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Ravens couldn’t be further from “paradise” right now

Posted on 22 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Upon being inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime on Sunday, former Ravens safety Ed Reed ended his brief speech by belting out the refrain from “Two Tickets to Paradise,” conjuring memories from the franchise’s victory in Super Bowl XLVII.

The Ravens couldn’t be further from that paradise almost 34 months later after losing Joe Flacco — the MVP 0n that memorable night in New Orleans — to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on the final drive of the 16-13 win over St. Louis. Of course, Baltimore’s 2015 playoff hopes were all but officially gone long before Flacco and 2014 Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett suffered season-ending injuries on Sunday, but losing your franchise quarterback to a serious injury rocks an organization from top to bottom.

The season from hell continues.

“I’m probably still in shock a little bit,” said Flacco, who started the Ravens’ last 137 games counting the playoffs and will now miss the first action of his eight-year career. “You play football and you play as long as I have and you play as hard as we do out there, then stuff like this happens. You have to just stand tall and be tough about it.

“That’s all you can do.”

At 3-7 and now preparing for the final six games with veteran backup Matt Schaub at the helm, the Ravens will play out the string with eyes pointing squarely toward the future and an unsettling offseason. In addition to improving a roster lacking game-changing talent on both sides of the ball, general manager Ozzie Newsome will need to renegotiate Flacco’s contract that carries a $28.55 million salary cap figure in 2016 while not knowing for sure if the veteran signal-caller will be ready for the start of next season.

Until Flacco is healthy and back under center, the Ravens won’t be able to help but feel there’s a black cloud hanging over their heads.

In the meantime, the Ravens and their fans will receive a glimpse of life without their franchise quarterback. Troy Smith was the last quarterback not named Flacco to start a regular-season game for the Ravens when Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden was playing in his final game and Brian Billick was coaching his last contest on Dec. 30, 2007.

Jettisoned by Houston and Oakland in the last two years, Schaub will now be asked to compete without the Ravens’ top two receivers (Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman), top two running backs (Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro), and starting center (Jeremy Zuttah) entering training camp. Frankly, it’s a near-impossible situation for a 34-year-old many feared had already reached the end of the road as an NFL quarterback before signing a one-year deal to back up the durable Flacco.

The Ravens may be fortunate to win another game the rest of the way, which would at least help their position in the 2016 draft after the most disappointing season in franchise history. From that perspective, the ugly win over the Rams on Sunday felt more like a loss, especially after learning of Flacco’s injury minutes after Justin Tucker’s game-winning 47-yard field goal.

Anyone watching the Ravens play in 2015 knows the problems run deeper than a slew of injuries to impact players such as six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, tight end Dennis Pitta, Smith, and now Flacco and Forsett, but it’s difficult to recall too many NFL teams suffering such a number of injuries to high-impact players in recent memory. At least an already-poor record numbs the disappointment of losing Flacco compared to if the Ravens had been 7-3 and just seen their Super Bowl aspirations crushed on Sunday like Arizona experienced losing Carson Palmer to a torn ACL last November.

But you still can’t help but feel like the Ravens are snakebitten.

“I guess when it rains it pours,” outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “We’ve been dealing with it all year, from Suggs to Steve. It’s tough. … Nobody feels sorry for us. We’ve got to make sure we come out and prepare hard.”

What’s next?

Many wondered how the Ravens would respond to last week’s gut-wrenching loss to Jacksonville and if they would continue to compete in the way they have all season with one-possession outcomes in every game. Baltimore flirted with the wheels completely falling off the cart for much of Sunday’s game with more than 100 yards in penalties in the first half and scoring just three points through three quarters.

Receiving plenty of help from the sloppy Rams, the Ravens managed to pull out their third victory of the season by making fewer mistakes than their opponent in the end. But without Flacco — or Forsett — for the rest of the season on top of their many other injuries, when will enough finally become enough physically, mentally, and emotionally?

“It’s tremendously disappointing for those [injured] guys,” said John Harbaugh, who will coach his first game without Flacco under center next Monday night in Cleveland. “We’ll be fine as a football team. We’ll bounce back — that’s what you do. Matt Schaub can play quarterback, and he’s going to come in [and] he’s going to play very well.”

If only it were that simple, but what else can the Ravens coach really say at this point?

The Ravens were reminded on Sunday that it wasn’t that long ago that they reached paradise in raising the second Vince Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

But less than three years later, that memory feels a universe away.

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Harbaugh not aware of any long-term concern with Perriman’s knee

Posted on 18 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Though disappointed over Breshad Perriman being placed on injured reserve, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says he doesn’t have any long-term concerns about the health of the rookie wide receiver’s right knee.

After Perriman suffered a sprained posterior cruciate ligament on July 30 and never recovered to the point that he could play this season, Harbaugh was asked Wednesday whether there were fears about his prognosis for the future and if there was a degenerative issue that caused his longer-than-expected recovery.

“Not that I’ve been told,” Harbaugh said. “To me, it’s still a hard one to understand. [There are] better people to ask than me about that. I’m just disappointed. And I’ll tell you Breshad is disappointed, and we’re all disappointed.

“I had a chance to talk to him [Tuesday] probably for the first time in-depth, because he was hard to talk to before. You couldn’t talk to him. You’ve seen him around. He was just so down about the whole thing. He seemed a little more at peace with his future, and he was excited about the progress he’s making.”

