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Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following playoff loss to Tennessee

Posted on 14 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens seeing their season come to an end in a shocking 28-12 divisional-round playoff loss to Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Those wondering how Baltimore would handle playing from behind couldn’t have liked the answer, but perception wasn’t helped watching Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City erase a 24-point deficit like it was nothing and Russell Wilson nearly bringing Seattle back at Lambeau. Improvement there is the next step for this offense.

2. Lamar Jackson was the first to say he didn’t play very well, but drops were a big problem as you could point to as many as seven passes that should have been caught — even if some weren’t on target. Another impactful wide receiver would be ideal in Jackson’s continued development.

3. I’m not sure why Gus Edwards received so few touches with Mark Ingram not 100 percent, but the last drive of the first half (13 dropbacks) and the fourth quarter (27 dropbacks) really skewed the run-pass ratio on which many are dwelling. Still, Greg Roman seemed out of sorts.

4. Committing to run is tough when gaining 38 yards on the first 22 first-down plays. However, as Twitter user @Yoshi2052 noted, there wasn’t a designed run on first down after the 9:03 mark of the second quarter. Baltimore netted one yard or worse on 24 of 40 first-down snaps. Yuck.

5. Tennessee’s 217 rushing yards were the fourth most allowed by the Ravens in team history. A run defense ranking 21st in yards per carry allowed (a franchise-worst 4.4) and 19th in efficiency benefited from playing with big leads all season. Upgrades at inside and outside linebacker are in order.

6. It was a tough time for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon to have one of his worst games. His missed tackle on a Ryan Tannehill third-down scramble extended the Titans’ first touchdown drive, and he missed another on Derrick Henry’s soul-crushing 66-yard run in the third quarter.

7. Sorry, I’m not going to knock John Harbaugh for doing what he did all year on fourth-and-1 situations after the Ravens went 8-for-8 in that department during the regular season. You’re going to bust sometimes at the Blackjack table, and it just happened at the worst possible time — twice.

8. The Titans were set up on a short field for three of their four touchdowns, but the Baltimore defense offered no sudden-change impact or resistance inside the red zone. The Ravens just couldn’t make the game-changing play on either side of the ball all night.

9. Few Ravens players stood out against Tennessee in positive ways, but Marquise Brown reminded once again why his future is bright with an offseason to now get his surgically-repaired foot 100 percent. His slight stature will always be a concern, but some unique ability is there.

10. Special teams offered no favors with a Brynden Trawick hold and a silly De’Anthony Thomas foul for blocking after calling a fair catch backing Baltimore up on second-quarter drives. The latter may have been the difference in needing to settle for a field goal before halftime.

11. After dominating with a 7-1 record and an incredible plus-159 point differential on the road this season, the Ravens fell to 3-4 in all-time home playoff games. They obviously earned the top seed with a 14-2 record, but home-field advantage probably wasn’t all that critical for this particular team.

12. While some opine about rust, is it possible blowing out Pittsburgh without Jackson in Week 17 left the Ravens feeling a bit too invincible going into the bye week as the world sang how great they were? It’s all conjecture, of course. The best team doesn’t always win. 

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates his touchdown run against the New England Patriots with offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (79) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 10 January 2020 by Luke Jones

There was a time when Ravens-Titans was the best rivalry in the NFL.

Divisional realignment all too quickly separated these old AFC Central foes, but Baltimore and Tennessee met three times in the playoffs in a nine-year period with each of the encounters memorable. We all remember Ray Lewis, Eddie George, Ed Reed, and Steve McNair, but even lesser names such as Anthony Mitchell and Gary Anderson elicit a reaction from both fan bases to this day.

We’ll see if Saturday’s divisional-round meeting provides the next instant classic or simply serves as another checkpoint for 14-2 Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations after a 12-game winning streak to close the regular season. An upset win would send the Titans to their first AFC Championship appearance since the 2002 season while the Ravens aim to advance to the conference championship for the first time since 2012 and host the AFC title game for the first time in franchise history.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the fourth time in the postseason with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge and the road team prevailing each time. The Ravens and Titans are tied 10-10 in their regular-season history with Harbaugh’s team winning the most recent meeting, a 21-0 shutout in Nashville last season.

Below are five predictions for Saturday night:

1. Lamar Jackson will become the fourth quarterback in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in a playoff game. Trying to predict what happens with Mark Ingram and his lingering calf injury is tricky, but there’s no questioning Jackson’s involvement in the ground game after he carried the ball 11 or more times in eight games this year. Titans coach Mike Vrabel quipped the best way to slow Jackson is to tie his shoelaces together, but it’ll be interesting to see how the 23-year-old comes out of the gate in the biggest game of his life after three weeks off. It makes sense for Greg Roman to throw in an extra designed run or two early on to help his young quarterback settle in, but Jackson will play like the MVP.

2. Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown will each score for the Titans. The Tennessee offense isn’t as diverse as Baltimore, but it isn’t devoid of unique talent with the 2019 rushing champion and a 1,000-yard rookie receiver who finished second in the NFL in yards per catch (20.2). With the Ravens using nickel and dime packages so often to play to their strength in the secondary, it’ll be interesting to see how Wink Martindale balances the need to contain Henry while not allowing Brown or Corey Davis to get loose for Ryan Tannehill to take play-action shots. The Ravens rank 21st in yards per carry allowed and 19th in run defense efficiency, but an early lead would really neutralize Henry’s impact.

3. Marcus Peters will intercept a pass to stall a Tennessee drive. In a similar way to how Tannehill helped transform a stagnant Titans offense into one of the NFL’s best units, the acquisition of the ball-hawking Peters was the biggest factor in the dramatic improvement of the Ravens defense from the first month of the season. With Peters and a healthy Jimmy Smith on the field, Baltimore allowed 200 net passing yards only once in the final eight regular-season games. The Titans rank first in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage, but the Ravens are third in red-zone defense, meaning something will have to give. Three of Tannehill’s six interceptions this season came inside the red zone.

4. Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle will catch red-zone touchdowns. Tennessee will be without top cover linebacker Jayon Brown due to a shoulder injury suffered last week, which is bad news for a defense that’s already had its problems covering tight ends this season. However, the effectiveness of Pro Bowl selection Mark Andrews will be something to monitor as he continued to be limited with a right ankle injury this week and hasn’t appeared to move very well during practice time open to reporters. Even if Andrews isn’t 100 percent, Hurst and Boyle are very capable of making plays in the passing game and could take advantage of the Titans devoting more attention to the top option at the position.

5. A fast start will neutralize Tennessee’s game plan and propel the Ravens to a 30-16 win. As I wrote earlier this week, Baltimore starting strong could be the difference between a comfortable blowout and a game that goes down to the wire with the way the Titans like to play and their confidence level after a big win in New England last week. You always wonder how a team will respond after extensive time between meaningful games, but the culture created by an accomplished head coach should alleviate concerns of potential rust or coming out flat. The Ravens are the best team in the NFL, have the league’s MVP, and enjoy home-field advantage while Tannehill and the Titans have been a good story in the second half of the season that will come to its conclusion on Saturday night.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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After long layoff, top-seeded Ravens starting fast would ease biggest concerns

Posted on 09 January 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson says “it feels like it’s been forever” since he last played in a game, a full 20 days by the time the Ravens kick off their playoff opener against Tennessee on Saturday.

Rest and extra time to prepare are clear advantages for a team already superior in virtually every meaningful way to the Titans, who became the first team since the 2009 Ravens to beat New England in the wild-card round last weekend. But that’s an accomplishment and a path that shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially by an organization that relished an underdog road journey to two Super Bowl championships and a number of other playoff victories over the last two decades.

While the top-seeded Ravens focused on themselves and could prepare for the big picture over the better part of these last few weeks, the Titans have been busy fighting for their January lives with a Week 17 win at Houston to clinch a wild-card spot and a 20-13 victory over the Patriots in Foxborough just to get to Baltimore this weekend. If the 14-2 Ravens are slow to flip the switch in their first meaningful game since Week 16, that urgency is something that can work in No. 6 seed Tennessee’s favor.

“You just keep playing. You keep that edge. You are kind of going week to week,” said head coach John Harbaugh, whose Ravens knocked off a heavily favored Denver team on the way to a Super Bowl title seven years ago. “There’s not time to breathe or think about anything. I absolutely think that can be a plus. It has been for us in the past. We’ve been pretty good on the road over the years in the playoff times historically. There’s certainly something to that, and we’re well aware of that on the other side of it.”

That’s why the Ravens starting fast is more important than the typical way we discuss that cliche ahead of a big game. In fact, nearly every potential concern or pitfall discussed this week would be mitigated by the NFL’s best offense scoring on its first couple drives and one of the league’s top defenses making life difficult for the Tennessee offense early on. Such a beginning would make a blowout victory far more likely than the chance of an upset at M&T Bank Stadium.

Any concern of the Ravens being rusty or losing their edge after such a long layoff would be swatted away with a 10-0 lead before fans finish their first in-game beverage. That’s hardly out of the question considering Baltimore scored on its first two drives in eight of its 16 regular-season games while the Titans did that just once — Week 17 against a Texans team resting multiple starters — and managed to score on their opening drive only three times in the regular season before last Saturday’s playoff win.

