Tag Archive | "Ravens"

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2016

Posted on 11 February 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are coming off their worst season of the John Harbaugh era, and most offseason discussion has centered around the draft and how active general manager Ozzie Newsome can be in free agency.

There’s no disputing the need for more high-impact talent, but improvement from within will go a long way in determining how quickly the Ravens can return to contention after a 5-11 campaign. With limited salary cap space and only so many holes that can be filled through the draft, Baltimore needs young players already on the roster to make a difference this coming fall with some experience and another offseason under their belts.

Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in order to bounce back from their disappointing 2015 campaign:

1. WR Breshad Perriman

Who else could it be in the top spot? The Ravens put all their eggs in one basket trying to replace Torrey Smith with their 2015 first-round pick before he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first full day of training camp and left the offense without any speed. General manager Ozzie Newsome said he had a smile on his face watching the 6-foot-2 Perriman practice before the injury, and the Baltimore offense will desperately need his speed for a passing attack that struggled to push the ball down the field in 2015. The Ravens will wisely look for additional help at the position this offseason, but Perriman will be the biggest key in making the passing game more explosive and less reliant on a 37-year-old Steve Smith and emerging possession receiver Kamar Aiken.

2. LB Za’Darius Smith

The 2015 fourth-round pick’s 3 1/2 sacks over the final three games of 2015 are something to build on from what was mostly a quiet rookie season. In fairness, the Ravens expected a smaller role for the 275-pound linebacker, but the season-ending Achilles injury to Terrell Suggs in the opener made Smith the primary backup to Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw. Denver showed again in Super Bowl 50 how important it is to have disruptive pass rushers, but how much longer can the Ravens expect Suggs and Dumervil to perform at a high level? Even if Newsome is lucky enough to come away with an impact edge rusher like Joey Bosa or Noah Spence in this spring’s draft, Smith needs to take a big step forward if the Ravens want to boost a pass rush that was too inconsistent in 2015.

3. DT Carl Davis

Many have discussed the second-half improvement of the pass defense, but the Ravens gave up more than 100 yards rushing in each of their final five games after surrendering that amount just twice in their first 11 contests. Brandon Williams played at a Pro Bowl-level and Timmy Jernigan improved after a slow start, but the Ravens needed more contributions from Davis after he began the season looking like one of the steals of the draft. The Iowa product played well early and started three games, but he appeared to wear down and was a non-factor in the second half of the season, seeing just 17 defensive snaps over the final six games. Baltimore doesn’t need Davis to be Haloti Ngata, but his emergence as a run-stopping force next to Williams would allow the Ravens to keep Jernigan fresh for pass-rushing situations.

4. S Terrence Brooks

It’s never good for a player to show up on a list like this two years in a row, but the 2014 third-round pick is just one of many safeties the Ravens have added over the last few years to try to bring stability to the spot once occupied by future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. Brooks made an impressive recovery from the serious knee surgery suffered in the final month of his rookie year, but he saw just 67 defensive snaps in 2015. Kendrick Lewis remains under contract and Lardarius Webb is an option if the Ravens adjust his $9.5 million cap figure for 2016, but Brooks has the athleticism to be more of a playmaker at the position than anyone else on the current roster. Unfortunately, coaches haven’t trusted him from a mental standpoint, so it appears this could be the make-or-break year for the Florida State product.

5. RB Buck Allen

Allen’s inclusion is more about circumstance than his rookie season in which he accumulated 867 total yards of offense, most coming after the season-ending injury to veteran Justin Forsett in Week 11. The Ravens have plenty of depth at running back, but Forsett will be 31, Lorenzo Taliaferro hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a full season, and local product Terrance West has been with three teams in two years. Allen caught an impressive 45 passes, but his 3.8 yards per carry average leaves you wondering whether he can be a feature back in the NFL. The Ravens need more of a home-run hitter in the backfield, and the 2015 fourth-rounder figures to have the best chance to be that guy. Ray Rice averaged 4.2 yards per carry as a rookie before making the Pro Bowl a year later. Can Allen make a jump anywhere close to that?

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Ravens-related thoughts on Super Bowl 50

Posted on 08 February 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but notice parallels between Peyton Manning’s improbable run to a win in Super Bowl 50 and Ray Lewis finishing his “last ride” with a championship in New Orleans three years ago.

