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Trends converging as Ravens try to right ship in Cleveland

Posted on 31 October 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The story has been the same whenever the Ravens encounter the Cleveland Browns in the John Harbaugh era.

Winners of 11 straight against the AFC North foe starting in the 2008 season — the year Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco, and running back Ray Rice first stepped foot in Baltimore — the Ravens and their fans have been able to view a meeting with Cleveland in November or later as a catalyst propelling them to greater heights while throwing dirt on the division’s annual doormat. In truth, the Browns haven’t been a pushover in recent years as three of the last four encounters have been decided by eight points or less, but the script inevitably involves the Ravens making the necessary big play and the Browns folding when it matters late in the game.

So, why would Sunday’s meeting at FirstEnergy Stadium be any different?”

“Because as the years go by, the teams change,” Browns cornerback Joe Haden told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Thursday. “The Ravens aren’t the Ravens of old. They’re still a really good team, a division opponent, but at the same time, our team is a whole different team. It’s a different squad. We still haven’t gotten over the hump, but there’s no reason why we can’t.”

Of course, it would be easy to fire back at the talented young defensive back that Cleveland has very much looked like the old Browns since a surprising 3-2 start, losing three straight despite a top 10 defense and an offense that includes talented young wide receiver Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, who was labeled by Harbaugh earlier this week as a premier tight end in the NFL. After quarterback Brian Hoyer went down with a torn ACL on Oct. 3, head coach Rod Chudzinski has bounced between 2012 first-round pick Brandon Weeden and veteran Jason Campbell at the quarterback position, appearing to settle on the latter after a surprising performance in a losing effort to undefeated Kansas City last week.

But Haden’s right about the Ravens as their 3-4 record puts them only one loss better than the Browns and in unfamiliar territory below the .500 mark this late in a season for the first time under Harbaugh. Even with the Browns’ recent struggles, the Ravens’ long winning streak against Cleveland has never appeared to be in more danger than it is on Sunday.

Harbaugh and his players received all the evidence they needed in Week 2 when they were shut out in the first half before scoring two second-half touchdowns in a 14-6 victory over the Browns in Baltimore.

“Every time we play them, it’s a tough game, it’s a physical game,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve run the ball on us, they’ve played great defense against us over the years, [and] their pass rushers are legitimate pass rushers. It’s always a fight right down to the finish, so we know it will be that kind of game again — at least that’s what we are expecting and preparing for.”

The head coach went on to state his belief that the Ravens are going to catch fire over the season’s final nine games after various concerns in all three phases have left them two games behind the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. Meanwhile, a loss to the Ravens would all but finish the Browns with a 3-6 record entering their Week 10 bye.

But the Ravens must find a way to start faster in games as they’ve been held without an offensive touchdown in the first half of five of their seven games and have trailed at halftime five times this season. Most of the blame will fall on the league’s worst running game in yards per carry (2.8), but Flacco has completed just 55.2 percent of his first-half passes before improving to 63.7 percent in the game’s final 30 minutes.

The weekly slow starts have put much pressure on a solid but unspectacular defense that has allowed 140 or more rushing yards in three of its last four games and has struggled to get off the field in the second half in two straight losses to Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

It’s been an uphill battle too often and a formula not conducive to success over the scope of an entire season, especially when playing on the road.

“There’s nothing you can really do in terms of practice and stuff like that to ensure anything,” Flacco said. “You practice to give yourself the best chance to play the best, and it’s a matter of going out there and playing. Once we go out there and play well early on, then people will forget about it and we’ll forget about it to a certain extent.”

The Ravens have said all the right things about feeling the necessary urgency and acknowledging that there’s little margin for error with six of their final nine games coming against teams with a .500 or better record.

But as Flacco said, talking about making the necessary corrections along the offensive line, in the run defense, and on special teams means little if the results don’t show up on Sundays.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh sent a clear message on Wednesday by cutting veteran defensive players Michael Huff and Marcus Spears and proving that they won’t hesitate to make changes to turn around their season and advance to the postseason for a franchise-record and NFL-best sixth straight season.

