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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 13 win over Miami

Posted on 06 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens blowing out Miami in a 38-6 final on Sunday to remain tied atop the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. How badly did Joe Flacco need a performance like that? It was the first time he’d thrown more than one touchdown pass in a game against a team not named the Cleveland Browns in over a year.

2. Considering his salary cap figure is the second highest on the team and fourth among NFL safeties, Lardarius Webb stepping up in response to Eric Weddle’s recent challenge to elevate his play is an encouraging development. His end-zone interception in the second quarter was sensational.

3. Kyle Juszczyk might be the best fullback in the NFL, but he saw his lowest snap total on Sunday since Week 3. I couldn’t help but think that was a positive development in getting more dynamic receivers on the field to help the passing game.

4. Using the same starting offensive line for the third straight game — the first time the Ravens have done that since the first three weeks of the season — resulted in zero sacks and just two quarterback hits allowed against the Dolphins’ talented front four. Continuity is critical with line play.

5. Remember how the Ravens ranked last in the NFL with just six interceptions last season? Their three-pick performance against Ryan Tannehill gave them 14 for the season, which is tied for second in the league entering Week 14.

6. Count me among those who expected the Ravens to run the ball more in the second half, but I sometimes wonder if some care more about the run-pass ratio than scoring points and accumulating yards. Taking issue after the highest scoring output in over two years is silly.

7. I’m not sure I’ve seen linebackers more clueless in coverage than Miami’s were. Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg were smart to attack the middle of the field to exploit them.

8. Of the nine Ravens players selected on Day 2 of the draft since Super Bowl XLVII, just two — Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan — were active for Sunday’s game. That isn’t easy to overcome as an organization.

9. Terrance West has averaged a solid 4.0 yards per carry this season, but Kenneth Dixon is gaining 5.9 yards per attempt over his last four games after averaging 1.5 yards per carry in his first four games back from injury. It’s getting tougher and tougher to hold the rookie back.

10. Miami’s complaints about the field at M&T Bank Stadium are noteworthy after the switch to natural grass this season, but the Ravens didn’t seem to have any problems. It will be interesting to see how the surface holds up for the Army-Navy game and the Philadelphia game in Week 15.

11. The Ravens have surrendered the fifth-fewest pass plays of 25 or more yards this season, but they’re on pace to produce fewer pass plays of 25 or more than they did last year when they lacked any viable vertical threat. This offense has disappointed, but I wouldn’t have guessed that.

12. I understand John Harbaugh’s team was really banged up at the time, but watching the New York Jets play Monday reminded how maddening that Week 7 loss was. The Ravens remain in good position now, but that one still hangs over their heads as a potential season-killer.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 5 loss to Washington

Posted on 11 October 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 3-2 after a 16-10 home defeat to Washington on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There’s no real rivalry with Washington despite how the fans might feel, but it’s quite a coincidence that the Ravens have now fired an offensive coordinator after their last two losses to the Redskins. That sounds like something straight out of a college rivalry, doesn’t it?

2. Much has been made about the lack of rushing attempts, but the Ravens didn’t even have a tailback on the field for 27 offensive snaps. They view fullback Kyle Juszczyk has their best pass blocker, but that makes an offense awfully predictable if he’s never going to carry the ball.

3. Rookie Tavon Young has impressed at the nickel all season, but injuries pressed him into action as an outside cornerback in the base defense. Despite being only 5-foot-9, Young held up well against an above-average passing game and finished with three tackles.

4. Going from Marc Trestman to Marty Mornhinweg at offensive coordinator won’t matter if the Ravens can’t get their offensive line healthy and straightened out. According to Pro Football Focus, Baltimore surrendered a league-worst 23 quarterback pressures on Sunday. Playing with backups or not, that’s unacceptable against a bad defense.

5. After missing the first four games with a knee injury suffered in the preseason, rookie Kenneth Dixon touched the ball on all four of his offensive snaps in the first quarter and didn’t play after that. One only hopes that was a coaching decision and not another physical setback.

6. Anyone else reminded of Jacoby Jones in 2014 when watching Devin Hester? He’s put the ball on the ground twice in five games and isn’t playing with the confidence of a Hall of Fame returner as he twice made questionable decisions to let punts bounce in the final quarter.