But a slower start by the Ravens — one like we saw in Cleveland three weeks ago, for example — would give Tennessee the opportunity to carry over some of its wild-card weekend mojo and execute its optimal game plan. While quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Titans rode NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry to an ordinary two-touchdown output against the Patriots, their offense ranks first in average yards per play, second in expected points added per play, and second in percentage of drives ending in touchdowns since Tannehill took over at quarterback in Week 7. It was a forgettable postseason debut for Tannehill with just 72 passing yards, a touchdown, and an interception last Saturday, but dismissing a 136.4 passer rating using play-action fakes and 22 touchdown passes to just six interceptions in 12 regular-season games is a brazen position.

Even if you’re waiting for the former Miami quarterback to turn back into a pumpkin after surprisingly leading the NFL in passer rating, Tannehill has been excellent against the blitz, something the Ravens do more frequently than anyone. Sustainable for the long haul or not, the formula has been there for Tannehill to succeed and the Titans to score prolifically with Henry and a good offensive line keeping them on schedule and rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown emerging as a big-play threat down the stretch.

It all begins with the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry, whom defensive coordinator Wink Martindale compared to a video-game creation at running back that “shouldn’t be that big and be able to run like he runs.” His propensity to get to the edge and cutback on outside-zone plays is a running style that’s given the Baltimore run defense some problems this season, another reason why a fast start is so important. An early deficit puts more pressure on Tannehill and minimizes Henry’s impact, even if he does find some running room over the course of the game.

“I think when the run game gets going, that’s when the play-action shot is available because the defense is so aggressive trying to stop the run,” safety Earl Thomas said. “If we knock that out from the start, I think we’ll be fine. If Tannehill tries to pass on us, I don’t think that will go in their favor. We know they’re going to try to run the ball. But we just have to stop the run and play sound on the back end. I think that will take care of the play-action pass.”

A strong beginning would also extinguish any lingering memory of last year’s playoff disappointment, a loss that drove Jackson’s remarkable improvement in the offseason that molded him into the league’s MVP. Of course, the 23-year-old needs no validation after a historic season in which he led the NFL in touchdown passes and shattered the single-season rushing record for a quarterback, but he’s waited and prepared 12 months for this very moment. Jackson is the first to tell you that all he cares about is winning the Super Bowl, which was what he famously promised on draft night less than two years ago.

That loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was not only a catalyst for the construction of the Ravens’ “revolutionary” offense this past offseason, but it serves as a painful reminder of how quickly playoff hopes can be dashed if you’re not ready. At one point in the first quarter of that 23-17 loss, Baltimore fumbled on three straight plays from scrimmage. Such a sequence seems unfathomable for a team that has won a franchise-record 12 consecutive games and has set all kinds of records, but a sleepy beginning and a critical mistake or two at the wrong time would give the upstart Titans their chance at an upset.

We’ll find out if it’s easier said than done Saturday night, but the Ravens merely need to pick up where they left off as the NFL’s best team over the last three months. A slow start hardly means they’re doomed, of course, but Baltimore would much prefer to leave no doubt from the opening kick and crush any hopes on the Titans’ side.

“Can’t start too late. You have to attack fast,” said Jackson about last year’s playoff loss. “It doesn’t really matter what quarter it is. First or second [quarter], you have to attack. You just have to finish the game strong.

“You can’t just go into the game playing half-assed. You’ll have the same results.”

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humphrey

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on divisional playoff meeting with Tennessee

Posted on 06 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now knowing they’ll face Tennessee in their first home divisional playoff game in eight years, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A talking point for John Harbaugh to his players this week will be how rare January road wins in Foxborough have been the last two decades. The Titans are the lesser team on paper, but beating New England in the playoffs garners a level of respect Baltimore shouldn’t dismiss.

2. Starting fast is a cliched key one can mention every week, but the Ravens can silence all discussion of rust or losing their edge by jumping on the Titans early. It would also remind Mike Vrabel’s team that any confidence gained from beating the Patriots will only go so far.

3. Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing as Tennessee finished third in rushing and fifth in Football Outsiders’ run efficiency. Henry’s propensity to cut back on edge runs is a style that’s given Baltimore some issues, so I expect Wink Martindale to use more base defense and big nickel packages.

4. With Lamar Jackson turning 23 on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but ponder a connection with another 23-year-old who won MVP, led Baltimore to a world championship, and wore No. 8. The young quarterback sure followed through on a vow made at Camden Yards this past summer.

5. A three-week layoff from live-game action is one thing, but Jackson battling a stomach bug for several days last week is another variable to consider in the whole rust debate. That’s nothing a couple early designed runs or high-percentage throws can’t remedy, however.

