Tag Archive | "Tom Brady"

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens can make a statement to a national audience on Monday night.

A 38-6 home thrashing of Miami was their most impressive victory of the season last week, but besting the New England Patriots in Foxborough would emphatically announce their return to the upper tier of contenders in the AFC. A loss wouldn’t cripple their playoff hopes, but it would give Pittsburgh a one-game lead in the AFC North with a Christmas Day showdown looming in less than two weeks.

Baltimore has the upper hand from a health standpoint with not a single defensive player listed on the final injury report and no significant offensive players expected to miss the game. Having already lost All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski to season-ending back surgery last week, the Patriots will be without  wide receiver Danny Amendola (ankle) and listed improving cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring) as questionable to play.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams play for the ninth time in their regular-season history. The Patriots own a 7-1 advantage in the regular season, but the Ravens have won two of their four postseason games played at Gillette Stadium since 2009. Baltimore hasn’t beaten New England since the 2012 AFC Championship.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Patriots running backs will score two touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount is on the verge of his first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2010, but he could be the least of the Ravens’ problems on Monday night. The Ravens sport the best run defense in the NFL and are allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, but James White and Dion Lewis are strong receivers out of the backfield capable of running the entire route tree, which could spell problems for linebackers already trying to slow tight end Martellus Bennett. Baltimore will slow Blount between the tackles, but White and Lewis will be problems underneath.

2. Eric Weddle will collect only the second interception of the year from Tom Brady. You’d never know Brady is 39 years old by watching him play this season, but Baltimore has given him as much trouble as virtually anyone in his impeccable career, picking him off 11 times in 10 career games. Expecting the Ravens to shut down the league’s sixth-ranked offense would be unfair, but forcing a turnover or two to set up the offense on a short field at some point would go a long way in giving them a chance. Their ability to contain Blount early will force Brady to take risks, and Weddle will be waiting.

3. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown as Joe Flacco is forced to work the sidelines. Even if the Ravens are able to match their production from the Miami game, it’s difficult to fathom Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia giving Flacco the same windows in the middle of the field, likely forcing the quarterback to work the sidelines. Dennis Pitta also won’t see the same free releases off the line, prompting Flacco to look to Smith more often on short-to-intermediate throws. A more methodical approach is not what the Ravens prefer, but the 37-year-old receiver will be eager to shine in prime time.

4. Terrell Suggs will collect his ninth sack of the year, but pressure on Brady will be scarce. The ball comes out so quickly that you have to pick your poison in attacking Brady. Suggs continues to play at a high level despite a biceps injury and will best left tackle Nate Solder for a sack, but the Ravens would be wise to use the 6-foot-7 Brent Urban and even the 6-foot-4 Za’Darius Smith as sub-package rushers to try to get hands up in passing lanes. New England’s offensive line is vulnerable inside, but Timmy Jernigan’s play has cooled considerably since a strong start.

5. The Patriots will win the fourth quarter to prevail 26-23 over the Ravens. This will be a close game, but I’m just not convinced that the Baltimore offense is ready to do everything it takes to beat one of the NFL’s best teams on the road after a single great performance at home against a mediocre Miami defense. The Ravens defense will get some stops to keep Flacco and the offense in it, but New England will dictate the tempo in the final period, mixing enough runs into a game plan centered around Brady’s passing to protect a tight lead and run out the clock. This one will be similar to last month’s loss to Dallas, but the offense will show more this time around, which bodes well for the final three games.

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Ravens will go as far as offense can take them down stretch

Posted on 09 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Cornerback Jimmy Smith may have offered the defining statement for the remainder of the season for the Ravens this week.

Asked if his healthy return from a back injury as well as pass rusher Elvis Dumervil’s presence provided optimism that the NFL’s top-ranked defense could get even better down the stretch, the sixth-year defensive back provided an interesting answer. It may have been slightly off-topic and reflective of some yearlong frustration with the opposite side of the ball, but Smith wasn’t wrong in his assessment as the Ravens prepare for their toughest game of the season at New England on Monday night.

“Our defense is going to look even better if — and when — our offense goes out and puts up points,” Smith said. “We can start playing the defense where we can get after a lot of guys, pin our ears back, get sacks and a lot more turnovers. How our offense goes for the next four weeks will [determine] how even more great our defense can be.”

