Tag Archive | "juan castillo"

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Ravens Remain “In The Zone”

Posted on 04 November 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

Going into the Ravens bye week many were hoping for wholesale changes, particularly on the offensive line. Since we knew that those changes wouldn’t ( or couldn’t) come by way of new personnel, in fact the injury status of Kelechi Osemele only further limits the teams personnel options, many were instead hoping for (or expecting) a change in philosophy.

So far, Juan Castillo’s tenure in Baltimore has been met with a lot of criticism and not much patience. It’s really easy to understand why, as the offensive line’s performance in the post-season seemed to be the catalyst for the Ravens’ Super Bowl run, and since for the first time in the John Harbaugh / Joe Flacco era the line was coming back 80% intact. Add to that Castillo’s shaky recent track record and the dramatic shift in philosophy to a “zone based” blocking scheme, and many have affixed the blame for the Ravens poor offensive line play directly to their new “Run Game Coordinator”.

 

Whether that’s an accurate assessment or not is beside the point for now.The Ravens opened their post-bye portion of the schedule looking pretty much the same on the offensive line personnel wise, scheme wise, and effectiveness wise too. And while Sunday’s loss doesn’t officially end the Ravens run of playoff seasons under their current regime, the road to 10 wins has suddenly become really tough to navigate or even to envision.

 

If it is the end of the Ravens string of playoffs, it’s probably long overdue. Maintaining a consistent contender in today’s salary cap driven NFL isn’t supposed to be as easy as the Ravens have made it look, especially in a division like the AFC North 2008-2012. Given the chance to trade a Super Bowl win for a losing season thereafter, there’s not a player, coach, executive or fan who wouldn’t have signed up for that scenario before last year’s magical run. And while no trade like that was actually made, the Ravens themselves may have consciously made a similar “tradeoff” in order to lay the groundwork for their next string of competitive success.

 

Those that began this year expecting Joe Flacco’s new contract to sink the franchise may have been more right than we’d like to acknowledge, even if it was in a way that no one outside the organization may have seen coming. The truth is that for 2013 at least, Flacco’s contract is very “cap friendly”, but it won’t remain that way. Given the future constraints of his contract, and the turnover the Ravens have continually seen on the offensive side of the ball, it shouldn’t be a reach to think that the front office is thinking about the long term a little differently.

 

The problem with the Ravens zone blocking scheme, in addition to the growing pains of getting everyone comfortable in it, has been that the Ravens don’t exactly seem to have the right personnel to run it. The team that seemed to run it best, and made it most famous were the late 90’s and early 2000’s Denver Broncos. At the time, the Broncos were known for having small, athletic offensive linemen who weren’t prototypical, and who therefore weren’t in great demand by other teams. That Broncos team also developed a reputation for being able to throw any back in the backfield and pile up big yardage.

 

In a salary cap era, with a QB earning big money, in an organization that still sees the value of stocking the defense with talent, the Ravens have to make a conscious effort to cut corners somewhere. Continually “coaching up” offensive linemen to the point that other teams are willing to offer them big money, and having paid “top dollar” to a running back who may already be on the down slope, has put the Ravens in a tough spot…a tough spot that could be avoided in the future if they’re able to successfully implement a new offensive philosophy that gets the most out of unconventional, not in demand talent that won’t cost a mint or have to turn over quite so rapidly.

 

If this is the case, you have to applaud the Ravens commitment to change, even on the heels of their recent success, in order to get and remain one step ahead in the future. It’d clearly be easier to abandon the new scheme, and go back to the old, simple, conventional style of play that led them to New Orleans last year, but if the Ravens believe that this is the right path for the long term, then they just might have to be willing to suffer a little short term pain for some long term gain.

 

A couple of years ago John Harbaugh was selling the symbolism of the shovel and the sword, signifying the Ravens building and fighting at the same time. If this time around the Ravens have to tear down in order to build up stronger, they seem to have run out of hands for those swords. Hopefully soon enough, they’ll be able to put down the sledgehammers and get back to the fight. For now…they’ve earned our patience.

 

 

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After post-bye clunker, “What now?” becomes Ravens’ biggest question

Posted on 03 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Coming off the Week 8 bye was supposed to be a chance for the Ravens to start anew after a rocky 3-4 start to the 2013 season.

With the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals losing on Thursday night and most of the AFC wild-card contenders looking mortal, the Ravens simply needed a win — no matter how it looked — to get back to .500 and begin the second half of the season on a positive note. A week off not only gave players a chance to rest but provided head coach John Harbaugh and his staff the time to make much-needed corrections in all phases of the game.

Instead, the Ravens responded with an ugly 24-18 loss to the Cleveland Browns, snapping an 11-game winning streak over their AFC North foe and digging an even bigger hole in their quest to advance to the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Expecting the bye week to provide a much-needed tuneup, the Ravens instead stalled getting out of their driveway as they’re now off to their worst start since the 2005 season.

