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Ravens-related thoughts on Super Bowl 50

Posted on 08 February 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but notice parallels between Peyton Manning’s improbable run to a win in Super Bowl 50 and Ray Lewis finishing his “last ride” with a championship in New Orleans three years ago.

The future Hall of Famers both missed substantial time with injuries in the regular season before returning in time for the playoffs. Each made important contributions on the playoff path to the Super Bowl as Lewis averaged just under 15 tackles per game in the first three rounds of the 2012 postseason and Manning threw for 222 yards against Pittsburgh — overcoming a number of dropped passes — and had two touchdown passes against New England in the AFC championship game.

But as much as we might have enjoyed seeing two of the greatest players in NFL history go out on top, it was apparent that each needed to retire after watching them play in the Super Bowl. While we remember Joe Flacco earning Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors, we try to forget Lewis looking slow and hopeless covering San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis or chasing after 49ers running back Frank Gore in that game.

Like the great Ravens linebacker against the 49ers, Manning had little to do with Denver winning its third Super Bowl title as the Broncos defense suffocated Carolina on Sunday night. Perhaps the 39-year-old Manning was owed one by the football gods after playing with some less-than-stellar defenses over the years in the same way that Lewis had some of his best years wasted by ineptitude on the other side of the ball.

If you’re a Ravens fan struggling to be happy for the quarterback who twice broke Baltimore’s heart in the playoffs — including the 2006 postseason defeat that was the most devastating home loss in franchise history — don’t forget his touching gesture in the playoffs three years ago. More than an hour after the Ravens had defeated the Broncos in an epic double-overtime contest in the divisional round, Manning and his family waited in the Baltimore locker room to congratulate Lewis personally.

Despite dealing with one of the most disappointing losses of his storied career, Manning still wanted to offer his respect to Lewis after the last of their many entertaining chess matches over the years.

It doesn’t matter if Manning — or Lewis — was no longer the same player when tasting championship glory for a final time. Seeing one of the all-time greats exit that way is special and rare.

Let’s just hope Manning actually retires now as most people expect.

Miller time

Four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller already had a résumé impressive enough to land a lucrative contract this offseason, but the Super Bowl 50 MVP took his performance to another level in the postseason.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the 26-year-old had a combined five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. That’s the kind of timing that Flacco can appreciate after the Ravens quarterback threw for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the 2012 postseason to fetch a six-year, $120.6 million contract a few weeks later.

ESPN has already reported that Denver will use the franchise tag if a long-term deal isn’t reached, meaning Ravens fans should stop dreaming about Miller reuniting with Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore.

Kubiak turns to dark side

Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak did a masterful job of handling a difficult quarterback situation this season.

Leading 16-10 and facing a third-and-9 from his own 26 with less than six minutes remaining, the Broncos head coach didn’t allow Manning to even attempt a pass and ran the ball with C.J. Anderson before punting. It was both the right decision and a clear sign that Manning needs to retire.

Possessing a championship defense, the offensive-minded Kubiak turned to the “dark side” in a way reminiscent of how Brian Billick handled the 2000 Ravens by deferring to his defense and being conservative. The difference is that it was much easier to do such a thing with Trent Dilfer than with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Stewart shines

Darian Stewart was a nondescript performer in his lone year with the Ravens, but the Denver safety stood out in the Super Bowl.

He collected three tackles, a sack, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble when he put his helmet right on the ball to knock it away from Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert. It wasn’t just a one-game aberration, either, after Pro Football Focus graded Stewart 14th among NFL safeties during the 2015 season.

It really makes you wonder where that player was in Baltimore a year ago.

False start

After Panthers left tackle Michael Oher committed a false start late in the second quarter, you couldn’t help but be amused by the social-media reaction of Ravens fans who had seen that act often in Baltimore.

The 2009 first-round pick deserves much credit for working hard to get his career back on track in Carolina, but Super Bowl 50 was a forgettable performance for him and the rest of the Panthers offensive line.

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talib

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Denver’s path reminds Ravens of NFL’s slim margin for error

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As Denver prepared for Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, it was difficult not to think back to the Ravens’ season-opening 19-13 loss to the Broncos last September and remember the high expectations entering 2015.

An interception returned for a touchdown by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib was the difference as the Ravens owned the lead late in the third quarter before a Joe Flacco pass intended for Steve Smith was returned 51 yards in the other direction. Perhaps the season plays out differently if John Harbaugh’s team holds on to steal a difficult road win to kick off 2015 on a high note.

