Tag Archive | "Torrey Smith"

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Chapter 17: The Last Ride of 52

Posted on 02 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

Your lowest moment is always when you feel your greatest pain. When I tore my triceps, and the doctor looked at me and she told me that, you know, I was out for the year. And I said, ‘Doc, are you sure?’ I said, ‘Nah. Doc – there’s no way I’m [going] to be out for the year with just a torn triceps. I’ve been through way worse.’ And she was like, ‘Ray, you know, nobody’s ever come back from this.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, nobody’s ever been Ray Lewis, either.’ ”

– Ray Lewis (January 2013)

 

 

 

AFTER ALL THAT THE RAVENS had been through in their rocky December – three losses in a row, the firing of Cam Cameron, the preseason-style game in Cincinnati to end 2012 – the road to a Super Bowl was still very much alive in January. And there’s nothing to stir the passions of Baltimore football fans like seeing the stolen blue horseshoe and the five-letter word that’s associated with evil in the land of pleasant living: I-R-S-A-Y. The Indianapolis Colts were coming to Baltimore again, a visit that still elicits plenty of emotion from the over-40 crowd.

And this time it wasn’t the bravado and no huddle mastery of Peyton Manning that would confront the Ravens. Peyton was staying warm in Denver, waiting to see if the Ravens would be journeying to the Mile High City next week. This time, the Colts had a different hotshot quarterback in Andrew Luck. The Ravens could never solve Manning – and still couldn’t earlier in December – but this time it would be a different look and a different team coming from Indy. In 2011, a gimpy version of the Colts on the last legs of the Dungy era and the Jim Caldwell head coaching run, were shellacked 24-10 by the Ravens in Baltimore as quarterback Dan Orlovsky ran for his life amidst a purple swarm all afternoon. Orlovsky wouldn’t be running the show this time.

This time, Caldwell would be running the Ravens offense and the guy who was running the Baltimore defense in 2001 would be the head coach of the Colts. There were plenty of emotions with the return of Chuck Pagano to Baltimore and the quarterback prodigy of John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, who groomed Luck at Stanford as head coach of the Cardinal, before Indianapolis and owner Jim Irsay made him the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in April 2012 after jettisoning Manning, who wound up in Denver.

Pagano had successfully battled leukemia over the previous three months, and the #Chuckstrong campaign in social media was as solid as the Colts had been on the field in his absence. During his absence, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians stabilized a youthful team around Luck. Indianapolis was the surprise team in the AFC with an 11-5 record, including 9-2 down the stretch. They had played a last-place schedule all year, but had been impressive throughout the year and brought a wave of emotion with them from the friendly heart of the Midwest as Pagano’s health and strength was a rallying point for them all season.

Pagano had believed it a cruel, strange twist of fate that he even got the Colts head coaching job the previous January. As the Ravens went down the field on the final Lee Evans-Billy Cundiff drive in Foxborough, Pagano was thinking that he was finally going to the Super Bowl.

“If we win that AFC Championship Game that would’ve put me two weeks further out and no coach can have any discussion about a job,” Pagano said. “I would venture to say that Indy would’ve had to get their guy in place and they had already interviewed with a bunch of guys. I don’t think that it would’ve happened for me with the Colts. I know there were more qualified candidates than me, guys they had talked to in the process.”

Instead, the Ravens suffered the agonizing defeat and Pagano got the Indy job the next day. “It’s crazy how fate and destiny works,” he said. “I thought I’d be going to Indy that week. I just had no idea it’d be to be coaching the Colts. I thought I’d be coaching the Ravens defense in the Super Bowl.”

Now, a cancer survivor in remission with thin strands of gray hair returning to his previously bald head, Pagano was back in Baltimore on the sidelines as the head coach of an NFL playoff team almost 12 months later. He was coming back to Baltimore in an attempt to end

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Chapter 19: The purple revolution in New England

Posted on 30 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

“You guys will write great stories and can put it in way better words than I can. We’ve always believed in Joe. For Joe to come out and have this kind of game, on this kind of a stage, three weeks in a row…[Andrew] Luck’s a pretty good quarterback, [Peyton] Manning’s a pretty good quarterback, [Tom] Brady’s a great quarterback; all those guys are great players. But Joe’s a great quarterback. He’s proven that, and he’s not just proven that this year, he’s proven it for five years.”

