Tag Archive | "ozzie newsome"

Nasty shares a smile with Art Modell 1998

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Chapter 10: The sad loss of a great work of Art

Posted on 21 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“It’s a son talking to a father, that’s the way I looked at it. It’s hard talking about someone who loved you that much. It’s not as easy as you think it is. Everything I said in his ear came from my heart and I loved him dearly,”

— Ray Lewis (September 2012)

 

 

THE PAINTING HANGS OVER THE majestic fireplace at The Castle in Owings Mills and exudes the warmth of the man himself. Arthur Bertrand Modell. Founder. Baltimore Ravens.

Like several others in this purple tale of civic sports personalities who are more worthy of a book than a chapter, one could write tomes outlining the full color and complexity of the life and times of Arthur B. Modell. After nearly a lifetime of working the football business on the banks of Lake Erie beginning in March 1961 in his adopted homeland of Cleveland, the native New Yorker brought his beloved Browns franchise to Baltimore in November 1995 amidst national scorn. He was forever reviled in Ohio and beloved in Maryland. The economic reasons for the move are well documented. And Modell was clear that there were no other motives except for self-preservation, abandoning a decrepit stadium un-affectionately known as “The Mistake On The Lake” that was built in 1930. Coming to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in an attempt to finally win a Super Bowl and create equity and a trust fund for his family in the only business he owned or cared about during his life was his only motivation.

Or as he once famously said regarding Baltimore, “I didn’t come here for the crab cakes!”

Five years later, on a team with four Hall of Famers, the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV and forever changed the Baltimore sports landscape. The Ravens went from being a carpet-bagged sports franchise to a civic institution.

The unique part of the Ravens, being such a young franchise, is the amazing institutional memory that exists within a relatively new building and a teenage organization that has become the model for the NFL. Modell understood football’s value to a local community. He understood the allure of sports, and he recognized the partnership that a franchise needed to have with all elements of the fan base – men and women, children, and adults, rich and poor, black and white, blue collar and white collar, Jew, Gentile and non-believers. Art believed that a sports team could galvanize all parts of a community in a way that no other entity could muster.

And who would know more than Modell? He truly was one of a handful of pioneers who helped build the National Football League from a third-rate sport on the fringe of society in the early 1960s into the centerpiece of the American sports landscape during his 42 years of ownership.

Modell will be remembered for owning a football team in Cleveland and moving it to Baltimore, but he lived a very full life before he even arrived in Ohio as a well-heeled New York ad man who gave up his East Coast life and moved to the friendly heart of the Midwest. There, he sold football and lived football like his contemporaries Pete Rozelle, Al Davis, Lamar Hunt, and the other forefathers of modern football

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Some draft criticism unfair, but sum of parts still not adding up for Ravens

Posted on 16 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Some of the commentary from Ravens fans watching the divisional round of the playoffs was predictable.

All these years later, some still squawk about general manager Ozzie Newsome selecting Morehouse offensive lineman Ramon Harewood a pick before Pittsburgh took Central Michigan wide receiver Antonio Brown with the 195th overall selection of the 2010 draft. At this point, ESPN might as well make a “30 for 30” special on the two individuals just to torment Ravens fans.

Yes, the Steelers were so much smarter than Baltimore that they passed on the eventual best wide receiver in the NFL eight different times in that draft and took such studs as Crezdon Butler and Stevenson Sylvester before finally grabbing Brown in the sixth round.

It’s no secret that the Ravens could have traded with Dallas in 2016 to move up from the sixth spot to take future Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey fourth overall, but Newsome didn’t want to part with his third-round pick that was used on defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, who’s played all of three games in two years. In a vacuum, it’s easy to call that a bad decision, but let’s remember quarterback Joe Flacco was rehabbing a torn ACL at the time and the Ravens didn’t have a trustworthy left tackle on the roster after the big contract awarded to Eugene Monroe two years earlier had turned out to be such a failure. Even if Ramsey becomes a Hall of Famer and Ronnie Stanley is never anything more than a reliable left tackle, it’s tough to be outraged by such a move if you’re someone who’s also blasted the organization for repeatedly neglecting its offense since Super Bowl XLVII.

Jacksonville linebacker Myles Jack intercepting a Ben Roethlisberger pass Sunday prompted some to point out that the Ravens passed on him, electing to trade back two different times to eventually take the disappointing Kamalei Correa in the second round of that same 2016 draft. However, the Ravens were far from the only team to pass on Jack, who was projected by some to be a top 5 pick if not for major concerns about the health of his knee. They also came away with starting outside linebacker Matthew Judon and strong special-teams contributor Chris Moore with those trades while Jack hasn’t been anything more than a solid starter for the Jaguars to this point.

If you really want to be mad about that second round, instead point to the Ravens taking Correa five picks before New Orleans drafted Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas, who’s caught a whopping 197 passes in his first two years.

