Tag Archive | "Paul Kruger"

Four defensive starters absent from Wednesday’s practice

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Four defensive starters absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 19 September 2012 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 5:05 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Turning their full attention to the New England Patriots with their first official practice of the week, the Ravens were missing four defensive starters on Wednesday.

After missing the final three quarters of Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, strong safety Bernard Pollard (rib contusion) was absent during the portion of practice open to the media. This came as a mild surprise after Pollard had spoken to the media less than two hours earlier and implied that he would be on the practice field.

“I’m ready to go,” Pollard said before Wednesday’s practice. “I know my dogs are going to be ready. We’ve got to be animals out there.”

Pollard’s conviction when talking to reporters Wednesday still bodes well for his status against New England, and coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Pollard’s availability would depend on his tolerance for pain. The veteran safety is regarded as one of the toughest players in the entire NFL.

Inside linebacker Jameel McClain (knee) and defensive end Pernell McPhee (knee) were also missing from the the open portion of the workokut. McClain briefly left Sunday’s game with what looked like a leg injury, but the fifth-year linebacker soon returned to action.

After being listed as questionable on the final injury report for the Philadelphia game, McPhee played against the Eagles after testing out his surgically-repaired right knee prior to the game. He finished with three tackles in Week 2, but the second-year defensive lineman has dealt with knee soreness since undergoing arthroscopic surgery in the spring.

“It held up pretty good,” said McPhee when asked how the knee held up against the Eagles. “I mean, after the first half, it was kind of stiff. But after that, I started rolling.”

A surprise appearance on the injury report was made by cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was listed as a non-participant despite being present and dressed out to practice during the opening portion of the workout. If Webb had been injured during practice, he would have been listed as a limited participant, making it likely that the Ravens planned to hold him out all along.

Linebacker Paul Kruger practiced on Wednesday after he was held out of Sunday’s game with a back injury. The fourth-year defensive player missed two days of practice last week before working on a limited basis on Friday.

He expressed optimism that he would be able to play, but rookie Courtney Upshaw started in his place at the strongside linebacker position.

“It’s feeling good,” Kruger said prior to Wednesday’s workout. “I’m going to be out there today running around. I’m just excited to get out there this week. Big game for us. I’m doing everything I can to get healthy. It’s killing me not to be out there every day.”

Offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf) was observing practicing but was not participating.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (ribs) told the media he was feeling much better after admitting he had his ribs rolled under early in the second half of Sunday’s game.

Here is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Jameel McClain (knee), DE Pernell McPhee (knee), S Bernard Pollard (chest), T Jah Reid (calf), CB Lardarius Webb (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Paul Kruger (back), T Michael Oher (ankle)

NEW ENGLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Dan Connolly (concussion), CB Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), TE Daniel Fells (shin), DT Justin Francis (ankle), WR Brandon Lloyd (thigh), C Nick McDonald (shoulder), CB Sterling Moore (knee), RB Shane Vereen (foot), T Sebastian Vollmer (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Patrick Chung (shoulder)

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Tuesday musings from the Ravens beat

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Tuesday musings from the Ravens beat

Posted on 18 September 2012 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enjoying their customary Tuesday off before turning their full attention to the New England Patriots on Sunday night, I offer some thoughts from the beat through the first two weeks of the regular season …

> One of the few defensive bright spots of the 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday was the play of outside linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan. Drawing the start in place of the injured Paul Kruger at the strongside linebacker spot, the rookie Upshaw did a solid job setting the edge on run plays and was one of the few players to pressure quarterback Michael Vick with any level of consistency.

Compared to his preseason performances in which he seemed sluggish and hesitant in his defensive responsibilities, Upshaw displayed a good motor in backside pursuit and finished with six tackles with one going for a loss. He wore down a bit in the second half after receiving his most extensive action to date and still looks uncomfortable when asked to drop into pass coverage, but Upshaw looks to be in much better shape and is finally starting to show the potential general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens saw in him with the 35th overall selection in April’s draft.

McClellan was one of the best players on the field for the Baltimore defense against the Eagles, finishing with six tackles with two going for losses and breaking up a pass in coverage. Though undersized at 6-feet-2 and 245 pounds, McClellan did an excellent job setting the edge as the Eagles averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.