The Ravens are in position to make the playoffs mostly because of their exceptional defense, but it was only this past Sunday when you began feeling they might have a chance to make real noise down the stretch and into January. A season-high 38-point explosion and Joe Flacco’s best performance in two years will bring that kind of optimism for an offense that’s been below average all year.

Of course, going on the road to face a Patriots defense ranking in the top 10 in most statistical categories is a much different challenge than blowing out Miami at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 13. Whether they’re ready or not, the Ravens couldn’t ask for a better test to see if last week was more aberration or transformation.

There’s also the matter of knowing that future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady looms on the opposing side. Expecting the Baltimore defense to shut down the New England offense would be unfair, which is why the Ravens need to start fast and keep the foot on the accelerator like they finally did against the Dolphins.

Even with an elite defense, Flacco doesn’t want to be conservative against anyone, let alone the Patriots.

“You don’t want to wait for them. You do not want to just wait and hope that they do not come back,” Flacco said. “You still have to take your chances and rely on you playing sound football. Understand that if you do make a mistake in the moment, it is still going to pay off in the long run more so than it might hurt you in that one specific play. Yes, you might turn the ball over and they might get a touchdown — a quick touchdown. But if you keep it going, it usually pays dividends in the long run.”

At this point, we know the Ravens are going to throw the ball and throw it a lot. Despite averaging 4.6 yards per carry over their last three games with the same starting offensive line, Flacco is still averaging just under 40 pass attempts per game over that time and ranked behind only Drew Brees in total pass attempts entering Week 14.

The Ravens continued to use the no-huddle offense and exploited the middle of the Dolphins’ pass defense over and over, but will the Patriots allow the same free releases off the line of scrimmage? Will their secondary allow similar cushion for the crossing routes and slants run so effectively by Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, and Breshad Perriman? Will Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have a better plan to confuse Flacco, who made it look so easy against Miami?

Asked what finally clicked against the Dolphins after weeks of frustration, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg wasn’t interested in taking credit — or divulging any secrets.

“The players did a heck of a job,” Mornhinweg said. “The position coaches who are involved in the game plan did an outstanding job. It’s just that simple.”

Monday will reveal if it really is that simple and whether the newfound optimism for the Ravens is warranted. Only then will we know if Baltimore can forget about the first three months of offensive frustration and turn the page toward an exciting finish to the season.

And we also might be able to see if this defense can reach another level as Smith suggested.

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Ravens trying to turn back clock against New England

Posted on 09 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You can sense the confidence in the Ravens locker room this week.

Winners of four of their last five games and coming off their most impressive performance of the season, the Ravens are suddenly being discussed as a viable threat in the AFC. And while a trip to Gillette Stadium to take on New England won’t be easy, they’re hardly walking into uncharted territory on Monday night.

Few teams have approached the kind of success the Ravens have enjoyed against the Patriots in the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era. Of their four postseason meetings in Foxborough, the Ravens own two  victories and their two losses came by a combined seven points.

This marks the first regular-season meeting between these teams in New England since 2010.

“When you have not experienced it much, I think they are a team that can intimidate some people,” Flacco said. “But I don’t think that is us. I think that we have done it enough that we feel good about doing it. We have had good teams. We have always had good teams going up there and a bunch of guys that feel that way and have felt that we can win the game. I think that always helps.”

But how much weight does the past carry?

Only 11 players on the current team were with the organization when the Ravens last beat New England in the 2012 AFC championship game. That group includes Flacco, six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, cornerback Jimmy Smith, and tight end Dennis Pitta.

Of course, players have come and gone on the New England side as well, but future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady have just continued winning.

The last meeting between these teams took place in the 2014 divisional round when Baltimore squandered two different 14-point leads in a 35-31 defeat. Since then, the Patriots have won a Super Bowl and appeared in another conference championship game while the Ravens have gone 12-16 and are trying to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight year.

This game is not only an opportunity for the Ravens to improve their playoff standing, but it’s a chance to show the football world that they’re back among the serious contenders. Young players such as receiver Breshad Perriman and left tackle Ronnie Stanley will also have their first opportunity to make names for themselves against the Patriots.

“You can’t really transfer experience,” Harbaugh said. “We try to prepare them for what’s going to happen in the next game and prepare them for that as best we can. The past games aren’t a part of this game. It’s the next game, and it’s the one we’re focusing on.”

