Tag Archive | "ozzie newsome"

brandonwilliams

Tags: , , , , , ,

Examining the Ravens’ 2017 class of free agents

Posted on 06 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens face another critical offseason on the heels of missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years.

As has been the case on an annual basis, salary cap space will be an issue as the Ravens hold an estimated 2017 commitment of over $152 million to 52 players (not including free agents), according to Spotrac.com. The 2017 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $155.27 million in 2016 to at least the $163 million-to-$165 million range, which still leaves general manager Ozzie Newsome with some tough maneuvering to clear more space and add to a roster with obvious deficiencies.

Of course, the Ravens are likely to clear cap space by renegotiating or terminating several veteran contracts. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safeties Lardarius Webb and Kendrick Lewis, cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington, and tight ends Benjamin Watson and Dennis Pitta stand out as potential cap casualties.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any other team beginning on March 9 at 4 p.m.

WR Kamar Aiken – Steve Smith’s retirement would make Aiken a better fit to re-sign, but he was very unhappy with his role in 2016 and is more likely to move on at this point. 

G Vlad Ducasse – The veteran was re-signed to the 53-man roster in October and started the final eight games at right guard, but the Ravens will likely look younger and cheaper for depth.

S Matt Elam – It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens re-sign Elam to a cheap short-term deal, but that doesn’t prevent him from going down as the worst defensive first-round pick in team history.

DE Lawrence Guy – A reliable 5-technique defensive end, Guy wouldn’t figure to be in high demand, but the Ravens also have some younger options in Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi.

FB Kyle Juszczyk – Widely regarded as the best fullback in the NFL, the 2016 Pro Bowl selection will have other interest, but the Ravens will likely value him more than most teams.

DB Anthony Levine – One of the Ravens’ best special-teams players over the last four years, Levine is likely to be welcomed back on a cheap deal with a minimal guarantee.

CB Chris Lewis-Harris – The former Cincinnati Bengal saw little action on defense and will not be a priority, leaving him to likely explore his options elsewhere.

QB Ryan Mallett – The 28-year-old has been able to repair his reputation in Baltimore, but you would expect Mallett to explore other situations where he has a chance to compete for a starting job.

CB Jerraud Powers – The veteran corner had his moments early, but he struggled down the stretch and Tavon Young is a better fit to slide inside to defend the slot in the nickel package.

OT Rick Wagner – The 2013 fifth-round pick has been a rock-solid right tackle, but can the Ravens pay him $6 million to $7 million per season with so many other needs?

DT Brandon Williams – He’s their top free agent, but the Ravens’ collection of interior defensive linemen makes it tough to justify paying him lucrative money if the bidding gets out of hand.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has seven days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender was offered to that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2017 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($3.635 million in 2016) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.553 million in 2016) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.671 million in 2016) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would simply hold the right to match the competing figure and would not receive any compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens often elect to forgo the tender and try to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

S Marqueston Huff (fourth) – Given the Ravens’ lack of depth at safety, Huff could be re-signed to a cheaper one- or two-year deal to compete for a job in training camp.

OL James Hurst (undrafted) – The North Carolina product has fared poorly with many chances, but he’s a favorite of offensive line coach Juan Castillo and could be re-signed on a minimum deal.

OL Ryan Jensen (sixth) – After starting three games in the first half of the season, Jensen appeared to fall out of favor and was inactive for the final nine weeks, leaving his future in question.

LB Zach Orr (undrafted) – One of the great stories of the 2016 season, the starting inside linebacker led the Ravens in tackles and would be a good bet to receive the second-round tender.

CB Jumal Rolle (undrafted) – Rolle tore his Achilles tendon in spring workouts, but Baltimore could sign him to a cheaper deal to take a look at him in organized team activities and training camp.

RB Terrance West (third) – The Towson product got his NFL career back on track with 774 rushing yards in 2016 and would be a good bet to receive the low tender as a former third-round pick.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. Typically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are non-guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

LB Brennen Beyer – The Ravens rewarded the Michigan product with a late-season promotion to the 53-man roster, and he’ll compete for a roster spot next summer.

WR Michael Campanaro – The River Hill grad has clear ability, but health concerns make it impossible to envision a meaningful role for him until he proves he can stay on the field.

LB Lamar Louis – Signed to the roster in mid-December, Louis was inactive for three straight games and will compete for a roster spot in the spring and summer.

WR Chris Matthews – The Ravens love his 6-foot-5 frame, but Matthews spent the season on IR and will need to have a big offseason to try to secure a roster spot.

