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Ravens now look to future after not being good enough in 2013

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Ravens now look to future after not being good enough in 2013

Posted on 29 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Head coach John Harbaugh said it all in the aftermath of a 34-17 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday that resulted in the Ravens missing the postseason for the first time since 2007.

Despite reaching the pinnacle of the NFL last February in winning their second Super Bowl title in franchise history, the Ravens simply weren’t good enough a year later.

“We’re not ever going to be content with not making the playoffs,” Harbaugh said. “That’s just not something that’s going to be OK with any of us.”

Harbaugh is right, and it’s the Ravens’ vast success over the last five years that’s cultivated such an appropriate mindset. It’s easy and fair to be disappointed, but the Ravens gave this city a terrific run that included five straight playoff appearances, three AFC Championship appearances, and a Super Bowl title. History has proven over and over that you can’t be great every year and no run of success will last forever.

General manager Ozzie Newsome, Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco, and others have built a great deal of equity for fans to remain confident that the Ravens will be back in 2014 and beyond, but this winter brings a critical offseason with many issues to address. A proven track record is invaluable, but the NFL is a results-driven endeavor and Baltimore didn’t meet its own high standards laid out in recent years.

Season-long issues once again reared their head Sunday as a poor offense doomed the Ravens in Cincinnati. An overwhelmed offensive line was unable to handle the Bengals’ pressure, the running game was a non-factor, wide receivers were unable to gain separation, and a hobbled Flacco made poor decisions and couldn’t connect on deep balls throughout the day.

Defensively, the Ravens were able to force four turnovers but also allowed nearly 400 yards of offense and 27 points — the Bengals’ final touchdown came on an interception returned for a touchdown. The Baltimore defense was an above-average unit this season but gave up big plays and long drives at critical junctures, failing to be the game-changing unit Newsome envisioned when he allocated most of his available cap space to upgrading that side of the ball this past offseason.

So, what do the Ravens need to change, improve, and address this winter?

The heavy lifting will be done by Newsome, who didn’t have a good offseason this past winter in trading away veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin and failing to improve the offense around Flacco. The injury to tight end Dennis Pitta couldn’t be predicted, but the failure to address the receiver position in the wake of Boldin’s departure was a mistake. Philosophically, the Ravens turned away from what won them a Super Bowl last February in sacrificing offense for defense and the former suffered dramatically because of it.

Newsome will also be dealing with a tight salary cap that includes a projected $70.9 million in space devoted to just six players: defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ($16 million), Flacco ($14.8 million), linebacker Terrell Suggs ($12.4 million), cornerback Lardarius Webb ($10.5 million), running back Ray Rice ($8.75 million), and right guard Marshal Yanda ($8.45 million). Barring any restructuring of the other contracts, only the release of Suggs would provide substantial cap relief as he’s scheduled to receive a $7.8 million base salary in the final year of his current deal.

That could spell the end of Suggs’ 11-year run in Baltimore unless Newsome and the Ravens try to work out a short-term extension that gives the veteran some upfront money and a lower cap figure for 2014. Suggs finished the year with 10 sacks but collected only one in his final eight games and made very little impact down the stretch.

The Ravens must address an offensive line that includes two free-agent tackles (Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher) and second-year center Gino Gradkowski, who struggled immensely in his first year as a starter. It’s unlikely that Oher will return, but Baltimore would surely like to retain Monroe after giving up two 2014 draft picks to acquire him from Jacksonville earlier in the season. They could then look to the draft to address the right tackle position or consider moving Kelechi Osemele back to the position where he played during most of his rookie year and look at guard prospects.

Improving the offensive line would go a long way in fixing a running game that was the worst in franchise history, though questions will remain about Rice’s future as a feature back.

Tight end Dennis Pitta will be an unrestricted free agent and gauging his value in the open market will be difficult after he missed most of the season with a serious hip injury, making the franchise tag a possibility to keep him in Baltimore for another season. Jacoby Jones will also hit the open market, and the Ravens must decide whether the value of his big-play ability as a returner is worth a new contract despite his shortcomings as a wideout.

