Tag Archive | "terrence brooks"

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Seven takeaways from “State of the Ravens” press conference

Posted on 25 February 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ brass met with reporters Tuesday to review the 2014 season and look ahead at the offseason priorities for 2015.

Below are seven takeaways from what was discussed:

1. The Ravens made it clear they’re more than willing to walk away from wide receiver Torrey Smith.

You got the sense from general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti that the organization is not willing to break the bank for the 2011 second-round pick as the latter even mentioned how much the Miami Dolphins regretted paying speedy receiver Mike Wallace a couple years ago. You wonder if the Ravens were trying to show Smith some “tough love” negotiating tactics as he’s a couple weeks away from hitting the open market but has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay in Baltimore.

2. Running back Justin Forsett might be a higher priority than we thought.

Forsett will be 30 next season and many have wondered how much of his success was a product of an improved offensive line, but Newsome mentioning what kind of mentor the running back has been in his career was interesting with questions about how he’d be valued on the open market. The Ravens will look to add another young running back for the future, but it wouldn’t make sense for Newsome to offer such a compliment if he were trying to low-ball the veteran, who was such a great story in 2014.

3. We’re still waiting to hear about the future of defensive end Chris Canty.

Head coach John Harbaugh said he hasn’t spoken to the veteran defensive lineman since the end of the season when he told reporters he was contemplating retirement. You’d have to think the Ravens are trying to be respectful to the 32-year-old, who may be a salary-cap casualty if he decides to continue his career. Baltimore was in a similar position with veteran center Matt Birk a couple years ago and likely would have cut him had he not decided to retire in the offseason following Super Bowl XLVII.

4. If there were any lingering doubts, rush specialist Pernell McPhee won’t be returning to Baltimore.

Newsome couldn’t have been more clear unless he said, “We wish Pernell good luck in his future endeavors.” The 2011 fifth-round pick had a terrific season as a situation player this past season and is expected to cash in with a number of teams vying for his services. It will be interesting to see how McPhee handles a full-time role elsewhere as his cranky knees were an issue at a few different points during his run in Baltimore.

5. Safety Terrence Brooks is likely to start the 2015 season on the physically unable to perform list.

After suffering a serious knee injury in December, Brooks figured to be a question mark to begin the 2015 campaign and Newsome confirmed that on Tuesday. The 2014 third-round pick showed a few flashes while also making plenty of mistakes as a rookie, but it will be hard to count on him contributing more in his second year as he works his way back from injury. Much attention has been paid to the cornerback position, but it’s clear the Ravens need to add an impact safety this offseason.

6. Bisciotti experienced his worst year as the owner of the franchise.

It wasn’t surprising to hear the owner share the sentiment, but the conviction with which he spoke let you know just how bothered he was by the Ray Rice saga and four other player arrests. Bisciotti quipped that he was off “suicide watch” and would have considered selling the team to Steve Ballmer last year, but he didn’t come across well in disputing the notion that the NFL had an image problem before team president Dick Cass saved him by pointing to the league’s concerns with domestic violence.

7. Newsome’s discussion about the Ravens secondary was disappointing.

Newsome is an excellent executive, but his thoughts on the secondary lacked accountability as he leaned on the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith from injury. There’s no disputing that injuries played a role in last year’s woes, but many opined that the Ravens didn’t do enough last offseason to augment the unit after the free-agent loss of cornerback Corey Graham and long before the rash of injuries. Either way, actions will speak louder than words in how the Ravens address the defensive backfield.

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2015

Posted on 10 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens coming off a 10-6 season that included a return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, the job this winter will be to augment a roster that has plenty of talent but clear deficiencies at several spots.

However, with a poor salary-cap situation and only so many holes that can be filled through the draft, the Ravens will lean on a handful of young players already on the roster to emerge and make a difference with another year of experience under their belts.

