Tag Archive | "ed reed"

Screen Shot 2020-06-16 at 2.35.17 PM

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens regular-season moment No. 7: “Something that you dream of”

Posted on 16 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 8 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2003 season was turning into a nightmare for the Ravens, who had fallen to 5-5 after two straight road losses to St. Louis and Miami.

Despite a top-shelf defense and a historic campaign from running back Jamal Lewis, Brian Billick’s team was struggling mightily on offense and down to third-string quarterback Anthony Wright. In his first start for Baltimore the previous week, the 27-year-old had committed three turnovers in a 9-6 overtime loss to the Dolphins, looking the part of a former undrafted quarterback making only his sixth career start.

Returning home to play Seattle in Week 12, the Ravens needed a win to stop the bleeding and to keep pace with surprising Cincinnati for first place in the AFC North. What was to come would be one of the most exciting games in the history of M&T Bank Stadium.

No one knew it early, however, as the teams combined for just six points in the first 29 minutes of play before a pair of touchdown passes by Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the final 30 seconds of the half — a disastrous fumble had given the ball back to Seattle after the first one — gave Seattle a 17-3 lead at intermission. Wright’s second start was looking much like the previous week as he went just 3-for-9 for 37 yards.

Something had to give.

The difference would be Wright’s former college teammate at South Carolina, Marcus Robinson, who had been a non-factor in his first season with the Ravens. Once a 1,400-yard receiver with Chicago, Robinson had caught only nine passes for 76 yards in his first nine games of 2003, showing little chemistry with rookie quarterback Kyle Boller.

Wright and Robinson connected for a 13-yard score to open the second half, the first touchdown scored by the Ravens in two weeks. The pair hooked up for two more touchdowns — 50-yard and 25-yard strikes — in the third quarter, but the problem was the vaunted Ravens defense that suddenly couldn’t stop the Seahawks. Hasselbeck threw three more touchdowns in the second half to give Seattle a 41-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Wright’s mojo temporarily stalled as the Ravens punted on back-to-back possessions, but the second resulted in a muff recovered by Baltimore at the Seattle 35. With the Ravens having a chance to shrink the deficit to two scores with a little over nine minutes to play, Lewis instead coughed up the ball on first down, giving possession right back to the Seahawks.

A comeback just wasn’t in the cards as a sizable portion of the home crowd began heading for the exits, resigned to a third straight loss going into Thanksgiving.

Or so we thought.

A bloodied Baltimore defense forced a three-and-out to set up a punt. Already showing a Hall-of-Fame ability to block punts in only his second season, safety Ed Reed used a beautiful inside swim move to block Tom Rouen’s kick, picked up the ball, and scored to make it a 41-31 game with 6:41 remaining. It was a remarkable play by Reed, but the touchdown felt too little, too late for those still watching.

On the next possession, Seattle picked up three first downs to move into field-goal range and continue draining clock before Pro Bowl inside linebacker and 2003 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis stripped Seahawks fullback Mack Strong of the football. Lewis recovered at his own 29 to give possession back to the Ravens with 4:16 to go, leaving a glimmer of hope for remaining fans.

Needing a miracle conversion of a fourth-and-28 coming out of the two-minute warning, Wright chucked a deep ball to Robinson that deflected off his hands and into the arms of fellow wide receiver Frank Sanders, giving Baltimore a first down at the 21.

Four plays later, Wright and Robinson found the end zone for a fourth time in the second half, trimming the deficit to 41-38 with 1:12 to go.

It again appeared over after an unsuccessful onside kick, but the Ravens still weren’t done. An unthinkable clock snafu by the officiating crew essentially granted Baltimore an extra timeout before the defense stuffed a fourth-and-1 Hasselbeck sneak to get the ball back with 39 seconds left. Two plays later, Wright threw another deep ball to Robinson incomplete, but a 44-yard pass interference call set up a Matt Stover 40-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.

Sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good.

After the Ravens defense forced a Seattle punt on the opening series of overtime, Wright went to the magical connection a final time, completing a 19-yard pass to Robinson on third-and-15 to put his team in field-goal range. After three more Jamal Lewis rushes, Stover booted the 42-yard field goal to complete the largest comeback victory in franchise history.

The amazing 44-41 win sparked a 5-1 finish to the regular season that resulted in the first AFC North championship in team history. And though the Ravens would erase larger deficits — all with more time remaining — in the years that followed, none were as dramatic or meaningful as that season-altering win.

Going 20-for-37 for 319 yards and a 119.1 passer rating, Wright wouldn’t come close to matching his career day for the remainder of that season and his tenure with the Ravens, but his four touchdown passes to Robinson rate among the most improbable single-game efforts in the history of the franchise. It was a day the journeyman quarterback would never forget.