The Ravens need more offensive play-makers as Torrey Smith wasn’t as productive in the second half of the season and Rice battled through injuries and ineffectiveness in the worst campaign of his career. Flacco’s underwhelming 2013 performance suggests he isn’t the rare quarterback who can dramatically elevate the play of lesser talent around him.

On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Arthur Jones, linebacker Daryl Smith, strong safety James Ihedigbo, and cornerback Corey Graham are all scheduled to become free agents. Each is a capable player that makes a defense better, but younger and cheaper alternatives will be preferred in most cases with much work to do on the other side of the ball and little available cap space.

The Ravens will need to take a look at a pass rush that was ineffective down the stretch as well as the safety position where defensive coordinator Dean Pees was essentially forced to play two strong safeties — Ihedigbo and rookie Matt Elam — in the starting secondary. However, Newsome and the Ravens can’t make the same mistake they did this past year in focusing too much on the defense while allowing the offense to suffer.

As for coaching, Harbaugh has his flaws when it comes to time management and in-game decisions that must be assessed internally, but his track record speaks for itself after missing the playoffs for the first time in his six-year run with the Ravens. The addition of run-game coordinator Juan Castillo did not work with the Ravens finishing last in the NFL in yards per carry, so it will be interesting to see if the former Eagles offensive line coach quietly parts ways with the organization this winter.

Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell deserves plenty of credit for his role in jump-starting the Ravens offense when he took over for Cam Cameron last December, but his calls this season too often lacked imagination in trying to overcome personnel deficiencies and the red-zone offense was another major deficiency. It’s worth noting that Caldwell had never been an offensive coordinator prior to his late-season promotion in 2012, so you wonder if the Ravens will — and should — at least take a look at the possibility of adding another strong offensive mind to the equation if not making a change at coordinator altogether.

It won’t be an easy offseason as Harbaugh, Flacco, and a number of others face the reality of not being good enough to play in January for the first time. It’s uncharted territory for the head coach and quarterback, and it will be interesting to see how the pair responds in overcoming that failure.

Sunday marked the official end of the Ravens’ reign as Super Bowl champions as well as a five-year run of success that may never be seen again in Baltimore. They battled all season, but the Ravens just weren’t good enough to overcome their many weaknesses and ran out of gas in their final two games against better opponents.

Nothing lasts forever, but a strong nucleus is in place to rebound in 2014 and beyond.

And Ravens fans can take satisfaction in that simple truth while coping with the unfamiliar disappointment of a quiet January and an uncertain offseason to follow.

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Our Ravens/Bengals “Slaps to the Head”

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Our Ravens/Bengals “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 29 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show on AM1570 WNST.net. (Tim Horsey filled in for Ryan this past week.)

The Ravens fell to the Cincinnati Bengals , meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Tim and I offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. AQ Shipley

4. Haloti Ngata

3. Marshal Yanda

2. Joe Flacco

1. Terrell Suggs (Two Slaps)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Suggs: “We need to make sure this never happens again”

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Suggs: “We need to make sure this never happens again”

Posted on 29 December 2013 by WNSTV

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 28 December 2013 by Luke Jones

No strangers to entering Week 17 with work to do to make it to the postseason, the Ravens have never entered the final game needing a win and help from other teams under John Harbaugh as they try to beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

A win would give Baltimore its sixth straight winning season under Harbaugh, but the Ravens would also need a loss by either Miami or San Diego to extend their season into January and give them a chance to defend their Super Bowl title. Of course, Baltimore’s playoff chances wouldn’t completely vanish with a loss, but losses by Miami, San Diego, and Pittsburgh would be required to land the Ravens in the postseason with an 8-8 record.

