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Ravens regular-season moment No. 4: Ruining homecoming

Posted on 23 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 5 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2008 Ravens were a Cinderella story with the clock threatening to strike midnight.

Coming off a 5-11 campaign that resulted in the dismissal of longtime head coach Brian Billick, Baltimore had been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises with former Philadelphia special teams coordinator John Harbaugh now in charge. An elite defense and robust running game had led the Ravens to an impressive 9-5 record entering Week 16, easing the pressure on rookie first-round quarterback Joe Flacco.

But the Ravens were coming off a heartbreaking home loss to Pittsburgh that clinched the AFC North championship for the rival Steelers the previous Sunday. The margin for error was gone for even a wild-card spot with Indianapolis on its way to securing the No. 5 seed with a nine-game winning streak and New England having the same record as the Ravens despite losing all-world quarterback Tom Brady in the season opener. A daunting trip to Dallas to take on the playoff-hopeful Cowboys threatened to put Baltimore’s playoff hopes on life support.

The story was bigger than playoff ramifications, however, with “America’s Team” closing Texas Stadium with numerous Cowboys legends present for the nationally televised Saturday night affair and post-game ceremony to follow. The Ravens were keenly aware of rumors — later confirmed — that Dallas owner Jerry Jones had requested Baltimore as the final “homecoming” opponent to help close the iconic venue. There was also the matter of Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett having declined an offer to become the Ravens’ new head coach 11 months earlier, paving the way for Harbaugh to accept the job.

The script wouldn’t go as Jones and the rest of the football world anticipated.

Despite a DeMarcus Ware strip-sack of Flacco setting up an easy touchdown early in the first quarter, the Ravens suffocated the Cowboys offense for three quarters with All-Pro safety Ed Reed intercepting Tony Romo twice. Only red-zone inefficiency kept the game close with Dallas native Matt Stover booting three short field goals in the first half to give Baltimore a 9-7 lead that endured late into the third quarter.

Seemingly ready to settle for another field goal, the Ravens ran a fake with holder Sam Koch for a first down that set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to veteran wideout Derrick Mason, who was playing with a painful shoulder injury. The score increased the lead to 16-7 and set the stage for one of the most memorable quarters in franchise history.

After registering no more than 24 yards on any of its first nine drives of the night, the Cowboys offense came alive to begin the final period with a 35-yard field goal to shrink the deficit to one score. The Ravens answered with another Stover field goal to make it 19-10 with 6:30 remaining, but Dallas wasn’t going away as Romo threw a 7-yard touchdown to future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens with 3:50 to play.

Trailing by just two and with all three timeouts remaining, the Cowboys knew their chances would come down to stopping the run with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron unlikely to take any chances with his rookie quarterback. To that point, the Cowboys had held Baltimore to a respectable 3.7 yards per carry and called a run blitz before running back Willie McGahee took the inside hand-off on first-and-10 from the 23.

Breaking a couple feeble tackle attempts, McGahee sprinted 77 yards for the touchdown before a stunned crowd of 63,800 that had finally come alive moments earlier. The second-longest touchdown in franchise history — for the moment — gave the Ravens a 26-17 lead with 3:32 to go.

But the Cowboys still weren’t finished as Romo moved his two-minute offense down the field, finding Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten for a 21-yard touchdown pass to again make it a two-point game with 1:36 remaining. Still holding three timeouts and having scored on three straight drives against a tired Ravens defense, Dallas kicked the ball deep and again only needed to stop the run to keep hope alive.

On first-and-10 from his own 18-yard line, Flacco handed off to the 260-pound Le’Ron McClain.

Breaking a couple tackles before delivering a vicious stiff arm to Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin, the surprising Pro Bowl selection who led the 2008 team in rushing galloped 82 yards for the score, tying Jamal Lewis for the longest run in team history. Once again, the crowd was stunned.

On consecutive offensive snaps, McGahee and McClain had produced two of the three longest runs in Ravens history to deliver the knockout blow and close Texas Stadium for good. The outcome put Baltimore only a home win over lowly Jacksonville away from a playoff berth and an unforgettable run to the AFC Championship game.

