Tag Archive | "Justin Tucker"

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NFL adopts new kickoff rule for 2018 season

Posted on 22 May 2018 by Luke Jones

When Justin Tucker and the Ravens line up for kickoffs this coming season, the play will look noticeably different.

The NFL has approved new rules for the play deemed by many to be the most dangerous in football to make kickoffs safer and to decrease the number of concussions sustained in this setting. There has been much speculation and discussion about kickoffs eventually being eliminated altogether because of the danger of having so many players running full speed at one another in the open field, but the league hopes this year’s changes will preserve the integrity of the play while making it safer.

The new rule will be reevaluated next offseason.

So, what are the notable changes?

Players on the kickoff team will no longer be permitted to take a running start and will instead be required to line up at their 34-yard-line to wait for the ball to be kicked from the usual 35.

On the flip side, the kick return team will now be required to have at least eight players in the new 15-yard “setup zone” that begins 10 yards from where the ball is kicked. This moves more players closer to where the ball is kicked, reducing the speed and spacing on the play and likely making blocking more like what you typically see on a punt.

Until the kicked ball is touched or hits the ground, no player on the receiving team may engage in any blocks in the first 15 yards from where the ball is kicked. This change is made with the intention to eliminate what the league labeled the “jump-set/attack” block and decreases the likelihood of a dangerous blindside block.

The league has also eliminated the two-man wedge in front of the kick returner, stating only players lining up in the setup zone may come together for a double-team block.

The kick returner will no longer be required to down the ball for a touchback as a kicked ball hitting any part of the ground in the end zone automatically will be deemed a touchback.

It will be interesting to see what impact these changes will have beyond the obvious objective of making the game safer. Fewer players running down the field at full speed will hopefully decrease the number of concussions, but more players lining up closer to the location of the kick could lead to more opportunities for longer kickoff returns, adding excitement to the game. Of course, that possibility could also lead teams to simply kick the ball into or through the end zone for a touchback more frequently rather than using a directional kick with more hang time.

With Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg among those who were chosen to discuss the future of the kickoff earlier this offseason, it will be interesting to hear what he and head coach John Harbaugh — a former special teams coach in Philadelphia before coming to Baltimore — have to say about the changes. Both have been adamant in the past about not eliminating the play from the game.

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Chapter 19: The purple revolution in New England

Posted on 30 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

“You guys will write great stories and can put it in way better words than I can. We’ve always believed in Joe. For Joe to come out and have this kind of game, on this kind of a stage, three weeks in a row…[Andrew] Luck’s a pretty good quarterback, [Peyton] Manning’s a pretty good quarterback, [Tom] Brady’s a great quarterback; all those guys are great players. But Joe’s a great quarterback. He’s proven that, and he’s not just proven that this year, he’s proven it for five years.”

– John Harbaugh (January 20, 2013)

 

 

 

 

 

IF REVENGE IS A DISH best served cold, then at least the elements and the weather in New England would cooperate accordingly. What could provide a better stage for a tale of vindication in Charm City than the Baltimore Ravens returning to Foxborough for a rematch of the AFC Championship Game?

It was like a Steel Cage Match.

Tom Brady vs. Joe Flacco. Ray Lewis and The Last Ride. Bill Belichick and the Patriots with yet another chance to make America groan by going to a sixth Super Bowl in 13 seasons in New England. There were no shortage of stories to be told.

When the Ravens boarded their happy flight for Baltimore from Denver two hours after the miraculous win over the Broncos, they were unsure of their destination for the final step toward Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The Texans, who had whipped them in Houston back in October, were visiting New England the following afternoon. The Patriots, led by Tom Brady’s three TD passes, dispatched of the Texans in a 41-28 win, but lost tight end Rob Gronkowski with a left wrist injury.

A huge weapon for the Patriots was gone before the Ravens even had to assemble the game plan.