7. Zach Orr missed a tackle on the return touchdown and C.J. Mosley fumbled his interception return through the end zone, but the inside linebacker play has been much better in 2016. Orr forced a fumble and recovered it in the second quarter while Mosley leads the team with three interceptions.

8. There were worse decisions, but the Ravens showing shotgun on fourth-and-2 from the Washington 8 before taking a delay of game to begin the second quarter was puzzling. Why not show a heavy formation and use a hard count to try to draw Washington offside there?

9. Despite being initially praised for addressing so many needs, the 2015 draft class hasn’t been much of a factor. Breshad Perriman has 10 catches, Maxx Williams and Carl Davis are on injured reserve, Za’Darius Smith has offered little as a pass rusher, and Buck Allen is barely seeing the field.

10. It’s a far cry from the 2000 Ravens, but this defense has been underappreciated so far. The offense and special teams have put a ton of pressure on Dean Pees’ group, but the Ravens rank seventh or better in total defense, run defense, pass defense, scoring defense, and third-down defense.

11. Making the defensive success more remarkable is how little the Ravens have gotten from their edge pass rushers. Terrell Suggs has four sacks and still flashes, but the 34-year-old isn’t a consistent force anymore. Meanwhile, Elvis Dumervil and Smith have been virtually invisible so far.

12. I felt all along that the Ravens needed to be 5-2 entering the bye with a second-half schedule including four games with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and trips to Dallas and New England. It can still be done, but it won’t be easy with back-to-back road games at MetLife Stadium.

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Ravens offense lacking direction, confidence in early going

Posted on 03 October 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The final numbers looked good for the Ravens offense despite the 28-27 loss to Oakland on Sunday.

The 27 points, 412 total yards, 130 rushing yards, and 25 first downs were season highs, but they conceal the truth through the first quarter of a season that’s still off to a promising 3-1 start for Baltimore.

This Ravens offense is lacking direction and confidence in what it does.

The decision to deactivate running back Justin Forsett in favor of Terrance West and Buck Allen was the right one, but it was a difficult choice and one that was understandably deflating to a veteran. Head coach John Harbaugh’s explanation that the Ravens were looking for a “spark” was sound in theory.

“You’ve got to try to do something,” Harbaugh said. “You try to do all the things, and then sometimes you try to do something else, too. That’s what we tried to do this week.”

So, why then did West receive only five carries in the first half? His 21-yard run with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter was Baltimore’s longest of the season, but the third-year back carried the ball on the next play and didn’t touch it again until the third quarter.

Why did offensive coordinator Marc Trestman have quarterback Joe Flacco throw 29 times in the first two quarters behind a backup left side of the offensive line that was no match for Khalil Mack and the Oakland front? Why make the bold move to bench Forsett in favor of West and not even try to run the ball until the third quarter against a rush defense that entered Week 4 ranked 29th in the NFL?

The early strategy looked even sillier as West ran for 87 yards on 16 carries after intermission. The Ravens hope that success wasn’t an aberration against a poor run defense, but the improved commitment to the run must continue moving forward.

The passing game again relied on too many short throws and hesitated to stretch the field vertically with the likes of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman. Pass protection was unquestionably a major problem on Sunday with James Hurst at left tackle and Ryan Jensen at left guard, but Baltimore has been reluctant to throw the ball downfield for large stretches of its first four games. You can only use the two-deep safety excuse so much for not taking vertical shots, especially when you don’t attempt to establish the run early in the game to force the opposition to put a safety in the box.

Why not roll Flacco out a little more and move him away from pressure while allowing receivers to get open down the field?

Steve Smith had the standout performance with 111 receiving yards and a 52-yard touchdown, but Kyle Juszczyk was second with 56 receiving yards on Sunday. He’s a good player and certainly capable of contributing in the passing game out of the backfield, but a fullback shouldn’t be your second-leading receiver when you throw the ball 52 times in a game.

“We’re just not there,” said Flacco, who averaged only 5.7 yards per attempt on Sunday. “To come out and only put up six points in the first half and get off to that start, dig yourself a hole like that, and then you have to play a perfect game. Then you have to go out there and you have to score and you have to move the ball and you have to go, go, go, go, go. When you do that, you have to convert third downs and you have to play that perfect game. It just makes it very tough.”