The future Hall of Famers both missed substantial time with injuries in the regular season before returning in time for the playoffs. Each made important contributions on the playoff path to the Super Bowl as Lewis averaged just under 15 tackles per game in the first three rounds of the 2012 postseason and Manning threw for 222 yards against Pittsburgh — overcoming a number of dropped passes — and had two touchdown passes against New England in the AFC championship game.

But as much as we might have enjoyed seeing two of the greatest players in NFL history go out on top, it was apparent that each needed to retire after watching them play in the Super Bowl. While we remember Joe Flacco earning Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors, we try to forget Lewis looking slow and hopeless covering San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis or chasing after 49ers running back Frank Gore in that game.

Like the great Ravens linebacker against the 49ers, Manning had little to do with Denver winning its third Super Bowl title as the Broncos defense suffocated Carolina on Sunday night. Perhaps the 39-year-old Manning was owed one by the football gods after playing with some less-than-stellar defenses over the years in the same way that Lewis had some of his best years wasted by ineptitude on the other side of the ball.

If you’re a Ravens fan struggling to be happy for the quarterback who twice broke Baltimore’s heart in the playoffs — including the 2006 postseason defeat that was the most devastating home loss in franchise history — don’t forget his touching gesture in the playoffs three years ago. More than an hour after the Ravens had defeated the Broncos in an epic double-overtime contest in the divisional round, Manning and his family waited in the Baltimore locker room to congratulate Lewis personally.

Despite dealing with one of the most disappointing losses of his storied career, Manning still wanted to offer his respect to Lewis after the last of their many entertaining chess matches over the years.

It doesn’t matter if Manning — or Lewis — was no longer the same player when tasting championship glory for a final time. Seeing one of the all-time greats exit that way is special and rare.

Let’s just hope Manning actually retires now as most people expect.

Miller time

Four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller already had a résumé impressive enough to land a lucrative contract this offseason, but the Super Bowl 50 MVP took his performance to another level in the postseason.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the 26-year-old had a combined five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. That’s the kind of timing that Flacco can appreciate after the Ravens quarterback threw for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the 2012 postseason to fetch a six-year, $120.6 million contract a few weeks later.

ESPN has already reported that Denver will use the franchise tag if a long-term deal isn’t reached, meaning Ravens fans should stop dreaming about Miller reuniting with Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore.

Kubiak turns to dark side

Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak did a masterful job of handling a difficult quarterback situation this season.

Leading 16-10 and facing a third-and-9 from his own 26 with less than six minutes remaining, the Broncos head coach didn’t allow Manning to even attempt a pass and ran the ball with C.J. Anderson before punting. It was both the right decision and a clear sign that Manning needs to retire.

Possessing a championship defense, the offensive-minded Kubiak turned to the “dark side” in a way reminiscent of how Brian Billick handled the 2000 Ravens by deferring to his defense and being conservative. The difference is that it was much easier to do such a thing with Trent Dilfer than with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Stewart shines

Darian Stewart was a nondescript performer in his lone year with the Ravens, but the Denver safety stood out in the Super Bowl.

He collected three tackles, a sack, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble when he put his helmet right on the ball to knock it away from Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert. It wasn’t just a one-game aberration, either, after Pro Football Focus graded Stewart 14th among NFL safeties during the 2015 season.

It really makes you wonder where that player was in Baltimore a year ago.

False start

After Panthers left tackle Michael Oher committed a false start late in the second quarter, you couldn’t help but be amused by the social-media reaction of Ravens fans who had seen that act often in Baltimore.

The 2009 first-round pick deserves much credit for working hard to get his career back on track in Carolina, but Super Bowl 50 was a forgettable performance for him and the rest of the Panthers offensive line.

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Denver’s path reminds Ravens of NFL’s slim margin for error

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As Denver prepared for Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, it was difficult not to think back to the Ravens’ season-opening 19-13 loss to the Broncos last September and remember the high expectations entering 2015.

An interception returned for a touchdown by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib was the difference as the Ravens owned the lead late in the third quarter before a Joe Flacco pass intended for Steve Smith was returned 51 yards in the other direction. Perhaps the season plays out differently if John Harbaugh’s team holds on to steal a difficult road win to kick off 2015 on a high note.

Some have pointed to that narrow Week 1 defeat as reason why Baltimore isn’t far from again being a contender despite its worst season since 2007. And, yes, there was some symmetry in the Super Bowl champions having 12 of their 16 regular-season games decided by a single possession while the Ravens saw 14 of their 16 contests decided by eight or fewer points this season.

