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Will Ravens Return to Playoffs In 2014

November 8, 2014 in AFC North, Baltimore Ravens, JOE FLACCO, Uncategorized

With a 5-4 record, the Baltimore Ravens head into tomorrow’s contest against the Tennessee Titans at M&T Bank Stadium with their backs up against the wall and in a must win situation.

In the unfamiliar position of being in last place in the AFC North, coaches and players will lead you to believe the old cliché that in order for the Ravens to avoid missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season, they must not dwell on their current position in the standings or, their consecutive losses to divisional foes, Cincinnati & Pittsburgh. Instead, they must focus on wining the play, the quarter, the half and eventually one game at a time.

If the Ravens playoff chances were based on winning games one quarter at a time, they would be headed back to the post season. So far in 2014, the Ravens have won every quarter, outscoring the opposition by 29 points in the first qtr. 19 points in the second and 19 in the fourth and final quarter. The only quarter the Ravens have lost in 2014 is the third. Thanks to 22 points scored by Pittsburgh last Sunday night, the Ravens have been outscored by just one point in the third quarter this season, 47-46.

The Ravens have been 5-4 on one other occasion during the John Harbaugh era. In 2009, the Ravens were 5-4 and even dropped to 5-5 before finishing the season with a 9-7 record. That was good enough for a Wild Card playoff berth that year but in a very tough AFC this season, nine wins is likely to be one—possibly two short of what is needed to play in January.

Throughout franchise history the Ravens have been 5-4 on two other occasions and made the playoffs both times. After starting 5-4 in 2003 and with journeyman Anthony Wright filling in at QB, the Ravens finished 10-6 before losing to the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs. In 2000, the Ravens went five games without scoring an offensive TD and following a Week 9 home loss to the Steelers, fell to 5-4. There was no indication of what was to come but somehow, behind QB Trent Dilfer, the Ravens found enough offense to match the play of the greatest single season defense in NFL history. They won their final seven regular season games and four more in the playoffs, including a 34-7 rout of the NY Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

The difference between those three seasons and this one is how the Ravens faired in divisional play. In 2000, with five divisional opponents, the Ravens were 8-2 in the AFC Central, which at the time included the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. Following realignment in 2001, the purple and black finished 4-2 in the AFC North, which looks today like it did 13 years ago.

Even though there is nearly half of a season to play, the Ravens have already played five of their six divisional games. With a 2-3 record in North play, they have not done as well as they hoped. Only once in divisional play from 2001 until 2010 did a team lose three or more games and make the playoffs. You guessed it, the Ravens lost three times in divisional play in 2009 but managed to still make the playoffs as a wild card. But, having been swept by Cincinnati and dropping one of their two meetings with Pittsburgh, the Ravens find themselves in a must win situation in nearly every game for the rest of the 2014 season—especially the final one of the season against Cleveland.

Recent history suggests losing three or more games will not eliminate you from the playoffs either, especially if you’re the Bengals. Cincinnati has made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons finishing 8-10 in divisional play during that span. Cincy went 2-4 in the division in 2011 and followed that up with two consecutive 3-3 marks and still made the playoffs. In fact, they won the division last year with three losses.

This season is different and a big reason why it is unlikely a team from the North will make the playoffs, or at least win the AFC North with three or more division losses is everybody in the division has at least five victories with the Steelers and Browns owning six wins apiece. In previous seasons, you could count on the Browns to be the Browns. In other words, Cleveland was only expected to win no more than five games for the entire season. The last time the Browns won their sixth game in any year was following a wild and crazy 33-30 overtime game against the Ravens in Week 11——OF THE 2007 SEASON!

The Steelers, who have posted consecutive 8-8 seasons and missed the playoffs in back to back seasons, didn’t win their sixth game until Week 15 last year and Thanksgiving weekend the year before. The Ravens and Bengals have a cautionary tale to tell to their first place divisional foes. The Browns are Steelers are tied for the top spot and are the third and fourth teams in the division to occupy the top spot in just the last two weeks. The Ravens were all alone atop the division heading into their game in Cincinnati two weeks ago and now sit in last place. The Bengals occupied the spot after beating the Ravens and now sit in third place.

With just one game to play in the division, a final week showdown at M&T Bank Stadium against Cleveland, the Ravens, by their own doing, can only sit back and watch the Browns, Bengals and Steelers play each other and hope that divisional cannibalism takes over. So far—- so good. The Browns took a big bite out of the Bengals on Thursday night handing Cincinnati its first divisional loss of the season.

Cleveland (vs. Cincy & @ Balt) & Pittsburgh (vs. Cincinnati) each have two divisional contests to play while the Bengals have three games (2 vs Pitt & @ Cleve). There are a 1,000 different scenarios that could emerge from just those five games. The problem is that the Ravens can only directly have an effect on the outcome of one of those games and while it may be a big one—one can only hope the Ravens have done their part until then to make it worth their while to win the game.

The division has just 13 losses in 2014 and eight of them have come at the hands of each other. The AFC North is 7-1-1 vs their cross over division this year, the NFC South. The only loss was the 1-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers somehow beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The Bengals tied the Panthers 37-37 in a thriller on Oct 12.

So the big question that remains is will the Ravens return to the playoffs, where they went for the first five years of head coach John Harbaugh’s tenure in Baltimore. Or will they miss the postseason for the second consecutive year for the first time since missing the playoffs consecutively in 2004 and 2005?