– John Harbaugh (January 20, 2013)

 

 

 

 

 

IF REVENGE IS A DISH best served cold, then at least the elements and the weather in New England would cooperate accordingly. What could provide a better stage for a tale of vindication in Charm City than the Baltimore Ravens returning to Foxborough for a rematch of the AFC Championship Game?

It was like a Steel Cage Match.

Tom Brady vs. Joe Flacco. Ray Lewis and The Last Ride. Bill Belichick and the Patriots with yet another chance to make America groan by going to a sixth Super Bowl in 13 seasons in New England. There were no shortage of stories to be told.

When the Ravens boarded their happy flight for Baltimore from Denver two hours after the miraculous win over the Broncos, they were unsure of their destination for the final step toward Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The Texans, who had whipped them in Houston back in October, were visiting New England the following afternoon. The Patriots, led by Tom Brady’s three TD passes, dispatched of the Texans in a 41-28 win, but lost tight end Rob Gronkowski with a left wrist injury.

A huge weapon for the Patriots was gone before the Ravens even had to assemble the game plan.

By late Sunday afternoon the travel plans were made for a trip that the Ravens knew all too well. They were heading to Foxborough. For more than 40 players and the entire coaching staff, it was back to Gillette Stadium 52 weeks later – 364 days after the most disappointing day of their lives. The Lee Evans drop. The Billy Cundiff kick. The cold, empty feeling in that locker room and Ray Lewis telling them to go make someone smile. The quiet flight home. And those long days afterward, when you just wanted to pull the blankets over your head in the morning because you still couldn’t accept that you lost that game.

It’s not one of those days you quickly forget.

Motivating players was not going to be an issue for head coach John Harbaugh this week. Calming them down, however, might be.

On Sunday night, in the middle of the Texans-Patriots game, Brendon Ayanbadejo fired the opening salvo via his Twitter page:

Are you watching the game pats vs. texans? If so you see the hurry snap offense catch em b4 they set up. It’s a gimmick.

Then, he followed with: New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can’t really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight

Then: You know the same organization that did spygate and cut a guy the day b4 the Super Bowl

Then: In a sport that is predicated on mano y mano, “lets hurry n snap it” = bitchassness

And finally: 18-1 …a reference to the Patriots losing in the Super Bowl to Giants in 2008

Ayanbadejo is no stranger to the back and forth of social media, yet his controversial stand on social issues were always consistent and relatively polite given the forum. But, something about watching the Patriots play the Texans in Foxborough clearly rubbed him the wrong way. And with his fingers on the trigger of his mobile device, and filled with emotion given the outcome and his role, he simply fired off his thoughts.

By lunchtime on Monday, Ayanbadejo had issued an apology on Twitter:

I made selfish comments on twitter last night that reflected poorly upon myself, my teammates, and the organization. For that I apologize.

One thing he was correct about was that the Patriots were going to try to snap the ball before the Ravens were ready. Harbaugh was more diplomatic. “They look to create advantages for themselves, and they do it with tempo a lot of times,” he said. “ It’s not just the fact that they go fast sometimes. They force you to line up. Sometimes they’ll force the defense to show their hand because you have to defend the play. If you don’t, they’ll run the play. You saw last week they got Houston in some tough situations, and it was big plays for them. It usually results in a big

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Chapter 11: Fall forward and the story of Torrey Smith

Posted on 21 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“If the regular refs are here, we know how those calls will be made. That should be the case but it’s not the way it is right now.”