Below are five young players the Ravens will need more from in order to build on their 2014 campaign:

1. S Matt Elam

Through two years, it’s no secret that Elam has looked like the worst defensive first-round pick in franchise history, but the Ravens aren’t going to give up on the University of Florida product as quickly as many fans would like. In fairness, the 5-foot-10 safety was asked to play out of position for a second straight year — playing extensively at the nickel due to injuries — but leading the team in missed tackles doesn’t make a good argument for him to be the starting strong safety, either. Elam needs to take advantage of this offseason to improve after admitting he didn’t handle his demotion well in terms of putting in good effort during practices. Baltimore won’t pencil him in as a starter, so Elam needs to take advantage of his opportunities this summer.

2. TE Crockett Gillmore

The 2014 third-round pick had a solid rookie campaign considering he was supposed to be the No. 3 tight end entering the year, but the Ravens hope the signs he showed as a receiver late in the year will translate to more production in 2015. With Dennis Pitta’s future unclear and Owen Daniels scheduled to become a free agent, Gillmore is the most reliable option the Ravens currently have at the position. Even if those veterans return, Gillmore will be counted on more in the passing game after proving himself as a capable blocker. General manager Ozzie Newsome will likely look to address the tight end position this offseason, but Gillmore’s continued development would go a long way in helping quarterback Joe Flacco next season.

3. DE Brent Urban

Normally, it’d be unfair to include a player on this list who’s coming off a season-ending knee injury suffered in his first training camp, but veteran Chris Canty may retire or be released and reserve Lawrence Guy is a free agent, meaning the Ravens will hope the fourth-round pick can be a factor at the 5-technique defensive end position in 2015. The organization loved Urban’s 6-foot-7, 295-pound frame coming out of Virginia, and the timing of his injury last summer would presumably allow him to be a full participant in training camp this summer. It’s unlikely that Urban will simply be penciled in as the starter with veteran DeAngelo Tyson still on the roster, but the Ravens drafted him last May with visions of him eventually replacing Canty.

4. S Terrence Brooks

The season-ending knee injury the 2014 third-round pick suffered in December ended a disappointing first year for the Florida State product, who often looked unsure of himself in coverage and gave up big plays at a few critical junctures. The emergence of Will Hill in the second half of the season brought some stability to the position, but Hill’s off-field baggage is good reason for Brooks to be ready to seize opportunities when he’s healthy enough to get back on the field. Last May, the Ravens had to be hoping that Brooks and Elam would be their starting safety tandem for years to come, but both have much to prove going into the 2015 season. Unfortunately, getting healthy is the first item on the offseason agenda for the athletic Brooks.

5. LB Arthur Brown

When you’re active for only four games and can’t even get on the field as a special-teams contributor, what else needs to be said for a second-round pick after two seasons? It wasn’t surprising to see Brown’s defensive role diminish — he saw time as a nickel linebacker as a rookie — after C.J. Mosley was selected in the first round, but the Ravens regularly going with undrafted rookie Zachary Orr for special teams on game days didn’t speak well for Brown’s athleticism. So, why not simply admit he was a bust and move on? Mosley and Daryl Smith remained healthy enough to play over 1,000 snaps each in 2014. The odds suggest that’s unlikely to happen again, so it’d be nice to see Brown improve enough to at least become a solid backup in his third year.

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Ravens place Taliaferro on IR, sign former Patriots defensive tackle Walker

Posted on 16 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens officially sent three players to injured reserve on Tuesday with rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro joining injured defensive backs Asa Jackson and Terrence Brooks.

Head coach John Harbaugh had already confirmed Jackson and Brooks would miss the rest of the season, but the news of Taliaferro’s status is disappointing after he rushed for 292 yards and four touchdowns on 68 carries, often serving as the primary backup behind starter Justin Forsett. Taliaferro suffered a foot injury in the Week 14 win over Miami and missed this past Sunday’s game against Jacksonville after the Ravens promoted rookie running back Fitz Toussaint from the practice squad.

Taliaferro had originally been described as “day-to-day” by Harbaugh on Dec. 8.