There is certainly a case to be made for both and what makes the Ravens so maddening at times is some of the reasons they could miss the playoffs are the same reasons they could also return to the post season. Here are the top reasons why the Ravens will or will not make the playoffs in 2014:

The Secondary:

There is no doubt this could be the biggest and most obvious reason why the Ravens miss the playoffs. The Ravens do not have the luxury of losing two more times in 2014 and still have at least two “elite” signal callers they face on their remaining schedule. Currently, the Ravens pass defense ranks No.24 allowing 263 passing yards per game to opposing signal callers. Only Drew Brees and Philip Rivers remain as proven threats and one of those games are at M&T Bank Stadium. With a suspect secondary, the Ravens may even have to be wary of a red hot Ryan Tannehill and Brian Hoyer, who passed for 290 yards against them in Week 3.

This week the Ravens learned that their top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, who has been out with a foot injury since early in the Bengals game two weeks ago, will require surgery on that foot and is out for the year. The loss is profound to say the least. Smith had been targeted just 39 times and allowed 20 catches for 163 yards and no touchdowns in eight games this season. Smith also had one interception, eight passes defended and 28 total tackles. He lined up against the league’s best every week and shut down great WR’s like AJ Green, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown (the first time) and TY Hilton. Without one of the league’s top DB’s against the Steelers, the Ravens allowed 340 passing yards and six touchdowns.

As a result, the team announced a major shakeup this week when they cut cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown. The Ravens were awarded cornerback Danny Gorrer off waivers from the Detroit Lions and promoted rookie cornerback Tramain Jacobs from the practice squad to the active roster. The good news is Gorrer returns to Baltimore where he was on the Ravens' practice squad in 2010 and was later promoted to the active roster. He had a strong game against former Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes in a 2011 game. Gorrer was cut by the Ravens prior to the 2012 season. He remains familiar with the system, as the Lions even used some of the same verbiage in Detroit that defensive coordinator Dean Pees uses in his play calling.

As for Jacobs, he recorded 55 tackles, 13 pass deflections and two interceptions during two seasons at Texas A&M after the Louisiana native transferred from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. At 5-foot-11, 182 pounds, Jacobs ran the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds at his campus Pro Day workout, where he also had a 32 1/2 inch vertical leap and a 9-6 broad jump. He played well for the Ravens in the preseason. Jacobs was the team’s third leading tackler in the preseason and had one official pass defended.

The bad news is that Goerr steps in and becomes the starter and Jacobs will be taking his first NFL regular season snap. But if you’re the Ravens your hope is that it can’t get much worse than allowing opposing QB’s to compete 18 of 29 passes for 219 yards and a 112.1 passer rating two touchdowns in just four games. That was Dominque Frank’s stat line.

Lardarius Webb must become a better cover corner than he’s shown in 2014. Injuries aside, Webby must step up. According to Pro Football focus, his -7.6 grade this year is the poorest amongst all Ravens cornerbacks

Speaking of poor grades, at the safety position, the Ravens simply must get better play from Matt Elam, Will Hill and Darian Stewart. Elam has the worst PFF grade of the season with a dubious -10.6 showing. The frustrating part is watching the lack of communication coupled with the obvious lack of preparedness. Film study used to be given at the Castle or in the living room of No.52 or No.20 but its obvious more is needed. Ed Reed wasn’t a great athlete but he was one of the smartest. In Reed's 11 seasons, the Ravens allowed 19 completions (tied for the eighth-fewest) and eight touchdowns on passes that traveled at least 40 yards in the air. Since his departure, 25 games— the Ravens have given up 12 such throws (most in the NFL in that span) and six touchdowns (tied for the most).

JOHN HARBAUGH & Joe Flacco:

Harbaugh & Flacco keys to how the season ends

Harbaugh & Flacco keys to how the season ends

In some cases, fan bases can make a claim that their team should have a better record than they actually do—this is one of those instances and the fan base is correct in believing that the Ravens should be 7-2 instead of 5-4. With all things being equal, the only two games this team should have lost was Week 1 vs. Cincinnati and last week in Pittsburgh.

John Harbaugh & Joe Flacco also represent one of those situations I warned you about in that they could be a part of that same reason the Ravens make the playoffs—or they could be just as big of a reason they miss them. On the surface, the pair are 37-19 in the months of November, December and January during the regular since their arrival together in 2008. At home, the pair are nearly unbeatable losing just 10 times in 52 regular season games. On the other hand, they both seem to make those boneheaded decisions and plays that simply will not allow you to throw your full support behind them. This in turn makes you wonder and despite the impressive cold weather stretch drive records, will they make the right coaching decision or make the great play in crunch time during the next seven games.

On two occasions this season, Harbaugh decided to go against the best conventional wisdom when it comes to playing on the road, which says, “Take the points whenever you can”. Trailing 3-0 in Indianapolis during a Week 5 contest the Ravens drove 11 plays and 82 yards to face fourth and 1 on the Colts 3 yard line. Instead of allowing Justin Tucker to chip the ball through the uprights tying the game, Joe Flacco was sacked on the 12th play and lost 11 yards turning the ball and momentum back over to Andrew Luck and the Colts No.1 ranked offense.