Even though the Bengals wrapped up the AFC North championship with a win and Baltimore’s loss to New England last Sunday, the Ravens won the first meeting between these teams earlier this season by forcing three turnovers and taking advantage of 134 yards in penalties committed by Cincinnati. The Bengals have been a different team at home this year as they are 7-0 and have scored more than 40 points in each of their last four contests at Paul Brown Stadium.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet to conclude the regular season for the fourth straight year — the last three in Cincinnati — and for the 36th time overall in the last 18 years. The Ravens have won five of the last six against Cincinnati and lead the overall series by a 20-15 margin, but the Bengals are 10-7 against Baltimore playing at home.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens hope to win and receive help to advance to the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season …

1. Torrey Smith eclipses 100 receiving yards for the first time since Oct. 6 to set the single-season franchise record for receiving yards. The third-year wideout looked to be on his way to the Pro Bowl after collecting at least 85 receiving yards in each of his first five games, but he’s hit that mark only once since then as he and quarterback Joe Flacco just haven’t looked to be on the same page. Teams have used plenty of single-high safeties shading him to take away the deep ball, but the Ravens haven’t been able to take advantage on the opposite side. However, the speedy Jacoby Jones has been a bigger factor recently and tight end Dennis Pitta is now in the picture, which will allow Smith to recapture his early-season success with a long catch and his first 100-yard game since Oct. 6 to break Michael Jackson’s team record of 1,201 receiving yards set in 1996.

2. Flacco will show improved mobility, but his left knee will still be an issue as the Bengals bring plenty of inside pressure to collect four sacks. Nothing went well against New England last week, but the sixth-year quarterback must play at a much higher level for the Ravens to have a good chance to beat Cincinnati on the road. Once again wearing a brace this week, Flacco showed better mobility in the second half against New England, but Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is notorious for bringing pressure up the middle, an area where the Baltimore offensive line has struggled mightily all year. Flacco played poorly against Cincinnati earlier in the year — two interceptions and only 3.9 yards per passing attempt — and will fare better than that, but he will be under duress too much against the league’s fifth-ranked defense on Sunday afternoon.

3. Giovani Bernard will run for a touchdown and catch another as a matchup problem against the Ravens defense. Trying to contain Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green is always the top priority when you play the Bengals, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees and his unit must be mindful of the rookie Bernard, who had 22 touches for 97 total yards in Week 10 and is very dangerous in open space. The Ravens have struggled against shifty running backs such as Reggie Bush, Le’Veon Bell, and Matt Forte this season and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton will try to find Bernard underneath often with the status of tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert in doubt due to injuries. With rain potentially in the forecast for Sunday, Dalton will use Bernard in a way similar to Flacco finding running back Ray Rice earlier in his career, and the rookie will have a big day.

4. Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs combine for three sacks, but the Baltimore defense is unable to force turnovers like it did when these teams met in early November. This pass-rushing duo has failed to make the same impact down the stretch as in the first half, but Dumervil’s best game of the year came against the Bengals when he collected three sacks lining up primarily against Andre Smith and Suggs will no longer be lining up against nemesis Andrew Whitworth, who has moved inside to left guard due to injuries. The Ravens must harass Dalton as they did in November when they pressured him into throwing three interceptions, but the Bengals haven’t turned it over at home — going plus-eight in turnovers in seven home games — and the third-year quarterback will be smart with the football knowing his team is playing a below-average offense.

5. The Ravens will battle, but a tired group that’s been poor on the road all year will fall 27-19 to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The history of the Harbaugh era tells you the Ravens will figure out some way to win this game against a superior team and receive the necessary help to sneak into the playoffs, but nothing lasts forever and Baltimore’s poor performance last week smelled of fatigue and being overmatched. The Ravens received some good fortune during their four-game winning streak, but the same issues were there with a below-average offense lacking a running game and a defense that plays well overall but doesn’t force turnovers or consistently finish games. They have the pride to compete with the Bengals, but a season that included too much mediocrity, a 4-6 start, and a 2-5 road record entering Sunday ends with the Ravens staying home in January.

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Tucker, three other Ravens selected to this year’s Pro Bowl

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Tucker, three other Ravens selected to this year’s Pro Bowl

Posted on 27 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Even if the Ravens’ playoff fate won’t be decided until Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati, they will be represented by four players at this year’s Pro Bowl.

