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Greatest Ravens by jersey number (81-99)

Posted on 31 August 2010 by Luke Jones

With Sports Illustrated releasing its list of all-time best NFL players by jersey number recently, we continue to look back at the 15-year history of the Baltimore Ravens to construct a list of the greatest players for Nos. 1-99.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 covered jersey numbers 1 through 80 if you missed them.

Part 5 (81-99) concludes our trip down memory lane by looking at some of the greatest receivers, tight ends, and defensive linemen in franchise history.

81 Michael Jackson (1996-98)
Jackson

Anquan Boldin is a good bet to hold this honor in the near future, but “Action” Jackson was a big-time receiver in the Ravens’ first season in Baltimore, catching 14 touchdowns and eclipsing the 1,200-yard mark. Jackson’s numbers declined in his final two seasons with the Ravens, but he and fellow wideout Derrick Alexander were huge weapons in Ted Marchibroda’s passing game.

82 Shannon Sharpe (2000-01)

The former Denver tight end came to Baltimore and immediately provided the leadership sorely lacking on the offensive side of the football. His game-winning 29-yard touchdown catch with seconds remaining in a 39-36 comeback victory over Jacksonville set the early tone for what would eventually be a championship season in 2000. And he also had a big catch in the AFC Championship that you might remember…

83 Daniel Wilcox (2004-08)

Wilcox rarely had the chance to shine in the Baltimore offense, but the dependable backup tight end caught 76 passes and eight touchdowns in his five years with the Ravens.

84 Jermaine Lewis (1996-2001)

The diminutive Maryland Terp is unquestionably the greatest return specialist in franchise history and returned six punts for touchdowns in his six years with the Ravens. Though he never returned a kickoff for a score in the regular season, the two-time Pro Bowl selection capitalized on the world’s biggest stage with an 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to seal the eventual Super Bowl XXXV victory. His courage down the stretch of that magical season was documented (see below) in the NFL Network’s “America’s Game” series.

85 Derrick Mason (2005-present)
Mason

Though overshadowed by bigger, faster receivers throughout the NFL, Mason has been the model of consistency throughout his first five seasons with the Ravens. The veteran has averaged 82 receptions per season and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in four of his five campaigns in Baltimore.

86 Todd Heap (2001-present)
Heap

Injuries have stunted his production in the latter half of his career, but few tight ends have shown the versatility of Heap with his ability to split out wide or outleap  defenders as a dangerous red zone target. Heap has 36 touchdown catches in his nine seasons.

87 Qadry Ismail (1999-2001)

The “Missile” was a rare weapon in a passing game that struggled to produce in the early stages of the Brian Billick era. Ismail caught 18 touchdowns and had two 1,000-yard seasons in his three years with the Ravens.

88 Brian Kinchen (1996-98)
Kinchen

Injuries prevented Quinn Sypniewski from potentially earning this distinction, but Kinchen was a steady if unspectacular tight end for the early Ravens. His 1996 season included 55 catches for 581 yards and a touchdown. Kinchen also had the ability to long snap.

89 Mark Clayton (2005-present)

Clayton and fellow No. 89 Travis Taylor are viewed as two of the biggest draft busts in the history of the franchise. The former Oklahoma Sooner holds a slight edge in receptions (234 to 204) through five seasons with the franchise, but Taylor had more touchdowns (15 to 14). Neither player met expectations, but Clayton still has the opportunity to improve his résumé, enough to give him the nod here.

90 Rob Burnett (1996-2001)
Burnett

One of the most unheralded members of the dominant Baltimore defenses from 1999 to 2001, Burnett had 10.5 sacks and forced three fumbles in 2000 but was a Pro Bowl snub. The defensive end compiled 26.5 sacks in his six seasons with the Ravens.

91 Lional Dalton (1998-2001)

Dalton never had the chance to show his stuff as a starter on the defensive line, but he was a key member of the rotation for a deep unit of tackles. He wins narrowly over defensive end Marques Douglas (who also wore No. 94) and defensive tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Brandon McKinney.

92 Haloti Ngata (2006-present)

Considered one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL today, Ngata has wreaked havoc on opposing running games from the moment he stepped foot in Baltimore. 350-pound defensive tackles are not supposed to be as athletic as Ngata, and the league finally recognized his rare talent by selecting him to his first Pro Bowl in 2009.

93 Keith Washington (1997-2000)

The defensive lineman is remembered most for his block of an Al Del Greco field goal that was returned by Anthony Mitchell for a go-ahead touchdown in the Ravens’ memorable 24-10 victory over the Titans en route to a Super Bowl title, but Washington was a key member of the defensive line rotation in his four seasons.

A strong final season by Dwan Edwards in 2009 was not nearly enough to earn strong consideration here after the defensive lineman was largely a flop in his first three seasons with the Ravens.

94 Justin Bannan (2006-09)

The defensive tackle was a major factor in 2008, starting 15 of 16 games in Kelly Gregg’s absence. His four strong seasons with the Ravens earned him a nice payday with the Denver Broncos following last season.

95 Sam Adams (2000-01)
Adams

Many will argue for Jarret Johnson for this jersey number, and a legitimate argument can be made, but how can you overlook Adams’ massive impact—literally and figuratively—in his two seasons with the Ravens? The defensive tackle made the Pro Bowl twice and teamed with Tony Siragusa to form a 700-pound wall around which the menacing Ray Lewis could freelance.

Johnson is a very good player and received his just due in Part 4 (No. 76), but Adams was the better player in his two-year stint in Baltimore.

96 Adalius Thomas (2000-06)
Thomas

The former sixth-round pick transformed himself from a defensive end to one of the best outside linebackers in the league over his seven seasons with the Ravens. The two-time Pro Bowler was also a menacing 270-pound gunner on the punt team and was the most versatile player on the talented defenses of the post-Super Bowl era.

97 Kelly Gregg (2000-present)

The former wrestler hardly looks the part of an NFL defensive tackle, but Gregg has manned the interior of the Baltimore defensive line for nearly a decade. “Buddy Lee” ranks second on the Ravens’ all-time tackles list, behind only Lewis.

98 Tony Siragusa (1997-2001)
Goose

The brash, rotund Siragusa arrived in 1997 and was part of the defensive transition from a hapless unit to the record-setting company that struck fear in the opponent’s heart. His controversial hit on Rich Gannon knocked the Oakland quarterback out of the AFC Championship game, but the outspoken Siragusa would have been the first to say it did not matter whether Gannon played or not against that Ravens defense.

99 Michael McCrary (1997-2002)
McCrary

His blue-collar style still resonates fondly with Baltimore fans, and the undersized defensive end is recognized in the Ravens Ring of Honor. McCrary’s 51 career sacks ranks third behind Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs on the Ravens’ all-time list. Chronic knee issues cut short what had already been a brilliant career.

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Live from Westminster: Ravens limping through final days of camp

Posted on 18 August 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. — With injuries continuing to hinder the training camp roster, John Harbaugh and the Ravens are probably thinking they cannot get away from McDaniel College fast enough and back to the cozy confines of 1 Winning Drive as the injury list continues to grow daily, particularly on the offensive line.

Right tackle Oniel Cousins was carted off the field after suffering from a headache on Wednesday morning. Cousins, already filling in for the injured Jared Gaither (back tear), appeared to be laboring earlier in practice and stood on the sidelines for a considerable time before leaving the field. The training staff will test Cousins for a possible concussion.

Tony Moll filled in on the right side in Cousins’ absence while Chris Chester continues to handle the center position in place of Matt Birk (neck). Other linemen missing practice included Stefan Rodgers (arm) and Daniel Sanders (arm).

It was an “over-30 club” day in Westminster, meaning the likes of Ray Lewis and Derrick Mason were given the day off. With veterans receiving a respite and so many others not practicing, fans could be forgiven if they didn’t recognize all players running with the starting units at times.

New absences from practice included fullback Le’Ron McClain (back/thigh) and linebackers Tavares Gooden (neck) and Prescott Burgess (undisclosed). McClain appeared to be dealing with an upper thigh issue over the last few days, even having the hip and thigh region wrapped during Saturday afternoon’s practice. The starting fullback was in street clothes, walking with a limp during the morning session, but the injury is not believed to be serious.

Gooden continues to deal with neck spasms after sustaining an awkward hit to the neck in the preseason opener. Despite practicing the last two days, the team will use caution the rest of the week in hopes that Gooden will be able to play against the Redskins on Saturday.

“[The neck] just keeps tightening back up on him,” Harbaugh said. “We need to just sit him down and settle him down.”

