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Continuity still rules at top of organization for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Luke Jones

As open positions go, the Indianapolis general manager job figured to present some appeal to Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta.

Baltimore’s bitter feelings aside, the Colts have built a nice tradition of winning over the last two decades with much of the credit going to the arrival of Peyton Manning in 1998. Indianapolis currently has a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career in Andrew Luck, something most teams with a GM opening can’t proclaim.

DeCosta obviously knows head coach Chuck Pagano, who served as a defensive assistant for the Ravens for four years.

Colts owner Jim Irsay hardly has a spotless reputation, but Bill Polian ran his football team for 14 years before the recently-fired Ryan Grigson was in charge over the last five seasons. He’s far from perfect, but there are worse — and less patient — owners for which to work.

Still, DeCosta didn’t surface among the candidates the Colts announced they’d interview despite a report earlier this week about their wish to talk to him about the job. He’s once again staying put.

Perhaps it’s a sign that the Ravens brass doesn’t perceive things to be as dire and broken as some critics do. Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in early January that “the pitchforks are out” for head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, but the Ravens owner also spent plenty of time expressing confidence in his guys and never gave the impression that 2017 was a nonnegotiable “playoffs-or-bust” scenario.

“You have a bad team when people are pointing fingers, and you see that with dysfunctional GMs and coaches that can’t get along and things like that, and we just don’t have that,” Bisciotti said. “I have a coach that is carrying a burden, I have a GM that is carrying a burden, and I have a quarterback that’s carrying a burden. They’re all stepping up and taking a greater percentage of the blame than they probably deserve. To me, that’s the definition of quality leadership.”

Bisciotti is a man of conviction and won’t fire people simply because the outside world is calling for it. It’s become obvious that DeCosta has a similar will after passing on plenty of chances to run other football teams over the last several years.

If DeCosta sensed the boss was on the verge of blowing things up next offseason, you’d think he would have at least wanted to explore the possibility with the Colts.

We’ll see if valuing continuity pays off for both Bisciotti and DeCosta over the next few years.

“I want my fans to know that I think John can coach better. I think Ozzie and Eric can draft better. I think Joe [Flacco] can play better,” Biscotti said earlier this month. “If all of them do it — and I think they’re capable and determined to be better — then I think next year we’re sitting here with a playoff-caliber team, and I really believe that. If you get improvement from quality people, I believe that they can collectively bring this team back to prominence.”

Birds of a feather

I wouldn’t expect many fans to be pulling for New England in Super Bowl LI anyway, but there are several former Ravens with the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

The list is headlined by 2012 second-round pick Courtney Upshaw, who has converted from outside linebacker to the defensive line for the Falcons. Guard Chris Chester was a reliable member of the Ravens’ offensive line for the first five years of his career and started 16 games for Atlanta in his 11th season.

Of course, Matt Schaub served as the Baltimore backup in 2015 and became the first Ravens quarterback not named Flacco to start a game since Troy Smith at the end of the 2007 season. Cornerback Deji Olatoye and wide receiver Aldrick Robinson also had brief stints with the Ravens.

Falcons tight ends coach Wade Harman spent 15 years with the Ravens and was part of the coaching staffs that won Super Bowls in 2000 and 2012.

If that’s not enough, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn is a Salisbury graduate, adding another local flavor to the mix.

Give Tucker a chance

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Ravens kicker Justin Tucker hit a 75-yard field goal during Wednesday’s Pro Bowl practice.

There was no defensive line for Tucker to kick over and the ball was on a tee, but I’d still like to see AFC head coach Andy Reid give him a chance to try one from 65 yards or longer at some point during Sunday’s Pro Bowl. It’s a meaningless game, so why not?

No love for Juszczyk

It’s bad enough that Kyle Juszczyk’s last name was misspelled on his Pro Bowl practice shirt on Wednesday, but then the fullback was left out of the dodgeball tournament, something in which he wanted to take part.

I guess fullbacks still aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

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Ravens long snapper Cox invited to Pro Bowl for second straight year

Posted on 18 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Despite missing the playoffs, the Ravens will have an even stronger presence at the Pro Bowl after long snapper Morgan Cox was added as a “need” player on Wednesday.

