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Can Martindale take Ravens defense to another level?

Posted on 18 January 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is no stranger to feeling pressure.

Try having one of the best defensive minds in NFL history looking over your shoulder while coaching in an NCAA Division-IAA playoff game. Having worked with both Rex and Rob Ryan, Martindale called their father, the late Buddy Ryan, a “big influence” on his coaching career on Thursday. The two-time Super Bowl champion assistant and former NFL head coach spent his later years in the state of Kentucky where Martindale made his final collegiate coaching stop.

“I called a game at Western Kentucky, and he was standing next to me on the sideline at a playoff game,” said Martindale, who worked for former Hilltoppers head coach Jack Harbaugh from 2001-02 and finished his stint there a year later. “You want to talk about pressure? That was a little bit of pressure — not blitzing when he wanted to blitz.”

With the Ravens coming off a second straight season in which the defense’s failure to get a late stop left them short of the playoffs, the former linebackers coach steps into a role surrounded by high expectations. And with most of the offseason focus expected to be on the other side of the ball — though we’ve made that incorrect assumption in the past — Martindale will be asked to reach another level with a defense that’s received a plethora of resources in recent years.

Upon being promoted last week, the 54-year-old received congratulatory messages from many of the greatest defensive players in franchise history, ranging from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to Haloti Ngata and current 16th-year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Martindale also received strong endorsements from other current players such as Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, showing he has plenty of support in the locker room despite not being a sexy choice for fans who were intrigued by the possibility of Chuck Pagano returning to Baltimore.

This will be Martindale’s second stint as an NFL defensive coordinator after serving in that capacity with Denver in 2010. Having lost All-Pro defensive end Elvis Dumervil to a season-ending pectoral injury that summer, Martindale didn’t have much talent with which to work as the Broncos finished last in the league in total yards and points allowed and head coach Josh McDaniels was fired in December.

“I know it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to work out,” said Martindale, who was dismissed at season’s end and hired as Ravens inside linebackers coach a year later. “Not at the time, but eight years later, I’m glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It’s like I tell my guys — you either win or you learn.”

Martindale now inherits a talented defense that impressively pitched three shutouts and led the NFL in takeaways this season, but the unit finished sixth in points allowed, 10th in passing yards allowed, 15th in rushing yards allowed, and 12th in total yards surrendered and saw its performance slip over the final month when Baltimore blew late leads against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The stunning home loss to the Bengals on New Year’s Eve resulted in John Harbaugh’s team missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

The Ravens are already devoting more cap space to their defense than the other side of the ball and have used 13 of their last 17 Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks on defensive players. In other words, Martindale needs to find more consistency than retired defensive coordinator Dean Pees did with the current group and probably shouldn’t be expecting major additions this offseason.

“We’re close. Obviously, the last two years it has been the last play that’s knocked us out of it,” Martindale said. “We are going to work diligently — all of us — with our package and situational football. That’s going to be the next step I think that’ll skyrocket us. That is the big thing that I see.

“We are going to take our ‘good’ and make it great. We were really good. Let’s make it great.”

With numerous holes on offense and a limited amount of projected salary-cap space for 2018, Martindale could be the X factor for the defense. Of course, some recent draft picks will need to step up in a way similar to how Matthew Judon progressed this past season with Pro Bowl veterans such as Suggs and safety Eric Weddle not getting any younger and high-priced cornerback Jimmy Smith returning from a torn Achilles tendon.

But many will be eager to see how Martindale’s fingerprints compare to Pees, who was criticized for too many late-game collapses and not being more aggressive in certain situations. The new defensive coordinator emphasized that success is ultimately about the players and putting them in the right positions to succeed.

Without being disrespectful when asked how he’d compare to his predecessor, Martindale made his intentions clear.

“I think personality-wise and just calls, there’s going to be some things that are the same,” Martindale said. “And then there’s going to be some times where I’m going to pressure more. I think I have a more aggressive personality in calling a game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That’s some of the things I’ve learned from the past, so there’s that fine line — what quarterback you’re playing and things of that nature.”

Finding that fine line could be the difference for a good defense striving to be great.

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Ravens defensive coordinator Pees reportedly plans to retire after season

Posted on 31 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens could be looking for a new defensive coordinator in 2018.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Dean Pees is expected to retire at the end of the season after leading the Baltimore defense for the last six years. The news would hardly be a shocking development as the 68-year-old has pondered retirement in the past, but he has yet to let his players know of his plans beyond this season.

Pees is in his 14th season coaching in the NFL, but he’s spent more than four decades in the profession overall and was even the defensive coordinator at Miami of Ohio when current Ravens head coach John Harbaugh played there. He was hired by Harbaugh to be the Ravens linebackers coach in 2010 and replaced Chuck Pagano as defensive coordinator in 2012.