Some have pointed to that narrow Week 1 defeat as reason why Baltimore isn’t far from again being a contender despite its worst season since 2007. And, yes, there was some symmetry in the Super Bowl champions having 12 of their 16 regular-season games decided by a single possession while the Ravens saw 14 of their 16 contests decided by eight or fewer points this season.

But that’s life in the NFL as only six teams — Carolina, New England, Arizona, and Cincinnati on the plus side and San Francisco and Cleveland on the negative side — owned a scoring margin of more than eight points points per game in either direction in 2015. Most games are decided in the fourth quarter and are close.

Excruciatingly close.

And that margin of victory — or defeat — is typically decided by the game-changing players on either side of the ball. For all the discussion about Peyton Manning’s decline, the Broncos still have a plethora of playmakers on both sides of the ball, ranging from outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Talib to receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Those are the types of players that separate the winning teams from the losing ones in an otherwise fairly even talent pool from team to team. Denver’s plus-59 point differential during the regular season ranked just sixth in the AFC and 10th in the NFL, but Gary Kubiak’s team figured out ways to win close games while the Ravens consistently fell short in crunch time in 2015.

For years, Baltimore had a number of dynamic players, but most have either departed or have aged too much since Super Bowl XLVII three years ago. The well-documented list of injuries in 2015 merely amplified what was already a flawed roster.

Great players were on display for Denver in Santa Clara on Sunday night.

It will be up to general manager Ozzie Newsome this offseason to find at least a couple game-changers to close that narrow but all-important gap between winning and losing teams.

Otherwise, the Ravens will probably find themselves watching playoff games from their couches again next January.

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton greets Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, left, at midfield after a preseason NFL football game in Baltimore, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. The Panthers defeated the Ravens 34-27. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Ravens-related thoughts on conference championship weekend

Posted on 25 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The lack of weapons surrounding Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been a major topic of discussion in two of the last three years.

That’s why Cam Newton’s season for the NFC champion Carolina Panthers is nothing short of exceptional. The fifth-year quarterback wasn’t exactly a popular pick to be the league MVP — especially after the Panthers lost No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury in August — but he’s done everything he can to silence critics about his play on the field.

To be clear, Newton hasn’t done it alone as he has a Pro Bowl tight end in Greg Olsen and the league’s No. 1 rushing attack — to go along with an excellent defense — but to watch him throw for 35 touchdown passes and a 99.4 passer rating with former first-round bust Ted Ginn Jr., journeyman Jerricho Cotchery, 2014 undrafted free agent Philly Brown, and second-round rookie Devin Funchess as his top four wide receivers?

That’s not exactly a group that instilled fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators.

We’re used to seeing the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers put up impressive passing numbers despite not always having elite talent around them, but Newton deserves the praise he’s receiving as he prepares to play in his first Super Bowl. He’s always been dangerous with his legs — he’s rushed for 500 or more yards in each of his five NFL seasons — but to see his passing prowess take off this season with a less-than-stellar group of receivers is worthy of praise.

This isn’t meant as a knock on Flacco as plenty of good quarterbacks struggle to post big numbers without enough high-end talent around them, but Newton has had a special season.

Blind side surprise

Another reason that Newton has had such a successful year has been the play of Carolina’s offensive line, which includes former Raven Michael Oher playing left tackle.

Oher was mostly solid but still considered a disappointment in Baltimore as a first-round pick in the 2009 draft. The Ole Miss product was even worse with Tennessee in 2014 and was cut just one year after signing a four-year, $20 million contract with the Titans.

So, why the turnaround with the Panthers?

Oher has been reunited with John Matsko, the Ravens’ offensive line coach in his first two NFL seasons. The two share a good relationship, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that Oher has gotten his career back on track working with his old offensive line coach.

According to Pro Football Focus, Oher has graded 32nd among all offensive tackles in the NFL — Eugene Monroe was 22nd and Rick Wagner was 53rd — so it’s not as though he’s suddenly blossomed into a Pro Bowl player in his seventh season. But there’s no doubt that he’s played a key part in transforming what was a poor offensive line in 2014 into one of the better ones in the league.

Orange crush pass rush

The Denver Broncos registered a remarkable 20 quarterback hits on Tom Brady — the most any quarterback had taken in a game all season — over the course of Sunday’s 20-18 win in the AFC championship game.

But even more impressive was the fact that Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips blitzed a season-low 17.2 percent of the time, according to PFF. It certainly helps when you have a special pair of edge rushers like Von Miller — who will be a free agent this offseason — and DeMarcus Ware, but the Broncos’ success was a reminder that you need to be able to disrupt quarterbacks without leaving your pass coverage compromised.

