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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.

Ravens Sign Steve Smith

March 14, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Today, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they have signed veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, to a three-year contract.

This three-year contract is worth a total of $11.5 million. This makes the average value per year of the contract $3.83 million. There was a signing bonus of $3.5 million. The total guaranteed money is currently unknown. When all of the contract information is available, a contract breakdown will be posted.

Since being drafted by the Panthers in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft, the 34-year old had spent his entire NFL career there (13 seasons).

Steve Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

His best season came in 2005 where he caught 103 passes for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns. All of these are career-highs.

During his time in Carolina, he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection (2001, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011) and a three-time All-Pro (2001 and 2005 first-team and 2008 second-team).

Last season he caught 64 passes for 745 yards and four touchdowns while playing in 15 games. As their number one receiver, he helped lead the Panthers to the playoffs number two seed in the NFC. They would lose in the Divisional Round to the San Francisco 49ers.

Back in the 2003 season, he helped lead the Panther to Super Bowl XXXVIII against the New England Patriots. The Panthers lost 32-29 in a thrilling game where he caught four passes for 80 yards and one touchdown.

An expressive player, he is known for being outspoken on and off the field. Last season, he and former Patriots––now Broncos––cornerback Aqib Talib got into it during a game. Tailb later left the game due to an injury. In a post game interview, a reporter asked Smith if he had anything to say to Talib. In response, Smith gave one of the best one-linners in history: "Ice up son."

Released by the Panthers a few days ago due to salary cap reasons––a high cap hit and old age never bode well for players––he will get to face the Panthers this season as the Ravens will host them this season.

He is the only free agent that the Ravens have signed so far that isn't one of their own. The Ravens tend to not be very active in free agency as they build through the draft. Since he was released, he won't count against the Ravens' compensatory picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. Currently, the Ravens would be getting three––the maximum is four––due to the losses of Arthur Jones, Corey Graham and Michael Oher.

With the addition of Smith, the Ravens top four wide receivers (in no particular order) are now him, Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones. This is an improvement from last season and gives the team flexibility heading into the draft. Torrey Smith and Brown are young and Jones is experience, but a true veteran presence was lacking last season without Anquan Boldin. Steve Smith can fill that void.

Overall, this is a good signing for the Ravens. They got a veteran receiver for quarterback Joe Flacco at a reasonable price. At the end of the day, the Ravens' receiving corps is improved.

Ravens March Mock Draft (Pre-Free Agency)

March 8, 2014 in NFL Draft

It is now March so it is time for another Ravens' mock draft using Fanspeak's On the Clock Mock Draft Simulator. Each month I post a new Ravens' mock draft. This month will feature two mock drafts––one before and one after free agency. If you want to see how the rest of this draft turned out, click here.

Please note that while the Ravens only have four picks here, they are likely to get a four compensatory picks from free agency losses last offseason. It was previously reported that they would also be receiving a draft pick from the Miami Dolphins from the Bryant McKinnie trade, but it has been announced that this pick is a conditional pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

First Round: Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
With the 17th overall pick, I decided to address the offensive line with Lewan, a 6'7", 309 pound redshirt senior out of Michigan.

Taylor Lewan

Courtesy of ICON SMI

A four-year starter, he started 48 games at Ann Arbor for the Wolverines with all but two coming at left tackle. This past season he was a Second Team All-American and as a redshirt junior he was a First Team All-American. Anchoring the Wolverines offensive line, he was also a two-time First Team All-Big Ten selection and a one-time Second Team All-Big Ten selection.

Facing Jadeveon Clowney in a bowl game as a redshirt junior, Lewan held his own.

At the NFL Combine last month, he put on a show with the fastest forty-yard dash time for offensive linemen (4.87 seconds). Along with that, he had the best broad jump, tied for third in the vertical jump and finished fourth in the three-cone drill.

His best attribute is his size which is perfect for the left tackle position in the NFL. A prototypical left tackle, he doesn't excel in pass protection or run blocking, but he is good at both. On the negative side, there are some character concerns. An Ohio State fan claims that Lewan assaulted him late last November and this incident is currently under investigation. He was also accused threatening a female Michigan student after she alleged that a teammate of Lewan's raped her. This incident occurred four years ago.

As the Ravens head into free agency, it is looking more and more like starting left tackle Eugene Monroe won't re-sign with the team. Reports say that they are far apart in contract negotiations. Ravens' fans can only hope that Monroe doesn't find the type of market he is expecting in a few days. However, that is unlikely as he is a young, top-tier left tackle. Due to this, the Ravens will have to address the position in the draft and taking Lewan would be a good way to do that. He is experienced and if he entered the draft last year, he would have been a top-10 pick, potentially even the number one overall pick.

Second Round: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tight End, Washington
In the second round, I continued to add to the offense by taking Seferian-Jenkins, a 6'5", 262 pound junior out of Washington.

A massive target for quarterbacks, he was a major component of the Huskies offense over the last three years. As a freshman, he caught 41 passes for 538 yards and six touchdowns. His best season came as a sophomore where he had 69 catches for 852 yards and seven touchdowns. This past season he his production dipped a bit as defenses keyed in on him a bit more. He caught 36 passes for 450 yards and eight touchdowns. A steady performer, his best game this past season came against Idaho State where he had five catches for 62 yards and one touchdown.

Size and athletic ability are what set him apart from other tight ends in the draft class. He uses this size well when running routes. This makes him a great red zone target––as you could probably tell based off his touchdown numbers. His blocking needs some improvement, but he has the frame to be very successful. In March of 2013 he was arrested for a DUI. At the NFL Combine, it was found that he has a fractured bone in his foot. This kept him out of drills there and will sideline him for a little.

Gary Kubiak––the Ravens' new offensive coordinator––loves to run two tight ends sets, and adding Seferian-Jenkins will allow the Ravens to have the personnel to run this effectively. Currently Dennis Pitta is the only tight end on the roster, and he just re-signed recently. He is more of a slot tight end while Seferian-Jenkins can line up in right next to the tackle more. The two would compliment each other well and allow the Ravens' offense to have a new dynamic.

Third Round: Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, LSU
Continuing to build the Ravens' offense, I took a wide receiver this time in Landry, a 5'11", 205 pound senior out of LSU.

Over the past two seasons, he has been a key contributor to the Tigers' offense. As a sophomore he caught 56 passes for 573 yards and five touchdowns. This past season he caught 77 passes for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns. His best game of the season came in a 44-41 loss to Georgia where he caught 10 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown.

