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Twelve Ravens thoughts from Greg Roman’s press conference

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Greg Roman meeting with the media for the first time since his promotion to offensive coordinator, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The theme from Tuesday’s press conference was the “reimagining” of the Ravens offense “from the ground up” with Roman even comparing the process to a brand new coaching staff joining a team. That seems telling after so many questioned the sustainability of the post-bye offensive system last year.

2. Roman went out of his way to mention how the staff was incorporating college elements, ranging from how modern players learn offensive systems to formations and even the calling of plays at that level. That’s interesting for a staff that doesn’t have a ton of recent college coaching experience.

3. Beyond improving his ball security, the greatest offseason focus for Lamar Jackson will be refining his fundamentals and mechanics as a passer, according to Roman. The coordinator opined that certain elements may not have been emphasized very much during his college career.

4. Asked what he likes about Jackson as a passer, Roman praised his field vision and compared it to that of Steve McNair, whom he worked with in his first stint with the Ravens from 2006-07. He said that kind of feel can’t be coached and gives Jackson a higher ceiling.

5. Like John Harbaugh last month, Roman didn’t disclose many details about Jackson’s offseason football plans, but he noted how this is essentially his first true offseason after he went through the pre-draft process last year. It’s a critical one for Jackson to make that fundamental jump.

6. When discussing his play-calling, Roman mentioned not wanting to leave “popcorn on the ground” for the opposing defense to be able to call out their plays. I don’t believe that was a dig at Marty Mornhinweg, but I couldn’t help but think about the playoff loss when he said it.

7. Speaking of the popcorn comment, Roman compared adjusting Jackson’s speed to a pitcher striking you out in the first couple at-bats and said the rebuilding of the offense was like kneading dough and putting together IKEA furniture. He had no shortage of interesting analogies, which I appreciated.

8. To no surprise, Roman mentioned “a strong, powerful” offensive line as the most important element in building an offense around Jackson. You’d have to think upgrading at left guard or center — ideally, both — remains a priority.

9. On the same day Hayden Hurst indicated he finally had the screw removed from his foot that stemmed from his August surgery for a stress fracture, Roman expressed excitement about both him and fellow tight end Mark Andrews and how creative he wants to be with their usage.

10. Echoing Eric DeCosta from last month, Roman mentioned wanting wide receivers with strong blocking ability and a “tough guy” element. That’ll be an emphasis in the draft and free agency, but I feel the need to express hope that they’ll find one or two also possessing the position’s traditional traits.

11. For those dreaming of a Le’Veon Bell signing, Roman preferring a “stable” of running backs and saying a receiving-minded back isn’t a top priority would probably make it unwise to hold your breath for the pursuit of the Pittsburgh Steeler free agent. Not that I expected it anyway.

12. I’m unsure how this is going to go with a “reimagined” offense driven by the run in an NFL leaning so heavily on the pass, but I respect trying to go against the grain for a competitive advantage. How big a passing jump Jackson makes remains the biggest key, however.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 29 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Making predictions for a Ravens-Steelers game is often a fool’s errand.

We know it’s typically close — 17 of the last 23 meetings including the playoffs have been decided by a single possession — but something crazy usually happens in the process.

Safety Eric Weddle said this week these aren’t the same old Ravens and they’ve learned from the last two heartbreaking defeats at Heinz Field in which they held double-digit fourth-quarter leads, but this is the chance to prove it and make an early statement that 2018 will be different than the last three non-playoff seasons. Sunday night marks the fifth consecutive season the Ravens’ trip to Pittsburgh will be televised before a national audience.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 45th time in the all-time regular-season series. Pittsburgh holds a 24-20 advantage and is 12-11 — including the playoffs — against Baltimore in the John Harbaugh era. The Steelers have won the last three meetings in this AFC North rivalry.

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the Steelers wide receiver giving the Ravens the biggest headache. It remains to be seen how defensive coordinator Wink Martindale approaches the challenge of covering Antonio Brown, but the 6-foot-1 Smith-Schuster does most of his damage from the slot, presenting a challenge for the 5-foot-9 Tavon Young. The nickel corner was exposed in Cincinnati in Week 2 and is still looking to regain his rookie form after last year’s knee injury. The Ravens will change up their coverages, but the defense needs a strong night from Young in order to get off the field.