“This is something that you dream of,” said an emotional Wright, whose wife gave birth to their second daughter later that evening. “This is something that you write in books. This is something you think would never happen to you.

“For us to come back and win this game was unimaginable.”

Comments (1)

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 12.56.19 PM

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens regular-season moment No. 9: “He seems to always be around it”

Posted on 11 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 10 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Ed Reed never made a reception or logged a rushing attempt in his 12 NFL seasons.

He returned only 30 punts.

But no one was more dangerous or exciting with the football in his hands over the Ravens’ first two decades in Baltimore than the Hall of Fame safety. That was never more evident than in a Week 9 Sunday night meeting with Cleveland in 2004.

Reed had already starred on Sunday Night Football earlier that season, registering a strip-sack and returning the fumble for a 22-yard touchdown in a narrow Week 5 win at Washington. This time around, the 4-3 Ravens were hoping to avoid a rare sweep to the Browns and keep themselves in good position for a playoff push in the second half of the season.

The game played out like so many contests of the Kyle Boller era with the Ravens managing little offense beyond the physical running of Jamal Lewis and relying on a strong defense to do the heavy lifting. Despite falling behind early in the fourth quarter, Baltimore had retaken a 20-13 lead after an embarrassing 7-yard punt by Cleveland’s Derrick Frost and a 2-yard touchdown run by Lewis with just over seven minutes to go.

But the Browns weren’t finished as veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia steadily moved his maligned offense down the field and inside the Baltimore 10. Facing a second-and-goal from the 5 with under a minute remaining and needing a touchdown to force overtime, Garcia zipped a pass over the middle that went through the hands of tight end Aaron Shea and was quickly falling to the turf.

Reed had other ideas, however.

As the M&T Bank Stadium crowd exploded at the sight of the shoe-top interception, Reed had no intention of simply taking a knee to preserve the single-touchdown lead. That was never Reed’s style — even to his detriment on occasion — as he sprinted an electrifying 106 yards for the game-sealing touchdown, the longest interception return in NFL history.

(This is where I share what this moment meant to me on a very personal level during the most difficult week of my life. I said from the start of the list unveiling that I’ve enjoyed different perspectives along the way, so I hope you’ll appreciate this one.)

“He seems to always be around it when you need it,” said head coach Brian Billick about Reed’s game-saving play after the 27-13 win. “He kind of waited to the end to do it. Might have saved my heart a little bit if he’d have done it earlier.”

The breathtaking touchdown was the signature play of his 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year season that included a league-leading nine interceptions and a then-record 358 interception return yards, but it was far from the last time we’d see a play like that from Reed.

Against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands the very next week, Reed picked off another end-zone pass and returned it 104 yards despite a holding penalty wiping away the touchdown. Four years later, the nine-time Pro Bowl safety would top his own record with a 107-yard pick-6 against Philadelphia, albeit in a less dramatic situation (see below).

You just never knew what was going to happen when Reed got his hands on the football, which is what made him so thrilling to watch.

Comments (1)

lamarjackson2

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts as virtual spring workouts continue

Posted on 27 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens and the NFL now in the early stages of the virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After Gov. Larry Hogan gave permission, the organization entered “Phase I” for the opening of the Owings Mills facility, which permits returnees from the equipment crew, football video group, and the personnel department. Coaches and players still aren’t allowed in the building, but it’s a step in the right direction.

2. Those restrictions won’t prevent Baltimore players from working out together in South Florida as Lamar Jackson will hold informal sessions next week. The reigning MVP’s recent workouts with Marquise Brown highlighted on social media must have served as motivation for other teammates.

3. It’s been far from an ideal spring for players to keep in shape and prepare for the season, but the creativity has been fun to watch from afar such as the below example from Marlon Humphrey. I’ll be curious to see what technological and workout innovations stick beyond the pandemic.

4. Miles Boykin expressing confidence that he’ll “be able to play faster” in his second year reflects the steep challenge awaiting current rookies without a normal spring. Studying the playbook and virtual classroom work simply can’t replicate the challenging on-field application of concepts.

5. Ed Reed was the latest legend to speak with players virtually with Boykin describing his message as, “Take care of business — whatever it is.” The Hall of Famer discussed various topics, from finances and watching film to recovery and even locker room cleanliness. Reed remains one of a kind.

6. As Bill Belichick mentioned during the NFL 100 all-time team unveiling, Reed may have been the greatest punt blocker of all time, a cue rookies wanting to make a first-year impact should take. He was an absolute force on special teams before injuries eventually took him away from that realm.

