Tag Archive | "terrell suggs"

Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99) reacts while holding a smartphone after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Deadline passes as Ravens, Judon fail to strike long-term deal

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Luke Jones

Wednesday’s franchise tag deadline passed with the Ravens and outside linebacker Matthew Judon failing to reach an agreement on a long-term contract.

That means the 2019 Pro Bowl selection must play the upcoming season under the tag amount of $16.808 million and is scheduled to again become an unrestricted free agent next March. Both sides had been quiet about negotiations throughout the process with no indication that a deal was close.

The 28-year-old signed his franchise tender in late May, eliminating any real possibility of him holding out during training camp. Unlike fellow tagged edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Bud Dupree who filed grievances against their respective teams after being classified as linebackers, Judon was able to work out a compromise with the Ravens to split the difference between the linebacker ($15.828 million) and defensive end ($17.788) amounts. Earlier this offseason, the 6-foot-3, 261-pound linebacker said he was “blessed” to receive the tag, a more diplomatic stance than others prevented from hitting the open market.

“I want to stay here for as long as I play, but I understand that it’s a business and that they’ve kind of got a ‘bad-good’ problem to have,” Judon said last month. “We have a lot of young talent, and unfortunately, we can’t all stay on the rookie deal our whole careers. They have stuff that they have to address, and obviously, I have needs as well.”

Despite a career season in which Judon registered a team-leading 9 1/2 sacks and ranked fourth in the NFL with 33 quarterback hits, some have pointed to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s blitz-heavy system as reason to question whether the 2016 fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State is worthy of being paid among the league’s elite pass rushers. Still, Judon was easily Baltimore’s best performer at outside linebacker last year after the free-agent departure of seven-time Pro Bowl selection Terrell Suggs, and 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson is the only notable Ravens outside linebacker under contract beyond the upcoming season.

The climate for a long-term contract for Judon doesn’t figure to improve next offseason because of both the financial uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and the pending free agency of Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who would be an obvious candidate for the franchise tag in the absence of a long-term extension. General manager Eric DeCosta must also weigh the long-term contract situations for 2019 MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, and Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., all players working toward top-tier contracts at their respective positions in the near future.

As Judon alluded to in his recent comments, the Ravens simply may not be able to pay everyone.

With 28 1/2 sacks, seven forced fumbles, seven pass breakups, and 185 tackles in 62 career games, Judon became the seventh player to receive the franchise tag in team history and will become the first to play out a season on the tag since Suggs in 2008. The Ravens awarded Suggs with a long-term contract the following summer and eventually reached long-term agreements with five of those previous six players who were tagged, the exception being interior offensive lineman Wally Williams after the 1998 season.

With Judon’s guaranteed salary now locked in barring a trade, the Ravens entered Wednesday with $8.886 million in salary cap space for the 2020 campaign.

Below is a history of how the Ravens have used the franchise tag in their 25 seasons:

1998 OL Wally Williams — played on a $3.062 million tag before signing a five-year, $18.5 million deal with New Orleans the following offseason
2003-04 CB Chris McAlister — signed a seven-year, $55 million extension in October 2004
2008-09 OLB Terrell Suggs — signed a six-year, $62.5 million extension in July 2009
2011 DT Haloti Ngata — signed a five-year, $61 million extension in Sept. 2011
2012 RB Ray Rice — signed a five-year, $35 million extension in July 2012
2016 K Justin Tucker — signed a four-year, $16.8 million extension in July 2016
2020 OLB Matthew Judon — will play on a $16.808 million tag and is scheduled for free agency in 2021

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torrey2011

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 2: “We know what kind of quarterback we have”

Posted on 26 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 3 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens had clobbered Pittsburgh in the 2011 opener in Baltimore.

But that didn’t matter now as they traveled to Heinz Field to take on a Steelers team that had won four straight entering November. A loss would drop the Ravens to third place behind both Pittsburgh and surprising Cincinnati in the AFC North, making their Week 9 clash on Sunday Night Football a crucial one.

Doubts about quarterback Joe Flacco persisted despite his comeback win in Pittsburgh the previous year as the Ravens had lost their home rematch in December — costing themselves the AFC North and a first-round bye in the process — and had blown a 14-point halftime lead in the their 2010 divisional-round defeat to the Steelers. Flacco was far from the only reason the Ravens lost those games, but he hadn’t played particularly well in some key moments as questions continued about his ability to lead his team to a championship. A stretch of lackluster performances in October hadn’t helped perceptions either.

