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Ravens, Patriots both hope red zone doesn’t mean “stop” on Sunday

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Ravens, Patriots both hope red zone doesn’t mean “stop” on Sunday

Posted on 19 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s the dirty little secret that can’t be overlooked despite a four-game winning streak that’s put the Ravens in control of their path to a sixth consecutive playoff appearance as they welcome the New England Patriots to Baltimore on Sunday.

While improving on a 4-6 start to move two games above .500 with their Monday win over the Detroit Lions, the Ravens have gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over their last four games. Finishing drives inside the 20 with a touchdown just 42.9 percent of the time, coach John Harbaugh and his team know they can’t continue to depend on good fortune and 61-yard field goals to overcome the league’s 29th-ranked red-zone offense.

But fixing the problem is easier said than done at this late stage in the season.

“There are things that we’ve come up with that we’ve noticed that we have addressed and will continue to work on,” Harbaugh said. “That’s as much as I would like to share with you at this time.”

Of course, the Ravens coach doesn’t feel like broadcasting the details, but a simple look at the offensive personnel makes it easier to explain. A strong running game is clearly ideal once you push closer to the goal line, but the Ravens’ struggles in that department are nothing new by now.

The Ravens’ passing game largely depends on the speed of receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, but the red zone is constricted and depends more on size and precision, two areas in which there have been deficiencies this season. Until the recent return of tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens have lacked a big receiving target inside the 20 beyond rookie Marlon Brown, who has made plays but needs to run more precise routes to be a consistent threat.

And while veterans Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley — the latter now on injured reserve — earned reputations as brilliant route-runners earlier in their career, their declining speed neutralized their ability to find windows in coverage near the goal line this season.

Those shortcomings along with some untimely penalties have added up to a small margin for error that quarterback Joe Flacco has often been unable to overcome, forcing the Ravens to depend on the right leg of kicker Justin Tucker to convert field goals. In their 18-16 win over the Lions, the Ravens were 0-for-3 on trips inside the 20 and needed a franchise-record six field goals to pull off the victory.

“Just little things, one thing here and one thing there,” Flacco said. “When you don’t take advantage of the one play that you get down there to score a touchdown or if you are giving yourself one play to do it, if you have one little slip up, then you are putting yourselves in a tough situation to really convert and put the ball in the end zone. That is kind of what happened to us the other night. We didn’t take advantage of some of the good opportunities we had and left ourselves in bad situations and then didn’t convert.”

The Ravens hope that Pitta’s return will boost their shoddy red-zone play over the final two weeks of the regular season and beyond, but the play-making tight end wasn’t targeted once in their three red-zone trips against the Lions and finished the game with only two catches for 24 yards.

His 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame and reputation for running exceptional routes should help considerably on both third down and near the goal line, but Pitta acknowledged that Detroit used some bracketed coverage to neutralize his dangerous abilities.

The book is certainly out by now on his reputation as Flacco’s favorite target on the current roster.

“It just depends on who is open, what coverages they deploy, and how we respond to them,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “That could change up. Some guys are going to have big games; some guys are not going to have a great game. We usually have somebody that shows up week after week.”

Of course, Sunday’s game will provide a major test in future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, but the Patriots have been dealing with their own offensive struggles with the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski to an ACL injury and the recent absences of rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.

Entering Week 16 ranked 16th in the league in red-zone offense, the Patriots were 1-for-4 inside the 20 in their loss to Miami last Sunday — their first game since Gronkowski’s season-ending knee injury — as Brady was forced to throw to 5-foot-10 Julian Edelman and 5-foot-11 Danny Amendola inside the 20. The two are talented route-runners and productive receivers, but they are targets unable to go up and get the ball in traffic like the Pro Bowl tight end Gronkowski.

With the 6-foot-3 Dobson back at practice this week, he and talented receiving back Shane Vereen are likely to see opportunities when New England moves inside the red zone, but neither should be considered an easy fix to the Patriots’ offensive problems.

That said, the 10-4 Patriots have found success throughout the year despite Gronkowski missing all but seven games this season. Much like Flacco adjusting to life without Pitta and departed wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Brady has continued to succeed without the likes of Gronkowski, former slot receiver Wes Welker, and tight end Aaron Hernandez this season.

“When they haven’t been full-strength, they have found ways to win football games,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve had a lot of those same situations, and we’re just now starting to capitalize on them and win them. Earlier in the year, we probably weren’t able to win quite as much, and these guys have.