Win or lose, the Ravens need to show they can compete with a heavyweight like New England on the road as they haven’t won away from M&T Bank Stadium since September 25. With another road showdown looming at Heinz Field against Pittsburgh on Christmas Day, an offense that’s been below average this year must prove last week’s explosion against Miami was more than just a pleasant aberration.

The last time these teams met in the regular season was in 2013 when the Ravens were riding a four-game winning streak and trying to recover from a rough start not terribly different from this year’s. Like we’ve seen this week, the hype was growing before the Patriots came to Baltimore and won by 34 points. The Ravens lost again the following week and missed the playoffs.

Baltimore is the healthier team now without a single defensive player on this week’s injury report while All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski is gone for the season and wide receiver Danny Amendola is not expected to play for the Patriots on Monday. The Ravens also sport their best defense since future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were still playing at a high level.

This may not be a must-win game for Baltimore, but it’s an opportunity to send a warning to the rest of the AFC. And it’s a chance to reestablish one of the league’s best rivalries despite the Ravens getting sidetracked over the better part of the last 15 months.

“You’re a fan of football,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Being in San Diego the last few years and not being in the playoffs, you watch those games from afar and are envious of wanting to play in them. Now is my opportunity. It should be a great game.”

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Ravens healthy going into Monday showdown with New England

Posted on 08 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens face their biggest challenge of the year on Monday night and will do it with a healthy roster for this late stage of the season.

Just four players were missing from their first full practice in preparation for the Week 14 showdown with the New England Patriots. Left guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) was the most notable absence on Thursday, but the Ravens have given him a practice off per week since his return to action last month. He also participated in Wednesday’s walk-through, leaving little concern about his status.

Yanda’s move from right guard to the left side that was facilitated by his left shoulder injury has worked out well for an offensive line that’s found more consistency in both its performance and alignment in recent weeks. It’s a stark contrast from a few weeks ago when the group was in disarray and it appeared the Ravens’ best offensive lineman was on the verge of undergoing season-ending surgery.

“He’s a valuable man to our football team,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “I can go through many, many strengths, and he has very few weaknesses. For him to be able to do that, both physically and mentally, it is quite a tribute to him.”

Offensive lineman Alex Lewis (ankle), tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (hamstring) were also absent. Lewis will miss his fourth consecutive game on Monday night while Gillmore could miss his sixth straight contest. Taliaferro hasn’t played since Week 10.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil continues to be a full participant in practice and was even removed from the injury report last week after missing eight of Baltimore’s first 10 games while recovering from offseason foot surgery. The 32-year-old previously attempted to play in Weeks 4 and 5 and lacked the explosiveness and strength indicative of a five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher.

Dumervil registered the game-saving strip-sack against Cincinnati and registered a tackle and a quarterback hit in the blowout win over Miami last Sunday. The Ravens hope he can help the league’s top-ranked defense apply pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on Monday night.

“I kind of knew this time was going to look a lot different just because he knew he wasn’t ready after he went out there the first time,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “He was not going to come back until he knew that he really could produce something on the field. To see him go out and play the way he’s played has been great.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith is no longer included on the injury report after making his return against Miami. The sixth-year defensive back missed two games while dealing with a lingering back issue.

Meanwhile, New England was without wide receiver Danny Amendola (ankle) and safety Jordan Richards (knee) on Thursday. Amendola is not expected to play against the Ravens.

Tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder) and cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring) were limited participants.

The Patriots did not include Brady on their injury report after he’d been dealing with a sore knee in recent weeks.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), G Alex Lewis (ankle), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

NEW ENGLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Danny Amendola (ankle), S Jordan Richards (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder), LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring), CB Eric Rowe (hamstring), WR Matt Slater (foot)

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Bisciotti denies influencing Goodell on “Deflategate” decision

Posted on 27 July 2015 by Luke Jones

As the NFL world awaits a ruling on Tom Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti wanted to make it clear he isn’t trying to influence commissioner Roger Goodell in making a decision.

In a statement released by the Ravens on Sunday afternoon, Bisciotti denied the report from ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio that he was among a group of owners urging Goodell to uphold the New England Patriots quarterback’s ban for his involvement in the “Deflategate” scandal. Reports indicate Brady is likely to take the league to court if the suspension stands.