And then there’s Minnesota wide receiver Stefon Diggs, the former University of Maryland standout who caught the miracle 61-yard touchdown from Case Keenum to send the Vikings to the NFC championship game. Even before Sunday’s heroics, this one had been reignited by the recent Sports Illustrated article citing Diggs’ mother telling Newsome that he should have been fired for not taking her son.

There’s no question that the Ravens should have had an advantage on intel about a prospect playing 40 miles down the road, but there were fair concerns about Diggs, ranging from his injury history in College Park to questions about his maturity. As a result, this was a player passed over multiple times by every team in the league, so the Ravens weren’t alone and Washington didn’t take the local kid either.

In the same way that I have a difficult time heaping too much praise on the Ravens for “discovering” Alex Collins when they were one of 31 teams who didn’t claim him on waivers at the end of the preseason and initially promoted Jeremy Langford from the practice squad over him, I struggle to criticize the organization too sharply for passing on Diggs — even if you wish they would have taken a chance on him rather than the little-known Tray Walker at the end of that fourth round.

The truth is you can go back in time to any draft and nitpick why Player A was taken over Player B over and over and over. Even after selecting two future Hall of Famers with his first two picks of the 1996 draft, Newsome took underwhelming cornerback DeRon Jenkins six spots before future nine-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins went to Philadelphia in the second round.

See how easy that was?

These arguments are easy to make with hindsight and lack context unless you’re talking about a clear-cut example such as two quarterbacks being taken with the first two picks of the draft. Even then, do you ever notice how you struggle to find anyone who would have drafted Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning in 1998 despite that being a major debate at the time? Most critics aren’t so eager to point out the ones they were wrong about years later.

(For the record, I leaned toward Leaf as a know-it-all 14-year-old.)

As much as teams try to make the draft a science, much of it remains art with too many variables to possibly control. Even at their best, the Ravens never batted 1.000 in the draft, so there will always be picks to critique as many are doing now.

The real problem isn’t passing on these aforementioned players, but it’s that the Ravens haven’t been making enough great picks of their own in recent years to make these second-guessing exercises a moot point. At the macro level, it’s more than fair to argue that the Ravens have too frequently played it safe, relied on quantity over quality, and possibly even conformed with too much groupthink in recent drafts.

Sometimes you have to take a risk to come away with a truly great playmaker or two, which is something the Ravens desperately need on the offensive side of the ball and have for a long time now. You also can’t allow a failed pick like Breshad Perriman deter you from being bold when appropriate.

It’s not a secret that the organization has slanted much more toward defense with 13 of their 17 Day 1 and 2 picks since Super Bowl XLVII being on that side of the ball. That’s enough of a lopsided ratio to make you question whether the Ravens are valuing defensive players too much in favor of truly picking “the best player available” when on the clock.

Their recent drafts haven’t been as disastrous as some want to claim — the Ravens have still found plenty of good value in the latter half of drafts despite recent Day 1 and 2 problems — but they’ve merely been much more ordinary after years of the draft being considered a major advantage for Newsome and the Ravens over other teams.

Even if many of the decisions appeared sound at the time, the sum of the parts has still added up to too much mediocrity, the same place the Ravens are trying to escape.

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Chapter 4: Ravens always begins with Ray

Posted on 14 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“”It’s simple: when God is for you, who can be against you?”

– Ray Lewis (February 2013)

 

 

 

 

CONFETTI. THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALWAYS been about for Ray Lewis. When researching anything related to football, winning the Super Bowl, or why he made it through 17 grueling seasons in the middle of the Baltimore Ravens defense, it all comes back to the sight of confetti.

Ray Lewis is obsessed with confetti.

The thought of standing once again amidst a storm of showering colors and happy teammates, while hoisting the glittery silver Lombardi Trophy one more time before riding off into the NFL sunset motivated one of the greatest linebackers of all time morning, noon, and night.

“I look at that face [against] the backdrop of the confetti,” Lewis said before Super Bowl XLVII of his old pictures from Tampa in 2001. “That’s the only thing that makes that face. I promised that I’d do everything in my power to see that confetti drop again.” And he never stopped telling his teammates about that image, about that feeling they would have when it happened for them.

You can’t tell the Ray Lewis story in one chapter. It’s worthy of a book all its own, and the story continues to be told and will be told for years to come as the Ravens try to replace an irreplaceable rock in their existence.

Ray Lewis came to Baltimore a fractured man child, whose best friend and University of Miami roommate Marlin Barnes was murdered just seven days before he was picked by Ozzie Newsome with the 26th pick of the 1996 NFL Draft. He was 20 years old. He leaves the Baltimore football field 17 years later as a living legend, a civic hero whose storybook journey has some sordid stories, bloodstains, pain, drama, redemption, passion as well as a pair of World Championships and parades. It is a story nothing short of a fairy tale with a storybook ending shared by his fans and the entire community on a cold day in February 2013.

