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Daniels returns to practice; Pierce, Elam absent on Monday

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Daniels returns to practice; Pierce, Elam absent on Monday

Posted on 25 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After trimming their roster to 75 players earlier Monday, the Ravens returned to the practice field with veteran tight end Owen Daniels back in action for the first time in two weeks.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, the 31-year-old had been dealing with leg fatigue and swelling despite no specific injury. The former Houston Texan caught one pass for six yards against San Francisco in the preseason opener but hadn’t practiced since Aug. 11.

The extended absence for Daniels had led some to wonder about his future and desire to continue playing after he was limited to five games because of a broken leg last season. However, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak had been adamant several times that he was not injured, and Daniels had been seen around the building regularly.

“I don’t anticipate [his health] affecting his status,” Harbaugh said. “I just go by what [the medical staff] tells me. There’s no tear; there’s no pull. There is swelling in the legs. That’s probably the result of stress. Obviously, he’s not right, or we would’ve played him. But we also felt like he has had so many reps in this offense — just take a week or a week and a half and just let him getting fully recovered and let him get fully rested.

“We’ll bring him back now today, tomorrow, a little bit on Wednesday, and then I really do anticipate him practicing fully on Friday. We’ll just have to see, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t practice on Friday fully.”

Despite the good news about their No. 2 tight end, the Ravens had three new absences on Monday as running back Bernard Pierce, safety Matt Elam, and wide receiver Kamar Aiken were not present during the portion of practice open to media. Pierce left Saturday’s game with a concussion, but the third-year back posted on his official Twitter account that he was “fine” on Sunday afternoon.

Harbaugh confirmed Elam has “a little leg issue” but expected him back on the practice field by Friday, but the head coach said he wasn’t sure why Aiken wasn’t practicing.

Others missing from Monday’s practice included cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle), offensive lineman Jah Reid (head), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip). It remains unclear if Cody will begin the season on the reserve physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from offseason surgery.

“We have a couple options on that. He’s progressing well,” Harbaugh said. “He’s done a really good job. Whether he’s ready to play yet or not, we’ll have to decide and determine. But I don’t want to say at this time what we plan on doing, and we really don’t know yet.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (chest) was not suited up to practice on Monday afternoon, but he was running and catching passes on the field, encouraging signs that he’s moving closer to a return. The fourth-year defensive back suffered bruising and bleeding from the lungs after falling on his back early in the second preseason game against Dallas on Aug. 16, but Harbaugh said last week that Smith probably could have played against Washington had it been a regular-season game.

Players were practicing in helmets, shells, and shorts on Monday.

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Week 2 observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

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Week 2 observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 05 August 2014 by Luke Jones

With two weeks of training camp in the books and the Ravens making final preparations to take on the San Francisco 49ers in their preseason opener Thursday night, there’s a new batch of takeaways from the practice field in Owings Mills.

1. We’ve witnessed a quieter Joe Flacco this summer.

This development won’t please fans and critics clamoring for a more vocal quarterback entering his seventh season as Flacco has refrained from trash talking with Terrell Suggs like we saw last summer and hasn’t been very vocal with the rest of his offensive teammates during practices open to media. Those around him have downplayed his quieter demeanor, insisting he’s focusing on fine-tuning his grasp of Gary Kubiak’s system. The new offensive coaching staff has emphasized Flacco having better footwork and getting rid of the ball quickly, two requirements in Kubiak’s West Coast offense. Flacco has been steady but unspectacular in practices to this point, but it’s all about the games that count for the signal-caller at this stage of his career.

2. Matt Elam has yet to stand out in his transition to the strong safety position.

Much attention has been paid to the free safety spot as well as the lack of cornerback depth in the Baltimore secondary, but the 2013 first-round pick hasn’t stood out after moving to the more natural position he played at the University of Florida. In fairness to Elam, there aren’t many full-contact periods in practices for him to genuinely show off his physicality, but he’s made few plays in coverage and hasn’t looked the part of a rising impact defensive player. During Monday’s practice, Elam was spelled by special-teams standout Jeromy Miles on a few occasions, but it remained unclear whether the second-year safety was dealing with a physical concern or the coaching staff was trying to create a little more urgency in Elam by throwing Miles into the mix.