With Upshaw showing signs of improvement and Kruger’s struggles at the strongside linebacker position going back to the preseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see defensive coordinator Dean Pees settle on McClellan and Upshaw as his starting outside linebackers and move Kruger to the situational pass-rushing role he held in past seasons. McClellan hasn’t shown an ability to get to the quarterback, so it might be in the Ravens’ best interests to replace him on third down with Kruger and allow Upshaw to line up at the other defensive end spot in obvious passing situations.

> Speaking of passing plays, much has already been said about the Ravens’ decisions in short-yardage situations on Sunday with few supporting the calls of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

The Ravens were faced with six situations in which it was third or fourth down and two or less yards to go and the offense elected to pass every single time. Running all six plays from the shotgun formation, the Ravens failed to convert on any as the final two offensive plays with less than a minute remaining drew the most scrutiny.

Whether observers want to admit it or not, third-and-short has become a passing situation more often than not in today’s NFL. The Ravens aren’t the only team in the league to throw the football in those spots as it’s become a more wide-open game than what we watched in the past.

That said, it’s perplexing to not only watch the Ravens throw exclusively on that down and distance but also do it from the shotgun formation, a package in which your choice of running plays is more limited. Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice said it best following Sunday’s game when reminding everyone that the Ravens have arguably the best fullback in the league in Vonta Leach. It seems wasteful not to at least present a bigger threat of a run in those situations by having quarterback Joe Flacco line up under center, with Leach and Rice behind him. Even if the Ravens still elect to throw, this simple alteration might keep defenses guessing more in those short-yardage spots.

Coach John Harbaugh said it best Monday when reminding everyone that hindsight is 20-20 and that any play call looks great when it works and foolish when it doesn’t, and it is worth reminding everyone that Flacco missed an open Dennis Pitta on that third-and-1 play on the game’s final drive. However, the Ravens’ 0-for-6 showing in short-yardage situations on third and fourth down screams that it might be time to change up their philosophies a bit.

> Through the first two weeks of the season, it’s no secret that Flacco has picked up right where he left off late last season in targeting Pitta frequently in the passing game as the pair has connected 13 times for 128 yards and a touchdown. Seven of those catches have gone for first downs as the third-year tight end has been a go-to target when the Ravens need to move the chains.

CONTINUE >>>

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Ravens-Eagles: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Eagles: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 16 September 2012 by Luke Jones

PHILADELPHIA — Looking to improve to 2-0 for the first time since the 2009 season, the Ravens travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles Sunday for the first time since 2008.

Much discussion this week has centered around the Ravens’ performances in Week 2 the last two seasons following a big season-opening win, and coach John Harbaugh addressed the issue with his team at the start of the week. Last season, the Ravens suffered a letdown against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2 following a huge 35-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers to begin the season.

Sunday marks the fourth all-time meeting in the regular season between the Ravens and Eagles with the series being tied, 1-1-1. The only tie in the 17-year history of the Ravens took place against Philadelphia at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 16, 1997.

The Ravens are 17-15 on the road during the Harbaugh era and have have won six of their last seven games against NFC opponents.

Linebacker Paul Kruger (back) is inactive and will be replaced at strongside linebacker by rookie Courtney Upshaw. The fourth-year linebacker practiced on a limited basis Friday and hoped his back would continue to loosen up enough over the weekend to allow him to play.

Defensive end Pernell McPhee is active and will play after missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday. He was out on the field testing out the knee before being deemed ready to go.

Linebacker Sergio Kindle is active with Kruger being sidelined. The 2010 second-round pick was inactive for the Ravens’ season opener last Monday.

Meanwhile, the Eagles have activated wide receivers DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and Jeremy Maclin (hip) after both practiced on a limited basis Friday. Both players were listed as questionable on the final injury report.

After an outstanding performance in Week 1, quarterback Joe Flacco hopes to continue that success against a tough Philadelphia defense. However, news broke Sunday morning that talks between the Ravens and Flacco’s agent have ended regarding a contract extension. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the two sides were close to a new contract in early August, but talks have been shelved since then. Flacco has never expressed concern about his future in Baltimore while the Ravens have the option of using the franchise tag on the fifth-year quarterback if they’re unable to work out a new contract this offseason.

