Tag Archive | "Peyton Manning"

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Kubiak calls “elite” Flacco as good as anyone he’s coached

Posted on 18 February 2015 by Luke Jones

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has fielded countless questions about the future of Peyton Manning since becoming the head coach of the Denver Broncos last month.

At the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, a reporter asked Kubiak an oft-repeated question about his old quarterback in Baltimore.

Is Joe Flacco elite?

“You bet he is. He helped me. It’s probably why I’m standing up here today,” said Kubiak as he laughed. “Joe was tremendous. I really enjoyed working with him — as talented a young man as I’ve ever coached and as good a person as I’ve ever coached. I think we’ll be talking about Joe for a long, long time. I really appreciated my time with him, and I wish him the best.”

Not only leading the Ravens offense to franchise-best marks in total yards and points scored, Kubiak guided Flacco to arguably the best regular season of his seven-year career. The 30-year-old threw a career-best 27 touchdowns and completed 62.1 percent of his passes, his best completion rate since 2010.

And while Kubiak already owned a coaching résumé that included an eight-year stint as the head coach of the Houston Texans, the 53-year-old once again praised the Ravens organization for the opportunity it provided last season. He’s using that experience in Denver, a place he previously spent two decades as a player and assistant coach.

“I took a lot of things,” Kubiak said. “I went there because I knew what the organization stood for. I knew what John [Harbaugh] stood for. That’s what I wanted to be a part of — the tremendous expectations there. I just think the job that they do as an organization, everybody’s on the same page and working together. I think Ozzie [Newsome] was tremendous for me to watch him in the draft and Eric DeCosta. That was very beneficial for me.

“To watch the team go through [the Ray Rice] situation early in the season and watch the organization deal with that. For me as a head coach, watching them deal with that situation and bring the football team out of it in a very positive way was very beneficial. Football-wise, a very experienced staff [with] Dean Pees and some of the coaches I got a chance to work with. The bottom line is watching a successful organization go about it every day — one that’s been there each and every year — I take a lot of that with me.”

Kubiak reiterated Wednesday that he wants Manning to return as the Broncos quarterback and said all indications are pointing toward that happening in 2015. Though the schedule won’t be finalized with dates until this spring, the Ravens will travel to Denver to take on the Broncos this coming season.

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Two key moments open floodgates in embarrassing loss to Broncos

Posted on 06 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco uttered all that really could be said about a disastrous 49-27 defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos to begin the 2013 season.

“It was one of those nights.”

Head coach John Harbaugh can only hope it’s as simple as that after the Ravens surrendered 35 points in the second half, transforming a 17-14 halftime lead into a 22-point shellacking in which the Baltimore defense allowed a franchise-record 49 points in the first game of the post-Ray Lewis era. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes against a defense that looked exhausted and overmatched — particularly in the secondary — for much of the night.

Offensively, the fears at the wide receiver and tight end positions came to fruition as Flacco struggled to find open targets and when he did, they often couldn’t catch the football. The Ravens lost wide receiver Jacoby Jones (knee) and right tackle Michael Oher (ankle) to injury, further depleting an offense already with little room for mistakes.

The special teams were just as bad as backup safety Brynden Trawick inexplicably ran into Jones on a punt return — leading to the Pro Bowl returner specialist’s knee injury — and allowed a Sam Koch punt to be blocked to set up another Denver touchdown. And that’s only scratching the surface for Jerry Rosburg’s units.

Just one of those nights?

As ugly as the final stats and the second half were in the first season-opening loss of the Harbaugh era, it’s easy to forget the Ravens held the momentum late in the first half before two crucial moments became the catalysts for one of the worst defeats of the Harbaugh era. It’s often said that the difference between winning and losing can come down to just a play or two, but in this case, it was two plays that transformed a tight game into an unmerciful beating.

A perfectly-thrown Flacco pass to tight end Dallas Clark bounced right off his hands on what would have been a sure touchdown with just seconds remaining until intermission. Instead of a seven-point lead, the Ravens settled for a 25-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to go into the locker room ahead three points.