Tasked with coordinating the first defenses in team history without future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis at middle linebacker, Pees has led the 2017 Ravens to a top-10 ranking in most major categories including takeaways (first), interceptions (first), total defense (ninth), pass defense (10th), points allowed per game (fourth), third-down defense (ninth), and red-zone defense (ninth). Baltimore has also recorded three shutouts, the second-biggest single-season total in franchise history.

Pees is one of eight defensive coordinators in NFL history to coach in a Super Bowl with two different teams after serving in that capacity with New England in 2007 and with the Ravens in 2012.

Many are already speculating about the likes of Pagano, Marvin Lewis, and even Rex Ryan returning to reprise the role of defensive coordinator, but the Ravens have filled the job from within every time since Lewis was hired away from Pittsburgh to be the defensive coordinator for the inaugural Ravens in 1996. Should that trend continue, linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale would be the strongest internal candidate to become the seventh defensive coordinator in team history. Martindale spent one year as Denver’s defensive coordinator in 2010 and has been on the Baltimore staff since 2012.

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Ravens open the season one and oh!

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Dennis Koulatsos

 

It was far from pretty and even farther from perfect, but is sure was nice.  After last season’s brutal opening road schedule and dismal 5-11 record, it was indeed downloadvery nice for the Ravens to come out of the gate with a win.

Rex Ryan’s team had a very difficult time moving the ball on the Ravens’ defense, particularly in the opening and final quarter. Shareece Wright was downright amazing, as he finished with 9 tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage.  He was also solid in pass coverage.

The communication seemed to be much better for the back end of the defense, in stark comparison to a  year ago.  Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Wright seemed to be on the same page for the bulk of the game.

According to our friends at Pro Football Focus, Weddle had the highest overall grade on the team, followed by Wright.  On the offensive side of the ball the standouts were QB Joe Flacco, RG Marshall Yanda (penalties aside he was lights out), and Mike Wallace.

The offense looked out of sync at times, but that was to be expected, as this was the first time a lot of the players were on the field at the same time.  Their pace and rhythm should improve as the season matures.

Standouts for the Bills were primarily on the defensive side as LB Preston Brown and rush end Jerry Hughes were generally disruptive and presented the Ravens offensive line with all kinds of problems.  It is also noteworthy that the Ravens started two rookies on the left side, tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Alex Lewis.

The Bills’ offense struggled and their highest graded offensive player was TE Charles Clay.  Tyrod Taylor struggled to find open receivers down field, and was held in check by the Ravens’ defense. Shady McCoy got around the edge a couple of times, but he was also held under wraps without inflicting any significant damage.

The Bills’ coaching staff is getting some criticism this morning by their fan base as well as the media. The narrative is that they got schooled by the Ravens’ coaching staff, pointing out that the Ravens have been in the playoffs 6 out of the last 8 years under coach Harbaugh. Their clock management and untimely personal foul penalties are particularly coming under scrutiny. The undisciplined tag that’s been following Rex Ryan around has reared it’s ugly head once again.

As for the Ravens, for me the biggest red flag was Marc Trestman and his play calling. It was downright maddening to see the team come out time and again on third and short with Flacco in a shotgun formation. For a team that vowed to commit to the run this year, they sure did pass a lot.  The team ran the ball 45% of the time as there were 28 running plays against 34 pass plays.  When you take into account the 4 “runs” that Joe Flacco was given credit for (including game ending kneel-downs in the victory formation) the ratio drops to 41%.

For a team that has a lead blocker and thumper in Kyle Juszczyk, and a back who has displayed great heart and determination in short yardage situations in Terrance West, it defies logic to see both of them on the bench while Flacco is in the gun formation.  Given Flacco’s knee situation, it is crystal clear and understandable that the Ravens have taken the QB sneak out of their playbook.  But there are so many solid and creative things they can do on short yardage situations.  That was evident as I watched the Sunday Night scrum between the Cardinals and the Patriots.  Both offensive coordinators showed multiple looks and formations, and the Ravens would be wise to roll the tape and “borrow” a few things here and there.

For a while there I had to check to make sure that Cam Cameron was still at LSU vs. the Ravens’ sideline. Trestman was run out of Chicago and overwhelmingly the primary gripe from players and fans alike was that his offense was too pass happy. I sure hope coach John Harbaugh intervenes and makes sure that the Ravens game plan is run heavy this week as the team travels to Cleveland.

In a memorable loss to Jacksonville years ago, when Ray Rice carried the ball something like 8 times, I’ll never forget a quote by Terrell Suggs that has stuck with me through the years. After that loss he said that “when you go on the road, you pack your defense and your running game.”  I think that is great advice, and the Ravens need to pay attention here.