Gooden’s health clouds what has been an intriguing competition at inside linebacker after Jameel McClain lost his stronghold at the position with a poor performance in the preseason opener. McClain has received more work at the “Sam” outside linebacker with the second unit this week. Harbaugh hopes to get extended looks at all three with the starting defense over the final three preseason games.

“We’ll kind of move those guys around the next two weeks, and we’ll know where we’re at.”

In addition to the “over-30” club—which includes Lewis, Mason, Birk, Todd Heap, Travis Fisher, Trevor Pryce, and Kelly Gregg (Ed Reed and Brendon Ayanbadejo are still on the PUP list)—defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee), tight end Davon Drew (hamstring), and defensive back Marcus Paschal (leg) joined the aforementioned players as non-participants in the morning practice.

Stay right here for updates (time-stamped below) and visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear Harbaugh, rookie receiver David Reed, and safety Tom Zbikowski’s conversation with Thyrl Nelson following practice.

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1:40 p.m. — Both Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham missed from 45 yards on Wednesday morning. Cundiff pulled his attempt wide left while Graham was wide right on his try.

Each kicker connected from 19, 40, and 51 yards as both continue to produce similar results day in and day out in Westminster.

12:45 p.m. — With Thursday being the last two-a-day of the summer, coaches and players are laboring through the final workouts in Westminster and toward the remainder of the preseason schedule. John Harbaugh has been pleased with the team’s work during camp, evidenced by his cancellation of three practices (one on Saturday and two on Sunday) over the last week.

“You get to this point and it’s time to [go],” Harbaugh said. “You’re looking into the next phase of camp. Going into this practice [on Tuesday morning], we wanted to make sure that we have five good practices before we leave here, to make the most of it, and we did a good job today.”

The Ravens will conduct a walk-through on Friday before breaking camp and continuing their preseason preparation at their practice complex in Owings Mills.

12:35 p.m. — As mentioned yesterday, rookie David Reed has struggled to catch the ball consistently after a strong beginning in Westminster. Reed, a fifth-round pick in April, was expected to battle for the fifth receiver job but has fallen out of contention with Demetrius Williams having such a strong—and injury-free—training camp.

With three preseason games remaining, Reed will need a strong showing at receiver and on special teams to avoid being cut or stashed away on the practice squad—or Injured Reserve with a mysterious injury.

“You want consistency,” Harbaugh said about the young receivers following Tuesday’s practice. “For whatever reason, we dropped a lot of balls out here today. I thought the quarterbacks were just a little more in rhythm with their throws [and] a little quicker versus the pressure, which is what we want, and maybe it caught the receivers a little bit off guard.”

Hale acknowledges he has struggled to catch the football in camp, something he has not experienced previously in his career.

“I don’t drop too many passes [typically],” Reed said. “That’s one thing I carry myself [with], I don’t drop passes. I’m getting it back.”

12:20 p.m. — Cornerback Chris Carr and receiver Mark Clayton suited up to practice but were limited participants throughout the morning session. Carr has taken part in individual drills the last two days but continues to sit out team portions of practice as he continues to recover from a left hamstring injury sustained on Aug. 7.

With Carr sitting out 11-on-11 drills and the 30-year-old Travis Fisher not practicing, Fabian Washington and Cary Williams were the cornerbacks with the first defense.

Clayton had his right ankle taped before walking out to practice, but the receiver stood on the sideline without a helmet and gloves for much of practice. Demetrius Williams and Donte’ Stallworth split reps at receiver opposite of Anquan Boldin with Clayton out and Mason receiving the day off.

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Live from Westminster: Ravens honor military at McDaniel

Posted on 17 August 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. — With hundreds of military personnel on hand, the Ravens were back on the practice field Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the second preseason game against the Washington Redskins.

Players such as defensive tackle Kelly Gregg (below) signed autographs for uniformed military and their families for nearly an hour following a practice that lasted over two hours in the sweltering heat.

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“It’s just a real special day,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re real proud of what all the personnel in the military all across the country and overseas has done for us. We just can’t thank them enough for their service, for the sacrifices the families make.”

Offensive lineman David Hale was absent from practice with a “bruised” tailbone sustained after defensive tackle Haloti Ngata landed on top of him in a pass-rushing drill during Monday’s morning practice. The key reserve lineman has not yet undergone an MRI or CAT scan to determine whether the tailbone is fractured, according to Harbaugh.

Concerns exist that it might be a long-term injury, a potential damaging blow given Hale’s versatility for an offensive line already dealing with the absence of Jared Gaither for the remainder of the preseason.

“I really don’t know,” said Harbaugh when asked if Hale’s injury might be season-ending. “We haven’t gotten an MRI yet, so I wouldn’t be writing that yet.”

Center Matt Birk missed his third straight practice with tightness in his neck. The 13-year veteran has not practiced since the preseason opener last Thursday. Birk started training camp on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing an elbow procedure in the offseason.

“[Birk’s] going to be a guy we’re going to be very judicious with throughout training camp and even throughout the season,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think a lot of practice is what he needs. He’s up there [in years]. When you play on the offensive line that many years, you want to be smart with those guys and how many contact reps they take.”

Ngata returned to practice after sitting out the latter portion of Monday’s practice following the collision with Hale. The Pro Bowl tackle appeared to be favoring his left wrist but showed no signs of injury on Tuesday.

Also back at practice was offensive tackle Oniel Cousins, who walked off the field with a member of the staff toward the end of practice after a skirmish with linebacker Jameel McClain earlier in the Monday morning workout. Cousins managed to get into another scuffle Tuesday, this time with linebacker Edgar Jones despite it being a lighter shells-and-shorts workout. The third-year tackle, who continues to fill in for Gaither at right tackle, has earned a reputation for mixing it up with teammates in his brief career.

“I don’t know, they might be coming after me,” said Cousins, drawing laughter from media members. “For some reason, everybody’s always trying to fight with me, I don’t know why. We’re just out there having fun. I don’t know, it’s just a practice. It’s hot and everybody’s out there getting after it.”

Cornerback Chris Carr was a limited participant during Tuesday’s practice, doing individual work but sitting out full-team drills. In addition to Hale and Birk, tight end Davon Drew (hamstring), defensive back Marcus Paschal (leg), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee), offensive linemen Daniel Sanders (arm) and Stefan Rodgers (arm), and offensive tackle Jared Gaither (back) did not practice.

Stay right here for more (time-stamped below) and visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear more from Harbaugh, Cousins, quarterback coach Jim Zorn, and tight end Todd Heap’s conversation from the field with Rex Snider.

_____________________________________________

8:45 p.m. — The daily installment of the kicking competition brought similar results to what we’ve seen throughout the summer.

Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham were each perfect on five attempts, with both men connecting from 48 and 51 yards. The Ravens will likely alternate kicks between the two as they did in the preseason opener against Carolina.

8:35 p.m — The star of Tuesday’s practice—on and off the field—was veteran tight end Todd Heap, who made three spectacular catches while looking like the tight end who made consecutive Pro Bowls in 2002 and 2003.

Heap made a leaping, one-handed catch over the middle early in practice and beat cornerback Travis Fisher on a sideline route for a long gain. The 10-year veteran finished off his finest practice of the summer with a catch in the back of the end zone over cornerback Brad Jones.

Following practice, Heap signed autographs for military personnel for nearly 45 minutes before joining Rex Snider on AM 1570 WNST. You can hear the conversation in its entirety in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault.

While Heap shined on Tuesday, rookie David Reed’s struggles continued as the receiver dropped two passes, one of them leading to a Cary Williams’ interception on a pass thrown by Troy Smith.

After an impressive start in Westminster, Reed has struggled to catch the ball consistently, leaving his status in doubt with Demetrius Williams performing well in his efforts to grab the fifth receiver spot on the roster. Expected to be a contender to return kicks, Reed has not received many opportunities during special teams practices.

8:15 p.m. — Tuesday’s practice provided more confirmation for a possible shift in the team’s depth chart at inside linebacker.

Tavares Gooden—practicing without the red non-contact jersey—lined up next to Ray Lewis in the starting defense, another indication that Jameel McClain has lost the stronghold he enjoyed through the first three weeks of training camp. Dannell Ellerbe took reps with the starting defense on Monday as McClain worked at outside linebacker with the second unit.

Much of the defensive work, however, came in nickel and dime packages, and Gooden is considered the strongest of the three in pass coverage.

Needless to say, it will be interesting seeing who lines up with the starting unit in the team’s second preseason game against the Redskins on Saturday night.

8:05 p.m. — John Harbaugh responded to cornerback Lardarius Webb’s comments from Monday that expressed he did not want to play in the preseason and wants to be cautious in returning from an ACL injury sustained late last season. Webb’s rehab is ahead of schedule and could be activated from the PUP list in the near future.

