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Will Ravens Return to Playoffs In 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secondary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN HARBAUGH & Joe Flacco:

Harbaugh & Flacco keys to how the season ends

Harbaugh & Flacco keys to how the season ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10-6 MAY NOT BE GOOD ENOUGH:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEP UP:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Baltimore Ravens 2014 Season Preview

August 31, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Coaching Staff, Fanspeak Radio Network, JOE FLACCO, News, NFL SCHEDULE

BALTIMORE RAVENS: 2013 RECORD: 8-8 (3rd, AFC North)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2012, defeated San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII

HEAD COACH (RECORD): John Harbaugh (62-34 in six seasons)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gary Kubiak (first season with Ravens)

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dean Pees (third season with Ravens)

Final Numbers in 2013:

Points Scored 20.0 (25th), Offense: 307.4 (29th), Rushing 83.0 (30th), Passing 224.4 (18th)—-Defense: 335.5 (12th),  Run D 105.4 (11th),

 Pass D 230.1 (12th), Takeaways 24 (19th), TO Diff (-5), Points allowed 22.0 (12th)

KEY ADDITIONS: RB Justin Forest (from Jaguars), WR Steve Smith (from Panthers), TE Owen Daniels (from Texans), TE Crockett Gillmore (third round, Colorado State), C Jeremy Zuttah (from Buccaneers), DT Timmy Jernigan (second round, Florida State), LB C.J. Mosley (first round, Alabama), DB Dominique Franks (from Falcons), FS Terrence Brooks (third round, Florida State), SS Darian Stewart (from Rams)

KEY DEPARTURES: RB Bernard Scott (free agent), RB Shaun Draughn (to Bears), FB Vonta Leach (free agent), WR Tandon Doss (to Jaguars), WR Brandon Stokley (free agent), TE Ed Dickson (to Panthers), TE Dallas Clark (retired), T Michael Oher (to Titans), DE Arthur Jones (to Colts), LB Jameel McClain (to Giants), LB Rolando McClain (to Cowboys), CB Corey Graham (to Bills), SS James Ihedigbo (to Lions)

Recap of 2013 (8-8 second in AFC North, missed playoffs)

Last season, the Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs for the first since head coach John Harbaugh and QB Joe Flacco arrived in the Charm City in 2008. The 2013 version of the Ravens offense can only be described as offensive to all that watched it each week. Injuries along the O-line wreaked havoc throughout the entire unit, as Flacco was sacked a career high 48 times and tossed more INT’s than TD’s (19-22). The once vaunted rushing attack, led by Ray Rice, finished 30th in the NFL averaging 3.1 yards per attempt. The defense didn't dominate, as it did in years past but it played well enough to keep the club in games considering the fact that it was first season without future HOFers like Ray Lewis & Ed Reed.

Three Reasons The Ravens Return to the Playoffs:

1. New offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak’s scheme:

Gary Kubiak

Courtesy of ICON SMI

The former Texans HC brings his zone based scheme to Baltimore and when looking at the Ravens offensive personnel, it could be a match made if football Heaven. While all eyes will be on Joe Flacco, Kubiak’s offense is a run zone blocking scheme that accentuates the strengths of the quarterback but more importantly, it heavily relies on a powerful running game. If the O-line does its job, the offense can’t help but produce league leading numbers from the men carrying the ball. From 2008-12, Kubiak’s offense was one of only two teams (Denver) to have its total offense, passing offense and rushing offense each rank in the Top 5 at least once during that span. They led the NFL in passing in 2009 and ranked second in rushing in 2011. However, Kubiak’s offense is also predicated on scoring.  His offenses have ranked among the NFL’s Top 10 scoring units 14 times.

 

2. QB Joe Flacco

Many felt that coming off his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLVII Flacco took a step back last season. He finished with a passer rating of 73.1 and a dismal touchdown-to-interception ratio of 19:22. But I’m predicting a nice season for No.5 in 2014. If you know me, then you know this wasn't an easy thing for me to write. Simplifying things for Flacco has become a priority in the new system. Kubiak expects two things of his franchise QB—he wants Flacco to get rid of the ball quicker and improve his completion rate of 59 percent in 2013. The Ravens lived and died on the long ball during the past two seasons. Since 2010, Flacco has thrown 123 passes of 25 or more yards, sixth most in the NFL during that span. The ability to go deep will still be there but Flacco will just take a different approach. They will use more play action and screen passes to set up the long ball. Both will be new concepts to Flacco and the Ravens offense. Despite having limited success with the screen pass at times under Cam Cameron, since 2001, the Ravens have thrown 123 screen passes, fourth fewest during that span.

When looking at his targets following the snap, Joe Cool must work through his progressions quickly to find the open receiver. If he does, he should complete 60 to 65 percent of his throws and finish with a passer rating around the mid-90s. Matt Schaub had a completion percentage of 60 percent or better in all seven of his seasons with the Texans, and a rating of 90-plus in five. Flacco has a better set of skills than did Schaub and an overall better compliment of weapons this season than Schaub ever did in Houston. Flacco finished the preseason with a 64.4 completion percentage, two TD’s, no INT’s and a passer rating of 102.5. The completion percentage and passer rating would be career highs and Baltimore is 35-6 when Flacco produces at least a 95 passer rating and 18-3 when he’s been able to hit 110 or better.

