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Ravens regular-season moment No. 23: “I got this”

Posted on 08 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 24 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Baltimore loves its kickers.

Steve Myhra’s short field goal introduced us to “sudden death” in the 1958 NFL championship game at Yankee Stadium.

Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard kick with five seconds remaining gave the Colts a 16-13 win over Dallas in the mistake-laden Super Bowl V.

Two-time Pro Bowl selection Toni Linhart helped the Bert Jones-era Colts to the first of three straight AFC East championships in 1975 with a 31-yarder in overtime to beat Miami in the thick fog at Memorial Stadium.

A Ravens Ring of Honor member, Matt Stover is still beloved around town today and kicked offense-challenged teams to many victories for over a decade, including two in the midst of a nightmare five-game stretch without scoring a touchdown in 2000.

Billy Cund– never mind.

None compare to Justin Tucker, the 2012 undrafted free agent from Texas who had to try out at rookie minicamp just to be signed to Baltimore’s 90-man offseason roster. Months later, the rookie had not only won the job, but he’d make the biggest kick in franchise history, a 47-yard field goal in single-digit temperatures to upset Denver in double overtime in the divisional round.

Tucker’s excellence would become even more evident in his second season. The 2013 Ravens were a much different team coming off the win in Super Bowl XLVII. Future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were gone, top wide receiver Anquan Boldin had been inexplicably traded away, and tight end Dennis Pitta had missed most of the season with a devastating hip injury suffered early in training camp. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco struggled mightily without his top two receivers from the previous year while a diminished Ray Rice and the running game had completely collapsed, leaving the Ravens with one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

But John Harbaugh’s team had rallied from a 4-6 start to win three straight games and crawl back into playoff contention going into a Monday game at Detroit in Week 15. Tucker had been much of Baltimore’s offense that season, hadn’t missed a field goal since Week 2, and would be named to his first Pro Bowl and be voted team MVP later that month, but the Ravens would never need him more than on that night.

Tucker’s work in the first half was nothing extraordinary as the Ravens had moved the ball pretty well before stalling in the red zone three different times, settling for field goals of 29, 24, and 32 yards to give them a 9-7 lead at intermission. The second half was a different story as the 24-year-old connected from 49 yards in the third quarter and hit from 53 yards away halfway through the last period to give Baltimore a 15-10 lead.

Unfortunately, a Ravens defense that had played well wilted late as quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions drove 80 yards for a touchdown and a 16-15 lead with 2:27 remaining. A loss would all but sink Baltimore’s playoff hopes, but a 27-yard strike from Flacco to Jacoby Jones on a third-and-15 gave the Ravens life in Detroit territory just before the two-minute warning.

Facing a fourth-and-8 from the 43 a few plays later and with his offense seemingly about to go for it, Harbaugh surprisingly called timeout with 43 seconds remaining and sent out Tucker to try a franchise-record 61-yard field goal for the lead. Having connected from 70 yards inside the domed Ford Field during pre-game warmups, the second-year kicker told coaches he was ready to win the game with his leg and lobbied for the chance on the sideline.

“I normally wouldn’t do this but I interjected and said, ‘No, I got this,'” Tucker said after making his team-record sixth field goal in the 18-16 win. “Thankfully, they gave me an opportunity, and the best part of it is I didn’t have to come back to the sideline feeling like a jerk if I missed it.”

With two or three yards to spare, Tucker made just the ninth field goal of at least 61 yards in league history and the second longest in the history of Monday Night Football. The Ravens would lose their final two games to miss the postseason for the first time in the Harbaugh era, but that wild kick and remarkable performance cemented Tucker’s status as the best kicker in the game for years to come.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts as baseball’s shutdown continues

Posted on 13 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With baseball’s shutdown continuing indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The family of Al Kaline took out a regular obituary in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press, reflecting how unassuming the Hall of Famer nicknamed “Mr. Tiger” was. The Southern High product never forgot his Baltimore roots and collected his 3,000th hit at Memorial Stadium in 1974. What a story and life.

2. If you’re yearning for some optimism regarding a 2020 season, watch this Newsday interview with Daniel Kim, who provided insight on what’s happening in South Korea with the KBO and its goal to open the season in early May. A former Mets interpreter, Kim is a good follow on Twitter.