The game started with a bang as Ray Rice took an inside hand-off, cut left, and galloped 76 yards for an apparent touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, reminiscent of the way the Ravens had begun the Week 1 blowout win. However, rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith was flagged for holding, negating the score and setting the tone for what would be a defensive battle for much of the night. The teams combined for five field goals in the first half with Billy Cundiff’s 51-yarder sending the Ravens to the locker room with a 9-6 lead at intermission.

The Steelers drove to the Baltimore red zone on the first drive of the second half before 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs intercepted Ben Roethlisberger’s pass in the short flat. With that turnover, the Ravens methodically moved down the field and took advantage of a 23-yard pass interference penalty as Rice’s 4-yard touchdown run increased the lead to 16-6 with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter.

The Steelers weren’t going away, however, as Roethlisberger bounced back from his mistake to lead an 11-play, 80-yard drive resulting in a 1-yard touchdown run for Rashard Mendenhall to make it 16-13 early in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens then marched to the Pittsburgh 36 before an all-too-familiar feeling of dread returned. On third-and-8, Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison sacked Flacco, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Steelers. Moving to the Baltimore 25 on five plays, Roethlisberger scrambled right on third-and-5 and found Mike Wallace in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:59 to play.

On the ensuing possession, three straight Flacco incompletions resulted in a punt that Steelers receiver Antonio Brown returned to his own 46. The Ravens were in serious trouble as Pittsburgh had the ball, good field position, and a 20-16 lead with 4:30 remaining.

After converting a big third down, the Steelers moved into field-goal range before making a costly error. On fourth-and-5 from the 29, indecisiveness struck the Pittsburgh sideline as Roethlisberger initially lobbied to go for the first down and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was late sending kicker Shaun Suisham onto the field, resulting in a delay of game. With Suisham kicking into the tricky open end of Heinz Field, a 47-yard attempt would have been far from a sure thing, but the penalty instead prompted a Jeremy Kapinos punt that pinned the Ravens back at their own 8-yard line.

Ninety-two yards were needed with just 2:24 and one timeout remaining, a far more difficult position than the previous fall when Flacco had found T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the game-winner in Pittsburgh.

A 21-yard completion over the middle to Anquan Boldin got the Ravens out of the shadow of their own end zone at the two-minute warning. A 13-yard sideline strike to seldom-used undrafted rookie LaQuan Williams moved them to their own 42. A few plays later, Baltimore faced a fourth-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 49 when Flacco again found Boldin over the middle for 10 yards to extend the game.

But that’s when the drive began going sideways. On second-and-8 from the 37, Flacco escaped pressure, climbed the pocket, and threw deep to a wide-open Smith, who dropped the ball in the end zone. Boldin would catch the third-down pass to move the chains on the next snap, but the veteran receiver then dropped a perfect throw over the middle that would have moved the Ravens inside the 10.

As Cris Collinsworth remarked on the NBC broadcast, “Joe Flacco is doing a great job on this drive, and his receivers are completely letting him down.”

Facing third-and-10 from the 26, Flacco and the Ravens still had a timeout, but only 16 seconds remained. Undeterred by Smith’s drop moments earlier, Flacco threw deep to the sideline as the second-round rookie gave a veteran-like nudge to Steelers cornerback William Gay and caught the redemptive touchdown with eight seconds to go.

There was instant silence in Pittsburgh. In a throwback rivalry in which the most defining moments had always gone the other way, the Ravens finally enjoyed theirs in the national spotlight.

The 23-20 win proved to be the difference in the Ravens winning their first division title in five years and clinching a first-round bye. But it meant more than that for Flacco, who had orchestrated the most brilliant drive of his career. The touchdown pass in Pittsburgh the previous year had flashed his late-game ability, but leading a 92-yard march in a Sunday night road game against his biggest adversary was special, especially considering the aforementioned drops and the celebrated Ravens defense had given up 14 points in the final quarter.

No, Flacco wasn’t Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning and never would be, but he had touched greatness when it mattered most. And while the misfortunes of Cundiff and Lee Evans 2 1/2 months later in New England meant the Ravens would wait another year to finally taste Super Bowl glory, that 2011 win in Pittsburgh eliminated any doubt that such a postseason run was possible, whether Flacco’s critics wanted to admit it or not.