“I think we are going to be cautious with [Webb],” Harbaugh said. “If he can play in the preseason and we feel very comfortable there’s not going to be a setback, we’ll do it. If we think there’s any possibility of a setback—reasonable possibility—we’ll probably just save him [for the regular season].”

Webb has worked out regularly on the side field during training camp, working on conditioning and agility to strengthen his surgically-repaired right knee.

Running back Matt Lawrence (knee) and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (quadriceps) remain on the PUP list but were running on the side during Tuesday’s practice. Neither player has been very active during practices in Westminster, and Ayanbadejo was just recently cleared to begin running full-speed.

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2010 Ravens Training Camp Preview: 10 Purple Questions

Posted on 27 July 2010 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens begin their 15th training camp at McDaniel College in Westminster, expectations are as high as they’ve ever been for a team with serious Super Bowl aspirations in 2010.

From the acquisition of impact receiver Anquan Boldin to the continued maturity of quarterback Joe Flacco, prognosticators across the country have earmarked the Ravens as serious contenders to raise the Lombardi Trophy at Cowboys Stadium in early February.

Despite the loud optimism for this Ravens team, many questions remain unanswered, as is the case with any of the 32 teams in late July.

In honor of this year’s 10th anniversary of the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV victory, I pose 10 questions as the men in purple report to McDaniel College this week:

1. What’s the deal with Ed Reed?

Reed’s name has created buzz throughout the offseason dating back to his uncertainty of whether he would return following the Ravens’ playoff loss in Indianapolis. Since then, the All-Pro safety has declared his intention to return, but when we’ll see him on the field is anyone’s guess.

After undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, Reed declared himself at only “35 percent” as late as last week in comments to various media outlets. Speculation persists that Reed will begin the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list and miss the first six weeks of the regular season.

In addition to his health, Reed’s relationship with the organization is on shaky ground after the veteran safety expressed his displeasure with the team’s amount of support during his recovery. Reed also shared his desire for a new contract several weeks ago when he spoke to Drew Forrester on The Morning Reaction and has repeated the sentiment several times since.

Regardless of Reed’s shaky standing with the team, his uncertain health with the hip and lingering nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder may force the Ravens to turn to newly-acquired veteran Ken Hamlin or third-year safety Tom Zbikowski to fill Reed’s void in the defensive backfield.

His health will be monitored closely over the next four weeks, as has been the case during the last two summers at McDaniel College.

2. Will Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb be ready to go on September 13th?

Reed’s status will grab the headlines, but the health of Washington and Webb could prove equally critical as the two corners—both recovering from ACL injuries—will compete for the starting job opposite Domonique Foxworth in the Baltimore secondary.

Washington appears to be further along in his recovery, but both are candidates to begin training camp on the active-PUP list (eligible to come off the list at any point during camp). In the meantime, Chris Carr will receive reps as the other starting corner.

Slow recoveries for either Washington or Webb would open the door for new acquisitions Travis Fisher and Walt Harris to compete with Cary Williams (suspended for the first two regular season games) and Marcus Paschal for the final cornerback spots on the 53-man roster.

3. Is Joe Flacco ready to take the next step into stardom in his third season?

Entering his third season as starting quarterback and fully recovered from leg injuries that hampered him last season, Flacco is expected to take the next step in developing into one of the finer quarterbacks in the league.

The offseason acquisitions of Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth and the re-signing of veteran Derrick Mason give Flacco a plethora of weapons in the passing game in addition to the dependability of Ray Rice coming out of the backfield.

Flacco was criticized last season for checking down so often and avoiding the middle of the field, but the excuse of not having sufficient weapons will no longer be in play.

In order for the offense to grow, he will be expected to do even more in the passing game.

4. How quickly can Sergio Kindle recover from his accident in Austin?

While the details surrounding the accident remain sketchy, Kindle’s injury on Thursday night creates a nightmarish start to his NFL career with the Ravens, as the young linebacker will miss all of training camp with a fractured skull.

Kindle was expected to back up linebacker Jarret Johnson and provide a legitimate pass rushing threat on third down for the Baltimore defense, so the Ravens can only hope he makes a speedy recovery and eventually contributes to a pass rush that struggled to pressure the quarterback in 2009.

Unfortunately, it sounds more like a matter of if—not when—he can return to contribute before season’s end. It’s a major blow to the Baltimore defense but paves the way for Antwan Barnes, Jameel McClain, and Paul Kruger to become bigger factors in passing situations.

5. How prepared is Terrell Suggs to rebound from a disappointing 2009 campaign?

It was no secret that the organization was unhappy with Terrell Suggs’ 2009 campaign after he signed a $62.5 million contract last July. The linebacker arrived in Westminster out of shape and injured his heel on the third day of full-team workouts, sidelining him for the duration of training camp.

This translated into a sluggish season for the talented linebacker, which included a career-low 4.5 sacks and an MCL injury due to a low block from former Browns quarterback Brady Quinn.

Harbaugh voiced his displeasure with Suggs’ absence through much of the OTA schedule, so it will be interesting to see what kind of shape the linebacker is in when he reports to McDaniel College this week. A healthy, motivated Suggs is needed if the Ravens hope to pressure the quarterback and help mask would could be a depleted secondary to begin the season.

With Kindle’s unfortunate accident, it becomes even more crucial for Suggs to return to his previous Pro Bowl form.

6. Can Michael Oher and Jared Gaither pull off the flip-flop at offensive tackle?

There’s little doubt that Oher can handle the left tackle spot after filling in for an injured Gaither last season, but questions remain over the health and mental state of the new right tackle.

It’s no secret that Gaither wants a new contract, as the tackle delayed signing his restricted free agent tender until early June. Gaither also battled a foot injury through much of the OTA schedule, missing valuable reps as he makes the transition to right tackle—a position he hasn’t played since his days at the University of Maryland.

Should Gaither struggle to adjust to right tackle, it may force the Ravens to shuffle around other players into the right tackle spot or force them to abandon the switch and return Oher to the right side of the offensive line.

7. Will Shayne Graham (or Billy Cundiff) be able to silence the memories of Matt Stover?

The Ravens inked former Bengals kicker Graham to a one-year contract in hopes of finally silencing fans who clamored for Matt Stover last season as the Ravens struggled in the kicking game with Steve Hauschka.

Cundiff returns after being signed mid-season to replace Hauschka, but most believe Graham has the inside track for the job despite missing two critical kicks against the New York Jets in a playoff loss last season.

We’ll inevitably be tracking every kick from the fields of McDaniel College as we did last season with Hauschka and Graham Gano, but the kickers’ performance in the four preseason games will hold the most weight in determining who’s kicking for the Ravens in September. Unlike last summer, however, both Graham and Cundiff bring more experience to the table, providing more confidence that special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg can choose a viable solution in the kicking game.

8. How much longer will Troy Smith be a Raven after the acquisition of Marc Bulger to back up Flacco?

Several players, including Flacco and Reed, have voiced their support for Smith as the backup, but the fact remains Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens have invested $3.8 million in Bulger to be the backup behind Flacco.

While Smith has said all the right things to this point, he has to see the writing on the wall as he’s now relegated to No. 3 quarterback duties. The problem for Smith is none of the other 31 teams have shown a strong interest in acquiring his services after he expressed a strong desire to start for another team at the end of last season.

As of now, Smith will compete with John Beck for the third spot, but it remains very possible that Smith finds himself on another roster before training camp ends.

Needless to say, the Ravens don’t want an unneeded distraction in the locker room, but it appears Smith’s supporters will continue to sing his praises, likely contributing to his departure at some point.

9. Can “Mount” Cody help form a brick wall in the middle of the Baltimore defense?

The 350-pound rookie will need to keep his weight at a manageable level, but the coaching staff was thrilled with his athleticism and strength during OTAs. Coupled with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, it’s no secret Newsome envisioned a brick wall in the middle of the Ravens defense reminiscent of the tandem of Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams.

Cody will begin his rookie season backing up Kelly Gregg, but if the big man is as good as advertised and maintain his conditioning, it won’t be long before Ngata and Cody form a 700-pound monster on the inside—that will also keep blockers away from Ray Lewis.

With Kindle’s rookie season now in serious doubt, Cody becomes the most likely (and needed) draft pick to make a serious impact in 2010.

10. Will the aging Ravens defense continue to fight off Father Time?

While three defensive starters over the age of 30 may not sound like a big deal, it is when two of them are Ray Lewis (35) and Reed (31). The other starter Kelly Gregg (33) will battle Cody for playing time while Trevor Pryce (35) remains a key member of the defensive line rotation.