Turnovers are hard to overcome in the NFL, particularly on the road when you’re also facing significant crowd noise. Running the ball tends to be easier for an offense to execute.  The Ravens need to force turnovers by Cleveland QBs, whether it’s RGIII (he has a shoulder injury) or Josh McCown, run the ball, play solid defense, and let the game come to them.  Control the ball, control the clock, take the crowd out of the game, and come home two and oh.

 

 

 

 

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Ravens simply play faster than Buffalo in grind-it-out win

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Maybe the Ravens just have Rex Ryan’s number.

The 13-7 home win over Buffalo wasn’t a performance that will propel them up the NFL power rankings in the eyes of observers, but it was the kind of game the Ravens found ways to lose time and time again a year ago. That alone was promising enough to begin the 2016 season.

A 1-0 start shouldn’t be taken for granted as Baltimore won its first season opener since 2012. Even if it came against Ryan, who is now 0-4 against the team with which he spent a decade as a defensive assistant.

“Our guys will go to work and will continue to get better,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But the point of emphasis is [that] they did what they had to do today to get the job done and make the plays that needed to be made in this game. I’m proud of them for that.”

The encouraging takeaway from Sunday’s win was the speed the Ravens displayed on defense and on the two biggest offensive plays of the game that led to 10 first-half points. More often than not, they simply looked faster than the Bills in the season opener.

The defensive personnel isn’t dramatically different from last year — Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil didn’t even play on Sunday — but Baltimore played with more confidence and urgency to post the kind of numbers we hadn’t seen since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were leading the way. Buffalo’s 160 total yards were the fewest allowed by the Ravens since giving up 150 to Ryan’s New York Jets on Oct. 2, 2011.

The defense started and finished sensationally, giving up a total of 12 yards in the first and fourth quarters combined. Buffalo’s top-ranked rushing offense from a year ago averaged just 2.7 yards per carry while Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw for only 111 yards on 22 pass attempts.

The Ravens consistently flew to the ball to register eight tackles for a loss with cornerback Shareece Wright leading the way with three of them and 11 total tackles. New starters such as safety Eric Weddle and inside linebacker Zach Orr have improved the speed of the defense, but multiple players also complimented defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ play-calling on Sunday.

“The staff simplified the defense a little bit more, so we were able to go out there and have checks and play fast,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who held top Buffalo receiver Sammy Watkins to just four catches for 43 yards. “I think that was evident today. Coach switched it up a lot today and he likes to play certain things sometimes, [but] I think he did a really good job of switching up the defense. It kept them on their heels and not knowing what we were going to do.”

The Ravens offense couldn’t beat its chest like the defense after a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance, but a pair of plays in the first half proved to be the difference in a low-scoring defensive struggle.

Speed was once again the difference.

Quarterback Joe Flacco’s sensational 35-yard completion to Breshad Perriman not only welcomed the 2015 first-round pick to the NFL, but it was the biggest chunk of yardage leading to a 50-yard field goal late in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead. It was the only pass that Perriman caught on Sunday, but he showed off his speed and size with the leaping sideline grab.

The home run came in the second quarter when veteran newcomer Mike Wallace reminded Ravens fans of the receiver who once tormented them as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Matched up against backup safety Duke Williams, Wallace caught a 66-yard touchdown on a post route after Flacco changed out of a third-and-1 play at the line of scrimmage.

“It was extremely big, just because I probably haven’t had a 50-yard-plus touchdown in three years,” said Wallace, whose longest reception with Minnesota last season was just 34 yards. “It felt good just to get back to that, just to let them know that we’re not dead. A lot of people wrote me off. They think I don’t have it, but I’ve got something for them.”

Those two plays aside, the offense struggled for large stretches of Sunday’s game, which wasn’t shocking after the extended absences of several skill players from the practice field this summer. It was ugly for most of the second half as the Ravens managed just 83 total yards over the final 30 minutes, but the offense did just enough and was able to run out the final 4:29 of the game with an eight-play drive.

The pass protection was subpar, the running game inconsistent, and the passing attack out of sync after a good first half, but that element of speed once again brought optimism that wasn’t there a year ago when the Ravens lacked the necessary weapons to stretch the field.

The offense remains a work in progress, but Wallace and Perriman alone provide much room for growth against vulnerable pass defenses.

“I’d like to find a couple more ways to get them involved even a little bit more,” Flacco said. “They didn’t have a ton of catches, but it was a good start. You can see what Mike can do there. They played ‘cover zero’ a handful of times and they really probably got the best of us. We didn’t really do too much damage to it except for that one play.

“That’s what happens when you have guys who can run like that.”

Sunday’s win wasn’t pretty, but improved speed on both sides of the ball is a step in the right direction from last year.

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Ravens-Bills: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 11 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A new season and new hope.