Flacco is a winner, plain and simple. His 62 regular season wins rank second to Drew Brees since 2008 and are the most by a starting QB in his first six seasons in NFL history. There are no more excuses for Flacco; his success will depend on him in 2014 and I’m betting Flacco finally has that breakout year.

3. Ray Rice Returns to Form:

and more of this....

Ray Rice Returns to Form

Rice will serve a two game suspension to start the season for violation of the leagues conduct policy stemming from his February elevator incident in Atlantic City NJ. But once Rice returns—-so should his game. He looked great in limited play during the preseason, which is at least a bit soothing to Ravens fans considering No.27 is coming off his worst season as a pro. Last season, Rice played in 15 games while battling a hip injury and rushed for a mere 660 yards on 214 carries with just four rushing touchdowns.

As a team the Ravens ended with 1,328 yards on the ground, the lowest yardage total in franchise history, while their 83 rushing yards per game was the third-worst in the NFL. Some of this was due to the performance of the offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, the Ravens offensive line had the sixth-worst run blocking in the league. The play calling was a bit unusual at times as well. Take the game in Buffalo last season when Flacco threw 5 INT’s. Baltimore threw the ball 50 times and ran it a mere nine times. One could also point to the Green Bay Packer game at home and the play calling sequence which led to three unnecessary points for the Packers just before the half. For the record, Baltimore lost both games by a combined five points (3 in Buffalo—2 at home to GB) and winning either of them would have been enough for a sixth straight playoff trip.

As his system will do for Flacco, Kubiak’s scheme will benefit Rice—perhaps even more. As a team during the preseason, the Ravens pounded the ball on the ground. Baltimore finished the preseason as the NFL’s best rushing offense, averaging 171 yards a game. The Ravens averaged 15.2 more yards per game than the second-ranked Eagles. In this system, Rice is likely to return to the back that is a three time Pro-Bowler and owns the NFL’s most total yards from scrimmage (8,487) dating back to the 2009 season, registering 42 games where he’s gained 100-or-more total yards. As he has in the past (see 4th & 29) Rice will play a pivotal role in helping Flacco out of trouble.

Kubiak’s offense will prevent defenses from keying on Rice as a passing option out of the backfield. How critical is it that Rice returns to the duel threat back he was for his first five seasons—-very critical when you consider the following. Rice ranks first in the NFL in catches and second in receiving yards by a RB since 2008, amassing 369 receptions for 3,034 yards. Rice also owns 104 catches for 961 yards on third down during this time, tying Darren Sproles (104 for 1,042) for the most such catches and second-most such yards among NFL RBs.

Three Reasons the Ravens Fail to Make the Playoffs:

The Secondary:

Webb, Smith & Jackson

Smith, Webb & Jackson

Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith proved to be a solid CB duo last season, and both will once again be the starters in 2014. However, there are concerns here. Webb has had an injury-filled career and while he did recover from his most recent ACL tear to play in all 16 games last season, he’s currently dealing with a back injury that kept him out of the preseason. Smith, whose play improved seemingly every down last season, also failed to finish the preseason, and has a tendency to be “nicked up” prone. While both are good players both can inconsistent from one series to the next and take unnecessary penalties, which chew up big chunks of yards.

The top backup at the position, Asa Jackson was also injured in the preseason and missed the final two exhibition games. By the way, it’s worth noting Jackson has never played a down during a regular season game.

As of today (Saturday August 31) all of the Ravens injured CB’s returned to practice and are expected to play in the season opener. If either Webb or Smith miss significant time there isn't much on the depth chart. Corey Graham, who could play outside or in the slot, is in Buffalo. Chykie Brown, who has appeared in 39 games with one start over parts of three seasons in Baltimore, is also listed on the depth chart.

At safety, the Ravens are blessed with young talent but with youth comes inexperience. Matt Elam struggled in his rookie season and was quiet in camp while third round pick Terrence Brooks started to come on. The former FSU star is a ways from starting and sits behind Darian Stewart, whom the Ravens signed from the Rams. However, Brooks may prove to be valuable as he slid down and played some corner in the preseason and didn’t look all that bad.

Technically, the Ravens were below average in the NFL last year generating 40 sacks, if they fail to build on that number in 2014, opposing QB’s may have their way with a secondary that isn't yet ready to shut down any portion of the field. This could have a trickle-down effect. The Ravens want to play a ball control offense with the ability to hit the big play—but if they are forced to play catch up or become involved in shootouts that could spell doom and a second straight year of missing the playoffs.

2 The Youth of the Team Fails to Deliver

During the first 5 years of the John Harbaugh era in Baltimore, veteran leadership keyed the team’s success. Early on, along with Ray Lewis & Ed Reed there was Todd Heap and Derrick Mason. During the Super Bowl season of 2012, Lewis, Reed and players such as Anquan Boldin, Bernard Pollard and Danelle Ellerbe were all key veteran contributors. Due to retirement, free agency or in Boldin’s case, a trade, all are gone. Each, while their contributions considered invaluable were seen as road blocks to this truly being John Harbaugh’s team. With all of them gone in 2013, the Ravens finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs—you could hear the whispers that maybe just maybe Harbaugh couldn't do it without some of them, which is why all of the young talented players GM Ozzie Newsome has drafted in the last four three years must now step up and become play-makers.