– Ray Lewis (September 16, 2012)

 

 

ONLY A FOOL WOULD PUT any stock into what their eyes see in preseason results, but everyone on the Ravens’ coaching staff loved what they saw when the team’s first unit annihilated the Jacksonville Jaguars first unit in Baltimore during the third preseason game on August 23, 2012, a 48-17 whipping. Keep in mind that the Ravens were humiliated by the Jags nine months earlier in a game that counted, a 12-7 loss widely remembered as the night that a healthy Ray Rice touched the ball just 13 times and Flacco looked lost along with the rest of the offense. It was one of four hideous road defeats for a 2011 team that played out Jekyll & Hyde for all to see. Jekyll at home. Hyde on the road for long stretches of the first years of the Harbaugh-Flacco era.

But on this hot, sticky Baltimore evening it was a purple demolition act as Flacco carved up the overmatched Jaguars defense, ending the night 27-of-36 for 266 yards and two TD throws to Anquan Boldin and Vonta Leach. The defense forced five punts in the first half, and it was a night where the starters inspired the backups, who came on in the third quarter and continued the domination.

Throughout the lead up to the season opener vs. Cincinnati, the feeling inside The Castle was: if we can play like that every week, this team could be really good.

And despite the death of Art Modell just four days before the opener and the weekend of memories and tributes for the Ravens’ founder, the team was focused on the task at hand – beating the Cincinnati Bengals on the season opener of Monday Night Football.

After an emotional tribute to Modell, the Ravens came out flying against the Bengals. Flacco threw a bomb to Torrey Smith down the middle of the field and the opening drive resulted in a Justin Tucker 46-yard field goal. On the next drive, Smith took an end-around handoff and blew by the Bengals with some trickery. On a 4th and 1 from the 20, Flacco threw a pass to Ray Rice at the sticks and the drive ended with Rice scoring on a 6-yard run. New addition Jacoby Jones caught his first pass on the next drive for a 25-yard pickup. Two plays later, Flacco split the seam down the middle of the defense and dropped a perfect pass into the arms of Boldin in the end zone.

Despite dominating much of the first half, the Ravens’ defense allowed Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to drive down the field in a two-minute offense behind a big catch and run by Andrew Hawkins. On a 3rd and 1 from the 7 with 30 seconds remaining, Ed Reed knocked down a Tucker pass in the end zone and the Bengals had a tough decision on fourth down. Down 17-3, head coach Marvin Lewis sensed a chance to get back in the game and BenJarvus Green got the first down and pushed across a TD on the next play to make it a 17-10 lead at the half.

The Bengals got the ball in the second half and

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Philadelphia offering rooting interest for Ravens fans

Posted on 14 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Ravens fans unable to stomach watching AFC rivals New England and Pittsburgh in the playoffs may find a rooting interest on the other side of the bracket.

Despite losing Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Wentz to a season-ending knee injury last month, Philadelphia is now a win away from the Super Bowl after edging Atlanta 15-10 in Saturday’s divisional-round meeting. Several former Ravens are helping the Eagles’ cause both on and off the field.

The most popular among them is wide receiver Torrey Smith, whose wacky 20-yard catch off a deflection helped set up a 53-yard field goal to end the first half. It wasn’t an impressive season for Baltimore’s 2011 second-round pick with just 36 receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns, but Smith finished with three catches for 39 yards in his first playoff game since 2014, the last time the Ravens qualified for the postseason.

Smith isn’t alone as defensive tackle and 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan has found a home in Philadelphia, evident by the four-year, $48 million extension he signed earlier this season. Traded to the Eagles in a swap of 2017 third-round picks in April, Jernigan registered only one tackle Saturday and had only 2 1/2 sacks this season, but he’s considered an important member of one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts.

Two other Super Bowl XLVII champions are helping the Eagles in complementary roles as defensive back Corey Graham has played in sub packages and on special teams this season and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe even started and finished with two tackles in Saturday’s playoff game. Ellerbe has dealt with a slew of injuries since leaving the Ravens in 2013, but the 32-year-old signed with Philadelphia in mid-November and has helped fill the void of starting middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, who sustained a torn Achilles tendon in October.