Their first post-bye opportunity comes against the league’s 24th-ranked offense and a running game that’s been nearly as ineffective as them, but the Browns possess a balanced defense posing a serious challenge to an offense that showed marginal improvement two weeks ago in Pittsburgh but hasn’t been able to get out of its way more often than not this year. Several players echoed the sentiment this week that the Ravens are built for the second half of the season, but much of that was based on past accomplishments that included a much stronger running game.

“It’s November football,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “At this point, [the games are] all big after the bye. They all count. Not to say the ones before didn’t, but these decide whether or not you get a chance at greatness.”

As much as Baltimore’s leadership was discussed this offseason following the departures of such veterans as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, and Matt Birk, the true test was always going to come in the face of adversity, and a 3-4 record with an important divisional road game certainly qualifies. The locker room has remained united and focused on team-oriented goals, but a loss to the Browns and a 3-5 record would place more strain on the fabric of the Ravens than they’ve felt in a very long time.

Past trends don’t guarantee future results as the Ravens have seen other streaks under Harbaugh come to an end this season, including an undefeated mark in season openers and a perfect home record against NFC opponents. On Sunday, the Ravens will try to improve to 6-0 coming off their bye week under Harbaugh while extending their winning streak over Cleveland to 12 games.

The Browns will have something to say in determining the outcome — good or bad — but Haden was right in saying these aren’t the same old Ravens as only seven players remain from when Baltimore began its current streak of success against Cleveland on Sept. 21, 2008. And 18 players currently on the 53-man roster weren’t with the organization for Super Bowl XLVII nine months ago.

“It’s different, because every time I used to look at them, they used to be back there controlling everything,” said Browns running back Willis McGahee when asked about seeing his former team without leaders such as Lewis and Reed. “Now, it’s a bunch of new faces. I guess it was time for them to start over and bring in new people.”

Even with new faces and glaring flaws, the Ravens hope old habits die hard in Cleveland and that Sunday is the first step in righting their 2013 season.

While also putting the latest nail in the coffin of a Browns season.

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New Ravens wide receiver Streeter long on confidence despite lacking polish

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Luke Jones

Doubts about his route-running ability caused University of Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter to fall to the sixth round before the Ravens finally took a chance on the 6-foot-5 specimen with the 198th overall pick.

But what he lacks in refinement he makes up for with confidence, showing the same swagger made famous by countless former Hurricanes over the last 25 years. Running the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.40 seconds in addition to his impressive height, the raw Streeter views himself as a dynamic playmaker instead of a sixth-round pick without a guarantee of a roster spot in the fall.

“I feel like I’m one of those guys who can create a mismatch anywhere on the field with my size and speed,” Streeter told AM 1570 WNST on Saturday. “I consider myself to be a deep-threat receiver, a guy that can take the lid off of the defense.”

Streeter caught 46 passes for 811 yards and eight touchdowns in his redshirt-junior season after recording just six receptions for 156 yards in his first two seasons at Miami. The improvement prompted him to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the 2012 NFL Draft, where he initially expected to be taken in the second or third round.

His measurables suggest a receiver with immense potential, but his limited body of work at Miami and lack of quickness getting out of breaks caused teams to pass on Streeter in search of more polished products. Averaging 17.6 yards per catch to lead the ACC among players with at least 45 receptions, Streeter vows not to forget the feeling of falling down the board as he tries to make an immediate impact for the Ravens.

“Over the course of just watching the draft, there were many teams that passed up on me and I thank God that the Baltimore Ravens saw something in me,” Streeter said. “They gave me the opportunity. Everything that I can do to make plays and help this organization, that’s what I’m going to do and I’m just ready to go out there and prove myself.”

General manager Ozzie Newsome made it no secret the organization was looking to add depth at the receiver position, but the Ravens elected to pass on such prospects as Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill and LSU’s Rueben Randle in the early rounds.

Baltimore wide receivers not named Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith combined for just eight receptions and 110 yards in 2011, with former No. 3 target Lee Evans making only four catches in an injury-plagued season before being released in March. The Ravens hope Streeter can eventually emerge as the tall target to which quarterback Joe Flacco can look inside the 20-yard line.

