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If not Torrey Smith, then who for the Ravens?

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If not Torrey Smith, then who for the Ravens?

Posted on 04 February 2015 by Luke Jones

No Ravens free-agent-to-be has sparked more debate over the last several months than wide receiver Torrey Smith as he’s set to hit the open market in a few weeks.

So much time is spent picking apart his shortcomings in running routes and arguing that he’s not a No. 1 receiver — there aren’t 32 of them in the entire NFL, by the way — that we lose sight of what Smith has brought to the table in his four years with the Ravens. Prior to his selection in the second round of the 2011 draft, the Ravens lacked any kind of a vertical threat for quarterback Joe Flacco and were regularly suffocated by any defense simply playing Cover 2 with aggressive cornerbacks. From the moment he arrived, the speedy receiver brought an ability to not only stretch the field, but make plays in the process of doing so.

The University of Maryland product ranks third on the all-time franchise list in receptions and is second with 30 touchdown catches while never missing a game in four years. After a 2013 season in which he caught 65 passes for 1,128 yards — both career highs — his numbers dipped to 49 catches for 767 yards under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, but Smith still caught a career-best 11 touchdowns and drew an impressive 261 yards on pass interference calls. The six-foot, 205-pound wideout wasn’t a great fit in Kubiak’s system that focused on short-to-intermediate passing, but his skill set is something that would be hard to replace.

By all accounts, Smith is also one of the best men in the Ravens locker room, a factor that shouldn’t be lost in the wake of last offseason when five players were arrested and after the recent reports of Will Hill and Terrence Cody being in trouble with the law. Character can’t be everything when it comes to valuing a player, but it should count for something.

It’s true that Smith profiles best as a good No. 2 receiver, but that still carries substantial value, evident by a CBS Sports report indicating the Ravens offered him a five-year, $35 million contract prior to the 2014 season. And even if the 26-year-old won’t cash in on his gamble in the same way that Flacco did in his walk year two years ago, offers in that same neighborhood — or slightly better — will still be thrown his way on the open market. Resources such as Spotrac.com have projected Smith to be worth slightly above $7 million per year, and that’s before learning whether top free-agent receivers such as Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, and Randall Cobb will even hit the market.

If you’re convinced the Ravens shouldn’t pay Smith what they offered him a few months ago or sweeten the deal a bit to potentially get it done, then what?

Even if Bryant, Thomas, and Cobb find their way to the market, the Ravens won’t have the salary cap space to make a competitive offer. Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin would be next on the list, but most project him to fetch more than Smith in free agency. A look at contracts signed in recent offseasons likely puts Smith in line with the deals received by Eric Decker and Golden Tate last offseason, but the final price will depend on the supply of quality receivers on the market and the number of teams willing to spend.

Whether re-signing Smith or not, the Ravens will take a long look at the wide receiver position in the draft, but Alabama’s Amari Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White will be long gone by the time they pick 26th overall. And let’s not forget that general manager Ozzie Newsome’s sterling draft reputation doesn’t extend to the wide receiver position where Smith is the Ravens’ biggest success story in two decades. Going into the draft needing to find a starting receiver with a late first-round pick isn’t a recipe for success for a playoff-caliber team.

Drafting a wideout such as DeVante Parker, Dorial Green-Beckham, Jaelen Strong, or Devin Funchess could pay off in the long run, but few positions are as unpredictable as wide receiver, especially if you’re expecting one to play a significant role immediately.

Should Smith depart, the Ravens would be looking at a 36-year-old Steve Smith as one starter and a competition among the likes of Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro, and Jacoby Jones (if he isn’t a cap casualty) for the No. 2 spot. Those receivers are complementary parts — not NFL starters — at this stage, and the Ravens can’t depend too much on Steve Smith, who slowed down at different points last season after a blazing start.

As they have in the past, Baltimore could look for another short-term veteran fix, but there’s only so much upside to be had with receivers on the wrong side of 30, especially if you’re looking for someone to stretch the field.

Of course, Smith will also need to prove just how much he wants to remain in Baltimore as he told WNST.net last week that he won’t necessarily go to the highest bidder and complimented the organization for giving him a chance to win every year. If the Ravens are still offering the fifth-year receiver what they did a few months ago and are willing to offer a little more as a show of faith in him, Smith can’t accuse them of disrespecting him after a season he’s described himself as less than stellar.

Most agree that Smith needs to be “the right player at the right price” for the Ravens to continue their relationship with him, but his departure would spell bad news for a team trying to build on a 10-6 season that ended in the divisional round.

His detractors have had few problems pointing out what Smith isn’t, but replacing him would be more difficult than many are willing to admit.

 

 

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Torrey Smith doesn’t want to leave place “more like home now”

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Torrey Smith doesn’t want to leave place “more like home now”

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even as he cleaned out his locker on Sunday, wide receiver Torrey Smith once again made it clear where his heart lies as he approaches free agency for the first time in his career.

He wants to stay with the Ravens.

“For me, it’s more like home now. It’s kind of tough to leave home at times,” Smith said. “But also, it’s a great organization. I genuinely love the people here, from the owner to everyone who makes this building go. I really love being here.”

