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With past and future hot topics, Kubiak focused on present with Ravens

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With past and future hot topics, Kubiak focused on present with Ravens

Posted on 18 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak quipped that he has his hands too full trying to slow All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt this Sunday to think about anything else, but you can only downplay the emotions of going home so much.

Not only is the 53-year-old assistant returning to Houston to face a Texans team he coached for eight years, but it’s the city in which Kubiak was born and raised, growing up five miles from the historic Astrodome and present-day NRG Stadium. And it’s where he feels he didn’t live up to expectations as the head coach when he was fired in early December of what amounted to a 2-14 season for the Texans a year ago.

Kubiak finished 61-64 in Houston, but his firing in 2013 came after consecutive AFC South division titles in 2011 and 2012, the only playoff appearances in the 13-year history of the franchise.

“I failed with that football team, so it’s very difficult and I understand the business and how it works,” said Kubiak, who spoke highly of the organization and Texans owner Bob McNair for giving him his first opportunity to be an NFL head coach. “But it’s funny how things work out, too. For me to have an opportunity with this organization, I’m just so appreciative of that and getting back to work. That’s the best medicine for a football coach.”

The stakes of Sunday’s game illustrate Kubiak’s focus on the present amidst questions about his past in Houston and his potential future as a head coaching candidate this offseason. The Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh or a victory over Houston coupled with losses by Kansas City and San Diego in Week 16.

Of course, Kubiak isn’t alone in returning to Houston as tight end Owen Daniels began his NFL career with the Texans in 2006, Kubiak’s first year as the head coach, and running back Justin Forsett and wide receiver Jacoby Jones also played there. But it’s a different feeling for a former head coach than a player whose opportunities are typically more abundant when let go.

“We haven’t really talked about it too much,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I saw [Kubiak’s wife, Rhonda, recently], and you definitely know that it means a lot. Like I said, I think he’ll probably have it in his mind, or Owen or whoever, but it’ll definitely be there in the back of some of our minds also just to make sure that we can [win for him].”

It’s hard to argue that Kubiak wound up in an enviable position directing the offense of a 9-5 team on the cusp of making the playoffs. And teams with potential head coaching openings will take notice of Flacco having the finest regular season of his career under Kubiak.

The seventh-year signal-caller has shown improved footwork and awareness in the pocket running Kubiak’s West Coast attack that focuses on more short-to-intermediate passing than what Flacco was used to in the past. Though much of Flacco’s direct communication is with quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison — Kubiak’s former offensive coordinator in Houston — the quarterback and the offensive coordinator have credited adjustments made at the bye week that have helped the 29-year-old raise his level of play down the stretch.

Flacco has completed 66.7 percent of his passes in three of the last four games to orchestrate key road wins in New Orleans and Miami. Kubiak said he looks forward to Flacco’s feedback for the game plan every week and says their relationship continues to improve with nearly a full season together under their belts.

“When he starts talking, Joe likes to talk, so he’ll let me know what he thinks,” said Kubiak as he chuckled. “Our relationship, it’s been good. I coach him hard, but I have a tremendous respect for him, and I think he knows that, and I need to listen to him. That’s my job as a coach.”

Flacco is only one part of the offensive renaissance as the Ravens are on pace to set franchise records for points scored and total yards. A running game that ranked last in the NFL in yards per carry (3.1) a year ago is averaging 4.6 yards per attempt, which would be the third-highest mark in franchise history behind only the 2003 and 2009 seasons. It was Kubiak who suggested to head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome that the Ravens bring in the journeyman Forsett, who leads all running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry average and has been one of the great stories of the 2014 season.

But Kubiak’s greatest success has been with the offensive line as his zone-blocking system has meshed better with personnel than what offensive line coach Juan Castillo tried to implement in a disastrous 2013 campaign. Left guard Kelechi Osemele and right tackle Rick Wagner have blossomed into Pro Bowl-caliber linemen this year while three-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda is having arguably the finest season of his career.

The offensive line has blocked for the league’s fifth-ranked rushing attack and has allowed Flacco to be sacked just 16 times all year, which currently ranks just ahead of the lowest single-season total allowed (17) in team history in 2006.