“I have not and will not put any pressure on the commissioner or anyone representing the NFL office to take action in what everyone is calling ‘Deflategate,'” Bisciotti said. “The story circulating that I have put pressure on Roger is 100 percent wrong. The reports are unfair to [New England owner] Robert Kraft, who is an honorable person, and to his franchise.”

Of course, the longer Goodell delays his decision, it welcomes the possibility of anyone with a vested interest in the outcome trying to gain his ear.

If the suspension stands, Brady would miss the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers and would not return until New England’s Week 5 encounter with Indianapolis, a delicious coincidence considering the transgressions came against the Colts in January’s AFC championship game.

“Let’s talk about football and the start of training camps,” Bisciotti added in his statement. “Fans and people like me want the issue resolved now.”

That sentiment can probably be agreed upon by most who’ve followed this saga for the last six months.

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Deflate Gate and Wednesday rumblings

Posted on 21 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Lots of football news to talk about today, so I thought I’d put together a smorgasboard of things:

  • It was the Ravens coaching staff that alerted the Colts coaching staff that the balls were deflated. The Colts confirmed it when Brady threw and interception in their matchup. That’s the buzz around the league today.
  • Marc Trestman is a very good fit with the Ravens, will be a good offensive coordinator for them. Has ties to Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh. Concern is that he won’t run the ball as much as Kubiak. He may not, but he does like to involve his backs more in the passing game than Kubiak.
  • Expect Marty Mornhinweg to be named QB coach for the Ravens. He has significant ties to Marc Trestman. Was way over his head as coach of the Detroit Lions.
  • Scientific evidence as to how a deflated football helps a team – in wet conditions, it is softer, and therefore easier to grip, throw and catch; the mass of the ball is reduced, and it doesn’t go as far when thrown; if a team is going to run the ball, it helps the running backs “squeeze” the ball, which of course increases ball security and makes them less likely to fumble. Hmmm……….
  • ECU wide receiver Justin Hardy would look great in a Ravens uniform. He had a great first day at the Senior Bowl yesterday. Good speed, hands, separation, instincts. Tracks the ball real well in the air, catches it at it’s highest point. Cat quick in and out of his breaks. I was hoping he’d stay under the radar so the Ravens could get him in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL draft, but he’s no longer a secret. I’m afraid he’s moving up in to the 2nd round. Hopefully the Ravens trade out of the first, and use one of their picks to get him.
  • Patriots 3 prior Super Bowl wins tainted. They beat a supremely talented Kurt Warner/Marshall Faulk/Torry Holt/Isaac Bruce led team. Without the benefit of taping their practices and knowing what plays were coming based on alignment, don’t see how they could have beaten the Rams. Love to see them lose to the Seahawks, extending their Super Bowl losing streak to 3.
  • Would love to see the Pro Bowl turn in to something else for the players and for the fans. How about a “Super Stars” competition, just like ABC sports had back in the 70’s. The players could go through a series of events to see who was the strongest, fastest, etc. It would also be good for the fans see the players without pads.
  • Ravens loss to the Patriots and Colts subsequent loss to the same team, shows how close the Ravens are to competing for another ring. With another strong draft and some key free agent additions, I expect this team to go deep in to the playoffs next year, while giving us fans a home playoff game – or two. Being stout in the trenches on both sides of the ball enhances their chances.

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Looking at who’s going to win the NFL Conference Championships

Posted on 16 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

The NFL’s version of the final four is upon us, and the Seattle Seahawks are poised to defend their crown and repeat as champions. In the NFC, Russell Wilson is going after his second Super Bowl ring, as well as Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. In the AFC matchup, Tom Brady has a chance to climb the Mt. Rushmore of 4 time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, joining Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana. Andrew Luck leads the upstart Indianapolis Colts, as the only quarterback in the tournament who is attempting to win his first Lombardi Trophy.

Ever since the Patriots caught fire after their dismal performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in front of a national football audience, I’ve been predicting a Patriots – Seahawks finale. I still believe that after this Sunday’s games are over, those are still the two teams that will be left standing.