Speaking of the draft and excluding this past Mays selections, there have been 47 players drafted by the Ravens since their last Pro Bowl player, running back Ray Rice in 2008.  They have drafted good players but not Pro Bowlers. No one could have predicted the success the Ravens enjoyed by selecting players such as Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Jamal Lewis and Terrell Suggs. In the franchise's first 13 drafts, the Ravens selected 19 Pro Bowl players, which was tied with the New England Patriots for the most during that period. Now, the Ravens are one of four teams who have failed to select a Pro Bowl player since 2009, and the others (Jaguars, Jets, and Raiders) have all fired their general managers during that time.

It’s not entirely fair to criticize the Ravens but expectations are rising. In 2012, the Ravens won their second Super Bowl with 39 homegrown players on their 53-man roster. In comparison, the Seahawks won the championship three months ago with 29 players who were drafted by the team or signed as undrafted rookies. You can’t’ say that the draft classes since haven’t produced talented players. Being a perennial playoff team means they've been able to add productive starters such as offensive tackle Michael Oher, cornerback Lardarius Webb, tight end Dennis Pitta, defensive lineman Arthur Jones linebacker Courtney Upshaw and wide receiver Torrey Smith . Without any of the above players, the Ravens aren't Super Bowl champions in 2012.

However, if this team is going to return to the playoffs, players such as Bernard Pierce, Matt Elam, Brandon Williams, Arthur Brown and rookies CJ Mosley and Lorenzo Taliaferro must step up and produce when called upon. Teams that consistently make the playoffs in the NFL get solid contributions from their younger players. The Ravens have always been fortunate to have veterans play above their age in this league. While it’s not expected that all become Pro-Bowl caliber players, the Ravens current crop of veteran leadership may not be capable of carrying this team, as their processors once did. You need not look any further than last season for proof of that.

3 The Division:

downloadOne of the biggest reasons the Ravens have experienced so much success during the Harbaugh / Flacco era is because of how the team has done versus its own division, the tough AFC North. Since 2008, the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers have combined to post an amazing 171-116-1 record. The North has been arguably the best division in football during this span. Winning nearly 60 percent of their games, the three teams have combined for 12 playoff appearances, while the Ravens & Steelers have appeared in five AFC Championship games and three Super Bowls, with each team winning one. The Steelers lost to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. The Bengals do not have any post season wins during this time but Baltimore & Pittsburgh combined to post a 14-6 mark in January and February.

Harbaugh’s teams have been able to win twice as many games against the division as they have lost (24-12). The team was just 18-18 vs the division prior to his arrival. Baltimore is 13-11 against the Steelers and Bengals since Harbs took over in 2008.

With that said and according to my calculations, it’s likely the Ravens will need to sweep one of their three divisional foes in order to make the playoffs—and even 4-2 may not be good enough to win the division. The Bengals managed to win the division last year by posting a 3-3 record but that’s the exception and certainly not the rule. Since 2007, the average number of division wins recorded by the division champ has been five. On three occasions, the division winner went undefeated within the rugged AFC North (Baltimore 2011, Cincinnati 2009, & Steelers 2008).

The Ravens will need to continue taking advantage of the Cleveland Browns. Under Harbaugh, the team is 11-1 vs the Brownies but Cleveland does appear poised to be better than their four-win record last year; even at just four wins, one of those was still over the Ravens, the first time that had happened since 2007, a year before Flacco and Harbaugh arrived.

Schedule:

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC South
Swing Games: San Diego, at Miami
Opponents ’13 Record: 46.1% (28th)

Speaking of winning within the division, the Ravens will have an opportunity to establish what type of team they want to be very early. Baltimore will start with three straight AFC North games before hosting Carolina.

New OC Gary Kubiak will need to have his offense ready to play, as three of the first four teams the Ravens face all finished in the top 10 in defense last season. The other team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, finished No.13 in team defense in 2013 and figures to be much improved in 2014. Starting less than 2-1 in the division would put the purple and black behind the eight ball early.

That may sound like a tough start but even with the fourth easiest schedule; nothing is ever as it seems in the NFL. As they usually do in October, the Ravens will take to the road. Baltimore will play four of five games away from M&T Bank Stadium where they are 39-9 under Harbaugh. It begins with an Oct. 5 trip to AFC South favorite Indianapolis, where the Ravens are 0-5. After a road game in Tampa Bay and a home contest against Atlanta, the Ravens play consecutive road games at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

If the Ravens can survive that stretch— and outside of a trip to New Orleans Thanksgiving week– they have a favorable homestretch. Their final seven opponents combined for a 45-67 record (.401) in 2013. Baltimore should finish strong over the final month, as they face the Dolphins, Jaguars, Texans, and Browns in the final four weeks of the season. Harbaugh’s teams are 34-18 in November & December, so he knows how to prepare his teams for a stretch run.

