Tag Archive | "Ray Rice"

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Looking at updated 2020 slate of draft picks for Ravens

Posted on 24 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta has been busy at the start of the new league year with three trades executed in the last week in addition to a handful of signings.

Baltimore traded tight end Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round pick to Atlanta in exchange for a second-round pick and a fifth-round selection, sent that same fifth-round choice to Jacksonville for five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, and finally swapped defensive end Chris Wormley and a 2021 seventh-round pick for a 2021 fifth-round pick from Pittsburgh.

With the draft only a month away, the Ravens are scheduled to have nine picks overall and seven in the top 150 spots. This could mark the sixth time in the last seven years Baltimore makes at least six picks in the top 150 selections. With lucrative contracts on the horizon for the likes of MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, DeCosta must continue to inject young and cheap talent into organization.

The following are the picks the Ravens currently own in the 2020 draft:

Round 1: 28th overall
Round 2: 55th overall
Round 2: 60th overall
Round 3: 92nd overall
Round 3: 106th overall (compensatory)
Round 4: 129th
Round 4: 143rd overall (compensatory)
Round 5: 170th overall
Round 7: 225th overall

Just for fun, below is a look at past players selected by the Ravens at each of those spots (or as close as possible) over the years:

28th overall: G Ben Grubbs (29th), 2007
Skinny: The first round will probably be too early for the Ravens to draft an interior lineman in the wake of Marshal Yanda’s retirement, but Grubbs was a five-year starter and made a Pro Bowl before moving on in free agency, the kind of result with which you’re perfectly content with a late first-round pick.

55th overall: CB DeRon Jenkins, 1996; RB Ray Rice, 2008; TE Maxx Williams, 2015
Skinny: This slot has produced quite a range of outcomes with Rice being one of the better players in team history and Jenkins and Williams not living up to expectations. Two second-rounders were dealt to move up for Lamar Jackson, but recent Ravens players picked in this round have been underwhelming.

60th overall: G/OT Kelechi Osmele, 2012
Skinny: Seeing action at three different positions, Osemele started every game he played in his four years with the Ravens before breaking the bank with a big-money deal in Oakland. Finding an offensive lineman of this quality in this part of the draft would be a major success.

92nd overall: C Casey Rabach, 2001
Skinny: Rabach didn’t step into a full-time role until his last season with the Ravens after being stuck behind veteran center Mike Flynn, but he would go on to be a six-year starter for Washington. That makes him a pretty decent pick in the big picture.

106th overall: WR Marcus Smith, 2008
Skinny: Smith appeared in just 21 games over three seasons with Baltimore and is one of the many Day 3 wide receivers selected by the organization not to work out over the years. Considering the hype surrounding this year’s batch of receivers, the Ravens could take a swing at the position here.

129th overall: G Edwin Mulitalo, 1999; OLB John Simon, 2013
Skinny: One of the best fourth-round picks in team history, Mulitalo was a starter for parts of eight seasons and formed a dominant left side of the line with Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden. Despite lasting just one year in Baltimore, Simon has played seven NFL seasons and has 19 career sacks..

143rd overall: DT Aubrayo Franklin (146th), 2003; S Dawan Landry (146th), 2006; OLB Matthew Judon (146th), 2016
Skinny: Franklin would play 11 seasons in the NFL despite a nondescript four-year run with the Ravens, but Landry and Judon are two of the organization’s great late-round stories. Finding multiyear starters this late in the draft is far from the norm, but the value is terrific when a team hits.

170th overall: TE Nick Boyle (171st), 2015
Skinny: Few would have believed Boyle would still be going strong as a critical cog in the offense after twice being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs in his first year in the NFL. Boyle has outlasted Crockett Gillmore, Williams, and Hurst, who were all drafted much earlier than the Delaware product.

225th overall: RB Anthony Allen, 2011
Skinny: Many seventh-round picks don’t even make it out of their first training camp, but Allen played 21 games over two years with the Ravens and was a decent special-teams contributor for the Super Bowl XLVII team. You’re not likely to do much better at this late stage of the draft.

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

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jackson, Ravens put defenses on notice with Week 1 explosion

Posted on 09 September 2019 by Luke Jones

Lamar Jackson was sensational in the Ravens’ season-opening blowout win over Miami.