The Ravens not only lacked direction with the offense in the first half, but they lacked confidence throughout the game.

Trestman’s play-calling is under scrutiny and penalties have stalled too many drives, but two second-half decisions by Harbaugh showed a lack of trust in the offense.

After Flacco scored a touchdown on a quarterback sneak with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter to make it a 14-12 deficit, Harbaugh elected to go for a two-point conversion that was unsuccessful. The decision to chase points with more than 17 minutes to play was indicative of a coach unsure that his offense would put together another scoring drive.

A few minutes later, Harbaugh accepted an unnecessary roughness penalty on a third-and-1 play in which his defense stuffed Latavius Murray for a loss of five at the Baltimore 25. Instead of conceding a 43-yard field goal attempt to Sebastian Janikowski — one of the better kickers in NFL history — the Ravens coach elected to give Oakland a third-and-17 play from the 36.

“You try to back them up and make it a tougher kick from an angle perspective,” Harbaugh said. “I wanted to keep it as a field goal game. Looking back on it, it wasn’t the right decision. I didn’t really believe — I didn’t really have a sense — that that many points were going to be scored down the stretch. It didn’t seem like it was going to be played that way.”

There’s no excusing the defense allowing a 16-yard completion and committing an offside penalty on the next two plays to give the Raiders a first down and an eventual touchdown to make it a 21-12 game, but Harbaugh’s acceptance of the penalty was another example of lacking faith in his offense. He doubted the Ravens’ ability to overcome a five-point deficit if he’d just declined the penalty and Oakland had kicked the field goal with more than 13 minutes to go.

That’s a real problem.

The good news is that the Ravens are still 3-1. They were beaten by a quality opponent on Sunday and shouldn’t panic after suffering their first loss of the season.

But the offense is a concern as the same problems have persisted week after week. The healthy returns of left tackle Ronnie Stanley and left guard Alex Lewis will help stabilize the shoddy pass protection witnessed in Week 4, but the slow starts, the penalties, the running game, and the overall philosophy remain issues.

The Ravens offense needs clear direction and more confidence if it’s ever going to take off.

“Everything that we do right now is just probably a little bit tougher than it needs to be,” said Flacco, who threw four straight incompletions when the Ravens needed 10 more yards to get into Justin Tucker’s field-goal range in the final minute on Sunday. “We need to find some ways to get some easy ones. I think our run game got some chunks today for us. I think that got going a little bit and helped us out when it did get going. Hopefully, we can find some more of that.”

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Ravens open the season one and oh!

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Dennis Koulatsos

 

It was far from pretty and even farther from perfect, but is sure was nice.  After last season’s brutal opening road schedule and dismal 5-11 record, it was indeed downloadvery nice for the Ravens to come out of the gate with a win.

Rex Ryan’s team had a very difficult time moving the ball on the Ravens’ defense, particularly in the opening and final quarter. Shareece Wright was downright amazing, as he finished with 9 tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage.  He was also solid in pass coverage.

The communication seemed to be much better for the back end of the defense, in stark comparison to a  year ago.  Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Wright seemed to be on the same page for the bulk of the game.

According to our friends at Pro Football Focus, Weddle had the highest overall grade on the team, followed by Wright.  On the offensive side of the ball the standouts were QB Joe Flacco, RG Marshall Yanda (penalties aside he was lights out), and Mike Wallace.

The offense looked out of sync at times, but that was to be expected, as this was the first time a lot of the players were on the field at the same time.  Their pace and rhythm should improve as the season matures.

Standouts for the Bills were primarily on the defensive side as LB Preston Brown and rush end Jerry Hughes were generally disruptive and presented the Ravens offensive line with all kinds of problems.  It is also noteworthy that the Ravens started two rookies on the left side, tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Alex Lewis.

The Bills’ offense struggled and their highest graded offensive player was TE Charles Clay.  Tyrod Taylor struggled to find open receivers down field, and was held in check by the Ravens’ defense. Shady McCoy got around the edge a couple of times, but he was also held under wraps without inflicting any significant damage.

