Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

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Gase interviews for Ravens offensive coordinator job

Posted on 19 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens wasted little time in officially beginning the process to replace offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak by interviewing Denver assistant Adam Gase Monday night.

Serving as the Broncos offensive coordinator in each of the last two years, Gase traveled to Baltimore to meet with head coach John Harbaugh before the Ravens staff traveled to Arizona to coach the Pro Bowl this week. Though interest has been lukewarm for Gase in trying to become a head coach this offseason, Jacksonville and several other teams have courted the 36-year-old to become their offensive coordinator.

Gase has come highly recommended by Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning as he helped orchestrate the NFL’s top-ranked offense in 2013 and No. 4 unit in 2014. However, some have questioned how much of Gase’s success should be attributed to working with a Hall of Fame quarterback who has essentially run his own offense in Denver.

After spending time as an offensive assistant with the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers, Gase was hired by then-coach Josh McDaniels to join the Broncos staff in 2009 and was retained by John Fox when he was hired in 2011. As a quarterbacks coach, Gase was credited for getting enough production out of quarterback Tim Tebow to get the Broncos to the playoffs in 2011 before Manning arrived on the scene the following year.

The hiring of Gase would likely bring a shift in offensive philosophy as he is known for an up-tempo, pass-happy style that differs from Kubiak’s West Coast offense that worked so well in Baltimore this past season. However, Gase adapted to a more run-oriented attack in the second half of 2014 when Manning struggled through the final weeks of the season with a quadriceps injury, leading you to believe his system can be more balanced.

A certain amount of mystery remains over how successful Gase can be as an offensive coordinator without Manning — or his many offensive weapons in Denver — but his credentials are impressive for someone who didn’t even play college football, let alone compete in the NFL. He began his coaching career as an undergraduate at Michigan State helping out coach Nick Saban, who then took Gase with him to Louisiana State as a graduate and recruiting assistant. Given general manager Ozzie Newsome’s relationship with the current Alabama coach, you can assume the Ravens have done their homework on a man regarded as one of the finest young offensive minds in the NFL.

Should the Ravens decide Gase is the right choice to replace Kubiak, they may need to move quickly given the interest he’s drawn from other teams and the high number of offensive coordinator jobs that remain unfilled around the league.

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Sifting through potential candiates to replace Kubiak

Posted on 19 January 2015 by Luke Jones

With Gary Kubiak off to Denver and taking Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani with him, the Ravens are essentially back to where they started a year ago as it relates to their offensive coordinator position.

Of course, having a 30-year-old franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco and an above-average offensive line with all five starters under contract for 2015 should make the job attractive to potential suitors. The most logical fit outside the organization appeared to be Kyle Shanahan — who was a finalist for the position a year ago — before reports surfaced Sunday night that he would be accepting the offensive coordinator position with the Atlanta Falcons as part of Dan Quinn’s staff when the Seattle defensive coordinator is officially hired.

It will be interesting to see if head coach John Harbaugh conducts a search as extensive as last year’s when the Ravens replaced Jim Caldwell. The Ravens would likely prefer maintaining the principles that Kubiak brought to the offense, but any new coordinator understandably would want to put his own fingerprints on the system.

Keep in mind that the Ravens will also need to fill their quarterbacks coach, tight ends coach, and secondary coach positions, so those jobs will also be discussed as Harbaugh reaches out to various candidates. If last year was any indication, the head coach will even explore the collegiate ranks as he did when hiring current running backs coach Thomas Hammock and wide receivers coach Bobby Engram.

Below are four candidates who could potentially draw interest with their most recent position in parentheses:

Adam Gase (Denver offensive coordinator)
Why he fits: The 36-year-old is a hot commodity and is “soon” expected to interview with the Ravens, according to NFL Network. Gase has received endorsements from 14-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning and has likely taken valuable lessons from the future Hall of Famer while overseeing the league’s top-ranked offense in 2013 and the No. 4 unit in 2014.
Why he doesn’t fit: The Manning factor could also be viewed as a negative as the veteran quarterback ran his own offense in Gase’s two years as the coordinator in Denver. Based on his limited body of work in Denver, Gase appears to have a higher propensity to throw the ball, which wouldn’t jive with Harbaugh’s mentality to be a physical, run-first offense.