And the question echoing over and over in the closing seconds as the Browns finished a scoring drive lasting more than six minutes was a frightening one.

What now?

A running game averaging a league-worst 2.8 yards per carry entering Sunday produced only 55 yards on 21 carries with quarterback Joe Flacco accounting for 25 of those on three scrambles. The offensive line was once again dominated at the point of attack and Ray Rice finished with 17 yards on 11 carries, not looking any more explosive or elusive despite claims that he was once again 100 percent.

Though once again plagued with a running game that was a non-factor and suspect pass protection for much of the day, Flacco played poorly through much of the first half, missing several open receivers and throwing a head-scratching interception late in the second quarter. To his credit, the sixth-year signal caller rebounded over the game’s final 30 minutes, but his poor first-half showing was disappointing coming off the bye and was a major factor in the Ravens offense once again getting off to a slow start.

The defense allowed veteran Jason Campbell to throw for 262 yards and three touchdowns and, even worse, wasn’t able to get a stop at a crucial point in the second half for the third straight game — all losses. Dean Pees’ unit hasn’t been the biggest problem this season, but the Ravens defense simply hasn’t been able to come up with a big play when it needs it late in games unlike stellar units of the past that often carried inferior offenses.

Not to be outdone by the first two phases, the special teams were a major problem as well as normally sure-handed punt returner Tandon Doss muffed a punt at his own 11-yard line, setting up the Browns’ third touchdown of the game in the third quarter and putting the Ravens behind 21-10. And punter Sam Koch continued his rough season, failing to pin the Browns inside the 20 on three separate opportunities kicking inside Cleveland territory in a game in which field position loomed large.

Hoping for the light to come on after the bye, the Ravens looked like they did in the first seven games of the season — appearing to be a below-average football team.

How does it get fixed? Can it be fixed this season?

The Ravens are as healthy as they’re going to be until the expected return of Dennis Pitta later this month, but the talented tight end isn’t going to remedy all of the team’s problems. At this rate, the Ravens may not be in a position for Pitta’s return to matter in terms of their playoff hopes for 2013.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh have already trimmed fat on the roster with the jettisoning of veterans Michael Huff, Marcus Spears, and Bryant McKinnie. Many are clamoring for the ax to fall on run-game coordinator Juan Castillo, but there have already been murmurs that his influence has waned since the bye week with offensive line coach Andy Moeller now having a louder voice.

If Castillo were to be fired — a move that would be very difficult to challenge at this point — do the likes of Marshal Yanda and Michael Oher suddenly start winning one-on-one battles that they’ve lost too often this season?

The answers aren’t simple when you have issues all over the place and that’s where the Ravens find themselves as they began the month of November with their third loss in the last four games. There’s a certain amount of understanding that comes with the struggles of unproven players like Gino Gradkowski and veteran newcomers who simply don’t fit, but a number of veterans who have been counted on year in and year out have been even bigger disappointments, which brings greater concern for the future.

Even with the problems along the offensive line, it’s getting more difficult every week to dispute the growing notion that Rice’s best days are behind him. He continues to struggle to break any tackles in the open field and no longer looks like the home-run hitter on which the Ravens relied for years. Rice has three years remaining on his current contract and is scheduled to account for $8.75 million on next year’s cap.

Oher and Yanda have appeared to be shells of their former selves, which might not be as problematic with the former scheduled to become a free agent, but the Pro Bowl right guard has a cap figure of $8.45 million next year and is under contract through the 2015 season.

Top cornerback Lardarius Webb was faked out of his shoes by Browns receiver Davone Bess on a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter Sunday and has struggled to find his pre-injury form coming back from ACL surgery, but he certainly deserves some benefit of the doubt and should get stronger in the second half of the season. Still, he carries a $10.5 million cap figure in 2014 and is being paid as one of the best cornerbacks in the league.

Having arguably the worst season of his career, Koch carries a $2.8 million cap figure next year, which is a high number for a punter not getting the job done.

And perhaps the most disappointing and concerning of the group of standouts failing to deliver in 2013 is defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who holds a $16 million cap number next season and no longer looks like the game-wrecker he was before the Ravens signed him to a five-year, $61 million contract in 2011. For the third straight season, nagging injuries are limiting his impact in games.

Regardless of what happens over the final eight games in terms of the Ravens trying to rebound to extend their run of five consecutive playoff appearances to a sixth, Newsome and Harbaugh must be in evaluation mode when it comes to the aforementioned players. Some contracts have bigger cap ramifications than others, but it’s a scary proposition to be forced to reconsider your thinking on players who previously weren’t of any concern — and carry huge price tags.

The debate went on through much of the offseason whether the Ravens were rebuilding or simply reloading after a slew of personnel changes. The result to this point has been a flawed roster that will need to go 6-2 in the second half of the season just to give the Ravens a chance at 9-7.

And barring a drastic turnaround in the final eight games, the Ravens will be forced to start thinking about their offseason much sooner than anyone anticipated.

And they’ll definitely have their work cut out for them.

