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Ravens-related thoughts from divisional round

Posted on 18 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Ravens fans undoubtedly took satisfaction from watching Pittsburgh lose to Denver in the divisional round on Sunday, but you couldn’t help but be in awe of the Steelers’ speed at the wide receiver position.

Playing without arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger still threw for over 300 yards against the Broncos’ top-ranked pass defense thanks to a 154-yard receiving day from Martavis Bryant as well as contributions from the speedy trio of Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Markus Wheaton. Having caught just one pass in the regular season, the rookie Coates caught two passes for 61 yards to show off the speed that Pittsburgh barely even used in 2015 after taking him in the third round out of Auburn.

That collection of speed nearly overcame a depleted running game that was without DeAngelo Williams as Bryant’s 40-yard run in the first quarter helped set up the Steelers’ lone touchdown of the game. Of course, speed isn’t everything — just ask Pittsburgh’s colossal 2014 third-round bust Dri Archer — but you could easily understand why Joe Flacco cited the AFC North rival’s offense when asked at the end of the season whether he believes the Ravens need to add more speed to the passing game.

“You see what speed does. It does a lot for football teams,” Flacco said. “You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there. I’m not saying that it’s something that we need, but when we’ve had it here, it’s definitely made a little bit of a difference. It helps.”

If the Ravens want to close the gap with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the AFC North, they must find more speed at the receiver position in addition to hoping that 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman is fully recovered from the partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that cost him his entire rookie season. Watching the Steelers on Sunday was just a reminder that Baltimore was playing a different game in 2015 with receivers incapable of consistently gaining separation or running away from anyone.

The combination of Kamar Aiken and a returning Steve Smith — Jeremy Butler also showed some promise late in the season — should leave the Ravens in good shape in terms of possession receivers, but general manager Ozzie Newsome needs to find another high-end speed guy to go with the unproven Perriman, whether that player comes via free agency or the draft.

When asked at the season-ending press conference, Newsome made it very clear that he would like to add another receiver or two this offseason. Fans will just hope one will make a substantial impact unlike the late-round picks over the last several drafts who’ve been nothing more than roster filler.

The Ravens have an abundance of No. 5 and No. 6 options, but they need to aim higher when looking for a wide receiver this offseason.

Up-and-down Sunday for ex-Ravens

While former Ravens such as Michael Oher, Ed Dickson, Dwan Edwards, Darian Stewart, and Owen Daniels helped their respective teams move closer to Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, ex-Raven Fitz Toussaint wore the goat horns for the Steelers.

The running back’s fumble with 10 minutes to play not only ended a potential scoring drive, but it was the catalyst for Denver’s only touchdown drive of the game in a 23-16 final. Even as Ravens fans took delight in watching Pittsburgh lose, you couldn’t help but feel for the 2014 rookie free agent from Michigan who was very emotional after the game.

Toussaint has received more postseason carries (31) than regular-season rushing attempts (24) in his first two NFL seasons and had 118 total yards in Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati, but Sunday is a day he’ll surely want to forget despite scoring his first NFL touchdown in the first quarter.

Coverage linebackers

It’s almost unfair to compare most linebackers to Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in Carolina, but the Ravens need to find a way to improve their pass coverage with that positional group.

Still one of the better coverage linebackers in the league when the Ravens signed him three years ago, Daryl Smith clearly floundered in that department to the point that second-year linebacker Zach Orr was replacing him in the nickel package late in the season. More concerning, however, were the continued struggles of C.J. Mosley in pass coverage in his second season.

After Mosley became the first rookie to make the Pro Bowl in franchise history, many concluded he would be the next great Ravens defensive player, but 2015 didn’t go as smoothly for him. To his credit, the Alabama product overcame a slow start to play better as the season progressed, but he must improve in pass coverage if he’s to take his game from good to great.

Nod to Manning

This item isn’t related to the Ravens, but I find myself becoming an unabashed supporter for Peyton Manning at this late stage of his career.

You don’t have to be an NFL scout to recognize he’s a shell of his former self physically, but he also wasn’t responsible for a number of dropped passes from Broncos receivers that would have made for a very respectable day against Pittsburgh if some had been secured.

