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Ravens Free Agency Recap: Week 1 Ends with "A" Grade

March 19, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Free Agency

For Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome and the rest of Ravens front office, the 2014 off season is the polar opposite of what their 2013 off season campaign produced. Having just beaten the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens watched, as no less than nine contributing starters from that team left via free agency, trade or was cut by the team. Two key contributors, Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retired. All of the losses would add up to a very different looking team than the one that had just captured the franchises second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. images (20)

The Ravens were forced to re-sign QB Joe Flacco, who parlayed a remarkable championship run into a then NFL record $120.6 million dollar contract. Not able to reach a deal the prior off season, Flacco entered the final year of his rookie deal literally having to stay healthy and play for his next big pay day—he hit the jackpot. Because of Flacco’s deal, the Ravens chances of being able to bring back some of those key players from the 2013 squad became an impossible feat. WR Anquan Boldin refused to restructure his contract and was dealt the team he had a very big part in beating in the Super Bowl. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, the heir apparent to Ray Lewis and coming off a stellar playoff run himself, took his talents to South Beach and signed with the Dolphins when the Ravens could not enter the same ballpark at the negotiating table.

However, Newsome refused to throw money away on players that contributed to a Super Bowl title but were not exactly stars—but because they were coming off a championship, those players, as Flacco did in Baltimore and Ellerbe in Miami, cashed in elsewhere with other NFL teams. We see it every off season. Teams overpay for the right to bring in a player that appeared more valuable to their team than they actually were during a title run. Newsome did not throw away money at players like Paul Kruger and for that, he was able to bring in other free agents for less money. He managed to sign players such as Elvis Dumervil, Darryl Smith, and Chris Canty and although they did not finish the year, Michael Huff and Marcus Spears were considered value signings at positions of need when they were originally signed.

With the retirement of Lewis (37) and Birk (36), the trading of Boldin (32) and allowing Ed Reed (34) to sign elsewhere, the Ravens were able to get younger, which was another goal of Newsome and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. The off season value signings failed to produce a winner on the field, as the Ravens battled injuries, a poor rushing attack and bad offensive line and became the second straight Super Bowl champion to miss the playoffs, finishing with an 8-8 record.

With Boldin gone and one of those major injuries to his favorite target TE Dennis Pitta, Joe Flacco threw as many interceptions (22) last season as he did in the previous two seasons (12 & 10) combined. He produced only 19 touchdown passes and never did find the long ball in an offense that produced so many big plays for the team the year before. The Ravens really seemed to miss the leadership of Ray Lewis and from Head Coach John Harbaugh all the way down, the Super Bowl champs never seemed to be on the same page. The Ravens still managed to remain in the playoff hunt, as the AFC’s sixth seed, up until 4:00 p.m. on the last Sunday of the regular season but the goal was clear, after five straight playoff appearances and  Super Bowl title, missing the playoffs wasn’t going to be tolerated or accepted in the organization. It was understood that making the playoffs had to the norm and missing the exception to the rule for this franchise.

Entering this offseason the plan was simple —fix what ailed the team in 2013. During the final press conference of the 2013 season, in what team officials call “The State of  the Ravens,  every important member of the Ravens organization off the field attended and answers questions about what went wrong in 2013. Promises were made and lines, albeit soft one, drawn in the sand.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti summed up the Ravens approach best by saying, “I have to be patient to let people fail, but I don't have to be patient enough to let people repeat failure. I'll be more apt to get my way next year if their solutions don't change the problems. That's fair, that's where I am as owner”.

Bisciotti would go on to say, "They know they've failed, they know they need to change, and to make improvements. If it's not the way I think it should be and then it fails again, then obviously it comes down to owner-head coach relationship."  Bisciotti knows the No. 1 priority this offseason was to build the offense. Head coach John Harbaugh has usually had offenses that finished in the middle of the rankings, but the Ravens were No. 29 last season. They averaged only 83 rushing yards per game.

With the goal clear, the Ravens have entered this off season to this point having done the exact opposite of what occurred last year. Instead of watching their free agents sign elsewhere, the Ravens locked their biggest ones up early in the process and stayed patient with the remaining ones, re-signing them at deals considered good values.

It began in mid-February when the Ravens and LB Terrell Suggs agreed on a new contract. The 31-year-old Suggs was entering the last year of a long-term contract that would have put his cap number at $12.4 million next season, but the new deal lowered that number to $7.8 million, which gave the Ravens much needed salary cap space. GM Ozzie Newsome hinted during the January state of the Ravens press conference that the Ravens would look to restructure his contract after he failed to produce much during the second half of last season. Suggs had nine sacks through the first eight games of the 2013 season. He finished with 10 sacks.

That deal allowed the Ravens to get started on contract talks with TE Dennis Pitta and 11 days before Joe Flacco’s favorite was set to hit the FA market, he agreed to a five-year $32 million deal, which makes him one of the top 10 paid tight ends in the league in terms of annual average salary.

The biggest priority this off season was to make sure the Ravens did not lose both offensive tackles. Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher were set to become free agents when the market opened and all signs pointed to losing the pair just days before the March 11 4:00 p.m. deadline. Baltimore was willing to part with Oher but Monroe was a different story. Acquired for a fourth round draft pick in October from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Monroe was listed as high as the No.3 free agent this off season on NFL.com. The two sides appeared to be far away as the deadline approached but as he always seems to do, Ozzie Newsome got his guy and at his price.

The Ravens agreed to terms with Monroe, whom the Ravens did not franchise and would have been forced to pay $11 million if they had. Instead, Newsome signed one of the better tackles in the game to a five-year $37.5 million deal, which has turned to be not just one of the best values in free agency for the Ravens but one of the best in all of free agency. Newsome and the Ravens got a little bit lucky in signing Monroe as quickly as they did. The market seemed to dry up a bit for Monroe when several other highly sought after tackles took advantage of one of the NFL’s newer policies in that players are free to negotiate with teams two days prior to the actual start of free agency. Once 4:00 p.m. Tuesday rolled around, Jared Veldheer and Branden Albert were signing on the dotted line with Arizona and Miami respectively.

The Raiders chose to replace Veldheer with the Rams Roger Saffold but after failing his physical, owner Mark Davis killed the deal sending Saffold back to the Rams. Luckily, for the Ravens, Monroe had already agreed to terms. Oakland entered the free agency period with nearly $66 million in salary cap room and would have offered him a deal likely for what Albert got from Miami. The Dolphins gave the former Cardinal Tackle nearly nine million more than Monroe and before he failed the physical, Saffold’s deal in Oakland would have paid him five million more than Monroe and Saffold isn’t nearly the tackle Monroe is.  While they say it’s better to be lucky than good—the saying timing is everything applies just as well in this case for the Ravens and when it comes to issues such as this—it always seems to.

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Dick Cass, John Harbaugh, Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti

Baltimore also re-signed WR / KR Jacoby Jones and inside linebacker Darryl Smith—both key contributors to last year’s squad and both salary cap friendly value based deals. Jones was considered a luxury as the primary kick returner and likely third or fourth wide receiver but after visiting the NY Giants, signed for a maximum value of $14 million if he hits all of his incentive clauses, sources said. He's guaranteed $4.5 million and he has a $2 million incentive clause based on catches.

Last Friday the Ravens re-signed ILB Darryl Smith, who started every game at middle linebacker last year and led the Ravens in tackles. His deal was for four years and could be worth up to $16.1 million.  Losing Smith would have been costly. Starting all 16 games in the same position that Ray Lewis occupied for the Ravens for the previous 17 seasons, Smith finished first on the team in tackles (125), third in sacks (five), tied for second in interceptions (three), second in passes defended (19) and tied for first in forced fumbles (two). Even more was the value in the deal. Former Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson signed for four years and $22 million with Indy while Karlos Dansby replaced Jackson in Cleveland by inking a four-year, $24 million with Cleveland. Both more than Smith. ProFootballFocus.com ranked Smith 16th among all inside linebackers in 2013, while Dansby was fifth and Jackson 42nd.

The Ravens did not attempt to re-sign CB Corey Graham (Bills) WR Tandon Doss (Jaguars), OT Michael Oher (Titans), ILB Jameel McClain (Giants) and DE / DT Arthur Jones, who hit the jackpot with his old defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis. They did bring back Safety Jeromy Miles as well as ILB Albert McClellan.

The Ravens went outside the organization last Friday afternoon for the first time in free agency when they signed former Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith. The move was puzzling in that back in 2011, the Ravens cut a player similar to Smith in Derrick Mason and is Smith really the type of receiver the Ravens need? He is not really the Anquan Boldin type and said so himself. Smith’s best days are well behind him, as he turns 35 in May. However, last season in Carolina, he still managed to haul in 64 passes for 765 yards and 4 TD’s. His receptions and yards would have placed him second on the Ravens in 2012 behind Torrey Smith, which is where Steve Smith will play.

In 2012, No.89 caught 73 passes for 1,174 yards and four scores. In 2011, he logged 79 catches for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns, earning his fifth Pro Bowl selection. Smith passion for the game will be good in a mundane Ravens huddle. He is not likely to allow Flacco off the hook so easy when he isn’t playing at his best, which is similar to how Anquan Boldin handled Joe Cool.

To Smith’s credit, he knows what his role will be and will likely do it well. He has acknowledged that he is no longer a No. 1 receiver at this stage, and he admitted that one of the draws to signing with the Ravens was that they have several established players on offense – he specifically mentioned Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice – so there is not as much pressure on him. Smith also spoke highly about new OC Gary Kubiak’s offense with the Houston Texans.  He said he saw himself not in the role of perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson, but in the role of Kevin Walter, who never caught more than 65 passes in a season.

Smith got a three-year contract with the Ravens,  worth $11.5 million with a $3.5 million signing bonus  and only time will tell if he’s a good fit for the Ravens offense, and if what he has to offer on the field and in the locker room is what the Ravens need. He could be a nice complementary piece and should help quarterback Joe Flacco. But the success of the Ravens’ passing game in 2014 will still depend on Flacco improving his accuracy and decision-making and the offense line doing a better job of protecting him. The other issue is how fast Flacco and Smith make a connection. Flacco has a tendency to avoid throwing to new receivers in the Ravens system and tends to stick to his “favorites”. Smith won’t tolerate that if he’s open and he won’t keep quiet about it. He also said one of the reasons he elected to sign with Baltimore was because HC John Harbaugh said he wanted him to be himself.  That also seems opposite of what the Ravens have wanted over the last few off seasons. Harbaugh seemed very content to allow the more vocal players—players with Steve Smith’s type of personality to sign elsewhere or the Ravens cut them.

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Dennis Pitta..Photo credit Baltimore Ravens

Derrick Mason, Bernard Pollard, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin were all jettisoned. But it is possible that Harbaugh realizes leadership can be too quiet at times and rattling a few cages by employing a few alpha males may not be such a bad idea after all.  Re-signing Jacoby Jones and signing Steve Smith are a good indication of that. If for no other reason, the Smith signing may wake up a few players.

The Ravens front office is steadfast in its basic philosophy and has showed so far this offseason why they are one of the top front offices in all of sports. They refuse to overpay players who are past their prime, as they showed in giving Terrell Suggs a new contract. Suggs would surely have been cut had he not agreed to a lesser number in 2014. The Ravens also stay patient—very patient in free agency.

That was also on full display with players such as Darryl Smith who was allowed to watch, as two other players set the market for his position. They also know when to pounce as they did with Steve Smith. As soon as the Panthers cut the 13-year veteran, the Ravens scheduled his visit and never let him leave town without a deal. Smith had options, plenty of them. The Chargers had a deal on the table for him and he was on the phone with Patriots HC Bill Belichick, as he prepared to board a plane but the weather last Friday along the east coast delayed his visit until Monday to New England. That visit was obviously not necessary, as Smith signed that day with the Ravens.