2. John Brown and Willie Snead will each catch a touchdown against an injury-depleted Steelers secondary. Pittsburgh ranks 28th in the NFL in pass defense and is expected to be without starting safety Morgan Burnett and nickel corner Mike Hilton. It will be interesting to see how Steelers cornerback Joe Haden is used, but no one in the Pittsburgh secondary can run with the speedy Brown, who leads the Ravens with 222 receiving yards. If the protection can slow a capable Pittsburgh pass rush, Brown could be in line for a big night while Snead should find room in the middle of the field.

3. Pittsburgh tight ends and running backs will combine for 13 catches and a touchdown reception. Le’Veon Bell won’t be out there, but Steelers running backs and tight ends combined for 24 catches and two touchdown catches last December. The Ravens won’t have quite that much trouble, but C.J. Mosley will be less than 100 percent and the Steelers won’t hesitate to test Tony Jefferson and Weddle in coverage. Even with so much attention paid to Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner and tight ends Jesse James and Vance McDonald can’t be ignored.

4. Terrell Suggs will collect his first full sack against the Steelers since 2013. The personal rivalry between Suggs and Ben Roethlisberger goes back to 2004, but the seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker has just one-half sack in his last eight games against Pittsburgh. The Steelers will be welcoming right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert back to the lineup, which will only increase the challenge of pressuring the pocket. The Ravens finished with three sacks in the last meeting when Roethlisberger threw an absurd 66 passes. That can’t happen again if they want to win.

5. Joe Flacco and the offense will show up, but the Ravens defense falls short in a 31-27 loss. A rivalry once known for low-scoring affairs saw a whopping 77 points scored in the Week 14 contest played at Heinz Field last year. This one will follow a similar script as the Ravens offense will move the ball and score points, but the absence of Jimmy Smith once again looms large. After incorrectly picking Baltimore to win in Pittsburgh last December and watching Andy Dalton carve up the secondary in the first half of the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati, I need to see the Ravens prove they can get over the hump this time around. If it’s a different outcome, special teams could be the difference as Justin Tucker remains the best kicker in the NFL and Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell is a total mess now.

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Getting over Pittsburgh road hump would help push Ravens to next level

Posted on 28 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — We know what the Ravens-Steelers rivalry is all about.

It’s physical, intense, and ultra competitive with all but six of the 23 games played in the John Harbaugh era — including the postseason — decided by one possession. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said this week that you don’t earn your “badge of honor” as a Raven until you’ve played in a Pittsburgh game. In an evolving NFL catering more to the offense, this game still evokes that old-school feeling, even as the teams combined to score a whopping 77 points in their most recent showdown last December.

But putting those recycled narratives aside and acknowledging there’s much football to be played after Week 4, the Ravens could really use a win on Sunday night. “Need” is an overused word in the sports realm and doesn’t really apply this week, but a victory at Heinz Field would be as beneficial psychologically as it would be in the standings for a team with some key veterans running out of time and young players needing to grow up quickly.

Despite the predictable claims of every game being important, this one carries more gravity than a another notch in the win or loss column. There’s been too much disappointment in recent years for the Ravens to suggest otherwise.

The Steelers have won three straight over Baltimore for the first time since Harbaugh’s debut season as head coach, and we all witnessed what happened at Heinz Field in each of the last two Decembers. Still, the significance of Sunday’s game goes beyond trying to beat the Steelers, who appear as vulnerable as they’ve been in a while without All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell or much evidence of an effective defense.

There’s the Jimmy Smith narrative that Ravens defensive players are sick of hearing about, but what better way to welcome back their top cornerback from suspension next week than by beating an elite passing attack on the road without him?

It’s much more than just playing without Smith, however. The Ravens need to make a winning statement on the road against an accomplished quarterback at some point if they want to get over the hump and back to the postseason for the first time since 2014. If it isn’t against the Steelers this week, Baltimore is scheduled to deal with the likes of Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, the upstart Patrick Mahomes, and Philip Rivers in away games later this season.

Since their 2014 playoff win over Roethlisberger and the Steelers — only 10 players from that 53-man roster are still with the team (see below) — the Ravens have won just eight away games. The most accomplished quarterback they’ve beaten on the road is Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, who’s 3-1 against them at Paul Brown Stadium over that time.

The remaining quarterbacks the Ravens have defeated away from M&T Bank Stadium since 2014 are Mike Vick (in his final NFL season), Blake Bortles, EJ Manuel, Brett Hundley, Josh McCown (twice), and DeShone Kizer. Only one of them is currently a starter, and Bortles wasn’t exactly setting the league on fire when the Ravens beat Jacksonville early in the 2016 season.

