Tag Archive | "Mike Wallace"

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Ravens exercise 2017 option for Wallace, finalize other signings

Posted on 09 March 2017 by Luke Jones

After recording his first 1,000-yard season since 2011, veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace is returning to the Ravens for a second season.

Baltimore exercised its option on the 30-year-old, which will pay him $5.75 million for the 2017 season. After disappointing stops in Miami and Minnesota, the former Pittsburgh Steeler revitalized his career in 2016 by making 72 catches for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns and led the NFL with five receptions of 50 or more yards.

Wallace’s return became a foregone conclusion once former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith agreed to a three-year, $15 contract with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier on Thursday. Baltimore had discussed a potential reunion with the former Maryland standout and may have elected to let Wallace go to clear some salary-cap space under such a scenario.

With Steve Smith having retired and Kamar Aiken hitting the free-agent market, the Ravens couldn’t afford to lose Wallace with 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman being the most experienced receiver behind him on the depth chart. Baltimore still needs to add a possession receiver to work the intermediate portion of the field, but Wallace, Perriman, and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore make up an interesting trio of vertical threats.

In addition to picking up Wallace’s option, the Ravens officially announced their reported deals with safety Tony Jefferson, running back Danny Woodhead, and quarterback Ryan Mallett.

According to ESPN, Jefferson received a four-year, $36 million contract to become one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. The former Arizona Cardinal’s average annual salary of $9 million is the most given to a safety in franchise history, but the total amount is less than the six-year, $44.5 million contract awarded to future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed in 2006.

Baltimore signed Woodhead to a three-year contract — an addition that holds more significance with the news of Kenneth Dixon being suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season — while Mallett received a one-year deal to remain as Joe Flacco’s backup.

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Timing key if Ravens want to reunite with Torrey Smith

Posted on 07 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith’s pending release from San Francisco sparked a predictable response from many in the city in which he remains highly respected and beloved.

Second on the franchise’s all-time list for touchdown receptions and third in all-time receiving yards, Smith is only 28 and remains an active contributor in the Baltimore community. The former University of Maryland standout also shared good chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco, whom the Ravens obviously want more from after a disappointing 2016 campaign.

But does a reunion make sense?

After a disastrous run with the 49ers, Smith’s value is clearly lower than it was two winters ago, but most would acknowledge San Francisco’s quarterback situation as the biggest reason for his statistical decline. That understanding could lead to his free-agent market not being as bad as one would think, making a potential return to Baltimore more unlikely.

The Ravens re-signing Smith only makes sense if they’re going to move on from Mike Wallace, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season since 2011. The two have similar skill sets and Baltimore already has young speedsters Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore on the roster, meaning there are already enough vertical threats at Flacco’s disposal.

An even trade-off from a financial standpoint would make little sense as few would argue that Smith is as good as Wallace, but signing the former Raven to a three-year deal at a reasonable rate would make the older Wallace expendable if you can save some real dollars in salary cap space for 2017. Those savings could then go toward finding that veteran possession receiver the Ravens desperately need.

Wallace will be 31 in August, and the Ravens must exercise his 2017 option this week, which includes a $4.75 million base salary and a $1 million roster bonus. In other words, general manager Ozzie Newsome must act quickly if he wants to bring back Smith, who may have thoughts of thoroughly testing the open market anyway. Needless to say, it would be unwise for the Ravens to part with Wallace before having an agreement in place with Smith since they’re already looking to add one receiver as it is.

Even if the Ravens aren’t interested in re-signing Smith, his availability could work in Newsome’s favor to sign Wallace to an extension, which would presumably lower his $8 million cap figure for the upcoming season.

With the front office already having so many other balls in the air in a critical offseason, you have to seriously question whether a Wallace-for-Smith swap is worth the time and effort.

Elam update

For those who’ve inquired about former Ravens safety Matt Elam’s status for this week’s Ed Block Courage Awards after his arrest in Miami last month, he will not be participating.

Elam was voted as the 2016 recipient by his Baltimore teammates, but former Ravens cornerback and 2007 Ed Block Courage Award recipient Samari Rolle will instead represent the organization this year.