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Our Ravens/Browns “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 03 November 2013 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show on AM1570 WNST.net.

The Ravens fell to the Cleveland Browns 24-18 Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. Corey Graham

4. Matt Elam

3. Michael Oher

2. Ray Rice

1. Juan Castillo (Two Slaps)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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How does Rice fit into Ravens’ running game woes?

Posted on 16 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Ravens running back Ray Rice knew nothing but success in the first five years of his NFL career.

With three Pro Bowl selections, over 5,000 rushing yards, and more than 2,700 receiving yards, the 26-year-old had firmly cemented his place as one of the league’s top running backs and appeared on schedule to easily supplant Jamal Lewis as the Ravens’ all-time leading rusher at some point late in the 2014 season. That’s what makes his start to the 2013 season that much more alarming as the Ravens figured to lean more on the running game after the offseason trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin and the long-term hip injury suffered by tight end Dennis Pitta in the first week of training camp.

Baltimore ranks 27th in the league in rush offense with just 72.7 yards per game and is 31st of 32 teams with an anemic 2.7 yards per carry. Through the first six weeks of the season, Rice has managed just 197 yards on 71 carries and has averaged 2.8 yards per carry, 1.7 yards lower than his career average entering the season.

Labeling himself “a little frustrated” with the overall lack of production in the running game following Sunday’s 19-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Rice has run for no gain or negative yardage on 20 of his 71 carries this season. No one would blame him for being frustrated as he finds himself with a long run of 14 yards on the season and ranked 34th in the NFL in rushing as even three quarterbacks — Michael Vick, Russell Wilson, and Terrelle Pryor — have collected more yards on the ground than the 2008 second-round pick.

Once holding the undisputed title as the Ravens’ most explosive offensive weapon, Rice is now part of a running game on pace to shatter the franchise record for fewest yards per attempt average as the 2006 Ravens — a team that ironically finished with a franchise-best regular-season record of 13-3 — collected 3.4 yards per rush for the lowest mark in the team’s 18-year history.

“Ray has handled it as well as you can,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “Obviously, you’re going to be frustrated, especially when you’re him [and] you’re used to producing a certain way. He’s not putting himself above anything else. The biggest thing is that we haven’t been winning and we haven’t been doing as well as we wanted to on offense. It’s not necessarily about him and his own stats.”

Of course, no one would dispute the poor performance of the offensive line as the greatest cause for the running game woes — Rice and second-year backup Bernard Pierce are each averaging 2.8 yards per carry and aren’t finding any consistent room to run — but trying to evaluate just how well Rice is performing has been tricky this season. Before offering any potential criticism of Rice, it’s fair to acknowledge Pierce hasn’t fared any better after many wondered in the offseason if the Ravens should use more of a 50-50 split this year.

Any assessment of Rice’s play must acknowledge the left hip flexor strain he suffered in the Week 2 win over the Cleveland Browns, an injury that forced him to miss his first game since his rookie season when he was sidelined for three games with a shin injury. While not a serious injury by nature, a hip ailment would understandably hamper any shifty runner such as Rice who depends on lateral movement and the ability to change direction quickly.

Coach John Harbaugh deferred to Rice when asked how healthy his starting running back was — Rice wasn’t made available to the media on Wednesday — but it isn’t unfair to wonder how healthy the sixth-year back may be as the Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday before entering next week’s bye.

“He was banged up for a couple weeks, and this is really his first couple weeks back,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Anytime you get a little banged up and aren’t 100 percent, you have to take a little bit of time before you can really expect to be back there and have full explosion.”

While the offensive line has faced the most scrutiny as its struggled to adapt to run-game coordinator Juan Castillo’s zone blocking schemes, Harbaugh has acknowledged the need for the running backs to show better vision in reading blocks and being more explosive in hitting their running lanes — no matter how small they might be.

Many observers have opined that both Rice and Pierce have appeared hesitant in hitting holes, pointing to examples over the first six weeks of the season where holes were missed or cutback opportunities weren’t taken when the offensive line managed to do its job effectively. Just like any other position on the field, a running back isn’t immune from losing confidence in not just the players around him but himself when the ground game isn’t clicking.

Lewis, one of only seven players in NFL history to run for over 2,000 yards in a season, recalled times in his career in which a lack of confidence in what was happening up front hindered his ability to make plays even when the running lanes were there. The Ravens’ Ring of Honor member saw his 5.3 yards per carry average in his 2003 Pro Bowl season drop nearly two full yards per attempt just two years later.

“I’ve had a few years where you were hesitant [and] not sure in your line’s ability in blocking this scheme,” Lewis told AM 1570 WNST on Tuesday. “Is your line too light for the scheme you are running? When you do that, and that sinks in, it’s a mental thing that can really hurt you. You’ll never get on track. It’s kind of feeling it out, dealing with it, finding a solution to the problem. But, you just can’t have the hesitation because there’s going to be wide-open holes and you’re going to miss [them]. It’s more of a ‘hit it where it’s supposed to go.’

