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Ravens Receive Four Compensatory Picks

March 24, 2014 in News, NFL Draft

The Baltimore Ravens have received four compensatory draft picks today for losses sustained in free agency last year.

These four picks come in the third (No. 99 overall), fourth (Nos. 134 and 138) and fifth round (No. 175). The maximum number of compensatory picks that a team can receive is four. The addition of these four picks––which can't be traded––push the Ravens total pick count in the upcoming draft to eight.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Ever since the NFL has implemented the compensatory pick system in 1994––two years before the Ravens were established in 1996––the Ravens have led the league in total compensatory picks awarded with 41. The next closest are the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys who each have received 33.

General manager Ozzie Newsome loves compensatory picks as they are "free" draft picks. This shows in the numbers above.

Teams are awarded compensatory picks for losing more or better free agents than they signed during the free agent period. Players cut by teams don't count in this equation and there is a cut-off date for signings to have an impact on the compensatory draft pick formula.

Last offseason the Ravens lost outside linebacker Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns), inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), safety Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia Eagles) in free agency.

According to the formula, the Ravens signed zero free agents that effected compensatory picks. The outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and defensive end Marcus Spears were all cut by their prior teams. Inside linebacker Daryl Smith was signed after the deadline for signings to impact compensatory picks.

It comes as no surprise that the Ravens received four compensatory draft picks as this was expected. The actual picks that the Ravens received represented the best case scenario for the team as it was thought they would receive two fourths, one fifth and one sixth by many people––including me.

Ravens Rise To The Occasion

October 7, 2013 in Observations

Coming off a tough 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Baltimore Ravens traveled to Miami to take take on the Dolphins. Led by a resurgent run game and another solid performance by the defense, the Ravens won 26-23 over the Dolphins. With this victory, the Ravens are 3-2 and the loss by the Dolphins puts them at 3-2 as well.

With less than two minutes left in the game, kicker Justin Tucker kicked a 44-yard field goal to give the Ravens the lead. This is his fourth career game-winning field in only his second season.

The Dolphins gave the Ravens a scare in the last minute as they were able to complete a fourth and 10 and a few plays later attempted a 57-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. However, kicker Caleb Sturgis missed win left giving the Ravens the victory.

The Ravens ran the ball the best they had all season setting a season high in rush yards with 133. On the flip side of things, the defense only allowed 22 rushing yards, good for the fourth fewest ever allowed in franchise history.

Third downs were key in this game and the Ravens went 6-16 (37.5 percent) but held to Dolphins to a meager 3-16 (19 percent) and the Dolphins were only 1-7 in the second half.

With six more sacks this week, the Ravens defense now has 19 sacks so far which is second best in the NFL and is the most ever through the first five games in franchise history.

Joe Flacco
While the stat-line was pretty, Flacco got the job done and was able to lead the Ravens to victory with his 16th career game-winning drive.

Throwing 32 times, Flacco completed 19 passes for 269 yards and one interception and a quarterback rating of 73.6. As always though, the stat-line doesn't tell the right story.

Throughout the game, Flacco was under pressure when passing the ball and he took some vicious hits. To his credit though, he always stayed in there to try and complete the pass. He did a good job of stepping up in the pocket multiple times and had numerous good throws right before getting hit.

The interception that he threw wasn't his fault. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie allowed Dolphins' pass rusher Dion Jordan to beat him to the outside and hit the ball while it was in Flacco's hand and reaching back to throw the ball. This resulted in the ball going straight up in the air and being picked off by Reshad Jones who had no Ravens around him, allowing him to return the ball 25 yards for a touchdown. Some blame also falls on offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell here as it was a third and 22 from their own nine-yard line and the Ravens were passing the ball. They should have just ran the ball playing it safe.

A few plays before this, Flacco almost threw an interception and this was all his fault. The Ravens ran a screen pass to running back Ray Rice and Flacco never saw Jordan who read the the play and jumped in front of Rice. Thankfully for Flacco, Jordan dropped the pass.

Early in the second half, we got to see Flacco the running back. On a third and five, he stepped up in the pocket and found no defenders in the middle of the field so he ran and picked up 14 yards before smartly sliding.

Ray Rice
As already stated, the Ravens had their most success of the season running the ball yesterday and Rice was a big part of this.

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Running the ball 27 times for 74 yards and two touchdowns, he only averaged 2.7 yards per carry, his longest carry was just seven yards, and he fumbled once. Despite the fumble and the lackluster average and long run, Rice had his best game of the season. His 27 carries almost totaled as many as he had through the first three games of the season (27).

Starting with the bad, his fumble came on an outside zone run to the right and was knocked out by Paul Soliai how got his hand on the ball while tackling Rice. The ball was recovered by former Raven Dannell Ellerbe putting the ball at the Baltimore 29-yard line. This field position resulted in a field goal for the Dolphins.

Moving to the good, two of Rice's runs went for first downs and another two for touchdowns. His first touchdown was on first and goal from the two and Rice just powered through the pile on an inside run to score. The other touchdown came from three yards out on an outside power play and Rice went untouched as the Dolphins had stacked the inside.

This was his first multi-touchdown game of the season and his 10th of his career. With his first touchdown, he tied the beloved Todd Heap for the second most touchdowns (41) in Ravens history. Rice's second touchdown gave him sole possession of second place. Running back Jamal Lewis sits in first place with 47 touchdowns so Rice should be able to pass him this season.

Torrey Smith
Another game, another great game from Smith this year. With six catches for 121 yards on nine targets, Smith continued his great start to his season.

All of his six catches went for first downs and he was able to draw a pass interference for a first down as well. His first catch of the game was on third and five where he ran a short crossing route and turned it into a 41-yard gain. This catch set up the Ravens first points of the game. The Ravens have used him on these crossing routes quite often this season allowing him to get into the open field and use his speed. The next catch came on second and seven for a gain of 13 on a deep in route. Another deep in on a third and 10 led to a gain of 22. A slant on first and 10 gained 13 yards and a post route led to a gain of 16 on second and nine. Lastly, he made a leading catch on a first and ten while running a deep crossing route. The pass interference that he drew came when he ran a slant-and-go into the end zone the defender was flagged at the two-yard line giving the Ravens a gain of 18 yards.

There were two negatives from this great performance though. The first is a pass interference call that went against him. He was called for pass interference when he hit his arm against the helmet of the cornerback. However, Smith was just trying to get his arm over the cornerback to be able to catch the ball. The other negative came from a dropped pass. On a first and 10, Smith had the ball in his hands but the defender was able to knock it out before Smith had full control of the ball.

Throughout the game, the Dolphins cornerbacks played about seven yards off of Smith to protect against the deep pass. This stopped the deep pass, but Smith was constantly able to get open underneath and then turned this shorter catches into more yards with his exceptional speed.

Other Pass Catchers
With Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown inactive due to injuries and Brandon Stokley was cut before the day before the game (though he was re-signed today), the Ravens were down to three active wide receivers: Smith, Tandon Doss, and Deonte Thompson.

Doss got the start across from Smith and made the most of it catching three passes for 58 yards and all of them went for first downs. The first was a third and 11 where he gained 11 yards, the second came on, first and 10 and resulted in a gain of 40 yards, and the last came on a third and two for a gain of six.

The most impressive of these catches was the one that went for 40 yards. Flacco under-threw the pass as he got drilled as he threw the ball. Doss was able to adjust to the pass in air and made the catch.

Thompson had two catches for 11 yards with one going for a first down. The one that went for a first down was a gain of six on second and two and the one that didn't go for a first down was a play-action pass were Thompson came in motion and ran a short out route for a gain of five.

Dropping six passes so far this season, tight end Ed Dickson has been a major disappointment but this week he was able to actually make a catch and a contribution. On two catches, he had 51 yards with both going for first downs. Both catches were on play-action crossing routes with the first going for 43 yards and the other for eight.

Dallas Clark was nowhere to be found and I honestly can't even remember seeing him on the field.

Overall, these other pass catchers stepped up their game this week and gave someone other than Smith to throw to and trust for the first time this season.

Offensive Line
Well, it is easy to see why the Ravens traded for left tackle Eugene Monroe in the middle of last week as the incumbent, McKinnie, had a terrible game yet again.

McKinnie gave up the already mentioned hit that caused the interception, and allowed a few more quarterback hits/pressures and a sack. The first pressure came on a third down and forced Flacco to have a bad throw, an incompletion. Next he was beat to the outside on the last play of the first half. On the aforementioned 40-yard pass to Doss, McKinnie was the lineman that gave up the pressure that got Flacco lit up, getting beaten on an inside speed rush. The one sack that McKinnie gave up actually wasn't really his fault. Marshal Yanda and Michael Oher both gave up instant pressure on the play forcing Flacco to scramble to McKinnie's side where he initially had his man stopped. However, Flacco's scramble ran towards where McKinnie was blocking his man, causing a sack.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele lasted just one drive before leaving the game with back spasms. This started pre-game but after the in-active list was already handed in. Osemele tired to play but wasn't able to. Backup center A.Q. Shipley came in for him and played decently. He was called for a face-mask penalty pushing the ball back to the Ravens' own 10-yard line, gave up a quarterback hit, and allowed his man to bat down a pass at the line-of-scrimmage.

Center Gino Gradkowski allowed a hit when a linebacker ran right past him on a blitz and gave up a few other pressures.

Yanda, the right guard, saw the end of his streak of not allowing a sack and he should have allowed two. On the last play of the first half, McKinnie gave up the initial pressure but Yanda's man bull-rushed him and came in for the sack. Yanda also gave up a pressure on the play where McKinnie gave up a sack but Flacco was able to escape from Yanda's man.

Oher, the right tackle, also gave up a pressure on this play but Yanda was beaten worse. On a separate occasion, he allowed an unblocked blitzer to hit Flacco. Oher had two rushers coming at him and with no help Oher had to chose one and he correctly took the inside player. The outside player ended with a hit on Flacco and that needs to be fixed with a pre-snap read. Too many unblocked players are coming through the offensive line.

Terrell Suggs
Like Smith, Suggs is having a dominant season and yesterday was no different; though it took him three quarters to get going.

Through the first three quarters of the game, the only impact that Suggs had was two run stops, one for a gain of two yard and the other for a gain of one yard. Once the fourth quarter rolled around though, he stepped up and played lights-out.

In a span of eight offensive snaps for the Dolphins, Suggs had three sacks, giving him seven on the season, and tied the franchise record for consecutive games with a sack (five), and his seven sacks during that five games are sure to be a record.

The first sack came on a second and two where he beat the left tackle Jonathan Martin with a speed move to the outside for a loss of four. Martin was the victim of the second sack where Suggs bull-rushed him, pushing him straight back for a loss of four on first and ten. Two plays later on third down, Suggs beat right tackle Tyson Clabo for a loss of six yards.

These last two sacks came at a key time as the Dolphins defense had just scored and quickly stalled the next Ravens' drive. The Dolphins had all of the momentum in a tied game with five minutes left. Suggs single-handedly stopped that with his two sacks that drive. His sacks forced a three-and-out by the Dolphins and the ensuing drive for the Ravens, Flacco drove them down for the game winning field goal.

While recording his fifth career three sack game, Suggs led the Ravens defense and changed the momentum at the end of the game and his five tackles were good for second on the team.

Elvis Dumervil
Playing across from Suggs on pass rushing downs, Dumervil made his impact in the passing game as usual, recording two tackles, one sack, and a pass defensed.

He made his presence made the most on the Dolphins final drive recording a pressure and a sack on this drive. On the fourth and 10 play, Dumervil got almost instant pressure and forced quarterback Ryan Tannehill out of the pocket. While Tannehill ended up finding an open receiver, Dumervil did his job on the play by getting pressure. Two plays later, after the Dolphins spiked the ball on first down, Dumervil recorded his sack for a loss of five yards. This push the Dolphins field goal five yards further back and they ended up missing this kick. If the kick is 52 yards instead of 57 yards, who knows is Sturgis is able to connect.