3. ESPN has reportedly explored the possibility of securing KBO broadcasting rights. If you’re looking for a potential rooting interest, former Orioles Hyun Soo Kim and Tyler Wilson play for the LG Twins and had strong 2019 seasons.

4. So much needs to happen before even considering MLB’s return in any capacity, but the Grapefruit-Cactus league realignment idea sounds more plausible than the Arizona-only “quarantine” concept floated early last week. Going from the AL East to the Grapefruit South division sure wouldn’t offer the rebuilding Orioles any break.

5. As a pro wrestling fan who’s watched televised shows without fans in attendance for weeks, I’d say the experience is weird and far from ideal, but I’ve been entertained. If it can work for a product so dependent on crowd interaction, that particular condition for a return plan seems tolerable.

6. The retiring Mark Reynolds could be frustrating to watch, but his 2011 blast into the club level (3:35 mark) was one of the more impressive homers at Camden Yards. How frequently he’d leave his feet playing first base was amusing, but he was much better there than at third base.

7. Wednesday will mark the 73rd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut, but this year also brings the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, which is scheduled to be celebrated this summer. I highly recommend a visit to Kansas City’s Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to any fan.

8. Speaking of anniversaries, Cal Ripken registered his 3,000th career hit 20 years ago this Wednesday. Good for him to launch the Strike Out Hunger campaign in conjunction with his new Twitter account. His message to Whit Merrifield — the active streak leader at 247 consecutive games — was fun.

9. We’re all coping without baseball in different ways, but I just can’t get into the simulated 2020 seasons some websites are using to provide content. I did notice Austin Hays already having six home runs in Baseball-Reference.com’s simulation. That’d be fun.

10. Along those lines, it’s strange to think that the Orioles would have already been a tenth of the way through the scheduled 2020 season. They would have been starting their third interleague series of the season on Tuesday, which also would have been weird this early.

11. Having watched plenty of old baseball recently, I was reminded Rick Sutcliffe pitched his five-hit shutout in 2 hours, 2 minutes to open Camden Yards 28 years ago. That was quite the Orioles debut, but the 2-0 final didn’t exactly paint an accurate picture of the ballpark’s eventual reputation.

12. I’d be embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve watched the Ken Burns “Baseball” documentary in my life, but its original release coincided with the 1994 strike that canceled the World Series. My latest viewing of it has helped amidst uncertainty of when we’ll have live baseball again.

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Former Ravens defensive tackle Ngata announces retirement

Posted on 18 March 2019 by Luke Jones

A week after free-agent departure Terrell Suggs said farewell to Baltimore after 16 years, another former Ravens defensive great is calling it a career.

Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata announced his retirement via Instagram by posting a video of himself standing at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. The 35-year-old spent nine of his 13 NFL seasons with Baltimore and was a member of the Super Bowl XLVII champions. After being traded to Detroit in 2014, Ngata played three years with the Lions and spent last season with Philadelphia, appearing in 13 games and making nine starts.

Selected with the 12th overall pick of the 2006 draft from the University of Oregon, the 6-foot-4, 340-pound defensive tackle has a strong claim as the fourth-best defensive player in Ravens history behind Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Suggs, who is also likely to wind up in Canton. Ngata not only served as the immovable anchor of strong run defenses for nearly a decade, but his 25 1/2 sacks with the Ravens reflected his ability to pressure the quarterback, a trait that distinguished him from other notable defensive tackles in team history.

Only five Ravens — Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Reed, Suggs, and Marshal Yanda — were named to more career Pro Bowls as Ngata was invited every year from 2009-13. He signed a five-year, $61 million contract in 2011 that made him one of the highest-paid athletes in the world over a 12-month period.