With Boldin and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta working the short and intermediate parts of the field, the Ravens have dreamed about a 6-foot-5 target being able to stretch the field for years. Streeter thinks he can be that guy for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

“Having Torrey Smith, it’s going to be a scary [having] two guys that present that big play, [an] ability to take the top off the defense,” Streeter said. “At the same time, I feel like in the red zone, I just create a mismatch all day down there.”

While the Ravens’ history of drafting defensive players from Miami is known around the NFL, they have rarely counted on offensive standouts from the Florida school, with former running back Willis McGahee the only Hurricane of note contributing on the opposite side of the ball. McGahee was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills in 2007 and spent four seasons in Baltimore.

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Big picture takes priority in draft over immediate needs for Ravens

Posted on 23 April 2012 by Luke Jones

In summing up the phenomenon that has become the NFL Draft over the years, former Ravens coach Brian Billick’s introductory mantra for teams drafting a quarterback is more than fitting in describing the entire event.

Nobody knows anything.

Of course, the phrase is hyperbole when considering the individuals — such as the ones residing at 1 Winning Drive in Owings Mills — who have proven time and time again they mostly know what they’re doing. Still, other organizations over the years — the franchise down the road in Landover comes to mind — have either used their picks as blind shots at a dartboard or, even worse, sold them away for deteriorating veteran pieces for the short term that often leave their franchises in football purgatory.

While everyone hopes to discover the winning Powerball ticket, there is just as much anxiety about uncovering the kind of skunk that can get the head coach, general manager, and scouting department fired. After four months of mock drafts, 40 times, pro days, and the assembling of draft boards, we’ll finally get our first look at the hand each of the 32 teams is holding this weekend.

And, even then, the same will hold true for everyone after the 253rd pick is turned in Saturday evening: we won’t really know for a few more years.

For the Ravens, we all know the philosophy and can recite it by heart. It’s all about the “best player available” and staying true to their draft board. However, they arguably have their most glaring need — the left guard position — since drafting Joe Flacco as their badly-needed franchise quarterback in 2008.

Whether you believe second-year tackle Jah Reid can successfully make the transition to left guard or not, it doesn’t take a fortune-teller to predict loud concern among fans should the Ravens walk away without an interior lineman in the first couple rounds of the draft. Even if that scenario plays out, a look at recent history reminds us how essential it is to allow the results to play out.

In 2008, the second-round selection of Rutgers running back Ray Rice appeared curious after the Ravens had just forked over multiple draft picks and a hefty contract to Willis McGahee the year before. Of course, Rice soon became a Pro Bowl running back while McGahee drifted to a backup role before ultimately being shown the door last year.

And with the benefit of hindsight and the surprising emergence of Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams last season, would the Ravens have still selected cornerback Jimmy Smith with the 27th overall pick in 2011 or perhaps traded out of the spot to address another area?

Could the Ravens pass on selecting a guard and watch Reid blossom into an above-average guard?

You never know what the future holds, making it even more critical to choose the player you envision to be the best over the next four or five years and not just one who can help immediately in 2012.

The consensus choice among experts’ mock drafts is Wisconsin center Peter Konz, who makes perfect sense on paper because of the perceived ability of Konz to shift over to left guard for a season before taking over for veteran Matt Birk, whose three-year contract is essentially structured to be a one-year deal. Konz would certainly address the Ravens’ most immediate need, but will he ultimately be the best player available when thinking about the next four or five seasons?

The Ravens have lacked a tall, impact receiver since the early years of the franchise, making it difficult to pass on a raw talent with major upside such as Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill at the end of the first round. As WNST.net’s Glenn Clark pointed out, there is value at wide receiver in the second and third rounds, but does make you turn away from Hill and toward another position, even if you’re confident he becomes a premier receiver over the next five years?