The second key moment came on Denver’s opening drive of the second half when Manning delivered a low throw to Wes Welker that clearly hit the ground as the slot receiver secured it. The play was ruled a catch, but Harbaugh elected not to throw his challenge flag, blaming the lack of a timely replay for his coaches upstairs to get a good look at the play after the game.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Harbaugh said after the game. “That’s something you have to see. It would be nice if NBC would show it, but we didn’t have a chance to look at it.”

Whether it was the lack of a replay, a moment of indecisiveness, or Harbaugh simply trying to protect his staff upstairs, the floodgates opened two plays later on Manning’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell and the Ravens were never competitive again. Had the play been challenged and the call overturned, the Baltimore defense would have forced a three-and-out, placing the ball back in the hands of Flacco and the offense with a three-point lead and further easing the pain of Clark’s drop on the final series of the first half.

Make no mistake, putting too much blame on Clark’s drop and Harbaugh’s decision to keep his red challenge flag in his pocket bails out what was an atrocious defensive effort and an inept offensive showing in the second half, but those mistakes highlight how small the margin for error might be for the Ravens this season — at least early on. With 19 new players on the 53-man roster and the departures of a number of key veterans including Lewis and longtime safety Ed Reed, the Ravens are certainly vulnerable to some growing pains in terms of both leadership and play on the field.

The loss of Jones in the first half eliminated the fear of a deep-ball threat on both sides of formations for the Ravens offense, allowing Denver safeties to focus carefully on Torrey Smith, who finished the night with four catches for 92 yards. Ed Dickson and Clark only magnified concerns about the tight end position with a number of drops. If you’re looking for a positive, rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown’s 13-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was one of the few bright spots for the offense as he finished with four catches for 65 yards.

The Ravens defense had no excuses for how it played in the second half as the secondary was absolutely torched by Manning, who ate up the Baltimore safeties — particularly free safety Michael Huff — on two touchdowns to young tight end Julius Thomas and abused cornerback Corey Graham throughout the night. With expectations high for a defense that experienced a dramatic makeover, the secondary was the biggest question mark entering the season as only cornerback Lardarius Webb received a passing grade in the group.

Hyped by some to be one of the most formidable groups in franchise history, the front seven collected three sacks against Manning but didn’t provide consistent pressure to aid a defensive backfield overwhelmed by too many weapons.

So, does this all mean the Ravens are doomed? Hardly.

It was only last December when the Ravens were in a similar position against the Broncos when a critical Flacco interception returned for a touchdown before halftime turned a tight game into one of the worst losses of the Harbaugh era. The rest was history after that embarrassing loss as the Ravens didn’t lose another meaningful game — starters were rested against Cincinnati in Week 17 — on their path to a Super Bowl title.

Even the record-setting 2000 Ravens defense gave up 36 points at home against Mark Brunell and the Jacksonville Jaguars in a Week 2 shootout before ultimately setting a record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season and winning the Super Bowl a few months later.

You’re never as bad as you look at your lowest point, but the concerns are real, ranging from who Flacco can trust in the passing game to whether this Ravens defense is as good as it was thought to be on paper with such a poor showing from the secondary.

The opening game will always be magnified because there’s no body of work on which to base observations and this marks the first time the Ravens have ever started 0-1 under Harbaugh. It’s also the first time since October 2008 in which the Ravens find themselves below the .500 mark, which is a testament to Harbaugh and his coaching staff and an easy reminder not to press the panic button just yet.

Still, Thursday night did not provide a good feeling after an offseason filled with more personnel changes and unknowns than any other defending Super Bowl champion had experienced in recent memory.

You can only hope it truly was just one of those nights with much better days ahead.

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Flacco: Overreacting to a loss isn’t a bad thing

Posted on 06 September 2013 by WNSTV

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Lots of questions, few answers in Denver

Posted on 06 September 2013 by Nestor Aparicio

For the past seven months we’re talked a lot about the 2013 version of the Baltimore Ravens and nothing really mattered until the rain and lightning cleared and the team hit the field in Denver last night.

Everyone had questions. Who would replace Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin in the offense? How would the secondary hold up with new (and some) former backup players? Who would provide the pass rush? Could Joe Flacco get protection and deliver the ball as a marked man?

Some of the answers came in a dismal third quarter that quickly unraveled and slowly droned on until midnight, when the Ravens managed to turn a 17-14 halftime lead into a 35-17 hole that they couldn’t recover from vs. the Broncos.