It was far and away the best performance of his young career and a tremendous showing by any NFL quarterbacking standard. His 324-yard, five-touchdown, turnover-free showing was the most efficient regular-season game ever played by a Ravens quarterback. Such damage being done on just 20 passing attempts — for context, Joe Flacco never threw more than two touchdowns on 20 or fewer throws — isn’t something to dismiss because of the quality of opponent.

Yes, the 2019 Dolphins were as terrible as advertised Sunday, but their secondary was one of the few position groups resembling a representative NFL group — at least on paper. Many Baltimore quarterbacks have played bad opponents over the years with Jackson producing the only perfect passer rating (158.3) in team history. Only two other Ravens quarterbacks — Flacco in 2014 and Tony Banks in 2000 — had thrown five touchdown passes in a game. Jackson couldn’t have been more impressive, regardless of who was on the other side or what happens going forward.

After too frequently missing wide-open throws as a rookie, Jackson completing 85 percent of his passes reflected the improved footwork, mechanics, and accuracy he showed over the summer, variables having little to do with the opponent. And while there were definitely examples of poor coverage Sunday, NFL Next Gen Stats calculated the expected completion percentage (how the “average” quarterback fares with the same variables on each of those passing plays) on his 20 throws at only 60.2 percent, meaning he dramatically outperformed the degree of difficulty.

Trying to determine how much of Sunday’s outcome was the result of Jackson’s growth compared to Miami’s ineptitude is really a fruitless exercise, but what can we take away from the performance? Jackson may never post another perfect passer rating or five-touchdown game in his career, but that doesn’t mean his career day was devoid of real improvement.

Below is a look at Jackson’s passer rating divided by area of target last season:

His 170 passing attempts during his rookie season didn’t make for a huge sample size, but it was large enough to show his success over the middle and that he was better throwing to his right than his left.

Below is his passing chart from Sunday:

To no surprise, we saw plenty of passes between the numbers and to the right with the obvious change being the deep passing explosions, the game-changing development. There isn’t much passing activity to the left, which could have been a product of the presence of Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard on that side of the field as well as the struggles showed there last year. This isn’t a negative as offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Jackson should be playing to his strengths in the same way that a pitcher with a great slider and a mediocre changeup should be leaning much more heavily on the former.

According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson was 10-for-11 for a whopping 276 yards and five touchdowns inside the numbers compared to 7-for-9 for 48 yards outside the numbers for a more pedestrian 5.33 yards per attempt. Anyone wondering about the 22-year-old’s progress on intermediate and deep throws to the outside didn’t learn much as those simply weren’t required in Week 1.

Ironically, the Miami defense achieved its goal of preventing Jackson from running as Dolphins defensive tackle Davon Godchaux indicated after the game. The speedy quarterback had only two real rushes for seven yards with his other attempt being a kneel to end the first half.

Head coach John Harbaugh was asked Monday if that might be closer to the new norm after Jackson set a modern record for rushing attempts by a quarterback last season. The number of times he runs — or doesn’t run — will remain a hot topic for everyone outside the team’s Owings Mills training facility.

“If they allow Lamar to run, he’s going to run. They didn’t,” Harbaugh said. “They were taking it away for sure. It was part of their plan not to allow him to run. If people decide that that’s going to be the way it’s going to go, he’s not going to run. That’s the way the offense is organized. We’re not worried about it at all.”

What Sunday showed is that the Ravens may now have another dangerous way to beat you if you’re going to sell out to try to stop the run, something many teams failed to do down the stretch last year anyway. The Dolphins stacked the box and dared Jackson to throw down the field, and that’s exactly what he did with overwhelming success as Miami rarely pressured the pocket or covered effectively.

We may not see another five-touchdown performance or an 85-percent completion percentage anytime soon, but opponents must now think twice about moving a safety so close to the line of scrimmage after seeing Jackson repeatedly throw the ball over defenders’ heads with such precision. The mere threat of a deep ball to Marquise Brown could force secondaries to back off and help the Ravens gash teams with the run more than ever, an unsettling proposition for opponents assuming they were still too one-dimensional.

That kind of push-pull dynamic between the run and pass has been consistently lacking in the Baltimore offense since the days of Ray Rice and was never like what the Ravens could have with Jackson being a dual-threat quarterback. It also helps that the ground game now includes two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram.