Greg Knapp (Denver quarterbacks coach)
Why he fits: The 51-year-old carries two decades of NFL coaching experience and has served as an offensive coordinator in San Francisco, Atlanta, Oakland (twice), and Seattle. Part of the expansive coaching tree that started in San Francisco, he also served on Kubiak’s staff in Houston for two years and has experience with the West Coast offense the Ravens ran in 2014.
Why he doesn’t fit: Kubiak could entice him to remain on the Broncos staff, and Knapp could be viewed as too much of a retread after mixed results at different points in his career. Even if Kubiak recommends him to Harbaugh, his lack of any clear ties to the Baltimore head coach makes you wonder if it would be a fit.

Marc Trestman (Chicago head coach)
Why he fits: Even if his two-year tenure with the Bears ended in disappointment, the 59-year-old has an excellent offensive mind and has coached the likes of Bernie Kosar, Steve Young, Jake Plummer, Rich Gannon, and even journeymen Josh McCown to good seasons. He worked with Jim Harbaugh for two years in Oakland, so the Ravens coach can draw further insight from his brother.
Why he doesn’t fit: The Bears were so dysfunctional in Trestman’s final year that you wonder if there will be some lingering effects at his next job. With issues along the offensive line, the Bears faltered in the running game under Trestman in 2014, finishing 27th in the NFL. His wide-open approach may not jive with the Ravens’ philosophy unless they’re willing to shake things up.

Marty Mornhinweg (New York Jets offensive coordinator)
Why he fits: The 52-year-old spent five years coaching with Harbaugh in Philadelphia under Andy Reid and worked with some successful offenses with the Eagles. Familiarity is a powerful factor in hiring coaches, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens reach out to the former Detroit Lions head coach to join the staff in some capacity.
Why he doesn’t fit: Mornhinweg spent the last two years in New York as the Jets couldn’t find any success offensively. He didn’t have much to work with, but he also didn’t help Geno Smith’s development after the Jets invested a second-round pick in the quarterback. Mornhinweg is considered a more pass-happy play-caller, which conflicts with the Ravens’ mindset.

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Five thoughts on Kubiak’s departure

Posted on 18 January 2015 by Luke Jones

(Editor’s note: Kubiak was hired by Denver on Sunday night after this was published earlier in the day.)

Waiting on the inevitable.

That’s what it’s come to for the Ravens as all signs point directly to offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak becoming the next head coach of the Denver Broncos. According to ESPN, the sides will meet in Houston — where Kubiak lives — Sunday and the 53-year-old will accept the job if it’s offered by general manager John Elway.

A formal announcement reportedly wouldn’t come until Tuesday following the Martin Luther King holiday.

Below are five thoughts on Kubiak’s expected departure:

1. Kubiak didn’t pull a fast one on the Ravens.

Yes, the timing of Kubiak’s statement committing to staying in Baltimore last Sunday night was peculiar amidst the whispers about John Fox being let go in Denver, but labeling him Benedict Arnold is too harsh as he enjoyed being in Baltimore and even bought a home here. After 20 years with the Broncos as a player and assistant coach, Kubiak likely wouldn’t have reconsidered his stance for any other job but this one. The truth is he had committed to the Ravens for less than 24 hours before the Broncos job became available and the timing of his expected departure isn’t much different from when Jim Caldwell accepted the Detroit job on Jan. 14 of last year, so the Ravens aren’t “behind” in the search with their season having ended only last Saturday. If some want to call Kubiak disloyal, they can, but many of them would have also clamored for his dismissal if the offense faltered next year.

2. Even with the uncertainties, the Denver job is still a good one.

Make no mistake, there will be much to figure out for Kubiak and the Broncos with the uncertain future of Peyton Manning and a less-than-enviable salary cap situation, but those trying to suggest the coordinator is taking a “bad” job must forget why most NFL head coaching positions come open in the first place — because those teams are bad. Even if Manning retires or flounders in one final year, the Broncos have proven they’re committed to winning and are considered one of the finer organizations in the NFL. Unlike many situations around the league, Kubiak has a long track record with Elway, who will practice more patience for his close friend and former teammate if things are rocky in the first year or two. You could make the argument that the Denver situation isn’t ideal for a potential offensive coordinator with the Manning factor, but there are only 32 head jobs to be had.