To be fair, you can’t control your schedule of opponents and blame falls on both sides of the ball in compiling an 8-17 road record over the last three-plus seasons, but no one is taking you seriously as a contender if you can’t beat a top-flight quarterback outside your home stadium from time to time. That’s not too much to ask as we’re talking about a team that won road games over Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back weeks on the way to winning a Super Bowl six years ago.

Players have tried to say the right things publicly this week, acknowledging the rivalry while maintaining this one holds no more significance than any other game. Losing on Sunday hardly derails the young season in the same way that winning guarantees nothing, but flying back from western Pennsylvania early Monday morning with another defeat would only extend doubts about the Ravens’ road pedigree with three of the next four away from home still to come.

The Ravens don’t want to find themselves in a similar position to the last two seasons when they’ve needed to play lights out down the stretch to make the playoffs. We know how that turned out.

With better health and improved offensive weapons, Baltimore hopes the balance of power could finally be shifting in the AFC North this season. After a tough loss at Cincinnati on a short week earlier this month, the next litmus test has arrived.

“I look at it as it’s been a great learning experience for us as players and coaches and this organization,” said safety Eric Weddle about the last two heartbreaking losses in Pittsburgh. “As bad as we wanted to win those games, things have come up in those situations and throughout those games that we’ve gotten better from.”

Maybe so, but the Ravens have to prove it at some point.

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Ravens try to put “fourth-and-12” behind them with trip to Cincinnati

Posted on 12 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were on their way to the playoffs while Marvin Lewis was on his way out the door as Cincinnati’s longtime head coach last New Year’s Eve.

Then, “fourth-and-12” happened, a play that needs no further description or analysis in Baltimore.

Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with less than a minute remaining knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs and shook up both organizations to some degree. Instead of parting ways with his head coach, Bengals owner Mike Brown gave Lewis a two-year extension to continue a run that began in 2003. Changes to the Ravens were more nuanced after a third straight season without a postseason berth, this time with the backdrop of dwindling attendance down the stretch.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti didn’t fire anyone, but he admitted a month later to at least briefly considering replacing John Harbaugh, who is now in his 11th season in Baltimore. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees followed through on plans to retire — something he had reconsidered in previous years — before resurfacing with Tennessee just a few weeks later. Pees surviving a second straight late-season collapse after the previous Christmas in Pittsburgh would have been a tough pill to swallow for disgruntled fans, and he apparently wasn’t interested in forcing the organization’s hand.

If that final pass had been knocked away, do the playoff-bound Ravens trade back into the first round to draft quarterback Lamar Jackson, a move interpreted by some as partly made to rejuvenate the fan base? For all the handwringing about Joe Flacco, the veteran threw 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions for an 89.1 passer rating in the final seven games of last season and was Pro Football Focus’ 11th-highest-graded quarterback in the second half of 2017 as he finally got over the back injury that sidelined him for the entire preseason.

Do we see the organization’s concerted effort to improve the passing game if the Ravens play in January and even manage to win a playoff game? Or would it have been the typical halfhearted approach on the offensive side of the ball that we’ve too often seen in recent years?

One thing is certain despite some players’ best efforts to claim the contrary. The stunning 31-27 loss is still on their minds as they travel to Cincinnati on Thursday night.

“If I were to say no, I’d be lying,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “We’ve still got that bitter taste in our mouths, but this is a new year, new look, new opportunity for us to go out there and set the tone early. Some things we want back from that game, but that’s the past.”

To be clear, this is far from a must-win game so early in the season, but the Ravens have gone into their bye week with losing records in each of the last two seasons, illustrating how little margin for error they’ve afforded themselves the last two Decembers. It remains to be seen how strong the Bengals will be in 2018, but the defending AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers look as vulnerable as they’ve been in quite some time with All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell continuing his holdout, meaning any advantage gained now is valuable ahead of whenever he returns.

Playing five of the next seven games away from M&T Bank Stadium will be a daunting stretch, so a road win over a divisional foe carries more clout than any notion of the Ravens exorcising demons from last season. The best way to prevent history from repeating itself isn’t just to execute in that critical moment, but it’s to play well enough over 16 games to not be in such a hanging-by-a-thread playoff position once again.

“How many losses did we have last year, seven?” Flacco said. “You can argue any one of those teams ended it. We didn’t play good enough in any of those games, and I don’t think we’re really thinking about that. I’m not thinking about that. I’m just thinking about how confident I am in this group that’s here right now and what we’re getting ready to go do.”