Stopping the run against the Ravens was already a a must, but defenses have now seen a need to be able to cover or at least pressure — preferably both. The Dolphins may have kept Jackson in the pocket, but they achieved none of those three major objectives, which is why the Ravens set franchise records for points, touchdowns, total yards, and margin for victory.

The Baltimore offense is unlikely to come close to those numbers again this year, but the message delivered to the rest of the NFL was more than just a fun day in Miami and a win over a bad team.

Watching where Jackson and this offense go from here should be fun.

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Chapter 7: How to find a franchise quarterback

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“You can always look at how the guys play. You just look at the tape. But at the combine you find out what kind of people they are. What’s important to them? How important is football to them? How important is their family to them? If we get those two things right, we’ll be right most of the time.”

 – John Harbaugh (March 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

AN NFL SCOUT’S LIFE EXISTS with the perpetual hope that every time he shows up on a campus to watch a kid run, or gets on a plane to fly to a college town to see a game in the fall, or fires up his iPad to watch film, he wants to believe he’s about to find the next player who will help his team win the Super Bowl.

It’s the eternal quest for any NFL scout – find the next Pro Bowl player who can become a Hall of Famer. Or, at the very least, find a player who can help you win every year for the next decade.

By the time Baltimore Ravens area scouts Andy Weidl and Joe Douglas got in their cars and made the one hour drive north up Interstate 95 from Owings Mills to Newark, Delaware on November 10, 2007, Joe Flacco wasn’t a secret to the college scouting world. And he certainly was no stranger to Douglas, who joined the team in 2000 and is known to all in the Ravens organization as “Big Joe D,” whose job it was to scout the Northeast for the team from 2003 through 2008. Douglas was made famous during the Ravens’ summer of 2001 filming of “Hard Knocks” on HBO as “The Turk,” the lowly scout who has the duty of summoning players from the locker room to the office of the head coach where “Coach wants to see you, bring your playbook” means you’ll be leaving the campus and chasing your NFL dream elsewhere.

Incidentally, UrbanDictionary.com defines “turk” as “someone who is extremely brave.” Joe Douglas spent six months talking Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and Joe Hortiz into drafting a Division 1-AA quarterback from Delaware in the first round of the NFL draft.

Douglas, by any measurement, is as brave as Joe Flacco is fearless.

By 2007, Douglas had moved up the ranks of the scouting system and was making that fateful Saturday a “quarterback doubleheader” – a rare chance to see two teams in one day, both with targets who could be the next quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens. The afternoon game in Newark featured the Delaware Blue Hens hosting the Richmond Spiders in a Division I-AA matchup. The nightcap on the docket was Boston College visiting the Maryland Terps in College Park and Douglas would be joined by longtime Ravens scouts Eric DeCosta and Joe Hortiz, whom he’d meet at the I-95 Park and Ride near Catonsville so they could travel together to Byrd Stadium. Their target that evening was visiting Eagles quarterback Matt Ryan, who many thought would be the first quarterback – if not the first player – taken in the April 2008 draft.

Incidentally, Douglas was rooting hard for Richmond that afternoon and not out of disdain for Flacco or Delaware. Douglas was the starting left tackle for the Spiders from 1995-1998 and had been through many battles with the Blue Hens on the field. He was also quite familiar with many of the coaches and players in this contest. Even when he didn’t attend Richmond games – and it was rare to see his alma mater in person because NFL scouts don’t scout a lot of I-AA football games unless there’s a specific prospect they want to evaluate – his father would give him weekly Spiders reports from stands.

It was Douglas’ dad, Joel Douglas, who first told Big Joe D about Joe Flacco a year earlier after seeing the 2006 matchup in Richmond.

“He went to the game with my uncle and he called me up and said, ‘I don’t know who that Delaware quarterback was, but Richmond couldn’t stop him,’” Douglas said of a day when Flacco, then a junior who was making his seventh start for the Blue Hens, went 31-of-45 for 305 yards and a pair of TD passes in a come-from-behind 28-24 win over the Spiders. “Honestly, I was more mad that Richmond blew the lead than I was concerned about who Delaware’s junior quarterback was that day.”