Prediction:

Not so Fast Joe

Not so Fast Joe

Missing the playoffs was a huge underachievement for the 2013 Ravens. However, if the team returns to the playoffs in 2014, then Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and company will have completed one of the quickest rebuilding-retooling efforts in the last 10 to 15 years. Lost in the expectations of last year’s transition was replacing nine contributing players (seven starters) from the Super Bowl winning team. The two biggest issues were on defense and at wide receiver.

Newsome has spent two drafts taking care of the defense. The Ravens selected eight defensive players with their first nine picks combined in each of the last two drafts. Players such as CJ Mosley, Matt Elam and Timmy Jernigan were drafted to help rebuild the toughness, regain the quickness and recapture the middle of the field—all areas the Ravens dominated or at least controlled during their top ranked defensive days. At WR, the Ravens signed veteran wideout Steve Smith to take over the Anquan Boldin role, re-signed Jacoby Jones, and added TE Owen Daniels from Kubiak’s old team in Houston. They also kept seven WR’s on the final 53 man roster.

John Harbaugh said he wants the defense to be a top 5 unit in 2014—that might be a bit too much to ask but it may not matter if the offense can finally do their part on a consistent basis. Joe Flacco simply must be better than he was last year and the Ravens rushing attack must be the engine that makes the offense go. Flacco is the guy that drives the engine but he must work within the system. If he does, I see Flacco passing for 4,100 yards with 25 TD’s. Despite sitting for the first two games, RB Ray Rice should hit 1,200 all-purpose yards. Anything less than that in 2014 and the Ravens are no better than 8-8 and then the pressure really starts to mount in the charm city.

There will be growing pains on offense with a new system and on defense, where the Ravens have a lot of youth and inexperience at critical areas. They could lose a game or two to start the season that many feel they should have won but it won’t be too late to figure it out once Halloween is has passed. Given the potential for an easy strength of schedule to finish the year, the Ravens should win nine games but I’ll say they win a game late many didn’t expect them to win (New Orleans). I look for a return trip to the playoffs and one more victory on the Harbaugh / Flacco playoff resume.

Final Record: 10-6

Second in AFC North (first Wild Card Team)

Ravens Heated In Final OTA Session

June 20, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Coaching Staff, JOE FLACCO, Roster

How much one can tell about a team’s upcoming season during June mini-camps and OTA’s is yet to be decided. However, if intensity is a measuring stick then the Baltimore Ravens should have a bounce back season in 2014. Some of the hottest temperatures of the early summer hit the Baltimore area just as the Ravens final mandatory mini-camp opened on Tuesday. With the thermostat hitting the mid to upper 90’s and the heat index placing the city on a code red, tempers on the field in Owings Mills, Maryland flared and boiled at times during the three day session.

Webb dives for Smith last year in preseason game

Webb dives for Smith last year in preseason game

Veterans and rookies alike have been practicing during the mandatory session with a fire that the team seemed to lack last season when Baltimore became the third team in five years to miss the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl the previous season. On Wednesday, there were two minor “pushing and shoving” incidents between a pair of rookies and veterans that are worth noting. It should come as no surprise as to one of the players involved.

New Ravens WR Steve Smith, who is known for carrying a chip on his shoulder with a mouth to match, became better acquainted with CB LarDarius Webb. Smith became agitated after a play that he though Webb defended him a little too energetically on. According to those in attendance, the players were involved in an exchange of words after Smith caught a slant pass over the middle. They then went to the ground as Webb tried to make a play on the ball over Smith’s back. Smith took exception to the way Webb defended him on the play and both players got in each other’s face, with a little shoving, before teammates separated them. Smith initially jogged over to the sideline after the confrontation, but then Head Coach John Harbaugh made sure everything had calmed down and had him come back on the field for the next play.

The first skirmish of the day on occurred between two of the Ravens higher draft picks.  TE Crockett Gilmore and DT Timmy Jernigan, who has been involved in a few heated exchanges throughout the OTA’s, wrestled each other to the ground before being separated. Later, Smith and Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs took Jernigan aside to calm him down. "You can't be a pushover, man," said Jernigan, a second-round draft pick. "I played at Florida State and we don't get down like that. It's part of the game. It's over now. Whatever happens on the field stays on the field. We're teammates at the end of the day."  According to reporters that have attended every session so far, there haven't been a ton of fights during offseason practice sessions, but Jernigan has been in the middle of a few flare-ups.

"It's a little hot and guys are competing out there," offensive tackle Ryan Jensen said. "We're out here battling. That's part of football sometimes." According to one source, there were at least four minicamp fights throughout the NFL on Wednesday, two in Baltimore, and one each in Atlanta and Seattle. The 21 days of training camp, that begins for the Ravens on July 24 and ends on August 14, should be an interesting and eventful time.

A little Dunkin makes it all better

A little Dunkin makes it all better

Steve Smith did come with a peace offering to Webb on Thursday, as he brought him a bag with a goodie from Dunkin Donuts. Written on the bag was the following message, “Peace offering from 89”. I wonder what Ken Lucas got from Smith back in Charlotte after their incident in August of 2008?