The casts have noticeably changed on each side of the ball, but Sunday’s contest is still likely to come down to which quarterback makes more plays as Flacco has gotten the best of Brady over the last few meetings between the teams, including last January’s AFC Championship game.

It’s apparent that neither offense is clicking on all cylinders with the end of the season quickly approaching, putting more expectations on each signal-caller to carry his team on his back. The Ravens have essentially been in must-win mode for the better part of a month while New England still needs one more win to lock up its fifth consecutive AFC East championship.

The battle inside the 20 will be critical like always, but the Ravens will be facing the league’s 21st-ranked red-zone defense while the Patriots must deal with the fourth-ranked unit in those situations and Brady has often struggled against Baltimore’s defensive schemes throughout his career.

Both Flacco and Brady will need to be at their best to give their flawed units a chance to succeed in what figures to be another classic matchup between the Ravens and Patriots. But with so many changes everywhere you look on these rosters, the spotlight will be even brighter on the quarterbacks than usual.

“Being able to execute under pressure, being smart, knowing the situation, keeping their poise, knowing how to handle [adversity],” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “[It’s] all the things — the play, the defense, clock management — [and] just good situational football. Each situation is a little bit different, no matter how much you practice it or how many situations you practice. [It’s about] being able to adjust and have that gamesmanship, poise and intelligence on the field to make good decisions at critical times.”

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Backup running back Pierce sits out Thursday’s practice

Posted on 17 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The uncertain status of running back Bernard Pierce took another dip as the rookie did not take part in Thursday’s practice as the Ravens continued preparations for the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship.

A day after practicing on a limited basis, Pierce was again sidelined as he continues to deal with a sore right knee. The 2012 third-round pick told reporters on Wednesday that he will be ready to play in Sunday’s game.

Cornerback Asa Jackson (thigh) was the only other Ravens player not to participate in Thursday’s workout.

Fullback Vonta Leach (knee/ankle) and wide receiver David Reed (thigh) each practiced on a limited basis. The Pro Bowl fullback was a full participant on Wednesday, but he’s dealt with a sore ankle since the early portion of December and has periodically missed practices or been limited to rest over the last several weeks.

Running back Anthony Allen and offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski were upgraded to full participation and were no longer wearing red-contact jerseys during Thursday’s practice, an indication that each had passed a baseline neurological test required to clear a player for contact. Both worked on a limited basis a day earlier.

Meanwhile, New England only had one player missing from the practice field as tight end Rob Gronkowski will not play this week due to a forearm injury that officially landed him on injured reserve on Thursday. Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones was the only Patriots player to work on a limited basis as four others, including running back Danny Woodhead, were upgraded to full participation.

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Bernard Pierce (knee), CB Asa Jackson (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: FB Vonta Leach (knee/ankle), WR David Reed (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Anthony Allen (head), G Gino Gradkowski (head), WR Anquan Boldin (shoulder), CB Chykie Brown (shoulder), DT Terrence Cody (ankle), LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle/back), DT Arthur Jones (thigh/knee), LB Ray Lewis (triceps), LB Albert McClellan (shoulder), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (knee), S Bernard Pollard (chest), S Ed Reed (shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith (abdominal), WR Torrey Smith (back), LB Terrell Suggs (achilles/bicep), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

NEW ENGLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Chandler Jones (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Marquice Cole (finger), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), DE Trevor Scott (knee), RB Danny Woodhead (thumb)

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The 15-7-0 has boarded up windows and filled the tub with water

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The 15-7-0 has boarded up windows and filled the tub with water

Posted on 29 October 2012 by Glenn Clark

As always, this week’s 15-7-0 is brought to you by Roofing By Elite. Visit them at roofingbyelite.com. We make 15 observations about football that are ELITE, 7 that are “not so ELITE” and one “zero” who deserves to sleep on the roof from outside of football.

(As a reminder, we don’t do Baltimore Ravens game analysis here. We do PLENTY of that elsewhere. This is about the rest of the world of football.)

Here we go.

“The ELITE 15″…

1. I will admit I couldn’t have possibly seen the season changing so drastically for Navy over the last month.

Navy crushed East Carolina, meaning that the same Mids team that was 1-3 at the end of September is now 5-3 at the end of October. Unreal. We could watch the highlights of the thrashing (which are awesome), or we could watch the even more awesome weekly Navy motivational video.

You won’t regret this decision.

2. Do you play for the New England Patriots? I’ll just go ahead and assume you scored like 70 fantasy points Sunday.

Do you really not love Rob Gronkowski? Even after “The Changing of the Guard”…

AND “Spike the Mic”?

