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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Bengals

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Bengals

Posted on 12 November 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 20-17 (OT) win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Justin Tucker 46 yard field goal good (Overtime)

4. James Ihedigbo 37 yard return of Andy Dalton interception intended for Tyler Eifert, Mohamed Sanu called for 11 yard personal foul (2nd quarter)

3. Reggie Nelson draws 48 yard pass interference on Joe Flacco pass intended for Jacoby Jones (1st down)

2. Terrell Suggs and Corey Graham tackle Andy Dalton for no gain on 4th & 1 (1st down)

1. Giovani Bernard -11 yard catch from Andy Dalton on 4th down, tackled by Corey Graham (Overtime)



(Continued on Page 2…)

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Our Ravens/Bengals “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Bengals “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 10 November 2013 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 20-17 (OT) win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

Glenn’s Pats…

5. Ed Dickson

 

4. Justin Tucker

3. Torrey Smith

 

2. Elvis Dumervil

1. Lardarius Webb (Pat on Both Cheeks)

 

(Ryan’s Pats on Page 2…)

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 09 November 2013 by Luke Jones

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

Off to their worst start since the 2005 season, the 3-5 Ravens have never been in such a position in the John Harbaugh era as they meet the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals for the 35th time in franchise history.

Hoping their return to M&T Bank Stadium for the first time in nearly a month will snap a three-game losing streak, the Ravens trail the Bengals by 2 1/2 games in the AFC North and will see their playoff hopes on life support if they drop their third consecutive division game. However, Baltimore has won four of the last five meetings with Cincinnati as the Bengals are still chasing consistency with a talented and deep roster.

The Ravens listed five players as questionable on the final injury report of the week — four of them key defensive players — while Cincinnati will be without inside linebacker Rey Maualuga and will be playing its first game since the season-ending ACL injury suffered by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins in Week 9.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens lead the all-time series with Cincinnati by a 19-15 margin and are 12-5 in Baltimore. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 6-4 against the Bengals, which includes a 4-1 record at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their first game since Oct. 6 and move closer toward the .500 mark to begin the second half of the season …

1. Underused wide receiver Deonte Thompson will catch the first touchdown of his career. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell’s use of Thompson has been perplexing as the second-year wideout has been effective whenever afforded opportunities and has caught just over 64 percent of attempts on which he’s been targeted (nine of 14), the highest success rate of any wide receiver or tight end on the roster. Flacco has struggled in the vertical passing game this season, which was understandable early in the year, but the returns of Jacoby Jones and Thompson have given the Ravens adequate speed to complement No. 1 receiver Torrey Smith. It’s difficult to envision the offense being fixed due to an ineffective offensive line and an inadequate number of consistent weapons, but the Ravens need to throw caution to the wind in taking more deep shots. With Smith once again receiving the most attention, Thompson will slip free for a long score.

2. The absence of Atkins will not be an elixir for the Ravens’ inept running game. It’s true that the Cincinnati defense is more vulnerable after its recent rash of injuries, but the Baltimore running game has been effective for only 30 minutes — the second half of the Miami game in Week 5 — of the 480 total played this year. A poor offensive line is undersized at center and left guard and Ray Rice once again showed a lack of explosiveness last week in Cleveland despite his claims of finally being 100 percent healthy. Caldwell will likely explore further use of the pistol formation to give the Ravens more options in running the ball while working out of a three-wide, shotgun spread formation extensively, but expecting the Ravens to suddenly start running the ball effectively is based on hopes and dreams and nothing about their performance this season. It’s only common sense to assume the Ravens will average under 3.0 yards per carry and accumulate no more 70 or 80 rushing yards until they show otherwise.

3. A banged-up secondary won’t be able to handle the many Bengals weapons, allowing quarterback Andy Dalton to throw for two touchdowns and 250-plus yards. Everyone knows how dangerous Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green is, but the emergence of fellow wide receiver Marvin Jones spells bad news for a secondary listing Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham, and James Ihedigbo as questionable for Sunday’s game. The Ravens’ 14th-ranked pass defense has been vulnerable to missed tackles and big plays, which doesn’t bode well against an offense with talented pass-catching options at receiver, tight end, and in the backfield with rookie Giovani Bernard. Cornerback Lardarius Webb will do a respectable job against Green when the Ravens shade safety help in his direction, but there isn’t enough quality coverage to go around in shutting down the league’s seventh-ranked passing attack, meaning the Ravens must pressure Dalton heavily to give themselves a good chance.

4. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth will have another shutdown effort against linebacker Terrell Suggs. Browns tackle Joe Thomas receives all the accolades while Whitworth just made his first Pro Bowl last season, but the Bengals lineman has arguably given Suggs more trouble than any other blocker in his 11-year career. Of Suggs’ 7 1/2 career sacks against Cincinnati, only 2 1/2 have come since 2006 when Whitworth was drafted in the second round out of LSU. Without Whitworth playing in their last game, the Bengals gave up five sacks and Dalton turned the ball over four times as he was harassed all night. The Ravens will win on Sunday if they can repeat Miami’s performance in forcing the bad Dalton to come out, but that pressure will need to come from defenders who aren’t lined up against the Bengals left tackle. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to move Suggs around a bit, but big performances will need to come from Elvis Dumervil, Arthur Jones, and others.

5. With their backs against the wall even more than they were last week in Cleveland, the Ravens will fall short once again in a 27-20 final. In the history of the Harbaugh era, the Ravens have been able to rise to the occasion when they’ve needed it most in the regular season. Meanwhile, the Bengals have had success over the last couple years but still fight the trap of reverting to the “Bungles” from time to time. It might not be a must-win game for the Ravens in terms of the mathematics of the playoff race, but falling to 3-6 virtually ends their playoff hopes with five of their final seven games coming against teams with winning records. Those trends would lead you to believe the Ravens will find a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against a team with more talent, but “that was then, this is now” as author S.E. Hinton would say. A familiar script of a slow start offensively coupled with a solid defensive effort void of game-changing plays will lead to another close defeat for the Ravens.

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Three defensive starters listed as questionable for Bengals game

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Three defensive starters listed as questionable for Bengals game

Posted on 08 November 2013 by Luke Jones

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

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens presented a healthier outlook on Friday with the return of three defensive starters to the practice field but listed five as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Linebackers Terrell Suggs and Daryl Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith all took part in the final full workout of the week, and the latter two were listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week. Safety James Ihedigbo, cornerback Corey Graham, and wide receiver Brandon Stokley were also designated as questionable.

Listed as probable for Sunday’s game, Suggs (foot) was added to the injury report as a non-participant on Thursday but appeared to simply be given a day off based on his pre-practice theatrics on Friday. Upon seeing reporters while walking out to the practice field, the 31-year-old linebacker walked with an over-the-top limp before breaking into a brisk jog, indicating he would be ready to go for Sunday’s game.

Daryl Smith (thigh) and Jimmy Smith (groin) both missed practices on Wednesday and Thursday, but their presence for the final full practice of the week was an encouraging sign for their status against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The third-year cornerback exited last Sunday’s loss in Cleveland early when his groin tightened up on him.

The inside linebacker received treatment for his thigh injury throughout the week and painted an optimistic outlook for his chances of playing against the Bengals. Coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal about the status of Daryl Smith and Jimmy Smith.

“That’s the whole goal,” said Daryl Smith when asked if he expected to play. “I’m feeling good and looking forward to Sunday. A couple days rest on it and rehab, and I should be ready to ride.”

A concerning development from Friday’s injury report was the addition of starting strong safety James Ihedigbo, who was limited with a toe injury in the final practice of the week despite working fully the previous two days. This is sometimes an indication of an injury taking place during practice, and he did not appear to be limited during the portion of practice open to reporters Friday morning.

Graham (calf) took part in Friday’s practice after sitting out a day earlier and expressed optimism that he would be ready to play on Sunday.

With both Smith and Graham listed on the injury report and less than 100 percent, the Ravens elected to place second-year cornerback Asa Jackson on the 53-man roster to add depth to a secondary. Jackson practiced all week after completing an eight-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy and provides another special-teams option on Sundays.

The Ravens officially placed left guard Kelechi Osemele (back) on season-ending injured reserve to make room for Jackson.

“Asa looked good. He looked like he was in shape,” Harbaugh said. “Like always, working the little nuances of the game and stuff like that after a few weeks off in terms of knocking the rust off. But I thought he was surprisingly sharp and looked good.”

Stokley (groin) was present and suited up to work after missing the first two practices of the week. He hasn’t played since Week 3 as he’s battled the groin ailment for more than a month while other receivers on the roster have gotten healthy.

For the Bengals, starting tight end Jermaine Gresham (groin) missed his second straight practice on Friday and is listed as questionable. Reports from Cincinnati indicate he will be a game-time decision against Baltimore.

Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard (ribs) was limited in practice all week and was deemed questionable, but the play-making back is expected to play.