6. Ryan Tannehill has been superb under pressure and against the blitz this season, but he’ll face a Ravens defense that blitzes more frequently than anyone in the NFL. His overall numbers are impressive, but I can’t blame you for waiting for the eighth-year quarterback to turn back into a pumpkin.

7. Baltimore allowed 200 net passing yards just once over the final eight games of the regular season despite winning all but two of those by at least 16 points. Considering how much yardage and scoring you often see in “garbage” time, that’s remarkable — and bad news for Tannehill.

8. You’d expect Dean Pees to be a topic of conversation this week, but just six members of the Ravens’ current offensive roster were with the organization when Pees was defensive coordinator. He’s as unfamiliar with Jackson and this unique system as any coordinator out there.

9. With wide receivers coach David Culley reiterating Marquise Brown isn’t fully healed from last January’s foot surgery, you hope a week off really helped the speedy rookie receiver. Brown made just one catch of 10 or more yards in five combined December games.

10. Meanwhile, fellow rookie A.J. Brown cracked the 1,000-yard receiving mark and registered 100-yard performances for the Titans in four of the last six games of the regular season. Any receiver averaging more than 20 yards per catch is someone to watch.

11. Tennessee ranked 29th in special-teams efficiency and went 8-for-18 on field goals in the process of using four different kickers this season. Justin Tucker has missed nine field goals over the last four seasons combined. Paging Al Del Greco.


(Photo by Getty Images)

12. The early forecast for Saturday night suggests rain showers and winds 10 to 15 miles per hour. Two run-first teams probably wouldn’t mind those conditions one bit, and I can’t imagine a little rain dampening the spirits of a raucous crowd either.

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jacksontitans

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Ravens to host Tennessee in divisional round next Saturday night

Posted on 05 January 2020 by Luke Jones

An old AFC Central rivalry will be renewed as the Ravens host Tennessee in the divisional round next Saturday night.

The No. 6 seed Titans upset Tom Brady and New England in a 20-13 win in Saturday’s wild-card round and will now travel to Baltimore for the fourth ever postseason meeting between the teams. Ravens coaches focused more on the Titans in their preliminary preparations during the bye week since Baltimore was already familiar with Houston and Buffalo after playing them in the second half of the regular season. Head coach John Harbaugh and his staff will resume preparations for Tennessee on Sunday with players returning to the training facility in Owings Mills on Monday.

The teams last met in Nashville in Week 6 of the 2018 season, but much has changed since that 21-0 win for the Ravens that included a franchise-record 11 sacks and just two snaps played by Lamar Jackson. That day marked the final victory of Joe Flacco’s 11-year run as Baltimore’s starting quarterback with Jackson taking the reins a month later and never looking back as he’s become the NFL MVP favorite in his second season.

The Titans have also replaced their starting quarterback since then as former second overall pick Marcus Mariota was benched earlier this year in favor of veteran Ryan Tannehill, who surprisingly led the NFL with a 117.5 passer rating in the regular season. Titans running back Derrick Henry led the league with 1,540 rushing yards this season and thrives on cutbacks off edge runs, a style that gave the Baltimore defense some problems this season.

Tennessee has emerged as the Cinderella team in the AFC after winning five of its last seven to qualify for the postseason and handing the Patriots their first loss in the wild-card round since the Ravens beat them in Foxborough in the 2009 postseason. However, former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have the unenviable task of preparing his Tennessee unit for its first look at a Jackson-led offense that broke the NFL’s single-season rushing record and became the first team to average 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in the same year.

The teams are tied 10-10 in the all-time regular-season series, but Baltimore holds a 2-1 edge in playoff meetings taking place in 2000, 2003, and 2008. Those were all postseason classics with the road team prevailing each time, but this will be the first in which the Ravens will be the overwhelming favorite after a 14-2 regular season that included 12 consecutive wins to give them the top seed in the AFC for the first time in their 24-year history.

The Ravens-Titans rivalry was fleeting due to divisional realignment in 2002, but it was every bit as bitter as what Ravens-Steelers would become, which should add more flavor to what already figured to be a very exciting week in Baltimore.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 03 December 2016 by Luke Jones

December football has arrived.

Aiming to return to the postseason for just the second time since Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens will now play three of their next four games against teams with winning records and own the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. In other words, John Harbaugh’s team will have to earn it if an AFC North title is in the cards.

Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins come to town riding a six-game winning streak in their effort to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2008. First-year head coach Adam Gase has the Dolphins playing winning football despite a 1-4 start, but a plus-9 point differential reflects how close their games have been on a weekly basis all year.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams play for the 12th time in their regular-season history. The Dolphins own a 6-5 advantage, but their only win in Baltimore came at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 19, 1997. This marks the fourth straight year these teams have met, but the previous three were in Miami.