The Ravens also pounced without overpaying, as they demonstrated with Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe. Signing Pitta 11 days before the open of free agency and getting Monroe on day one at a great value has been the highlight of the free agency period for them.

They also showed their versatility in thinking. There is a lot of irony in re-signing many of your own players following a season when you finished .500 and missed the playoffs, as opposed to allowing seven available starters to leave in any fashion from a Super Bowl winning team. This versatility and adaptability is also, what makes The Wizard of Oz and company so special. Nate Davis of the USA Today handed out first free agency week grades and the Ravens are one of just three teams to receive an A grade thus far.

The Ravens still have plenty of work to do. They have roughly $12.3 million in cap space to use, this according to spotrac.com. GM Ozzie Newsome said during the State of the Ravens press conference that they would get the receiver that seemed to be missing last season. It is hard to imagine Steve Smith is that guy but as I noted earlier—his numbers would have been second best on the team last season.

Aside from the big-bodied receiver the Ravens still need, they must address the Tight end position and the offensive line at center and right tackle. On defense, Baltimore needs help at safety and could use another defensive tackle. Linebacker and cornerback could also use some depth.

On the offensive line, the Ravens will probably wait until after the draft to fill the guard or tackle position if they choose the free agency route. Center could be a different story. Cleveland's Alex Mack got the transition tag, and Evan Dietrich-Smith (the top unrestricted free-agent center) signed with the Buccaneers. This leaves the New York Giants' David Baas, Cincinnati's Kyle Cook and New Orleans' Brian de la Puente as the top options.

At tight end, the Ravens have Dennis Pitta and two practice squad players, Matt Furstenburg and Nathan Overbay. Tight end and safety are the Ravens' thinnest group, in terms of experience. There had been talk of the Ravens showing interest in Owen Daniels but the Ravens may elect to draft one or sign a cheaper option. Carolina's Ben Hartsock, Seattle's Kellen Davis and the New York Giants' Bear Pascoe are still available if the Ravens decide they want a blocking option to compliment Pitta.

Steve Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

At safety, the Ravens want someone whose strength is coverage. This would complement strong safety Matt Elam. But the Ravens elected to not throw their hat in the ring as many of the best safeties were signed on the first day of free agency. Their remaining options are Miami's Chris Clemons, Atlanta's Thomas DeCoud and Denver's Champ Bailey. Bailey is a 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback who is open to switching to safety. There are also rumors tying Ryan Clark to the Ravens—-yes that Ryan Clark of the Steelers—the same Ryan Clark who said the Ravens would never win a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco at quarterback. The Ravens continue to monitor safety James Ihedigbo.

Ihedigbo had a career-high 101 tackles and three interceptions last season while starting every game for the Ravens. The team has not ruled out bringing back Ihedigbo, who visited the Detroit Lions last week and left without a deal.

Newsome will continue to add to a roster that less than two years removed from its Super Bowl win, is vastly different. There are still the familiar faces of Joe Flacco, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs but the Ravens' 2014 team has just 22 of the 46 players who dressed for SB 47.  If history tells us anything it’s that Ozzie Newsome will fill the Ravens positions of need with the best available players and he will do it at the price the Ravens want to pay.

Suggs Signs Contract Extension

February 17, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Today, the Baltimore Ravens and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs agreed to a contract extension that will likely make him a Raven for life.

It was announced last night that the 31-year old Suggs and the Ravens had agreed to terms on a new contract and today they made it official at a noon Eastern time press conference.

A four-year extension on top of this season (so really a five-year deal), the total value of the contract is around $30 million. There is $16 million in guaranteed money and an $11 million signing bonus. The other $5 million in guaranteed money comes from the base salaries for this season ($1 million) and next season ($4 million). For this season, his cap hit is reduced from $12.4 million to $7.8 million which creates $4.6 million in cap space for the Ravens. In terms of actual money that he makes this season, he receives an increase as he will earn $12.4 million.

Terrell Suggs

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Entering the final year of his six-year $62.5 million deal, he was set to count as $12.4 million against the salary cap. This was the third-highest cap number on the team behind defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and quarterback Joe Flacco. Cutting or trading Suggs would have saved the Ravens $7.8 million in much needed cap space. Due to this high savings number––the largest on the team––it was widely reported that the Ravens would either cut him or renegotiate his contract to create a lower cap hit.

Drafted by the Ravens with the 10th pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, he has been with the Ravens his entire career and now seems set to finish his career in Baltimore.

Despite starting only one game as a rookie, he recorded 12 sacks (a Ravens' rookie record) and earned the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

An electrifying pass rusher, he has five seasons with over 10 sacks (2003, 2004, 2010, 2011 and 2013).

In the 2011 season, he performed at his best setting career-highs in sacks (14.0) and forced fumbles (7). He all tied a career-high with two interceptions. With this dominant performance, he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, making him the third Ravens' defender to earn with award along with linebacker Ray Lewis (2000 and 2003) and safety Ed Reed (2004).

The following season––2012––wasn't so kind to Suggs as he tore his Achilles' tendon during the offseason. A significant injury that causes many players to miss entire seasons, Suggs returned in late October about five and a half months after surgery. In his first game back, he recorded four tackles and one sack against the Houston Texans.

Late in the season though, he tore his biceps muscle against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Missing only one game, he came back and played in the final two regular season games.

As the Ravens started their postseason run to Super Bowl XLVII, he was clearly at less than 100 percent, but that didn't stop him from recording 10 tackles and two sacks against the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This two-sack performance helped the Ravens' upset the heavily favored Broncos.

In Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers, he had two tackles in the Ravens 34-31 victory.

Despite being injured for most of the season, he battled his way through it, and his reward was a Super Bowl ring.

This season, he entered the season in the best shape of his life and it showed early in the season. Through the first eight games of the season, he had nine sacks and seemed on pace to be named defensive player of the year again. However, over the second half of the season, his performance faded as he had only one sack over the last eight games of the season. He also had only 20 of his 80 tackles during the final eight games.

Not only is he a good pass rusher, he is also stout against the run. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the best run defending 3-4 outside linebacker this season. The worst he has finished as a run defender since they started grading in 2008 was 13th during his injury riddled 2012 season. Take that season away, and the worst he has finished is third.

The impact of this deal on the Ravens is massive. By reducing his cap number this sea on by $4.6 million, they free up much needed cap room. Left tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta are two key free agents that the Ravens had who are set to hit the open market. This $4.6 million can now be used to help sign either of them. It is enough money to take up the entire 2014 cap hit of one of these two.

Before, the Ravens could have easily been outbid for one of these two, but now with Suggs' new contract, they have a much higher likelihood of being able to re-sign both of them.

For Suggs, this deal makes sense as well because he now has a contract through the 2018 season. At the end of this season, he will be 36-years old and his football future will likely be in question. This deal lets him stay in Baltimore for what is likely to be the rest of his career and gives him more money this season.

Overall, this deal is a win-win. Both sides get what they wanted as the Ravens receive cap room this season and lock up one of their veteran leaders for a few more years. Suggs gets the security of a new contract, earns more money this season and gives him the opportunity to do something he saw Lewis do just one season ago––retire as a Baltimore Raven.

Patriots Dominate Ravens

December 23, 2013 in Observations

In the worst loss under head coach John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens were dominated at home by the New England Patriots in a 41-7 loss. The loss drops the Ravens to 8-7 and severely damages their playoffs chances. The win for the Patriots makes them 11-4 and they clinched their division prior to kickoff with a loss by the Miami Dolphins.

The Ravens were beaten in all aspects of the game and the team showed no sense of urgency despite the fact that they were fighting for a playoff spot.

This lackluster play led to the largest home loss in team history (34 points). The previous worst was 27 points to the Kansas City Chiefs back in 1999.

How bad did the Ravens play? Even the ever-reliable kicker Justin Tucker missed a field goal (37-yards) breaking his streak of 33-straight makes.

The Patriots jumped out to an early lead at M&T Bank Stadium and never looked back. Two first quarter touchdowns put them up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and they tacked on a field goal before halftime. This 17 point deficit for the Ravens was the largest halftime deficit of the season and the largest since 2011.

At halftime, the Ravens almost had as many penalty yards (65) as total yards on offense (71). The offense never got anything going and the first time they made it into Patriots' territory was in the second half.

Finally, the Ravens scored with 9:21 left in the fourth quarter on a quarterback sneak from Joe Flacco. This put an end to the Ravens' streak of seven quarters in a row without scoring a touchdown as they scored no touchdowns last week and went three quarters this week without one.

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

By then though, it was too late as the score was 20-7 and after the Ravens failed on a fourth down play with just under seven minutes left in the game, it was over.

The Patriots proceeded to march down the field on eight run plays and scored a touchdown with 2:05 left. After this, the Ravens admitted defeat and sent in backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Things got worse for the Ravens then as the first snap that Taylor took he wasn't able to bring in and the Patriots recovered it for a touchdown. A few plays later, Taylor threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown as well making the score 41-7.

Entering the game, the Ravens had won 10-straight regular season home finales which was the NFL's longest active streak.

Joe Flacco
Contributing to the Ravens' poor performance was Flacco who didn't look himself all game long.

The reason for this is that he was playing with a mild MCL sprain in his left knee. This injury forced him to wear a bulky breach on his knee. The injury and the brace clearly effected him throughout the game and is one of the reasons why the Ravens' offense was never able to find any rhythm.

For the game, he went 22-of-38 for 260 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 56.9.

On the second play from scrimmage for the Ravens he under threw a wide open Torrey Smith on a deep pass. Smith had to slow down and wait for the pass after beating the cornerback that was covering him. This time waiting allowed the deep safety to come over and breakup the pass. A good throw here likely goes for a touchdown which would have given the Ravens an early 7-0 lead making it a completely different game.

Flacco's first interception came when he tried to loft a pass over a linebacker to Jacoby Jones. Flacco wasn't able to get the pass over the leaping linebacker. This linebacker deflected the pass and the cornerback, who was a step or two behind Jones, was able to corral the pass. Jones had his man beat, but Flacco wasn't able to get the pass to him. This interception came on the drive after the Patriots first touchdown and gave them the ball on their own 47-yard line. This led to the Patriots second touchdown of the game.

The second interception came on a third and two quick pass to tight end Dennis Pitta. Flacco threw the pass just slightly to the outside of Pitta and it looked like Pitta was expecting a pass to the inside. The ball bounced off of Pitta's hands and right to a Patriot. The blame on this interception can be spilt because Flacco was slightly off target, but Pitta still needs to be able to catch that pass. This game the Patriots the ball on the Baltimore 43-yard line and led to a field goal.

With those two interceptions, Flacco now has 19 on the season. This is tied for the fourth-worst in the league and is by far the most that he has thrown in one season. His previous high was 12 which occurred in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

He also had another interception dropped when he overthrew Jones by about five yards on a deep pass. The ball hit the safety right in the hands, but he wasn't able to bring it in. Jones was double-covered by a cornerback who was stride-for-stride with him and a safety over the top, so I don't know why Flacco even threw the pass.

On a fourth and three play on the Ravens' first drive of the second half, he threw to Jones on an out route, but it was broken up. On the play, he had Pitta wide open underneath for the first down and it is not like Flacco couldn't have seen Pitta as he was in the same area as Jones, just not as far downfield. It looked like Flacco made his mind up before the ball was snapped on who he was going to throw to on this play.

He was sacked four times on the day so the offensive line didn't give him much help, though one of the sacks is on him. This occurred on a third and five where he couldn't find anyone to throw to (a common theme in the game). So, he started to move around in the pocket, but he lost his footing and fell. It was his left leg that went out from underneath him — the one that has an injured knee. He admitted after the game that this is what caused him to slip and fall.