A solid possession receiver, he is a good route runner but is a bit on the small side. He has strong hands and knows how to make contested catches. He isn't afraid to go across the middle of the field to make a catch. He also has experience playing special teams. On the negative side, he has average speed and size. He also can struggle against press coverage.

His offensive coordinator for this past season at LSU was Cam Cameron. Cameron is a former Ravens' offensive coordinator so he would provide great insight into how Beckham would fit in with the Ravens. The Ravens need another receiver to pair with Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown. Landry could step in right away and provide quarterback Joe Flacco with another target.

Fourth Round
This pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for left tackle Eugene Monroe during the season.

Fifth Round
This pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Monroe during the season.

Sixth Round: Chris Davis, Cornerback, Auburn
With the Ravens final draft pick in this mock draft, the I finally addressed the defense by selecting Brown, a 5'10", 202 pound senior cornerback.

Of course, he is best known not as a cornerback, but for his 109-yard touchdown return of a missed field goal against Alabama as time expired to win the game. Arguably the best ending in college football history, he corralled the missed field goal and ran down the sideline for a touchdown to help Auburn upset the number-one ranked Crimson Tide. This victory helped Auburn make it to the National Championship Game against Florida State where they lost by three.

In this game, he gave up the game-winning touchdown pass with less than one minute left in the game. Going up against a receiver who is seven inches taller than him, Davis was outmatched in the end zone on this play.

A great athlete, he possesses quick change of direction and acceleration. He is a talented punt returner and could potentially develop into a decent cornerback.

For the Ravens, this pick makes sense for two reasons––both of them free agency related. Nickel cornerback Corey Graham is about to hit the open market and it is unknown whether he will return. If he leaves, another cornerback needs to be added. Also, kick and punt returner Jacoby Jones is slated to be a free agent. If either of these two leave, then this pick makes sense for the Ravens as Davis can provide depth at cornerback and contribute right away as a return man.

Seventh Round
This pick was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for center A.Q. Shipley before the start of the season.

Bobby Engram Hired As Wide Receiver Coach

February 6, 2014 in Coaching Staff, News

Rounding out their coaching staff, the Baltimore Ravens have hired former University of Pittsburgh wide receivers coach Bobby Engram to the same position.

Engram will take over for Jim Hostler who left to the team to become a senior offensive assistant with the Buffalo Bills after failing to land the Ravens' offensive coordinator position.

Bobby Engram

Courtesy of ICON SMI

A 14-year NFL veteran, Engram is most known for playing eight seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, but he also played five seasons with the Chicago Bears and one season with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 41-year old had his best season of his career in 2007––with the Seahawks––when he had 94 catches for 1,147 yards and six touchdowns (all career-highs or tied for career-highs).

With the Seahawks, he was able to reach Super Bowl XL where he recorded six catches for 70 yards in the Seahawks 21-10 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For his career, he had 650 catches for 7,751 yards and 35 touchdowns.

After he retired, he quickly became part of the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff as an offensive assistant coach for the 2011 season. Following that, he was hired by the University of Pittsburgh––his alma mater is Penn State University––to be their wide receivers coach. He spent the last two seasons with the Panthers.

The Ravens wide receiving corps consists of Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and others. Jacoby Jones is a free agent and it is unknown whether he will be retained. Another receiver is likely to be added this offseason via either the draft or free agency. The entire corps is young, meaning they need to develop their skills and now Engram is the man charged with doing that.

This is the Ravens second hiring in as many days as yesterday they hired Thomas Hammock to be their new running backs coach. Now, the entire Ravens' coaching staff has been completed.

While Engram lacks coaching experience with only three seasons of work, what he lacks in coaching experience, he more than makes up for with playing experience. He has been around the NFL for 15 years now as a player or coach and the game of football even longer than that. He is an up-and-coming coach who should help develop the Ravens young receivers.

This––like the Hammock hiring––is another great move by head coach John Harbaugh. The entire offensive coaching staff has been revamped and is now the best offensive staff that they have had in years.

Previewing The Ravens Free Agents

January 2, 2014 in Free Agency

With the Baltimore Ravens season over without making the playoffs, it is time to look ahead to the offseason. At 4 p.m. ET on March 11, free agency will start up and here are the Ravens impending free agents and their chances of returning to the team next season.

There are three different types of free agents: unrestricted, restricted and exclusive rights free agents. For the Ravens, they have 14 unrestricted, two restricted and six exclusive rights free agents.

Unrestricted free agents are the most common in the NFL as any player who has accrued four or more years of playing are unrestricted free agents. This means any player who has just completed his rookie contract is an unrestricted free agent. These players are free to sign with any team once the free agent signing period has started.

Dennis Pitta

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Restricted free agents are players who have three accrued seasons. They are subject to tenders that are given out by their team. If a tender isn't extended to the player, then they become an unrestricted free agent. If a tender is extended to the player, then their old team has the ability to match any offer from another team on the player. If the Ravens don't match that offer, then they would receiver draft pick compensation based on the tender given. The potential tenders are first round ($3.023 million), second round ($2.124 million) and original round ($1.389 million). For the original round tender, if a player was an undrafted free agent, then the players team just gets the right of first refusal — no draft pick compensation.

Exclusive rights free agents are players with two or one year of accrued service in the league. They can be tendered with the league minimum for their time of service ($570,000, $495,000 or $420,000). These players are not free to negotiate with other teams once they are given their tender. The Ravens have a history of usually tendering these players.

Before any cuts or renegotiations of contracts, the Ravens will have limited cap space to work with this offseason. They are projected to have around $10 million available before any of these potential moves.

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs)

TE Dallas Clark
Signed to a one-year deal last offseason after Dennis Pitta suffered an injury, Clark played in 12 games and caught 31 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns. At 34 years old (35 when next season starts), he is a candidate for retirement after 11 seasons in the NFL. Despite all three of the Ravens tight ends being free agents, it is highly unlikely that he returns.
Chance of Return: 5 percent 

DT Terrence Cody
A second-round draft pick in 2010, Cody was supposed to become the starting nose tackle for the Ravens, but that hasn't happened due to his struggles. He improved this season recording 15 tackles and is a decent backup defensive lineman who can be used in a rotation for a dozen snaps each game. With Brandon Williams being drafted in the third round this season, it is less likely that Cody will return.
Chance of Return: 40 percent

TE Ed Dickson
Another member of the Ravens' 2010 draft class (a third-round pick), Dickson was set to break out this year with Pitta out due to injury, but that never happened. He had 25 catches for 273 yards and one touchdown. With inconsistent hands and one good season in four years (2011 with 54 catches), it doesn't seem likely that he will return. Also, he is not a good blocking tight end which is important for backups.
Chance of Return: 30 percent