Reed’s health issues are well-documented (see question 1) and may not have much time left despite his desire for a new contract.

Lewis continues to be an enigma at the inside linebacker position where even the greatest of all time typically retire by their early 30s. He lacks the speed he had in the prime of his career, but his cerebral approach and leadership are invaluable to the Baltimore defense.

Newsome has drafted young talent to supplement the veterans on the defensive side of the ball, but injuries to these key veterans likely prevents this unit from being great as it has been for so many years.

Of course, the Ravens are banking on having a more explosive offense, so simply having a good—not great—defense might be enough to take Baltimore deep into the playoffs. If the defense’s elder statesmen can fight off Father Time for one more season, they’ll have a chance to play for a ring in early February.

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Ravens vs. Bengals

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Ravens (4-3) @ Bengals (5-2)

Posted on 06 November 2009 by Derek Arnold

Ravens vs. Bengals

Ravens vs. Bunghole Stats

If the Ravens can go into Paul Brown Stadium and exact some revenge on the Bengals this week, they will force their hat back into the ring of serious AFC North contenders. Otherwise, they will have fallen effectively three games behind Cincinnati in the division, quite a mountain to climb with eight games remaining.

So, do the Ravens have what it takes to “man up” and emerge victorious in a venue that has been none too kind to them over the years? B’More’s 34-3 win over the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Bungles in 2008 was their first win at PBS since 2004, and they are just 2-4 in their last six in The Queen City. Quarterback Carson Palmer has owned the Ravens in his career, compiling a 7-3 record in 10 career starts.

As several have already pointed out, Cincy is starting to look like a “real” AFC North team – one that can run the ball and stop the run. The Bengals’ Cedric Benson was the one to break the Ravens’ streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher the last time these teams met, when he went for 120 and a TD on 27 carries (4.4 ypc). They also held the Ravens to 82 yards on the ground. Still, the Ravens averaged 4.6 yards per carry, which hints that maybe they should have stuck with their ground attack a bit more. Especially considering it was Joe Flacco’s worst game this season, as he threw for just 186 yards and added two interceptions for his 2009-low rating of 70.1.

85 care package

(Chad sent the Ravens’ D a care package this week. The Nest sends one of our own to #85. In it he will find a new helmet (to replace the one Ray knocked off him), a ball gag, a straight jacket, and a nice pretty new “grill.”)

Joe Cool has bounced back nicely since getting shut down by Cincy, putting up back-to-back games of a 109.2 rating, and tossing three scores to go along with nary an interception against the capable (23rd) and strong (8th), respectively, defenses of Minnesota and Denver. Derrick Mason, who was held without a catch by Mike Zimmer’s crew last month, has 11 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the two games since.

Ray Rice has been the catalyst for the Ravens’ offense of late, as the little RB that could (wow, that’s terrible…come on, people…THIS MAN NEEDS A NICKNAME!) has averaged over 149 yards from scrimmage per game over the last four contests. Le’Ron “PAIN TRAIN” McClain had a season-high 31 yards on the ground against Denver, as Cam Cameron’s offense showed that, as the weather is cooling, maybe they are starting to get back to the formula that produced so much success in 2008. The Ravens called more running plays than passing plays (35-27) for the first time since the San Diego game, and just the second time all season. This after three consecutive losses where the playcalling was extremely lopsided towards the pass, to the tune of 46-18 (@ Min), 33-18 (vs. Cin), and 49-17 (@ NE). Now, a factor that can’t be overlooked was that the Ravens were playing with the lead for the entire game against Denver, but we would expect that the balance will continue this week. That is, as long as the rejuvenated defense can keep the score close, as Chicago was unable to do in Cincy two weeks ago, getting blown out 45-10.

Speaking of that rejuvenated defense, the Ravens’ D needs to prove that last week was no fluke. Plenty of the pundits were quick to proclaim the Ravens’ defense “back” after they dismantled and nearly shut out the previously high-flying Denver attack last week. However, to those of us who watch every game (twice), the Broncos’ short-passing game was simply the perfect antidote for the problems we have seen with the purple defense all season. Namely, the fact that Kyle Orton threw the ball deep all of ONE time (while the game was in reach, anyway)…and on that ONE throw, there was of course, some laundry also thrown, as Dominique Foxworth was called for pass interference. Apparently Josh McDaniels didn’t get the “just chuck it up” memo that Ravens’ corners have been sending to every team this year, via game film. Carson Palmer is no Kyle Orton, and he will show no such mercy to Foxworth and Fabian Washington, especially with the ever dangerous Chad Ochocinco and Chris Henry in his arsenal.

This isn’t to suggest that Foxworth and Washington have no prayer of having good games Sunday. The two played very well against Denver, lack of deep challenges notwithstanding, and Washington especially was extremely active in run support. It’s just that we Ravens fans need to see more of what we witnessed from the pair against Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal before we are comfortable putting the Pepto Bismol bottle down when we see opposing quarterbacks take 7-step drops.

The front seven will also need to continue their solid play from a week ago. Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, Justin Bannan, and Trevor Pryce collapsed the pocket on Orton the likes of which we haven’t seen all season, and Greg Mattison’s blitzes, when called, found gaping holes in the Broncos’ protection schemes. It was a welcome departure from what we had seen to that point, but like the secondary, consistency is the word. Haloti Ngata is still very questionable with the ankle sprain he suffered near the goalline against Denver, and his absence would be noticeable, especially as the Ravens attempt to keep Benson from going over the century mark again. If Haloti is unable to go, the Ravens’ ample depth at DL will have to step up, including Brandon McKinney, Dwan Edwards, and potentially Kelly Talavou, who has been active just once in 2009.

The Bengals have been doing a very impressive job of keeping Palmer upright, as he has been sacked only 11 times, good for 6th in the NFL. By comparison, Flacco has been sacked just 12 times. Rookie offensive tackle Andre “Yip Yip Belly” Smith may see his first game action, though he is said to be expected to mostly play on running downs. If nothing else, this could give the Ravens an advantage in reading the plays pre-snap.

A loss in Cincy on Sunday would, in all likelihood, relegate the Ravens to chasing a Wild-Card berth. Week 9 just seems too soon for that for such a talented football team, one that is legitimately a Top-8 NFL squad. The difference will be the explosiveness of Ray Rice, Joe Flacco continuing to find Kelley Washington for key 3rd-down conversions, and a Ravens defense that is ready to build on what they started last week.

Ravens 24 Bengals 20

Yours in the comments (no, I don’t have a prize like Bob, this is just for fun).

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Ravens vs. Broncos

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Broncos (6-0) @ Ravens (3-3)

Posted on 30 October 2009 by Derek Arnold

Ravens vs. Broncos

Ravens vs. Horseteeth Stats

Things certainly don’t get any easier for the Ravens coming off their bye. After facing 5-0 Minnesota in Week 6, our purple heroes now get 6-0 Denver in Week 8. Oh, and they will receive no competitive advantage from the schedule, since the Broncos too, are coming off their bye week. Realistically, the Ravens need to win 7 of their final 10 games to have a shot at the playoffs. It all starts now, and to have any prayer, the Ravens need to hold serve at M&T Bank Stadium. By winning their final 5 home games, the team will be able to finish double digit wins with perceived “gimme” games in Cleveland (Week 10) and Oakland (Week 17). Short of running the table at home though, the Ravens will likely face must-win scenarios in places like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay.

The Denver Broncos, who were supposed to be pushovers in 2009, after one of the most tumultuous offseasons ever seen by any franchise, have instead come out of the gates gangbusters. First year head coach Josh McDaniels’ squad is already sporting a comfortable 3-game lead in the AFC West, and they would own the #1 seed in the AFC, were the season only 6 weeks long. They’ve remained undefeated by being surprisingly efficient on offense, and by featuring the league’s stingiest defense.

Quarterback Kyle Orton, acquired via trade for Jay Cutler from the Chicago Bears, has been a huge surprise. Expected to struggle (based on his 4 non-remarkable seasons in the Windy City), Orton has instead flourished, passing for 9 touchdowns to go with only 1 interception, which came on an end-of-half Hail Mary toss. His QB rating of 100.1 is nearly 25 points higher than his career average. Orton’s 2009 is reminiscent of Chad Pennington’s 2008 – a “game manager plus” who makes a few plays every game, and is extremely stingy with the ball. Of course, the Ravens had no problem making Mr. Pennington look quite pedestrian last year, but so far nobody is confusing the 2009 Ravens defense with the 2008 version.