The NFL scouting calendar begins in May after the draft. DeCosta and Hortiz enlist the entire organization to target potential candidates to scout for the following year. By August, the scouts plan their entire schedule for the fall, trying to chunk as many practices, games, campus visits and interviews as possible into the schedule while also trying to see the Ravens play some games at home and away. As an NFL scout, this is the most important time of

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Flacco trade to Denver

Posted on 13 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to trade longtime quarterback Joe Flacco to Denver for a fourth-round pick next month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Credit Eric DeCosta for extracting value from an inevitable divorce, especially after the organization hadn’t even tried to be coy about its intentions. I was skeptical he’d find a trade partner. Taking the entire $16 million dead money hit in 2019 will leave a clean salary cap for 2020.

2. Flacco will be remembered in part for what he never became — below-average post-Super Bowl numbers bear that out — but he was the best quarterback in team history and, most importantly, a champion. The Ravens are lucky he passed their way after years wasted in the quarterback doldrums.

3. It’s easy to say Flacco didn’t live up to his historic contract signed after his 2012 postseason, but the organization never adjusted upon seeing he couldn’t do it by himself, continuing to prioritize defense and putting far fewer resources into the offense. The letdown was mutual at the very least.

4. He’d never admit something that’s subconscious anyway, but I don’t think Flacco has recovered mentally from his 2015 ACL injury. Some free-agent departures on the offensive line didn’t help, but his tendencies to check down and feel pressure even when it wasn’t there became more pronounced after the injury.

5. The Ravens dumping Anquan Boldin remains indefensible six years later, but the post-Super Bowl fall of Ray Rice was even more devastating to Flacco’s career considering what he produced as a receiver out of the backfield. Baltimore still hasn’t come close to replacing that element.

6. Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata are among the best Ravens ever, but they didn’t own a single playoff win until 2008. Flacco benefited greatly from them too, of course, but you wonder what could have been if he’d come along five years earlier instead of Kyle Boller.

7. Of the Ravens’ 17 Day 1 and 2 draft picks from 2013-17, Crockett Gillmore, Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Ronnie Stanley were the only offensive players selected. Flacco’s hefty contract never explained that.

8. Durability was one of Flacco’s biggest strengths early in his career, but injuries have either disrupted his preparation or cost him games in each of the last four seasons. It’s tough seeing that trend improving as the 34-year-old enters his 12th year in the NFL.

9. I never understood the criticism of Flacco not making his receivers better. Steve Smith and Mike Wallace became 1,000-yard receivers again after appearing to be in decline elsewhere. Torrey Smith’s numbers crashed as soon as he departed. Who are these former Ravens receivers who suddenly blossomed elsewhere?

10. It’s strange to think exactly six years, two months, and one day after the “Mile High Miracle,” the Broncos will officially welcome Flacco to Denver. I’m guessing Rahim Moore and Jacoby Jones won’t be at the introductory press conference.

11. Flacco didn’t perform to his record contract, but he remained a good teammate and never complained about the aforementioned variables that didn’t help his cause. Yes, he made a ton of money, but that hasn’t stopped other high-priced athletes from being malcontents over the years.

12. What would you really change about the Flacco era? The Ravens weren’t letting the Super Bowl MVP walk, and he had extraordinary contract leverage. The success early in his career should far outweigh the last several years in which he and Baltimore remained competitive but weren’t quite good enough.

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Chapter 17: The Last Ride of 52

Posted on 02 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

Your lowest moment is always when you feel your greatest pain. When I tore my triceps, and the doctor looked at me and she told me that, you know, I was out for the year. And I said, ‘Doc, are you sure?’ I said, ‘Nah. Doc – there’s no way I’m [going] to be out for the year with just a torn triceps. I’ve been through way worse.’ And she was like, ‘Ray, you know, nobody’s ever come back from this.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, nobody’s ever been Ray Lewis, either.’ ”

– Ray Lewis (January 2013)

 

 

 

AFTER ALL THAT THE RAVENS had been through in their rocky December – three losses in a row, the firing of Cam Cameron, the preseason-style game in Cincinnati to end 2012 – the road to a Super Bowl was still very much alive in January. And there’s nothing to stir the passions of Baltimore football fans like seeing the stolen blue horseshoe and the five-letter word that’s associated with evil in the land of pleasant living: I-R-S-A-Y. The Indianapolis Colts were coming to Baltimore again, a visit that still elicits plenty of emotion from the over-40 crowd.