CB Corey Graham
A key free agent signing two years ago, Graham has contributed in a major way as the Ravens' number three cornerback over the last two seasons. This year he had four interceptions and 12 passes defensed after two and eight last year respectively. He has the ability to play on the outside or in the slot and plays special teams as well. His two interceptions of Peyton Manning in the Divisional Playoffs last season helped key the Ravens upset over the Denver Broncos. Expect the Ravens to try and re-sign him, but the salary cap could be a deterrent.
Chance of Return: 60 percent

DE Arthur Jones
A full-time starter for the first time in his career this season, Jones responded with his best season to date with 53 tackles and four sacks. He was the most consistent defensive lineman for the Ravens this season playing good as a run defender and pass rusher. This performance likely pushes him out of the running for the Ravens in free agency as a team is going to give him an offer he can't pass up. The Ravens have the depth to replace him and have other players that are a higher priority to re-sign.
Chance of Return: 15 percent

WR Jacoby Jones
Like Graham, Jones was signed two years ago and has been a key contributor over the last two seasons as a returner and a receiver. This season he caught 37 passes for 455 yards and two touchdowns and returned one kickoff for a touchdown. He is always a threat to score when he touches the ball and that is perfect for the Ravens offense. However, he is likely to command too much money for the Ravens on the open market, especially with the Ravens looking to upgrade their receiving corps.
Chance of Return: 35 percent

S James Ihedigbo
Thrust into a starting role at strong safety this season after the Ravens revamped their defense in the offseason, Ihedigbo was expected to give way to first-round pick Matt Elam, but Ihedigbo's performance forced Elam over to free safety. The biggest surprise performance of the season for the Ravens was Ihedigbo's as he had 101 tackles, two forced fumbles and three interceptions. He was a key special teams player two years ago. I'm 50-50 on his return as Elam is a better fit as a strong safety so the Ravens would be better offer acquiring a free safety. With that being said, Ihedigbo would be a good player to bring back and is likely the backup plan if a free safety can't be found.
Chance of Return: 50 percent

S Jeromy Miles
Claimed off waivers during the season, Miles played special teams and saw a few snaps on defense when Ihedigbo or Elam left with a minor injury. The 26-year old had 10 tackles on the season and likely won't be very expensive to keep around and would be good depth in the secondary.
Chance of Return: 65 percent

OT Eugene Monroe
Priority number one for the Ravens this offseason is signing Monroe to a long term extension. He was acquired mid-season for a fourth and fifth-round pick in the upcoming draft in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In his 11 games with the Ravens, he stabilized the Ravens' left tackle position and gives them their best left tackle since the retirement of Hall-of-Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden. Seeing what the Ravens have already invested into Monroe, it is highly unlikely that they will let him walk in free agency and he was the best player on the offensive line this season.
Chance of Return: 90 percent

OT Michael Oher
At the other tackle is Oher who was a first round pick in 2009. He was expected to be the Ravens replacement for Ogden, but je never played well enough and was moved to the right side of the line. He has been plagued by penalties in his five years in Baltimore. It is likely that the Ravens move on from him as they need to invest in Monroe, who is a better player and plays a more important position. Also, it just seems like it is time for him and the Ravens to part ways. Even if the Ravens wanted re-sign him, another team would probably pay him more than the Ravens would want to pay.
Chance of Return: 10 percent

TE Dennis Pitta
Priority number two for the Ravens this offseason should be Pitta. He is quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite target on the field and best friend off the field. This season, he dislocated and fractured his hip in training camp, but was able to return for the last four games of the season where he caught 20 passes for 169 yards and one touchdown. A reliable chain-mover who works the underneath very well. He has become Flacco's security blanket and with the Ravens giving Flacco a massive contract last offseason, the Ravens need to prioritize helping him out, which means signing Monroe and Pitta to long term deals.
Chance of Return: 80 percent

RB Bernard Scott
Signed to a contract during the season, Scott only saw action in two games — the last two of the season — and one of those games was in garbage time when the Ravens had already lost. In these two games, he had four rushes for 14 yards and two catches for 10 yards. The former Cincinnati Bengal could return, but my guess is the Ravens bring in a younger option than the soon to be 30-year old Scott and one who can contribute on specials teams.
Chance of Return: 35 percent

LB Daryl Smith
Due to his great performance this season, I gave Smith the Ravens' Defensive Player of the Year award. Replacing Ray Lewis at middle linebacker, Smith had a career year with 123 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions, 19 passes defended and one touchdown. All of these expect the forced fumbles were career-highs. He was at his best in pass coverage and rushing the passer while struggling in run defense. His age (32 at the start of next season) will likely keep him form getting a big contract.
Chance of Return: 60 percent

WR Brandon Stokley
After suffering a season-ending concussion against the Minnesota Vikings in week 15, Stokley announced his retirement. This puts an end to his 15 year career that saw him play for five different teams — including five with the Ravens (first four seasons and this season, his last). The Ravens drafted him in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft and he scored the first touchdown of Super Bowl XXXV on a 38-yard pass.
Chance of Return: none (retirement)

Restricted Free Agents (RFAs)

WR Tandon Doss
Cut by the Ravens after training camp, he was re-signed after Jones suffered a knee injury in week one. With Jones injured, Doss took over the punt returning duties and rewarded the Ravens with 23 returns for 359 yards (league-leading 15.6 yards per return) and one touchdown (a gain of 82 in week three against Houston). On offense, he had 19 catches for 305 yards and was active in all 15 games that he was on the team for. Assuming that Jones leaves in free agency, Doss is likely to take over the job of returning punts. He has also shown flashes of being a good receiver. Expect the Ravens to give him an original round tender (fourth round). Another possibility would be to sign him to a long-term contract that would be cheaper than the tender.
Chance of Return: 85 percent

LB Albert McClellan
A versatile linebacker — he can play both inside and outside linebacker in the Ravens' 3-4 scheme — and a key special teams player, McClellan is an underrated player for the Ravens. He recorded 12 tackles this season and has shown decent ability as a linebacker. Expect the Ravens to place an original round tender on him. Being an undrafted free agent, the Ravens wouldn't receive draft pick compensation for him, but it is highly unlikely that he leaves. Another possibility is signing him to a long-term contract.
Chance of Return: 90 percent

Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFAs)