John Harbaugh and his staff will be looking for answers for the next 10 days in preparation for a visit from the Cleveland Browns.

Some evaluations and more questions are now glaring:

Who will catch the ball effectively for Joe Flacco in 2013? Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley caught a few passes but it’s hard to envision any massive productivity from them on the offense. Torrey Smith and Ray Rice will be utilized plenty but the some of the elder statemen are role players now playing a larger role than Ozzie Newsome would’ve liked, especially this early in the season.

The tight end position appears ready to haunt the Ravens without Pitta. Ed Dickson dropped four passes. Who can Flacco trust? Can Marlon Brown really be a surprise difference maker in the offense? He did catch a garbage time touchdown after most of you went to bed.

What happens to the special teams game with Jacoby Jones out? He injured his knee. For a speed guy, that’s death. It will hamper the offense – and it was always a question how effective he’d be in that second wide receiver role anyway – but the loss in the return game is monumental for as long as he’s gone.

Will there be a pass rush? Terrell Suggs, Chris Canty and Elvis Dumervil chased Manning a bit in Denver but how will they fare vs. the field in the coming weeks?

What’s with all of the stupid penalties? Albert McClellan hitting guys out of bounds? Jimmy Smith hitting a guy late? Gino Gradkowski getting a flag away from the play for rough housing?

How will John Harbaugh use his red flag? He used the first one to dispute a five-yard gain successfully and then swallowed it on an obvious drop by Wes Welker that changed the game in the third quarter. After the game, he said he didn’t know there was any dispute on that play and said that NBC should show replays quicker.

Joe Flacco threw a couple of interceptions that are still making me scratch my head. If not for the stupidity of Danny Trevathan, the Broncos would have had another Pick Six on a ball he admitted he shouldn’t have thrown. Can the Ravens offense and Flacco clean this up?

Peyton Manning threw seven touchdowns vs. the Ravens defense. Do you blame the pass rush? Do you blame the secondary? Do you just tip your cap to the one of the greatest of all time? And what happened to the Corey Graham of 2012? He suddenly assumed the Champ Bailey role in Denver last night.

Are you looking for bright spots? Haloti Ngata looked healthy and strong in run defense. Terrell Suggs looks to be back at 100 percent. Chris Canty looked like he’ll be a nice player this year. Flacco, for the most part, wasn’t running for his life behind an offensive line that was mostly good enough to win.

But other than that? Not much to “rave” about in Denver.

And finally…how much do the Ravens miss Ray Lewis and Ed Reed right now?

Plenty, it appears…

 

 

 

 

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 04 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

It was less than eight months ago when the Ravens met the Denver Broncos in one of the great contests in NFL playoff history as Baltimore prevailed in a 38-35 double-overtime thriller to advance to the AFC Championship game.

Now, fast-forward to the present as the Ravens return to the scene with a different look than includes 19 new players on the 53-man roster and the Broncos will see former Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil wearing purple, creating plenty of intrigue for the NFL’s season-opening game.

It’s time to go on record as the Ravens meet Denver for the 10th time ever in the regular season and own a 5-4 advantage despite a 1-3 regular-season record in Denver. Of course, the Ravens are also 2-0 against the Broncos in postseason play as Denver stewed over its disappointing loss as the No. 1 seed in the AFC throughout the offseason.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens open their season in prime time for the third time in the last four seasons …

1. Much like last January, the Ravens will go vertical early on as Joe Flacco connects with Torrey Smith for a long touchdown in the first half. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell may need to rely more on the running game this season because of the uncertainty at wide receiver and tight end, but a conservative approach isn’t the way to beat Peyton Manning and an explosive Denver passing game. The Broncos will not have Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller due to his six-game suspension, meaning the offensive line should give Flacco plenty of time to throw deep. Some deep shots will also back up the Denver safeties, opening up some intermediate space for tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark and slot receiver Brandon Stokley to work. If Flacco can find success with those throws, it will only create more room in the box to get Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce going in the running game.