3. Baltimore knew this would be a possibility from the moment Kubiak was hired last January.

When the organization enticed Kubiak to come to Baltimore rather than take a year off following his dismissal in Houston, it wasn’t a secret that this could be a one-year marriage. Instead of lamenting over his departure, the Ravens will gladly take his fingerprints in moving forward with a 30-year-old quarterback in the prime of his career and an offensive line that showed plenty of stability and ability in a record-setting season for the offense. The Ravens have had plenty of success in the Harbaugh era, and the cost of doing good business is frequently having your assistants plucked away by other teams. With eight years of experience in Houston that included two AFC South titles, Kubiak warranted a second chance as a head coach at some point and Baltimore was aware that his hiring was unlikely to be a long-term fit.

4. The offensive line — not Joe Flacco — should be the first factor considered in finding his replacement.

The Ravens are facing the prospects of having their fourth offensive coordinator in four years, but the focus in hiring their new man should come with a goal of maintaining the success of the offensive line above anything else. The ability to run the football and protect the pocket were the biggest keys in Flacco having the finest regular season of his career. Assuming general manager Ozzie Newsome is able to add some more talent at wide receiver and tight end this offseason, Flacco will be fine in adjusting to a new offensive system, but the Ravens should find someone whose philosophy meshes will with Kubiak’s zone-blocking concepts that were executed so well by the current line. This is why Rick Dennison and Kyle Shanahan are such attractive options to replace Kubiak as very few adjustments would be needed.

5. Contrary to popular opinion, the Ravens will survive without Kubiak.

The Ravens are still just two years removed from a Super Bowl title that had nothing to do with the current offensive coordinator, making some of the fan panic over Kubiak’s departure somewhat amusing. It’s certainly disappointing to lose him, but Harbaugh has a track record of finding replacements who do just fine — and have even moved on to become head coaches themselves. The NFL is much more about having talent on the field than it is about brilliant offensive schemes as there are few secrets in how most offenses operate. With a strong front office and Harbaugh firmly in place, the Ravens will continue to be successful and Kubiak’s departure will register as little more than a speed bump in the big picture. With one of the better quarterbacks and offensive lines in the league, the new offensive coordinator will be walking into a good situation in Baltimore.

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Denver submits request to interview Kubiak for head coach

Posted on 15 January 2015 by Luke Jones

To no one’s surprise the Denver Broncos have formally asked for permission to interview Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak for their head coaching vacancy.

Now we wait to see if Kubiak accepts. The 53-year-old spent 20 years in the Broncos organization as a player and assistant coach and remains close with general manager John Elway, whom he backed up at quarterback for nine years.

Per NFL Network, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was expected to discuss Kubiak’s plans on Thursday morning, but the organization will not stand in his way if he wants to meet with the Broncos. Kubiak issued a statement through the Ravens Sunday night that he would not pursue any head coaching positions, but that stance may have changed once the Broncos and former head coach John Fox officially parted ways on Monday.

“If a coach gets a chance to be a head coach in this league, you’ve got to be happy for him,” Harbaugh said on Tuesday. “I don’t know if anything else will come up — I haven’t heard of anything along those lines — but if something comes up, we’ll just have to deal with it.”

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No questions at left tackle for Ravens heading into offseason

Posted on 14 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh made it clear Tuesday there is no controversy at left tackle going into the offseason.

A few eyebrows raised when starting left tackle Eugene Monroe was deemed active for Saturday’s game in New England before rookie free agent James Hurst remained the starter against the Patriots, but Harbaugh said the decision was based solely on Monroe’s health. After injuring his ankle in the fourth quarter of the Week 16 loss in Houston, Monroe did not play in the regular-season finale or the Pittsburgh game and was limited to just five special-teams snaps against New England.

Monroe was a limited participant in practices last week leading into the trip to Foxborough.