And this time it wasn’t the bravado and no huddle mastery of Peyton Manning that would confront the Ravens. Peyton was staying warm in Denver, waiting to see if the Ravens would be journeying to the Mile High City next week. This time, the Colts had a different hotshot quarterback in Andrew Luck. The Ravens could never solve Manning – and still couldn’t earlier in December – but this time it would be a different look and a different team coming from Indy. In 2011, a gimpy version of the Colts on the last legs of the Dungy era and the Jim Caldwell head coaching run, were shellacked 24-10 by the Ravens in Baltimore as quarterback Dan Orlovsky ran for his life amidst a purple swarm all afternoon. Orlovsky wouldn’t be running the show this time.

This time, Caldwell would be running the Ravens offense and the guy who was running the Baltimore defense in 2001 would be the head coach of the Colts. There were plenty of emotions with the return of Chuck Pagano to Baltimore and the quarterback prodigy of John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, who groomed Luck at Stanford as head coach of the Cardinal, before Indianapolis and owner Jim Irsay made him the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in April 2012 after jettisoning Manning, who wound up in Denver.

Pagano had successfully battled leukemia over the previous three months, and the #Chuckstrong campaign in social media was as solid as the Colts had been on the field in his absence. During his absence, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians stabilized a youthful team around Luck. Indianapolis was the surprise team in the AFC with an 11-5 record, including 9-2 down the stretch. They had played a last-place schedule all year, but had been impressive throughout the year and brought a wave of emotion with them from the friendly heart of the Midwest as Pagano’s health and strength was a rallying point for them all season.

Pagano had believed it a cruel, strange twist of fate that he even got the Colts head coaching job the previous January. As the Ravens went down the field on the final Lee Evans-Billy Cundiff drive in Foxborough, Pagano was thinking that he was finally going to the Super Bowl.

“If we win that AFC Championship Game that would’ve put me two weeks further out and no coach can have any discussion about a job,” Pagano said. “I would venture to say that Indy would’ve had to get their guy in place and they had already interviewed with a bunch of guys. I don’t think that it would’ve happened for me with the Colts. I know there were more qualified candidates than me, guys they had talked to in the process.”

Instead, the Ravens suffered the agonizing defeat and Pagano got the Indy job the next day. “It’s crazy how fate and destiny works,” he said. “I thought I’d be going to Indy that week. I just had no idea it’d be to be coaching the Colts. I thought I’d be coaching the Ravens defense in the Super Bowl.”

Now, a cancer survivor in remission with thin strands of gray hair returning to his previously bald head, Pagano was back in Baltimore on the sidelines as the head coach of an NFL playoff team almost 12 months later. He was coming back to Baltimore in an attempt to end

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Chapter 19: The purple revolution in New England

Posted on 30 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

“You guys will write great stories and can put it in way better words than I can. We’ve always believed in Joe. For Joe to come out and have this kind of game, on this kind of a stage, three weeks in a row…[Andrew] Luck’s a pretty good quarterback, [Peyton] Manning’s a pretty good quarterback, [Tom] Brady’s a great quarterback; all those guys are great players. But Joe’s a great quarterback. He’s proven that, and he’s not just proven that this year, he’s proven it for five years.”

– John Harbaugh (January 20, 2013)

 

 

 

 

 

IF REVENGE IS A DISH best served cold, then at least the elements and the weather in New England would cooperate accordingly. What could provide a better stage for a tale of vindication in Charm City than the Baltimore Ravens returning to Foxborough for a rematch of the AFC Championship Game?

It was like a Steel Cage Match.

Tom Brady vs. Joe Flacco. Ray Lewis and The Last Ride. Bill Belichick and the Patriots with yet another chance to make America groan by going to a sixth Super Bowl in 13 seasons in New England. There were no shortage of stories to be told.

When the Ravens boarded their happy flight for Baltimore from Denver two hours after the miraculous win over the Broncos, they were unsure of their destination for the final step toward Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The Texans, who had whipped them in Houston back in October, were visiting New England the following afternoon. The Patriots, led by Tom Brady’s three TD passes, dispatched of the Texans in a 41-28 win, but lost tight end Rob Gronkowski with a left wrist injury.