“The biggest thing is the way our offensive line has been playing,” Flacco said. “I think that has a lot to do with the way these guys coach it and the way their system runs. It allows them to play aggressively and play fast and really use their best assets to the fullest. They don’t have any tentativeness when they’re playing. They’re just going full-throttle and really attacking people, and I think that is why it serves us the best.”

Kubiak has been so successful that the Ravens may find themselves right back where they started last January if he receives another head coaching job after the season. Harbaugh and the organization would like nothing more than to have continuity at the offensive coordinator spot after Cam Cameron was dismissed late in the 2012 season and Jim Caldwell left to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions after last year’s 8-8 campaign.

Players such as Daniels and Forsett who remember Kubiak in Houston have said they’ve seen a more relaxed man with an obvious passion for teaching and coaching in his new role. A year away from the pressure of being the man in charge has likely helped his overall health, which came into question last year when he suffered a mini-stroke at halftime of a game in early November.

Asked if he’s thought about the possibility of another NFL team calling with the offer of a head gig this winter, Kubiak insists his focus lies solely with the Ravens.

“I don’t think about that at all; I can tell you that. I’m consumed with what I’m doing,” Kubiak said. “Every opportunity I’ve ever had in my life, hopefully it’s because I’m doing a good job and working my tail off where I’m at. I think if you worry about those things, you don’t enjoy what you’re doing at the time. Boy, am I enjoying what I’m doing right now.”

It’s human nature to take a moment from time to time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you might be going next, and Sunday will mark one of those times for Kubiak as the Ravens hope to punch their ticket to the postseason. He may not admit it openly, but you’d have to think he would like nothing more than to end what faint playoff hopes the 7-7 Texans currently have while guiding the Ravens offense to another victory.

A win may not erase the painful memory of being fired from a city he’s called home for much of his life, but Kubiak would be able to hold his head high while remembering his accomplishments in Houston.

“Last season wasn’t what we wanted when we were there,” said Daniels, who was cut by the Texans in March, “but he sure changed the culture around there in terms of everyone in that building being focused on winning. He deserves a lot of credit for that. For him to go back — and hopefully we can take care of business — that will be huge.”

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Ravens hoping best yet to come for veteran tight end Daniels

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Ravens hoping best yet to come for veteran tight end Daniels

Posted on 17 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens tight end Owen Daniels still makes his home in Houston and says he holds no “ill will” toward the Texans, but he won’t be feeling too sentimental playing his former team for the first time on Sunday.

Of course, the 9-5 Ravens have plenty to play for in trying to punch their ticket to the postseason, but the 32-year-old will also remember the place he called home for eight years telling him last March he was no longer wanted.

“When you work somewhere for so long and then they say that you’re not good enough to play there anymore and you get a chance to play them that following season, you definitely want to prove to them that they made a mistake,” Daniels said. “But I’ve been trying to do that all season with my play — not just in this one game.

“It will be cool going back there, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to make some plays. I don’t care if I don’t get one catch [and] block the whole game. As long as we come out there with a [win], that’s the best thing that can happen.”

The Ravens hope Daniels’ resurgence in the Week 15 win over Jacksonville is a sign of better things to come the rest of the way. In the 20-12 win, he caught four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown, his first score since the Week 7 win over Atlanta.

The strong performance broke a four-game stretch of Daniels catching only two passes per contest as he was targeted nine times by quarterback Joe Flacco against the Jaguars. Considering Daniels was signed to serve as the No. 2 tight end behind Dennis Pitta, the Ravens should be satisfied with the 45 catches, 474 receiving yards, and four touchdown receptions he’s provided after signing a one-year, $1 million contract in early April.

His solid play proves he still had something left in the tank despite a broken leg that limited him to five games in his final year with the Texans and concerns over a hamstring injury that slowed him during his first training camp with the Ravens.

“He’s having a lot of success up there this year,” said former Texans teammate and fellow University of Wisconsin product J.J. Watt, who played with Daniels for three seasons in Houston. “You’re happy for him, obviously being a Badger. It’s good to see him having success having played with him a little while here.”