That Week 17 loss certainly appeared to alter the present with a revamped passing attack coming off a superb Week 1 and new coordinator Wink Martindale now running the defensive show. How Jackson fits in the present and as the potential quarterback of the future will also be intriguing to watch.

But you wonder how it all might have played out if “fourth-and-12” didn’t become a thing.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 09 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t really need to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

A one-game lead for the final wild-card spot, a strong tiebreaker profile, and three remaining games — two at home — against teams that are a combined 20 games below .500 make Baltimore’s chances to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 very strong already. But a victory would bring the elusive signature win that would make the doubters — and perhaps John Harbaugh’s team itself — start to believe the Ravens are capable of being a legitimate threat in January.

Meanwhile, the Steelers hope to extend their seven-game winning streak, but a defeat would still leave them within striking distance of New England, who will visit Heinz Field next week with the upper hand for the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line. The immediate incentive for Pittsburgh to win Sunday would be to clinch the AFC North title, but its three-game advantage with four weeks to go leaves quite a margin for error in the division race.

In other words, the renewal of this intense rivalry lacks the same stakes as last year’s Christmas Day affair that essentially served as a division championship game.

Last week’s serious back injury suffered by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has been on the minds of both teams as the former Pro Bowl selection’s future on and off the field remains unclear. With many Pittsburgh players planning to wear cleats paying tribute to their injured teammate, how the Steelers respond emotionally playing at home could certainly be a factor for at least the beginning of Sunday night’s game.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North rivals meet for the 44th time in the regular-season series with the Steelers holding a slight 23-20 advantage to go with a 3-1 edge in postseason encounters. Pittsburgh has won the last two meetings and is in search of its first regular-season sweep of the Ravens since 2008. Including the playoffs, 16 of the 22 showdowns with the Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by a single possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

1. Danny Woodhead will have his best game as a Raven with 60 receiving yards and a touchdown. The focus on Shazier’s injury has rightly been on his health and not on football, but the Steelers will miss his presence in pass coverage as he recorded an interception and four breakups against Baltimore’s underneath passing game in Week 4. With Cam Heyward and a strong Pittsburgh front dominating the line of scrimmage in that first meeting, Joe Flacco may have to rely on more short passing and less of Alex Collins and the running game. With outside linebacker Arthur Moats filling in on the inside, this is the game Woodhead and the Ravens need to exploit an advantageous matchup.

2. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell will finish with 115 total yards of offense. It’s no secret the run defense has been superb since Brandon Williams’ return in late October, but Bell’s huge game in Week 4 was more about the inability to set the edge on outside runs and to handle the Steelers’ pulling interior linemen on counters than struggles inside as he averaged just 2.2 yards per carry between the tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens will be hellbent to slow Bell as a runner, but linebackers C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor have been vulnerable in pass coverage and this is where Bell will find more of his success. He’ll extend a streak of 57 or more receiving yards to four straight games.

3. Mike Wallace and Martavis Bryant will catch long touchdowns for their respective teams. With Steelers cornerback Joe Haden still out and their safeties inclined to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage to help the inside linebackers in coverage, there should be some opportunities for the Ravens to take deep shots and Wallace has been playing his best football of the year since the bye. On the flip side, Baltimore will do whatever it can schematically to prevent Antonio Brown from killing a secondary without Jimmy Smith, but that will leave Marlon Humphrey or Brandon Carr occasionally on an island matched up with Bryant, who is still dangerous despite a disappointing season.

4. Joe Flacco will be efficient and play turnover-free football for the third straight week. The 10th-year quarterback is coming off his best game of the year and needs to play more like that down the stretch if the Ravens are to become a realistic threat in the AFC. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler will do more to try to confuse Flacco and mix up coverages than Detroit did a week ago, but his fourth-ranked defense ranks a pedestrian 14th in the NFL in takeaways. Pass protection needs to hold up better than it did in the first meeting between these teams, but Flacco will effectively find Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin in the short-to-intermediate area of the field.