The memories of 20 players on injured reserve and nine losses by a single possession a year ago will be wiped away Sunday when the Ravens open their 21st season against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Though head coach John Harbaugh is relying on several key veterans returning from significant injuries in 2016, the Ravens were preparing to make history by starting rookies at left tackle and left guard with first-rounder Ronnie Stanley and fourth-rounder Alex Lewis, respectively. According to Elias, it marks the first time since 1995 that an NFL team has started rookies at those two positions in a season opener.

Stanley was expected to start from the moment general manager Ozzie Newsome made him the Ravens’ earliest first-round pick of the last 16 years, but Lewis emerged out of necessity with third-year lineman John Urschel missing extensive time with a shoulder injury in training camp. Urschel was a full participant in practice this week, but Baltimore declared him inactive for Sunday’s game, electing to go with just two reserve offensive linemen for Week 1.

There were a couple of other mild surprises on the Ravens’ list of deactivated players. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), veteran cornerback Jerraud Powers (ankle), and rookie running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) had already been ruled out on the final injury report of the week, but the Ravens deactivated cornerback Will Davis and running back Buck Allen, who are both healthy.

Baltimore will have just two active tailbacks — Justin Forsett and Terrance West — and chose to activate young cornerbacks Maurice Canady and Sheldon Price instead of Davis.

As expected, veteran tight end Dennis Pitta is active and set to play in his first game in nearly two years, completing his improbable comeback from the second devastating right hip injury of his career.

With Dumervil out, the Ravens will be leaning on younger options such as Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon, and Kamalei Correa to help pick up the pass-rushing slack opposite veteran Terrell Suggs, who is making his return from last September’s season-ending Achilles injury.

Meanwhile, Buffalo had no surprises among its seven inactives.

The Ravens and Bills are meeting for the seventh time ever in the regular season with each team previously winning three games. However, Buffalo has not won in Baltimore since the 1999 season.

Counting his time with the New York Jets, Bills head coach Rex Ryan is aiming to win his sixth consecutive season opener, but the former Ravens defensive coordinator is 0-3 against Baltimore as a head coach.

With former Ravens such as Tyrod Taylor and and Ed Reed making their return to M&T Bank Stadium as members of the Bills, there was quite a bit of catching up during pre-game warmups. Quarterback Joe Flacco chatted with his former understudy at length, and Harbaugh spent time talking to his former All-Pro safety, who is now in his first year as an assistant defensive backs coach. Reed was celebrating his 38th birthday on Sunday.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while Buffalo dons white tops and blue pants for the 2016 opener.

Sunday’s referee is Brad Allen.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore called for party cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 80s, winds up to 11 miles per hour, and no chance of precipitation.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
LB Elvis Dumervil
CB Jerraud Powers
RB Kenneth Dixon
RB Buck Allen
OL John Urschel
DT Willie Henry
CB Will Davis

BUFFALO
S Colt Anderson
CB Kevon Seymour
QB Cardale Jones
WR Walter Powell
RB Jonathan Williams
LB Bryson Albright
C Patrick Lewis

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Ravens-Bills: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 10 September 2016 by Luke Jones

A fast start is always welcomed in a new season, but it’s especially critical for the Ravens coming off a 5-11 campaign.

A win in Week 1 allows for a deep breath and thoughts that this year will be different. A home defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Bills will only make John Harbaugh and his players think, “Here we go again.”

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and Buffalo meet for the seventh time in the all-time regular-season series with both teams previously winning three apiece. The Ravens are 3-1 against the Bills at M&T Bank Stadium and 3-0 in games against Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan, who spent a decade as an assistant in Baltimore before serving as the head coach of the New York Jets for six years.

1. A suspect Buffalo pass rush will allow Joe Flacco to go vertical to Mike Wallace for a long first-half touchdown. You can expect a Ryan defense to throw the kitchen sink at rookie offensive linemen Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis, but the Bills had just 21 sacks a season ago and are without suspended defensive tackle Marcell Dareus for the first four games. The Ravens will want to try out their revamped vertical passing game against the league’s 19th-ranked pass defense from a year ago, and Flacco will get enough time to throw a strike to Wallace, whom he praised over the summer.

2. Tyrod Taylor will run for 60 yards and a touchdown as the Baltimore front struggles to keep him in the pocket. The Ravens are fully aware of Taylor’s athleticism, but the absence of Elvis Dumervil will leave an inexperienced rusher such as Za’Darius Smith or Matt Judon opposite Terrell Suggs on the other side. Pressuring a mobile quarterback is tricky because you don’t want him to flush him from the pocket, meaning you must stay disciplined in rush lanes and not get too wide or crash inside. This will be a problem for overzealous young rushers and will lead to scrambling opportunities.