To fill two of the three spots vacated on the 53-man roster, Baltimore promoted offensive lineman and 2013 sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen from the practice squad and signed defensive tackle Casey Walker away from New England’s practice squad. Walker appeared in five games for the Patriots earlier this season, collecting 11 tackles and a sack.

The 6-foot-1, 335-pound undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma started his career with the Carolina Panthers in 2013 before he was signed by the Patriots in late September of this season. He had been on New England’s active roster until late last month when he was waived to make room for running back LeGarrette Blount and then re-signed to the practice squad.

Jensen spent his entire rookie season on the 53-man roster without appearing in a game, but the Colorado State-Pueblo product did not make the team at the end of the 2014 preseason, agreeing to join the practice squad after being waived.

As of Tuesday afternoon, one spot had yet to be filled with many expecting the Ravens to add a defensive back in the wake of the season-ending injuries to Jackson and Brooks.

With Jensen and Toussaint promoted in recent days, the Ravens signed defensive end Zach Thompson and cornerback Quinton Pointer to the practice squad. Thompson is a Wake Forest product and previously spent time with the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos.

Pointer is in his third NFL season and appeared in eight games with the St. Louis Rams in 2012 and 2013. He was most recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Ravens take further hits to secondary in Sunday’s win

Posted on 14 December 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens secondary continued to be hammered by injuries Sunday with cornerback Asa Jackson and rookie safety Terrence Brooks both leaving the game with right knee injuries.

Brooks hurt his knee on the opening kickoff and did not return. Head coach John Harbaugh said after the 20-12 win over Jacksonville that the 2014 third-round pick would miss the rest of the season with an injury to his posterior cruciate ligament.

“Terrence Brooks does not look good,” Harbaugh said. “Terrence Brooks is at least a PCL — it might have been [a medial collateral ligament] in there, too, I think. So, he’ll be out for the year.”

Harbaugh did not have an update on Jackson, but he was unable to put any weight on his right knee after he was injured covering a sideline route in the third quarter. He was immediately helped to the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

Jackson was replaced by young cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who played well in the first action of his NFL career. After being inactive for four straight games upon being acquired in early November, Melvin finished the day with five tackles and a pass breakup.

“Melvin came in there and did a great job and played really well and was excited to get out and get a chance,” Harbaugh said. “The next guy has to step up, and they will. This is a team sport, and our guys have done a good job with that so far, and they’ll keep doing it.”

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Five Ravens predictions for the rest of the season

Posted on 15 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are a good football team.

But trying to figure out just how good they are in 2014 hasn’t been easy through the first 10 games of the regular season. Their plus-80 point differential ranks fourth in the NFL, but a 3-0 mark and plus-81 margin against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta say more about the woeful NFC South than about 6-4 Baltimore being a dominant team.

All four teams in the AFC North are separated by a half game in what’s shaping up to be the most competitive division in the NFL down the stretch. To put themselves in position to make it back to the postseason after last year’s absence, the Ravens will likely need to manage at least one victory in their final three road games against New Orleans, Miami, and Houston if they’re able to run the table at home against San Diego, Jacksonville, and Cleveland.

Over their final six games, the Ravens will prove whether they’re a contender or a pretender. They’ve done a fine job beating the teams they’re supposed to in 2014 (4-0 against teams currently with losing records), but a 2-4 mark against squads currently above .500 creates doubt.

Below are five things I see happening between now and the end of the season …

1. Marlon Brown will catch three touchdowns after finally emerging as a red-zone threat. This is a bold prediction as the second-year receiver has been a total afterthought this season with just 10 total catches for 93 yards. However, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak needs to improve the league’s 22nd-ranked red-zone offense as the Ravens are scoring touchdowns on just 54 percent of trips inside the 20. The 6-foot-5 Brown seems like a logical choice to fill some of the void left behind by the injured Dennis Pitta. Many predicted Brown would see fewer opportunities this year after the offseason acquisitions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, but there’s no reason not to utilize his height when approaching the end zone.