The Eagles are wearing white jerseys and green pants while the Ravens are decked out in purple jerseys with white pants.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
LB Paul Kruger
OL Jah Reid
WR LaQuan Williams
CB Asa Jackson
TE Billy Bajema
DE DeAngelo Tyson
DT Bryan Hall

PHILADELPHIA
WR Riley Cooper
QB Trent EdwardS
OT Dennis Kelly
CB Curtis Marsh
RB Dion Lewis
DE Vinny Curry
OL Nate Menkin

Follow WNST on Twitter for the latest updates and analysis as Nestor Aparicio, Drew Forrester, and I are live at Lincoln Financial Field.

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Keys to Sunday’s Game Against the Eagles

Posted on 16 September 2012 by jeffreygilley

The Baltimore Ravens looked very impressive against the Cincinnati Bengals in week one.  While the Ravens were feasting on the Bengals, the Philadelphia Eagles were struggling against the Cleveland Browns.  Michael Vick turned the ball over five times but also led a game winning drive with a touchdown pass to Clay Harbor.  Although the Eagles looked awful, expect them to bounce back and challenge the Ravens.

The offensive line must protect Flacco

With the exception of Matt Birk, the Ravens offensive line was impressive in their victory over the Bengals.  Ramon Harewood, a sixth round pick in 2010, made a surprising start at left guard.  He struggled at times but was a devastating run blocker.  With his size and athleticism, the Ravens can have success running the ball against the wide-nine in Philadelphia.

If the Ravens want to have success on offense, Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele must perform at a high level.  The Ravens new offense seems to be based on the vertical passing game which makes protecting Flacco even more pivotal.  If Flacco doesn’t have time to throw, the Ravens can turn to the run game which is a weakness of playing the wide-nine.

Stop LeSean McCoy

When this game is over, Ravens fans will miss Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson even more.  Both excelled at setting the edge and forcing ball carriers back inside.  The Eagles like to run to the outside and LeSean McCoy has the speed to turn the corner and get upfield extremely fast.  Therefore, the Ravens young linebackers must be able to set the edge and shed blockers.  Luckily for the Ravens, the Eagles are without Jason Peters which should make stopping the run much easier for the Ravens.  Expect the Eagles to challenge the Ravens to the outside throughout the entire game.

Pressure Michael Vick

This seems obvious but if the Ravens can pressure Vick like the Browns did in week one, the Ravens have a very good chance to win the game.  Young linebackers like Courtney UpShaw, Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan, and Sergio Kindle must pressure Vick early and often.  Courtney UpShaw received more playing time than expected last week and is pushing Albert McClellan and Paul Kruger for either of the starting outside linebacker spots.  UpShaw was unimpressive in the preseason but showed a lot of promise in week one.  Expect to see UpShaw a lot more as the season progresses.

Prediction

I see the Ravens winning this game but it will be no easy task.  Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson are expected to play for the Eagles and pose a home run threat on every play.

Although Flacco played very well against the Bengals, he cant test the Eagles secondary too much.  Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha are very talented cornerbacks and can blanket receivers.

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Kruger, McPhee questionable for Sunday’s game in Philadelphia

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Kruger, McPhee questionable for Sunday’s game in Philadelphia

Posted on 14 September 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Defensive end Pernell McPhee and linebacker Paul Kruger were listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Eagles after both practiced for the first time all week on Friday.

Both players worked on a limited basis as McPhee sported a bulky brace on his right knee and appeared to be limited as he went through positional drills during the portion of practice open to the media. The second-year defensive end said Thursday that he expects to play against the Eagles.

Kruger has dealt with a back injury stemming from Monday night’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He was one of the final players to walk out to the field and seemed to be moving fairly well as he went through individual drills. The fourth-year linebacker said he felt much better after practice.

“I’m hoping it loosens up even more before the game,” said Kruger, who expressed optimism for playing Sunday. “I’ve got a couple days left. I’ve got to keep the legs moving and loosen the back up. I’m just trying to stay on top of it and get it fully ready by Sunday.”

Should McPhee and Kruger be unable to play, it opens the door for third-year defensive lineman Arthur Jones to start at defensive end while rookie Courtney Upshaw would presumably get the start at the strongside linebacker position.

Coach John Harbaugh would not provide any information or thoughts regarding the status of either player as he reminded media of his instructions that discourage players from discussing injuries.

“I don’t really have any thought on it,” said Harbaugh when asked whether the two would be game-time decisions. “The buses will pull up at one o’clock. All of our guys will be there, they will get out of the bus, and then we’ll see what happens.”