I expect the Patriots to activate Jonas Gray, and come out running against the Indianapolis Colts. Gray rushed for over 200 yards in Lucas Oil stadium, and with the addition of LeGarrette Blount, I expect more of the same this Sunday. Bill Belichick is a master of situational football, and just like he abandoned the run in the Patriots’ win over the Baltimore Ravens in the prior week, he will once again adapt his personnel to match his opponent.

On the other side of the ball, I do not believe that the Colts can go up to New England without a running game, and get away with it. They will go only as far as Andrew Luck will take them, and Belichick will take away what Luck does best, he will commit more players to defend the pass, and dare the Colts to run on his defense.

The Seattle Seahawks look to be a team on a mission. They are peaking at the right time, and their defense is the difference maker. They  have solid corners, unbelieveable safeties, active linebackers, and a defensive line that at times is dominant. They have a mercurial quarterback in Wilson, arguably the best running back in the NFL in Lynch, and they don’t beat themselves. They are also the most complete team in the playoffs.

The Green Bay Packers have come this far with sheer grit and determination, and on the arm of Aaron Rodgers. His calf injury has hindered his play, but on one leg he is still better than most NFL QBs on two legs. The key to the Packers having a chance is to unleash stout running back Eddie Lacy, but I do not see his offensive line opening up holes for him. He’ll have to make his own, and although he is capable of just that, I don’t believe it is going to be enough.

 

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Post game thoughts – Ravens vs Patriots

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Had a great show Sunday morning, with relative predictable reaction by the Baltimore Ravens’ fan base. The scale was truly A – Z, from fans who were extremely upset, to moderately happy. The biggest issue that came up time and again was the decision that Joe Flacco made to throw the ball deep to Torrey Smith with just under 2 minutes left in the game.

Lots of Ravens fans second guessed that decision, and they wanted Flacco to continue to patiently work the ball downfield. In fact, on that play he had a wide open Marlon Brown streaking across the middle of the field.

It is my opinion that Flacco did in fact make the right call. The Patriots were in a single high safety formation, and Flacco knew that Torrey Smith was singled up by the DB on the left sideline. Smith got a couple of steps on his man, but the ball was under thrown and the safety came over and made a great play. It’s a simple as that. You take points when you can get them, and then you rely on your defense to make a stop, and win the game for you. Had the Ravens scored on that play, there’s no question it would have left the Patriots plenty of time to go down field and either tie the game with a field goal, or win it with a touchdown.

But first things first. I’ve seen too many games where offenses try to methodically go downfield in an attempt to score with seconds left, in order to leave the opposing offense with no time to move the ball. I’ve also seen turnovers happen in the form of fumbles and interceptions, mishandled handoffs and snaps. The ball is oblong, pointy, and bounces funny.  Oftentimes anything and everything that can go wrong…does. That is precisely why you take the points when you can get them.

The Ravens play aggressive football, and they have an aggressive nature about them. They are by and large well coached and relatively disciplined. No one complained when they went for it on 4th and 6th. When you live by the sword, you die by the sword. That’s how this team rolls, and that philosophy has played a big part as to why under John Harbaugh’s tenure, they’ve been in the playoffs 6 times in the past 7 years.

Speaking of Flacco, for 58 minutes he played a great game. He had two critical interceptions, but he also threw for 4 touchdowns. He should have had 5, but one of his throws bounced off of the hands of Owen Daniels. That was a huge play in and of itself, as it did factor in to the outcome. Flacco set a new NFL record with two touchdowns in eight straight postseason games, passing Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Drew Brees. That’s pretty good company if you ask me. The other question is this: if not Flacco – Ravens fans – then who? He didn’t let up a two touchdown lead, twice in the game. That was on the defense. Scoring 31 points in the NFL should be good enough for a win on any given Sunday. That was on the Ravens’ defense and their patched up secondary. Rob Gronkowski, some trickery, and Patriots’ half time adjustments were enough to pull out a win on their home turf.

There was criticism of Torrey Smith on the play that Flacco threw the pick on. Some fans felt that he didn’t do enough to break up the play. I’ve looked at the replays and he never had a chance to make a play on the ball. The safety was in good position, and got there at the ball’s high point. Smith is good, solid football player, but he doesn’t have the instincts to go up there and fight for the ball. It was not a lack of effort, and I’m not even sure that he saw the safety until the last second, so he didn’t have much time to react. I hope that he and the Ravens can come to a contractual agreement, as I believe he is a solid #2 receiver in this league, and adds value to the team.