“Eugene wasn’t 100 percent, but we felt like he was enough to be a good backup for us,” Harbaugh said. “If we lost one of the tackles, we’d probably rather be able to put Eugene in there at less than 100 percent than have to shuffle the offensive line around again. And credit to him for getting himself back into that kind of a position. But as far as playing the left tackle spot the whole game, where [Monroe] was at, James was the better option.”

If Monroe had remained inactive against the Patriots and the Ravens would have lost either Hurst or Marshal Yanda, who was already filling in for the injured Rick Wagner at right tackle, they would have been forced to move left guard Kelechi Osemele out to tackle and insert Ryan Jensen into the game. Instead, the Ravens deemed a banged-up Monroe as a better option to activate than Jensen, who was only promoted to the 53-man roster at the end of the regular season.

Needless to say, it was a disappointing year for Monroe after he signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract last offseason. He missed four games after undergoing knee surgery in late September and never appeared healthy enough to play at the level he did last season when he was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The ankle injury against the Texans all but ended his season, opening the door for Hurst to become the first player in NFL history to start a playoff game at left tackle as an undrafted rookie.

Counting the postseason, the Ravens went 5-2 in games Hurst started at left tackle, leaving some to wonder if the rookie’s performance was good enough to supplant Monroe as the starter. When carefully watching Hurst’s play, it would be more accurate to describe Baltimore as surviving with him at left tackle.

Harbaugh made it clear how he views the depth chart heading into next season.

“Eugene is our starter going forward,” Harbaugh said. “We’re happy to have that be the case.”

Of all offensive tackles who participated in at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in the regular season, Hurst finished 79th out of 84 and had minus-16.9 pass blocking and minus-9.0 run blocking grades, according to Pro Football Focus’s cumulative assessments. Monroe ranked 63rd out of 84, but his minus-1.0 pass blocking grade and minus-10.7 run blocking grade reflects how much he struggled moving laterally in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking system while not having quite as many issues as a pass blocker. That could certainly be explained by the knee issues he experienced early in the year and then coming back from surgery in the middle of the season.

Monroe will be on notice to bounce back dramatically — especially carrying a $7.7 million cap figure in 2015 — but he also has a track record suggesting he’ll be better with an offseason to once again get healthy.

Even if his performance wasn’t strong enough to seriously make Monroe look over his shoulder, Hurst did establish himself as a solid backup for an offensive line that took major strides in 2014.

“Those experiences I’m going to carry with me and use them to my advantage just to make myself a better football player,” said Hurst of the seven starts he made in his first NFL season. “It’s a huge offseason after your rookie year. You know really what you need to work on to be a better pro.”

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Ravens “cautiously optimistic” about Pitta returning next year

Posted on 13 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh remains hopeful that tight end Dennis Pitta will be able to resume his NFL career after suffering two serious hip injuries in the last two seasons.

Harbaugh had no new information about the future of the 29-year-old, who was lost for the season after dislocating and fracturing his right hip for the second time in 14 months in a game against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 21. Pitta signed a five-year, $32 million last winter that includes a $4 million guaranteed salary for the 2015 season, meaning there is virtually no chance that Baltimore would consider cutting him this offseason.

“I will say that I’m cautiously optimistic because of the injury,” Harbaugh said. “I think all of us would [say], “OK, is this going to be good?’ We want to make sure he’s going to be totally healthy, totally safe — as much as is reasonable in football — to make make sure that hip is sound and everything before our doctors would ever clear him. In the end, it will be up to the doctors and Dennis to determine that.”

Pitta has expressed a clear desire to continue his playing career after being limited to just seven games in the last two seasons. The 2010 fourth-round pick was emerging as one of the better tight ends in the NFL before suffering the first hip injury on July 27.

A vigorous rehab and the timing of the injury allowed Pitta to return for the final month of the 2013 season, but the second injury led to a slower rehabilitation process in hopes of giving the hip proper time to heal and get stronger. Many have wondered whether Pitta should play again after twice suffering an injury considered so rare in football.

Harbaugh said he spoke to Pitta on Tuesday as the tight end hopes to receive an update on his hip later in the coming days.

“He’s going to see a couple specialists this week, so I’m kind of looking forward to seeing what they say,” Harbaugh said. “But he’s working out today, so that seemed to be positive to me.”