By late Sunday afternoon the travel plans were made for a trip that the Ravens knew all too well. They were heading to Foxborough. For more than 40 players and the entire coaching staff, it was back to Gillette Stadium 52 weeks later – 364 days after the most disappointing day of their lives. The Lee Evans drop. The Billy Cundiff kick. The cold, empty feeling in that locker room and Ray Lewis telling them to go make someone smile. The quiet flight home. And those long days afterward, when you just wanted to pull the blankets over your head in the morning because you still couldn’t accept that you lost that game.

It’s not one of those days you quickly forget.

Motivating players was not going to be an issue for head coach John Harbaugh this week. Calming them down, however, might be.

On Sunday night, in the middle of the Texans-Patriots game, Brendon Ayanbadejo fired the opening salvo via his Twitter page:

Are you watching the game pats vs. texans? If so you see the hurry snap offense catch em b4 they set up. It’s a gimmick.

Then, he followed with: New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can’t really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight

Then: You know the same organization that did spygate and cut a guy the day b4 the Super Bowl

Then: In a sport that is predicated on mano y mano, “lets hurry n snap it” = bitchassness

And finally: 18-1 …a reference to the Patriots losing in the Super Bowl to Giants in 2008

Ayanbadejo is no stranger to the back and forth of social media, yet his controversial stand on social issues were always consistent and relatively polite given the forum. But, something about watching the Patriots play the Texans in Foxborough clearly rubbed him the wrong way. And with his fingers on the trigger of his mobile device, and filled with emotion given the outcome and his role, he simply fired off his thoughts.

By lunchtime on Monday, Ayanbadejo had issued an apology on Twitter:

I made selfish comments on twitter last night that reflected poorly upon myself, my teammates, and the organization. For that I apologize.

One thing he was correct about was that the Patriots were going to try to snap the ball before the Ravens were ready. Harbaugh was more diplomatic. “They look to create advantages for themselves, and they do it with tempo a lot of times,” he said. “ It’s not just the fact that they go fast sometimes. They force you to line up. Sometimes they’ll force the defense to show their hand because you have to defend the play. If you don’t, they’ll run the play. You saw last week they got Houston in some tough situations, and it was big plays for them. It usually results in a big

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Chapter 18: Fast as _ _ _ _! The Mile High Miracle and Jacoby Jones

Posted on 29 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

 

“I told myself Joe might throw it to me if I haul my butt off the line,”

– Jacoby Jones (January 2013)

 

 

 

THE NFL PROVIDES PLENTY OF connectivity between its personalities, teams, cities, and rich history. The Ravens had never played a playoff game in Denver and had only faced the Broncos once in January – in the first playoff game in the franchise’s history. That was during the 2001 Super Bowl run when Trent Dilfer beat Brian Griese and Shannon Sharpe caught a miracle pass.

However, this January 2013 game would forever change how NFL fans remember Broncos vs. Ravens.

Baltimore already had plenty of history with both John Elway and Peyton Manning, who had joined forces in the Mile High City. Peyton had now gone to his second NFL outpost and dropped another vicious regular season beating on the Ravens in Baltimore. The Elway history in Baltimore had aged 30 years, but was still very real and a debt unpaid for anyone who had a true sense of local football history and the magnitude of his actions in 1983. Elway was one of the building blocks that allowed the Ravens to exist if you consider that the Colts needed to leave Baltimore before Art Modell could come.

Both Elway and Manning had richly earned villain status in the Charm City. And once again Ozzie Newsome would endure one more battle with Elway and Denver, bringing back the sick history from his Cleveland Browns days. Newsome told author John Feinstein in 2004 that the last words his father ever said to him were: “Watch out for Elway!”

The Manning history was a much fresher scab in Baltimore.

The ugly, pre-halftime Flacco interception and the 98-yard futile chase by the lumbering quarterback was 27 days old, yet still fresh in the minds of his supporters and detractors. The replay ran all day, every day the week of the game. There was that famous picture of Flacco, face down at the goal line after chasing Chris Harris the length of the field that painted a tale of abject failure. It was a well-circulated meme in social media with a myriad of Charlie Brown-like captions.