Other than perhaps quarterback and cornerback, the Ravens could stand to benefit from adding premium talent at any position. In the unlikely scenario that a left tackle prospect such as Riley Reiff of Iowa or Stanford’s Jonathan Martin becomes available — and assuming the Ravens’ brass grade out the given player as favorably as the experts do — Baltimore shouldn’t think twice about drafting its left tackle of the future, even if it means he sits on the bench for a year behind Bryant McKinnie and is unable to spend a cameo season at guard. The same holds true if Alabama’s Mark Barron slides down the draft board, even though the Ravens appear set at safety this season with Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard under contract.

The NFL Draft is about building franchises for the long haul, not plugging holes for that coming fall. You weigh the merits of perceived “safer” picks such as Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler who might have a lower ceiling against the potential rewards of drafting an upside player like Hill who possesses a higher bust rate.

If you’re confident that safe pick will blossom into a Pro Bowl player, you take him like the Ravens did with Ben Grubbs in 2007. But there are other times where rolling the dice — within reason — is the best move if you’ve done your homework and are confident in your coaching staff and the young man in which you’re investing.

The good news is Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta, and Joe Hortiz know these lessons as well as any talent evaluators in the league.

Whether their first-round selection falls in line with an immediate need such as guard or wide receiver or is more of a long-term consideration like left tackle, inside linebacker, or safety, the Ravens are looking beyond next season when they turn in their card on Thursday night. It’s not just about 2012 and trying to move the Ravens one step further than they went last year; it’s finding the player who will put them in the best position to win over the next five years.

You never truly know whether it’s going to work out or not, but keeping the big picture in focus will keep you pointed in the right direction.

It’s not always what the fans want and it may leave them scratching their heads and groaning about the results on draft day, but you’re ultimately making the choice based on the cheers you expect to hear over the next several years.

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Ravens receive two compensatory picks in April’s draft

Posted on 26 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With NFL owners congregating in Florida for their annual meetings this week, the league awarded 32 compensatory picks for April’s draft on Monday afternoon.

Based on last offseason’s free-agent movement, the Ravens were awarded fourth- and fifth-round compensatory picks, which will be the 130th and 169th overall selections respectively.

While the notable releases of wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, and running back Willis McGahee were not taken into account, the free-agent losses of safety Dawan Landry (Jacksonville), guard Chris Chester (Washington), and cornerback Josh Wilson (Washington) factored into the Ravens receiving compensation in April’s draft after each received high-priced, long-term contracts and started 16 games with new teams.

After general manager Ozzie Newsome traded the Ravens’ fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft to Buffalo for veteran Lee Evans last August, receiving a fourth-round compensatory pick helps to ease the sting of that ill-fated move.

Under the rules of compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive picks. The number of picks a team receives is equal to the net loss of free agents up to a maximum of four. Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time, and postseason distinctions. Not every free agent lost or acquired by a club factors into the formula.

This year, the compensatory picks will be positioned within the third through seventh rounds based on the value of the compensatory free agents lost.

The Ravens have been awarded 33 compensatory picks over their 17-year history, most in the NFL during that time period. With their two fifth-round compensatory picks in 2011, they selected defensive end Pernell McPhee and cornerback Chykie Brown.

Here are the Ravens’ selections for next month’s draft:

Round 1: No. 29
Round 2: No. 60
Round 3: No. 91
Round 4: No. 130 (compensatory)
Round 5: No. 155
Round 5: No. 169 (compensatory)
Round 6: No. 186
Round 7: No. 218

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With free agency upon us, Ravens will lean on continued growth from within in 2012

Posted on 12 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With the start of the new league year and free agency less than 24 hours away, you can already hear the cries if you listen carefully.

And you know exactly what I’m talking about if you pay attention to talk radio, internet message boards, and Twitter over the opening days of free agency every year.

When are the Ravens going to do something?

Why does Ozzie insist on sitting on his hands?

They’re definitely taking a step back this season.