The Ravens also took great satisfaction in ruining the party for the media darling Cowboys, who would also lose at Philadelphia the following week to miss the playoffs.

“We had a lot of politics that really made this game more fun,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said after the 33-24 win. “They personally recommended us as their homecoming opponent. We just fed off that. We fed off it the whole game.

“We hope they enjoy their ceremony tonight, but I guess we were the dynamite.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-21 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 20 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens snapping their three-game losing streak and moving into the No. 6 spot in the AFC with a 24-21 win over Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I feel for Gus Edwards as the rookie free agent rushing for 115 yards would have been the big story if not for Lamar Jackson. Others have noted this, but his running style reminds of Le’Ron McClain, which was perfect against a bad defense already dealing with a mobile quarterback.

2. The Ravens defense managed only one sack and again failed to generate a turnover, but a simplified game plan that included press coverage and few blitzes did the trick to neutralize Andy Dalton’s short passes. Of course, A.J. Green not playing really helped.

3. Considering the defense had at least five defensive backs on the field for all but a few plays, holding Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard to a combined 19 rushing yards on 14 carries was very impressive and a critical development in the game.

4. Time of possession was certainly a byproduct of the run-heavy offense as the defense was on the field for just 55 snaps and less than 22 minutes. Perhaps that wasn’t as critical coming off the bye week, but it can still pay off down the stretch.

5. I’ve already written much about him, but I’m impressed with Jackson’s willingness to continue looking downfield as he scrambles like he did on the 23-yard completion to John Brown and the 19-yard dart to Mark Andrews. Those were easily his best plays of the day.

6. Justin Tucker making his 56-yard attempt at the end of the first half and Randy Bullock missing his 52-yard try late in the fourth quarter served as a reminder of how important the kicking game is in a grind-it-out affair. Tucker’s now made nine straight from 50 or more yards.

7. After giving up an acrobatic touchdown catch to John Ross despite good coverage, Marlon Humphrey atoned with a pass breakup against Cody Core to seal the win. Forcing Dalton to throw 36 times to collect 211 yards was a solid day at the office for the Ravens defense.

8. I’m not making much of Willie Snead’s blowup on the sideline that he and John Harbaugh downplayed after the game, but this is the potential risk if the Ravens stick with such a run-heavy approach. I want wide receivers who want the ball.

9. C.J. Mosley recorded his highest Pro Football Focus grade of 2018 as he recorded five tackles and a pass breakup while appearing to move better than he was before the bye. The 2014 first-round pick hasn’t had the ideal contract year as he ranks 28th among qualified linebackers, per PFF.

10. I’ve said repeatedly that coaches should go for it more on fourth down, but it felt panicky for the Ravens to try to convert the fourth-and-1 from their own 45 with 25 minutes to play in a low-scoring game. The failed challenge of the spot made it worse.

11. PFF grades Brandon Williams 69th among interior defensive linemen, which ranks behind Michael Pierce (fifth), Brent Urban (42nd), and Chris Wormley (64th). I don’t necessarily buy that, but are the Ravens getting enough value from their expensive run-stopping nose tackle in today’s pass-happy NFL? He played 24 snaps on Sunday.

12. As you could see from Harbaugh’s post-game speech, the Ravens were fired up — almost euphoric — after a much-needed victory. Jackson’s first start was fun to watch, but let’s remember they scored 24 points against an extremely poor defense in a close game that easily could have gone the other way.

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Former Ravens fullback McClain arrested on synthetic marijuana charge

Posted on 06 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens fullback Le’Ron McClain was arrested on a felony charge of trafficking synthetic marijuana in Alabama on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old was arrested in his hometown of Tuscaloosa after being found with 122 grams of synthetic marijuana, also known as “spice.” McClain hasn’t played in the NFL this season after being cut by the San Diego Chargers in March, and he last played for the Ravens during the 2010 season.

McClain is being held on $500,000 bond and could reportedly face a minimum three-year prison sentence and $50,000 fine if convicted of the charge under Alabama state law.

Drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2007 draft out of the University of Alabama, McClain made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2009. His best season came in 2008 when he received extensive time at tailback, rushing for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns.

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Ravens officially name DeCosta Assistant GM

Posted on 17 May 2012 by WNST Staff

The Baltimore Ravens announced several promotions within their personnel department on Thursday: Eric DeCosta has been named Assistant General Manager, Joe Douglas has been elevated to National Scout, and David Blackburn has been tabbed an Area Scout.

DeCosta, 41, who has served as the Ravens’ Director of Player Personnel the past three years, joined the franchise in an entry-level position in 1996. He moved his way up through the personnel ranks, first as an Area Scout, then as Director of College Scouting, and was subsequently promoted to Director of Player Personnel in 2009.

DeCosta works closely with Executive Vice President/General Manager Ozzie Newsome to oversee both the college and pro scouting departments. During his tenure as the scouting director, the Ravens drafted Pro Bowlers OLB Terrell Suggs (’03), DT Haloti Ngata (’06), G Ben Grubbs (’07), G Marshal Yanda (’07), FB Le’Ron McClain (’07) and RB Ray Rice (’08).

“When we extended Eric’s contract earlier this year, we changed his title to Assistant GM,” Newsome said. “As Eric continues to grow in the personnel department, he is becoming a vital part of the decision-making process.”

Entering his 13th season with the Ravens, Douglas, 35, has served as the team’s Area Scout Southeast since 2009. From 2003-07, he evaluated players in the Northeast, and in 2008, scouted the entire East Coast. Douglas played a key role in scouting and evaluating first-round pick QB Joe Flacco – the Ravens’ all-time leading passer – and Rice, the two-time Pro Bowler.

Additionally, Douglas has organized and coordinated the team’s post-draft rookie free agent signing process, which over the past several seasons has produced standout players such as LB Jameel McClain, LB Dannell Ellerbe and WR LaQuan Williams.

“Joe is so deserving of his promotion to national scout,” DeCosta stated. “He’s a top evaluator and communicator, and he’s been loyal to the Ravens over the years. In his expanded role, he’ll be scouting players across the country, which only makes us better. We are very excited for Joe.”

Blackburn, 29, joined the Ravens as a Player Personnel Assistant in 2007 after serving one year as a graduate assistant at Butler University coaching cornerbacks. He has spent the past five seasons working with Baltimore’s scouting staff in a number of roles, including preparing advance scouting reports of upcoming opponents, analyzing free agent prospects for pro personnel, scouting draftable collegiate players at multiple schools and helping coordinate in-season free agent workouts/visits.

In his new position as an Area Scout, the 2004 graduate of DePauw University will scout prospects at schools in the Northwest, Southwest and Midwest regions.

“We are looking forward to working with David in his new role as an Area Scout,” Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said. “He has done a great job the past five years working in both our pro and college departments, and he has received a well-earned promotion. David has a strong understanding of the type of player and person we look for in a ‘Raven.’ We’re confident he’ll give us another good set of eyes and ears to continue identifying the prospects we value.”

The Ravens also announced that Mark Azevedo has assumed the title of Area Scout Southeast, formerly held by Douglas. Azevedo, 30, was named an Area Scout in 2010, focusing the majority of his attention on schools in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest regions. He originally joined the Ravens as a Player Personnel Assistant in 2005 and will now shift his primary responsibilities to the Southeast.

Additionally, Kenny Sanders, who spent the past two seasons interning in the team’s scouting department, has been hired as a Player Personnel Assistant. A 2004 graduate of Gettysburg College, he was a three-year letterman while playing defensive back. A Baltimore native, Sanders, 30, prepped at the McDonogh School.

Ravens “20/20 Club” Graduates: Current Personnel Staff
DeCosta, Hortiz, Douglas, Azevedo and Blackburn are all current graduates of the Ravens’ “20/20 Club,” which includes members of the team’s personnel staff who started with the organization as young personnel assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. The term “20/20” refers to hiring 20-year-olds for $20,000. According to Newsome, however, “The guys actually started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them.”