A huge weapon for the Patriots was gone before the Ravens even had to assemble the game plan.

By late Sunday afternoon the travel plans were made for a trip that the Ravens knew all too well. They were heading to Foxborough. For more than 40 players and the entire coaching staff, it was back to Gillette Stadium 52 weeks later – 364 days after the most disappointing day of their lives. The Lee Evans drop. The Billy Cundiff kick. The cold, empty feeling in that locker room and Ray Lewis telling them to go make someone smile. The quiet flight home. And those long days afterward, when you just wanted to pull the blankets over your head in the morning because you still couldn’t accept that you lost that game.

It’s not one of those days you quickly forget.

Motivating players was not going to be an issue for head coach John Harbaugh this week. Calming them down, however, might be.

On Sunday night, in the middle of the Texans-Patriots game, Brendon Ayanbadejo fired the opening salvo via his Twitter page:

Are you watching the game pats vs. texans? If so you see the hurry snap offense catch em b4 they set up. It’s a gimmick.

Then, he followed with: New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can’t really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight

Then: You know the same organization that did spygate and cut a guy the day b4 the Super Bowl

Then: In a sport that is predicated on mano y mano, “lets hurry n snap it” = bitchassness

And finally: 18-1 …a reference to the Patriots losing in the Super Bowl to Giants in 2008

Ayanbadejo is no stranger to the back and forth of social media, yet his controversial stand on social issues were always consistent and relatively polite given the forum. But, something about watching the Patriots play the Texans in Foxborough clearly rubbed him the wrong way. And with his fingers on the trigger of his mobile device, and filled with emotion given the outcome and his role, he simply fired off his thoughts.

By lunchtime on Monday, Ayanbadejo had issued an apology on Twitter:

I made selfish comments on twitter last night that reflected poorly upon myself, my teammates, and the organization. For that I apologize.

One thing he was correct about was that the Patriots were going to try to snap the ball before the Ravens were ready. Harbaugh was more diplomatic. “They look to create advantages for themselves, and they do it with tempo a lot of times,” he said. “ It’s not just the fact that they go fast sometimes. They force you to line up. Sometimes they’ll force the defense to show their hand because you have to defend the play. If you don’t, they’ll run the play. You saw last week they got Houston in some tough situations, and it was big plays for them. It usually results in a big

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Chapter 16: I love you – and I mean it!

Posted on 27 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“If you ask me to give you three words to describe this team, I’ll use three that Ray Lewis used a few weeks ago: faith, hope and love. Those are biblical words, but those are probably the three most important words in the English language. Faith in each other and in whatever greater thing you believe. Always hopeful. You can be discouraged, but there is no such thing as being disheartened. Love is what holds the universe together. It’s a selflessness that you put others before yourself. That’s the ultimate team quality. We’ll need a lot of all three to get us where we want to go.”

– John Harbaugh (December 2012)

 

 

 

 

AFTER A THIRD CONSECUTIVE LOSS in the NFL, if there’s not some palpable tension in the air then you’ve probably got a football team that’s far too comfortable.

Head coach John Harbaugh’s tireless optimism and foundational principles would be tested with the New York Giants coming to town in Week 16 and the home crowd coming back to the stadium after booing and exiting early in the shellacking by the Denver Broncos.

Harbaugh’s core, old-fashioned philosophies about faith, hope and love were drilled into the team in this time of adversity. For the most part, the media didn’t believe. The fans were restless, and the team was that had been 9-2 with dreams of a bye and an AFC Championship home game was a mere shadow of its former self. Now they were just trying to make the playoffs at 9-5 while staring down the defending champs on Christmas weekend, knowing that Cincinnati would be playing to get into the playoffs the following weekend. The losing streak would’ve been four games had it not been for a 4th & 29 miracle in San Diego.

Make no mistake about it, the Ravens were not playing well, and they weren’t healthy.

Sure, Harbaugh used the “us vs. them” mentality and also said that people outside the building didn’t believe. But that only goes so far if the core philosophy isn’t grounded in self-belief and integrity in the work ethic that backs it up.

Harbaugh’s enthusiasm is tireless, and his optimism never ceases. In the first year, many players found it almost hokey, corny in many ways. But it’s what John Harbaugh believes and what his family has preached for his half century on the planet.