Murders. Pain. Eternal search. Death. Championships. Women. Failure. Success. Leadership. God. Orange jumpsuit. Incarceration. Leadership. Charity. Football. Passion. Fire. Dominance. Hall of Fame. Mentoring. Winning. Losing. Crying. Parenting. Owning. Preaching. Praying. Dancing. Triumph. Lifting. Running.

The World According to Ray is not an easy story to tell…

He walked into the Ravens complex on his first day of work with a black and white jersey, reminiscent of the Mean Machine in the movie “The Longest Yard” – no logo, no markings, just like a Penn State warm up — to do pull-ups and asked “What’s the record?” Lionel Vital, then a Ravens scout, told him “Forty six.” Lewis took off his shirt, did 47 pull-ups and asked what the record was for the next exercise.

Less than four months later, wearing purple for the first time, he was clearly the best player on the field at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street when the Ravens played against the Oakland Raiders in September 1996. You can measure his greatness by the stats, the games played, the two Super Bowl championships, and his first-ballot Hall of Fame induction that will no doubt fill Canton, Ohio with Ravens fans in August 2018. All of it would’ve been a story that Hollywood would never buy because it wouldn’t be believable, but to see Ray Lewis holding the Lombardi Trophy as his swan song in Baltimore was not only believable, but it was Ray’s final act of redemption on the field.

How rare and unique was it to see the greatest athlete in the history of his franchise, the greatest defensive player of his generation, end his career with the same team and do it winning a Super Bowl championship on the way out of Baltimore?

Even though he told head coach John Harbaugh months earlier that he was walking away from the NFL at year’s end, his teammates had no clue when he entered the Owings Mills facility on January 2, 2013 what was about to transpire. Ray Lewis was going to tell his team that he was done. Based on the reactions that day, they were as shocked as most of the media witnessing it

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Chapter 3: The Wizard of Oz and The Process

Posted on 14 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“In a highly-charged, competitive business, I tend to want answers right away, and Ozzie has to sleep on it. I have learned that Ozzie’s insistence that we talk about it tomorrow has been beneficial to both John [Harbaugh] and myself. I like his skill set, and I think it works in our favor that he does tend to like to think things over, and we usually come up with better decisions because of it.”

– Steve Bisciotti (January 2012)

 

 

 

THERE’S AN ALMOST MYSTICAL WAY Ozzie Newsome has about him, and it’s apparent when you talk to his peers, colleagues, and anyone who has ever worked closely with him. You always get the same picture of a dedicated, happy football savant.

Ozzie Newsome doesn’t talk much publicly, but when he does just about everyone in the Baltimore Ravens organization listens. And in some cases, he says nothing at all and simply allows his decisions and the 17 years of success to speak for itself on game days and at the end of more playoff runs.

Newsome doesn’t hold court with anyone in the media, shuns virtually all of the public spotlight that comes with running the Ravens as the team’s only-ever general manager, and quietly sits in his office and does his job. Chances are he’s watching film right now. He evaluates talent. He evaluates situations. He puts together a strategy for every scenario and every aspect of the Ravens personnel puzzle that makes it to the field on Sundays.

He works in the shadows as the most humble Hall of Fame football player in the room. He doesn’t intimidate. He doesn’t raise his voice. His wisdom is Yoda-like throughout the NFL. No one outside of owner Steve Bisciotti knows his contract situation and it hasn’t been reported in years although every time a major job opens at the University of Alabama his name is whispered. In every other NFL city, the general manager’s contract reads like sands running through an hourglass, but not for Newsome and the Ravens.

A popular phrase in the Ravens building is “Ozzie transcends us all” and that doesn’t mean he’s “General Manager for Life” – but his post is among the most secure in professional sports as he approaches his third decade as the only man who has ever made a draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens.

Draft the right guys. Get the right coaches. Chase and sign the right free agents: right player, right price. Define a path and a strategy. And always follow “The Process,” a term Newsome has used repeatedly when describing the way his organization prepares for the NFL’s draft each April.

Perhaps it’s hard to believe that Newsome’s first draft choice in Baltimore on April 19, 1996 – the selection of left tackle Jonathan Ogden as the No. 4 overall selection from UCLA – was roundly booed by the fans at the Ravens’ inaugural draft party in downtown Baltimore. The crowd wanted troubled Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips. So did Ravens owner Art Modell. Newsome said “the process” indicated that Ogden was the right choice, and he always stays true to the draft board set up by his organization and scouts. Newsome will be rewarded for the courage of his convictions from 1996 once again in the summer of 2013 as “J.O.” will be enshrined in Canton alongside Newsome in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And Newsome’s second-ever draft pick for the Ravens less than three hours later? An undersized kid from the University of Miami by the name of Ray Lewis, another selection whose bronze bust will reside in the same room in Canton in 2018.