The Bills’ coaching staff is getting some criticism this morning by their fan base as well as the media. The narrative is that they got schooled by the Ravens’ coaching staff, pointing out that the Ravens have been in the playoffs 6 out of the last 8 years under coach Harbaugh. Their clock management and untimely personal foul penalties are particularly coming under scrutiny. The undisciplined tag that’s been following Rex Ryan around has reared it’s ugly head once again.

As for the Ravens, for me the biggest red flag was Marc Trestman and his play calling. It was downright maddening to see the team come out time and again on third and short with Flacco in a shotgun formation. For a team that vowed to commit to the run this year, they sure did pass a lot.  The team ran the ball 45% of the time as there were 28 running plays against 34 pass plays.  When you take into account the 4 “runs” that Joe Flacco was given credit for (including game ending kneel-downs in the victory formation) the ratio drops to 41%.

For a team that has a lead blocker and thumper in Kyle Juszczyk, and a back who has displayed great heart and determination in short yardage situations in Terrance West, it defies logic to see both of them on the bench while Flacco is in the gun formation.  Given Flacco’s knee situation, it is crystal clear and understandable that the Ravens have taken the QB sneak out of their playbook.  But there are so many solid and creative things they can do on short yardage situations.  That was evident as I watched the Sunday Night scrum between the Cardinals and the Patriots.  Both offensive coordinators showed multiple looks and formations, and the Ravens would be wise to roll the tape and “borrow” a few things here and there.

For a while there I had to check to make sure that Cam Cameron was still at LSU vs. the Ravens’ sideline. Trestman was run out of Chicago and overwhelmingly the primary gripe from players and fans alike was that his offense was too pass happy. I sure hope coach John Harbaugh intervenes and makes sure that the Ravens game plan is run heavy this week as the team travels to Cleveland.

In a memorable loss to Jacksonville years ago, when Ray Rice carried the ball something like 8 times, I’ll never forget a quote by Terrell Suggs that has stuck with me through the years. After that loss he said that “when you go on the road, you pack your defense and your running game.”  I think that is great advice, and the Ravens need to pay attention here.

Turnovers are hard to overcome in the NFL, particularly on the road when you’re also facing significant crowd noise. Running the ball tends to be easier for an offense to execute.  The Ravens need to force turnovers by Cleveland QBs, whether it’s RGIII (he has a shoulder injury) or Josh McCown, run the ball, play solid defense, and let the game come to them.  Control the ball, control the clock, take the crowd out of the game, and come home two and oh.

 

 

 

 

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Ravens list one player worse than probable for season finale

Posted on 01 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Concluding an injury-plagued 2015 season against Cincinnati on Sunday, the Ravens enter Week 17 with only one player worse than probable on their final injury report.

After missing each of the last two games with an ankle injury, special-teams standout Albert McClellan was listed as questionable to play against the Bengals. The fifth-year linebacker returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday and Friday.

The only other Baltimore player listed on the injury report for a health-related reason was fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who is probable and missed Wednesday’s workout with an illness before participating fully the rest of the week.

The Bengals had already ruled out quarterback Andy Dalton (thumb) at the beginning of the week, but current starter AJ McCarron (left wrist) was designated as probable on Friday. Wide receiver Marvin Jones (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (concussion) are also probable to play as Cincinnati still hopes to earn a first-round bye on Sunday.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Carl Cheffers.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Cincinnati calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-30s and winds up to eight miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: LB Albert McClellan (ankle)
PROBABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (non-injury), FB Kyle Juszczyk (illness), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury)

CINCINNATI
OUT: QB Andy Dalton (right thumb), TE Ryan Hewitt (knee/illness)
PROBABLE: DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (concussion), S George Iloka (groin), WR Marvin Jones (hamstring), QB AJ McCarron (left wrist)

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Yanda named 2015 Ravens MVP by local media

Posted on 30 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Rarely is an offensive lineman ever discussed as an NFL team’s most valuable player, but the 2015 season has been anything but typical for the Ravens.

With 20 players currently on injured reserve and suffering their first losing season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens have leaned on the offensive leadership of five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who was voted team MVP by local media on Wednesday. In his ninth season, Yanda is the first offensive lineman to receive the annual award introduced in 2003.