LB Patrick Onwuasor – He led the Ravens in special-teams tackles despite not being promoted to the active roster until October and is an interesting young player to watch next year.

CB Sheldon Price – The 6-foot-2 corner drew the start in Week 5 before injuring his biceps and being placed on IR and is a young talent to watch this spring and summer.

WR Keenan Reynolds – Baltimore promoted the former Navy star to the 53-man roster in Week 17 to avoid other teams coming after his services, but this offseason will be big for his development.

OT De’Ondre Wesley – The 6-foot-6, 326-pound lineman spent the 2016 campaign on IR and is a developmental tackle to keep an eye on next summer.

Comments Off on Examining the Ravens’ 2017 class of free agents

harbaugh

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Harbaugh puts heat on own shoulders by retaining Mornhinweg

Posted on 03 January 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — I was surprised by John Harbaugh’s decision to retain Marty Mornhinweg as Ravens offensive coordinator for the 2017 season.

I saw the head-scratching play calls and the lack of commitment to the running game that continued when Mornhinweg took the reins of the offense from the dismissed Marc Trestman in mid-October.

I asked Harbaugh what he saw in those last 11 games that suddenly made Mornhinweg the right man for the job after he didn’t hire him as his offensive coordinator two years ago and instead chose Trestman, someone he wasn’t nearly as familiar with. The Ravens coach offered no real specifics, saying only that he and his players believe in the veteran coordinator and believe they’re on the right track despite showing minimal improvement after his promotion.

Harbaugh proved Tuesday that he’s not afraid of making the unpopular choice. The decision now puts the heat squarely on his own shoulders if the offense fails to perform since he elected not to bring in a new offensive mind such as Mike McCoy or Ken Whisenhunt. Such a hire might have served as another scapegoat if the offense failed to improve, but Harbaugh will have no such luxury with this path.

It’s on him now with the Ravens having missed the playoffs in three of the last four years and the offense struggling in each of those non-winning seasons.

“Those decisions are taken very seriously,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not just sitting there saying, ‘It’s easier to keep everybody.’ Actually, it’s easier to do the opposite. Everybody is happy for a little while, but being pleased because something was done in January or February is different than being pleased with what you build in September, October, and through the season. That’s what I’m thinking about.”

To be fair, Mornhinweg was put in a tough spot taking over for an offense that had been a mess since the start of the 2015 season. For every success story like Jim Caldwell taking over for Cam Cameron late in the 2012 season, there are countless examples of an in-season coordinator change making little or no impact.

With a full offseason to revamp the offense, Mornhinweg could very well make improvements as he has orchestrated viable offenses in the past. Of course, much of that will depend on what players general manager Ozzie Newsome will add as the Ravens must replace wide receiver Steve Smith and may need to address both the center and right tackle spots on the offensive line.

Harbaugh and the Ravens have run out of excuses regarding the running game after throwing more passes than any team in the NFL over the last two years and setting new franchise lows in rushing attempts in consecutive seasons. Trestman was fired in large part for his hesitancy to run the football, but the Ravens averaged fewer carries per game (22.4) under Mornhinweg than in their first five contests (24.2) of the season.

It isn’t just about running more often, but Baltimore must run more effectively after ranking only 21st in the NFL in yards per carry (3.99) in 2016.

“Marty believes in running the football, and I believe in running the football,” Harbaugh said. “We have not run the football well enough or enough, really, for the last two years. That has to change. I think it goes hand in hand [with] being good at it and doing it a lot more than we do it.”

And then there’s Joe Flacco.

The ninth-year quarterback was coming off ACL surgery and was rattled playing behind an injury-riddled offensive line over the first half of the season, but he didn’t come close to playing his best football this season. Whether subconsciously compensating for a surgically-reconstructed knee or anticipating pressure when it wasn’t even there, Flacco inconsistently went through his progressions, often checking down too quickly without allowing plays to develop.

Trestman’s system wasn’t a good fit for Flacco as it required more interpretation and was more expansive than Gary Kubiak’s black-and-white version of the West Coast offense. The belief exists that Mornhinweg can cultivate a more cut-and-dry system this offseason more closely resembling Kubiak’s structure, which should help Flacco play with more confidence.

We’ll see.

Of course, strengthening the offensive line and jump-starting the running game are musts, but the Ravens need much more from their franchise quarterback, who will have a normal offseason after rehabbing all last year and will be another season removed from the injury.