Cincinnati ruled out starting inside linebacker Rey Maualuga as he continues to recover from a knee injury and did not practice all week.

The referee for Sunday’s game between the Ravens and Bengals will be Walt Coleman.

Sunday’s forecast calls for a high of 60 degrees with winds up to 21 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Here’s the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: G Kelechi Osemele (back)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Corey Graham (calf), S James Ihedigbo (toe), CB Jimmy Smith (thigh), LB Daryl Smith (thigh), WR Brandon Stokley (thigh)
PROBABLE: LB Terrell Suggs (foot), WR Marlon Brown (finger)

CINCINNATI
OUT: LB Rey Maualuga (knee), DT Devon Still (elbow)
DOUBTFUL: LB Mike Boley (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Giovani Bernard (ribs), TE Jermaine Gresham (groin)
PROBABLE: G Kevin Zeitler (hamstring)

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Suggs, Graham new absences from practice on Thursday

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Suggs, Graham new absences from practice on Thursday

Posted on 07 November 2013 by Luke Jones

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

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were further depleted on the defensive side of the ball Thursday as linebacker Terrell Suggs and cornerback Corey Graham were added to a growing list of non-participants.

The defense was already dealing with the absences of linebacker Daryl Smith and starting cornerback Jimmy Smith, who were both missing for the second straight day on Thursday. The starting inside linebacker is dealing with a thigh injury while the third-year defensive back is nursing a groin injury that forced him out of last Sunday’s loss in Cleveland.

Suggs was present in the locker room earlier in the day and did not appear to be favoring an injury but was listed with a foot injury on Wednesday’s injury report. Graham, who would be slated to start if Jimmy Smith cannot play, was sidelined with a calf injury.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele (back) and wide receiver Brandon Stokley (groin) were also absent for Thursday’s practice. The Ravens are expected to place Osemele on injured reserve at some point this week, and Stokley has been dealing with a groin injury for over a month now.

Wide receiver Marlon Brown (finger) was present and working as a full participant after being limited on Wednesday while cornerback Asa Jackson and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore were also practicing. Jackson has been reinstated after serving an eight-game suspension — though he has yet to be placed on the 53-man roster — while Lewis-Moore began practicing Wednesday after starting the season on the non-football injury list while recovering from a torn ACL suffered last January.

For the Cincinnati Bengals, tight end Jermaine Gresham (groin) was downgraded on Thursday’s report after sitting out practice with a groin issue despite working on a limited basis a day earlier. Linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) and defensive tackle Devon Still (elbow) missed practice for the second straight day.

Here is Thursday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
OUT: G Kelechi Osemele (back)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Corey Graham (calf), CB Jimmy Smith (thigh), LB Daryl Smith (thigh), WR Brandon Stokley (thigh), LB Terrell Suggs (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Marlon Brown (finger)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Jermaine Gresham (groin0, LB Rey Maualuga (knee), DT Devon Still (elbow)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Giovani Bernard (ribs), LB Mike Boley (hamstring), G Kevin Zeitler (hamstring)

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Trends converging as Ravens try to right ship in Cleveland

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Trends converging as Ravens try to right ship in Cleveland

Posted on 31 October 2013 by Luke Jones

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

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The story has been the same whenever the Ravens encounter the Cleveland Browns in the John Harbaugh era.

Winners of 11 straight against the AFC North foe starting in the 2008 season — the year Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco, and running back Ray Rice first stepped foot in Baltimore — the Ravens and their fans have been able to view a meeting with Cleveland in November or later as a catalyst propelling them to greater heights while throwing dirt on the division’s annual doormat. In truth, the Browns haven’t been a pushover in recent years as three of the last four encounters have been decided by eight points or less, but the script inevitably involves the Ravens making the necessary big play and the Browns folding when it matters late in the game.

So, why would Sunday’s meeting at FirstEnergy Stadium be any different?”

“Because as the years go by, the teams change,” Browns cornerback Joe Haden told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Thursday. “The Ravens aren’t the Ravens of old. They’re still a really good team, a division opponent, but at the same time, our team is a whole different team. It’s a different squad. We still haven’t gotten over the hump, but there’s no reason why we can’t.”

Of course, it would be easy to fire back at the talented young defensive back that Cleveland has very much looked like the old Browns since a surprising 3-2 start, losing three straight despite a top 10 defense and an offense that includes talented young wide receiver Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, who was labeled by Harbaugh earlier this week as a premier tight end in the NFL. After quarterback Brian Hoyer went down with a torn ACL on Oct. 3, head coach Rod Chudzinski has bounced between 2012 first-round pick Brandon Weeden and veteran Jason Campbell at the quarterback position, appearing to settle on the latter after a surprising performance in a losing effort to undefeated Kansas City last week.