In 50 career games in Baltimore, Pitta has made 138 receptions for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns as one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets.

Corners on mend

In addition to having five cornerbacks on injured reserve during the 2014 season, Harbaugh revealed Tuesday that Rashaan Melvin will undergo shoulder surgery that will keep him sidelined until organized team activities in the spring.

The former Miami Dolphins practice squad member started the final three games of the regular season and both postseason games and had played well before being torched by the Patriots for two touchdowns in Saturday’s playoff loss. However, the 6-foot-2 Melvin is regarded as an intriguing option as a depth cornerback for next season.

“If everything goes well, he should be back for OTAs and for minicamp,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think we had any other surgeries at this time after the [magnetic resonance imaging exams] came in, so that’s good news. It’s the best we’ve probably been.”

Harbaugh revealed encouraging news about the status of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, who suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in late October. Smith remains in a walking boot, but it appears that he’ll be ready to go in plenty of time for spring workouts.

Smith is in line to make $6.898 million for the fifth-year option the Ravens exercised on his rookie contract.

“Jimmy will actually go into the offseason healthy,” Harbaugh said. “He’ll be running here in a couple weeks, so he’ll get a chance to get a full offseason in. Maybe four weeks might be the number off the top of my head. It’s pretty encouraging that way.”

Harbaugh, Ravens staff heading to Arizona

Harbaugh confirmed that he and his staff will coach one of the Pro Bowl teams opposed by the Dallas Cowboys staff in Arizona on Jan. 25.

The Denver Broncos staff was originally supposed to be the AFC representative before head coach John Fox parted ways with the organization on Monday, opening the door for the Ravens to receive the invitation. Harbaugh sees it as a fun event while also taking advantage of the opportunity to get to know other players, which could pay off at some point down the road.

“We get to coach a little bit more, which is nice,” said Harbaugh, who added that the Pro Bowl practices would be brief. “I mentioned a few times regarding Steve Smith and other players  — you get to know guys. I got to know Steve really well way back at his first Pro Bowl. That’s always a fun part of it in getting to know some of the players around the league.”

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Harbaugh unaware of any change to Kubiak’s plans to stay with Ravens

Posted on 13 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even if the Denver Broncos are targeting Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak as their next head coach, John Harbaugh gave no indication Tuesday afternoon that it would happen.

The Ravens head coach said he’s heard nothing from Kubiak that indicates he has changed his mind about the commitment he made to remain as offensive coordinator Sunday night, but Harbaugh didn’t dismiss the possibility of it happening. Kubiak spent nine years as the backup quarterback in Denver in addition to 11 years as an assistant coach under former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan.

“I haven’t sat down with Gary and interrogated him about it,” said Harbaugh as he smiled. “Maybe I should. That might be my next move. Out of respect, he’s told me he’s planning on being here. Denver hasn’t reached out in any way at this time. That’s not to say it couldn’t change at some point in time. I just think if that happens, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

“I’m not really one to put anybody on the spot like that. I want to be respectful. I’m planning on Gary being back, so if that changes, then we’ll deal with it if it comes up. But I don’t anticipate that changing at this time.”

Hall of Fame quarterback and Broncos general manager John Elway remains close friends with Kubiak and hasn’t shot down the possibility of him being a candidate to replace head coach John Fox, who parted ways with the Broncos on Monday. For now, Kubiak remains the Ravens offensive coordinator despite an ESPN report indicating Denver will request permission to interview him.

In their first season with Kubiak running the offense, the Ravens set franchise records in points scored and total yards and finished 12th in the NFL in total offense and eighth in points per game. A running game that ranked last in the NFL in yards per carry in 2013 improved to eighth in yards per game this season.

Kubiak’s announcement on Sunday squashed reported interest from Chicago, the New York Jets, and San Francisco, but the Denver position could be viewed as a dream job that could prompt the 53-year-old to change his mind.

“As far as I know, nothing’s changed,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not aware of any change of anything that’s taken place between then and now. Of course, I’m as pleased as heck to hear that [initial announcement] and talk to Gary about that leading up to that and then that day. I told him that’s music to my ears. He’s very happy here; his family’s happy here. I think all the coaches really feel good about where they’re at right now. As far as I know, nothing’s changed along those lines.”