Orton Kyle Show

Orton’s weapon of choice is wideout Brandon Marshall, subject of many trade rumors here in B’More last Spring/Summer. The disgruntled Marshall has put his gripes aside and hauled in 29 passes for 332 yards and 4 TDs, all tops on the team. At 6’4″ 230, Marshall is just the kind of WR that has been giving the Ravens’ undersized cornerbacks fits all year, and Sunday threatens to be no different. Not only can Marshall go up and get the ball, he is hell to bring down once it’s in his hands. If the Ravens’ secondary can’t make open field tackles, this one could be ugly. Tight end Tony Scheffler is no slouch either, and he is coming on strong after a slow start. Scheffler had 10 catches for 146 yards over Denver’s last two games.

Rookie Knowshon Moreno and veteran Correll Buckhalter share the carries for Denver’s 7th-ranked rushing attack. Normally, we wouldn’t lose much sleep over these two, but with the Ravens allowing back-to-back 100-yard rushers, things are feeling a bit different in Charm City. The Ravens are healthy on defense at the moment, but need players like Kelly Gregg and Dawan Landry to be more active in stopping the run, lest Moreno and Buckhalter find some holes early and make things even easier for Brandon Marshall down the field.

Keep an eye out for #21 on the Ravens, Lardarius Webb, who has been getting more reps with the first-team defense in practice.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator and 49ers head coach Mike Nolan has taken over the defense in the Mile High city, and has his unit playing well above expectations. Some guy named Elvis Dumervil leads the NFL with 10.0 sacks, just two shy of his career high through only six games. With the Ravens’ offensive tackle situation suddenly re-muddied (Jared Gaither missed practice Thursday with an apparent setback to his neck injury recovery), Joe Flacco may again find himself under duress. Michael Oher stepped in admirably in Gaither’s absence, and would go at LT again if needed. Dumervil, however, lines up all over the field, and RT Marshal Yanda will also have to be on top of his game.

D.J. Williams leads the team in tackles from his inside linebacker position in Nolan’s 3-4, and one of the all-time great safeties of the game, former Eagle Brian Dawkins, roams the secondary along with perennial All-Pro Champ Bailey. Flacco, who threw “red zone” interceptions in back-to-back games against Cincy and New England, before his 2 TD 0 INT performance at the Metrodome, will need to be at his best against a Denver defense that features a lot of pre-snap movement and blitzes from everywhere. Against Pittsburgh’s similar scheme last season, Flacco struggled mightily. The Broncos may not have the big name personnel, or the defensive tradition that Pittsburgh does, but they have so far made up for it in execution. The Ravens face Green Bay, along with Pittsburgh twice, down the stretch, so there is no better time than now for Joe Cool to start executing against the 3-4.

Budding NFL superstar Ray Rice saw his lead in the league’s all-purpose yards from scrimmage category eclipsed by Adrian Peterson during the bye, but he will have plenty of chances to climb back on top this week. Willis McGahee has been relegated to afterthought in the B’More offense, while Le’Ron “Pain Train” McClain can only think back fondly on his days of double-digit touches. Rice will have to earn his yards, as the Broncos haven’t allowed more than 76 yards on the ground to any opposition running back this year.

During the bye, the Ravens had plenty of problems they needed to correct. Perhaps they even saw that some of those problems are not correctable with the present roster personnel. If the latter is the case, one can only hope that they recognized that they are no longer a defensive, run-first, grind-it-out type football team. They feature one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the NFL in Rice, and a quarterback who is coming into his own in his second season. Flacco has come up just short on potential last minute game-winning drives in two of the last 3 games. It would serve the Ravens well to come out on offense picking up right where they left off in the 4th quarter in Minnesota, when they scored 21 points in the game’s final 8 minutes, rather than trying to establish a running game and play field-position with the Broncos. Go up early and make the Broncos throw the ball – don’t let them eat up the clock and keep Joe Cool and Ray Ray Jr. (anybody got a real nickname for Rice yet?) on the sidelines.

Denver has never won in B’More. Sunday can not, and WILL not be the day.

Everyone tilt your head back with me and take a big ol’ swig of that purple Kool-Aid. With a victory Sunday, we can go ahead and refill our cups. Should the opposite happen, we may well find that the fridge is empty.

Ravens 24 Broncos 13

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RavensChargers

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Ravens (1-0) @ Chargers (1-0)

Posted on 18 September 2009 by Derek Arnold

RavensChargers

For the second time in 3 seasons, the Ravens travel out to sunny whale’s vagina San Diego (is that joke old yet? It was probably old 2 years ago, huh? Ok, I’ll stop) to take on the pewter blue Chargers. The two teams, who each saw their 2008 seasons end in Pittsburgh in the playoffs, also both struggled a bit against “lesser” squads in their respective openers. We all remember sweating a bit in the second half of the Ravens-Chiefs game, and San Diego needed a last-drive touchdown to put away the Oakland Raiders on the road. Ravens fans may be making a bit too much out of that Monday Night game, though, in thinking that somehow it exposed the Chargers as being “not that good.” We’re gonna go ahead and disagree with that assertion – remember, it was a divisional game, on the road, AND they put together a game-winning TD drive. Sounds like a good team to me.

What does make our ears perk up a bit going into this one though is a glance at the Chargers’ injury report.

LaDainian Tomlinson: DID NOT PRACTICE

Nick Hardwick: DID NOT PRACTICE

Louis Vasquez: DID NOT PRACTICE

Tomlinson will probably be able to go Sunday, albeit in a reduced role. However, the two starting offensive linemen, Hardwick (2006 Pro Bowl) and Vasquez (2009 3rd Round Draft Pick), are less likely to suit up for the game. Missing your starting Pro Bowl center is no small loss (see: Kevin Mawae, Tennessee Titans, 2008 AFC Divisional Playoff). San Diego signed former Jacksonville Jaguar Dennis Norman this week, who will likely start in place of Hardwick. The Ravens, with arguably the deepest defensive line in the NFL, should be able to exploit the offensive line issues and play defense in the backfield.

On the other hand, neither Hardwick nor Vasquez was on the field for San Diego on their game-winning drive in Oakland…and it didn’t seem to matter much. So there’s that.

If Tomlinson can’t go, 9th-year vet Michael Bennett will be splitting carries with Darren Sproles. Itty-bitty Sproles has the Ravens losing some sleep this week, with Trevor Pryce saying that watching Sproles run, “is like watching a Madden game.” Sproles was huge for the Chargers in their post-season win over the Colts last year, when he gained 105 yards and 2 TDs on 22 carries, and added 5 receptions for 45 yards. Pittsburgh was able to render him ineffective running the ball (11 carries, 15 yards), but he still managed 91 yards and a score on 5 catches, including a 62-yard score. Against Oakland last week, Sproles had just 66 yards on 14 touches from scrimmage – however, the Raiders felt the wrath of Tiny Darren in the return game, as he averaged 34 yards on 5 kickoff returns, including 66 and 59-yarders.

Basically….Sproles is good. He’s gonna get the ball, and he’s gonna make a play. The key will be limiting the number of plays he makes.

DarrenStomp

How about the Ravens on offense? Will we see another 500-yard day? More of Joe Flacco throwing caution to the wind and footballs all over the field?

Not likely, although San Diego was even worse in pass defense than Kansas City in 2008, finishing 31st in the league. Shawne Merriman is back this year, and how Ravens’ tackles Jared Gaither and Michael Oher (Merriman will switch sides during the game) are able to neutralize him will be a big factor. The Raiders were able to hold him without a sack (they allowed only 1 to San Diego all game), and they actually finished with 366 total yards of offense to San Deigo’s 317. Of that total, 148 came on the ground, as Oakland gained 4.6 yards per rushing play. Expect the Ravens to come out more like they did in the second half against Kansas City, using the memory of Joe Flacco’s 300-yard game to keep the Chargers honest, by pounding Rice, McGahee, and McClain right at the Chargers from the start.

Ravens’ tight ends could also play a big part in the outcome of this game, as Todd Heap looks rejuvinated after one week, and L.J. Smith has been back at practice and is eyeing Sunday for his purple debut. Tight end Zach Miller led all Raiders’ recievers last week, hauling in 6 passes for 96 yards.

Of course, the Chargers have a stud tight end of their own, Antonio Gates. Gates, who is fully healthy for the first time in quite a while, torched the Ravens for 105 yards and 2 scores the last time these teams met.

Yes, Greg Mattison and the Ravens’ D will have their hands full. Even with no Tomlinson, the Chargers still have Sproles and Gates – and we haven’t even mentioned wide receievers Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers. Big, physical guys on the outside who could give the Ravens’ corners, who are heavy on speed but light in stature, some issues.

