Sunday while Harbaugh gave his assistant coaches Thursday through Sunday to recharge for the final six games of the regular season. The Ravens are 5-1 in games returning from their bye week in the Harbaugh era and have won 10 of their last 12 post-bye games since the 2002 season.

Harbaugh hopes history is on their side as well as the benefit of a later bye as the Ravens are currently chasing first-place Cincinnati, who improved to 6-3-1 with an impressive win over the Saints on Sunday. Baltimore ranked ninth in the AFC playoff chase as a result of Pittsburgh’s Monday night win to conclude Week 11.

“You don’t realize how exhausted you are until you get a chance to take a deep breath and relax,” Harbaugh said. “The next thing you know, you’re like, ‘Wow, this has really been helpful.’ Everybody gets a bye week. We had ours this week, and we hope to make the most of it going forward for the rest of the season.”

Harbaugh doesn’t question penalty for Coffman

Asked about the NFL’s decision to fine Chase Coffman $30,000 for his malicious sideline hit on assistant coach Tony Coaxum in Week 10, Harbaugh chose to take the high road about the league not suspending the Tennessee Titans tight end.

The Ravens coach said he was told the collision wasn’t intentional, but it’s no secret that the organization was very unhappy about what happened late in the fourth quarter of the 21-7 win over Tennessee. Coaxum was not injured, but the FOX Sports video below leaves little debate about Coffman’s conduct.

“It’s really difficult to have a response to the level of punishment,” Harbaugh said. “I know the league has protocols, and they have standards and histories and things like that that they look really hard at. We don’t ever really question that part of it. That’s in their purview.”

Ravens wanted to keep Sunday night star Gray

Former practice squad running back Jonas Gray became the toast of the NFL Sunday night with his 199-yard, four-touchdown performance in the New England Patriots’ 42-20 win over Indianapolis.

Gray spent the 2013 regular season on the Ravens’ practice squad before electing to sign a reserve-futures contract with New England last offseason. Asked about the Michigan native rushing for a single-game high in the NFL this season, Harbaugh mentioned their respective in-state ties as a springboard to a good relationship, even mentioning that Gray’s mom brought food to the team during their Week 15 game in Detroit last December.

“We were disappointed to lose Jonas last year when we lost him. We really thought he had a lot of upside,” Harbaugh said. “He felt like that was an opportunity that he wanted to pursue, and obviously, it’s paid off for him. I wish him nothing but the best, but I was happy for him [Sunday] night to see him do that. That was great to see.”

Of course, no one could have predicted Gray’s breakout performance as even New England stashed him on the practice squad for a large portion of this season, but you do wonder if the Ravens regret not giving him a look last season while they were experiencing such drastic woes with the running game.

Conflicted coach

Harbaugh’s strong ties to the University of Michigan are no secret, making for a fun moment Monday when he was asked to predict the winner of this Saturday’s Maryland-Michigan game in Ann Arbor.

Neither team is exactly fighting for a Big Ten title this year as there has been plenty of debate about the future of Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke. Harbaugh paused and smiled before providing his answer to the question about who would prevail.

“May the best team win,” he said while laughing. “How’s that?”

Practice squad changes (again)

The Ravens made their latest change to their practice squad Monday, signing tight end Allen Reisner and cutting tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi.

Reisner is in his fourth NFL season and has spent time with Jacksonville, Minnesota, and New England. He has registered seven catches for 58 yards in 15 career games split between the Jaguars and Vikings.

Comments (0)

Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You’d be hard pressed to find too many Ravens fans who knew Anthony Levine’s name prior to Sunday’s 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Making his first career start for a revamped and injury-riddled secondary that was still licking its wounds from an embarrassing performance in Pittsburgh, the former safety seized the opportunity after previously playing just five defensive snaps in his entire NFL career. Levine finished with four tackles and two pass breakups while also earning Pro Football Focus’ highest single-game grade in pass coverage for any Ravens cornerback not named Jimmy Smith this season.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Levine said after Sunday’s win. “To call myself a starting something in the NFL — whether it was safety, corner — I was happy to say that I was a starting corner today for the Baltimore Ravens.”