For the second straight season, Cox was invited to take part by Kansas City head coach Andy Reid as he continues to be viewed as one of the best long snappers in the NFL. The seven-year veteran will join kicker Justin Tucker, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and linebacker C.J. Mosley as participants while veteran guard Marshal Yanda, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, will not take part because of a shoulder injury.

“Playing in the Pro Bowl for a second time is a huge honor for me,” Cox said in a statement released by the team. “All the hard work that we put into this game is validated when you receive such an honor. I’m proud to represent a great organization like the Ravens, who are among the NFL’s best.”

Cox has snapped for two other Pro Bowl selections — Billy Cundiff in 2010 and Sam Koch last season — and will have the opportunity to play with his kicker in the Pro Bowl later this month. Tucker was named to his second Pro Bowl in late December and credited Cox’s work for making that possible.

This past season, the 2010 undrafted free agent out of Tennessee played in every game, snapping on all 80 punts, 39 field goal attempts (38 successful), and 27 extra points (all converted).

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How did Ravens offense stack up at each position in 2016?

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

We know the sum of their parts didn’t add up to a trip to the postseason for the Ravens, but where exactly did their offensive players stack up at each position across the NFL in 2016?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few realistically have the time — or want to make the effort — to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop an informed opinion.

How many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Tennessee Titans this season?

What about the Los Angeles Rams linebackers or the San Diego Chargers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither the NFL1000 nor PFF should be viewed as the gospel truth of evaluation and they have their limitations, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens offensive players rank at their respective positions, according to those outlets:

QB Joe Flacco
NFL1000 ranking: 27th
PFF ranking: 26th
Skinny: These kinds of sites have rarely been kind to the veteran over the years (Football Outsiders also ranked him 29th), but Flacco must be better in 2017 if the Ravens are to return to the playoffs.

RB Terrance West
NFL1000 ranking: 38th
PFF ranking: 12th
Skinny: West may not be a game-changing back, but he did enough to establish himself as a regular contributor in an NFL backfield after his career was at a crossroads just a year ago.

RB Kenneth Dixon
NFL1000 ranking: 39th
PFF ranking: 23rd
Skinny: The 2016 fourth-round pick was trending upward late in the season and displays impressive toughness for a 212-pound back, making him the early favorite to be the starter in 2017.

FB Kyle Juszczyk
NFL1000 ranking: first
PFF ranking: first
Skinny: You can debate how much value a fullback brings to an offense in today’s NFL, but there was apparently no arguing over who was the best all-around talent at the position in 2016.

WR Steve Smith
NFL1000 ranking: 20th
PFF ranking: 37th
Skinny: The 37-year-old didn’t catch as many passes or finish with as many receiving yards as Mike Wallace, but replacing the retired Smith is clearly one of the top challenges of the offseason.

WR Mike Wallace
NFL1000 ranking: 24th
PFF ranking: 42nd
Skinny: The speedy Wallace profiles best as a No. 2 wideout, but the Ravens couldn’t have asked for much more from the 30-year-old as he posted his first 1,000-yard campaign since 2011.

WR Breshad Perriman
NFL1000 ranking: 78th
PFF ranking: 88th
Skinny: The 2015 first-round pick flashed at times, but these sites agree with the consensus opinion that the Ravens can’t count on the inconsistent Perriman to step into a starting role in 2017.

WR Kamar Aiken
NFL1000 ranking: 102nd
PFF ranking: 95th
Skinny: Targeted 77 fewer times than he was in 2015, Aiken didn’t receive enough opportunities, but he didn’t always take advantage of those chances, either, and is a likely departure via free agency.

TE Dennis Pitta
NFL1000 ranking: 16th
PFF ranking: 50th
Skinny: The fact that Pitta caught more passes than any tight end and was ranked so low by both outlets reflects a yards per catch (8.5) average that was 55th of 56 players with 60 or more receptions.

TE Crockett Gillmore
NFL1000 ranking: 45th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2014 third-round pick showed exciting potential in 2015, but he’s played in just seven of Baltimore’s last 20 regular-season games because of various injuries.

TE Darren Waller
NFL1000 ranking: 75th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Ravens have quite an inventory of tight ends — all with baggage — but Waller has the most upside if the former receiver puts in the work and continues learning the finer points of the position.