Two weeks ago on the road in Cincinnati it became apparent that John Harbaugh simply doesn’t understand the value of taking points whenever you can get them—especially on the road. After winning the coin toss and deferring the ball to the home team Bengals, who drove 80 yards for an opening drive TD, the Ravens answered by driving 89 yards on 17 plays— But the 18th play of the drive was fourth and goal from the one yard line. Harbaugh gambled again and once again lost. Joe Flacco threw an incomplete pass to Kamar Aiken just inside the end zone and the Ravens would eventually lose the game 27-24. The play occurred on the Ravens first drive of the contest, so there were plenty of opportunities to make it right but the point is we’ll never know because the Ravens failed again to take the easy three.

The fact that this continues to be a problem is amazing and when you consider that Harbaugh should have learned this lesson last season it becomes even more amazing to fathom. With one more win last season the Ravens would have made the playoffs. That win should have come in Week 6 at home vs. the Green Bay Packers. The Ravens had five shots from the Packers 8 yard line to score a TD. Following three straight Ray Rice runs from the Packers four, which netted three yards the Ravens elected to go on fourth and one from the one. RB Bernard Pierce was stuffed by the Packers Micah Hyde and Mike Daniels and the ball went back to Aaron Rodgers. Eight plays, nearly 60 yards and almost four minutes of clock time equaled NO POINTS!

You can appreciate the “gutsy” play calling all day long but the Ravens lost that contest 19-17 and finished the season 8-8. You don’t have to be a math wizard to see that three points could have won the game—maybe. Things happen  but In a year when 9-7 would have been enough to make the playoffs, that decision along with the two this year become head scratching and worthy of high criticism.

Harbs and Flacco have four remaining home games on the schedule and are 20-6 at the Bank during these months that matter the most. Flacco is on pace to pass for 4,200 yards and 28 touchdowns—both would be career highs. But he does have those lapses in judgment that drive a fan nuts, such as the interception vs. the Steelers last week. When Flacco & Harbaugh have bad games together, you get Cincy and Indy. Aside from the poor decisions to not take points, Flacco completed just 54 percent of his passes in those games and threw 0 TD’s while tossing 3 INT’s. They are the only two games this season Flacco does not have TD pass in. The Ravens forced four Colts turnovers but still could not come away with a win.

The argument for Harbs and Joe Cool is their collective work over their almost seven seasons together and it is a valid point. One Super Bowl Ring, five straight trips to the playoffs, three AFC Title games and a 57-38 regular season record and 9-4 in the playoffs. The duo are amongst the winningest coach and QB tandems in NFL history through six seasons. But (and isn’t there always a but) living in the past is a dangerous thing to do in the NFL. Just ask a Steelers fan the last two seasons. Since signing his big $120 plus million dollar contact, Flacco and Harbaugh are 13-12.

In all fairness, Harbaugh has been the right man in terms of leading this team in overcoming adversity. He was the perfect selection to replace the arrogance of Brian Billick and he was the perfect guy to replace the “Summer Fun Camp” mentality that Billick employed. Coming from a tough hardnosed football family, John Harbaugh was going to succeed in the NFL —that was almost a predetermined fact.

His quality leadership traits have shown up during every critical juncture of his tenure.  Whether you like how the Ravens organization handled the Ray Rice fiasco or not, the fact is, Harbaugh was perfect in how he sheltered his team from the media and controversy while thrusting his face and voice in front of the cameras. He was the right man in 2012 when the Ravens won their second Super Bowl. He led the team through an October mutiny that nearly upset the balance of power he created and he led the team perfectly down the stretch and into the playoffs that season without its franchise leader, Ray Lewis, who missed most of the regular season with an injury. He led his team after firing its offensive coordinator with just three games to play. He made them believe and he will make them believe again. Whether or not they have the talent at the necessary positions is another story.

If the Ravens are going to make the playoffs, Harbs next big challenge will be winning on the road and helping Dean Pees manage the secondary. The Ravens are 4-9 dating back to last season and cannot afford to lose more than once the rest of the season if they want to all but guarantee themselves a playoff spot. Baltimore will travel to play the Saints, Dolphins and Texans to complete their 2014 road slate and are a collective 15-6 as a franchise against those teams. Harbs is 15-11 away from M&T Bank in the months of November, December and January during the regular season and 25-28 on the road overall since becoming head coach.

If the Ravens are going to make the playoffs, Flacco & Harbaugh must be on top of their games the rest of the way. No unnecessary gambling by either one—because doing so puts a lot in jeopardy, including possibly Harbaugh’s job this season if they don’t make the playoffs. That may sound rough and nobody is perfect but the margin for error is shrinking by the quarter and with only 28 to play in the season, the Ravens, starting with these two guys, need to make them all count.

10-6 MAY NOT BE GOOD ENOUGH:

Finishing 11-5 would give the Ravens about a 90 percent shot at making the postseason. However, 10-6 may not be good enough, at least for both Wild Card teams. Last season, the Arizona Cardinals, who own the NFL's best record through nine weeks at 7-1, were the league’s only team to win 10 of their 16 games and watch the post season from home. It happens from time to time in the NFL and 2014 is likely to be the third straight season a 10-6 watch the playoffs.

With the way the AFC is playing, it is possible that two 10-6 teams stay home this year. Currently, 11 of the conferences 16 teams have at least five wins. Houston has four wins and is very much still in the hunt. With 8 weeks to play, every team in the AFC North has at least five victories, while three of the four teams in the East & West divisions can boast the same claim. In the East its New England (7), Buffalo (5) and Miami (5), while out West, Denver (6), Kansas City (5) and San Diego (5) are all legitimate playoff teams. download

Since the addition of the sixth playoff team and besides the Cardinals last season, Chicago (2012), Cleveland (2007), Kansas City (2005) and Miami (2003) all missed out on the post season with 10-6 records. It's very rare that two 10-6 teams miss the playoffs. In fact, it's only happened twice. One year after adding two additional playoff teams, the Eagles and 49ers both missed the playoffs with 10-6 records in 1991. The last time it happened was in 2010 when the NY Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers missed the mark with 10-6 finishes.