After suffering the injury that was initially diagnosed as a bruise on the day it occurred, Perriman eventually practiced on a limited basis for two days in late September before suffering a setback prior to the Ravens’ Week 3 game against Cincinnati at M&T Bank Stadium. He underwent arthroscopic surgery a few days later, but the 6-foot-2 wideout never got close to returning to the practice field.

Harbaugh said Wednesday that he wasn’t “really involved” in the decision to place Perriman on IR as general manager Ozzie Newsome ultimately made the roster move on Tuesday. The first receiver drafted in the first round by the Ravens since 2005, Perriman is the only first-round pick in franchise history not to play a single game as a rookie.

Now, Baltimore will enter the offseason not truly knowing what they have in Perriman as an NFL receiver.

“I know that — and Ozzie told me this — we were very hopeful that we could get him out there,” Harbaugh said. “We were waiting as long as we could to see if that could happen, and it just didn’t look like it could happen. That’s really the extent that I’m aware of what’s going on with that.”

Reed of Honor

The Ravens will officially induct free safety Ed Reed into their Ring of Honor on Sunday, which will serve as a pleasant distraction from a disappointing 2015 season.

A nine-time Pro Bowl selection and a surefire Hall of Fame inductee one day, Reed is regarded by many as one of the three best players in franchise history along with Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

“When you’re here for the time period I was here and what he was doing, a pick-six was a normality; you thought that happened every weekend everywhere,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who played five seasons with Reed. “It was crazy how many times he was able to do that and make game-changing plays. It was pretty special.”

Regarded as one of the best ball-hawking safeties in the history of the NFL, Reed was also a dynamic special-teams player early in his career. That point wasn’t lost on St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher, who was victimized by Reed when he coached the Tennessee Titans.

“The first thing that comes to mind is whoever is your wing on punt team is going to have a rough day, because nobody rushed the punter better then Ed over his career,” Fisher said. “I was really impressed with what he did. And that just kind of shows and speaks volumes to the player that he was. Because he was not only the safety — and one of the best safeties to ever play the game — but parts of the game that were important to him, he took them seriously and was really productive.”

Officiating disenchantment

Asked to react to the NFL confirming that a false start should have been called at the end of Sunday’s game that would have resulted in a 20-19 win over Jacksonville, Harbaugh made it apparent that he’s miffed with officiating on a weekly basis.

“We’ve sent in 16 other plays,” Harbaugh said. “We do that every week, and the vast majority of them come back [with], ‘Yes, you’re right. Yes, you’re right. Yes, you’re right.’ I feel the same way about that play as I feel about the other issues that we have every single week.”

Does the eighth-year head coach believe it’s been more of a problem around the league this season?

“I’m not going to get into that,” Harbaugh said. “We’re trying to take care of the Rams. That’s what we have to focus on. That’s why I can’t think about it. We can’t afford to be dwelling on that.”

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Avoiding finger-pointing may become Ravens’ biggest challenge

Posted on 27 October 2015 by Luke Jones

You could find excuses anywhere you looked after the Ravens fell to 1-6 on Monday night.

Substandard officiating and malfunctioning headsets are real issues the NFL needs to address, but dwelling on such factors serves no purpose when you’re in the midst of the worst start in franchise history.

An ever-growing list of injuries has stunted the ceiling of the 2015 Ravens, no matter if expectations were too high for such a playmaker-deprived roster to begin with.

Still a few days shy from Halloween, the Ravens face a cruel reality that no one could have anticipated.

The season is over — at least in the scope that football seasons have been viewed in Baltimore over the last 15 years. Even if you’re crazy enough to believe the Ravens are capable of winning eight or nine of their final nine contests in 2015, that still might not be enough as it was only last year that they needed a hand from Kansas City in Week 17 just to sneak into the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

Six losses by one score each might make the Ravens the best 1-6 team in NFL history, but that still only fetches the first overall pick in the 2016 draft if the season were to end today.

If Super Bowl XLVII was John Harbaugh’s finest hour in Baltimore, the eighth-year head coach is now entering his most critical one. With nine games to go in the season from hell, Harbaugh must steer the Ravens clear of the finger-pointing game the rest of the way.

Harbaugh has said this isn’t the first time one of his teams has faced adversity and has maintained that it will make the Ravens better in the long run, but it’s easier to hold the ship together in the midst of a losing streak when you’re still in the heart of the playoff race. Even when the Ravens stood at 0-3 or 1-4 earlier this season, there were historical examples from which to draw inspiration that they could climb back in the hunt.

But at 1-6, the Ravens have entered the territory when everyone — players, coaches, and members of the front office — begins looking over his shoulder. Even the bulletproof Ozzie Newsome has to be feeling at least the slightest bit of anxiety these days when he sees Steve Bisciotti’s name light up on his phone. They wouldn’t be the competitors that they are if that uneasiness didn’t exist right now.

That doesn’t mean Bisciotti will or should clean house, but everyone’s seat — some more than others — should feel at least a little warm over such a poor start.

The truth is that the Ravens aren’t fixing all of their problems this year, meaning not everyone is going to be around to see these dark times through. That goes for players, coaches, and the rest of the organization as change is an annual part of the NFL even when life is good. How much change remains to be seen, but that uncertainty for everyone is what Harbaugh must weather as the face of the organization over the rest of the season.