Ten days after throwing the interception, the Ravens clinched the AFC North crown for the second straight year and made the playoffs for the fifth consecutive time. Flacco came to The Grill at Harryman House in Reisterstown as the guest of Dennis Pitta for a WNST.net & AM 1570 live radio show. He addressed the Harris interception with his usual droll sense of humor.

“It wasn’t any different than any other interception I’ve thrown for a touchdown the other way,” Flacco said. “It’s not good, but stuff like that happens. I try to limit it and do all the things you want to do to make sure it doesn’t happen. But if you play aggressively, you have to deal with it.”

“The next day I was able to try to joke around a little bit about it,” Flacco said. “At least I wanted to see what everybody thought of my blazing speed trying to catch that guy,” Flacco delivered with a smile, sitting next to his best

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Ravens special teams once again rank among NFL’s elite

Posted on 23 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens may have fallen from the overall ranks of the elite in recent years, but their special teams remain among the best in the NFL.

Baltimore ranked fourth in senior NFL writer Rick Gosselin’s 2017 special teams report and has now finished in the top five in six consecutive seasons, the only team to do so. Gosselin’s formula is determined by ranking all 32 teams in 22 kicking game categories and assigning points according to their order — one for best and 32 for worst.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg’s group finished first or tied for first in kickoff returns, kickoff coverage, kickoff starting point, punts inside the 20, extra-point percentage, fewest points allowed, and fewest giveaways. The Los Angeles Rams finished atop the overall rankings this season followed by Kansas City, New England, the Ravens, and Dallas.

Kicker Justin Tucker, punter Sam Koch, and long snapper Morgan Cox have all been invited to Pro Bowls in recent years, but a number of other special-teams contributors stood out this season, ranging from kick returner and gunner Chris Moore to leading tackler Anthony Levine and punt returner Michael Campanaro. The group’s consistency over the years is a testament to Rosburg, who was even recognized as a “Gruden Grinder” by former ESPN analyst and new Oakland head coach Jon Gruden after the Monday night win over Houston in late November.

The Ravens continued to excel on special teams in 2017 despite the absence or departure of some key performers from past seasons such as linebacker Albert McClellan, tight end Darren Waller, safety Matt Elam, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

While Gosselin’s report is highly respected around the league, Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens as the best in the NFL this season in terms of special teams defense-adjusted value over average, or special teams DVOA. The DVOA was calculated using five major categories: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts, and punt returns.

Making the first-place finish in DVOA more impressive was that the website ranked Baltimore 24th in the “hidden” category, which considers the advantage teams receive from elements generally out of their control such as opposing field goals and the distance of opponent punts and kickoffs. In other words, the Ravens special teams weren’t considered to be particularly lucky with variables out of their hands.

Regarded as one of the great special-teams minds around the league, the 62-year-old Rosburg will be entering his 11th season with the Ravens after being hired by head coach John Harbaugh in 2008.

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Chapter 11: Fall forward and the story of Torrey Smith

Posted on 21 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“If the regular refs are here, we know how those calls will be made. That should be the case but it’s not the way it is right now.”

– Ray Lewis (September 16, 2012)

 

 

ONLY A FOOL WOULD PUT any stock into what their eyes see in preseason results, but everyone on the Ravens’ coaching staff loved what they saw when the team’s first unit annihilated the Jacksonville Jaguars first unit in Baltimore during the third preseason game on August 23, 2012, a 48-17 whipping. Keep in mind that the Ravens were humiliated by the Jags nine months earlier in a game that counted, a 12-7 loss widely remembered as the night that a healthy Ray Rice touched the ball just 13 times and Flacco looked lost along with the rest of the offense. It was one of four hideous road defeats for a 2011 team that played out Jekyll & Hyde for all to see. Jekyll at home. Hyde on the road for long stretches of the first years of the Harbaugh-Flacco era.