“It does start with Joe. It starts with your quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “We need our quarterback to be playing at a level that changes the game in positive ways for us and makes a big difference. There are ways for Joe to play better, and he and I talked about that at length [on Monday].”

Ultimately, Harbaugh’s decision to retain Mornhinweg reflects a belief that the Ravens need more talent rather than better coaching. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but no one would argue that the Ravens’ skill players on offense have been on par with those of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in recent years. Even with a blue-chip coordinator — and I’m not sure there’s truly one out there with Kubiak not only stepping down in Denver but retiring from coaching altogether — it’s difficult to imagine this offense blossoming without significant upgrades at wide receiver and center at the very least.

As has been the case for a few years, the Ravens need to find a high-impact playmaker, whether it’s at receiver, running back, or tight end.

With plenty of personnel turnover anticipated, Harbaugh believes coaching continuity is what’s best for his offense next season. He’s putting his own continuity in Baltimore on the line if he’s wrong.

“I believe that we’re going to be physical,” Harbaugh said. “I believe that we’re going to run good, solid concepts that Joe can execute efficiently. I believe, within that system, there’s room for a lot of creativity. That’s what we have to chase.”

Comments Off on Harbaugh puts heat on own shoulders by retaining Mornhinweg

dixon

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 16 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 27 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling 31-27 to Pittsburgh on Christmas Day to be eliminated from postseason contention, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The sting of a Ravens loss shouldn’t discount appreciation for what was a classic between these AFC North adversaries. This rivalry has lost some juice in recent years, but both teams deserve praise for one that was as good as it gets without being a playoff game.

2. That sentiment aside, the fourth-quarter defense must be addressed. I’ve been a supporter of defensive coordinator Dean Pees and believe he has done a good overall job with a unit lacking star power, but the Ravens have allowed 102 of their 294 total points in the final period this season.

3. If this is it for Steve Smith, Sunday was a strong final performance in the national spotlight as he caught seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. He’s 35 yards shy of an 800-yard season, which is exceptional for a 37-year-old coming off a serious Achilles injury.

4. It looked like 2016 was going to be a breakout year for Timmy Jernigan after he collected a sack in each of the first three games, but he’s recorded just one quarterback takedown since the Week 8 bye and hasn’t even registered a tackle over the last three games.

5. Breshad Perriman had a bad drop on the Ravens’ final touchdown drive, but I liked seeing Joe Flacco go right back to him on the next play for a 15-yard completion on third-and-10. This is going to be a huge offseason for the 2015 first-round pick to improve.

6. Counting the postseason, Baltimore is 11-22 on the road since Super Bowl XLVII with two wins against teams that finished with a winning record. The first was the 2014 wild-card victory over Pittsburgh and the other against the Steelers last year when Mike Vick started in place of Ben Roethlisberger.

7. The toughness with which he runs is impressive, but Kenneth Dixon won’t become a three-down back until he improves in pass protection. That has to be a goal for both him and Terrance West to work on this offseason.

8. The Ravens masked it well this season, but their pass rush ultimately cost them. According to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger was pressured on just four of his 33 dropbacks. It’s tough trying to blitz with Jimmy Smith out, but the defense needs more disruption from a four-man rush.

9. Terrell Suggs deserves praise for how he played this year, but the 34-year-old has gone without a sack in his last four games and had a combined one tackle against New England and Pittsburgh this month. Ozzie Newsome needs to find high-impact help at the position to help him out.

10. We all know health is the major concern with Michael Campanaro, but watching him these last two weeks makes you wonder why the Ravens didn’t part ways with Devin Hester a month sooner. Campanaro, Perriman, and Chris Moore are young players who should play more against Cincinnati.

11. I understand it’s in a coach’s fiber to do everything he can to win, but the organization should consider the dangers of exposing its most important players to injury in a meaningless road game against the Bengals. Does anyone sincerely care about finishing 9-7 compared to 8-8?

12. The seat is warm for John Harbaugh after missing the playoffs in three of four years, but firing him would be harsh after only one truly lousy season (2015). A once-proud franchise, Buffalo has had six head coaches since Harbaugh’s hiring. Finding someone even as good is hardly a given.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 16 loss to Pittsburgh

download

Tags: , , , , , ,

Ravens 31-32 since 2012 Super Bowl victory

Posted on 26 December 2016 by Dennis Koulatsos

After their heart breaking loss to the Steelers last night, the Ravens are now a very pedestrian 31-32 since they beat the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII in 2012.  Over that period, they have been very mediocre, very average, with only one playoff appearance.