1. Kenneth Dixon will gain a career-high 100 total yards. We’ve gradually seen Dixon cut into starter Terrance West’s workload, but the rookie finished with more touches (17 to 16) and played eight more snaps against Cincinnati last week. The Dolphins rank 30th in rush defense and are allowing 4.6 yards per carry. The Miami front is built to aggressively rush the passer, so offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg should use draws, counters, and screens to exploit that aggressiveness. If the Ravens are to finally get their running game going for the stretch run, Sunday seems like the time to do it.

2. Kenny Stills will catch a long touchdown against the Ravens secondary. Jarvis Landry is the most accomplished Dolphins receiver and 2015 first-round pick DeVante Parker has emerged in recent weeks, but Stills ranks third among qualified players in yards per catch (18.5) and has five touchdowns on throws traveling more than 20 yards through the air. The Ravens are tied for fourth in fewest pass plays of 25 or more yards allowed, but Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when working in a clean pocket this season. That will lead to a score.

3. The team that throws the ball more often will lose on Sunday. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi has earned much praise with back-to-back 200-yard games in October and another 100-yard rushing performance in Week 9, but he’s averaged 3.8 yards per carry in three contests since and will be playing the NFL’s top-ranked run defense. On the other side, Joe Flacco is averaging 40.9 passing attempts per game, but he’s thrown for more than 300 yards twice and has only two contests in which he’s thrown for two or more touchdowns this year. Both teams need to run the ball effectively to thrive.

4. Jimmy Smith will come away with a red-zone interception in the second half. After missing two games with a back injury, the No. 1 cornerback is expected to play. Miami could be without the 6-foot-3 Parker, but Smith’s presence on the field will be key against a passing game ranking eighth in the NFL in yards per attempt (7.8) despite sitting 28th in passing yards per game. Despite playing his best football since the first half of the 2014 season, Smith has yet to secure an interception this season. That will change on Sunday with Tannehill being forced to throw more than usual in the second half.

5. The Ravens win in typical fashion in a 20-17 final to stay in first place in the AFC North. Week after week, we’ve watched an offense incapable of putting together a full 60 minutes — or even anything close to that. I don’t expect that to suddenly change in the final month of the season. However, the Dolphins’ biggest offensive strength is a perfect match for what the Ravens do best. Baltimore will contain Ajayi and rattle Tannehill at the most critical times, Justin Tucker will connect on two field goals, and the Ravens offense will put together one or two good drives. It’s never fancy, but the Ravens couldn’t have asked for much more than a 7-5 record after their season was in great peril a month ago.

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Pressuring Tannehill hidden key for Ravens against Miami

Posted on 01 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The matchup isn’t as imposing, but it’s a familiar one for the Ravens.

Two weeks after facing the best rushing attack in the NFL in a road loss to Dallas, Baltimore welcomes upstart running back Jay Ajayi and Miami to town on Sunday. The Dolphins have won six in a row behind the league’s sixth-ranked run offense and Ajayi’s 5.3 yards per carry, but the Ravens have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL this season.

The Cowboys were the better team in that 27-17 final on Nov. 20, but they needed 30 carries to finish with 118 rushing yards, their third-lowest ground total of the season and fewest since Week 2. In other words, there’s little reason to think Ajayi is going to find a ton of running room against a defense that’s surrendered just 3.4 yards per carry, its best mark since 2009.

“That is Raven football,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You do not want teams to run the ball on you. We take a lot of pride in that. We take a lot of pride in playing defense.”

The biggest key for the Ravens in Sunday’s tilt will likely be their ability to pressure Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is in the midst of arguably his best season and one of the best stretches of his career over the last six weeks. Averaging a career-high 7.82 yards per attempt, Tannehill is completing 66 percent of his passes and has thrown nine touchdowns to just one interception over the last six contests.

The decision by first-year head coach Adam Gase to employ more of a power running attack since Miami’s 1-4 start has led to the emergence of Ajayi as well as a renaissance for Tannehill. Attempting a career-low 29.9 passing attempts per game this season, the 6-foot-4 Texas A&M product has been more efficient and productive than previous seasons.

Tannehill has received Pro Football Focus’ top quarterback grade in two of the last three weeks and has graded as the website’s 10th-best quarterback this season. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees credits Gase for taking pressure off the fifth-year signal-caller and making a more “quarterback-friendly” offense.

“When you’re running the football, you’re setting up the play-action, the quick game, all those kinds of things,” Pees said. “The other thing is you’re not in as many third-and-longs a lot of times as you are if your team is just throwing the ball all the time.

“The guy is a very, very accurate thrower. When he gets out of the pocket and runs with the ball and scrambles with the ball or even on a roll-out or [bootleg], he’s one of the most accurate quarterbacks I’ve seen throwing on the run. He is really, really good.”