Early in the game, the Dolphins had a snap go though Tannehill's hands for a loss of 18 yards. Dumervil was the first Ravens to get to Tannehill and got credit for a tackle for a loss, not a sack.

Dumervil's pass defensed came when he hit Tannehill's arm when he was throwing it. This came on a third and six play in the third quarter. Dumervil beat his blocker and was able to get his hand on Tannehill as he threw the ball causing it to only a few feet.

Going up against a weak Dolphins offensive line, Dumervil joined Suggs in having a good day.

Daryl Smith
Yet again, Smith led the Ravens in tackles, making it the third time this season, with his six — a surprisingly low number to lead a team in tackles with.

One of these six tackles came as a run stop for a loss of one yard but most of his tackles came while in pass coverage as the Dolphins only ran the ball 11 times and these were usually bottled up by the defensive linemen before linebackers like Smith could get to the play.

In coverage, Smith had a good game allowing just two passes to be completed against him and neither of them went for first downs. The first was a gain of five on second and nine and the other was a gain of five on first and ten. Fifteen of Tannehill's 21 completions went to wide receivers, leaving only six to tight ends and running backs, the players that Smith would be covering. This stayed the same in targets as 28 of Tannehills 38 targets went to wide receivers.

Smith's best play of the game came on a third and 10 with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter. He broke up a pass by diving in front of the intended receiver. This pass break-up set up fourth and 10 for the Dolphins, which they ended up converting.

James Ihedigbo
All but one of the notable plays that Ihedigbo made were in pass coverage which is no surprise for the strong safety considering the Dolphins struggles running the ball.

His best play of the game was one that didn't end up counting but we will still look at it. On the first play of the Dolphins second drive, he jumped an under-thrown deep pass and made a diving interception. He was able to get both feet down on the catch, but his left came down out-of-bounds as he was trying to brace his fall. Initially this was ruled an interception but it was reviewed and overturned. Even though it was overturned, this is still a great play from Ihedigbo.

In other coverage plays, he gave up two catches with both going for first downs — which isn't unusual for safeties considering they play the deep zones — for a total of 91 yards — which is unusual and not good. The first catch he allowed was on a third and six and tight end Charles Clay beat him deep for a gain of 45 yards, putting the ball on the Baltimore 31-yard line. A few plays later, the Dolphins kicked a field goal. The other pass that Ihedigbo allowed to be completed was for 46 yards to wide receiver Brandon Gibson. If the 46 yards gained wasn't bad enough, this completion came on the fourth and 10 play that the Dolphins had with about 1:30 left in the game. Since the Dolphins missed the field goal, this play didn't come back to haunt the Ravens though it would have if the Dolphins tied the game and won in overtime.

In the run game, he had a run stop for no gain. For the day, he had three tackles and one pass deflection (the overturned interception).

Cornerbacks
With most of Tannehill's passes being completed to receivers, the cornerbacks allowed most of the catches on Sunday.

Lardarius Webb

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with Lardarius Webb, he gave up five catches for 82 yards and two first downs, a very good ratio. The two that went for first downs were a second and four gain of six and a 49 yard deep pass allowed on second and eight. Webb only deserves half of the blame for this catch as safety Matt Elam was beaten deep on this play as well and Webb was expecting Elam to be there to help.

Despite these five completions, Webb had almost as many good pass breakups/coverages with four. The first came on a third and three pass into the end zone where he dove to break the pass up. The next came on a deep pass with under two minutes left in the second half. Another came when he hit Mike Wallace on a slant route causing him to drop the pass. The last came on the play between Suggs' two sacks. Webb dove in front of a curl route breaking the pass up.

The Dolphins made a clear attempt to go after Webb who was playing with a hamstring injury and for the most part, Webb held up well.

Allowing three catches for 40 yards with one first down and a touchdown was Jimmy Smith. On the catch that didn't go for a first down of touchdown, he made a nice play stopping the pass for a gain of only one. The first down he allowed came on a third and 10 with under two minutes left in the first half and put the Dolphins in field goal range. Smith gave up the only touchdown allowed by the defense when Tannehill hit Clay on a back-shoulder fade on third and goal from the nine with under one minute left in the half. In man coverage with no help, Smith didn't turn around and find the ball until it was too late. Smith was also called for holding, giving the Dolphins a first down at the Ravens' 24-yard line.

Nickel cornerback Corey Graham gave up four catches for 63 yards with three going for first downs. These first downs were a gain of 11 on second and five, a gain of 21 on first and 10 putting the ball on the Baltimore 9-yard line, and a gain of 19 on first down and 10. On the play where Ihedigbo had his overturned interception, Graham was beaten deep by the receiver but Tannehill under-threw the pass allowing Ihedigbo to get to it. Graham did have two good pass deflections though on an under-thrown deep pass and a diving breakup on a third and two pass.

Ravens vs Dolphins Injury Report

October 5, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Lardarius Webb

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Doubtful
DT Terrence Cody (Knee)
C Ryan Jensen (Foot)

Questionable
LB Arthur Brown (Shoulder)
WR Marlon Brown (Thigh)
RB Shaun Draughn (Ankle)
WR Jacoby Jones (Knee)
LB Albert McClellan (Shoulder)
DE Marcus Spears (Knee)
WR Brandon Stokley (Thigh)
WR Deonte Thompson (Concussion)
CB Lardarius Webb (Thigh)

Dolphins

Out
CB Dimitri Patterson (Groin)

Questionable
S Don Jones (Elbow)
WR Brandon Gibson (Ankle)
LB Jason Trusnik (Rib)
DE Cameron Wake (Knee)

Probable
CB Nolan Carroll (Ankle)
S Chris Clemons (Glute)
LB Dannell Ellerbe (Knee)
LB Jonathan Freeny (Shoulder)
LB Koa Misi (Shoulder)
DT Paul Soliai (Knee)

History Says Ravens Will Have "Next Man Up" For Fallen Pitta

July 28, 2013 in Baltimore Ravens

John Feinstein, an award-winning columnist and one of the nations most successful and prolific sports authors and now host of the John Feinstein Show on CBS Sports Radio, spent the entire 2004 season with the Baltimore Ravens. Feinstein, who has authored over two dozen fantastic books, was granted unprecedented access into the daily happenings of everyone that mattered and did not matter with the 9-7 underachieving 2004 Ravens team.

What Feinstein chose to call the book is the mantra by which the Ravens organization has always operated under and now with the teams most dependable receiving target likely lost for the entire 2013 season, will need to once again remind themselves of before they even play one snap of a preseason football game.

On Saturday, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, who also happens to be Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite target, dislocated his hip after he collided with safety James Ihedigbo in the back of the end zone trying to catch a pass delivered by Flacco. After lying on the field in obvious pain for several minutes, Pitta was carted off and last night underwent surgery to repair the damage. Just minutes ago, the Baltimore Sun reported that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh made it official, Pitta is gone for the 2013 season.

This brings me to the philosophy the Ravens organization has always prided themselves in– and what Feinstein ultimately titled his 2005 book about his season long experience in Baltimore, “Next Man Up”.

Finding a replacement for Pitta will not be easy for this team but when you consider how the Ravens won a Super Bowl last season, not impossible to say the least. Entering his fourth season and final year of his current contract, Pitta was on the verge of a breakout season. Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round (114th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft, the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder from BYU caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

In 2012’s Week 15 game vs. Denver, Pitta set career highs in receiving yards (125) and TD catches (2) while grabbing seven receptions. He scored his second TD of the game on a 61-yard catch and run – breaking three tackles along the way – a play that stands as the Ravens’ second-longest from scrimmage in 2012. Pitta’s seven TDs in 16 games tied Todd Heap (2005) for the most scores by a TE in Ravens single-season history.

During the Ravens Super Bowl run, American Express, as Pitta is nicknamed by teammate Terrell Sugggs, because you don’t leave home without him, as Suggs says, caught 14 balls for 163 yards and three huge scores. In six postseason games with the Ravens, Pitts has 21 catches for 233 yards and four touchdowns.

Pitta’s progression was easy to follow because of his ascent. He was 11th amongst TE’s in yards last season, ninth in receptions but tied for sixth with seven touchdown receptions in 2012.  The Ravens were looking for possible top five production from Pitta in those categories this season and in all honesty— it is entirely possible they were even relying on it but that doesn't mean they will be caught with their pants down.

Pitta with a nice catch

Calculating what Pitta could have accomplished this season will hurt to see Ravens fans. Keeping Pitta at a reasonable progression rate and factoring in how he has progressed during the past two seasons, 850 to 900 yards– and nine to 10 touchdowns were a very real possibility this season. Any of those combinations would have had Pitta in the top five amongst TE’s during the 2012 season.

The point to this is he will be missed and there is no way around that. However, this is the Ravens, a team run by a wizard and coached by a member from one of the first families of football. This is an organization that no matter how you slice the purple pie, the Ravens will rebound from the heartache of losing Pitta.

There are plenty of recent examples to support this claim. While Joe Cool may miss Mr. Reliable, Flacco and the Ravens have been here before. Two seasons ago following the lockout, two of the first moves Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome made was to release the franchises top two leading pass catchers in TE Todd Heap and WR Derrick Mason. Mason, during one stretch of his career in Baltimore was more of a security blanket to Flacco than the one that Peanuts character Linus carries on his shoulder while sucking his thumb.

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you consider that they finished second, third on the team in receiving yards in 2010, and combined to catch 12 of Flacco’s 25 touchdowns that season. The move, as it always seems to be, was the right one. Heap since leaving Baltimore has 377 yards and one touchdown. Mason went onto play for two teams catching just 19 more passes in his career before retiring.

As two future “Ring of Honor” inductees struggled, the Ravens would watch, as the next men up would come through for the team. Although Flacco threw for 20 less yards and five less TD’s in 2011, the Ravens, as a team advanced all the way to the AFC Championship game.

Then there was last season, where the next man up philosophy was not just an organizational belief but also a daily affirmation for the Ravens, especially on the defensive side of the football. It all started in May, well before the season began when the reigning 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs injured his Achilles during offseason workouts (wink-wink) and was lost for the first six games of the 2012 season.

The next man up would be a combination of players and schemes but Paul Kruger would be the man that benefited the most. With nine QB takedowns in 2012, Kruger finished the season as the Ravens sack leader. He would also prove to be a defensive MVP for the Ravens during the playoffs with 14 tackles and 4.5 additional sacks.

Kruger parlayed his success into a massive offseason free agent contract with a division rival in the Cleveland Browns. Suggs replacement during the first six games of the 2012 season will now be expected to produce week in and week out in Cleveland after signing a five-year $41 million contract. Whether Kruger can be that player remains to be seen but he did just fine as the next man up in Baltimore.

Webb after ACL injury

Suggs would indeed return in Week 7 but he would join a defense that was dealt a serious blow the week before at home vs. the Dallas Cowboys. During that contest, the Ravens lost their top cornerback, as well as the heart and soul of the franchise for the rest of the regular season. Ray Lewis tore his triceps muscle and Lardarius Webb, an ACL.

The next men up would be Dannell Ellerbe for Lewis and after on the fly in game tryouts, Corey Graham for Webb. Like Kruger, Ellerbe would succeed and make the most of his opportunity. As the man selected to replace the legend in the middle, Ellerbe finished the year with 89 tackles, second on the team and 4.5 sacks, which was tied for third.

His play in the postseason was also MVP like, as he finished second to Ray Lewis, who returned from injury, with 32 total tackles. His one interception came in the AFC Championship game off a deflected Tom Brady pass but it helped seal the Ravens trip to New Orleans. Expected to re-sign with Baltimore once free agency began in March, Ellerbe instead chose to take his talents to South Beach for the upcoming season. Also like Kruger, the former Georgia standout parlayed his solid play into a big offseason contract. The Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland blew the Ravens out of the water giving Ellerbe five years and $35 million. According to sources close to those negotiations, the Ravens were not close to that money and decided to move forward with their next man up mantra or look elsewhere in free agency, which they did.