The loss to the Steelers was devastating on a number of levels. This was a critical game for both organizations. Had the Steelers loss, Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley would have been left wide open for criticism by their fan base, front office and ownership.

They would have had to account for burning all of their time outs on their last drive. For not leaving at least one in order for them to kick a field goal, in a worst case scenario setting, that would have taken the game into overtime had Antonio Brown failed to cross the goal line.

Antonio Brown had the presence of mind to stretch his left arm and break the plane of the goal line.  It was a play for the ages, by a magnificent player.  Never mind that Steelers WR Cobi Hamilton was not set on that play. Never mind that Ravens safety Eric Weddle had several of his fingers wrapped around Brown’s facemask. But hey, that’s the game.

The outcome of this game can potentially set both of these franchises in dramatically different directions. This will no doubt will be an interesting off-season, especially for the Ravens.

For all of the questions as to whether Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti will bring back coach John Harbaugh, one has to wonder as to whether or not Harbaugh will be in a mood to come back, depending on how the conversation goes.

For one, coach Harbaugh will have options, no matter what. I don’t know that he’ll be in a mood to be a lame duck coach with one year left on his contract.  I would think he’d want more a vote of confidence from ownership, versus playing out what amounts to a “show me, prove yourself” one year deal.

Not when – if he were to become available – he would have a plethora of suitors to pick from. I know that he loves living in Maryland, and I know that he loves being the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.  But with that said, I don’t know that he’d stick out what amounts to a one year contract at 7 million, where he may be able to get a 4 year deal at 7 million somewhere else. He also may be able to get a 5 year deal that would also pay him north of that 7 million mark.  That’s not a stretch and it very well could happen.

Harbaugh would be a hot commodity not only with current vacancies in the NFL, but also with college football opportunities as well.  He is charismatic and a proven winner, so recruiting players for his college team (if it goes down that way) should not be a problem for him. Plus big brother Jim has done a nice job with his college programs, and that’s something else that works in his favor.

In regards to explaining the team’s mediocre record the past 4 seasons, Harbaugh could point in the scouting department and GM Ozzie Newsome’s direction. With the exception of their most recent draft, the Ravens have not drafted particularly well.  They have missed on a slew of top draft picks. That is simply something that cannot be pinned on Harbaugh.

Ozzie Newsome selects the players, and John Harbaugh coaches them. It has always been that way. Who’s responsible and who’s accountable? We can debate that all day long, but both have left themselves open to scrutiny.

Since the conclusion of the 2012 season, the talent level on this team hasn’t been on par with division rivals Steelers and Bengals. That falls on the shoulders of the front office. For his part, coach Harbaugh has to answer for his team blowing a 10 point lead on the road to the hapless New York Jets. Plus a dismal home loss to the Washington Redskins. Those October losses have come back to haunt the Ravens, and one can easily argue that they shouldn’t have been in the position of having to beat the Steelers last night for the division crown as well as a playoff berth.

I think it’s fair to question Harbaugh’s loyalty to offensive line coach Juan Castillo, who seems to be a polarizing figure since the day he arrived. There’s no doubt that the offense has to be completely overhauled. The Ravens need an offensive coordinator who will install a system that takes full advantage QB Joe Flacco’s strengths, while minimizing his weaknesses.

I don’t think the Ravens are that far away from becoming a perennial contender once again.  I believe with another strong draft and a new offensive coordinator, this team can get deep into the playoffs next year. I believe with their first 3 picks, they need to take a cornerback, a free safety and a rush end. No particular order, just the best player available at those positions when they’re on the clock.

It will be interesting to see if coach Harbaugh is here for those picks.  The team has options, and so does he.  In this situation, the door certainly swing both ways. Unless something drastic happens after the season’s last game in Cincinnati, I would say at this point it’s 50/50 that he comes back.

 

Comments Off on Ravens 31-32 since 2012 Super Bowl victory

newsome

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Trade deadline passes without any action from Ravens

Posted on 01 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The NFL trade deadline passed without the Ravens — or any other team — making a deal of significance on Tuesday.

After Monday’s surprising trade of New England linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland, the final hours leading up to the 4 p.m. deadline were unsurprisingly quiet. With just under $3 million in salary cap room, Baltimore wasn’t in a great position to make a significant move.

Former Raven Torrey Smith was rumored to be on the trading block in recent days, but the San Francisco wide receiver and University of Maryland product is staying put with the 49ers, who are off to a 1-6 start.