But Haden’s right about the Ravens as their 3-4 record puts them only one loss better than the Browns and in unfamiliar territory below the .500 mark this late in a season for the first time under Harbaugh. Even with the Browns’ recent struggles, the Ravens’ long winning streak against Cleveland has never appeared to be in more danger than it is on Sunday.

Harbaugh and his players received all the evidence they needed in Week 2 when they were shut out in the first half before scoring two second-half touchdowns in a 14-6 victory over the Browns in Baltimore.

“Every time we play them, it’s a tough game, it’s a physical game,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve run the ball on us, they’ve played great defense against us over the years, [and] their pass rushers are legitimate pass rushers. It’s always a fight right down to the finish, so we know it will be that kind of game again — at least that’s what we are expecting and preparing for.”

The head coach went on to state his belief that the Ravens are going to catch fire over the season’s final nine games after various concerns in all three phases have left them two games behind the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. Meanwhile, a loss to the Ravens would all but finish the Browns with a 3-6 record entering their Week 10 bye.

But the Ravens must find a way to start faster in games as they’ve been held without an offensive touchdown in the first half of five of their seven games and have trailed at halftime five times this season. Most of the blame will fall on the league’s worst running game in yards per carry (2.8), but Flacco has completed just 55.2 percent of his first-half passes before improving to 63.7 percent in the game’s final 30 minutes.

The weekly slow starts have put much pressure on a solid but unspectacular defense that has allowed 140 or more rushing yards in three of its last four games and has struggled to get off the field in the second half in two straight losses to Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

It’s been an uphill battle too often and a formula not conducive to success over the scope of an entire season, especially when playing on the road.

“There’s nothing you can really do in terms of practice and stuff like that to ensure anything,” Flacco said. “You practice to give yourself the best chance to play the best, and it’s a matter of going out there and playing. Once we go out there and play well early on, then people will forget about it and we’ll forget about it to a certain extent.”

The Ravens have said all the right things about feeling the necessary urgency and acknowledging that there’s little margin for error with six of their final nine games coming against teams with a .500 or better record.

But as Flacco said, talking about making the necessary corrections along the offensive line, in the run defense, and on special teams means little if the results don’t show up on Sundays.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh sent a clear message on Wednesday by cutting veteran defensive players Michael Huff and Marcus Spears and proving that they won’t hesitate to make changes to turn around their season and advance to the postseason for a franchise-record and NFL-best sixth straight season.

Their first post-bye opportunity comes against the league’s 24th-ranked offense and a running game that’s been nearly as ineffective as them, but the Browns possess a balanced defense posing a serious challenge to an offense that showed marginal improvement two weeks ago in Pittsburgh but hasn’t been able to get out of its way more often than not this year. Several players echoed the sentiment this week that the Ravens are built for the second half of the season, but much of that was based on past accomplishments that included a much stronger running game.

“It’s November football,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “At this point, [the games are] all big after the bye. They all count. Not to say the ones before didn’t, but these decide whether or not you get a chance at greatness.”

As much as Baltimore’s leadership was discussed this offseason following the departures of such veterans as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, and Matt Birk, the true test was always going to come in the face of adversity, and a 3-4 record with an important divisional road game certainly qualifies. The locker room has remained united and focused on team-oriented goals, but a loss to the Browns and a 3-5 record would place more strain on the fabric of the Ravens than they’ve felt in a very long time.

Past trends don’t guarantee future results as the Ravens have seen other streaks under Harbaugh come to an end this season, including an undefeated mark in season openers and a perfect home record against NFC opponents. On Sunday, the Ravens will try to improve to 6-0 coming off their bye week under Harbaugh while extending their winning streak over Cleveland to 12 games.

The Browns will have something to say in determining the outcome — good or bad — but Haden was right in saying these aren’t the same old Ravens as only seven players remain from when Baltimore began its current streak of success against Cleveland on Sept. 21, 2008. And 18 players currently on the 53-man roster weren’t with the organization for Super Bowl XLVII nine months ago.

“It’s different, because every time I used to look at them, they used to be back there controlling everything,” said Browns running back Willis McGahee when asked about seeing his former team without leaders such as Lewis and Reed. “Now, it’s a bunch of new faces. I guess it was time for them to start over and bring in new people.”