 

 

ANY WINNERS:

There were several battles to watch as mini-camp started a few days ago and will continue through training camp in late July and August. As we head into the five week break before training camp starts, who are the leaders in the clubhouse at some of those positions? Let’s find out:

Inside Linebacker: Daryl Smith will start at one of the two spots but who starts next to him is a battle that will play into August between first round draft pick CJ Mosley and second year man Arthur Brown. The Ravens have been impressed with Mosley and he was last seen playing with the first team as camp broke on Thursday. Brown looks improved over a rookie season that saw him struggle but your leader in the clubhouse at ILB is CJ Mosley.

Brown & Mosley will battle in Camp

Brown & Mosley will battle in Camp

Right Tackle: Ricky Wagner, Ryan Jensen, Jah Reid, & even undrafted free agent signee James Hurst were all considered candidates to have a shot to line up at the position sometime during the preseason. As mandatory camp ended on Thursday, Wagner is still the leader in the clubhouse. Jensen is considered his top competition, as the Ravens love his versatility. Jensen lined up with the second team at right guard and right tackle during a lot of the offseason workouts. He practiced mostly at right tackle for the first two weeks of offseason workouts before taking all of his snaps at guard last week. Jensen found out from Terrell Suggs this week that he may still have a ways to go as Sizzle flattened him during a team drill, according to multiple accounts. Hurst looks to be a longshot, as Elvis Dumervill showed why he may have dropped out of the draft back in May. Elvis ran around, through and over the former Tar Heel.

Safety: Third round pick, free safety Terrence Brooks, is struggling much the same way Matt Elam was this time last year. In the mandatory minicamp, Brooks did not play with either the first- or second-team defense and must outperform Darian Stewart, Omar Brown, and Jeromy Miles when the competition resumes in late July. "It was a little hard at first," Brooks said. "Coming into a new system, it’s definitely going to be challenging. But, for the most part, with more studying and just being more of a student of the game, I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on how this defense is and the schemes. For an update, I would say that I’m doing really well with it, and now it’s just going out there and playing for us."  As a result and because he’s not playing too badly in shorts, former Rams safety Darian Stewart is your leader in the clubhouse. Stewart picked off a Joe Flacco pass on the final day of workouts.

The Pass Catchers:

With Steve and Torrey Smith, as well as Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown, the depth chart at wide receiver seems to be set. But there are several performances, good and bad worth noting over the last few days. Last years undrafted rookie sensation, WR Marlon Brown, who caught seven touchdown passes in 2013, struggled to hold onto ball at times, and was the most inconsistent of the projected pass catchers. Both Smith’s and Jacoby Jones seemed to have good off season sessions, all making acrobatic catches at one time or another. Each seemed to hold onto to most of their pass attempts. Undrafted rookie Jeremy Butler could be this year’s Marlon Brown, as he turned a few heads. The rookie from Tennessee-Martin made more catches than the other players who are competing for one of the last receiver spots on the team such as seventh round selection Michael Campanaro, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams. It is also worth noting that Butler's shot to make the squad got a little easier this week when the Ravens waived Aaron Mellette.

JOE COOL HEATS UP:

What about the guy throwing the passes? Ravens QB Joe Flacco, according to all published reports, got better each day in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense. Flacco has consistently lauded the ease of the offense and the use of more timing patterns which could help him complete more than 60 percent of his passes for the first time since 2010. During a day 2 session, there was a long stretch where the ball didn't hit the ground in full-team and seven-on-seven drills with is best throw coming on a deep middle completion to Steve Smith, who beat Matt Elam.29_FlaccoKubiaksSystem_news Kubiak’s offense appears to be tailor made for Flacco who seems to struggle when he’s forced to progress through options which causes him to hold onto the ball longer in the pocket. According to ESPN Ravens beat writer Jamison Hensley, in Kubiak's new system, Flacco likely will be asked to get the ball out quicker. Kubiak is teaching him to throw when he hits the ball of his foot on the three-step drop. The West Coast offense is predicated on rhythm and quick releases. Hensley writes, “Based on last season's numbers, the Ravens may be on to something. Flacco was better when he had less time in the pocket, according to Pro Football Focus.” With less than 2 seconds in the pocket, Flacco completed 68.3 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating was 80.5. With more than 3 seconds to throw, he connected on 46.2 percent of his passes for two touchdown and four interceptions. His rating was 61.1. Getting Flacco to throw the ball quicker also will help with his longevity. He was sacked a career-high 48 times last season, and he was limping in the final two games because of a knee sprain. During the past six seasons, Flacco hasn't missed a start, but he has been sacked 222 times. Only the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (240) and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers (223) have been sacked more. While many want the seventh year signal caller to be an elite regular season performer, Joe Cool only needs to execute an offense that thrives on running the ball through a zone blocking scheme. Former Texans QB Matt Schaub got plenty of opportunity to seize the moment under Kubiak and threw for 4,000 two years in a row and three times while under center in Houston. Ironically, those were the only three years Schaub played all 16 games while in Houston. He also threw 29, 24, and 22 touchdown passes during those seasons, making the Pro-Bowl in 2009 & 2012. Flacco has never eclipsed the 4,000 yard mark or made the Pro-Bowl. While Schaub has never won a Super Bowl, Flacco has, winning MVP honors of the game in 2013. Many believe that if No.5 can hit the magic mark of 4k in 2014, the Ravens will return to the top of the division.

