Tag Archive | "Todd heap"

Ravens offense in familiar position trying to find itself

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Ravens offense in familiar position trying to find itself

Posted on 11 October 2011 by Luke Jones

It’s that time of year again.

Just as the foliage changes colors, the Ravens once again find themselves searching for their true identity on the offensive side of the football.

At 3-1 and sitting in first place in the AFC North after the Week 5 bye, it’s not as if the Ravens haven’t had their share of offensive success through the first quarter of the season. A balanced attack via the air and ground in a 35-7 stomping of Pittsburgh and a franchise-record 553-yard assault in St. Louis certainly support that notion.

Maintaining that success from week to week and, at times, quarter to quarter has been the problem. It’s a dilemma coach John Harbaugh, offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, and the Ravens are trying to solve as they currently rank 9th in rushing and 18th in passing in the NFL.

“We talked about it with our team [Monday], you know, what’s our identity?” Harbaugh said. “Well, our identity is a lot of things, but I think first and foremost, we’re going to attack people. And what does that mean? It means you attack people running the ball, you attack people throwing short, intermediate and deep. You attack people in pass protection, you attack people by putting everybody out.

“You’ve got to be able to do everything in the National Football League, so that you don’t become one-dimensional and they can’t take away something and leave you with nothing. And that’s what we’re searching for.”

Critics look to the up-and-down performance of quarterback Joe Flacco as a major factor in the offense’s inconsistency. After playing arguably the best game of his career in the season opener against the Steelers, Flacco followed it with a two-interception clunker in Tennessee. He then turned in a 389-yard passing day at St. Louis before completing just 10 of 31 passes — including two whole quarters without a completion — against the New York Jets.

With veteran Lee Evans missing two games with an ankle injury and three rookies trying to fill the void in complementing Anquan Boldin, Flacco has completed just 49.3 percent of his passes while tossing seven touchdown and three interceptions. The fourth-year quarterback has also struggled to adjust to life without veteran safety nets Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, who were released prior to training camp.

To make matters worse, Flacco’s rapport with Boldin has yet to blossom as many expected it would without the high-maintenance Mason in the picture. Boldin has just 15 catches and 222 yards with one touchdown in the first four games.

Despite the growing pains, Flacco has shown a better presence in the pocket and a more aggressive nature in the passing attack, according to Harbaugh.

“He’s doing a great job handling the protections, he’s making plays on the run, he’s making big plays at a record clip – especially for us, since we’ve been here [and] probably historically if you look at the Ravens, I would guess. That’s real. The big-play part of it is big for us.

“I think he’s playing well enough to be 3-1, and I think our offense is more explosive than it has been in the past thanks to Joe and the other guys. I think we can attack you in more ways than we have been able to recently. But, we’ve got to keep building on that; we’ve got to become more consistent. Obviously, the completion percentage, that’s going to have to come up; we’ve got to all work on that together. Those are all the things that we’re looking at, just like you guys are looking at.”

Cameron has once again come under fire for a questionable in-game feel for making adjustments, specifically when the Ravens failed to quicken their offensive tempo when trailing late in the second half against the Titans in Week 2 and when he continued to call passing plays against the New York Jets when Flacco was clearly out of sync in Week 4.

The seat will only get hotter for the offensive coordinator if the Ravens cannot quickly find a more consistent footing offensively.

In fact, the only consistent element of a hot-and-cold Baltimore offense has been Ray Rice, averaging 134.8 yards on 20.5 touches per game. The fourth-year back has been terrific on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield, leading the Ravens in receptions and receiving yards.

Whether you believe the Ravens should be the ground-and-pound, ball-control offense of their past in support of their dominating defense or an air-it-out, aggressive attack, Rice needs to touch the ball as much as possible every single week, regardless of the opponent.

Beyond that, we’re left asking ourselves what this team’s offensive identity really is — and should be.

It’s a familiar question, one even the Ravens are asking themselves at the quarter pole of the season.

“Who are the Ravens?” Harbaugh said. “What are we going to be about? What do we stand for? How are we going to play? What can the people and the fans in Baltimore and across the country expect from us and be proud of? That’s important. It’s a good time to kind of talk about that.”

All good questions. Ones that need to be answered quickly in a season with limitless possibilities.

What should the Ravens’ offensive identity be? What in-season changes would you make, if any? What factors have plagued the offense from taking the next step in its development? Leave your comments in the space below.

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Grading the Ravens’ veteran acquisitions at the quarter pole

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Grading the Ravens’ veteran acquisitions at the quarter pole

Posted on 05 October 2011 by Luke Jones

In the immediate aftermath of the lockout coming to an end in late July, the hammer fell on the Baltimore Ravens as we knew them from past seasons.

Gone were established veterans Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Kelly Gregg, and Willis McGahee in a wave of releases to create salary cap room. Key contributors such as Le’Ron McClain, Dawan Landry, Chris Chester, and Josh Wilson found homes in other NFL cities.

Fans panicked as general manager Ozzie Newsome worked methodically instead of snatching up any recognizable name from a market suddenly saturated with hundreds of veteran free agents. When the dust settled in time for the regular-season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens were not only younger but had a new batch of veteran acquisitions to aid in a potential Super Bowl run in 2011.

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With the Ravens entering the bye week at 3-1 and atop the AFC North, an overwhelming majority of those outside additions have provided positive returns through the quarter pole of the season.

Six noteworthy veterans were acquired in the preseason as I take a stab at grading them through the first four games of the season.