While may contributed during the loss of players, Graham is the only returning defensive player that significantly contributed. He started 2012 on the special teams where he earned a Pro- Bowl berth with the Bears in 2011 but he finished the year playing like a Pro-Bowl cornerback filling in for Webb.

The former fifth round selection of Chicago in 2007, finished tied for second on the team (Dannell Ellerbe) with 32 tackles in the postseason. He also posted a team leading seven passes defended and two interceptions, as well as a half-sack. He was a leader on a championship defense that forced 10 turnovers in four playoff games. In addition, his two interceptions were huge, as he picked off the one and only Peyton Manning twice in the AFC Divisional game. Both led to big scores. The first pick resulted in six points when Graham returned Manning’s pass 39-yards for a touchdown and the second came near the end of the first overtime that set up kicker Justin Tucker’s game winning field goal.

Dickson will need to be huge in 2013

This is also a franchise that went 8-2 during a two year stretch (2010-2011) when missing Ed Reed and Ray Lewis from games. These are just several examples of a franchise that believes in making sure the next man up is ready to step in and perform. It does not matter who the head coach is– this is a franchise that believes in its philosophies and does not deviate regardless of the circumstances. They draft that way, they sign free agents that way and they show up and play that way.Despite not having three of the team’s projected best defensive players on the field for most of the 2012 season, all the Ravens did was win a Super Bowl. This is a team that simply put, knows how to overcome adversity. Whether it is losing players to injury or losing four of five games to close the season last year, the first Super Bowl Champion to ever do so, the Ravens will find a way, they always do. While this is a horrible injury to Pitta and the Ravens are concerned for their fallen player, the thought process shifted almost immediately, to how, as a team, they were going to help the "Next Man Up" be successful this season. And if history tells us anything with the Ravens, you had better believe that Ed Dickson or whoever seizes the opportunity will be a contributor on a team heading to their sixth straight playoff appearance—-NEXT MAN UP!

 

 

Ravens Have "A" Draft For The Future

April 29, 2013 in Free Agency, NFL Draft, Super Bowl XLVII

The Ravens entered the 2013 NFL Draft not only as the defending Super Bowl Champions, but almost as needy as a team that finished the 2012 season with seven wins and out of the playoffs, at least when it comes to the defensive side of the football.

The Super Bowl champions entered Thursday’s first round with, AFC high 12 picks, and based on what they lost in free agency, the Ravens had to have a repeat of the success of past drafts. Known for his draft acumen and acute working of the free agent system, Ravens General Manager and Vice President of operations, Ozzie Newsome and his highly touted scouting department needed to be at their very best heading into one of the deeper drafts in recent years.

Top 3

Although this draft did not have a marquee name, it did possess the quality of depth that teams with good scouting departments could thrive on for years to come. Baltimore’s defense lost six of 11 Super Bowl starters, in addition to pass-rushing specialist Paul Kruger (who did not start the game).

Three of the four starting defensive backs are gone, as are three members of the front seven. Included in the missing for next season will be what many considered the heart and soul of the Ravens franchise for the past 16-years, No.52, future Hall of Fame linebacker, Ray Lewis.

Though free agent QB and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco returned, the offense was not unaffected. Baltimore traded away veteran WR Anquan Boldin, who could have easily been the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII and the quarterback of the offensive line, veteran center Matt Birk, who retired.

All told, eight of the nine most veteran Ravens from the Super Bowl team are no longer on the team that hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy less than three months ago in New Orleans. No defending Super Bowl Champ had ever lost more than five starters heading into the following season, and it is likely that no defending SB Champ lost two-guaranteed future Hall of Famers, as the Ravens did.

That’s where the Wizard comes into play. GM Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta (Assistant General Manager), Joe Hortiz (Director of College Scouting) and as many as 19 other members of the Ravens scouting department are considered amongst the best in the business and entered this draft salivating at its possibilities.

Newsome entered this draft much differently than he did the last time the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000. Ozzie vowed following the Super Bowl in N.O., that he would not make the same mistake he did when the Ravens won their first Super Bowl 13 years ago in Tampa.

Following that championship, Newsome signed many of its veterans to contract extensions or restructured them in order to keep that team’s nucleus together. The moves left the Ravens with a team that got old and very costly, very quickly. Although the Ravens would, return to the playoffs in 2001, these moves hurt the team’s chances to build a consistent contender.

Following the 2001 season, the Ravens would visit the postseason just twice during the next six seasons, eventually leading to a 5-11 record and the firing of Coach Brian Billick following the 2007 season.

Head Coach John Harbaugh was a big proponent of not keeping this Super Bowl winning team as it was and said so during an interview in March when he said, “The worst mistake you can make is trying to hold a team together”. "It's impossible."

Newsome spoke to reporters last week before the NFL Draft and spoke of the plan the team has had in place for quite some time. “What happened after we won the Super Bowl, that’s something that Steve, John and I probably started talking about in October, November, as to what the team was going to look like in 2013,” Newsome said. “It wasn’t that one day we woke up and decided that we were going to let a lot of really good football players walk away and play for other teams, but we had a plan in place. We had to allow the plan to unfold.”

When asked specifically about the heavy turnover his team has suffered, Newsome said, “The plan unfolded after we won the Super Bowl, which makes it really, really nice, but it also makes it really, really tough when you go to battle with guys, and then you have to see them walk away from your organization, because we have to prepare for ’2014, ’15 and ’16,”.

“Steve (Bisciotti) has put the four of us in charge of making sure that we remain a competitive football team, even over the course of that, “Newsome said.

The Brass

Through the years, the cornerstone of the Ravens success has been the NFL Draft. Ozzie has already done a nice job in free agency with acquisitions like Elvis Dumervil, Michael Huff, Chris Canty and Marcus Spears.

As the draft approached, Newsome and his staff felt pressure to have another “A” type of draft. After all, this was an unprecedented experiment by a front office that has done and tried almost everything in their quest to be one of the league’s best. Never before had a Super Bowl champion lost this many starters.

However, if history was any indication, this was the type of draft the Ravens would dominate, especially considering the amount of picks they owned. Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, the Ravens have had 17 drafts and selected 17 players in the first round. There have been 30 different players earning 53 combined Pro Bowls, several All-Rookie honors, multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards and two Super Bowl MVP honors.  Of those 30—-16 are homegrown players – 15 drafted and one signed as a rookie free agent.

Of the 22 players who started in Super Bowl XLVII, 12 were drafted and two were signed as undrafted rookie free agents. Heading into the 78th NFL Draft, 22 players out of the Ravens’ 23 draft choices since 2010 are currently on the team’s 2013 roster.

One of the adjectives used to describe the Ravens last season, especially their defense was “aging”. However, if there was one thing the Ravens have accomplished so far this offseason it is that they got younger. The six oldest players from the 2012 team are gone, defensive back Chris Johnson, at 33, is currently the oldest Raven on the roster at more than two years older than the second-most-senior player, fullback Vonta Leach.

They continued getting younger this weekend as they added value picks at positions of need and as usual, appeared to stay true to their draft board. The Ravens board is one of the few in the NFL that does not use the NFL Central scouting system.

This past weekend, the Ravens used their own scouting system to add 10 picks to the 39 draft choices they have made since John Harbaugh assumed head coaching duties in 2008. Not since 2008 have the Ravens added so many players during the Draft. During the past five drafts, Newsome, Harbaugh and company have selected 23 offensive players and 16 defensive players. This past weekend the gang added six more on defense and four more on offense.

There is always a ton of scouting reports and analysis on draft prospects. Here is a combination of what some of the top scouting sites had to say about the Ravens draftees, as well as my own analysis. Over the next three days I will breakdown and eventually give my grade for the Ravens 2013 NFL Draft.

Here is the Ravens breakdown of their top three selections.

Big Hitter

Round 1, Pick 32 (32): Matt Elam, S, Florida:

Height/Weight: 5-foot-10, 205 pounds:

School: Florida

Position: Strong safety

With Ed Reed signing with the Houston Texans and Bernard Pollard being cut, the Ravens lost their two starting safeties from the Super Bowl team. The signing of versatile safety Michael Huff eased the pain a bit but the Ravens had to have one in this draft and not just any safety would do.

The last time the team was coming off a Super Bowl championship (2001), Baltimore stood pat at the 31st and last spot during the first round, coming away with Arizona State tight end Todd Heap, who became the club's all-time leading receiver. On Thursday night, amid a flurry of trade activity involving late-round teams and stunning falls from grace for some top prospects, the Ravens again ended up in a unique position to select one of the players they coveted the most, Florida safety Matt Elam.

Although many expected Newsome to select of one of the inside linebackers, he chose Elam instead.  As a resident of the Sunshine State, I have watched Elam’s career blossom in the “Swamp” and if ever there was a player that fits the mold of the Raven Way, it is Elam. With that said, the pick still raised a few eyebrows and amped up feelings of need as the “inside” of the defense still felt naked.

Even Fanspeak’s resident draft expert, Stephen Shoup will tell you that building the front seven is how you build a defense. This is not a knock on Elam but merely a concern for what many fans felt was more of a need, especially with Lewis retiring and Ellerbe taking his talents to South Beach.

Newsome was confident and firm in selection, even ecstatic and could not hide his joy when talking about the pick. "[Elam] was the highest-rated player on our board. He is one of the better tacklers we've seen play the position. Whether he makes the starting lineup right away depends on the coaching staff, but he could be a special-teams presence right away for us."

NFL.COM SAYS:  Elam is a hard hitter and produced one of the best highlight reels of any draft prospect.  A two-year starter in Gators' secondary entered the college ranks as the top high school safety prospect. His older brother Abe Elam has paved the way for Matt to make it in the NFL. He was a two-way player in high school, but Elam made the transition to safety shortly after focusing on special teams during his freshman season in 2010.

NFL DRAFT SCOUT SAYS:  He is athletic, instinctive and quite physical, Elam demonstrated the ability to walk up into the box and be a force near the line of scrimmage while also dropping back into coverage as a single-high safety when coaches called for it — showing off the type of versatility NFL teams are demanding from today's hybrid safeties.

WEAKNESSES:  Lacks preferred size for the position. Too often loses out on 50-50 balls, being forced to attempt to rip away at the hands of the receiver as he attempts to come down with the catch. Highly aggressive downhill tackler who can come in too hot and lose control, leaving cut-back lanes.

Tends to lead with his shoulder and will leave his feet to make the lights-out hit, resulting in some ugly lunges and misses. Good, not great lateral agility and can get left grasping at air. The same good, not great lateral agility shows up in coverage where Elam can lose positioning against slot receivers, though he does have a nice burst to close quickly.

Elam has twice had run-ins with police regarding minor in possession offenses involving alcohol (July 2010, July 2011).

RAVENS.com WEAKNESS: Elam is one of the higher profile prospects at his position due to his onfield emotion and energy when lining up big hits in the open field. The junior thrives when his number is called, and Elam was very visible since he frequently lined up in the box at strong safety. However, when looking beyond the splash plays, Elam lacks urgency and can be seen standing around while others make the play. That combined with his tendency to launch himself at ball carriers rather than make form tackles might have caused some scouts to be a bit apprehensive.

PICK GRADE: B+ (I like Elam as a player for the Ravens,  just not at this point.. Still think Ravens could have traded up to get him or taken a player like S.C. safety D.J Swearinger later in round. Thought this was a big chance to take leaving so many inside linebackers on the board. In the end it worked out but there was a risk here)

PROJECTED ROLE FOR GAME 1: Starting safety alongside Michael Huff

Arthur Brown to man the middle

Round 2, Pick 24 (56) (from Seahawks): Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State:

Height/Weight: 6-foot, 242 pounds

School: Kansas State

Position: Inside linebacker ("Will," or weak side)

This was the pick I expected the Ravens to make when they chose Elam. This is also the pick that epitomizes the expression, “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good”.