S Omar Brown
After spending part of the season on the practice squad, he was signed to the active roster before week nine. Despite being on the active roster from week nine to the end of the season, he never really saw playing time and was only active for one game. It would cost the Ravens $570,000 to sign him and because of the Rule of 51 (only the top 51 contracts count during the offseason), his contract likely won't impact the Ravens' cap room. The Ravens have a history of retaining their ERFAs so expect him and the other RFAs back.
Chance of Return: 100 percent

LB D.J. Bryant
The least likely ERFA to return is Bryant. He suffered a left leg/knee injury during the Ravens final preseason game that caused him to be placed on injured reserve and miss the entire season. Despite this injury though, expect the Ravens to extend the $420,000 tender that it would take to sign him so they can see what he can do in training camp where he will fight for a spot on the roster like most of the ERFAs.
Chance of Return: 90 percent

LB Josh Bynes
As a part-time starter this season (six starts), Bynes recorded 45 tackles from his middle linebacker position. He was part of a three-man rotation at the Ravens' middle linebacker position next to Smith. This is the second-straight season that saw him spend some time as a starter. He struggled in pass coverage this season, but he is a good special teams player (he made the final tackle in Super Bowl XLVII) and a decent linebacker. He is a lock to be back with the Ravens on his $570,000 tender.
Chance of Return: 100 percent

LB Adrian Hamilton
Like Bryant, Hamilton suffered a injury (wrist) in preseason that saw him be placed on injured reserve. The outside linebacker has shown potential as a pass rusher and showed improvements as a run defender this season in the preseason. His tender is worth $495,000 and is likely to be back this season and make a push at the crowded outside linebacker position.
Chance of Return: 95 percent

S Anthony Levine
Playing special teams all season, Levine recorded 11 tackles this season while being active in all 16 games due to his skills on special teams. He was at his best against the New York Jets and Detroit Lions where he had three tackles in each game. Special teams players are some of the most undervalued players in the league. He will be back on a $495,000 tender.
Chance of Return: 100 percent

Brynden Trawick
Similar to Brown, Trawick was signed to the active roster before week nine. Prior to that though, he was on the roster for the first three games of the season before being cut and signed to the practice squad. In week one he accidentally ran into Jones, causing his knee injury that forced him to miss four weeks. In his eight games that he played, he recorded eight tackles. Having contributed this season, he will be back next season on a $495,000 tender.
Chance of Return: 100 percent

Baltimore Ravens Season Awards

December 31, 2013 in News

With the Baltimore Ravens season now over after losing to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, it is time to hand out awards for the season.

Most Valuable Player

Kicker Justin Tucker
Having a kicker as the most valuable player for a team sounds strange, but that is the 2013 Baltimore Ravens. Entering the season, it looked like quarterback Joe Flacco would be the most valuable player, but he, like the entire offense, underperformed which thrust Tucker into the spotlight.

Justin Tucker

Courtesy of ICON SMI

The spotlight was never brighter than in week 15 against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. Due to offensive struggles, he kicked six field goals (29, 24, 32, 49, 53 and 61 yards) which was all of the Ravens points in their 18-16 victory. This was the first time in NFL history that a kicker make field goals in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s in the same game. His 61-yard field goal came with 0:38 seconds left in the game and he made it by inches. Six field goals in one game and a 61-yard field goal were both franchise records. Earlier in the season he made five field goals against the Pittsburgh Steelers (a 22-20 win) and tied the record. Two other franchise records that he set this season were most field goals made in a season (38) and most points in a season (140).

A record that he came close to breaking this season was the consecutive field goals streak. He got to 33 in a row before missing in week 16. The record is 36 which was set by Matt Stover.

For the season, Tucker went 38-of-41 on field goals including seven over 50 yards. His only misses were from 37, 44 and 50 yards. He was also a perfect 26-of-26 on extra points. Simply put, without his excellent kicking — which earned him a Pro Bowl spot — the Ravens wouldn't be 8-8 as he carried the team in certain games, and that is what a most valuable player is supposed to do.

Offensive Player of the Year

Wide Receiver Torrey Smith
With an offense that ranked fourth-worst in total yards this season, there aren't many options to choose for this award, but I settled on Smith.

Forced into the number one receiver spot in the offseason due to the trade of Anquan Boldin, Smith was given more responsibilities in the offense and he rewarded the Ravens. When tight end Dennis Pitta went down with a dislocated and fractured hip in training camp, Smith became the only target that Flacco had spent significant time with and this showed throughout the season as Smith's receiving stats where well above all other Ravens.

Setting career-highs in four different categories (catches, targets, yards and first downs), he had the best season of his three-year career with 65 catches for 1,128 yards with four touchdowns and 48 first downs on 138 targets. While a wasn't able to set the franchise record for receiving yards (1,201), he did come close and with his talent, he is sure to challenge this record in the coming seasons. He came a long way this season as he became a much more developed and balanced receiver compared to last season.

Defensive Player of the Year

Middle Linebacker Daryl Smith
Charged with the almost impossible task of replacing the legendary Ray Lewis in the middle of the Ravens' defense, Smith did everything that he was asked to do and exceeded expectations.

Signed to a one-year deal in free agency in June — well after all of the major signing that occurs in March — the Ravens picked him up for cheap with hopes that he could lead the defense and he did exactly that.  He recorded 123 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions, 19 passes defended and he returned one of his interceptions for a touchdown. A 10-year veteran, he set career-highs in tackles, sacks, interceptions, passes defended and his touchdown was the first of his career. The 19 passes defended was something that Lewis was never able to do as the most he ever mustered was 13 and Smith set a franchise record for linebackers with these 19.

Along with great performance, he provided the defense with veteran leadership — something it was lacking after the departures of Lewis and safety Ed Reed. Smith commanded the Ravens' defense with great acumen and it showed as the Ravens' defense ranked 12th in total defense and points per game.

Special Teams Player of the Year (not named Justin Tucker)

Kick/Punt Returner Jacoby Jones
The best special teams player for the Ravens this season was Tucker, but I disqualified him because I gave him the MVP and he was head and shoulders above the rest. With that being said, this award goes to Jones for his returning ability.

Last season, this ability was on full display as he scored three times on kickoffs (including one in the Super Bowl) and scored once on a punt return). This year he was slowed down by a knee injury that he suffered in week one. This knocked him out for four games and he didn't seem to be fully recovered for a few weeks after that. Once he was though, he was back to his explosive self. He returned 19 punts for 237 yards (12.5 yard average) and a long of 37 yards. On kickoffs he had 892 yards on 31 returns (28.8 average, fourth-best in the NFL) with one touchdown and a long of 77 yards. He always saved his best returns for the most important times and this was best shown from his lone touchdown of the season which gave the Ravens a 22-19 lead with 1:16 left in the game against the Minnesota Vikings. He came close to another touchdown (this time against he Pittsburgh Steelers), but Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin stepped onto the field and this caused Jones to alter course slightly and he was caught from behind. While he very well could have been caught anyways, this play stands out from his season due to the controversy surrounding it.