But Smith knows it isn’t a certainty that he’ll be back as the Ravens must carefully weigh his value after a disappointing 2014 season in which he caught only 49 passes for 767 yards, career lows in both categories. On the flip side, the University of Maryland product posted a career-high 11 touchdown catches and drew an NFL-high 12 pass interference penalties for 261 yards, which must be acknowledged as part of his overall production.

Baltimore would like him back, but the 2011 second-round pick fits the profile of a No. 2 receiver, meaning the Ravens can’t break the bank for him. That philosophy could lead to Smith testing the market to see if other suitors would look to his 1,128-yard season in 2013 as evidence that he can be a No. 1 receiver.

“I honestly went the whole year without worrying about it, but when things kind of get tight, it’s like, ‘Man!’” Smith said. “You start looking around saying, ‘This could be it.’ But I’m not really going about it that way. I understand it’s a business. I’m just going to worry about things I can control and see what happens.”

Smith brings additional value to what he produces on the field as a leader by example and one of the Ravens’ most active players in the community. He’ll also be part of a crowded market of free-agent wideouts that could include the likes of Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, and Michael Crabtree, which may keep the price reasonable for Smith’s services.

As is always their mantra, the Ravens will view Smith within the scope of being the right player at the right price. With Steve Smith entering his 15th season, tight end Dennis Pitta’s future uncertain, and Baltimore already wanting to add another pass-catcher at either the receiver or tight end position, it only makes sense to retain the soon-to-be 26-year-old who wants to remain a Raven.

In listening to his words, it’s clear Smith doesn’t think his time in Baltimore is over.

“I’ve been saying all year I didn’t play the way I wanted to play this year,” Smith said. “Was it the worst? No. Was it what I wanted? No. But everything will take care of itself. I feel like I’ve done some pretty good things since I’ve been here, and there’s still so much more left to do.”

Canty contemplating future

Defensive end Chris Canty just completed his 10th NFL season and isn’t sure if there will be an 11th.

The 32-year-old acknowledged Sunday he is contemplating retirement after missing five games this season due to a staph infection in his wrist and an ankle injury.

“You have to think about your future,” Canty said. “You have to think, ‘Can your body take the pounding going through a regular reason and being able to stay healthy?’ The last couple of years, I’ve been pretty banged up, so it’s a situation where I’ll take some time away from the game, spend some time with my family, and make a decision when we have to make a decision.”

Even if Canty decides to continue his career, it may not be in Baltimore as he’s entering the final season of a three-year, $8 million contract and carries a $3.32 million cap figure for 2015. The Ravens were pleased with newcomer Lawrence Guy and drafted the 6-foot-7, 295-pound Brent Urban in the fourth round last May despite the rookie missing the entire season with a knee injury.

Canty has future plans to work in the media, but he acknowledges he still has a passion for the game. He just doesn’t know if that will be enough to carry him into another grueling season.

“Ultimately, it’s whether I can do it or not at a high level,” Canty said. “I don’t want to go out on the football field and not be able to play at a high level. When you turn on the tape and you don’t recognize yourself, that’s a problem, and I never want that to be the case.”

The former Dallas Cowboy and New York Giant finished with 33 tackles, two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and 1/2 sack this season.

Urschel a future Pro Bowl selection?

While James Hurst received more attention in becoming the first undrafted rookie to start a playoff game at left tackle in NFL history, fellow rookie John Urschel turned plenty of heads with his performance.

Filling in at right guard with four-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda shifting to right tackle in place of the injured Rick Wagner, Urschel played at a high level in the playoffs and more than held his own against Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork in the Ravens’ 35-31 loss to New England.

“Honestly, I really feel like Urschel in a few years is going to be a Pro Bowler himself if he gets the opportunity,” starting left guard Kelechi Osemele said, “if he gets in there and plays [like he's capable of doing].”

The high praise makes you wonder if the Ravens would consider an increased role for the fifth-round pick from Penn State as early as next season. He became the backup center on game days this season and could be examined as an eventual upgrade over current starter Jeremy Zuttah.

Baltimore will also face tough financial decisions next winter with both Yanda and Osemele scheduled to become free agents after the 2015 season, which could open the door for Urschel to replace one of them. For now, the 2014 fifth-round pick sees an important offseason in front of him as he’ll try to improve on a successful rookie campaign in which he made five starts counting the postseason.

“Lots of hard work, dedication. It’s different,” Urschel said. “This is my first real offseason. In college, you have eyes on you — you have people telling you what to do. This is the first time I’ve had about three months to myself since high school. It’s on me to motivate myself.”

 

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Saturday

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Saturday

Posted on 09 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have made a mostly-pleasant habit of traveling to Foxborough in January to take on the New England Patriots.

The latest chapter in this underrated rivalry will be written Saturday with Baltimore eyeing its fourth trip to the AFC Championship game under head coach John Harbaugh. Meanwhile, the No. 1 seed Patriots are seeking their first championship in a decade with 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady not getting any younger.

Joe Flacco will try to continue an impeccable postseason run in which he’s thrown 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his last nine playoff games. The seventh-year signal-caller has thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception in leading the Ravens to wins in their last five postseason contests.

Who will win on Saturday?