“[It’s just] the attitude of offensive linemen, just the daily grind of the guy that doesn’t get the recognition, which that’s fine with me,” Yanda said. “I’ve always been the guy that I’m happy to be out there and playing in the NFL and being able to compete with the best in the world. I’m happy with being out there and to say that I can stand out there with those men.

“It’s neat to be recognized, but it’s one of those things where I’ve always been happy and relished the opportunity to play in the NFL.”

Signed to a four-year extension through 2019 earlier this season and named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl last week, Yanda has been graded by Pro Football Focus as the top guard in the NFL and has been viewed by many as the best at his position for a few years now. He is just one of six players in the 20-year history of the Ravens to be named to five Pro Bowls as members of the organization.

Durability has been considered one of Yanda’s biggest strengths as he’s missed only two games since missing much of the 2008 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The 2007 third-round pick out of Iowa has also played right tackle on more than one occasion in his career including last year’s postseason.

“I feel like football is a sport where it’s not if you get hurt, but when,” Yanda said. “You’re going to get hurt no matter what in this business. It’s part of having to play through injuries, because your team needs you and because they need production out of you. You owe it to the guy next to you. I owe it to Joe [Flacco] to be out there and do my job to keep him clean.”

The local media also voted cornerback Jimmy Smith as the winner of the Good Guy Award, an honor bestowed upon a Ravens player who has been particularly helpful in granting interviews and being accessible to reporters.

Below are past winners with the MVP listed first and the Good Guy Award winner second:

2003: Jamal Lewis, Gary Baxter
2004: Ed Reed, Anthony Weaver
2005: Adalius Thomas, Jamal Lewis
2006: Steve McNair, Bart Scott
2007: Willis McGahee, Derrick Mason
2008: Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs
2009: Ray Rice, Jarret Johnson
2010: Haloti Ngata, Chris Carr
2011: Ray Rice, Bernard Pollard
2012: Ray Rice, Arthur Jones
2013: Justin Tucker, Joe Flacco
2014: Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith

Flacco remains on track for training camp

Head coach John Harbaugh reiterated Wednesday that he expects Flacco to be ready for training camp as he continues to rehab his surgically-repaired left knee.

A CBS Sports report recently said that Flacco is already riding a stationary bike, and the 30-year-old has been seen walking around the Ravens’ training facility with minimal use of crutches after undergoing surgery earlier this month. The Super Bowl XLVII MVP had never missed a game in his NFL career prior to tearing his ACL in a win over St. Louis on Nov. 22.

“I guess you never say never, but everything I’ve been told is he’s going to be ready for training camp — 100 percent ready to go,” Harbaugh said. “The key with all these injuries is that they get the most out of every day, but there’s never a setback. If you don’t have a setback, then it should be fine.”

More than steak

After having a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown wiped away due to Courtney Upshaw’s offside penalty, Smith quipped after Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh that he expected a steak dinner to make up for it.

Now, the fifth-year cornerback expects more from his teammate.

“After I re-watched the play, I think I needed more,” said Smith as he smiled. “That type of play is the play that every corner always dreams of. That’s the first time that’s ever happened for me. Even in practice, that’s never happened. I don’t know what I want. Maybe some new rims for my car — I don’t know.”

Wednesday’s injury report

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Elvis Dumervil (non-injury), FB Kyle Juszczyk (illness), LB Albert McClellan (ankle)

CINCINNATI
OUT: QB Andy Dalton (right thumb)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Ryan Hewitt (knee/illness)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring), S George Iloka (groin), WR Marvin Jones (hamstring), QB AJ McCarron (left wrist)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Tyler Eifert (concussion)

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Koch, Yanda only Ravens players named to Pro Bowl

Posted on 22 December 2015 by Luke Jones

In his 10th year with the Ravens, punter Sam Koch is finally going to his first Pro Bowl.

Though the Ravens are in the midst of the most disappointing season in franchise history, Koch and right guard Marshal Yanda were named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday night. The two Pro Bowl selections are the fewest Baltimore has had since left tackle Jonathan Ogden was the lone representative in the 2005 season.

Having led the NFL in net punting average each of the last two seasons, Koch is finally receiving credit as one of the best punters in the NFL. The 2006 sixth-round pick is averaging 43.0 net yards per punt and has just three touchbacks all season.