Once the Ravens traded up in round two with the Seahawks, and all of the other top rated linebackers were gone, including some of the not so top rated linebackers, I exhaled and cheered all at one time. This pick made the Elam selection look even better and this is the pick I point to as the future of the Ravens defense.

Jeff Reynolds of The Sports Xchange had this to say. “One linebacker becomes an All-Pro…Arthur Brown of Kansas State got little press in Manhattan and isn't yet a headliner, but he'll make like NaVorro Bowman and go from overlooked rookie to most wanted in short order. Brown can play inside or outside linebacker and his experience stopping the run and in coverage showed scouts he'll play all three downs with the kind of verve coaches want from their defensive captain. This isn't a knock on Manti Te'o or Alec Ogletree as much as a nudge to the limelight for Brown.”

RAVENS.com SAYS: Brown has similarities to the man he's looking to step in for, future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. Both linebackers are known for their impressive sideline-to-sideline speed, but fell down draft boards mostly over concern about their small stature. Brown is somewhat undersized as a middle linebacker, but he had the speed to cover tight ends, running backs and slot receivers coming over the middle of the field. This is the first time in franchise history that the Ravens have an opening at middle linebacker, and the spotlight will be on Brown from the time he arrives in Baltimore. Handling that pressure and expectations will be critical for him to settle in and succeed during his rookie season.

NFL SCOUT SAYS: Instinctive, physical defender who, other than his lack of ideal size, ranks among the surest prospects of the 2013 draft. Possesses excellent key and diagnosis skills. Often takes his initial step toward where the play is designed to go before the quarterback has finished taking the snap. Possesses explosive, active hands to quickly slip blocks and plays with excellent leverage, bending at the knees to consistently get under the pads of would-be blockers and pushing them aside to make the play in the hole. Very good balance to avoid cut blocks and when knocked to the ground; remarkably quick in popping back up. Very good sideline-to-sideline speed, which could allow him to remain at inside linebacker in the NFL. Drops back into coverage fluidly, demonstrating not only the athleticism but the awareness to handle this responsibility in the NFL. Times his blitz well with the snap, showing the flexibility to slip past blockers, flatten out and close on the quarterback.

NFL.com Overview: The brother of the Philadelphia Eagles' 2012 seventh-round draft pick, running back Bryce Brown, transferred from Miami (Fla.) to see the field more regularly. It didn't take long for Arthur to make an impact at Kansas State and became the Wildcats' most consistent force on the defensive side of the ball during his tenure in Manhattan. Some will question his size, but Brown plays much bigger than his frame suggests due to strong hands and a physical attitude on contact. He projects as either an inside linebacker or weak-side prospect in the NFL.

WEAKNESS: The knock on Brown is his size. He is a little less than 6’1” and weighs about 240-pounds. They say he has a tendency to take on blocks with alternating shoulders, putting him in excellent position to slip off and make tackles but also could be jeopardizing the long-term health of his body, especially considering his relative lack of size in the first place. Stands out on tape for his size, physicality and open-field tackling, but has not proven to be much of a playmaker over his career, posting "just" three interceptions and not a single forced fumble over his collegiate career. Struggles while at Miami open up concerns about how well he will handle the jump to the Ravens while stepping in for a legend in the process.

It is obvious Nolan Nowrocki did not write Brown’s weaknesses and thank God, for that but if that is the biggest weakness that can be found on him; the Ravens are in good shape. I will say this, without Brown in the second round; the Ravens would have struggled to gain a grade better than a “B” in this draft. While I like the Ravens draft as a whole, not getting a young premier linebacker in this draft when so many were available could have been catastrophic.

Brown has developed into a natural leader, who is confident in his abilities. "I come in with a strong drive. I'm a player that possesses great instincts and athletic ability. I'm a downhill, hard-nosed type player." Brown told reporters. As much as staying true to your board is a positive, this could have been a situation where it turned out to hurt the Ravens.

I agree with many that say Matt Elam had to be selected considering the lack of depth at safety in this class but consider this; while the Ravens had many holes to fill, replacing Ray Lewis, as well as Dannell Ellerbe was the main objective and I will not move from that stance.

Without Brown, or a player like Kevin Minter, or Manti Te’o in the fold, this could have been a disastrous draft, at least at the top of the board. The good news is, there would have always been next year for the great Ravens scouting department,  the bad news, without Brown, the Ravens may have been selecting a lot higher next season, as they continued to look for No.52’s replacement.

In my opinion and I may get an argument from a few people on this one but Brown has better NFL potential coming out of college than did Panthers linebacker and reigning defensive rookie of the year in the NFL, Luke Kuechly.

Drafted last season by the Panthers with their ninth pick in the first round, the former Boston College star led the league with 164 tackles during the regular season and recorded eight pass deflections, one sack, two interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. The next closest tacklers to Kuechly (NaVorro Bowman & Chad Greenway) had 148 takedowns.

PICK GRADE: A+ (Great player, great value)

PROJECTED ROLE IN GAME 1: Starting inside linebacker

Brandon Williams

Round 3, Pick 32 (94): Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern:

Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 335 pounds

School: Missouri Southern State

Position: Defensive tackle

Williams was best described as the best defensive lineman in the country that does not play for a major college. The Pro Football Weekly draft preview guide listed him as the second-best player in the country at his position, trailing only Ohio State product Jonathan Hankins.

Being a three time All-American is rare at any level of football but Williams was one to accomplish that feat. The Associated Press placed Williams on one of their three Little All-American teams (third in 2010, second in 2011, first in 2012) as one of the top players in Division II, III, or NAIA.

Williams showed glimpses of talent while playing every game as a true freshman for the Lions, starting three contests and making 38 tackles, three for loss and 1.5 sacks. He missed the 2009 season due to an injury, but exploded on the scene as a redshirt sophomore, earning those All-American honors and first-team All-MIAA accolades with 50 stops, 17 for loss, and nine sacks despite starting just the final seven games after starting the year coming off the bench.He started nine of the teams 10 games in 2011, racking up 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Williams has also tipped 12 passes at the line during his first three seasons. In 2012, Williams was named the MIAA defensive player of the year with 68 tackles (16.5 for loss), 8.5 sacks, and five forced fumbles. "He's smart," Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said of Williams. "He's tough. He's a tremendous athlete. He moves well for a big man and we're excited to have him.

Williams is expected to push veteran Terrence Cody, whom the Ravens have openly expressed disappointment in and is recovering from offseason hip surgery, as well as free-agent pickup Chris Canty for the nose guard spot.

"We will have a nice little rotation at defensive tackle,” Harbaugh said. "Haloti bumps inside a little more now than he did in the past, because we added Marcus and Chris. We have really bolstered our front seven big-time.  I just think we are going to be deep. DeAngelo [Tyson] is still in the mix there. We are going to have a nice rotation upfront. It’s going to be a very formidable group up front."

The matchup’s problems he helped create also led to his being the only defensive tackle in all of college football to limit runners for negative yardage. He held opposing ball carriers to minus-58 yards during his career.

This is another player that simply put, is cut right from the Ravens mold. "There were other players we liked that we were going to take with the pick [if Williams was gone]," Newsome said. "These picks have definitely addressed our needs in the middle of the defense."

STRENGTHS

NFL.COM SAYS:  Presents a low center of gravity and strong upper body to push consistently push man-up blockers into the backfield. Gets hands on his man fast, extends his arm to get leverage and can hold his ground. Uses his hands to swim or rip past blockers into the backfield. Also wins gaps by attacking a shoulder or out-quicking his man with a first step. Moves down the line adeptly while engaged to flow with plays. Flashes the agility to jump over trash inside and move well in a stand-up rush position despite his thick lower body. Directs teammates on their responsibilities before the snap. Lines up at five-technique, nose and everywhere in-between.

NFL DRAFT SCOUT SAYS: Broad-shouldered and bulked up, especially in his upper body. Possesses the upper-body strength to shove opponents into the backfield and disrupt plays before they even have a chance to begin. Has enough short area quickness to slice through gaps. Possesses longer arms (32 3/4) than expected given his stout frame, which he uses well to keep offensive linemen off him. Strong, heavy hands. Experienced playing on the nose, defensive tackle and out wide as a five-technique defensive end and has the length and awareness to be similarly versatile in the NFL. Good recognition of screens and draws. Surprisingly light feet and balance to move laterally through the trash and shows enough phone-booth quickness to close. Good strength and aggression for the pull-down tackle. Gets his hands up in passing lanes to provide quarterbacks with narrow lanes and has good hand-eye coordination and timing to tip passes. Enjoyed an impressive week of practice at the Senior Bowl.

Of course, every player has weaknesses and one of the biggest question marks surrounding Williams is whether he will, or can adjust to the NFL from a small school.

WEAKNESSES

NFL.COM SAYS: Does not make a lot of plays outside the box because of average effort and closing speed. Inconsistent at finding the ball, lowers his head at times trying to win gaps, allowing himself to get ridden out of plays. Slow to spin off blocks, and double-teams can move him. Must prove himself against stronger linemen, also that he has the stamina to be more than a rotational player.

NFL DRAFT SCOUT SAYS: Weaknesses: Possesses a disproportionately top-heavy build and a thinner than ideal lower body, which makes him less effective as a run-stuffing presence than he might appear "on the hoof." While active for his size, is not a quick-twitch athlete capable of providing a consistent pass rush in the NFL. Possesses only phone-booth quickness and lacks sustained speed, effort to travel far. Must do a better job of keeping his hands active, as he too often remains blocked when his initial bull rush or first step are handled. Missed the 2009 season due to injury.

RAVENS.COM SAYS: Williams has the size and athleticism to thrive in the NFL, but the jump to the AFC North from Missouri Southern State is steep. He dominated in college, but now he's going to be facing guys his own size, and will not be able to rely solely on his physical gifts to force his way into the backfield and disrupt running plays. Williams will join Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and DeAngelo Tyson in a rotation and competition in the interior of the defensive line. He'll be able to learn from the veterans, who could help him made the adjustment to the professional level.

PICK GRADE: A

PROJECTED WEEK 1 ROLE: In the defensive line rotation, eventually replacing Terrance Cody in the middle.Tomorrow I will break down the following picks:

Round 4, Pick 32 (129): John Simon, DE, Ohio State
Round 4, Pick 33 (130) (Compensatory Selection): Kyle Juszczyk, FB, Harvard
Round 5, Pick 35 (168) (Compensatory Selection): Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013 NFL Draft Perfect For Ravens Draft Wizard(s)

April 25, 2013 in NFL Draft

By Alan Zlotorzynski: With the 2013 NFL Draft just hours away, it must feel like Christmas at the Castle in Owings Mills Maryland. The state of the art practice facility is where the current Super Bowl Champion, Baltimore Ravens, conduct their organizations business and are currently locked down in their draft war room.

They are led by Vice President of Operations and General Manager Ozzie Newsome—-But you can just call him “The Wizard”.

The Wizard and his staff are licking their chops for a draft that seems to be loaded with players that will make organizations like Baltimore better and deeper heading into the 2013 season.  This is a draft without marquee players but is filled with players that will be a part of marquee teams.

Marquee teams like the Ravens and 49ers, who battled in February’s Super Bowl and happens to own a combined 25 picks in this draft. In other words, there is no Andrew Luck or RG3 to take a bad to mediocre team to the playoffs as a rookie next season. However, there are enough players to help good teams like the Ravens, who lost a ton in free agency, recover quicker than normal.

In order to know what the Baltimore Ravens will do tonight, it is equally important to know the very rich draft history of this franchise and the process of how Newsome and company conduct their business. The Ravens draft history has to be considered one of the best in the NFL since the team arrived in Baltimore in 1996.

With The Wizard in charge, the Ravens have proven through the years that they possess one of the top front office and scouting staffs, not just in pro- football but also in all of professional sports. Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, vice president Ozzie Newsome, have had 17 drafts and selected 17 players in the first round.