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It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Patriots meet for the fourth time ever in the playoffs — all have been in Foxborough — with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge. New England leads the all-time regular-season series by a 7-1 margin despite the Ravens’ postseason success at Gillette Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to hand New England another loss in the postseason …

1. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will be chased by Will Hill most of the day while catching a touchdown and posting 100 receiving yards. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will throw the kitchen sink at New England in trying to cover the All-Pro tight end, but Hill will draw most of the responsibility with little success. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound safety did an admirable job in holding New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham to six catches for 47 yards in late November, but Gronkowski has played at a different level than anyone at his position this year and is more physical. Brady will go to him early and often to try to offset a Baltimore pass rush bearing down on him.

2. Three of the Ravens’ sacks against Brady will come from inside pressure. Four has been the magic number for the Ravens as they’ve collected at least four sacks in their last eight wins and are 0-4 when failing to reach the plateau over that stretch. Brady was sacked just 21 times this year, but his quick release was a bigger factor in that statistic than an offensive line that’s been shaky in pass protection this year. The Ravens will exploit rookie center Bryan Stork and guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell with A-gap blitzing as well as the presence of Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, and Timmy Jernigan in passing situations. Inside pressure will force Brady backward and give Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil time to reach him off the edges.

3. Steve Smith will have a quiet game, but Torrey Smith will catch a touchdown and fetch a key pass interference call. Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis is expected to match up against Steve Smith, which will spell trouble for the veteran wideout as Revis will match the 35-year-old’s physicality with press coverage. This will leave the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner against Torrey Smith in a matchup that could determine the outcome of the game. The Maryland product will be challenged by Browner’s physicality, but the former Seattle defensive back is prone to penalties, drawing 15 flags in nine games in the regular season. The speedy fourth-year wideout draws pass interference calls as well as anyone and will fetch a big one inside the red zone in addition to catching a first-half touchdown.

4. Brady will pass for more yards, but Flacco will throw more touchdown passes. The Patriots will try to establish the run with their extensive collection of running backs, but they won’t find much room against the league’s fourth-ranked run defense, meaning the ball will be in their franchise quarterback’s hands all day. Brady will make amends for his 56.8 passer rating in his three previous playoff games against the Ravens, but Baltimore will clamp down inside the red zone. In contrast, the Ravens will find enough running room to keep Justin Forsett involved, and Flacco will have another efficient game like he did in Pittsburgh with 220 yards and two touchdowns to put his team in position to grab a victory in the fourth quarter.

5. Justin Tucker will kick the game-winning field goal to give the Ravens a 24-23 win. New England was the better team this season, but Baltimore has history on its side and — more importantly – the right tools to match up with the Patriots. If the Ravens are able to pressure Brady inside and out, it will make up for potential problems in the secondary and allow the Baltimore offense to keep up as it deals with an improved Patriots defense. This game could go either way, but it’s getting to the point where you just can’t pick against Flacco in the playoffs until someone finally cools him off. The Ravens won’t be scared playing in familiar Foxborough, and they’ll find a way to win there once again in January.

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Snap Counts

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Baltimore Ravens – Snap Counts vs Steelers

Posted on 08 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Here is a break down of the snap count of every offensive and defensive player, in the Ravens’ win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Offense:

57 – LT James Hurst – he played the whole game, and struggled mightily vs James Harrison

57 – LG Kelechi Osemele – had some problems in pass protection, but was an absolute mauler in the run game

57 – C Jeremy Zuttah – got pushed back in to Joe Flacco time and time again. He has to do better against the Patriots

57 – RG John Urshel – graded out well overall. Had a better night pass blocking than run blocking

57 – RT Marshal Yanda – best offensive lineman in the league. Pass blocked well and was a road grader in the run game

57 – QB Joe Flacco – threw 2 TDs, managed the offense well, and didn’t turn the ball over. “January Joe.”

54 – TE Owen Daniels – struggled with pass blocking, but was a factor in the passing game; caught 4 for 70 yards

50 – RB Justin Forsett – didn’t have a great running night running the ball, lost a fumble, but capably blocked blitzing LBs from the A gaps

40 – WR Torrey Smith – caught an 11 yard TD pass from Flacco; missed a certain TD when he didn’t drag his foot in the end zone

39 – TE Crockett Gillmore – caught a 21 yard TD from Flacco; blocked whistle to whistle

35 – WR Steve Smith – made a couple of tough catches in traffic; caught 5 for 101 yards

25 – WR Kamar Aiken – caught just 1 pass for 4 yards

20 – FB Kyle Juszczyk – caught 2 for 16 yards

13 – WR Marlon Brown – caught 1 for 9 yards

5 – WR Jacoby Jones – caught 1 for 9 yards

4 – RB Bernard Pierce – just 1 rushing attempt but it was good for a 5 yard TD

Defense:

76 – ILB Daryl Smith – save for the TD pass given up to Antonio Brown, he was stout vs the pass as well as the run

75 – CB Lardarius Webb – he was targeted a lot by Roethlisberger, and had an ok game overall

74 – ILB CJ Mosley – was solid vs the run but struggled in pass coverage

72 – FS Will Hill – was solid vs the run and even better vs the pass; defended well all night long

66 – CB  Rashaan Melvin – did a really good job in pass coverage, came up in run support