In addition to his superb individual play, Ngata helped bring some stability at an uncertain time for the organization. The second act and eventual storybook ending to Lewis’ Hall of Fame career with the Ravens may have never materialized had general manager Ozzie Newsome not drafted Ngata in 2006. In the months leading up to that draft, it was no secret that a disenchanted Lewis — who was also rumored to be seeking a new contract — had requested to be traded and voiced his displeasure about the Ravens lacking a beefy defensive tackle to keep blockers away from him. Ngata became an immediate impact starter for a defense that led the NFL in total yards allowed and total points allowed and set team records for interceptions (28) and sacks (60), and the Ravens finished a franchise-best 13-3 in the regular season with Lewis’ spirits and play improving from the previous year.

A slam-dunk choice for the Ravens’ Ring of Honor sooner than later, Ngata finishes his NFL career having played in 180 games and collected 515 tackles, 32 1/2 sacks, seven forced fumbles, and five interceptions.

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NFL linebacker Copeland cultivating sense of community in Baltimore, beyond

Posted on 23 June 2018 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of Brandon Copeland)

Brandon Copeland continues to cultivate a sense of community.

Whether it’s holding his free football camp for Baltimore youth, providing Thanksgiving meals to single mothers and their families, or offering financial advice to fellow NFL players, the Gilman School graduate and New York Jets linebacker doesn’t want his road to success to have a lonely destination.

Football remains his biggest platform, but Copeland doesn’t let the sport he loves define him and is hardly waiting until the end of his playing days to figure out what he’ll do next. He hasn’t viewed that as a linear process from the time he graduated with an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania and eventually found his NFL footing in a journey that began with a brief stint with the hometown Ravens in 2013. The 26-year-old already has experience working as a Wall Street investment analyst and has even started his own real estate company with his wife, Taylor.

Copeland will remind youth at his third annual Beyond the Basics camp at Gilman on July 7 that football isn’t forever. It’s a lesson that hit all too close last summer as his career with the Detroit Lions was on the rise and he was competing for a starting spot after playing in all 32 games as a reserve and special-teams contributor the previous two seasons.

You should always have more than one plan.

“I’m living, walking proof that this career can end at any moment after sitting out last year,” said Copeland, who suffered a torn pectoral tendon in the first preseason game last August. “A lot of people tell you preparing for Plan B is distracting from Plan A. You can just generally have other things that you’re interested in. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Hey, I like football, and I like something else.'”

Copeland wants the 400 kids ages 11 to 17 registered for this year’s camp to understand they have options, a reason why he recruits volunteers from a variety of career fields. Many campers initially gravitate toward big-name volunteers such as two-time Super Bowl champion Torrey Smith, longtime NBA player Rudy Gay, and many other current and former NFL players — including former Baltimore Colts defensive end and Copeland’s grandfather, Roy Hilton — but the goal is for kids to also identify with other volunteers who love football while succeeding in other walks of life.

That’s the reason why this year’s registration form requested campers to list three professions they’d like to have other than being a professional athlete and to state three goals for themselves. Copeland said the exercise sparked much positive feedback from parents, who in some cases learned something new about their children’s interests and dreams.

“What we’re trying to do is open their eyes to let them know that certain things are possible for them,” Copeland said. “A lot of these kids grow up and see lawyers or police officers on TV, and they think negative thoughts about that profession. If we can create that positive experience with that profession, then that’s great.”

Beyond the Basics provides each camper a free t-shirt and lunch as well as opportunities to win other giveaways such as laptops, tablets, and headphones, but it isn’t just about what the attendees receive that day. Campers will put together 750 book bags and hygiene kits to be distributed to needy families through the Franciscan Center of Baltimore, an increase from the 500 of each donated last year.

Copeland is quick to express gratitude to a list of sponsors that includes Penn and even the Lions despite his free-agent departure in March. He’s also been amazed by the number of volunteers willing to make a difference in the community.

“A lot of these kids only see people on the sidelines cheering for them at the big game, the championship game, stuff like that,” said Copeland, who will have approximately 140 volunteers at next month’s camp. “When there’s nothing on the line, for them to see a bunch of different smiling faces encouraging them, that’s a message that I definitely want to allow to happen at our camp.”

That collection of volunteers has also sparked an unanticipated networking forum with internship opportunities and even jobs being offered among the helpers, further growing that overall sense of community.