TE Nick Boyle
NFL1000 ranking: 85th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Delaware product looks like a reliable blocker as a No. 2 or No. 3 tight end, but two performance-enhancing drug suspensions in two years make him difficult to trust in the long run.

LT Ronnie Stanley
NFL1000 ranking: 19th among left tackles
PFF ranking: 25th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: A four-game absence due to a foot injury disrupted an encouraging rookie season, but Stanley allowed only one sack over his final eight games and made PFF’s top 25 players under age 25 list.

RT Rick Wagner
NFL1000 ranking: 21st among right tackles
PFF ranking: 19th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: Wagner isn’t a Pro Bowl talent, but the Ravens would be wise to retain his rock-solid services if the free-agent bidding doesn’t get out of hand this offseason.

G Marshal Yanda
NFL1000 ranking: first among all guards
PFF ranking: first among all guards
Skinny: It’s amazing that Yanda continued to play at an elite level after a left shoulder injury eventually forced him to move from right guard to the left side, but he’s just a special player.

G Alex Lewis
NFL1000 ranking: 35th among all guards
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Switching between tackle and guard so frequently in the first half of the season hurt the rookie’s development, but Lewis was settling in nicely at left guard before his Week 10 ankle injury.

G Vladimir Ducasse
NFL1000 ranking: 47th among all guards
PFF ranking: 59th
Skinny: Re-signed to the roster in October, the 29-year-old played the way you’d realistically expect him to and shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than veteran depth if he were to be re-signed.

C Jeremy Zuttah
NFL1000 ranking: 26th
PFF ranking: 13th
Skinny: Though PFF graded Zuttah as a slightly above-average center in 2016, the Ravens believe upgrading this position is a major key to improving their below-average offense next season.

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Examining the Ravens’ 2017 class of free agents

Posted on 06 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens face another critical offseason on the heels of missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years.

As has been the case on an annual basis, salary cap space will be an issue as the Ravens hold an estimated 2017 commitment of over $152 million to 52 players (not including free agents), according to Spotrac.com. The 2017 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $155.27 million in 2016 to at least the $163 million-to-$165 million range, which still leaves general manager Ozzie Newsome with some tough maneuvering to clear more space and add to a roster with obvious deficiencies.

Of course, the Ravens are likely to clear cap space by renegotiating or terminating several veteran contracts. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safeties Lardarius Webb and Kendrick Lewis, cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington, and tight ends Benjamin Watson and Dennis Pitta stand out as potential cap casualties.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any other team beginning on March 9 at 4 p.m.

WR Kamar Aiken – Steve Smith’s retirement would make Aiken a better fit to re-sign, but he was very unhappy with his role in 2016 and is more likely to move on at this point. 

G Vlad Ducasse – The veteran was re-signed to the 53-man roster in October and started the final eight games at right guard, but the Ravens will likely look younger and cheaper for depth.

S Matt Elam – It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens re-sign Elam to a cheap short-term deal, but that doesn’t prevent him from going down as the worst defensive first-round pick in team history.

DE Lawrence Guy – A reliable 5-technique defensive end, Guy wouldn’t figure to be in high demand, but the Ravens also have some younger options in Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi.

FB Kyle Juszczyk – Widely regarded as the best fullback in the NFL, the 2016 Pro Bowl selection will have other interest, but the Ravens will likely value him more than most teams.

DB Anthony Levine – One of the Ravens’ best special-teams players over the last four years, Levine is likely to be welcomed back on a cheap deal with a minimal guarantee.

CB Chris Lewis-Harris – The former Cincinnati Bengal saw little action on defense and will not be a priority, leaving him to likely explore his options elsewhere.

QB Ryan Mallett – The 28-year-old has been able to repair his reputation in Baltimore, but you would expect Mallett to explore other situations where he has a chance to compete for a starting job.

CB Jerraud Powers – The veteran corner had his moments early, but he struggled down the stretch and Tavon Young is a better fit to slide inside to defend the slot in the nickel package.

OT Rick Wagner – The 2013 fifth-round pick has been a rock-solid right tackle, but can the Ravens pay him $6 million to $7 million per season with so many other needs?