Kicker Justin Tucker, linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and right guard Marshal Yanda were all chosen for this year’s game with Tucker being the only first-time selection of the group. Suggs becomes a six-time selection while his defensive teammate Ngata receives a Pro Bowl honor for the fifth straight season. Yanda earns his third straight Pro Bowl nod to help cement his status as one of the better right guards in the NFL over the last few seasons.

Fullback Vonta Leach was deemed a first alternate while return specialist Jacoby Jones was named a third alternate after both were selected as Pro Bowl players last season.

Tucker earns his first trip to the Pro Bowl after a phenomenal sophomore season in which he was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player by the local media. The University of Texas product has gone 35-for-38 on field goal attempts this season, which included a 6-for-6 effort and a franchise-record 61-yarder to beat the Detroit Lions in the final minute in Week 15.

His 35 field goals entering Week 17 have tied Ravens Ring of Honor member Matt Stover for the franchise’s single-season record. He was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November and has twice taken away AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors this season.

“What an incredible honor it is to be recognized like this by the players, coaches and fans of the NFL,” Tucker said in a team statement. “I am truly blessed to represent such a world-class organization, the Baltimore Ravens, and all of our fans who make up ‘Ravens Nation.’ I will forever be thankful to the Ravens for giving me a chance to come in and compete for a job after going undrafted last year.”

Suggs, Ngata, and Yanda haven’t had banner 2013 seasons compared to their high standard set over the years, but reputation is often a major factor with the voting comprised of coaches, players, and fans from around the league.

Collecting nine sacks in the first eight games of the 2013 season, Suggs looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate at the midway point, but a six-game sack drought slowed his pace considerably. His 10 sacks this season gave him double digits in that category for the fifth time in his 11-year career while he has continued to play strong against the run.

“This is awesome, and I have to thank God for blessing me again,” Suggs said. “I also have to thank the most amazing fans in the world for voting. I can’t thank them enough. I also want thank coach Harbaugh and my teammates for the constant push, and I must give a special credit to [linebackers coach Ted] Monachino for the outstanding coaching. But most of all, I have to thank my brother, Haloti Ngata, for being a great teammate and an even better friend.”

After being shifted to nose tackle this season, Ngata has collected 45 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks while anchoring the middle of a Baltimore defensive line that ranks ninth in the NFL against the run.

Ngata hasn’t shown the same dominance in recent years that he did earlier in his career, but he’s remained healthier this season than he had in the past two years when he still received Pro Bowl honors.

“I’ve been blessed with so much, and I’m very thankful to be recognized as one of the NFL’s top players,” Ngata said. “I’m also thankful for my teammates and coaches who have helped me get there.”

Yanda missed spring organized team activities and most of training camp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but the 2007 third-round pick still received Pro Bowl recognition. His play hasn’t been as consistent as it was in the 2011 and 2012 seasons when he established himself as one of the best right guards in the league, but Yanda was one of the only dependable members of an offensive line that’s struggled with the running game averaging a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry.

Few players on the 8-7 Ravens deserved serious Pro Bowl consideration, but inside linebacker Daryl Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith were two names often mentioned as deserving of recognition. However, neither was named as much as an alternate.

This marks the eighth consecutive year that four Ravens players have been selected to play in the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl will follow a new format this year in which the teams will not be divided by conference. Players will be entered into a pool and teams will be chosen by captains and Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice during the first Pro Bowl draft held on Jan. 22.

In fact, the change may have helped Tucker receive his Pro Bowl selection as Denver’s Matt Prater was also chosen, meaning the game will have two AFC kickers. Prater is 23-for-24 on field goal tries and made an NFL-record 64-yard field goal this year.

The 2014 Pro Bowl will be played in Honolulu on Jan. 26.

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Justin Tucker as Ravens MVP?  Sure…after all, who else could it be?

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Justin Tucker as Ravens MVP? Sure…after all, who else could it be?

Posted on 24 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

Not that it matters, because it’s nothing more than a side-note in a player’s media guide biography, but Justin Tucker won the Ravens MVP award on Monday afternoon.

That shouldn’t be too startling if you’ve followed the Ravens through the first fifteen weeks of the 2013 season.  After all, Tucker has actually been the only “regular” on the team who has played above the bar of excellence typically reserved for players who earn MVP status.