Of course, Levine’s success came against a rookie quarterback and a Tennessee passing game lacking bite and it remains to be seen if he’ll survive against more potent aerial attacks, but it’s difficult not to feel good for a third-year player who spent parts of three seasons on practice squads — originally with Green Bay and then Baltimore — before even getting a chance as a special-teams contributor. The Tennessee State product played all 16 games for the Ravens last season without receiving a single defensive snap, finishing second on the team in special-teams tackles and serving as the protector on the punt team.

After watching Levine serve as a core member of his units for the last two years, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg takes pride in seeing him become the latest special-teams player to make the transition to starter. Several former Ravens have made similar jumps in recent years, including linebackers Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe as well as cornerback Corey Graham.

“We hope that our players that are just playing special teams develop into players on their sides of the ball as well,” Rosburg said. “It’s my belief — perhaps it’s a slanted belief — that if you can be a good special-teams player, you should be a good player on offense and defense because it takes a lot of skill to play on special teams. It’s not a surprise to me that he’s developed skills that he can go out there and play for the Ravens in the secondary.”

To be fair, Levine’s opportunity to start wasn’t as much about improvement as it was about the Ravens’ injuries and attrition as the coaching staff didn’t anticipate throwing him into the fire this quickly until the Smith injury made the secondary’s issues even worse. After Levine practiced at safety in his first two years with the Ravens, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo had moved him to cornerback in training camp when injuries to Lardarius Webb, Smith, and Asa Jackson left the secondary shorthanded.

It was a position at which Levine had worked some before, and he’s downplayed the change because of how comfortable he’s always felt backpedaling, a skill needed at both safety and corner. The 27-year-old really began turning heads a couple weeks ago while practicing with the scout team against the starting offense as Pees and Spagnuolo noticed how effectively he was competing against the likes of Steve Smith and Torrey Smith in coverage.

Meanwhile, cornerbacks higher on the depth chart such as Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown continued to struggle, culminating with Ben Roethlisberger’s six-touchdown performance in Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. Two days later, those two were cut and Levine received a text message from Spagnuolo saying to be ready to practice leading up to the Tennessee game.

“He just has run with it. He’s a confident guy that competes,” said Spagnuolo, who told Levine he was starting the morning of the Titans game. “He loves to practice and is passionate about the game. There’s not a guy out there he doesn’t think he can cover. That’s a good quality for a corner.”

Sharing time with newly-acquired veteran Danny Gorrer, the 5-foot-11, 203-pound Levine was strong in run support and did a fine job keeping receivers in front of him, allowing only one reception for 13 yards on three passes thrown his way in coverage. Despite the first-quarter struggles of the defense, Levine made his presence felt on the opening drive when he dropped running back Bishop Sankey on a stretch play for only a 1-yard gain.

The post-game locker room featured several teammates praising Levine as a hard worker who had done everything he could for the opportunity. While most media and fans expected Gorrer to be the one to start at cornerback in the buildup to the Tennessee game, Webb complimented Levine’s performance in practice without being prompted last week, a hint that the special-teams player just might be the next man up.

“We all know that Levine can make plays in practice against the top receivers, Steve and Torrey,” Webb said following the game. “That’s how he is in practice, he’s always going 110 percent on special teams — all phases of special teams — and playing defense. You have to look up to that. He did a great job doing everything. He’s a corner, he’s a playmaker.”

Those labels are different than what Levine’s used to hearing after years as a practice-squad member, special-teams contributor, and scout-team player who remained anonymous with most of the outside football world.

Though the Ravens will continue to face questions in their secondary week after week, Levine was able to provide an answer for at least one Sunday. And he earned another shot after the bye against a more imposing opponent in the New Orleans Saints to prove that he’s not just a special-teams player playing out of position.

“Sometimes you have to be careful of pigeonholing guys like that,” Pees said. “Give them an opportunity, [and] then it’s up to them to run with it. I just think that’s a credit to them when they get the opportunity to seize it.”