Even with new faces and glaring flaws, the Ravens hope old habits die hard in Cleveland and that Sunday is the first step in righting their 2013 season.

While also putting the latest nail in the coffin of a Browns season.

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Grading the 2013 Ravens at the bye week

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Grading the 2013 Ravens at the bye week

Posted on 25 October 2013 by Luke Jones

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

Growing pains were expected for the Ravens after losing a collection of starters from last season’s Super Bowl XLVII championship team, but a 3-4 start has left John Harbaugh’s team in “a state of emergency” in the words of linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Below the .500 mark this late in a season for the first time in the Harbaugh era, the Ravens know they must improve in a number of areas to advance to the postseason for the sixth consecutive season. However, the challenge will be finding the proper in-house solutions for a roster flawed at spots on each side of the ball.

Harbaugh and players alike have promised improvements while expressing confidence that they know what they need to do to turn around their season, but the proof will be in the results as Baltimore plays six of its remaining nine games against teams with winning records entering Week 8. Appearing to be in relatively decent shape from an injury standpoint, the Ravens hope to get standout tight end Dennis Pitta back next month, but the challenge will be remaining viable in the playoff race for Pitta’s return to have a chance to make a real impact.

While the Ravens regroup at the bye before returning to Owings Mills to continue preparations for the Cleveland Browns on Monday, it’s time to hand out first-half grades.

You can listen to The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction hand out grades at the bye week HERE.

QUARTERBACK: B-
Comments: A simple look at Joe Flacco’s statistics suggests the sixth-year quarterback is having a poor season, but even his harshest critics must acknowledge how much a poor offensive line, a lack of a running game, and few trusted receiving targets have hindered his productivity. Aside from a poor game in Buffalo in which Flacco threw a career-worst five interceptions, the Super Bowl MVP has played well considering how much is working against him this season. It’s fair to say Flacco has not been great and he hasn’t been able to noticeably elevate the level of play of his receivers and tight ends, but he’s the least of the Ravens’ problems on the offensive side of the ball.

RUNNING BACKS: C-
Comments: It’s been extremely difficult to assess the play of the running backs with the horrific performance of the offensive line, but both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce have appeared hesitant and need to show better vision in hitting running lanes — no matter how small they might be at this point. Both backs have been banged up physically, but you simply can’t give them a pass when the running game is averaging 2.8 yards per carry and neither has made an impact as a receiver out of the backfield. Fullback Vonta Leach has probably played the best of the three, but his strong ability as a blocker hasn’t paid off in terms of marked improvements in running the football.

WIDE RECEIVERS: C+
Comments: If you were grading based solely on low expectations entering the season, the wide receivers — thought to be the offense’s biggest question mark — could even qualify as a pleasant surprise in how they’ve performed. Torrey Smith has blossomed with 629 receiving yards to lead the NFL entering Week 8 despite consistently dealing with bracketed coverage and heavy attention. Undrafted rookie Marlon Brown and the previously-cut Tandon Doss have emerged as contributors in the absence of Jacoby Jones, who missed four games with a knee injury. Make no mistake, this is a below-average unit if you take away the talented and speedy Smith, but the production has been respectable based on the overall talent level, which was flawed from the start.

TIGHT ENDS: D+
Comments: Expectations for the tight end position went out the window after Pitta suffered a dislocated hip that required surgery on July 27, but Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark haven’t provided the consistency needed to throw the ball over the middle of the field. Dickson has been a huge disappointment (seven catches for 93 yards) after there was some hope that he could at least approach his 2011 production (54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns), but even Harbaugh acknowledged he’s not the same player that he was then. Clark has been more productive of late, but Flacco has had to target him 39 times to produce 23 receptions for 265 yards and the 34-year-old struggles to gain any consistent separation.

OFFENSIVE LINE: D
Comments: Whether focusing on run-game coordinator Juan Castillo’s zone blocking schemes, the play of second-year center Gino Gradkowski, or the performance of anyone else, it’s staggering to think how awful this group has been after there were expectations of it being one of the Ravens’ biggest strengths going into the season. The Ravens rank last in the NFL in yards per carry while the pass protection has been inconsistent at best as general manager Ozzie Newsome acquired former first-round pick Eugene Monroe from the Jaguars and jettisoned veteran Bryant McKinnie. Castillo and Gradkowski have been the biggest targets for blame, but even Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda hasn’t played close to his normal standards. Yanda and left guard Kelechi Osemele have both dealt with health concerns, but no one can be absolved over how poorly this unit has played all season.