3. As Jimmy Smith tries to lock down Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Charles Clay will catch touchdowns. After Dean Pees said Watkins reminded him a bit of Randy Moss, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith mirror him with safety help whenever possible. However, Woods and Clay are capable of making plays and this pass defense didn’t play at a high level in the preseason. In trying to prevent Watkins from going off, the Ravens will give up passing yards to other targets while primarily staying in their base defense to account for the league’s top-ranked running game from a year ago.

4. Terrance West will score a touchdown in an otherwise so-so day for the running game. It will be interesting to see how many opportunities the Ravens give veteran starter Justin Forsett early before West begins to get his touches. Buffalo ranked 16th in run defense a year ago and the Ravens have made it clear that they want to be better on the ground, but it will be a work in progress with a new left side of the offensive line in place. There won’t be a ton of running room, but West looks like the best candidate to get goal-line carries and he’ll push one into the end zone.

5. Flacco will throw for 240 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Ravens to a 27-21 win over the Bills. If Baltimore wants to be taken seriously as a playoff contender, this is a game you must win playing at home. The Bills defense doesn’t pose a big threat, but Flacco will want to get rid of the ball quickly as he did in his only preseason action last month. Look for lots of underneath passing to the likes of Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, and Dennis Pitta while mixing in deep shots to Wallace and Breshad Perriman. It will be enough for a solid Week 1 win and Baltimore’s first victory in an opener since 2012.

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Ravens offense trying to turn potential into production in 2016

Posted on 07 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This Ravens offense looks promising on paper.

Some observers have even dared to say this is the most talented collection of skill players in the history of the franchise. Of course, we know that bar isn’t all that high with Baltimore being much more known for its defense over the last two decades.

But that doesn’t mean ninth-year quarterback Joe Flacco is ready to call this the deepest group he’s had around him, either.

“I think that has yet to be seen,” Flacco said. “We have to go out there and prove that we’re weapons and that we can do it in live games on Sundays. I think it’s a very promising group and I’m very excited about it, but we have to go out there and prove it.”

It’s easy to be excited about the healthy returns of Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, and Dennis Pitta as well as the additions of veteran free agent Mike Wallace and rookie fourth-rounder Chris Moore, but the most critical factor will be how well the offensive line performs with two new pieces on Flacco’s blindside. From the moment he arrived in Owings Mills this spring, first-round pick Ronnie Stanley has looked the part of a starting left tackle, but the regular season brings an even faster speed to which he’ll need to adjust.

Fellow rookie Alex Lewis may join him in the starting lineup after third-year guard John Urschel missed much of the summer with a shoulder injury. For either option at left guard, replacing the accomplished Kelechi Osemele won’t be easy and will make life for Stanley even more challenging.

That left side of the offensive line is sure to be tested right away by a Buffalo defense that looks undermanned but will try to throw the kitchen sink at inexperienced linemen. Bills head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was very complimentary of both Stanley and Lewis on Wednesday, but he’s also aware of their inexperience and will try to exploit it.

“I’ve never seen it before where two [rookies] start on the offensive line because that is tough,” Ryan said in a conference call with the Baltimore media. “There’s so much to it. But those two guys I’m sure have done a great job studying and things. But it’s not easy, that’s for sure.”

The offensive line protecting Flacco in the pocket is a nonnegotiable prerequisite for success, but opening holes in the running game proved to be a problem last season as the Ravens rushed for an underwhelming 3.9 yards per carry. An offense regularly trailing in most of its games a year ago was predictably going to lean more on the pass, but offensive coordinator Marc Trestman struggled to commit to the ground attack even when opportunities were there.

We know Flacco is at his best as a passer when he has the support of a strong running game, and head coach John Harbaugh has made it clear that improving in that area is a must.

Trying to figure out how the carries will be distributed will be interesting as veteran Justin Forsett is still expected to begin the year as the starter, but both Terrance West and the presently-injured Kenneth Dixon figure to factor more heavily into the equation as the season progresses. It sounds fine to say you’ll use a by-committee approach, but there’s a fine line between giving multiple backs opportunities and allowing the right one to get into a rhythm.

That trio of backs along with 2014 fourth-round pick Buck Allen all have their strengths and weaknesses, but at least one will need to prove capable of being a No. 1 kind of talent when it matters most.

“In the end, wisdom is in the results,” Harbaugh said. “We will all be judged how well we run the ball as a group. My goal is for all those guys to have success running the ball. I think they all bring something different to the table, style-wise [and] ability-wise.”

The same general thought process applies at wide receiver and tight end where health is clearly a factor for the 37-year-old Smith coming off an awful Achilles injury last November and for the 31-year-old Pitta, who hasn’t played in a game in nearly two years and missed most of training camp with a broken finger this summer. Even if those two stay healthy to go along with the rest of the bunch, the challenge is there for Trestman and Flacco to spread the ball around in a way that’s most productive for the overall offense.