DT Brandon Williams – He’s their top free agent, but the Ravens’ collection of interior defensive linemen makes it tough to justify paying him lucrative money if the bidding gets out of hand.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has seven days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender was offered to that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2017 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($3.635 million in 2016) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.553 million in 2016) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.671 million in 2016) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would simply hold the right to match the competing figure and would not receive any compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens often elect to forgo the tender and try to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

S Marqueston Huff (fourth) – Given the Ravens’ lack of depth at safety, Huff could be re-signed to a cheaper one- or two-year deal to compete for a job in training camp.

OL James Hurst (undrafted) – The North Carolina product has fared poorly with many chances, but he’s a favorite of offensive line coach Juan Castillo and could be re-signed on a minimum deal.

OL Ryan Jensen (sixth) – After starting three games in the first half of the season, Jensen appeared to fall out of favor and was inactive for the final nine weeks, leaving his future in question.

LB Zach Orr (undrafted) – One of the great stories of the 2016 season, the starting inside linebacker led the Ravens in tackles and would be a good bet to receive the second-round tender.

CB Jumal Rolle (undrafted) – Rolle tore his Achilles tendon in spring workouts, but Baltimore could sign him to a cheaper deal to take a look at him in organized team activities and training camp.

RB Terrance West (third) – The Towson product got his NFL career back on track with 774 rushing yards in 2016 and would be a good bet to receive the low tender as a former third-round pick.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. Typically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are non-guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

LB Brennen Beyer – The Ravens rewarded the Michigan product with a late-season promotion to the 53-man roster, and he’ll compete for a roster spot next summer.

WR Michael Campanaro – The River Hill grad has clear ability, but health concerns make it impossible to envision a meaningful role for him until he proves he can stay on the field.

LB Lamar Louis – Signed to the roster in mid-December, Louis was inactive for three straight games and will compete for a roster spot in the spring and summer.

WR Chris Matthews – The Ravens love his 6-foot-5 frame, but Matthews spent the season on IR and will need to have a big offseason to try to secure a roster spot.

LB Patrick Onwuasor – He led the Ravens in special-teams tackles despite not being promoted to the active roster until October and is an interesting young player to watch next year.

CB Sheldon Price – The 6-foot-2 corner drew the start in Week 5 before injuring his biceps and being placed on IR and is a young talent to watch this spring and summer.

WR Keenan Reynolds – Baltimore promoted the former Navy star to the 53-man roster in Week 17 to avoid other teams coming after his services, but this offseason will be big for his development.

OT De’Ondre Wesley – The 6-foot-6, 326-pound lineman spent the 2016 campaign on IR and is a developmental tackle to keep an eye on next summer.

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Yanda, Tucker, two other Ravens named to Pro Bowl

Posted on 20 December 2016 by Luke Jones

Ravens guard Marshal Yanda continues to cement his legacy as one of the top players in franchise history after being named to his sixth straight Pro Bowl on Tuesday.

Kicker Justin Tucker and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley join him as second-time selections and fullback Kyle Juszczyk was named to the first Pro Bowl of his career. This marks the 11th straight year that the Ravens have had at least four players invited to the Pro Bowl.

Four other Baltimore players were named as second alternates for the 2017 Pro Bowl being played in Orlando on Jan. 29.

Despite dealing with a left shoulder injury that forced him to move from his usual right guard spot to left guard, Yanda has continued to play at a high level with Pro Football Focus grading him as the top guard in the NFL. The 32-year-old is now the fifth player to be named to six Pro Bowls with the Ravens, joining Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs.

The shoulder injury sustained on Oct. 9 sidelined him for three of the next four games, but the 2007 third-round pick avoided season-ending surgery by switching to the other side to better protect his damaged shoulder beginning in Week 11. His streak of six consecutive Pro Bowl selections is the second longest among NFL offensive linemen behind only Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas’ 10 straight.

“I want to thank my teammates and coaches for all the hard work we put in together,” Yanda said in a statement released by the Ravens. “Football is the ultimate team sport, and simply put, you don’t do anything in this league on your own.”

Tucker is in the midst of the best season of his career with his only missed field goal coming on a block in the Week 14 loss to New England. He is now 33-for-34 on the season and has made all 10 of his tries from 50 yards and beyond, which ties an NFL record.

Signed to a four-year, $16.8 million contract that included a record $10.8 million guaranteed for a kicker this summer, Tucker is the most accurate kicker in league history among those with at least 100 career attempts. The former undrafted free agent earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2013.