In fact, in recent NFL history, one 11 win team has missed the playoffs and the Ravens had a part in making that happen. In 2008, the New England Patriots missed the playoffs with an 11-5 record. The Ravens owned the tiebreaker with a better conference record. The Ravens were 8-4 in conference play as New England went 7-5. The Pats became the first 11-win team since the expansion to a 12-team playoff in 1990 to not make the playoffs, as well as only the second team (after the 1985 Denver Broncos) since the NFL expanded to a 16-game regular season in 1978. This came just one year after finishing with the only 16–0 regular-season record in NFL history.

The bad news is the Ravens are currently 11th in the AFC. The Steelers are officially listed as the AFC North division leaders because they have a better winning percentage in common games. Aside from the Steelers, New England, Denver and Indianapolis are your other division winners. Cleveland and Buffalo currently hold the final two Wild Card spots. There is more bad news. The Ravens are 2-4 vs. the AFC this season while everyone except Buffalo (2-3) has at least four conference wins in the books.

There is light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t a freight train at the moment—in other words, there is some good news. The Ravens have six games to play AFC opponents and four of them are at home. The good news keeps rolling in because of the six teams that sit in front of Baltimore in the playoff race that are not division leaders, the Ravens will play three of them. San Diego (10th) and Cleveland (5th) will visit M&T Bank Stadium while Baltimore will travel to play the Dolphins. The Ravens are 3-0 under John Harbaugh with Joe Flacco under center at Sun Life Stadium, including a 26-23 win their last season. The Ravens are 4-4 in South Florida all time as a franchise.

Finishing the season as the 2000 team did seems like a very tall order. Other than not losing another game, realistically, the perfect scenario, would be to finish 6-1 with the one loss, if it must happen, coming in New Orleans. Anything other than that and the waiting game, as well as scoreboard watching is on as you walk the malls during the holiday season. In a season when points are at a record in high in the league, it’s not out of the question that two 10 win teams could stay home in January. Let’s hope the Ravens aren’t one of them.

STEP UP:

If the Ravens are going to make the playoffs, they will need their veteran free agents and some of their first and second year players to step up in crunch time. During the Ravens recent run of playoff success, which ended last season, we watched as players such as Ray Rice (2008), Paul Kruger (2009), Danell Ellerbe (2009) Dennis Pitta (2008) and few others make significant contributions. Last week vs. Pittsburgh, it was that mix which allowed the Steelers to overpower Baltimore by 20 points. Thirty six year old James Harrison, who retired and returned this season devoured the Ravens offensive line, as he recorded two more career sacks of Joe Flacco. On offense, fifth year WR Antonio Brown’s playmaking was no fun to watch as he torched the Ravens for 144 yards and one TD and even though Le’Veon Bell wasn’t effective from a yardage standpoint, he made critical first downs.

Can rookie RB Lorenzo Taliaferro step up for a tiring Justin Forsett

Can rookie RB Lorenzo Taliaferro step up for a tiring Justin Forsett

On offense the Ravens have players that make occasional plays but no consistent play-makers. Steve Smith Sr. is as close as it gets for the Ravens but he’s 35 and in the last two games vs. the Steelers and Bengals, Smith caught just 8 balls for 73 yards and no touchdowns. He does have nine third down conversions this season, which leads the team. But when Smith Sr. has a bad game, the Ravens pass offense seems to disappear for stretches. Torrey Smith appears to be lost. His route running is suspect and looks confused at times. Torrey Smith has five third down conversions which is one less than TE Owen Daniels who has stepped up nicely. But if you compared the Ravens offense in terms of player’s vs players to the rest of the AFC North, the chips do not exactly fall in line.

Whether you agree or disagree these rankings, they aren’t far off. Joe Flacco is the second best QB in the division behind Ben Roethlisberger but throwing to the third best wide receiving corps. The Ravens also appear to have the third best set of running backs behind Bell and Blount in Pittsburgh and Bernard and Hill in Cincinnati. The numbers will balance that out more as the year progresses but it is hard to imagine Smith Sr., Daniels and Justin Forsett picking up steam as the season wears on. The Ravens top 2 free agent pickups are a combined 67 years old.  At 29 years old, Forsett is just five carries (113) shy of matching the most amount of carries (118) he’s ever had for an entire season.

To ensure their sixth trip in seven seasons to the playoffs, someone other than CJ Mosley must emerge as a potential perennial Pro Bowler of the future. The Ravens have not drafted a Pro Bowler on offense since selecting Rice in 2008. On defense, the last Pro Bowler selected was Haloti Ngata in 2006. Better and more consistent play is needed from RB Lorenzo Taliaferro and at least one of the pass catchers, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro or Crockett Gilmore. Last year it was Marlon Brown and it could be again if he can find his purpose in the new Gary Kubiak offense.

In the end—it doesn't’ matter who steps up for the Ravens—all that matters is that someone does. If I were forced to bet on whether or not this team will be playing in January I'd say yes, they'll be there. After all, it will most assuredly require the Ravens to overcome some adversity to make it and based on what I know about this team (see 4th and 29, see Denver playoff game, see Ray Rice situation, see Ray Lewis injury) and how they view obstacles, I wouldn't be surprised if they were back in the Super Bowl.