2. Daryl Smith will lead the Ravens in tackles in the first game of the post-Ray Lewis era. Dumervil’s signing received the most attention this offseason, but the presence of the 31-year-old Smith has been a welcome addition to an otherwise inexperienced group of inside linebackers that includes Josh Bynes and second-round pick Arthur Brown. For what it’s worth, Smith looked like the Ravens’ best defensive player of the preseason and while you wouldn’t expect that to hold true during the season, he had the reputation for being stout against the run and serving capably in pass coverage in his nine years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The additions of Smith and Brown will hopefully help the pass defense in the middle intermediate portion of the field, which has been a major weakness for several years now. Smith’s quiet demeanor and maturity might be the perfect fit for a guy assuming the position formerly held by the future Hall of Famer Lewis.

3. Manning will keep an improved Ravens defense on the field, causing the unit to wilt in the second half. Baltimore did an admirable job handling the altitude in a single-digit temperature last January, but Thursday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-80s, presenting a different challenge in terms of conditioning. Even with the improvements to their front seven, the Ravens are still fielding a secondary with question marks ranging from the effectiveness of Lardarius Webb coming back from his second ACL surgery in four seasons to the ability of Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo to cover the middle of the field. Pressuring Manning will clearly be critical as it was last January, but the Broncos just have too much firepower to hold them down entirely. It will intriguing to see what kind of a rapport Manning has built with free-agent acquisition Wes Welker at this early stage, but the size of wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside will be a very difficult matchup.

4. Struggling to find open targets in the middle of the field, Flacco tosses a second-half interception to Broncos safety Rahim Moore. The most dynamic change that Caldwell brought to the offense when he assumed Cam Cameron’s coordinator duties last season was the willingness to use the middle of the field in the passing game, but continuing that without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta in the mix will be the biggest challenge facing Flacco this season. The reality is no one really knows if the combination of Dickson, Stokley, and Clark will be enough to fill the void of two outstanding targets the sixth-year quarterback used in the middle of the field to the point that he could be bold in throwing passes up for grabs. In contrast, Moore has heard the criticism and jokes throughout the offseason about his gaffe of allowing Jones to get behind him on the game-tying score at the end of regulation last January. Trailing late in the game, Flacco will try to force a pass down the seam to Dickson that’s picked off by Moore, which gives the maligned safety a tiny sliver of revenge.

5. The Ravens will compete ferociously, but an incomplete offense will be the deciding factor in handing John Harbaugh the first Week 1 loss of his tenure in a 24-21 final. Baltimore is a good football team, but trying to figure out how good is anyone’s guess with so many question marks offensively and new pieces defensively. It’s a lot to ask that all to come together against such a formidable opponent in the opening game of the season. The Ravens undoubtedly feel motivated to perform well on a national stage as the defending Super Bowl champions who were also forced to open the season on the road, but the Broncos and their fans have thought about this opportunity for the entire offseason and will treat the game like it’s the Super Bowl. Not enough offense and a few too many leaks defensively against an elite opponent will lead to the Ravens coming up a little short. To beat a team like Denver, you’re often faced with a shootout and the Ravens aren’t built for that just yet.

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Ravens defense aiming to make expectations reality in post-Lewis era

Posted on 03 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens heard the questions, the concerns, and the doubts about their once-proud defense in the weeks and months that followed their win in Super Bowl XLVII.

How would they survive without the retiring Ray Lewis, arguably the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history and unquestionably the leader and face of the franchise for their entire 17-year existence? What would they do to replace future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed’s presence in the defensive backfield as well as in the locker room? And how could they afford to lose younger talents such as Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard, and Cary Williams in a quest to rebuild an aging and frequently-ineffective defense?

Those who downplayed Lewis’ departure because of his declining play over the final seasons of his career couldn’t overlook the colossal void in leadership and identity that needed to be addressed for an organization that both empowered and depended upon his presence. And after years of watching former Baltimore defensive players escape Lewis’ shadow before finding that the grass wasn’t greener elsewhere, the Ravens themselves will now see how they fare without him.

“In the spring, everybody was hitting the panic button on us because of the guys we lost,” Pro Bowl linebacker and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs said. “Even though we were very sad to see those guys go, the show must go on.”