5. The Ravens will pull off the upset for their first signature win of the season in a 23-20 final. Perhaps I’m drinking too much purple Kool-Aid, but the Steelers are coming off a short and emotional week following a Monday night road game and have trailed in the second half of four of their last five games, illustrating how vulnerable they’ve looked at times despite a terrific 10-2 record. Baltimore has one last chance to earn a signature win and needs to build on its strong performance from a week ago to build confidence that the offense can be productive enough moving forward to have a real chance in the playoffs. The Steelers are the better team overall, but this week’s circumstances set up favorably for the Ravens to steal a road win in Pittsburgh and further improve their playoff positioning.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 30 September 2017 by Luke Jones

Coming off one of the worst losses in team history and remembering what happened last Christmas Day, the Ravens should have no shortage of motivation against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

But it’s difficult knowing what to expect after such a shockingly poor performance in London and with the injuries continuing to mount. A Week 4 tilt is hardly a must-win game, but the Ravens surely would like to hold serve at home and escape the next two games with no worse than a 3-2 record going into the middle portion of the regular season.

The Steelers are coming off a disappointing loss of their own as their high-octane offense has been largely stuck in neutral through the first three weeks of the season. However, Pittsburgh does find itself in better shape than the Ravens from a health standpoint, a key factor in what’s always a very physical ballgame.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North foes meet for the 43rd time in the regular season with the Steelers holding a slight 22-20 edge as well as a 3-1 advantage in postseason encounters. Pittsburgh prevailed in dramatic fashion to clinch the division title last Dec. 25, but the Ravens have won six of the last eight meetings, a stretch that includes their only postseason victory since Super Bowl XLVII. Including the playoffs, 16 of the 21 showdowns with the Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by a single possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will lead the Ravens in rushing and will score his first touchdown. I’m not sure how real his 7.8 yards per attempt average is since he’s rarely carried the ball with a game’s outcome in doubt, but this sputtering offense is in desperate need of a spark and there’s no denying the urgency with which Collins has run. The Ravens have averaged 4.6 yards per carry since Marshal Yanda’s season-ending injury in Week 2, but most of that has come with a multi-score second-half lead over Cleveland and a huge deficit against Jacksonville and the Steelers are getting healthy with defensive end Stephon Tuitt returning. If the Baltimore passing game can’t get going again, Pittsburgh is likely to stack the box.

2. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell will crack 100 yards of offense for the first time this season. It’s been a slow start to 2017 for the Steelers’ Pro Bowl running back, but the Ravens will be without standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams and defensive end Brent Urban, putting pressure on young linemen lacking experience against a rock-solid Pittsburgh offensive line. Baltimore linebackers were undisciplined in pass coverage against Jacksonville, which is another reason for concern with Bell’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield. The Ravens may need to take some chances with their linebackers to boost their pass rush, but that will leave them vulnerable on underneath throws.

3. Terrell Suggs will break a six-game drought against the Steelers with a sack against Ben Roethlisberger. No defender has more career takedowns of the Pittsburgh quarterback than Suggs, but the Ravens’ pass rush was nonexistent against Jacksonville while trying to rely mostly on a four-man rush. Not only do they need another edge rusher to consistently emerge opposite Suggs, but the inside pass rush is a big question mark since Urban was a major part of that equation. It isn’t enough to merely make Roethlisberger uncomfortable as Baltimore also needs to keep him in the pocket to prevent the downfield improvisation with his receivers that so often gets a secondary in trouble.

4. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will catch a touchdown despite being held to a season low for yards. The pain of last December’s game-winning score notwithstanding, the Ravens have generally done a respectable job against Brown while rarely having top cornerback Jimmy Smith travel with the All-Pro receiver. It will be interesting to see how much rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey plays — especially with 6-foot-5 receiver Martavis Bryant back in the fold — but the Ravens are better equipped to handle the Pittsburgh passing game than they were in the fourth-quarter collapse in Week 16 last year. Brown will inevitably get touches, but he won’t be the difference in the game.

5. The Pittsburgh defense will be too much for the Ravens in a 17-14 loss. This will be a close one as it almost always is in this rivalry. I fully expect the Baltimore defense to rebound from last week’s embarrassment and play well despite being banged up on the defensive line, but it’s difficult having faith in the Ravens to score points considering the current state of the offensive line and how uncomfortable Joe Flacco has looked trying to throw the football down the field. They’re also facing a Steelers defense that’s improved from recent years despite its clear issues against the run in Chicago. Roethlisberger hasn’t won a game at M&T Bank Stadium since 2010 and the Steelers haven’t won in Baltimore since Charlie Batch pulled off an upset in 2012, but the Ravens are the inferior team on paper because of their many injuries and haven’t shown enough on offense to make me believe they’re going to win this one.

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Ravens defense aiming to regroup without waking sleeping giant

Posted on 29 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Terrell Suggs and other veterans on the Ravens defense vow it won’t happen again.