His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but the leadership he’s provided rookie Crockett Gillmore and fellow youngster Phillip Supernaw has been invaluable in addition to filling the void left behind by the injured Pitta, who was lost for the season after dislocating and fracturing his hip for the second time in 14 months back in Week 3.

Despite undergoing a knee cleanup procedure days before the Week 8 loss at Cincinnati, Daniels returned the following week to make six catches for 53 yards in a losing effort at Pittsburgh. The procedure has allowed Daniels to feel fresh late in the season, a trait head coach John Harbaugh noticed recently while watching old film of Daniels when he was still playing as a member of the Texans.

“He said, ‘You are moving a lot better than you were last year,’” said Daniels of the coach’s remarks. “I’m not sure why. The knee feels good this year, especially since getting it cleaned out. It hasn’t been an issue, and hopefully it won’t be.”

Needing wins in their final two games to be guaranteed a trip to the playoffs, the Ravens know Daniels becoming a bigger part of the offense could be a significant factor in improving their chances in January. Both Daniels and Flacco acknowledged their chemistry is better while still having room to improve, but the Baltimore quarterback was outspoken in his desire to get the veteran tight end more involved in the passing game.

The Ravens rank only 17th in the NFL in red-zone offense, but it was Daniels’ 3-yard touchdown catch that gave them the lead for good against the Jaguars in the third quarter last Sunday.

“I’d like to get him even more involved, more catches,” Flacco said. “We had some opportunities in the game Sunday to make more plays, and we were just a little off. Each week’s getting better and better, but I want to get him involved because I think he’s a good player and he makes us go when we get him involved.”

 

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Torrey Smith not listed on Wednesday’s injury report

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Torrey Smith not listed on Wednesday’s injury report

Posted on 17 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After improvement in his sprained right knee allowed him to play against Jacksonville last Sunday, wide receiver Torrey Smith wasn’t even listed on the first injury report ahead of the Ravens’ Week 16 clash with Houston.

Smith was one of the first players to hit the practice field Wednesday as the 9-5 Ravens have a chance to clinch a playoff spot as early as Sunday against the Texans. He and running back Justin Forsett were not included on the injury report after both were dealing with knee issues over the last couple weeks.

Defensive end Chris Canty (ankle) and wide receiver Jacoby Jones (illness) were the only Ravens players to miss Wednesday’s workout due to health-related concerns. Safety Will Hill and left guard Kelechi Osemele were listed as sitting out for non-injury reasons, which typically indicates they were given the day off by head coach John Harbaugh.

Cornerback Anthony Levine (ankle) and running back Bernard Pierce (back) were both limited participants on Wednesday.

The Texans were dealing with a slew of absences at their first practice of the week as linebacker Brian Cushing (ankle), tight end Garrett Graham (ankle), running back Arian Foster (hip), wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (ankle), cornerback Johnathan Joseph (ankle) were among the players who didn’t participate. All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt was given the day off.

Seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson (concussion) was a limited participant on Wednesday after he missed this past Sunday’s game against Indianapolis. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said Monday that they expect to have the veteran wideout back this week against the Ravens.

O’Brien also said in his conference call with the Baltimore media that he would not reveal his starting quarterback ahead of Sunday’s game. Either journeyman Thad Lewis or the recently-signed Case Keenum will start after Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Tom Savage both sustained leg injuries against the Colts.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Chris Canty (ankle), S Will Hill (non-injury), WR Jacoby Jones (illness), G Kelechi Osemele (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Anthony Levine (ankle), RB Bernard Pierce (back)

HOUSTON
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Brian Cushing (ankle), TE Garrett Graham (ankle), RB Arian Foster (hip), WR DeAndre Hopkins (ankle), CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle), LB Mike Mohamed (concussion), QB Tom Savage (knee), G Xavier Su’a-Filo (back), DE J.J. Watt (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: T Tyson Clabo (foot), LB Akeem Dent (neck), CB Kareem Jackson (knee), WR Andre Johnson (concussion), LB Whitney Mercilus (back), LB Jeff Tarpinian (knee)

 

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Flacco quietly continuing finest regular season of career

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Flacco quietly continuing finest regular season of career

Posted on 16 December 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Houston Texans face the prospects of using their fourth quarterback of the year on Sunday, the Ravens haven’t even carried three quarterbacks on their active roster since 2009 due to Joe Flacco never missing an NFL game.