Juszczyk, a 2013 fourth-round pick, has played more snaps than any fullback in the NFL and has caught 33 passes for 255 yards this season. The Ravens have used him extensively as a pass blocker in single-back sets to better protect quarterback Joe Flacco in the pocket.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by my peers, coaches and fans as the AFC representative at fullback,” Juszczyk stated. “So much credit goes to the talented backs running behind me, the dominant offensive line in front of me, and a skillful quarterback throwing me the ball.”

Mosley’s selection was arguably the biggest surprise of the four as he ranks just third on the team in tackles (72) entering Week 16. However, the 2014 first-round pick ranks second on the Ravens with three interceptions and has graded out as the seventh-best linebacker — not including edge defenders — in the NFL, according to PFF.

Two years ago, Mosley became the first Ravens player to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Safety Eric Weddle, nose tackle Brandon Williams, tight end Dennis Pitta, and Suggs were all named second alternates to the AFC squad.

All four had arguments for inclusion, but Weddle was regarded by many as a lock as he is PFF’s top-graded overall safety this season. The AFC starting safeties are New England’s Devin McCourty and Eric Berry of Kansas City with Oakland’s Reggie Nelson serving as a reserve.

Former Ravens left guard Kelechi Osemele was named to his first Pro Bowl. He was one of a league-best seven Oakland Raiders to be selected.

The 2017 Pro Bowl will return to the traditional AFC-NFC matchup after three years of using a non-conference format.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 15 win over Philadelphia

Posted on 20 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens surviving in a 27-26 win over Philadelphia on Sunday to remain one game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t believe hangovers and letdowns in sports are as common as we think, but the Ravens had a difficult time moving past their performance against New England. Perhaps that partially explains why the offense showed such late recklessness and the defense reacted slowly to being punched in the mouth.

2. After losing touches to Kenneth Dixon in recent weeks, Terrance West made a statement with 122 yards from scrimmage, his highest total since Week 6. The Baltimore native’s career was a mess a year ago, but he’s done a fine job reestablishing himself as a legitimate NFL running back.

3. Praised by some recently as being better than the 2000 Ravens, the run defense gave up a season-worst 169 rushing yards to the Eagles and has allowed 3.9 yards per carry over the last five games. Philadelphia did a great job getting to the second level running the zone stretch.

4. Despite this hardly being his best campaign, Joe Flacco is 212 yards away from his first 4,000-yard season. The problem is he’s also on pace to shatter his career high for passing attempts (614 in 2013) and is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, the second-lowest mark of his career.

5. Justin Tucker improved to a remarkable 10-for-10 on field goals from 50 yards and beyond for the season. That’s more than he’d made in his last two years combined. No one can accuse him of resting on his laurels after a big payday.

6. Barring an unforeseen spike in offensive production leading to a deep playoff run, I don’t see how the Ravens can stick with Marty Mornhinweg as their offensive coordinator in 2017. The spark for which they were looking when John Harbaugh fired Marc Trestman never materialized.

7. The Ravens rushed for a season-high 151 yards against the Eagles, but they’ve gained more than 3.8 yards per carry in an away game just once this year. As Terrell Suggs likes to say, you need to pack your defense and your running game to win on the road.

8. Speaking of Suggs, I couldn’t help but wonder which Ravens veterans we were possibly seeing for the final time at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. Because of age or contract status, Suggs, Steve Smith, Elvis Dumervil, Dennis Pitta, and Lardarius Webb are among the fair question marks.

9. His four-game absence in October put a damper on his rookie season, but Ronnie Stanley is playing more and more like the sixth overall pick that the Ravens envisioned this spring. It probably hasn’t hurt having five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda playing next to him, either.

10. Shareece Wright showed in the second half of last season that he’s capable of playing at an acceptable level as a starting cornerback. The Ravens can only hope his solid — albeit mostly untested — performance against the Eagles puts him in the right frame of mind for Pittsburgh.

11. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have gone at least 6-2 at home in all but one season. The problem is a 10-20 regular-season road record since Super Bowl XLVII. They’ll need to win their first road games in three months over these next two weeks.

12. I’m late with this prediction, but my Ravens picks for this year’s Pro Bowl would be Tucker, Yanda, safety Eric Weddle, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

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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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