WR Lee Evans (8th year)
Skinny: Despite having rapidly developed a rapport with Joe Flacco after being acquired for a fourth-round pick on Aug. 12, Evans fell victim to a left ankle injury following the Ravens’ third preseason game against the Washington Redskins. His recovery has been slow and frustrating, prompting the Ravens to sit him down the last two games after lackluster play against Pittsburgh and Tennessee in the first two games. Evans has two receptions for 45 yards and has been unable to provide the vertical threat the Ravens envisioned when they brought him to Baltimore.
First quarter grade: INCOMPLETE

RB Ricky Williams (11th year)
Skinny: Signed to fill the role of McGahee, Williams has averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry, but the veteran has lost two fumbles on only 35 touches to hurt his overall grade. It’s a concerning stat with Williams viewed as a nice change of pace to Ray Rice and an option to receive carries late in games when the Ravens are trying to protect leads. Turning the ball over is the quickest way to allow the opponent back in the game. The former Miami Dolphin has yet to score a touchdown despite many speculating he would take away Rice’s carries at the goal line.
First quarter grade: C+

S Bernard Pollard (6th year)
Skinny: The former Houston Texan was signed to bring a physical presence in the secondary after Landry signed in Jacksonville. Though not particularly strong in coverage, Pollard has been tough against the run and is a talented blitzer from his strong safety position. Pollard has just six tackles and one pass breakup but has contributed on special teams. He received his first start against the Jets last Sunday night and graded out well, which was needed after normal starter Tom Zbikowski left the game with a concussion.
First quarter grade: B

G/C Andre Gurode (10th year)
Skinny: Signed a week before the start of the regular season, Gurode was a valuable insurance policy for veteran Matt Birk at center, but the Ravens have needed the former Dallas Cowboy at left guard with Ben Grubbs missing three games with a right toe injury. Despite never playing the position in his career, Gurode has provided strong run blocking over the last two games to help stabilize the left side of the line. With Grubbs expected back after the bye week, the question becomes whether Gurode returns to a reserve role or the Ravens consider eventually using the five-time Pro Bowler at center in an effort to upgrade the line — even with Birk’s solid play to this point. Either way, Gurode’s versatility on the interior has filled the void left behind by Chester, who signed with the Washington Redskins at the start of training camp.
First quarter grade: B+

OT Bryant McKinnie (10th year)
Skinny: The Ravens certainly raised eyebrows despite the intriguing payoff when they signed McKinnie, who had been released by the Minnesota Vikings after ballooning to nearly 400 pounds during the 134-day lockout. Past questions about his character and overall work ethic made it a risky proposition to insert McKinnie at left tackle and slide Michael Oher to the right side, but the former Miami Hurricane has been a welcome addition with both his play and attitude. After not taking part in any preseason games, McKinnie thoroughly dominated James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in the Ravens’ 35-7 season-opening win over the Steelers. His play hasn’t been quite as impressive since then, struggling mightily against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, but McKinnie has stepped into the second-most important position in football (behind the quarterback) and performed admirably despite an abbreviated training camp.
First quarter grade: B+

FB Vonta Leach (8th year)
Skinny: After putting up with fullback Le’Ron McClain’s campaigning for more touches over the past two seasons, the Ravens brought in a throwback, human car accident of a blocking back by signing Leach to a three-year deal. The former Houston Texan has been every bit the bruiser the Ravens thought he would be, opening paths for the eighth-best rushing attack in the NFL. Despite Leach having little interest in touching the football (three career carries in eight seasons), offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has kept opposing defenses honest by occasionally using the 260-pounder in the passing game. The fullback has caught five passes for 15 yards.
First quarter grade: A

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Ravens TE Dennis Pitta on preparation for Jets: “It comes down to those three hours we are going to be out on the field”

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Ravens TE Dennis Pitta on preparation for Jets: “It comes down to those three hours we are going to be out on the field”

Posted on 30 September 2011 by Ryan Chell

With the New York Jets coming into Baltimore Sunday night with former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan at the helm of the defense, points and scoring opportunities may be at a minimum for Joe Flacco, Cam Cameron, and the offense.

The Ravens play-makers-like Anquan Boldin, Ray Rice, and even the likes of Torrey Smith after his 3-TD performance Sunday versus St. Louis-are probably going to be focused on, so others are going to have to make contributions in the passing game.

One of those under-the-radar guys, but a player who is already making contributions in 2011-is Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, who along with teammate Ed Dickson have been given the task of replacing an institution in Todd Heap, and he joined Glenn Clark on “The Reality Check” this week to talk about how he’s settling into a familiar offense with some new faces.

Including his own.

Dennis Pitta

“It’s really been a lot of fun,” Pitta said, “being a part of things and being able to contribute. I have a big role on special teams as well and it’s fun to be out there and competing with our guys.”

Pitta has seen action in all three games this year and started one. He has four catches for 69 yards, after catching one pass for one yard his rookie year in 2010.

He and Dixon both have had big shoes to fill in replacing the franchise’s best tight end in Todd Heap, but Pitta said they have handled the pressure well.

“This is a business where there is a ton of pressure,” Pitta said. “When it’s your turn to step up and the opportunity presents itself, you’ve got to perform and Ed and I knew that going into this year.”

But both tackled that adversity head on.

“We felt that pressure, but it’s all about being able to manage it and being confident in what you can do.”

And with playing time, he has gained confidence game-by-game. He has been an instrumental part in the Ravens’ two tight-end sets-not only making strides running routes but also protecting quarterback Joe Flacco along the line and helping to seal the edge for running back Ray Rice to run the football.