So what is the brilliance of Newsome and the key to his staying power while other franchises hire and fire at the top of their decision-making tree?

“Let’s start with the fact that he’s the best listener I’ve ever seen — not just in the NFL, but anywhere in life,” former head coach Brian Billick said about his football counterpart for nine years in Baltimore. “He has the patience of Job. And most importantly, he’s completely egoless. He doesn’t care about who gets the credit as long as the right decision is made.”

Traditionally, in most NFL organizations, the head of personnel would be hopping on planes, trains and automobiles, constantly on the road in the fall going to scout college players for the April draft. But that’s not the system in Baltimore. Newsome remains glued to Owings Mills for the balance of the regular season so he can constantly evaluate his own talent in the organization.

“Whenever I had to make a move on the 53-man roster or explain why we were using someone on the game day 46 (roster), I’d never have to explain it to Ozzie because he watched everything that happened all week,” Billick said. “In the beginning, I thought he was checking up on me, but then I came to realize I wouldn’t want it any other way. We were both seeing the same things all week, and it made both of our jobs easier.”

Instead, while he’s in Baltimore and continuing to evaluate his own players in purple, Newsome trusts his scouting corps to scour the nation with an eye for talent and unending amount of research, reports and evaluations long before the Senior Bowl or any of the combines and individual workouts at season’s end.

It’s the fire of the competition that fuels Newsome. He loves football. He loves watching players play. He loves the strategy of how to assemble a football team. And after 17 years of doing it what he calls “The Ravens Way,” he’s not about to change.

The brilliance and difference between Newsome and other scouts and personnel evaluators is that he has no inferiority complex and nothing to

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Chapter 1: Meet the new boss, not the same as the old boss

Posted on 12 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

Proverbs 29:18 says: ‘Where there is no vision the people perish.’ I guess that’s why I feel like we stuck to the vision and the team grew into it.”

— John Harbaugh (March 2013)

 

IT WASN’T EXACTLY A RESTFUL sleep for Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick on the night of Dec. 30, 2007, but the 27-21 home victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier that evening snapped a dismal nine-game losing streak to end the season on some semblance of a bright note and his agenda for beginning 2008 was clear after a disastrous 5-11 finish in a season that was steeped in promise with a 4-2 start.

Earlier that week, Billick sat for hours with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and General Manager Ozzie Newsome, as he frequently had, reviewing and evaluating the state of the Baltimore Ravens roster and future. After the final game with Pittsburgh, he visited emeritus owner and founder Art Modell in his box at the stadium feeling good about defeating the Ravens’ arch rival and snapping a nine-game losing streak to finish 2007 with a modicum of success and a hint of some future achievement.

The long, exhausting season was over, but while December 31, 2007 wasn’t officially 2008 just yet, Billick’s sleep deprivation had to do more with future planning than a future canning. He had repeatedly been told his job was safe during the agonizing losing streak and the team’s public relations machine moved earlier in the month to announce publicly that Billick wasn’t going to be fired. He was “safe.” Plus, he was only concluding the first of a four-year, $24 million contract he signed after the 2006 Ravens went 13-3, but suffered a tough loss to the Indianapolis Colts during the playoffs.

Yet, on what is always known around the NFL as “Black Monday” for its many coaching staff firings, many sports media outlets were still speculating about the state of Billick’s job security.

At 8:40 a.m., during a 25-minute phone call, he was insistent that his job security was, well, secure. Billick was always candid, always painfully honest and up-until-this-point, always “in the know” when it came to the state of the Ravens. Over the previous nine years, his integrity, honesty and information had been in his words “unfiltered” — meaning the unvarnished truth.

At 10:10 a.m. the internet and local sports world exploded with multiple reports that Brian Billick was out as the coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

The shots heard round Owings Mills were not only unexpected by Billick, but by most of the media, many members of his coaching staff, and everyone else in the organization who reasoned that the three years left on his contract — still damp with just 11 months of tread on it and $18 million more of Baltimore Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti’s money guaranteed — made him amongst the safest coaches on the continent.

Sure, the Ravens had a bad year amidst a sea of injuries and another season of dreadful quarterback play with a broken down Steve McNair, an overmatched former Heisman Trophy winner in Troy Smith and the unfulfilled potential of 2003 first-round draft pick Kyle Boller, but firing a decorated coach was certainly a major risk (and expense) for Bisciotti.

Newsome was powerless and only became aware of Bisciotti’s intentions hours before. This was Steve’s decision and Steve’s alone.