It sounds to me like you’re just a square.

(I will admit that “The Wiggle” didn’t do all that much for me. I’ll assume he was trying to honor his friends from the late, great LMFAO.)

Also, the St. Louis Rams went along for the trip to London. I’m sure it was nice.

3. Ryan Chell picked up Titus Young in fantasy football last week. He doesn’t do much right, but he deserves a nod for that.

Good for him. I also picked up Ryan Broyles in all of my leagues, who was a nice pickup too. Sadly I left Ryan Broyles on my bench in every league and also lost in every league.

But it wasn’t because Marshawn Lynch didn’t try to help me…

4. Dear Notre Dame, we’re sorry. Love, the many Notre Dame haters much like me.

There’s so much to take in from this one. For example, I feel like Lee Corso and the dude from Kings of Leon shooting guns are the EXACT reason why SB Nation started making GIF’s…

Also from Gameday, Deadspin’s favorite sign was this one…

They at least admitted to the underrated nature of this one.

Oh. And then there was the game, where Notre Dame held on (and piled on) to stun the Sooners on the road. Manti Te’o helped finish it off with a late interception, both making a Heisman Trophy statement and reminding us all why WE BADLY WANT HIM TO PLAY FOR THE BALTIMORE RAVENS NEXT YEAR…

Need more? Ask Landry Jones…

5. Oregon beat the tar out of some DIII school Colorado.

The Ducks absolutely CRUSHED the Buffaloes, who I can only assume avoided relegation to the UFL because the league folded. At one point I thought De’Anthony Thomas was going to be flagged for “unsportsmanlike conduct” because this was just absolutely unfair…

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, I’m pretty sure Marquis Lee and I didn’t think this was going to happen…

So did Matt Barkley come back to school because he always wondered what it would be like to play in the Las Vegas Bowl?

Fans in Tucson seemed to be pretty excited about the whole thing…

(#6-10 on Page 2…)

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Jones Brothers Take Center Stage as the Ravens Take on the Patriots

Posted on 22 September 2012 by jeffreygilley

When the Baltimore Ravens line up against the New England Patriots Sunday night, the Ravens will be looking for revenge.  The Patriots ended the Ravens season in the AFC Championship but the Ravens had many chances to win the game.  Joe Flacco outplayed Brady and the defense bailed him out of the rare mistakes and reads he did not make.

Although the Ravens will be looking for revenge, this game does not hold any real significance come Monday morning.  Sure, both of these teams are considered Super Bowl contenders but the season is still young.  This game does however, have the potential to determine the playoff standings come the end of the regular season.

Throughout the first two weeks of the 2012 season, the Ravens and Patriots have not lived up to expectations.  Both had a disappointing week two loss and have not been particularly good in their areas of usual strength.  The Patriots added new weapons in the offseason such as Brandon Lloyd.  Although Brady has new pieces to work with, the offense has showcased the explosive potential they are capable of.  The Ravens on the other hand have struggled defensively.  The defense gave up 371 passing yards to Michael Vick and struggled defending the Bengals rushing attack in week one.

Many are picking the Ravens to win this game, and I hope they are right but I dont see the Ravens winning this game.  Tom Brady doesn’t lose back to back games and the Patriots have improved defensively.  The loss of Aaron Hernandez will prove to be significant though.  Hernandez can play every skill position on offense and with his absence, the Patriots and Tom Brady are going to have to be more creative.  I expect the Patriots to spread the Ravens out and force the Ravens to play in space.

If the Ravens want to win this game, they will have to stop Rob Gronkowski.  They have the cornerback depth to deal with the Patriots receivers but their linebacking core is a different story.  Many of the Ravens outside linebackers are young and inexperienced.  Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan will have to play well in run and pass defense.

Although the Ravens outside linebackers are young, I think Courtney UpShaw has a chance to have a breakout game.  He wont play as much seeing as Paul Kruger is healthy but he has a chance to make a big impact on this game.  The Patriots will be so focused on stopping Haloti Ngata that Upshaw, when playing on third downs, will not be facing many double teams.  Look for UpShaw to have a good game.

Last time the Patriots played in Baltimore, they were undefeated but the Ravens almost pulled off the upset of the century.  All of the recent games between the Patriots and Ravens have been very close and this game will be no different.  In my opinion, the Patriots will win this game by a field goal but I really hope I am wrong.  Having Arthur and Chandler Jones playing for opposing teams will make this game much more interesting.