“You just have to continue to work hard and continue to prepare yourself as best you can,” the former BYU tight end said. “You know everyone has things to work on and I have things to work on…and I will continue to do so.”

Just getting more playing time with the first-team-let alone the reps in practice-have he and Flacco on the same page, he says.

“We have conversations everyday when we are practicing and when we are watching film,” Pitta said. “It’s about spending time with somebody and the repetition of running plays and catching balls from him.”

“That’s where that chemistry is developed…and it’s something that takes time.”

Facing the Jets defense Sunday night is even more reason for Flacco and Pitta to be on the same page as the quarterback may have to rely on his tight ends over the middle and in the short passing game.

“They are a lot like our defense,” Pitta told Clark. “You are going to see pressure from all over the field and all kinds of blitzes and some funky looks that a lot of other teams don’t do.”

Pitta said when it comes to pass-blocking-he’s made sure to do his homework this week with Rex Ryan’s elaborate blitzes coming his way.

“It’s just knowing how to adjust to it and how to pick up those blitzes and get the ball out of your hands quick and be able to run the ball and play physical,” Pitta explained.

Pitta said that it’s a copycat league, and all he really needs to do is look across the line of scrimmage to his own defenders and prepare accordingly to keep the Jets grounded.

“We saw it last year, and we see it every day against our defense,” Pitta laughed. “We should be well-prepared for it.”

And then a week’s worth of hard work is executed into 60 minutes of football.

“It comes down to those three hours we are going to be out on the field and deserving that win,” Pitta replied.

WNST thanks Dennis Pitta for joining “The Reality Check”! Be sure to tune into WNST Sunday for your “Nasty Purple Pre/Post Game Show with Glenn Clark! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Our Ravens-Steelers “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens-Steelers “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 12 September 2011 by Glenn Clark

On Sunday’s “Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net, Ryan Chell and I introduced a new segment. It will be a segment you hear on the postgame show following every Baltimore Ravens game this season.

We call the segment “Pats on the Ass”, in celebration of the one motion every man participates in during an athletic competition. As men, we except the fact that there is no justifiable explanation for the “pat on the ass”, but we do it anyway. We follow up the pat on the ass by saying “good game” or “good play” in hopes of making the motion seem less uncomfortable.

We’re not bothering with any of that. We’re just celebrating manliness by offering pats on the ass to members of the team for special play in each game.

There are simple rules. Two offensive players get pats. Two defensive players get pats. An additional “Wild Card” gets a pat-it can be a special teams player, a coach or someone else from the team who deserves a pat for a special reason. One of the five receives a “pat on both cheeks”, it is our variation of a “Player of the Game” award.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” for the Ravens’ 35-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

Ryan Chell’s Pats…

Haloti Ngata

Don’t think Haloti Ngata deserves a pat on the ass? Perhaps we should ask Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dsLwPgWaQA[/youtube]

Ed Reed

Two interceptions at this point are pretty much just common for Reed. Perhaps Reed is more deserving for his hit on Steelers WR Hines Ward. I’m sorry there isn’t a better video on YouTube…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2HtB2VcgPE[/youtube]

Joe Flacco

flacco

17-29 for 224 yards and 3 TD’s. Nice day, but what does LaMarr Woodley think?

Bryant McKinnie

You know why Ray Rice had so much room in the video below? (Sorry there isn’t better video again.) Bryant McKinnie. If he got a bonus just for his weight, what does he get for actually playing well?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7O6ysWPURU[/youtube]

Chuck Pagano (two pats)

pagano

Hell of a way for your first game after replacing Greg Mattison to go, huh?

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Rating the Ravens after Baltimore’s 35-7 victory over Steelers

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Rating the Ravens after Baltimore’s 35-7 victory over Steelers

Posted on 12 September 2011 by Ryan Chell

The 2011 season opener could not have gone any better for the Baltimore Ravens.

Not only did they get a divisional win-they earned it against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. They kicked the living crap out of the defending AFC Champions, 35-7, and left the Steelers leaving Baltimore with their tails firmly entrenched between their legs.

The win may feel like a Super Bowl victory to Raven nation, and while it certainly puts the momentum in the AFC North in the Ravens’ corner for now, no win in the NFL is perfect. Every coach-especially John Harbaugh-will tell you that.

But boy, did it feel like it.

John Harbaugh (Rob Carr-Getty Images)

Quarterback-”B”-Joe Flacco finished Sunday’s contest 17-29 for 224 yards and three touchdowns-one to Ray Rice,  Anquan Boldin, and Ed Dickson respectively. Flacco’s 27-yard pass to Boldin on the Ravens’ first drive of the game-the third play-could not have been in a better position over the outstretched arms of Steelers CB Bryant McFadden, and his 18-yard pass to Dickson after the Steelers’ third turnover at the start of the third quarter essentially was the nail in the coffin for Pittsburgh.

However, Flacco wasn’t perfect. He had several balls thrown at Lee Evans that were nowhere near the receiver and sailed out of his reach. And for a quarterback who wasn’t sacked-let alone touched-till the start of the fourth quarter, Flacco often dumped the ball on the check down way too quickly when he could have waited for a play downfield to develop.

But no turnovers on Flacco’s part combined with three touchdown passes and getting the monkey off his back? Okay in my book.