It’s been a peculiar season for Flacco under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak as a revamped rushing attack ranks fifth in the NFL and has taken much of the attention away from the veteran quarterback. But that hasn’t stopped the 29-year-old from quietly having the best season of his career with the Ravens in position to secure their sixth trip to the postseason in seven years as early as this Sunday in Houston.

Set to make his 111th consecutive regular-season start on Sunday — he’ll be opposed by Thad Lewis or Case Keenum — the durable Flacco is on pace to set career highs in a number of categories including completion percentage (64.2 percent), passing yards, touchdown passes, and passer rating (94.8). He’ll set a career low in interceptions if he can refrain from throwing one in his final two games, and his 7.4 yards per attempt average would match his career-best mark set in 2010.

Flacco set a career high with five touchdown passes in a 48-17 win over Tampa Bay in Week 6, setting an NFL record by throwing those five scores in the first 16:03 of the game.

Even the chic ESPN Total Quarterback Rating metric lands Flacco fifth in the NFL for the 2014 season, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, and Tom Brady and ahead of the likes of Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan.

His critics will point to his poor performance in consecutive road losses against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh — he threw two touchdowns and three interceptions in those games — as a reason why Baltimore is currently not in position to win the AFC North, but the 2008 first-round pick has found more consistency than in the past and is on the verge of guiding the Ravens back to the postseason after a one-year absence.

The differences in his game have been noticeable in Kubiak’s West Coast attack as his six completions of 40 or more yards would be the lowest single-season total of his career with the Ravens relying on more short-to-intermediate passing this year. But Flacco has been as efficient as ever, especially since the bye week as he’s completed 66.7 percent of his passes in three of four games.

His weapons are better than they were a year ago with the free-agent arrivals of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, but the season-ending injury to tight end Dennis Pitta in Week 3 has negated some of their impact and you still wouldn’t hold the Ravens’ pass-catching targets in the same regard as other top offenses in the league. Of course, the emergence of Justin Forsett in the running game has provided much more balance than the Ravens had with their disastrous ground game last season.

And that’s where we acknowledge arguably the biggest factor in Flacco’s strong season — the offensive line.

In addition to opening running lanes for the NFL’s No. 1 running back in yards per carry, the unit has protected Flacco better than ever as he’s been sacked just 16 times all season. His previous career low for being sacked occurred in 2011 when he was dropped 31 times.

Kubiak’s tutelage includes making quick decisions and getting rid of the ball, factors also reflecting the low sack total. Flacco owns a 110.2 passer rating when dropping back in the pocket for 2.5 seconds or less, which Pro Football Focus says is the fourth-best mark in the NFL. In contrast, his 72.5 passer rating when standing in the pocket 2.6 seconds or longer ranks 20th in the NFL.

Flacco is at his best with an effective running game and with a simple approach that allows him to make swift choices, two variables that have been in place all year.

It’s largely gone unnoticed with the black cloud of the Ray Rice saga still hanging over the organization and other headlines such as the improved running game and the struggling secondary garnering more attention, but Flacco has bounced back nicely from the most difficult season of his career.

And it’s a major reason why the Ravens are once again on the cusp of an invitation to play in January.

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Ravens cornerback Jackson to miss rest of season with knee injury

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Ravens cornerback Jackson to miss rest of season with knee injury

Posted on 15 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — An unfortunate year at the cornerback position only got worse Monday with the news that Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed that Jackson suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury to his right knee in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Harbaugh ruled out safety Terrence Brooks (knee) for the rest of the season immediately after Sunday’s game as the rookie suffered a PCL injury on the opening kickoff against the Jaguars.

Jackson’s injury doesn’t sound as serious as Brooks’ ailment, but the timetable would not allow him to return quickly enough to justify carrying him on the roster for the final weeks of the season.

