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Arthur Jones becoming force along Ravens defensive line

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Arthur Jones becoming force along Ravens defensive line

Posted on 13 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. — Growing up in a household with two younger brothers who’ve achieved fame in the athletic realm, Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones is finally drawing much-deserved recognition of his own.

First, it was winning Super Bowl XLVII and getting the best of younger brother Chandler Jones — a defensive end and 2012 first-round pick for the New England Patriots — along the way to championship glory. Now, he is gaining further notoriety as one of the Ravens’ best defensive players in his fourth year.

Success didn’t come immediately for Jones as a knee injury in his final season at Syracuse caused his draft status to plummet before the Ravens selected him in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. Playing behind veterans such as Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, and Cory Redding on the defensive line, Jones was active for just two games as a rookie.

At the same time, his other younger brother was becoming one of the most famous mixed martial art fighters in the world while cheering on his older brother in Baltimore.

“When he first started, we’d be out there watching like, ‘Is he even playing right now?’” said UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones, who visited the Ravens at their Owings Mills facility on Wednesday. “Not only has Arthur managed to be in the game full-time, but he’s becoming an impact player, and that’s amazing to see.”

Now a starting defensive tackle for the league’s eighth-ranked defense in points allowed, Jones faced the problem that many young defensive linemen encounter when entering the NFL without overwhelming size like Ngata’s 340-pound frame. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds coming out of college, Jones bounced back and forth among the different defensive line positions while learning the Ravens’ 3-4 system.

Jones became a regular member of the defensive line rotation in 2011 — appearing in 14 games and making one start — and was tabbed to compete with fellow defensive lineman Pernell McPhee last season at the 5-technique defensive end spot vacated by Redding. However, that position required more speed and didn’t allow Jones to fully utilize the strong leverage he gained from a wrestling background.

The transformation for Jones started midway through last season when the Ravens began using him more exclusively at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot that lines up on the outside shoulder of the opposing guard. Over the final six weeks of the 2012 season, Jones collected the first 4 1/2 sacks of his career and continued to be a major contributor in the Ravens’ postseason run to a title.

“The more guys play, the more they see, the more they just kind of understand what you want,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of Jones prior to the bye week. “When you’re early on and you play on a defense that’s a multiple-type defense, you really spend a heck of a lot of time just memorizing what the heck [you’re] supposed to do rather than just playing ball. Once that kind of clicks in, it makes a difference in a player who makes more plays, because it comes natural now.”

After missing the 2013 season opener due to an irregular heartbeat that put his career at a temporary standstill this summer, Jones has become one of the best players on the Baltimore defense in collecting four sacks and 28 tackles, five of them for a loss.

He has often pointed to a critical point in his career taking place during the NFL lockout in 2011 when he spent extensive time training with his brother Jon in the mixed martial arts. The workouts not only improved his hand placement critical for defensive line play but left him in the best shape of his life, and he’s continued to train with his young brother.

“I give a lot of credit to [Jon],” Jones said. “In the offseason, I work out with him faithfully on hand fighting, wrestling, [and] leverage. Just having good pad level is a game-changer in this league, so if you can learn how to use your hands and have good leverage, you can do some good things.”

Regarded as strictly a run-stopping lineman early in his career, Jones has emerged as arguably the Ravens’ best interior line pass rusher and has graded out as the team’s third-best defensive player this season behind the pass-rushing duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, according to Pro Football Focus.

Though nose tackle Haloti Ngata has been named to four Pro Bowls and receives the most recognition along the defensive line, Jones has been the Ravens’ most consistent defensive lineman as he’s progressed from a frequent game-day inactive in his rookie season to one of the better 3-technique defensive tackles in the AFC. His improvement hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates, who’ve seen him blossom up front.

“When you see the potential of a player and he grows, and he starts to mature into himself [and] come into his own, it’s pretty good,” Suggs said. “It’s good to see the production that he’s had with success.”

The Ravens’ biggest problem in regards to Jones might be the ability to keep him as he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Awarded the second-round tender worth $2.02 million as a restricted free agent this past offseason, the 27-year-old is in line for a good payday on the open market.

With the Ravens projected to have limited salary cap space for the second straight season and needing to address a plethora of offensive issues, Jones might follow a similar path as Paul Kruger, who turned a successful fourth season in Baltimore to a lucrative contract with the Cleveland Browns. Jones joked Wednesday that his younger brother Jon was visiting the team to help negotiate a contract extension with general manager Ozzie Newsome.

It’s true that Jones may never outshine his younger brothers, but he is finally seeing his hard work pay off and the Ravens have benefited along the way.

“He’s turned into a very solid and even excellent defensive lineman in this league, and I think it is because of his work ethic,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s talented, he’s quick, he’s explosive. He’s really maximized his physical potential, and he’s one of the best defensive lineman now going. We’re real proud of what he has done.”

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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.

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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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