Comments (0)

Ravens miffed by CBS showing Harbaugh’s post-game comments

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Ravens miffed by CBS showing Harbaugh’s post-game comments

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Head coach John Harbaugh was understandably in a good mood following the 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans Sunday, but the Ravens weren’t happy that CBS aired his post-game comments referencing the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“That team beat us last week,” Harbaugh said to his team in the locker room at M&T Bank Stadium moments after the win. “Then, they went and got their ass kicked this week.”

The remarks were unlikely to raise too many eyebrows anyway after the Steelers laid a colossal egg in a 20-13 loss to the hapless New York Jets, but the Ravens issued a statement explaining how that part of Harbaugh’s speech was not approved for TV viewing.

Ironically, the video didn’t appear to go viral until after the Ravens drew attention to the gaffe with their statement.

“The comments made by John Harbaugh in the locker room following today’s victory over the Titans were meant for Ravens players and coaches only,” senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne said. “The CBS-TV crew that was in the locker room was told by coach Harbaugh that it could not broadcast what he was about to say. When coach Harbaugh finished talking about various things happening around the NFL and in the AFC North, he told the crew that it could now use what he was going to say. Inexplicably, CBS-TV then aired comments coach Harbaugh specifically said were not to leave the locker room. CBS-TV immediately pulled the video and apologized to the Ravens.”

Truthfully, those taking offense to Harbaugh’s comments are only showing a lack of experience in post-game locker room settings — at any level — that are often emotional and oozing with testosterone. Harbaugh and the Ravens were fully aware that they were embarrassed by Pittsburgh a week earlier, but that wasn’t going to stop them from reveling in a division rival’s loss on the same day that they won. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and his team would have every right to do the same — and undoubtedly have done so — whenever the roles are flipped.

CBS issued its own statement reiterating that the network had made a mistake in airing Harbaugh’s comments that can be seen in part below.

“We broadcast a clip during our postgame show that should not have aired,” CBS spokesperson Jennifer Sabatelle said. “We immediately pulled it down and called the Baltimore Ravens to apologize.”

Comments (0)

Revamped Ravens secondary passes first test against inexperienced Titans

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Revamped Ravens secondary passes first test against inexperienced Titans

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same day the Ravens shook up their secondary by cutting Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks, backup Anthony Levine received a text message from secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo telling him to be ready.

You’d forgive the reserve safety and special-teams player if he didn’t know exactly what his position coach meant on Tuesday night after he had played all of five defensive snaps through the first nine games of the season, but months of practicing at cornerback finally paid off Sunday with Levine making his first career start in the Ravens’ 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans. The 27-year-old finished the game with four tackles and two pass breakups while splitting time with the newly-acquired Danny Gorrer at cornerback opposite starter Lardarius Webb.

“It’s something that we’ve kind of been watching for a number of weeks and months, I guess,” said head coach John Harbaugh about Levine’s play. “And he gets better every single week. I guess we’re not going to call him a safety anymore. He deserves to be called a corner, and he deserves it. He has played really well throughout the year, but he showed it in this game.”

After allowing the Titans to march down the field on their first two drives to start the game, the Ravens finally dialed up pressure and the secondary settled down to hold rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger to just 179 passing yards on 27 attempts. Five sacks and eight quarterback hits allowed the defensive backfield to play with some cushion as the Titans completed only one play greater than 17 yards, a 20-yard completion to Kendall Wright that came late in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.

A play later, Gorrer made his second career interception in his first game with the Ravens since the 2011 season. It was only the second pick made by a Baltimore defensive back all season, but it was an encouraging sign for a secondary trying to fill the void left by top cornerback Jimmy Smith in the final six games of the season.

Of course, Mettenberger and the Titans’ 24th-ranked passing offense aren’t exactly intimidating threats, but many wondered this week if the Ravens’ current secondary was capable of stopping anybody, making Sunday’s performance something on which to build. If anything, the win was a nice confidence boost before the reality sets in that the Ravens will be facing Pro Bowl quarterbacks Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in consecutive weeks after the bye.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Gorrer, who began the week as a member of the Detroit Lions before being waived last Monday and rejoining Baltimore a day later. “This is our profession, so no matter how it goes, you always have to be ready to step in. With Jimmy going down, it was time for me to step in and for the secondary to come together well and play decent.”