Name                        Joined Ravens       Current Title
George Kokinis (Cle.)      1991                 Senior Personnel Assistant
Eric DeCosta                    1996                 Assistant General Manager
Joe Hortiz                        1998                 Director of College Scouting
Chad Alexander              1999                 Assistant Director of Pro Personnel
Joe Douglas                     2000                 National Scout
Mark Azevedo                2005                 Area Scout Southeast
David Blackburn             2007                 Area Scout

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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 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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Heap out, Washington questionable in Houston tonight

Posted on 11 December 2010 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Though most of the week’s conversation has been focused on the fallout from the loss to Pittsburgh, the Ravens made final preparations Saturday for a meeting with the 5-7 Houston Texans on Monday night.

The team practiced indoors Saturday although the Reliant Stadium roof is currently scheduled to be open for the prime-time encounter in Houston.

“I thought we had a very good practice today, and I thought we had an excellent week of practice,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “One thing about our guys, they’re professionals. It’s a tough loss, and I think everyone has a tough time getting over it – fans, coaches, players. [This team] means a lot to all of us.”

Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) and cornerback Fabian Washington (thigh) were again absent from practice Saturday. Heap was officially ruled out for Monday’s game after not practicing all week with an injured hamstring sustained on the first play of the game last Sunday.

Harbaugh held one last sliver of hope following Saturday’s practice before Heap was ruled unfit to go against the Texans on the injury report.

“Realistically, it would probably be tough for him to get back,” said Harbaugh, who added that the veteran had made substantial progress from Friday.

Washington’s status, however, is a bigger mystery. The maligned cornerback is listed as questionable against Houston. He was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice but did not practice on Friday or Saturday. With his reduced role in recent weeks and inexperience on special teams, the former starter could find himself on the inactive list for the second time in three weeks.

“We’ve been staying on top of [the injury] all week,” said Washington, who acknowledged his status would be a game-time decision. “It’s going to be close.”

Cornerback Lardarius Webb (thigh) was present and fielding punts after being listed as a limited participant Friday. Fullback Le’Ron McClain (ankle) was also present for the open portion of practice and appears fully ready for the Texans after missing last week’s game.

McClain, Webb, and safety Tom Zbikowski (foot) were all listed as probable on the team’s official injury report for Monday’s game.

Despite Friday’s news of police searching receiver David Reed’s apartment in regards to possible narcotics, the rookie return man was present and returning kicks at Saturday’s practice. No immediate discipline is expected to be taken against him, and no charges have been filed to this point.

“He’ll play [against the Texans],” Harbaugh said following Saturday’s practice. “It’s not something that really affects his football status certainly at this time. He’ll have a chance to tell his side of it in the proper way when the time comes. We just have to see how it all shakes out.”

Dickson ready to step up

With Heap out against the Texans, rookie Ed Dickson has prepared all week to make his first career start as the team’s primary tight end. Despite playing the entire game against Pittsburgh after Heap exited on the first play, Dickson admitted his excitement level has climbed substantially this week despite the misfortune of his close friend and teammate.

“I’m just excited,” said Dickson, who had three catches for 21 yards against the Steelers. “I’m ready to get out there. After a loss like that, I’m ready to get back at it and get another victory.”

Dickson and quarterback Joe Flacco have put in extra time this week to develop a higher comfort level in the passing game. Of course, an underthrown pass to Dickson fell incomplete on a fourth-and-2 play that ended the Ravens’ bid for a comeback in the closing seconds against Pittsburgh.

“I feel really comfortable [in the offense]. It’s [about] getting that chemistry down between me and Flacco.”

Jump-starting the offense

The Ravens will look to get well offensively against the league’s 29th-ranked defense, but the means by which they’ll try to do it remain to be seen.

Harbaugh spoke earlier this week about his team’s need to become more physical in the running game where the Ravens are tied for 30th in yards per carry (3.6), a stark contrast from a season ago when Baltimore ranked fourth with a 4.7 yards per attempt clip.