Jacoby Jones looked tentative in the last two games, particularly on kickoff returns. He was not hitting the lanes hard, and maybe was putting too much emphasis on protecting the ball. He slipped on the opening kickoff versus the Steelers, and did not look good after that. I was hoping he would unleash himself in the manner that he did two years ago in the playoffs, but he was nowhere the difference maker this post season that he was then. I was disappointed with his performance, as I expected more.

The personal foul calls were troublesome, particularly on Torrey Smith. Coach Harbaugh should have also used a time out versus running on the field to get the refs’ attention. Not to mention he was wrong about the “deceptive practices” he alleged Bill Belichick was using. I under stand coach was frustrated after the bitter loss, but watching his presser brought to mind the phrase “never blame, complain or explain. I think Harbaugh is a solid coach, but hey coach, you got beat. Simple as that. Your defense blew a two TD lead – twice! Daniels didn’t come up with a catch – that Pitta would have probably held on to – in the end zone. Sending out 4 offensive linemen is nothing new. Alabama coach Nick Saban used it this season in overtime, in a 20-13 victory over LSU. I don’t recall LSU coach Les Miles complaining about the tactic at his press conference.

Bottom line is that the Ravens should head in to the off season with their heads held high. They battled through major off field distractions, 19 players on injured reserve, a late season suspension to a key player and still scratched and clawed their way to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. They went toe to toe with a team that features a certain Hall of Fame first ballot quarterback and head coach, and gave them all that they could handle on their home turf.

Looks like offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is coming back, and with a strong draft and some health, the Ravens are poised to make a deep run in to the playoffs next season for sure. Hopefully they’ll win enough regular season games to get some home games in the playoffs, which will make the road to where they’re ultimately trying to get to a bit easier.

 

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Saturday

Posted on 09 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have made a mostly-pleasant habit of traveling to Foxborough in January to take on the New England Patriots.

The latest chapter in this underrated rivalry will be written Saturday with Baltimore eyeing its fourth trip to the AFC Championship game under head coach John Harbaugh. Meanwhile, the No. 1 seed Patriots are seeking their first championship in a decade with 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady not getting any younger.

Joe Flacco will try to continue an impeccable postseason run in which he’s thrown 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his last nine playoff games. The seventh-year signal-caller has thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception in leading the Ravens to wins in their last five postseason contests.

Who will win on Saturday?

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It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Patriots meet for the fourth time ever in the playoffs — all have been in Foxborough — with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge. New England leads the all-time regular-season series by a 7-1 margin despite the Ravens’ postseason success at Gillette Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to hand New England another loss in the postseason …

1. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will be chased by Will Hill most of the day while catching a touchdown and posting 100 receiving yards. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will throw the kitchen sink at New England in trying to cover the All-Pro tight end, but Hill will draw most of the responsibility with little success. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound safety did an admirable job in holding New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham to six catches for 47 yards in late November, but Gronkowski has played at a different level than anyone at his position this year and is more physical. Brady will go to him early and often to try to offset a Baltimore pass rush bearing down on him.

2. Three of the Ravens’ sacks against Brady will come from inside pressure. Four has been the magic number for the Ravens as they’ve collected at least four sacks in their last eight wins and are 0-4 when failing to reach the plateau over that stretch. Brady was sacked just 21 times this year, but his quick release was a bigger factor in that statistic than an offensive line that’s been shaky in pass protection this year. The Ravens will exploit rookie center Bryan Stork and guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell with A-gap blitzing as well as the presence of Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, and Timmy Jernigan in passing situations. Inside pressure will force Brady backward and give Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil time to reach him off the edges.

3. Steve Smith will have a quiet game, but Torrey Smith will catch a touchdown and fetch a key pass interference call. Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis is expected to match up against Steve Smith, which will spell trouble for the veteran wideout as Revis will match the 35-year-old’s physicality with press coverage. This will leave the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner against Torrey Smith in a matchup that could determine the outcome of the game. The Maryland product will be challenged by Browner’s physicality, but the former Seattle defensive back is prone to penalties, drawing 15 flags in nine games in the regular season. The speedy fourth-year wideout draws pass interference calls as well as anyone and will fetch a big one inside the red zone in addition to catching a first-half touchdown.