“Maybe people will stop putting him down now. We know what kind of quarterback we have,” Boldin said after the season-sweeping win over the Steelers. “There was no panic with our offense, and I think you saw that. A lot of it starts with our quarterback. He was real poised.”

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mcclain

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 4: Ruining homecoming

Posted on 23 June 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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lamarjackson2

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Twelve Ravens thoughts as virtual spring workouts continue

Posted on 27 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens and the NFL now in the early stages of the virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After Gov. Larry Hogan gave permission, the organization entered “Phase I” for the opening of the Owings Mills facility, which permits returnees from the equipment crew, football video group, and the personnel department. Coaches and players still aren’t allowed in the building, but it’s a step in the right direction.

2. Those restrictions won’t prevent Baltimore players from working out together in South Florida as Lamar Jackson will hold informal sessions next week. The reigning MVP’s recent workouts with Marquise Brown highlighted on social media must have served as motivation for other teammates.

3. It’s been far from an ideal spring for players to keep in shape and prepare for the season, but the creativity has been fun to watch from afar such as the below example from Marlon Humphrey. I’ll be curious to see what technological and workout innovations stick beyond the pandemic.

4. Miles Boykin expressing confidence that he’ll “be able to play faster” in his second year reflects the steep challenge awaiting current rookies without a normal spring. Studying the playbook and virtual classroom work simply can’t replicate the challenging on-field application of concepts.

5. Ed Reed was the latest legend to speak with players virtually with Boykin describing his message as, “Take care of business — whatever it is.” The Hall of Famer discussed various topics, from finances and watching film to recovery and even locker room cleanliness. Reed remains one of a kind.

6. As Bill Belichick mentioned during the NFL 100 all-time team unveiling, Reed may have been the greatest punt blocker of all time, a cue rookies wanting to make a first-year impact should take. He was an absolute force on special teams before injuries eventually took him away from that realm.

7. Deep passing accuracy is still mentioned as a relative weakness for Jackson, but separate studies put him 16th (Pro Football Focus) and 12th (Football Outsiders) last season. With Brown and Boykin entering their second season, Jackson taking another step in the vertical game seems quite plausible.

8. Jamal Adams is a heck of a talent and drew trade interest from Baltimore last fall, but surrendering early draft picks and committing another market-setting contract to the secondary on top of the lucrative in-house extensions already on the horizon would make me take serious pause. You can’t pay everybody.

9. Speaking of safeties, this PFF piece on the three-safety defense in college is something to remember with the Ravens’ reputation for being ahead of the curve with innovations. Wink Martindale frequently used three safeties down the stretch last year, but not with the same principles as these college teams.

10. John Harbaugh was tied for 11th with 25-1 opening odds to win 2020 AP Coach of the Year, according to BetOnline. Dramatic improvement from the previous year usually prompts strong support for this award, so tangibly improving on a 14-2 regular season for him to repeat feels very unlikely.

11. As I get older, I more and more disagree with criticism for aging players who continue well past their prime. If they’re still competent enough in at least one team’s eyes, why walk away to appease anyone who isn’t their family? That goes for Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, or anyone.

12. There aren’t many stadiums where the Ravens haven’t won a game as they prepare for their 25th season in Baltimore, but they’ll have a chance to secure their first victories at Philadelphia and Indianapolis this fall. Of course, a road game could be quite different from what we’re used to.

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underarmourperformancecenter

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of Memorial Day weekend

Posted on 20 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the NFL’s virtual offseason program rolling on, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Team president Dick Cass confirmed again this week that the organization aims to be able to conduct training camp and has no expectation of the 90-man roster being at the Owings Mills facility before then. Time remains on teams’ side with the usual start to camp still two months away.

2. Two-time Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen said he wouldn’t have made it in the NFL had the pandemic taken place when he went undrafted in 2013. With Baltimore already having a deep roster and 10 draft picks, rookie free agents are missing out on valuable opportunities to impress.

3. Opinions vary on playing football this fall, but Dr. David Chao, former team physician of the San Diego Chargers, discussed key considerations in this video ranging from what to do about team meetings and locker rooms to considering face shields on helmets and alternatives for huddling. Really interesting stuff.