Let’s be honest: “Who’s got it better than us?” is implicit in its optimism, right?

His father’s famous refrain, which his brother Jim had adopted with the San Francisco 49ers, and made famous – “Who’s got it better than us?” – with the retort, “Nobody!” had almost become part of the NFL vernacular.

It assumes happiness and steadfastly conveys success and gratitude. And if you woke up and said it every morning – and more importantly, really believed it – you would also be eternally optimistic.

That’s the faith and hope part of the equation.

The love was probably the easiest sell on his players. It’s hard to find a John Harbaugh speech or press conference where he doesn’t convey the value of “team” and “sticking together” as core values. The friendships that had sprung from battling together

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Chapter 13: The Legend of 4th and 29

Posted on 24 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“It’s the greatest play I have ever seen.”

– John Harbaugh (November 25, 2012)

 

 

FIVE DAYS AWAY FROM FOOTBALL was just what the doctor ordered as far as everyone in the building was concerned. The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time, almost exactly in the middle of the season. As much as the players use the down time to get away, see their families, go “home” – wherever that might be in 53 directions – the coaches used the final three weekdays of the week without a game to do what they call “self scouting.”

The NFL schedule is meat grinder, where the games happen Sunday; Monday and Tuesday are game-planning installment days; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are practices days; and Saturday means walk-through and a plane ride every other weekend. There are no off days for NFL coaches once training camp begins in late July. The fan in Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti always marvels at the level of commitment of football coaches, who he’s said work more than any other category of business he’s ever seen.

And although the Ravens began the season 5-2, there was plenty of “self scouting” to be done and bad habits that they’d like to see their team break especially in light of the meltdown in Houston.

Cam Cameron’s offense had been sputtering week to week, depending on location and opponent. What worked so flawlessly against Cincinnati, New England, and Dallas – the “sugar huddle” tempo, spreading the ball around, creating holes for Rice and time for Flacco to throw – seemed like a distant memory in light of the poor Kansas City and Houston footage. After five years of trying to find more consistency, the Ravens still didn’t know what they were getting on any given Sunday, especially on the road when Mr. Hyde showed up far too often.

On defense, Pees was trying to evaluate combinations and schemes that would serve the personnel he currently had at his disposal, which was far different than the unit that stifled the Bengals eight, long weeks ago. Frankly, the Ravens didn’t have much to be proud of in regard to defensive statistics or categories. They weren’t stopping the run at all. They weren’t rushing the passer. They weren’t tacking particularly well. And without a pass rush and with Webb out and Reed gambling and guessing even more than usual, Romo and Schaub – a pair of legitimate top-shelf NFL quarterbacks – picked the secondary apart, especially running across the middle of the field where the Ravens’ linebackers were sub-par in coverage.

As the Ravens prepared to convene on Monday, October 29th, a monster storm was threatening the East Coast, which would impact millions of people over the next few days and weeks. Hurricane Sandy also took its toll on the organization that week as players scrambled to get back to Baltimore amidst altered flights, long drives, and chaos. Special teamer Sean Considine got stuck at the Chicago airport with his four small children. He and his wife had triplets who were toddlers and a 4-year old. Arthur Jones got stranded in Dallas. Terrell Suggs re-routed a flight into Raleigh and drove seven hours on Sunday night in the driving rain to make it back to Monday’s practice. Harbaugh was giving the team the usual Tuesday off in preparation for the game in Cleveland on Sunday, and the brunt of the storm spared most of Maryland, but created a state of emergency just 150 miles away as parts of New Jersey and New York were devastated and destroyed. The storm that eventually helped elect a President was wreaking havoc.

By Wednesday, it became a normal week and once again the Ravens had the thankless task of trying to find a way to sneak in and out of Cleveland with their 10th straight victory over the AFC North-rival Browns. The history of the Ravens and Browns and Art Modell was all written two decades ago. Now, it was simply a matter of a great franchise coming to a city with a poor franchise and continuing to rub more purple salt in the festering wounds. The fans of Cleveland still have incredible disdain for anything related to Art Modell’s Baltimore Ravens and probably always will.