For starters, the Ravens do not belong to the National Football Scouting group, which provides member teams a list of and reports on players eligible for the draft. Instead, Newsome, along with Eric DeCosta (Asst. G.M.), Joe Hortiz (Dir. Of college scouting),  and a confirmed 19 full-time members of the personnel department, which does not include the coaching staff, work year round on a proven scouting system that has produced picks, which have earned an amazing 53-combined Pro Bowls, several All-Rookie honors, multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards and two Super Bowl MVP honors.

The Ravens have had 30 different players earn Pro Bowl honors since the team’s inception in 1996. Of those, 16 are homegrown players – 15 drafted and one signed as a rookie free agent.

The secret to Newsome and the Ravens success has several key components. The staff has continuity, loyalty and longevity. Most of Ozzie’s staff has been with the team since the franchise started in 1996 or has graduated from the “20/20” club.

The “20/20” group includes members who started with the Ravens as young assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. The term “20/20” refers to hiring “20-year-olds for $20,000.” “Actually, the guys started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them,” said Newsome.

According the Ravens Draft Day Press release guide, Baltimore’s personnel department includes six area scouts, two pro personnel evaluators, who focus on college talent at this time of year, and additional support staff to handle the load.

Eric DeCosta, who has himself turned down opportunities to become a General Manager in the NFL and is the likely successor to Newsome says, “We do a lot of cross-checking. A number of us look at everyone, and then we have the area scouts look at certain players from other regions so we get multiple grades and opinions on all the players.”

Once the Ravens define a player as a “draftable” talent, John Harbaugh and his staff are assigned to add more study, which could include visits and workouts with some of the players. “Another advantage we have is that many of us have worked together or known each other for a while, so we scout the scouts and coaches,” Newsome says. “We may have a scout or coach who has proven he really knows how to spot talent at a certain position. That opinion carries more weight when we’re finalizing the board.”

Newsome encourages all scouts and coaches to have strong opinions. “We have very open dialogue. We want everyone’s opinion, especially from the scouts who have looked at the players the longest. I think another strength of our room is that we respect and listen to each other,” Newsome says.

Newsome always talks about taking the “highest-rated player on the board” when it comes time to select a player. The Ravens’ history proves that. When they had a Pro Bowl left tackle with Tony Jones, Baltimore selected Jonathan Ogden, a future Hall of Famer and 11-time Pro Bowler who was the first pick (fourth overall in ’96) in team history.

When they had Pro Bowl players like Priest Holmes and Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens selected Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap in the first round. “When we have grades that are even, we sometimes select the player in the area we have the greatest need,” Newsome notes. “But, our confidence in our staff and the process we use make draft days easy, exciting and fun. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. The hardest work is done year round prior to the draft.”

The 2013 NFL Draft does not have the glamour and glitz of past drafts but it has a ton of depth and depth at positions the Ravens have plenty of needs.

The Super Bowl champions own 12 picks in the NFL Draft, the most in the AFC and second only to NFC Champ, San Francisco.  Based on what the Ravens lost in free agency, and despite the moves in free agency to replenish some of those positions, Newsome and his staff may look to use every one of those dozen selections during the next three days.

Baltimore’s defense lost six of 11 Super Bowl starters, and pass-rushing specialist Paul Kruger, who did not start the game but led the team in sacks this season. In fact, from Week 10 to the Super Bowl, no one had more sacks than new Cleveland Browns’ pass rusher Paul Kruger (12). Kruger, who posted as many sacks as Mario Williams and Jared Allen combined, had 4.5 sacks during Baltimore’s playoff run.

Three of the four starting defensive backs are gone, as are three members of the front seven.  On offense, WR Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers and veteran center Matt Birk retired.

The Ravens did a nice job filling some of those holes during free agency, as Newsome inked some quality talent at even better quality cap friendly deals. The Ravens signed Elvis Dumervil to replace Kruger. Dumervil had 11.5 sacks with Denver last year and versatile safety Michael Huff, formerly of the Oakland Raiders.

The additions of DT Chris Canty and DE Marcus Spears will also help ease the pain. Canty and Spears are widely considered to be a part of one of the best team drafts in the past 10 years, when the Dallas Cowboys selected both players in 2005. Spears was the20th selection in round one and Canty was picked in the fourth round, 132nd overall.

PLENTY OF HOLES TO FILL:

Inside linebacker seems to be the consensus as the biggest need for the Ravens. The Ray Lewis retirement did not catch the Ravens off guard but Dannell Ellerbe signing with the Miami Dolphins did. Future Hall of Famer Ed Reed is now a Houston Texan and Newsome cut Bernard Pollard, who played in 94 percent of all defensive snaps last season. Back-up safety Sean Considine is also gone via free agency.

While Lewis and Reed battled injuries during their final two seasons in Baltimore, when on the field, the Ravens won with consistency. No.52 and No.20 were the only two players on the Ravens defense to play all 333 postseason snaps (including penalties) during Baltimore’s Super Bowl run.

While much of the offense returns intact, at least in terms of the skill position players, the loss of Boldin and Birk will force the Ravens to draft a WR and center at some point during the next three days. They are also uncertain what the future holds at left tackle.

KRUGER AND ELLERBE

Bryant McKinnie came on to play the position to perfection in late December and during the Super Bowl run but he has not been offered a contract to return and Michael Oher, who the Ravens drafted in the first round (23) in 2009, has never looked comfortable protecting Joe Flacco’s “Blind Side” when he played there. Kelechi Osemele may be able to make the transition but drafting a Tackle, in an offensive line rich draft seems like a no brainer for Baltimore.

In order, the needs have to be Inside Linebacker, Safety, Tackle and Wide Receiver.

There are several scenarios the Ravens may explore tonight and trading up in round one is definitely an option since the Ravens own the most picks of any AFC team. There are four inside backers that are widely considered first round talent.

LSU Linebacker Kevin Minter, Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o and Georgia’s Alec Ogletree, who may be the first ILB off the board, are rated as the top prospects for the position.

Newsome and his staff are not only great at evaluating talent but they are masters at reading the board ahead of them. Meaning, Newsome and his staff can with a great deal of success evaluate whom other teams will be selecting.

You must also not forget to factor in “The Raven Way” when evaluating your talent.  The Raven Way is a hardnosed style of football. It is playing for the guy next to you, being ready to perform as the next man up and playing with heart, soul and above all—–a blue-collar toughness. A toughness that players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed embodied during their days here and players such as Joe Flacco (who has never missed a start), Ray Rice and Terrell Sugggs are likely to carry on.

While a player like Manti Te’o embodies those characteristics of the Raven Way, I believe he was exposed a bit during the BCS National Championship game against Ozzie Newsome’s Alma Matter, Alabama.

I do not think the Ravens are sold on Te’o for the long haul. It is important to keep in mind that the player the Ravens do select is going to be considered the man replacing a legend. Replacing Ray Lewis is impossible but comparisons will be made and No.52’s shoes are the ones the great fans of Baltimore will look for this individual to fill.

This will be the defensive equivalent of Andrew Luck replacing Peyton Manning, or Brian Griese replacing John Elway. Sometime successors have success as Luck did last season and Aaron Rodgers did replacing Brett Favre in Green Bay. But sometime they fail miserably as Jay Fielder did in Miami after Dan Marino called it quits.

Te’o may be better off in Baltimore than if the Chicago Bears select him at No.20. At least the pressure would be somewhat less, as he will also be replacing a legend in Brian Urlacher in the Windy City and he will be doing it 90-minutes from where he played his college football at the University of Notre Dame.

The Vikings or Colts could select Alec Ogletree. That leaves Kevin Minter and Arthur Brown and it comes down to which player best is perceived as a better fit in the Ravens aggressive 3-4 style of play. Arthur Brown is technically an outside backer, while Minter is listed as third best inside backer in Fanspeak.com’s NFL Draft Guide rankings.

ESPN/Scouts Inc. grades Minter at 86 and Brown at 83. The scouting report on Minter strengths read, cerebral defender. Shows very good anticipatory skills to project where the ball is going, demonstrating the burst and agility to beat offensive linemen to the ball. Shows good effort to slip blocks, demonstrating a quick swim move and hand-slap to shake free, as well as a spin move.

Aggressive and shows little regard for his own body, jumping into the pile. Isn't often a textbook hitter but consistently gets his man to the ground in the open field, showing good upper body strength for the drag down tackle. Uses his hands well to strip away at the ball as he is making the tackle.

Times the snap well as a blitzer and closes quickly. Reads the quarterback's eyes nicely when in pass coverage and has a feel for what is happening around him. Enough lateral agility and speed to cover backs. Passionate player with a high-revving motor.

The first weakness listed is the one I believe has the Ravens looking at Arthur Brown over Minter. He is not the physical thumper that some teams prefer in the middle and may lack the sheer athleticism to handle the switch outside vs. NFL speed. Prefers to elude or spin away from blockers rather than physically taking them on and shedding and when he is locked up, Minter struggles to get free.

While Minter is a stud, these weaknesses could pose a problem in the Ravens defense. The weakness report goes onto say, “while he wraps his arms around runners' legs for the sure stop, he isn't a consistently explosive hitter who'll strike fear into ball-carriers. Has been surrounded by an awful lot of speed in Baton Rouge and does not appear to have elite speed, himself. Can be beaten to the sideline and relies on angles, vision and effort, rather than speed to track down ball carriers when in pursuit.

A big part of the Ravens draft philosophy is the division they play in and the AFC North can ill-afford to have a player that fails to strike fear into ball carriers hearts and having a lack of speed in today’s NFL may be too much of chance to take for Newsome.

BROWN SHOULD BE THE PICK:

Arthur Brown

Jeff Reynolds of the Sports Xchange recently wrote about Arthur Brown, “One linebacker becomes an All-Pro…Arthur Brown of Kansas State got little press in Manhattan and isn't yet a headliner, but he'll make like NaVorro Bowman and go from overlooked rookie to most wanted in short order. Brown can play inside or outside linebacker and his experience stopping the run and in coverage showed scouts he'll play all three downs with the kind of verve coaches want from their defensive captain. This is not a knock on Manti Te'o or Alec Ogletree as much as a nudge to the limelight for Brown. “

Brown’s strengths are exactly the type of strengths the Ravens are looking for.  One report says he is an Instinctive, physical defender who, other than his lack of ideal size, ranks among the surest prospects of the 2013 draft.

Brown possesses excellent key and diagnosis skills. He often takes his initial step toward where the play is designed to go before the quarterback has finished taking the snap. Possesses explosive, active hands to quickly slip blocks and plays with excellent leverage, bending at the knees to consistently get under the pads of would-be blockers and pushing them aside to make the play in the hole.

Furthermore, Brown has very good balance to avoid cut blocks and when knocked to the ground; remarkably quick in popping back up. Very good sideline-to-sideline speed, which could allow him to remain at inside linebacker in the NFL.

This is the part that Ravens fans saw a dramatic drop off in from Ray Lewis during the past few seasons. Brown drops back into coverage fluidly, demonstrating not only the athleticism but also the awareness to handle this responsibility in the NFL. Like Dannell Ellerbe, Brown times his blitz well with the snap, showing the flexibility to slip past blockers, flatten out and close on the quarterback.

As for his weaknesses, Brown has obvious size concerns, though he plays much bigger than he looks. The report reads that Brown has a tendency to take on blocks with alternating shoulders, putting him in excellent position to slip off and make tackles but he could be jeopardizing the long-term health of his body, especially considering his relative lack of size in the first place.

He has not proven to be much of a playmaker over his career, posting "just" three interceptions and not a single forced fumble over his collegiate career. Struggles while at Miami open up concerns about how well he will handle the jump to an NFL team further from home.

Brown is listed at almost 6’1” and 241-pounds. If you are very concerned about his size, it may be important to keep in mind that Ray Lewis was listed at 6’1” and 245-pounds entering his final season with the Ravens.