2. Will Hill and Terrence Brooks will be the starting safeties at the end of the season. Hill has emerged as the only true starter at safety with what’s become a committee approach. Darian Stewart has remained a starter next to Hill in the base defense, but the Ravens are using the rookie Brooks as a single-high safety in obvious passing spots. The third-round choice has been up and down, serving as a healthy inactive in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, but he and Hill best fit the profile of the interchangeable safeties the Ravens want. Stewart and disappointing 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam will continue to be used in the platoon for now, but Brooks will eventually supplant Stewart, who is rarely around the ball in pass coverage.

3. Steve Smith and Justin Forsett will eclipse the 1,100-yard marks in receiving and rushing, respectively. The 35-year-old Smith has slowed in recent games, but his competitive drive — as well as the benefit of the bye week — will revitalize his production for at least a couple big games down the stretch. Meanwhile, Forsett continues to be one of the best stories in the NFL this season as he’s already set a career high with 721 rushing yards and leads all running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry average. You’d be concerned with most 29-year-old backs wearing down late in the season, but Forsett has plenty of tread left on the tires after years of being underutilized in his other career stops.

4. The Houston game will be tougher than anticipated while the San Diego game will be easier than expected. A month ago, the Chargers looked like one of the NFL’s best teams, but a so-so defense, a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry average, and a 1 p.m. East Coast start time will put a lot on Philip Rivers’ shoulders against a Baltimore defense that raises its play at home. The Week 16 meeting with the Texans could turn into a heck of a challenge if new starting quarterback Ryan Mallett finds his bearings and No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney can stay in the lineup to complement J.J. Watt, the best defensive player on the planet. This one could be a must-win game for the Ravens, but Houston might be a much scarier team by then.

5. The Ravens will return to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Without giving away the game-by-game predictions, Baltimore will answer the bell to play at a level high enough to advance to the postseason for the sixth time in the last seven years under John Harbaugh. Questions remain about the secondary, but the front seven and the offense will play at above-average levels for the Ravens to win four of their last six contests. I have doubts whether this team is talented enough at key spots to make a serious run against the likes of New England, Denver, and Indianapolis, but as we’ve learned again and again in the modern NFL, the postseason is all about who gets hot at the right time. The Ravens will get the chance to roll the dice.

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Ravens moving forward with Hill as starting safety

Posted on 06 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After receiving his first start in last Sunday’s loss in Pittsburgh, Ravens safety Will Hill will continue to be featured in the base defense for the foreseeable future.

Starting next to Darian Stewart in the secondary, Hill played 60 of 69 defensive snaps in the 43-23 loss to the Steelers after being eased into the rotation in his first two games coming off a six-week suspension to begin the season. Even though Hill missed a tackle on Antonio Brown’s 54-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, the Ravens deemed his performance in Week 9 strong enough to move forward with him in a starting role.

“I’m planning on him being the safety,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “The first week we thought, ‘It’s his first week back’ [and] played him a little bit. Our plan was to get him in there and get him playing, and [that’s] the only way he’s going to get better.”

The Ravens were impressed with what they saw from Hill throughout training camp even though they knew he wouldn’t be available for their first six games. Hill had played well in his 10 starts with the New York Giants last season, but the organization cut him in the spring after the ban was announced for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy, his third suspension in his first three years in the NFL.

At 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, Hill is a better fit to cover imposing tight ends in the passing game than the Ravens’ other options in the defensive backfield. The Ravens have given extensive playing time to Stewart, 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam, and third-round rookie Terrence Brooks with disappointing results so far this season.

Baltimore hopes Hill will finally bring some level of stability after getting acclimated over the last three games.

“He’s a physical presence,” Pees said. “I really do think that when he gets a little more comfortable, I think you’re going to see some range in the deep part of the field, which is really what we need at safety. We need some guys that can go hawk the ball from back there deep and go make plays on the ball. I think he has that ability.”