But that’s life in the NFL as only six teams — Carolina, New England, Arizona, and Cincinnati on the plus side and San Francisco and Cleveland on the negative side — owned a scoring margin of more than eight points points per game in either direction in 2015. Most games are decided in the fourth quarter and are close.

Excruciatingly close.

And that margin of victory — or defeat — is typically decided by the game-changing players on either side of the ball. For all the discussion about Peyton Manning’s decline, the Broncos still have a plethora of playmakers on both sides of the ball, ranging from outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Talib to receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Those are the types of players that separate the winning teams from the losing ones in an otherwise fairly even talent pool from team to team. Denver’s plus-59 point differential during the regular season ranked just sixth in the AFC and 10th in the NFL, but Gary Kubiak’s team figured out ways to win close games while the Ravens consistently fell short in crunch time in 2015.

For years, Baltimore had a number of dynamic players, but most have either departed or have aged too much since Super Bowl XLVII three years ago. The well-documented list of injuries in 2015 merely amplified what was already a flawed roster.

Great players were on display for Denver in Santa Clara on Sunday night.

It will be up to general manager Ozzie Newsome this offseason to find at least a couple game-changers to close that narrow but all-important gap between winning and losing teams.

Otherwise, the Ravens will probably find themselves watching playoff games from their couches again next January.

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Ex-Ravens receiver Boldin named Walter Payton Man of the Year

Posted on 06 February 2016 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin was named the 2015 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, the NFL announced today. The award, which is presented by Nationwide, recognizes a player for his excellence on and off the field.

The announcement was made during NFL HONORS, a two-hour primetime awards special that will air nationally tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on CBS.

Thomas Davis, the 2014 Man of the Year winner, will honor Boldin on-field tomorrow before kickoff of Super Bowl 50.

“The word humbled does not even come close to describing what it feels like to be selected Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year,” said Boldin. “Walter Payton was a player I idolized as a kid for what he could do on the football field, but he became even more of an inspiration to me as I learned about his legacy as a humanitarian.”

“I commend the other finalists throughout the National Football League who continue to use the tremendous platform we as professional athletes have to positively influence the lives of others. May we all continue to open our hearts and make an impact in our own communities throughout this world.”

While Anquan Boldin has amassed an impressive on-field record, he has never lost sight of the importance of giving back to the community. The Anquan Boldin Foundation was formed in 2004 by Boldin with a mission to expand the educational and life opportunities of underprivileged youth. In early 2015, he and his wife Dionne announced a $1 million pledge to increase the impact of their Foundation.

The Foundation offers programs throughout the year, including a summer enrichment program, Thanksgiving food drives offering 300 meals annually and holiday shopping sprees. In the fall of 2015, the Foundation awarded $10,000 academic scholarships to five students entering college and since its inception has awarded 13 four-year scholarships through the “Q81” Foundation Scholarship Fund.

A three-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time Offensive Player of the Week Award winner and Super Bowl champion, Boldin is one of the NFL’s most dynamic receivers. In his first two seasons with the 49ers, he led the team in total receptions (168) and receiving yards (2,241). With 1,062 receiving yards last season, Boldin joined Jerry Rice as the only two players in NFL history to record 600 or more receiving yards in each of their first 12 seasons.

“Anquan Boldin’s passionate dedication to community service and philanthropic causes demonstrate the high standards of character and conduct that we all strive for in the NFL,” said commissioner Roger Goodell. “Anquan stands out among his peers and is well-deserving of this award, but he is part of the overwhelming majority of NFL players who live out the NFL tradition of community service and inspire us all. We are extremely proud of Anquan and grateful for the way he represents the NFL.”

Boldin will receive a $55,000 donation in his name to a charity of his choice. The two additional finalists for the award, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, will receive $11,000 donations to charities of their choice. Donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.

“Nationwide would like to congratulate Anquan Boldin on being named the 2015 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year,” said Terrance Williams, chief marketing officer for Nationwide. “Boldin’s dedication to enriching the lives of those in his community is truly inspiring and Nationwide is honored to be able to help him continue his foundation’s work.”

Boldin was chosen from among the 32 team nominees for the award. The selection panel is comprised of Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, Connie Payton, football greats Anthony Munoz and LaDainian Tomlinson, and Davis.