Edge rusher Steven Means was inactive for Philadelphia on Saturday, but he also spent parts of two seasons with the Ravens.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is a former Baltimore assistant and Mount Saint Joseph alum, and the ties run deeper in the front office as former Ravens scouts Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl are integral parts of Philadelphia’s draft process. Douglas spent more than 15 years in Baltimore and served as the organization’s national scout before departing for Chicago in 2015 and being hired to serve as the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel a year later. He’s already beginning to earn consideration as a general manager as Philadelphia will likely have a tough time keeping him for long.

Weidl spent more than a decade with the Ravens in various scouting roles and is now Philadelphia’s assistant director of player personnel.

The Eagles will still be viewed as the underdog with backup quarterback Nick Foles under center in the NFC championship game, but there are a number of reasons for Ravens fans to pull for them next Sunday.

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Ravens’ playoff absence officially hits three years

Posted on 10 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Much has changed since the Ravens squandered two 14-point leads in a playoff loss to New England three years ago Wednesday.

They would soon say goodbye to five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as well as one of the franchise’s most accomplished wide receivers in Torrey Smith. That was also the final game of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s lone season with the Ravens and with his departure went any semblance of consistent offensive production since then.

More painful than anything else, however, has been the deterioration of the standard. Losing in the divisional round was once the minimum of expectations under John Harbaugh — illustrating how spoiled Baltimore was during the first five years of his tenure — but the Ravens haven’t been back to the postseason since that night in Foxborough when Tom Brady picked apart helpless cornerback Rashaan Melvin and an overwhelmed secondary.

Sure, the Ravens have been close to making the playoffs in each of the last two years, but that’s sometimes the worst place for an organization to be. “Close” doesn’t always mean you’re moving in the right direction, and it can prevent you from making necessary changes when you believe you’re “one play away” from getting over the hump.

The underwhelming performances in the AFC wild-card round this past weekend prompted predictable commentary from some that Joe Flacco and the Ravens would have been a more dangerous team and a bigger threat to New England and Pittsburgh. That old narrative needs to be buried when they don’t even manage to make the tournament anymore. Perhaps Brian Billick’s once-famous ban on using the “playoff” word needs to be reinstated until further notice.

The Ravens haven’t beaten the Patriots since the 2012 AFC Championship, and you can count the relevant players remaining from that Super Bowl team on two hands and have fingers left over. They still play the Steelers tough, but their only win at Heinz Field since the 2014 postseason was a game in which a washed-up Michael Vick was under center for their AFC North rival.

The sobering reality of watching the likes of Buffalo and Tennessee in the playoffs last weekend wasn’t that the Ravens might have been more formidable, but it’s that they’re closer to those mediocre teams in quality than the Patriots and the Steelers. They couldn’t even beat out such wild-card contenders despite having one of the most-favorable schedules in the NFL.

Harbaugh’s team went just 1-5 against teams who finished above .500 this season and is now 7-27 in that department since Super Bowl XLVII. For context, the 2011 team alone won six games against opponents finishing that season with winning records, and the Ravens were 18-20 against squads finishing over .500 from 2008-12.

Even that last playoff team in 2014 was an unimpressive 1-6 against teams finishing with winning records, but those Ravens did go a perfect 9-0 against opponents .500 or worse and swept a terrible NFC South division to ultimately secure a wild card. This year’s team lost home games to Chicago and Cincinnati, who finished a combined 12-20.

The standard that once made losing a playoff game in New England a bitter disappointment has regressed to not being good enough to beat winning teams and dropping a few too many games that they shouldn’t. The latter part is evident from a 33-13 record against teams finishing .500 or worse over the last five years compared to a 36-6 mark over the first five seasons of the Harbaugh era.

It’s resulted in a team that’s still competitive, but not one as close to being a serious contender as the Ravens would like to believe.

Three years ago, that disappointing 35-31 playoff loss to the Patriots still felt like the beginning of a new run for Harbaugh and the revamped Ravens after their 2013 absence from the postseason. Instead, it may have simply been the final chapter in the most successful era in franchise history.

The Ravens have a lot of work to do this offseason to both change that perception and resurrect their once-lofty standard.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-27 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 02 January 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years in a 31-27 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I initially called it the most devastating home loss in team history and was quickly reminded by several folks on Twitter of the crushing 2006 playoff defeat to Indianapolis. They were right, but I’ll still say this was the most stunning home defeat in 22 seasons of Ravens football.

2. Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown to Tyler Boyd will be remembered, but don’t forget the horrendous first half that put the Ravens in a hole. His team looking flat and unprepared with the season on the line was a poor reflection on John Harbaugh, especially after a shaky performance against Indianapolis.

3. Maurice Canady was a Week 16 hero, but he was picked on during the final drive and was out of position to make a play on the ball or the tackle on Boyd’s touchdown. Eric Weddle was also in no man’s land in zone after showing blitz before the snap.

4. Remember the talk about the Ravens not letting A.J. Green beat them? The seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver finished with two catches for 17 yards. Feel any better that the “Tylers” — Boyd and Kroft — did it instead? Yeah, didn’t think so.

5. We certainly saw a less-accurate Joe Flacco than we’d seen in recent weeks and his third-down throwaway before Cincinnati’s final drive was terrible — Mike Wallace was wide open underneath to at least attempt to keep the clock moving — but five drops from his receivers did him no favors.

6. Wallace had a few and is no better than a No. 2 wideout, but letting him walk would feel similar to Torrey Smith’s exit. I also have doubts about Jeremy Maclin’s future, so do you trust the Ravens to add at least two impactful receivers this offseason? I certainly don’t.

7. The defense allowed a whopping 126 rushing yards in the first half and surrendered over 4.0 yards per carry in a season for the first time in team history. Brandon Williams’ four-game absence explains much of that, but the run defense was still quite disappointing relative to expectations.

8. After all the discussion about the impact of Danny Woodhead returning, the 32-year-old caught 30 passes for 167 yards after the bye and eclipsed 40 yards from scrimmage in a game twice. The Ravens touted his signing as their major offensive addition last offseason before Maclin fell into their laps.

9. Breshad Perriman was a healthy scratch in favor of an undrafted rookie receiver who was making his NFL debut in Quincy Adeboyejo. What else is there to say about the 2015 first-round pick?

10. Speaking of underwhelming draft choices, Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley, and Tim Williams combined for seven defensive snaps Sunday. The last three are rookies and absolutely deserve more time before judgment, but that’s not much of an early return from Day 2 of the last two drafts.

11. Flacco throwing well short of the chains on fourth-and-14 was a fitting way to close the book on the 2017 Ravens, but there were only two healthy wide receivers on the field and one was a rookie who had been on the practice squad all year. Not ideal.

12. This had to be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever seen in terms of time of possession. The Ravens held the ball for barely more than nine minutes in the first half while Cincinnati possessed it for less than eight minutes after intermission. Strange.

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Ravens exercise 2017 option for Wallace, finalize other signings

Posted on 09 March 2017 by Luke Jones

After recording his first 1,000-yard season since 2011, veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace is returning to the Ravens for a second season.

Baltimore exercised its option on the 30-year-old, which will pay him $5.75 million for the 2017 season. After disappointing stops in Miami and Minnesota, the former Pittsburgh Steeler revitalized his career in 2016 by making 72 catches for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns and led the NFL with five receptions of 50 or more yards.

Wallace’s return became a foregone conclusion once former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith agreed to a three-year, $15 contract with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier on Thursday. Baltimore had discussed a potential reunion with the former Maryland standout and may have elected to let Wallace go to clear some salary-cap space under such a scenario.

With Steve Smith having retired and Kamar Aiken hitting the free-agent market, the Ravens couldn’t afford to lose Wallace with 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman being the most experienced receiver behind him on the depth chart. Baltimore still needs to add a possession receiver to work the intermediate portion of the field, but Wallace, Perriman, and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore make up an interesting trio of vertical threats.

In addition to picking up Wallace’s option, the Ravens officially announced their reported deals with safety Tony Jefferson, running back Danny Woodhead, and quarterback Ryan Mallett.

According to ESPN, Jefferson received a four-year, $36 million contract to become one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. The former Arizona Cardinal’s average annual salary of $9 million is the most given to a safety in franchise history, but the total amount is less than the six-year, $44.5 million contract awarded to future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed in 2006.