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Ravens defense slow to stop the run in recent weeks

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Ravens defense slow to stop the run in recent weeks

Posted on 22 October 2013 by Luke Jones

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

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After revamping their front seven in an offseason filled with changes on both sides of the ball, the Ravens expected their run defense to be one of their biggest strengths in 2013.

With veterans such as Chris Canty, Daryl Smith, and Marcus Spears joining a nucleus that already included Pro Bowl mainstays Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, the Ravens were all but assured to improve substantially from a year ago when they fielded the league’s 20th-ranked run defense and gave up 122.8 yards per game on the ground. All appeared to be going to plan early in the season as Baltimore entered its Week 4 meeting with the Buffalo Bills ranked fourth against the run.

Instead, an unexpected loss to the Bills on Sept. 29 started a disturbing trend as the Ravens have now allowed 140 or more yards on the ground in three of their last four games. That stretch continued in humbling fashion this past Sunday as the Steelers’ running game — ranked 31st out of 32 teams entering Week 7 — bullied the Ravens to the tune of 141 yards on 29 carries in a 19-16 defeat to their AFC North rivals.

“They did some new things that we haven’t seen from them,” Suggs said. “Not just this year, but ever. Pittsburgh has never come out and run the Wildcat on us. They’ve never come out with extra linemen. You just have to be able to adjust on the fly. They were able to get some runs off of that early on.”

Entering their bye week with the NFL’s 16th-ranked rush defense at 104.3 yards given up per game, the Ravens have been slow to adjust to the opponents’ running game on more than one occasion this year. In preparing for the Bills, the Ravens spent extensive time focusing on the read-option attack that had been used by quarterback EJ Manuel before Buffalo used more of a conventional approach in gaining 203 yards on 55 carries with 116 coming in the first half. Instructed to use patience in letting the play come to them when facing the read option, the Ravens were instead on their heels as Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller had huge days on the ground for the Bills.

By the time defensive coordinator Dean Pees made the necessary adjustments at halftime, the Ravens were already behind on a day in which quarterback Joe Flacco threw a career-worst five interceptions and the Bills were able to use a conservative ground approach in the second half.

Against the Steelers, the Ravens couldn’t have been expecting such a run-heavy approach, but Pittsburgh used gadget plays as well as a steady diet of rookie Le’Veon Bell to exploit the aggressive tendencies of the front seven. It wasn’t a matter of being unable to shed blocks but a failure to play individual assignments and to read blocks longer in protecting cutbacks, according to Pees.

Other times, the defensive line was simply controlled at the line of scrimmage by a Pittsburgh line that included three backup starters due to injuries.

“The first run of the game, we got the guy stuffed in the hole, and then we just kind of jump off a block a little too quick,” Pees said. “We’re a little too impatient, and [Le’Veon] Bell is a patient runner, and he ended up cutting it all the way back on us right into a blitz. And everything was good until we just jumped off the block, and then he found the crease. That happened to us about three or four times during the course of the game that we got off blocks actually too quick.”

The 141 rushing yards surrendered against Pittsburgh followed the 140 given up the previous week in a home loss to the Green Bay Packers, who sport the league’s sixth-ranked rushing attack. Unlike the Steelers who were able to consistently grind out yards to extend drives, the Packers collected a sizable portion of their production on just a few runs when rookie Eddie Lacy ran for 47 yards on the first two plays of the game and then collected another 17-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Aside from the Steelers’ final march to kick the game-winning field goal on Sunday, no drive was more painful than the 13-play, 70-yard sequence that resulted in a 28-yard field goal and took over eight minutes off the clock in the third quarter. The Steelers gained 41 yards on the ground during that possession alone as their running game was a major factor in controlling the clock and limiting Baltimore to just seven possessions over the entire game.

“[The Pittsburgh game] wasn’t as much big plays as just as kind of bleeding us,” Pees said. “Six, seven, eight yards, which really created a second problem, and that’s third down, which we’ve been very good at. But I’ve said it before: It’s hard to be good on third down when it’s third-and-one and third-and-two.”

The defense has been far from the Ravens’ biggest problem in a disappointing 3-4 start, but Sunday marked the second straight week in which failing to stop the run was a major contributor in the opponent’s ability to put together a long drive in the second half. Against the Packers, the Ravens surrendered 36 rushing yards on a 72-yard fourth-quarter drive that lasted 7:35 and gave Green Bay a nine-point lead with just over four minutes to go. The Ravens would quickly score a touchdown to pull within two but would not get the ball back as the Packers then ran out the clock.