 

Ravens Monday Night QB w/ Special Guests Lorenzo Taliaferro & Lionel Dalton

September 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

1960941_10203885822978596_2907783212545696460_oJoin Alan Zlotorzynski & former Ravens and 49ers linebacker, Tavares Gooden, for Ravens Monday Night Quarterback, sponsored by Fanspeak.com and Fanduel.com. Tonight’s show is from 9:00 until 11:00 e.s.t.

Tonight, the guys welcome one current and one former Ravens player. Current Ravens RB Lorenzo Taliaferro joins Alan & Tavares to talk about the current state of the Ravens offense, what it was like to be drafted, and what his expectations are for his career.

The guys are then joined by former Ravens Super Bowl champion and defensive lineman, Lional Dalton. Jelly Roll, as Lional was known during his days in Baltimore will discuss the 2000 Ravens Defense, what it’s like to be a Super Bowl champ and what he is up to these days.

Alan and Tavares will recap the Ravens huge 26-6 victory over the Steelers with all of the stats that matter and even the ones that don’t. You will also hear from all of the important players, as well as the in game audio.

The guys will then get you ready for the Cleveland Browns, who are coming off a big win of their own, as they defeated the Saints on Sunday with a last minute field goal. Alan & Tavares will also recap the rest of the day in the NFL. Click here for the link to the show: RAVENS MONDAY QB. You can follow Alan on Twitter @zlotsports.

Ravens Season Statistics Projections

October 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

Now that we are 4 games into the season we have a decent enough sample size to be able to project the statistics that players have now into a full game season.  This is done by taking their current statistics and multiplying it by 4.  I will do this again after the Ravens have played 8 games which is the halfway point in the season.
*Please note that any stat in italics will be a career high.*

QB Joe Flacco
Current stats:  99-of-156, 63.5 completion percentage, 1,269 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs, 69.7 QBR, and 95.8 passer rating.
Full season:   396-of-624, 5,076 yards, 28 TDs, and 12 INTs.

RB Ray Rice
Current stats:  64 carries, 317 yards, 5.0 yard average, 3 TDs, 22 catches, and 174 yards.
Full season:  256 carries, 1,268 yards, 12 TDs, 88 catches, 696 yards.

WR Torrey Smith
Current stats:  16 catches, 332 yards, and 3 TDs.
Full season:  64 catches, 1,328 yards, and 12 TDs.

WR Anquan Boldin
Current stats:  19 catches, 249 yards, and 1 TD.
Full season:  76 catches, 996 yards, and 4 TDs.

TE Dennis Pitta
Current stats:  18 catches, 188 yards, and 2 TDs.
Full season:  72 catches, 752 yards, and 8 TDs.

CB Lardarius Webb
Current stats:  22 tackles and 5 pass deflections.
Full season:  88 tackles and 20 pass deflections.

S Ed Reed
Current stats:  18 tackles, 2 INTs, and 7 pass deflections.
Full season:  72 tackles, 8 INTs, and 28 pass deflections.

ILB Ray Lewis
Current stats:  33 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 1 sack.
Full season:  132 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, and 4 sacks.

OLB Courtney Upshaw
Current Stats:  17 tackles and 0.5 sacks.
Full season:  68 tackles and 2 sacks.

DE Haloti Ngata
Current Stats:  20 tackles and 2 sacks.
Full season:  80 tackles and 8 sacks.

Former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano Diagnosed With Leukemia

October 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Earlier today the Indianapolis Colts announced head coach Chuck Pagano has been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia.

This form of leukemia is treatable, with an 80-90% survival rate.  Colts owner Jim Irsay has said "I think that it's very unlikely that he will be all-in as a head coach this season."  In the meantime offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will take over as the interim head coach.

Before taking over as the Colts head coach on January 25th, Pagano spent the last 4 years with the Baltimore Ravens.  From 2008-2010 he was the Ravens secondary coach and was the defensive coordinator last year.

Pagano was very liked among the Ravens players and everyone else in the organization.  Ravens top cornerback Lardarius Webb, who spent 3 years under Pagano, said "It hit us hard he's one of the guys."  Pagano helped bring the attacking style back to the Ravens Defense after 2 years of a less aggressive style under Greg Mattison.

Week Four Observations

September 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

The Ravens won 23-16 last night avoiding a loss to a scrappy Browns team who fought until the end.  The Ravens will next play October 7th in Kansas City.

Special Teams
If the Ravens want to contend for a Super Bowl they will need to fix their special teams.  They botched a snap on an extra point, missed a 47 yard field goal, and gave up a 40 yard punt return.  This was a big problem for the Ravens last year and it still needs to be fixed.  The snap on the extra point was a little off but holder Sam Koch should have caught it.  This mess up could have had a big impact on the game if the Browns were able to score a touchdown at the end of the game.  The Browns would have had to go for a two point conversion to tie it instead of an extra point. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker missed his first career field goal.  This had to happen eventually and it is good to get it out-of-the-way.  Thankfully it didn't impact the game too much.  Lastly, on the punt return the coverage got out ran.  Backup returner Travis Benjamin ran all the way across the field and picked up 40 yards.  In an important game you can't have 3 big mistakes on special teams.  Simply put, John Harbaugh was a special teams coach so he needs to fix this.