Looking at his stats, he had a down year, but his season last year was shear dominance from a returner and is very tough to match. Despite an injury, he was able to have another successful season returning kicks and punts for the Ravens. His good returns set up numerous scoring drives for the Ravens all season long.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Wide Receiver Marlon Brown
In the 2013 NFL Draft, the Ravens ended up selecting 10 players and only four of them played offense: fullback Kyle Juszczyk (fourth round), offensive tackle Ricky Wagner (fifth round), center Ryan Jensen (sixth round) and wide receiver Aaron Mellette (seventh round). Juszczyk saw few offensive snaps, Wagner played part of the first game of the season due to an injury and saw a couple of snaps each game as a sixth offensive lineman, Jensen broke his foot and never saw game action when he returned and Mellette was placed on injured reserve before the regular season started. With that being said, the Ravens did get production from Brown, an undrafted free agent.

Marlon Brown

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Due to a torn ACL last November which ended his senior season at the University of Georgia, he went undrafted. He then was going to sign with the Houston Texans, but they wanted to wait a little bit due to his knee injury, so he instead signed with the Ravens who would take him right away. This turned out to be great for the Ravens as he ended up being second on the team in the major receiving categories and actually led the team in receiving touchdowns. He had 49 catches for 524 yards with seven touchdowns (tied for a Ravens' rookie record with Torrey Smith) and 29 first downs on 82 targets in 14 games. Brown's size (6'4") proved to be an excellent asset as he has developed into a great red zone target over the course of the season. This was showcased against the Vikings as he caught a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone with four second left in the game.

While the Ravens' receiving corps will likely see an overhaul this offseason, they have a keeper in Brown who did most of his damage out of the slot this season. He may have been undrafted, but that didn't stop him from contributing to the Ravens this season, and without him stepping up, the Ravens passing game would have struggled even more — and that is hard to imagine.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Safety Matt Elam
Last on the list of awards is the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and this goes to the Ravens' first-round pick out of the University of Florida who started 15 games and played in all 16.

Entering the season-opener in Denver, Elam was a backup safety, but poor performance from free safety Michael Huff (who was actually cut a few weeks later) sent Elam into the game in the fourth quarter and gave him the job for the rest of the season. For the season, he recorded 77 tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and three passes defended. His interception clinched the Ravens' game against the Lions as it came with less than a minute left in the game. A natural strong safety, he was more comfortable in run defense and his pass coverage struggled at times as he was beaten bad a few times. He was playing free safety as the Ravens played their two best safeties and Elam was the best free safety on the roster despite being better at strong safety where James Ihedigbo played. Elam was expected to start at strong safety, but Huff's bad play and Ihedigbo's surprisingly good performance put Elam at free safety.

While he needs to work on his pass coverage, he was clearly the best rookie on the defensive side of the ball for the Ravens this season. With Ihedigbo being a free agent, Elam could move over to strong safety next season if Ihedigbo isn't retained.

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.

AFC Championship Rematch: Ravens vs Patriots

December 21, 2013 in What to Look For

In the last two seasons, the AFC Championship Game has consisted of the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots. Both times the game has been played in New England and each game produced different results.

The first time around, in 2011, the Ravens suffered a heartbreaking defeat 23-20. With under one minute left in the game, wide receiver Lee Evans had the game-winning touchdown catch in his hands, but Patriots' defender Sterling Moore was able to knock it loose at the last second. Two plays later, the Ravens attempted a 32-yard field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. However, kicker Billy Cundiff missed it wide left and the Patriots won the game. They would face the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI where the Giants won 21-17. This game against the Patriots is still a sore spot for Ravens fans.

Last year, the Ravens headed up to Foxboro looking for revenge. The Ravens had defeated the Patriots 31-30 in the regular season on a 27-yard field goal from new kicker Justin Tucker. Wide receiver Torrey Smith played the game of his life catching six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns just hours after finding out about the death of his younger brother Tevin.

A regular season victory isn't the same though. For the Ravens to come full-circle on the Patriots, they needed to win a playoff game in Foxboro. At halftime in the 2012 AFC Championship Game, the Ravens were down 13-7 and weren't playing great. In the second half, quarterback Joe Flacco came out firing and three three touchdown passes. This spearheaded the Ravens comeback and led them to a 28-13 victory.

This victory sent the Ravens to Super Bowl XLVII where they faced the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans where the Ravens hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after an eventful 34-31 victory.

1.  Joe Flacco
If the Ravens are to defeat the Patriots for a third straight time, they are going to need Flacco to play like he did in last season's two games.

In the regular season matchup, he went 28-of-39 for 382 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 117.7. With the Ravens down 30-21 with 7:29 left in the game, they got the ball and he led them on a drive then ended in a touchdown pass to Smith with 4:01 left. After the defense forced a Patriots punt, Flacco and the offense got the ball back with 1:55 left. A few plays later, the Ravens had the ball on the Patriots' nine-yard line and sent in Tucker for the game-winning field goal. With the game on the line, Flacco led the Ravens on two scoring drives late in the game to win.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

In the playoff matchup, the Ravens came out with a conservative game plan, but changed it at halftime to let him throw more. This resulted in the Ravens scoring 21 unanswered points in the second half and a trip to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. For the game, he went 21-of-36 for 240 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a quarterback rating of 106.2.

The Patriots have been a team that he plays better against due to his familiarity with them. He has played them six times going 3-3 including 2-1 in the playoffs. In these games, he has thrown 12 touchdowns compared to four interceptions and has completed 63.5 percent of his passes.

This year, he seems to be having a down year after winning the Super Bowl. He has thrown for 3,460 yards, 18 touchdowns and completed 58.9 percent of his passes. Along with these stats, he has also thrown a career-high 17 interceptions and has a career-low quarterback rating (76.5). His previous high in interceptions was 12 which he has done three different times.

Part of the reason why he is having a down year is the struggles of the rest of the offense. Anquan Boldin, a key receiver from last year, was traded away and tight end Dennis Pitta dislocated and fractured his hip in training camp. He has only returned recently and the game this week will be his third of the season. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection and run blocking. The lack of an effective run game has pushed more onto the shoulders of Flacco.

One thing that he has done well this season is come through late in games. In the last two game, he has led two game-winning drives and in the first game, he led two touchdown drives in the final few minutes.