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday night

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 22 September 2012 by Luke Jones

Here’s what will happen when the Ravens welcome the New England Patriots to M&T Bank Stadium for their seventh ever meeting in the regular season and a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game …

1. Torrey Smith breaks out from his quiet start with 85 receiving yards and his first touchdown of the season. After being targeted only eight times in the first two games, Smith will play a major part in opening up space for short and intermediate routes against New England’s Cover 2 defense. Quarterback Joe Flacco will look to connect with the second-year wideout on a deep ball early as he did in Week 1, but this will lead to room for Smith to show off his more diverse route-running ability. If the Ravens are truly committed to becoming more of a passing team, Smith needs to be more involved and it starts against the Patriots secondary after a difficult week against Philadelphia’s defensive backfield.

2. The Ravens make a concerted effort to get Ray Rice involved early, but the Patriots hold him to under 100 total yards. With critics still questioning offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s play-calling in short-yardage situations, it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens not feeding the ball to Rice early and often — on the ground or through the air — and New England will be expecting it. The Patriots are strong up the middle with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and were able to contain Rice last January by holding him to 67 yards on 21 carries and just one catch for 11 yards. New England shut down Tennessee’s Chris Johnson in Week 1 and they won’t allow Rice to be the one to beat them Sunday night.

3. New England won’t have tight end Aaron Hernandez, but Rob Gronkowski picks up the slack with 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. The Ravens were woeful last week in attempting to cover Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek as linebackers lost him in coverage and defensive backs were too late in reacting to passing plays in front of them. That doesn’t bode well with arguably the best tight end in the NFL coming to town, and Gronkowski caught five passes for 87 yards in the AFC Championship last year despite injuring his ankle late in the third quarter. Even with strong safety Bernard Pollard healthy enough to play, the Ravens won’t be able to slow the 6-foot-6, 265-pound monster.

4. The no-huddle offense plays a major role for the Patriots as the Ravens can’t cycle personnel on and off the field and Tom Brady picks apart the pass defense. The New England offensive line has been suspect this season, so the Baltimore defense must take advantage in making Brady uncomfortable in the pocket. If the Patriots protect him, they’ll use more of their no-huddle attack, which prevents defensive coordinator Dean Pees from cycling in personnel to keep the front seven fresh — especially with Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger dealing with nagging injuries — in hopes of creating a consistent pass rush. The short and intermediate passes to Gronkowski and wide receiver Wes Welker – mixed with a few longer balls to newcomer Brandon Lloyd – will wear down the Ravens in the second half. Even without Hernandez, there are just too many weapons for which to account without a consistent rush from the front four.

5. In a game that has more scoring than last January’s meeting in Foxborough, the more experienced New England offense is the difference in a 27-24 victory for the Patriots. Both offenses are going to score points in this one, but it’s still difficult to put faith in the Ravens winning a high-scoring game where they potentially have to match an opponent score for score. Flacco and the Baltimore offense gets back on track after their poor second half in Philadelphia, but the Patriots have an improved defense with the additions of pass-rusher Chandler Jones and strongside linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Making too much out of New England’s surprising loss to defensive-minded Arizona is unwise as the Patriots still possess a very dangerous offense that’s difficult to stop. The Ravens defense lacks the horses to slow them enough, and the improved offense won’t be able to keep up as the game is decided by a late touchdown. New England improves to 7-0 in the all-time regular-season series against Baltimore and the Ravens’ 11-game home winning streak in the regular season is snapped.

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A Dirty Dozen for the Defense

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A Dirty Dozen for the Defense

Posted on 02 August 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

Earlier in the week I posed the question, “Are the Ravens set up for success on offense?” While the answer is absolutely subjective, I’d venture to say that the real answer is that they better be. In hindsight we can see that whatever shortcomings we perceived in the Ravens offense in 2011 have to be viewed through the filter of the gamut of high caliber pass defenses that they had to deal with along the way. This year it appears that the shoe may be on the other foot, or more aptly, on the other side of the ball as the Ravens look to have to deal with a lot of scary offensive propositions in 2012. If there ever were a good time to have to deal with the defection and absence of defensive talent that the Ravens have recently undergone, 2012 certainly doesn’t appear to be it.