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NFL reports more concussions in 2015, which may not be bad thing

Posted on 29 January 2016 by Luke Jones

With head injuries continuing to be such a serious topic of discussion, the NFL revealing on Friday that reported concussions rose to the highest level of the last four seasons doesn’t sound like good news.

After the league previously praised the way many players had adapted their style of play as the reason for a decrease in concussions in each of the previous two seasons, we’re now left wondering why there was a 54-percent increase in reported concussions from 2014 (123) to 2015 (190) in regular-season practices and games. The number of concussions in preseason practices and games went largely unchanged (83 in 2014 to 81 this past year).

Perhaps something did change that resulted in decreased safety in 2015 or maybe all involved parties — medical staff, officials, coaches, teammates, and even the concussed players themselves — are becoming more effective and responsible in recognizing and reporting concussion-related symptoms.

In other words, do these numbers represent an increase in actual concussions or is the league merely identifying more of them than it did in the past? According to NFL senior vice president of health and safety policy Jeff Miller, the number of players screened for possible concussions doubled from last year.

Ultimately, do we want concussion numbers that make us feel better or do we want to move closer to the truth and improving player safety?

Considering how skeptical most have been about the NFL’s handling of concussions over the years — and rightfully so — a higher number of reported concussions could reasonably lead us to believe that initiatives such as an independent trainer being stationed in the press box to watch for injuries and the 2015 introduction of the medical timeout rule are working — if even to remind everyone that this is a serious issue that can no longer be overlooked in the heat of competition.

Even if we haven’t solved the concussion problem, awareness has never been higher.

Errors are still being made as we saw with the concussion suffered by St. Louis quarterback Case Keenum in Baltimore in late November, but Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger self-reported symptoms in a game a week later, an act that likely would have been viewed as out of the question even a few years ago. You can only hope that more players take his lead as an example of not trying to play through a possible concussion.

The Ravens came under some scrutiny for the way they handled a situation in Miami on Dec. 6 when quarterback Matt Schaub slammed his head on the ground and immediately clutched his helmet with his hands, a sign of a potential head injury. The veteran wasn’t formally checked until a timeout was called a play later, but he remained in the game after passing concussion testing and the league cleared the organization of any wrongdoing the next day.

“I think whatever they do for safety — whatever they feel they need to do — is great,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the day after the Dolphins game. “To me, you have one here that worked. We have experts who went out there and went through the process, and they’re very diligent and very conscious of concussions right now. That’s something that everybody is thinking about.

“I know mistakes have been made — I understand that — but I think you trust professionals to do their job and respect the fact that they know what they’re doing.”

It’s clear that the perception of head injuries in the NFL has changed dramatically as we no longer glorify “kill” shots that used to be featured on weekly highlight shows. Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s penalized hit on Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in the final moments of a tight playoff game earlier this month wouldn’t have drawn near the same outrage six or seven years ago.

To be clear, concussions will never be eliminated entirely unless we entirely eliminate football — as well as a number of other contact sports — but we can all invest in making the game as safe as possible at every level, which includes teaching proper tackling technique and recognizing and treating concussions effectively. Ultimately, players should know the risks now more than ever — even if we still have a long way to go in continuing to research concussions and the human brain — but we’re seeing longer recovery times than in the past, which is a positive with the NFL’s more-extensive concussion protocol.

This must also come with an understanding that recovering from a concussion has nothing to do with someone’s toughness or manhood, an antiquated notion that needs to be removed from the football culture entirely.

All of us — media and fans included — need to be smarter than that in 2016.

Concussions are an unfortunate part of the game that will not go away altogether, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do all we can to avoid and minimize their impact.

Unfortunately, it’s just difficult to know what to make of the numbers released by the NFL on Friday.

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Super Bowl XXXV provided happy end to long wait for Baltimore

Posted on 28 January 2016 by Luke Jones

“They don’t know how fast we are. They don’t know.”

Those words were uttered by Ravens coach Brian Billick in the opening moments of Super Bowl XXXV 15 years ago, a game for which Baltimore had waited a very long time.

It had been 30 years since a team representing Charm City had played in the Super Bowl, a period of time that included the final gloomy seasons with the Colts before they left for Indianapolis in 1984 and the 12 years that followed without an NFL franchise. In their first four seasons, the Ravens were only known to the rest of the league as Art Modell’s renamed franchise that had broken hearts in Cleveland by moving to Baltimore in 1996.