Playing in the clutch is one of the most important attributes that a quarterback can have in his arsenal and it is something that can't be taught. You either have it or you don't. And Flacco has it.

If the Ravens can get another good performance from Flacco, then they are going to be tough to beat.

2.  Tom Brady
Speaking of quarterbacks that perform in the clutch, the Patriots have a pretty good one themselves in Brady.

While Brady is a first-ballet Hall-of-Fame quarterback, the Ravens' defense has given him trouble in the past. Since 2008 — when Flacco entered the league — Brady has thrown six touchdowns and nine interceptions against the Ravens while completing 60.2 percent of his passes. In his eight career starts against the Ravens, he has completed only 57.7 percent of his passes and has thrown two more interceptions than touchdowns. These are his worst numbers against an opponent.

One reason that the Ravens have been able to find success against him has been because of the numerous blitzes that the Ravens run. The Ravens' defense has been able to confuse Brady at times with their blitzes.

Directing the Ravens' signals on defense every other year has been Ray Lewis, another first-ballet Hall-of-Fame player. However, he retired in the offseason and left a huge void in the middle of the Ravens' defense. Taking over Lewis' spot has been Daryl Smith, a veteran signed in free agency.

He has exceeded expectations for the Ravens as he has 107 tackles (tied for a career-high), 4.5 sacks (career-high), three interceptions (career-high) and 18 pass deflections (career-high and a Ravens' franchise record for a linebacker). He has also done a good job of calling the signals for the defense.

Brady will be missing many of his top targets in this game. All three of his favorite targets from last year won't play as tight end Rob Gronkowski is out with a torn ACL and MCL, tight end Aaron Hernandez is in jail awaiting trial for murder and wide receiver Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency. On top of that fourth-round pick wide receiver Josh Boyce is out with an injury, second-round pick wide receiver Aaron Dobson is questionable and undrafted free agent wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is also questionable. His most targeted receiver this year is Julian Edelman who has 89 catches and his previous high was 37. Coming in second is Danny Amendola, a free agent signing to replace Welker, but he has missed four games with injury.

Despite all of these injuries and changes, Brady has still led the Patriots to a 10-4 record.

The Ravens will need to play physical with the receivers on the outside as both Edelman and Amendola are under six foot tall. The defense will also need to pressure Brady with various blitzes to force him to make quick decisions under pressure.

3.  Big Plays
This game has massive playoff implications so there will be a playoff-like atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. In games like this, big plays will be the difference.

Big plays can be one of two things: a large gain or a turnover.

Starting with large gains, these can come in many different forms. There could be a big kickoff or punt return, a long pass or catch and run, or even a long run after a handoff.

In the return game, the Ravens have a clear advantage with Jacoby Jones returning for them. The first-team All-Pro kick returner from last season missed a few games at the beginning of the season with a knee injury and then struggled in his first few games back. Now though, he is in full stride and has been busting out big returns in recent games. Against the New York Jets four weeks ago, he returned a punt 37 yards and had 108 punt return yards on five returns. Three weeks ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers he returned a kickoff 73 yards and almost scored a touchdown. Against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago he did as he took a kickoff 77 yards with 1:16 left in the game to give the Ravens the lead. Last week against the Detroit Lions he returned a kickoff 36 yards to the Ravens' 33-yard line to set up the Ravens' game-winning drive.

In the passing and rushing game, the Ravens and Patriots are balanced as the Ravens have the advantage passing and the Patriots do rushing the ball.

Moving to the turnover battle, the Patriots have the advantage. They have a turnover differential of plus six compared to the Ravens one of negative two. The Patriots have forced 25 turnovers (14 interceptions and 11 fumbles) while only turning it over 19 times (10 interceptions and nine fumbles). The Ravens have forced 20 turnovers (12 interceptions and eight fumbles) while turning it over 22 times (17 interceptions and five fumbles).

Last week, the Patriots were even in turnover differential as they threw for one interception and forced a fumble. The Ravens were plus three as they intercepted three passes while not turning the ball over.

This game is going to come down to who can make a big play when is comes down to it. Both the Ravens and Patriots have shown this ability and are balanced in this aspect.

4.  Run Game
A battle of bad meets bad when the Ravens have the ball on offense as the Ravens' run game ranks worst in yards per attempt and the Patriots' run defense ranks second-worst in yards per game.

The struggles for the Ravens stem from an ineffective offensive line and running backs that can't break tackles. This is a killer combination (and not in a good way). This has led to 3.0 yards per carry which is worse than all teams in the league and the next worse is at 3.3.

The offensive line has failed to provide any holes to running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. They haven't played well either though as they have failed to break tackles and take advantage of a hole when there has been one.

Injuries have been the main fault behind the Patriots' bad run defense. Starting defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are out for the season with injuries and the same goes for linebacker Jarod Mayo. These three (especially Wilfork and Mayo) were the better run defenders on the Patriots and their losses have really hurt the Patriots.

Rice has run up the middle a lot this season and with the Patriots hurting in that area, expect more of the same. One of the two units has to give way and have success for once. Right?

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 Win In Crazy Finish

December 9, 2013 in Observations

With snow pouring down on M&T Bank Stadium for most of the afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens beat the Minnesota Vikings 29-26. The win pushes the Ravens record to 7-6 and keeps them as the sixth seed in the AFC. The loss for the Vikings makes their record 3-9-1.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Ravens were nursing a 7-6 lead, but the Vikings quickly scored a touchdown on an eight-yard pass to Jerome Simpson. All was quiet after this for a while.

The next score came with 2:05 left in the game where Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco hit tight end Dennis Pitta for a one-yard touchdown catch on fourth and goal. At this point, it looked like the game could be over and the Ravens would be victorious with a 15-12 lead after they converted a two-point conversion. But that was far from true.

It took the Vikings all of two plays to answer the Ravens' score. A 27-yard pass to Cordarrelle Patterson set up a 41-yard run by Toby Gerhart on a draw that caught the Ravens' defense by surprise. This gave the Vikings a 19-15 lead.

Not to be outdone, the Ravens replied without even giving the ball to their offense. Jacoby Jones took an intentionally short kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 22-19 lead and sent the home crowd into bedlam as they assumed this would be the game winner.

This time, it took the Vikings three plays to score as Patterson caught a screen pass and went 79 yards for a touchdown to put the Vikings up 26-22 — stunning the previously jubilant Ravens' crowd.