3. Torrey Smith is emerging as a leader in the final year of his rookie contract.

So much focus has been placed on the leadership of Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice, and Haloti Ngata since Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed departed, but Smith’s quiet leadership has emerged over the last couple years. He was responsible for gathering teammates to support Rice during his recent press conference and simply carries himself with a maturity that suggests a leader by example. Assuming a contract extension isn’t reached before the start of the season, it will be interesting to see how Steve Smith and a healthy Dennis Pitta impact Smith’s production after his first 1,000-yard season. The University of Maryland product has had a strong camp, making spectacular catches and showing more consistency than in the past. General manager Ozzie Newsome shouldn’t pay Smith like an elite receiver, but his value shouldn’t be underestimated, either.

4. Owen Daniels has struggled to get separation in his first training camp with the Ravens.

The signing of Daniels to a one-year deal was an obvious move given his familiarity with Kubiak’s offensive system, but the 31-year-old hasn’t stood out in practices, struggling to gain separation against linebackers in coverage. Both Daniels and fellow tight end Dennis Pitta thrive in finding open windows in zone coverage, but the former will need to show a little more against man coverage to have the kind of impact the Ravens are looking for. The former Houston Texan was limited to five games due to a broken leg last season, but the Ravens won’t need him to play 75 snaps a game with Pitta ahead of him on the depth chart. You hope his slow start is more about pacing himself than a sign of declining skills like the Ravens saw with Dallas Clark last year.

5. After a very quiet rookie year, Kyle Juszczyk is a sleeper to watch in Gary Kubiak’s system.

A year ago at this time, the Ravens had re-signed Vonta Leach because of Juszczyk’s inability to hold up as a blocker, but his second training camp has been far more encouraging. Listed at 248 pounds, the Harvard product looks stronger and has held up better when engaged as a blocker, but Juszczyk has also shown some explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield as he displayed in catching a touchdown matched up against Miles in Annapolis Monday night. Kubiak has compared Juszczyk’s skill set to former Texas fullback James Casey, who caught 34 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. It would be a stretch to expect that much production from the 2013 fourth-round pick, but he’s made some nice plays when given chances in practice.

6. Keith Wenning is beginning to look more comfortable in his first training camp.

For the most part, the Ball State quarterback has looked like any other underwhelming third-string quarterback the Ravens have invited to camp in recent summers, but he put on a show in Annapolis, throwing several beautiful deep balls for touchdowns in team drills. It would be a major stretch to expect Wenning to challenge incumbent backup Tyrod Taylor based on what we’ve seen in the first two weeks of camp, but Wenning’s preseason performance could make for a difficult decision when it comes to finalizing the roster. The Ravens haven’t carried three quarterbacks on the 53-man squad since 2009, but it might be difficult to get Wenning through waivers and to the practice squad if he has more nights like he did Monday in preseason games.

7. Barring injury, the first unofficial depth chart is unlikely to change by the start of the season.

There were few surprises on the first offensive depth chart of the summer as Rick Wagner being listed at right tackle was the only note of interest but wasn’t the least bit surprising. On the defensive side, second-year lineman Brandon Williams is listed as the starting nose tackle with Ngata sliding to the 3-technique defensive tackle spot, which should allow him to take on fewer double teams and provide more opportunities to make plays. Unsurprisingly, rookie first-round pick C.J. Mosley was listed as the starting weakside inside linebacker next to Daryl Smith while Arthur Brown is his backup. Darian Stewart being listed as the starting free safety isn’t surprising based on the struggles of third-round pick Terrence Brooks, and there’s little to suggest that’s changing anytime soon.

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Flacco offseason noise meaningless in big picture

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Flacco offseason noise meaningless in big picture

Posted on 02 June 2014 by Luke Jones

In case you haven’t heard by now, quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t organize offseason workouts with teammates and has apparently doomed the Ravens’ 2014 season almost two months before training camp begins.

At least that’s what some might have you believe as critics have used this revelation to question the seventh-year quarterback’s commitment to the organization after the worst season of his career in 2013. Or, maybe it’s just the latest example of the overkill of NFL coverage when there simply aren’t enough topics of substance to discuss in the offseason.