“Look at Adrian Peterson. When he hits the hole, if it’s closed, he bounces off and he hits the next one. At the same time, this is the NFL, it closes up quickly. It’s not always a hole as wide as all daylight.”

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Changes coming to Ravens’ struggling offensive line

Posted on 14 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh didn’t offer a specific list of adjustments to be made to an anemic running game, but the head coach isn’t shying away from the biggest problem that plagues his 3-3 team, either.

Addressing the media a day after a disappointing 19-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers in which the Ravens gained just 47 yards on 22 carries to continue a season-long inability to run the football, Harbaugh acknowledged that he and his coaching staff aren’t standing pat with a struggling offensive line. While most fingers are pointed in the direction of new run-game coordinator Juan Castillo and second-year center Gino Gradkowski, the head coach repeatedly said all individuals invested in the running game — coaches, offensive linemen, and running backs — need to make improvements as the Ravens rank 31st in the league with their 2.7 yards per carry average.

“We’re definitely making changes. We’re not going to sit there and just stand pat with what we’re doing,” Harbaugh said. “It may not be visible from the outside looking in, but they’re visible to the people we play against, and they’re definitely visible to us. We know what changes we’re making, whether it’s personnel changes or, more likely, scheme changes. Not major things, just things that will give our guys a better chance to be on the same page. That’s what we need to do.

“We’ve got too many situations where we don’t have a hat on a hat. When you don’t have a hat on a hat, that’s a problem. That’s just not acceptable.”

Harbaugh mentioning the inability to simply find one-on-one matchups suggests the Ravens could be moving away from Castillo’s zone blocking scheme that relies on lateral movement, timing, and finding the proper positioning and angles and moving toward a man-power approach that involves more physicality and simply identifying a defender to block based on how the defense is lined up before the snap.

The Ravens have repeatedly been dominated at the line of scrimmage this season, with many observers seeing too much hesitation and a lack of proper communication in identifying blitzes and stunts. Harbaugh has repeatedly downplayed the changes made by Castillo this season, but the acknowledgement of scheme adjustments being made suggests what the former Eagles offensive line coach has tried to implement hasn’t worked well with the personnel up front.

“We’re not stuck on any particular scheme or any particular technique or any particular way of doing something,” Harbaugh said. “We want to find the best way to do it, and we work hard at that, and we’ll continue to do that. We’re going to find our way into our run game.”

It remains to be seen whether there are any noticeable changes such as the possibility of A.Q. Shipley taking Gradkowski’s place in the starting lineup, but an attempt to simplify their overall strategy could at least provide short-term relief for a running game struggling to simply get back to the line of scrimmage far too often.

Of the Ravens’ 22 rushing attempts in Sunday’s loss to the Packers, five went for negative yardage and six netted no gain as quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game were constantly faced with third-and-long situations because of such little success on first and second down. There were a few occasions where a delayed blitzer came untouched to blow up ballcarriers in the backfield.

“We had some mental mistakes, some errors that just cost us,” Harbaugh said. “You need no runs for negative yards. There has got to be at least a gain of some kind moving forward. We’ve got to get a lot better at that.”

Even if a simplified man-power approach doesn’t provide as high of a ceiling in terms of explosive plays, increasing the yards-per-carry average to a respectable level — say even an underwhelming 3.5 yards per carry — would alleviate pressure on a passing game still evolving in its own right.

Whether the results improve this Sunday in Pittsburgh or we see much of the same from a running game that’s yet to get in gear as the bye week approaches, the Ravens need to change things up. All parties involved with the running game continue to say the right things, but it’s now clear that what was once thought as an early-season aberration is threatening to become a year-altering crisis with each week of ineffective rushing.

“Frustration can be a great motivator,” Harbaugh said. “I like that. Let’s be frustrated, and let’s go to work and see if we can get better.”

Jensen’s role moving forward

With Gradkowski not performing well and Shipley not drawing an opportunity at the center position to this point, many have turned their attention to sixth-round rookie Ryan Jensen and what role he might serve along the offensive line.

The Colorado State-Pueblo product finally returned to the practice field last week after breaking his foot in the first week of training camp in late July, but it’s unlikely the 6-foot-4, 318-pound lineman will be a factor on game days until after the bye. It’s clear the Ravens wanted to keep Jensen around as an option for 2013 since they refrained from placing him on season-ending injured reserve, but Harbaugh’s vision for Jensen — at least publicly — doesn’t suggest a move to the starting lineup anytime soon.

“He’ll be a backup to start with, and then we’ll see what he does from there,” Harbaugh said. “We haven’t seen much of him yet. Developmental backup — that will be his role.”

Truthfully, the Ravens are unsure what they really have with Jensen who only played at the Div. II level, but they like his upside as an interior lineman.