Levine and Gorrer weren’t the only ones with strong days in the secondary as rookie safety Terrence Brooks returned to action after being a healthy scratch in the Week 9 loss at Pittsburgh. Entering to play free safety in place of Darian Stewart in obvious passing situations, Brooks delivered what several defensive players called the game-changing play of the day with a vicious — but legal — hit to Delanie Walker that forced an incompletion and knocked the Titans tight end out of the game with a concussion late in the first half.

The Tennessee offense never threatened again and would gain only four more first downs the rest of the way and 45 total yards in the second half.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees once again used a committee approach to his pass defense with Webb, Gorrer, and Levine playing in the traditional nickel defense, safety Matt Elam serving as a big nickel for extra run support at times, and Will Hill making his second straight start at the safety position, registering three tackles and a pass breakup.

The questions will remain in the secondary, but Sunday provided a glimmer of hope that the secondary — supported with a consistent pass rush — might be able to hold up enough to keep the Ravens within striking distance of their sixth playoff appearance in the last seven years.

“We won, so I feel like we played well,” Levine said. “That was the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal was to win, and not get beat deep — and I don’t think they had any big plays today. I think we did a good job.”

Comments (0)

Slow starts by Ravens offense could prevent strong finish

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Slow starts by Ravens offense could prevent strong finish

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday was a good day for the Ravens as they embarked on their bye week with a 6-4 record and remained right in the thick of an AFC North race that features all four teams with winning records.

In addition to making it through Sunday’s victory over the Tennessee Titans without any significant injuries, a revamped secondary passed its first test and the Pittsburgh Steelers stubbed their toe to leave Cleveland alone in first place, further jumbling the AFC North with less than two months remaining in the regular season. Even with their struggles, injuries, and missed opportunities through the first 10 weeks, the Ravens are in perfect position to make a run in a division in which just a half-game separates first and last place.

But it would be a lie to suggest the 21-7 win over the 2-7 Titans went exactly as planned as the final score didn’t reflect just how uncomfortable the Ravens were for a sizable portion of the afternoon. In fact, Baltimore was fortunate to be tied 7-7 at halftime after the Titans had fumbled at the Ravens’ 1-yard line on the opening drive of the game.

“We weren’t playing very well,” Harbaugh said about his team’s performance in the first half. “We were out of sync, we weren’t handling pressures, we couldn’t run the ball, we couldn’t cut them off in the back side. They owned the line of scrimmage there in the first half, but we managed to figure out a couple ideas, hit a couple passes, and start to crack them in the run game.”

The Ravens did make the adjustments to make some plays through the air in the second half and rush for an impressive 151 yards while committing zero turnovers, but Sunday marked the third straight week in which the offense has started slowly. It’s a frustrating development after the unit appeared to be finding its stride last month when the Ravens scored a combined 77 points in wins over Tampa Bay and Atlanta.

In their last three games, the Ravens have managed to score just 23 total points in the first half. Of course, struggling on the road against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh isn’t shocking, but managing just seven points and 86 total yards in the first half at home against the Titans’ 23rd-ranked defense isn’t encouraging with consecutive games against top 10 passing offenses — New Orleans and San Diego — coming right after the bye. A difficult road game at playoff-contending Miami follows after that.

It’s fair to point out that the Titans were coming off their own bye and had an extra week to prepare, but Gary Kubiak’s offense should have been able to jump on a defense that ranked 28th against the run and 22nd in points allowed per game. Instead, the Ravens couldn’t pass, run, or block for much of the first 30 minutes of the game aside from a 46-yard touchdown drive midway through the second quarter that was set up by excellent field position.

“They really came up after us and played a lot of cover zero and tried to get us off balance as much as they could,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 169 yards and a 32-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith in the fourth quarter. “They were able to get some guys free to defend our passing game. It was tough sledding in there, but I thought we hung in there really well. It was a really tough game and nothing came easy and we really had to grind it out.”