And so, it all comes back to the Chargers’ O-line. We saw last year here in Baltimore what can happen when your offensive line can’t get the job done by themselves, and you have to keep tight ends and backs in to block. If Sproles and Gates are stuck blocking, they can’t be out catching passes. Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata, Trevor Pryce, and Terrell Suggs need to get in QB Phillip Rivers’ face early and often. When he sits in the pocket, Rivers can be one of the most accurate passers in the league, but he is far from mobile, and will heave up some disgusting floaters when flushed (if you’re reading this while eating lunch, I apologize for all the toilet imagery).

Earlier in the week, I was ready to predict 50+ points to be scored between the two teams in this one. However, I’m a firm believer that football games are won in the trenches, and the Ravens should be able to take advantage of San Diego’s line injuries and render all their fancy offensive toys pretty much useless. If they can do that, they won’t need another video game-like stat sheet to come home with a win.

Ravens 20 Chargers 17

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Ravens Preview

Posted on 02 September 2009 by kevinpb

I decided to do my preview of the 2009 season after the Carolina pre-season game because I hope that the first line offense and defense does not even get on the field in Atlanta, in fact, don’t even let them board the plane to go to Atlanta. I have seen all I need to see to know that the 2009 Baltimore Ravens are going to be a formidable team.
If they were an NFC team they would be the odds on favorite to get to the Super Bowl. Since they play in the AFC they are one of 3 or 4 teams that can make it to the mid February classic.

There is a lot to like about the 2009 Ravens. But I think the most interesting thing regarding this year’s version of the Ravens is the continued shift in vision of the team. The change in vision and/or direction was set in motion with the firing of Brian Billick 2 years ago. The firing of Coach Billick was as much an indictment of make up of the team as it was a reflection of the poor record in the year in which he was fired. In fact, when it became clear that the players which led the team in the direction it was heading did not support the coach, Brian Billick’s fate was sealed.

The second indication that a change was coming was the passing over of Rex Ryan as head coaching candidate for the Ravens. This would have continued this team on a course of defensive dominance for years to come. Let’s face it, the Ravens are not a sexy team. Even if you are the most devout fan they can be painful to watch at times. They were the NFL’s version of old pick up truck, strong, steady, tough and dependable. Unfortunately, this old truck occasionally had trouble with the sleek sports cars of the NFL. No where was this more evident then in the 2006 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. I still can’t even watch a replay of that game to this day. All I remember thinking about that loss was that, “it was our type of game and we still lost.”

The third indication that things were about to change at the castle, was John Harbaugh’s hiring of Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator. Cameron has a distinguished and successful career as an offensive coordinator. His offenses have over the years have had good rushing attacks some years and good passing attacks in others. His system is adaptable to the player’s talents, instead of trying to make the players fit into a rigid system.

What Ozzie Newsome set in motion was to take the intensity and passion that the defense played with and transfer it to the offense. To his credit, he started rebuilding the offensive line with an attitude. Once the great Jonathan Ogden retired, the die was cast and the rebuilding of the offensive line became of paramount importance. There was a two pronged shift in philosophy too. The first part of this change was subtle. Originally, it was the Raven’s plan to draft lineman in the later rounds and develop them and then sign older veterans to bolster the weaknesses on the line. After the loss to the Colts that year you saw the Raven’s start to draft offensive lineman with their higher draft picks. Ozzie selected Ben Grubbs in the 1st round, then stole Jared Gaither in the supplemental draft. Marshall Yanda came in the 3rd round as did Adam Terry a few years earlier. Finally, this past year, Ozzie selects Michael Oher again in the first round. Once it was evident that the Raven’s could not keep Jason Brown, Ozzie went back to his old standby and signed a veteran free agent to complete this unit.

The second part of the shift in philosophy of the offensive line was to get away from just sheer bulk and get more athletic. I have watched enough football to know that this offensive line is going to be something special. They are big, strong, fast, athletic and nasty. Gaither is the thoroughbred, and has Ogden’s stamp of approval. Grubbs is the athletic one. Yanda and Oher are just good ole nasty boys. Matt Birk is the point guard that keeps it all together. As the year goes on, this unit will become one of the best in football. Gaither and Oher are big and athletic enough to overpower most and contend with the speed rushers off the edge. Grubbs might be the best pulling guard in the league and Yanda is just a road grader. Chris Chester played well last year filling in for Yanda and is our main back up in the middle of the line. Losing Adam Terry for the year hurts because he was an adequate back up on either side of the line at tackle. Do not be surprised if you see Ozzie bring in a veteran tackle after cut down day to help with depth.

The running back by committee was terrific last year. In fact, it was a brilliant idea that camouflaged the fact that our number one running back failed to report to camp in shape and was not ready to carry the load even though he was paid to do so. I shudder to think what would have happened to Joe Flacco if it were not for Ray Rice and LeRon McClain. After watching the preseason Willis McGahee is relegated to 2nd team, LeRon McClain is the short yardage back and lead fullback; Ray Rice will carry the load. This is the type of back the Cam Cameron likes. He is a quick shifty runner that catches the ball well out of the backfield. Ray Rice is going to have a spectacular year. He is short in stature but is powerfully built. He runs low to the ground, explodes in the hole and changes direction on dime. As my cousin said to me, on that swing pass he caught in the Carolina preseason game where he did the step back, “he looked like Barry Sanders on that play”.

The wide receivers have caused the most consternation amongst the fans, and rightfully so. Thank God, Derrick Mason did not retire!!! Derrick Mason is the consummate professional and really is the heart of our offense. I thought it was interesting last week when Bart Scott made the comment that the real coach of the Ravens in 2008 was Rex Ryan, the only player that felt compelled to say something was Derrick Mason. That being said, both Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams have NFL talent, but their inability to stay healthy does not lend itself to having confidence in these two. Enter Kelley Washington. He has been a pleasant surprise in camp and has had success in the preseason games. He is currently lining up as the number 2 receiver. He is big, strong and fast and he looks to be able to contribute on offense. It is clear that the Raven’s are going to need some production out of either Clayton or Williams to go along with Mason and Washington. If the Ravens keep a fifth receiver it looks that it might be Justin Harper only by default. Todd Heap seems to have resurfaced in the offense and if he can stay healthy he gives us another credible threat down the field. LJ Smith is hurt again; enough said. Do not be surprised to see Ozzie scour the waiver wire after cut down day for help at either wide receiver and/or tight end.

The main reason why the Ravens will continue to be a relevant team and why, barring mounting injuries, they will break the cycle of one good year followed by one bad year is the quarterback. Yes fans, Joe Flacco is that good. I am not trying to anoint him the next Johnny Unitas, nor will I even go so far as to call him Bert Jones…yet. He is only in his second year and there are mistakes to be made, but the kid has IT! He is smart and has a much better handle on the offense. He has a laser arm. He also has a tremendously quick release and is deadly accurate. Did you see the touchdown pass he threw to Todd Heap in the Carolina preseason game? He put the ball the only place it could be. In that same game, he laid out a long ball perfectly down the sideline to Kelley Washington, over the outside shoulder where only our receiver could catch it. It is amazing how much more open our receivers look when Joe Flacco is throwing them the ball. Joe Flacco is now the shining jewel of this franchise and will be a terrific quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens for several years.

There isn’t much that hasn’t been said about our defense and all of the accolades they have received over the years have been deserved. There have been many variations of our vaunted defense over the years with only one remaining constant. I mentioned earlier in this piece that the Ravens are changing direction, and that is true; but as long as Number 52 is in the middle of the defense, we will never totally lose our identity as a defensive minded football team. Whether you like him or not, he has been the heart, body, mind and soul of this football team for a long time. He is on the very short list of greatest linebackers of all time. The defensive line is stout, but some key players are getting a little long in the tooth. Kelly Gregg and Trevor Pryce have to continue to perform at a high level. Justin Bannan filled in well for Gregg last year. Haloti Ngata is a superstar waiting to happen. The key retainee was Terrell Suggs, who is counted on to pressure the quarterback. Second round draft pick, Paul Kruger is touted as a high energy guy in the mold of Michael McCrary. I guess that is why they gave him that number. The Ravens have significant depth at the defensive line positions with the likes of Dwan Edwards, Kelly Talivou and Brandon McKinney.

At linebacker the team is also loaded. The starters will be, Ray Lewis, Jarrett Johnson, Tavares Gooden and Terrell Suggs. Ray Lewis is a Hall of Famer. Terrell Suggs is a Pro Bowl player. Jarrett Johnson plays at that same level but is somewhat overlooked and Jameel McClain will push Gooden for the other starting inside spot. Paul Kruger will back up Terrell Suggs and learn the hybrid defensive lineman/linebacker position that Suggs has evolved into. Antwan Barnes will be brought in on special situations to pressure the quarterback. That leaves a chore of other good football players fighting for one or two back up spots at linebacker. Brendon Ayanbadejo will most likely retain one of those spots due to his special teams status and there is probably one more spot for a trio of players, Prescott Burgess, Jason Phillips and Dannell Ellerbe. I like the mix of veteran leadership with young athletic talent in this group. This position will remain a strength of the team.