Running Back-”A”-The only reason why this isn’t a perfect A+ is because the Ravens interior running game still had its issues running up the middle against the Steelers. But that’s expected-especially against the likes of NT Casey Hampton. But what wasn’t expected was Ray Rice having this kind of success against a stout Steelers front seven. Rice became the first running back since-well, himself-to rush for 100 yards against Pittsburgh, and he did so with all the help in the world from FB Vonta Leach, T Bryant McKinnie, and guard Ben Grubbs.

Ray Rice (courtesty of Rob Carr-Getty Images)

And it didn’t take long. Rice made his impact from the start on the first play of the game, rushing for 36 yards behind Leach and McKinnie. He finished with 149 total yards of offense and two scores. Leach made his presence known in his first regular season game as a Raven, delivering punishing blocks on the opposing linebackers. Ricky Williams had a quiet but impressive 63 carries on 12 touches in his Raven debut, showing that he still has gas left in the tank.

Wide Receiver/Tight End-”B-”-Anquan Boldin was the only wide receiver to catch a pass  and finished with 74 yards on four catches and the opening touchdown. Ed Dickson had a spectacular debut in his first game as a starter in 2011, catching five balls for 59 yards and a score. He had a 34-yard grab negated by a hold on Bryant McKinnie, but it looks as if Dickson and Pitta’s job Sunday could easily put the nightmare of not having Todd Heap anymore to rest. Lee Evans played decoy all game long, but they need him and second-rounder Torrey Smith to produce something should opposing defenses key on Boldin and Dickson.

Offensive Line-”A”-The same reasoning behind the almost-perfect score for the running backs-the offensive line was outstanding Sunday, but some penalties and not having the best day running up the middle prevent them from the 100% grade. But Flacco stayed completely upright till the fourth quarter and they gave the fourth-year man all day to throw. Birk, Grubbs, and McKinnie were all called for holding in the game, and those mental mistakes can be disastrous sometimes.

Defensive Line-”A+”-The Ravens sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times-three of them coming from Terrell Suggs. Suggs also forced two fumbles. The Ravens have made it clear that they intend to have Suggs rush the passer first and foremost now as opposed to sending him out in coverage. It doesn’t make use of his skills if they don’t. Suggs said of Big Ben after the game, “God can have his soul, but his ass is mine.

Haloti Ngata continued his case toward earning a long-term deal from owner Steve Bisciotti by forcing a fumble of Rashard Mendenhall as well as batting a ball up in the air that linebacker Ray Lewis came down with for one of the Ravens three interceptions.

Linebackers-”B+”-Ray Lewis of course leads this unit, and he finished with seven tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception. Other than Jarret Johnson’s half sack and his batted ball that led to an INT, this unit was pretty quiet on the day depending upon if you count Suggs as DE or a LB. With the Steelers trailing big, Roethlisberger found guys like Mike Wallace and Hines Ward in the holes left by the linebackers, so their coverage skills may have to improve week-by-week.

Secondary-”A-”-Ed Reed-on his birthday-had two interceptions and could have very well had a third. Not only was Reed’s ball-hawking skills on full display, he appeared to be flying toward the ball-carrier and making solid tackles. Reed for the last several years has battled neck and shoulder injuries, and it appeared like Sunday, he was healthy for the first time in a long while. Lardarius Webb led the team in tackles with 11, and Cary Williams also had a solid game starting at corner back.

Special Teams-”A”-K Billy Cundiff was 2-for-2 in field goals with his longest coming from 30 yards out. Four of his seven kickoffs went in the end zone for a touchback. Sam Koch had five punts averaging 41 yards. And you have to give the special teams credit when they score a 2-point conversion…especially from the punter!

Agree with my grading? Disagree? Call into “The Reality Check” 2-6PM EST with Glenn Clark, tweet me @WNST or @Ryan Chell87, or comment below! Would love to hear from you! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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10 Ravens-Steelers Halftime Observations

Posted on 11 September 2011 by Glenn Clark

Here are ten observations about the first half of today’s Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game at M&T Bank Stadium. A reminder that Ryan Chell and I will be back on the air for the “Nasty Purple Postgame Show” following the conclusion of today’s game on AM1570 and WNST.net.

-Looks like David Reed was being honest when he told me players had been given the green light to bring kicks out of the end zone just as long as they were moving forward. There were a couple of touchbacks, but Lardarius Webb and Antonio Brown were certainly willing to bring the ball out even from fairly deep to significantly deep.

-So much for not being able to run on the Steelers defense, huh? Still no luck running up the middle, but running to the outside worked well.

-The first drive from Joe Flacco and Ray Rice was something to behold. I don’t know how much of that had to do with this being the first game of the season, but it was fun. It goes without saying that we’d like to see a few more quick hitters this year.

-Any more questions about why the Ravens were willing to let go of Todd Heap this offseason? The team continues to have high hopes for Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who each made plays.

-For the most part, the Offensive Line has held up despite everything. The holding call on Bryant McKinnie was questionable (although I thought he was beat on the play) and Cam Cameron/Todd Washington/presumably Andy Moeller did a nice job in scheming and organizing help.

-It would be nice to see more from the receivers in general. Flacco was a bit early on the first play where he targeted Lee Evans (the second was a bit of a prayer along the sideline) and Torrey Smith has yet to be targeted. In general, this team will need to hit the receivers more for the offense to be dynamic. Some of this remains on Flacco, who continues to be quick to look for Rice and his tight ends.

-The run defense has certainly been an issue. The Steelers’ TD drive was built on nice runs by Rashard Mendenhall (and Isaac Redman). There were far too many second and short scenarios for Ben Roethlisberger and company during the drive.