Lastly, he scored the Ravens only touchdown of the game on a one-yard quarterback sneak on second and goal. This is his first rushing touchdown of the season and the first in five games for the team.

Overall he, like the rest of the team, had a bad game. The Ravens are going to need to put this one behind them and bounce back as they try and make the playoffs while facing the Cincinnati Bengals this week in Cincinnati. The Bengals have already clinched the AFC North, but are still playing for seeding.

Ray Rice
Going up against the second-worst run defense in the league, Rice had a chance for a big game, but he wasn't able to produce the way he would have liked.

Carrying the ball 11 times, he ran for 40 yards — an average of 3.6 yards per carry.  One of his rushes went for a first down: a gain of four on second and three. This came the play after he gained seven yards on first down. On a fourth and one run from the Patriots' four-yard line late in the third quarter, Rice came up inches short.

In the passing game, he caught two passes for 23 yards. One of his catches went for a first down as well: a gain of 10 on a second and eight. His other catch was a gain of 13 on a second and 19 screen pass.

With his two catches, he now has 51 catches on the season. This marks the fifth-straight season for him with 50 catches. A sixth-year veteran, Rice has been the starter for the last five years. This streak is tied for the second-longest in Ravens' history with tight end Todd Heap. The record is six-straight seasons which was set by wide receiver Derrick Mason.

Torrey Smith
Catching three passes for 69 yards on eight targets, Smith led the Ravens in receiving yesterday.

However, his first catch didn't come until midway through the third quarter. A likely reason for this is that the Patriots had cornerback Aqib Talib covering him for most of the game. He is the Patriots' shutdown cornerback and they have him follow their opponent's best receiver around the field.

All three of his catches went for first downs. His big play of the game came on a third and six where he gained 42 yards on a curl route. He caught the pass and then stiff-armed a defender away. This allowed him to sprint up the sideline for a big gain and put the ball on the Patriots' 13-yard line. His other two first down catches were gain of 10 on second and six and 17 on second and 10.

He also drew a pass interference call that put the ball on the Patriots' two-yard line. This penalty gave the Ravens 23 yards and two plays later, Flacco scored on his quarterback sneak.

Marlon Brown
At the other receiver for most of the game was Brown who recorded four catches for 51 yards on seven targets.

Three of his four catches went for first downs: a gain of 14 on second and five, a gain of six on third and eight and a gain of 21 on on second and three. On this gain of 21, he ran a shallow crossing route along with Pitta. He bumped into the player covering Brown by mistake (he didn't see him until it was too late). This freed Brown up for yards after the catch as there was no defender trailing him. He was going to make the catch regardless, but this contact freed him up for a much bigger gain.

On this catch, Brown hurt his hip on the tackle. He landed on this hip as he fell to the ground. This injury caused him to miss the rest of the drive, but he was back in on the next drive.

A problem for the Ravens' receivers this season has been getting separation from defenders and this game was no different. Smith, Brown and the other receivers have problems creating separation and this is one of the reasons for the offense's struggles this year.

Offensive Line
Giving up four sacks and averaging 3.28 yards per carry on designed rushes, the offensive line again struggled this week.

Three of the four sacks are the responsibility of the offensive line as Flacco fell on one which was talked about above.

All three of these sacks came from the right side of the line which is manned by right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher.

One sack came on a third and eight and resulted in a loss of seven. It was a simple cornerback blitz and Oher blocked the defensive lineman that crashed to the inside after lining up over him. The cornerback then came into the area vacated by the lineman. Oher needs to see this and block the cornerback while allowing Yanda — who was blocking nobody on the play — to take the defensive lineman.

Another sack came on a first and 10 where Oher allowed fast pressure off the edge which forced Flacco to step up in the pocket. By stepping up to avoid the pressure from the outside, he went right into the lineman that Yanda was trying to block. This sack went for a loss of seven as well and put the ball on the Ravens' three-yard line.

The last sack was solely on Oher. It came on a third and six and he was beaten on a bull-rush. The defensive lineman just overpowered Oher on the way to sacking Flacco for a loss of five.

Center Gino Gradkowski snapped the ball wide right of Taylor who was in for his first snap. This bad snap was recovered by the Patriots for a touchdown. Yes, the game was already over when this happened, but this is and inexcusable mistake.

Left guard A.Q. Shipley has flagged for illegal use of hands to the face.

Arthur Jones
One of the the breakout performers of the season for the Ravens has been Jones who was expected to start at defensive end, but wasn't being counted on to produce the way he has.

Currently, he leads the defensive linemen in tackles with 53 and he had another good game against the Patriots in run defense.

He totaled eight tackles, tied for the second most on the team, and four of them were for run stops. These run stops were for gains of zero, negative two, two and three. The last two were shared with Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody respectively. The most impressive ones — gains of zero and negative two — were solo though.

On the negative side, Jones was penalized for illegal use of hands to the face. He also left the game with an apparent concussion and didn't return. This is something that should be monitored as the Ravens prepare for the Bengals. Earlier in the season against he Bengals he had four tackles and one sack.

Haloti Ngata
Next to Jones on the defensive line is Ngata, who plays the all-important nose tackle in the Ravens' 3-4 defensive scheme.

With the second most tackles on the defensive line with 45, he is having a good season as a run defender, but his pass rushing has suffered since moving over from his defensive end spot that he play last season.

Against the Patriots he had six tackles and three of them were run stops (two were shared). On a first and goal run play for the Patriots, he stopped the play for a gain of two. He also had a run stop for a gain of two which was shared with Jones and a run stop for a gain of one which was shared with Chris Canty, the other starting defensive end.

For the second straight game, and the third time this season, Ngata got his hands on a pass at the line-of-scrimmage. This pass deflection came on a first and 10 pass play.

Terrell Suggs
After recording nine sacks in the first eight games of the season, Suggs had gone six-straight games without a sack entering the game yesterday.

Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Late in the third quarter, he beat the left tackle with a hesitation move on third and two inside the Patriots' 15-yard line. Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady saw Suggs coming and fell to the ground to avoid getting hit hard. Touching Brady down, Suggs had his first sack since week nine against the Cleveland Browns which was Nov. 3.

This sack gives him 10.0 on the season and this is the fifth time in his 11 seasons that this has happened. (The other times were 2003, 2004, 2010 and 2011).

Along with his sack, he had five tackles and two quarterback hits.

Three of his tackles came in the form of run stops. These were for a loss of three and two gains of two. The second of which was shared with middle linebacker Daryl Smith.

On another run play, Suggs had good penetration and was in line to make the play for little to no gain, but the Patriot trying to block him was flagged for holding, the correct call.

Daryl Smith
Leading the team, and the game, in tackles by three was Smith who has done this plenty of times this season. With these 11 tackles, he set a new career high. He entered the game with 107 which was his career high set in 2009 and tied again in 2011.

During the Patriots second drive, he left the game with an injury and missed the rest of the drive. He was able to return the next time the Patriots had the ball though.

As usual, he blitzed multiple times during the game and — as usual — he had success, recording half of a sack, his fifth of the season. This sack came on a third and nine and resulted in a loss of eight. He, along with outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, got to Brady and took him down. Originally, the officials threw a flag for defensive holding on one of the Ravens rushing the passer. However, the flag was waved off and no number was ever given.

In pass coverage, he allowed two passes to be completed for 14 yards and one went for a first down. On the one that went for a first down, Jameel McClain forced a fumble as the receiver, Danny Amendola, went to the ground. This was recovered by cornerback Lardarius Webb. However, this play was reviewed and replay showed that Amendola's forearm was down before the ball came loose. Smith also had a pass defensed on a second and seven play.

Moving to run defense, he had two run stops and both of them are shared. The first was a gain of two which was shared with McClain and the other was a gain of two which was shared with Suggs.

Cornerbacks
Brady and the Patriots' passing attack didn't do much damage to the Ravens as he went 14-of-26 for 172 yards and one touchdown. However, he was efficient and had a quarterback rating of 87.3.

Webb allowed two of these passes to be completed for 10 yards and neither of these two plays went for first downs. He had good pass coverage on a deep pass on second and 10 and was rewarded was a pass defensed, his 21st of the season which is a new career-high. Entering the game he had 20 which was his previous high which was set in 2011.

He had four tackles and one of them was a run stop for a gain of two. He has always been a willing run defender which is something you don't see in most cornerbacks. On the negative side, he was called for two penalties. The first was for illegal contact and the other was a personal foul for unnecessary roughness with just over two minutes left in the game. The game was already decided by then so it wasn't needed. CBS never showed a replay of this penalty so I don't know what he did to warrant the flag.

After going up against Calvin Johnson last week, Jimmy Smith allowed three catches for 38 yards and three first downs. One of these first downs came on a third down. Along with giving up these catches, he had four tackles and was called for two penalties. The first was a pass interference in the end zone which gave the Patriots the ball on the one-yard line. This penalty was for 34 yards and the Patriots scored the next play. He grabbed wide receiver Julian Edelman so this was the right call. The other penalty was a personal foul on a punt return which pushed the Ravens back to their own seven-yard line. Again, CBS didn't show a replay so I don't know what Smith did.

As the nickel cornerback Corey Graham was tested in this game and only allowed one catch which went for 15 yards and a first down. He missed a tackle on the play which allowed the receiver to pick up extra yards.

Tucker Kicks Ravens To Victory

December 17, 2013 in Observations

On the Baltimore Ravens only appearance on Monday Night Football this season, they defeated the Detroit Lion 18-16. The win gives the Ravens a record of 8-6 and drops the Lions to 7-7.

With this win, the Ravens have now won four straight games after starting the season 4-6. At that point in time, it looked like they wouldn't make the playoffs, but now if they win their next two games (home vs New England and at Cincinnati), the Ravens will win the AFC North. They can also clinch a playoff berth next week with a win along with a loss from Miami and a loss or tie from San Diego.

Entering the game, the Ravens had a losing record on Monday Night Football games, but the win makes their all-time record 9-9. Under head coach Johns Harbaugh, the Ravens are 5-3.

In my post previewing key aspects of the game, I said that the game would come down to the fourth quarter and that turnovers would be key. Well, the game did come down to the fourth quarter as the Lions scored a touchdown with 2:21 left and after a two-point conversion failed, they were up 16-15. The Ravens then drove down the field and kicked a game-winning 61-yard field goal with 38 seconds left in the game.

The Ravens also won the turnover battle, forcing three interceptions and never turning the ball over.

Justin Tucker
Carrying the Ravens to victory by kicking the said 61-yard field goal was Tucker, the second-year kicker out of Texas.

Sam Koch and Justin Tucker

Courtesy of ICON SMI

In the game, he did more than just kick a 61-yard field goal though as he scored all 18 of the Ravens points. These 18 points came on field goals from 29, 24, 32, 49, 53 and 61 yards. By kicking six field goals in a game, he set a new franchise record and he became the first kicker in NFL history to make field goals in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s in the same game.

His most important kick of the night almost didn't happen. It was fourth and eight from the Lions' 43-yard line. Originally, the Ravens lined up to go for it on fourth down, but they called a timeout and trotted him out to attempt a 61-yard field goal.

The snap and hold were perfect, and he got just enough of the ball to kick it through the uprights. The ball sailed into the bottom right corner of the goalposts and barely made it over the crossbar.

This field goal is the second-longest on Monday Night Football and is the longest field goal made in an indoor stadium. It is also the longest kick in franchise history — five yards longer than the 56-yard field that was the previous record (set by Wade Richey in 2003 and tied by Tucker last year).

On the ensuing kickoff he blasted the ball well out of the end zone — presumably energized by his kick just minutes prior.

With his six field goals he totaled 248 yards. To put that in comparison, the Ravens passed for 215 yards and the Lions passed for 230.