Even as the team rose to prominence in 2000, the dark cloud of Ray Lewis standing trial for murder earlier in the year was all the rest of the country saw as the Ravens advanced to their first Super Bowl by winning the AFC championship in Oakland. The two weeks that followed consisted of media predictably rehashing the trial and then crushing Billick for lashing out at reporters for doing so. And despite the Ravens being the favorite in Las Vegas, many continued singing the praises of the New York Giants after their 41-0 demolition of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game.

But, finally, the day had come in Tampa.

The game on Jan. 28, 2001 wasn’t as much a challenge as it was validation for the Ravens and their fans. What the rest of the country saw as arrogance from the hated Lewis and his teammates was merely knowledge of the inevitable after the Ravens had beaten Tennessee in the divisional round, the game that proved to be the unofficial Super Bowl of the 2000 season.

The Ravens knew they were going to beat the Giants. Now was the time to show everyone else — whether they liked it or not — just how fast and how great they were.

The three-plus hours that followed showcased how special the Ravens defense was, holding New York without an offensive score and forcing five turnovers in a 34-7 blowout. Baltimore was back on top of the football world before Indianapolis had ever reached the pinnacle and after Paul Tagliabue had callously suggested the city build a museum when an expansion bid was unsuccessful seven years earlier.

The NFL commissioner was now forced to hand over the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

For Baltimoreans who remembered the Colts, the success of the Ravens had helped make their football history whole again. And younger fans now understood what they’d been missing all those years as their parents and grandparents shared memories of Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore and Bert Jones on lonely Sundays in the fall.

Those hugs and embraces with loved ones in the closing moments of Super Bowl XXXV were so special as was the celebratory parade in the pouring rainy just a couple days later.

It was a long wait, but the Ravens had finally shown the rest of the football world that Baltimore was good enough after all.

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Pro Bowl just not worth effort for anyone

Posted on 27 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Against my better judgment, I watched some of the Pro Bowl draft.

Because I had nothing better to do on a Wednesday night was excited to know whether Ravens specialists Sam Koch and Morgan Cox would be drafted to opposing teams, I attempted to watch ESPN’s coverage and expected clever trash talk and over-caffeinated enthusiasm for a fake football game. What I witnessed was something different entirely.

It was dull — painfully dull.

No fun.

The highlight was New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning reminding his top receiver and Pro Bowl captain Odell Beckham Jr. why it was wise to draft him, quipping that he could have 100 catches or no catches next season. But everything else reeked of just going through the motions and running out the clock for the two-hour special.

Hoping to at least come away with some sarcastic fodder for Twitter, I instead tapped out after 32 minutes that felt much longer than that. Credit ESPN for producing a nice little segment recognizing a surviving veteran from the attack on Pearl Harbor with the 75th anniversary coming later this year, but the rest of the coverage from Hawaii felt as pointless as the upcoming game itself.

With no disrespect intended to the Ravens’ four selections — we learned that Cox and Elvis Dumervil are on Jerry Rice’s team and Koch and Marshal Yanda were chosen for Michael Irvin’s team — the Pro Bowl just isn’t worth anyone’s time or effort. More players than ever are declining the invitation and now even one of the Pro Bowl head coaches — Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy — is missing the game due to an illness.

Why again should fans bother watching on Sunday night if so many players don’t even care to show up?

Since the NFL scrapped the traditional AFC-NFC format — which at least provided some semblance of a rooting interest — the TV ratings for the game have declined sharply over the last two years, but enough are still watching. To each his own, I suppose, and the league will probably continue to hold the event if it’s profitable.

Still, it feels so pointless holding an exhibition game with players — the ones who actually bother to show up — competing at less than full speed while still putting themselves at risk for injury. It’s bad enough when a star player suffers a serious injury in the preseason when he’s at least preparing for a new year, but how would a team and its fans like to lose a standout performer to a torn ACL now with a recovery timetable that would bleed into the start of next season?

The idea of the Pro Bowl is far superior to the real thing. The Ravens have had at least four players selected for the game in each of the last 10 years — an impressive run that reflects their overall team success — but the honor itself isn’t worth putting players in harm’s way.

The league can continue on with the annual all-star game and probably still fool enough people into watching — because it’s the almighty NFL — but it just isn’t worth the effort for anyone involved.

And Wednesday’s draft sure made it feel like no one really wanted to be there.