Below is the statement from the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation:

After Matt Elam’s incident, the Foundation contacted the Baltimore Ravens on how we should proceed. With the Ed Block Courage Award as the only league-wide honor that is voted on strictly by the players, the team decided to move forward  with Matt as their recipient, as it was decided by his teammates. The organization had no influence over the nomination.  

They did agree that the Foundation should do what was in our best interest. As the main focus of our event is the community outreaches at the Rita R. Church Rec Center and the Baltimore Ravens Courage House (St. Vincent’s Villa), we decided to not include him in those events.

Tampering time

Beginning at noon on Tuesday, teams may begin negotiating with the certified agents of free agents from other teams, but deals cannot be officially completed until 4 p.m. on Thursday.

What does that really mean?

This legal “tampering” period will produce reported agreements over the next two days despite the NFL’s annual warnings not to do so. The truth is that tampering goes on throughout the NFL — the scouting combine in Indianapolis has long been a haven for such discussions — and likely starts even earlier now with this two-day negotiating window that was introduced with the current collective bargaining agreement.

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Harbaugh planning to have Wallace back with Ravens

Posted on 01 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Of the many names considered to be potential salary-cap casualties this offseason, wide receiver Mike Wallace has largely been viewed as the veteran the Ravens most need to retain.

With Steve Smith now retired and Kamar Aiken likely to depart via free agency, Baltimore has little experience behind Wallace on its current wide receiver depth chart. And while his $8 million cap figure for 2017 isn’t exactly cheap, an organization that’s frequently struggled at the receiver position shouldn’t be quick to part ways with a 1,000-yard receiver who will only turn 31 in August.

Speaking to reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday, head coach John Harbaugh didn’t confirm that the Ravens would be picking up their 2017 option on the speedy veteran, but he made it clear what his preference is.

“Mike Wallace was a big, integral part of our team last year,” Harbaugh said. “Mike Wallace is a topflight competitor. Mike Wallace is a guy that has a chip on his shoulder. That’s what you love about him. The guy wants to compete, he wants to be great, and he works that way, so I want Mike Wallace on our football team.

“Circumstances, contracts, salary cap — all that — are another conversation that you have about every single guy, but my anticipation is that Mike Wallace will be a part of our team. I know he’s working to be a part of our team, and I’m planning to have him back next year.”

Wallace caught 72 passes for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns, but his production faded in the second half of the season as he recorded just 24 catches for 282 yards over the final six games. The six-foot receiver did not record a 100-yard game or catch a touchdown over the last eight contests as quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing attack struggled to push the ball down the field.

The Ravens must exercise their $4.75 million option for Wallace by the end of the league year next week or he would become a free agent. Should they use that option, Wallace would then be owed a $1 million option bonus a few days later.

It remains unclear whether general manager Ozzie Newsome intends to use the option or is attempting to work out a contract extension that would presumably lower Wallace’s cap figure and keep him beyond 2017. As for the other candidates to be cap casualties, Harbaugh wasn’t giving anything away despite the start of free agency being just over a week away.

“We’re bringing everybody back until we’re not,” Harbaugh said. “I think circumstances dictate that, so every one of those guys is in a little bit of a different position and different story.”

NOTES: Harbaugh confirmed that the Ravens would not be applying the franchise tag to nose tackle Brandon Williams or any of their other pending free agents. However, the organization remains in talks to re-sign him as well as right tackle Rick Wagner and Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk. … The Ravens have had discussions about re-signing backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, but they could also look to the draft to fill that need, according to Harbaugh. … Despite missing the postseason for the third time in four years and entering the offseason with a plethora of needs, Harbaugh expressed confidence that the Ravens will be back to playing at a high level in 2017. “I know we can be a great football team. There’s no doubt in my mind we will contend for a championship next year.”

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pitta

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Ravens shouldn’t fret about making substantial changes

Posted on 22 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of the new league year and free agency just two weeks away, we all know which Ravens players stand out as potential salary-cap casualties by now.

A few are easy calls while others have accomplished plenty in their NFL careers and are fan favorites. Most are over the age of 30, which is when you need to ask whether you’re paying too much for what a player used to be rather than what he is today.

After missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years and lacking difference-making talent atop the roster, what is the realistic goal for 2017? Is the Ravens brass aiming to improve just enough to sneak into the playoffs to avoid being fired — a perceived ultimatum that exists at least in the minds of many outsiders — or is the organization focused on building its next championship team? Of course, incremental improvement and eyeing the long term aren’t mutually exclusive, but these two ideas may offer different viewpoints of the following veterans with questionable cap figures for 2017.

2017 cap figure Pre-June 1 cut savings 2017 dead money
CB Kyle Arrington $2.767M $2.1M $667K
LB Elvis Dumervil $8.375M $6M $2.375M
S Kendrick Lewis $2.267M $1.8M $467K
TE Dennis Pitta $7.7M $3.3M $4.4M
WR Mike Wallace $8M $5.75M $2.25M
TE Benjamin Watson $4M $3M $1M
S Lardarius Webb $7.5M $5.5M $2M
CB Shareece Wright $5.33M $2.667M $2.667M
C Jeremy Zuttah $4.607M $2.393M $2.214M

How many of these potential cap casualties can you envision being as good as or better than they were in 2016? Which of these talents are instrumental to the next championship-caliber team?

With the retirement of Steve Smith and the lack of other established talent at wide receiver on the current roster, cutting Wallace would be a tough pill to swallow without knowing what’s to come in free agency and the draft and also acknowledging the organization’s poor track record at the position. The rest of the players on the list have different degrees of remaining value, but it’d be difficult to say any would be terribly difficult to replace when factoring in either the cost to retain them or the depth at their positions — or even both.

It’s no secret how dependent the Ravens have been on older players the last couple seasons, which is fine when on the cusp of a championship like they were five years ago. But continuing down the same road with a group that’s proven to not be good enough seems counterintuitive when you’re in need of game-changing talent and more cap space. Some of the best teams in franchise history had obvious flaws and positions of weakness, but they had enough playmakers capable of masking them.

Cleaning house doesn’t mean general manager Ozzie Newsome should be hellbent on spending lucrative money on free agents just for the sake of doing it. But if cutting Webb and Pitta means the Ravens can have a healthier cap to go sign an established talent like Pierre Garcon, I’ll take my chances leaning on more youth at those other positions. The same even goes for the tipping point in trying to re-sign a free agent such as Brandon Williams, who is a very good player but plays a position at which the Ravens have consistently found talent over the years.

This roster has many needs and very few free agents or potential cap cuts who are indispensable. The known is more comfortable than the unknown, but the Ravens can’t afford to be in love with their own ingredients when the recipe just hasn’t added up in recent years.

To be clear, adding dynamic playmakers to the roster is easier said than done, no matter how much pundits have hammered the Ravens about it over the last few years. It often involves luck as much as anything else, evident by the fact that Baltimore had two future Hall of Famers — Ray Lewis and Ed Reed — fall late into the first round in the franchise’s first seven drafts. The Ravens are certainly aiming to find a few playmakers in this April’s draft, but they will still hope that a Kenneth Dixon takes a giant leap like Ray Rice did in his second year or that a Breshad Perriman finally takes off in his third season.

Still, the idea shouldn’t be to spend to the cap on an OK collection of veterans in the meantime. Focusing on more of a youth movement might result in some early 2017 pains, but it can yield more meaningful future gains than retaining veterans with steep price tags and rapidly-approaching expiration dates.

You either have something special or you need to be building something special.

The Ravens have been stuck in between for too long now.

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wallace

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to free agency

Posted on 15 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of NFL free agency only three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the Ravens, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens now have until March 1 to potentially use their franchise tag on one of their pending free agents, but a projected $13.5 million number for nose tackle Brandon Williams would cripple Ozzie Newsome’s efforts to improve the roster. I’d be surprised if it’s a real consideration.

2. With 19 teams having more than $30 million in salary cap space, it’s tough to like Baltimore’s chances of re-signing either Williams or right tackle Rick Wagner once the league-wide negotiating window begins on March 7. The clock is ticking.