More options in the vertical passing game will ideally open up the short-to-intermediate portion of the field for Smith, Pitta, Kamar Aiken, and Crockett Gillmore, but that comes with the understanding that there will be times when the Ravens want to best utilize that speed with certain substitution packages.

Whether you’re a talented first-year player or a 16th-year receiver with Hall of Fame credentials, there’s no room for ego when trying to bounce back from a 5-11 season.

“You know you are going to get your plays, but you are also ecstatic to be able to clear it out and open it up for other guys,” Smith said. “[If] I go down and run a route to open it up for Mike and Mike catches it, then I’m on the hunt. I get to peel back on somebody and knock the s–t out of them. That is what I am excited about, so I can play my role for Mike and Mike can play his role.

“Anyone can catch the ball, but can you be a team player to clear it out and understand the integrity of the play and what you are supposed to be doing for the other guy? That is the ultimate team player right there.”

The Ravens signed Wallace to provide an established speed presence on the outside that the offense sorely lacked a year ago, but the wild card for the aerial attack is Perriman, who is finally healthy after two different knee injuries and flashed his ability in the preseason finale last week.

With a 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame and blinding speed, Perriman is the type of talent at the wide receiver position that the Ravens have lacked throughout their history. We still have no idea whether his talent and size will translate to NFL success, but general manager Ozzie Newsome selected him in the first round last year to help take this offense to a different level.

Patience will be key, but the Ravens hope Perriman can eventually be a major factor in transforming a solid offense into a great one.

“We haven’t had a ton of work together, but [we] just have to keep it simple,” Flacco said. “Hit him in the chest and give him the chance to make plays. I think the more plays that he’s given the chance to make, the more he’s going the make and the more his confidence is going to go up.”

It all sounds great and looks promising a few days out from the season opener, but the Bills will be the first team to give the Ravens offense a real idea of how good it is. Potential is there, but questions exist wherever you look, including with Flacco as he comes back from the first serious injury of his entire career.

The schedule sets up for a potential fast start with only one playoff team from last year on the docket before the Ravens hit their bye in Week 8. But how quickly will it all come together for an offense with several new pieces as well as familiar faces returning from injury?

“I think I know what to expect from these guys,” Flacco said. “I’m really just excited about getting out there and doing it and making sure that we do it — not just go out there and play around. I want to go out there and I want to play well. That’s what I expect from our guys, and I think that’s what everybody else expects, too.”

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Better for Reed to get coaching feet wet elsewhere

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens great Ed Reed may become a “phenomenal” coach as Rex Ryan predicted upon hiring him to join the Buffalo Bills staff as his assistant defensive backs coach on Wednesday.

But a Hall of Fame playing career doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be a successful coach as players in multiple sports have learned. That’s why it’s better for Reed to get his coaching feet wet elsewhere before potentially joining the Ravens staff down the line.

Even if many Ravens fans don’t like it.

Coincidentally, Reed is indirectly replacing Buffalo assistant Donnie Henderson, who was his first defensive backs coach in Baltimore and has been with eight different teams since then. It’s a reminder of the frequent turnover in the profession with many coaching changes coming in the form of termination.

It would be an awkward position for the Ravens to fire one of the best players in franchise history should he not have what it takes to be a coach. In Buffalo, fans won’t be sentimental about an assistant coach who had a Hall of Fame career in Baltimore if Ryan would need to let him go in a year or two.

Reed will be able to fly under the radar more with the Bills as he learns the craft.

How would Ravens fans react if Reed were their secondary coach and the group struggled mightily? Many fans couldn’t name Baltimore’s secondary coaches right now — Chris Hewitt and Matt Weiss — but everyone would know one of the best players in franchise history would hold the job.

The 37-year-old gaining valuable experience elsewhere first is a better plan for success.

There are also still some remnants of Reed’s playing career in Baltimore as coaches and remaining players remember the mercurial safety who wasn’t always the most coachable talent and even skipped mandatory minicamp in his final season with the Ravens. As unpredictable as he could be on the field, that same trait followed him off the field as well.

It may just be too soon.

This isn’t to suggest there’s a rift — many fans immediately concluded that Reed must be on poor terms with John Harbaugh if he’s going to work for Ryan instead — but the memories of Reed as a player are still fresh, which could have made for an awkward transition in the present. That said, Reed’s affinity for Ryan makes it unsurprising that the nine-time Pro Bowl selection would want to work with his former defensive coordinator, who was also the final head coach of his playing career with the New York Jets in 2013.