56 – OLB Terrell Suggs – stopped the run, pressured the QB, didn’t get a sack, but got a sick interception

52 – DT Haloti Ngata – looked fresh all game long, collapsed the pocket and applied pressure up the middle, got one sack

49 – SS – Darian Stewart – played one of his best games all season; got the game ending pick

47 – OLB Elvis Dumervil – applied great pressure from the edge consistently; ended up with 2 sacks

46 – OLB Pernell McPhee – had an outstanding game overall; was a force vs the run, and hit the QB a few times

39 – OLB Courtney Upshaw – did a great job setting the edge as usual; defended the pass well

31 – NT Brandon Williams – no one is going to move him backwards; applied consistent pressure through the A gaps; 1 sack

31 – DE Chris Canty – stopped the run and pressured the QB on numerous occassions

31 – CB Anthony Levine – the converted safety struggled in pass coverage; it was clear Roethlisberger was looking for him

29 – FS Jeromy Miles – solid game overall, but had a couple of lapses in pass coverage

29 – CB Matt Elam – yes, the SS played corner most of the night, and played the position well overall; was strong in pass coverage

13 – DE DeAngelo Tyson – was brought in on obvious passing downs; did not have a good night, did not apply pressure

11 – DE Lawrence Guy – did a solid job defending the run in his limited action on the field

6 – CB Antone Cason – came is when Melvin was shaken up; let up a catch during Melvin’s short absence

2 – ILB Albert McClellan – was only in for two plays; obviously not enough field time to analyze performance

1- SS Brynden Trawick – same as McClellan

Special Team notes – Justin Tucker was lights out as usual. The 52 yarder was particularly special, as you don’t see too many successful field goals at Heinz Field over 50 yards. Sam Koch had a good night – save for the blocked punt which was due to blocking assignment breakdowns. He was also directionally kicking it away from Antonio Brown, and that factored in as well. Jacoby Jones did not have a good night. He lost his footing and slipped during his first kick off return, and seemed tentative after that. Michael Campanaro had a couple of fair catches on punt returns. Hope his hamstring has healed to the point where he could be a factor vs the Patriots

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Ravens facing big challenge in Patriots secondary this time around

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Ravens facing big challenge in Patriots secondary this time around

Posted on 07 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens and New England Patriots have uttered similar thoughts throughout the week about Saturday’s divisional playoff meeting in Foxborough.

As the rest of the world focuses on their three previous postseason encounters at Gillette Stadium, coaches and players from each side put little stock in what happened in the past. It’s difficult to argue the point from the Ravens’ side as just 19 players on the current 53-man roster were with the organization when they topped New England in the AFC Championship to go to the Super Bowl two years ago.

The biggest on-field difference between these teams may lie in the Patriots’ secondary, a unit that was their Achilles heel in recent years. When the Ravens met them in consecutive conference championship games, the Patriots ranked 31st in pass defense in 2011 and 29th in 2012, but the unit improved to 17th in the NFL this season because of two key offseason additions at cornerback.

The arrivals of six-time Pro Bowl selection Darrelle Revis and the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner have transformed one of the Patriots’ biggest positional weaknesses into a strength, especially as the season has progressed. In addition to the veteran free-agent signings, 2013 third-round pick Logan Ryan has emerged as a solid option at the nickel in his second year.

“All three of those guys give them the ability to play man coverage more than they ever have before,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They play a lot of single-high [safety]. They have a lot of people down in the box to stop the run. They’ll press you. They’ll play combinations where they double a certain player, take him out of the game. They can do that because they have corners that can single people up.”

The combination presents a problem for the Ravens, who have traditionally struggled against press coverage. Veteran Steve Smith certainly won’t shy away from physical play, but it’s fair to wonder if the 35-year-old has enough speed at this stage of the season to take advantage of any upper hand he can gain when the 5-foot-11 Revis tries to press him at the line of scrimmage.

After only one year in Tampa Bay that saw the Buccaneers wasting his talents in zone coverage, the 29-year-old Revis — two years removed from a serious knee injury suffered in his final season with the New York Jets — has retaken his place as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. And he’ll likely be asked to take the veteran Smith out of the game on Saturday.

“Is Revis still Revis? I think his ID and his social security number and those things [still say] ‘Revis,’” said Steve Smith as he smiled. “Revis can play. He’s a great corner. He’s a corner that you have to prepare for; you have to watch film. You can’t just walk in there thinking [it will be easy]. He’s a professional, and you have to approach it with a professional mindset.

“I have to be patient and understand he’s going to make his plays. That’s it. Be patient. It’s a long game. A lot of things happen.”

On the opposite side of the field, Browner will likely match up against Torrey Smith, who has improved against press coverage since his rookie season but generally doesn’t play with much physicality. What Browner may lack in speed he makes up for with a massive frame used to try to knock receivers off their spot.

It will present an interesting matchup as Torrey Smith has repeatedly drawn penalties from the opposition this season while Browner was flagged 15 times to lead the Patriots despite playing in only nine games during the regular season. The University of Maryland product could be in line for a big day if he can win the first couple steps of his routes, but New England will likely be inclined to shade safety help his way while entrusting Revis to handle Steve Smith.