We all break down in various ways as we get older — the man underwent multiple neck surgeries in 2011 and still threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes and won the MVP two years later at age 37 — but instead of laughing over Manning’s decline, I appreciate seeing one of the greatest players in NFL history trying to use his incomparable football intellect and years of experience to overcome a once-powerful arm that won’t cooperate anymore. After years at the top of the mountain, Manning has strangely become the underdog trying to hold on at the end of his career.

Even if you’re not rooting for him, that fight still deserves respect.

Manning and the Broncos look like the least likely of the four remaining teams to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara next month, but I’ll be happy for him if he’s somehow still standing in the end — even if everyone will obnoxiously remind you over and over that it was more about Denver’s stout defense than him.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 02 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Here we go again.

Regarded by many as the best rivalry in the NFL, the Ravens and Steelers meet for the third time this season and the fourth time ever in the postseason at Heinz Field on Saturday night. Baltimore and Pittsburgh split a pair of 20-point finals during the regular season with each team winning on its home field.

The weather figures to be a significant storyline as the forecast continues to call for a 90 to 100 percent chance of rain with temperatures in the mid-40s and winds that could reach 20 miles per hour.

Both teams will be dealing with significant injuries as the Steelers will be without Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell while the Ravens are missing left tackle Eugene Monroe for the second straight game, meaning rookie free agent James Hurst will start in his place. Pittsburgh will rely on rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer as well as newly-signed veteran Ben Tate to pick up the slack in Bell’s absence.

In more positive news, the Ravens will welcome back five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata from suspension, which will more than offset the loss of rookie Timmy Jernigan (foot) in Week 17.

Of course, both team will lean heavily on Super Bowl winning quarterbacks to lead the way as Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger both know what it takes to make a meaningful run in January. Roethlisberger owns a 10-4 postseason record while Flacco owns a 9-4 mark in the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the fourth time in postseason history with Pittsburgh holding a 3-0 mark with all previous playoff games being played at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh also leads the all-time regular-season series 21-17, but 13 of the 16 games — including the postseason — played between the Ravens and Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by one possession.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to beat Pittsburgh for the first time ever in the postseason …

1. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will each collect a sack, but a sloppy field will neutralize some of their ability to wreak havoc. Bell’s absence will put plenty of attention on the Pittsburgh passing game, which will have the Ravens’ rush licking its chops over the possibility of being able to tee off on Roethlisberger. However, the Steelers offensive line is much better than it’s been in several years and the wet surface at Heinz Field will slow the rush for both teams. Suggs and Dumervil often try to jump snap counts to utilize their speed off the edge, but hard counts and a chewed-up field will make things easier for tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert.

2. With the Ravens focused on slowing Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown, rookie Martavis Bryant will beat Rashaan Melvin for a long touchdown. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees knows Brown is the Steelers’ most dangerous weapon, which will make it even more important to focus on him in coverage with Bell unavailable. The Ravens will shade safety help to where Brown lines up as much as possible, but that could leave Melvin matched up against the 6-foot-4 Bryant. Melvin has played well since being thrown into the mix last month, but this will be his first NFL game against an elite quarterback and he’ll bite on a double move by Bryant for a score.

3. Justin Forsett will be the only running back from either team to find modest success on Saturday night with 70 yards and a touchdown. Considering few have run with any success against the Ravens this season, the Steelers won’t be able to do much without Bell, who will also be missed as a receiver and in pass protection. However, Baltimore has struggled to run consistently in recent weeks and will face the league’s sixth-ranked run defense. The Ravens will run wide and use counters to get the Steelers’ front seven moving laterally — something they also want to do with play-action plays to neutralize the pass rush — and Forsett will do enough to keep the Pittsburgh defense on its toes with the rain falling.

4. Both Flacco and Roethlisberger will throw more than 35 times despite a forecast conducive to running the ball. In the old days of this rivalry, Saturday’s forecast would have meant both sides grinding it out with the rushing attack, but the run defenses are too stout and the secondaries too vulnerable for the game not to be put in the hands of these franchise quarterbacks. The Ravens will mix in more runs than the Steelers, but Roethlisberger has better weapons to throw to in the passing game. As Harbaugh pointed out earlier in the week, both Flacco and Roethlisberger are used to playing in poor weather and the rain won’t prevent them from making some plays through the air.