The secondary has gone through a transformation. Gone is Chris McAlister; and, at least for a little while, so is Samari Rolle. Fabian Washington covered well last year as a starter, but my mother hits harder and tackles better. Dominque Foxworth was acquired in the off season to replace McAlister and is exactly the type of free agent pick up that makes Ozzie Newsome so dangerous. He is still a young and improving corner and could develop into an elite player, but there are questions concerning his tackling ability as well. It may take him a while to learn how to play defense for the Ravens but he has a chance to become a really good cornerback. As big as Jim Leonard played last year, I am extremely happy to see Dawan Landry back at strong safety. I think he is a big time player and is great in run support. His ability to play close to the line will let Ed Reed continue to do what he does best; roam the field and take the ball away. Reed is a gambler and he will get burned occasionally, but when he gets the ball in his hands he is pure magic. I just wish he would stop trying to lateral the ball all over the field. Ed’s lingering neck and shoulder problem is a growing concern and should be monitored closely. Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura provide excellent depth and special teams play. Nakamura especially has shown flashes of being able to step in and play safety at a high level. In years past, I have always cringed when our first team cornerbacks have gone down, but the last 2 years Ozzie Newsome has done a good job of building depth at this position. Samari Rolle was brought back to play the nickel back and Chris Carr was signed to add depth and return kicks. I have been impressed with 3rd round draft pick, Lardarius Webb. I first saw him at training camp and I am impressed with his attitude and skills. He does not look afraid and he looks to be a pretty good cornerback once he gets some experience. With Samari Rolle starting the season on the IR list, it seems that Frank Walker has received a reprieve and will start the season with the team. While Frank played effectively toward the end of last year, his propensity for committing stupid penalties and his less then effective play this preseason has landed him squarely on the bubble. There is not a lot of experience here, especially with Rolle on the shelf. This is another area that the Ravens may look to improve themselves after cut down day.

Over the years, I have been very critical of Sam Koch as a punter. I did not think he was bad, I was just frustrated by his inability to hit the big kick at times to get the team out of a hole. Whenever he needed to boom one it seemed as though he couldn’t do it. Most point to his ability to place the ball inside the 20 yard line as an indication that he was a high caliber punter. Let’s be clear, there is not a more overrated stat in football, then how many times a punter places the ball inside the 20 yard line on a punt. I have never thought that such a stat was a productive measurement of any punter. That being said, I have to admit that Sam Koch is growing on me, his distance on punts has improved, his hang time has improved and he has become adept at directional punting, pinning the return man against one sideline or the other. Chris Carr was impressive as a returner at Tennessee. He fields the ball well and gets upfield quickly. He gives us the same thing Jim Leonard did last year returning punts with more speed and possibly more ability to take one to the house.

One of the biggest stories in training camp has been the competition for kicker. To be perfectly frank, I don’t understand what Coach Harbaugh is trying to accomplish. I understand that Matt Stover cannot get the distance on kick offs and that adversely effects our ability to defend since it shortens the field for the other team. There is a noticeable trend of opponents starting field position increasing yearly. So I applaud the idea of finding a kicker that is able to kick the ball in the endzone or forcing the opponent’s returner to field the kick closer to the endzone. I have noticed this preseason that we have done a much better limiting the opponents starting field position. However, the 2 kickers in camp have not shown the ability to routinely kick the ball in the endzone and have relied mainly again on directional kicking to pin the return to one side of the field or other. They have also failed to show that they have the ability to hit field goals with any consistency. What it comes down to is this; for a team that is expecting to be in the thick of a playoff run, does it make sense for anyone else other then Matt Stover to kick field goals for this team. I don’t think so.

Those in charge at the castle have proven over the years that they know how to build and run a football team, that cannot be argued; but their strategy regarding the kicking game does not make any sense to me. All I know is that on Sunday, December 27, 2009 at Heinz Field, when it is 17-17 with 1:22 to go in the fourth quarter, the wind is blowing and the flurries are falling and the field is mud pit when the Ravens kick team trots out on the field to try the winning field goal, the only person I want kicking that ball is Automatic Matt.

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RavensPanthers

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Preseason Game 3 – Ravens @ Panthers

Posted on 29 August 2009 by Derek Arnold

RavensPanthers

The “most important” of the fake football games is upon us, as the Ravens travel to Charlotte to take on the Panthers in preseason week 3. Week 3 of preseason is traditionally the game in which the starters play the most out of any of the four exhibitions. As such, we want to see our boys in purple and black looking sharper then we saw against either the Redskins or Jets.

What specifically will I be watching for from my couch?

Run Defense

Seeing an opponent rack up rushing yards is about as foreign to us here in B’More as a menu that considers “crab” snow crabs or some such nonsense. The Jets, though, were able to find some room on the ground, even when the Ravens starters were on the field. Baltimore fans have been a bit uneasy after seeing that, so we are all a little anxious about whether first-year defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s squad can plug the holes we saw in Week 2. Carolina was the #3 rushing team in the NFL in 2008, averaging over 152 yards per game. They will be without half of their lethal 1-2 rushing attack though, as Jonathan Stewart is sidelined with an injury. DeAngelo Williams (5.5 ypc in 08) will see the bulk of the carries, and will present a significant challenge for the Ravens.

Hindering the Ravens’ efforts will be the lack of DT Kelly Gregg, who injured his shoulder against New York. Word is that Kelly would play if this were a regulat season game, but will sit out just to be safe.

Linebacker Battle

Depth at linebacker is nothing new in B’More, but this preseason the Ravens are even more stacked at the position than normal. As a result, some guys that seemed to be a lock when they checked into the Best Western in Westminster now find themselves teetering on the bubble. Antwan Barnes, for instance, who saw action in 13 games and made 14 solo tackles as a pass-rush specialist in 08, finds himself neck-and-neck with such newcomers as Jason Phillips and Dannell Ellerbe. Ellerbe missed the Jets game though, and will need to suck it up and get some reps in Charlotte. Prescott Burgess is in a similar situation.

Speaking of linebackers, is it time to start worrying a little about T-Sizzle? He hasn’t seen the field since the first week of August, and now that the team is back at their complex in Owings Mills, it seems unlikely that Suggs is still just trying to avoid practice.

Kickers

This one isn’t so much a battle any more as it is a “hang on” situation for Steve Hauschka. He has a definite lead over rookie Graham Gano at this point, and as long as he hits his kicks from here on out, the 2nd-year player from NC State should find himself on the roster opening day. Hauschka might have some extra friends and family in the stands down in the Tar Heel State, so it will be interesting to see how he responds.

Pancake Man

Beast OT Michael Oher will see his first true test in the NFL, as he takes on Panthers DE Julius Peppers, who had 14.5 sacks last year. Oher, who has been calling out the likes of Dwight Freeney since he was in high school, certainly won’t back down from the challenge, but he will have his massive hands full keeping Joe Flacco upright.

Wide Receiver

Of course we couldn’t go an entire preview without touching on (beating) the ravens WR situation (dead horse). Mark Clayton, despite returning to practice this week and declaring himself available for the game, will be held out by Coach John Harbaugh. This will give the slew of guys competing behind Clayton some more precious reps to show that they can be the consistent option on the outside that B’More desperately needs. Kelley Washington has played well, but Demetrius Williams, Justin Harper, Jayson Foster, et al. need to step up, lest the Ravens be forced to hit the waiver wire over the next several weeks. Some sources have them coveting whatever WR the Philadelphia Eagles decide to cast off.

As always, the main point of focus in a preseason game is for everyone to come out healthy. These items (and more) though, will give us plenty of other sports-talk fodder for run up to the regular season opener.

How about you, see anything I missed?

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Scouts,Inc. Player Ratings for the Ravens

Posted on 20 August 2009 by Derek Arnold

Scouts, Inc. has released their player rankings for pretty much every player in the NFL. I thought I would take a closer look at their ratings for the Ravens, and also give those of you who don’t subscribe to ESPN’s insider a chance to view them.

The highest ranking any player received was a 94 (out of a supposed 100).

Two players tied with these high scores, DeMarcus Ware and Tom Brady.

Meh, no arguments there, I suppose.

At a point lower, at 93, there were 10 players, including two Ravens.