The Ravens did what was needed in the second half and rushed 16 times for 85 yards in the fourth quarter to chew the clock, but they’ll need much more from their offense over the final six weeks of the season to keep themselves in good position to make it back to the playoffs. New cornerbacks Anthony Levine and Danny Gorrer deserve credit for the way they held up in the secondary, but Baltimore can’t depend on its defense to turn in the same kind of performance against teams with proven offenses.

And Kubiak needs to figure out a way to get his offense going more quickly than it has in the last few weeks. Whether it’s making quicker adjustments to counteract the A-gap blitzes that have given Flacco and the offensive line difficulty or being more imaginative with passing routes, the Ravens offense needs to be able to find a tempo from the very beginning instead of having it dictated to them like it has over the last three games.

“We have to be able to bounce back,” said Forsett, who rushed for a season-high 112 yards and two touchdowns. “Sometimes, you start slow, but you’ve got to be able to finish strong, and we showed some resilience. I’m proud of the way we worked today.”

The Ravens should feel good about the win and where they stand in the playoff hunt while they reap the benefits of a week off, but the offense needs to be able to explode out of the gate for the final six weeks.

They’re going to need faster starts to be able to finish strong down the stretch.

Comments (1)

Harbaugh expects Jimmy Smith to return “even better” next year

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Harbaugh expects Jimmy Smith to return “even better” next year

Posted on 07 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Expressing confidence that his secondary would move past the season-ending loss of Jimmy Smith, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh offered a few more details about the procedure the top cornerback underwent Thursday.

Smith visited orthopedist Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C. after the swelling had subsided in his left foot that was injured against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 26. Further testing revealed Smith would not be able to return in 2014 as the Ravens hoped when Harbaugh initially said he’d miss a few weeks.

“Listen, I’m not a doctor. I go by what they tell me,” Harbaugh said. “A Lisfranc [injury] is a tear, I guess, in the ligament. There’s not a tear. There’s a stretch, and when the swelling went down, they did a weight-bearing exam. There’s more of a spread between the bones than they wanted, so more of a stretch than what they were hoping for. And when they put him under anesthesia and took a look at it, Dr. Anderson decided to go ahead and do the surgery.”

The loss of Smith is a major blow for a pass defense currently ranking 24th in the NFL and giving up 263 yards per game through the air. Opposing quarterbacks have posted a 94.0 passer rating against the Ravens, which is the 12th-highest in the league.

Several teammates expressed disappointment for Smith, who was blossoming into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL this season after a strong, injury-free 2013 campaign. In eight games, the 26-year-old had registered 28 tackles, eight pass breakups, and an interception while opposing passers had completed just 20 of 39 passes for no touchdowns against him in coverage.

Fellow starter Lardarius Webb can relate to Smith’s misfortune after twice suffering season-ending knee injuries in his six-year career.

“I feel for him. I’ve been on the sideline before, looking in,” Webb said. “I know how much it hurts inside to want to be out there on the field. I just wish him luck and to get back healthy as soon as possible. And whenever he gets back, we’ll continue to be that great duo.”

Harbaugh was pleased with the work put in by the newly-acquired Danny Gorrer and recently-promoted Tramain Jacobs this week as they prepared to receive action in Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans.

But there’s no shying away from the loss of arguably the Ravens’ best defensive player this season and how big of a challenge it will be to compensate in the back end of the defense.

“I feel bad for Jimmy. We’ll be fine as a team. We’ll recover,” Harbaugh said. “We have good players at every position, and we’ll pick up the slack as a group and as a unit. We always do. That’s what you do. It’s happens all around the league. It’s just the way it is. It’s football. But I feel bad for Jimmy. He was having a great, great year. But he’ll bounce back, and he’ll be even better next year.”

Webb needs to step up

Webb expressed confidence that the secondary will bounce back from last Sunday’s 43-23 loss in which the Ravens surrendered six touchdown passes to Ben Roethlisberger, but he added that the improvement needs to start with himself.