Tannehill has especially thrived when working in a clean pocket this season, posting a 115.5 passer rating when not facing pressure. That’s good for fourth in the NFL and just a spot below rookie sensation Dak Prescott of the Cowboys.

Of course, it was Baltimore’s inability to pressure Prescott that led to him throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdown passes in Week 11. The Ravens are tied for 11th in the league with 26 sacks, but their pass rush has been more timely than consistent this season with long stretches of games in which opposing quarterbacks have gone largely untouched.

The Dolphins are hoping to welcome back left tackle Branden Albert and left guard Laremy Tunsil to their starting lineup after missing last week’s game, but Tannehill isn’t afraid to move out of the pocket. And that’s where the Ravens know he can become even more dangerous with the respectable trio of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills catching passes.

“Tannehill’s not making mistakes and is throwing the ball all over the place off the play-action,” safety Eric Weddle said. “He’s getting his feet out and extends plays, which kills the defense. And he’s extending [plays] to throw.”

The expected return of top cornerback Jimmy Smith should help a secondary that’s played remarkably well despite the lack of a consistent pass rush for much of the year. Five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil will also be playing in his second straight game after coming up with the game-saving strip-sack against Cincinnati last week in his first action since early October.

The Ravens figure to be able to contain Ajayi and force the Dolphins into more throws than they’d prefer, but Pees and the defense need to be aggressive against Tannehill and cannot allow him to get comfortable behind his offensive line on Sunday. And that’s where Dumervil and Suggs have spoken openly this week about needing a raucous crowd at M&T Bank Stadium to make life even more difficult for the Miami quarterback.

The Ravens believe the loud closing minutes of Sunday’s game against Cincinnati helped lead to four batted passes and the strip-sack to preserve the victory. They want more noise against the Dolphins.

“It limits the checks. It eliminates a lot of the things the quarterback can do at the line of scrimmage,” Dumervil said. “That’s what happened toward the last series. They had to go with the plays. Once the guys on defense are locked and ready, we’re all moving at the same ball. That’s when we feel the crowd advantage. We need that 12th man stronger than ever this week.”

The Ravens need their pass rush to be right there with the fans in a game they need to win.

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Coaches beware: pictured is one of the ultimate coach killers  - Matty Melting Ice Ryan

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NFL Quarterbacks who are “Coach Killers”

Posted on 13 August 2016 by Dennis Koulatsos

Coaches beware: pictured is one of the ultimate coach killers - Matty Melting Ice Ryan

Coaches beware: pictured is one of the ultimate coach killers – Matty Melting Ice Ryan

There are a handful of NFL quarterbacks that seem to have all the physical tools to get the job done, but for some reason have never put it all together.  They look like a duck, walk like a duck, even quack like a duck – but they just can’t swim.  More often than not they sink straight to the bottom, and in most cases they’ve cost their coach and his coaching staff their jobs while they get to keep their’s.

QBs that quickly come to mind are Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, and Jay Cutler.  They’re in a league of their own.  There is a second tier of QBs that includes Andy Dalton, Tony Romo, and Sam Bradford.  RGIII may eventually get in to this second tier, but then again he is attempting to jump start his career at the Factory of Sadness known as the Cleveland Browns.  I don’t know if any QB could be successful in that awful organization.

Let’s take a little closer look at all of the aforementioned QBs. Matthew Stafford has been through numerous head coaches.  He’s been handed several #1 overall draft pick wide receivers, decent offensive lines, and a plethora of other offensive weapons.  Heck, even Megatron – Calvin Johnson – had enough and decided to walk away from the game during this past off-season.  Blessed with a gun for an arm, there are times that he can’t hit water falling out of a boat.  I’ve never been able to put my finger on it, but there’s definitely something wrong with this guy.

Matt Ryan is another one.  Fortunately for Joe Flacco, the comparisons between the two stopped right after Big Joe won a Super Bowl.  Just look at the weapons he’s had – Tony Gonzales, Julio Jones, Roddy White – just to name a few. If not for an ill-advised time out by the Seahawk’s Pete Carroll, Matty Melting Ice would still be looking for his first playoff win. The clock is ticking on Ryan’s career, and he is running out of time to prove his growing critics wrong.

Jay Cutler has a habit of throwing the ball to defensive backs and oftentimes in bunches.  Jumping Jay has also been surrounded with weapons, who all – to a man – have lots of uncomplimentary things to say about him once they’ve escaped Chicago.  If I was coaching Da Bears, I’d put this cat on a pitch count, and never have him throw more than 20 times a game.  In fact, I’d bring back Ted Marchibroda’s offense from the 80’s – run, run, pass, punt.  You laugh, but it’s superior to pass, pass, pick, play defense.