With Thursday’s news of cornerback Jimmy Smith undergoing season-ending foot surgery, the Ravens need a play-maker to emerge in the back end and Hill’s on-field reputation in New York suggests he could provide a boost to a struggling pass defense as he gets more comfortable.

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Harbaugh looking for members of Ravens secondary to step up

Posted on 03 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There was plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the ball in the Ravens’ forgettable 43-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.

Turnovers, penalties, poor pass protection, and the lack of a consistent pass rush all contributed to the humbling defeat, but it was the play in the secondary that conjured memories of the likes of Corey Ivy, David Pittman, Ronnie Prude, Derrick Martin, and the Ravens’ nightmarish Monday night defeat in Pittsburgh in 2007 in which Ben Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes in the first half of a 38-7 final. It’s no surprise that the absence of top cornerback Jimmy Smith hurt what’s already been a vulnerable secondary in 2014, but allowing six touchdown passes to Roethlisberger and the Steelers signaled a complete collapse in the back end not seen against Pittsburgh in the John Harbaugh era.

The head coach discussed the secondary’s struggles on Monday after defensive coordinator Dean Pees used seven different players at cornerback and safety against Pittsburgh, but they’re finding no answers at the moment as they shuffle options on and off the field. Perhaps the best example of how uncertain the Ravens are with the state of the defensive backfield was the decision to deactivate rookie safety Terrence Brooks against the Steelers after he appeared to be on the verge of securing a starting job in playing 67 percent of the team’s snaps against Atlanta only two weeks ago.

“When some player expresses himself as being the best player by how he plays, he’ll be out there permanently,” said Harbaugh about the secondary rotation. “Until that happens, nobody’s given anything. I think guys have played OK at times, well at other times, and there have been a few bad plays back there.”

Though there have been far more than a few bad plays in the secondary, Harbaugh wasn’t far off in saying the secondary had held up enough when Smith was still in the fold — the Ravens had allowed only seven touchdown passes in their first eight games — even though they’d had their fair share of lapses and had surrendered plenty of yards. But the “bend, but don’t break” philosophy officially shattered at Heinz Field.

Veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb hasn’t been the same — quarterbacks have posted a 105.0 passer rating against him this season, according to Pro Football Focus — since coming back from the back injury that cost him the entire summer and the first few weeks of the regular season. Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown simply aren’t good enough to play meaningful defensive snaps, and the Ravens originally agreed as Franks was on the free-agent market a month ago and Brown was relegated to the inactive list due to his immense struggles that started in training camp.

The play at safety hasn’t been any better as the Ravens now rank 26th in the NFL in pass defense. The Baltimore defense has faced the third-most pass attempts in the league while ranking 22nd in the NFL with only five interceptions. To make matters worse, only one of those picks has been secured by a defensive back — defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker C.J. Mosley each have two — when Smith intercepted a pass from Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon in Week 6.

Many aspects of Sunday’s game were ugly, but unlike other areas in which the Ravens have players with proven track records where you can expect improvement, there doesn’t appear to be much they can do in the secondary beyond hoping that Smith is ready to return after the Week 11 bye with upcoming games against New Orleans and San Diego. And the disappearance of the pass rush following a sequence in which they sacked Roethlisberger on three straight plays in the second quarter did the pass defense no favors as the game progressed.

It’s become painfully clear that the Ravens need more from their front seven if their secondary is to survive against any formidable passing attacks over the final two months of the season.

“We’re not disciplined back there in technique like we need to be,” said Harbaugh, who spent 2007 as the Philadelphia Eagles defensive backs coach before becoming the head man in Baltimore a year later. “Our eyes aren’t in the right spot all the time like they need to be. When you’re in the back end – just like on the offensive line – your footwork’s got to be right, your eyes have to be right, your leverage has to be right, and then you’ve got to play the ball well.”

There’s only so much coaching you can do when you don’t have the proper talent.