However, the Texans’ biggest weakness lies in the pass defense where they’ve given up a staggering 287.4 yards per game, ranked 31st in the NFL. Establishing the run is critical on the road, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has to be licking his chops with an underachieving passing game desperate to prove its worth.

“Every week presents its own challenge,” said Harbaugh about the Houston defense. “We’ve got our hands full in a lot of ways. I think we’ve got to go out there and focus on what we do and try to do it well and try to attack the defense that’s presented to us. They’ve got a lot of good players.”

“Those two outside pass-rushers (Mario Williams and Antonio Smith), if you don’t handle those guys, nothing really matters. They’ve got a nice little blitz package, so it presents a big challenge for us.”

Taking care of business

The Ravens hold a 15-1 mark against teams with sub-.500 records during Harbaugh’s three-year tenure in Baltimore. The only loss came in Week 2 this season when they fell to the 0-1 Cincinnati Bengals.

However, much is at stake for both teams Monday night, as the Ravens desperately want to stay on the heels of the Steelers in the AFC North race and the Texans are holding on to their postseason hopes for dear life after losing five of six games after beginning the season 4-2.

The job status of fifth-year coach Gary Kubiak is on tenuous ground after many expected the Texans to finally break through for their first postseason berth in 2010.

“They’re one of the most talented teams in the league by far,” Harbaugh said. “We understand what kind of team we’re going down there to play. And we understand their mindset going into the game.”

Perhaps the biggest key for the Ravens to continue their success against below-.500 teams is a fast start in a primetime road game, something they were unable to do last month in Atlanta when the offense was shut out in the first half. A slow start against a high-powered Texans offense (ranked seventh in the NFL) that includes the league’s leading rusher in Arian Foster (1,230 yards) and star receiver Andre Johnson (71 catches, 1,018 yards) could prove disastrous.

“I think they’re going to come in with a different game plan and definitely try to have some different things we haven’t seen to match up against us,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “But for us, it’s just for us going down there to play our type and style of football.”

The Ravens are 3-0 in the all-time series against the Texans, which includes two in Houston. The most recent came in 2008 when Baltimore dominated in a 41-13 victory.

Injury report

RAVENS: OUT – TE Todd Heap (thigh) QUESTIONABLE – CB Fabian Washington (thigh) PROBABLE – FB Le’Ron McClain (ankle), CB Lardarius Webb (thigh), S Tom Zbikowski (foot)

TEXANS: OUT – TE Garrett Graham (hamstring) PROBABLE – LB Xavier Adibi (hamstring), G Mike Brisiel (shoulder), LB Brian Cushing (knee), TE Owen Daniels (hamstring), TE Joel Dreessen (ribs), WR Andre Johnson (ankle), CB Glover Quin (hand), QB Matt Schaub (knee), DE Mario Williams (groin), T Eric Winston (shoulder)

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You can sum up this loss in one word …. Roethlisberger

Posted on 06 December 2010 by WNST Interns

I considered putting my fingertips to the keyboard as soon as Joe Flacco threw that impressive “bounce pass” to Ed Dickson, with 37 precious seconds remaining in last night’s game. But, my 43 years on this earth have taught me to grab a collective breath, whenever I’m frustrated and/or distraught.

Perhaps, distraught is an overly dramatic way of describing my discontent …..

I didn’t have any problems sleeping and in the grand scheme of life’s peaks and valleys, an embarrassing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, AGAIN, will not impact my overall happiness.

Yet, as I sit in front of my computer on the “morning after”, I’m prepared to impart my thoughts and regurgitate as many observations, as possible. Heck, I can think of a solid, dozen mind-scratching moments – but, one dominating reality overshadows all others …..

The better quarterback prevailed.

Aside from all the debate over attempting 49-yard field goals, untimely penalties and costly turnovers, the consistency of a guy who’s best described as a CHAMPION, led his team in the most important junctures of the game.