Now in his fourth year, Torrey Smith hopes his experiences playing against both Revis and Browner as a rookie will pay dividends despite being held without a catch on three total targets matched up against them in games against the Jets and Seattle Seahawks in 2011.

“I just think they’re going to try to have a bigger body on me [and] try to be a little physical at the line,” Torrey Smith said. “I’ll check [Browner] out a little more, but I’ve played against both of them. I was a young pup, but I’ve played against them both and I’ve gotten a lot better since then. I’ll be ready for it. It was definitely different seeing Revis walk out on me as a rookie, but that’s just pretty cool.”

How can the Ravens combat the Patriots cornerbacks’ physical play?

Bunch formations, motion, and pick plays can be used to offset press coverage, but the Ravens won’t shy away from using double-moves as well as an improved play-action passing game to gain separation.

However, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak warned that the Ravens can’t reinvent the wheel in an effort to account for tough press coverage. And Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are also masters of changing up strategies and giving opponents different looks than they anticipated after a full week of preparation.

“We have to go do what we do. We can’t sit here and assume, ‘Well, this guy is going to play that guy,’” Kubiak said. “We can’t do that. We have to go out and run the things we run and do them well. But that’s a strength of their defense, and if we’re going to find a way to get it done, we’re going to have to beat as good of a man coverage as there is in football, and we understand that.”

As the Ravens have come to expect with so much postseason success over the last seven years, quarterback Joe Flacco will be the biggest factor in beating the Patriots secondary and he won’t be afraid to test Revis if the opportunities are there.

It was an aggressive approach that led to an impressive 30-17 victory over Pittsburgh last Saturday, and Flacco says the Ravens could run into trouble if they try to deviate too much from what they do best.

“As a quarterback, you have to go out there and just go through your reads. If he’s open, throw it to him; if he’s not, don’t,” Flacco said. “We’re going to have to make contested catches, contested throws — all those things. But I know in the past when we’ve played against some guys and you’ve tried to avoid him or done things game plan-wise to get matchups in other places, it usually just takes your attention away from what you should be doing.

“I think that has a bigger effect than sometimes the actual guy can.”

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Ravens show their toughness in exorcising Pittsburgh demons

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Ravens show their toughness in exorcising Pittsburgh demons

Posted on 04 January 2015 by Luke Jones

PITTSBURGH — The Ravens surely didn’t need validation before their 30-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night.

Beating their fiercest rival in the playoffs for the first time doesn’t trump two Super Bowl titles and a wild-card win wouldn’t appear to register as more than a footnote for a franchise that’s made the postseason 10 times in the last 15 years, but the fans of Baltimore know the truth. After watching Pittsburgh get the best of the Charm City in postseason battles for the better part of four decades, the Ravens exacted a little revenge and it felt good.

It may not have erased the pain of the Ravens’ three prior postseason defeats at Heinz Field, the disappointment of back-to-back playoff losses suffered by the Colts to the Steelers in 1975 and 1976, or the agony of the Orioles’ two Game 7 World Series losses to the Pirates in 1971 and 1979, but Baltimore is entitled to bask in the satisfaction of ending the Steelers’ season.

“This is a very special victory for us, not just because it’s a playoff win,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But because of who it comes against, which is our most respected rival.”

You know how important it was to the Ravens for Harbaugh, a man who loathes making comparisons because it diminishes someone or something in the process, to acknowledge this one meant a little bit more that the typical playoff victory. And it allowed the likes of Elvis Grbac, Daren Stone, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to rest easy knowing the Ravens finally came through against Pittsburgh when it really mattered.

A look at the final statistics won’t overwhelm you as the Ravens failed to reach 300 yards of total offense and averaged just 2.0 yards per carry. Harbaugh labeled Saturday his team’s best game of the season, but the Ravens have scored more and allowed fewer points in other games this season.

More than anything, the performance was the perfect display of the toughness some doubted the Ravens had after an underwhelming month of December. Baltimore was aggressive on both sides of the ball and proved themselves as the more physical team despite the final numbers not blowing you away. A banged-up offensive line allowed only one sack while the pass rush continued to be ferocious in sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times, making life in the shaky secondary much easier as the Steelers were made one-dimensional by the absence of Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell.

But no one showed that toughness more than quarterback Joe Flacco, who picked up where he left off in his historic 2012 postseason by throwing for 259 yards and two touchdowns while posting a 114.0 passer rating. He’s now undefeated in his last five playoffs games and has tossed 13 touchdowns without throwing an interception in that span. In his last seven postseason contests, the 29-year-old has 17 touchdown passes and only one pick.

What is it about the postseason that makes Flacco so great?

“I really don’t know. I say that a lot, but it’s a tough question to answer,” Flacco said. “I come out here and do the same thing all the time. The biggest thing is to come out here and play a consistent football game.”

Of course, Flacco would be the first to tell you he wasn’t alone in disposing of the Steelers as the Ravens received spectacular plays such as Steve Smith’s 40-yard reception midway through the third quarter and Terrell Suggs’ legs-aided interception in the fourth that set up a quick score. But there were also a number of under-the-radar contributions that proved critical such as safety Darian Stewart driving Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown out of bounds to prevent a 29-yard touchdown in the second quarter and left guard Kelechi Osemele stymieing rush specialist James Harrison from a potential sack-strip of Flacco on the 11-yard touchdown strike to Torrey Smith that put the Ravens up 20-9 late in the third quarter.