Anquan Boldin
One stat that really stands out for Boldin this game was 8 of his 9 catches were in the 2nd half.  The catches weren't easy either, Boldin made a few great catches on passes from Flacco.  To go along with his 9 catches he had 131 yards on 12 targets.  This was a clutch performance by Boldin.  On the Ravens opening drive of the 2nd half he had 3 catches for 60 yards.  This paved the way for a 1 yard touchdown run by Joe Flacco.  Boldin won't be putting up great numbers this year, but he is still a key component for this offense.

Michael Oher
Most of the time it isn't a good thing for an offensive lineman to make it into this list.  Well, that trend continues as Oher had 1 false start, two holds, and missed a key block on a 3rd and 2 run.  At one point FB Vonta Leach had to hold Oher back from the referees after he got upset over one of the holding calls.  Coming into the game Oher had played good so hopefully this was just an off game.

Ramon Harewood
While he had some good blocks, he looked really confused on a stunt in the 1st half.  On this play he gave up a sack.  Later in the game he was able to draw an offsides call as a defensive lineman jumped and Harewood moved to get the call.  Since this was only his 4th NFL game Harewood looks good and has a lot of potential.

Torrey Smith
Another great performance by Smith on national television.  Before we get into how Smith did last night, I would like to say I correctly predicted the Ravens first offensive play, a deep pass to Smith.  Now we have that out of the way, Smith had 6 catches for 97 yards and 1 TD on 10 targets.  In this game Smith showed how much he improved in the offseason.  Last year he was strictly a deep threat and now he looks like a much more complete receiver.  Deep routes are still his strength but he can now run outs, slants, curls, and crossing routes effectively.

Kelechi Osemele
Like the others Osemele gave up a sack.  Also, I am pretty sure he had a false start.  In the first 3 games of the season the offensive line gave up 5 sacks.  Last night they gave up 4 to the Browns.  This needs to improve if the Ravens want to win a Super Bowl.

Paul Kruger
Kruger played a great game except for one play which I will talk about in a minute.  When he dropped in coverage he played well and made 2 great plays on passes resulting pass deflections.  He also acquired his first sack of the season.  The rest of his stat line reads 2 tackles.  On the last play of the game he got pressure on the passer and forced a bad throw.  The one play that I was talking about was a personal foul.  There was an incompletion on 4th down with 2 seconds left in the game.  It looked like the Ravens had won but after the play Kruger pushed Browns OT Joe Thomas and was called for a personal foul giving the Browns one last chance to win the game.

Haloti Ngata
As usual, Ngata is having an excellent year.  He had many great plays last night and his stat line doesn't give him enough credit.  He was credited with 4 tackles with 1 of them for a loss.  However, he was consistently getting pressure on the QB.  On the play where Paul Kruger got his sack, Ngata pushed his blocker into QB Brandon Weeden before Kruger got there.  On his tackle for a loss he put a great swim move on Pro-Bowl C Alex Mack and stopped the runner in the backfield right away for a loss.  Most importantly, on the last play of the game he got pressure on Weeden along with Kruger.  This forced a bad throw from Weeden allowing the Ravens to win.

Dannell Ellerbe
This makes back to back good games for him.  During the week it came out that Ellerbe is playing more because he is better in pass coverage than Jameel McClain.  Ellerbe showed this last night by having at least 2 plays were he had flawless coverage.  One special teams he had the hit that knocked out Browns returner Josh Cribbs.  On the play he also forced a fumble.

Cary Williams
Surprise!  Williams is in here for a good reason this week.  Based on my count he only gave up a few receptions.  More importantly he had a 63 yard interception for a TD at the end of the 3rd quarter.  This play turned the momentum of the game back to the Ravens and gave them a two possession lead in a close game with one quarter left.

Week Four Injury Report

September 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

Ravens starting CB Lardarius Webb is probable.

Ravens

Questionable
T Jah Reid (calf)

Probable
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (knee)
CB Lardarius Webb (knee)

Browns

Out
WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring)
TE Alex Smith (head)
LB James-Michael Johnson (ribs-oblique)

Questionable
DB Ray Ventrone (hand)

Probable
CB Sheldon Brown (chest)
WR Josh Cribbs (knee)
G Jason Pinkston (ankle)
DE Frostee Rucker (wrist)
RBTrent Richardson (knee)
LS Christian Yount (shoulder)

Regular Season Week Four: What To Look For

September 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

1.  Ravens Passing Game
The Cleveland Browns are ranked 27th in the NFL for pass yards allowed per game with 269.  The Baltimore Ravens are 3rd in the NFL in pass yards per game with 301 yards each game.  This creates a big mismatch in favor of the Ravens.  One of the reasons the Browns are ranked so low right now is star CB Joe Haden is suspended 4 games under the NFL substance abuse policy.  The Ravens passing game is way improved from last year with the rise of TE Dennis Pitta, WR Torrey Smith, and QB Joe Flacco.  If I were offensive coordinator Cam Cameron I would start the game off with a deep pass to Smith to set the tone for the game and hopefully get a quick lead.