All attention now moves to the practice field with the Ravens welcoming Pittsburgh to town for a critical AFC North tilt on Sunday. Baltimore hopes to welcome several injured players back to game action this week, a list including linebackers Terrell Suggs (biceps) and C.J. Mosley (hamstring), wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle), and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (foot).

The first injury report of the week will be released on Wednesday.

The big story for the Steelers is the status of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee on Oct. 17. The 34-year-old practiced on a limited basis on Monday and did some light on-field work during Pittsburgh’s bye week.

“I thought it was generally positive,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. “We hadn’t spent a lot of time analyzing it or talking about it at this juncture. Really, it’s been giving him the work and him taking the work. And he’s done a really good job with it.”

Should Roethlisberger not play, backup Landry Jones would make his second straight start. Head coach John Harbaugh said Monday that the Ravens would prepare this week as though the starter would play and added that the Steelers offensive system doesn’t change dramatically with Jones under center anyway.

On Tuesday, the Ravens released running back Stephen Houston from their practice squad. With Lorenzo Taliaferro being activated in Week 7, Baltimore has four running backs on its 53-man roster, diminishing the need to keep Houston in the organization.

After placing star running back Jamaal Charles on injured reserve, Kansas City worked out former Ravens running back Trent Richardson on Tuesday, according to ESPN. The former first-round pick of the Browns was released by Baltimore early in training camp after struggling to stay healthy this spring and undergoing knee surgery.

Comments Off on Trade deadline passes without any action from Ravens

ozzie

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts entering Week 8 bye

Posted on 27 October 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having dropped four straight games going into a much-needed bye week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It’s admirable that Ozzie Newsome stays out of the spotlight when the Ravens are thriving, but is it fair that John Harbaugh faces all of the heat from media when there are so many questions about this roster? As it stands, we won’t hear from the general manager until January.

2. The comparison made between Timmy Jernigan’s fumble with C.J. Mosley’s in the Washington game is off-base. Mosley was inches away from scoring, whereas a defensive lineman was trying to imitate Ed Reed on his own goal line. They were both costly mistakes, but Jernigan’s was worse.

3. There was excitement about the return of Kenneth Dixon, but he’s received just nine touches for 16 yards in his first three games. You hope the bye allows his knee to get stronger, because he hasn’t shown the explosiveness he had in the preseason and the Ravens need that spark.

4. Count me in as wanting to see both Terrell Suggs and Ben Roethlisberger return for the Ravens’ critical Week 9 meeting with Pittsburgh. There aren’t many players left from the prime of the bitter AFC North rivalry that isn’t what it used to be.

5. Few things have gone well offensively, but Mike Wallace has been everything the Ravens could have reasonably hoped for. His 490 receiving yards lead the team, and he’s served as a productive deep threat. He’s not a No. 1 receiver, but he’s been more dependable than any other Baltimore wideout.

6. Harbaugh said in June that Elvis Dumervil underwent a “preventative procedure” to the foot area in the offseason. The pass rusher has been vague about specifics, but it would be interesting to know exactly what he’s been dealing with and how much the coach may have undersold the surgery.

7. I’m glad to see Breshad Perriman healthy enough to play, but he’s done little to quell pre-draft concerns about his route-running ability and inconsistent hands. He’s essentially still a rookie just seven games into his career, but catching just 41 percent of his 34 targets isn’t nearly good enough.

8. They’ve both taken their lumps in recent games, but Tavon Young and Alex Lewis have done a commendable job living up to the hype surrounding the fourth-round haul in this year’s draft. Despite both being forced to play out of position, they look like legitimate NFL players.

9. It isn’t a good look for offensive line coach Juan Castillo that his group has been a substantial problem in three of his four seasons with Baltimore. The lone exception was 2014 when Gary Kubiak served as the offensive coordinator and implemented his effective zone-blocking scheme.

10. The Ravens were excited to move Lardarius Webb to safety, but he’s appeared slow to react and hasn’t taken good angles as a tackler. The decision to carry his $9.5 million cap figure — second highest on the team — looks no less questionable now than it did in February.

11. It was a moot point in Week 7 since the offense never reached the red zone, but I’d like to see Crockett Gillmore and Darren Waller more involved in that area of the field. The Ravens need to use more size and physicality inside the 20.

12. I’d be fascinated to know what Steve Bisciotti is thinking as the Ravens take the weekend off. Does he see more failure from the coaching staff or the effects of an undermanned roster as the primary reason for Baltimore’s struggles?