For the last six days, Baltimore’s football community has been salivating over the much rumored physical disabilities of Ben Roethlisberger. You name it …. sprained foot, glass jaw, broken toe …. our optimism was buoyed by an assumption the Steelers’ quarterback was going to show up and drag his right leg around like an anchor.

He proved every hater WRONG.

From making the most of broken plays to answering a near-knockout blow to the face, Roethlisberger lived up to his reputation; he’s a freakin’ winner.

Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talks to Baltimore Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco after the Steelers defeated the Ravens 13-10 at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on December 5, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

On the other side of the discussion, Joe Flacco had a steady, impressive performance through 3 quarters. But, his costly gaffes occurred at the most inopportune time of the game – the 4th quarter !!!!

In fairness, I can’t just arbitrarily blame that jarring fumble on Flacco. Troy Polamalu was untouched, as he nailed the Ravens quarterback from behind. It was the game changing moment, without a doubt.

Heck, I fully expected Leigh Anne Tuohy to call a timeout and march onto the field to give the boys a stern lecture on seeing “HER” when they protect the quarterback.

Polamalu simply provided the play of transition, while Roethlisberger seized it and delivered another game winning moment in the waning stages of a contest.

To put an honest perspective on the game, I think it’s quite fitting to simply suggest Ben Roethlisberger outplayed Joe Flacco in the most important stages. Of course, I’m really referring to the 2nd half, in general.

While numbers can be twisted and orchestrated for any particular argument, the blunt statistics of each quarterback’s performance in the final 30 minutes is pretty daunting. After halftime, the numbers look like this …..

Flacco : 8-19, 87 yards, 0 TD, 1 Fumble

Roethlisberger : 13-19, 161 yards, 1 TD

It is what it is, right? Regardless of injuries, vulnerabilities and misfortune, Roethlisberger outperformed Flacco when the game mattered most. For me, the staunch reality of past championships and dominance in big games was pretty telling …..

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ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 07: Quarterback Matt Ryan  of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates after a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on November 7, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Blog & Tackle: Ravens-Falcons could be Super Bowl XLV preview

Posted on 09 November 2010 by Chris Pika

Halfway through the NFL season, there is no clear-cut favorite in each conference to make it to the Super Bowl. Two of the major contenders will play Thursday night in the Georgia Dome in a possible preview of Super Bowl XLV — the 6-2 Ravens and 6-2 Falcons.

Both teams are very similar. Both clubs are 4-0 at home and 2-2 on the road, both will come into the game with a two-game win streak and a 4-1 mark in the last five games.

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 07: Quarterback Matt Ryan  of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates after a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on November 7, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Both are quarterbacked by young, impressive players who could have just as easily been switched as to where they were drafted. Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan are both solid characters on the field and solid citizens off of it who share almost identical nicknames — “Joe Cool” and “Matty Ice”. One had a playoff-ready team when he took over in the huddle, and the other had to become the face of the franchise almost immediately after a tumultous period in which the previous starting QB was indicted and the head coach bailed for Arkansas. You could put either man in the other’s huddle, and see the same results.

Both have a strong primary target at wide receiver. Atlanta has Roddy White, who was injured in Sunday’s win against Tampa Bay. White is one of the most-exciting deep-ball receivers in the game right now. Baltimore has veteran Anquan Boldin, who has provided Flacco with a legitimate vertical threat for the first time in his short career.

Safety valves? The Ravens have ultra-versatile back Ray Rice, who leads the team in rushing, and is Flacco’s second-favorite receiver. The Falcons counter with maybe the modern game’s finest tight end, Tony Gonzalez, who can still use his big frame to block and is Ryan’s second-favorite receiver.

The running backs? Baltimore uses the three-headed backfield of Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain to wear down opposing defensive lines, especially in the second half. Atlanta has a big bruiser, Michael Turner, who has bulldozed his way to big yardage all season.

Overall on comparison of the two teams on offense, Atlanta gets 22 more yards per game, converts 13 percent more of its chances in the red zone, 17 percent more in goal-to-go situations and has scored 2.6 points more on average than the Ravens.