WHAT ABOUT NO-SHOWS?

The veterans that failed to show up during voluntary OTA’s, all showed up during this mandatory session. Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Chris Canty, and Marshall Yanda all participated during the mandatory workouts. All risked being fined $69,000 per day if they didn’t but Ravens fans fears were put to rest when all not only showed but all appeared to be in solid shape.

Sizzle looks solid..

Sizzle looks solid..

Actually, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs showed up in great shape and sizzled during workouts in the hot sun. Suggs, who is likely to retire a Raven after he was given a four-year extension, and received an $11 million signing bonus, was his old trash talking self throughout the three day camp. Suggs deal is also guaranteed for $16 million over the next two seasons, which could be why he was relaxed and performing at a high level in June. However, showing up in anything but less than great shape would have raised serious questions. Suggs appeared to be heading towards another Defensive Player of the Year Award last season when he began the season with 60 tackles and nine sacks in his first eight games. However, and to be fair, like the rest of his team, the sizzle smoldered to a puff of smoke, as Suggs finished with 20 tackles and one sack during the seasons second half. At 31, Suggs has a lot to prove this season—the key word there being season, as in the whole season. But—so far so good from No.55. INJURIES: The Ravens were far more fortunate than the Giants and Cowboys, who lost starting linebackers in their teams OTA’s this spring. Dallas LB Sean Lee tore his ACL and is out for the season. The Giants got lucky with LB Jon Beason, who broke a bone and tore ligaments in his foot. He is expected back by the start of the season. Of the 88 active-roster players, 83 took the field for the final session on Thursday. Only four players have been absent from all three days of minicamp: offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf), nose tackle Terrence Cody (hip surgery), wide receiver Kamar Aiken (knee) and defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore (hamstring), who suffered his injury during practice June 17. Undrafted rookie tackle Parker Graham was missing after having returned for the second session. Graham had been absent for the opening practice with an undisclosed issue.

NEW ADDITIONS:

According to the Ravens web site, after the three-day mandatory minicamp, the Ravens are reportedly signing multiple veteran players who participated in practice on a tryout basis. The Ravens are expected to sign linebacker Austin Spitler, cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Aaron Ross, and defensive end/outside linebacker Nick DiMarco, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun The Ravens had two open spots on the 90-man roster after waiving wide receiver Aaron Mellette and outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton earlier in the week because they failed physicals. The Ravens would have to cut two other plays to make room for all four additions, but the team has not announced those transactions.

Aaron Ross

Aaron Ross

Spitler, 27, spent the first four seasons of his career with the Miami Dolphins. He has been a backup linebacker and special teamer during that time, and has racked up 31 tackles throughout his career. Spitler is an inside linebacker who will join a tight competition with players like Josh Byne and Albert McClellan. Franks, 26, played for the Atlanta Falcons the last four years. He has been a special teamer and reserve cornerback, notching 30 tackles and three interceptions during his career. Franks had a solid week at minicamp, including a nice pass breakup during Thursday’s practice. Ross, 31, is an eight-year veteran who has spent most of his career with the New York Giants. He also played one season for the Jacksonville Jaguars and will provide solid veteran depth on a fast young secondary. Ross has been a starter during his career, including in 2011 when he started 15 games for a Giants team that went on to win the Super Bowl. Ross has 250 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 11 interceptions in his career.

RAVENS FANS WOULD LOVE TO HAVE FLOWERS DELIVERED:

Brandon Flowers is still on the market with Atlanta & Minnesota emerging as front runners. Flowers visited San Diego on Thursday. Just some food for thought. Signing Flowers would really give opposing offenses something to think about. Flowers could take LarDarius Webb’s spot with Webb moving to the slot / nickel corner position. Webb’s snaps would not be reduced as much as one would think and to have Webb, Flowers and Jimmy Smith on the field for 60 to 70 percent of the games snaps would really create possibilities for a defensive scheme that could potentially be downright scary. Imagine the possibilities and blitzing schemes and putting teams into constant second and third and long situations, which then allows defensive backs the luxury of making plays they otherwise wouldn’t take chances on. I’m almost positive that the team that allowed 352 points in 2013 with 134 of them coming in the fourth quarter wouldn’t be so vulnerable late in games in 2014, with that combo on the field.

AND FINALLY:

A lot less of this........

A lot less of this……..

Every NFL head coach and executive will tell you the scariest part of the calendar year is the five weeks between the end of the final mini-camp and the start of training camp in late July. The Ravens are particularly concerned about the time frame after their winter / spring offseason. Since the end of the final gun in Cincinnati last December, four Ravens players were arrested for various crimes. Running back Ray Rice (assault), wide receiver Deonte Thompson (drug charges), offensive lineman Jah Reid (assault), and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (destruction of property), all created major headaches for the Ravens this offseason. Rice and Reid were accepted in pretrial diversion programs, and Thompson’s charges were dropped. Taliaferro’s day in court is next week, as he will face a judge on June 26.

and more of this....

and more of this….