By kicking six fields, he extended his streak of consecutive field goals made to 33 in a row. This is the longest active streak in the league and is just a few away from the Ravens' team record of 36 which was set by Matt Stover.

Yet again, Tucker was the reason for the Ravens' victory as he bailed out the Ravens' offense that couldn't score touchdowns. He now leads the NFL in field goals made with 35.

Joe Flacco 
Orchestrating the Ravens' game-winning drive for the fourth time this season was Flacco, but this drive was much different than the previous ones.

What was different this time was he led the drive while clearly hurting. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he took an illegal hit just below his knee.

Lions' linebacker DeAndre Levy burst through the line and dove at Flacco. Levy's helmet hit just below Flacco's knee. These are the type of plays where players tear knee ligaments (hence why these hits on quarterbacks are supposed to be flagged). However, there was no flag on the play (just one of many questionable calls throughout the game). Anyways, he stayed down for a little bit, but eventually got up and continued to play.

When he returned to the sidelines, the trainers taped his knee up and he didn't miss a snap. Looking at the play, it seemed like he could have hurt his MCL as he was hit on the outside of the knee. However, the Ravens don't plan on getting a MRI on the knee so it clearly isn't a serious injury. It did effect him for the rest of the game though. You could clearly see that he was throwing off his back foot and trying to not put that much stress on his left knee.

On the game-winning drive, he was 2-of-5 for 27 yards, but was able to get the job done.

Throwing for 222 yards, he went 20-of-38 with no touchdowns or interceptions and had a passer rating of 70.3. From the start of the game, he looked good. He was on target and was throwing a very tight spiral with good velocity.

When the game was on the line, he yet again led the Raven to victory with a game-winning drive. He can look average for an entire game, but when the game is on the line, he has been great.

Jacoby Jones
Another key player on the Ravens' final drive, for two different reasons, was Jones. Along with performing well on the final drive, he also led the Ravens in receiving.

He caught six passes for 90 yards on nine targets and converted three of these catches into first downs. The punt that he returned he gained 24 yards and almost broke free for a touchdown.

On the final drive, he took kickoff from the Lions three yards deep in the end zone ran it back 36 yards to the Ravens' 33-yard line. This set the Ravens up with good field position on their final drive.

After a false start and an incomplete pass, the Ravens faced third and 15 from their own 28-yard line. Enter Jones, who gained 27 yards over the middle and put the ball at the Lions' 45-yard line.

These two plays set up Tucker to kick his 61-yard field goal. Without Jones, the Ravens likely aren't able to score in the final minute and they lose the game.

Torrey Smith
While Smith may not have had a big role in the final drive like Jones (one target and zero catches), he did set a new franchise record and reached a career milestone.

With four catches for 69 yards on 12 targets, he was second on the team in receiving. Three of these catches went for first downs: a gain of 25 on second and 11, a gain of 22 on first and 10 and a gain of 19 on second and nine.

His franchise record came on his first catch of the game — the gain of 25 on second and 11. With that catch, he became the franchise leader in catches of 25-plus yards with 36. Being that he is in his third season and assuming he continues to play with the Ravens after he contract expires next season, he is likely to shatter this record in the years to come.

Moving to his career milestone, he topped the 1,000-yard mark in the first half. Finishing the game with 1,032 yards, this is the first time in his short career that he has broken 1,000 yards in a season. In his rookie year he had 841 yards and followed that up with 855 last year. He seemed set to have a breakout year this season with the departure of Anquan Boldin and the injury to Dennis Pitta.

With two games to play, Smith needs just 170 yards to set a new franchise record for most receiving yards in a season. The current record is 1,201 which was set by Michael Jackson in 1996 — the franchise's inaugural season.

Offensive Line
Facing a tough matchup against the Lions' defensive line, the Ravens' offensive line held their own and were a key reason why the Ravens' offense was able to move the ball.

It wasn't a dominant performance by any means, but it wasn't awful either. The line held steady in the run game and pass protection for the most part. Surprisingly, the Ravens were able to average 4.3 yards per carry in the run game on 21 attempts (90 yards). Early in the game, running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were hit in the line-of-scrimage too often. This improved in the second half though.

For the most part the pass protection was good bar a few plays. Only one sack was allowed and the line was able to neutralize the Lions' pass rush.

The sack was actually allowed by Rice when he was in pass protection, though center Gino Gradkowski was beaten bad on the play as well by Ndamukong Suh. Flacco fumbled on this play and Gradkowski made the heads up play to recover the ball.

Suh, the star of the Lions' defense, was held in check by the interior linemen with right guard Marshal Yanda doing most of the good work.

Yanda was called for a false start along with left tackle Eugene Monroe with Monroe's came on the final drive. He also was called for holding which was declined due to an incomplete pass. The last bad thing that Monroe did was allow a free rusher to go right past him. Monroe down blocked to double team the defensive tackle despite a defensive end being lined up over him. This defensive end had instant pressure and forced Flacco to throw the ball before he wanted to before he was hit. The play resulted in an incompletion and caused the Ravens to settle for a field goal.

Right tackle Michael Oher allowed a pressure on third and six that saw his man reach out his arm and hit Flacco as he threw — causing an interception.

Haloti Ngata
According to Pro Football Focus, Ngata had his best game since week 12 of the 2011 season and it was definitely his best performance recently.

From his position at nose tackle, he recorded five tackles, two pass deflections and one quarterback hit.

Starting with his run defense, he had four run stops for losses of one, zero, three and one. The first run stop was on the second play of the game, the stop for zero yards came with assistance from outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and the second stop for one yard came when the Lions had the ball on the Ravens' 15-yard line.

While ESPN is currently only crediting Ngata with one pass deflection, he clearly got his hands on two passes from Matthew Stafford, the Lions' quarterback. The first came at the line-of-scrimmage as Ngata slightly deflected the ball. The ball then bounced off running back Reggie Bush, the target on the play, and was intercepted by DeAngelo Tyson (for more see below). The other pass deflection also came at the line-of-scrimmage as Ngata swatted away a pass on first and 10.

Pass rushing, he had a very quick quarterback hit as he disposed of the Lions' right guard and raced into the backfield. Stafford was still able to complete the pass, but Ngata still made an impressive play.

The only real negatives from the game come in the form of two offsides penalties — the second of which was declined due to a gain of 37 on a pass play.

DeAngelo Tyson
A sight not very often seen in NFL games is a 315-pound defensive lineman dropping into pass coverage. Even rarer yet is seeing this said lineman intercepting a pass. Early in the third quarter, this is exactly what happened.

On the play, a third and one from the Ravens' 31-yard line, the Ravens blitzed and this blitz had Tyson falling back into coverage while others rushed the passer. Stafford's pass was tipped at the line by Ngata and then Bush failed to bring in the pass.

Bush deflected the ball right to Tyson. He then hit the ball back to himself for the interception — his first of his career.

This interception gave the Ravens the ball at their own 27-yard line and likely took three points off the board from the Lions. If the pass fell incomplete, then the Lions would have attempted a field goal from about 48 yards away.

Daryl Smith
Commanding the Ravens' defense from his middle linebacker spot was Smith and he had another good game.

He only had five tackles, but he also added a sack, and an interception.

But first, there was something else that stood out to me about Smith last night. Every time the Lions' went into an empty formation (nobody next to Stafford in the backfield), Smith called an audible to a blitz. This was clearly part of the Ravens' game plan for the game and was very effective as the Lions weren't able to block the blitzes and this forced Stafford to throw before he wanted to. Tyson's interception came on a blitz that Smith had audibled to.

Back to his individual accomplishments in this game, Smith's sack came on a second and 10 when he blitzed between the center and right guard. Unblocked, he came upon Stafford and forced him to stumble. He fell a few yards later for a loss of five. This sack give Smith 4.5 for the season — a new career high.

With his five tackles, he tied a career high for combined tackles in a season with 107.

In pass coverage, he had an interceptions and allowed three pass to be caught against him with two going for first downs and the other going for a touchdown.

On the touchdown, he had good coverage, but it was just a good pass and catch. He was also giving up five inches on the play to Joseph Fauria, the Lions 6'7" red zone specialist.

Smith was the beneficiary of some questionable decision making by Stafford on Smith's interception. It was a third and two and for some reason, Stafford tried to force a sidearm pass into a very tight window. The ball went right to Smith and he returned it three yards the the Lions' 34-yard line, leading to a field goal.

Matt Elam
In an interview in the days before the game, Elam called Lions' star wide receiver Calvin Johnson "pretty old" and this sparked controversy as Johnson is the best receiver in the league and only 28-years old. Letting his play do his talking, he played the best game of his rookie season.

Starting off, he led the Ravens with 10 tackles and added an interception. Three of these tackles came for run stops and he also helped out on another. The run stops came for gains of two, negative three and two with the assist coming for a gain of one.

Matt Elam

Courtesy of ICON SMI

What is impressive about these run stops was that he was playing as a deep safety on these plays. He quickly diagnosed the play and ran up to make the stop. This is where he is at his best as he is a natural strong safety, but he is playing out of position at free safety so that the Ravens can play their best players.

In pass coverage, he only allowed one catch which was a gain of 17 on first and 10. The receiver caught the ball about eight yards downfield, but Elam missed the tackle right away which gave up extra yardage. This play put the ball on the Ravens' 14-line and Bush scored a touchdown on the next play.

Elam's interception came on the Lions' first play after Tucker's 61-yard field goal. Stafford's pass sailed on him and Elam collected the overthrow to seal the victory. He bobbled the ball at first and almost dropped it before securing it and falling down to not risk a fumble. His first career interception couldn't have come at a better time for the Ravens.

He was also called for one penalty. This was unnecessary roughness on the opening drive of the game when he hit Stafford as he was sliding — a clear penalty. This gave the Lions a key first down as it was third down and Stafford was stopped short. Just outside of field goal range, the Lions would have had to punt, but instead they had a second life and were able to score a touchdown.

This performance from Elam was clearly his best of the season and shows his potential.

Cornerbacks
Tasked with trying to cover Johnson, the Ravens' cornerbacks had the toughest assignment possible and they did a good job. Johnson was held to six catches for 98 yards on 14 yards. He also had three costly drops.

Going up against Johnson most of the time was Jimmy Smith. He allowed four of these catches for 43 yards and gave up two first downs while having tight coverage. His tight coverage forced an incompletion on a deep pass and forced Johnson to catch a crucial two-point conversion out-of-bounds. If Johnson caught this, Tucker's field goal would have only tied the game. Overall, it was a great game from Smith as he went toe-to-toe with the best receiver in the league and was able to hold his own.

Lardarius Webb gave up only two catches for five yards and they came on back-to-back plays. The first was a quick slant that he read right away on second and 10. He delivered a big hit, but the receiver was able to hold on to the ball. The following play, the Lions ran a wide receiver screen that he stopped for no gain. Late in the third quarter on a third and nine play from the Ravens' 22-yard line, he had single coverage on a go route into the end zone. He held onto the arm of the receiver while the ball was coming, but no flag was thrown. A flag should have been thrown giving the Lions a first and goal from the one-yard line. Instead, the Lions had to settle for a field goal to cut the Ravens' lead to 12-10. Webb also had a run stop for a gain of two.

Corey Graham had a quiet game. He didn't give up any catches and had two tackles and a quarterback hit. He was in coverage on one of Johnson's drops and was beaten bad. Johnson was wide open and had a chance to score, but dropped an easy catch. The quarterback hit forced Stafford to throw a check-down pass. Graham also had a run stop for a gain of one after Elam slowed the running back down.

Ravens vs Steelers: The Rematch

November 27, 2013 in What to Look For

Ravens-Steelers. There are few rivalries that can match the intensity and quality of games produced each time these two play. Proof? Ten of the last thirteen games played between the two (including two playoff games) have been decided by three points. Eight of the last nine regular season matchups have been decided by three points.