Harbaugh defends Elam

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No signs of life from Ravens’ stagnant running game in loss to Packers

Posted on 13 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — The post-game comments have become as predictable as the offensive woes every week as the Ravens fell 19-17 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

The same buzzwords and clichés have been echoed in describing an offensive line and running game that have been miserable through the first six weeks of the season. After showing signs of life in running for 100 yards in the second half against Miami last week, the Ravens are back to the drawing board again after being held to 47 yards on 22 carries against the Packers to fall to 3-3 on the season.

This week, there was no Bryant McKinnie to pick on as the newly-acquired Eugene Monroe took his place as the starting left tackle, but the results weren’t any better. The combination of young center Gino Gradkowski and the implementation of run-game coordinator Juan Castillo’s zone blocking schemes have received the bulk of the criticism, but the end result can’t be overstated or oversimplified in blaming only two individuals, either.

The entire Baltimore offensive line has been bad. Really bad.

“The thing that we’re not going to do is overreact,” coach John Harbaugh said. “You don’t go in there and make any kind of major adjustments when you know you’re doing things well, and you’ve got the people to do it. We’re a work in progress, no doubt about it.”

That line of explanation was acceptable over the first few weeks of the seasons when the Ravens faced some talented front sevens and were adjusting to new personnel, but in order to be a work in progress, there actually has to be some progress being made. And as the Ravens approach the midway point, the same problems continue to plague an offense that has been shut out in the first quarter four times in six games this season.

Though many might describe the decision to trade for Monroe in the middle of the season an example of overreacting, perhaps it’s time for Harbaugh to shake things up even more. There are simply too many holdovers from an offensive line that played terrifically in the Ravens’ march to Super Bowl XLVII nine months ago to accept being this bad. That’s why the fingers pointed in the direction of Castillo and Gradkowski are understandable.

Baltimore entered Week 6 gaining just 2.8 yards per carry and averaged 2.1 against the Packers as neither Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice nor backup Bernard Pierce could find consistent room to run. The offensive line was once again dominated physically and more miscommunication allowed unblocked defenders to blow up plays in the backfield on several occasions.

“What you saw out there is not what we put out in practice,” said Rice, who was held to 34 yards on 14 carries. “We practiced so hard. I guess I’d use the words ‘a little frustrated.’ You can’t take our hard work away. We work so hard.”

But that hard work isn’t paying off as the absence of a productive running game is making life too difficult for quarterback Joe Flacco, who played commendably in throwing for 342 yards and two touchdowns in defeat. Critics will mock Flacco’s pedestrian numbers this season in the aftermath of the 28-year-old receiving a $120.6 million contract, but he isn’t good enough and doesn’t have the sufficient weapons to thrive without any semblance of a running game.

No Dennis Pitta, no Anquan Boldin, and no running game? You might as well ask Flacco to play without three of his four limbs, and that’s not even considering the pass protection that’s been better than the run blocking but still too inconsistent this season.

The Ravens were 2-for-14 on third down against the Packers on Sunday and only four of those opportunities required less than nine yards to convert. In the first quarter, the Ravens gained nine yards on nine plays on first and second down, leaving Flacco and the passing game with an uphill climb over and over.

“It’s tough when you don’t have any success on first and second down,” Flacco said. “You’re putting yourself in third-down situations and the only way you score touchdowns or kick a field goal is you convert four third downs to get there — and you get 12 yards at a time. Twelve yards, 12 yards, 12 yards. In order to sustain drives, you need to get first downs on first and second down, and you need to get a couple chunks in there, and we’re not doing that.”

The frustration is clear, because even with the personnel changes made from last year, there is still too much talent present to be this poor offensively, especially when it comes to the running game.

The Ravens simply can’t expect to overcome the slow starts by the offense on a weekly basis to win many games. The defense allowed a 64-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson late in the third quarter and wilted in the final 15 minutes as Green Bay put together a field-goal drive lasting more than seven minutes, but the overall effort of giving up 19 points to one of the best offenses in the NFL should have been enough to win.

The offense isn’t doing it’s part and it starts up front. As Flacco described it after the game, the 17 points scored in the second half were “too little, too late.”

“We’ve just not getting it done as well as we want to in the first half,” Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda said. “We come in at halftime and it’s like, ‘We’ve got to get going. We’ve got to do this.’ And it’s been like that almost every game this year. We want to start faster and help the defense out. I think they played tremendous today. Versus Aaron Rodgers, they did awesome. We all want to get it right. Everybody’s frustrated.”

There are no easy solutions as it’s clear Harbaugh and his coaching staff haven’t found them through the first six weeks of the season, but they must take a look at Castillo’s schemes and Gradkowski’s performance, specifically when it comes to making the proper calls at the line. And perhaps it’s time to reassess how offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell starts games since that’s when the Ravens have been particularly bad offensively.

Instead of hoping to establish the running game early, maybe the Ravens need to come out throwing to set up the run as the game progresses. At the very least, it would put the ball in Flacco’s hands to give him more control in preventing the third-and-long situations he’s pointed to as being a major problem.