Free safety Ed Reed (hamstring) was listed as probable after practicing for the third straight day. The 34-year-old indicated after Monday’s game he would be ready to play against Philadelphia and all signs point to that being the case barring an unforeseen setback.

Center Matt Birk (thight) was also listed as probable on the final injury report of the week and will play against the Eagles. Both he and Reed practiced fully on Friday.

Offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf) has been ruled out after observing practicing Friday but not working with the offensive linemen as he continues to rehab the same injury that’s plagued him since June’s mandatory minicamp.

Meanwhile, the Eagles received good news Friday as starting wide receivers DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and Jeremy Maclin (hip) practiced on a limited basis. Both were listed as questionable for Friday’s game, but Maclin told reporters he plans to play.

Per their official site, the Eagles will wear white jerseys on Sunday, meaning Baltimore will wear its purple jerseys on the road.

The referee for Sunday’s game is replacement official Robert Frazer, who worked the Bills-Jets game last Sunday.

The Ravens will conduct a walk-through Saturday morning before traveling to Philadelphia for their 1 p.m. game at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon.

Here is the final injury report …

BALTIMORE
OUT: T Jah Reid (leg)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Paul Kruger (back), DE Pernell McPhee (knee)
PROBABLE: C Matt Birk (thigh), S Ed Reed (thigh)

PHILADELPHIA
OUT: WR Riley Cooper (collarbone)
QUESTIONABLE: WR DeSean Jackson (hamstring), WR Jeremy Maclin (hip), CB Curtis Marsh (hamstring)
PROBABLE: S Colt Anderson (knee), WR Jason Avant (wrist), S Kurt Coleman (facial lacerations)

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McPhee, Kruger still sidelined for Thursday’s practice

Posted on 13 September 2012 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 8:30 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Practicing in helmets, shells, and shorts for the second straight day, the Ravens were once again without defensive end Pernell McPhee and strongside linebacker Paul Kruger.

Kruger is dealing with a back injury and appeared to be banged up in the locker room following the Ravens’ 44-13 win over Cincinnati on Monday night. McPhee is dealing with a right knee ailment but said in the locker room prior to Thursday’s practice that he was improving and wasn’t concerned with his status for Sunday’s game against the Eagles.

McPhee underwent arthroscopic surgery in the spring and missed much of the team’s organized team activities. He received a few periodic days off to rest the knee during training camp.

“I feel pretty good, I feel better,” McPhee said. “I expect to play Sunday.”

Veteran center Matt Birk returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday’s practice with a thigh injury. Free safety Ed Reed (hamstring) was suited up to practice for the second straight day after being listed as a limited participant on Wednesday.

Offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf) was present but wasn’t working with the rest of the offensive line during the opening portion of Thursday’s practice.

Here is Thursday’s official injury report …

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Paul Kruger (back), DE Pernell McPhee (knee), T Jah Reid (leg)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Matt Birk (thigh), S Ed Reed (thigh)

PHILADELPHIA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Jeremy Maclin (hip), WR Riley Cooper (collarbone), WR DeSean Jackson (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Curtis Marsh (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Kurt Coleman (facial lacerations), S Colt Anderson (knee), WR Jason Avant (wrist)

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Run defense has “hands full” trying to stop Eagles’ McCoy

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Run defense has “hands full” trying to stop Eagles’ McCoy

Posted on 12 September 2012 by Luke Jones

There was plenty to like about the Ravens’ 44-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, but one area of concern coming from an otherwise dominating performance was the lackluster run defense on display in the season opener.

The Ravens allowed 129 rushing yards on 28 carries as Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the way with 91 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. It was an uncharacteristic performance in comparison to what you’d expect from a Baltimore defense, but personnel changes have led many to wonder whether the Ravens will continue their tradition of stuffing the run this season.

Defensive end Pernell McPhee struggled to get much of a push at the line of scrimmage while outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan were inconsistent setting the edge as the Bengals consistently gained yardage on the ground to set up short-yardage situations on third down. Fortunately for the defense, the Ravens’ offensive explosion forced the Bengals to abandon the run, and the defense buckled down in the second half.