I’ll take some level of responsibility for the overreaction to Flacco not organizing informal workouts with teammates after I initially asked Dennis Pitta in early March if he’d talked to his best friend on the team about the tight end’s new contract and whether they planned to get together with other teammates to throw in the offseason. It was a question stemming from sheer curiosity and an effort to spice up what was otherwise a relatively mundane press conference following the announcement of Pitta’s five-year, $32 million contract five days earlier.

The reaction snowballed from there as many used Pitta’s initial response as a springboard to criticize Flacco for not eating, breathing, and sleeping football for all hours of the day and all days of the year.

Truthfully, the outcome of Flacco and his teammates refraining from getting together does nothing to significantly move the meter on where the Ravens’ fate will fall during the 2014 season. Yes, an argument could be made that it could provide a stronger rapport away from the Owings Mills facility, but the lack of any working knowledge of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system as well as an inability to contact coaches would have resulted in little tangible productivity.

Flacco must play better than he did in 2013 as the quarterback acknowledged again last week that he did a poor job of protecting the football in throwing a career-high 22 interceptions for the league’s 29th-ranked offense. Should that improvement come, it will be about putting in extensive preparation with Kubiak and taking advantage of better offensive personnel.

If he plays well in 2014, no one will remember that Flacco didn’t toss around the football with teammates at an undisclosed location in late March or early April. And if the quarterback plays poorly, heavy criticism will be there no matter what he did or didn’t do in the offseason.

In the same way that some critics squawk about veterans skipping voluntary organized team activities in the spring, these stories are only discussed when we’re more than three months away from real games being played and have little bearing on wins and losses by season’s end.

Reed back in Baltimore

Sunday was just another reminder of how good it is to see former Ravens safety Ed Reed maintain a strong relationship with Baltimore as he participated in cornerback Lardarius Webb’s charity softball game at M&T Bank Stadium.

There easily could have been hurt feelings when the Ravens allowed Reed to depart via free agency last year without even putting up a fight to keep him, but the sides remained amicable as the veteran safety returned for the visit to the White House as well as the Super Bowl ring ceremony last summer. It’s only a matter of time before the Ravens honor Reed with a one-day contract — if that’s what he wants, of course — to allow him to retire with the organization that drafted him in 2002, and we’ll see him in the organization’s Ring of Honor as soon as his playing days are over.

Many have called for the future Hall of Fame safety to retire, but there’s no reason why the 35-year-old shouldn’t try to continue playing if there’s a team who wants him and he’s healthy enough — a big question — with the nerve impingement in his neck and past hip issues. His play on the field is a far cry from what it once was as one of the greatest safeties in NFL history, but his leadership and football intelligence could still be assets for a team envisioning the right role for him at this late stage in his career.

As for Reed having a position in the Ravens organization after his playing days are over, it might be too soon to immediately hire him as an assistant coach, but the reputation he gained for mentoring young players late in his career as well as his vast knowledge for the game are talents the organization would be wise to use in some capacity.

Offensive line depth chart crowded

The development of the offensive line will continue to be a major storyline in the preseason as the Ravens decide who will be lining up at right tackle, but a simple look at the depth chart suggests some household names could be on the chopping block at the end of the summer.

The Ravens currently have 11 offensive linemen who either have extensive NFL experience or were drafted by the organization in recent years, a list that includes Eugene Monroe, Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Gino Gradkowski, Jah Reid, A.Q. Shipley, Rick Wagner, Ryan Jensen, and Will Rackley. That group does not include rookie free agent tackle James Hurst, who is held in high regard and was considered a sure draft pick by many experts before he fractured his leg in North Carolina’s bowl game in late December.

Of course, depth doesn’t mean quality depth as the Ravens will determine whether Wagner or Jensen can cut it at right tackle or elect to move Osemele from left guard to tackle and explore the possibility of a veteran like Rackley at the left guard spot. General manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh have also left open the possibility of adding another veteran tackle such as Eric Winston.

Regardless of how it plays out, holdovers from recent years such as Reid, Gradkowski, and Shipley should be looking over their shoulder this summer as it’s clear there is plenty of competition in an effort to improve what was an awful line a year ago.