Every great player who transitions to coaching faces the challenge of relating to players who will lack the same talents and desire to be great. Reed has exceptional football intellect and has rightly been praised for mentoring younger teammates late in his career, but he was ultimately still the one in control on the field come Sunday.

The chances that Reed took — some wiser than others — because of his incredible range and ball skills will not be in play for the less-talented defensive backs he will coach. Ultimately, he’ll be the one accountable for getting them ready to play, but those players simply won’t be able to do things the same way that Reed did and he’ll need to recognize and embrace that reality to succeed.

If Reed proves capable and enjoys the extensive commitment needed to be an NFL coach — he only coached flag football for kids this past year — the Ravens should welcome the future Hall of Fame safety with open arms.

But it’s better for everyone that he begins his coaching career elsewhere.

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Ravens-Jets: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 23 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

The term “must-win” is used liberally in professional sports, but the Ravens have reached that reality with a 4-6 record and an opportunity to knock off the AFC’s current No. 6 seed-leading New York Jets on Sunday afternoon.

Baltimore will play the first of three consecutive home games against beatable opponents in an effort to not only move to the positive side of the .500 mark but slide into position to grab a sixth straight playoff berth under head coach John Harbaugh. Meanwhile, the Jets are trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2010 under head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

Both teams have obvious flaws but remain in the mix for the postseason in a pool of eight teams that are either 5-5 or 4-6 entering Week 12. The Ravens and Jets will be meeting for the ninth time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 7-1 advantage and a seven-game winning streak in the all-time series.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens look to improve to 5-6 before a short week leading into a Thanksgiving night game against Pittsburgh …

1. Facing the stingiest run defense in the NFL, the Ravens will struggle to average 3.0 yards per carry on Sunday. A 174-yard performance by the Baltimore running game in Chicago was an encouraging sign but came against the league’s 31st-ranked run defense in sloppy conditions. The rushing attack will need to be graded on a curve against a Jets defense allowing just 2.9 yards per carry, the lowest mark in the NFL since the 2007 Ravens. The goal will be to gain just enough yardage to keep New York honest, which will allow the Ravens to run play-action over the course of the game. Running back Ray Rice said it best earlier in the week in saying they must be willing to take what the Jets defense is allowing, whether it’s two yards or the opportunity to pick up 20. Center Gino Gradkowski and left guard A.Q. Shipley turned in strong performances with their run blocking last week, but the Jets defensive line will be a very difficult matchup on what’s expected to be a windy day.

2. Quarterback Joe Flacco will throw for 275 yards for the first time since Week 6. The Ravens will be involved in a game with wind being a factor for the third consecutive week, which would appear to favor the Jets given the strength of their run defense and running game. However, Flacco will be facing a pass defense that ranks 23rd in the league and felt the need to pick up the 35-year-old Ed Reed to stabilize the free safety spot. There’s no disputing that Flacco has played poorly since the Ravens’ Week 8 bye, but he will be needed to make plays on Sunday as the Jets have been vulnerable to giving up the big play this season, allowing 33 passes of 20 or more yards. The Baltimore quarterback will have to wait at least one more game for the return of tight end Dennis Pitta, but Flacco talked this week about the need for the Ravens to let loose in how they play and the Jets defense hasn’t been nearly as effective on the road, giving up an average of 33 points per game on the road.

3. Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson will collect 1 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble. Ryan has a sterling reputation for putting his best defensive players in position to thrive, and Wilkerson has blossomed into the face of the New York defense, collecting eight sacks and 53 tackles in a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman and Ryan like to move Wilkerson around on the defensive line, which will be a problem for a unit that’s struggled to call out proper protection assignments this season. Even if the Ravens manage to gain respectable yardage on the ground, the Jets will still attempt to tee off on Flacco with a pass rush facing an offensive line that’s given up 33 sacks this season. An ability to protect the football will be a critical factor in determining the outcome of Sunday’s game and Flacco will cough up a fumble when Wilkerson breaks free for a sack against shaky pass blocking.

4. The Baltimore defense will wreak havoc on rookie quarterback Geno Smith, forcing three turnovers. The Jets have been forced to lean heavily on their eighth-ranked running game while the rookie has failed to record a passer rating higher than 71.9 in any of his last five games and will be without top receiver Jeremy Kerley. As long as the Ravens don’t revert to the struggles they experienced earlier in the season when their run defense allowed 140 or more rushing yards in three of four games, the Jets won’t do enough on the ground to avoid putting the ball in Smith’s hands. The Ravens will need to turn in a defensive performance similar to the one against Cincinnati when they forced Andy Dalton into turning it over three times. Smith has thrown 16 interceptions and has lost four fumbles, which is a recipe for disaster playing at M&T Bank Stadium where the Ravens have allowed just under 13 points per game in four contests this season.