3. Even if you buy into the continuity with Marty Mornhinweg remaining the offensive coordinator, John Harbaugh not hiring a new quarterbacks coach is a tough sell in light of Joe Flacco’s body of work since Mornhinweg was hired as his positional coach in 2015. Rattling some cages wouldn’t have hurt.

4. The promotion of Chris Hewitt to secondary coach will be interesting to monitor after he was demoted in favor of Leslie Frazier after the 2015 season. The absence of Jimmy Smith aside, the defensive backfield was much more organized this past season, a credit to Frazier and safety Eric Weddle.

5. I understand the temptation to cut Mike Wallace to save $5.75 million in cap space, but the organization’s history at the wide receiver position makes it extremely difficult to trust the decision to willingly part with a 1,000-yard wideout with excellent speed.

6. Little free-agent discussion has centered around Lawrence Guy, but you wonder how easily the Ravens would replace him at the 5-technique defensive end spot. Injuries have hindered Brent Urban’s development, and Bronson Kaufusi missed his rookie year with a broken ankle. There’s a lot of unknown at that position.

7. When I hear critics say that the coaching staff has failed to develop talented draft picks in recent years, I then wonder why these “suppressed” talents aren’t catching on elsewhere to a meaningful degree. Linebacker John Simon did become a productive player in Houston, but who else?

8. I’ve opined plenty about Dennis Pitta and his $7.7 million cap figure, but there’s no diminishing the human element with what he’s been through. Asking him to take a pay cut with incentives for the second straight offseason is a tough sell, but it would probably be for the best.

9. If the Ravens covet a specific offensive playmaker, pass rusher, or cornerback in the pre-draft process, I’d like to see a greater willingness to jump up in the first round to get their guy. The roster needs a high-end difference-maker more than additional solid players in later rounds.

10. Despite much discussion about the tight end position, Maxx Williams has been all but forgotten. Few specifics are known about the procedure the 2015 second-round pick had to correct a cartilage problem in his knee, but he doesn’t turn 23 until April. You hope the issue is finally behind him.

11. The money may not make sense in the end, but I still see Pierre Garcon as the best free-agent fit at receiver. The 30-year-old eclipsed 1,000 yards in a deep receiver group and plays with toughness. The close proximity to where he’s played the last five years doesn’t hurt, either.

12. With Matt Birk eligible for Hall of Fame consideration next year, it reminds me of the issues the Ravens have had at center since his post-Super Bowl XLVII retirement. Jeremy Zuttah’s 2014 arrival brought improvement from the overmatched Gino Gradkowski, but upgrading this spot would help the offense immensely.

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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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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 31 December 2016 by Luke Jones

Playing out the string.

Though the Ravens are closing out a regular season at Paul Brown Stadium for the fifth time in the last six years, this marks the first time that neither Baltimore nor Cincinnati is going to the playoffs since 2007 when John Harbaugh was still the special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. Even with nothing to play for beyond pride, the Ravens have declared their intentions to play all healthy veterans, a move that some have criticized in fear of a serious injury to a key player.

Meanwhile, the Bengals will miss the postseason for the first time since 2010 and have shut down several injured veterans such as wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (back) in recent weeks.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the 42nd time in franchise history with Baltimore owning a 21-20 edge. The Ravens are seeking their first season sweep of the Bengals since 2011 and can also secure a 5-1 AFC North record, their best division mark since going 6-0 in that same season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Justin Tucker will attempt a 60-plus-yard field goal. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker is a remarkable 10-for-10 on tries from 50 yards and longer and needs only one more to have sole possession of the single-season NFL record. The weather in Cincinnati should reach the mid-40s with minimal wind, conditions that are suitable enough to try a long field goal. Tucker has had one of the best kicking seasons in NFL history and deserves a chance to hit a season-long field goal at the very least.

2. Mike Wallace will reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2011. This is hardly going out on a limb with the first-year Raven just 16 yards shy of the mark, but Baltimore should make a conscious effort to get Wallace involved early after he was held to just four catches for 21 yards in Pittsburgh last week. Though the Ravens haven’t always utilized him well this season, Wallace has provided them with the vertical threat they sorely lacked after Torrey Smith’s free-agent departure.