4. With Rooney Rule changes making headlines, the lack of diversity in NFL hiring remains disappointing with Ozzie Newsome going from a Hall of Fame playing career to becoming one of the best general managers of all time serving as the best example one needs. The league must do better.

5. Some have mentioned the peculiarity of having two preseason games against regular-season opponents (Dallas and Washington), but teams just don’t show enough in these exhibition contests for this to really matter anymore. Conducting joint practices with a regular-season opponent would be a different story.

6. A superb secondary and Wink Martindale’s propensity to blitz should ease short-term concerns at edge rusher, but Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jihad Ward, and Tyus Bowser are only under contract through 2020. Even if Jaylon Ferguson takes a step forward, something will have to give.

7. Calais Campbell has wasted no time making an impact locally as his foundation announced an initiative to provide 100 laptops to disadvantaged students. His superb play is a given, but adding a veteran like him during such unusual times will pay off even more on and off the field.

8. The recently retired Eric Weddle taking time to speak to Ravens players virtually was hardly surprising. He’ll relish more time with his family, but it’s difficult imagining him staying away from the game for very long.

9. Many have already dunked on the following tweet, but the 2012 defense did come up big in some critical spots despite its mediocre overall profile. Still, I would put at least 15 Ravens defenses ahead of that one without even needing to look up any stats. What an odd pairing.

10. Terrell Suggs had a forgettable Arizona homecoming, but he recently drew praise as a mentor from Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones, who led the NFL in sacks in 2017 and had 19 last year. It’s unclear whether he’ll return for an 18th season, but the ex-Raven became an underrated leader.

11. If you felt old hearing Ray Lewis turned 45 years old late last week, perhaps you’ll take consolation learning Cal Ripken will be 60 in August. You’re welcome.

12. I really could have gone without reading the latest example of what’s made Tom Brady so insane great over the years. At least Ryan Mallett learned something from the six-time Super Bowl champion?

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 21: Scott blows up Roethlisberger

Posted on 14 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 22 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The first decade of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry wasn’t what it is today.

Yes, there had been some bright spots for Baltimore over the years, but Pittsburgh had won 14 of the first 21 overall meetings, swept the season series three times, and won the only playoff meeting in the 2001 postseason. The intensity was there, but the results largely hadn’t been for the Ravens, who had missed the playoffs in back-to-back years while the Steelers had just won their fifth Super Bowl title.

The 2006 season was different, however, as the Ravens exploded to a franchise-best 8-2 start behind the top defense in the NFL while Pittsburgh was 4-6 and struggling to hang in the playoff race at Thanksgiving. A Week 12 meeting at M&T Bank Stadium would either cement Baltimore’s AFC North lead and all but bury the Steelers’ postseason chances or give Pittsburgh new life for the final month of the regular season.

After forcing a three-and-out to open the game, the Ravens jumped to a 7-0 lead as quarterback Steve McNair found a wide-open Todd Heap for a 20-yard touchdown. With the Steelers unable to move the ball past their own 45-yard line on their first four drives, Baltimore pushed its lead to 14-0 on a Jamal Lewis 1-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes remaining in the first half.

To that point in the game, Rex Ryan’s blitz-happy defense had smothered Pittsburgh, but it was about to get worse for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had already been sacked twice. On a second-and-8 from the Pittsburgh 14 with under four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Roethlisberger dropped back to pass as Ravens linebacker Bart Scott blitzed off the right edge completely untouched.

Despite the deafening noise generated by nearly 71,000 fans, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said he could hear the crushing blow while in pass coverage downfield. To his credit, Roethlisberger would return to the game on the next series after being helped from the field, but it wouldn’t matter as the Ravens added another field goal to take a commanding 17-0 lead before halftime.

“That’s probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my life,” Roethlisberger said after the game. “I just kind of remember my head hitting the ground. I couldn’t really breathe very well.”

The defensive party continued in the second half as Baltimore sacked Roethlisberger six more times and linebacker Adalius Thomas returned a fumble 57 yards for a touchdown in a 27-0 blowout win that was the Ravens’ most dominant performance against the Steelers to date. It was also their second shutout of the season as Pittsburgh crossed midfield only three times, managed a measly 172 yards, committed three turnovers, rushed 11 times for 21 yards, went 1-for-12 on third down, and averaged only 2.8 yards per play.