Harbaugh did confirm that secondary coach and assistant head coach Steve Spagnuolo will interview for the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator position on Wednesday. The Ravens finished 23rd in pass defense after dealing with a rash of injuries that included top cornerback Jimmy Smith and No. 3 corner Asa Jackson.

Spagnuolo is no stranger to Tom Coughlin and the Giants after serving as their defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008 before he became the head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

“Steve’s a great coach and has done a great job with the guys throughout the course of the season,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, a tremendously experienced coach. He’s been a head coach, been a coordinator, and that’s not something that we would want to hold him back from as an opportunity. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that, but that’s something that he deserves an opportunity to look at.”

Though a change in Kubiak’s status could create a ripple of change with quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison and tight ends coach Brian Pariani in particular, Harbaugh is not anticipating any other shakeups to his coaching staff at this time.

The Ravens endured plenty of change last offseason with the departures of offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, tight ends coach Wade Harman, offensive line coach Andy Mueller, and secondary coach Teryl Austin. Harbaugh is hoping for more continuity this winter as the Ravens try to build on their 2014 return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

“I sure hope so. I’m recruiting those guys every day,” Harbaugh said. “But like I said, guys like being here. If a coach gets a chance to be a head coach in this league, you’ve got to be happy for him. I don’t know if anything else will come up — I haven’t heard of anything along those lines — but if something comes up, we’ll just have to deal with it.”

 

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Post game thoughts – Ravens vs Patriots

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Had a great show Sunday morning, with relative predictable reaction by the Baltimore Ravens’ fan base. The scale was truly A – Z, from fans who were extremely upset, to moderately happy. The biggest issue that came up time and again was the decision that Joe Flacco made to throw the ball deep to Torrey Smith with just under 2 minutes left in the game.

Lots of Ravens fans second guessed that decision, and they wanted Flacco to continue to patiently work the ball downfield. In fact, on that play he had a wide open Marlon Brown streaking across the middle of the field.

It is my opinion that Flacco did in fact make the right call. The Patriots were in a single high safety formation, and Flacco knew that Torrey Smith was singled up by the DB on the left sideline. Smith got a couple of steps on his man, but the ball was under thrown and the safety came over and made a great play. It’s a simple as that. You take points when you can get them, and then you rely on your defense to make a stop, and win the game for you. Had the Ravens scored on that play, there’s no question it would have left the Patriots plenty of time to go down field and either tie the game with a field goal, or win it with a touchdown.

But first things first. I’ve seen too many games where offenses try to methodically go downfield in an attempt to score with seconds left, in order to leave the opposing offense with no time to move the ball. I’ve also seen turnovers happen in the form of fumbles and interceptions, mishandled handoffs and snaps. The ball is oblong, pointy, and bounces funny.  Oftentimes anything and everything that can go wrong…does. That is precisely why you take the points when you can get them.

The Ravens play aggressive football, and they have an aggressive nature about them. They are by and large well coached and relatively disciplined. No one complained when they went for it on 4th and 6th. When you live by the sword, you die by the sword. That’s how this team rolls, and that philosophy has played a big part as to why under John Harbaugh’s tenure, they’ve been in the playoffs 6 times in the past 7 years.

Speaking of Flacco, for 58 minutes he played a great game. He had two critical interceptions, but he also threw for 4 touchdowns. He should have had 5, but one of his throws bounced off of the hands of Owen Daniels. That was a huge play in and of itself, as it did factor in to the outcome. Flacco set a new NFL record with two touchdowns in eight straight postseason games, passing Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Drew Brees. That’s pretty good company if you ask me. The other question is this: if not Flacco – Ravens fans – then who? He didn’t let up a two touchdown lead, twice in the game. That was on the defense. Scoring 31 points in the NFL should be good enough for a win on any given Sunday. That was on the Ravens’ defense and their patched up secondary. Rob Gronkowski, some trickery, and Patriots’ half time adjustments were enough to pull out a win on their home turf.