“It was just little minor technique errors on our part that we can fix, we should fix,” said Harbaugh, who deemed stopping the run as a staple for the Baltimore defense. “[It was] probably guys trying to do more than they actually should try to do and continue to have confidence in the guys around them a little more.”

The Ravens will face an even bigger challenge in stopping the run this Sunday when they take on the Eagles in Philadelphia. In addition to the big-play ability and speed of quarterback Michael Vick, the defense must deal with fourth-year running back LeSean McCoy, who’s already earned the reputation as one of the best backs in the NFL.

Named to his first Pro Bowl last season, McCoy rushed for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns and is a dangerous runner when able to get into space. Also a threat out of the backfield, the 2009 second-round pick caught 48 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees must preach discipline to his defense when facing a player with the ability to cut back and make tacklers miss in the open field. Still in the early stages of his pro career, McCoy earned high praise from the elder statesman of the Baltimore defense on Wednesday.

“He is one of those guys that he has a little flavor,” inside linebacker Ray Lewis said. “I don’t want to put him that high up there with [Hall of Fame running back] Barry Sanders, but he has that type of ability to really jump in the hole, jump out of the hole the way you saw many highlights of the many people he made miss time and time again. You really have to cradle him. You have to keep him in the box and make him play football inside those boxes, kind of where he doesn’t want to be.”

That responsibility will fall heavily on the shoulders of Kruger and McClellan, who struggled to make much of an impact in the season opener. The outside linebackers combined for just three total tackles as questions remain whether they can do a sufficient job in place of the departed Jarret Johnson — who is now in San Diego — and the injured Terrell Suggs.

Making their job even more difficult is the nightmarish threat of Vick taking off when plays break down, but anyone who pays close attention to the Eagles will tell you McCoy is the key to making the Eagles offense thrive.

In Philadelphia’s Week 1 win over the Cleveland Browns, he ran for 110 yards and caught six passes for 26 yards.

“He will test the edges,” said Harbaugh, who is reminded of former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook when watching McCoy. “I think our guys out there did a good job this last game, but they are going to get tested like they’ve never been tested before in this game against this back. ‘Shady’ [McCoy], we had fun interviewing him when he was coming out from [the University of Pittsburgh]. He is a great guy. He has a tremendous personality, and I think the flair of his play matches the flair of his personality. He is a home-run hitter.”

Avoiding those home runs and keeping McCoy between the tackles — where he becomes more pedestrian as a runner — will be the ultimate test on Sunday as the Ravens will look to prove that Cincinnati’s success on the ground was more of an aberration than a harbinger of what’s to come this season.

The Ravens have never faced the shifty McCoy as the teams last met in 2008, but it’s clear the 5-foot-11, 208-pound back has their full attention this week.

“He is a complete back,” Lewis said. “[He will be] catching the ball out of the backfield, catching the ball on screens, running inside and outside. Yeah, we have our hands full this week.”

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Kruger, McPhee, Birk non-participants in Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 12 September 2012 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 9:00 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens took the field late Wednesday afternoon for their first full practice in preparation for the Philadelphia Eagles and were without two defensive starters.

Defensive end Pernell McPhee and strongside linebacker Paul Kruger were not present during the portion of practice open to the media. Arthroscopic knee surgery limited McPhee early in the preseason, and he received occasional days off during training camp.

The two players combined for just two tackles, though McPhee shared a quarterback sack with rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw.

Center Matt Birk and offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf) were both on the field without helmets but were not working with the rest of the offensive linemen. It’s not uncommon for the 36-year-old Birk to receive days off from practice over the course of the regular season.

Safety Ed Reed (hamstring) and cornerback Corey Graham (leg) were both practicing after leaving Monday’s game with injuries. The free safety told reporters after the game he wasn’t concerned about the hamstring strain and fully expected to be ready for the Week 2 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles. Graham appeared to be dealing with leg cramps in the second half of the 44-13 win over the Bengals.

Reed practiced on a limited basis while Graham was not listed on Wednesday’s injury report.

For Philadelphia, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin did not participate in Wednesday’s practice and is dealing with a hip injury.