“He’s got a PCL [injury]. It’s like a five-week injury,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll be ruling him out the rest of the way.”

With Jackson becoming the fifth Ravens cornerback to be placed on injured reserve this season, four cornerbacks remain on the 53-man roster — Lardarius Webb, Rashaan Melvin, Anthony Levine, and the recently-signed veteran Antoine Cason. Jackson spent two months on IR-designated to return with a turf toe injury earlier this season and had just been activated in Week 14.

The Ravens have yet to officially place Jackson and Brooks on IR, but they will take another peek at what’s available on the free-agent market, something general manager Ozzie Newsome should be used to doing this season.

“I don’t think you ever feel like you have enough depth to get you through, so we’ll be looking at all of our options,” Harbaugh said. “It’s one thing to hope to have a guy, and it’s another thing to find a guy. We’re just looking at our options right now as we speak, and we’ll have some answers probably over the next two days on that.”

Melvin received the bulk of the opportunities when Jackson exited on Sunday, making five tackles and a pass breakup in his first NFL game. The sixth-year veteran Cason

Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are in even worse shape at the quarterback position as they’re set to welcome the Ravens to NRG Stadium in Week 16.

Head coach Bill O’Brien announced rookie quarterback Tom Savage will miss this Sunday’s game with a knee injury after he replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick in their Sunday loss to Indianapolis after the veteran suffered a broken leg. Those injuries coupled with Ryan Mallett previously going down for the season with a shoulder injury mean the Texans will be turning to their fourth quarterback of the 2014 seson.

Who that will be remains to be seen as O’Brien will choose between Thad Lewis and Case Keenum, who was waived by the Texans at the end of the preseason and spent most of the year with the St. Louis Rams before being signed off their practice squad by Houston on Monday morning.

“We’ll try to anticipate as best we can how we think they’ll attack us — scheme-wise and philosophically how they’ll approach the game — and try to gear our game plan and our reps accordingly as best we can,” Harbaugh said. “Who plays quarterback is definitely a part of that. We’ll be looking at that, and we’ll have to prepare for both of those two [quarterbacks].”

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Five Ravens predictions for the rest of the season

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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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Dorsey’s Dugout – Andre Johnson’s Best Destination and Domino Effect of NBA Free Agency

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Dorsey’s Dugout – Andre Johnson’s Best Destination and Domino Effect of NBA Free Agency

Posted on 11 July 2014 by Nick Dorsey

 

Andre Johnson

The longtime Texan star is entering the 12th season of his career and Andre Johnson wants out of Houston. Johnson is 33 years old and the light at the end of the tunnel is getting just a bit brighter. After going through a 2-14 season while hauling in passes from Case Keenum on a consistent basis, Johnson deserves an opportunity to be dealt to a contender.

Houston is not far out from contending for the AFC South division title and a shot back into the AFC playoff race, but they are missing the most crucial piece of a franchise. Johnson was patient enough to see if general manager Rick Smith would add a potential franchise quarterback through the draft, but Smith waited around to the fourth round to draft former Pitt QB Tom Savage.

With a quarterback battle ahead in training camp featuring Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and Tom Savage, Johnson has a right to be displeased with his situation. A player that has accounted for 221 receptions and 3,005 receiving yards the past two seasons deserves better than the weak QB depth he is presented with at this point in his career.

There are four teams rumored to be interested in the former Hurricane standouts services according to sources around the league. Two of the rumored teams standout as the perfect fit for the six-time pro-bowler.

After an off-season that featured an arms race between two AFC powerhouses, New England might not be done yet making big moves. Everyone saw the struggles Tom Brady had to endure last year with inconsistency at the wide receiver position. New England would be the number one ideal fit for Johnson at this time.

Tom Brady is desperate for a number one receiver and getting a dependable target like Johnson would certainly tickle his fancy. With the uncertainty of Amendola and Gronk’s health, bringing in Johnson would ease Brady’s comfort since Johnson hasn’t missed a game during the last two seasons.

This transaction is a possibility with the familiarity between new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and Bill Belichick. The Patriots front office has pulled off trades for aging wide outs before such as Randy Moss and Chad Johnson, so this situation is not unrealistic.