Comments (1)

harbaugh

Tags: , , , , ,

Good health alone won’t save season for struggling Ravens

Posted on 24 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens can indeed get better.

Fans don’t want to hear it in the midst of a frustrating four-game losing streak, but winning is tough without your two best pass rushers, your top wide receiver, your best offensive lineman, your starting left tackle, and your starting inside linebacker. However, that reality lets no one — not Ozzie Newsome, not John Harbaugh, not Joe Flacco — off the hook in a season suddenly unraveling before Halloween.

Teams with sufficient talent and good coaching are able to overcome injuries against mediocre competition like the Ravens faced in the last three games. Expecting to beat elite teams with such an extensive infirmary report is unrealistic, but dropping three straight to Washington, the New York Giants, and the New York Jets is unacceptable. You have to win one or two of those if you fancy yourself to be a real playoff contender.

For a little bit of context, the Ravens went 4-2 without Ed Reed to begin the 2010 season. A year later, they won four straight games despite the incomparable Ray Lewis being sidelined with a toe injury. Yes, those future Hall of Fame talents were past their primes at that point, but the same can be said for Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Steve Smith, and even Marshal Yanda, especially if less than 100 percent healthy.

In other words, their returns alone won’t magically transform a bad team — which is what the Ravens were in a winless October — into a great one. Keep in mind that their potential presence will also be accompanied by a tougher schedule in November and December.

“It’s always way better to be healthy,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no question about that — and have your best players on the field. But we always have confidence in the guys we’re putting out there that they’ll get the job done.”

It was apparent before the season that the Ravens needed young players to take major steps forward to lessen the dependency on older talent, and that hasn’t happened so far. Though it’s only a snapshot of the current state of affairs, the Ravens had just one post-Super Bowl XLVII first-round pick — struggling wide receiver Breshad Perriman — on the field for the last two games.

Of the nine Baltimore picks made in the first three rounds of the 2013, 2014, and 2015 drafts, only three — Mosley, Brandon Williams, and Timmy Jernigan — have established themselves as meaningful contributors. That catches up with a team sooner or later.

Underwhelming drafts and several bad contracts make it fair to question Newsome, the front office, and the scouting department, no matter how good their reputation had been over the years. The Ravens are in clear need of young play-makers to make the difference in the many close games they’ve played since the start of last season.

At the same time, it’s difficult to look at Harbaugh and his coaching staff and not question whether players are consistently being put in the best position to succeed. After Sunday’s loss to the Jets, the ninth-year head coach said his team is practicing “exceptionally well” and should have won each of the last four games.

Such a statement then makes outsiders ask why the crisp preparation isn’t carrying over to Sundays and whether the coaches are teaching the right methods to begin with. Of course, head-scratching in-game decisions and the constant penalties don’t reflect well on the coaching, either.

“You’ve got to make it happen on game day,” Harbaugh said on Sunday. “For our team, where we’re at right now, we’re not going to be a margin-for-error team. It’s not going to be like that. We need to be a sound, tough-minded, fundamentally-smart-playing football team.”

Harbaugh has admirably guided his teams through trying times before, but this represents his greatest challenge with his future quite possibly hanging in the balance.

Beyond just getting healthy, the Ravens need to do whatever it takes to get Flacco back on track. Many of the problems — the offensive line, the up-and-down running game, and inconsistent play at wide receiver — are largely out of his control, but that can’t forgive him for playing his worst football at critical times over the four-game losing streak. Of course, a sore right shoulder didn’t help matters against the Jets.

In the first half on Sunday, Flacco completed 15 of 22 passes for 200 yards to help the Ravens carry a 16-14 lead into halftime. Over the final 30 minutes, however, he was just 10-for-22 for a meager 42 yards and two interceptions leading to the deciding 10 points for the Jets.

One of Flacco’s best traits earlier in his career was an ability to do more with less around him — to a certain degree — but that just hasn’t been the case this season. Even with the other problems at work, the 31-year-old’s play hasn’t offered much of a solution in these winnable games.

A week off could go a long way in helping the Ravens get healthy, both physically and mentally after a brutal month.

But it’s not the end-all, be-all for a team with too many problems to count.

And barring other internal improvements, good health alone won’t save a season rapidly moving in the wrong direction.

Comments (1)

ravens

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens just can’t seem to escape malaise of mediocrity

Posted on 17 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens just couldn’t shake it in a 27-23 loss to the New York Giants, another winnable game that wasn’t won.