The time for change was right as general manager Ozzie Newsome remembered what some had seemingly forgotten while basking in the image of confetti dropping in New Orleans in a storybook ending for the 2012 Ravens. Though praised for a “bend but don’t break” style that was good enough to complement quarterback Joe Flacco’s incredible postseason performance, the Baltimore defense finished 17th in total defense, tied for 12th in points allowed, 20th against the run, 17th against the pass, and tied for 15th in sacks.

Frankly, the defensive numbers and overall performance were un-Raven-like as Baltimore was weak along the defensive line as well as at safety, prompting Newsome to trade wide receiver Anquan Boldin and his $6 million base salary in 2013 to clear just enough salary cap space to rebuild the defense in terms of both talent and leadership. Defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears would provide improved depth upfront while free safety Michael Huff seemed like a good bet to, at worst, match the declining play of Reed for a fraction of the cost that the Houston Texans paid for the longtime Raven’s services in free agency.

The prize of the group, however, was Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was released due to a contract-restructuring snafu made by his former agent and joined the Ravens after signing a five-year deal worth a maximum value of $35 million. It appeared to be a bargain for a three-time Pro Bowl selection whose work ethic and leadership have been praised by everyone in the organization from the moment he stepped foot in Owings Mills in the spring.

“I think [it comes with] the way you play on the field and how you lead by example,” Dumervil said. “Leadership doesn’t come with talking or speech — it’s just how you carry yourself. I’ve always been a leader. That’s just natural for me, and I think I’ve learned how to follow before I can lead.”

After drafting four defensive players in the first four rounds of April’s draft, Newsome had one more trick up his sleeve in signing longtime Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith to a one-year deal on the same day the Super Bowl champs visited President Barack Obama at the White House. The 31-year-old has stepped in to play Lewis’ Mike linebacker position while looking like the team’s best player in the preseason, recording 14 tackles and a sack while showing steady ability in pass coverage.

Initially perceived as little more than an insurance policy for injured inside linebacker Jameel McClain, Smith has been praised by everyone in the organization, ranging from his new defensive teammates to quarterback Joe Flacco. Smith’s personality couldn’t be more different from Lewis, which might be a positive while handling such an unenviable task of replacing a legend.

“He doesn’t say a lot, because he’s just about business, and then you sit down and talk to him and realize the depth of his character and personality,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a great family man, he’s a mature guy, he’s a man. And he’s also – I really believe – one of the most underrated defensive players in football over the last eight [or] nine years. We feel pretty fortunate that he’s here right now.”

The common threads among the five veteran newcomers were the leadership qualities they displayed with their former teams. It was clear the Ravens weren’t simply placing the defensive leadership crown on the heads of Suggs and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata alone.

There was no replacing Lewis or Reed, but the Ravens appear to be pleased with their by-committee approach as they enter Thursday night’s opener against the Denver Broncos. On paper and in the controlled environment of spring and summer practices, the transition has appeared organic and seamless.

Suggs will be viewed as the new figurehead, but the 30-year-old has acknowledged repeatedly that he’s not looking to be the next Lewis and has appeared more subdued than in past seasons. Overall, it’s a Baltimore defense that lacks the bravado of past units without the camera-friendly Lewis out in front, but the quiet confidence veteran newcomers and young players alike have expressed seems appropriate in a new era.

“It’s different like in any organization when you lose guys that have been there for so long that they kind of assume those roles,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think everybody else kind of sat back and just said, ‘Well, that’s really kind of not my role. That’s kind of Ed [Reed] and Ray’s [Lewis] role.’ Now those guys are stepping up, and I don’t think it’s any one particular guy who’s saying, ‘OK, I’m going to be the new Ray Lewis.’ It’s just a bunch of guys collectively stepping up and showing some leadership.”

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Flacco excited to see what rookie receivers bring to table

Posted on 01 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It wasn’t long ago that Joe Flacco joked about not knowing the names of most new teammates on the Ravens roster after an offseason filled with changes.

However, the Ravens quarterback isn’t saying that any longer about a pair of rookie receivers who could factor heavily into the Baltimore passing attack as early as Thursday’s opener against the Denver Broncos. Undrafted free agent Marlon Brown and seventh-round pick Aaron Mellette began the summer in relative anonymity in Flacco’s eyes but grabbed his attention after the pair combined to make 19 catches for 309 yards and four touchdowns in four preseason games.