After a game Pittsburgh had desperately wanted to save its season, head coach Bill Cowher lamented “a pitiful performance” as Baltimore basked in a convincing victory. The Steelers would manage to hang around in the wild-card race by winning their next three games before the Ravens came to Heinz Field on Christmas Eve and flattened their postseason hopes once and for all with a 31-7 win nearly as dominant as the first encounter.

No season series in the history of Ravens-Steelers has been as one-sided with Scott’s monstrous hit becoming one of the great moments in the rivalry from Baltimore’s perspective. Starting with their first sweep of the Steelers that season, the Ravens have gone 17-14 against Pittsburgh as the rivalry has remained one of the NFL’s best for the better part of two decades.

Many other Ravens-Steelers games have been more competitive and meaningful — and there would be other big hits and convincing victories to come — but the sight of Scott knocking the 240-pound Roethlisberger right off his feet was unforgettable.

“It’s a dream shot,” Scott said. “You dream as a child of hitting the quarterback like that.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on drafting LSU linebacker Patrick Queen

Posted on 24 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens selecting LSU inside linebacker Patrick Queen with the 28th overall pick of the 2020 draft, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A 20-year-old undersized inside linebacker from a college football powerhouse selected late in the first round sparks memories of a certain Hall of Famer. Even Lamar Jackson was calling Queen “Ray Lewis Jr.” on Instagram Live after the pick was made. No pressure.

2. Queen is “so tired of hearing” his 6-foot, 231-pound frame is undersized and believes he’s “more mobile” than Lewis was while making clear the Baltimore legend was “probably the best to play.” I like that confidence in someone who had to wait his turn behind former Tigers teammate Devin White.

3. Wink Martindale did an admirable job rotating inside linebackers last year, but having a three-down starter with a high ceiling and cover ability will make life much easier. Queen’s speed also makes him an enticing blitz option in the same way the Ravens used Patrick Onwuasor.

4. Fair concerns about Queen’s size should be eased by the additions of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe up front. Lewis was at his absolute best playing behind the likes of Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa, Haloti Ngata, and Trevor Pryce, so a big defensive line should help Queen roam more freely.

5. Remarkably, it took 25 years for the Ravens to finally draft a player from LSU, an elite SEC program that’s won three national championships since 2003. In contrast, Baltimore has selected multiple players from Central Florida, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, and Weber State. Go figure.

6. Asked how Ozzie Newsome reacted to an LSU draft pick, Eric DeCosta said, “He kept saying something, but we muted him. He kept waving his hands, and the video went out. That’s the thing with technology sometimes — it can be manipulated. I think it was the Russians.” Funny stuff.

7. You wonder about a college player who only started one year, but Queen really stood out against Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson and was named defensive MVP of the national championship game. Excelling against top competition seems to be a good trade-off for the lack of starting experience.

8. Queen is the fifth linebacker to be drafted by the Ravens in the first round, joining Lewis, Peter Boulware, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley. The first four each made at least four Pro Bowls and combined for 28 in Baltimore. Again, no pressure.

9. Credit DeCosta’s patience as options such as edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, linebacker Kenneth Murray, and center Cesar Ruiz started coming off the board in the early 20s. Standing pat in the first round for the first time since 2017, the Ravens protected their remaining six picks in the top 150.

10. General managers always say the player they picked topped their board, but that appeared to be the truth with Queen, who fit one of Baltimore’s biggest needs. DeCosta said he received a congratulatory text from Dallas defensive coordinator and former Ravens assistant Mike Nolan for his pick.

11. DeCosta is dedicating this draft to former Ravens scout Ron Marciniak, who died at 85 last month and was the creator of the famous “red star” meeting in which each scout picks a draft prospect who stands above the rest on and off the field. It was a classy gesture.

12. Credit the NFL, ESPN, and NFL Network for pulling off a quality broadcast despite such challenging circumstances, but there was so much going on in this scene at Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel’s house that I haven’t a clue what to even say.

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yanda

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Marshal Yanda’s retirement

Posted on 11 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda officially announcing his retirement after 13 seasons, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The 35-year-old stated his desire to walk away still playing at a high level and to be in a position where he’s still wanted. Yanda didn’t want to hold on and eventually become “like a liability.” That’s been a difficult call for even some of the franchise’s all-time greats.