Earlier this season, these division rivals played in Pittsburgh to a final score of 19-16 with the Steelers victorious. It was a typical Ravens-Steelers game as each team only scored one touchdown, both teams where held under 20 points and the margin of victory was three points.

This week, the rivalry gets a Thanksgiving flavor — turkey to be exact. The Steelers head to Baltimore for the night game on Thanksgiving. Two years ago, the Ravens hosted the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving night and won 16-6.

For the second time this season, the Ravens will wear their black jerseys — just like they did against the 49ers. The Ravens also wore these jerseys earlier in the season against the Green Bay Packers. This time around though, the Ravens will be wearing black pants as well, to go for the all-black look.

1.  Contain Ben Roethlisberger
At quarterback for the Steelers is Roethlisberger, a veteran who has been their starter since early in the 2004 season (his rookie year).

Against the Ravens in week seven, he went 17-of-23 for 160 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and a quarterback rating of 107.2. Nothing spectacular, but he led the Steelers to a victory — the most important thing.

The new breed of NFL quarterbacks are dual-threats. They can run the ball or pass the ball. Roethlisberger is not a running quarterback. Entering this season he was averaging 112 rushing yards per season, which is about average for a quarterback. What he can do however, is move around in the pocket and buy time for his receivers to get open down field.

Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata

Courtesy of ICON SMI

At 6'5", 241 lbs, he is a load to bring down. More often then not, he doesn't go down on first contact. When he is at his best, he is moving around in the pocket, avoiding pass rushers and extending the play. Of course, the Steelers would prefer it if this didn't have to happen, but the performance of their offensive line over his career has necessitated it.

At the beginning of the month, he had been sacked 406 times in his career — the most of any quarterback in the last 10 years. This season, the Steelers have allowed 37 sacks (over three per game) which is tied for the fifth most in the NFL.

The Ravens' pass rush is currently tied for first in the NFL for the most sacks (37) with four other teams. In week seven, the Ravens mustered three sacks — one apiece by Terrell Suggs and Brandon Williams and half-a-sack from Haloti Ngata and Elvis Dumervil.

Suggs, who is second on the team with nine sacks (Dumervil has 9.5), hasn't recorded a sack in the last three games. Playing the Steelers now is a probably a good thing for him as he has had success against them during his career. He has sacked Roethlisberger 15.5 times in his career which is one of, if not, the highest sack total by a single player on Roethlisberger.

Over the years, he has burned many teams with this ability to extend plays and the Ravens are no exception. It will be key for the Ravens to take him down right away. The less he is able to scramble around, the more likely a team is to beat the Steelers.

2.  Stop the Run
One of the main reasons that the Steelers were able to win a few weeks ago was because they successfully ran the ball against the Ravens.

As a team, they ran for 141 yards on 29 carries (4.9 yards per carry). Doing most of the carrying was second-round pick Le'Veon Bell. He took 19 handoffs for 93 yards (also 4.9 yards per carry). His longest rush of the game was only 11 yards, so his numbers aren't inflated by one big run. He was constantly gaining small chunks of yardage on the normally stout Ravens' defense.

These numbers from the last game are even worse from the Ravens perspective when the season-long numbers are looked at. The Steelers are one of the few teams that are just as bad as the Ravens this year at running the ball. The Steelers are 30th in the league in rushing yards (850), yards per game (77.3) and yards per carry (3.3). The Ravens' run defense is the 11th, 11th and 5th best is these categories respectively. They shouldn't be getting gashed by the Steelers' run game.

If the Ravens want to win their rematch against the Steelers, they can't let this happen to them again. Good run defenses shouldn't be giving up 141 yards against the third-worst rushing team in the league.

Stopping the Steelers' rushing attack, will make the Steelers' offense one-dimensional. When this occurs, the Ravens can fully commit to defending the pass — something the Steelers are much better at.

3.  Run the Ball
Like the Steelers, the Ravens' offense has struggled to run the ball all season long. However, the Steelers' run defense isn't exactly top-notch.

Normally strong against the run, they are having a down year. They are tied for 23rd in yards allowed (1,307) and yards per game (118.8) and rank 21st in yards per carry (4.2).

Their best defender is middle linebacker Lawrence Timmons who has 90 tackles on the year and had a whopping 17 against the Ravens in week seven. The next best Steeler had eight in week seven and the best Raven (Daryl Smith) had nine.

More from week seven, the Ravens ran the ball 26 times for 82 yards (3.2 yards per carry). Starting running back Ray Rice had 15 carries for 45 yards (3.0 yards per carry) and backup Bernard Pierce had six carries for 13 yards (2.2 yards per carry). The sad thing is that this was one of the more successful games for the Ravens this year running the ball.

An advantage that the Ravens will have this week that they didn't have last time they faced the Steelers will be Steelers' nose tackle Steve McLendon being out with an ankle injury. This is a key blow to the Steelers' run defense.

Last week, the Ravens brought in backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor who is one of the dual-threat quarterbacks talked about earlier. Taking snaps at quarterback and wide receiver, he ran the ball four times for seven yards, caught one pass for six yards and had his only pass attempt dropped. His longest run of the day was for 17 yards, but losses of six and seven brought down his total yards.

This set of plays for Taylor provided the run game with a little spark early, but the New York Jets' defense quickly caught on. Starting quarterback Joe Flacco has made it clear this week that he isn't a fan of the Wildcat formation that brings Taylor in at quarterback. Due to these comments, it will be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell does. Will he listen to Flacco or not?

While the Ravens may not see success right away running the ball, they need to keep pounding the ball against he Steelers. Eventually, the Ravens will get bigger chunks of yards as the Steelers' defense gets tired.

4.  Turnovers
When games are decided by a few points, turnovers are usually a deciding factor. Especially when you have two historically good defenses facing off.

Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule as the week seven matchup saw the Steelers produce the only turnover (a Heath Miller turnover), yet they still won. However, you can't continually win close game while losing the turnover battle.

This year both the Ravens and the Steelers have negative turnover differentials.

At negative three, the Ravens are slightly above the Steelers who are at negative four. Neither of these numbers are something to be proud of though.

The Ravens have forced 16 turnovers (nine interceptions and seven fumbles) while turning it over 19 times (14 interceptions and five fumbles). Flacco is the cause of this as he has already set a new career-high in interceptions — not what the Ravens envisioned when the signed him to a record-breaking contract extension this offseason.

The Steelers have forced 14 turnovers (seven interceptions and fumbles) and have turned it over 18 times (10 interceptions and eight fumbles). These eight fumbles are the second-worst in the AFC. There isn't one player who has dropped the ball per say; it is a collective failing by the team.

In a what is expected to be a close game, turnovers are going to be one of the main deciding factors in who wins the game. Whoever wins the turnover battle will win this game.

The Return of Ed Reed (Part Two): Ravens vs Jets

November 23, 2013 in What to Look For

In week three, former Baltimore Ravens' safety Ed Reed, a Baltimore legend, returned to M&T Bank Stadium with the Houston Texans after signing with them in free agency. Fast-forward to week 12 and Reed is now with the New York Jets after the Texans released him. Reed gets to make his return to Baltimore again tomorrow as the Jets come to Baltimore.

Other than Reed's return, this game is going to be key because both the 4-6 Ravens and the 5-5 Jets are battling for the sixth and last playoff spot in the AFC (which only has five good teams this year).

Currently the Jets own this sixth seed, but their performance has been inconsistent all season. They have won every other game this season and their only win on the road came against a now 2-9 Atlanta team. This week pits those two trends against each other as the Jets lost to the Buffalo Bills last week and have to travel to Baltimore this week.

1.  Force Turnovers
When the Jets lose games, their main problem is turnovers. Rookie, second-round pick, quarterback Geno Smith has been as inconsistent as possible and when he succeeds, the Jets succeed.

For the season, Smith is second in the NFL with 16 interceptions. In comparison, he only has eight touchdown passes. Adding to this, he also has four fumbles — giving him a NFL-leading 20 total turnovers, and average of two per game. Of these 20 turnovers, five have been returned for touchdowns.

In Jets' losses, Smith has been particularly bad as 12 of his interceptions have come in these five games. Throughout the season, Smith has played well in wins and bad in losses.

Which Smith will show up against the Ravens? Good Geno or bad Geno?

The Ravens' defense can influence this with their schemes that they use for the game. Against the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago, the Ravens' defense had their best performance of the season as they intercepted Andy Dalton three times, sacked him five times and held him to a quarterback rating of 17.3. Last week, the Ravens faced Josh McCown, a backup quarterback, and lost forcing no turnovers and only sacking him two times for one yard. The pass rush was non-existent.

What was different in these two games? The type of defense the Ravens ran. Against the Bengals, the Ravens were blitz-happy, attacking and confusing Dalton. This forced him to rush his decisions and he made many bad ones. Against the Bears, the Ravens ran a conservative zone defense with little blitzing. With the weather being bad enough to cause an almost two hour delay, this could have factored in to the decision, but the conservative defense wasn't working.

Lardarius Webb

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Going up against a quarterback who is coming off of his worst game this season according to Pro Football Focus (Smith was benched late in the game) and who has only two games without a turnover, expect the Ravens to blitz often.

Smith has struggled against pressure all season and the Ravens' defense has been best when playing aggressive this season. When an aggressive form of defense is played, the cornerbacks are usually left by themselves in coverage. Over their last two games, the Ravens cornerbacks have played their best two games of the season. Lardarius Webb looks to have finally bounced back from his second torn ACL and Jimmy Smith seems to have taken the so called "next step."

The last time these two teams played, 2011, the Ravens won 34-17. The Ravens force four turnovers scored three defensive touchdowns including a Webb interception returned for a touchdown. The defense also didn't allow a touchdown as the Jets scored on a kickoff return and an interception return.

Forcing turnovers is the number one way to beat the Jets. At times, the Ravens' defense has struggled to do this season, but when they run an aggressive defense, they have had success. Expect them to come out and try to confuse Smith with some exotic blitzes, bringing back memories of Rex Ryan's (the current Jets head coach) Ravens defenses when they used "organized chaos."

2.  Stop The Run
In order to help protect Smith and following Ryan's brand of smash-mouth football, the Jets' offense is run-heavy.

Having a successful run game is the number one way to help a rookie or inexperienced quarterback. With a good run game, the defense will stack the box in order to stop the run. This then leaves easier reads and throws for a quarterback when he has to throw the ball.

The Jets did this a few years ago when they have Mark Sanchez at quarterback and, despite Sanchez's shortcomings, they were able to make it to the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back seasons (a dominant defense led the way though).

This season, the run game is working yet again. Averaging 129.5 yards per game, the eighth best in the league, the Jets are having success pounding defenses with a constant running game. The Jets are also eighth in the league in rushing attempts so they are not going to go away from their game plan if they fall behind. Even in last weeks blowout loss to the Bills, the Jets ran the ball 23 times while attempting 29 passes.

Spearheading the Jets run game recently has been Chris Ivory. Over the last four games, he has 350 yards — despite only gaining 11 in one of the games. Acquired in a draft-day trade, Ivory didn't handle the bulk of the workload at the start of the season as he struggled with injuries. Recently though, he has gotten healthy and showed why the Jets gave up a fourth-round pick for him.

While he was recovering from injuries, Bilal Powell took the reins of the Jets attack. In the first six games of the season, he had 360 rushing yards — enough to keep the offense going while waiting for Ivory.

For the season, Ivory has 467 yards and Powell has 441.

The Ravens' run defense has been up-and-down this season. Allowing 102.7 yards per game, they ran 11th best in the NFL and have allowed only one rushing touchdown this season — the best in the league by two. The Ravens also rank sixth in yards per attempt at 3.7.