“Everything we’ve done since our last game is geared towards going to Cleveland and being the best team we can be,” said Harbaugh, the sting of the Houston beating now in the rearview mirror. “We have everything we need – players and schemes – to play well. We have to organize it in a way that gives our players the opportunity to play their fastest and best under pressure, on the road and at home. We’ve had the chance with the bye to go into deep study and into the laboratory to figure out what we do best, and we want to take that into this game – and the other eight after that. We think we’ve learned a lot, and we’ll continue to push the envelope to be the best we can be. Our players are definitely good enough to get the job done.”

“There were some very real concerns. There are things that we need to do a lot better, not just from [Houston], but through the whole seven-game period that we felt like we needed to take a hard look at and we did, and I did feel good about it. I felt like our coaches, our players, the communication, we really went to work, and we really had some great conversations. We had some great discussions. We had some great study watching the tape. Guys did some great studies looking at numbers and things like that. In the end, what you try to do is make good counsel then make wise solid judgments about what makes us our best as we move forward. I am really excited about that – I really am. The proof will be in the pudding. So, if I say I am excited about it

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Chapter 12: Oh, where is the ‘O’ in October?

Posted on 23 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“I don’t take any credence in winning ugly; to me it doesn’t mean anything. Look around the league; it’s a tough league. Every team has great players. There are no homecoming opponents. This is the NFL. There is not going to be a lot of ‘pretty.’ There is really not.”

– John Harbaugh (October 2012)

 

 

 

WHEN FOOTBALL IS WORKING AT its best as an entertainment vehicle, it takes its audience away from the real world. The NFL is a pretend world where everyone is given a fresh chance, new players and a new salary cap number each season. If only the real world were that easy.

Despite another strong start on the field, Ravens fans and the players had all been subjected to the real world in the first weeks of the 2012 season, with the loss of Art Modell and Torrey Smith’s brother, Tevin, on the morning of the Patriots game.

On Monday, October 1, everyone in Owings Mills awakened with another gut punch to their hearts as news came from Indianapolis that Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Pagano, just 10 months removed from being in the Ravens’ building every day as the defensive coordinator, had a personal relationship with virtually everyone in the building and some special friendships with coaches and defensive players, who adored him during his four-year stay in Baltimore.

Word was that his form of leukemia was treatable and had an 80-to-90 percent chance of remission, but it was still a rough Monday to be back at work for Harbaugh and his staff in preparing for a trip to Kansas City.

“Chuck’s a fighter in every respect,” Harbaugh said. “Chuck’s got that swagger, and I’m completely confident that Chuck will go to work on this with the same enthusiasm he does everything else in his life, and he’ll be victorious. So, we’ll be pulling for him and praying for him on that.”

Ray Lewis, who knew Pagano from his early days at Miami when he coached Ed Reed in the 1990’s, spoke out about his former coordinator. “He’s a man of men,” Lewis said. “He’s a man that people want to aspire to be like. That when you grow up as a man, that when you’re around Chuck you realize that, you know what, if life offers nothing else it offered me the opportunity to be around a man. A true man.”

“He’s like a dad to me,” said Reed, who originally met Pagano when he recruited him to go to the University of Miami in 1997. “That’s family, which is first before football.”

Defensive tackle Arthur Jones would later shave his head to show his unity with a Twitter and internet movement known simply as #Chuckstrong.

Once the week got started in preparation for the Chiefs, the attention of local sports fans turned away from the Ravens and instead to the Baltimore Orioles, who were in the midst of qualifying for the MLB playoffs for the first time since 1997. On Wednesday, Ravens players sported orange T-shirts that had the team’s October catch phrase, “Buckle Up,” an ode to manager Buck Showalter as the team prepared for a weekend wild card game on Friday in Texas. The entire city was looking forward to the rare road and home doubleheader set to take place on Sunday, October 7th. The Ravens had an afternoon game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and the Orioles would be hosting Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards that evening against the New York Yankees.

And even if you find baseball boring by your tastes, there was no arguing that what would take place on the field in Baltimore that night had much more offense than what took place earlier in the day in Kansas City, where the Chiefs and Ravens played perhaps the ugliest NFL game of the year.

The natives were already restless for better football in Kansas City. Chiefs fans were on the warpath before the game began, but much of their ire was directed toward general manager Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel, and quarterback Matt Cassel, who were all put on watch by an angry fan base that has been accustomed to success over the past three decades. The 7-9 finish in 2011 was bad enough, but the Chiefs were off

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