Oddly enough, voting for Tucker for team MVP (as I did, admittedly, when the media ballots were distributed last week) was just as much a vote of deduction than anything else.

The other candidates were the three Smith’s — Jimmy, Daryl and Torrey, plus quarterback Joe Flacco.

None of those five came close to duplicating the overall excellence of Justin Tucker this season.

Now, if you’re one of those people who thinks it’s absurd for the team’s kicker to be the Most Valuable Player of the team, I’ll agree with you on that point.

Yes, I voted for Tucker.  I told you that already.

But, voting for the guy and also acknowledging it’s weird to have the kicker be the team’s MVP are entirely possible when you look at what transpired this season.

In short:  The Ravens offense stunk in 2013.

That eliminates Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith from the discussion.

And, while the defensive Smith’s were solid, neither of them came close to establishing the overall consistency of Tucker.

I don’t know that Jimmy Smith or Daryl Smith won any games for John Harbaugh’s team.

Justin Tucker did.

And, when you’re 8-7 and still have a puncher’s chance of making the post-season, the kicker who made the difference in four of those victories deserves the nod as the team MVP.

Sad?

Sure.

The kicker sure as hell isn’t the MVP in Denver, Kansas City, Seattle, Carolina or Cincinnati.

Flacco is the lightning bolt topic when it comes to the Tucker verdict in Baltimore, because he’s the $60 million man and much was expected from him after holding up both the Lombardi and MVP trophy at last February’s Super Bowl in New Orleans.

The real truth about his 2013 campaign?  It’s been average, at best.  Some would say he’s been less than average; some would counter and say with what he’s had to work with, Flacco has been better than average.

Mix all the opinions together, look at the team’s record and Flacco’s numbers and you get:  Average.

Now, were there issues outside of Flacco’s area of responsibility?

Lack of pass blockers to protect him?  You bet.

No running game to help support his arm?  Absolutely.

Wide receiving group still short a quality contributor – or two?  Yes, indeed.

Injury to Pitta a tough pill to swallow?  Of course.

But, 19 interceptions don’t lie.

It’s one thing if Flacco doesn’t produce a 30 TD, 4,000 yard season given the limits I listed above, combined with the anticipated “Super Bowl hangover” that nearly every veteran has likely experienced to some degree in 2013.

But, he hasn’t even reached 20 TD’s yet.  And he’ll need 280 yards passing at Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon to eclipse the 4,000 yard mark for the first time ever.

Not only has he thrown the ball to the other team nineteen times, and, yes, not all 19 of those are completely “on” Flacco, — a handful of the pics were deflections or balls that should have been caught by his receivers — but he’s also fumbled it eight times, with two of those recovered by the opposition.

(Please see next page)

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Our Ravens/Patriots “Slaps to the Head”

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Our Ravens/Patriots “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 22 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show on AM1570 WNST.net.

The Ravens fell to the New England Patriots 41-7 Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. Lardarius Webb

4. Jimmy Smith

3. Michael Oher

2. John Harbaugh

1. Joe Flacco (Two Slaps)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens-Lions: Five predictions for Monday night

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Ravens-Lions: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 15 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Playing on the road for the first time in nearly a month, the Ravens know exactly what’s at stake when they travel to Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions on Monday night.

A three-game winning streak has pushed Baltimore above the .500 mark for the first time since October, but a 1-5 road record can’t be overlooked as the Ravens play two of their final three away from M&T Bank Stadium against first-place teams. And with Miami and San Diego also hanging around in the AFC wild-card picture, the margin for error is small.