With an offense that’s largely struggled to simply move the ball consistently let alone score touchdowns instead of field goals, limiting its total number of possessions is a recipe for failure more often than not. And a run defense failing to meet high expectations is another reason why the Ravens have lost three of four to fall below the .500 mark for the first time this late in a season in the John Harbaugh era.

No matter what the reason in a given week, the leaky run defense is just one of several issues plaguing the Ravens as they approach the midway point of the season.

“The yardage is the same, which is not good, which we’ve got to get corrected,” Pees said. “If we’re going to be a good defense, we can’t let anybody run the ball on us.”

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Loss of a dozen starters has really hurt the Ravens

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Loss of a dozen starters has really hurt the Ravens

Posted on 22 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

Everywhere I went on Monday, the question was basically the same:  ”What’s wrong with the Ravens?”

A few folks who asked that of me quickly followed up with, “You shouldn’t be this bad a year after winning the Super Bowl.”

Well, what’s wrong with the Ravens is, in fact, a by-product of winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans last February.

The 2013 edition of John Harbaugh’s team isn’t the same one that won the title in 2012.  Simple, right?  Well, yes, it sort of IS that simple, actually, even though people are always trying to find the “hidden secret” or “untold story” of the team.

Try this simple exercise for a second.  You’re going to have to put your pre-conceived negative opinions of John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice on the side for a moment, because this little game won’t work if you can’t do that.

OK…ready?

I want you to rewind your brain all the way back to last January.  The Ravens have just finished 10-6, won the AFC North, and get to take on the Colts in the first round of the playoffs.  If they win there, their “prize” is a trip to Denver to take on a Peyton Manning team that rocked you in Baltimore a month earlier.  And, if you’re somehow fortunate enough to get past the Broncos, the last remaining hurdle between you and the Super Bowl is a visit to Tom Brady’s house in Foxboro.

Still with me?

OK — the week before the Colts game, a crippling virus races through the Ravens locker room and these ten players are deemed OUT for the remainder of the playoffs:  Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Brendon Ayanbedejo, Bernard Pollard, Cary Williams and Dennis Pitta.  Add Bryant McKinnie to the mix after Monday’s trade and that makes eleven key players gone. (Keep in mind, as much as people like to beat up McKinnie, the Ravens are 0-2 since they jettisoned him to the bench in favor of Eugene Monroe.)

Could the Ravens have won four straight games in January and February without those eleven players a year ago?

Honestly?

Of course not.  They wouldn’t have moved past Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs given those ten starters missing the game due to the mythical “virus” I described above.

Well — of those eleven players I listed, nine of them were STARTERS from a year ago who haven’t played a single down for the Ravens this season.  McKinnie played 5 of 7 games before they sent him packing on Monday afternoon.

Of the players listed above, only Dennis Pitta remains on the roster, and he’s injured and was unavailable through seven games of 2013.

If you’re looking for the biggest reason why the Ravens are 3-4 at the bye, you just saw ten of them above.  There are, generally speaking, 22 “starters” in any game.  Ayanbedejo wasn’t technically a starter, but he WAS a special teams ace, so I deem him to be an important cog in the machine.  So, ten starters – out of 22 – are gone.  That’s not quite 50%, but it’s a huge chunk of quality missing that needed to be replaced.

(Please see next page)

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Harbaugh won’t hesitate to make roster changes to get better

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Harbaugh won’t hesitate to make roster changes to get better

Posted on 21 October 2013 by Luke Jones

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

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Entering the bye week with the Ravens sporting a losing record this late in the season for the first time in his six-year tenure, it was clear head coach John Harbaugh wasn’t in a jovial mood while meeting with reporters on Monday.

Offering short answers with little elaboration on several occasions, Harbaugh made it clear that the Ravens need to improve in every phase of the game after a 3-4 start to the season. After the Ravens traded the recently-demoted left tackle Bryant McKinnie to the Miami Dolphins earlier in the day, the Baltimore coach said his team will explore every channel — internally or externally — to turn around a season that now includes a two-game deficit with AFC North-leading Cincinnati.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll trade guys. We’ll cut guys. We’ll sign guys. We’ll coach guys. We’ll change schemes. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to find a way to get better. That’s the business we’re in.”

The issues with the running game and offensive line are well-documented through the first seven weeks of the season, but Harbaugh was critical of a running game that surrendered 141 yards on the ground in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their AFC North foe entered Week 7 averaging just 61 rushing yards per game, but the Ravens gave up at least 140 yards on the ground for the third time in four games.