With 45 seconds and two timeouts, Flacco and the Ravens got the ball back at their own 20-yard line. A 35-yard catch, 18-yard penalty and an 18-yard catch later, the Ravens had the ball at the Vikings nine-yard line with just 10 seconds left and were out of timeouts.

Dropping back to pass, Flacco looked to the back of the end zone where he saw wide receiver Marlon Brown open. Dragging his right foot and with his left foot firmly on the ground, Brown reeled in the game-winning pass with four seconds left in the game giving the Ravens the 29-26 victory.

To recap: there were 42 points scored in the fourth quarter (36 in the final few minutes) and only 13 points in the first three quarters. It didn't matter if you missed the first 57 minutes of the game as long as you caught the final three.

Two NFL firsts were set with this crazy fourth quarter. It was the first time in NFL history that there were six lead changes in the fourth quarter (and five of them were in the final 2:07). Second, it was the first time that there were five touchdowns scored in the last 2:07 of a game. In fact, it was the fastest that five touchdowns have been scored in a game — more than halving the previous record off five minutes and 40 seconds.

Joe Flacco
By leading the Ravens to victory on the final drive of the game, Flacco had his 18th career game-winng drive in the fourth quarter or overtime.

With this win, he is now has 61 wins in his first six NFL seasons — a new record. He entered the game tied with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

For the game, Flacco went 28-of-50 for 245 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 64.2. He also ran one time for 22 yards on a scramble that led to a touchdown a few plays later.

On his first interception, the offensive line provided him with all day to throw the ball and he tried to hit running back Bernard Pierce on a wheel route. Simply put, Flacco under threw Pierce — who had a step on the defender — and the Vikings now had the Ball at their own 18-yard line. At this time in the game (very early on), the snow was still coming down heavily so this could explain the under throw from Flacco.

The next interception came when he was trying to do too much. He had scrambled out of the pocket, but instead of throwing the ball away, he tried to force it to tight end Ed Dickson on the sideline. A Vikings' defender jumped in front of Dickson and made a diving catch. This turnover led to the Vikings first touchdown. Many times this season, Flacco hasn't thrown the ball away when he should and it has hurt the Ravens.

While the responsibility of the first two interceptions rests solely on Flacco, he holds little to no responsibility for his third one. Trying to hit Jones on a deep pass, Flacco got the ball on target, but Jones dropped it and it bounced to a Vikings' defender who made a juggling catch.

Coming into the game, Flacco had only thrown three interceptions at home this season and he doubled that this week. For the season, he now has 17 interceptions — tied for third worst in the league.

On the plus side for he, as the weather cleared up, he performed better. By the time the second half came around, it was snowing less and he started to heat up.

When the game was on the line, he was at his best. On the Ravens final two drive, he went 7-of-10 for 62 yards, two touchdowns and had a passer rating of 125.8.

Yes he threw three interceptions, but he came through when it mattered the most and got the Ravens a much needed win.

Ray Rice
Going up against the 23rd-best run defense in the league, Rice struggled to get going in the first half, but found success in the second.

A tale of two halves, he ran for 18 yards on eight carries in the first and broke lose for 49 yards on nine carries in the second. A possible reason for this was the field conditions improved after halftime and this would have given him better footing for cuts.

Speaking of the weather, while running out of the tunnel onto the field before the game, he slipped and fell — thankfully, there was none of this from him during the game.

At the end of the game, he had 17 carries for 67 yards (an average of 3.9 yards). He also caught five passes for 42 yards. Three of his runs went for first downs: a gain of three on second and two, a gain of 12 on first and 10 and a gain of 12 on second and 10. He also took two passes for first downs: a gain of 13 on first and 10 and a gain of nine on third and seven.

Overall, it was a good day for nice despite the snowy conditions. A bad first half marred his total stats, but his second half was very impressive.

Dennis Pitta
After missing most of training camp, all of the pre season and 12 regular season games, Pitta made his return to the football field.

Early on in training camp, he dislocated and fractured his hip. At the time he feared his football career was over and never would have thought he would be playing this season. Head coach John Harbaugh initially ruled Pitta out for the season, but there he was on the snowy tundra making diving catches and having a major impact on the game.

Playing 41 percent of the Ravens snaps (just two of them run plays), he played a limited amount of snaps as expected. This snap count didn't stop him from being the Ravens second leading receiver though as he caught six passes for 48 yards and one touchdown on 11 targets.

Early in the game, he struggled as it was his first game since the Super Bowl in February, but he was able to find his groove later on and make an impact.

Three of his catches went for first downs including two on third downs. The first of which was a fully-extended diving catch where he body was parallel to the ground — talk about coming back with no fears.

When the game was on the line, he, like Flacco, performed his best. Scoring the first of the five touchdowns late in the game, Pitta ran a quick out route on the goal line. It was a fourth and goal situation from the one-yard line and if the Ravens didn't score, the game was likely over.

On the Ravens final drive of the game — the actual game winner — he drew a pass interference penalty which gave the Ravens 18 yards and moved the ball to the Vikings 27-yard line. While it was a questionable call, the penalty negated a Vikings interception. The ensuing play, he caught an 18-yard pass over the middle of the field which set the Ravens up with first and goal from the Vikings' nine-yard line. By now, you know what happened next…

Marlon Brown
What happened next of course was Brown making a leaping catch in the back of the end zone on a perfectly thrown pass by Flacco to give the Ravens the victory with just four seconds left.

With this touchdown, Brown, an undrafted free agent, tied Jamal Lewis for the second most touchdowns (six) by a Ravens' rookie. Torrey Smith — who was held to one catch for 11 yards yesterday — holds the record with seven.

There was more to Brown's game then his spectacular catch at the end of the game though. He edged out Pitta to lead the Ravens in receiver with seven catches for 92 yards on 11 targets. Four of these catches went for first downs including a gain of 35 on the first play of the Ravens' game-winning drive. Earlier in the game, Brown drew a pass interference call for a gain of 37 which put the ball on the Vikings 17-yard line.

On the negative side, he had one drop.

Back to the touchdown catch, the play was very reminiscent of Anquan Boldin last year. Flacco would basically throw a jump ball into the end zone where only Boldin could catch it and more often than not, he would come down with it.

Jacoby Jones
Death, taxes and explosive plays from Jones.

This week, it was another kickoff return. Only this time, he was able to finish the job and take it all the way back for a touchdown.

With everyone in the stadium stunned at the touchdown run from Gerhart, Jones made sure to change that. Taking a pooch kickoff 77 yards up the near sideline for a touchdown. Receiving the short kickoff close to that sideline, he ran along it nearly stepping out-of-bounds and, unlike last week, there was no coach on the sidelines to get in his way.