3. Andy Dalton will throw for two touchdowns against a secondary once again without Jimmy Smith. It’s not a coincidence that the five highest passing totals allowed by the Baltimore defense this season have come in games in which the No. 1 cornerback missed significant time, a clear indication of the lack of depth in the secondary. The Ravens found a fourth-round gem in rookie Tavon Young, but finding another outside corner should be a priority this offseason.

4. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown and produce 80 receiving yards in his final NFL game. Joe Flacco throws to Smith often anyway, so there’s no reason to think the 37-year-old won’t be featured heavily. The mantra “Play like a Raven” has become a cliché in recent years, but the former Carolina Panther epitomizes the idea with the kind of intensity and physicality on which the success of this franchise was built. The Ravens are fortunate to have had the future Hall of Famer pass their way.

5. The Ravens will win in Cincinnati for the first time in exactly five years in a 23-17 final. Rarely have the Ravens ever looked like they were going through the motions under Harbaugh, which is why I expect them to play hard despite having their playoff hopes crushed last week in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Bengals have been out of the playoff hunt for weeks while rumors have circulated about Marvin Lewis’ future. With an opportunity to send Steve Smith out on a positive note, the Ravens will win their first road game in over three months and finish the season with a respectable 9-7 record.

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Ravens back in familiar position with Smith’s expected retirement

Posted on 28 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The free-agent signing of Steve Smith more than two years ago helped rectify one of the biggest mistakes in Ravens history.

But his “89 percent” likely retirement following Sunday’s season finale in Cincinnati puts the franchise back in an all-too-familiar position.

Even at age 37 and coming off a horrific Achilles injury, Smith still served as quarterback Joe Flacco’s most reliable weapon in a trying season. He may not have enjoyed the same team success in his three seasons in purple, but Smith put up similar numbers to those produced by Anquan Boldin, the man he eventually replaced after a post-Super Bowl XLVII trade blew up in the Ravens’ faces in the 2013 season.

“I feel very fortunate to be with him,” Flacco said. “His competitive nature and the way he plays his game and the talent that he has, he’s definitely unique and a rare breed. Anytime you get a chance to play with a guy that’s really a legend in this game is, count yourself lucky.”

Once the Ravens sort out their offensive coaching staff for next season, replacing Smith will be one of the top priorities of the offseason.

The cupboard isn’t completely bare at wide receiver with Mike Wallace under contract for 2017 and on the cusp of completing a 1,000-yard season, but the speedy veteran fits better as the No. 2 wideout to stretch the field vertically with explosive plays. Expecting him to be the well-rounded top guy would likely fetch similar results to what happened in 2013 when Torrey Smith was miscast as a No. 1 receiver.

There’s also 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but injuries and inconsistency have made it difficult for the Ravens to plan for him to be anything more than a No. 3 option with upside entering next season. It’s much too soon to declare Perriman a bust, but he has a lot of work to do to become a integral cog.

Kamar Aiken led the Ravens with 944 receiving yards in 2015 and has shown physicality that you like to see in a possession receiver, but he’s also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and has been unhappy with his diminished role this season. That leads you to believe he’ll be looking to move on this winter.

Whether general manager Ozzie Newsome pursues an accomplished veteran such as Pierre Garcon in free agency or once again dips his toes into draft waters that have been unkind in the past, the Ravens will need a receiver to aggressively work the intermediate portion of the field and to gain yards after the catch. Even with his speed not being what it was in his early days with Carolina, Smith always played bigger and tougher than his 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame suggested.

“He’s powerful. He’s not very big, but he’s so explosive, so powerful, can change directions like that,” Flacco said. “He’s just so strong for his size — not even just for his size. He’s just a strong dude. The ferociousness that he runs with the ball, how he runs with the ball, so many things. I think that comes out in people saying ‘competitiveness.’ He’s just got a lot of ability, and he’s not afraid.”

Of course, Smith brought much more to the table than what showed up in the box score.