Despite this success, the Ravens have been run on this season. The Bills ran for 203 yards, the Packers had 140 (with Eddie Lacy gaining 120 of these) and the Pittsburgh Steelers ran for 141. Lacy is the only 100-yard rusher allowed this season though.

With key run defender Haloti Ngata questionable (very questionable at that), expect the Jets' game-plan to include lots of run plays. Ngata missed last week against the Chicago Bears and the Bears ran for 104 yards, though they ran outside more than inside.

3.  Neutralize The Defensive Line
Moving to when the Ravens are on offense, the most important thing for them to do is to neutralize the Jets' defensive line.

The clear-cut star of the Jets' defense is defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. With his performance this season, he has locked down the title of the best 3-4 defensive end not named J.J. Watt. Dominant all season and last year, Wilkerson has eight sacks this season and only has three games without a sack. Adding to this, he has 40 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception. The best pass rusher of the Jets' line, he is also a great run defender. At only 24-years old, Wilkerson is set to disrupt offensive lines for years to come.

At the other defensive end is Sheldon Richardson — the 13th pick of this year's NFL Draft. Reaping the benefits of playing next to Wilkerson and in Ryan's defense, Richardson has 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble in just 10 games. Already one of the best run defenders in the NFL, his pass rush has been slower developing. Despite this, he is one of the leading candidates for defensive rookie of the year.

Playing the all-important nose tackle in Ryan's 3-4 defense is Damon Harrison, an undrafted free agent from the 2012 draft. At 350 pounds, he is the perfect player to play nose tackle for Ryan. Commanding a double team, Harrison is very hard to move out of the way in the run game. Because of this, he has enjoyed great success in run defense, which is all the Jets ask of him. He has 41 tackles and one sack this season.

Because of these three great, young defensive lineman, the Jets have the number one run defense in the league. They are top of the league in total yards (732), yards per game (73.2) and yards per attempt (2.9). On the flip side, the Ravens' offense is 27th in total run yards (832), 27th in yards per game (83.2) and 31st in yards per carry (3.0).

The Ravens' offensive line is going to struggle to move the Jets' defensive line out of the way when they run. After having their best run game of the season — against one of the worst run defenses in the Bears — the Ravens will likely continue to struggle to run the ball this week.

On the other hand, the Jets' pass defense is a lot worse (22nd in the NFL). This means that the Ravens will game plan to pass the ball against this Jets team. Quarterback Joe Flacco is going to need to play a great game this week in what will likely to a low scoring affair. If any team can get to 20 points, they will more than likely win the game.

4.  Torrey Smith vs Antonio Cromartie
Flacco's number one target this year when passing the ball has been Smith and Cromartie is the Jets number one cornerback.

Ryan likes to leave his cornerbacks on an island in man coverage while he blitzes. He also has his best cornerback matchup with the opponents number one receiver. Darrelle Revis was the master at doing this, but he was traded this offseason which put Cromartie in the number one spot.

At the start of the season, Smith was at the top of most receiving categories, but over the last few weeks, his performance his dipped. Currently he is only in the top ten of two categories: yards per catch (eighth) and receptions over 20 yards (tied for third).

When you compare him to the other Ravens' receivers, he is miles above the others. He leads the team in catches by 10, has twice the amount of targets as the second highest (92 for him 46 for next best), yards by 474 and first downs by 15.

He is best at deep routes, though he has become a more complete receiver this season. This plays into the weakness of the Jets' defense: the big play.

Ryan has called big plays the "Achilles heel" of his defense this season and Cromartie has been beaten deep multiple times by speed receivers.

The easiest way to create a big play is to throw a deep pass. Last year, Flacco had much success throwing deep passes — especially during the Ravens' playoff run. However, this season has been a different story.

Expect the Ravens to use Smith to attack Cromartie and the Jets' defense deep throughout the game. Cromartie has struggled in coverage this season so there is a good chance that Smith can beat Cromartie deep.

Ravens vs Jets Injury Report

November 22, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Haloti Ngata

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Questionable
DT Haloti Ngata (Knee)
LB Daryl Smith (Thigh)
CB Lardarius Webb (Abs)

Probable
WR Marlon Brown (Knee)
WR Brandon Stokley (Thigh)

Jets

Doubtful
LB Garrett McIntyre (Knee)
WR Jeremy Kerley (Elbow)

Probable
OL Willie Colon (Calf)
CB Antonio Cromartie (Hip)
DL Kenrick Ellis (Back)
QB David Garrard (Knee)
WR Stephen Hill (Knee)
WR Santonio Holmes (Foot and Hamstring)
WR David Nelson (Illness)
WR Greg Salas (Finger)
TE Kellen Winslow (Knee)

Ravens Fall In Overtime

November 18, 2013 in Observations

For the second game in a row, the Baltimore Ravens had to play into overtime. This week, they lost 23-20 to the Chicago Bears on a 38-yard field goal. The loss drops the Ravens to 4-6 and the Bears improve to 6-4.

Five hours and 16 minutes after the opening kickoff, the game ended. The reason for the length of the game was a delay that lasted one hour and 53 minutes due to lightning in the first quarter.

When the delay started, the Ravens were up 10-0. Once the game resumed, the Ravens were outscored 23-10 and the Ravens needed a 21-yard field goal with seven second left in regulation to send it to overtime. With less than a minute left in the game, the Ravens had first and goal from the Bears' five-yard line but they couldn't convert on two runs and a pass.

After the stoppage, the Ravens didn’t look like the same team — on offense and defense.

Coming into the game, the Ravens had yet to win a game at a NFC North stadium and this loss drops them to 0-8 in these stadiums.

Joe Flacco
Playing in tough weather conditions, Flacco struggled to get the passing game going for the Ravens.

Completing only 55 percent of his passes, Flacco went 17-of-31 for 162 yards, one touchdown and had two interceptions.

On the first interception, he made a horrible read on a play. The play called for Flacco to throw a quick flare route to fullback Vonta Leach who was coming out of the backfield. Running back Ray Rice was supposed to block David Bass, the defensive end on the play-side, but failed to do so. Even though Rice missed his block, the interception is still Flacco's fault. He wasn't under any pressure and he threw the ball right at Bass. Flacco needs to see that Rice missed on his block and either not throw the ball to Leach because the passing lane is filled, or adjust and make a better pass. He did neither and it cost the Ravens seven points as Bass returned the interception for a touchdown which tied the game at 10.

His second interception came late in the second quarter. It was third and 16 and Flacco was trying to hit tight end Dallas Clark on a seam route to pick up the first down. Clark had three defenders in the vicinity and Flacco kept the ball away from two of them — but put the ball right on the other. Bears' linebacker Jon Bostic had great coverage on Clark and was able to intercept the pass.

With these two interceptions, Flacco now has 13 on the season which is a new career-high. His previous high was 12 has occurred three times: 2008, 2009 and 2011. Having only played 10 games this season, Flacco has already thrown his most interceptions in a season — and there are six games left. If he keeps the pace up, he will finish with 21 interceptions (it is actually 20.8 but considering you can't throw and eighth of an interception, I rounded to the nearest whole number).

Recently, he has had success scrambling and running for yardage and this continued against the Bears. On four carries (all scrambles) he ran for 20 yards and picked up two first downs. On a third and seven, he was able to scramble for 11 yards and on a second and three he gained four yards. Importantly, he knows how to slide. On each of his runs, Flacco slid to avoid contact. This is a positive as many quarterbacks don't know how to slide and protect themselves, but he does.

His best pass of the game came on his touchdown pass to Torrey Smith in the second quarter. Smith ran a quick slant and Flacco had to thread the needle between two Bears' defenders to complete the pass.

Ray Rice

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

For the first time all season, the Ravens' run game was effective as they rushed for a season-high 174 yards.

After a dreadful performance against the Bengals last week where Rice rushed for 30 yards on 18 carries and look awful, he bounced back and showed his explosiveness that had been missing all season.

Also for the first time this season, he topped 100 yards rushing as he had 131 yards on 25 carries and added a touchdown. On his first rush of the game, he broke lose for a gain of 47 yards — the longest rush of the season for the Ravens. Previously, backup running back Bernard Pierce had the high at 28 yards and Rice's high was half of that at 14 yards.

Four of Rice's run went for first downs: the 47-yard run on second and one, a gain of two on third and one, a 13 yard gain on first and 10 and a second and six run for nine yards in overtime.

His touchdown was set up by his 47-yard run on the Ravens' first drive of the game. The score came on third and goal from the one and he ran to the right side and ran untouched into the end zone. This score marks the first time the Ravens have scored a touchdown on their opening drive this season.

Catching the ball, Rice was targeted five times, hauling in three of them for 17 yards. His long came on a third and nine where he was able to pickup 12 yards on a check down.

On Flacco's interception that was returned for a touchdown, Rice was supposed to block the defensive end. Rice tried to cut block the defender, but he failed, allowing the defender to be right in the passing lane. This is the only damper on Rice's best performance of the season.

Torrey Smith
While Smith didn't lead the Ravens in receiving yards for the only the second time this season (the other game was against the Green Bay Packers), he did lead the team in receptions.

On a team-high eight targets, he caught five passes for 32 yards and one touchdown. The Bears' secondary did a good job shutting Smith down despite being without starting cornerback Charles Tillman. (An assist goest to the weather as well.)

Smith's touchdown has already been discussed a little, but still some more to it. The play came on a second and three from the Bears' five-yard line. He ran a quick slant from the near side and was between two defenders when Flacco threw the ball. Flacco's pass came within inches of the outstretched hands of these two defenders. Also, the cornerback who was covering Smith was called for pass interference on this play. It took great concentration from Smith to catch the ball with those two defenders there and while getting interfered with.

Other than his touchdown catch, Smith had one catch go for a first down. This came on a first and 10 when he picked up 13 yards on a crossing route. He also drew a pass interference on another slant.

Dallas Clark
Catching only two passes yesterday, Clark didn't put up major stats, but both of these catches were important.

The first of his two catches came on a third and two in the second quarter. Clark gained 17 yards on the play to keep the Ravens' drive alive. A couple plays later, the Ravens kicked a field goal to take a 10-0 lead. With this catch, Clark hit 500 receptions for his career — ninth all-time for a tight end. After the play, you could see Clark send the ball to the sidelines to keep.

His second catch had a much bigger impact on the game. With time winding down, the Ravens had a fourth and four from the Bears' 44-yard line. Running a short crossing route, Clark created little separation, but Flacco threw it anyways. Using one hand, Clark was able to reel in the pass and gain 14 yards. This kept the Ravens' drive alive late in the game; without this play, the game is over and there is no overtime.

Offensive Line
Finally, the Ravens' run game had a break out game — albeit against the second worst run defense in the league — and the offensive line was a big part of this.

On Rice's 47-yard run, all of the lineman had good blocks on the play. It was an outside run to the left side and the line provided Rice with a big hole to run through.

A few plays later on his touchdown, the line had outstanding blocking again as he scored untouched. Left guard A.Q. Shipley combined with Leach to push a Bears' defender about three yards backwards right in the hole.

In pass protection, the line gave up three sacks and two of them can be credited to the line. The one sack that isn't the fault of the line is Flacco's fault as all of the linemen had their guys blocked, but Flacco then started to run around in the pocket which freed up the pass rush.

One potential reason for why the line did a decent job in pass protection this week is that the Bears are not a blitzing team. The Ravens' offensive line has had the most trouble picking up blitzes and the Bears did very little of that throughout the game.

Right guard Marshal Yanda was called for two flags: a holding and a false start.