Never were those exclamations louder than last season, an unprecedented period of free agency that coincided with the start of training camp after the 134-day lockout. General manager Ozzie Newsome waved goodbye to veterans Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg, and Willis McGahee in a series of cap-saving cuts, and a number of veterans including Chris Chester, Dawan Landry, and Josh Wilson found richer contracts elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Ravens’ free-agent additions for 2011 were relatively modest over the course of the preseason, adding fullback Vonta Leach, safety Bernard Pollard, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, center Andre Gurode, and running back Ricky Williams in addition to re-signing right guard Marshal Yanda to a long-term contract. The “offseason” timetable was stunted by the lockout, but Newsome operated in the way he typically does — calculated and conservative. In fact, the most dynamic move he made — trading a fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for veteran receiver Lee Evans — turned out to be the biggest failure.

The history lesson is worth repeating as the Ravens embark on free agency for the 17th time in franchise history. Projected to have approximately $14.45 million in salary cap space (before tendering restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents), Newsome will devote much of that to retaining as many of his own free agents as he can.

Of Baltimore’s 12 unrestricted free agents, five were starters last season, meaning the Ravens could be looking at more significant roster turnover than you’d like from an AFC North championship team that was one touchdown catch from advancing to the Super Bowl.

Expecting a dramatic splash of throwing money at elite free agents such as wide receiver Vincent Jackson or outside linebacker Mario Williams is only setting yourself up for disappointment. Even in the years in which he’s had the most cap room, Newsome rarely targets the players grabbing the headlines in the opening days of free agency, instead focusing on keeping his own and laying plans for value free agents that fulfill a need without eating up precious cap room.

As was the case last season, the Ravens will look for continued growth from within to aid in their quest for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Entering the 2011 season, Terrence Cody, Ed Dickson, and Dennis Pitta were well-known draft picks from the previous season but had yet to emerge as starting-caliber players in the NFL. Even bigger question marks surrounded Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams before they became legitimate starting cornerbacks for one of the league’s top defenses. And fighting serious doubts after a poor preseason, wide receiver Torrey Smith set franchise rookie records for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches.

Their contributions were as critical as any free-agent acquisition the Ravens made en route to a 12-4 record and their first division title in five years.

This season, the Ravens will potentially look to younger players such as defensive ends Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee, offensive lineman Jah Reid, and linebackers Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Albert McClellan to help fill potential voids left behind by free agents Cory Redding, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Jarret Johnson, and Jameel McClain. Of course, the Ravens will add new pieces via free agency and next month’s draft to fill some of those needs, but it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll need to lean on some combination of the aforementioned players for expanded roles in 2012.

After tendering their restricted free agents and exclusive rights players, the Ravens will be left with somewhere between $6 million and $7 million to address their own unrestricted free agents and shop the open market. It doesn’t take an economics major to realize that money will only go so far.

But, as he usually does, Newsome will make the most of it.

As the frenzy of free agency begins on Tuesday and the big names start coming off the board — possibly even a few from the Ravens’ own backyard leaving for greener pastures — remember many of the biggest factors determining how the Ravens fare in 2012 already reside in Owings Mills.

It may get ugly, with many of their unrestricted free agents not expected to return, but Newsome and the Ravens never strive to “win” the first week of free agency. They’ll look closely for that under-the-radar talent that nobody is talking about right now. And, as always, the Ravens will plan to shine during April’s draft.

By the time July arrives, they’ll address the offensive line and the linebacker position in some form as well as add a few pieces in other areas to optimize a team that was only a few tenths of a second away from going to the Super Bowl back in January.

Just remember that when you or someone else feels the urge to panic and ask if Newsome is asleep at the wheel over the next week or so.

To borrow an expression from another era and another sport here in Baltimore, it’s “The Raven Way” of doing business.

And if history is any indication, it’s worked pretty well.

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Odds of Ravens Winning Super Bowl Now at 7/1

Posted on 12 January 2012 by WNST Staff

Courtesy of Bovada, (www.Bovada.lv,  Twitter: @BovadaLV).