7. Deep passing accuracy is still mentioned as a relative weakness for Jackson, but separate studies put him 16th (Pro Football Focus) and 12th (Football Outsiders) last season. With Brown and Boykin entering their second season, Jackson taking another step in the vertical game seems quite plausible.

8. Jamal Adams is a heck of a talent and drew trade interest from Baltimore last fall, but surrendering early draft picks and committing another market-setting contract to the secondary on top of the lucrative in-house extensions already on the horizon would make me take serious pause. You can’t pay everybody.

9. Speaking of safeties, this PFF piece on the three-safety defense in college is something to remember with the Ravens’ reputation for being ahead of the curve with innovations. Wink Martindale frequently used three safeties down the stretch last year, but not with the same principles as these college teams.

10. John Harbaugh was tied for 11th with 25-1 opening odds to win 2020 AP Coach of the Year, according to BetOnline. Dramatic improvement from the previous year usually prompts strong support for this award, so tangibly improving on a 14-2 regular season for him to repeat feels very unlikely.

11. As I get older, I more and more disagree with criticism for aging players who continue well past their prime. If they’re still competent enough in at least one team’s eyes, why walk away to appease anyone who isn’t their family? That goes for Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, or anyone.

12. There aren’t many stadiums where the Ravens haven’t won a game as they prepare for their 25th season in Baltimore, but they’ll have a chance to secure their first victories at Philadelphia and Indianapolis this fall. Of course, a road game could be quite different from what we’re used to.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts as virtual spring workouts continue

Screen Shot 2020-05-25 at 11.15.45 PM

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens regular-season moment No. 16: “That’s one that loosens your teeth”

Posted on 26 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 17 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens looked like they might be the worst team in football.

After an offseason salary-cap purge in which general manager Ozzie Newsome bid farewell to multiple starters and a couple future Hall of Famers from the Super Bowl XXXV championship team, the 2002 season couldn’t have started much worse on and off the field.

The young Ravens suffered a season-opening 10-7 road loss to a Carolina Panthers team that had gone 1-15 the previous year. The offensive output certainly wasn’t encouraging in third-year quarterback and former third-round pick Chris Redman’s first NFL start.

A few days later, sadness overcame the city as Baltimore Colts legend and football icon Johnny Unitas died of a heart attack on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. With Redman wearing black high-tops to pay tribute to the fellow Louisville product who had taken an interest in his football career, the Ravens were thoroughly embarrassed in a 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 2, the only time in team history they’ve been shut out at home.

Coming out of an early Week 3 bye, the Ravens were set to host the undefeated Denver Broncos — who had already knocked off defending NFC champion St. Louis and won at San Francisco — on Monday Night Football. Despite clamoring for more media attention the previous two seasons, even most Ravens fans dreaded their 0-2 team being on a prime-time stage for the football world to mock and ridicule.

The second quarter indeed proved to be embarrassing — for the Broncos.

Redman threw a touchdown pass to Todd Heap to give Baltimore a 7-3 lead on the second play of the period. Rookie Ed Reed blocked a punt that led to a short Jamal Lewis touchdown run to make it 14-3. And after a Matt Stover field goal, Ray Lewis intercepted a Brian Griese pass to set up another Redman touchdown throw to Heap with 18 seconds left in the first half, making it 24-3 in favor of the Ravens.

But none of that compared to what happened moments later as longtime Denver kicker Jason Elam lined up to try a 57-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. The attempt was well short and wide to the left as cornerback Chris McAlister fielded the kick in the end zone and initially played possum before taking off at his own goal line. With many not even realizing what was happening, McAlister sprinted down the sideline for a then-NFL-record 107 yards for a touchdown as over 69,000 shocked fans went bonkers.

Perhaps even more thrilling and memorable than the return itself, however, was the block delivered by Ray Lewis, who absolutely throttled Broncos linebacker Keith Burns at the 5-yard line. As the legendary John Madden so perfectly described it on the ABC broadcast, “That’s one that loosens your teeth!”

The monstrous hit symbolized the night for the shell-shocked Broncos as the Ravens earned their first win of the season in a 34-23 final, a game that also included Reed’s first career interception. The victory may not have been the harbinger of a magical 2002 turnaround, but it made clear the rebuilding Ravens were far from the NFL’s worst team as they’d go on to finish 7-9 in what was one of Brian Billick’s finest coaching jobs.

The incredible touchdown to close the half signaled better days were coming soon for a team with a very talented young core still intact, including the two men responsible for one of the most exhilarating plays in franchise history.

“That’s the way we practice it,” said McAlister about his record return after the game. “I watched and hung in the end zone and let my guys set up the wall. I got a hell of a block from Ray, and we went with the wall. All I saw was purple jerseys and green until I hit the end zone.”