In addition to getting involved in Baltimore and the other NFL cities in which he’s played, Copeland expanded his message to a different audience this offseason by offering financial advice to the 2018 NFL draft class through The Players’ Tribune. Given his Ivy League education and off-field ventures that have come without the luxury of a lucrative signing bonus or long-term contract, first-year players could stand to learn from someone whose NFL career has been anything but guaranteed.

“I wanted to speak to the things I had learned from other players, other advice that I had heard, and other things I had seen through my own internships and finances and all of that type of stuff,” Copeland said. “It was a great opportunity for me to voice my message on my way of thinking about money.”

Copeland doesn’t know how long he’ll have his current platform as he tries to carve out a place with the Jets and prove he’s fully recovered from last year’s injury, which created an extended absence that both renewed his love for the game and provided valuable time to put more extensive work into his real estate company.

His off-field ambitions and wisdom at such a young age leave few doubts that he’ll be successful no matter where life takes him, but Copeland has no interest in being the only one at that finish line as he continues to strive to set an example for others.

“One of the things that I’m trying to be better at now is sharing,” Copeland said, “so we can hopefully help each other and we all can grow.”

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-5 loss at Detroit

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their fifth straight defeat in a 6-5 walk-off final at Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Yes, it’s early, but the Orioles must play like a 90-win team the rest of the way just to get to 85 victories. To get to 90, they have to play like a 96-win team. Any realistic path to the postseason is already circling the drain because of this start.

2. Darren O’Day hadn’t pitched in a week, but he’s now given up a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later in two of his last three appearances. Not including the superb four-game set at Yankee Stadium, the Baltimore bullpen has a 5.32 ERA in 45 2/3 innings.

3. No, I wouldn’t have used Pedro Araujo for the bottom of the ninth inning, but the club’s most reliable reliever over the last seven years had just blown a two-run lead in the previous inning. Who exactly do you really trust that was still available?

4. My bigger problem with Showalter’s bullpen usage was not sticking with Richard Bleier longer after he needed only six pitches to record the last two outs of the seventh inning. The lefty has been the Orioles’ top reliever and owns a 0.71 ERA this season.

5. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Orioles managed to score more than three runs for just the second time in eight games. They even played some effective small ball in the eighth with Craig Gentry’s bunt and Adam Jones’ sacrifice fly.

6. Entering the day with four career homers and a .568 career on-base plus slugging percentage, Luis Sardinas hitting a pinch-hit homer to tie the game in the ninth would have been a pretty special moment had the Orioles won. Instead, it was quickly forgotten.

7. Speaking of nondescript defensive-minded infielders, Engelb Vielma made one heck of an over-the-shoulder catch in the seventh inning to help keep the Orioles’ deficit to one run.

8. Kevin Gausman made mistakes to Jeimer Candelario and Miguel Cabrera for solo homers, but he was very solid over his six innings. His velocity improved as the game progressed as he started to consistently hit 94 miles per hour and was touching 95 and 96. He deserved better.

9. Gausman’s slider was also one of the better ones I’ve seen him throw. He only recorded three swinging strikes out of the 21 times he threw it, but he was able to induce quite a bit of harmless contact with it.

10. Caleb Joseph is now batting .081 with a .240 OPS. It’s time for Chance Sisco to start receiving more extensive playing time.

11. The players, Showalter, the coaches, the front office, and ownership all deserve significant blame for this 5-13 start threatening to ruin the season. That said, I’m not sure what the immediate answer is that isn’t just based in emotion. The trade deadline is more than three months away.

12. I couldn’t have been the only one thinking Machado hitting a walk-off homer is something the Orioles should probably get used to being on the wrong side of sooner than later anyway. Yeah, that was a low blow, but watching bad baseball on a daily basis is getting to me.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 loss at Detroit

Posted on 17 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles sustaining their fourth straight loss in a 4-2 final against the Detroit Tigers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Remember the optimism after the Orioles shook off a 1-5 start to win three out of four at Yankee Stadium? They’ve scored a total of 16 runs while going 1-6 since then. This offense has been downright painful to watch.

2. I don’t dwell on strikeouts nearly as much as some, but the Orioles have recorded more hits than strikeouts in a game just once all season. That’s astonishing. They had twice as many strikeouts (12) as hits (six) on Tuesday.