To no surprise, Harbaugh indicated that the Ravens had several busts in coverage as well as plays in which defensive backs were beaten physically. And even when defenders were in position to make a stop, they often misplayed the ball or missed tackles. Particularly at the safety spot where the Ravens used Will Hill, Darian Stewart, Jeromy Miles, and Matt Elam at different times on Sunday night, one could argue the lack of continuity has hurt performance, but the head coach downplayed that being an issue.

Without throwing his secondary under the bus entirely, Harbaugh didn’t shy away from the need for someone — anyone — to start making plays in pass defense. It’s clear the Ravens have plenty of areas to improve following their humbling loss to the Steelers, but you wonder if the secondary is something that they’re going to be able to fix this year.

“We’re looking for the right combination, but I think that’s a little overrated,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s the best players. If you want to play in that secondary, step up in practice and play well and step up in the game and makes plays and be in the right spot. That’s what we’re looking for guys to do.”

The Ravens can keep looking, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that they’re not going to like what they see.

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Ravens casting wide net for solutions at safety position

Posted on 20 October 2014 by Luke Jones

NFL teams are no strangers to using different personnel up front, but it was the Ravens’ frequent substituting at the safety position that garnered attention in their 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Injuries at the cornerback position earlier this season sparked plenty of shuffling in the secondary, but the return of Lardarius Webb and the emergence of veteran Dominique Franks have helped stabilize the position. In contrast, safety became a mix and match with starters Matt Elam and Darian Stewart and reserves Terrence Brooks and Will Hill all playing extensive snaps against Atlanta’s high-powered passing game.

“Everybody’s got a role,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Everybody has something they do a little bit better, so I’m trying to put them in those roles. They’re starting to understand how we’re trying to play it. They keep practicing the same stuff and getting after it.”

The strategy helped contribute to a convincing win in which the Baltimore defense limited quarterback Matt Ryan to 228 passing yards on 44 attempts as the Falcons didn’t score until midway through the fourth quarter.

Stewart and Brooks received the most playing time as they each participated in 44 of 66 total defensive snaps while Elam and Hill played 22 each. Despite using such an unconventional platoon system, the Ravens appeared relatively seamless in their communication with the rookie Brooks and the just-activated Hill on the field for long stretches of time.

“We were on the same page for the most part,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “There were three or four things. There are going to be things that we have to anticipate going forward, because people watch you, they attack you, they cause problems for every unit. The technique, the fundamentals, the eyes, the communication were all very good in the back end.”

After being moved to the 53-man roster on Saturday, the 24-year-old Hill made his 2014 debut and collected two tackles while mainly playing close to the line of scrimmage. The University of Florida product made a tackle for a loss and registered one of the Ravens’ nine quarterback hits on Sunday.

Despite his off-field transgressions that have included three suspensions in his first three years, Hill earned a reputation with the New York Giants as a safety with range and the ability to excel in coverage, skills most Ravens safeties haven’t displayed to this point in the year. Pees has spoken glowingly of Hill’s potential, so it wasn’t surprising to see him receive extensive playing time.

“I know they have a great deal of confidence in me now,” Hill said. “My coaches kept coming to me after every drive I was in there and let me know if I did something wrong. They were pretty satisfied with my play.”

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the division of playing time was Elam playing only 22 snaps against the Falcons. The 2013 first-round pick has struggled in pass coverage in his brief career, but it’s been difficult to evaluate him since he played out of position at free safety last year and was forced into nickel duties due to injuries at cornerback earlier this season.

With Brooks appearing to be gaining confidence as a deep safety in obvious passing situations and Hill quickly being thrown into action after such a long layoff, Elam may suddenly find himself competing with Stewart just to remain on the field on a consistent basis.

For now, both coaches and players appear to be on board as the Ravens were able to stop an offense that ranked third in the NFL in total yards entering Sunday’s game. Opponents will adapt and look for patterns, so it remains to be seen how long the safety platoon lasts.

But it’s difficult to argue with the results of a convincing win.