Elam praised

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Suggs’ future, free safety among Ravens’ top defensive priorities this offseason

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Suggs’ future, free safety among Ravens’ top defensive priorities this offseason

Posted on 08 January 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Expected to focus most of his offseason attention on revamping the league’s 29th-ranked offense, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome will still be faced with a couple important decisions on the defensive side of the ball.

One of them involves one of the greatest players in franchise history in Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, who enters the final season of a six-year contract and is scheduled to count for $12.4 million against the Ravens’ 2014 salary cap. If Suggs is to return, it appears he won’t be playing under the original terms of his deal.

Should the 12th-year linebacker not be back, it would mark the second straight year in which the Ravens would let a notable player depart for cap purposes after wide receiver Anquan Boldin refused to take a pay cut and was traded to the San Franchise 49ers for a sixth-round pick last March.

“That’s a decision that we’ll talk about when we get down to Jupiter [at owner Steve Bisciotti's estate],” Newsome said at the Ravens’ season-ending press conference on Wednesday. “Terrell is a really good football player. He not only shows up in the pass game, but he shows up in the run game. That being said, we let a good football player go last year, so we’re not afraid. I’m not a virgin when it comes to letting guys walk out the door. What we’ll do is we’ll look at every aspect of it and see what’s best for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 Ravens and then make that decision once we get to it.”

The Ravens are expected to approach Suggs and his agent Joel Segal about a short-term contract extension that would roll some of his scheduled $7.8 million base salary into a signing bonus that would lower his cap number for the 2014 season and likely afford him the opportunity to play a couple more years and retire as a Raven. How open Suggs would be to a reasonable short-term extension remains to be seen after he was named to his sixth Pro Bowl this past season.

On pace for a career season after collecting nine sacks in the first eight games of 2013, Suggs fell off dramatically in the second half, recording just one sack in the final eight contests. The 2003 first-round pick will be 32 in October, which will give the Ravens plenty to think about in terms of not wanting to pay for past accomplishments over future production and compromise their salary cap beyond the 2014 season.

If the Ravens are unable to work out an extension with Suggs, they could cut the veteran linebacker to save $7.8 million in cap space for 2014.

Baltimore entered the offseason with just 37 players under contract and roughly $14 million in cap space, so the possibility of making a few veteran cuts to save space is likely. Newsome reiterated Wednesday what’s become an organizational philosophy of not reworking deals that have more than one year remaining on them.

“I think we’ll continue with our theme of not restructuring contracts,” Newsome said. “But, there’s a difference between restructuring and offering guys extensions. We have guys that are in the last year of their contract [or] going into the last year of their contract, and we’ve had a history of being able to get good deals done with guys heading into that last year. I don’t think we will embark on doing any more restructuring, but we will probably look at doing some extensions.”

Newsome also expressed his desire for “a more athletic safety” to complement 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam, who is expected to shift to the strong safety position in his second year. Veteran James Ihedigbo will be an unrestricted free agent and played well in his first year as a starter, but the Ravens are looking for a free safety who can force more turnovers, according to Newsome.

Known more for his physicality than his pass coverage as a standout safety with the University of Florida, Elam’s smaller frame is problematic when trying to match up against bigger tight ends and wide receivers. Coach John Harbaugh credited Elam’s “solid” play as a rookie last week, but he acknowledged that the 5-foot-10 safety is at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

Elam recorded just one interception and three pass breakups to go with his 76 tackles while primarily playing the free safety position.

“Matt Elam should be a really, really good safety in this league,” Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “He’s fast, he’s physical, and he’s going to understand the expectations a little more. He’s going to anticipate checks a little better. He’s going to understand what it means to stay deep when you’re supposed to stay deep — not to stop your feet when you’ve got a vertical receiver running up on you and you’re a deep-third or deep-half player. Those are things that sometimes you learn from experience the hard way. He didn’t make too many mistakes for a guy who played that many repetitions as a safety, so it’s a good start for him.”

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Bengals

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Bengals

Posted on 31 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This would be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule…except this time there is no next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 34-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Joe Flacco pass intended for Dennis Pitta in endzone incomplete (1st quarter)

After Dalton’s second interception…an opportunity to go up 10-0. 