But on this hot, sticky Baltimore evening it was a purple demolition act as Flacco carved up the overmatched Jaguars defense, ending the night 27-of-36 for 266 yards and two TD throws to Anquan Boldin and Vonta Leach. The defense forced five punts in the first half, and it was a night where the starters inspired the backups, who came on in the third quarter and continued the domination.

Throughout the lead up to the season opener vs. Cincinnati, the feeling inside The Castle was: if we can play like that every week, this team could be really good.

And despite the death of Art Modell just four days before the opener and the weekend of memories and tributes for the Ravens’ founder, the team was focused on the task at hand – beating the Cincinnati Bengals on the season opener of Monday Night Football.

After an emotional tribute to Modell, the Ravens came out flying against the Bengals. Flacco threw a bomb to Torrey Smith down the middle of the field and the opening drive resulted in a Justin Tucker 46-yard field goal. On the next drive, Smith took an end-around handoff and blew by the Bengals with some trickery. On a 4th and 1 from the 20, Flacco threw a pass to Ray Rice at the sticks and the drive ended with Rice scoring on a 6-yard run. New addition Jacoby Jones caught his first pass on the next drive for a 25-yard pickup. Two plays later, Flacco split the seam down the middle of the defense and dropped a perfect pass into the arms of Boldin in the end zone.

Despite dominating much of the first half, the Ravens’ defense allowed Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to drive down the field in a two-minute offense behind a big catch and run by Andrew Hawkins. On a 3rd and 1 from the 7 with 30 seconds remaining, Ed Reed knocked down a Tucker pass in the end zone and the Bengals had a tough decision on fourth down. Down 17-3, head coach Marvin Lewis sensed a chance to get back in the game and BenJarvus Green got the first down and pushed across a TD on the next play to make it a 17-10 lead at the half.

The Bengals got the ball in the second half and

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Three Ravens named to PFWA’s All-AFC team

Posted on 15 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Three Ravens players were named to the 2017 All-AFC team voted on by the Pro Football Writers of America, but it’s not the same trio going to the Pro Bowl later this month.

Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle also received All-AFC honors after finishing tied for second in the conference with six interceptions, returning one for a touchdown in Week 13 to earn AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. The 33-year-old finished with 63 tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles in his second season with the Ravens.

Those miffed about Justin Tucker not making it to the Pro Bowl can take some satisfaction in him being named to the All-AFC team over Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker went 34-for-37 on field goals and did not miss an extra point this season, continuing his run as arguably the best kicker in the NFL over the last five years. He was also named to the PFWA’s 2016 All-AFC team.

The third Baltimore player named to the All-AFC team was punt returner Michael Campanaro, who led the conference in punt return average at 10.8 yards per attempt. He returned a fourth-quarter punt 77 yards for a touchdown to force overtime in the Week 6 loss to Chicago and was a positive contributor for one of the best special-teams units in the NFL.

Despite being named to this year’s Pro Bowl, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs were not voted to the All-AFC team. Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier was voted the middle linebacker while Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney and Denver’s Von Miller were the outside linebackers for the conference.

No Ravens players were named to the 2017 PFWA All-NFL team.

Below are the full All-NFL, All-AFC, and All-NFC teams:

2017 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers; Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers&; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

TE – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

G – David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys#

T – Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles; Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

Defense

DE – Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars; Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints

DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams#; Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles

OLB – Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals; Von Miller, Denver Broncos&

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks*

CB – Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings

S – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans; Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings

Special Teams

PK – Greg Zuerlein, Los Angeles Rams

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams#

KR – Pharoh Cooper, Los Angeles Rams

PR – Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions

ST – Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

 

2017 PFWA ALL-AFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots&

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers*; Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers+; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

TE – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

C – Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers

G – David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders*

T – Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs and Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers (tie)

Defense

DE – Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers; Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars

DT – Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals#; Malik Jackson, Jacksonville Jaguars

OLB – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Von Miller, Denver Broncos+

MLB – Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers

CB – A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars; Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars

S – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans; Eric Weddle, Baltimore Ravens