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: C Matt Birk (thigh), LB Paul Kruger (back), DE Pernell McPhee (knee), T Jah Reid (leg)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Ed Reed (thigh)

PHILADELPHIA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Jeremy Maclin (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Kurt Coleman (facial lacerations), WR Riley Cooper (collarbone), CB Curtis Marsh (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Colt Anderson (knee), WR Jason Avant (wrist)

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Five pressing questions for the 2012 season

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Five pressing questions for the 2012 season

Posted on 09 September 2012 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens begin defense of their AFC North division crown against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night and hope to embark on a journey to Super Bowl XLVII in John Harbaugh’s fifth year as head coach, they play the fourth-toughest schedule in the league statistically as their opponents held a .523 winning percentage (134-122) last season.

Expectations remain sky-high in Baltimore, even after a trying offseason than included key injuries and significant departures due to limited salary cap room.

Here are the five biggest questions weighing on my mind for the Ravens’ 2012 season:

1. Is the starting line good enough for the offense to take the next step?

Deemed a priority to upgrade at the beginning of the season, the offensive line remains a major question mark as the Ravens tinkered with various alignments throughout the preseason. Even determining which starting five will line up has been quite a challenge considering the circumstances the organization has dealt with since last January.

The Ravens knew Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs — now with New Orleans — would be difficult to replace as they eventually settled on former Bengals guard Bobbie Williams. Playing with a surgically-repaired right ankle, the 35-year-old has dealt with swelling as scar tissue is still breaking up in the ankle, making you wonder if Williams will hold up over the course of a 16-game regular season.

The bigger surprise has been the uncertainty at the tackle position as the Ravens weren’t satisfied with Bryant McKinnie’s weight and conditioning this offseason and the tackle reported late to training camp, opening the door to the idea of Michael Oher returning to left tackle. All seemed to be straightened out when McKinnie started at left tackle and Oher shifted back to the right side in the third preseason game, but the Ravens surprisingly played hardball with McKinnie by cutting his pay last week, a tactic that nearly led to his departure.

In another twist, rookie Kelechi Osemele revealed Saturday that he expected to start at right tackle against the Bengals, meaning Michael Oher will play on the left side and McKinnie will hold a backup role for now. Osemele played well at the position in the preseason and is the most pleasant surprise of the 2012 draft class to this point, but his insertion in the starting lineup creates the question whether Oher can handle protecting quarterback Joe Flacco’s blind side, which led to the Ravens signing McKinnie in the first place last August.

The Ravens’ handling of their line is unsettling considering the offense is expected to take a significant step forward this season. The combination of Oher and Osemele is more athletic and better conditioned, factors worth remembering when you consider how much they expect to run a no-huddle offense, but much doubt remains about their ability as pass blockers. Though McKinnie is considered a below-average run blocker, he is still the best pass blocker among the Baltimore tackles, which should be the most important factor in trying to protect the most important player on the field.

It’s clear the Ravens have grown tired of McKinnie’s act, but they also didn’t have enough confidence in life without him or they would have pulled the trigger in releasing him last week when he balked at their original pay-cut demand. They appear set to try the younger duo against Cincinnati, but you have to wonder if it will work week in and week out, especially when considering Williams’ health and age at left guard and the fact that there’s no viable option behind him other than Osemele on the 53-man roster.

Even when finally appearing to settle on a starting five moving forward, the Ravens will need to show improvement in short-yardage run situations, an area in which they struggled immensely last season.

Regardless of the factors working against them, the Ravens deemed upgrading the offensive line a major priority in the offseason and even the optimistic takes on the current group couldn’t possibly feel more confident about it than last season’s group.

2. How will the defense find a consistent pass rush without Terrell Suggs?

No one knows if and when the Pro Bowl linebacker will return this season and whether he’ll display the same explosiveness he displayed last season on his way to the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year award. His absence has created a gigantic black cloud over a defense ranking among the NFL’s elite annually for over a decade.

The Ravens have used their “next man up” mantra since the news broke about the injury in early May, but they appear no closer to answering their pass-rush question than they were when first learning about Suggs’ partially-torn Achilles tendon. And it’s a sobering thought when you remember the defense will encounter 11 quarterbacks who have made at least one Pro Bowl this season.

Fourth-year linebacker Paul Kruger is being asked to play the strongside linebacker position in place of the departed Jarret Johnson and struggled setting the edge against the run in the preseason. However, an even more disappointing outcome of the summer was the slow development of rookie Courtney Upshaw, who dealt with a shoulder injury for much of training camp. Upshaw appeared overweight and lacked explosiveness coming off the edge and was beaten out by former practice squad member Albert McClellan for the rush linebacker spot.