4. Joe Flacco pass intended for Jacoby Jones in endzone incomplete (1st quarter)

After Dalton’s first interception…an opportunity to go up 7-0.

3. Matt Elam drops would-be Andy Dalton interception on pass intended for Dane Sanzenbacher (4th quarter)

After the Bengals went up 24-17, the last hope to keep it a one possession game.

2. AJ Green 53 yard touchdown catch from Andy Dalton (1st quarter)

Everything turned here.

1. Chris Crocker intercepts Joe Flacco pass intended for Torrey Smith after Michael Johnson tip (4th quarter)

Essentially ended things. 

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Our Ravens/Bengals “Slaps to the Head”

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Our Ravens/Bengals “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 29 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show on AM1570 WNST.net. (Tim Horsey filled in for Ryan this past week.)

The Ravens fell to the Cincinnati Bengals , meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Tim and I offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. AQ Shipley

4. Haloti Ngata

3. Marshal Yanda

2. Joe Flacco

1. Terrell Suggs (Two Slaps)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Lions

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Lions

Posted on 17 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions Monday night at Ford Field…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Louis Delmas called for unnecessary roughness after Joe Flacco pass intended for Marlon Brown incomplete on 3rd down (2nd quarter)

Ended up giving the Ravens three points in a spot where they would have gotten nothing.

4. Daryl Smith sacks Matthew Stafford for five yard loss at Baltimore 47 (1st quarter)

Lions had moved the ball at will on first two drives until this play, game appeared to be headed to a shootout or even a blowout.

3. Matt Elam intercepts Matthew Stafford pass intended for Nate Burleson (4th quarter)

The “ender”.

2. Jacoby Jones 27 yard catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 15 (4th quarter)

The significance of this play has somehow been lost.

1. Justin Tucker 61 yard field goal GOOD (4th quarter)

I still don’t believe it.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Our Ravens/Lions “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Lions “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 17 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 18-16 victory over the Detroit Lions Monday night at Ford Field…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. Dean Pees

4. Daryl Smith

3. Jacoby Jones

2. Joe Flacco

1. Jimmy Smith (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Extra motivation not required for Lions’ Johnson

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Extra motivation not required for Lions’ Johnson

Posted on 12 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens safety Matt Elam certainly provided the flavor needed for an extra day of buildup for Monday’s meeting with the Detroit Lions.

While also offering words of praise for All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Elam naively called the 28-year-old receiver “pretty old” while questioning the 6-foot-5, 236-pound wideout’s physicality on Wednesday. Johnson took the bait in Thursday’s conference call with the Baltimore media, vowing to show Elam and the Baltimore secondary his “old-man strength,” but anyone extending the rookie’s comments any further in thinking it will impact Monday’s outcome is reaching.

Though the 22-year-old Elam put a target on his back and left himself open for criticism should Johnson get behind him for a long touchdown or two, you don’t need outside motivation when you’re the best wide receiver on the planet and on track to become one of the greatest in NFL history. Those pointing to Johnson’s 329-yard receiving day against Dallas that followed Dez Bryant’s inflammatory comments earlier this year overlook the role the Cowboys’ 32nd-ranked pass defense played in the career day.

Simply put, there’s no such thing as waking a sleeping giant when he’s already been stomping on opponents every week.

“Would you think that Calvin Johnson is going to come to a Monday night game on national television and not play his best game anyway [until] a rookie said something? I doubt it,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who would suffer as much as anyone if Elam’s comments actually impacted the receiver’s Monday performance. “If they’re going to take it as, ‘That’s poster-board [material]; we’re going to take it even harder now,’ then they don’t have the right mentality coming to play a Monday night game anyway.”

Elam’s silly comments aside, the Ravens face arguably the biggest nightmare in the NFL today in trying to slow the seventh-year receiver, who last year set an NFL single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards. Johnson ranks second in the league with 1,351 receiving yards and second with 12 touchdown catches as he’s reined in 75 passes this season.

Fortunate to only have to face Johnson once every four years, the Ravens will need to contain the monstrous playmaker to earn only their second road win of the season and maintain their enviable position as the current No. 6 seed in the AFC. Meanwhile, the Lions find themselves in a dogfight with Chicago and Green Bay for the NFC North division title.