2.  Browns QB Brandon Weeden vs Ravens S Ed Reed
A savvy, veteran ballhawk, like Reed, feasts on rookie QBs like Weeden.  So far Weeden has thrown 6 INTs, an average of 2 per game.  He also has a completion percentage of 56.5, which isn't good for a starting QB.  In order to stop Reed from having a major impact on the game, Weeden will have to not stare down his targets and looks off Reed before throwing deep.  Odds are the Browns won't throw it deep much because of a few factors.  One of them is Reed obviously.  Another is Weeden is more comfortable  throwing shorter passes.  Lastly, the Ravens will try and blitz Weeden a lot to confuse him so the Browns won't have much time to throw deep.  Reed will most likely be watching Weeden's eyes as it is unlikely Weeden will be able to look off Reed effectively.  Expect Reed to have at least 1 INT and Weeden to throw no less than 2 INTs.

3.  Ravens Offensive Line
This will be a good matchup to watch as it will pit two strong units against each other.  The Ravens have given up 5 sacks so far this year which ranks as tied for 9th best in the NFL.  The strength of the Browns Defense is their pass rush.  In three games they have totaled 9 sacks which is tied for 6th best in the NFL.  It is time to see which unit is better.  If the Browns want to pull the upset they will need to create exotic blitzes to confuse the Ravens inexperienced line.  Expect the blitzes to come over LG and RT where the Ravens have a total of 6 NFL starts coming into this game.  With this being said the offensive line has really impressed so far this year and will look to continue this trend.  I predict the Browns will get 2 sacks which won't be enough to upset the Ravens.

4.  Ravens FB Vonta Leach vs Browns MLB D'Qwell Jackson
If the Ravens want to run effectively against the Browns, Leach will have to block Jackson well.  Jackson is the heart and soul of the Browns Defense and is the main run stuffer.  Leach relishes contact so he will gladly take on the challenge and probably succeed.  Leach is the key run blocker for the Ravens each week as he has to keep the LBs out of the way.  Cleveland is tied for the 22nd best run defense allowing 122.7 yards per game.  They are also allowing just over 4 yards per carry.  If Jackson is kept out of the way Ray Rice will be able to reach the second level of the defense and it will only be a matter of time before he breaks off a long run or two.

Week Three Observations

September 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

The won a very important game last night against the New England Patriots.  With the win the Ravens put the Patriots under .500 for the first time since week one of 2003.

Officiating
I wish I didn't have to write about this again but, the with the way the game went last night I have to.  In total there were 24 penalties accepted for 218 yards.  The Ravens were called for 14 of these for 135 yards including 4 personal fouls.  Also, there were 13 first downs from penalties which is an NFL record.  Along with all the penalties there were many questionable calls throughout the game.  While fans from both teams may complain the refs favored the other team, the reality is they had bad calls both way.  They were very inconsistent on penalties in the secondary. They would call offensive pass interference for almost no contact but they then didn't call it when Brandon Lloyd pushed Cary Williams to the ground.  One important penalty in the secondary was when Ravens CB Lardarius Webb was called for illegal contact when he intercepted a Tom Brady pass.  While the Ravens still won the game 31-30 this penalty would have been even more controversial if they didn't.  Webb seemed to release the receiver right around the 5 yard distance which is the limit.  The funniest call of the game was when John Harbaugh was trying to call a timeout and was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because he accidentally made contact with a ref while doing it.  This made the whole stadium breakout in chants of "bulls***."  This chant went on for a few plays and I must say was very funny to listen to.  Lastly, the Patriots were unhappy at the end of the game because they thought Justin Tucker missed his game winning field goal.  The ball seemed to go above the post which would make it good.  Former head referee Mike Pereira agreed with the call on the field.  There were some other calls and I could make a whole column on this subject but I feel that would be a waste of time as this seems to happen every week.  I will leave you with one thing on the subject though.

Dear Commissioner Goodell,
Can you please use the money you will get from fining Bill Belichick to pay the regular referees.
Sincerely
Every NFL Fan

Joe Flacco
At the beginning of the game Flacco had happy feet and looked like he did in the Eagles game.  After a few drives he pulled himself together and had a great game.  In total Flacco went 28-of-39 with 382 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT.   This is enough to have outplayed Tom Brady but Flacco did even better than that.  In the 4th quarter Flacco went 12-15 with 161 yards, 1 TD, and a QBR of 99.1 (100 is the best QBR possible).  Brady went 5-of-9 with 41 yards and a QBR of 35.7.  If you go off stats or just watching the game, you can conclude that Flacco outplayed Brady for the second time in a row.  Out of Flacco's 28 completions, 9 of them were for 20 yards or longer.  Flacco had a great bounce back game and has preformed when the spotlight has been on him on national tv.

Ray Rice
Rice had a total of 150 total yards on 25 carries which averages out to 6 yards per touch.  He also had a rushing TD.  As usual, when Rice is doing good the Ravens offense also does good.  One thing that impressed me about Rice last night was his pass blocking.  On one play he leveled a pass rusher, giving Flacco time to find his guy down the field.

Bernard Pierce
Even though he didn't play much, he had a big impact on the game.  He had 4 rushes for 17 yards and 1 catch for 10 yards.  The most important play of the game for him was the rush on 4th down.  Pierce didn't convert the 4th down but it wasn't his fault.  There was a missed block which led to him being stuffed.  I still question the play call as 1) it would have been a 50 yard field goal attempt and Tucker made 3 from that range last week and 2) if you are going to run it, at least have your best RB in.

Torrey Smith
There are no words that can describe what Smith went through yesterday.  He lost his younger brother, Tevin, early in the morning.  Then on 1 hour of sleep he played what could be his best game as a professional so far.  He had 6 catches for 127 yards and 2 TDs.  One play that stood out to me that can easily be overlooked is the fact he broke up an INT early in the game.  This was a complete hustle play.  Many receivers wouldn't have been able to make the play and others wouldn't have tried.  The stat line is great but to be doing it under his circumstances is just incredible.  Here is a good story about what Smith did last night.