-Cary Williams got lost in the back of the end zone on the Emmanuel Sanders touchdown, but otherwise had a very good first half. The reason everyone thinks he’s playing well is because for the most part he’s played well. He deserves credit. It wasn’t good to see Jimmy Smith pull up, but fortunately it doesn’t appear significant.

-Ed Reed made a very nice play on Hines Ward before the half, but you know he’ll be thinking about the dropped interception for awhile. When he’s giving his Hall of Fame speech in Canton years from now he’ll have probably forgotten about it however.

-Hard not to think about last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff game at Heinz Field with the Ravens ahead 21-7. Hopefully no one went into the locker room running their mouth the way a certain TJ Houshmandzadeh did in January.

We’ll be taking your calls (410-481-1570) after the game. Look forward to talking to you then. Hopefully things are still good then.

-G

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For Whatever Bad, Evans & Dickson Supplied Plenty Good in Ravens Win

Posted on 25 August 2011 by Glenn Clark

BALTIMORE — It’s not as if Baltimore Ravens fans were likely to forget former WR Derrick Mason and TE Todd Heap.

The duo totaled 938 catches for 11,269 yards and 70 touchdowns during 16 combined seasons in Charm City.

Both were released before the start of Training Camp for salary cap reasons and found new homes. Mason with the New York Jets, Heap with the Arizona Cardinals.

They were great Baltimore Ravens and will never be forgotten.

With all of that said, Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron and company have to be pleased with the early returns they’ve seen from WR Lee Evans and TE Dickson; which could go a long way in helping the organization move past the Mason/Heap era.

Evans and Dickson each made contributions to the Ravens’ 34-31 preseason win over the Washington Redskins Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

Dickson made three catches for 57 yards in the win, Evans added three catches for 60 yards-including an impressive field-stretching 35 yard touchdown strike from QB Joe Flacco.

Neither was the team’s leading receiver (WR Anquan Boldin grabbed five balls for 73 yards and a touchdown); but the contributions of each were significant in helping Flacco bounce back from an early interception which was returned by Skins CB DeAngelo Hall for a TD.

“I think we started off a little slow, obviously” said Flacco. “It took us a drive to kind of pick it up from there, and you don’t want to see that. But I think we responded pretty well. We responded well with two drives. We went down there and put the ball in the end zone three times tonight. We came out strong in the second half and finished off a drive, so I think we’ve got to be pretty happy with where we are.”

(Flacco finished the game 17/27 for 219 yards and two TD’s to go with that pick.)

The contributions of both are particularly noteworthy considering how quickly they had to adapt to new roles.

Dickson fell into the starting TE role just 31 days before the Redskins game; but did not begin practicing until August 13 due to a hamstring injury. Evans also began working with his new quarterback on August 13, just a day after being traded to Baltimore from the Buffalo Bills.

In less than two weeks, there is already a clear comfort level between Flacco and the two new starters.

“I think we’re still getting better” said Evans. “We’re still in Training Camp mode, but each day, we come out here and get better. We realize this is one of the last opportunities we’re going to have to tune-up, so we just want(ed) to come out here and try to put a good game together. I think we showed a lot of character early on after we were down, so that part of it was good.”

Seeing chemistry between the quarterback and Evans/Dickson in the third preseason game was especially critical considering Head Coach John Harbaugh is unlikely to want to play his starters in the team’s fourth preseason game next Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.

This will likely be the last time Flacco, Dickson and Evans work together in a game situation until the Ravens face a critical early test September 11th against their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers back at M&T Bank Stadium.

It’s been a strange preseason for the trio (along with the rest of the National Football League), but they will not be granted any extra time to prepare. In roughly two weeks, they have to play one of the most important games they’ll play all season.

“We have a long ways to go before we get to that September 11 game” said Dickson. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to be ‘popping out of our skin’ so-to-say. That’s a quote of coach Harbaugh, which basically means we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got another two weeks to go before that game, but we’re going to try to get better every day.”

The good news is that they look to be clicking as the game approaches.

Not all offensive questions were answered in the victory. The Ravens struggled badly again along the offensive line, but they hope the impending returns of C Matt Birk (knee) and RG Marshal Yanda (back) will help; combined with a potential shift to RT for Michael Oher and the impending addition of free agent LT Bryant McKinnie.

Additionally, rookie receiver Torrey Smith (Maryland) did little to make fans breathe easier with two early drops. Smith was expected to be the team’s third receiver, but has struggled while on the field.

They’re far from perfect at this point, but they’ve taken big steps in the right direction in a short amount of time. Evans’ long TD haul was a sight for Ravens fans who have longed for a receiver who could truly extend the field. Dickson’s first half 30 yard grab was reminiscent of plays a younger Heap would make regularly on the same field.

Ravens fans won’t necessarily be without concern, but any lingering concerns about the team’s decision to let their veteran playmakers move on seem to be disappearing more and more each day.

Of course, it’s still the preseason.

-G

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Ravens TE Ed Dickson: “You are definitely going to see me out there Friday night”

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Ravens TE Ed Dickson: “You are definitely going to see me out there Friday night”

Posted on 19 August 2011 by Ryan Chell

Ravens tight end Ed Dickson lost out on a lot in the last week-more than what you would think.

Not only did he lose playing time  in Baltimore’s Week 1 preseason loss to the Eagles 13-6 last Thursday due to an injury, but days later he lost his number #83-albeit giving it up willingly-to the recently acquired WR, Lee Evans of the Buffalo Bills who wore the number for nine years.