“This has definitely been a long time in the making,” Koch said in a statement released by the Ravens. “A lot of hard work and practice have gone into this. … This is a very surreal and exciting moment for my family and me. I can’t wait to represent the Ravens in Hawaii.”

Having signed a five-year extension before the season, Koch has never missed a game in his 10-year career and has played in a team-record 158 consecutive games. The 6-foot-1, 219-pound punter is the fifth special-teams player under John Harbaugh to make a Pro Bowl, joining Brendon Ayanbadejo, Billy Cundiff, Jacoby Jones, and Justin Tucker.

With six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs spending the season on injured reserve, Koch is the longest-tenured Ravens player currently on the active roster. The next-longest-tenured player on the roster is Yanda, who was named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl.

Yanda is the sixth player in franchise history to make five Pro Bowls while playing for the Ravens, joining Ray Lewis, Ogden, Ed Reed, Suggs, and Haloti Ngata. With the Ravens celebrating their 20th season in Baltimore, Yanda was voted by fans as one of the 10 best players in franchise history earlier this year.

Pro Football Focus has graded Yanda as the top overall guard in the NFL this season as he’s graded third in run block and third in pass blocking. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman signed a four-year extension earlier this season and is quietly building a case as one of the best players in franchise history.

Yanda has missed only two offensive snaps all year and has missed only two games over the last seven seasons.

“Football is the ultimate team sport, and you don’t do anything in this league on your own,” said Yanda, Baltimore’s third-round selection in the 2007 draft. “I want to thank the coaches and my teammates for helping me along the way. We all grind together with the goal of achieving greatness.”

Linebacker C.J. Mosley and fullback Kyle Juszczyk were named third alternates at their positions, meaning they could be invited to play in the game should other players not be able to attend due to injury or because they’re competing in the Super Bowl.

Many teammates, fans, and media were clamoring for nose tackle Brandon Williams to make the Pro Bowl as he’s emerged as arguably the best run-stopping defensive tackle in the NFL, but players at positions with few statistics often have to wait their turn to finally receive Pro Bowl recognition. Though he became one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL from the time he was drafted by the Ravens in 2006, Ngata did not make his first Pro Bowl until his fourth NFL season and went on to make it five consecutive years.

The Pro Bowl will take place at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu on Jan. 31.

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Five questions pondering Schaub, Orioles bullpen, Flaherty

Posted on 12 June 2015 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of BaltimoreRavens.com)

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or could the Orioles be in good position to pull off a trade at this year’s deadline? Much will depend on the next few weeks with a starting rotation currently battling health issues with Miguel Gonzalez on the disabled list and inconsistency from Chris Tillman and Bud Norris, but the depth could be there to orchestrate a trade to make a push for a second straight division title. The ability to trade Alejandro De Aza freed the remainder of his $5 million salary from the books and Norris and Wei-Yin Chen will both be free agents at the end of the season, making it desirable to at least explore what they might be able to fetch for one of them. Of course, this is assuming the Orioles would feel comfortable with Kevin Gausman being back in the rotation as the 24-year-old is still being stretched out as a starter in the minors. It’s no secret that the corner outfield situation is less than ideal, but Dan Duquette has shown a willingness to make in-season deals to try to help his club over the last couple seasons and there appears to be the cash and assets available to do it again.

2. Is it just me or have the early reviews of new Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub not been encouraging? I’m the last person to put much stock into what we see at organized team activities in the spring, but it hasn’t been a strong start for the 33-year-old backup, who has been intercepted frequently and has made too many errant passes in workouts open to media. This wouldn’t be too much of a concern until you remember how poorly Schaub played in his final season in Houston and last year when he was beaten out by rookie Derek Carr in Oakland. Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of the signing after years of pumping little money into the backup spot, but I figured Schaub would at least provide a decent upgrade from Tyrod Taylor at the backup position. It’s still very early, but I’m not convinced he will give the Ravens any more of a chance to win than Taylor should Flacco go down with an injury this season.