5. The weather will contribute to another low-scoring tight one, but the Steelers will find a way to prevail in a 20-17 final. The loss of Bell is a major blow to Pittsburgh and could be enough to tip the scale in Baltimore’s favor, but the Ravens haven’t risen to the occasion against good teams, sporting only one win all season against a team that finished with a winning record. Many are pointing to 2012 as enough reason for the Ravens to be able to make a run, but even in the midst of losing four of their last five to close that regular season, there was the Week 16 demolition of the New York Giants that flashed what the offense would be able to do in the postseason. Despite a strong fourth quarter to beat Cleveland in Week 17, the Ravens have failed to inspire on offense for almost a month now, making it too difficult to believe the unit suddenly clicks in January with a banged-up offensive line. And after an admirable run against pedestrian passing games in December, a patchwork secondary isn’t going to hold up as well against the NFL’s second-ranked passing attack. Harbaugh’s group will give a one-dimensional Pittsburgh offense everything it can handle, but Roethlisberger has played the best football of his career this season and will do just enough at home to get by the Ravens yet again in the postseason.

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Thyrl, Ryan envision Ravens going O-Line in first round

Posted on 08 May 2014 by Ryan Chell

Thyrl Nelson’s 

1st rd (17)- Taylor Lewan, OT-Michigan

Analysis: The Ravens retained their left tackle in Eugene Monroe in the off-season, but the belief is that the Ravens would run to the podium to draft Michigan OT Taylor Lewan. The belief is that he could be off the board well before Baltimore drafts, but he is a guy that has been called a “beast” by members of his Wolverine coaching staff and would start immediately at right tackle with the hopes that one day he would be the dominant left tackle of the future for the Ravens.

2nd rd (48)-Jimmie Ward, FS-Northern Illinois

Analysis: A 3-time all-MAC selection and 2013 All-American, the clear-cut 2nd FS on the board behind Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama. In 2013, he led Northern Illinois in tackles (95), interceptions (7) and pass deflections (12).  Taking Ward or another free safety would allow 2013 1st rd-pick Matt Elam to return to his more natural strong safety position and would likely relegate free agent acquisition Darian Stewart to backup duty or create a nice training camp battle.

3rd rd (79)-Jarvis Landry, WR-LSU

Analysis: Landry, who has made it known that he’s a Ravens fan, would become the first ever LSU Tiger to be drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. Leaving after his junior year, he and Odell Beckham combined to be one of the better dynamic duos in a receiving corps. He finished 2013 with 77 receptions, 1,193 yards and 10 TDs. Has the ability to go up and get a ball, but is only listed at 5’11.

3rd rd (99)-Tre Mason, RB-Auburn

Analysis: Thyrl Nelson expects that the Ravens will take a RB that could be a fit in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme. Tre Mason, 5’8-207, has the build of a Ray Rice and ran in a similar offense at Auburn. A physical back with a hidden burst of speed as well.

4th rd (134)-Antonio Richardson, OT-Tennessee

Analysis: While the Ravens draft Taylor Lewan and immediately put him in the starting lineup, the Ravens like to take tackles on occasion to develop  and have a project to work on. It’s tough to not immediately start a 6’6, 336-lb tackle, but his game might be raw at the NFL level.

4th rd (138)-Zach Kerr, DT-Delaware

Analysis: The Ravens have gone down to the FCS level the last couple years to find players that might not be getting some attention from other NFL teams. Most of these players were capable of starting at the FBS level, but just weren’t getting the playing time or lost tight competitions. The Ravens are all too familiar with the University of Delaware having reached out there to draft both their quarterback, Joe Flacco and center, Gino Gradkowski. Zack Kerr, who transferred out of Maryland after Ralph Friedgen’s departure, would be expected to be a key piece in replacing Arthur Jones, who left in free agency to the Indianapolis Colts.