Yes, the injuries are piling up and the rest of the AFC North is conveniently a mess, but those factors only deflect from the reality that’s becoming more apparent every week, especially after three straight losses to cancel out a 3-0 start.

The Ravens are stuck in a malaise of mediocrity that’s rapidly becoming their identity. Truthfully, it’s what they’ve mostly experienced since Super Bowl XLVII, going just 26-28 with one playoff appearance over that time. Their 2014 campaign that included a postseason win and a trip to the divisional round used to be the norm, but it’s been Baltimore’s ceiling since raising the Lombardi Trophy four years ago.

Look no further than Sunday being the Ravens’ 20th game decided by a single possession since the start of 2015. They’re not terrible, but they’re not particularly good, either. Especially after last season’s 1-6 start, the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” routine is starting to fall on deaf ears with close games becoming the norm in the NFL.

The Ravens are what their record says they are.

“We’re a .500 team. We’re 3-3 in tight games,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We’ve won some, we’ve lost some. You could easily say we could be 5-1, 6-0 or we could be 0-6 or 1-5.”

Everyone deserves blame, from the coaching staff to the players to the front office.

The Ravens entered Week 6 tied for 22nd in the NFL in penalties before adding 15 more for 111 yards against the Giants, several of those short-circuiting offensive drives like we’ve seen all too often this season. Coaches and the players themselves need to be accountable for the weekly routine of shooting themselves in the foot.

Baltimore entered Sunday ranked fifth in pass defense and held the Giants to just seven points and 133 yards in the first half, but the absence of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith led to Eli Manning throwing for 296 yards after halftime, most of that going to Odell Beckham Jr. Losing Smith obviously hurt, but allowing passing plays of 75, 43, and 66 yards in one half is inexcusable.

Of course, a pass rush that continues to be nonexistent beyond the occasional flash from the now-injured Terrell Suggs hasn’t helped one bit. With Suggs and Elvis Dumervil both sidelined, the Ravens continue to wait for their young pass rushers to step up.

With three starters missing on Sunday, the offensive line played about how you’d expect, but opposing defenses aren’t going to feel sorry for the Ravens. They’ve got to figure out a way to make it work in the meantime.

On Sunday, John Harbaugh received too much criticism for going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to begin the fourth quarter — that was the correct decision in a game in which his pass defense was rapidly falling apart — but he’s deserved plenty of blame for bizarre choices in recent weeks. During a losing streak, a head coach needs to find solutions and not be part of the problem as has been the case over the current three-game slide.

The coaching issues go beyond simply firing offensive coordinator Marc Trestman last week.

Even Joe Flacco — who generally receives too much blame during tough times — played his worst on the final drive of Sunday’s game when the Ravens still had a chance to win, missing a wide-open Mike Wallace and making some questionable decisions with the football. The franchise quarterback isn’t high on the list of current problems, but he’s only been OK and not much better than that this season, which isn’t good enough from the highest-paid player on the roster.

It’s certainly not helping Flacco that we’re again asking who the play-makers are on this roster, something that’s become an annual question for longtime general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office. Steve Smith still being the Ravens’ best receiver is both a compliment to the 37-year-old and a clear indictment of the front office.

The Ravens received much praise for the Weddle signing this offseason, but even that came after wasting early draft picks and making bad free-agent signings at the safety position over the last few years.

The Odell Beckhams of the league don’t grow on trees, but when are the Ravens going to find a special player or two — on either side of the ball — to make the difference in these one-score games? Ed Reed had a Hall of Fame career of doing exactly that, allowing Baltimore to snatch numerous victories from the jaws of defeat.

The Ravens’ current list of injured players includes five over the age of 30. This is an aging roster short on high-impact young players, which is why the Ravens find themselves stuck in neutral.

They’re springing too many leaks to inspire much confidence, especially with a difficult second-half schedule looming. Even when they begin fixing an issue such as the special teams playing better in Week 6, another pops up elsewhere with the defense collapsing in the second half of a winnable game.

Yes, there’s plenty of football to play and the AFC North is wide open with Cincinnati two games below .500 and 4-2 Pittsburgh losing Ben Roethlisberger to a knee injury for the time being, but that doesn’t change the truth about the Ravens.

From top to bottom, it just feels too mediocre.

Comments Off on Ravens just can’t seem to escape malaise of mediocrity

forsett

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens part ways with veteran running back Justin Forsett

Posted on 04 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are parting ways with veteran running back Justin Forsett, and it’s for real this time.