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens*

P – Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans

KR – Dion Lewis, New England Patriots

PR – Michael Campanaro, Baltimore Ravens

ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots@

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

+ – consecutive selections from 2013-17

@ – consecutive selections from 2011-17

 

2017 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

RB – Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams; Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

WR –Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons#; Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

TE – Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

G – Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia Eagles; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys&

T – Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles; Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

Defense

DE – Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints; DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys

DT – Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams#

OLB – Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals; Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins

MLB – Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

CB – Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints; Darius Slay, Detroit Lions

S – Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings; Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

Special Teams

PK – Greg Zuerlein, Los Angeles Rams

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams+

KR – Pharoh Cooper, Los Angeles Rams

PR – Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions

ST – Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

+ – consecutive selections from 2013-17

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Suggs, Mosley, Weddle named to this year’s Pro Bowl

Posted on 19 December 2017 by Luke Jones

At an age when many of the greatest players in NFL history were already a couple years into retirement, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is instead going back to the Pro Bowl.

The 35-year-old was one of three Baltimore players to receive this year’s honor, joining inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Eric Weddle. Suggs was named to his seventh Pro Bowl and first since the 2013 season, a feat that could cement his case for an eventual invitation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 14 games, Suggs leads the Ravens with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles while holding the franchise’s career record in each category. This is the seventh time in his career that the 2003 first-round pick and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year has reached double-digit sacks.

Suggs ranks 16th among all NFL edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ grading system entering Week 16. He will serve as the reserve behind Denver’s Von Miller and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney in the AFC.

“I’m speechless,” said Suggs, who credited good health and hard work in the offseason for his best campaign in several years. “Every time you make it, it’s like making it for the first time all over again. It’s a really great feeling.”

Mosley continues an impressive start to his NFL career with his third invitation to the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons. The 2014 first-round selection ranks sixth in the NFL with 121 tackles while adding two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

The 25-year-old ranks 39th among qualified linebackers in PFF’s grading and will be the starting middle linebacker for the AFC.

“It’s always great to represent your teammates and the organization,” said Mosley, who gave much credit to his coaches. “All the blood, sweat, and tears you go through during the season — it’s all worth it to make the All-Star game. I give a lot of credit to the [defensive] line for keeping linemen off me.”

After being named an alternate and eventually being invited to play in last year’s game, Weddle has received the fifth Pro Bowl nod of his 11-year career with his first three coming as a member of the San Diego Chargers. The 32-year-old is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions and has six pass breakups and two forced fumbles in his second season with Baltimore.

His slow start to the season helps explain why he ranks 30th among qualified NFL safeties in PFF’s grading system, but he has risen to 18th in pass coverage with a strong second half. His leadership and experience have been major reasons why the Ravens have ranked in the top 10 in pass defense all year and lead all 32 teams with 22 interceptions.

He will be the starting free safety for the AFC.

“I’ve never worked as hard as I did this past year to try and get better from last season and help this team and lead even more so,” said Weddle, whose 10 interceptions over the last two seasons lead all NFL safeties. “I’m ecstatic because I’ve done so much over the last year to get back to this point, to help my team win, and to hopefully get back to the playoffs.”

The biggest Ravens snub was kicker Justin Tucker, who was denied his third career trip to the Pro Bowl despite having missed only three field goal tries and not missing an extra point all season. He had misfires from 58 and 62 yards while a 46-yard attempt was blocked, but he has connected on five other field goals of 50 or more yards.

Tucker was named the first alternate behind Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell, who has benefited from the opportunity to make four game-winning field goals in the final minute this season. Considered the best kicker in the league by many, Tucker hasn’t had the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter all season.

Punter Sam Koch was also left out of the Pro Bowl despite leading the NFL with 37 punts inside the 20-yard line. Tennessee’s Brett Kern was named the AFC punter and leads the league in both gross and net average, but he has placed only 22 inside the 20.

This marks the 12th consecutive year that the Ravens will have had at least three players in the Pro Bowl.