The Ravens weathered adversity after Justin Forsett’s fumble and a quick Steelers touchdown — the kind of sequence that doomed them in previous playoff experiences against Pittsburgh — by responding with 10 points on their next two possessions to put the game away.

Baltimore was simply better than Pittsburgh on Saturday, and it’s been a long time coming for fans who’ve endured plenty of disappointment at the hands of the Steel City over the years. Flacco said earlier in the week that the Ravens weren’t brooding over previous playoff failures in Pittsburgh in the same way that they couldn’t dwell on the struggles of the final month of the regular season.

January brings a new season, and the Ravens certainly responded in the best way possible.

“You have to play these games to win,” Flacco said. “You can’t play not to lose. You have to go out there and you have to let everything go. You can’t worry about the outcome.”

And in not worrying, the Ravens were able to finally exorcise those old Pittsburgh demons.

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Harbaugh’s bold move sets attitude for Ravens’ season-saving win

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Harbaugh’s bold move sets attitude for Ravens’ season-saving win

Posted on 07 December 2014 by Luke Jones

John Harbaugh may not be a prophet, but he offered a glimpse into a head coach’s mindset for making difficult in-game choices six days prior to the Ravens’ season-saving 28-13 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

That decision-making process played out again early in the third quarter Sunday as the Ravens trailed 10-7 and faced fourth-and-1 at their own 35-yard line. Instead of sending his punting unit onto the field as most coaches would do in such a spot, Harbaugh decided the Ravens would go for it and threw caution to the wind.

And that’s where his response last Monday when questioned about using a timeout before kicking a late field goal in the disappointing loss to San Diego rang loud and clear.

“‘In retrospect,’ you’d always like to do something different if it doesn’t work out,” Harbaugh said. “But in the heat of battle, you do the best you can, you make the decision that you make — the one that you think is best at the time.

“We did the best we could; it wasn’t good enough. I didn’t do well enough making those decisions enough to win the game in the end. And that’s the reality — just take responsibility for it and move on.”

There’s no doubt that Harbaugh would have been facing a mountain of criticism had quarterback Joe Flacco been stuffed at the line of scrimmage and the Ravens not moved down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown and eventually win the game. Numbers-savvy fans and statistical analysts will tell you going for it in such a situation isn’t the risk it seems, but they’re not the ones on the sideline and potentially facing the wrath of the owner, general manager, media, and fans if the decision blows up in their face.

It’s a risk many wouldn’t have taken — especially when Baltimore was stuffed on two short-yardage situations in the first half — but no one knows the Ravens’ pulse in Week 14 better than Harbaugh following a difficult defeat to the Chargers last Sunday and this week’s news of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being suspended for the rest of the regular season. After weathering a miserable start in the first half and his Ravens only trailing by three, Harbaugh’s bold move made it clear he didn’t want to surrender the momentum gained with a touchdown late in the second quarter and the Dolphins punting on the opening possession of the third quarter.

In a game the Ravens described all week as a must-win affair, Harbaugh’s decision illustrated the desperation of the day. And perhaps it was the lift his team needed to put a trying first half in the rear-view mirror.

The fourth-down conversion to continue the drive that culminated with Flacco’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Kamar Aiken set the attitude for a dominating finish and a crucial victory in Miami.

Of course, the Ravens had begun to awaken before Harbaugh’s fourth-down gamble as Flacco bounced back from throwing one of his worst interceptions of the season to lead the Ravens down the field for a 97-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown to Steve Smith with two seconds left in the first half. That connection came after Smith had dropped a perfectly-thrown pass in the end zone a play before Flacco’s ugly turnover.

The Baltimore signal-caller was superb after his end-zone miscue midway through the second quarter, completing 18 of 23 passes for 200 yards and two touchdown passes the rest of the way as he finished with 269 yards.

But Flacco wasn’t alone as a running game playing with a hobbled Justin Forsett came alive in the fourth quarter, rushing 14 times for 107 yards in the final 15 minutes. Forsett finished with 71 yards, Bernard Pierce chipped in three carries for 50 yards in the fourth quarter, and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro added 35 more yards on the day.

A Baltimore defense that surrendered 10 points in its first two series settled down and began swarming Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the pocket to the tune of six sacks and nine quarterback hits, much of that pressure coming in the second half when Miami managed just three points. Elvis Dumervil collected 3 1/2 sacks to set the Ravens’ single-season record with 16 through 13 games, eclipsing Peter Boulware’s mark set in 2001.

Despite some leaky run defense early, the Ravens hardly seemed to miss Ngata as the Dolphins ran for only 63 yards on 16 carries.

A secondary that lost reserve cornerbacks Anthony Levine and Danny Gorrer to injuries will remain a concern for the rest of the season, but the unit wasn’t nearly the same liability with the Ravens consistently collapsing the pocket and harassing Tannehill.