Comments (1)

jamal2000

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens regular-season moment No. 18: 2,000 and then some

Posted on 21 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 19 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The game meant nothing and everything.

Thanks to second-place Cincinnati’s loss to Cleveland 4 1/2 hours earlier, the Ravens entered the 2003 regular-season finale having already clinched the first division championship in team history. Conventional wisdom called for head coach Brian Billick to rest his key players in preparation for a wild-card playoff showdown with Tennessee six days later, but there was nothing ordinary about the Week 17 opponent.

“This is the Pittsburgh Steelers,” said Billick about his decision to play his starters. “It’s a rivalry. You can’t cheat the game. You can’t cheat the fans.”

Perhaps more important than Baltimore’s desire to break a five-game losing streak against its AFC North adversary and build momentum going into the playoffs was the matter of All-Pro running back Jamal Lewis putting an exclamation point on his historic season. Voted the AP 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, the 24-year-old entered the night needing 48 yards to become the fifth player in league history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. Having already broken the NFL’s single-game rushing record with 295 yards in Week 2, Lewis would touch the ball a whopping 413 times that season while accounting for 46 percent of Baltimore’s total yards and 40 percent of its offensive touchdowns.

The Ravens offense was indeed a one-man show.

The 245-pound Lewis was not only aiming for his 12th 100-yard rushing performance of the year, but 153 rushing yards stood between him and Eric Dickerson’s single-season league record of 2,105 set in 1984. Accomplishing that wouldn’t be easy against a Pittsburgh defense that didn’t want a rival to set a record on its watch.

The bruising back carried five times for 39 yards on Baltimore’s first drive before Anthony Wright threw an interception inside the red zone. However, Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed picked off Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox two plays later to set the stage for history.

Lewis gained nine yards on first down to reach exactly 2,000 yards, but the next play would send 70,000 fans into a frenzy at M&T Bank Stadium. Running between left guard Edwin Mulitalo and future Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden, Lewis broke free untouched for a 25-yard touchdown. His league-best 16th run of 20 or more yards that season left no doubt that the 2000 first-round pick from Tennessee would be remembered in NFL rushing lore.

The Steelers would clamp down after that as Lewis would gain only 41 yards on 20 more carries the rest of the way to fall 39 yards short of Dickerson’s record, but the night served as both a celebration and a reminder of the intensity of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry that endures today. Billick never took his foot off the gas as the teams played into overtime with Matt Stover kicking a 47-yard field goal to give the Ravens their first win against Pittsburgh in more than two years and first home victory over their bitter rival since the inaugural 1996 campaign.

You never would have known the game was meaningless by watching as chippy behavior persisted and Ravens punter Dave Zastudil suffered a broken nose and a concussion — and returned to action — over the course of the game. Billick’s decision to play his starters the entire way would be second-guessed for a long time after Baltimore was eliminated by the Titans the following week.

But that night belonged to Lewis, who passed the likes of Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, and O.J. Simpson on the single-season rushing list despite failing to match Dickerson.

“I’m not disappointed,” Lewis said after the 13-10 victory. “The opportunity was there, and we went at it. My line, they blocked well. It was in reach, but we didn’t get it. I think second is good.”

Comments (1)

Screen Shot 2020-05-19 at 12.20.45 PM

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens regular-season moment No. 19: “You want to be the last team standing”

Posted on 19 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 20 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2006 campaign was shaping up to be a pivotal one.

With the Ravens coming off their worst season since 1998, head coach Brian Billick was firmly on the hot seat and former first-round pick Kyle Boller wasn’t the franchise quarterback the organization hoped he would be after drafting him three years earlier. That prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to trade a fourth-round pick to Tennessee for former MVP quarterback and longtime rival Steve McNair to boost a mediocre offense needing to better complement a championship-caliber defense led by future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, who were both healthy after injuries the previous year.

Baltimore began the season with a bang, shutting out Tampa Bay on the road and flattening Oakland in the home opener. A fourth-quarter comeback win at Cleveland gave the Ravens the first 3-0 start in franchise history to set up a Week 4 showdown with undefeated San Diego at an energized M&T Bank Stadium. Led by MVP running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers and their No. 1 scoring offense going up against the league’s best defense felt like a potential preview of the AFC Championship game.

The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, but it was an ugly affair for the Ravens for much of the day with McNair throwing two interceptions, backup tight end Dan Wilcox fumbling at the San Diego 1 in the third quarter, and top wide receiver Derrick Mason dropping a sure touchdown in the fourth quarter. But the Chargers had made their own mistakes with conservative play calling and a fumbled snap that squandered a 52-yard field goal attempt that could have put them ahead by two scores midway through the final period.