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Ngata trade proved to be winner for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2016 by Luke Jones

There is plenty to question about the offseason that preceded a disappointing 5-11 campaign for the Ravens in 2015.

But the decision to trade five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata proved to be a good one.

Of course, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens were never going to allow Ngata to carry a $16 million salary cap figure in the final season of a five-year, $61 million contract, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to keep him. The organization attempted to work out an extension like it did with Terrell Suggs a year earlier, but the sides didn’t come to an agreement before the 2006 first-round pick was traded to Detroit in the final moments before free agency began on March 10.

It turns out that the Ravens were probably fortunate not to extend Ngata. As Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey used to say, “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”

The trade was praised by many at the time, but the possibility of Ngata producing another Pro Bowl season and the Ravens struggling mightily up front was still there.

Ngata wasn’t awful in Detroit, but he hardly played at a Pro Bowl level as he registered a career-low 24 tackles in 14 games and dealt with hamstring and calf injuries. Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s 39th-best interior defender in 2015 while Brandon Williams was 21st and Timmy Jernigan 49th. The production certainly didn’t warrant the $8.5 million base salary he was paid by the Lions, who were desperate to fill the void left behind by four-time Pro Bowl selection Ndamukong Suh.

Meanwhile, the Ravens drafted outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith with the fourth-round pick they received from Detroit and used their new fifth-round selection to trade up a few spots in the second round to take tight end Maxx Williams. Time will tell whether these players will make major contributions after mostly-quiet rookie seasons that did finish on high notes, but the potential value alone trumps what Baltimore might have gotten from Ngata in 2015.

If we’re being honest, the Ravens probably missed the 345-pounder to some degree as the run defense ranked 12th in the NFL and allowed 4.0 yards per carry after finishing fourth and surrendering just 3.6 per attempt in 2014. His primary replacement Jernigan shook off a slow start to play well in the second half of 2015, but he was stronger as a pass rusher than as a run-stopping defender at Ngata’s old 3-technique spot.

Ngata would have made the defensive line more stout, but his expensive presence hardly would have transformed the Ravens from a 5-11 team into a 10-6 playoff contender. If the Ravens had signed him to an extension last winter, we’d also be wondering how much football he has left in the way we’re now asking about his longtime teammate Suggs, who will be coming off his second Achilles tendon tear in four years and carries a $7.45 million cap figure for 2016.

The 32-year-old Ngata has expressed desire to re-sign with Detroit, but he is not committed to playing beyond 2016, which should make Ravens fans feel even better about the organization not signing him last winter. Given the issues Baltimore has with its salary cap, the fewer contracts awarded to aging players near the end of their careers, the better.

It became apparent over the course of the 2015 season that the Ravens need to get younger at several key spots, something they’ve done along the defensive line without significant drop-off. Ngata was one of the best players in the 20-year history of the franchise, but parting ways with an aging defensive tackle was the right call with only minimal short-term fallout.

Little went right for the Ravens in one of the most disappointing seasons in team history, but the Ngata trade has already proven to be a winner without even knowing what Smith and Maxx Williams will offer in the future.

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton greets Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, left, at midfield after a preseason NFL football game in Baltimore, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. The Panthers defeated the Ravens 34-27. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Ravens-related thoughts on conference championship weekend

Posted on 25 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The lack of weapons surrounding Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been a major topic of discussion in two of the last three years.

That’s why Cam Newton’s season for the NFC champion Carolina Panthers is nothing short of exceptional. The fifth-year quarterback wasn’t exactly a popular pick to be the league MVP — especially after the Panthers lost No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury in August — but he’s done everything he can to silence critics about his play on the field.

To be clear, Newton hasn’t done it alone as he has a Pro Bowl tight end in Greg Olsen and the league’s No. 1 rushing attack — to go along with an excellent defense — but to watch him throw for 35 touchdown passes and a 99.4 passer rating with former first-round bust Ted Ginn Jr., journeyman Jerricho Cotchery, 2014 undrafted free agent Philly Brown, and second-round rookie Devin Funchess as his top four wide receivers?

That’s not exactly a group that instilled fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators.

We’re used to seeing the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers put up impressive passing numbers despite not always having elite talent around them, but Newton deserves the praise he’s receiving as he prepares to play in his first Super Bowl. He’s always been dangerous with his legs — he’s rushed for 500 or more yards in each of his five NFL seasons — but to see his passing prowess take off this season with a less-than-stellar group of receivers is worthy of praise.