“They’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast, and they’re physical,” Flacco said. “They obviously have some talent. I think they are going to be guys that help us out a lot — in the short term [and] long term. We still have to go out there and play and feed them the ball and see what they can do.”

Mellette entered training camp as the bigger household name among Ravens fans after being taken with a seventh-round pick back in April. Playing for FCS school Elon, the 6-foot-2 receiver made an astonishing 304 catches for 4,254 yards and 44 touchdowns in his college career and grabbed 97 passes for 1,398 yards and 18 touchdowns in his senior year alone.

The 6-foot-5 Brown didn’t live up to expectations as a prized recruit at the University of Georgia but could be an attractive option in the red zone with his statuesque frame. The Ravens have lacked a wide receiver of his height during Flacco’s career after 2012 sixth-round pick Tommy Streeter failed to pan out.

Brown finally appeared to be realizing his potential in his senior season with the Bulldogs when he caught 27 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns before tearing the ACL in his left knee in a game against Ole Miss on Nov. 3, 2012. The 22-year-old is still working his way back to full strength — missing spring organized team activities and even a handful this summer — but his ability began to shine as he became more comfortable physically and mentally in the Ravens offense.

“I have a mindset where I wanted to make the team and ultimately make a difference on the team, whether it’s on special teams or offense,” said Brown, who was in the weight room when coach John Harbaugh personally informed him that he’d made the team. “That’s what I’m trying to do. They haven’t really told me my primary role or anything. I’m going to go out there and work hard and if they tell me to go in, I’m going to go in.”

The biggest compliment paid to both Brown and Mellette is the amount of polish they showed in practices and preseason games despite their lack of experience. Unlike an array of other young receivers that failed to show marked improvement over the course of the summer, Brown and Mellette climbed from the third-string offense and working with third quarterback Caleb Hanie to eventually receive opportunities with Flacco and the starters over the final two weeks of the summer.

It was this climb that contributed to the likes of Tandon Doss, David Reed, and LaQuan Williams being let go.

“They don’t feel like rookies out there,” Harbaugh said. “Marlon has had the advantage of playing at a big program in the Southeastern Conference, and I think that shows. Aaron has had the advantage of having caught hundreds of balls in his college career.”

With Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Brandon Stokley ahead of the rookies on the depth chart, it remains to be seen how big of a role each will play in the early stages of the season. During Sunday’s practice, Brown and Mellette were wearing No. 87 and 88 jerseys, which appeared to be a product of the pair playing the scout-team roles of Denver wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in preparation for Thursday’s opener.

The Ravens only hope that Mellette and Brown will one day make their mark in a way similar to that talented pair with the Broncos, forcing opponents’ scout-team receivers to wear their No. 13 and 14 jerseys in preparation.

But a simple continuation of the improvement they showed over the course of the preseason would be an encouraging start for the Ravens.

“I would anticipate that those two guys will be a factor here going forward,” Harbaugh said. “How much they’ll play early, or how much they’ll be a part of the game plan and those kinds of things are really, really hard to say.”

Webb ready to go

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Postcard from Denver: The Greatest Game I’ve Ever Seen

Posted on 12 January 2013 by Nestor Aparicio

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Ravens-Broncos: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 12 January 2013 by Luke Jones

Few pundits have given them much of a chance, but the Baltimore Ravens have exuded a quiet confidence throughout the week as they travel to Denver to take on the No. 1 seed Broncos in Saturday’s AFC divisional round matchup.

The memory of a 34-17 beating suffered against these same Broncos in Baltimore last month has been a difficult one to erase, but the Ravens hope the return of five starters injured for that contest and the continued development of the offense under new coordinator Jim Caldwell will reverse those fortunes. Despite being a 10-point underdog, Baltimore aims to advance to the AFC Championship game for the second year in a row.

The Ravens are healthier than they’ve been at any point since the early stages of the season as the final injury report listed 17 players as probable for Saturday’s game. Offensive lineman Jah Reid was ruled out but was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Friday.