The Ravens have the clear advantage with health as linebacker Elvis Dumervil was the only player of real consequence listed as questionable and the rush specialist is expected to make his return after missing last week’s game against Minnesota with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, the Lions have three starters listed as questionable or worse on the final injury report of the week.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens aim to improve to two games above .500 for the first time all season. Monday night marks the fourth time these teams have ever met with the Ravens holding a 2-1 all-time advantage. Detroit won the only meeting between the teams at Ford Field, a 35-17 final back in 2005.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to maintain their grip on the No. 6 seed in the conference playoff race …

1. Facing a banged-up and below-average secondary, Torrey Smith finds room down the field for a long touchdown. The Lions will be without starting cornerback Chris Houston and rookie backup Darius Slay while starting free safety Louis Delmas missed two practices this week with a knee injury, leaving Detroit’s 25th-ranked pass defense even more vulnerable than normal. Smith has been held to just nine receptions over the last three games, but the return of tight end Dennis Pitta and the recent emergence of Jacoby Jones alleviates the heavy attention he was facing earlier in the season. This will free him up to slip past the secondary for a deep touchdown on Monday night, which will put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his three-year career.

2. Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson will go over 100 yards receiving and catch a touchdown over safety Matt Elam in deep coverage. The rookie’s comments questioning Johnson’s age and physicality earlier in the week were foolish, but the league’s best wideout was already motivated with the Lions fighting Chicago and Green Bay for the NFC North title. Elam has been a disappointment in pass coverage — recording just two pass breakups — as he’s played out of position all season and his small frame doesn’t play well against Johnson if he’s asked to provide help over the top. Cornerback Jimmy Smith has received most of the attention in terms of who will cover Johnson, but the Ravens rarely ever flip their corners and will likely try to offer as many different looks as they can in coverage. It won’t matter as Johnson will still get his yards and a score on Monday.

3. Linebacker Terrell Suggs will collect his first sack since Nov. 3, but the Ravens won’t generate much pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions have only allowed 15 sacks this season, which is a major reason why Stafford has remained healthy and is 24 yards shy of his third consecutive 4,000-yard season. Baltimore hasn’t collected a sack since Week 12, but blitzing will leave the defense vulnerable underneath against running back Reggie Bush coming out of the backfield, leaving defensive coordinator Dean Pees in a difficult position. Suggs will beat left tackle Riley Reiff for a sack in the first half and Dumervil’s return will help, but Stafford’s quick release and the Ravens’ concern with Bush and fellow back Joique Bell catching passes out of the backfield will lead to another week of underwhelming pressure.

4. Joe Flacco will roll out and move from the pocket by design to neutralize the Lions’ interior pressure to throw for 250 yards and two touchdowns. The presence of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley is a major concern for the Ravens as Flacco will need time in the pocket to step up and go vertical to test a poor secondary. Even if right guard Marshal Yanda and center Gino Gradkowski can hold their own against Suh, Fairley is likely to give A.Q. Shipley fits, which will prompt offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to use designed roll-outs and waggles for Flacco to move outside the pocket. Flacco has shown that he can throw effectively on the run and Pitta’s presence will help in that regard with intermediate passes to move the chains. Detroit’s defensive line is too strong to try to play straight up in the passing game, so the Ravens will try to get Flacco in space behind the line of scrimmage.

5. Struggling at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, the Ravens can’t quite keep up in a 27-20 final to Detroit. Most attention has fallen on the likes of Johnson, Stafford, and Bush this week, but the Ravens’ running game and pass rush do not match up well against the Lions, which will be the difference in a game in which points could come liberally for both sides. Baltimore will not be able to find space against the league’s sixth-ranked run defense, putting everything on Flacco’s throwing arm, but the passing game just hasn’t had a consistent 60 minutes of play all season long and that will catch up with them late in a back-and-forth game. With the Ravens unable to pressure Stafford, the Lions will just be too tough to stop as a late score against a defense that’s been unable to finish will be the difference in an entertaining contest.

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Fourth-quarter Flacco coming up big for Ravens

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Fourth-quarter Flacco coming up big for Ravens

Posted on 11 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Watching from afar, it would be easy to conclude Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t had a good 2013 season.

Already with a career-high 17 interceptions and on pace to post the lowest passer rating (77.0) of his six-year career, Flacco has clearly suffered from working with the league’s worst-ranked rushing attack in yards per carry (3.0) and a supporting cast that’s lacked tight end Dennis Pitta until this past Sunday. But his fourth-quarter performance has been the saving grace in the Ravens finding themselves with a 7-6 record and currently in position to be the AFC’s No. 6 seed in the postseason.