While many feel the Ravens and Ray Rice botched his first media appearance on the Friday afternoon prior to the Memorial Day holiday weekend, following the incident with his now wife— head Coach John Harbaugh didn’t botch his final message to the team before he cut them loose on Thursday. Harbs reminded his players about how each should think about how their actions could affect the team and those that want to win and play football. "We have really good guys," Harbaugh said after the final session. "Football matters to them. The more it matters to you, I would think the less inclined you are to do anything that would jeopardize that." The Ravens open camp on July 24 in their Owings Mills Maryland facility known as “The Castle”—hopefully with everyone in attendance and no charges pending.

Ravens Predicted to Win Eight Games

June 6, 2014 in 2014 NFL DRAFT, Coaching Staff, JOE FLACCO, NFL Draft, Pittsburgh Steelers, Roster, Super Bowl XLVII

Last week, the Las Vegas odds makers came out with their projected win totals for every NFL teams. In the AFC North, the experts and prognosticators have the Bengals projected to win the division for a second straight year followed by Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and then Cleveland. USA TODAY Sports-ArchiveOver the past few seasons, the AFC North has been one of, if not the best division in all of football.

However, last season proved to be a bit of an exception with the division, as only the Cincinnati Bengals made the playoffs. It marked the first time since 2007 that the AFC North division sent only one team to the NFL’s postseason tournament and because of the Bengals knack for being one and done once the regular season ends, last year also marked the first time an AFC North team did not represent the conference in the AFC Championship game during that span. From 2008-to 2012, the division known for its tough defenses and blue collar cities, had at least two teams in the NFL postseason. In 2011, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cincy all represented the division. Once in the playoffs, the division handles its business quite well posting a 14-10 record during that span of playoff play.

Two teams, the Ravens (3) and Steelers (2) have appeared in five AFC title games and are 2-1 in Super Bowls with the Steel and Charm cities winning their sixth and second Lombardi Trophies respectively during that period of time. The Steelers and Ravens have twice squared off in the playoffs during this time—once in the AFC Championship (2008) and once during the divisional round (2010).  Pittsburgh won them both. Although it has happened, the division doesn't usually back into the playoffs.

Since the 2008 season, the Steelers (3 appearances) Bengals (4 appearances) & Ravens (5 appearances) have combined to post a 130-62 record (.677) during the regular season. This means that in order to win the division, somebody will need to win 11 of 16 games during the regular season and considering these teams face off twice a year, that’s no small feat. I broke down the entire division in another piece you can read right here on Fanspeak– but here is an in-depth look at what the experts and prognosticators predict for the Ravens followed up with what I feel the team needs and where they will finish in 2014.

Baltimore Ravens: Vegas Under / Over Win Total: 8 Super Bowl Odds 40 to 1 Ravens Offense is Offensive in 2013:

Last season, the Ravens became the third team in the past five years to miss the playoffs the season after winning the Super Bowl. A big reason for the Ravens fall was the play of their offense, specifically, their 20 million dollar QB who parlayed a historic playoff performance into a huge contract during last year’s offseason. While Flacco must shoulder much of the responsibility for his teams bad offense in 2013, it wasn't entirely the poor play of No.5 that led to such a below average season. With an average of just 3.1 yards per rush, the Ravens rushing attack was horrible in 2013. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce battled injuries and were never effective in short yardage or goal line situations. They stumbled to holes and never found the rhythm that made them a nice compliment to one and other the year before. Rice finished with just 660 rushing yards and 980 total yards. He failed to hit 1,000 all-purpose yards for the first time since his rookie season in 2008.  Flacco and Ravens backs also played behind one of the worst lines in the NFL last season.

The offensive line allowed 48 QB sacks of Flacco and an additional 90 plus hits. Pro Football Focus’ final grade had the Ravens O-line 23rd out of 32 teams. Baltimore is famous for using the middle of the field in the running and passing game and last season was no exception running nearly 60 percent of all rushing plays between the two guards. The results were simply unacceptable. Pro-Bowl guard Marshall Yanda didn’t have an exceptional year and Kelechi Osemele didn’t finish the season. Osemele injured his bad back and had surgery. But the biggest issue was at center where the team went with second year man Gino Gradkowski over veteran A.Q. Shipley— and it did not go well. Shipley had the misfortune of switching to a guard spot once Osemele went down but he rarely looked comfortable. Gradkowski he may have blown his audition to be the long-term starter, as he finished 35th out of 35 ranked centers. bal-sports-blitz-joe-flacco-nfl-player-poll-20-001 The rushing attack finished 30th, while the passing offense could fare no better than 18. As a whole, the offense finished ranked 29th in the league and with the defense not cracking the top 10 for a second straight year; it’s not hard to see why the Champs finished 8-8.