Brown is one of the players whose draft stock is seriously climbing. CBS Sports has Brown going as high as No.20 on two mock boards. Mike Mayock does not have Brown or Minter being selected in round one. But to me, the Ravens will either select Brown or Minter and if Brown is within their grasp and they need to use one or two of their 12 picks to ensure they get him, then do not be surprised to see Newsome trade up to do so.

The Ravens rarely trade up in round one and are more likely to do what they did last year when they traded down into the second round to obtain Courtney Upshaw.

PROTECTING THE INVESTMENT:

According to Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun, another late scenario has the Ravens trading way up in the first round to obtain Tackle Lane Johnson. Johnson has been consistently rated as the third-best Tackle in this draft behind Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher.

Many of the experts have predicted Johnson will go in the top 10 picks, but the Ravens might trade up for him at a reasonable cost. The Ravens have some options because they have 12 picks. According to scouting reports, Johnson is athletic, durable and the pro scouts like his demeanor. He plays with the nastiness of a defensive lineman.

Lane Johnson

After dishing out a $120 million contract to Joe Flacco, the Ravens may be thinking it is wise to protect that type of investment.  According to the Preston Report, veteran Bryant McKinnie is still an option for the Ravens, but they prefer to have a player with more stability at left tackle, which is the most glaring weakness on offense. Michael Oher is not the answer and do the Ravens want to risk Joe Flacco’s current streak of 93 consecutive starts including the playoffs by allowing Kelechi Osemele an opportunity to adjust during the season.

McKinnie has remained relatively quiet this offseason, but when he has spoken, he has often stated he wants to come back as a starter, not a backup.

So let us make it official, here is my prediction on what the Ravens will do in about six hours.

The Ravens will likely stand pat and draft Arthur Brown if he is available. If they feel, he will be gone by the 32nd pick but still around at No.23, (the Colts may want Brown at 24), look for Baltimore to trade up with Minnesota, who has two first round picks to make a deal and take Brown at 23.

PREDICTIONS THROUGH FOUR ROUNDS:  

Round 2 (pick 62): If the Ravens do not have to trade up in the first round to get a quality ILB, I look for them to make a move up in round two to ensure they get D.J Swearinger, Safety, South Carolina. Captain of the South Carolina defense and a four-year starter, few college safeties hit as hard as Swearinger, according to NFL.com’s scouting report. He would be a nice fit in Baltimore but the Redskins will want him too and they finally have a pick at No.51.

Could the 49ers repay the Ravens for giving up Boldin for so little by trading the 34th pick? Although it may be over drafting Swearinger, it fills a big need and I promise you he is on Newsome’s board.

dj swearinger

Round 3 (Pick 94): OL David Quessenberry, San Jose State: FROM NFL.COM, Quessenberry is around 300 pounds now after coming into college at around 240 pounds. He is still going to need to gain the necessary upper-body and leg strength to handle NFL defensive linemen, but the 2012 first-team All-WAC pick should win over scouts with his impressive overall skill set. Quessenberry may be able to stay at tackle at the next level, but might be a better fit for offensive guard.

Round 4 (Pick 129) Chris Harper, WR, Kansas State (keep an eye on Ryan Swope as well): Harper is 6’1 and 230-pounds, he is a converted quarterback, and does any of this sound like a certain WR that was recently traded away?  NFL.com says, “His size/speed combination is impressive. Cornerbacks trying to press him at the line see his quickness and pure acceleration down the sideline. On crosses, sells the outside routes before planting his foot to get inside position. Harper uses his size to his advantage, often shielding defenders. He also possesses a very strong set of hands that he uses to out-muscle smaller defensive backs. Very adept at catching the ball off his frame. He is also very tough to bring down with the ball in his hands.

Round 4 (Pick 130 Compensatory) OL Barrett Jones, Alabama: He drops to the Ravens because of his Lis-Franc injury. Some even have him falling to the fifth round but name the award, and he won it playing at Alabama. In 2010, he was All-Southeast Conference at right guard. When the need arose for him to play left tackle in 2011, he performed so well that he won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman. Last year, he moved to center – and won the Rimington trophy as the nation's top center. He also played on three national championship teams – 2009, '11 and '12. In addition, what meant the most to him was being voted captain by his teammates in 2012.

Please join Alan Zlotorzynski and Stephen Shoup tonight at 8:00 p.m. as they bring you the 2013 NFL Draft of the Fanspeak Radio Network. The guys will break down and evaluate every pick made tonight. 

Ravens Free Agency Recap: Day One

March 13, 2013 in Free Agency, News

Here is a recap of all your Baltimore Ravens free agency news from the first day.

The Ravens placed a 2nd round tender on TE Dennis Pitta.

The Ravens placed a 2nd round tender on DE Arthur Jones.

The Ravens placed an original round (3rd) tender on TE Ed Dickson.

The Ravens re-signed WR David Reed to a 2-year deal worth a maximum of $2.5 million.

The Ravens re-signed S James Ihedigbo to a 1-year deal.

The Ravens re-signed LS Morgan Cox to a 2-year deal.

The Ravens re-signed G Ramon Harewood.

The Ravens re-signed RB Damien Berry.

The Cleveland Browns agreed in principle to a 5-year deal worth $40 million with Ravens LB Paul Kruger.

The Miami Dolphins agreed in principle to a deal with Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe.  The deal is worth $35 million over 5 years.

The Ravens made an effort to re-sign Ellerbe but, they were never very close to a deal.

The Ravens are rumored to be interested in former Rams WR Danny Amendola.

The Ravens signed DT Chris Canty who was recently cut by the Giants to a 3 year deal worth $8 million.

The Ravens have talked with the agent for former Steelers LB James Harrison.

Dannell Ellerbe (left) and Paul Kruger (right)

Two starting LBs for the Ravens, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, have left in free agency.

Ravens Advance To Super Bowl XLVII

January 22, 2013 in Observations

In a rematch of last years AFC Championship Game, the Baltimore Ravens outlasted the New England Patriots by a score of 28-13.  At halftime the score was 13-7 to the Patriots.  Once the second half started the Ravens had a new offensive scheme, pass the ball.  This worked as it led to 21 second half points.  The defense rose to the occasion and shut the Patriots out in the second half.  In the first half, the Ravens were out played but, in the second half, the Ravens outplayed the Patriots.  Before this game, the Patriots had won 71 games in a row under head coach Bill Belichick when leading at half, including a 67-0 record when the quarterback is Tom Brady.  Now the Ravens will head to New Orleans to play in Super Bowl XLVII.  They will have the San Francisco 49ers who are coached by the brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh.  The game will take place on February 3rd and kickoff is at 6:29 pm Eastern time.

The Red Zone
The Ravens play in the red zone, on offense and defense, is what won them this game.  On offense, they made it to the red zone four times and, scored four touchdowns.  This offensive efficiency can make an offense almost unstoppable, as long as they can actually get to the red zone. On defense, they allowed the Patriots to make it in to the red zone four times but, they only scored one touchdown.  The Patriots also got to the Ravens 24 and 22-yard line but, the Ravens were able to force interceptions both times.  This red zone defense describes this years Ravens defense.  They are not the best in the league anymore however, once the other team makes it to the red zone, they dig in and stop the offense. It is very hard to lose a game when you have these two stats on your side.

Joe Flacco
For Flacco, it was almost like two different games.  In the first half, he went 6-of-12 for 81 yards with 0 TDs or INTs.  This isn't bad quarterbacking but, it also isn't how an elite one plays.  In the second half though, he went 15-of-24 for 159 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.  For the game, he went 21-of-36 for 240 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.  His QBR was 80.2 and his QB rating was 106.2 compared to Tom Brady's QBR of 45.1 and QB rating of 62.3.  Brady also threw 2 INTs.  So, for the third time in as many games, Flacco has outplayed Tom Brady and, two of these games have been the AFC Championship.

As stated above, the Ravens offensive strategy in the second half changed.  In the first half they had been doing a lot of run plays, especially on first down.  The offense just looked really conservative in the first half.  At halftime, there were some changes as the Ravens came out throwing in the second half.  In fact, Flacco accounted for 70% of the Ravens offense in the second half.  With this change, the offense started to move the ball.  Soon they had taken a 14-13 lead and they never looked back after that.

On to more game specific things, Flacco never really got the deep ball going as his longest completion of the game went for 26 yards to Anquan Boldin.  The lack of a deep passing game can be attributed to the weather as it was very windy on the field with the wind at around 20 mph if I remember correctly.  All of Flacco's touchdown passes were good but the one that stood out to me was the first to Anquan Boldin.  The first was a play action jump ball.  After the fake, Flacco threw the ball up where only Boldin could get it.  Flacco also had one rush attempt where he scrambled and picked up 14 yards and a first down.

Joe Flacco

Ravens QB Joe Flacco celebrates throwing one of his three touchdown passes against the Patriots.

Ray Rice
Starting with his performance in the passing game, Rice had 3 catches for 22 yards on 4 targets.  Of these three catches, two of them went for first downs.  The most memorable was a 15 yard screen pass.  The Patriots originally had the screen covered but, Rice got away and Flacco threw it.  Rice broke three tackles on his way to the first down.  Now to the run game.  While Rice had 19 rushes, he only ran for 48 yards which is an average of 2.5 yards per carry.  Three of these rushes went for first downs.  One was a 5 yard run that put the ball on the Patriots 2-yard line after he ran for eight yards the play before.  Another of his first downs was a short run on a 2nd and 2 which put the ball on the Patriots 3-yard line.  The last of his first downs was a 3rd and 1 run with five minutes left in the game which helped run more time off the clock.  Along with his 48 rush yards, Rice also had a rushing touchdown.  He only went for two yards but, he broke two tackles on the way.  The play called for Rice to run up the middle but, like most of the game, there wasn't running room in the middle.  So, Rice bounced the run outside to the left and scored. The only negative from Rice is he had a false start on a 3rd an 8 from the Ravens own 29-yard line.  This was early in the game so it can probably be accounted to nerves.

Bernard Pierce
While couldn't get much going on the ground, Pierce had much more success.  On 9 carries he had 52 yards.  Three of these carries went for first downs.  One of them was a 2nd and 5 run for nine yards which put the ball on the Patriots 22-yard line and another was a 3rd and 2 draw that he was able to bounce outside for a gain of eleven, the longest rush by any running back in the game.  Pierce also had 1 catch for 8 yards.  This also went for a first down; it was a 2nd and 8 swing pass that just barely was enough for the first.

Torrey Smith
Unlike the Denver game, Smith wasn't able to catch a deep pass but, he still had an impact on the game.  Most of his catches were in the intermediate range due to the wind.  He had 4 catches for 69 yards on 9 targets.  He had three of these go for first downs.  The first was a 25 yard catch on play action on a 2nd and 6 which put the Ravens on the Patriots 15-yard line.  The second was a 2nd and 14 conversion that went for 23 yards.  Lastly, he had a 16 yard catch on a first down.

Anquan Boldin
This was another record setting game for Boldin.  With his two touchdown catches, Boldin became the Ravens all-time postseason receiving touchdown leader.  He had 5 catches for 60 yards with 2 TDs on 8 targets.  All of these catches came in the second half and only one wasn't a first down or touchdown.  One of these first down catches was a 3rd and 9 for 26 yards and the other was on 2nd and 10 that put the ball on the Patriots 10-yard line.  Boldin's first touchdown was on the first play of the fourth quarter.  The other touchdown (the first was discussed with Flacco), was on a 2nd and 4 and was for 12 yards.  Boldin lined up in the slot and ran a seam route, Flacco threw it up and Boldin caught it for another touchdown.

Anquan Boldin

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin celebrates a touchdown with WRs Torrey Smith (left) and Jacoby Jones (right) nearby.