The exhibition game will take place on Jan. 28 in Orlando with selections from the two teams playing in Super Bowl LII not taking part.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 win over Houston

Posted on 28 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back over .500 and into the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race with a 23-16 win over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was ugly, but Monday was the first time the Ravens have won a game in which they trailed all season. After wilting in some late-game situations earlier this season, the defense forced Tom Savage turnovers on Houston’s final two possessions. That’s how you finish off a close game.

2. Compliments for Terrell Suggs are regularly attached to some acknowledgement of him not being the player he once was, but it’s time to recognize this being the best he’s played in years. He was the best player on the field and is now quite possibly cementing his spot in Canton.

3. I’m running out of ways to describe this passing game that was facing a bottom-10 pass defense entering Week 12. Awful. Joe Flacco needs more help, but I struggle more each week to recognize what he’s bringing to the table. He committed no turnovers, but he misfired on countless throws.

4. What does it say for the offense that the punter turned in the best pass of the night? Sam Koch and Chris Moore executed nicely on the fake punt that swung the momentum, but credit Jerry Rosburg. His special teams units are exceptional every year and make a real difference.

5. Running the ball and stopping the run is this team’s formula for success. Baltimore averaged 4.5 yards per carry to bounce back from some recent lackluster performances and allowed only 2.6 yards per carry. The defense ranks third in the NFL in fewest yards per carry allowed since Week 8.

6. A mere look at his torn jersey said all you needed to know about the fits DeAndre Hopkins gave Ravens cornerbacks. Jimmy Smith has played at an All-Pro level this season, but Hopkins made even him look bad several times.

7. Marlon Humphrey played just seven snaps because of a leg injury, which meant Smith saw his highest volume of snaps since Week 6. That’s something to monitor with the Ravens getting ready for Detroit on a short week and the veteran already missing practice time every week.

8. Give the coaching staff and the offensive line credit for making adjustments against Jadeveon Clowney, who dominated in the opening quarter. He had a quiet second half and wasn’t nearly as disruptive as the Ravens effectively used double teams and chip blocks.

9. Penalties were a problem with seven — all but one against the defense — for 89 yards, but that was only the fourth time this year the Ravens have had more than 60 yards in penalties. That’s a major improvement from where they’ve been in recent years.

10. The two-minute offense at the end of the first half was hardly a thing of beauty, but the drive resulting in a 53-yard field goal was probably one of the better ones we’ve seen this season. That’s not saying very much, but at least Justin Tucker continues to be money.

11. After Flacco broke his second knee brace in two seasons, he admitted that he’s thought about not wearing one. Seeing him move around without it makes me think it could be worth the risk for improved mobility within the pocket if nothing else.

12. Speaking as someone who doesn’t pay to attend games and wouldn’t tell others how to spend their money, it was still sad seeing thousands of empty seats for the first Monday night home game in over five years. Games like that used to be a big deal in this town.

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Familiar script plays out for Ravens in deflating loss at Tennessee

Posted on 05 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The script was all too familiar for the Ravens in a 23-20 loss to Tennessee on Sunday.

Some of the names have changed, but we’ve seen this defeat over and over and over again since Super Bowl XLVII.

A comatose offense that stumbles its way into some decent football late — but only after putting itself in a sizable hole. A defense that perseveres at a high level until needing to make a big stop in crunch time. And an array of little things from special-teams penalties to debatable coaching decisions sprinkled into a one-possession loss.

It might as well be 2013 or 2015 or 2016. Having lost five of their last seven going into their bye week, the Ravens are firmly in that mediocre spot that’s become their residence for the last five years. And they’ll need a strong finish to avoid missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and haven’t won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season.

What else really needs to be said about an offense that’s summarily broken? Even with a solid running game, the unit hasn’t been good enough, so you didn’t need to be Vince Lombardi to predict what would happen when the Titans were able to shut down the surprising Alex Collins on Sunday.

The problems are abundant and the solutions aren’t there from a coaching or talent standpoint.