“It’s going to be great,” Elam said. “With the help up front and keeping guys fresh in the back end, we can run around and knock people off [the ball]. We feel like the sky’s the limit.”

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens staked their claim as the best team in the AFC North with a 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday to move into first place ahead of Cincinnati.

With their fourth 5-2 start in the last five years, the Ravens have put themselves in prime position to return to the playoffs as they approach the midway point of the 2014 season. But how much does that mean as we approach the final week of October?

“Meaningful in Week 7, so, it’s good to be there in that situation at this time,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But you have to build on it, you have to keep getting better. We’re not a good enough team to do the things that we want to do right now, so we have to keep improving.”

Baltimore may not be a flawless team — there’s no such thing in the modern NFL — but it’s difficult to look at the numbers and not be impressed with what Harbaugh’s group has done through the first seven weeks of 2014. Even with 14 teams having played only six games at the end of business on Sunday, the Ravens have allowed the fewest points (104) and own the best point differential (plus 89) in the NFL.

Yes, they appear to have drawn the right year to play the woeful NFC South — a division where 3-3-1 Carolina currently sits in first place — but you can’t control which teams are on the schedule. The Ravens are not only beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, but they’re throttling them, which doesn’t often happen in the parity-driven NFL.

Already securing four wins of 20 or more points, the improved Ravens offense has received much of the attention, but the defense is taking major strides with its second straight game collecting five sacks, the first time that’s happened since the 2006 season. It was no surprising feat to limit the hapless Tampa Bay offense last week, but holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ third-ranked unit to just seven points was an impressive task.

With the pass rush coming alive and the play of the secondary stabilizing, the confidence on the defensive side of the ball is growing. Several defensive players spoke after the game about the speech linebackers coach Ted Monachino offered Saturday night, challenging a talented group of outside linebackers to raise its level of play to where it belongs.

It’s safe to say the message was received on Sunday as Ryan was hit nine times a week after Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon was hit 15 times.

“We’re dangerous, and we’re real serious. We’re coming out playing with an attitude,” said rush specialist Pernell McPhee, who added two more sacks on Sunday to continue his strong season. “Our [secondary] needs us, and I know we need them. I think [defensive coordinator] Dean Pees is doing a great job of calling the plays and setting us up to get the sacks. We’re just focusing in and trying to play ball.”

Much credit should go to Pees, who has shown various looks up front by moving around Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and McPhee to cause confusion while using a safety-by-committee approach in the secondary. Matt Elam and Darian Stewart started the game, but rookie Terrence Brooks and the returning Will Hill also saw extensive action at the safety position.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was known for bringing “organized chaos,” but Pees’ decision to substitute so frequently in the secondary reminded the 65-year-old coordinator of his college coaching days at Miami of Ohio when he used various personnel looks in a 1986 upset win over a top 10 LSU team in Baton Rouge. Of course, Baltimore didn’t face that kind of a talent disadvantage Sunday, but it illustrates the creative lengths used to help mask what’s been a deficiency of the defense to this point in the season.

Time will tell whether the safety rotation will continue, but the best weapon to neutralize a shaky secondary has been the major heat in the pocket. It’s also created more opportunities for turnovers as defensive backs got their hands on several Ryan passes despite not coming away with any interceptions.

“Those dudes are our best friends,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the pass rush. “They get in there, they disrupt things, they cause havoc, they make quarterbacks panic and throw the ball in the air. And on our end, we have to do a better job of coming up with some more turnovers. We’ve had a lot of opportunities, and we have a lot of drops.”

Unlike last season’s 8-8 team that remained static with issues on each side of the ball showing up on a weekly basis, these Ravens appear to be improving as the year progresses. Their only loss since Week 1 came on the road two weeks ago against Indianapolis, a team that’s won five straight games and only beat them by seven points at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It’s true that no one should confuse Tampa Bay or Atlanta for juggernauts, but the Ravens have a tremendous opportunity to not only seize commanding control of the AFC North but to make an emphatic claim as one of the best teams in the NFL if they can take care of business in trips to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the next two weeks. It won’t be easy playing on the road against their two biggest rivals, but the Ravens have looked like the class of the division through seven weeks while the Bengals have gone 0-2-1 since their bye with two road losses of 26 or more points.