2012 NFL Playoffs – Which Conference will win the Super Bowl?      

AFC                  8/5

NFC                  1/2

2012 NFL Playoffs – How many road teams will win this weekend?   

0                      4/1       

1                      6/5

2                      2/1       

3                      10/1     

4                      125/1   

2012 NFL Playoffs – How many road teams will win this weekend?   

Over                  1½ (+160)

Under                1½  (-200)

2012 NFL Playoffs – Will any game go to Overtime this weekend?     

Yes                  3/1       

No                    1/4       

Exact Playoff Results for Each Team

2012 NFL Playoffs – Green Bay Packers Playoff Progress       

Eliminated in NFC Divisional Round                     11/4

Eliminated in NFC Championship Game               3/1

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       3/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        9/5

2012 NFL Playoffs – New England Patriots Playoff Progress    

Eliminated in AFC Divisional Round                     11/2

Eliminated in AFC Championship Game               5/2

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       2/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        11/4

2012 NFL Playoffs – San Francisco 49ers Playoff Progress      

Eliminated in NFC Divisional Round                     1/2

Eliminated in NFC Championship Game               5/2

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       7/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        13/1

2012 NFL Playoffs – Baltimore Ravens Playoff Progress          

Eliminated in AFC Divisional Round                     5/2

Eliminated in AFC Championship Game               5/6

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       15/4

Super Bowl Champion                                        7/1

2012 NFL Playoffs – New Orleans Saints Playoff Progress       

Eliminated in NFC Divisional Round                     5/2

Eliminated in NFC Championship Game               1/1

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       11/2

Super Bowl Champion                                        7/2

2012 NFL Playoffs – Houston Texans Playoff Progress            

Eliminated in AFC Divisional Round                     2/7

Eliminated in AFC Championship Game               7/2

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       15/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        30/1

2012 NFL Playoffs – New York Giants Playoff Progress            

Eliminated in NFC Divisional Round                     2/7

Eliminated in NFC Championship Game               4/1

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       12/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        14/1

2012 NFL Playoffs – Denver Broncos Playoff Progress             

Eliminated in AFC Divisional Round                     1/8

Eliminated in AFC Championship Game               7/1

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       18/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        35/1

Divisonal Playoff Round Stat Leaders

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF WEEKEND – Who will record the most Passing Yards?

Drew Brees (NO) QB                              2/1

Aaron Rodgers (GB) QB                         5/2

Tom Brady (NE) QB                               9/4

Eli Manning (NYG) QB                           5/1

Joe Flacco (BAL) QB                             10/1

Alex Smith (SF) QB                               15/1

Tim Tebow (DEN) QB                             18/1

T.J. Yates (HOU)                                   18/1

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF WEEKEND – Who will record the most Rushing Yards?

Ray Rice (BAL) RB                                4/5

Arian Foster (HOU) RB                           5/2

Frank Gore (SF) RB                               7/2

Willis McGahee (DEN) RB                      4/1

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF WEEKEND – Who will record the most Receiving Yards?        

Wes Welker (NE) WR                            7/2

Marques Colston (NO) WR                     4/1

Rob Gronkowski (NE) TE                        11/2

Hakeem Nicks (NYG) WR                      11/2

Victor Cruz (NYG) WR                           11/2

Jordy Nelson (GB) WR                           7/1

Demaryius Thomas (DEN) WR                7/1

Andre Johnson (HOU) WR                      15/2

Anquan Boldin (BAL) WR                       12/1

Michael Crabtree (SF) WR                      15/1

New Orleans at San Francisco

NO                    -3.5

SF                    +3.5

Over/Under      47.5

Passing Yards – Drew Brees (NO)       

Over/Under                    335½

Total TD Passes – Drew Brees (NO)    

Over                              2½  (-175)

Under                            2½ (+145)

Combined Yards in the game – Darren Sproles (NO)  

Over/Under                    175½

Receiving Yards – Marques Colston (NO)        

Over/Under                    82½

Will Jimmy Graham (NO) score a TD in the game?    

Yes                              -150

No                                +120

Passing Yards – Alex Smith (SF)         

Over/Under                    225½

Rushing Yards – Frank Gore (SF)        

Over/Under                    80½

Receiving Yards – Michael Crabtree (SF)       

Over/Under                    62½

Receiving Yards – Vernon Davis (SF)  

Over/Under                    52½

Will the 49ers allow a Rushing TD in the game?        