While no one should have expected Upshaw to immediately enter the league as a poor man’s version of Suggs, the fact that he was unable to show any tangible signs of being a threat as a pass rusher in the preseason is disheartening after he was selected with the 35th overall pick in late April. To suggest Upshaw is a draft bust is absurdly premature, but the Ravens hope the light comes on quickly for the rookie from Alabama to be a bigger factor on passing downs.

In terms of maximizing their pass rush, the Ravens might be better served by scrapping the idea of Kruger at the “Sam” position and allowing him to move back to the rush linebacker spot where he can focus more often than not on simply getting after the quarterback. His 5 1/2 sacks in limited time last season showed he can put heat on the quarterback, but those also came with a healthy Suggs on the opposite side of the defensive line.

Defensive end Pernell McPhee will also be critical to the pass rush as his six sacks last year were a major surprise. The Ravens will elect to use him more extensively on first and second down given his pass-rushing ability, but McPhee also bulked up to 290 pounds to aid in playing the run. The second-year defensive lineman made positive plays in run support in the preseason, but you also wonder how the extra weight will affect the combination of strength and quickness he displayed as a pass rusher last year.

There’s simply no replacing the loss of Suggs and the secondary will be challenged in coverage much more without him tormenting quarterbacks for at least the bulk of the regular season. It’s difficult envisioning the defense maintaining the same level of excellence we’ve come to expect over the years, meaning the offense will be asked to be more productive if the Ravens are to remain a legitimate Super Bowl threat.

3. With the no-huddle attack expected to become a prominent part of the offense, how will it affect Ray Rice’s touches?

CONTINUE >>>

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Defensive coordinator Pees tired of Kruger being compared to Suggs

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Defensive coordinator Pees tired of Kruger being compared to Suggs

Posted on 07 September 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ever since the revelation in early May of linebacker Terrell Suggs suffering a partial tear of his Achilles tendon, the Ravens have been peppered with questions about what it means for their pass rush and overall defense in 2012.

On the Friday before the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, it appeared defensive coordinator Dean Pees had heard enough when asked how critical it would be for linebacker Paul Kruger to accumulate more sacks with Suggs expected to be out of the lineup until at least November. Pees reiterated the common theme of multiple players needing to step up in the star pass-rusher’s absence.

Only he didn’t sound nearly as cordial in expressing that this time in comparison to previous statements.

“It has nothing to do with Sizzle. It has to do with playing outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens,” Pees said. “You guys keep comparing; you can never compare two people. It has nothing to do with another guy. There’s no comparison; I never compare them.

“It’s playing outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Period. Whether it’s the Sam, the rush, the Mike, the Will, when Ray [Lewis] was out, it has nothing to do with a guy having to take another guy’s position. It has to do with that guy playing his position.”

The Ravens’ pass rush will receive its first test against a Cincinnati offensive line with three new starters inside, meaning defensive end Pernell McPhee and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata may have opportunities to pressure second-year quarterback Andy Dalton.

Uncertainty remains at both outside linebacker positions with Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan both unproven as three-down players, so Pees will need to be more creative in generating heat on the passer until the Ravens can accurately assess where they’re at in that department. Baltimore is still hoping rookie Courtney Upshaw can also provide a bigger impact than what he showed in an injury-plagued preseason.

No one player has the ability to replace Suggs, but the Ravens hope a combination of rushers along with a deep group of cornerbacks will minimize the damage in the Pro Bowl linebacker’s absence.

“Terrell is a big part of our team, a big part of what we do, and guys are going to have to step up,” safety Ed Reed said. “Not just one player, every guy that’s on offense, defense, and special teams. We’ve all got to pick up that slack, because we know what Terrell brings to the table.”

Suggs was held to one sack in two games against Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, which could mean Kruger and McClellan will have their hands full generating any pressure on Dalton. The question is nothing new as the loss of the Pro Bowl linebacker may knock the Ravens defense from the elite status it enjoys annually.

Pees is right that Kruger shouldn’t be held in comparison to Suggs, but asking whether the sum of the parts can not only match the 14 sacks accumulated by Suggs a season ago but also force teams to game-plan and account for pressure in the same way they’ve done in the past is a relevant and fair query.