For the second straight season, Flacco’s highest passer rating (91.7) has come in the final 15 minutes of play as he’s thrown eight fourth-quarter touchdowns — twice the number he’s thrown in any other period. He’s completed 66.1 percent of his passes in the final quarter compared to just 57 percent in the first three quarters of play this season.

Unsurprisingly, the Ravens offense has also been its most productive in the final quarter by scoring 102 of its 278 points — just under 37 percent of their total output — in that 15-minute period. This past Sunday, Flacco orchestrated the 18th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime of his career, but he downplayed the significance of his strong performances when the stakes are at their highest on a weekly basis.

“I don’t know. We’ve put ourselves in a lot of situations in the fourth quarter to have to come back on teams and have to play well to win football games,” Flacco said. “We’ve probably spent a lot of time feeling games out, and then all the sudden gotten ourselves into situations where we just have to let it go and see what happens.”

That “let-it-rip” mentality seems to suit Flacco best as we saw throughout last season’s postseason run to the Super Bowl and again on Sunday when he went 7-for-10 for 91 yards and two touchdown passes on the final two offensive drives of the game against Minnesota. Prior to the nine-play, 64-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Pitta with 2:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, Flacco had only gone 21-for-40 for 154 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions.

His late-game success has also come while needing to trust unproven players this season without the likes of Pitta and former Ravens wideout Anquan Boldin in the picture. Other quarterbacks may have thought twice about going to rookie free agent Marlon Brown with the game — and the season — on the line Sunday, but Flacco went right to the 6-foot-5 University of Georgia product in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown with four seconds remaining.

“It’s just what you have to do. Marlon is a great player,” Flacco said. “I’m not thinking back there, ‘Who is in this position? Can I trust this guy?’ If I was thinking that – if that was going through my head – I’d have all the confidence in the world, and he’d be a guy that I’d pick out.”

This moxie gives the Ravens and their 29th-ranked offense a fighting chance to do what’s necessary down the stretch in their final three games to give themselves a great chance to keep the final playoff spot in the conference. Often criticized in the past for being unemotional on the sideline, Flacco’s ability to never get too high or low in the biggest moments is what has made him so effective over the years for the Ravens.

The task of facing three first-place teams in the final three weeks — two of them coming on the road — is a daunting one, but Sunday was the latest example of the Ravens seemingly being able to flip a switch and do what’s necessary to win — even if it’s not aesthetically pleasing.

“We’ve had so much experience in tight games and in big, meaningful games,” Flacco said. “When we do get in situations where we have to play well in crunch time, the situation isn’t too big for us. We’re able to relax and just play football as we always would. Whereas if you’re not in those situations a lot and you start to think about the consequences of what happens if you don’t do what you should do, that’s when the situation can get too big and can overwhelm some people.”

Suggs remembers 2005 Detroit fiasco

Only one player remains on the roster from the last time the Ravens traveled to Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions back in 2005.

It was a forgettable and embarrassing day as Baltimore not only lost 35-17 to fall to 1-3 in what would eventually be a 6-10 season but set a franchise record for penalties — falling one shy of the NFL record — and had two players ejected on that October afternoon. One of those players was linebacker Terrell Suggs, who recollected when he was tossed for arguing a roughing the passer call by referee Mike Carey, who explained that Suggs acted with “malice in his heart.”

The 11th-year linebacker could speak with a sense of humor on Wednesday about what happened eight years earlier, but that doesn’t overshadow it being one of the more embarrassing days in franchise history.

“I remember the [21] penalties. Did I get thrown out of that game? I did get thrown out of that game,” said Suggs, who insisted that 2005 game won’t be on his mind Monday night. “I had a lot of ‘malice in my heart.’ I think I head-butted a ref. I remember one of our guys (defensive tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu) hit the crowd with the ‘X-Pac’ [gesture] — you all know what that is. I remember [former Lions running back] Kevin Jones having an altercation — not like a physical one, but a football altercation with one of our safeties. It was an interesting day. But that was the past, and we don’t ever want to see that side of us again.”