Yes                              -175

No                                +145

Who will have more turnovers in the game? 

New Orleans Saints                   EVEN

San Francisco 49ers                  -130

Denver at New England

DEN                  +14

NE                     -14

Over/Under      50.5

Passing Yards – Tim Tebow (DEN)                  

Over/Under                    190½

TD Passes – Tim Tebow (DEN)                        

Over                              1½ (+195)

Under                            1½  (-250)

Interceptions – Tim Tebow (DEN)                    

Over                              ½  (-165)

Under                            ½ (+135)

Rushing Yards – Tim Tebow (DEN)                  

Over/Under                    45½

Rushing Attempts – Tim Tebow (DEN)             

Over/Under                    9½

Completions – Tim Tebow (DEN)                     

Over/Under                    11½

Will Tim Tebow (DEN) score a rushing TD in the game?                    

Yes                              +135    

No                                -165    

Receiving Yards – Demaryius Thomas (DEN)              

Over/Under                    72½

Passing Yards – Tom Brady (NE)                      

Over/Under                    325½

Total TD Passes – Tom Brady (NE)      

Over                              2½  (-150)

Under                            2½ (+120)

Receiving Yards – Wes Welker (NE)                

Over/Under                    90½

Receiving Yards – Rob Gronkowski (NE)                     

Over/Under                    82½

Will Rob Gronkowski (NE) score a TD in the game?   

Yes                  -165

No                    +135

Receiving Yards – Aaron Hernandez (NE)                   

Over/Under                    60½

Will Josh McDaniels and Tim Tebow hug at the end of the game?    

Yes                              EVEN

No                                -140

Houston at Baltimore

HOU                 +9

BAL                   -9

Over/Under      35.5

Total Passing Yards – T.J. Yates (HOU)           

Over/Under                    200½

(HOU vs BAL) – What will T.J. Yates have more of?    

TD Passes                    2/1

Interceptions                  2/1

Tie                                7/5

Total Rushing Yards – Arian Foster (HOU)       

Over/Under                    75½

Will Arian Foster (HOU) score a TD in the game?       

Yes                              -110     

No                                -110     

Total Receiving Yards – Andre Johnson (HOU)           

Over/Under                    70½

Total Passing Yards – Joe Flacco (BAL)          

Over/Under                    235½

Will Ray Rice (BAL) score a TD in the game?

Yes                  -200    

No                    +160    

Total Receiving Yards – Anquan Boldin (BAL)            

Over/Under                    62½

Total Tackles & Assists – Terrell Suggs (BAL)

Over/Under                    4½

Who will record more Rushing Yards in the game?   

Arian Foster (HOU) RB               +25½               

Ray Rice (BAL) RB                    -25½

Who will record more Receiving Yards in the game?

Arian Foster (HOU) RB               +4½     

Ray Rice (BAL) RB                    -4½

Total Rushing Yards Houston in the game      

Over/Under                                100½

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

NYG                 +9

GB                    -9

Over/Under      53

Total Passing Yards – Eli Manning (NYG)        

Over/Under                    290½

Total TD Passes – Eli Manning (NYG)  

Over                              2  (-150)

Under                            2 (+120)

Total Receiving Yards – Hakeem Nicks (NYG)

Over/Under                    80½

Total Receiving Yards – Victor Cruz (NYG)      

Over/Under                    80½

Total Tackles & Assists – Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG)      

Over/Under                    5½

Total Passing Yards – Aaron Rodgers (GB)     

Over/Under                    310½

Total TD Passes – Aaron Rodgers (GB)           

Over                              2½  (-165)

Under                            2½ (+135)

Total Receiving Yards – Greg Jennings (GB)  

Over/Under                    75½

Will Greg Jennings (GB) score a TD in the game?     

Over                              -110     

Under                            -110     

Total Receiving Yards – Jordy Nelson (GB)     

Over/Under                    70½

Will Jordy Nelson (GB) score a TD in the game?        