Right or wrong, it’s human nature for coaches to want to point to the front office and to players, for players to blame coaches and each other, for the front office to point to coaches for not getting the job done with the roster assembled in the offseason, and for all parties to blame injuries, officiating, and any other variable creeping into the equation in a given week. How effectively the Ravens avoid those traps over the next two months will go a long way in determining how long everyone sticks around under Bisciotti, who once fired a Super Bowl-winning coach only a year after he’d led the Ravens to the best regular-season mark in franchise history.

It was less than two years ago that the highly-competitive owner vowed to get more involved if the Ravens repeated the mistakes of a 2013 season that ended in an 8-8 record. Two years later, those problems pale in comparison to what they face now.

“I have to be patient to let people fail, but I don’t have to be patient enough to let people repeat failure,” Bisciotti said in January 2014. “I’ll be more apt to get my way next year if their solutions don’t change the problems. That’s fair, that’s where I am as owner.”

To the credit of Harbaugh, his staff, and his players, there have been few signs of the effort coming into question despite the results not being there. It would be too difficult to continue losing games by one possession if you weren’t giving it your all — or at least close to it — on a weekly basis in the NFL. So far, the Ravens have been quick not to use injuries, bad luck, or talent deficiencies in key areas as excuses and have taken accountability for all shortcomings under their control.

But will growing emphasis on the future prompt individuals to start thinking more about themselves instead of the greater good? It’s that type of thinking that becomes dangerous to a team and an organization.

Even with factors currently out of their control, everyone needs to be better.

Harbaugh and his staff need to accentuate the Ravens’ strengths — as few as there might be — and find ways to mask their weakness — as many as there are — as much as possible.

In a unique position as the franchise quarterback and highest-paid player on the team, Joe Flacco needs to find a way to make it work — at least a little better — with Marc Trestman and an underwhelming group of talent behind Steve Smith. Flacco’s comments about the final drive on Monday night seemed to allude to more than just headset issues and wouldn’t be the first time his words could be interpreted as some disenchantment with his new offensive coordinator. Likewise, a veteran coach like Trestman needs to better organize a group that’s been prone to getting completely out of sync for large portions of games like the offense was in the second half of Monday’s loss.

A poor defense that performed better against Arizona — relative to recent performances at least — has to find a way to build on that showing, starting with a Week 8 challenge against San Diego’s top-ranked passing game. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees lacks the horses to fairly compare this unit to the many great Baltimore defenses of the past, but he’s coaching for his job at this point with the league’s 28th-ranked pass defense.

Every player on the 53-man roster down to the last member on the practice squad needs to dig deep as many will be playing for their futures — in Baltimore or somewhere else — the rest of the way in 2015.

It will be Harbaugh’s responsibility to hold so many moving parts together without the familiar carrot of postseason play ahead and with everyone now looking over his shoulder and facing the temptation to point the finger elsewhere.

And even though much of their work won’t come until the offseason, Newsome and the front office need to do much better than the roster assembled for the 2015 season. An infusion of play-making, impact talent on both sides of the ball needs to occur as quickly as possible, which won’t be easy.

Excuses are all over the place if you’re willing to give in, and playing out the string won’t be pleasant.

But each member of the organization needs to remember that every time you point a finger somewhere else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

It’s an easy lesson to remember when times are good as they have been for a long time in Baltimore, but the Ravens have never found themselves in a position quite like this before.

In the NFL’s basement and with all hope lost for the 2015 season — at least in the way they envisioned it not too long ago.

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Ravens’ deficiencies at key positions costing them dearly

Posted on 19 October 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s too easy to criticize Shareece Wright after the Ravens’ 25-20 loss to San Francisco on Sunday.

The veteran cornerback had the debut from hell for his new team against his old one, twice being burned for touchdowns in pass coverage. But expecting any better from Wright after signing him off the street less than a week ago is akin to wondering why the car you picked out at the junkyard wouldn’t run without extensive work in the garage.

There was a reason Wright had been inactive four straight weeks for the 49ers before he was finally granted his release earlier this month. Despite being signed to a one-year, $3 million contract by San Francisco in March, Wright was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 103rd-best out of 108 cornerbacks to play at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in 2014.

Head coach John Harbaugh was harsh in his assessment of Wright after the game, but the 5-foot-11 cornerback’s mere presence on the field Sunday was a damning indictment on the state of the 2015 Ravens. And it reflects general manager Ozzie Newsome’s failure to improve one of the most critical positions on the field for a second straight offseason.

Injuries are part of the story, but let’s not pretend that Lardarius Webb has played at a level near what the Ravens envisioned when signing him to a big contract more than three years ago. Will Davis flashed potential in two games before a season-ending knee injury, but he was only acquired when others such as Kyle Arrington and Rashaan Melvin already weren’t cutting it.

After a nightmarish 2014 at the cornerback position, Newsome signed the veteran Arrington — who hasn’t played well — and drafted Tray Walker from Texas Southern to address the problem. To think the fresh-off-the-street Wright was a better option than your fourth-round pick suggests you reached too far in drafting a project you can’t even trust as your No. 4 or No. 5 cornerback on the depth chart.

It doesn’t help that top cornerback Jimmy Smith has been slow to regain his pre-injury form and was burned for a 51-yard reception by the slow-footed Anquan Boldin that set up an eventual touchdown in the fourth quarter. Paid to be a shutdown corner in the offseason, Smith dropped a would-be interception in the first half with plenty of open field in front of him.