On a day when veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the team’s only dependable pass-catcher, had his best performance of the season, 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman again looked like someone not belonging on the field as he failed to high-point two deep passes — one leading to an interception — and dropped another pass in an awful first half. Fellow speedster Mike Wallace was also a non-factor until catching a 1-yard touchdown in the final minute when the Ravens trailed by two possessions.

Joe Flacco doesn’t have nearly enough help around him, but he’s also slow to react to certain situations and threw a bad interception on the first drive of the second half. As has been the case for a few years now, the veteran quarterback isn’t the offense’s biggest problem, but he hasn’t been enough of an answer, either.

By design or by execution, the horizontal passes well short of the chains on third downs continue to be maddening.

You’d like to think the bye could spawn some new ideas and the return of the oft-injured Danny Woodhead might help, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has now had the reins of this group for 20 regular-season games and has yet to show himself as any kind of meaningful asset. Are the Ravens miraculously going to have an offensive breakthrough with the week off while maintaining the status quo?

Of course, the defense isn’t without blame despite a strong showing for much of the day. The two touchdowns allowed through the first three quarters came on short fields, and Eric Weddle’s interception set up Baltimore’s first touchdown of the game to make it a 16-13 deficit with nine minutes remaining.

But when the Ravens needed one more stop to give the offense a chance to tie or take the lead, the defense crumbled, allowing two third-down conversions and a touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Eric Decker with 3:58 to go. Yielding a couple first downs or even a field goal wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but you just can’t give up seven in that spot. Tennessee ran fewer plays and trailed in time of possession, so you can’t say it’s because Dean Pees’ group was tired.

The defense couldn’t finish, which has been the story way too often for some statistically-strong units over the last several years. It’s the reason why the front office chose to ignore the offense this offseason to focus on strengthening a top 10 defense from a year ago, but the problem reared its head again on Sunday.

To be clear, this is a good defense, but the group hasn’t been great enough to overcome the major deficiencies on the other side of the ball or to justify the many resources exhausted on it this past offseason. The Ravens may have cleaned up their issues stopping the run over the last two weeks, but the pass rush still isn’t good enough to expect the group to become otherworldly down the stretch.

The little things also killed the Ravens on Sunday. Teams with such little margin for error can’t have Tyus Bowser line up illegally on a successful punt and then have Sam Koch shank one that sets up an easy Titans touchdown. Za’Darius Smith’s unnecessary roughness penalty was as ticky-tack as it gets, but even head coach John Harbaugh and teammate Eric Weddle said it was avoidable, especially knowing officials were on alert after Matt Judon’s borderline hit on Mariota earlier in the half.

Harbaugh received much criticism for unsuccessfully going for a fourth-and-inches from the Tennessee 17 to begin the fourth quarter, but I’ll side with the decision despite the outcome. As the 10th-year coach noted, anyone would tell you going for it in that situation is a no-brainer from a win probability standpoint. Yes, kicking a field goal does make it a one-score game, but you’re then counting on your defense to not allow any more points and your offense to drive the length of the field again to score a touchdown, which was highly questionable at that point. Many cited Justin Tucker as the reason for taking the points, but having such a great kicker leaves me more inclined to go for the touchdown there, knowing I may not need to do very much later to get a shot at a 50- or 55-yard attempt to tie the game.

Sure, if you know your defense will force a turnover on the ensuing possession, you’ll take the three points every time, but we can’t assume subsequent events play out the same or that Tennessee would have played the same defense had the Ravens trailed by seven and not 10 on their final touchdown drive. The decision was certainly debatable and I didn’t like the play call itself, but it wasn’t the egregious error some made it out to be, especially when replays indicated that Buck Allen picked up the first down. Alas, it was a bad spot and a predictable review outcome on a type of challenge that’s difficult to win.

In the end, the Ravens were unlucky to go along with not being good enough on Sunday.

It added up to the kind of loss we’ve seen too many times in recent years.