It’s becoming apparent that giving the ball to Rice won’t automatically fix the Ravens’ problems despite what many had you believe after last week’s game.

“I always feel like we can mix it up a little bit more on first and second down just to get everybody going,” Flacco said. “It’s tough to say when we’re just not running the ball up to the ability that we think we should run it. If we were running the ball better, we wouldn’t be saying it. We wouldn’t be talking about it.”

But we are.

And it continues to be the biggest problem plaguing the Ravens this season.

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Our Ravens/Packers “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 13 October 2013 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show on AM1570 WNST.net.

The Ravens fell to the Green Bay Packers 19-17 Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. James Ihedigbo

4. Lardarius Webb

3. Gino Gradkowski

2. Juan Castillo

1. Ray Rice (Two Slaps)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Harbaugh takes responsibility for abandonment of running game

Posted on 30 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Head coach John Harbaugh was prepared for questions about the Ravens’ ugly 23-20 loss to Buffalo and the utter disappearance of the running game.

For those mystified over a measly nine rushing attempts — two in the second half — the blame fell squarely on the coach’s shoulders as he addressed the media on Monday. The number of rushes was a record low in the 18-year history of the franchise in Baltimore.

“That’s my call all the way. I just felt like we weren’t running the ball well enough to win the game running the ball,” said Harbaugh, who added that he respected differing opinions about the lack of rushing attempts. “Looking back on it, I feel the same way. After watching the tape, I feel we did exactly the right thing to try to win that game. So, no second-guessing myself on that. That was my decision, and that’s the way we went with it.”

The fact that Harbaugh and the Ravens were so willing to throw in the towel on their running game in favor of throwing 31 straight passes from the latter portion of the second quarter until there was 4:52 remaining in the game speaks volumes about their lack of confidence. The Ravens are averaging just 2.6 yards per carry through four games, and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice collected just 17 yards on five carries while backup Bernard Pierce gained seven yards on four attempts against the Bills.

The Ravens’ abandonment of the ground game came against a Buffalo defense that entered Sunday ranked 30th in the league against the run and had surrendered 182 rushing yards a week earlier against the Jets.

Baltimore’s inability to run the football has caused many to begin pointing fingers with the most scrutiny falling on second-year center Gino Gradkowski, who was given the task of replacing 15-year veteran Matt Birk this offseason. The 2012 fourth-round pick hasn’t been alone in his struggles as all five members of the line haven’t met expectations, but the responsibility of making the calls at the line of scrimmage has been an adjustment for everyone.

“It’s the difference between Gino and Matt with the calls, and we’re feeling that in there right now,” Harbaugh said. “Gino is a really smart guy, but Matt had been at it for a lot of years. So, that’s something that we’re working through. The rest of the offensive line — we’ve just got to get better. We’ve got to run block better.

“We’ve got to make decisions scheme-wise about what’s best for our guys to do, exactly what schemes those are. We’ve got to come off the ball in the run game a lot better than we’re doing, and we’ve got to be more physical with the inside part of our pass protection and give Joe [Flacco] more depth to the pocket and keep Joe more clean.”

The other individual receiving heat for the line’s poor performance has been new run-game coordinator Juan Castillo, who joined Harbaugh’s staff this offseason and unofficially moved ahead of offensive line coach Andy Moeller in the pecking order. Though he earned a sterling reputation for his work in Philadelphia for over a decade, the Ravens have struggled to pick up the adjustments made to the inside zone blocking schemes.

Many have opined that the Ravens’ personnel up front is better suited to run more of a man-power style, but Harbaugh downplayed the significance of any wrinkles added by Castillo to the team’s offensive line philosophy from previous seasons.

“It’s the same offense. We still run the same plays,” Harbaugh said. “We still have the same philosophy; there are always a few wrinkles. That’s why I brought Juan in, because I was excited about things I knew he was going to bring to the table and bring to our program. Those things are a part of what we’re doing. We’re not the same team we were two months ago, and we’re going to be a different team two months from now.”

No sugarcoating Dickson’s struggles

Tight end Ed Dickson’s struggles to catch the football continued Sunday as an contested pass from quarterback Joe Flacco clanked off the fourth-year player’s hands and into the arms of Bills safety Jim Leonhard in the second quarter.

Asked what the biggest difference was between Dickson now and the tight end who caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns during the 2011 season, Harbaugh wasn’t in the mood to mince words.

“That’s a long time ago, so I’m hard-pressed to make that direct comparison,” Harbaugh said. “The stats kind of speak for themselves that you’re alluding to. He’s not the same player right now that he was then, obviously.”

Dickson has dropped six passes this year with the Ravens hoping he would pick up the slack for the injured Dennis Pitta. His 6-foot-4 frame and good speed suggested he has the tools to be a quality NFL tight end, but his time appears to be running out in a free-agent year for the 2010 third-round pick.