Baltimore signed Woodhead to a three-year contract — an addition that holds more significance with the news of Kenneth Dixon being suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season — while Mallett received a one-year deal to remain as Joe Flacco’s backup.

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Timing key if Ravens want to reunite with Torrey Smith

Posted on 07 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith’s pending release from San Francisco sparked a predictable response from many in the city in which he remains highly respected and beloved.

Second on the franchise’s all-time list for touchdown receptions and third in all-time receiving yards, Smith is only 28 and remains an active contributor in the Baltimore community. The former University of Maryland standout also shared good chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco, whom the Ravens obviously want more from after a disappointing 2016 campaign.

But does a reunion make sense?

After a disastrous run with the 49ers, Smith’s value is clearly lower than it was two winters ago, but most would acknowledge San Francisco’s quarterback situation as the biggest reason for his statistical decline. That understanding could lead to his free-agent market not being as bad as one would think, making a potential return to Baltimore more unlikely.

The Ravens re-signing Smith only makes sense if they’re going to move on from Mike Wallace, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season since 2011. The two have similar skill sets and Baltimore already has young speedsters Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore on the roster, meaning there are already enough vertical threats at Flacco’s disposal.

An even trade-off from a financial standpoint would make little sense as few would argue that Smith is as good as Wallace, but signing the former Raven to a three-year deal at a reasonable rate would make the older Wallace expendable if you can save some real dollars in salary cap space for 2017. Those savings could then go toward finding that veteran possession receiver the Ravens desperately need.

Wallace will be 31 in August, and the Ravens must exercise his 2017 option this week, which includes a $4.75 million base salary and a $1 million roster bonus. In other words, general manager Ozzie Newsome must act quickly if he wants to bring back Smith, who may have thoughts of thoroughly testing the open market anyway. Needless to say, it would be unwise for the Ravens to part with Wallace before having an agreement in place with Smith since they’re already looking to add one receiver as it is.

Even if the Ravens aren’t interested in re-signing Smith, his availability could work in Newsome’s favor to sign Wallace to an extension, which would presumably lower his $8 million cap figure for the upcoming season.

With the front office already having so many other balls in the air in a critical offseason, you have to seriously question whether a Wallace-for-Smith swap is worth the time and effort.

Elam update

For those who’ve inquired about former Ravens safety Matt Elam’s status for this week’s Ed Block Courage Awards after his arrest in Miami last month, he will not be participating.

Elam was voted as the 2016 recipient by his Baltimore teammates, but former Ravens cornerback and 2007 Ed Block Courage Award recipient Samari Rolle will instead represent the organization this year.

Below is the statement from the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation:

After Matt Elam’s incident, the Foundation contacted the Baltimore Ravens on how we should proceed. With the Ed Block Courage Award as the only league-wide honor that is voted on strictly by the players, the team decided to move forward  with Matt as their recipient, as it was decided by his teammates. The organization had no influence over the nomination.  

They did agree that the Foundation should do what was in our best interest. As the main focus of our event is the community outreaches at the Rita R. Church Rec Center and the Baltimore Ravens Courage House (St. Vincent’s Villa), we decided to not include him in those events.

Tampering time

Beginning at noon on Tuesday, teams may begin negotiating with the certified agents of free agents from other teams, but deals cannot be officially completed until 4 p.m. on Thursday.

What does that really mean?

This legal “tampering” period will produce reported agreements over the next two days despite the NFL’s annual warnings not to do so. The truth is that tampering goes on throughout the NFL — the scouting combine in Indianapolis has long been a haven for such discussions — and likely starts even earlier now with this two-day negotiating window that was introduced with the current collective bargaining agreement.

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Ravens’ deficiencies at key positions costing them dearly

Posted on 19 October 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s too easy to criticize Shareece Wright after the Ravens’ 25-20 loss to San Francisco on Sunday.

The veteran cornerback had the debut from hell for his new team against his old one, twice being burned for touchdowns in pass coverage. But expecting any better from Wright after signing him off the street less than a week ago is akin to wondering why the car you picked out at the junkyard wouldn’t run without extensive work in the garage.