Instead of securing a road win that could have put them in a good position with a very reasonable schedule after the bye, the Ravens face a steep climb with a losing record and a less-than-ideal tiebreaker profile in a mediocre AFC wild-card race. Six of the remaining seven games do look quite winnable on paper, but each is also a potential loss for such an inconsistent group.

And after Sunday’s bout of déjà vu, the Ravens aren’t showing signs that things will be different this time around.

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Ravens stop bleeding, reboot season with win at Oakland

Posted on 09 October 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stopped the bleeding and rebooted their season with a 30-17 win at Oakland on Sunday.

A road defeat wouldn’t have doomed them for the remainder of 2017, but one wonders what the ramifications might have been for a third straight loss, this one against a backup quarterback in a league having nowhere close to even 32 quality starters. The Raiders were also without two of their top three cornerbacks in a rare instance in which the opposition’s game-day injury woes could actually compete with Baltimore’s.

It was nearly a year to the day that the Ravens fired Marc Trestman, and another poor performance might have led offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to a similar fate with critics pointing to senior offensive assistant Greg Roman as a logical alternative. But such talk was halted — at least for one week — when Joe Flacco delivered a pretty 52-yard strike to the speedy Mike Wallace on the first play from scrimmage.

That early aggressiveness coupled with the superb play of the offensive line proved to be the biggest keys in the victory as the Ravens jumped out to an early lead and produced a season-high 30 points. Their four plays of 25 or more yards eclipsed their total over their first four games (three) and deflated a struggling Raiders team also in need of a win Sunday.

It was easily Flacco’s best performance of the season as he completed 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards and ended his streak of 10 consecutive games with an interception. Entering Week 5 ranked last in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks with a career-worst 5.1 yards per attempt, the 10th-year quarterback averaged 8.54 yards per throw, his best single-game mark in nearly two years.

Not one to exaggerate or put much stock into any single win or loss over the course of his career, Flacco said Sunday’s win brought extra significance after admitting last week that the confidence of the entire offense wasn’t where it needed to be. The performance also reminded us what Flacco is capable of doing when the other variables are in proper place to help him succeed.

The running game and pass protection were strong despite the offensive line suffering its latest injury with right guard Matt Skura leaving with a knee injury early in the second half. Flacco also demonstrated better footwork, moving forward or sidestepping in the pocket to make several throws and to successfully avoid what little pressure Oakland was able to muster on Sunday. A Raiders front led by All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack failed to register a sack and recorded only two quarterback hits all day.

At least for one week, the Baltimore offense was capable of playing at a level high enough to win a game in which the defense didn’t play at an incredible level. Jimmy Smith’s fumble recovery for a touchdown certainly provided extra cushion in the first quarter, but the unit’s overall play was a far cry from the first two weeks of the season when it forced a whopping 10 turnovers and the offense needed only not to screw up.

The Ravens offense even responded to adversity after the the defense allowed a Marshawn Lynch touchdown late in the third quarter to make it a one-possession game for the first time since the opening minutes. Without as much as a first down in their first two drives of the second half, Flacco and the offense orchestrated a 72-yard drive of more than five minutes that included critical third-down conversions to Breshad Perriman and Wallace. Justin Tucker’s short field goal put Baltimore ahead by 10 with just over 13 minutes to go and all but ended Oakland’s real hopes for a comeback.

As John Harbaugh noted in his post-game press conference, this is a week-to-week league with results frequently lacking rhyme or reason. The offense isn’t close to being out of the woods yet as a lackluster performance at home against Chicago next week will prompt the return of the same doubts and questions.

But the Ravens managed to escape a challenging and travel-filled five-week stretch to open the season with a 3-2 record, once again tied with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North. They now face a reasonable run of alternating home and away games over the next four weeks that should keep them in the playoff hunt with any semblance of steady play going into their Week 10 bye.

To say the win at Oakland saved their season would be an exaggeration, but it did stop the substantial bleeding from the last two weeks. And there’s no telling what chain of events a third straight ugly loss might have triggered for a team in search of its first postseason berth in three years.

The Ravens instead came home with a winning record and newfound positive vibes.

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