After losing Terrell Suggs in the opener and having already lost Pernell McPhee via free agency, Dean Pees was left with a front unable to generate consistent pressure with a four-man rush for most of the season. As a result, the Ravens defensive coordinator felt compelled to blitz more, which left an underwhelming secondary even more vulnerable in coverage if the pressure didn’t get there in time. It wasn’t until late in the year with the improvement of rookie Za’Darius Smith that Baltimore started to be more disruptive without blitzing.

It’s easier said than done, but the Ravens need to improve their pass rush for 2016 and can’t just hope that the healthy return of Suggs alone will do the trick.

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for divisional round Saturday

Posted on 11 January 2013 by Luke Jones

The Baltimore Ravens haven’t beaten Peyton Manning in their last nine tries, a span covering more than 11 years, and will receive their latest opportunity in Saturday’s divisional round meeting with the Denver Broncos.

Embarrassed in their 34-17 home loss to Denver in Week 15, the Ravens are hellbent on showing they’re a much better team than the one shut out in the first half as the offense could generate nothing against the Broncos’ stout defense. However, the Broncos enter the postseason as the AFC’s No. 1 seed and haven’t lost a game since Oct. 7, finishing the regular season on a league-best 11-game winning streak.

Though the stakes aren’t quite as high as the two AFC championship games in which the Ravens have appeared under coach John Harbaugh, they might feel just as much urgency on Saturday knowing 37-year-old linebacker and spiritual leader Ray Lewis will retire after the season. The wave of emotion seemed to work in their favor in last week’s 24-9 wild-card playoff victory over Indianapolis, but traveling to Denver to deal with the bitter cold and altitude is another challenge entirely as the Broncos possess the league’s fourth-ranked offense and second-ranked defense in terms of yardage.

The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series with Denver by a 5-4 margin and own a win in the only other playoff meeting against the Broncos, a 21-3 final in the franchise’s first postseason game on Dec. 31, 2000. However, the Ravens haven’t won a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High since 2001, which happens to be the same season in which they last secured a victory over Manning.

Baltimore is 1-3 in four games against the Broncos in Denver.

Here’s what to expect as the 11-6 Ravens attempt to secure their second consecutive AFC championship game appearance with an upset over the Broncos …

1. Ed Reed will secure an interception of Manning in what may be his final game with the Ravens. I incorrectly predicted the 34-year-old free safety would pick off Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, so I’ll go to the well one more time for the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year. The Ravens’ interest in retaining Reed’s services after the season appear lukewarm at best, and there’s no guarantee the chronically-injured defensive player will decide to play in 2013 anyway. Even so, with it being a cold and potentially snowy afternoon in Denver, Reed will capitalize on a rare mistake by Manning to force a takeaway to set the Ravens up on a short field. With dangerous targets Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker providing tough matchups against Baltimore cornerbacks, Reed will need to play his assignments to offer help over the top. Even so, the veteran is notorious for gambling and he knows Manning as well as any quarterback in the league.

2. Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller will collect two sacks for the Broncos while Paul Kruger continues his hot streak with 1 1/2 sacks for the Ravens. The installation of veteran Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and the presence of right guard Marshal Yanda — who was inactive for the Week 15 loss — will help an offensive line that allowed quarterback Joe Flacco to be sacked three times and hit nine times by the Broncos last month. McKinnie will do a respectable job against defensive end Elvis Dumervil, but Miller is an absolute nightmare as he can line up on either edge or stunt from the strong-side linebacker position. Kruger will continue his best season as a professional and collect 1 1/2 sacks after picking up 2 1/2 against Indianapolis last week. The sobering thought is that Kruger is likely pricing himself beyond the Ravens’ budget with his strong finish to the 2012 season. They’ll enjoy his services for at least one more afternoon as he provides the most consistent heat on Manning with the banged-up Terrell Suggs virtually a non-factor these days.

3. Bernard Pierce finishes with more carries and more yards than Ray Rice as the Ravens try to find the edges more than you’d think against a fast Denver defense. The conventional wisdom is to run north and south against the speedy Broncos unit, but the numbers suggest otherwise as Denver has been stout against inside runs and vulnerable when running games have tried to run beyond the edges. The Broncos have allowed 3.76 yards per run behind left guard, 3.23 yards per run behind center, and 2.82 yards per run behind right guard. That last number is interesting with Yanda being the Ravens’ best offensive lineman. In the first meeting between the teams, the Ravens tried to run five plays behind veteran Bobbie Williams at the right guard spot and gained only nine yards. The Broncos have allowed 4.9 yards per carry around the left edge and 5.54 yards per carry to the right end. In terms of the workload for Pierce and Rice, the former’s ability to explode through running lanes and create yards after contact is the more appealing option against the league’s third-ranked run defense, but Rice will receive plenty of touches as well as offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will try to create mismatches for Rice to get the ball in open space as a receiver. Baltimore will exceed the measly 56 rushing yards gained against Denver on Dec. 16, but seeing them run for much more than 100 total would be very surprising. An effective running game would go a long way in keeping Manning off the field, so the Ravens will stick to the run even if only earning modest gains.