Dennis Pitta
Another strong performance from Pitta with 5 catches for 50 yards and 1 TD.  More importantly, earlier in the week he was promoted to 1st on the depth chart.

Marshal Yanda
Usually Yanda is reliable and the best offensive lineman the Ravens have.  Last night was the exception to that rule.  By my count, Yanda was called for 1 false start and 2 holds.  He should have been called for a 3rd hold but there was another hold on the play which was called instead. Yanda did have a tough matchup with Vince Wilfork so it is a little explainable.  Expect Yanda to come out motivated next week against the Browns.

Dannell Ellerbe
Usually Ellerbe doesn't play much but he took advantage of his opportunity last night.  By the end of the game he racked up 9 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 2 tackles for a loss.  If he keeps playing like this he will get the chance to start when Ray Lewis decides to retire.  Jameel McClain is the normal starter but he didn't play much and there were not reports of an injury for him.  It will be interesting to see who starts next week.

Cary Williams
I am not sure I have said a good thing about Williams this whole year.  That isn't about to change as he played awful again last night.  It is never a good sign when you have 10 solo tackles as a CB.  Williams was matched up against Brandon Lloyd most of the night and Lloyd had 9 catches for 108 yards.  Based on my observations only one of those didn't come against Williams.  On top of this, Williams was called for an illegal contact penalty which, surprise, was the right call.  This is his contract year and he isn't doing anything to help his cause.  To make matters worse he has already declined a 3 year $15 million contract from the Ravens.

Courtney Upshaw
While he didn't start the game off good he finished strong.  Early in the game he missed a sack on Brady as he didn't wrap up.  All things considered Brady is one of the easiest QBs to take down in the league so it has to be a little embarrassing for Upshaw.  Upshaw had great contain on the few reverses the Patriots ran though.  He stopped one of them for at least a 5 yard loss.  On a sweep play he chased it down from the backside stopping the runner for a short game.


Regular Season Week Three: What To Look For

September 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

1.  QB Tom Brady vs S Ed Reed
This is a matchup between two of the best to ever play their positions.  If you don't think this battle is important just look at this picture.  On the bottom of Brady's wristband with all the plays on, you can see writings saying "Find 20 on every play."  These two have great respect for each other and it will be a great chess match to watch.  Expect Brady to be looking for him before every play again.  If Reed can get interception on Brady it could be a game changer.

2.  Bernard Pollard
Pollard is know as the "Patriot Killer."  This is because he tore Tom Brady's ACL in 2008 with the Chiefs.  He also tore Wes Welker's ACL in 2010 with the Texans.  Last year he gave Rob Gronkowski a high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship game which really limited him in the Super Bowl.  Pollard doesn't think of himself as a "Patriot Killer."  In this weeks game he will have to help cover Patriots star TE Rob Gronkowski.  Last year Gronkowski had 5 catches for 87 yards in the AFC Championship game.  Pollard's job is easier this time around as the other TE for the Patriots, Aaron Hernandez, is out with a sprained ankle.  Pollard is also coming off a rib contusion but is listed as probable on the injury report.

3.  C Matt Birk vs DT Vince Wilfork
In the AFC Championship, Wilfork bull rushed Birk very effectively.  This completely disrupted the Ravens offense at times.  This time around the Ravens should give help to Birk.  They should have G Marshal Yanda provide help on certain plays, especially runs up the middle.  It wouldn't be surprising to see the Patriots blitz up the middle to try and take advantage of Birk's age and the inexperience of the other starting guard, Ramon Harewood who has played in 2 NFL games.

4.  Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith
The Ravens need to get their two starting WRs more involved this week if they want to win.  Flacco can't just target RB Ray Rice and TE Dennis Pitta all the time.  Last week Boldin and Smith combined for 4 catches for 58 yards.  This could be acceptable if they both had 4 catches for 58 yards but they didn't.  Even that stat line is a little low for what Smith and Boldin should be doing.  The Patriots secondary isn't nearly as good as the Eagles was.  Therefore, Boldin and Smith should be more involved in the game.  If I were calling the plays I would try to at least get them 5 catches.  I would use Smith to take the top off the defense and then run some curls and crossing routes to take advantage of the soft coverage on him.  Boldin should be doing the underneath and crossing routes most of the game.  Boldin is most effective on 3rd down so look for the Ravens to target him more in those situations.

Week Three Injury Report

September 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

Ravens starting S Bernard Pollard is probable after leaving last week's game with an injury.

Ravens

Doubtful
T Jah Reid (leg)

Probable
LB Paul Kruger (back)
LB Jameel McClain (knee)
DE Pernell McPhee (knee)
OT Michael Oher (ankle)
S Bernard Pollard (chest)
CB Lardarius Webb (knee)

Patriots

Out
DT Justin Francis (ankle)
TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle)

Questionable
C Dan Connolly (concussion)
DE Brandon Deaderick (ankle)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring)
TEDaniel Fells (shin)
WR Brandon Lloyd (thigh)
G Logan Mankins (hip)
C Nick McDonald(shoulder)
CB Sterling Moore (knee)
RB Shane Vereen (foot)
T Sebastian Vollmer (back)

Probable
S Patrick Chung (shoulder)