There was criticism of Torrey Smith on the play that Flacco threw the pick on. Some fans felt that he didn’t do enough to break up the play. I’ve looked at the replays and he never had a chance to make a play on the ball. The safety was in good position, and got there at the ball’s high point. Smith is good, solid football player, but he doesn’t have the instincts to go up there and fight for the ball. It was not a lack of effort, and I’m not even sure that he saw the safety until the last second, so he didn’t have much time to react. I hope that he and the Ravens can come to a contractual agreement, as I believe he is a solid #2 receiver in this league, and adds value to the team.

Jacoby Jones looked tentative in the last two games, particularly on kickoff returns. He was not hitting the lanes hard, and maybe was putting too much emphasis on protecting the ball. He slipped on the opening kickoff versus the Steelers, and did not look good after that. I was hoping he would unleash himself in the manner that he did two years ago in the playoffs, but he was nowhere the difference maker this post season that he was then. I was disappointed with his performance, as I expected more.

The personal foul calls were troublesome, particularly on Torrey Smith. Coach Harbaugh should have also used a time out versus running on the field to get the refs’ attention. Not to mention he was wrong about the “deceptive practices” he alleged Bill Belichick was using. I under stand coach was frustrated after the bitter loss, but watching his presser brought to mind the phrase “never blame, complain or explain. I think Harbaugh is a solid coach, but hey coach, you got beat. Simple as that. Your defense blew a two TD lead – twice! Daniels didn’t come up with a catch – that Pitta would have probably held on to – in the end zone. Sending out 4 offensive linemen is nothing new. Alabama coach Nick Saban used it this season in overtime, in a 20-13 victory over LSU. I don’t recall LSU coach Les Miles complaining about the tactic at his press conference.

Bottom line is that the Ravens should head in to the off season with their heads held high. They battled through major off field distractions, 19 players on injured reserve, a late season suspension to a key player and still scratched and clawed their way to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. They went toe to toe with a team that features a certain Hall of Fame first ballot quarterback and head coach, and gave them all that they could handle on their home turf.

Looks like offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is coming back, and with a strong draft and some health, the Ravens are poised to make a deep run in to the playoffs next season for sure. Hopefully they’ll win enough regular season games to get some home games in the playoffs, which will make the road to where they’re ultimately trying to get to a bit easier.

 

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Ravens-Patriots: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 10 January 2015 by Luke Jones

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — January in Foxborough is a familiar scene for the Ravens as they meet the New England Patriots in the AFC divisional round on Saturday afternoon.

Head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens are playing for the right to go to their fourth conference championship game in the last seven years, and they’ll have their starting left tackle available for the first time since Week 16 as Eugene Monroe is active. An ankle injury still limited Monroe in practices this week, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in his first live-game action since Dec. 21.

According to their depth chart, Monroe’s return would push rookie free agent James Hurst to right tackle and four-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda back to normal right guard spot. Rookie John Urschel had been filling in at right guard with Yanda moving outside the last two weeks.

(Update 4:05 p.m. — Based on pre-game warmups, it appears that Monroe will serve as the emergency backup tackle for Saturday’s game with Hurst remaining at left tackle.)

As expected, rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (foot/ankle) is active after being listed as probable to play and practicing fully all week. He will move back into the defensive line rotation as a substitute behind five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who returned from a four-game suspension at the start of the postseason.

With Monroe and Jernigan both active after missing the Pittsburgh game, offensive lineman Ryan Jensen and defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson were deactivated for Saturday’s game.

The Patriots listed running backs Jonas Gray and James White as inactive, which is interesting considering how much head coach Bill Belichick has liked to use a committee approach in his backfield this season. Of course, New England could struggle finding room against the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense, regardless of who is receiving the carries.

The Ravens will be playing the Patriots for the fourth time in their playoff history as they have won two of the previous three postseason games played at Gillette Stadium. Baltimore is 1-7 against New England in the all-time regular-season history that’s been overshadowed by four postseason meetings in the last six seasons.

The forecast calls for temperatures dipping below 20 degrees as the game progresses with winds up to 10 miles per hour.

The referee for Saturday’s wild-card game will be Bill Vinovich.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with black pants for Saturday’s game while New England dons its navy blue tops with silver pants.