Backed up on its next possession and not wanting to give the Ravens a short field with time winding down, San Diego intentionally took a safety to make it a 13-9 game with 3:12 remaining. It was just enough time for McNair, who had led the go-ahead drive against the Browns a week earlier and was trying to redeem himself after a poor showing in front of his new fans.

After punting or committing a turnover on their first five drives of the second half, the Ravens moved into the red zone thanks to two completions to Mark Clayton and a vintage 12-yard scramble by McNair. Out of timeouts after burning all three in the third quarter, Baltimore faced a second down from the 10 with 41 seconds to go.

Motioning across the formation, Todd Heap wasn’t a primary read on the play, but the Chargers rushed only three after applying heavy pressure much of the day, allowing McNair to look back to his left. Heap, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end despite having played with a motley crew of quarterbacks over his first five seasons, reined in a high pass and absorbed a shot from Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shawne Merriman at the 3 before stretching across the goal line with 34 seconds remaining.

“I felt the hit,” Heap said after the 16-13 win. “Luckily, I was able to bounce, fight, and do whatever I could to get in the end zone. You want to be able to take the hit. You want to be the last team standing.”

The upper deck seemingly shook during one of the loudest eruptions in the stadium’s history. All that was left was for the Ravens defense to put a bow on its impressive performance against an offense that averaged just over 30 points per game that season.

A fourth-down completion from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates gave the Chargers a last-gasp chance from the Baltimore 49, but outside linebacker Jarret Johnson sacked the San Diego quarterback on the next play as time expired. The Ravens had prevailed to improve to 4-0 and would go 13-3, the best regular-season record in franchise history until 2019.

The Chargers and Ravens would finish as the AFC’s top two seeds respectively in 2006, but there would be no January rematch with both teams being upset in the divisional round. Still, you couldn’t ask for better theater in Week 4 than what Ravens fans witnessed on that early October afternoon.

Comments (1)

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates a 61-yard touchdown play with Marshal Yanda during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/John Munson)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens have much work to do to replace the “irreplaceable”

Posted on 07 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Four weeks after eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda announced his retirement, the Ravens have yet to address the right guard position.

That’s hardly surprising with few appealing options hitting the free-agent market last month, but that’s not to suggest the Ravens are nonchalant about filling the void left behind by one of the best players in franchise history. There’s no easy fix.

“It’s going to be really hard. I think he’s irreplaceable, bottom line,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You can’t say that you’re going to plug in another Marshal Yanda. Probably the same thing applied to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. To me, he’s in that category.”

Unlike those Hall of Famers at the end of their brilliant careers, however, Yanda was still playing very close to his peak level as he was a second-team AP All-Pro selection and Pro Football Focus graded him as the NFL’s fourth-best guard last season. After Super Bowl XLVII, it was pretty clearly time for Lewis to walk away and the Ravens were content watching Houston pay big money for the player Reed no longer was by 2013.

The best in-house comparison might be Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who was still playing at an elite level and had been named to his 11th straight Pro Bowl in 2007 before retiring because of a chronic toe issue. It also serves as a reminder that the sky isn’t falling as the Ravens rebounded from a 5-11 campaign in Ogden’s final season to advance to the AFC Championship in 2008 with the unheralded Jared Gaither manning left tackle. Led by league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, a Baltimore offense that set numerous team and league records last year isn’t going to collapse without Yanda.

Ultimately, it’s a team sport with few non-quarterbacks providing make-or-break individual value, but Yanda’s elite play, institutional knowledge, and understated leadership will be missed on an offense that’s still very young.

“Taking Marshal out of that equation is not just a one-guy deal,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a force multiplier. He exponentially makes the offensive line better because he makes all the players around him so much better, including the quarterback and the rest of the offensive line. We’re going to have to really do a great job there. That’s one of the biggest challenges. It’s probably job one or two. We’ve got to make sure that we do a great job of making sure the interior offensive line is all set.”

With the proper perspective, replacing a Hall of Fame talent doesn’t have to be a nightmare. In the wake of Lewis’ retirement in 2013, the Ravens did strike out with second-round pick Arthur Brown, but the June signing of veteran Daryl Smith brought short-term stability at inside linebacker and first-round pick C.J. Mosley arrived a year later to make four Pro Bowls in five seasons with Baltimore.

Replacing Reed at safety proved more problematic with the Ravens burning through failed draft picks and underwhelming value signings over a three-year period before finally inking Eric Weddle to calm the back end of the secondary in 2016. With Jackson still playing on a rookie contract, the Ravens don’t want to compromise their Super Bowl aspirations by failing to solve the right guard spot to a satisfactory level.