A pass rush too dependent on the blitz and suspect safety play — another position that’s struggled the last few years — haven’t done the cornerbacks any favors in 2015, but it’s a position that’s too important in this pass-happy era of the NFL to be this poor. Throwing Wright into such a meaningful role after only a few days to learn the defensive system and with no live-game action under his belt since the preseason was grasping at straws at best. The 49ers knew their former player’s weaknesses and didn’t hesitate to go after him while the Ravens left him on an island with no safety help on Torrey Smith’s 76-yard touchdown catch.

Of course, cornerback isn’t the only position of concern for the 1-5 Ravens as they continue to get little from any receiver not named Steve Smith, who caught seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown but dropped two other throws in the end zone. Not a single wideout other than the veteran registered a catch in the first half on Sunday as the Baltimore offense started slowly and fell behind 16-3 early.

Kamar Aiken did catch a late fourth-quarter touchdown to make it a one-possession game, but watching Jeremy Ross and Chris Givens — two players who weren’t even with the Ravens in the preseason — playing late in the game again showed the failure that the offseason plan has been in replacing Torrey Smith.

Newsome and the Ravens could not envision first-round pick Breshad Perriman injuring his knee on the first day of training camp, but pushing all of their chips to the middle of the table on a rookie has blown up in their faces in 2015. Drafting Perriman wasn’t the real mistake; not having any semblance of a backup plan to stretch the field was the major error when you acknowledge the history of NFL first-round receivers who haven’t found immediate success on the field.

Watching Joe Flacco stand in the pocket time after time on Sunday — he amazingly wasn’t sacked once despite dropping back 53 times — with no one open to throw to was maddening. The quarterback needs to be better as he threw two inexcusable interceptions leading to six points for San Francisco, but how much can you really expect when he has exactly one reliable option who’s 36 and a collection of castoffs, undrafted free agents, and late-round picks to throw to?

Able to effectively run the ball and stop the run, the current Ravens may be built for success in past eras, but the passing game is more important than ever in today’s NFL. If you can’t throw the football, rush the passer, or play in coverage, you’re not going to win many games and that’s where the Ravens find themselves with only one victory in six weeks.

The problems run deeper — injuries, costly penalties, questionable play-calling on both sides of the ball, and poor clock management are among them — but not having enough talent at wide receiver or in the secondary is a major part of the story.

Before the 2015 season began, Baltimore lacked speed and playmakers on both sides of the ball.

And Wright had nothing to do with that.

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What brought the 2015 Ravens to this point?

Posted on 28 September 2015 by Luke Jones

An 0-3 record has brought many questions for the Baltimore Ravens.

Who’s to blame? Is it a lack of talent, poor execution, or the coaching?

A week after head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees questioned the effort and energy of their defense, the Ravens were gashed to the tune of 28 points and 458 total yards by Cincinnati to fall to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. Meanwhile, an offense too reliant on Steve Smith in the passing game has lost its way on the ground, ranking 28th in the NFL at just 3.3 yards per carry.

While fans and media try to hand out blame to coaches and players or point to a tough schedule for the poor start, below are seven realities that have contributed to the predicament of the Ravens being the only winless team in the AFC. Some were the result of bad decisions while others were out of their control.

These factors are in no particular order and some clearly hold more weight than others.

Dead cap money

Dead cap space is a reality for every NFL team from year to year, but the Ravens are carrying an incredible $17 million in dead money for two former Pro Bowl players no longer on the roster: Ray Rice and Haloti Ngata. With the cap set at $143.28 million for the 2015 season, general manager Ozzie Newsome was without nearly 12 percent of his cap because of those two alone. When you combine that with the rest of their dead money, the Ravens were unable to utilize more than $21 million (just under 15 percent) of the salary cap for 2015. Baltimore rarely spends big in free agency, but they might have been able to make an impact signing or two with those resources tied to star players who aren’t even on the roster anymore.

Recent draft history

To be clear, not even the great Newsome can be expected to bat 1.000 in the draft, but C.J. Mosley was the first Pro Bowl player the Ravens had drafted since Rice in 2008. The 2013 draft is particularly glaring with the top two draft picks — Matt Elam and Arthur Brown — being non-factors, but the later selections of Brandon Williams and Rick Wagner prevented that class from being a total disaster. Of course, the Ravens’ recent draft issues are only relative to their high standards, but they have selected just one player in the first or second round since 2009 — Jimmy Smith — whom they’ve signed to a second long-term contract at this point. They’ve still found talent, but Newsome must find new game-changers to be pillars of the roster moving forward. And when you miss badly on high picks like Elam and Brown, those positions have to be accounted for with additional resources that could have gone to other areas of need.

Departure of assistant coaches 

Not only did the Ravens begin 2015 with their fourth offensive coordinator in four years, but the absence of Gary Kubiak has been even more pronounced with the running game looking very 2013-esque so far. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Marc Trestman is a fit in Baltimore, but it’s difficult to continue enduring annual coaching changes without a few hiccups at some point. Another oft-overlooked coaching departure from two years ago was secondary coach and current Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Highly respected by the likes of Ed Reed, Lardarius Webb, and Jimmy Smith, Austin was succeeded by Steve Spagnuolo for a year and the combination of Chris Hewitt and Matt Weiss are now coaching the secondary. It’s not an excuse for the poor performance, but that’s a lot of coaching turnover in what’s been the biggest weakness on the field for the Ravens dating back to last season.