The Falcons may need every bit of those numbers as the two teams are markedly different on defense. The Ravens give up 36 yards less overall, 45 less passing yards and 1.9 points less on average than Atlanta.

Baltimore Ravens safaety Ed Reed runs with the ball after intercepting a pass from Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne in the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in Baltimore, Maryland November 7, 2010.  REUTERS/Joe Giza (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

What the Falcons don’t have is the trio of all-world veteran defenders in safety Ed Reed, linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive end Haloti Ngata. They do have tough veteran defensive end John Abraham, who is paired with young DE Kroy Biermann, safety William Moore and linebacker Curtis Lofton.

The special teams edge belongs to the Ravens as punter Sam Koch and kicker Billy Cundiff have pinned opponents deep in their own end consistently. Atlanta’s punter/kickoff specialist Michael Koenen does not get the distance that either Koch or Cundiff does, but kicker Matt Bryant is a solid indoor kicker, as he has not missed a field goal in the Georgia Dome in 2010.

Coaches? One is John Harbaugh, who has made his team into a disciplined well-oiled unit after taking over for a very successful longtime coach who won a Super Bowl, and the other, Mike Smith, is related by marriage to that Baltimore Super Bowl-winning coach and who had to steady a team and a franchise after it was abandoned by his predecessor.

Sounds like the type of marquee game the NFL loves to showcase on their own network, and the country will see what these two teams are made of Thursday night.

It will be entertaining, it will be bruising, it has a chance to be high-scoring, and most importantly, if you happen to miss it on TV (for only catastrophic reasons), you might get to see the rerun on February 6 on a much-bigger stage in North Texas.

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Ravens shy from run, die by gun in loss to Bengals

Posted on 20 September 2010 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens offense mends its broken wings after a four-turnover debacle in Sunday’s 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the irrational cries for backup quarterback Marc Bulger and panic throughout the city is hardly surprising despite being wrapped in complete absurdity.

Little good can be taken from the defeat — against a team that swept the Ravens last season en route to the AFC North crown — other than another impressive defensive effort further enhanced by the return of cornerback Lardarius Webb, adding another key piece to a secondary puzzle suddenly looking far less problematic that originally feared.

However, the 1-1 Ravens find themselves in an all-too-familiar position with problems on the offensive side of the football despite the additions of former Pro Bowl receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the anticipated progress of third-year quarterback Joe Flacco.

Previously approaching deity status in the realm of local sports after leading Baltimore to the postseason in each of his first two seasons, Flacco suddenly finds himself under the most intense scrutiny he’s faced as a professional. Deficiencies previously assumed to be overcome in his third full season — with an increased number of offensive weapons — are now being labeled as roadblocks that might hinder the Ravens’ path to a deep postseason run in January 2011.

No sugarcoating can defend the awful play of the former Delaware quarterback on Sunday. He looked uncomfortable — with or without pressure in his face — and displayed terrible technique in throwing off his back foot repeatedly. Flacco forced throws into tight coverage and failed to see a wide-open Boldin streaking down the right sideline late in the first quarter for a potential touchdown that would have changed the tempo of the game. It was the type of performance expected from a rookie, not a third-year quarterback picked to win the league MVP award by a few national pundits.

Whether you are a believer in Flacco as the savior or have repeatedly pointed out his inability to read the middle of the field and go through his progressions quickly enough, no one can disagree his degree of incompetence on Sunday was extreme. It was, as many have pointed out in the hours following the loss, “Boller”-esque.

Why did it happen?

Of course, a variety of factors were at work, one being the Bengals having a pretty good defense that matches up well with the quarterback’s main weaknesses.

And this is where a large portion of blame lies with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Even before Sunday’s game, the book was out regarding Flacco’s struggles against the Cover 2 defense, with two losses to the Bengals and the playoff loss to Indianapolis a season ago as strong evidence.

Why then did the Ravens have just 23 runs against 39 pass attempts in a game in which Flacco was clearly struggling to find any semblance of competence let alone a rhythm.  Unlike the second loss to the Bengals in 2009 and the playoff defeat to the Colts in which the Ravens fell behind early, at no point did the Ravens need to abandon the run until falling behind 15-10 with 2:48 remaining in the contest.