“‘Megatron.’ Anytime somebody has a nickname like that, the kid is real,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He is probably arguably the best receiver in the game. It’s going to take all 11 guys, especially tending to him. The pass rush is going to be key; running the ball is going to be key. They do a lot of things with him, [and] he ends up in a lot of places. But it’s also fun [when] you get to play against a guy like that.”

Looking beyond his obvious physical gifts, scheming how to cover Johnson is problematic because he’ll line up in a variety of different ways in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s system. Double teams and bracketed coverage sound great — and necessary — in principle, but the Lions effectively move him around various formations to create favorable matchups for him against the defense.

With that in mind, many have suggested that defensive coordinator Dean Pees assign the 6-foot-2 Smith — who’s been the team’s best cornerback this season — to follow Johnson wherever he lines up. Such a strategy goes against the Ravens’ normal way of keeping Smith at right cornerback and Lardarius Webb on the left side in the base defense.

The third-year defensive back Smith has embraced being physical against top receivers such as Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall, often getting the best of those matchups this season. Finally living up to the hype of being a first-round pick in the 2011 draft, Smith said he’d embrace the opportunity to shadow Johnson wherever he lines up if that’s what the Ravens ask him to do.

“Absolutely,” Smith said. “Prime-time television in front of the nation? We don’t move around a lot because we’ve got a lot of confidence in our corners. Whatever the game plan we bring on Monday night, that’s how we’re going to bring it. If they ask us to move and do things, we’re always going to be willing to do that.”

The Ravens secondary has spoken this week of embracing the challenge of slowing down Johnson, but they’ll need to avoid giving up the big play that’s plagued them all season. Baltimore has surrendered 16 pass plays of 40 or more yards this season — most in the NFL — while lacking a true free safety in the secondary.

Johnson alone has 20 receptions of 20 or more yards this season as his speed coupled with his ability to break tackles often leads to explosive plays on even shorter passes from quarterback Matthew Stafford. Missed assignments and shaky tackling have plagued the back end of the defense at various points this season, including the final two minutes of their win over Minnesota in which the Ravens gave up a 41-yard touchdown run and a 79-yard touchdown pass.

“Sometimes a team makes a great play,” Smith said. “Sometimes, it’s us with a mental error, doing something that we don’t usually do throughout the first four quarters of our game. Something like that [happens], and some big plays pops.”

Even if Smith, Webb, and No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham are at the top of their game in trying to cover Johnson, the Ravens must try to revitalize a pass rush that’s largely been in hibernation over the last two games. Baltimore didn’t record a quarterback sack against Pittsburgh or Minnesota as the defense battled Ben Roethlisberger and snow-covered field conditions in successive weeks.

Getting pressure won’t be easy as the Detroit offensive line has allowed only 15 sacks all season and Stafford likes to get rid of the ball quickly, meaning the Ravens must get hands up in passing lanes and at least provide enough discomfort to force quicker-than-normal throws if they can’t get to the Lions signal-caller in the pocket. Turnovers have been a problem for an otherwise-explosive offense as Stafford will rush through his progressions and force throws that sometimes aren’t there — even to Johnson.

The Ravens know their task is a tall one as they face the league’s second-ranked offense with Johnson the biggest reason why. The defense’s goal will be to keep him in front of the secondary, settling for completions with the goal of preventing game-changing plays.

But that’s the intention of opposing defenses week after week, with few units finding success.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “These are the games that we have to put that work in and definitely put that work in for earlier in the year. It will be a great challenge.”

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Vikings

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Vikings

Posted on 10 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 29-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Matt Elam recovers Toby Gerhart fumble forced by James Ihedigbo at Vikings’ 25 (1st quarter)

4. Jacoby Jones returns Blair Walsh kickoff for 77 yard TD (4th quarter)

Should have been even bigger. 

3. Dennis Pitta 1 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco on 4th & goal (4th quarter)

God it’s good to have him back. 

2. Marlon Brown 35 yard catch from Joe Flacco (4th quarter)

As Marlon told us Monday, this might have actually been the biggest play of the game.

1. Marlon Brown 9 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco (4th quarter)

I wanted to out-think it, but I simply couldn’t.

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