4. Brady will pass for more yards, but Flacco will throw more touchdown passes. The Patriots will try to establish the run with their extensive collection of running backs, but they won’t find much room against the league’s fourth-ranked run defense, meaning the ball will be in their franchise quarterback’s hands all day. Brady will make amends for his 56.8 passer rating in his three previous playoff games against the Ravens, but Baltimore will clamp down inside the red zone. In contrast, the Ravens will find enough running room to keep Justin Forsett involved, and Flacco will have another efficient game like he did in Pittsburgh with 220 yards and two touchdowns to put his team in position to grab a victory in the fourth quarter.

5. Justin Tucker will kick the game-winning field goal to give the Ravens a 24-23 win. New England was the better team this season, but Baltimore has history on its side and — more importantly – the right tools to match up with the Patriots. If the Ravens are able to pressure Brady inside and out, it will make up for potential problems in the secondary and allow the Baltimore offense to keep up as it deals with an improved Patriots defense. This game could go either way, but it’s getting to the point where you just can’t pick against Flacco in the playoffs until someone finally cools him off. The Ravens won’t be scared playing in familiar Foxborough, and they’ll find a way to win there once again in January.

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Terrell Suggs zeroes in on Tom Brady

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Concerns Patriots have about the Ravens

Posted on 07 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Terrell Suggs zeroes in on Tom Brady

Although the New England Patriots have been installed as a little better than a touchdown favorite against the Baltimore Ravens, by all accounts they do have some concerns against their 11-6 familiar foe.

For starters, if the Ravens stop the run game a few times, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels may have Tom Brady put the ball up 50 plus times, and that will spell trouble for the Patriots. McDaniels has been critisized for giving up on the run too early in games, exposing Brady to big hits.

Patriots tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer will have their hands full blocking Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs.  New England’s “pain point” has been their offensive line. But their biggest pain may come straight up the middle through the “A” gaps, from Brandon Williams and Haloti Ngata. Plus Tim Jernigan and Chris Canty have both practiced this week, giving the Ravens a potent rotation up and down it’s defensive line. They can pressure up the middle so Brady can’t step up, which he has to do if he wants to be effective. He runs a “dink and dunk” type of an offensive, and the Ravens have to make him uncomfortable, move him off of his spot, and disrupt his timing.

As far as the Ravens defensive backfield is concerned, you don’t have to have great corners and safeties to beat the Patriots because New England does not have any  wide receivers that can go more than 7-10 yards, so the Ravens can keep everything in front of them. They will play man on the outside because the Pats don’t have any wide receivers that need more than man coverage, as non of them can take the proverbial top off of the defense.  They will give up the 5 yard out and they will stop the run. The Pats will have to throw the ball down field if they want to win, and Brady has not been able to do that all season.  Naturally Bill Belichik will try to establish the run with Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray. With the way the front 7 of the Ravens have been playing, they will be able to commit more to the run and stop it. The Patriots will counter by lining up with a double TE with an extra OL opposite All-Pro Tight End Rob Gronkowski.  They will run out of the shotgun, and Vereen might see a lot of action because he’s elusive, a good receiver and a good blocker. Blount had a big game against the Ravens last season, but this defense is much improved, and middle linebacker CJ Mosley has been kept “clean” by the d-line, allowing him to make bone jarring tackles.

On the offensive side of the ball, Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak knows that covering Tight Ends and backs out of the backfield is where the Pats struggle, and he will exploit that.  Look for Owen Daniels to have a big day, and also rookie TE Crockett Gillmore who not only is a tenacious blocker, but also deceptively fast. Their pass rush has also been dismal, and we’ve seen what Joe Flacco can do when given time. That is why it is crucial the the Ravens establish the run early. That can force the Patriots to move their safeties closer to the box, and of course the line of scrimmage.

Torrey Smith is very fast, and can beat Darrelle Revis.  Revis is adept at at taking away sideline and comeback routes, but can be beaten of post and fly patterns.  Steve Smith Sr. is a very physical wide receiver, and he will more than likely be covered by the 6’4″ 220 pound Brandon Browner. That should make for a very interesting matchup.

The Patriots should win this game, but the Ravens can win this game.  The Patriots also believe that the Ravens present their toughest opponent and biggest obstacle on their road to the Super Bowl.  Should they get past Baltimore, the think they will beat either Denver or Indianapolis.

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