There were all kinds of rumors during the off-season about O’Briens interest in acquiring Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. With New England selecting Jimmy Garoppolo early in the 2014 NFL draft, Mallett is an asset that could be dealt. The Texans need another potential starting quarterback to at least compete in training camp and O’Brien has coached the former Razorback.

With the potential interest in Mallett, the Patriots front office could make this trade a possibility. New England would most likely have to give up a draft pick or two to go along with Mallett to get Johnson in a Pats uniform. This trade would certainly be worth the price because it would make New England the front-runner to represent the AFC in next year’s Super Bowl.

The other destination that could be a reality is the Carolina Panthers. After losing Steve Smith and other parts of the wide receiver corps, Carolina is lacking a true number one target.

The Panthers selected former Seminole Kelvin Benjamin in the first round, but that is not enough for Cam Newton. In a division that features the Saints with the Falcons and Bucs back on the rise, Carolina needs to make this move.

Getting a reliable target like Johnson as Newton’s go-to wide out would keep Carolina in contention for the NFC South title. Adding Johnson to the mix to go along with Benjamin and Olsen would make for a good three-headed receiving corps for Newton to work with.

Benjamin is entering his rookie season and will have to adjust to the speed of the next level. With Johnson entering the mix, it would allow for Benjamin to excel in the red zone while learning to stretch the rest of the field. It would than be up to Johnson and Olsen to work the rest of the field.

NBA Free Agency Dominoes

The NBA free agency period is unlike any other professional sports free agency. The NHL and NFL free agent markets open and teams rush right away to sign the top tier prospects. The NBA period is just a waiting game to see where the first star chooses to go and then the dominoes fall at a fast rate.

The first domino is LeBron James and his decision has the biggest impact on the league. Everyone is awaiting the “Decision 2.0” on whether he goes back home to Cleveland or South Beach because it determines where the rest of the stars of the free agent market go.

Every fan of the sport is frustrated in playing this waiting game, but is there anyone who can be more disturbed than Chris Bosh? The former member of the Heat’s big three has a max deal offer from the Houston Rockets on the table. Bosh is waiting on LeBron because if the King heads back down south, he will follow.

Bosh is playing this waiting game with LeBron, but he should take the max deal offer and become a Houston Rocket. Although the Rockets are in the more difficult Western Conference, the Rockets would have a much better shot at winning than the Heat.

With Bosh entering the mix with James Harden and Dwight Howard, there would be a new big three in the NBA. Harden is a versatile player who can get the rest of his teammates involved regularly or take over a game himself. Howard would make for a dominant presence inside and Bosh would compliment that style the best.

Chris Bosh during his days with the Heat tended to favor shooting around the perimeter. With Howard running the show inside, it would allow for Bosh to do what he feels most comfortable doing at this point in his career.

The Rockets need to react fast with Chandler Parsons signing an offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks. If LeBron does not make a decision within the next few days, Houston will have to essentially make a salary cap decision to either match the Mavericks offer or hope that Bosh comes to Texas.

The Kings decision does more than just change up destinations for the free agent pool, it changes the landscape of the league. When the Akron native elected to go to south beach, the league went into a power team format. Franchises were signing several stars to one team in attempt to grab the Larry O’Brien trophy.

If the King elects to go back to Cleveland, the short era of superstar teams comes to an end. The Super team era showed its success during the four-season run as the Heat won two out of four championships. The other two losses were to teams that weren’t considered lineups with one or two superstars, but teams that played well together with several different complimentary pieces.
With the success that the Spurs have had in the past few years showing how they all work and play together as one unit, the landscape of the league could be swinging back to that style. When LeBron makes his decision final, that will be something to watch out for as the rest of the players find their homes.

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Ravens agree to one-year deal with former Texans tight end Daniels

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Ravens agree to one-year deal with former Texans tight end Daniels

Posted on 03 April 2014 by Luke Jones

After weeks of discussions, the Ravens agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent tight end Owen Daniels on Thursday.