There was a reason Wright had been inactive four straight weeks for the 49ers before he was finally granted his release earlier this month. Despite being signed to a one-year, $3 million contract by San Francisco in March, Wright was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 103rd-best out of 108 cornerbacks to play at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in 2014.

Head coach John Harbaugh was harsh in his assessment of Wright after the game, but the 5-foot-11 cornerback’s mere presence on the field Sunday was a damning indictment on the state of the 2015 Ravens. And it reflects general manager Ozzie Newsome’s failure to improve one of the most critical positions on the field for a second straight offseason.

Injuries are part of the story, but let’s not pretend that Lardarius Webb has played at a level near what the Ravens envisioned when signing him to a big contract more than three years ago. Will Davis flashed potential in two games before a season-ending knee injury, but he was only acquired when others such as Kyle Arrington and Rashaan Melvin already weren’t cutting it.

After a nightmarish 2014 at the cornerback position, Newsome signed the veteran Arrington — who hasn’t played well — and drafted Tray Walker from Texas Southern to address the problem. To think the fresh-off-the-street Wright was a better option than your fourth-round pick suggests you reached too far in drafting a project you can’t even trust as your No. 4 or No. 5 cornerback on the depth chart.

It doesn’t help that top cornerback Jimmy Smith has been slow to regain his pre-injury form and was burned for a 51-yard reception by the slow-footed Anquan Boldin that set up an eventual touchdown in the fourth quarter. Paid to be a shutdown corner in the offseason, Smith dropped a would-be interception in the first half with plenty of open field in front of him.

A pass rush too dependent on the blitz and suspect safety play — another position that’s struggled the last few years — haven’t done the cornerbacks any favors in 2015, but it’s a position that’s too important in this pass-happy era of the NFL to be this poor. Throwing Wright into such a meaningful role after only a few days to learn the defensive system and with no live-game action under his belt since the preseason was grasping at straws at best. The 49ers knew their former player’s weaknesses and didn’t hesitate to go after him while the Ravens left him on an island with no safety help on Torrey Smith’s 76-yard touchdown catch.

Of course, cornerback isn’t the only position of concern for the 1-5 Ravens as they continue to get little from any receiver not named Steve Smith, who caught seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown but dropped two other throws in the end zone. Not a single wideout other than the veteran registered a catch in the first half on Sunday as the Baltimore offense started slowly and fell behind 16-3 early.

Kamar Aiken did catch a late fourth-quarter touchdown to make it a one-possession game, but watching Jeremy Ross and Chris Givens — two players who weren’t even with the Ravens in the preseason — playing late in the game again showed the failure that the offseason plan has been in replacing Torrey Smith.

Newsome and the Ravens could not envision first-round pick Breshad Perriman injuring his knee on the first day of training camp, but pushing all of their chips to the middle of the table on a rookie has blown up in their faces in 2015. Drafting Perriman wasn’t the real mistake; not having any semblance of a backup plan to stretch the field was the major error when you acknowledge the history of NFL first-round receivers who haven’t found immediate success on the field.

Watching Joe Flacco stand in the pocket time after time on Sunday — he amazingly wasn’t sacked once despite dropping back 53 times — with no one open to throw to was maddening. The quarterback needs to be better as he threw two inexcusable interceptions leading to six points for San Francisco, but how much can you really expect when he has exactly one reliable option who’s 36 and a collection of castoffs, undrafted free agents, and late-round picks to throw to?

Able to effectively run the ball and stop the run, the current Ravens may be built for success in past eras, but the passing game is more important than ever in today’s NFL. If you can’t throw the football, rush the passer, or play in coverage, you’re not going to win many games and that’s where the Ravens find themselves with only one victory in six weeks.

The problems run deeper — injuries, costly penalties, questionable play-calling on both sides of the ball, and poor clock management are among them — but not having enough talent at wide receiver or in the secondary is a major part of the story.

Before the 2015 season began, Baltimore lacked speed and playmakers on both sides of the ball.