3. Is it just me or is Ryan Flaherty putting together a fine season after years of criticism? The utility infielder has been a target for many fans who tire of the Orioles’ micromanaging of their roster in recent years, but he is hitting a very respectable .260 with an .801 on-base plus slugging percentage in 90 plate appearances this season. Buck Showalter has valued the 28-year-old’s ability to play above-average defense at several spots over the last few years, but it’s been nice to see his offense catch up to his work in the field. In fact, had Jonathan Schoop not gotten off to such a strong start at the plate before hurting his right knee in mid-April, you wonder how many might be clamoring for Flaherty to remain the starting second baseman even after the 23-year-old returns. Make no mistake, Schoop is the future at the position, but Flaherty has done a fine job solidifying his place as the Orioles’ utility man despite missing a month with a groin issue this year.

4. Is it just me or is this season critical for the Ravens’ 2013 draft class? There’s no sugarcoating how disappointing Matt Elam and Arthur Brown have been in their first two seasons, making this a “make or break” year for both. Elam will be competing with Will Hill for the starting strong safety job while Brown needs to have a strong camp to simply avoid being cut after playing less in his second year than he did as a rookie. Beyond those two, this year looms large for Kyle Juszczyk, who will need to prove he can produce in offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s system that didn’t prominently feature a fullback in Chicago. It also figures to be an important year for 2013 sixth-round defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore after he missed his first two seasons with injuries. The selections of defensive tackle Brandon Williams in the third round and right tackle Rick Wagner in the fifth were terrific, but you can’t give a draft two thumbs up when you whiff so badly in the first two rounds.

5. Is it just me or are the Orioles in ideal position with their bullpen? Baltimore figured to have a good back of the pen with closer Zach Britton and setup man Darren O’Day, but the Orioles have been able to distribute the workload in an encouraging manner so far. A big difference with this year’s pen compared to previous seasons is its improved ability to strike out opposing hitters as Orioles relievers rank fourth in the American League in strikeouts and are averaging 9.2 per nine innings. The bullpen averaged just 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014, 8.1 in 2013, and 7.5 in 2012. Strikeouts certainly aren’t everything, but there’s no disputing how helpful they can be when a reliever is summoned to escape a tough jam. On the open market, strikeouts are expensive — it’s the biggest reason ex-Oriole Andrew Miller received a four-year, $36 million contract — so it’s extremely beneficial when you can find inexpensive arms like Brad Brach (11.4 strikeouts per nine) and Chaz Roe (10.5 strikeouts per nine) who are able to miss so many bats. Though needed in the rotation at the moment, rookie Mike Wright figures to be another candidate who could settle into a bullpen role at some point this year.

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Juszczyk added to injury report as limited participant

Posted on 21 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was added to Friday’s injury report as the Ravens moved closer to their Week 12 meeting with the New Orleans Saints.

Juszczyk was a limited participant with what was described as a foot issue. It’s unclear whether the injury was sustained during Friday’s practice or it was a previous issue that flared up. He practiced fully on Wednesday and Thursday.

Wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) and offensive lineman Jah Reid (hand) missed practice once again as both are expected to miss Monday night’s game in New Orleans. Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed Friday that Campanaro hasn’t been cleared to return to practice this week despite hopes that he’d be ready to resume playing right after the bye.

Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda (knee) was upgraded to full participation on Friday.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata were both given the day off Friday after linebacker Daryl Smith and tight end Owen Daniels took Thursday’s practice off.

The Saints saw the return of starting cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee) and starting inside linebacker Curtis Lofton (ankle) to the practice field on Friday.

The final injury report of the week will be released on Saturday afternoon, but below is the official injury report for Friday:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (non-injury), T Jah Reid (hand), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: FB Kyle Juszczyk (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (knee)

NEW ORLEANS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Kyle Knox (hand), RB Khiry Robinson (forearm)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring), CB Keenan Lewis (knee), LB Curtis Lofton (ankle), WR Robert Meachem (ankle), RB Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), T Zach Strief (chest)

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 25 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Two teams seemingly going in opposite directions will meet in a key midseason AFC North matchup as the surging Ravens travel to Cincinnati to take on the struggling Bengals.

Baltimore is looking for its third straight victory and sixth in seven weeks while the Bengals haven’t won a game in over a month as their season-opening win against the Ravens and 3-0 start feel like distant memories. In going 0-2-1 since its Week 4 bye, Cincinnati has been outscored by 53 points in the last three games.