4. Flacco will receive better protection this time around, but he will have difficulty finding open receivers as he struggles to crack the 200-yard passing mark. The running game will be critical in determining how much time Flacco receives to throw as the Ravens are likely to use some play-action roll-outs and bootlegs to move the pocket and keep Miller and Dumervil honest in targeting the quarterback behind the offensive line. If Pierce and Rice are unable to gain positive yardage, the Broncos won’t respect the play fakes and the Baltimore quarterback will be unable to evade rushers when trying to throw on the move. Even if Flacco is able to receive more time, the question of whether Baltimore receivers can gain separation against Champ Bailey and Chris Harris remains to be seen. Anquan Boldin was held without a catch and Torrey Smith made one reception for 14 yards before leaving the first Denver game early in the second half with a concussion. Flacco will try to take shots downfield with Smith and Jacoby Jones on the outside, but the Denver secondary has been exceptional all year, averaging a fifth-ranked 6.4 yards allowed per passing attempt. The Ravens will move the chains more effectively than they did in Week 15 — 1-for-12 on third down — but Flacco’s short-to-intermediate passes to tight end Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin will become more difficult over the course of the game unless they can connect on a deep ball or two to back up the secondary.

5. The Ravens will put forth a better showing than they did against Denver last month, but Manning and the Broncos will prove to be too much in a 27-17 final. The notion uttered by many this week that the Ravens have no shot against the Broncos is a silly one and wreaks of not paying attention to what happens around the NFL every week. The Broncos are the better team, but that doesn’t mean Baltimore isn’t capable of pulling off the upset, especially with a big return by Jones or a crucial turnover that goes in their favor. Despite their many critics, the Ravens are a good football team and should be commended for winning 11 games this season after the slew of injuries they suffered, particularly on the defensive side of the football. However, the Broncos are a great team and Manning will be too much to overcome as a Baltimore defense that will bend but not break for the first three quarters will wilt on a late touchdown drive to put this one out of reach. The Baltimore offense won’t be embarrassed like it was at M&T Bank Stadium last month, but the unit just won’t be productive enough against one of the best defensive units in the league. The Ravens’ season and the career of the future Hall of Fame Lewis will come to an end in Denver on Saturday.

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The 15-7-0 has something like a .12 blood pecan pie level

Posted on 12 November 2012 by Glenn Clark

As always, this week’s 15-7-0 is brought to you by Roofing By Elite. Visit them at roofingbyelite.com. We make 15 observations about football that are ELITE, 7 that are “not so ELITE” and one “zero” who deserves to sleep on the roof from outside of football.

(As a reminder, we don’t do Baltimore Ravens game analysis here. We do PLENTY of that elsewhere. This is about the rest of the world of football.)

Here we go.

“The Elite 15″…

1. Stop dancing around it. A freshman who wasn’t in the Top 5 a week ago is now your frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.

Not a joke. Geno Smith and Matt Barkley have been done for weeks…no one is excited about Collin Klein…and Kenjon Barner played at midnight the other night. Meanwhile Johnny Football was throwing touchdowns even on plays where he fumbled…

Hey Nick Saban-where are you in the polls now???

Elsewhere in the SEC, Auburn fans are looking forward to when coach Gene Chizik gets “Dooley-ed”…

2. So as it turns out, AJ Green was absolutely accurate.

He said he thought the Giants’ defense had some holes. He was right…

And does Eli Manning think he plays for the Jets???

3. Everyone in the Broncos-Panthers game was doing “the Superman”…except Cam Newton.

But you know, no one more than Von Miller…

I mean…why wouldn’t Cam have hit the Superman after this gem?

Remember the time Trindon Holliday scored a touchdown but never actually got the ball in the endzone?

Here’s Von Miller wiggling…

4. At Oregon, the backups to the backups can run 4.4 in the forty and could beat most Pac-12 teams.

Am I supposed to be MF-ing the guy in this circle wearing black and white, too?

Elsewhere in the Pac-12…Marqise Lee!

5. The Texas wishbone-throwback-throw again-whatever else it was play was the absolute best of the weekend.

Darrell Royal doesn’t mean a thing to me, but I do know this is completely freaking kickass…

(Continued on Page 2…)

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