After forcing a whopping 10 turnovers and allowing a total of 10 points in the first two games of the season, the Baltimore defense collapsed in London in an embarrassing 44-7 defeat. An inept offensive performance that included three turnovers certainly didn’t help, but the 44 points were the most allowed by the Ravens since the 2013 season opener in Denver.

No matter the explanation, the defense fell painfully short of the expectations set for the 2017 campaign after general manager Ozzie Newsome used extensive resources on that side of the ball this offseason.

“There has been a standard in this locker room and with this team and these colors,” Suggs said. “You definitely won’t see a performance like that [again].”

The feelings from that type of loss can linger, making it critical for players to regroup to focus on Sunday’s AFC North showdown with Pittsburgh. There’s also the reality of readjusting from the five-hour time change in London, leading some to believe the Ravens are essentially playing on a short week while the Steelers made only a short trip to Chicago last Sunday.

As ugly as the loss to Jacksonville was, the Ravens know a strong defensive performance and a win over their biggest rival would wipe away any lingering disappointment. The Steelers didn’t exactly fare well against the Bears, who ran for 222 yards against them in an overtime win. The optics may have been brutal, but the Ravens lost only the opportunity to move ahead of Pittsburgh in the AFC North standings when the emotions began to calm.

And if you’re even looking for some historical perspective, the vaunted 2000 Baltimore defense gave up 36 points to the Jaguars — at home, no less — in Week 2 while the 2012 Ravens were throttled by Houston in a 43-13 loss in Week 7. Both of those teams would go on to win the Super Bowl that season, reminding that even the best teams can have nightmare performances.

“A lot of guys were just distraught after the game — which you love to see,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Everyone deals with losses differently. Some guys, they are who they are. Some guys don’t want to talk; some guys are mad and mad for days. That’s good, but you also have to understand that it’s one game.

“We win and lose together. It’s never one guy that makes you lose.”

The defense knows there is work to be done, however, especially after losing defensive end Brent Urban for the season due to a foot injury. Standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams will also miss his second straight game with a foot ailment, putting further strain on a young defensive line lacking experience.

Missed tackles, a lack of pressure on Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, and poor linebacker play were evident at Wembley Stadium, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees insisted Thursday there were fewer assignment mistakes against Jacksonville than in the first two games of the season. That’s difficult to fathom when a defense gives up over 400 yards of offense and five touchdowns, but it lends credence to the belief that the Ravens were flat because of the time change, the emotions stemming from President Donald Trump’s harsh comments about protesting NFL players last weekend, or both.

Whatever the reason, the Ravens were sleepwalking and failed to force a single turnover after coming away with five each against Cincinnati and Cleveland.

“We did not disappear on third down, we did not disappear in the running game, and it kind of offends me that that comment was made,” Pees said. “What we did disappear in is the intensity. It was the difference in that game and the other two games — turnovers. When you play intense and you are really flying around 100 miles per hour, you create turnovers. We didn’t create turnovers. We did not create those kinds of opportunities that we created in the other two games.”

On Sunday, there should be no excuse for the intensity to be lacking with the Steelers coming to M&T Bank Stadium, a place where they haven’t won since 2012. The Ravens will even be wearing their alternate black jerseys, a popular look with both players and fans.

But there’s a sleeping giant looming if the Ravens aren’t ready. Despite possessing some of the best skill-position talent in the NFL as well as a well-regarded offensive line, the Steelers have struggled offensively, ranking just 22nd in total offense and tied for 16th in points per game. After holding out during the preseason, Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry so far and has yet to accumulate 100 yards of offense in any of his first three games.

The lone bright spot of the offense has been All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who has twice as many receptions (26) as Baltimore wide receivers combined (13). The memory of him stretching across the goal line to eliminate the Ravens from postseason contention last Christmas Day should provide more than enough motivation to want to keep him in check, but that’s still easier said than done.

Longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has accepted the blame this week, saying Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles can be traced back to his own play. That’s an admirable stance from a team leader, but it’s one the Ravens aren’t buying for a minute.

“He is setting us up. Tell Ben I am on to his tricks,” said Suggs, who has sacked Roethlisberger more times than any other player. “I know what he is doing. I am not going to let him fool me with trickery and Jedi mind tricks.”

After enduring one of the worst losses in franchise history last week, the Ravens better have their minds right if they want to make good on their promise and keep the giant snoozing for another week.

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Wild-card weekend drives home key points for Ravens

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Watching wild-card weekend from home for the third time in the last four years, the Ravens had to be thinking what might have been.