Dennis Pitta
For the second game in a row, Pitta had 55 receiving yards.  This week he did it on 5 catches with 7 targets.  Three of these catches went for first downs, one for a touchdown, and the other was in the red zone.  Starting with his first down catches, Pitta had a 3rd and 4 catch from deep in Ravens territory, a 2nd and 10 catch for a gain of over 20 yards, and a 2nd and 4 catch that put the ball on the Patriots 13-yard line.  His touchdown was on 2nd and goal from the 5-yard line and was a quick pass.  Lastly, his other catch occurred on the play before his touchdown.  It was first and goal from the ten and he went over the middle.  Pitta caught the ball and took a big hit but still was able to hold on to the ball.  On the negative side, Pitta had a diving catch go right through his hands on a 3rd and 8.

Offensive Line
Yet again, the offensive line performed great.  They only gave up two sacks for a combined loss of five yards which is nothing in terms of sack yardage.  The first sack was given up by LT Bryant McKinnie on a 3rd and 6 from inside the Ravens own 10-yard line. The other sack was more of a coverage sack and Flacco was starting to scramble so it wasn't really the fault of the offensive line.  It only went for a loss of one so it was basically a failed run play.  None of the offensive linemen were called for a penalty which is very impressive.  In the run game, they got some movement but for the most past, there never were any big holes to run through.  Of the offensive line can protect Flacco like this for one more game, they could be tough to beat in the Super Bowl.

Haloti Ngata
Ngata may have only had four tackles but, for a defensive lineman in a 3-4 defense, that is good.  One of these tackles was a run stop for no gain.  The part of the game that Ngata was the best at yesterday was rushing the passer.  Ngata finished with three of the Ravens seven QB hits (they didn't record a sack but seemed to have a fair amount of pressure).  On a 4th and 4 play from the Ravens 19-yard line, Ngata had pressure with Terrell Suggs which caused Brady to throw the ball away.  Once the Ravens made this stop, it seemed like the Ravens were going to win and make it to the Super Bowl.  This play is an attribute to Ngata's speed as Brady had an open field in front of him but didn't run because he probably wouldn't have made it.  Ngata also had pressure on another play which caused a throw away.  The last play where Ngata caused a throw away was with two minutes left.  Ngata had pressure which caused Brady to throw the ball away.

Pernell McPhee
So how does a defensive lineman without a tackle make it here?  Simple, deflect two passes (including one that leads to a touchdown) and say that you have discovered Tom Brady's flaw.  First, McPhee batted away a pass in the fourth quarter that Dannell Ellerbe was able to intercept. After this interception, with seven minutes left in the game, it seemed like the game really was over as the Patriots never got the ball back until there were two minutes left.  The other pass deflection came with under two minutes left in game.  On to him discovering Brady's flaw, McPhee says "He throws all of his balls low."  When asked about how Brady has been so successful despite this McPhee said "He just throws it fast and he always gets good pockets.  But I tried to stay in front of him after watching film and knowing where he likes to go and how he likes to do it.  So that was my best advantage, just get my hands up."  This strategy clearly worked for McPhee as he had his two pass deflections at the line.

Pernell McPhee

Ravens DE Pernell McPhee batted down two passes at the line-of-scrimmage.

Ray Lewis
As usual, Lewis recorded double digit tackles with 14 but, according to Pro Football Focus, only two of those were defensive stops (runs for little or no gain).  Lewis was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit which was the right call even though it was pretty obvious that he didn't mean to do it. Lastly, after the game, Lewis fell to the ground and started saying "Hallelujah."

Dannell Ellerbe
Starting with pass coverage, Ellerbe gave up three catches for one first down.  With about seven minutes left in the game, Ellerbe intercepted Brady off of McPhee's tip.  This came the next play after Wes Welker caught a 56 yard pass.  The last positive for Ellerbe was a pressure on Brady which caused a bad deep pass that ended up going out-of-bounds.  Also on this play, Ellerbe was able to take down Brady.  On the negative side Ellerbe was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty after slapping a Patriots offensive lineman when a play was over. Ellerbe was retaliating to a late block but, you can't do that in the NFL and he was flagged, even if his slap barely was anything.

Terrell Suggs
While Suggs is though of as a pass rusher, he is actually quite a good run defender and this was on full display yesterday.  Suggs had two run stops for no gain including one on a 2nd and 1.  In the pass rush department he wasn't able to record a sack (like all of the Ravens) but, still had at least two pressures.  The first was on the 4th and 4 with Haloti Ngata as already discussed.  The other was with under two minutes left where he hit Brady as he threw causing an incompletion.

Walking off the field, Suggs was overheard saying "Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl. Arrogant f—ers" and "These are the most arrogant pricks in the world starting with Belichick on down."  He also said "That's funny, ever since SpyGate they haven't been able to win" though I don't know if he said this one to reporters or if he was overheard like the other two.  He did respond to reporters saying "All BS aside they are a hell of a ball club … They have the right to be arrogant."  While he may believe this, there is no reason to say this but, on the positive side, he didn't come out and say it to the media, he was just overheard.  Either way, the Ravens don't need publicity like this, especially after these two controversial things about the Patriots.

Bernard Pollard
It seemed like Pollard was all over the field going full speed all night.  He finished with 9 tackles, 1 pass deflection, and 1 forced fumble.  In the run game, Pollard had a run stop for a gain of two yards.  In pass coverage, he only gave up one pass.  On a blitz he was able to bat down a pass at the line-of-scrimmage.  This batted pass came on 1st and goal from the Ravens two-yard line.  On a 3rd and 4 from the Ravens 19-yard line, he had great coverage and forced an incompletion.  Pollard had a big hit on a receiver but was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit.  However, he led with his shoulder on the play and his shoulder hit the receiver on his head so I am going to call this one a bad call.

Lastly is the play we all remember, his hit and forced fumble on Patriots RB Stevan Ridley.  Pollard hit Ridley hard and they both lowered their heads on the play so it was a helmet-to-helmet hit but since it was a running back it isn't a penalty.  Ridley was unconscious before he hit the ground and on his way down, the ball came out of his hands and was recovered by DT Arthur Jones.  Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said "That [Pollard's hit] was the turning point of the game. A tremendous hit, football at its finest."  This play goes in line with Pollard's history with the Patriots.  In 2008, it was Pollard that hit Brady when he tore his ACL.  In 2009, it was Pollard that Welker was trying to avoid when he tore his ACL.  In 2012, it was Pollard that injured Rob Gronkowski ankle which limited him in the Super Bowl.

Bernard Pollard

Ravens S Bernard Pollard goes in for a tackle.

Cary Williams
Williams had a solid performance last night only giving up four completions and one first down.  He also had a deflection on a 3rd and 2 that went right to Paul Kruger but, since the deflection took a weird bounce off of Williams, Kruger dropped it because he wasn't expecting the ball to come to him.  Lastly, Williams intercepted Brady in the end zone with 1:06 left in the game.  After this interception the Ravens just took a two knees and the game was over.

Corey Graham
Like Williams, Graham gave up four completions, however, three of his went for first downs and the other was for the Patriots only touchdown of the game.  The touchdown was on a 3rd and goal from the one.  After the play, Graham and Chykie Brown were upset because they didn't communicate well after the Patriots motioned a receiver over.  This led to Welker being open for the touchdown.  Graham was also beaten on the first drive on a 3rd and 2 but Welker dropped the pass.  On a pass that Welker didn't drop, Graham was beat deep for 56 yards.  He bit badly on the double move leaving Welker wide open.  Ending on a positive note, Graham had a run stop for a loss of one on a 3rd and 2 which forced a field goal by the Patriots.

Jimmy Smith
This game was the first time in a while that Smith received substantial playing time.  Brown started as the nickel corner and then Smith took it over.  By the end of the game it seemed like they were being rotated.  This could have been part of the game plan to put Graham on Welker instead of Brown doing that.  This would mean that Graham would be in the slot.  Since Smith is better on the outside than Brown, he would come in when in nickel.  This is just a speculation so it will be interesting to see who is the nickel corner in the Super Bowl.

John Harbaugh

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh celebrates the Ravens win in the locker room.

Dannell Ellerbe Questionable

January 19, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Dannell Ellerbe

Ravens starting ILB Dannell Ellerbe is questionable with ankle and back injuries.

Out
CB Asa Jackson (thigh)

Questionable
LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle and back)
FB Vonta Leach (knee and ankle)
RB Bernard Pierce (knee)
WR David Reed (thigh)

Probable
RB Anthony Allen (head)
WR Anquan Boldin (shoulder)
CB Chykie Brown (shoulder)
DT Terrence Cody (ankle)
C Gino Gradkowski (head)
DT Arthur Jones (thigh and knee)
LB Ray Lewis (triceps)
LB Albert McClellan (shoulder)
DE Pernell McPhee (thigh)
DT Haloti Ngata (knee)
S Bernard Pollard (chest)
S Ed Reed (shoulder)
CB Jimmy Smith (abdominal)
WR Torrey Smith (back)
LB Terrell Suggs (achilles and biceps)
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

Patriots

*Note*  Earlier this week the Patriots placed TE Rob Gronkowski on injured reserve.

Probable
CB Marquice Cole (finger)
DE Chandler Jones (ankle)
OL Nick McDonald (shoulder)
DE Trevor Scott (knee)
RB Danny Woodhead (thumb)

Ravens Stun Broncos in Double OT

January 13, 2013 in Observations

In the first double overtime game since the 2003 divisional playoffs, the 4th seed Baltimore Ravens beat the 1st seed Denver Broncos 38-35 in the 4th longest game in NFL history.  The 35 points given up by the Ravens are the most in franchise playoff history.  On the offensive side, the Ravens had an amazing 479 yards of offense.  Coming into the game, almost nobody gave the Ravens a chance to win but, they came together as a team to win this one.  The Ravens will play in the AFC Championship game on Sunday at 6:30 ET on the road against the winner of the Patriots Texans game today.

Coverage Units
If the Ravens lost this game, most of the blame would have gone to the punt and kickoff coverage units.  On the first punt of the game, they allowed Broncos returner Trindon Holliday to go 90 yards for a touchdown.  On the return, there was one Ravens player on the far side of the field (from a TV perspective), other that P Sam Koch.  Holliday just took the punt down the far side of the field and scored.  Brendon Ayanbadejo missed a tackle and Holliday was gone.  Giving up a punt return for a touchdown is one thing but, having about nine players on the wring side of the field is another.  Some of them should be their for contain but not nine of them.

They weren't done after allowing that punt return either.  To start second half, the Ravens kicked off.  Holliday took the ball out of his endzone and ran it 104 yards for a touchdown.  On this play, Holliday just found a hole and made the most of it.  He touched but, there wasn't a good tackle attempt on the return.  With these two plays, Holliday had the longest punt and kick return touchdowns in NFL postseason history.  After these two plays, Holliday never really had a good opportunity to return a punt or kick because the Ravens did the right thing and kicked away from him.

Referees
I just want to make a quick note about the referees.  Throughout the game there were questionable calls that went against both teams.  They also took a long time to make some decisions and what to call.

Joe Flacco
In the regular season matchup against the Broncos, Flacco had a QBR of 0.4.  This week, Flacco led a late comeback to tie the game in regulation and then played good in overtime.  With this win, he now has five playoff road wins and will play in his 3rd AFC Championship game in only five seasons.  Starting with the stats, he went 18-of-34 for 331 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 fumble, a QBR of 65.3, and a QB rating of 116.2. Throughout the game, Flacco's snap count was good as he was able to get the Broncos to jump offsides at least three times.  He was also aware enough to snap the ball when the Broncos had twelve men on the field.  Part of the Ravens gameplan was to throw the ball downfield and Flacco was able to do this.  He was able to accomplish this by averaging 18.4 yards per completion.  Early in the game he had a perfect deep pass to Torrey Smith for a 59 yard touchdown.  A little bit later, Flacco overthrew Smith who had a few steps on his man again.  This also would have been a touchdown.  In overtime, he had a great pass to Dennis Pitta on 3rd and 13 for a first down.  On the negative side, he fumbled a snap at midfield and the Broncos were able to recover it.  With four minutes left in OT, he had an interception dropped near midfield.