This isn’t meant as a knock on Flacco as plenty of good quarterbacks struggle to post big numbers without enough high-end talent around them, but Newton has had a special season.

Blind side surprise

Another reason that Newton has had such a successful year has been the play of Carolina’s offensive line, which includes former Raven Michael Oher playing left tackle.

Oher was mostly solid but still considered a disappointment in Baltimore as a first-round pick in the 2009 draft. The Ole Miss product was even worse with Tennessee in 2014 and was cut just one year after signing a four-year, $20 million contract with the Titans.

So, why the turnaround with the Panthers?

Oher has been reunited with John Matsko, the Ravens’ offensive line coach in his first two NFL seasons. The two share a good relationship, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that Oher has gotten his career back on track working with his old offensive line coach.

According to Pro Football Focus, Oher has graded 32nd among all offensive tackles in the NFL — Eugene Monroe was 22nd and Rick Wagner was 53rd — so it’s not as though he’s suddenly blossomed into a Pro Bowl player in his seventh season. But there’s no doubt that he’s played a key part in transforming what was a poor offensive line in 2014 into one of the better ones in the league.

Orange crush pass rush

The Denver Broncos registered a remarkable 20 quarterback hits on Tom Brady — the most any quarterback had taken in a game all season — over the course of Sunday’s 20-18 win in the AFC championship game.

But even more impressive was the fact that Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips blitzed a season-low 17.2 percent of the time, according to PFF. It certainly helps when you have a special pair of edge rushers like Von Miller — who will be a free agent this offseason — and DeMarcus Ware, but the Broncos’ success was a reminder that you need to be able to disrupt quarterbacks without leaving your pass coverage compromised.

After losing Terrell Suggs in the opener and having already lost Pernell McPhee via free agency, Dean Pees was left with a front unable to generate consistent pressure with a four-man rush for most of the season. As a result, the Ravens defensive coordinator felt compelled to blitz more, which left an underwhelming secondary even more vulnerable in coverage if the pressure didn’t get there in time. It wasn’t until late in the year with the improvement of rookie Za’Darius Smith that Baltimore started to be more disruptive without blitzing.

It’s easier said than done, but the Ravens need to improve their pass rush for 2016 and can’t just hope that the healthy return of Suggs alone will do the trick.

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Dumervil named to fifth Pro Bowl of his career

Posted on 25 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The list of Ravens players going to Honolulu continues to grow as outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil was named to the Pro Bowl on Monday morning.

With Denver linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and Carolina outside linebacker Thomas Davis now playing in Super Bowl 50, the 32-year-old Dumervil will take part in his second straight Pro Bowl, the fifth of his 10-year career. Dumervil will join right guard Marshal Yanda, punter Sam Koch, and long snapper Morgan Cox as the Ravens’ representatives in Hawaii.

“Whenever you are recognized by your peers, it is an honor,” Dumervil said in a statement released by the Ravens. “To be able to play with the best the NFL has to offer is a blessing.”

After setting a franchise record with 17 sacks in the 2014 season, Dumervil collected only six quarterback takedowns in 2015, his lowest total since 2008. The season-ending loss of Terrell Suggs in Week 1 led to a bigger-than-expected role for Dumervil, who played 792 defensive snaps — 189 more than he saw a year earlier, according to snap counts compiled by Football Outsiders.

Spending his first two seasons with Baltimore as more of a situational rush specialist, Dumervil collected 26 1/2 sacks while playing less than 56 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. The Louisville product played in almost 75 percent of the defensive snaps this past season with Suggs injured and free-agent departure Pernell McPhee in Chicago.

“I think Dumervil has still got a year or two left, but we certainly didn’t expect to run him as many snaps, and he wore down,” owner Steve Bisciotti said earlier this month. “That’s not what we expected Dumervil to do this year was [to] have to go and play 800 snaps or whatever it was. That’s kind of the big difference.”

In 16 games, Dumervil accumulated 48 tackles, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup in addition to his six sacks.

In addition to Dumervil, former Ravens quarterback Tyrod Taylor was named to the Pro Bowl as the replacement for Carolina’s Cam Newton. Taylor threw for 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions in his first year as the starter for the Buffalo Bills.

The game takes place at Aloha Stadium at 7 p.m. on Sunday and will be televised on ESPN.

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