Veteran exits

It’s been a testament to the Ravens to seemingly be able to replace departing veterans with cheaper, younger replacements every year, but the exit of Ngata, starting wide receiver Torrey Smith, rush specialist Pernell McPhee, and starting tight end Owen Daniels was a large group to replace in one offseason, especially when you factor in the dead cap space working against Newsome. At some point, you can only lose so many established players and not have the well run dry — at least temporarily — as young players are still maturing.

Excessive reliance on rookies and inexperienced players

This goes hand in hand with the veteran departures, but the Ravens are relying on more young players at key spots than they have in quite some time. Ideally, even your first-rounders can be worked in slowly like the Ravens did with the likes of Terrell Suggs (one start in 2003) and Todd Heap (six starts in 2001). The 2015 draft class looked great on paper in addressing so many positional needs, but that never meant those rookies would be ready to contribute immediately. So far, third-round defensive tackle Carl Davis is the only pick to make a significant contribution, but the Ravens will hope to see others come on sooner rather than later to prove they can be part of the future. The presence of so many inexperienced wideouts beyond Steve Smith has hindered the offense so far in 2015.

Injuries to Terrell Suggs and Breshad Perriman

All teams endure injuries, but these two have been difficult to overcome in the early stages of 2015 with Suggs being the emotional leader of the defense and an important part of the pass rush and Perriman representing offensive upside. When you consider the exits of Ray Lewis, Reed, and Ngata over the last few years, Suggs’ season-ending injury brought the end of the old guard of Baltimore defense. Meanwhile, it was no secret that Perriman would be the replacement for Torrey Smith as the vertical threat in the passing game. The Ravens hope their 2015 first-round pick will still contribute in his rookie season at some point, but the passing game has been too dependent on Steve Smith with only a collection of late-round picks and former rookie free agents behind him in the receiver pecking order.

Big contracts not paying off

No, Joe Flacco’s record-setting deal is not part of this discussion, regardless of arguments that some fans and media have tried to make over the last couple years. But the Ravens haven’t had an impressive run with other long-term deals over the last few years for various reasons, some out of their control. Starting in 2012, Newsome has rewarded the likes of Rice, cornerback Lardarius Webb, tight end Dennis Pitta, and left tackle Eugene Monroe with big contracts that have produced disappointing results. Other deals such as the ones given to Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and four-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda have worked out, but the overall return hasn’t been what the organization anticipated with most of these big-money contracts. It’s too early to judge Jimmy Smith’s contract despite a rough 2015 start, but he’s certainly the next one under the microscope.

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So this is what 0 – 3 feels like

Posted on 28 September 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos





The Baltimore Ravens suffered another tough loss yesterday, this one at their 20th home opener and at the hands of the division leading Cincinnati Bengals.  They have now lost by 6, 4, and 6 points.  Lots of blame to go around, whether it’s coaching, penalties, miscommunication, dropped passes and interceptions, etc.  The optimists will say that this team could easily have been 3 – 0, but that’s not what the standings say this morning.  To paraphrase Bill Parcells, the Ravens are what their record says they are.

As my son and I left the stadium, as fans we felt the weight of a winless season thus far.  Of course we all know by now that in their 20 year history, this organization has never started a season 0 – 3.  It certainly is not a good feeling, but it is in times like these organizations find out what they really have when faced with adversity.  Just as a high tide raises all ships, a low tide lowers them.  A low tide exposes the most seaworthy vessels – and the best captains.

Coach John Harbaugh has experienced a ton of success during his tenure here in Baltimore, capped off with a Super Bowl victory in 2012.  Unless something dramatic happens, my best guess is that he is staring down a 6 – 10 season.  His mettle is being tested and will continue to be as the losses pile up.

In the general media there’s been much talk about the injuries, play calling, discipline, penalties, etc. What’s been missed is that not only have the Ravens lost some great players in the last couple of years, but also some great coordinators and assistant coaches.  The two that immediately stand out are Gary Kubiak and Teryl Austin.

Kubiak’s effect on the running game and QB Joe Flacco were apparent throughout last year’s campaign.  His run first philosophy and effective game planning/calling contributed much to the Ravens’ success.  Plus by all accounts he had a terrific relationship with Joe Flacco.  Through the first 3 games, things have been dramatically different with Marc Trestman at the helm as offensive coordinator.

Austin – who is now currently the defensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions – was an outstanding defensive backs coach during his tenure here in Baltimore.  In fact, he did some of his best work in 2013 by holding together a patchwork secondary, on an injury depleted team that went 8-8 and came within one quarter and 4 Andy Dalton interceptions of going to the playoffs.  Austin has excellent communication skills, and is a very technically sound coach.

Head coaches always get too much credit when teams win and way too much blame when they lose. Make no mistake about it – they’re only as good as their coordinators and assistant coaches.  In the NFL, every team has a salary cap to deal with, unlike baseball where you can virtually buy a championship.  That’s where coaching in the NFL – more often than not – is the difference maker.

This will be a great learning experience for John Harbaugh.  I’m of the opinion that he is a good – not a great – coach.  However, he does have a chance to be great.  This will be a season where he can assess himself, his coordinators and his assistants.  He’s on his way to hearing the Ravens’ name called early in the 2016 NFL draft, and that’s a good thing in terms of the overall well being of the franchise, as they need to restock the cupboard with better talent.