Instead, Rice was used sporadically (16 rushes) despite picking up 5.4 yards per carry and Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain might as well have stayed in Baltimore (four combined carries).

Even worse, Cameron insisted on calling passes from the shotgun formation repeatedly, even in situations where the Bengals would have been guessing run or pass with Flacco under center.

In all, Flacco made 26 of his 39 attempts in the shotgun, completing only 10 for 78 yards. His 31-yard touchdown strike to Derrick Mason did come out of the formation, but so did the three second-half picks that helped seal the Ravens’ fate.

As simple as it sounds, the Cincinnati defense knew Flacco was throwing when working from the shotgun, making a passer who already struggles against the Cover 2 more predictable on top of that. While the Ravens occasionally call Ray Rice’s number from the formation, casual fans know the shotgun is used for obvious passing plays in most instances. Unless you’re Tom Brady and the 2007 Patriots, using the shotgun repeatedly will not lead to success. It tips your hand, which isn’t a problem on 3rd and long but isn’t what you want on 1st and 10.

Why make it so easy for the Bengals to figure out when a pass is coming in early-down situations?

While the shotgun does provide Flacco with a better look at the defense, it also makes the Baltimore offense more one-dimensional, taking a large number of running plays away from the equation as well as the play-action and roll-outs in which Flacco often finds success. In short, even if the Ravens insisted on passing instead of running, they needed to be far less predictable in their looks.

Instead, the Cincinnati corners locked onto receivers and the safeties settled into their deep halves, with little thought of the running game being a threat from the gun.

The shotgun can — and has been — a successful formation given Flacco’s comfort level in using it, but the look can be abused, as it was on Sunday.

Admittedly, Flacco struggled with pass plays under center (as he typically does in comparison to the shotgun) in the first half, failing to see an uncovered Boldin all alone down the sideline late in the first quarter and following that with an interception on the team’s next drive. As a result, Cameron completely abandoned the under-center passing game for the rest of the half with Flacco making his last 10 throws from the shotgun, finishing the first half 5 of 17 for 23 yards.

When the Ravens returned to the field after halftime and completed their most impressive drive of the game, Flacco was back under center to use play-action and rolling out on consecutive throws to Ed Dickson and Todd Heap for 36 yards, helping set up the scoring strike to Mason that came from the gun a few plays later.

Flacco generally looked better under center in the second half, going 5 of 9 for 70 yards compared to 7 of 13 for 61 yards and three picks from the shotgun. Cameron showed better balance in the looks he gave the Bengals in the second half, but his continued hesitancy in using the run doomed the offense with Flacco struggling.

After a 30-yard run by Rice and Flacco’s 12-yard completion to Boldin, the Ravens had  a first down at the Bengals’ 24, trailing 9-7 halfway through the fourth quarter. Rice, the Ravens’ biggest offensive weapon, never touched the ball again on the drive, as Cameron instead chose to have Flacco throw two passes to the end zone and a short completion to Heap on second down.

Yes, Cameron put it on the arm of his quarterback whose performance was sickly the entire afternoon instead of giving another touch or two to the running back who amassed over 2,000 yards of offense a year ago. The Ravens, of course, settled for a field goal. And the rest was history after a long kickoff return and Flacco’s third interception set up two Cincinnati field goals, giving the Bengals the 15-10 victory.

Sunday was not the first time Cameron and the Ravens offense have fallen into this trap, as we saw a few times last season, even when Flacco was red-hot in the first six weeks of 2009. Whether it’s the bravado and obsession many coordinators have with throwing the football or simply a desire to get his young quarterback on track, Cameron’s game plan was one of the major factors working against the Ravens in their first loss of the season.

The running game was needlessly avoided, and the looks the Ravens gave broadcasted their intentions to throw far too often.

On a day in which Flacco was irreparably off his game, it was a recipe for disaster.

And that’s exactly what we witnessed.

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