Center Gino Gradkowski rolled the the snap to Flacco on the Ravens' third and goal attempt from the Bears' three-yard line with less than a minute left in the game. This awful snap made it impossible for Flacco to make a play to try and win the game. Smith was open in the back of the end zone, but Flacco wasn't able to throw it to him because of the snap. By the time, Flacco could throw Smith the ball, it was too late as Smith was covered better and Flacco had to throw the pass out of the end zone.

Allowing the two sacks on the offensive line was left tackle Eugene Monroe. The first sack occurred on a second and 16. Julius Peppers beat Monroe outside with a speed move and he wasn't able to recover as Peppers sacked Flacco for a loss of eight. The second sack came on a fourth and eight (the Ravens went for it due to the swirling winds making for a tough field goal attempt). On this play, Monroe down blocked, but didn't realize that a defender was coming around him on the outside. By the time that Monroe realized this, it was too late and Flacco was sacked and fumbled the ball. (The Ravens recovered but it didn't really matter as it was a turnover on downs.)

Defensive Line
Allowing 104 rushing yards (on four yards per carry) and providing little pass rush, the Ravens' defensive line struggled yesterday.

Starting nose tackle Haloti Ngata (the best player on the line) was inactive due to a knee injury. This forced Terrence Cody to start and he split time with rookie Brandon Williams. The Bears ran the ball to the outside more than the inside though.

At one defensive end in the Ravens' 3-4 alignment was Arthur Jones who had two tackles which were both run stops. His two run stops were for a gain of one and he shared a run stop for a gain of two with Daryl Smith. Jones failed to make a big impact in the game.

The other starting defensive end, Chris Canty, had a much better game with four tackles. Tackles are a very bad indicator of performance though as there are many other things to look at. Canty recorded three run stops — including two in overtime. In regulation, he had a run stop for a gain of three. In overtime, he had a run stop for a gain of one on the Bears' first play and he pushed the Bears back four yards later in their drive. Also, Canty recorded a quarterback hit on a third and seven which forced Bears' quarterback Josh McCown to check down for a gain of one.

Rotating in on the defensive line was DeAngelo Tyson who recorded his second career sack and his second in as many games. On the play, McCown was trying to scramble and Tyson was able to take him down for a loss of one on first down. Also, Tyson had a run stop for a gain of two. Over the last two games, Tyson has seen his most playing time of the season and has made the most of it.

Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil
With a combined 17.5 sacks coming into the game, Suggs and Dumervil are the Ravens' two best pass rushers.

Leaving the game, they still had 17.5 sacks between them. In fact, they only had one tackle in the game (Suggs). Despite favorable match ups with the Bears' offensive tackles, Suggs and Dumervil were held to zero sacks for the first time this season.

Helping the Bears' offensive tackles neutralize Suggs and Dumervil was the weather. When play was resumed after the delay, the field was very wet and muddy — not good conditions for pass rushers. With the field being all chopped up, neither of them could get foot footing and they failed to get after McCown. There were multiple instances where they slipped and fell down while pass rushing.

On the second play of the game, McCown handed off to running back Matt Forte for a gain of 15 yards. Suggs missed a tackle on this run which would have stopped it for little or no gain. The Bears ran two successful end arounds in the game and both times they went to Suggs' side. As an outside linebacker, he is responsible for contain on these plays and he failed both times. On the one occasion he was able to get pressure on McCown, he threw a bad pass for an incompletion.

The only thing that Dumervil accomplished this game was getting flagged for a roughing the passer penalty. While the call was questionable, he should know better than to give the quarterback a two-handed shove after he has thrown the ball. This penalty occurred on a third and nine when the Ravens stopped the play for a one, but the penalty extended the drive. However, the Bears failed to score.

Daryl Smith
Continuing to be all over the field for the Ravens this year, Smith had another day where he did a little bit of everything.

Making six tackles, he was tied for second most on the team. Two of these tackles were run stops. One was for a gain of two which he shared with Jones and the other was for a loss of one when the Bears tried a reverse for the third time in the game.

Also in his stat line is a forced fumble. This came on a pass play in the fourth quarter where he came over to help bring receiver Alshon Jeffery down. Smith was able to rip the ball out, but Jeffery recovered.

In pass coverage, Smith allowed one catch to be completed against him, and this went for a gain of 13 on first down.

His worst play came on Forte's 14-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass. Smith missed a tackle near the line-of-scrimmage on this play. This missed tackle, along with a few others, sprung Forte for a touchdown that gave the Bears a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.

A good blitzer, Smith didn't blitz much (if at all) yesterday. Last week, defensive coordinator Dean Pees called for many blitzes, but this week he was much more conservative. Maybe the weather had something to do with this, but McCown was able to sit back and complete passes with the Ravens in zone coverage and not blitzing.

Cornerbacks
When the Ravens played man coverage in the secondary, their cornerbacks had a lot more success than when they were in zone.

Lardarius Webb

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Lardarius Webb only allowed one catch to be completed against him as the Bears were content to target Jimmy Smith. However, this one completion was an important one. In overtime, Webb allowed a 43-yard pass to tight end Martellus Bennett on a seam route. On the play, Webb had about as good of coverage as possible, but with Bennett being 6'6" and Webb being 5'10", it was a tough assignment. McCown put the ball high into the air where only Bennett could catch it with his eight inch advantage over Webb.

Other than this play, Webb had a good game recording two run stops for gains of three and had one pass defensed. Webb has always been stout in run defense — something most cornerbacks aren't. He was also whistled for a horse collar tackle though.

Despite being targeted often, Smith held his own in coverage for the second straight game. Allowing three catches for 24 yards, he had a tough assignment going up against Brandon Marshall, but Smith more than held his own. On the first play of the game, the Bears ran a quick screen to Marshall as Smith was in off coverage, but he came up and stopped the play for no gain. The only first down that he allowed was a 16 yard catch to Marshall. This was just a great catch by Marshall as he made a tough sideline catch and was able to get both feet down in-bounds.

When the Bears had the ball inside the Ravens' ten-yard line early in the game, they went after Smith and he held his own. On third and goal, he was called for holding which gave the Bears a new life. However, on the ensuing first and third and goal plays, he broke up a slant and pushed Marshall out-of-bounds while catching a fade route, forcing and incompletion. On both of these plays he was in press, man coverage withe Marshall and Smith won both times. Smith is at his best in these situations.

Playing for the Bears for five seasons before coming to Baltimore, Corey Graham led the Ravens with nine tackles in his return to Soldier Field. He allowed three catches to be completed against him for a total of 26 yards and one first down. Like Smith, he broke up a pass in the end zone. This play was a fade to Jeffery and Graham was able to get a hand on it.

Like Daryl Smith, Graham missed a tackle on Forte's touchdown catch.

Early in the game — the Bears' third offensive play — he recorded his first sack of his career. On the play, McCown expected his receiver to be there for a screen, but he wasn't as he blocked like a run play. Because of this, McCown tucked the ball and tried to run. Graham saw this and was able to come in and tackle McCown for no gain. Even though there was no loss on the play, Graham was credited with a sack.

Justin Tucker
In just his second season, Tucker has quickly become one of the NFL's premier kickers and this was on display yesterday in Chicago.

With rain coming down and the wind swirling, he kicked a 52-yard field goal with 4:51 left in the first quarter. Kicks from this length are tough enough in good weather, yet alone this weather, but he was able to get it through the uprights. With this kick, he is now 7-of-7 from 50+ yards on the road. This was the last play before the delay.

After the Ravens failed to score a touchdown from the Bears' five-yard line with a minute left in the game, he had to kick a 21-yard field goal in the same weather, but the field was all muddy and torn up now as well. The weather conditions were not enough to stop him as his field goal went right down the middle of the uprights.

Ravens vs Bears Injury Report

November 15, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Marlon Brown

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Questionable
WR Marlon Brown (Knee)
S James Ihedigbo (Toe)
DT Haloti Ngata (Knee)
LB Daryl Smith (Thigh)
CB Jimmy Smith (Groin)
CB Lardarius Webb (Groin)

Probable
DE Chris Canty (Knee)
RB Bernard Pierce (Toe and Knee)
WR Brandon Stokley (Thigh)
LB Terrell Suggs (Neck)

Bears

Out
LB Lance Briggs (Shoulder)
QB Jay Cutler (Ankle)
DT Jay Ratliff (Groin)

Doubtful
LS Patrick Mannelly (Calf)
DE Shea McClellin (Hamstring)

Questionable
TE Martellus Bennett (Ankle)

Probable
OT Jordan Mills (Quadricep)

Ravens Survive In Overtime

November 11, 2013 in Observations

With a 46-yard field goal by Justin Tucker in overtime, the 4-5 Baltimore Ravens survived a scare against the 6-4 Cincinnati Bengals at home. The victory puts the Ravens 1.5 games behind the Bengals in the AFC North division with plenty of season left.

At halftime, the Ravens were up 17-0 despite only 94 total yards on offense — their two touchdowns were set up by a penalty and an interception. This is the 11th time under head coach John Harbaugh that the Ravens have had a first-half shutout. The team is now 10-1 when this happens. They are also now 10-0 under Harbaugh when they force three or more interceptions — which they did yesterday.

In the second half, the Ravens went into self-destruct mode as they scored no points and turned the ball over on their first two drives in the fourth quarter. The defense also allowed 17 points and failed to get off the field late in the game for the fourth straight time. With two seconds left in the game, the Bengals threw a 51-yard Hail Mary and scored when Ravens' safety James Ihedigbo batted the ball straight up into the air.

Ihedigbo and the defense were able to regroup and stopped the Bengals on a fourth down in overtime, giving Flacco and the offense the ball with good field position. After a few first downs, Tucker was celebrating his fifth career game-winning field goal.

Joe Flacco
Other than engineering his 17th career game-winning drive, Flacco had a less than spectacular game turning the ball over three times and being generally inaccurate.

Throwing 36 times, Flacco completed 20 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, had a passer rating of 60.0 and lost a fumble.

Justin Tucker

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Usually a great deep-ball thrower, Flacco was off-target on all of his long passes. He under threw one to Jacoby Jones on a flea-flicker and overthrew Torrey Smith on three separate occasions. He also under threw a screen pass to Smith — which is quiet strange when you consider Flacco's arm strength.

While he threw for two interceptions, he also had two others dropped. On the first interception, Flacco faced pressure on a third and ten and was trying to thrown the ball away when he was hit by a Bengals defender. The ball floated up and went right to a Bengals defender for an turnover. Running back Ray Rice completely whiffed on his block which allowed the initial pressure. On the other interception, Flacco tried throwing a seam pass to tight end Ed Dickson who was double covered. The Bengals disguised their coverage well and cleary confused Flacco — causing the interception. Moving to the dropped interceptions, Flacco threw a good pass but wide receiver Marlon Brown fell while making his cut on his route. The pass went right to the Bengals defender who was covering but the defender dropped it. The second dropped interception came the play before the second interception. Flacco didn't see a linebacker dropping back into coverage and the linebacker dove and almost caught the pass.

Flacco's other turnover came on a fumble late in game when his arm was hit as he threw and the Bengals recovered.

The best play of the game for Flacco came on the Ravens' first touchdown — their first touchdown in the first quarter since week one. At the Bengals one-yard line for third and goal, the Ravens ran a play-action pass and Flacco nobody was open right away. Flacco did a good job rolling out to his right to buy time for his receivers. Just as he was about to run out-of-bounds, Flacco threw a bullet to tight end Dallas Clark who had gotten open in the back of the end zone. Initially, Clark had fallen over at the line-of-scrimmage, but he was able to recover and get open.

Running Backs
Yet again, the Ravens' game struggled to get going, gaining only 85 yards on 30 carries — an average of 2.8 yards per carry.

Rice, the starter, was held to 30 yards on 18 carries for a putrid 1.8 yards per carry and had six catches for 26 yards. Backup Bernard Pierce had eight carries for 31 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and caught two passes for 12 yards.