Here’s a look at the 12 scariest players that the Ravens defense will have to contend with in 2012:

 

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

 

Quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub, Carson Palmer, Robert Griffin III, Andy Dalton

 

Running Backs: Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Lesean McCoy, Ryan Matthews, DeMarco Murray, Willis McGahee

 

Pass Catchers: Jermaine Gresham, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Aaron Hernandez, Dwayne Bowe, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Wes Welker, Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd

 

 

#12 – Peyton Manning (DEN) – There are no offensive stats to base this on from last season and Manning’s health is still a huge question, but the reputed Ravens killer is a scary proposition until he proves that he isn’t. There are some serious questions about how easily he’ll find his way in a new offense and on a new team, but make no mistake, if Manning is healthy and surrounded by 10 warm bodies he’ll likely be tough to deal with for the Ravens as usual.

 

 

#11 – Darren McFadden (OAK) – It’ll be week 10 before the Ravens cross paths with McFadden, and history suggests that there’s a decent chance McFadden could be hurt and/or on the shelf by that time. That might be the Ravens best hope at containing him. When healthy McFadden is a scary combination of speed and muscle. He’s explosive inside the tackles and outside and at his best McFadden has a skill set that’s eerily similar to Maurice Jones-Drew who had a field day against the Ravens last season.

 

 

#10 – Philip Rivers (SD) – Whether you agree that Rivers is worthy of being regarded as a top 5 to 7 quarterback in the league or not, it’s hard to argue that last year was a disappointing one for both he and the Chargers. Still, in the midst of all that struggle, Rivers and crew had their way against the Ravens in San Diego last season. Traveling coast to coast is never easy in the NFL, and neither is facing Rivers and co. in the final weeks of the season. All of that could make for a scary storm of circumstances for the Ravens as they travel west to San Diego in week 12.

 

 

#9 – Trent Richardson (CLE) – The profile and value of the NFL running back in general has taken a substantial hit in recent seasons, evidenced perhaps no better than in the love (or lack thereof) that ball carriers have gotten on draft day. When it comes to Richardson however there was no hesitation from NFL execs in casting him near the tops of their draft boards. Of course as a rookie there’ll be no shortage of question marks and growing pains for the young, prospective bell cow, but in having to see him twice the Trent Richardson fear factor goes up exponentially.

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Can Kindle Make an Impact?

Posted on 29 June 2012 by jeffreygilley

Sergio Kindle is an awesome talent but has yet to get on the field because of a fractured skull he suffered in July of 2010.  Kindle was projected as the best 3-4 outside linebacker in the 2010 draft but fell to the second round because of character issues.

Like many Ravens fans, I was elated when the Ravens picked Kindle.  He has a great first step and plays with a high motor and level of passion the Ravens covet in their players.

What is really interesting about Kindle being drafted is that Rob Gronkowski went one pick before Kindle to the New England Patriots.  The Patriots and Ravens shared needs in that draft.  They both needed outside linebackers and tight ends.  If the Patriots had passed on Gronkowski and picked Kindle instead, I believe Gronkowski would be a Raven.  The Ravens later addressed their tight end need when they drafted Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in the fourth and fifth rounds respectively.

It is amazing to me that Kindle has remained on the roster for so long.  I believe that teams like the Patriots would have cut Kindle a long time ago because of the mystery surrounding his injury, his inability to get on the field, and his struggles learning the playbook.

The Ravens have shown a lot of faith in Kindle for keeping him on the active roster for two years.  They must envision him making a sizeable impact for the Ravens in the years to come.

Kindle does have a great opportunity to make an impact this season.  With the injury to Terrell Suggs, Kindle could have an opportunity to win the starting outside linebacker position.  He will have to compete with Paul Kruger and Courtney UpShaw, the projected starters for this upcoming season.

Even with Paul Kruger and Courtney UpShaw, I believe Kindle has an advantage over Kruger for the starting job.  He has more athletic ability and in my opinion, is better at stopping the run then Kruger.

Now, how could I say that if Kindle hasn’t gotten any playing time?  If you look at his college career, Kindle played a very similar role as Suggs does for the Ravens.  They moved Kindle around at Texas so he was never in the same spot all the time.  Kindle was also a monster when it came to stopping the run.  Kindle registered 34 tackles for loss in three years at Texas contrasting to Kruger who only registered ten and a half.

If Kindle does not get the starting linebacker job, he can still make an impact on special teams and in pass rushing situations.

Kindle will have a lot of competition this summer.  According to reports, Kindle has learned the playbook, which was one of his biggest obstacles.  I think Kindle will make an impact this year.  No one is really expecting him to which means he wont be double teamed if he comes in for passing downs.

I think Kindle is up for the challenge this year and will have five or more sacks in limited playing time.

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