However, he told Glenn Clark on WNST this week that he could not have given it up to not only a better football player, but a stand-up guy.

“Lee Evans came in, and he’s kind of a soft-spoken guy,” Dickson said. “But he’s a real great individual. He came to me and took it to me-just as classy as anyone can take it and asked me if I was interested in changing numbers.”

Evans was acquired by the Ravens for a fourth-round pick less than 24 hours after the preseason game versus the Eagles-a game Dickson missed due to a hamstring injury, but it took time for Dickson to give up a number he wanted to have as a Raven for the long-term.

“I’m telling you it was really hard,” Dickson said. “I was that number my whole time in college, and I wanted to keep that number. But at the same time, I understand how it feels to him and I wanted to be a great teammate and help him out.”

Dickson will now wear #84-a number he wore in high school. And on top of that, he guaranteed that you’ll see him in uniform with it on versus the Kansas City Chiefs in the home preseason opener at M&T Bank Stadium tonight.

“You are definitely going to see me out there Friday night,” Dickson said,” competing and seeing the Ravens offense a little better than they were last week and I’m going to be out there trying to get a victory.”

Dickson-who was drafted by the Ravens in the 3rd-round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Oregon-was projected to be the starter going into this season after the release of two-time Pro Bowler Todd Heap, who spent a decade in a Baltimore uniform.

Ed Dickson

That was a moment this off-season when Dickson felt a vote of confidence coming his way.

“I thrive off those moments,” Dickson noted to Clark.

And despite his fellow 2010 draftee Dennis Pitta making several big plays in his stead last week, Dickson said both he and his fellow teammate think alike.

“Speaking on Dennis’ behalf, we thrive for those moments,” Dickson said.

Dickson said both he and Pitta have nobody in the world to thank but Todd Heap for his guidance in their rookie years.

“He was a great mentor,” said Dickson. “He did a great job of teaching us, and not basically forcing info on us.”

An outside critic would look at Heap’s departure and say that Dickson should be upset by Pitta gunning for his snaps and vice versa, but Dickson doesn’t feel that way at all.

“Man, I was proud to be  tight end,” Dickson laughed. “Dennis is like my brother, so I was one of the first people that came up to him and congratulated him on that catch. [I told him] to stay in the game, make a lot of catches, and I knew he had it in him.”

The only thing missing Dickson said?

Making it a tag-team effort.

“We didn’t have a chance to showcase it-both of us,” Dickson said.

And Dickson knows his value going forward and the benefit he has of being in an offense ran by Cam Cameron that loves to utilize the tight end.

“I really love his offense,” Dickson said,” because he really gets the tight ends and other players involved. I wanted to learn and grow in his offense…so I’m real excited to get him back and he really is a great offensive coordinator.”

Tune into WNST Friday afternoon to hear myself, @RyanChell87, and @GlennClarkWNST take you up to kickoff and give you post-game reaction on “The Nasty Purple Pre-Post Game Show” Tune in @WNST!

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10 Reasons to Be Excited About the Ravens in 2011

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10 Reasons to Be Excited About the Ravens in 2011

Posted on 18 August 2011 by Thyrl Nelson

Honorable Mentions: Thanksgiving Day Football and the HarghBowl, Renewing Old Titans Rivalry, Dawan Landry and the Jags on Monday Night (week 6), Derrick Mason returns to Baltimore with Jets (week 4), Todd Heap returns to Baltimore with Cardinals (week 8), Matt Stover’s Ring of Honor Induction vs. CIN (week 11), Chance to Exorcise last season’s demons vs. PIT (week 1) 

 

Reason #10 – The Orioles are 47-74

 

How do you spell relief as a Baltimore sports fan? R-A-V-E-N-S. After another trying baseball season the Ravens loom as a harbinger of the return of credibility to the Baltimore sports scene. With expectations however, often come inordinate expectations. Our collective sports passion has been suppressed since January 15th and teased with the lockout pretty much ever since, as football returns let’s be determined to enjoy it. Anything can happen and often does in the NFL, and what happens in September, October and November to playoff teams rarely bears much relevance once the playoffs actually begin. When they do the Ravens will be there. Read on, you’ll see…

 

 

Reason #9 – New Faces Less Predictability

 

Even more than their inability or unwillingness to audible last season (a frequent complaint of fans) the Ravens seemed to leave little mystery about their pre-snap efforts, seemingly giving opponents a leg up through their straight forward play calling and dressing. While guys like Heap and Mason were reliable targets who Flacco seemed to have an instinctive idea as to where they would be at any given time, defenses also may have benefited from the predictability of the offense as a result. With new personnel groupings come new strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. Opposing teams as a result should be more challenged to figure the Ravens out pre-snap.

 

 

Reason #8 – Luck Follows Speed

 

This was one of my Dad’s favorite sayings and one I have come to accept in sports. What the Ravens gave up in comfort and experience in the receiving corps, they’ll try to make up for in increased speed and athleticism. As members of the wide receiving and tight end units struggle to command playing time and opportunities, renewed hunger should be a factor too.

 

 

Reason #7 – Rushing Improvements

 

Maybe it doesn’t fit the modern NFL protocol for team building but the improvements that the Ravens have seemingly made to their ground attack can’t hurt, especially for a team that struggled as mightily as the Ravens did with grinding out second half leads. Marshall Yanda is back and will ideally play guard, Ray Rice is running for a payday, Ricky Williams seems to be an improvement as a goal line back, Vonta Leach is a star maker (Steve Slaton / Arian Foster). As teams gear up more and more to stop the league’s prolific passing attacks, the Ravens ground game could be tough to deal with and should open up their aerial options too.