3. Andrew Cashner has provided everything the Orioles could have reasonably hoped for so far. Even after his rough debut, the right-hander has a 3.00 ERA with three quality starts on the young season. It’s a shame he can’t hit.

4. Much was understandably made about Cashner’s career-worst 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings last season, but he’s now struck out 21 batters in 24 frames. His 7.9 strikeouts per nine rate falls in line with where he was in 2015 and 2016. Missing bats hasn’t been a problem for him.

5. I don’t know what to say about Chris Davis. We’ve seen him go through poor stretches over the years, but the strikeouts are piling up — he has 10 on the road trip — and he’s rarely even making hard contact to point to the shift as an obstacle. He’s slugging .196.

6. Manny Machado is a special talent, but getting thrown out trying to advance to third with two outs in the fifth inning is inexcusable, especially with this offense. He’s been in the majors too long to continue to make these types of baserunning blunders as frequently as he does.

7. Since his electric debut month upon being acquired from Tampa Bay at last year’s trade deadline, Tim Beckham is batting .174 over his last 169 plate appearances dating back to last Sept. 1. His offense is a much bigger concern right now than his transition to third base.

8. Trey Mancini hit his second home run of the season and continues to do a commendable job in the leadoff spot with a .377 on-base percentage. Now, is there a way to clone him?

9. Adam Jones drove in a run and collected two hits to raise his season average to .236. His early-season struggles pale in comparison to several others, but the Orioles desperately need their leader to get going if they’re going to climb out of this hole.

10. Considering his defense is the only thing keeping him on the field over Chance Sisco so far this season, Caleb Joseph simply must block the Mychal Givens wild pitch that led to the Tigers’ final run.

11. After being promoted to the majors for his defense earlier in the day, Luis Sardinas committing a throwing error on his first opportunity was right in line with how this season has gone so far.

12. The Orioles have gone 58-89 since getting off to a 22-10 start last season. Buck Showalter’s club has gone 12-32 since the start of last September. Yes, numerous players have come and gone, but Baltimore hasn’t played an extended stretch of good baseball in a very long time now.

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Humphrey’s time arrives for playoff-hopeful Ravens

Posted on 06 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey will be playing at Heinz Field for the first time Sunday night, but he has an idea of what to expect against Pittsburgh.

Facing the NFL’s fourth-ranked passing attack in his first start in place of the injured Jimmy Smith, the first-round rookie knows he’ll have a bullseye on his back as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger surveys a Baltimore secondary now without its top corner. Humphrey acknowledges this in a matter-of-fact way without a hint of intimidation or even all that much excitement in his voice.

It’s not the first time he’s been under the microscope on a big stage, of course, as it was just two years ago that he was a redshirt freshman starting for a national championship Alabama team.

“I’m sure if there’s a weak link they have to pick out, it would definitely be me,” said Humphrey, referencing the big plays he gave up against Detroit last Sunday. “Big Ben likes to throw it up. He’s a great quarterback, so I’m sure if he has to take those shots, it’ll probably be at me.”

The six-foot, 197-pound cornerback struggled as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford targeted him frequently after Smith suffered a torn Achilles tendon late in the second quarter, but it’s not as though Humphrey hadn’t already shown enough for the Ravens to be confident in him. It was just a couple weeks ago when many began wondering if Humphrey was on the cusp of earning a starting position before a thigh issue limited him to seven defensive snaps in Week 12.

His talent was evident from the first day of organized team activities when he was still two months shy of his 21st birthday. Humphrey didn’t look much like a rookie in the spring and summer as he practiced press coverage and displayed the kind of polish you expect from a cornerback with at least a couple seasons under his belt.

This past Sunday was arguably the first time the moment has looked too big for him since he was selected with the 16th overall pick in April’s draft, and he still recovered in the fourth quarter to intercept a Stafford pass to help preserve the win.

“He has good composure on the field. He has God-given speed,” 10th-year cornerback Brandon Carr said. “The ability he has, he can make up for a lot of things that he hasn’t learned yet as far as technique and the ins and outs of the receivers. But he has a knack for just going out there and making plays.”