The head coach who had led the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs in four of his nine seasons and a 2001 Super Bowl title was unceremoniously fired and suddenly an NFL head coaching job was now available, where only moments before there was a franchise with a clear leader and a clear direction that had

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Five years later, the magic of Purple Reign 2 and Ravens Super Bowl title revisited

Posted on 11 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

Prologue:

Here we go again, Baltimore!

 

 

May 14, 2013

 

When I wrote “Purple Reign: Diary Of A Raven Maniac” in March 2001, it was no less than a small civic miracle that the Baltimore Ravens even existed. Given what our community had been through trying to get back into the NFL after the departure of Bob Irsay and the Mayflower van exodus of the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis on that snowy night of March 28, 1984, just having an NFL team was a victory in itself. This is sometimes lost on the younger generation of fans in Baltimore and should never be forgotten.

The ensuing hostage situation involving civic money, stadiums, lawyers, lawsuits, a private-mostly-old-boys-club of NFL owners, and the expansion charade that Paul Tagliabue presided over in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was as big a part of the story for anyone who loves Baltimore, loved the Colts, or was falling in love with the Ravens. As an aside, two decades later the choice of Jacksonville and Charlotte look fairly dubious as NFL hot spots despite the insistence of The Sun King that Baltimore was unworthy and should consider building a museum.

Anyone who is over the age of 40 would tell you that they spent long stretches of their lives from 1984 through 1995 believing that Baltimore would never get an NFL team again. The odds were so slim that I went so far as to say on my radio show in 1993 that I’d run naked down Pratt Street if NFL football ever returned to Charm City. And, yes, you can google my name, “Nasty” and “naked run” to see that I pretty much paid up on the wager in the spring of 1996 after Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore to become the Ravens. I must warn you – it’s not a pretty sight, me running through rush hour traffic in tighty-whiteys taking $10 bills from cabbies who wanted to donate to the charity run.

I declared it a civic miracle that Baltimore got a team – and it really was. To think that all of the political machinations that ended with John Moag, building on the efforts of Herb Belgrad and the fading dream of outgoing governor William Donald Schaefer, succeeded in bringing the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore by offering Arthur B. Modell and his family a bigger, better deal is still the greatest “tipping point” event of my life. I’ll never forget that day and the promise that it brought to my life as a Baltimore sports radio personality and wannabe-entrepreneur.

I had faith. I was purple when purple wasn’t cool.

The Modell family brought football to Baltimore and allowed me to shed every piece of Houston Oilers’ gear I’d ever owned and loved.

The marriage between the Ravens and Baltimore gave my career life, my family the ability to hope, launch, grow and build WNST AM-1570 & WNST.net in 1998. It also landed me a nationally syndicated radio program for three years on Sporting News Radio that included the Ravens’ 2001 Super Bowl win. And it’s allowed me to follow my childhood dream to be a sports writer in my hometown in the modern era of social media. I love Baltimore sports as much as you do, and I’ve devoted my life to chronicling it.

You are holding a book that took 100 days to write, but 17 years to research and about 29 years to live. The championship was a gift to me, and I felt a calling to write about it and you’re holding the result.

And this miracle gift of NFL football in Baltimore that was willed to exist by a toxic stew of money, lawyers, lies, covert meetings, politicians, local business, fans, television, and a roomful of really wealthy white men over the past 40 years has given our sports community the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s kinda like sausage: you really don’t want to know how it’s made.

Since 1958, Baltimore has won five NFL titles via the Colts and Ravens and three World Series via the Orioles.

I’m about to enter my 30th year on the Baltimore sports media scene that began in 1984 at The News American, and I’ve never seen a bigger – or better – local sports story than this unlikely Super Bowl run of the 2012 Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis marching the Lombardi Trophy through the streets of downtown amidst 250,000 people near the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards.

Here’s the truth: this book you’re about to read was an absolute labor of love because these stories jumped off the lips of those who gave me access and honesty from inside and outside the Baltimore Ravens organization. There aren’t enough pages in this book to express how grateful I am to have been involved in chronicling all of these Ravens games over the years. For better or worse, it’s defined my life and my career. And this book is the most important project of my career.

And my first question to virtually every person in February and March 2013 in researching this book was: “What were the most important decisions that led to a Super Bowl 47 win?”