This year’s draft class isn’t littered with first-round-caliber guards, but general manager Eric DeCosta says he sees no shortage of starting-caliber potential, including some offensive tackles who would be good fits to move inside in Baltimore’s system.

“I think we’ve shown in the past that we can find guys in the second, third, fourth, fifth rounds, offensive linemen who can come in and play,” DeCosta said. “We’re fortunate that we’ve got a great [offensive line] coach in Joe [D’Alessandris], who can develop younger players. We’ve seen that over and over and over again. We’re excited about that, and we’ll find some guys for sure.”

There isn’t a perfect answer, of course, as second-year guard Ben Powers, an early 2020 draft pick, or even a potential value signing like former Raven Kelechi Osemele cannot be expected to play anywhere near Yanda’s level. The Ravens would be happy with solid and steady.

The cupboard is far from bare along the rest of the offensive line with All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley playing at an elite level last year and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. making the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Center Matt Skura was playing the best football of his career prior to sustaining a serious knee injury in late November while left guard Bradley Bozeman and backup center Patrick Mekari both looked the part of starting-caliber NFL linemen in 2018.

They’ll all need to play a part in filling Yanda’s massive shoes.

“We’ll see what we can do to try to get as close as we can, and the other part of it is that the rest of the guys have to step up,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, every player on offense has to be better without Marshal, especially every player on the offensive line coming back has to be that much better just [for the group] to be the same.

“It’s really going to be on all our shoulders to make that happen. Not just be the same, we’ve got to try to improve. We’ve got a lot of work to do with that.”

Comments Off on Ravens have much work to do to replace the “irreplaceable”

draft

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts on pre-draft conference call

Posted on 06 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens brass conducting its annual pre-draft press conference via conference call on Monday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eric DeCosta described this draft as “old school” with more reliance than normal on game tape after the pandemic canceled so many pre-draft activities. It should help immensely having so much experience and continuity in the front office, scouting department, and coaching staff.

2. Many have discussed the possibility of DeCosta trading up in the first round, but he’s always spoken about desiring more picks. With this class presenting more uncertainty for obvious reasons, I’d be more inclined to use as many of those seven selections in the top 150 spots as I could.

3. With the draft being conducted away from team facilities, John Harbaugh has conveyed his concerns to the Ravens’ information technology department about various reports of security breaches in the Zoom software that’s become so popular in our current world. League-wide paranoia figures to be at an all-time high.

4. DeCosta estimated having 185 “draftable” players on his board, up from last year’s pre-draft estimate. That seemingly supports opinions of this being a deep class since you’d anticipate more prospects than usual to be removed from team boards over questions that went unanswered because of canceled pro days and visits.

5. Asked if he had interest in Antonio Brown after the former All-Pro receiver recently worked out with cousin Marquise Brown and Lamar Jackson, DeCosta declined to comment. It’s tricky discussing a relative of one of your key players, but the unfiltered answer should be a simple and definitive no.

6. DeCosta complimented his current wide receivers and stated his belief that some guys are “going to make that jump,” but I’d be surprised if the Ravens wouldn’t take a swing at such a deep position in this draft with one of their five scheduled picks over the first three rounds.

7. While acknowledging the more complete inside linebackers in this class who’ve been discussed at great length, Joe Hortiz said there are multiple options who could help this multi-look defense in more situational roles. I wonder if the Ravens are more comfortable with the mix-and-match approach than we think.

8. Harbaugh comparing replacing Marshal Yanda to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed speaks to his respect for the retired guard and a need to temper expectations. In Lewis’ case, Baltimore signed the rock-solid Daryl Smith and drafted C.J. Mosley a year later. Replacing Reed at safety was a multiyear headache, however.

9. Plans are ongoing for virtual team meetings and strength and conditioning sessions for the offseason workout program that’s scheduled to begin in two weeks. Harbaugh noted there being no excuse for players not to be in shape upon reporting to the team facility, a reference to ex-Raven Michael Pierce.

10. According to Harbaugh, Derek Wolfe has been on him “like a fly on something” to send him a copy of the defensive playbook. You get the sense that the veteran defensive lineman is going to be a popular addition in numerous ways.

11. Living in close proximity but limited to remote communication in recent weeks, Harbaugh predicted he would meet up with DeCosta for a walk at some point before the start of the draft. As long as they’re a minimum of six feet apart, of course.

12. The fantasy football draft jokes will be flowing with team executives working from their homes, but DeCosta’s shaky internet connection during Monday’s session makes you hope he has a backup queue in place. Just in case.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts on pre-draft conference call

yanda

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Eight-time Pro Bowl guard Yanda retires as one of best, toughest Ravens ever

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Luke Jones

After famously encouraging teammates to “embrace the grind” early in what would be the 2012 Super Bowl season, Marshal Yanda is retiring as one of the best and toughest Ravens ever.