The Ravens need some high draft picks and based on their start are on their way to getting some.  Prior to yesterday’s game I marveled at the talent that was on the Bengals’ roster.  That talent didn’t get there because the Bengals have been great over space and time.  They’ve been a mediocre team on a more often than not mediocre organization.  In fact, I can argue that – based on talent alone – the Bengals should have absolutely blown out the Ravens in yesterday’s game.  Marvin Lewis and staff did all they could to keep the Ravens in the game.

The Bengals have been able to accumulate a number of high draft picks through the years, and from top to bottom have a Super Bowl caliber roster.  Andy Dalton is not a prime time QB, and that is the primary reason that he – along with coach Marvin Lewis – is still looking for his first playoff win.  The Bengals should have been up 21-0 on the Ravens at the half yesterday, and should have never let them come within barking distance of beating them.

There’s no doubt in my mind that GM Ozzie Newsome will keep his usually keen eye on the roster this year, and make the necessary adjustments to improve the team in the off-season.  Until then, we’ll see how this team deals with adversity.  Can they overcome it? Will they get better as the season progresses? Will they fight ’til the end, or will they at some point “tap out.”

I don’t see the later happening, as I do expect coach Harbaugh to get this team – given it’s limitations – to overachieve.  They haven’t been blown out.  They’ve fought hard for 3 games.  Their games – although they haven’t had the outcome we’re all looking for – have been entertaining.

Bottom line is that we are not going to the playoffs every year.  For various reasons, there has to be an adjustment – historically speaking – in an organization’s timeline.  I’m an optimist by nature but I am also a realist.  I’d love to see this team fight, scrap and get into the playoffs, but history tells us that they have a less than a 3% chance of doing so.  The odds aren’t favorable.

But the odds are very much favorable that this is a temporary blimp in this great organization’s history, and it will not take them long – no longer than this season – to figure it out and bounce right back.  In Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, and John Harbaugh ……. I trust.

I will end with my personal message to the Ravens.  A very wise man once told me that in life, there are are going to be peaks and valleys.  No one is immune to them; we all go through them, and so do organizations.  The key is that when you’re in a valley, fight like hell to get out of it.  Don’t get conditioned to it, and don’t accept it.  Minimize the time you spend in the valley.  And as the Ravens fight song bellows…..FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!

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Ravens add experienced returner to practice squad

Posted on 08 September 2015 by Luke Jones

As players enjoyed the holiday off before continuing preparations for Sunday’s season opener against the Denver Broncos, the Ravens formulated the rest of their 10-man practice squad.

On Labor Day, Baltimore announced the signings of wide receivers Daniel Brown and Jeremy Ross and tight end Dominique Jones to a group that already included quarterback Bryn Renner, receiver Jeremy Butler, offensive linemen Kaleb Johnson and De’Ondre Wesley, outside linebacker Brennen Beyer, and safety Nick Perry. The Ravens then officially added former Houston Texans cornerback Charles James to their practice squad and released tight end Konrad Reuland from their practice squad on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old Ross brings the most intrigue of the trio signed on Monday after appearing in 16 games with the Detroit Lions in 2013. The 215-pound receiver not only caught 24 passes for 314 yards and a touchdown, but he served as Detroit’s primary return specialist for most of the last two seasons.

Ross averaged 25.4 yards per kickoff return and 8.9 yards per punt return in 2014, a year after registering a kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt return score for the Lions. He also spent time with Green Bay, Indianapolis, and New England earlier in his career.

“He’s a guy with a lot of history in Detroit,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It was kind of amazing that he had practice squad eligibility at this point, with some of the new rules. He’s able to go on one of those two spots that are special spots for veteran players, and that’s a big plus for us.

“We’re really looking forward to getting a look at him and trying to incorporate him into our system.”

The Ravens also agreed to an injury settlement with defensive end DeAngelo Tyson (shoulder), who spent three years in Baltimore after being selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft.

In other news involving former Ravens, offensive lineman Jah Reid officially signed with the Kansas City Chiefs and center Gino Gradkowski was claimed off waivers by the Atlanta Falcons a day after being cut by the Denver Broncos. In April, Newsome traded Gradkowski and a 2016 fifth-round pick to Denver in exchange for the Broncos’ fourth-round choice next year.

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Ravens use disposable centers to improve 2016 draft position

Posted on 06 September 2015 by Luke Jones

The center position is in excellent shape for the Ravens entering the 2015 season.

The arrival of starter Jeremy Zuttah a year ago was a pivotal factor in the turnaround for an offensive line that was nothing short of a disaster in 2013. Second-year reserve John Urschel may be the center of the future — or at least a starter at either guard position — and is rapidly becoming one of the better backup interior linemen in the NFL. Ryan Jensen also offers versatility as a backup capable of playing center in addition to guard and tackle.

But this weekend offered a reminder that the Ravens used a pair of disposable centers to improve their value in next year’s draft.

Hours before making their final cuts on Saturday, the Ravens traded rookie free agent center Nick Easton to the San Francisco 49ers for a conditional 2016 seventh-round pick. Despite playing well in the preseason, the Harvard product was never going to make the 53-man roster and Baltimore managed to find a suitor for a player already on his way out the door.