They have no one to blame but themselves after losing three of their last four games to finish a mediocre 8-8, but a survey of the wild-card round field only reinforced the lack of high-quality teams in the NFL this year and in most seasons. As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are, but you could argue that Baltimore was better than a few of the playoff teams if going off the eyeball test.

Oakland deserves a pass with the unfortunate injury to Derek Carr, but the Ravens would have certainly put up a better fight against Brock Osweiler and a Houston offense that was abysmal all season. The Texans finished minus-49 in point differential this season — Baltimore was plus-22 — and took advantage of a lousy AFC South with a 5-1 division record.

No one should have been surprised to see the Pittsburgh offense steamroll Miami after the Ravens scored 38 points against that same group last month. The Dolphins deserve credit for beating the teams they were supposed to under first-year head coach Adam Gase, but they registered only one victory against a team that finished with a winning record this season.

The Detroit Lions were a good story with so many exciting finishes, but they lost three straight to close the regular season, beat only one team that finished with a winning record, and finished with a minus-12 point differential.

The Ravens might have been an Antonio Brown tackle away from entering Week 17 atop the AFC North, but the defining stretch of the season was their winless October in which they lost to a non-playoff team at home (Washington) and dropped a 24-16 road contest to the woeful New York Jets. A single victory over that 0-4 stretch would have changed the dynamics of the final two weeks of the season.

Of course, being able to measure up to a few playoff squads doesn’t mean John Harbaugh’s team is close to being back at a championship level. Looking beyond the Texans’ lottery-winning draw of a Carr-less Raiders team on Saturday, the other three winners of the weekend — Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay — each possess dynamic playmakers, a truly special quarterback, or both.

The Ravens have a respectable collection of quality players — including the league’s best kicker and the top guard in the NFL — but they have nothing that measures closely to the impact provided by five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown and two-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell, who combined for four touchdowns and just under 300 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers’ 30-12 victory over Miami. And Joe Flacco didn’t come close to playing at a special level this year, either.

With Flacco arguably having more job security than anyone in the entire organization after signing a contract extension last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome better find him a playmaker or two if the Ravens’ fortunes are to markedly change for the better any time soon. It’s been a talking point for a few years now, but that makes it no less true after another non-playoff campaign.

** The four games had an average margin of victory of 19.0 points, making it the most lopsided wild-card weekend since 1981. Most expected all four home teams to prevail, but it was quite a contrast between Super Bowl contenders and pretenders this weekend.

** I couldn’t help but feel for the Raiders as they played in their first playoff game in 14 years without the benefit of their young franchise quarterback under center. Oakland should be back with such a talented group of young players on which to build, but return trips to the postseason can’t be taken for granted.

** It’s great to see Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney finally showing off the ability that warranted him being selected first overall in the 2014 draft after two disappointing seasons. He finished with an interception, two batted passes, and four quarterback pressures in a terrific performance against overwhelmed rookie quarterback Connor Cook.

** Even if Ben Roethlisberger wearing a walking boot after Sunday’s win was much ado about nothing, why in the world was the Pittsburgh quarterback and several other key starters still in the game so late in the fourth quarter?

** Can you imagine how long their fans would have been screaming about the Packers’ failed fourth-down run from the their own 42-yard line in the third quarter if it had resulted in the turning point of a New York Giants win at Lambeau Field? I suppose having a future Hall of Fame quarterback helps to cover up a bad coaching decision as Rodgers was sensational on Sunday.

** No, I don’t believe the Monday trip to Miami made by Odell Beckham Jr. — and several of his teammates — was the reason why the Giants lost to Green Bay, but it did fairly call his focus and priorities into question just days before the biggest game of his young NFL career.

Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is highly respected around the league and summed it up nicely via his Twitter account. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should, and Beckham certainly fueled the flames of the story by turning in a lousy performance.

Maybe he should have asked Tony Romo if a pre-playoff vacation is worth the potential backlash.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Christmas Day

Posted on 24 December 2016 by Luke Jones

It became crystal clear for the Ravens on Saturday.

Beat Pittsburgh on Christmas Day or officially be eliminated from playoff contention. Miami’s overtime victory over Buffalo wiped away any chance of a wild-card spot for Baltimore, who will now need to top the Steelers and almost certainly need to beat Cincinnati in Week 17 to take the AFC North title.