2. Yanda knew 2019 would very likely be his final season, no matter how it went. The best evidence of that is the 45 pounds he’s lost since his final game. Not even the joy he experienced in a 14-2 season and the bitter playoff defeat prompted him to really waver.

3. Always showing great respect for opponents, Yanda admitting he felt there was “no doubt” the Ravens would find a way to beat Tennessee — “even if we played bad for three quarters” — speaks to lingering shock. However, he still prepared his family for that possibility and took photos after the game.

4. With Jonathan Ogden sidelined, Yanda lined up as the starting left tackle for the first padded practice of his career and was outclassed by Terrell Suggs, prompting the rookie to wonder if he “had what it took” for the NFL. It’s a story he frequently shared with younger players.

5. Still working his way back from a serious knee injury from the previous year, Yanda said he was never more nervous for a game than in Week 12 against Pittsburgh in 2009 when given the opportunity to permanently rejoin the starting lineup. He played well, and the rest was history.

6. Yanda was reluctant to discuss the possibility of the Hall of Fame, but, to no surprise, Eric DeCosta confirmed he’d go into the Ring of Honor in the “very near future.” The projected line is getting crowded with Haloti Ngata up next and some other slam dunks on the horizon.

7. In the process of thanking Brian Billick as his first NFL coach, Yanda said he kept his head down and didn’t say anything as a rookie. “That’s just the way I loved rookies — head down, quiet, do your job, and you’ll earn your respect.” Honest words from a throwback guy.

8. Joe Flacco was among the former Ravens teammates present, a classy move from the Super Bowl XLVII MVP who made the drive from New Jersey. The turnout for the press conference at a time of year when players tend to be all over the place reflected their admiration for Yanda.

9. The Ravens public relations staff did a great job collecting statements from many current and former teammates and coaches, but comments from some of Yanda’s peers around the league reinforced how much he’s respected as a player. Opposing defensive linemen certainly won’t miss him on Sundays.

10. Speaking after the press conference, Matt Skura said he saw meaningful growth from new right guard candidate Ben Powers last season, but what happens in free agency will better reflect the confidence level in the 2019 fourth-round pick. Adding a viable veteran to at least compete would be ideal.

11. Ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele has been mentioned as a free-agent possibility, but the 30-year-old has played only 14 games over the last two years and has remained at left guard since leaving after the 2015 season. That said, I could see a reunion at a reasonable price.

12. As tough as they come and cooperative with reporters throughout his career, Yanda lit up speaking about being able to spend more time with his wife and three children, who wore No. 73 Ravens jerseys with “Dad” on the nameplate. Congratulations to one of the best I’ve ever covered.

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

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens must walk fine line between evolving, fixing what isn’t broken

Posted on 04 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Free agency officially begins in two weeks and the 2020 draft is only 50 days away for the Ravens.

The sting of the best regular season in franchise history ending with an upset divisional-round loss lingers less than two months later. The mental challenge of moving on and trying to exorcise those playoff demons will persist long after general manager Eric DeCosta plays his offseason hand and head coach John Harbaugh has a better idea of what his team will look like in the coming weeks.

Yes, we’ve reached the point in the offseason when it feels as though every team — even Super Bowl champion Kansas City — has more questions than answers with no shortage of free-agent projections, mock drafts, and lists of needs to mull over.

How do the Ravens proceed if eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda indeed retires?

What will be the resolution with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and how will that impact a pass rush already desiring more juice?

Are there enough cap dollars and draft picks available to effectively retool a free-agent-laden front seven that already had its deficiencies last year?

What about — for the “I lost count”-th year in a row — wide receiver?

But this is when the Ravens — and their fans — need perspective more than a linebacker, guard, or defensive tackle. Going an NFL-best 14-2 with the best point differential in the league in more than a decade — with some of the aforementioned concerns, mind you — shouldn’t be an invitation for complacency, but there is a fine line between evolving and trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Baltimore surely took lessons from the Tennessee loss — needing to be able to play more effectively off schedule, for example — but a bad day at the office at the wrong time didn’t mean there was some fatal flaw in need of upheaval.

Having the most efficient running and passing games in the league and a top-tier defense isn’t an identity from which to stray too far despite how tempting it can be to be bold addressing weaknesses. That’s where you trust an analytics-minded front office and coaching staff to understand themselves and the entire body of 2019 work rather than to overreact to one heartbreaking loss or a couple failed fourth-and-1 plays. Of course, there’s work to do.