The news wasn’t shocking as the 35-year-old had pondered retirement these last couple years and was noticeably more reflective during the 2019 season, but his departure leaves a massive hole Baltimore won’t easily replace in terms of both his elite play and leadership by example.

Some stories about the eight-time Pro Bowl right guard and Iowa farm boy are the stuff of folk heroes — like willingly being tasered three times in the locker room for $600 as a rookie — but the day-to-day consistency of his 13-year career is what made Yanda special. Any offensive lineman would tell you anonymity is a desired trait as it means you’re getting the job done for the guys who touch the ball and star in the highlight shows, but the unassuming Yanda was too great for too long for even the most casual fan not to take some notice after a while.

“For most of your career, most people — including the media, believe it or not — don’t pay attention to those guys up front,” said head coach John Harbaugh last November. “They pay attention to all the other stuff. And the linemen, when they start getting talked about as Hall of Fame players, then all of a sudden, people start watching them. To me, I believe Marshal is doing that at the highest level. He’s playing some of his best football, if not his best football, right now.”

It didn’t come easy, however, for one of only 13 guards in NFL history to be named to eight Pro Bowls.

Unlike other Baltimore greats such as Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs who were drafted in the first round with some hope of greatness from Day 1, Yanda wasn’t selected until the third round in 2007 after beginning his collegiate career at North Iowa Area Community College and working to eventually become a second-team All-Big Ten selection at the University of Iowa. He wasn’t even the first guard drafted by the Ravens that year as then-general manager Ozzie Newsome took Auburn’s Ben Grubbs in the first round, but the organization knew it had added a gamer based on endorsements from longtime Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz, who had previously spent three years as a Ravens assistant.

An early-season injury to Ogden and the subsequent offensive line shuffling threw Yanda into the lineup for 12 starts at right tackle as a rookie. He tore multiple knee ligaments just five games into 2008, a season-ending injury that would also impact his playing time early the following season as veteran Chris Chester fared well at right guard and Yanda was working his way back to full strength. In 2010, offensive line uncertainty again moved him out to right tackle where he’d start all 16 games for the first time in his career.

That stellar play and versatility prompted the Ravens to re-sign Yanda to a five-year, $32 million contract prior to the 2011 season when he could finally call right guard his full-time home and people began taking notice. From there, he’d become the NFL’s best at his position for the better part of a decade, making the Pro Bowl every year other than 2017 when a broken ankle ended his season in Week 2.

The examples of toughness go beyond the “easy money” he made for that locker-room stunt as a rookie and working his way back from the serious knee injury sustained in his second year. Despite undergoing emergency surgery for compartment syndrome in his lower leg in Week 16 of the 2011 campaign, Yanda — also dealing with a painful rib injury — was back on the field the following Sunday to help the Ravens win their first AFC North title in five years and clinch a first-round bye. Instead of succumbing to a season-ending left shoulder injury in 2016, he came up with the idea of moving to left guard, which eased the stress on that arm and allowed him to finish another Pro Bowl campaign. Even upon breaking his ankle in 2017, Yanda walked off the field under his own power.

Aside from overcoming those physical challenges, trying to identify Yanda’s signature play or moment isn’t as easy as with those regularly touching the football or pursuing it every play. An offensive line coach would cite hundreds of examples over the years in which Yanda displayed his masterful technique, but his grit and determination to play through the whistle showed up at a key moment in one of the greatest games in team history.

Tied 35-35 in the 2012 divisional round (see below), the underdog Ravens were trying to move into field goal range and faced a second-and-10 from the Denver 45 on the final play of the first overtime. Ray Rice took a hand-off and ran nine yards before being stood up by two defenders, seemingly leaving Baltimore with an uncertain third-and-1 against a Broncos defense that had mostly bottled up Rice late in the game. However, it never came to that as Yanda, nearing the end of a night in which he played 86 total snaps in single-digit wind chills, ran forward from the second level and plowed Rice and the would-be tacklers an additional two yards for the first down. It was the last meaningful offensive play of the game as Justin Tucker kicked the game-winning field goal moments later and the Ravens would go on to win their second Super Bowl a few weeks later.

Joe Flacco and Jacoby Jones owned the night with the “Mile High Miracle,” of course, but Yanda’s late push helped ensure that would be a winning memory and was just one example of his unrelenting will to win.