Health is a key storyline entering this contest as Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is unlikely to play due to a lingering turf toe injury and Ravens tight end Owen Daniels is out after undergoing a cleanup procedure in his left knee this week. However, the Ravens will benefit from the return of the starting left side of their offensive line as Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele are probable to play.

Who will win in Cincinnati on Sunday?

  • Ravens by seven or more (50%, 32 Votes)
  • Ravens by fewer than seven (38%, 24 Votes)
  • Bengals by fewer than seven (8%, 5 Votes)
  • Bengals by seven or more (5%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 64

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Sunday marks the 38th all-time meeting between these division rivals with the Ravens holding a 20-17 edge. However, the Bengals are 11-7 against Baltimore in Cincinnati and have won three of the last four in the series.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to improve to 6-2 for the fourth time under head coach John Harbaugh …

1. With the Ravens hurting at the tight end position, fullback Kyle Juszczyk sets career highs in receptions and receiving yards. Quarterback Joe Flacco targeted his tight ends 20 times in the Week 1 meeting with the Bengals, but Dennis Pitta and Daniels won’t be on the field Sunday and rookie Crockett Gillmore is more of a blocker. This will lead to a bigger role for Juszczyk, who will see targets out of the backfield as well as when he occasionally lines up at a tight end spot. Flacco is likely to look Steve Smith’s way even more with Daniels sidelined, but Juszczyk could be a wild card against the league’s seventh-ranked third-down defense. The second-year fullback’s best game as a receiver came against Cleveland in Week 3 when he caught three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.

2. The Bengals will make a better effort to get the ball to running back Giovani Bernard than they did last week and he will crack 75 receiving yards. Cincinnati failed to get the ball to the impact back in its shutout loss to Indianapolis as Bernard received only nine touches. That will change Sunday as offensive coordinator Hue Jackson must find creative ways to involve Bernard with his top two receivers — Green and No. 2 wideout Marvin Jones — both out. Top cornerback Jimmy Smith could be used to shadow leading receiver Mohamed Sanu, which would leave quarterback Andy Dalton with few downfield weapons. Cincinnati will use screens to try to neutralize a pass rush growing more confident by the week, and Bernard will give the Bengals some much-needed production.

3. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth will keep Terrell Suggs in check, but Elvis Dumervil will pick up a sack and several pressures working against right tackle Andre Smith. The Bengals have only allowed Dalton to be sacked five times this season, but the emergence of interior rush specialist Pernell McPhee creates a problem for the Cincinnati offensive line that must account for Suggs and Dumervil on the edges. Smith has been dealing with a shoulder issue and has allowed three sacks in his last two games while Dumervil has 3 1/2 sacks over the last two weeks. The Bengals must offer the interior line help with blocking McPhee, which will give Dumervil some 1-on-1 chances to run around Smith and get to Dalton in the pocket. Dalton will get rid of the ball quickly to counteract the rush, but the Ravens will get more pressure than they did in Week 1.

4. Safety Will Hill will receive more playing time than last week and will record his first interception on a tipped pass. The 24-year-old made his 2014 debut last week and immediately found himself in the mix by playing 22 defensive snaps. He was effective close to the line of scrimmage, but Hill has good range in coverage and could find himself in a starting role sooner rather than later. With Green likely out, the Bengals won’t have many vertical options, so Hill will again be used closer to the line of scrimmage and will continue taking away snaps from Darian Stewart and Matt Elam, especially if Cincinnati can’t get its running game going. He will record his first interception as a Raven on a tipped pass intended for Bernard and will make a strong claim for a starting role in the defense.

5. The Ravens will use an effective running game and good field position to grind out a 23-16 win over Cincinnati. These teams are trending in different directions, but the Bengals are better than what they’ve shown over the last three weeks and Baltimore will miss Daniels in the middle of the field. This will add up to a tighter game between AFC North rivals, but the Bengals just haven’t shown enough firepower without Green to consistently move the ball and put up enough points against a defense getting better every week. The Ravens will use a balanced attack through three quarters before leaning heavily on the running game in the fourth as the Bengals’ front seven wears down and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak controls the clock with a lead. The Ravens improve to 6-2 with their biggest road win of the season.

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