I got a myriad of different answers:

 

  • The Ray Lewis last ride inspired the team
  • Joe Flacco emerged and was flawless in the playoffs & Super Bowl
  • Cam Cameron was fired
  • Jim Caldwell took over the play calling
  • Terrell Suggs coming back allowed Paul Kruger to rush the passer
  • Corey Graham could actually play cornerback in the NFL
  • Justin Tucker was a better kicker than Billy Cundiff
  • Anquan Boldin caught big passes down the stretch
  • Having Bryant McKinnie play well at left tackle and moving Michael Oher to right tackle gave Joe Flacco time and confidence to throw
  • Jacoby Jones made big plays all year

 

These are the obvious strategic and emotional issues that led to the team winning in December and January on the field, but there were thousands of decisions made off the field dating all the way back to the day that Ozzie

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Ravens still sounding too comfortable until they prove otherwise

Posted on 04 January 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A few summers ago, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh walked to the interview podium wearing a shirt with an appropriate slogan for a sweltering training camp practice.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Many are wondering if the Ravens are just plain comfortable these days despite having missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. Harbaugh’s decision to retain offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg certainly doesn’t do anything to debunk that perception. We may never know if the Ravens might have even retained defensive coordinator Dean Pees had he not chosen to retire.

Having just finished his first decade in Baltimore, Harbaugh began Thursday’s press conference not by lamenting his team not being good enough in 2017, but he instead expressed deep pride in his players’ hard work to be the best they could be. That’s a noble sentiment and not necessarily untrue, but it’s not the opening message your fan base wants to hear four days after one of the biggest collapses and worst home losses in team history. This is a results-driven business in which praise for hard work and doing your best rings hollow when you fail in such a crucial situation.

Announcing he was retaining Mornhinweg made it even worse.

“I believe in these coaches. I understand the job that they did this year because I see it close up,” said Harbaugh, who cited the the Ravens being the second-highest scoring team in the NFL after their bye week. “I think our offense made a heck of a lot of progress, especially considering the adversity that we faced and the challenges we were up against this year. That’s why we are rolling.”

Of course, the passing game being the worst in the NFL through the first three months of the season was a major reason why the Ravens needed to win six of their last seven games to make the playoffs. Let’s also not overlook the first half of Sunday’s game when the offense had seven straight three-and-outs and managed only two first downs to contribute to a double-digit deficit against Cincinnati. It’s no secret the Ravens didn’t exactly play a whopper of a schedule after the bye week either. Even as Joe Flacco showed much-needed improvement down the stretch, there were still plenty of head-scratching calls to point to.

Mornhinweg certainly dealt with difficult circumstances, ranging from the front office’s lack of commitment to improving the offense in the offseason to Flacco’s summer back injury and Marshal Yanda’s season-ending ankle fracture in Week 3. But does the December improvement and his overall body of work that began as the quarterbacks coach in 2015 — the first of three straight seasons in which Flacco’s yards per attempt rate has dropped — provide enough justification to retain him for another season?

Making matters more unsettling, the Ravens could lose senior offensive assistant and run-game guru Greg Roman, who is not under contract for 2018 and could garner consideration as an offensive coordinator elsewhere. His departure would renew fears about a ground attack that improved markedly this season after being woefully inadequate the previous two seasons under Marc Trestman and then Mornhinweg. A fair argument could be made to promote Roman and hire an outsider to work with Flacco and oversee the passing game, but the status quo will instead remain at the coordinator spot.

Is it continuity or complacency?

Let’s not forget this is the same head coach and organization that fired their offensive coordinator when the Ravens were 9-4 and already a safe bet to make the playoffs in mid-December of 2012. If you’re not going to shake things up after missing the postseason for the third straight year, when will you again?

Regardless of who’s calling the plays as the offensive coordinator, Harbaugh knows the Ravens must add playmakers at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Criticize Mornhinweg all you want, but having to count on the likes of Michael Campanaro and Quincy Adeboyejo with your season on the line isn’t exactly giving a coach a great chance to succeed.

“I think if anyone looks at the needs on our team, that’s where we’re going to be looking to fill our roster,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not giving away any secret there. Everybody in the league knows that. We have to do that.”

The problem is you could have pulled that same quote from 2013 or 2014 or 2015 or last year. That’s where the front office and scouting department come into the picture and must own their shortcomings.

After again pumping most of their resources into the defense last offseason, will general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens finally change up their post-Super Bowl XLVII approach or offer more of the same? Will this organization do something to finally address its blind spot at the wide receiver position? Or will they stick with what’s comfortable?

You’d think jobs are depending on it, but many assumed that to be the case a year ago.

Those fans demanding a pound of flesh were likely always going to be disappointed short of owner Steve Bisciotti waking up on New Year’s Day and electing to clean house, but there’s still little evidence of a renewed sense of urgency after another January that will be spent watching the playoffs at home. The Ravens can’t keep using the “one play away” argument and expect their fans to buy it, evident by the thousands of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium down the stretch.

Now 40-40 with only one playoff win since raising the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans 59 months ago, Harbaugh still looked and sounded quite comfortable at the podium on Thursday, evident by the lack of changes to his staff.

It will now be up to the front office to change the Ravens’ perception to offer fans more hope for 2018 and beyond.

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New Year’s Eve brings new low for Ravens in stunning defeat

Posted on 01 January 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens entered Sunday with roughly a 97-percent chance of making the playoffs, needing a win over Cincinnati or help from Miami or Jacksonville to punch their ticket.