After missing all of training camp and three of the first four games of the regular season, Webb is still working his way back to pre-injury form as he’s now the top healthy cornerback on the roster with Smith out. Opposing quarterbacks have posted a 105.0 passer rating against Webb in six games this year and he was burned for a long touchdown against the Steelers in Week 9.

“It’s OK, man. I’ve got to get better myself,” said Webb of his performance in 2014. “Speaking about the group, me first. I’ve got to get myself together, which I’m feeling good. We’ve just all got to get on the same page.”

Jackson on track to return

Harbaugh expressed confidence Friday that cornerback Asa Jackson is on track to return from a turf toe injury that landed the third-year defensive back on injured reserve-designated to return in early October.

Jackson is no longer in a walking boot and is eligible to return as early as Dec. 7 when the Ravens take on the Miami Dolphins. He made four starts earlier this season in the first defensive action of his career.

“I’m just doing everything to get better for that point,” said Jackson, who hasn’t played since Oct. 5. “When it gets there, we’ll see. I’m just working to get back for Week 14.”

Comments (0)

Ravens cornerback Smith out for year after undergoing foot surgery

Tags: , , , , , ,

Ravens cornerback Smith out for year after undergoing foot surgery

Posted on 06 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens received a crushing blow to the remainder of their 2014 season with cornerback Jimmy Smith undergoing season-ending surgery on Thursday.

The fourth-year defensive back was playing at a Pro Bowl level before injuring his left foot on the opening drive of the Ravens’ Week 8 game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 26. Head coach John Harbaugh said a day later that the No. 1 corner was expected to miss a few weeks with a mid-foot sprain, but Smith had been using crutches with his left foot in a protective boot since the injury.

“The plan for Jimmy was to do more testing once the swelling subsided in his foot, and that was done this morning,” Harbaugh said through a team spokesman Thursday afternoon. “With this exam this morning, the doctors decided that he needed surgery and they repaired the injury. That means Jimmy is finished for the season, but will recover for our offseason program.”

With many regarding Smith as the player the 2014 Ravens could least afford to lose other than quarterback Joe Flacco, the news couldn’t be worse for a pass defense currently ranked 24th in the NFL. The Ravens cut cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks earlier this week, claimed veteran Danny Gorrer off waivers, and promoted rookie free agent Tramain Jacobs from the practice squad.

Will the Ravens make the playoffs after Thursday's news of Jimmy Smith being out for the year?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Baltimore allowed six touchdown passes against Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in last Sunday’s 43-23 loss to the Steelers.

The hope had been that Smith might return after the Week 11 bye when the Ravens travel to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees and the Saints’ potent passing game, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees will now need to figure out how to make a patchwork secondary survive without its best cornerback for the remainder of the season. Lardarius Webb — who’s still working his way back to full form following a summer back injury — and Gorrer are expected to start with Jacobs serving as the No. 3 corner against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

The 28-year-old Gorrer was most recently with the Detroit Lions and previously appeared in 11 games with Baltimore during the 2011 season. Mostly a special-teams player during his career, Gorrer was cut by the Ravens at the end of the 2012 preseason as he was behind Smith, Webb, Cary Williams, and Corey Graham in a deep group of cornerbacks.

With two career starters under his belt, Gorrer will now be expected to play a far more significant role than he ever did in his first run with Baltimore.

“It takes one game to turn things around,” Gorrer said on Wednesday. “Win this weekend, [and] nobody will even talk about what’s been going on. That’s my job and that’s the team focus right now — to get back on track to winning football and playing Baltimore football. That’s everybody’s main goal, and that’s everything everybody has been talking about in meetings right now.”

Asa Jackson remains on injured reserve-designated to return, but the third-year defensive back isn’t eligible to come back until Week 14 at the earliest when the Ravens play the Miami Dolphins. He suffered a serious turf toe injury against Indianapolis on Oct. 5.

With Smith in the final year of his rookie contract, the Ravens have already exercised their fifth-year option worth $6.898 million for the 2015 season, but the 2011 first-round pick has now dealt with a substantial injury in three of his four NFL seasons. Including the remainder of the 2014 season, Smith will have missed 17 games in his pro career.

 

 

Comments (0)