 

 

Reason #6 – The Rookie Talent Infusion

 

The Ravens have gone high risk / high reward in the last couple of drafts. In 2010 they suffered the risk, if 2011 brings forth the rewards they’ll be in interesting shape. Sergio Kindle was a steal (talent wise) in the minds of many, who fell to the Ravens because of “character concerns”, having suffered the byproducts of some of those concerns and missing all of last year, Kindle returns hopefully matured as a result of some tough lessons and realizations and ready to make the most of his second chance.

 

Jimmy Smith slid to the Ravens late in the first round of this year’s draft, again mostly due to “character concerns” If he proves himself to be top 15 talent without the other baggage the Ravens will be looking at a pair of potential impact rookies on the defensive side of the ball. Smith doesn’t need to be the proverbial island in the Ravens system, but if he eventually evolves to that, no one will complain. As a rookie that seems too high a bar to set or to predict, but what he should bring to the table will be exciting enough.

 

Torrey Smith was a name that some fans were tabbing for the Ravens first pick. His is a great story, and one that unfolded in our backyard. Tandon Doss is Flacco’s first endeavor into scouting, making him successful should be amongst the QB’s top priorities. Jah Reid may be called on to start at right tackle from day one. Anthony Allen and Tyrod Taylor are also interesting pieces to be developed and stored for future use.

 

 

Reason #5 – Storybook Ending

 

The ends of the Ray Lewis and Ed Reed eras in Baltimore have been eminent in the minds of fans for some time now. As age and injury begin to take their tolls on these warriors, it appears they too may be beginning to see it. Hopefully they’ll have the option of riding off into the sunset, together, on the crest of a Lombardi Trophy…or three.

 

 

Reason #4 – I like Cam Under Fire Too

 

So said Owner Steve Bisciotti as he wrapped up last season offering fans an echo of their own sentiments and answer to their question and an explanation for his decision to keep offensive coordinator Cam Cameron under the Ravens employ in one fell swoop. Let’s face it, there are few if any between DC and Philadelphia (and probably further) at present at a credible enough level of understanding to even discuss offense with Cameron much less question his strategies…including John Harbaugh. That seems to put Harbaugh in a uniquely safe position (unfairly I’m sure) seen as a manager of men but not a game planner. Given his special teams background, Harbaugh seems perceived as neither a master of offense nor defense, leaving his coordinators open to a greater level of criticism (or credit) than they probably deserve. Harbaugh has seemingly done little to dispel this notion so far.

 

As the screws tighten around Cameron, hopefully he’ll take it as a license to open things up a bit. If he starts unleashing the types of game plans that torch opposing defenses, we’ll all like Cam under fire.

 

 

Reason #3 – Pagano’s Defense

 

Although fans didn’t get their wish with Cameron, to some degree their hopes for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison were realized as he took a position at the University of Michigan. New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano looks to return the fire to the defense that has been Baltimore’s trademark since the turn of the century. Baltimore’s legacy at defensive coordinator might be their proudest legacy (or simply a Ray Lewis trophy case of sorts) and didn’t begin with Rex Ryan. Hopefully it won’t have ended with Ryan either as Pagano looks to relight that torch.

 

 

Reason #2 – Flacco’s Show

 

The Ravens are looking for Joe Flacco to make strides in a number of areas. In addition to statistical improvements, it’s time for Flacco to take full ownership of the offense. As we look around the offensive side of the ball only Ben Grubbs (by 1 yr) has a tenure with the team that predates Flacco’s. For better or for worse, the offense is now Joe’s show both on and off the field. Let’s face it; the good old days on offense were never very good anyway.

 

 

Reason #1 – The Schedule

 

I’ll continue to declare it until history proves otherwise…the Ravens have the softest schedule this year that I can ever remember. Within the parameters of the NFL formula, it’s tough to imagine they could’ve written it any better for themselves. Fortunes change from year to year in the NFL, but because of the lockout this one should be different. Teams carrying continuity (especially the good kind) from last year to this are at an advantage. Bad teams have had little time to improve, new regimes have had no time to implement schemes and systems and young and developmental players from rookies on up all lost valuable time that could have been devoted to learning their crafts.

 

Even if none of that proves to be true, the NFC West has been less than mediocre for at least 3 years running and don’t look to be getting their acts together anytime soon. Games at St. Louis and Seattle and at home against Arizona and San Francisco (who’ll travel coast-to-coast on a short week) should all be seen as likely wins. Road games against Tennessee and Jacksonville should be seen as winnable. Of course there are the Browns (with a new head coach) and Bengals (whole new offense) for four games too.

 

Aside from a trip to San Diego and the obligatory trip to Pittsburgh, all of the Ravens “tough” games (PIT, NYJ, HOU, IND) are at home too. If they don’t get double digit wins from that schedule then they shouldn’t be in the playoffs anyway. Trust me they will…but so will the Steelers.

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Ravens-Eagles Preseason Primer: What to watch in tonight’s opener

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Ravens-Eagles Preseason Primer: What to watch in tonight’s opener

Posted on 10 August 2011 by Luke Jones

***Join us in the Purple Haze live chat beginning at 7:30 p.m. as WNST.net brings you live coverage from the preseason opener in Philadelphia. For the quickest updates and analysis, follow WNST on Twitter and be sure to subscribe to the WNST Text Service.***

Nearly seven months after the Ravens walked off the field after suffering a gut-wrenching loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional playoffs, Baltimore begins preseason action on Thursday night looking noticeably different.