In order to spark the run game, the Ravens ran a end around to backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor for a gain of 18 yards. This was double the longest run of the game by a Ravens' running back (nine yards by Pierce).

Throughout the game, Pierce looked more explosive than Rice as you can see from the stats. The longest gain that Rice got on the ground was five yards. Rice also made a big mistake in pass blocking as detailed above.

At this point in the season, I think it is time to make a change at running back. Rice clearly has either lost a step this year or he is still suffering from a hip injury suffered early in the season. Pierce is fully healthy now and displayed this during the game when he added a spark to the ground game and was a physical presence on all 10 of his touches. Now, Rice and Pierce should still split carries, but Pierce has been much more effective this season and deserves to have more carries.

Torrey Smith
Continuing to be Flacco's favorite target in the passing game, Smith saw a team high 14 targets — more than double the next highest of six to Rice. On these 14 targets, Smith caught five passes for 46 yards and hauled in his second touchdown of the season.

On his touchdown, the Ravens had a second and six from the Bengals' seven-yard line. Smith ran a slant and made a leaping grab in the end zone. He was hit in the air but was able to retain the ball for a touchdown. Despite the numerous targets he receivers, this was only his second touchdown of the season.

Three of Smith's four other catches went for first downs. Two of them were play-action crossing routes on first and 10 (gains of 18 and 11). The other one came on a quick pass on third and six.  He also drew two penalties for first downs — a pass interference for 14 yards on a third down and a holding penalty.

On the flip side, he was whistled for two penalties himself. The first was a false start on a third and six and the second was a personal foul. On the personal foul, he shoved Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict after the play was over. However, Smith only pushed Burfict after Burfict clearly pushed Jones after the whistle. Smith should know better though as the retaliator, not the initiator, usually gets flagged in the NFL.

Offensive Line
This week, the offensive line gave up five sacks and six quarterback hits — barely an improvement over last week —  but their run blocking was much better.

The main problem on the line continues to be communication as two more unblocked sacks were allowed this week. The first came on a second and 10 for a loss of 11 when a blitzed came between left guard A.Q. Shipley and center Gino Gradkowski. Shipley was occupied blocking someone else and Gradkowski wasn't blocking anyone. He was looking to his right to give help to right guard Marshal Yanda help. Yanda didn't need any help and Gradkowski missed the linebacker coming through the line next to him for a sack. The other unblocked sack came on third and 10 for a loss of seven. Left tackle Eugene Monroe down blocked to help Shipley and Rice came over to block one pass-rusher. However, there was one more blitzer and he went unaccounted for and brought down Flacco after an unimpeded path to him.

Right tackle Michael Oher gave up two sack — including the one that forced Flacco's fumble. On the first sack, Flacco scrambled to his right after feeling pressure and Oher's man came over for the sack. Oher had his man stopped initially, but Flacco scrambled towards him and Oher didn't know where Flacco was. On the second sack, Oher got pushed back and the defensive lineman was able to hit Flacco's arm as he was rearing back to pass.

Yanda gave up the hit on Flacco that caused the interception, but the fault goes to Rice who gave his guy a free shot at Flacco and made him move around in the pocket towards Yanda.

Shipley left with an injury mid-way through the third quarter and returned at the start of the fourth quarter. He was also called for a false start.

Defensive Line
Holding the Bengals to 3.9 yards per carry, the Ravens' defensive line had a good day.

Starting defensive end Arthur Jones had four tackles and one sack. Two of his tackles were run stops and both of them were shared with someone else. The first was for a gain of three and was shared with cornerback Corey Graham and the second was for a gain of one and was shared with defensive end DeAngelo Tyson. On Jones' sack, the ball was inside the Ravens' red zone and it was second and six. Jones beat his man and tackles quarterback Andy Dalton for a loss of five. The following play, the Bengals threw an incomplete pass and were forced to settle for a field goal.

Nose tackle Haloti Ngata had five tackles and one pass defensed. One of his tackles was a run stop which went for a gain of one. His batted pass came on a first and 10 when the Bengals had the ball at their own six-yard line. When the Ravens' offense went with a goal-line package in the first half, Ngata came in as a tight end and blocked both times. He was flagged for roughing the passer on a third and seven on a play where the defense got a stop. Even though he hit Dalton in the chest, a flag was thrown because Ngata lowed his helmet as he hit Dalton. Late in the first quarter, Ngata left the game with a left knee injury but returned in the second quarter. After this injury he played limited snaps.

At the other defensive end was Chris Canty who had a quiet day. He had only two tackles and one quarterback hit. On his quarterback hit, he forced Dalton to throw the ball away on a second and nine.

Tyson, who saw time because of rotation on the defensive line, had the best game of his short career against the Bengals. He had two tackles and one sack. He had one solo run stop, which went for a gain of two and he shared a run stop with Jones for a gain of one. On his sack, Tyson didn't get pressure right away so he played a quarterback contain role. When Dalton stepped up to try and scramble, Tyson was there to take him down for a loss of four on the second and three play. This was Tyson's first career sack.

Elvis Dumervil
On a day where Terrell Suggs was quiet, Dumervil stepped up and made his presence felt.

Bouncing back from last week where he didn't record a single stat in the box score, he stuffed it this week with three tackles, 2.5 sacks, and one pass defensed.

Starting with his pass defensed, he batted a pass down at the line-of-scrimmage the play after Ngata batted one down.

Pass rushing, Dumervil was a handful for the Bengals offensive line. On a third and eight, his pressure forced Dalton to throw the ball away. The following play, the Bengals attempted a 42-yard field goal and missed. Moving to his sacks, the first came on a second and eight for a loss of five. He beat left tackle Andrew Whitworth and jumped on Dalton. His next sack was a half-sack with Pernell McPhee. All four of the Ravens' pass rushers on the play got instant pressure and Dumervil and McPhee got to Dalton as he was engulfed by the Ravens pass rush. The last of Dumervil's sacks came on the second to last play of the game. He beat Whitworth again on what was a second and eight. Beating Whitworth, Dumervil took Dalton down for a loss of seven and the game almost ended there. However, the Bengals were able to get back to the line for one last play with two seconds left where they were able to score.

The only negative from the game for Dumervil on a day where he dominated, was an offsides penalty.

Courtney Upshaw
With his best game of the season, Upshaw did a little bit of everything as usual.

A player described as the defense's rock by Dumervil, Upshaw does the dirty work for the defense and doesn't get the credit that he deserves.

This game, he recorded four tackles, two quarterback hits, a pass defensed and had two run stops. Both run stops were solo and they were for gains of three and one. One of his two quarterback hits forced a throw away. On the other one, Upshaw was unblocked on Dalton's backside and was just a tad late at getting the him. When pass rushing, Upshaw batted a pass down at the line on a first and 10.

Dropping into coverage, he gave up one catch. This came on a second and 10 when he was covering Giovani Bernard, the Bengals' electric rookie running back. Upshaw didn't allow Bernard any yards after the catch as he made a sure tackle right after the catch.

Daryl Smith
As usual for the Ravens, Smith led the team in tackles (he tied with Ihedigbo this week) and was all over the field.

Since the start of the season, the Ravens have come to expect performances like this from Smith each week. He had nine tackles and two passes defensed.

Both of his pass breakups were great plays. The first came on a second and seven when Smith sprinted from his middle linebacker spot to the outside of the field and batted the pass down with one hand. The other came on a third and 10 in the end zone. Dalton threw the ball to rookie tight end Tyler Eifert and he had it for a second. Smith hit Eifert, forcing the ball loose for an incompletion. This forced the Bengals to kick a field goal.

Also in pass coverage, Smith gave up four catches including two for first downs. The first was a third and seven and Bernard gained seven yards and one inch to just get the first down. In overtime, Smith gave up a gain of six on third and five to Eifert when he took the ball from Smith.

James Ihedigbo
Ihedigbo had a performance against the Bengals that he won't forget for a long time — for more than one reason.

James Ihedigbo

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with his stats, he had nine tackles, three passes defensed and one of his tackles was a solo run stop which went for a loss of one yard.

In pass coverage, he gave up one catch for a gain of 43 yards along with cornerback Jimmy Smith. On the play, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green went deep and had Ihedigbo covering over the top and Smith was trailing behind by a few yards. Ihedigbo tipped the ball when going up for it and bounced to Green for the catch.

Also in pass coverage, Ihedigbo recored two interceptions. Not only was this his first two interception game of his career, these were his first two interceptions in his sixth NFL season.

On the first interception, Dalton badly overthrew a pass on third and 10 and the ball went to Ihedigbo. On the return, he gained 37 yards. That along with a penalty on Cincinnati put the ball on the Bengals' 11-yard line for the Ravens' offense. Two plays later, Torrey Smith scored his touchdown.

The second interception came at the two minute warning in the second half. It was a second and nine and Dalton again overthrew his receiver. This time, it hit Ravens' safety Matt Elam in the hands and bounced to Ihedigbo. This time he returned the interception nine yards. At the time, it looked like this sealed the victory for the Ravens.

This assumption couldn't have been more wrong.

With two seconds left in the game, the Bengals threw a Hail Mary. The throw was a few yards short and bounced off the shoulder of Bengals' receiver Marvin Jones right to Ihedigbo. Trying to swat the ball to the ground, he accidentally hit the ball right into the air. The ball floated up and Green was there to make the easy touchdown catch to tie the game and sent it to overtime.

In overtime, Ihedigbo made a great play to end the Bengals' drive. The Bengals went for it on fourth and two as it was just outside of field goal range. They ran a swing pass to Bernard and Ihedigbo snuffed it out right away. Bernard was able to escape from Ihedigbo, but by then, the rest of the Ravens' defense was around and Bernard tried to reverse fields to no avail. Graham made the tackle and Ihedigbo was able to make it over help bring Bernard down.

Cornerbacks
In this game against the Bengals, the Ravens' cornerbacks played their best game of the season, blanketing the Bengals' receivers making it tough for Dalton to find an open one. This good coverage allowed defensive coordinator Dean Pees to dial up more blitzes and get pressure on Dalton.

Number one cornerback Lardarius Webb had been struggling coming into this game, but put that aside and had his best game of the season. With a game high six passes defensed, Webb was one point all game long. He gave up three catches, all for first downs for 59 yards. Two of these came on third down and the other went for 40 yards to Eifert.

Webb was also able to intercept a pass. On this play, Jones ran a curl route and Webb ripped the ball away from him when they were going to the ground. This was a great play by Webb as he had tight coverage and then was able to outmuscle Jones to get the ball. This interception gave the offense the ball at the Ravens' 49-yard line but they went three-and-out.

In non-pass coverage things, Webb was able to record a quarterback hit on a blitz. This pressure forced Dalton to throw a check down pass that was short of the first down marker on third down. One of Webb's five tackles was a solo run stop for a gain of one. Lastly, he was flagged for offsides when he ran up to get in press coverage and his momentum took him across the line-of-scrimmage.

Like Webb, Jimmy Smith had a great game at cornerback. Unless you count the deep pass to Green when Ihedigbo was also in coverage, I don't have Smith down as allowing a catch. Smith had two passes defensed — both on third downs. The first was a third and 13 where Smith punched the ball out of the receivers hands as he was coming down with the pass. The other was on third and 11 an Smith jumped in front of the receiver and broke up the pass. He also stopped two running back swing passes for gains of two and negative two (the negative play was on third down).

Graham's play was great as well as he only allowed one pass to be caught against him for a gain of nine on second and seven. He also got involved in the run game as he shared a run stop with Arthur Jones for a gain of three. In overtime, Graham made the tackle on Bernard on fourth and two for a loss of eleven. Graham pursued Bernard across the field and was able to make the tackle with the help of Ihedigbo.