On Sunday, another shrewd move from the offseason came to the forefront with Denver cutting former Ravens center Gino Gradkowski. In April, general manager Ozzie Newsome sent the fourth-year lineman and a 2016 fifth-round pick to the Broncos in exchange for Denver’s fourth-round selection in next year’s draft.

With Gradkowski scheduled to make $1.542 million in the final year of his rookie contract and no better than third on the early 2015 depth chart, the Ravens saved salary cap space and improved a 2016 pick by trading a player who was unlikely to make Baltimore’s roster and was ultimately cut by his new team. Needless to say, the Ravens got the better end of the trade by a definitive margin.

These two picks in isolation may not be the difference in winning a championship, but the Ravens value having more selections as we’ve seen with their accumulation of compensatory picks over the years. It’s difficult to argue with the results.

Regardless of how these picks play out next year, these are just tiny examples of Newsome building an excellent case as a Hall of Fame executive in addition to already being enshrined in Canton as a player.


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Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs celebrates after intercepting a pass attempt by Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Breaking down Ravens’ initial 53-man roster after final cuts

Posted on 05 September 2015 by Luke Jones

No real surprises accompanied the Ravens’ final cuts as they formulated their initial 53-man roster for the 2015 regular season on Saturday afternoon.

Of course, questions still remain after general manager Ozzie Newsome waived fourth-year cornerback Asa Jackson to leave the kick returner job a mystery a week away from the opener in Denver. The Ravens also parted ways with both Terrence Magee and Fitz Toussaint to leave the current roster with just two healthy running backs — Justin Forsett and rookie Buck Allen — while Lorenzo Taliaferro continues to recover from a knee injury.

The Ravens appear set to place injured defensive end Brent Urban on injured reserve with the designation to return with the second-year player remaining on the 53-man roster on Saturday. They are permitted to use the designation as early as Sunday, which would then open an additional roster spot.

The roster will remain fluid in the coming days as Newsome scans the open market for potential additions to enhance the talent already assembled. Baltimore will also put together a 10-player practice squad with a number of players who were cut over the weekend potentially returning to the organization.

Below is a look at the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening with some early impressions:

QUARTERBACKS (2) — Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub
Analysis: Schaub was far from impressive in the spring and summer, but $2 million in guaranteed money eliminated any chance of Bryn Renner unseating him for the backup spot behind Flacco. As is the case every year, the Ravens will pray that they never have to use their backup quarterback with Flacco never having missed a game entering his eighth season.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4) — Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Kyle Juszczyk
Analysis: With the rookie Allen averaging just 2.5 yards per carry and Taliaferro sidelined for at least a few more weeks, you would think the Ravens are searching for another back to add to the mix on at least a temporary basis. Once a roster spot opens up with Urban going to I.R., a running back with some return experience would be an ideal addition before the start of the season.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6) — Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Darren Waller, Breshad Perriman
Analysis: In a perfect world, the Ravens would add a receiver who can bring speed on the outside with Perriman’s status in doubt for the start of the season, but that’s easier said than done at this point. Projected to be the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers respectively, Aiken and Brown only registered 24 catches apiece last season, making it difficult for Flacco to trust anyone in this group beyond Smith right now.

TIGHT ENDS (3) — Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle
Analysis: It’s easy to like the upside at this position, but Gillmore caught only 10 passes in his first season and the rookie second-rounder Williams was banged up for much of the summer and has been sporting a red non-contact jersey in practices over the last couple weeks. The Ravens aren’t planning on Pitta being able to return this season, but there’s always the small chance that he makes it back.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, John Urschel, James Hurst, Ryan Jensen
Analysis: This is the Ravens’ best unit on either side of the ball, and this group will need to be at the top of its game to offset questionable running back depth and real questions facing the passing game. With Yanda and Osemele scheduled to become free agents after the season, Urschel is not only critical to current depth, but he’s an important piece for the future at either center or guard.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Canty, Carl Davis, Lawrence Guy, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Christo Bilukidi, Brent Urban
Analysis: The decision to keep both Lewis-Moore and Bilukidi could be an indication that Jernigan’s status is in doubt for the season opener as he’s recovering from a knee injury sustained in the third preseason game. Davis has easily been the Ravens’ most impressive rookie and is in line to start at the 3-technique spot should Jernigan miss early action.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Albert McClellan, Zachary Orr, Arthur Brown
Analysis: The Ravens still saw enough potential in Brown, their 2013 second-round pick, to keep him on the roster despite McClellan and Orr being superior special-teams contributors. Smith and Mosley are one of the finest inside linebacker duos in the league, but an injury to either would leave a significant hole in the middle of the defense with questionable options behind them.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw, Za’Darius Smith
Analysis: Dumervil is 31 and Suggs will be 33 in October, but the pass-rushing duo remains dangerous coming off the edge if they can stay healthy. Upshaw consistently plays the run well, but he doesn’t offer much ability to get to the quarterback, putting much pressure on the rookie Smith to fill the void of free-agent departure Pernell McPhee as a hybrid situational rusher.

CORNERBACKS (5) — Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, Kyle Arrington, Rashaan Melvin, Tray Walker
Analysis: This group is in better shape than it was a year ago, but the Ravens have to feel uneasy about Webb as a starter and Walker, a 2015 fourth-round pick, doesn’t appear ready to be a real contributor just yet. Melvin has dealt with a hamstring issue off and on over the last month, so you wonder if Newsome will take a flier on a veteran corner on the open market to add some depth.