Like Boldin, he provided attitude to an offense led by the even-keeled Flacco. His intensity occasionally ruffled feathers — including when he got into a fight with veteran defensive back Lardarius Webb during his first minicamp in Owings Mills — but teammates on both sides of the ball respected that fire.

Smith brought the kind of swagger to the offense that was typically found on many Ravens defenses of yesteryear. Of course, performance on the field is paramount, but that ferocity is something Baltimore frankly needs more of after missing the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.

The intangibles will be difficult to replace, no matter how the Ravens go about replacing Smith’s production.

“Whether it is walking around the locker room yelling at someone or on the field [during] one-on-ones, he is definitely one of a kind,” said safety Eric Weddle, who shared a close friendship with Smith long before he signed with Baltimore this past offseason. “You have to get adjusted to that, just his personality and how big it is and to know this is who he is. This is what drives him. This is what makes him special.”

And with Smith’s decision to walk away, the Ravens are back in a familiar spot looking for someone special at wide receiver.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Christmas Day

Posted on 24 December 2016 by Luke Jones

It became crystal clear for the Ravens on Saturday.

Beat Pittsburgh on Christmas Day or officially be eliminated from playoff contention. Miami’s overtime victory over Buffalo wiped away any chance of a wild-card spot for Baltimore, who will now need to top the Steelers and almost certainly need to beat Cincinnati in Week 17 to take the AFC North title.

The Ravens have won five of their last seven games to rebound from a winless month of October, but they will need to win their first road game in exactly three months on Sunday. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has rebounded from its own four-game losing streak earlier this season by winning five in a row, a stretch that included four road games.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 42nd in their regular-season history with Pittsburgh holding a 21-20 advantage. Counting the postseason, 15 of the 20 games in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by one possession. Baltimore has won four straight overall against the Steelers and has been victorious in four of the last six meetings at Heinz Field.

Here’s what to expects as the Ravens try to keep their postseason hopes alive …

1. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will combine for 180 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Since the start of 2013, the Baltimore defense has held Brown under 100 receiving yards in six of eight meetings, but the two times the All-Pro receiver eclipsed the mark were games in which cornerback Jimmy Smith did not play. The Ravens’ second-ranked run defense is likely to rebound from a brutal performance last week, but Bell’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield is a concern for linebackers who have struggled in coverage in recent weeks.

2. Mike Wallace will find the end zone once again against his former team. The speedy wideout is just 37 receiving yards shy of 1,000 for the season as he’s been everything the Ravens could have asked for when signing him to a two-year deal in March. The Steelers secondary has played better in recent weeks and has done a good job limiting big plays, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will do what he can to get the ball in Wallace’s hands. It won’t be another 95-yard sprint like we saw in Week 9, but the former Steeler will catch his first touchdown at Heinz Field since 2012.

3. The Ravens will reach the century mark on the ground against a banged-up Steelers defensive line. They rarely commit to the run, but the Ravens have averaged 4.8 yards per carry over their last five games behind the same offensive line. The Steelers rank fifth in the league in run defense, but defensive end Stephon Tuitt missed practice all week and is questionable to play with a knee injury and defensive end Cam Heyward was placed on injured reserve last month. Whether it’s Terrance West or Kenneth Dixon, the Ravens will try to control the clock and keep the Pittsburgh offense off the field.

4. A clean pocket will help Ben Roethlisberger throw for 250 yards. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees faces a predicament with an undermanned secondary and a front that’s struggled to get consistent pressure without the blitz, a dangerous combination against a potent passing game. It also doesn’t help that the Steelers offensive line has allowed just three sacks over its last five games and will have a healthy Maurkice Pouncey, who played only 19 snaps in the first meeting. The Ravens will likely try to play coverage in hopes of minimizing big plays and forcing the Steelers to move methodically.

5. The Ravens will fall 24-20 to officially miss the playoffs for the third time in the last four years. Counting them out completely would be a mistake and they’ve been inside the Steelers’ heads for the last few years, but the Ravens haven’t shown the kind of road mettle this season to make you think they’ll play well enough to beat a red-hot team on the cusp of a division championship. Unless the postseason version of Joe Flacco arrives a couple games early, the Ravens offense won’t have quite enough firepower to match an offense with better weapons. The defense will contain Bell between the tackles, but the absence of Smith in the secondary will be a fatal blow in a close game.