With Reid out for the wild-card game against Indianapolis, the Ravens made the long-awaited move to place veteran Bryant McKinnie in the starting lineup at left tackle while shifting Michael Oher to right tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele at left guard. Head coach John Harbaugh hopes the line shuffle will pay dividends again Saturday after the Denver defense pummeled Joe Flacco in Week 15, sacking him three times and hitting him nine times. It won’t be easy as Denver’s Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil combined for 29 1/2 sacks, the highest total among any pass-rushing duo in the league.

In his final meeting against Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense hope to finally get the best of the future Hall of Fame quarterback after nine straight losses. Baltimore hasn’t won a game in Denver since the 2001 season, the same year in which the Ravens won their last contest against Manning.

It will be bitterly cold in Denver with temperatures not expected to even reach 20 degrees for the 4:30 p.m. ET start. And, of course, the high altitude has been a topic of discussion as the Ravens play a game in Denver for the first time since 2006.

Saturday’s referee will be Bill Vinovich.

Baltimore will be wearing white jerseys and black pants while Denver sports its orange tops with white pants.

The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series by a 5-4 margin and own the victory in the only playoff meeting between the clubs, a 21-3 final in Baltimore on Dec. 31, 2000. That was the same postseason in which the Ravens won their only NFL championship in Super Bowl XXXV.

Here are Saturday’s inactives …

BALTIMORE
WR David Reed
S Omar Brown
CB Chris Johnson
LB Adrian Hamilton
OL Ramon Harewood
WR Deonte Thompson
DT Bryan Hall

DENVER
QB Caleb Hanie
WR Andre Caldwell
CB Tracy Porter
FB Chris Gronkowski
TE Julius Thomas
OL C.J. Davis
NT Sealver Siliga

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the day as Nestor Aparicio brings live updates from Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for divisional round Saturday

Posted on 11 January 2013 by Luke Jones

The Baltimore Ravens haven’t beaten Peyton Manning in their last nine tries, a span covering more than 11 years, and will receive their latest opportunity in Saturday’s divisional round meeting with the Denver Broncos.

Embarrassed in their 34-17 home loss to Denver in Week 15, the Ravens are hellbent on showing they’re a much better team than the one shut out in the first half as the offense could generate nothing against the Broncos’ stout defense. However, the Broncos enter the postseason as the AFC’s No. 1 seed and haven’t lost a game since Oct. 7, finishing the regular season on a league-best 11-game winning streak.

Though the stakes aren’t quite as high as the two AFC championship games in which the Ravens have appeared under coach John Harbaugh, they might feel just as much urgency on Saturday knowing 37-year-old linebacker and spiritual leader Ray Lewis will retire after the season. The wave of emotion seemed to work in their favor in last week’s 24-9 wild-card playoff victory over Indianapolis, but traveling to Denver to deal with the bitter cold and altitude is another challenge entirely as the Broncos possess the league’s fourth-ranked offense and second-ranked defense in terms of yardage.

The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series with Denver by a 5-4 margin and own a win in the only other playoff meeting against the Broncos, a 21-3 final in the franchise’s first postseason game on Dec. 31, 2000. However, the Ravens haven’t won a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High since 2001, which happens to be the same season in which they last secured a victory over Manning.

Baltimore is 1-3 in four games against the Broncos in Denver.

Here’s what to expect as the 11-6 Ravens attempt to secure their second consecutive AFC championship game appearance with an upset over the Broncos …

1. Ed Reed will secure an interception of Manning in what may be his final game with the Ravens. I incorrectly predicted the 34-year-old free safety would pick off Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, so I’ll go to the well one more time for the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year. The Ravens’ interest in retaining Reed’s services after the season appear lukewarm at best, and there’s no guarantee the chronically-injured defensive player will decide to play in 2013 anyway. Even so, with it being a cold and potentially snowy afternoon in Denver, Reed will capitalize on a rare mistake by Manning to force a takeaway to set the Ravens up on a short field. With dangerous targets Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker providing tough matchups against Baltimore cornerbacks, Reed will need to play his assignments to offer help over the top. Even so, the veteran is notorious for gambling and he knows Manning as well as any quarterback in the league.

2. Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller will collect two sacks for the Broncos while Paul Kruger continues his hot streak with 1 1/2 sacks for the Ravens. The installation of veteran Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and the presence of right guard Marshal Yanda — who was inactive for the Week 15 loss — will help an offensive line that allowed quarterback Joe Flacco to be sacked three times and hit nine times by the Broncos last month. McKinnie will do a respectable job against defensive end Elvis Dumervil, but Miller is an absolute nightmare as he can line up on either edge or stunt from the strong-side linebacker position. Kruger will continue his best season as a professional and collect 1 1/2 sacks after picking up 2 1/2 against Indianapolis last week. The sobering thought is that Kruger is likely pricing himself beyond the Ravens’ budget with his strong finish to the 2012 season. They’ll enjoy his services for at least one more afternoon as he provides the most consistent heat on Manning with the banged-up Terrell Suggs virtually a non-factor these days.

3. Bernard Pierce finishes with more carries and more yards than Ray Rice as the Ravens try to find the edges more than you’d think against a fast Denver defense. The conventional wisdom is to run north and south against the speedy Broncos unit, but the numbers suggest otherwise as Denver has been stout against inside runs and vulnerable when running games have tried to run beyond the edges. The Broncos have allowed 3.76 yards per run behind left guard, 3.23 yards per run behind center, and 2.82 yards per run behind right guard. That last number is interesting with Yanda being the Ravens’ best offensive lineman. In the first meeting between the teams, the Ravens tried to run five plays behind veteran Bobbie Williams at the right guard spot and gained only nine yards. The Broncos have allowed 4.9 yards per carry around the left edge and 5.54 yards per carry to the right end. In terms of the workload for Pierce and Rice, the former’s ability to explode through running lanes and create yards after contact is the more appealing option against the league’s third-ranked run defense, but Rice will receive plenty of touches as well as offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will try to create mismatches for Rice to get the ball in open space as a receiver. Baltimore will exceed the measly 56 rushing yards gained against Denver on Dec. 16, but seeing them run for much more than 100 total would be very surprising. An effective running game would go a long way in keeping Manning off the field, so the Ravens will stick to the run even if only earning modest gains.

4. Flacco will receive better protection this time around, but he will have difficulty finding open receivers as he struggles to crack the 200-yard passing mark. The running game will be critical in determining how much time Flacco receives to throw as the Ravens are likely to use some play-action roll-outs and bootlegs to move the pocket and keep Miller and Dumervil honest in targeting the quarterback behind the offensive line. If Pierce and Rice are unable to gain positive yardage, the Broncos won’t respect the play fakes and the Baltimore quarterback will be unable to evade rushers when trying to throw on the move. Even if Flacco is able to receive more time, the question of whether Baltimore receivers can gain separation against Champ Bailey and Chris Harris remains to be seen. Anquan Boldin was held without a catch and Torrey Smith made one reception for 14 yards before leaving the first Denver game early in the second half with a concussion. Flacco will try to take shots downfield with Smith and Jacoby Jones on the outside, but the Denver secondary has been exceptional all year, averaging a fifth-ranked 6.4 yards allowed per passing attempt. The Ravens will move the chains more effectively than they did in Week 15 — 1-for-12 on third down — but Flacco’s short-to-intermediate passes to tight end Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin will become more difficult over the course of the game unless they can connect on a deep ball or two to back up the secondary.

5. The Ravens will put forth a better showing than they did against Denver last month, but Manning and the Broncos will prove to be too much in a 27-17 final. The notion uttered by many this week that the Ravens have no shot against the Broncos is a silly one and wreaks of not paying attention to what happens around the NFL every week. The Broncos are the better team, but that doesn’t mean Baltimore isn’t capable of pulling off the upset, especially with a big return by Jones or a crucial turnover that goes in their favor. Despite their many critics, the Ravens are a good football team and should be commended for winning 11 games this season after the slew of injuries they suffered, particularly on the defensive side of the football. However, the Broncos are a great team and Manning will be too much to overcome as a Baltimore defense that will bend but not break for the first three quarters will wilt on a late touchdown drive to put this one out of reach. The Baltimore offense won’t be embarrassed like it was at M&T Bank Stadium last month, but the unit just won’t be productive enough against one of the best defensive units in the league. The Ravens’ season and the career of the future Hall of Fame Lewis will come to an end in Denver on Saturday.

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