Ryan Tannehill is a coach killer in training.  He is still young on the job curve, but I’ve seen nothing from him to indicate that he’ll ever develop into a an NFL QB worthy of his draft position and his huge new contract.  Selfishly I really like him, because as long as he is under center, we’ll all be able to easily obtain discounted tickets to Dolphins home games.  It’s always a great trip to Miami in the winter, and Ravens fans do a great job of taking over the stadium (cue the Ravens Seven Nation Army chant).

Which brings us to Dalton, Bradford and Romo.  The first two have won exactly the same number of NFL playoff games as you and I,  and the last one has a knack for throwing an interception at the absolute worst possible time. There are throwers and there are field generals, and all 3 of these gentlemen most definitely fit in the former category.

By the virtue of his dismal playoff record, Dalton used to have a monkey on his back.  Now that monkey has grown into an 800-pound gorilla, one that he cannot shake off until he gets that elusive first playoff win. It is inexplicable – and at the same time defies logic – that he has a future Hall of Fame receiver like AJ Green and can’t hit him when it counts.  Coach Marvin Lewis is extremely lucky he gets to work for one of the cheapest owners in the NFL, or he would have been gone a long time ago.

Bradford’s career has been marred by injuries, but even when healthy he has not shown that he is anywhere in the elite category.  Somehow Jeff Fisher (6 playoff wins in 22 years – but that’s going to require an entire separate article dedicated to his record) survived Bradford’s tenure with the Rams, and hopefully his Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson can do the same.  Pederson was smart enough to draft an insurance policy in the form of Carson Wentz.

Tony Romo “led” the Cowboys to a 12-4 record two years ago.  The Pokes saved Romo from himself by running DeMarco Murray into the ground, 400 plus times.  By drafting Ezekiel Elliott and signing free agent running back Alfred Morris, they’re hoping the same formula works as well as it did in the past.  Of course that will cause Dez Bryant to squawk, but then again if he didn’t then they would be the Dallas Cowboys.  ‘Merica’s Team.

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Loss in Miami reminds Ravens just how much Flacco missed

Posted on 06 December 2015 by Luke Jones

There isn’t much worth remembering when looking back at the Ravens’ 15-13 loss to Miami on Sunday.

Rookie wide receiver Daniel Brown fell victim to one of the worst offensive pass interference calls you’ll ever see, but that was barely a drop in an ocean of poor officiating around the NFL in 2015. It’s a problem the league desperately needs to address in the offseason if it cares about maintaining any semblance of integrity with players, coaches, and fans.

But even after the baffling call that wiped out a 52-yard touchdown pass, the Ravens still had 50 minutes to overcome the misfortune that occurred when the game was still scoreless in the first quarter.

On the positive side, rookie Buck Allen continues to look like he’s more than capable of being a No. 1 running back after collecting 170 total yards and 12 receptions, one shy of the franchise’s single-game record for catches. The 2015 fourth-round pick has become the Ravens’ best offensive option — which admittedly isn’t saying much with the current group of weapons — and is doing everything he can to spark an interesting discussion about the future of veteran Justin Forsett in the offseason.

Beyond that, Sunday’s slop-fest between two bad teams only brought a reminder of just how much the Ravens and their fans should appreciate Joe Flacco when he returns to the field next season. As lousy as Miami’s fourth-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill was for the better part of 60 minutes, his turnover-free performance was preferable to the 30 seconds from hell turned in by Matt Schaub late in the first half that turned out to be the difference in the game.

Two interceptions — one serving as a catalyst for a 38-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker and the other returned for a touchdown — and 15 points, which were all the Dolphins needed against an undermanned Baltimore offense. Those turnovers overshadowed what was a strong performance by a Ravens defense that has steadily improved against a pedestrian group of opponents over the last month.

Sunday brought final confirmation that the concerns expressed by “amateur evaluators” about Schaub throughout training camp were more than fair. The longtime Houston Texans quarterback just can’t shake the nightmare that began in his final season as a starter in 2013.

The Ravens simply cannot expect to win with the 34-year-old quarterback at the helm. And how could he do it with such a depleted group of weapons around him? His wide receivers on Sunday would be no better than No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 options at best on most teams, and starting tight end Crockett Gillmore became the latest offensive weapon to go down when he left the game with a back injury.

Last week’s win in Cleveland came thanks to two special-teams touchdowns that made up for an interception returned for a touchdown and another ugly pick thrown in the final minute. On Sunday, there was no hiding Schaub’s inability to protect the football.