The play that impressed me the most was the 70 yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation.  Not only did this tie the game up, Flacco did a great job on this play.  It was a 3rd and 3 and as soon as the ball was snapped, Flacco was under pressure from the outside.  Due to this pressure, Flacco stepped up in the pocket and threw it about 55 yards in the air.  This was a great play because Flacco rarely steps up into the pocket and makes a pass.  This is the sign of an elite quarterback.  If you watch Peyton Manning, you will notice that he steps up in the pocket most of the time when he feels pressure.  This is a great thing to be able to do as a quarterback.

Overall, Flacco's performance is the sign of an elite quarterback.  He was able to led his team on a game tying drive with about one minute left, on the road, against the number two defense in the NFL, in the playoffs.  He was also able to outperform one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Peyton Manning, who finished with 2 interceptions and 1 fumble.

Joe Flacco

Ravens QB Joe Flacco celebrates his game tying touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones.

Ray Rice
After fumbling twice last week, Rice turned in a great performance.  On 30 carries, Rice was able to gain 131 yards and 1 touchdown.  It seemed like most of his carries came in the second half and overtime.  At one point in overtime, almost every first down play was a run to Rice.  Of his 30 rushes, 3 of them went for first downs (by my count).  The first of these was the Ravens first 3rd down conversion in the game.  The second of these was a 32 yard run that put the Ravens inside the Broncos 5-yard line.  On the ensuing 3rd and goal, Rice was able to run for the touchdown from one yard out.  This touchdown gave Rice his five career postseason touchdowns which is a Ravens team record.

Anquan Boldin
Boldin continues to be a first down machine for the Ravens offense.  He had 6 catches for 71 yards on 11 targets.  Of his 6 catches, 5 went for first downs.  One of these first downs was on the final drive in the 1st half.  Another first down was on the first drive of overtime.  Every time the Ravens needed a first down, Flacco would look for Boldin.

Torrey Smith
While Boldin is a first down machine, Smith is the big play receiver.  He had 3 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns on 6 targets.  Each of his catches was for a touchdown or a first down.  The first touchdown was for 59 yards on 2nd and 2.  Smith went deep and just ran right past Broncos star CB Champ Bailey.  This touchdown was needed because the Broncos had just returned a punt for a touchdown.  This touchdown is the 2nd longest passing play in Ravens postseason history.  The second touchdown was with 36 seconds left in the 1st half.  Smith went deep on Bailey again and again scored on him.  Flacco threw the ball a little behind to try and give Smith a better opportunity.  Smith was able to stop his momentum and catch the ball while Bailey couldn't.  With his second touchdown, Smith became the first Ravens player to have two receiving touchdowns in a playoff game.  In overtime, Smith was able to draw a pass interference on a 3rd and 5 play on the Ravens first drive.  This drive didn't result in points but it helped in the field position battle.  Throughout the game, Smith was beating one of the best cornerbacks in the game, Champ Bailey, on the deep passes.

Jacoby Jones
Before his 70 yard touchdown catch, Jones wasn't having a good game.  On a kickoff, he wasn't able to catch it properly and after he got the ball, he was only able to get the ball to about the 6-yard line.  Even worse than this, was his drop on 3rd and 5 with 3 minutes left.  Flacco put the pass right in hands and Jones dropped it.  After the Ravens couldn't convert the 4th down play, it looked like the game was over.  However, Jones more than made up for his drop with his 70 yard touchdown catch with 31 seconds left.  Before this play happened, the Broncos had a 97.2% chance of winning according to ESPN Stats and Information.  On the play, Jones was able to run past the cornerback and the safety took a bad angle and run under the pass.  Once Jones caught it he had a free run to the endzone.  Other than that play, he had 1 catch for 7 yards on 4 targets.

Jacoby Jones

Ravens WR Jacoby Jones catches his game tying touchdown.

Tight Ends
In the first meeting between these two teams, backup TE Ed Dickson was injured and didn't play.  This meant the Ravens couldn't run many two TE sets.  These week he was healthy and the Ravens ran many two TE sets.  Dickson had 3 catches for 29 yards on 4 targets.  Two of these catches went for first downs.  Starter Dennis Pitta had 3 catches for 55 yards on 5 targets.  He had three first downs including one on the final drive in the 1st half and a 3rd and 13 from their own 3-yard line in overtime.

Offensive Line
There aren't enough good things that I can say about the offensive line after that game.  The biggest key on offense was the offensive line.  The line stood up to the challenge and gave Flacco lots of time to throw all game long.  They allowed 1 sack but that was a coverage sack as Flacco just couldn't find anyone to pass to.  In the running game, they opened up holes all game long.  While the longest run was only 32 yards, there were lots of runs for about 5 yards.  The line was only called for one penalty and that was a false start on LG Kelechi Osemele.  The other guard, Marshal Yanda, was very impressive because of two plays.  The first was Rice's touchdown run.  Yanda pulled and took out his guy, pushing him down into the endzone.  This block allowed Rice to score.  The other play was the last play of the first OT.  Rice ran the ball and was being held up but, Yanda came over and pushed the pile for about 2 yards which was enough to get the first down and, more importantly, put the Ravens in field goal range to win the game.

Pernell McPhee
McPhee's name was only called once yesterday but it was for a great play.  On a 3rd and 11, McPhee, as well as a few others, was able to get pressure on Peyton Manning.  McPhee was able to hit the ball out of Manning's hand.  The Ravens recovered this fumble at the Broncos 37-yard line.  McPhee finished with 2 tackles but, this play was huge for the Ravens as they hadn't been getting any pressure on Manning.  In fact, in the 1st half, the Ravens didn't get any pressure on 22 passes but, in the 2nd half, they had 10 pressures on 24 passes.

Terrell Suggs
Let's continue with the Ravens who had sacks.  Suggs had the Ravens other two sacks.  The first was a complicated sack of Manning.  On the play, Manning fumbled and it looked like the Ravens recovered.  However, it looked like Manning's knee was down on the replays that were shown.  This didn't even end up mattering because both Suggs and Cary Williams were called for illegal use of hands to the face.  The call on Suggs was ticky tack and there never was a replay to show what Williams did.  Despite all this, Suggs still got credit for a sack and a forced fumble.  This was the first time that Suggs ever sacked Manning.  The second sack came on a 3rd and 4 on the Broncos drive after Rice scored his touchdown.  Suggs pushed his lineman back right into Manning.  In pass coverage, Suggs gave up one completion.  Suggs was able to finish with 10 tackles and his two sacks were the first for him since week 12 against the Chargers.

Terrell Suggs

Ravens LB Terrell Suggs celebrates one of his two sacks against the Broncos with teammate DE Pernell McPhee.

Paul Kruger
While Kruger didn't get a sack yesterday, he still had pressure and recorded 2 QB hits.  One of these was on the Broncos first offensive play in overtime and the other was on the play were Manning threw his last interception, which set up the Ravens to win the game.  This second pressure was very important.  Kruger forced Manning to scramble out of the pocket and Manning then tried to throw across his body but, it was intercepted. On McPhee's sack, Kruger had some pressure and was able to recover the fumble.  In the run game, Kruger had a run stop for a loss of one.  In the passing game, he gave up one completion and was able to blow up a WR screen.  He forced Manning to just throw the ball into the ground on this play because Kruger was right in the way.

Dannell Ellerbe
Like the last few weeks, this was another solid game for Ellerbe.  He allowed 4 catches for 1 touchdown.  The touchdown came when he had to lineup at cornerback because of the Broncos formation.  Therefore, you can't exactly blame Ellerbe for this as he never has to play out there.  He was able to breakup a 2nd and 5 slant route which would have been a first down.  In run defense, Ellerbe stopped a 2nd and 1 run play for no gain with 2 minutes left in overtime.  Earlier in the game, he was called for a facemask on a play where his hand just grazed the helmet of the ball carrier.  Ellerbe finished with 9 tackles and 1 pass defense.

Ray Lewis
When you look at the box score, one stat that sticks out is the 17 tackles that Lewis had.  This is an amazing total, especially for a 37 year old linebacker.  Lewis is giving it his all to make it back to the Super Bowl for one last time.  When in pass coverage, Lewis gave up 3 completions for 1 first down.  He was also called for a pass interference call.  However, the pass interference probably was better than what would have happened if the receiver caught the ball as there was an open field behind Lewis.  Lewis made one great play in run defense.  He broke through the line and stopped the running back for a loss of 3 yards after Courtney Upshaw slowed him down a little.  Most importantly, Lewis was able to get the defense to stop the Broncos and not let them run the clock out at the end of the 4th quarter.  Even though they gave up a first down almost right away, they didn't give up another and gave the offense about one minute to score.

Corey Graham
If you had to pick a defensive MVP for this game, it would be Graham.  This is because of his two interception.  First though, lets talk about the other things he did.  He allowed 3 completions for 1 touchdown.  The touchdown was just a great pass by Manning and there really wasn't much that Graham could have done.  Graham blitzed a few times and on one of them, he was able force Manning to throw the ball away.  Now on to the interception.  The first came on a 3rd and 7 and was Manning's second pass of the game.  Chykie Brown had good coverage on the play and was able to deflect the ball right to Graham who then went untouched for a 39 yard touchdown.  This gave the Ravens a 14-7 lead only 5 minutes into the game.  His interception for a touchdown is the fifth in Ravens playoff history.  The second interception was just as important as the first. There was 51 seconds left in the first overtime. Kruger's pressure forced Manning out of the pocket and Graham was able to step in front of Manning's pass.  Since there was no return, the ball was at the Broncos 45-yard line.  With the second interception, Graham became the 6th player to have a two interception game in the past five postseasons.  Interestingly, he becomes the 3rd Raven to do this in the same span along with Ed Reed and Lardarius Webb.

Corey Graham

Ravens CB Corey Graham intercepts a pass and this sets the Ravens up at the Broncos 45-yard line with 51 seconds left in the first overtime.

Cary Williams
All four of the passes that Williams allowed went for first downs.  He also had two penalties that gave first downs to the Broncos.  The first was an illegal hand to the face and the other was a holding call.  The holding was on a 3rd and 3 and negated a good pass breakup by himself.  A positive for Williams was a nice hit that broke up a pass.

Chykie Brown
As said above, Brown had great coverage on Graham's interception return for a touchdown.  In pass coverage, Brown allowed 2 catches for 1 first down.  The only other thing of note was that he was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit when his helmet hit the receiver in the facemask.

Ed Reed
All throughout the game, Reed's name wasn't called much.  However, that was actually a good thing for the Ravens, and not because Reed isn't good.  The reason is that Manning wasn't passing it downfield very much.  Almost all of the Broncos passes were either in the short or intermediate range.  Manning obviously didn't want to test Reed in such an important game.  Other than this, Reed was late coming over on Knowshon Moreno's touchdown run and missed an tackle on Demaryius Thomas's touchdown catch.

Justin Tucker
Now Tucker has his first game winning kick in the playoffs.  He kicked a 47 yard field goal in the second overtime to win the game for the Ravens.  This was the 4th longest overtime field goal in playoff history and was the longest kicked by a rookie.  Tucker said that in warmups, he made a 67 yard field goal.  During the break between the first and second overtime, Tucker went out to take a few practice kicks because the Ravens were close to getting a field goal.  I have never seen this happen before and according Mike Pereira, there is no penalty for this but, referees are told to not allow this to happen.  These practice kicks were important to Tucker because they helped him gauge the wind in the stadium.  After the game, when asked about the game, Tucker said "Nobody wavered, we were all confident in each other."  The decision to keep Tucker over veteran Billy Cundiff looks even better now.  Nobody knows what Cundiff would have done in the same situation but, his miss in the AFC Championship game last year would have had to be in the back of his head.

Justin Tucker

Ravens K Justin Tucker celebrates his game winning 47 yard field goal.