An assist never came.

According to ESPN, their win probability still stood at 93.4 percent when Cincinnati burned its final timeout, facing a fourth-and-12 at the Baltimore 49 with 53 seconds to go. We know what happened next, and there’s no kind way to put it.

The Ravens choked. Once again, they couldn’t finish, an all-too-common theme of the post-Super Bowl XLVII era.

But this wasn’t arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history erasing two 14-point deficits against an undermanned Baltimore secondary in the 2014 playoffs. Or even Ben Roethlisberger finding Antonio Brown in the final seconds of a heartbreaking loss at Heinz Field last Christmas.

Those disappointments came on the road to superior teams, making them at least semi-tolerable after some time had passed. This one came in their own stadium where they’ve enjoyed one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL for nearly two decades.

Yes, the Ravens let Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd — who entered the day with 17 receptions on the season — beat them on a 49-yard touchdown pass in the final minute. The Bengals, a losing team out of the playoffs and with nothing to play for on Sunday, ended Baltimore’s season this time.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. If owner Steve Bisciotti was full of “bewilderment” at the end of last season, how might he react to the Ravens missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years despite a schedule that couldn’t have set up any better down the stretch? Would major changes really shock you after the most stunning home loss in team history and an abysmal first half from a team that came out flat and unprepared?

Head coach John Harbaugh needs to answer for that second part, especially on the heels of an uninspiring performance against Indianapolis last week.

It’s easy — and completely fair — to point blame at defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who reportedly plans to retire anyway. Few could argue that a defense that’s received so many resources over the last few years wouldn’t benefit from some new blood in the coaching department. Even if Pees changes his mind, it’s difficult to envision him coming back from something like this for a second year in a row.

Frankly, this organization needs to take a long look in the mirror and realize it’s about more than just another late defensive collapse. The truth is the overall vision has been flawed since raising the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans five years ago. Ever since being led to a Super Bowl championship by Joe Flacco and their offense, the Ravens have been trying to chase the ghost of the 2000 defense, almost as if they were ashamed to have won their second championship in the manner they did.

General manager Ozzie Newsome signed Flacco to a big contract like any team would have in that position and has proceeded to pump virtually all meaningful resources into the other side of the ball while expecting the quarterback to be something he’s not. And please don’t say it’s all because of the quarterback’s salary cap number either as the Ravens have selected 13 defensive players with their 17 Day 1 and Day 2 picks over the last five drafts, the best avenue for finding inexpensive talent.

Even with all those picks as well as free-agent dollars exhausted, we’re still talking about the same defensive shortcomings while the offensive holes are mostly filled at the dollar store in hopes of being average if everything goes perfectly. The unbalanced approach has repeatedly netted a below-average offense and a good — but not great — defense with one playoff appearance in five years.

The Ravens can’t allow the finish to this season to fool them like it did a year ago when they went all in on defense in the offseason and barely touched the offense after the collapse against Pittsburgh. It was a commendable finish to 2017 by Flacco despite how little he had to work with and his own health concerns, but this offense was woeful over the first three months of the season and was inept in the first half of Sunday’s game, a big reason why the Ravens trailed by 14 midway through the third quarter.

The offense needs more skill-position talent and more innovative coaching.

This model of repeatedly trying to build a super defense while asking Flacco to do more with less just isn’t working. The truth is it’s really, really difficult to build a historic defense in today’s NFL, no matter how many resources you continue to pump into it.

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player will be turning 33 later this month and isn’t getting any younger. Flacco has his obvious flaws, but he’s proven to be good enough to win if this organization would make more than a halfhearted effort to build around him. Maybe the defense wouldn’t then find itself in quite as many of these late-game situations with little margin for error.

Frankly, I’ll still take my chances with Flacco and a better supporting cast around him over a defense that doesn’t have a 25-year-old Ray Lewis or Ed Reed walking through the door.

To be clear, this isn’t a call for Bisciotti to completely blow it up top to bottom. From Newsome to Harbaugh and others behind the scenes, there is a track record of past success that shouldn’t just be thrown away in haste.

But the same old practices aren’t working and haven’t for a while.

An embarrassing loss to the Bengals to ruin a trip to the playoffs should spark change, but it remains to be seen whether the Ravens will recognize that or just go down the same old path again.

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Five Ravens predictions for rest of 2017 season

Posted on 14 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The next seven weeks could be the most pivotal stretch for the Ravens in a decade.

A strong finish — perhaps just an OK one — would send Baltimore to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and at least temporarily calm concerns about the long-term outlook of the organization. A poor finish would mean missing the postseason for the fourth time in five years and bracing to see how owner Steve Bisciotti might react after exercising much patience with head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome in recent years.