With Forsett being deactivated for Sunday’s loss to Oakland and injured rookie Kenneth Dixon moving closer to a return, Baltimore is electing to go younger at the position. Terrance West ran for a career-high 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries against the Raiders while second-year back Buck Allen served as his backup.

The 30-year-old Forsett confirmed the news via his official Twitter account after his release was first reported by The Sun. He told the team website that he spoke with general manager Ozzie Newsome about his desire to be released in order to catch on elsewhere.

Forsett rushed for just 98 yards on 31 carries through the first three games of the season. Despite a slow start for the running game as a whole, he appeared to lack the explosiveness and the ability to break tackles that he had shown in his surprising 2014 Pro Bowl season in which he rushed for a career-high 1,266 yards and averaged an impressive 5.4 yards per carry.

Head coach John Harbaugh did not provide a clear answer Monday when asked whether Forsett would still have a place on the roster moving forward with Dixon nearing a return and West performing so well in Week 4.

“Of course,” Harbaugh said. “Justin Forsett is a highly-respected, highly-valued guy in my eyes and the eyes of all of us. It is a competitive world that we are in. It is a competitive league; it is a competitive sport. He knows that as well as anybody. It doesn’t diminish him in any way. It just enhances him, in my mind, in terms of how he handles it. We will just have to see. All those personnel things are all to be determined. You can’t say anything about where anything is going to go because you just don’t know. None of us have the ability to see in the future, so we will see how it plays out.”

Forsett’s departure comes just a month after the Ravens released him as a paper move to temporarily create roster flexibility when final cuts were made. After being cut on Sept. 3, he was re-signed two days later to the same terms that remained on the three-year, $9 million contract he inked in 2015.

His production dipped last year as he averaged just 4.2 yards per carry before his season was cut short due to a broken arm suffered in late November.

Originally signed to a one-year, $730,000 deal just weeks after Ray Rice was arrested for assaulting his future wife in an Atlantic City casino elevator in 2014, Forsett proved to be a very important contributor both on the field and in the community as the organization endured one of the ugliest periods in its history. Not only serving as a key performer in the backfield, Forsett became one of the positive faces for a franchise that needed to rebuild its image after the Rice saga.

The Ravens are lucky he passed their way.

Comments Off on Ravens part ways with veteran running back Justin Forsett

forsett

Tags: , , , , ,

Ravens re-sign Forsett to complete strange 48-hour saga

Posted on 05 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The plot thickens indeed.

Speculation began immediately after the Ravens released running back Justin Forsett on Saturday that the veteran would still return. However, the organization did not wait until after Week 1 when the salaries of newly-signed vested veteran players are no longer guaranteed for the entire season.

The Ravens re-signed the 2014 Pro Bowl running back on Monday afternoon, roughly 48 hours after his contract was terminated. Players were off on Sunday and Monday, which means Forsett will not have missed any team activities by the time the team reconvenes for practice on Tuesday.

It’s become obvious that Forsett’s release was just a strange way for general manager Ozzie Newsome to manipulate his initial 53-man roster. Baltimore also announced Monday that safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Carl Davis were going to injured reserve, creating roster spots for the returning Forsett and newly-signed return specialist Devin Hester.

In order for any players on IR to be eligible for the designation to return later in the season, a team is required to keep them on the initial 53-man roster through final cuts, explaining why Elam and Davis were on the original roster. Players already placed on IR such as rookie defensive end Bronson Kaufusi are not eligible for the designation to return later in the season.

Unlike past seasons, teams do not have to designate the one player to return from IR ahead of time and can instead weigh their options as the season progresses and other significant injuries potentially occur.

Head coach John Harbaugh is scheduled to meet with the media on Tuesday afternoon, so it will be interesting to hear how he and the organization try to spin this odd roster manipulation. It’s fair to wonder why the Ravens would ask Forsett to do this and why the 2014 Pro Bowl running back would agree unless he’s receiving something in return such as a bonus.

Less significant veterans on the 53-man roster such as linebacker Chris Carter just as easily could have been cut with a similar unspoken agreement to re-sign a few days later and also would not have been required to pass through waivers. Of course, trust can be a significant obstacle with something as delicate as this, and the organization and Forsett have clearly been on good terms, which made Saturday’s news so surprising in the first place.

Of course, Forsett couldn’t resist announcing his return in dramatic fashion using Twitter.

Comments Off on Ravens re-sign Forsett to complete strange 48-hour saga