“Ed just needs to go catch the ball,” Harbaugh said. “He needs to run fast, get open and catch the football, put it away and get up field. That’s all he needs to do. And if he’s thinking about anything besides that, he’s doing himself a disservice. If he’s lacking confidence for some reason, that’s on him. [If] you’ve got that kind of talent and those kinds of gifts, go play ball.”

Injury report

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Even with Clark’s addition, Ravens not closing door on Pitta return yet

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even as the newly-signed Dallas Clark made the highlight play of Tuesday’s practice with a one-handed catch on a pass thrown behind him in the end zone, Terrell Suggs screamed out, “Calm down, there’s still only one white tight end!”

The 30-year-old linebacker was not only teasing the former Indianapolis Colt but making it clear that the Ravens haven’t forgotten their starting tight end. The injured Dennis Pitta was clearly on Suggs’ mind as he watched the 34-year-old Clark haul in Joe Flacco’s errant pass.

And while the Ravens are pleased with the addition of Clark to boost their depth at a banged-up tight end position, it was an interesting coincidence that coach John Harbaugh revealed after Tuesday’s practice that the Ravens haven’t placed Pitta on season-ending injured reserve yet because they’re unsure that he’ll definitely miss the entire season.

“We’ll put him on IR when we’re certain that he’s out for the year,” Harbaugh said. “We know it’s a serious injury, but when it came back that there was no ligament or cartilage damage, then that maybe gave us some hope. We’re going to wait and see how that bone heals over the first five weeks of the injury and see where we’re at.”

Sidelined since July 27 when he dislocated his hip trying to make a touchdown catch during practice, Pitta still has a difficult rehabilitation process of an estimated four months ahead but has at least a slightly better chance of returning by the end of the 2013 season due to positive MRI results. The Ravens initially said Pitta would be out for the rest of the season and wasn’t even a  candidate for the possibility to return.

Starting last year, the NFL began allowing teams to place one player on IR with a designation to return later in the season. This would likely be the course of action with Pitta if no other long-term injuries arise between now and Sept. 3, the earliest date a team can place one player on the reserve-injured list as “designated to return.” With this label, a player must miss a minimum of eight weeks of games but can begin practicing after six weeks, stipulations unlikely to be much of a factor for Pitta’s expected length of time needed to recover.

While it’s tempting to give Pitta the same treatment offered to linebacker Ray Lewis after he tore his right triceps last October, the designation can only be used for one player whether the individual would be able to return or not, meaning the Ravens could be dealing with a short-handed roster if they were to have another key player go down with a long-term injury early in the season. General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh must weigh the best-case scenarios for Pitta against the realistic expectations in determining whether he has a good chance to not just return to action but perform at a high level.

Shipley getting starting nod

If any more evidence were needed to determine how close the battle for the starting center job is at this stage in the preseason, run-game coordinator Juan Castillo announced Tuesday that A.Q. Shipley would receive the start in Thursday’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski started in the preseason opener last week and appears to hold the slightest of edges over the newcomer Shipley, who spent last season in Indianapolis. Gradkowski is listed as the starter on the most recent depth chart released by the Ravens public relations staff, but the pair have split reps with the starting offensive line throughout the summer.

“We need to have some separation,” Castillo said. “Somebody has to come to the top. The problem is that they’re both playing really well right now.”

Whoever prevails in the competition will be filling the large shoes of Matt Birk, who retired this offseason after 15 seasons in the NFL and winning his first Super Bowl championship.

Clark sporting No. 87

Clark had worn No. 44 in his nine seasons in Indianapolis and one season in Tampa Bay, but the veteran tight end didn’t even bother asking fullback Vonta Leach if he wanted to work out a deal.

Expressing much respect for the three-time Pro Bowl fullback, Clark instead elected to take No. 87 in what is a tribute to former teammate and good friend Reggie Wayne. The two played together for nine years in Indianapolis with Clark crediting Wayne for helping him a great deal in his career.

“One of my favorite teammates I’ve ever played with, so I told him last night that I got his number and he was pretty pumped about that,” said Clark, who joked that he’ll pretend to wear No. 44 as long as he doesn’t look down at his jersey. “I learned a lot from that guy, so I felt good about having 87.”

Practice attendance

Three players returned to the practice field on Tuesday as offensive lineman Ramon Harewood (knee) and cornerback Chykie Brown (undisclosed) each returned from ailments and linebacker Courtney Upshaw was back with the team after being excused for the last two days for the birth of his son.

Players not practicing included defensive tackle Marcus Spears (hamstring), wide receivers Deonte Thompson (foot) and Marlon Brown (undisclosed), tight ends Ed Dickson (hamstring) and Pitta, cornerback Chris Johnson (undisclosed), linebacker Jameel McClain (neck), offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot), and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee).

Harbaugh revealed that Spears has been dealing with a minor hamstring injury that’s kept him out of action since the first preseason game, but the coach expects Spears to return soon but wouldn’t specify a timetable, making it unlikely he’ll play Thursday against the Falcons.