Road woes or warriors?

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Dumervil on mend as Ravens set sights toward Detroit

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Dumervil on mend as Ravens set sights toward Detroit

Posted on 09 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILL, Md. — The Ravens escaped their win over the Minnesota Vikings without an extensive injury list, but veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley joins linebacker Elvis Dumervil as question marks for next Monday’s game in Detroit.

Stokley left the game with a concussion in a fourth quarter that featured an astonishing 42 points scored between the two teams. It is believed that he was injured catching a 2-yard pass on third down that set the Ravens up for the fourth-and-1 play in which fullback Vonta Leach was stuffed for no gain at the Minnesota 21 with 10:36 remaining.

The 37-year-old wideout missed seven games earlier this season while nursing a groin injury but returned to play in the last three games, catching four passes for 36 yards. Stokley has dealt with at least 14 concussions in his football career dating back to his high school days, which could complicate how quickly he’s able to return to the field.

“He’ll go through the concussion protocol,” coach John Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference. “We’ll have to see how that shakes out. Unfortunately, he’s had a number of those in his career, so that could be problematic for us. We’ll have to see in the next 24 hours or so.”

Dumervil missed his first game of the season against Minnesota after he was unable to recover from a left ankle sprain suffered against Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night. The pass-rush specialist returned to play in that key AFC North game, leaving the Ravens optimistic that he’d be able to play against the Vikings.

However, his progress was slower than expected last week and the snowy conditions at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday likely made the Ravens’ decision to deactivate him even easier. The Baltimore defense has failed to collect a sack in each of the last two games, which is a disturbing trend with meetings against Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and New England’s Tom Brady coming up in the next two weeks.

“I think Elvis has a chance for next week,” Harbaugh said. “He looks pretty good [Monday]. It’s kind of a bruise in his ankle, so we’ll just have to see where he’s at. I was hopeful for him this week, so I’ll be more hopeful for him next week.”

By all accounts, tight end Dennis Pitta made it through Sunday’s game feeling no ill effects after returning to action for the first time since dislocating and fracturing his hip on July 27. Pitta finished with six catches for 48 yards and reined in a 1-yard touchdown pass with 2:05 remaining in the game.

The Ravens were so confident in Pitta’s ability to play extensively against Minnesota that they listed veteran Dallas Clark as inactive, but Harbaugh said the 34-year-old still fits into the team’s plans moving forward. Clark’s limited ability as a blocker and his lack of a special-teams role make him a difficult player to include among the 46 active players on game days, especially if the Ravens plan to emphasize the running game in a given matchup.

“Dallas is going to be a big part of what we’re doing going forward,” Harbaugh said. “It just depends on the game plan and how the offensive coaches decide to put that together.”

Pass rush MIA

Masked in the euphoria of Sunday’s miraculous 29-26 win over Minnesota was the fourth-quarter struggles of the defense and its inability to collect a sack for a second straight week after 19 straight contests with at least two.

Harbaugh expressed concern over his defense’s inability to finish games strongly, but he didn’t seem as concerned with the pass rush, citing the ability of Minneseota quarterback Matt Cassel and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger a week earlier to get the ball out quickly. Of course, the snowy conditions Sunday left a few inches of snow on the field, which also impacted the rush in a way similar to the sloppy conditions in Chicago last month.

“I don’t think it’s a product of what people are doing differently. They’re getting the ball out pretty quick,” Harbaugh said. “There haven’t been a lot of downfield-route-type things. We had some maximum protection yesterday, two backs, and those kinds of things where they try to throw it down the field. They were mostly throwing fades or they threw seams over the middle. Those balls come out pretty quick. Field conditions were a factor … more than anything else.”

The absence of Dumveril left more pass-rushing situations for second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw on Sunday and fellow outside linebacker Terrell Suggs extended his streak of games without a sack to five. Suggs earned at least one sack in seven of the first eight games of the 2013 season but hasn’t collected one since.

Flacco gets taste of own medicine

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