The Ravens would surely prefer having Smith on the field against the likes of All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown and deep threat Martavis Bryant in a nationally-televised prime-time game, but it’s not as though they’re throwing Humphrey to the wolves as an untested commodity. He’s already logged more than 300 defensive snaps this season — including 55 against an Oakland offense that included wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper — after frequently spelling a banged-up Smith and replacing Carr when he struggled to slow down Green Bay’s speedy receivers late last month.

According to Pro Football Focus, Humphrey has graded a respectable 41st among qualified cornerbacks and is allowing a passer rating of just 52.3 when targeted. He has collected 25 tackles and two interceptions to go along with eight pass breakups. The latter stat ranks second on the team and reflects how quarterbacks had already tried to test the rookie with little success before Stafford’s last Sunday.

Prior to Smith’s injury, coaches had boasted that they had three starting corners on the league’s third-ranked pass defense, and the numbers support that idea as Humphrey has played 18 or more snaps seven times this season.

“I think it’ll help a lot,” Humphrey said. “Coaches have given me a lot of time to play for me [being] a backup corner. It’ll definitely help that I’ve got some game experience.”

Of course, the apprenticeship is now over as Humphrey will start opposite of Carr and the Ravens will try to avoid their second straight late-season collapse following an injury to Smith. There’s no safety net as the next men up on the depth chart are also inexperienced in Maurice Canady, Jaylen Hill, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.

Frankly, this exact scenario with the oft-injured Smith is why general manager Ozzie Newsome passed on prospects at other positions of need to select Humphrey. Some growing pains are likely or even inevitable down the stretch, but his talent and even-keeled personality are major reasons why the Ravens believe they can endure Smith’s absence this time around after it was their fatal flaw last December.

“If a ball is completed on him, it’s not ‘sulk and go in the tank’ like some rookies can do,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Humphrey early last month. “Every defensive back that is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame has gotten beat — every one of them. It is just a matter of the ones that are really in there are the ones that could forget that and go play the next play.

“I’m certainly not putting him in that category yet, but he has that quality.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 44-20 win over Detroit

Posted on 05 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens securing their first three-game winning streak since the start of last season with a 44-20 victory over Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Where has this offense been all year? While recording season highs in points and yards while committing no turnovers, the Ravens were aggressive and effectively used play fakes. The group’s response after Detroit made it a one-score game late in the third quarter was the best drive of the season.

2. Joe Flacco was superb with active feet in the pocket and his most accurate passing of the season. His best throw was the 23-yard back-shoulder connection to Mike Wallace as he was being hit. Flacco would have eclipsed 300 yards if not for four drops by receivers.

3. The key to the offensive success was first-down productivity as Baltimore averaged 7.7 yards on first down and still came in at 5.8 if you want to take away the outlier of Wallace’s 66-yard catch. Marty Mornhinweg deserves credit for mixing up tendencies to help keep the offense on schedule.

4. Eric Weddle got off to a rough start this season, but his strip-sack led to excellent field position for a touchdown in the second quarter and his interception returned for a touchdown capped a dominant fourth. The secondary needs his leadership more than ever with the Jimmy Smith injury.

5. There’s no overlooking his rough performance against the Lions, but Marlon Humphrey had already done enough as a rookie to inspire confidence moving forward. Offenses will be looking to attack him now, but he has a good demeanor and all the talent he needs to contribute in Smith’s place.

6. Wallace was in the slot on the 66-yard bomb from Flacco, an example of personnel shuffling within a formation to create a favorable matchup against a safety. Mornhinweg also used a trips bunch formation to get Jeremy Maclin free on a crossing route. The Ravens need more of this.

7. Seeing Willie Henry scoop up a fumble and run 16 yards was amusing enough, but the second-year defensive tackle diagnosed a screen to make a tackle for a loss and registered a quarterback hit. “Big Earl” continues to be a significant contributor in the rotation.

8. Patrick Ricard registered his first touchdown since high school Sunday, but the converted defensive lineman also delivered several impressive blocks and matched a season high with 18 offensive snaps. The rookie is making more of an impact at fullback recently.