And Wright had nothing to do with that.

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Ravens-49ers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 October 2015 by Luke Jones

If we’re being honest, this space has become a punchline so far in 2015.

Incorrectly picking the final outcome of four of the Ravens’ first five games — including the last four in a row — doesn’t inspire confidence when trying to forecast Sunday’s meeting with the San Francisco 49ers. Of course, no one predicted Baltimore to be 1-4 for the first time in franchise history, either.

Only six of the 121 teams to begin a season with a 1-4 record have gone on to make the playoffs since 1990. For now, the Ravens are simply trying to win a game despite an extensive list of key players dealing with injuries.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet the 49ers in a meaningful game for the first time since Super Bowl XLVII, which feels much longer than just three years ago for both teams. Counting the 34-31 win in New Orleans, Baltimore holds a 4-1 edge against the 49ers and the teams are tied 1-1 playing in San Francisco. Sunday will mark the Ravens’ first trip to Levi’s Stadium, the site of Super Bowl 50 in February.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens attempt to win their seventh consecutive game against an NFC opponent …

1. Torrey Smith will draw a long pass interference penalty and catch a touchdown against his former team. The 49ers have struggled in the passing game due to the inconsistency of Colin Kaepernick, but the Ravens don’t have a cornerback who can run with the fifth-year wideout since Jimmy Smith is still trying to regain his pre-surgery form with his foot. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to provide as much safety help as possible, but the University of Maryland product will catch a touchdown to exact some revenge after the Ravens made little effort to re-sign him in the offseason. The league’s 25th-ranked pass defense will also draw a flag trying to keep up with the speedster.

2. New Ravens cornerback Shareece Wright will see extensive time in the nickel package. With Lardarius Webb doubtful and Will Davis out for the year, Baltimore was trying to bring Wright up to speed as quickly as possible this week. Simplifying schemes might be the best idea for all members of the secondary considering how inconsistent the group has been with technique and coverage assignments. Unlike Kyle Arrington and Asa Jackson, Wright is viewed as more of an outside cornerback, which is something the Ravens need right now. Expectations shouldn’t be very high for Jimmy Smith’s high school teammate, but that’s no different than the rest of the group at this point.

3. Rookie Buck Allen will score his first NFL touchdown as he leads the Ravens in rushing. Even if Justin Forsett does play on Sunday, Baltimore promoting practice-squad member Terrence Magee doesn’t instill confidence that the veteran will have a full workload. Allen had struggled before breaking a 44-yard run against Cleveland, but the Ravens hope that’s the start of the fourth-rounder finding a groove. With No. 2 back Lorenzo Taliaferro done for the season, the Ravens need Allen to step up immediately and he will do that to some degree on Sunday. Against the league’s 17th-ranked run defense, the offensive line will open running lanes and Allen will build on what he did in Week 5.

4. Brandon Williams will collect another sack and three tackles for a loss. The third-year nose tackle has been Baltimore’s best defensive player by a wide margin in 2015 and will be going up against 49ers center Marcus Martin and right guard Jordan Devey, who have been liabilities in 2015. San Francisco wants to feed the ball to running back Carlos Hyde as much as possible, but Williams presence in the middle of the defensive line will make that a difficult proposition. If Ravens outside linebackers can contain the edges and prevent Kaepernick from taking off, Williams will provide plenty of heat in early-down situations and pick up his second sack of the season at some point.

5. Joe Flacco will bounce back from his 2015 fourth-quarter struggles to give the Ravens the edge in a 24-21 win. It’s easy to pick on the eighth-year quarterback for having the worst fourth-quarter passer rating in the NFL this season, but who has he been able to trust to throw to beyond Steve Smith, who hasn’t been out there for the fourth quarter the last two games? Flacco does need to be better in the final quarter, but he can’t do it by himself. The Ravens will take advantage going up against the league’s 31st-ranked defense to make enough plays late in the game to secure a victory. Am I confident in that prediction? You never are when you’re 1-4, but the 49ers are 1-4 and have looked much worse than the Ravens with three of their four losses being by double digits.

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