The Ravens answered the bell without the services of a healthy Torrey Smith, who was held without a catch in limited action. With the fourth-year wideout’s knee swelling up during pre-game warmups, Aiken contributed six receptions for 65 yards, Marlon Brown caught three passes for 30 yards, and even the recently-promoted tight end Phillip Supernaw added a 29-yard reception to set up a Forsett touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

It was a team effort as the Ravens awoke from a painfully slow start to dispose of the Dolphins and move just a half-game behind first-place Cincinnati in the AFC North.

There’s no way of knowing whether the Ravens would have won had Harbaugh elected to punt early in the third quarter or if they’d failed to convert on fourth-and-1, but Baltimore didn’t look back from the point Flacco surged forward to move the chains.

Whether you viewed it as the prudent choice or a foolish risk, Harbaugh’s bold move worked out and set the tone for the remainder of the game.

The Ravens responded by dominating the rest of the way to earn a critical win in the AFC playoff landscape.

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Come show your purple love to Steve Smith at Buffalo Wild Wings Bel Air!

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Come show your purple love to Steve Smith at Buffalo Wild Wings Bel Air!

Posted on 01 December 2014 by WNST Staff

Join the WNST.net crew and Ravens WR Steve Smith at Buffalo Wild Wings Bel Air on Wednesday, December 3rd at 730pm. Steve will be making his first trip up to Harford County with us and we couldn’t be more excited. Coming off a tough loss against San Diego, the Ravens need your support as they sit right in the middle of both the AFC North and wild card race. Let’s show Steve that all of Baltimore is behind him as his Ravens prepare for a must win game in Miami!

Autographs are free, but there will be a limit of one per person (time permitting). Steve is always very generous with his time, so we ask that you also be respectful of the one autograph per person limit as well!

As always, many thanks to Carl Delmont and the folks at Freedmont Mortgage as they present all of our live events throughout the years. Don’t make a 30 year mistake by choosing the wrong lender! Also thanks to Enoch Office & Rugenix for their continued sponsorship and support.

Last but not least, we can’t wait to partake in some delicious food at Buffalo Wild Wings Bel Air. Rob and the gang always have the food coming out fast and fresh and Wednesday night will be no different. Come out and support our long-time partner. Not only do they have great food, but they’re great people as well!

We hope to see you all out at BWW Bel Air on Wednesday night with Steve Smith. 7:30pm kickoff!

 

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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Monday night

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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 23 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Fresh off their bye week and trying to complete a 2014 sweep of the NFC South, the Ravens return to the site of Super Bowl XLVII to take on the reeling New Orleans Saints Monday night.

Baltimore hopes that a Week 11 bye coupled with the Saints’ two-game losing streak will create enough momentum to snap New Orleans’ 14-game winning streak in prime-time home games. The 4-6 Saints are trying to find some semblance of consistency in a division in which no team has made a strong claim as a viable playoff contender.

The Ravens are 5-1 in games coming off their bye week in the John Harbaugh era and will attempt to win their third road game of the season. While they were able to find success against an underwhelming Tennessee offense in Week 10, the Baltimore secondary will have its hands full against the league’s third-ranked passing attack.

Monday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 4-1 advantage. This is the first contest between these teams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since the 2006 season — which resulted in a 35-22 win for Baltimore — but the Ravens are obviously familiar with the surroundings after winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans two years ago.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 7-4 to keep pace in the AFC North …

1. Will Hill will draw the bulk of the assignment against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who will catch a touchdown and eclipse 80 receiving yards. Much was made about Cincinnati’s physicality last week in limiting the All-Pro tight end to just three catches for 29 yards, but the Ravens haven’t exactly been imposing in the back end of the defense aside from Terrence Brooks’ big hit on Tennessee’s Delanie Walker two weeks ago. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to mix it up as much as possible against Graham, but Hill is the best fit with his 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame and ability in coverage. The Ravens have held tight ends in check for most of the season, but they haven’t encountered a talent like Graham and he will bounce back from a tough week against the Bengals with a strong game in Week 12.

2. Steve Smith and Marlon Brown will catch touchdowns passes against a banged-up New Orleans secondary. A week off and a meeting with an old foe he tormented year after year as a member of the Carolina Panthers are just what the doctor ordered for the 35-year-old Smith whose production has declined in recent weeks. The Saints are down to their third-string free safety and top cornerback Keenan Lewis has been dealing with a knee issue, which will lead to the veteran wideout finding the end zone for the first time since Week 6. Looking to boost their 19th-ranked red-zone offense, the Ravens will rediscover Brown as a viable option inside the 20 as the 6-foot-5 receiver will rein in a pass in the back of the end zone for his first touchdown of the 2014 season.

3. The Ravens will contain top rusher Mark Ingram, but a returning Pierre Thomas will create problems as a receiver out of the backfield. After a very slow start to his NFL career, Ingram has emerged in 2014 with a 4.5 yards per carry average to take over the feature back role for New Orleans, but the Baltimore defense has allowed only 3.4 yards per carry and won’t have an issue keeping him in check. The return of Thomas — who hasn’t played since Week 7 — will be critical for a passing game that will miss the injured Brandin Cooks, who was becoming the Saints’ second-best receiver behind Graham as a short-to-intermediate target. With the secondary providing plenty of cushion and linebackers paying close attention to wherever Graham is, the Saints will slip Thomas free out of the backfield repeatedly to move the chains.