“We understand that we are going to be studied on both sides of the ball by every single team in the league very thoroughly.” Harbaugh said in January. “We’ll be the first team that they will pull the tape up on and watch. Our job is to stay ahead. Our job is to find the areas where we can come up with new ideas — expand, tweak, challenge people the way they challenged us or the way we anticipate them challenging us going forward.”

Losing Yanda would definitely be a big blow to a record-setting offense, but the 2017 Ravens were a last-second Week 17 collapse away from making the playoffs without him or reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, who was spending his last days at Louisville. Jackson’s unparalleled athleticism at the quarterback position will continue to make life easier for the offensive line and whoever might need to replace Yanda.

Few would argue that the Ravens would benefit from another wide receiver to make more plays outside the numbers, but the strength of the passing game remains the middle of the field with Jackson heavily targeting his tight ends, something unlikely to change as defenses across the NFL struggle to account for big, athletic tight ends. DeCosta and Harbaugh have expressed optimism about receivers being more open to playing in this unique run-first offense, but the right fit is more critical than adding “a true No. 1” who might grow unhappy with a fraction of the targets he’s used to seeing in a typical offense.

Speculation about trading tight end Hayden Hurst and mock drafts projecting the Ravens to take a running back in the first round would fall under the category of trying too hard to fix something that isn’t broken. The Yanda decision aside, this offense simply doesn’t need a ton of work beyond adding another pass-catching option at some point and implementing whatever system tweaks offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the staff cook up between now and September.

The defense is a different story with the front seven having multiple free agents, a list including Judon, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Domata Peko, inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor, and situational rushers Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward. However, nearly half of those players were added during the 2019 season, a testament to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and the front office to at least identify viable placeholders and account for less-than-ideal conditions.

An edge defender or two, a three-down inside linebacker, and a defensive tackle with pass-rushing ability would all be welcome additions, but that’s an ambitious list for one offseason. There’s no guarantee the right pass rusher or inside linebacker will be on the board when Baltimore selects 28th overall in next month’s draft, and there are red flags everywhere with free-agent edge rushers — Judon included.

Regardless of what happens in free agency and the draft, the Ravens will continue to lean on an elite secondary, a defensive strength endorsed by analytics, and the frequent blitzing that made a rebuilt defense one of the league’s best over the second half of 2019. The identity is in place, which is more than many defensive units can say at this point. Last season proved the personnel doesn’t need to be perfect.

“I think we want to have really good players at all those positions,” DeCosta said in Indianapolis last week. “I’d love to have some elite pass rushers. I’d love to have some elite corners. I think Wink Martindale does an unbelievable job taking players, finding out what they can do, putting them in position to succeed, and they did that this year. What we were able to do on defense under Wink’s guidance with our coaches and our players — bringing in all those guys that we did — I thought that was masterful.”

The Ravens are bound to face some roster turbulence over the next few weeks. A year ago at this time, DeCosta didn’t know he’d be losing perennial Pro Bowl defenders C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, and desperate teams frequently overpay players coming from winning organizations. Baltimore has never been in the business of “winning” the offseason, and that’s unlikely to change simply because of a little more salary cap space than usual this year. Long-term planning is too critical, especially with the elite talents up for contract extensions over the next couple years such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and Jackson.

The truth is I’d take this team essentially as it is — meaning all but sitting out free agency and having only an ordinary draft class — up against any conference opponent not named the Chiefs next fall. Even with the disappointment of January being so slow to dissipate, that is rare territory and speaks to the tremendous opportunity Baltimore has to improve this offseason.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Ravens are going 14-2 again — only three teams have ever done that in back-to-back years — as unforeseen challenges await next season. They can’t count on the schedule to fall the right way or for their remarkably good health over the last two seasons to continue, but those are realities every team faces. That’s why the Ravens know they must continue to evolve without drastically altering what they do best.

“We’re not going to be sitting on our hands schematically,” Harbaugh said. “We are not going to be saying, ‘OK, we have this offense and this defensive system that was hard for people to deal with, and we are good.'”

But they are good. Very good.

That makes this year’s offseason uncertainty easier than usual to handle, regardless of how it all plays out.

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