5. In a defensive struggle with touchdowns at a premium, experience at quarterback and the home-field advantage give the Ravens a 19-12 victory. Both the Ravens and Jets have experienced their share of struggles on the road as New York is 1-4 away from MetLife Stadium and the Ravens are 1-5 in that department, but Baltimore is 3-1 at home this year and has played sparking defense at M&T Bank Stadium. In a game featuring two above-average defenses but flawed offensive attacks, I’ll give the nod to the home team with the veteran quarterback in a low-scoring game. The Jets simply make too many mistakes and haven’t forced turnovers of their own all season, a trend that will continue on Sunday as the Ravens win a close one to put themselves in better position in a muddled wild-card race. An uphill path remains for the Ravens to reach postseason play, but tie-breaking wins over the Jets and Miami Dolphins could prove useful down the line if more wins are to follow one on Sunday.

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Ravens running game trying to fight off reality check against Jets

Posted on 21 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even after a difficult overtime defeat in Chicago last weekend, you’d almost excuse the members of the Ravens’ running game for breathing a sigh of relief.

On pace to become the worst rushing offense in the 18-year history of the franchise, the Ravens ran for a season-high 174 yards — which included Ray Rice’s season-long run of 47 yards — in the 23-20 overtime defeat to the Bears, temporarily quieting critics who’ve doubted their ability to gain ground against anyone this season. Still, they also realize those yards came against the league’s 31st-ranked run defense and Sunday’s game against the New York Jets will present a much steeper task.

“That’s one game; the results still weren’t what we wanted in terms of the end result,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “We’ve got a real challenge ahead of us this week, [and the Jets are] maybe the finest run defense in the league.”

Ranked first in the league in allowing just 73.2 yards per game on the ground, the Jets have surrendered just 2.9 yards per carry in their first 10 games. That stingy mark puts them on pace to have the best average in the NFL since the 2007 Ravens, who gave up just 2.8 yards per rush despite an abysmal 5-11 record.

Jets head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan not only possesses a formidable group of players up front but offers some of the most exotic looks schematically in the NFL year after year. And considering the Ravens’ issues this season with Juan Castillo’s zone blocking scheme and communication at the line of scrimmage, New York will be less forgiving than the banged-up Bears defense in making Baltimore pay for missed blocking assignments.

With Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson, and Kenrick Ellis combining to form the best run-stopping defensive line in the league, Rice offered a realistic approach to the ground game in Sunday’s contest at M&T Bank Stadium. It resembled a plea for patience and not trying to do too much against a very talented front.

“We just need to be honest with ourselves and get a hat on a hat,” said Rice, who eclipsed the century mark on the ground for the first time all season in running for 131 yards against the Bears. “If it’s two yards, we need to take the two yards. If it’s a 20-yard gain and it happens, we need to make the 20. If they’re going to give you something where you’ve got to plow in there for two yards, [you take it]. One thing that we want to get out of is getting tackled for a loss. We always want to be on the plus side of things.”

The Ravens took advantage of the Chicago defense with more man-on-man blocking than the zone approach that’s given the running game little room this season. The offensive line also did a commendable job with combination blocks as well as identifying defenders to block at the second level, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

Even with their success, the Ravens understand one performance doesn’t erase nine weeks of severe struggles as they are still only averaging 83.2 rushing yards per game (27th in the NFL) and 3.0 yards per attempt, which ranks 31st in the league ahead of only Jacksonville.

“We took a step, but it’s still not consistent enough,” left tackle Eugene Monroe said. “We’ll continue to work on it. The mood is positive. We understand that we’ve got to continue to win, but pressing out that issue isn’t going to help that. We’ve just got to continue to stay focused.”

A step down from last week statistically is almost inevitable against the New York defense — a unit that hasn’t given up more than 90 rushing yards in a game since Week 3 — but a key to a victory on Sunday will be whether the Ravens have the ability to do just enough to keep the Jets’ back end of the defense honest. Ryan’s unit ranks 23rd against the pass and has allowed 33 passing plays of 20 or more yards this season, so even the slightest room created in the running game would go a long way in establishing play-action fakes and the ability for quarterback Joe Flacco to roll out to find open receivers.

New York, however, will try to make an offense ranked 30th in the league in total yards one-dimensional as it has been far too many times this season en route to a 4-6 start.

The Ravens are not only determined to begin a three-game homestand on a winning note — improving their AFC wild-card standing in the process — but to prove their running-game explosion last week in sloppy, windy Chicago was a sign of better days to come and not just a pleasant aberration.

As Rice professed, the Ravens can only look at one game, one drive, and one carry at a time against a stout Jets defense.

“You have to get movement to even gain a yard,” Rice said. “You can’t let them feast in one position, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. Our big guys have been working, but needless to say, we are getting prepared for a very physical football game.”

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