4. C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith will both collect sacks as the Ravens use inside blitzing to try to get to Drew Brees. Pees knows his defense must create pressure in the pocket against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but Saints tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief have been the strengths of their offensive line, meaning it won’t be a given that Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs will create enough heat. The best way to pressure Brees is up the middle where center Jonathan Goodwin and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs have struggled in pass protection. Smith and Mosley have both been effective as A-gap blitzers, making it a good bet that the Ravens will try to ambush Brees up the middle. The strategy will pay off with each inside linebacker collecting a sack on Monday night.

5. Joe Flacco and Brees will each throw for over 250 yards, but the veteran will be a little better in a 31-23 win for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, it would have been tough to give the Ravens much of a chance in this one following the injury to Jimmy Smith on top of the Saints’ reputation for playing so well at home. But New Orleans is difficult to figure out with two straight losses at home that came after blowing out mighty Green Bay less than a month ago. On the other hand, a solid performance against the Titans isn’t enough to ease concerns that the Ravens secondary will be able to prevent the Saints from passing up and down the field all night. Flacco and the offense will put together one of their better road performances of the year, but it won’t be quite enough to put the Ravens over the top on Monday night.

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Ravens hoping old foe brings out best in Steve Smith

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Ravens hoping old foe brings out best in Steve Smith

Posted on 19 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith wasn’t hiding his enthusiasm for playing on Monday Night Football as the Ravens are preparing to travel to the Big Easy this weekend to take on the New Orleans Saints.

He knows the entire country will be watching as this was the platform last year in which Smith uttered his now famous post-game phrase, “Ice up, son.”

“You get real excited,” Smith said on Wednesday. “Family members get to see you play. Ex-girlfriends that wished they wouldn’t have dumped you, they’re questioning themselves right now. It’s fun.”

The Ravens hope their top wide receiver will break a few more hearts Monday as he faces an opponent he’s very familiar with going back to his days playing in the NFC South. Entering 2014, his 99 catches, 1,493 receiving yards, and 10 touchdown receptions in 23 career games against New Orleans were more than he had produced against any other team. The Saints’ 24th-ranked pass defense could certainly lend a hand in a happy reunion as well.

The longtime Carolina Panther has continued his success against his old division this season, catching 15 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns in three games against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta. Baltimore would benefit from another huge game in trying to hand New Orleans a third consecutive home loss.

And it would be a comforting rebound for the veteran considering he caught only 11 passes for 88 yards and no touchdowns in the last three games prior to the bye — two of them losses to AFC North rivals.

“If we’re playing the way we want to, then he and everybody are going to be a big part of it,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who downplayed Smith’s recent decline in production. “He’s had some pretty good games against these guys. Obviously, he’s played these guys for a long time, so hopefully when we get there, he feels comfortable and we get him another big game against these guys.”

After recharging from a physical standpoint last week, Smith has been all business returning to Owings Mills this week as he spent more than an hour with wide receivers coach Bobby Engram on Tuesday. The pair watched more than 100 plays together as Smith evaluated his own performance over the first 10 games of the season after posting four 100-yard games to tie a single-season franchise record.

Acknowledging he walked into the film room “kind of down” as he prepared to jot down his critique in a notebook, Smith said he felt encouraged after seeing so much positive while also identifying what he needs to do better. In the midst of his 14th NFL season, Smith leads the Ravens with 49 catches and 728 receiving yards.

“I need to be more dependable in certain areas,” Smith said. “And that falls on me. That doesn’t fall on Joe, doesn’t fall on [offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak], it doesn’t fall on [head coach John Harbaugh], or anybody. That falls directly on me. I’m a professional. I’ve been in this game for a long time. And if you can’t hold yourself accountable, you can’t expect anybody else to do it for you.

“I can’t expect Joe to believe in me that I’m going to win on a route if I haven’t done the proper technique, lined up, and run a route the way it’s suppose to be run for him to depend on me. That falls on me first. And that’s what I did in my bye week — enjoy my family — but I sat back and took some time and said, ‘What am I not bringing to the table, and why am I not doing it?’”

One of those areas to which Smith was referring could have been inside the red zone as the veteran has made just four receptions for 22 yards inside the opponent’s 20 this season. Of course, his 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame doesn’t make him the prototypical target for that area of the field, but one doesn’t accumulate 71 career touchdown receptions without at least some production near the goal line.

Despite Smith’s concerns and self-evaluation, the Ravens don’t appear overly concerned as Kubiak acknowledged last week that it falls on his shoulders to keep various weapons involved in the offseason while taking Smith’s recent production in stride with the overall ebb and flow of a 16-game schedule.

Needless to say, Smith and the Ravens are hoping he finishes the season with the same explosiveness in which he started, but some doubts will naturally linger about a 35-year-old receiver.

“I have to always find ways to get guys the ball,” Kubiak said. “I wish I could get them all the perfect amount every week, but those things usually don’t work that way. You have to get all of your play-makers the ball. Steve is doing a good job, and hopefully we get him back on the track that he was on earlier in the year. But he’s playing hard, working hard.”

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