It’s difficult to predict who the Ravens really are with all four of their wins coming by multiple scores and each of their five defeats including double-digit deficits at some point during the contest. On the bright side, the Ravens face only three more opponents currently owning winning records, meaning they won’t be able to point to a difficult schedule if they’re on the outside looking in come early January. However, none of Baltimore’s four victories this season have come against teams currently above .500.

Below are five predictions for the remainder of the 2017 season:

1. Jimmy Smith will be named team MVP and be invited to his first Pro Bowl. Injuries have always prevented the 2011 first-round pick from reaching and sustaining greatness, but the veteran cornerback is in the midst of the best season of his career. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith carries the NFL’s lowest opponent passer rating in coverage and has graded as the fifth-best corner in football. You only hope the bye week was beneficial for the Achilles tendinitis he’s battled for much of the season, but he’s continued to play at an elite level despite that ailment. He’s been the Ravens’ best player.

2. Alex Collins will become Baltimore’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett in 2014. With a passing attack ranking last in the NFL in yards per game and yards per attempt, the Ravens must rush at a high level to win and the surprising Collins has been substantially better than anyone else carrying the ball with 521 rushing yards. Even with his lighter 210-pound frame, the second-year back should be poised for a heavy workload down the stretch after carrying the ball only 93 times so far this year. Collins won’t continue to average 5.6 yards per carry, but he’ll remain a major contributor.

3. Breshad Perriman will be a healthy scratch at some point down the stretch. The Ravens desperately want to see their 2015 first-round pick pan out, but it isn’t happening and he has regressed to the point that he’s hurting the team when the ball is thrown his way. After catching an underwhelming 50 percent of his targets last season (33-for-66), Perriman has caught just seven of the 27 passes thrown his way, a major reflection of a dysfunctional passing game. Unlike Chris Moore and Michael Campanaro, Perriman doesn’t contribute on special teams and isn’t playing with any confidence.

4. Joe Flacco will avoid full-season career lows in passing yards and touchdowns — barely. I’ve been critical of the handling of the offense since Anquan Boldin was traded and believe the organization has repeatedly failed to provide enough help for Flacco, but coaching and the personnel around him can’t fully explain him being one of the league’s worst statistical quarterbacks. He’s on pace to throw for 2,757 yards, fewer than both his rookie year and 2015 when he missed six games. He’ll pick up his production, but it’s tough not to feel Flacco is a broken product of his environment and injuries.

5. The Ravens will finish 8-8 for the second straight year and will hope other wild-card contenders in the AFC continue to struggle. The schedule is favorable, but John Harbaugh’s team hasn’t secured a three-game winning streak since the first three games of 2016 and has only one over the last three seasons combined, a reflection of the Ravens’ inability to sustain success. With one of the worst offenses in the league and a good defense that hasn’t yet found a way to be consistently great enough to carry the load, Baltimore isn’t built to stack win after win and will look back at the Week 6 home loss to Chicago with particular regret. Don’t be totally shocked, however, if the Ravens or another team sneaks into the AFC playoffs with an 8-8 record. Yes, the conference is that bad beyond the top few teams.

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Ravens stand pat at deadline, welcome Woodhead back to practice

Posted on 31 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With one of the most memorable trade deadlines in NFL history coming and going Tuesday afternoon, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens elected to stand pat.

According to the NFLPA, Baltimore began the week with just $2.976 million in salary cap room, a reality that was going to make any possible trade for a veteran player by 4 p.m. a difficult proposition. The Ravens have restructured several contracts in recent months just to create the current cap space to get through the rest of the season, a product of already having 15 players on injured reserve.

Unlike most years when little more than a few nondescript trades are completed, several high-profile players around the league were dealt before Tuesday’s deadline, a list that included three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown (Houston to Seattle), wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina to Buffalo), Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi (Miami to Philadelphia), and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (New England to San Francisco). Some had speculated that T.Y Hilton of Indianapolis or Miami’s Jarvis Landry would be a good fit for the offense-deficient Ravens, but neither receiver was traded on Tuesday afternoon.

The Ravens did welcome running back Danny Woodhead back to the practice field for the first time since he re-injured his left hamstring in the season opener on Sept. 10. Woodhead becomes the second Baltimore player to be designated to return from injured reserve after cornerback Maurice Canady began practicing earlier this month. Canady is eligible to be elevated to the 53-man roster for Sunday’s game at Tennessee, but Woodhead would not be allowed to play until Week 11 against Green Bay at the earliest.

Newsome also made a change to the active roster Tuesday by cutting veteran wide receiver Griff Whalen and promoting offensive lineman Maurquice Shakir from the practice squad. Shakir gives Baltimore an eighth offensive lineman on the 53-man roster. The Ravens also signed offensive linemen Jason King and Steven Moore to their practice squad.

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