Odds & ends

The Ravens practiced in helmets, shells, and shorts in what amounted to an extended walk-through without any contact on Tuesday. … Clark made it clear that he has plenty of work to do — studying his playbook and working on the field — in order to pick up the Baltimore offense, regardless of his familiarity with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell from their days together in Indianapolis. “You do your best learning out here, making the mistakes and looking like an idiot and just causing a whole big ruckus and just being in the wrong position. That’s the only way you can truly learn how to play football.” … Veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley received some first-team reps in his second practice since signing a one-year deal with the Ravens, executing a nice double move faking an inside slant before catching a touchdown pass during an 11-on-11 session. … Baltimore will have a walk-through on Wednesday that will be closed to media in preparation for their second preseason game.

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After years together in Philadelphia, Spagnuolo happy to be reunited with Harbaugh

Posted on 13 June 2013 by Tim Horsey

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You seem like you are the least-stressed coach in the NFL.

That was one of the many things noticed about Steve Spagnuolo during his first chance to address the media after the final day of mini-camp for the Ravens. After three dreadful seasons at the helm of the St. Louis Rams and another year coordinating a Saints defense that gave up the most yards in a single season in NFL history, Spagnuolo seems at ease in his new role with the Super Bowl champs.

“It’s been a tough two years, but I’m focusing forward, and I’m excited. To me, the way I look at this is this is a privilege to be a part of a great organization.”

Spagnuolo said that he is not happy with the way things worked out at his last two stops, but that he has learned from them.

“I’ll tell you what, people say this all the time, and it’s true: You learn more from the setbacks than you do really from the successes.”

Spagnuolo’s official role with the Ravens is senior defensive assistant, a role that he says will essentially be “an extra set of eyes.”

“You can never have enough eyes with some kind of experience to kind of give some feedback or an idea or something that we might have done, or I saw somebody else do that I worked for. I worked for some great people: [New York Giants head coach] Tom Coughlin, [Kansas City Chiefs head coach] Andy Reid.“

Harbaugh and Juan Castillo, the Ravens run game coordinator, were also part of Reid’s staff in Philadelphia. Spagnuolo mentioned how excited he was to rejoin some old friends on a new coaching staff.

“You leave each other, and you hope someday that you are back together. God-willing in this business, you can do that. It’s great. It’s great every day…I remember we used to test each other. I’d watch him coach, and he’d want the feedback. And, I’d ask him to watch me coach and give feedback. We’ve been doing that for years. It’s great to be with him.”

Before becoming the head coach of the Rams in 2009, Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. In New York, Spagnuolo rolled through a bevy of talented defensive lineman, including future Hall of Famer Michael Strahan and Pro Bowlers Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He would often put his four best pass rushers, usually four defensive ends, all on the line at the same time to create mismatches in what came to be known as the NASCAR formation.

Behind these high-pressure schemes and talented pass rushers, the Giants defeated the then unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, launching Spagnuolo into the limelight as one of the premier defensive coaches in the NFL.

And although that group Spagnuolo had in Big Blue was extremely talented, he says that this current group in Baltimore has all of the pieces to be even better.

“I had little visions of the Giants’ front that I happened to be privileged to be working with. They are good all the way around… This is as good as looking football team that I’ve ever seen. I’m talking about physically and stout.“

He specifically pointed to Chris Canty and Terrell Suggs as two pieces who are going to be key to the pass rush.

“You can’t coach that height. He puts his hands up, man. There’s not a coach in the world that can take a six-foot guy and do that. He’s been very impressive to me,” when referring to the 6’7” Canty.

And when he talked about Suggs, he mentioned his fun-loving, joker style that Ravens fans have come to know and love (for the most part), but he also praised the former Defensive Player of the Year.

“He put his uniform [on] and came out there. I looked at [senior vice president of public and community relations] Kevin [Byrne] and I’m laughing, saying ‘Wow. That’s what they’re supposed to look like.’ He is one of those blue-chips prospects in this league. He’s an elite player.”

Along with Canty, a slimmed down Suggs, and talented players like Elvis Dumervil and Haloti Ngata, the Ravens pass rush should be one of the most feared units in the entire league, which would be a significant improvement from last year’s squad, who finished tied for 15th in the NFL with 37 sacks.

With success in Baltimore, Spagnuolo could see his name be brought back up in conversation as a future head coach in the league, something that he is still striving for. When asked if he was looking to get back into head coaching, he had a very direct answer, one different from the lengthy answers he gave when asked other questions.

“Oh yes, yes, deeply. “

You could sense right away that this is a man who, even if he seems relaxed, is dying for another chance to get back at the helm of a football team and redeem his reputation. But he realizes that to get to that point, he needs to do his best in his current job in Baltimore.

“I listened to [Dick Vermeil] speak one time, and his advice to young coaches, any coach was, ‘Be the best at whatever job you have right now.’ So, I’m trying to be the best that this particular position and let the rest take care of itself.”

And if he can do that, it will not only be a positive for his personal future, but also for the future of a transitioning defense in Baltimore.

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