Earlier in the game, he almost broke a punt return loose as well, but he had to settle for a gain of 22 that set the Ravens offense up at the Vikings 48-yard line — though it resulted in no points.

On offense, he caught four passes for 37 yards on seven targets and three of these catches went for first downs. Trying to mix things up, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell gave Jones an end around, but the Vikings read it all the way and stopped the play for a loss of four. As already talked about, he dropped a pass that resulted in an interception for the Vikings.

Chris Canty
Moving over to the defense, they played great for the first 58 minutes, but came apart in the final two and almost lost the game for the Ravens.

At defensive end, Canty didn't lead the line with five tackles like fellow end Arthur Jones did, but Canty did make three good plays.

The first of which was a run stop of a gain of one. With he only had two tackles, he made one of them count. The other two good plays that came from him were two passes batted down at the line-of-scrimmage.

The second one was the typical pass deflection for a defensive lineman. He read where Matt Cassel, the Vikings' quarterback, was throwing to, jumped and swatted the pass away. This play was also important as it came with one minute left in the game and was the play before Patterson burnt the Ravens' defense.

While Canty's second pass breakup was normal for a defensive lineman, his first was a much more impressive play. Seeing Cassel rolling out of the pocket, Canty moved with him, and then saw the fullback going out for a pass in the flats. Canty followed the fullback and broke up the pass.

Terrell Suggs
For the second straight game, the Ravens' pass rush failed to get a sack (though they were without Elvis Dumervil who leads the team in sacks) and it is now the fifth straight game without a sack for Suggs.

While he wasn't able to record a sack, he still made his presence felt as he was third on the team with six tackles and had a team high four run stops. These run stops were for gains of one, one, zero and negative one. The stop for negative one came on a second and goal play. Also, the second run stop of a gain of one came where Cassel was scrambling out of the pocket and Suggs chased him down just past the line-of-scrimmage — so he came close to getting that sack.

Also in pass rushing, he had a pressure on a play that forced Cassel to roll out of the pocket and this resulted in an incompletion.

Lastly, Suggs missed a tackle on Petterson's 79-yard screen pass that he took all the way for a touchdown.

Daryl Smith
Continuing his excellence in pass coverage this season, Smith now has a Ravens' record to display this.

With 17 pass deflections this season, he owns the Ravens' single-season record for most pass deflections by a linebacker. Previously, this record was held by Ray Lewis (did you really think it was going to be someone else?).

This week saw Smith add two more pass deflections. The first came on a screen pass on third and 11 where he read it all the way. The second was actually a dropped interception, but it goes down as a pass deflection. He jumped in front of the route and had the pass hit his hands, but it bounced right off of them. If he was able to reel in the pass, he had plenty of room in front of him for a return.

Blitzing, another part of the game that he has performed well at this year, he had a pressure that forced an incompletion with just over one minute left in the game on first and 10.

Two plays later though, he over pursed Patterson on his screen pass. This allowed Patterson to get free and into the open field.

Smith finished second on the Ravens with seven tackles.

James Ihedigbo
All game long, Ihedigbo's play stood out for the Ravens and the grading from Pro Football Focus backs this up. They had him as the Ravens' highest graded player and the second highest graded of the game.

James Ihedigbo

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Leading the Ravens in tackles with with 12, he also had a forced fumble, a quarterback hit and a pass deflection.

Starting with his run defense, he had two run stops, each for no gain. He received help from defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson  on the second one though as Tyson hit running back Adrian Peterson about three yards behind the line. On the negative side, he badly missed a tackle on Gerhart's touchdown.

Ihedigbo's forced fumble was a controversial one as it appeared that Gerhart's knee was on the ground when Ihedigbo ripped the ball out. The play was reviewed after being ruled a fumble on the field, but the referee didn't overturn the call. A telling sign that the play should have been overturned was that the Ravens had their defense on the field when the referee came back on the field. Rookie free safety Matt Elam, who also badly missed on Gerhart's touchdown run, recovered the fumble and celebrated by sliding in the snow.

As the strong safety in the Ravens' defense, Ihedigbo blitzes often and this game was no different. Via these blitzes he had pressure three times and was able to convert one of these pressures into a quarterback hit. The two pressures that didn't result in a quarterback hit forced incompletions. On the play that he got his quarterback hit, he hit Cassel in the arm as he was throwing the ball. This caused the pass to go up in the air near outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw who had dropped back into coverage. Upshaw proceeded to knock this pass to the ground.

Moving to pass coverage, Ihedigbo's pass breakup came on a deep pass when he was by himself in man coverage. On the Vikings only touchdown before the craziness at the end occurred, he was playing a middle zone in the end zone and wasn't quite deep enough in coverage. Simpson beat cornerback Jimmy Smith to the inside (who was clearly expecting more help from Ihedigbo) and got behind Ihedigbo for the touchdown.

Overall, this was a great performance from him as he continues to perform well this year for the Ravens.

Cornerbacks
With snow coming down all game long, the conditions weren't ideal for Flacco and Cassel to throw the ball and both of them saw struggles. The conditions also made it tough for the cornerbacks to backpedal and move around.

Cassel and the Vikings targeted Lardarius Webb for most of the game and most of their completions against cornerbacks came against him. Allowing a whopping eight passes to be completed against him, he allowed six first downs and one touchdown. The touchdown was to Patterson but it is tough to blame a cornerback for allowing a screen. What you can grade them on is how they stop this screen, and Webb failed that. With these eight completions, he gave up 159 yards (80 yards when you take away the screen to Patterson).

Webb also had five tackles and a team high four pass breakups (the next closest was two). One of these pass breakups came in the red zone and two of them came on third downs.

Smith continued his recent excellence with his performance and is now the 12th rated cornerback by Pro Football Focus. He gave up two passes, one tackle, one forced fumble and one pass deflection. The two passes he gave up were the touchdown to Simpson when Smith was in coverage with Ihedigbo and a gain of 20 on a third and six. On this play, there was extra yardage added to the end which got it to 20 yards as Smith forced a fumble which the Vikings recovered downfield. His pass deflection came on a deep pass right at the goal line.

Nickel cornerback Corey Graham didn't give up a completion based on my count, but he had two tackles and two pass breakups. The first came on a deep pass on third and five and the other was a great play just outside the red zone. The Vikings had the ball at the Ravens' 21-yard line and ran a screen pass. Reading this right away, he sprinted up and hit the receiver hard to force an incompletion. This big hit that forced the incompletion made the play stand out more, but even if the receiver held onto the ball, it was a great play.