The Ravens have won five of their last seven games to rebound from a winless month of October, but they will need to win their first road game in exactly three months on Sunday. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has rebounded from its own four-game losing streak earlier this season by winning five in a row, a stretch that included four road games.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 42nd in their regular-season history with Pittsburgh holding a 21-20 advantage. Counting the postseason, 15 of the 20 games in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by one possession. Baltimore has won four straight overall against the Steelers and has been victorious in four of the last six meetings at Heinz Field.

Here’s what to expects as the Ravens try to keep their postseason hopes alive …

1. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will combine for 180 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Since the start of 2013, the Baltimore defense has held Brown under 100 receiving yards in six of eight meetings, but the two times the All-Pro receiver eclipsed the mark were games in which cornerback Jimmy Smith did not play. The Ravens’ second-ranked run defense is likely to rebound from a brutal performance last week, but Bell’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield is a concern for linebackers who have struggled in coverage in recent weeks.

2. Mike Wallace will find the end zone once again against his former team. The speedy wideout is just 37 receiving yards shy of 1,000 for the season as he’s been everything the Ravens could have asked for when signing him to a two-year deal in March. The Steelers secondary has played better in recent weeks and has done a good job limiting big plays, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will do what he can to get the ball in Wallace’s hands. It won’t be another 95-yard sprint like we saw in Week 9, but the former Steeler will catch his first touchdown at Heinz Field since 2012.

3. The Ravens will reach the century mark on the ground against a banged-up Steelers defensive line. They rarely commit to the run, but the Ravens have averaged 4.8 yards per carry over their last five games behind the same offensive line. The Steelers rank fifth in the league in run defense, but defensive end Stephon Tuitt missed practice all week and is questionable to play with a knee injury and defensive end Cam Heyward was placed on injured reserve last month. Whether it’s Terrance West or Kenneth Dixon, the Ravens will try to control the clock and keep the Pittsburgh offense off the field.

4. A clean pocket will help Ben Roethlisberger throw for 250 yards. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees faces a predicament with an undermanned secondary and a front that’s struggled to get consistent pressure without the blitz, a dangerous combination against a potent passing game. It also doesn’t help that the Steelers offensive line has allowed just three sacks over its last five games and will have a healthy Maurkice Pouncey, who played only 19 snaps in the first meeting. The Ravens will likely try to play coverage in hopes of minimizing big plays and forcing the Steelers to move methodically.

5. The Ravens will fall 24-20 to officially miss the playoffs for the third time in the last four years. Counting them out completely would be a mistake and they’ve been inside the Steelers’ heads for the last few years, but the Ravens haven’t shown the kind of road mettle this season to make you think they’ll play well enough to beat a red-hot team on the cusp of a division championship. Unless the postseason version of Joe Flacco arrives a couple games early, the Ravens offense won’t have quite enough firepower to match an offense with better weapons. The defense will contain Bell between the tackles, but the absence of Smith in the secondary will be a fatal blow in a close game.

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Sunday brings mixed bag to Ravens’ playoff picture

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aren’t likely to send former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan a Christmas card after Buffalo’s disappoint showing against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Despite intercepting Ben Roethlisberger three times in snowy conditions, the Bills allowed nearly 300 yards from scrimmage to running back Le’Veon Bell in their 27-20 defeat to the Steelers at New Era Field. The final score didn’t indicate how lopsided the game was as Pittsburgh moved a half-game ahead in the AFC North, putting more pressure on Baltimore for its Monday meeting with New England.

A loss to the Patriots wouldn’t wipe away the Ravens’ division hopes by any means, but it would all but eliminate any realistic chance of being able to win the AFC North without a victory at Heinz Field on Christmas Day.

Sunday wasn’t a complete disappointment for the Ravens, however, as Denver lost to Tennessee and is now barely holding on as the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. The Broncos fell to 8-5 and now face a brutal final three weeks, opening the door for a team outside the AFC West to potentially steal the last wild card.

Currently holding a 7-2 conference record, the Ravens are in good shape from a tiebreaker standpoint. They also hold the head-to-head advantage with Miami, who beat Arizona on Sunday to improve to 8-5 but lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill to what’s believed to be a season-ending knee injury. The Dolphins will play their final three games against division opponents — including the next two on the road — with veteran backup Matt Moore likely leading the way.

A loss on Monday night would drop the Ravens into a tie with Tennessee at 7-6, but the Titans own a poor 4-5 conference record and play their next two games on the road.

The Ravens’ best path to the playoffs is still winning the division, but Sunday’s action opened the door further for a potential wild card. And that eases the sting of the Bills not being able to beat the Steelers.

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