The 31-year-old reunites with new Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison, and tight ends coach Brian Pariani after working with them during his eight-year run with the Houston Texans. Daniels was a salary-cap casualty last month and told WNST.net that the Ravens immediately showed interest in his services.

Daniels is eager for a fresh start after the Texans finished 2-14 last season with Kubiak being fired in December.

“It was definitely an experience this past season for it to go the way it went,” Daniels told AM 1570 WNST.net on Thursday. “But I’m happy to have a new start. I have a ton of respect for the [Ravens]. It’s always been a tough battle.”

The deal is pending a physical scheduled to be completed on Friday.

A fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin in the 2006 draft — the same year Kubiak was hired as the head coach in Houston — the two-time Pro Bowl selection joins Dennis Pitta to form an impressive tight-end duo for quarterback Joe Flacco. Daniels was limited to five games due to a leg injury last season but has caught 385 passes for 4,617 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career.

Kubiak has always been praised for his use of tight ends in his West Coast offense, moving them around in various formations and substitution packages and frequently using two-tight sets.

“Baltimore was always on my radar after Kubiak signed up over there,” Daniels said. “They’re a good team, obviously. Who wouldn’t want to play for them? It just came down to them being the right fit for me. I’m super excited to get out there.”

Daniels’ best season came in 2008 when he caught 70 passes for 862 yards and two touchdowns to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He was again invited to Honolulu in 2012 when he caught 62 passes for 716 yards and six touchdowns.

Since 2006, the 6-3, 249-pound Daniels has produced the eighth-most catches and the seventh-most receiving yards among NFL tight ends. He ranks second in career receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in Texans franchise history.

The Ravens are likely to continue looking to add a blocking tight end behind Pitta and Daniels on the depth chart as both are known for their pass-catching ability but neither is considered a strong blocker.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear new Ravens tight end Owen Daniels’ conversation with WNST.net host Nestor Aparicio HERE.

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Steve Smith not looking to be Boldin, Andre Johnson in Kubiak’s system

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Steve Smith not looking to be Boldin, Andre Johnson in Kubiak’s system

Posted on 15 March 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope that much of what new wide receiver Steve Smith brings to the field won’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet every week.

That’s not to say Baltimore won’t take advantage of the remnants of the 14th-year receiver’s ability in a career that includes five Pro Bowl selections, 12,197 receiving yards, and 67 touchdown receptions, but Smith’s intangibles were equally attractive to an offense that lacked a vocal leader willing to ruffle some feathers when needed last year. Smith has occasionally come under fire for his willingness to speak his mind and tell others what they might not want to hear, but coach John Harbaugh told the veteran during his free-agent visit that the Ravens want him to be himself.

The Ravens signed Smith to a three-year, $11 million contract on Friday afternoon.

“We’ve added one of the top competitors in the NFL to the Ravens,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a released statement. “Steve is a proven player who has performed his best in big games and on the biggest stages like the playoffs and Super Bowl. He adds toughness to our offense, big-play ability, and leadership to our team.”

Those intangibles aside, what should the Ravens expect from a wide receiver set to turn 35 in May?

From the start of the offseason when Newsome and Harbaugh spoke about the Ravens’ need to add a wide receiver who can move the chains and pick up the tough yards after a catch, it sounded as though they were envisioning Anquan Boldin’s replacement as someone who can line up in the slot and make difficult catches over the short-to-intermediate middle portion of the field. The similarities in attitude between Boldin and Smith are clear, but the 5-foot-9 Smith has relied more on his speed on the outside throughout his career while Boldin is bigger and slower but has always made catches in traffic.

You can hardly blame Smith for not wanting to be compared to someone else after being one of the better receivers in the NFL over the last decade.

“I’m not Anquan Boldin,” said Smith when asked if he can fill the void of the former’s departure from a year ago. “I respect the heck out of ‘Q,’ and what ‘Q’ brings to the table is what ‘Q’ brings to the table. I’m Steve Smith, and what I bring to the table as a Baltimore Raven, I have to earn that, and my time on the field will display what I bring to the table.

“We play similar games; we want to win and we go all-out. But we’re also individuals, and I’m not here to replace anyone. I’m here to be myself.”