5th rd (175)-Tajh Boyd, QB-Clemson

Analysis: Boyd, a three-year starter for Clemson and ACC Player of the Year in 2012, has fallen down the draft boards. Or isn’t the hyped-up QB this year. He holds school records in touchdowns (107) and passing yards in 11,904, and would be a better backup option for Joe Flacco than Tyrod Taylor due to his skills as a passer. Taylor, a 6th-rd pick of the Ravens in 2011, is entering the final year of his deal and may have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff.

6th rd (194)-Chris Davis, CB/KR-Auburn

Analysis: Nelson has the Ravens taking not only a CB, but a KR here as well. If Asa Jackson and Jacoby Jones are expected to be bigger parts of the defense and offense respectively, the Ravens would like to have other options on special teams to return the ball. Would be interesting though for the Ravens to take two Auburn players with a GM in Ozzie Newsome hailing from their Iron Brown rivals in Alabama.

Ryan’s Picks

1st rd (17)-Zack Martin, OG-OT, Notre Dame

Analysis-Reportedly, the Ravens-especially offensive line coach Juan Castillo-love Zack Martin. They love him so much-they didn’t bring him in for a visit to Owings Mills because they didn’t want to telegraph their interest in Martin-a three-year starter on the Irish offensive line. There also may be a bigger possibility that Martin is available to the Ravens at 17 as opposed to Lewan. He could be a candidate to start immediately at right tackle for the Ravens, or play left guard and swing Kelechi Osemele out to RT.

2nd rd (48)-Jimmie Ward, FS-Northern Illinois

Analysis: I agree with Thyrl that the Ravens agree they can wait and address their free safety need later in the draft. If they do pass on Clinton-Dix with the first selection, they likely will see where the market lies and circle in on Jimmie Ward quickly-maybe being forced to move up and get him.

3rd rd (79)-Martavis Bryant, WR-Clemson

Analysis-Everyone talks about Clemson WR Sammy Watkins, but junior WR Martavis Bryant, who visited Owings Mills, brings size and sure hands to the NFL level. He stands at 6’4, 211 and would pair with Marlon Brown in becoming another potential red zone target for Joe Flacco.

3rd rd (99)-Keith McGill, CB-Utah

Analysis: Like death and taxes, the Ravens drafting a CB is a given. Utah CB Keith McGill would be called upon to fill the void left by Corey Graham in free agency. Standing at 6’3, 214 lb,  he’s a more physical corner back that would pair nicely and allow CB Lardarius Webb to move inside and play the slot receiver in nickel situations. Missed the 2012 season with a shoulder injury but returned to have 12 pass breakups in 2013.

4th rd (134)-CJ Fiedorowicz; TE-Iowa

Analysis: With the Ravens need to get bigger, Iowa TE CJ Fiedorowicz stands at 6’6, 265 lb and could be an intriguing weapon for Joe Flacco to throw the ball to down the field and in the end zone. Familar with the Ravens coaching style having played under former Ravens assistant Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, he would be a nice pairing with Dennis Pitta, free agent acquisition Owen Daniels, and H-back Kyle Juszczyk. Numbers were not as impressive in the Hawkeye offense due to the ball-control tempo ran at Iowa.

4th rd (138)-Ka’Deem Carey, RB-Arizona

Analysis: Much like with Thyrl’s projection with Tre Mason, Ka’Deem Carey has the same size as Ray Rice. Could either take over for Rice or be the next Ray Rice in this offense. Had back-to-back 1800-yard seasons for the Wildcats with 41 TDs.

5th rd (175)-Preston Brown, ILB-Louisville

Analysis: Provides the Ravens with some depth at the inside linebacker after the loss of Jameel McClain to free agency. Arthur Brown and Daryl Smith will likely start for the Ravens but need backups in the team’s 3-4 scheme.

6th rd (194)-Keith Wenning, QB-Ball State

Analysis: Wenning, a four-year starter at Ball State, holds the Cardinals passing records for touchdowns (92), and set a school record for touchdowns in a season with 35 in 2013. Came to Owings Mills on an official visit, and the only MAC QBs to finish with more passing yards in their careers were Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. Likely would spell the end of the Tyrod Taylor era in Baltimore.

 

If you missed our explanations of the projected picks, check the BuyaToyota.com Audio Vault!

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