9. Maurice Canady appears to have overtaken Lardarius Webb as the primary nickel. In addition to five tackles and the hit on Jake Rudock’s interception to Weddle, Canady recovered Michael Campanaro’s fumble. He plays with much confidence and aggression for someone with such little NFL experience.

10. I’ve been clamoring for Tyus Bowser to receive more opportunities in this defense, but the rookie whiffing when he had a straight path to Matthew Stafford in the second quarter isn’t going to help his cause in the short term.

11. He only missed a couple plays after passing concussion screening, but C.J. Mosley suffered a stinger for the second straight week. You hope there’s no underlying cause for those because the Ravens can’t afford to be without him.

12. The Lions had nine players on the field for Flacco’s key third-down throw to a wide-open Chris Moore on the touchdown drive early in the fourth. That summed up the uninspiring football Detroit played for large stretches of a game they needed to have in a crowded NFC playoff race.

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Jimmy Smith suspended four games for PED violation

Posted on 04 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The aftermath of Jimmy Smith’s season-ending Achilles injury took on a different tone Monday as the Ravens cornerback was already facing a suspension.

As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Smith has been suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. The seventh-year defensive back had been appealing the ruling, but he will now serve the ban while on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

It remains unclear what substance Smith tested positive for or whether any usage may have been in response to the Achilles tendinitis he’d been dealing with for more than two months. With the 2011 first-round pick tearing his left Achilles tendon in Sunday’s win over Detroit, some have questioned whether he should have been playing in the first place, citing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman sustaining his own Achilles rupture last month after experiencing pain in the weeks leading up to the injury.

Of course, it’s easy to feel that way after the fact and there’s no way of knowing if more extensive rest would have been beneficial or would have only delayed the inevitable.

“The doctors will tell you that you just can’t predict that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If you have the tightness or the soreness, it doesn’t [always] lead to a [tear], you know? Doing it for all of these years, I’ve seen them not tear, and I’ve seen them tear. Obviously, that’s what you kind of suspect, but that’s not what the doctors tell us, so that’s why guys continue to play.”

It’s possible that Smith could have been dealing with a partial tear, but former Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil played with a partially-torn Achilles two years ago and was even named to the Pro Bowl playing all 16 games that season. Partial tears still run the risk of a full rupture and frequently require the same reconstruction surgery and lengthy recovery and rehabilitation of a full tear.

Harbaugh’s assessment of the Ravens’ handling of Smith was in line with the reaction from Dr. David Chao, the former team doctor of the San Diego Chargers who now writes about sports injuries at ProFootballDoc.com.

“There is no reason for him to have not been playing,” Chao wrote Sunday. “There is a higher rate of rupture with antecedent Achilles pain, but the majority of players with Achilles tendinitis do not suffer tears.”

Unlike past instances when Smith was out of the lineup, Baltimore has greater depth in the secondary and will hand his starting job over to rookie first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, who ranks 45th among qualified cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system this season. Humphrey shook off a rocky performance to intercept Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter of the 44-20 win.

With Humphrey and veteran Brandon Carr now serving as the starting outside cornerbacks, second-year nickel back Maurice Canady will likely see more practice time on the outside and will serve as their primary backup. A healthy scratch for the last three weeks, rookie Jaylen Hill could also be in the mix and turned heads during training camp to earn a roster spot before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out for the first six weeks of the season.

The Ravens could also elevate cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste from their practice squad upon placing Smith on IR.

“Our secondary is the strength of our team, so we’re not going to sit back and be sorry for ourselves,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Maurice is back. Marlon’s got to step up. Jaylen’s got to step up. That’s why we have so much depth.

“Will the guys be as good as Jimmy? No, but we’ll step up and play well in his absence.”

The Achilles tear and suspension are the latest frustrating chapters of Smith’s career that’s been marred by injuries. This will mark the fifth time in his seven seasons that the Colorado product will have played in 12 or fewer games.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound corner was garnering serious Pro Bowl consideration and had arguably been Baltimore’s best player this season, leading the way for the NFL’s second-best pass defense entering Week 13.

“I know he’s going to be back,” said tight end Benjamin Watson, who suffered an Achilles tendon tear last year. “Jimmy’s a fighter, and Jimmy’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever been around. There’s no doubt he’ll be back soon.”