Haloti Ngata – 93

They gave this scouting report on #92:

“Ngata is one of the best defensive players in the NFL and possibly the most important member of an excellent Ravens defense. He is a massive and incredibly strong. Ngata also has rare athletic ability, quickness and closing burst for such a huge force in the middle of the defensive line. He is extremely versatile and can shoot gaps while holding the point and absorbing double teams. He can also effectively line up in many spots along the defensive line. Ngata can be a force rushing the passer, but he could stand to develop a wider variety of moves. His effort also has been somewhat of an issue here and there, but that problem has progressively improved as he has matured. Ngata is an elite player.”

Pretty high praise for a guy that has yet to even make his first Pro Bowl appearance. Now -I’m not arguing, just pointing out the deficiencies of the Pro Bowl voters. I will argue with the “effort” knock, though. We heard a lot about this (cough, Mark Schlereth, cough) when Ngata was drafted out of the University of Oregon, but I sure can’t remember hearing one peep about Ngata taking plays off since he has been in the NFL. Can any of you?

To compare, the rankings for the top five defensive tackles in the NFL were:

1. Albert Haynesworth – 93

2. Haloti Ngata -93

3. Shaun Rogers – 91

4. Kevin Williams – 90

5. Casey Hampton – 87

The other Raven scoring 93 was, of course –

Ed Reed – 93

“Simply put, Reed is one of the best in the business. He has elite range and is one of the few backend defenders who opposing signal-callers truly fear. Reed is a game-changer from his deep center field position and allows the Ravens to be very aggressive with their schemes. Not only is he a supreme ball hawk with rare anticipation and ball skills, but he is also an extremely dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands and is an immediate threat to score. He is also a superb kick and punt blocker when used in that capacity. Finding negatives on Reed is a difficult thing to do, but in 2008 — while playing with a neck/shoulder injury — he did take care of his body more than usual and wasn’t as violent with his collisions.”

Everyone knows how great Mr. Reed is. Although they count his only “negative” as his less violent collisions, I have to commend them for remembering that Ed was, at one point, a huge hitter from the safety position (something the Troy Polamal-who? fanatics are quick to forget).

Speaking of Troy-Boy, he also scored a 93, adding yet another to the list of analysts who find it impossible to choose between the two.

Top five safeties:

1. Reed – 93

2. Polamalu – 93

3. Adrian Wilson – 90

4. Bob Sanders – 87

5. Kerry Rhodes – 80

Terrell Suggs – 86

T-Sizzle was the next Raven on the list, scoring an 86.

“Suggs has been a mainstay on the Ravens’ defense. He has been a solid pass-rusher in the base 3-4 scheme. He has excellent quickness and speed off the edge with enough burst to close to the quarterback. He understands leverage and how to get his opponent off balance as a pass-rusher, while using his strength and quickness to counter back inside. He uses his hands well to disengage as a run-defender and work the edge of blockers. He is a versatile player who can drop effectively in coverage and is best in underneath zone schemes. He isn’t extremely fast in pure man coverage and is rarely used in that way. Suggs is an instinctive player who reacts quickly as plays unfold, which enables him to be active to the pile. He is a tough hard-nosed player who wins with effort, intelligence and athleticism.”

We would add that, in addition to making him “active to the pile,” Suggs’ great instincts also lead to some other big plays, as he showed with his two interception-return touchdowns in 2008.

Suggs came in at #6 on the list of linebackers, behind Ware, James Harrison, Shawne Merriman, Patrick Willis, and Karlos Dansby.

Kelly Gregg – 84

A bit of a surprise (at least to those who don’t follow the Ravens and/or don’t know football), was seeing Kelly Gregg next on the list. Always under-appreciated by the fans and talking heads, Gregg gets plenty of recognition by opposing coaches and others who know the game (in this case, scouts).

“Gregg is built low to the ground and very powerful. He is an exceptional hands player who plays with excellent overall aggression. His motor never stops and his hustle can be infectious on his teammates. Gregg consistently wins one-on-one matchups and can handle a double-team while also making plays in the backfield. Although he offers little as a pass-rusher and rarely disrupts passing lanes or bats down passes, Gregg is the type of player who would make any defense better regardless of scheme.”

It will be a welcome sight to see #97 putting his hand in the dirt (or Field Turf, as the case may be) again in 2009, after missing all of 2008 with knee injuries.

Ben Grubbs – 84

Grubbs, the Ravens’ 2007 first round draft selection, came in as the #3 ranked guard, behind Steve Hutchinson and Leonard Davis.

“Grubbs is one of the best young guards in the league today and should only be getting better. He is both powerful and athletic. He can move big-bodied defensive tackles off the ball in one-on-one situations and can pull or combo block to the second level. He is not a liability in space and also can recover laterally when initially beaten off the snap. Grubbs has heavy hands and can stun his opponent, while also showing the ability to finish plays.”

Derrick Mason – 81

Again reminding us how grateful we are that Mason decided to “Favre” his retirement this year, he was easily the Ravens’ highest scorer at WR.

“Mason is the consummate pro and remains one of the most reliable wide receivers in the game today. Mason catches just about everything thrown to him and has superb natural hands. His route-running skills are even better with very fluid movement skills and a very good burst out of his break. However, Mason is not a big-play guy and doesn’t stretch the field. He is more agile and quick than fast, but also is a top-notch student of the game who takes his craft very seriously. His size is a bit of a problem and he isn’t a physical presence with the ball in his hands.”

Joe Flacco – 80

“Flacco burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2008, leading Baltimore to the AFC Championship Game. He showed the ability to digest what was given to him and obviously is quite intelligent. He has elite arm strength and can threaten the entire field. He has excellent size and the ability to scan the entire field clearly. Flacco could stand to add more bulk to better handle the rigors of playing the position at this level. Flacco is a surprising athlete who can make plays with his feet and throw well on the move. Flacco has a ton of upside and was very impressive in 2008, but he also had the benefit of having a grind-it-out rushing attack and an elite defense to help his cause.”

Joe Cool actually tied for the #7 best QB after only one season in the league. Also scoring 80 were Donovan McNabb and Kurt Warner.

I’m guessing QB is the position on this list that will trump up the most controversy. Along with tying with the two listed above, Flacco was also rated higher than Tony Romo (79), Matt Ryan (78), Phillip Rivers (77), Jay Cutler (75), Aaron Rodgers (74), and a host of others.

We love Joe Cool, of course, so we love seeing him get so much respect. However, this one is taken with a grain of salt, as they also had Matt Cassel (81) above everyone we just listed.

Would anyone really rather have Cassel on their team than Rivers or Cutler?

Interesting barstool debate. Thanks, Scouts, Inc.

Rounding out the Top 10 Ravens on the list were:

Ray Lewis – 80

“Lewis continues to be one of the most dominant run defenders in the league at the linebacker position. He is a powerfully built player with outstanding tackling power between the tackles. His ability to wrap up and tackle with jolting force is still evident in his 13th year. He has excellent instincts and vision to react quickly to the run and pass. He has outstanding football intelligence and is able to make all the checks and adjustments needed in the complex Ravens scheme. He uses his hands well to work through trash as well as having natural power to run through blockers. He is a crafty veteran who takes great angles in pursuit and maintains leverage on the ball-carrier. He has lost a step, but still has enough speed and quickness to be effective inside-out to the ball. He is a solid pass-defender primarily due to excellent anticipation and route recognition.”

Trevor Pryce – 80

“Pryce is a king-sized defensive end who can be a penetrating one-gap end or can hold the point in the run game an allow those around him to make plays. He is powerful with long arms and excellent hand usage. He keeps blockers well off his body and is quick to shed. Pryce is also a powerful tackler who can jolt ball carriers. As he ages, his leverage becomes more and more of a problem. Pryce shows more stiffness and his pads can get too high at times. Also, while a crafty pass-rusher, he doesn’t offer much from a speed off the edge.”

Matt Birk – 76

“Birk is a crafty veteran who understands angles and leverage as an interior blocker. He is an excellent technician who uses his hand well to maintain body position. He has good pop and power on contact and is effective with combination blocks. He is athletic enough to slam and chip to the second level and stay connected with his target. Matt is effective in space and keeps his pads over his feet well when down-field blocking. Birk can anchor in the middle agaisnt powerful bull-rushers and has the quickness and range to make blocks on the perimeter. He is an experienced player who could play other positions along the offensive line in a pinch.”

Birk actually scored a point lower than the man he replaced, Jason Brown. As much as we were sorry to see ol dancin’ JB go, it is pretty much universally agreed around B’More that the Ravens had a net gain at center this offseason. Apparently these guys have a different view.

Anyway, feel free to argue for/against any of these rankings in the comments. And let me know if there is any other specific player you are curious about, and I’ll do my best to find their score and report to fill you in.

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