Below are the inactives for Saturday:

BALTIMORE
DL DeAngelo Tyson
TE Phillip Supernaw
DT Casey Walker
DT Terrence Cody
DE Steven Means
CB Chris Greenwood
OL Ryan Jensen

NEW ENGLAND
RB Jonas Gray
OL Cameron Fleming
OT Jordan Devey
WR Brandon Boyce
TE Steve Maneri
DL Zach Moore
RB James White

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Saturday

Posted on 09 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have made a mostly-pleasant habit of traveling to Foxborough in January to take on the New England Patriots.

The latest chapter in this underrated rivalry will be written Saturday with Baltimore eyeing its fourth trip to the AFC Championship game under head coach John Harbaugh. Meanwhile, the No. 1 seed Patriots are seeking their first championship in a decade with 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady not getting any younger.

Joe Flacco will try to continue an impeccable postseason run in which he’s thrown 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his last nine playoff games. The seventh-year signal-caller has thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception in leading the Ravens to wins in their last five postseason contests.

Who will win on Saturday?

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It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Patriots meet for the fourth time ever in the playoffs — all have been in Foxborough — with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge. New England leads the all-time regular-season series by a 7-1 margin despite the Ravens’ postseason success at Gillette Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to hand New England another loss in the postseason …

1. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will be chased by Will Hill most of the day while catching a touchdown and posting 100 receiving yards. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will throw the kitchen sink at New England in trying to cover the All-Pro tight end, but Hill will draw most of the responsibility with little success. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound safety did an admirable job in holding New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham to six catches for 47 yards in late November, but Gronkowski has played at a different level than anyone at his position this year and is more physical. Brady will go to him early and often to try to offset a Baltimore pass rush bearing down on him.

2. Three of the Ravens’ sacks against Brady will come from inside pressure. Four has been the magic number for the Ravens as they’ve collected at least four sacks in their last eight wins and are 0-4 when failing to reach the plateau over that stretch. Brady was sacked just 21 times this year, but his quick release was a bigger factor in that statistic than an offensive line that’s been shaky in pass protection this year. The Ravens will exploit rookie center Bryan Stork and guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell with A-gap blitzing as well as the presence of Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, and Timmy Jernigan in passing situations. Inside pressure will force Brady backward and give Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil time to reach him off the edges.

3. Steve Smith will have a quiet game, but Torrey Smith will catch a touchdown and fetch a key pass interference call. Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis is expected to match up against Steve Smith, which will spell trouble for the veteran wideout as Revis will match the 35-year-old’s physicality with press coverage. This will leave the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner against Torrey Smith in a matchup that could determine the outcome of the game. The Maryland product will be challenged by Browner’s physicality, but the former Seattle defensive back is prone to penalties, drawing 15 flags in nine games in the regular season. The speedy fourth-year wideout draws pass interference calls as well as anyone and will fetch a big one inside the red zone in addition to catching a first-half touchdown.

4. Brady will pass for more yards, but Flacco will throw more touchdown passes. The Patriots will try to establish the run with their extensive collection of running backs, but they won’t find much room against the league’s fourth-ranked run defense, meaning the ball will be in their franchise quarterback’s hands all day. Brady will make amends for his 56.8 passer rating in his three previous playoff games against the Ravens, but Baltimore will clamp down inside the red zone. In contrast, the Ravens will find enough running room to keep Justin Forsett involved, and Flacco will have another efficient game like he did in Pittsburgh with 220 yards and two touchdowns to put his team in position to grab a victory in the fourth quarter.

5. Justin Tucker will kick the game-winning field goal to give the Ravens a 24-23 win. New England was the better team this season, but Baltimore has history on its side and — more importantly – the right tools to match up with the Patriots. If the Ravens are able to pressure Brady inside and out, it will make up for potential problems in the secondary and allow the Baltimore offense to keep up as it deals with an improved Patriots defense. This game could go either way, but it’s getting to the point where you just can’t pick against Flacco in the playoffs until someone finally cools him off. The Ravens won’t be scared playing in familiar Foxborough, and they’ll find a way to win there once again in January.

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