The Ravens continue to show improvement on both sides of the ball while stacking wins as they now have a chance to pay back Cincinnati for its Week 1 win in Baltimore.

“We have everything that we want to do right in front of us,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We just have to go out there and continue to play well. We have a tough opponent next week that we didn’t play necessarily good against, at least for a half, in the first game. We have to come back out there and prove ourselves. They’re a good football team, and they’re going to be hungry, and we’re [playing] there. It’s going to be a tough test; I can’t wait for it.”

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 5

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is rising and falling …

STOCK RISING

Steve Smith
Skinny: The former Carolina Panthers wide receiver has impressed since the first day he arrived in Baltimore, but he became the oldest player in NFL history with more than 400 receiving yards in his first four games of a season last Sunday. It’s apparent that Smith has become Joe Flacco’s most-trusted target as the second touchdown the pair connected on against the Panthers came after the quarterback dropped a snap and threw the ball up for grabs in Smith’s direction. He’s unlikely to continue a 1,600-yard pace, but it’s difficult envisioning Smith not blowing past 1,000 receiving yards, assuming he stays healthy.

Joe Flacco
Skinny: Any lingering doubts about the seventh-year quarterback’s ability to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s system are all but gone after Flacco posted a franchise-record 137.4 passer rating in the 38-10 win over Carolina. As if 327 passing yards and three touchdown passes weren’t enough, Flacco was particularly deadly when the Panthers tried to blitz, going 7-for-9 with two scores and 149 yards. After feeling like he had to do it all by himself a year ago, Flacco is once again showing what he’s capable of accomplishing with a good offensive line and strong running game supporting him. 

Terrence Brooks
Skinny: After being inactive in the Ravens’ Week 3 win in Cleveland, the 2014 third-round pick saw the first defensive action of his career against the Panthers, playing 32 snaps and finishing with two tackles while serving as a safety in the nickel package. With the entire secondary in flux beyond No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, Brooks has an opportunity to carve out a role and was complimented by head coach John Harbaugh on Monday. Starting free safety Darian Stewart has struggled in coverage through four games and could be pushed by Brooks or Will Hill when he returns from suspension next month.

STOCK FALLING

Jacoby Jones
Skinny: The veteran wide receiver was mentioned on this list a couple weeks ago, but his struggles are now impacting his playing time as Jones saw just seven offensive snaps while Marlon Brown played 31 and Kamar Aiken saw 14 against Carolina. In addition to another drop, Jones fielded a punt from his own 2-yard line, which is rarely ever a wise choice. It’s painfully obvious that Jones is pressing and his struggles are in his head, so you wonder how much patience Harbaugh and Kubiak will have and if his limited number of snaps against the Panthers is a sign of things to come.

Darian Stewart
Skinny: The veteran had another rough game against Carolina as he was late reacting in Cover 2 to prevent rookie Kelvin Benjamin from catching a 28-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. You can understand strong safety Matt Elam’s struggles when realizing he’s being asked to play the nickel corner spot, but it’s become apparent that Stewart is not the center-field option the Ravens need in the back end of the defense. It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Dean Pees awards Brooks more opportunities at safety whenever Lardarius Webb returns and Elam can remain at strong safety.

Jeromy Miles
Skinny: After serving as the free safety in the nickel package in consecutive games, the special-teams standout didn’t receive a single snap with the defense in Week 4 as it appears the coaching staff has seen enough of him in the secondary. The Ravens have struggled to find answers for their pass defense, so you never know when Miles’ name might be called again, but he didn’t do anything to make a noticeable impact. At this point, you get the impression that the Ravens are trying to throw anything they can against the wall in hopes of something sticking.

 

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