Yes                  EVEN

No                    -130

Total Receiving Yards – Jermichael Finley (GB)         

Over/Under                    50½

(NYG vs GB) – Who will record more Rushing Yards in the game?     

New York Giants            -5½

Green Bay Packers        +5½

How many times will Aaron Rodgers be sacked in the game?           

Over/Under                    2½

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Grading the Ravens’ veteran acquisitions at the quarter pole

Posted on 05 October 2011 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 10 August 2011 by Luke Jones

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

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

And younger.

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

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

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

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

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

Series history

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

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

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

Coaching connections

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

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

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

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

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

Local flavor

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

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

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

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

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

Injury report

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

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

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

7 Players to Watch

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

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Ravens agree to terms with veteran running back Ricky Williams

Posted on 08 August 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have agreed to terms with veteran running back Ricky Williams, according to Pro Football Talk.

Needing to boost depth behind starter Ray Rice after Willis McGahee’s and fullback Le’Ron McClain signing a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens will likely look to the 34-year-old power back to fill McGahee’s role in short-yardage situations. Williams rushed for 673 yards on 159 carries while sharing time with Ronnie Brown in Miami last season.

Williams will reportedly sign a two-year deal worth up to $4 million.

Veteran Jalen Parmele and seventh-round pick Anthony Allen had been the strongest candidates for the No. 2 job on the depth chart, raising concerns with the Ravens’ apparent commitment to the running game in 2011. At 5-foot-10 and 230 pounds, Williams gives the Ravens a big back to complement the shiftier Rice in the offensive backfield.

Williams is famously known as the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner who the New Orleans Saints — and then-coach Mike Ditka — famously gave up their entire draft to trade up to take him. The free-spirit running back retired in 2004 after two seasons with the Dolphins, only to return to Miami to rush for 743 yards in 2005. The former Texas Longhorn rushed for 1,121 yards (4.7 yards per carry) in 2009, his best season since making his comeback.

While certainly not the feared back who once produced four straight 1,000-yard seasons earlier in his career, a healthy Williams will provide the Ravens an established insurance policy behind the 24-year-old Rice.

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Live from Owings Mills: Ravens tight end Dickson replacing “Superman” with Heap’s exit

Posted on 27 July 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Second-year tight end Ed Dickson filled in for an injured Todd Heap over the final month of the 2010 season, but in the back of his mind, he knew the veteran was on his way back.

It looks like he’ll have no such safety net this year as the Ravens intend to officially release Heap on Thursday to save salary cap room. While some hope remains for Heap’s return at a reduced cost, Dickson finds himself as the projected starter entering training camp.

“It means a lot to me that they have that much faith in me,” said Dickson, who weighed in a few pounds heavier than last season. “I’ve been here one year. Like I said, all I can do is improve my game. I can come out in training camp and play my game and just try to get better everyday in camp and work to getting that starting position. They didn’t sign anything over to me right now. I still have competition, and I love competition.”

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His biggest competition is fellow 2010 draftee Dennis Pitta, selected in the fourth round, and third-year player Davon Drew. Dickson played in 15 games last season, catching 11 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown after being drafted in the third round from the University of Oregon. Pitta appeared in 11 games, making just one catch for 1 yard.

As excited as Dickson is for the opportunity after training in Eugene, Ore. at his alma mater this offseason, the young tight end reserves hope for Heap’s return.

“Todd Heap is a great individual, teacher, a great teammate, and he’ll be missed if he’s not here with us,” Dickson said. “With that said, hopefully he’s back with us. He taught me a lot just in that one year. He taught me how to be just an overall player in this game.”

Even if the 10-year veteran — with a resume that includes 41 career touchdown catches and 5,492 receiving yards — doesn’t return to Baltimore, the 24-year-old Dickson may still reach out to his mentor for advice during the season.

“I knew I had Superman coming back some game,” said Dickson about his month-long stay in the starting lineup after Heap’s hamstring injury last December. “If he’s not with us this year, I’ll probably still call him and ask him a couple things, and I’ll just go with our game plan and do it to the best of my ability.”

Listen to Dickson’s comments at training camp report day in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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