The Ravens may not have been winning much with Flacco in 2015 — he admittedly wasn’t playing his best football — but the last two weeks have offered a reminder to anyone ever trying to undersell just how important the eighth-year quarterback is to Baltimore’s success. Regardless of where he ranks among NFL quarterbacks, Flacco has proven that he can win you a championship with a good group of weapons around him.

That’s more that you can say about Schaub or Tannehill after watching both quarterbacks flounder on Sunday.

There isn’t much else to say about the 4-8 Ravens, who have now clinched just the second non-winning season of the John Harbaugh era. Another week and another game decided by a single score, but we again watched a team not good enough to overcome back-breaking turnovers, untimely penalties, poor officiating, and a plethora of injuries that have decimated the roster.

You can pick apart the minutia of another loss as much as you’d like, but nothing else really matters when you don’t have a quarterback.

Fortunately, it’s only temporary pain for the Ravens, but it’s a reminder of where this franchise stood for years when it squandered a number of championship-caliber defenses as the likes of Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright tried to play quarterback before Flacco finally came along in 2008.

It’s unlikely to be a fun final quarter of the season with the Ravens facing four teams with winning records and firmly in the race for postseason spots.

So, as you brace yourself and try to take consolation in knowing that losses like Sunday’s only improve their 2016 draft position, just remind yourself how good the Ravens have had it for so long with Flacco at the helm.

And try to erase the memory of Schaub’s ugly interceptions as much as you can.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 05 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Identical records, but two teams seemingly going in opposite directions.

Standing at 4-7, the Ravens only have a microscopic chance of making the playoffs, but they’ve continued to fight under eighth-year head coach John Harbaugh, winning three of their last four games with a roster that’s been completely ravaged by injuries. Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins have already fired their head coach and both coordinators this season and have lost four of their last five with all coming by multiple scores.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and Miami meet for the 11th time in the all-time regular-season series with the teams currently tied 5-5. The Ravens are 3-4 at Sun Life Stadium — 5-4 counting the postseason — but they will try to win in Miami for the third straight year.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their third consecutive game …

1. Miami will attempt to commit to the run, but the Ravens won’t allow that to happen. After running the ball just nine times against the New York Jets last week, interim head coach Dan Campbell fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and new play-caller Zac Taylor vowed to get the ground game going. That will be easier said than done against a Ravens defense that ranks eighth against the run and has allowed just 3.7 yards per carry this season. Lamar Miller is a solid back, but Brandon Williams and his defensive line mates will swallow up the Dolphins’ ground attack, forcing them to throw the ball more that they would would like as the game progresses. Miami will only rush for 70 yards on the day.

2. Buck Allen and Terrance West will combine to rush for 130 yards. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman has drawn criticism for his lack of commitment to running the ball, but there is no reason not to stay on the ground against the league’s 32nd-ranked rush defense. Matt Schaub showed against Cleveland that he can make some plays with his arm here and there, but you want to limit his opportunities to make game-changing mistakes, something the Ravens will do on Sunday. Allen and West combined to carry 19 times for 92 yards against the Browns, but they’ll receive more extensive opportunities in an effort to wear down the Miami front in the heat and potential rain.

3. Jarvis Landry will shine for the Dolphins, but DeVante Parker and Jordan Cameron will catch touchdown passes. In his second year out of LSU, Landry is Miami’s best offensive player and will give the Ravens fits with his ability to gain yards after the catch on his way to a 100-yard day. However, the Dolphins will be without starting receiver Rishard Matthews and will need more from Parker, who has just eight catches in nine games after being selected 14th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. The rookie will shake free for a score. Though Cameron has disappointed with his new team, the Ravens have struggled against tight ends this season and he’ll catch a touchdown inside the red zone.

4. Elvis Dumervil will collect two sacks to once again torment Ryan Tannehill. The Baltimore defense has collected a combined 12 sacks in the last two trips to Miami, and the Dolphins will be without right tackle Ja’Wuan James on Sunday. Dumervil’s six sacks in 2015 don’t tell the story of how well he’s played needing to step into a full-time role with Terrell Suggs suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the opener. Instead of matching Dumervil against left tackle Branden Albert all day, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will pick his spots to line up the 31-year-old pass rusher on the opposite side against Jason Fox. He’ll take advantage by picking up two sacks and pressuring Tannehill all day.

5. The Ravens will show they have more under the hood than Miami in a 26-17 win. The Dolphins have more talent than this current version of Harbaugh’s team, but they have mailed it in too many times in a disappointing season, something you can’t say about the Ravens with all 11 of their games decided by one score. One factor to remember is that Baltimore is on the road again after a Monday night road game, making a slow start a distinct possibility. For the first time all season, the Ravens will play a game decided by more than one score and will come out on the winning end, which will say even more about the Dolphins’ ineptitude than Baltimore’s intestinal fortitude.

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