Smith has two years remaining on his current contract and is set to make $9 million in base salary next season. His 2018 salary cap figure is a hefty $15.675 million, but cutting him would save only $2.37 million and leave more than $13 million in dead money on the cap.

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Smith’s injury reiterates Ravens need more of what they did Sunday

Posted on 03 December 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday’s performance by the Ravens felt very familiar.

Joe Flacco and the offense turned in their best performance of the season against Detroit nearly a year to the day after they blew out Miami, a playoff contender turned away at M&T Bank Stadium to begin the final month of 2016. The 44-20 win over the Lions lifted the Ravens to 7-5, the same record they owned after their 38-6 victory over the Dolphins last Dec. 4.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself again when cornerback Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles tendon late in the first half, ending the best season of his career and leaving the defense without arguably its best player. It was Week 14 last year when the Ravens lost Smith to a high ankle sprain, an injury that torpedoed what had been the league’s top-ranked defense at the time.

That injury preceded three losses in the final four weeks as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. The schedule is certainly more favorable this time around with just one game remaining against a winning team — next Sunday in Pittsburgh — and the final two contests coming at home.

Still, there’s no underselling the loss of Smith, especially for a team that’s relied so heavily on its defense all season.

“It’s different than it’s been before,” said head coach John Harbaugh, citing his defense’s struggles without its top corner in 2014 and last year. “We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of good, young players. We’ll step up, and we’ll still play at a really high level in the secondary. I’m very confident of that.”

The Ravens are better equipped to carry on without Smith after signing reliable veteran Brandon Carr — who’s amazingly never missed a game in his 10-year career — and drafting the talented Marlon Humphrey in the first round this past spring. Turning over a starting job to Humphrey is quite an improvement from a year ago when Shareece Wright stepped in for Smith opposite rookie Tavon Young.

But there will still be some drop-off, evident by Humphrey’s difficulties in coverage against speedy Lions receiver Marvin Jones. The Alabama product may eventually be as good as Smith — or even better — but expecting that immediately would be unfair and unrealistic.

That makes it even more critical for this Ravens offense to look more like it did Sunday the rest of the way.

Veterans Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle admitted after the game that the defense was feeling deflated after officially learning of Smith’s fate at halftime. Two touchdown drives orchestrated by Lions quarterback Mathew Stafford in the third quarter transformed a comfortable 20-0 lead into a one-possession game, but Flacco and the offense fought right back with a nine-play, 74-yard drive ending with a 7-yard touchdown run by Alex Collins to make it a 27-13 lead early in the final quarter.

Given the importance of the game and the way it was trending, that touchdown drive may have been the offense’s best and most important of the year to this point. The Ravens then answered a Stafford touchdown pass with another drive resulting in a field goal to put them up by multiple scores for good with 6:54 remaining.

“Well, we have to do our part at some point, right?” said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who finished with 116 yards on five catches. “The offense, we have to come up. Our defense has been incredible. Our special teams have been incredible. The offense, not so much.

“Today, we made strides. This game is about peaking at the right time, so hopefully we can do that.”

The convincing win tightened the Ravens’ grip on the No. 6 seed as they own a one-game lead as well as tiebreakers over the top three teams chasing them in the AFC wild-card race, but building on this performance will be of the utmost importance. Baltimore will be an underdog against the Steelers next Sunday night, but a good showing from Flacco and the offense for a second straight week would create more optimism about this team being able to make noise in January.

The defense should still be more than good enough that the Ravens won’t need to put 44 points on the board every week like they did Sunday, but any expectation of this unit continuing to carry an inept offense likely vanished as Smith collapsed to the ground with 4:21 to go in the second quarter. That unbalanced formula may still be good enough against a soft remaining regular-season schedule, but it certainly won’t fly in the playoffs.

Many saw that as the Ravens’ reality anyway, but losing an elite defensive talent brings it into sharper focus.

The offense stepped up to do the heavy lifting when the defense suddenly found itself on the ropes Sunday.

The coming weeks will determine whether that was merely an aberration or the start of the offense more consistently pulling its own weight.

The latter would make for a more interesting January.

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