Determining what role Smith will play isn’t easy as many believe he’s lost a step after recording only 64 receptions for 745 yards last season, his lowest totals since 2010 when the Carolina Panthers were the worst team in the NFL with a 2-14 record. And the Ravens offense will clearly present a different look under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Smith met with Kubiak to discuss what his role would be in the Baltimore offense, using the coach’s offenses in Houston as a point of reference. The former Texans coach really didn’t have any player in Houston who compared to Smith in terms of physical makeup, but the veteran made it clear he’s not expecting to have the extensive role of No. 1 wide receiver Andre Johnson during all those years he played with Kubiak.

This is good news for an offense that can’t put all its hopes in a veteran receiver whose best days are behind him. Until proving otherwise, Smith should be a complementary option to fourth-year receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta as the featured parts of the passing game while Pitta and 6-foot-4 wideout Marlon Brown profile as better red-zone threats.

Quarterback Joe Flacco certainly doesn’t need a veteran nearing the end of his career demanding to be the focal point of the passing attack, so Smith’s position had to be a breath of fresh air for Harbaugh and his coaching staff.

“I know his system. I’ve seen his system,” Smith said about his discussion with Kubiak. “I’ve seen the very creative ways they’ve gotten other guys the ball. I want to be a part of that. One of the things I’ve seen for myself — I don’t see myself in coach Kubiak’s system like Andre Johnson. I see the complementary dude of Kevin Walter. I see how he contributed and how he was instrumental in getting Andre the ball but also getting his own opportunities.”

Smith said new teammate Torrey Smith is going to be a “fantastic” player, but it was interesting that the former Panther went out of his way to compare himself to Walter, who never recorded more than 900 yards in Kubiak’s offense. Walter’s run with the Texans came to an end in 2012, but he served as Houston’s No. 2 wideout behind the Pro Bowl receiver Johnson for several years and averaged 732.8 receiving yards per season as a possession receiver from 2007 through 2010.

Kubiak’s use of Walter in the slot fluctuated from year to year as he ran 45.8 percent of his routes from that spot in 2012 but ran less than 20 percent of his routes there in 2009 and 2010, two seasons in which he eclipsed 600 receiving yards. In contrast, Smith was rarely used in the slot under current Panthers coach Ron Rivera the last three seasons — only 15.5 percent of his routes last season and less than 10 percent of the time in 2011 and 2012 –  and was only used in the slot about a third of the time from 2007 through 2010.

Given the perception of his declining speed and lack of previous work in the slot, Smith compares favorably to former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, who didn’t work very often in the slot after 2008 and caught 73 passes for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns at age 35 in 2009. The Ravens would be thrilled if Smith can post numbers even remotely approaching those of the 5-foot-10 Mason that season. He isn’t the deep-ball threat that he was in his prime, but Smith doesn’t need to be with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones as available vertical threats on the outside.

Perhaps the Ravens will simply need to rely on Kubiak’s creativity to maximize Smith’s ability at this stage of his career, but there’s no questioning how pleased they are to acquire a player with his pedigree to add to an offense that finished 29th in the league last season. And they hope his addition will be part of the solution to put Baltimore back among the elite in the AFC, even if there’s more work to be done on the offensive side of the ball.

“I believe and the Baltimore Ravens believe that I can help increase the chances of us being successful,” Smith said. “So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to swing for the fence, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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Former Ravens safety Reed reportedly has $50K stolen from car

Posted on 13 February 2014 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens safety Ed Reed is reportedly the victim of a crime for the second time in a little over a year.

According to multiple reports, the 35-year-old allegedly had $50,000 stolen from his car in Houston after someone broke the passenger side window as he was visiting a second bank. Reed had withdrawn the money from the first bank, and police suspect he was followed to the second location.

The future Hall of Fame safety signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Houston Texans but was cut midway through the year and finished the season with the New York Jets, intercepting three passes but continuing to struggle in pass coverage. He was back in Houston to move out of his apartment and resolve his affairs.

Reed was allegedly the victim of another crime last year after his Maryland home was broken into during the week of Super Bowl XLVII.

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