“I don’t want to come across stirred up about it,” Pees said. “I’m not, it’s just when you compare players, you take everything so far out of context. It’s not about that; it’s about how he fits in the defense, how does he do his part. He’s one of 11 of this defense and so is Sizzle when he’s in there — he’s one of 11. Whether you game plan certain ways or whatever, that’s what they are. They all have one-eleventh stock in this defense.”

Needless to say, if the Ravens are unable to make Dalton uncomfortable in the pocket Monday, the questions and concerns will only grow louder.

Cameron confident in tight ends getting up to speed

With Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta practicing fully on Thursday and Friday, any notion of the tight ends being game-time decisions was clearly gamesmanship on the part of coach John Harbaugh.

However, with Pitta missing nearly all of training camp and Dickson injuring his shoulder in the first preseason game, it remains to be seen how quickly the pair can become acclimated in a Baltimore offense that focused exclusively on the no-huddle attack this summer. The Ravens relied on both tight ends heavily last season and you’d expect to see the same in 2012, but it will be interesting to gauge how the coaching staff handles their workload after the offense primarily went with three-wide sets in August.

“Both guys – it’s a tribute to both of them – even though they’ve missed practices, they’re not missing meetings, they’re not missing any walk-throughs, they’re not missing any rehab or strength and conditioning,” Cameron said. “[Quarterback Joe Flacco] has such a great rapport with those guys. Not only are they together on the field, they’re around Joe all the time. So I’m thrilled to have them back, and I think they’ll pick up right where they left off with no concerns at all.”

The Ravens used plenty of single-back looks in August, which makes you think we could see Dickson lining up at tight end with Pitta moving to a slot position on a semi-regular basis, but the offense also wants to have more speed on the outside with Jacoby Jones as the No. 3 receiver and possession wideout Anquan Boldin sliding to the slot.

Regardless of how the rotation plays out this season, Monday might be too soon to draw conclusions based on how the playing time is split up against the Bengals as the tight ends are still working their way back into football shape.

Tucker letting it rip on kickoffs

One question asked by fans throughout the preseason has been about rookie kicker Justin Tucker’s unimpressive performance on kickoffs.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg reminded everyone Thursday that the rookie was directed not to send kickoffs as far as he could in order for the staff to evaluate its the kickoff coverage, which struggled a year ago. Tucker was only allowed to take five steps in approaching the ball instead of the ability to take a longer approach to the tee.

With the regular season now upon us, Tucker will be allowed to put his full foot — with full steps included — into each and every kickoff in hopes that the rest of the unit won’t receive as many opportunities to cover.

“He’s certainly going to try,” said Rosburg in describing how Tucker will simply boot it as far as he can. “That is the way we kick off; we try to kick it as far as we can, and we’ll give him that opportunity. You may have seen in the St. Louis game, I believe he did it twice if I’m not mistaken, and one they brought out [of the end zone] and the other one was [kicked] out of the end zone.”

Organization supports Ayanbadejo’s stance on marriage equality

The bizarre story of Maryland House of Delegates member Emmett C. Burns Jr. writing a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti stating his opposition to linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s public support of marriage equality created quite a stir this week.

But the Ravens are standing by the veteran’s side.

Ayanbadejo has spoken openly in support of gay marriage countless times, which promoted Burns to write a letter expressing how “appalled and aghast” he was over the public stance and imploring Bisciotti to silence his player. In response, team president Dick Cass issued a statement supporting Ayanbadejo’s right to free speech and even delivered a message directly to the player regarding the matter.

“He said, ‘We’re in support of you, and it’s good that you’re able to voice your opinion and say how you feel,’” Ayanbadejo said. “But Dick personally told me that we’re not an organization that discriminates and he was telling me how he was on Pro Football Talk and he was reading all the comments that people have said and he was overwhelmingly surprised and happy to see that football fans were supporting me and what I said. He told me that I should go there and I should read it.”

Ayanbadejo believes we’ve seen a dramatic shift in support over the last four or five years, with more people beginning to support marriage equality. Cass also offered him a take on the state of NFL locker rooms as it relates to the issue of equality.

“He believes the culture in locker rooms is changing as well,” Ayanbadejo said. “He believes there are gay players in the NFL — they’re just not publicly gay. He thinks that, for the most part, players just want to play with good players. They don’t care who your mother, your father, who you are, what color or creed you are as long as you can play football at this level.”

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