And younger.

After waving goodbye to veterans Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Willis McGahee, and Kelly Gregg and watching a number of others depart via free agency, the Ravens find themselves in transition, getting younger while still hoping to maintain their Super Bowl aspirations. However, questions at several positions including wide receiver, tight end, right tackle, and backup quarterback as well as the pass rush remain unanswered.

Couple those uncertainties with a 134-day lockout that eliminated off-season workouts and the typically mundane preseason opener appears to carry extra significance — depending on who you talk to, at least. With a young offense trying to find a new identity in the passing game, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron labeled this first preseason game as more important than any other year he could remember. On the other hand, new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said his veteran-laden defense will just “go out and play.”

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The final score will inevitably be forgotten in a matter of weeks, but the Ravens view the meeting with the revamped Eagles as a good indicator to evaluate how much work needs to be done before the season opener against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11. Key veterans such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, and Terrell Suggs figure to play little more than a series while other starters will see more extensive time through the first quarter or two.

“It’s hard to say a preseason game is ‘big’ big,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s big for a lot of guys. Is it going to be big for the team? Well, it’s big in the sense of, ‘Where are we?’ I think that’s going to be very important for us. It’s going to be very interesting to see where we’re at.”

With the Eagles signing the likes of cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, running back Ronnie Brown, and defensive end Jason Babin, the Ravens will get a decent picture of where they stand after two weeks of training camp. Regardless of the outcome, however, viewers will fight the urge to overreact to what happens at Lincoln Financial Field — good or bad.

Series history

Thursday will mark the 12th time the Ravens have been scheduled to meet Philadelphia in the preseason, holding a 7-3 all-time mark in August. The last time the teams met in Philadelphia was 2004 when Terrell Owens caught an 81-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb on the Eagles’ first offensive play from scrimmage. The most recent preseason meeting, however, was a 29-3 victory for Baltimore in 2007.

The Eagles were involved in the most unique (infamous?) moment in the preseason history of the Ravens when unsafe turf conditions at Veterans Stadium forced the 2001 preseason opener to be canceled. That night of embarrassing events was documented in the premiere season of HBO’s Hard Knocks.

In games that actually count, the Ravens are 1-1-1 all-time against Philadelphia, with their victory coming in a 36-7 drubbing at M&T Bank Stadium in 2008.

Coaching connections

Harbaugh coached 10 seasons as a member of the Eagles staff, serving nine campaigns as the special teams coordinator and his final season as the secondary coach under Andy Reid. The Ravens head coach returns to Philadelphia for the first time since taking the helm in Baltimore in January 2008.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know if I know where the visiting locker room is. It’ll be my first time in the visiting locker room. I fully expect to be cheered rabidly when I walk out onto the field. (laughing) I’ll be highly disappointed if that doesn’t happen.”

In addition to Harbaugh’s Philadelphia ties, running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery visits a place fond to his heart. Having played in Philadelphia from 1977 through 1984, Montgomery holds the franchise’s career mark for rushing yards (6,538) and rushing attempts (1,465) as well as the Eagles’ single-season rushing record (1,512 in 1979).

Montgomery will be inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in November.

On the opposing side, Eagles linebackers coach Mike Caldwell played linebacker for the Ravens in their inaugural season in 1996.

Local flavor

Inside linebacker Jameel McClain is a Philadelphia native while quarterback Joe Flacco hails from nearby Audubon, N.J.

Flacco will have plenty of family and friends in attendance despite their past loyalties to the Eagles.

“I hope they’re rooting for Ravens,” the fourth-year quarterback said. “I know they’re all Eagles fans, but when they have to make a decision, I hope they make the right one. (laughter) But yeah, they’re crazy about their Eagles in South Jersey. I mean, I’m not going to convert all of South Jersey, hopefully just the people I know. I’ve got to remind them, ‘Hey, I got you the tickets, so you’ve got to root for us.’”

Though he recently landed on injured reserve with a ruptured Achilles tendon, Eagles defensive end Victor Abiamiri was born in Baltimore and attended Gilman.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was born in Philadelphia in 1960 before moving with his family to Baltimore a year later.

Injury report

Tight end Ed Dickson (hamstring), cornerback Jimmy Smith (groin), center Matt Birk (knee surgery), offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (active PUP – knees), and receiver David Reed (active PUP – wrist) will not play. Smith has returned to practice on a limited basis after missing four days last week, but the Ravens are taking extra precaution with the talented first-round pick.

Others not expected to play include newly-signed running back Ricky Williams, long snapper Morgan Cox (knee), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee), receiver James Hardy (hamstring), and running back Matt Lawrence (undisclosed). Williams only has one practice under his belt since signing a two-year deal with the Ravens while Cox and McKinney only came off the active PUP list to begin practicing this week.

Domonique Foxworth missed consecutive practices on Monday and Tuesday, leaving his status for Thursday in doubt. The former Maryland cornerback has battled soreness and “ups and downs” throughout the off-season in rehabbing a surgically-repaired torn ACL that caused him to miss the entire 2010 season.

7 Players to Watch

1. TE Dennis Pitta – With Dickson sitting out the preseason opener with a hamstring injury, Pitta will get the start at tight end and the early opportunity to distinguish himself in the passing attack. The 6-foot-4 product from BYU has drawn comparisons to Todd Heap in his overall makeup, but production is another story entirely. Pitta made just one catch for one yard in his rookie season.

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