Harbaugh was even more critical of Jerry Rosburg’s special-teams units after reserve safety Jeromy Miles was offside on Justin Tucker’s failed onside kick attempt with 13:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the kickoff team lost outside containment on Steelers returner Emmanuel Sanders 44-yard kickoff return to set up Pittsburgh at its 37 to begin its final drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal. Realistically speaking, the Ravens could make a few changes to impact their special teams more easily than finding impact players on the offensive or defensive side of the ball.

Disappointing free safety Michael Huff was one of several players who failed to hold outside contain on that final kick return and was limited to just five special-teams plays on Sunday after he was initially signed to a three-year, $6 million contract to serve as the team’s starting free safety. He was benched after the season opener and has made little impact on special teams while playing sparingly in the Ravens’ dime package.

“We’ve got to play better on special teams; we’re going to go find some guys that want to play special teams,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not going to have guys out there letting the ball run outside of them; that’s unheard of. We’re not going to run a surprise onside kick and not know what we’re doing; we’ll go to work on that. If it means changing people out, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Like last year, the Ravens will enjoy their bye during Week 8, but their 3-4 record has prompted plenty of frustration. Baltimore didn’t exactly enter last year’s bye on a high note after the Houston Texans dismantled them in a 43-13 final, but a 5-2 record was easier to swallow.

Players will continue to put in work at the team’s Owings Mills facility through Wednesday afternoon before being dismissed for four straight days off as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.

“The biggest difference between last year and this year right now is that we’ve lost the close games,” Harbaugh said. “Last year, we won the close games. We’ve got to get hot a little bit and win some close games. It’s going to be a long season, and we have an opportunity going forward. We’ve just got to become a good football team.”

Osemele playing through back ailment

Struggling left guard Kelechi Osemele told Sports Illustrated after Sunday’s game that he is dealing with a disc problem in his back that will require surgery in the offseason, prompting questions about the second-year lineman’s health.

Osemele missed most of the Ravens’ Week 5 win over Miami as he dealt with back spasms that surfaced during pre-game warmups, but the 2012 second-round pick appears to be pushing through the injury for now.

“Most players in the league have something along those lines that way, so he fights through it,” said Harbaugh, who was initially dismissive of the report but didn’t firmly address whether surgery would be in order. “He had the same issue last year [and] he fought through it last year. All the guys have things like that. All those things get addressed in the offseason if it needed to be addressed. We looked at it last year — it wasn’t addressed that way. Maybe this year it will be, but I really don’t know.”

An exchange between Osemele and another Twitter user last week prompted further suspicion, but trying to draw conclusions based solely on a social media site is difficult. Both Osemele and the Ravens declined comment in requests made by WNST.net and portions of the conversation have since been deleted on the player’s verified Twitter account.

“I respect [that] K.O.’s tough. All those guys are,” Harbaugh said. “Anybody in this league that plays in this league with the physical demands that this game puts on you, you have to respect, especially those guys in the trenches. He’s no different than most of the guys that way.”

Positive review for McClain’s return

Harbaugh praised linebacker Jameel McClain’s effort in making his return to game action for the first time since suffering a spinal cord contusion on Dec. 9 of last season.

Filling in for the injured Josh Bynes, who underwent surgery on an infected finger late last week, McClain played 30 defensive snaps and collected five tackles while also serving on some special-teams units. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said last week that McClain would be the team’s weakside inside linebacker upon being activated, so it will be interesting to see how both McClain and Bynes fit into the defensive plans when they’re both healthy.

“Given the circumstances, [he] probably played really well,” Harbaugh said. “[He] hadn’t played for a long time, hadn’t practiced much, was throw into a situation because of Josh’s situation where he had to play quite a few snaps. He did a solid job, and he’s only going to get better from here on out. He came out of it healthy, so that’s important. He’ll really benefit from the next couple days of work.”

Suggs’ ‘state of emergency’

Five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs provided the greatest sense of alarm following the 19-16 loss to the Steelers, describing the Ravens as being in “a state of emergency” as they enter the bye week.

Harbaugh didn’t express agreement with those words but echoed the sentiment he shared last week in which he thought some frustration to get better was a positive for his struggling team. Suggs said he was very concerned and that the Ravens could no longer kid themselves over the seriousness of their problems in every phase of the game.

“All the guys have a right to say whatever they think,” Harbaugh said. “If that is how Terrell sees it, then that’s good. A sense of urgency is a good thing.”

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