SAFETIES (5) — Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Terrence Brooks, Anthony Levine, Brynden Trawick
Analysis: Defensive coordinator Dean Pees hopes Hill and Lewis can put a stop to the revolving door that existed at the position a year ago, but Brooks is coming off a serious knee injury and is the only backup with real upside as a defensive player. Levine and Trawick remain mainstays on special teams, but neither brings much in the secondary.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
Analsysis: This trio is as reliable as any group of specialists in the NFL, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg has to be concerned about kickoff returns with no clear solution at the moment. Campanaro will likely return punts, but questions about his ability to stay healthy could force the Ravens to use Steve Smith or Webb in the return game, something they’d really like to avoid.

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Predicting the Ravens’ 53-man roster at the end of 2015 preseason

Posted on 03 September 2015 by Luke Jones

With the 2015 preseason in the books, the Ravens now turn their full attention toward the season opener against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 13.

But first, it’s time to go on the record with the final projection of the Ravens’ 53-man roster to begin the regular season as head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome will make their final decisions by 4 p.m. on Saturday. Of course, this will only be the beginning as the Ravens will explore the possibility of adding other players who will become available over the next few days.

With injury concerns at receiver, running back, and on the defensive line as well as overall depth questions in the secondary, the Ravens could be active as they have been in the past in adding veteran talent just before the start of the season. Many have also speculated that Baltimore could be in the market to add a veteran return specialist, which appeared to be an even bigger concern after Thursday’s preseason loss in Atlanta.

Though Newsome, Harbaugh, and the remainder of the coaching staff and front office are aware of the number of players at each position, trying to boldly pinpoint a specific number of receivers or linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. In filling out the back end of their roster, the Ravens will look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their position.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players they are projected to keep at that given position.

IN: Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub
OUT: Bryn Renner
Skinny: The veteran Schaub quelled some concerns with a strong performance in the preseason finale, but the Ravens hope they won’t need him to play for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Renner was solid after a rough start on Thursday, but he still figures to have a decent chance to make the practice squad.

IN: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
OUT: Terrence Magee, Fitz Toussaint, Kiero Small
Skinny: The prediction here is that the Ravens will waive both Magee and Toussaint to create a temporary roster spot to accomodate Brent Urban and to explore veteran backs that may become available elsewhere. They will then have the option to bring back either one assuming they clear waivers.

IN: Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Darren Waller
OUT: Jeremy Butler, Daniel Brown, Tom Nelson
Skinny: Butler has had a role on special-teams units this summer, but he just hasn’t shown enough ability to gain separation with extensive looks in the passing game. Marlon Brown’s job wasn’t in danger, but it was nice seeing him show up emphatically in the first quarter on Thursday night.

IN: Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle
OUT: Konrad Reuland
Skinny: This position group has been decided ever since Harbaugh confirmed last month that Pitta would begin the year on the PUP list. You have to wonder how quickly Williams will be able to make an impact after being limited with injuries quite a bit this summer.

IN: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Rick Wagner, Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, James Hurst, Robert Myers, Jah Reid
OUT: Ryan Jensen, Kaleb Johnson, Nick Easton, Blaine Clausell
Skinny: The current injury to Jensen makes the decision a little easier to stick with Myers, a 2015 fifth-round pick who struggled during the preseason. A good summer for Johnson makes him an attractive option for the practice squad along with Jensen.

IN: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Canty, Carl Davis, Lawrence Guy, Kapron Lewis-Moore
INJURED RESERVE-DESIGNATED TO RETURN: Brent Urban (must be on the 53-man roster until Sunday)
OUT: DeAngelo Tyson, Christo Bilukidi, Micajah Reynolds
Skinny: A strong finish to the summer put Lewis-Moore back on the positive side of the bubble as he’s finally starting to show signs of the player he was at Notre Dame before suffering two major injuries. Tyson becomes the odd man out after an injury-riddled summer and a disappointing 2014 season.

IN: Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr, Albert McClellan, Arthur Brown
OUT: Andrew Bose
Skinny: Brown is in a tenuous position as the Ravens still think he possesses upside as a linebacker, but his special-teams ability clearly lags behind Orr and McClellan. Baltimore will try to carry the 2013 second-round pick on the roster, but positional needs elsewhere will make it difficult.

IN: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Za’Darius Smith
OUT: Brennen Beyer, Zach Thompson
Skinny: The Ravens hope Smith is ready to step into Pernell McPhee’s old hybrid role in passing situations, but the fourth-round rookie remains a work in progress. A strong performance in the final preseason game was a nice statement from Beyer to land on the practice squad.

IN: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Kyle Arrington, Tray Walker, Rashaan Melvin, Asa Jackson
OUT: Cassius Vaughn, Quinton Pointer
Skinny: Jackson makes the 53-man roster for now, but the Ravens really need to pursue an upgrade at cornerback and in the return game. Vaughn and Pointer were too up and down over the course of the summer to warrant roster spots.

IN: Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Terrence Brooks, Anthony Levine
OUT: Brynden Trawick, Nick Perry
Skinny: Trawick is a victim of the numbers game after serving a steady role on special teams over the last couple seasons. The Ravens need Brooks to knock off the rust from the knee injury as quickly as possible to sure up depth behind Hill and Lewis.

IN: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
OUT: None
Skinny: This trio begins its fourth season together as the Ravens easily possess one of the best sets of specialists in the NFL.

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