His Pro Football Hall of Fame fate remains to be seen after playing a position many view as underrepresented in Canton. Former Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca is still waiting for the call after a 13-year career that included nine straight Pro Bowls from 2001-09, but game-film enthusiasts and football analytics sites have sung Yanda’s praises for years, making him more of a household name than the top interior linemen of previous eras and increasing the likelihood of him receiving a much deserved gold jacket one day. When news broke of his retirement, Pro Football Focus was quick to note how he allowed just one sack in the last 2,331 pass-blocking snaps of his career and just 20 career sacks, a total many guards allow in just two or three seasons.

Yanda could have made his Hall of Fame case more elementary with another Pro Bowl season or two and maybe a second Super Bowl ring as the Ravens come off a 14-2 season led by MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, a thrilling young player the grizzled veteran enthusiastically embraced after having a close relationship with Flacco. Yes, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman easily could have held on for a few more years, but he never played for individual accolades, making the decision admirable as he still ranks as one of the game’s best at his position in his mid-30s. That’s a claim some of the absolute best players in Ravens history can’t make.

“It’s never been about me. I feel fortunate to be a part of this organization, to be drafted here, and the type of success we’ve had in all the games that I’ve been able to be a part of,” Yanda said in early January. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. The most important thing is our next opponent.”

In Yanda’s mind, it was time to walk away if he weren’t fully committed to “embrace the grind” for a 14th season. That journey will now go on without him, but the lessons instilled won’t be forgotten in the same way a 23-year-old Yanda learned what it meant to be a professional from Ogden in the last season of his Hall of Fame career.

For a player many barely noticed in the best possible way week after week and season after season, Yanda sure will be missed.

Comments Off on Eight-time Pro Bowl guard Yanda retires as one of best, toughest Ravens ever

Screen Shot 2020-02-03 at 9.09.55 AM

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts following Super Bowl LIV

Posted on 03 February 2020 by Luke Jones

With Super Bowl LIV now in the books after Kansas City topped San Francisco, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After faltering as the top seed last year, the Chiefs lost their star quarterback for nearly three full games, held a 6-4 mark in November, and needed Week 17 help just to get a bye. That’s good inspiration for Baltimore, who will be hard-pressed to match its record-setting 14-2 campaign.

2. In case it weren’t obvious after the playoff loss to Tennessee, the Ravens offense’s need to be able to play off schedule more effectively was reinforced by Kansas City erasing double-digit deficits in each of its three postseason games. That’s not how you draw it up, but it’s remarkable nonetheless.

3. A year after winning NFL MVP, Patrick Mahomes became the youngest Super Bowl MVP quarterback and youngest to claim both honors. Lamar Jackson would be the youngest if he can repeat a Mahomes feat for a second straight season. These two facing off for years is going to be fun.

4. Terrell Suggs had two tackles and a quarterback hit as he won a second Super Bowl in his decorated 17-year career. In a SportsCenter interview, Suggs said he’ll take some time to ponder his future, but he’ll turn 38 in October. He’s unlikely to have a better ending than that.

5. Andy Reid could have hired a new special teams coordinator upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1999, but he chose to retain John Harbaugh, who had just completed his first year as an NFL assistant. The Ravens head coach had to feel good for his mentor finally winning that elusive ring.

6. The Baltimore defense will continue to lean on its superb secondary and plenty of blitzing, but watching the 49ers front four make Mahomes look so mortal for 3 1/2 quarters reiterated the work Eric DeCosta has to do in that department this offseason. Nick Bosa was a game-wrecker.

7. Former Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk scored San Francisco’s first touchdown and was one yard shy of a second in the third quarter. The 49ers paid a steep price for him in free agency three years ago, but he just finished his fourth straight Pro Bowl campaign. Not bad.

8. Steve Hutchinson being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame was good for Marshal Yanda. The 12-year guard had seven Pro Bowls, five first-team All-Pro selections, and two second-team selections. Yanda has eight Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro selections, five second-team nods, and a Super Bowl ring.

9. I was surprised the vote for NFL Coach of the Year wasn’t a little closer between Harbaugh and Kyle Shanahan. Harbaugh was my choice, but the 49ers going from 4-12 a year ago to 13-3 is the kind of turnaround that often sways voters.

10. Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Colts legends Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry being part of the on-field ceremony honoring the NFL 100 all-time team reminded how tremendous Baltimore’s football history is. Johnny Unitas, John Mackey, Jim Parker, and Gino Marchetti were also selected.

11. After watching those introductions for both the 49ers and Chiefs, I vote for The Rock to be the hype man for every major sporting event. He’s the most electrifying man in all of entertainment after all.

12. According to Caesars Sportsbook, Kansas City opens as the Super Bowl favorite (6-1) for 2020 with Baltimore right behind at 7-1. Super Bowl LV will take place in Tampa, the same city the Ravens won their first NFL championship 20 years earlier. Sounds like a good story to me.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts following Super Bowl LIV