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Alarming lack of offensive leadership nearly costs Ravens dearly

Posted on 19 December 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens got the 27-26 win in the end, but they still couldn’t help themselves on Sunday.

Leading 27-17 with less than seven minutes remaining, Joe Flacco had just completed a third-down pass to Mike Wallace, who sprinted all the way to the Philadelphia 11 for a 54-yard pickup that should have all but sealed a must-win game against the struggling Eagles. Facing an opponent that had relied on its ground attack all day, Baltimore needed only to run the ball to chew away more time and, at worst, kick a field goal to make it a 13-point lead.

Even novice football fans would say to run it to drain the clock or force Eagles head coach Doug Pederson to start using his timeouts early.

Yes, the Ravens defense had struggled more than expected on Sunday, but rookie quarterback Carson Wentz had shown no evidence throughout the day that he would be able to orchestrate two touchdown drives in the final few minutes. Instead of showing common football sense, head coach John Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and quarterback Joe Flacco gave the Eagles new life.

According to ESPN, the Ravens’ win probability stood at 99.2 percent when they took a timeout with 6:21 remaining to contemplate their first-and-10 play from the 11. In lieu of a running game that averaged 6.3 yards per carry on Sunday, Mornhinweg called a pass play and Flacco threw an unthinkable interception to Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks, who returned the ball to the Philadelphia 40 to spark an unlikely comeback.

“All-time worst call ever. I’ll take responsibility for it,” Harbaugh said. “I should have vetoed it right away. I like an aggressive mindset, but that was way too aggressive. It’s the worst play call we’ve had, and it’s my fault. It should have never happened. We should have never been in that situation as a result of that.”

At least Harbaugh took responsibility after the game, but how does a ninth-year head coach who’s won a Super Bowl allow that to happen? What was being discussed during that timeout?

The writing is on the wall for Mornhinweg with this latest example of lacking any feel for the game or the Ravens offense, but Harbaugh is ultimately responsible for his coaching staff. This was the kind of reckless decision that costs coaches their jobs if the final outcome goes the other way.

Saying the Baltimore defense needed to tighten up over those final two drives doesn’t excuse such a blunder in a must-win game. Opponents will sometimes get the best of you between the lines as the Eagles ran for an impressive 169 yards, but the Ravens needed much better from veteran coaches late in Sunday’s game.

And what about Flacco?

The execution was awful enough in trying to force a throw to wide receiver Steve Smith, but shouldn’t a veteran quarterback speak up if the head coach and offensive coordinator have lost their minds? Flacco’s leadership has been a hot topic throughout his career — often unfairly — but this was a time when you’d like a ninth-year quarterback to be a voice of reason and not be focused on his stat line.

“To be honest with you, my thought was, ‘Shoot, Marty is going to give me a third touchdown pass on the day,'” Flacco said. “I was kind of happy about it at that point — being selfish — but you’ve got to just to take care of the football and it’s a non-issue.”

It was a disappointing response from a veteran known for having a winning moxie.

No, Flacco doesn’t call the plays, but he isn’t just a trained robot out there, either.

Either way, that pick can’t happen.

Until C.J. Mosley deflected Wentz’s 2-point conversion pass that would have handed Harbaugh the worst defeat of his career, the defense couldn’t pick up the slack after the interception. That’s a concerning development with road games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to conclude the regular season and the Ravens likely needing to win both to make the playoffs.

But the blame still comes back to an offense that had a solid day before that fourth-quarter meltdown from Harbaugh, Mornhinweg, and Flacco. No matter how you want to rank them, all deserved substantial blame for what happened.

“I’ve played a lot of football, so I’ve seen a lot worse,” said Smith, who is now in the final weeks of his 16th season. “I’ve witnessed a lot worse. Whatever, I’m not getting into that.”

No matter what the Ravens try to tell you or themselves, the numbers don’t lie. They haven’t been all that interested in running the football all year — even when they’ve done it well.

They were lucky it didn’t cost them their season on Sunday.

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