To correct the problem in 2014, the Ravens acquired Jeremy Zuttah this offseason to replace Gradkowski. RT Michael Oher is now in Tennessee and Rick Wagner is expected to step up and take his place but not without competition from players such as Ryan Jensen. The biggest move was re-signing LT Eugene Monroe at such a bargain price. Osemele has looked very good so far in the offseason organized team activities and should be ready to go once the season starts. The Ravens did not address the RT position in the draft but did select center / guard John Urschel from Penn State. Newsome and Harbaugh feel if they had to, Osemele could move outside to Tackle where he is also comfortable while someone kicks inside to guard. There is also the option of signing a free agent. Eric Winston, who was drafted by the Texans and spent six years in Kubiak's offense is a likely candidate to join the team.

But there is no question, Flacco, as the leader of the offense and now the team, failed to do his part. Sure there were games like Minnesota at home in the snow and at Detroit on Monday night but in the end there is no denying year six was No.5’s worst. Flacco tossed three more picks than TD’s (19-22) and was sacked 48 times. While we established the line was suspect, Flacco did little to help himself at times with his decision making process. For every solid performance there were games like Buffalo when he tossed 5 interceptions. Joe is sometimes to cool and has a propensity to have one or two of those type games every year. For the most part, he’s always played on a team that had a great defense. The Ravens averaged an NFL ranking of 7th during his six years in the league. Flacco has never been to a Pro Bowl, passed for 4,000 yards in a season or 400 yards in a game. He’s never led an offense that ranked higher than 13th. In fact, the Ravens offense has averaged 19th during Flacco’s tenure while the passing attack sits one notch below at No.20. Those are average numbers for a QB that’s making way above average money.

If the Ravens are going to return to the playoffs in 2014, Flacco will need to be a big reason why they did. It’s time for Flacco to win the shootout games with more consistency and takeover contests when the Ravens young defense is getting handled. He has to initiate leadership—on and off the field which so far, he hasn’t done this offseason. The former Super Bowl XLVII MVP failed to organize any type of off campus passing camps, similar to the one Peyton Manning and 21 other signal callers put together this past spring. This is particularly disturbing since Flacco was handed a new play book and hasn’t spent a lot of quality time with his new offensive coordinator.  Flacco was quick to point in an interview on Baltimore Ravens.com that NFLPA rules have strict policies on the amount of time a player can spend with coaches. By his own admission, Flacco admitted to not knowing his new OC to well just yet. Some in the local media have voiced displeasure with Flacco for at the very least not getting together with new TE and former Texan, Owen Daniels, who is as familiar with the new offensive system as Kubiak himself. Daniels has spent his entire career in it.

Speaking of Gary Kubiak, he takes over for Jim Caldwell, who left to become the head coach in Detroit. The former Texans HC brings with him a stretch zone run blocking scheme that he used with a great deal of success in Houston. Under Kubiak, the Texans earned their Top 6 all-time offensive outputs in scoring, total offense, and passing yards from 2007-12. During this time, the Texans also boasted the franchise’s Top 3 rushing outputs, including the NFL’s No. 2 ground attack in 2011 when they posted a franchise-record 153.0 yards per game. From 2008-12, Kubiak’s offense was one of only two (Denver) to have its total offense, passing offense and rushing offense each rank in the Top 5 at least once during that span. There are weapons in Baltimore. The receivers should be better in 2014. Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, and now veteran wide out Steve Smith, who came over from Carolina, will give Flacco some good looks, as will starting tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels. Entering his second contract with the Ravens after re-signing this spring, Jacoby Jones adds quality depth, as does seventh round selection Michael Camapanaro, who figures to contribute mightily in the return game and in the slot during certain sets. If Flacco finally hits the 4,000 yard mark this season, it is likely the Ravens will have had a good season and are heading back to the playoffs.

Return to Glory–At Least the Top 10:

imagesThe Ravens Defense finished 12th in the NFL last season and missed the top 10 for a second straight year. One weakness the team has been working on is fixing is the middle of the defense. There was a time when teams never ventured there on the Ravens and GM Ozzie Newsome is doing all he can to ensure those days return. Newsome and the Ravens completed the retooling of the once stout unit by drafting ILB CJ Mosley, as well two players from Florida State’s BCS Title team, DT Timmy Jernigan, and Free safety Terrence Brooks. This was the second straight year the Ravens used their first three picks of the draft on nearly identical positions. Last year it was safety Matt Elam, ILB Arthur Brown and DT Brandon Williams that were selected in the first three rounds. The result could mean a return to dominance on the defensive side of the football but with so much youth now in place, the offense may be asked to carry the load to start and that doesn't appear as if that’s likely considering the new play book. Ravens DC Dean Pees needs three things to happen in 2014 if the unit is going to return the top 10 for the first time since 2011. Veterans Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Elvis and Dumervil must be productive from week to week and cannot fade down the stretch. Secondly, the young linebacking corps must be aggressive but play smart and come prepared. And lastly, the secondary needs to stay healthy. Even with the inexperience at safety, CB’s LarDarius Webb and Jimmy Smith have the capability to shrink a football field but the depth behind them is lacking in CB's Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson. Each say they are ready to step up and the good news for them is that they will get their chance to prove it. The Ravens young defense must also communicate better on the field– something it has not done well over the past two seasons. Safeties Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks could be a formidable duo fro many years to come but there will be a big learning curve in 2014. The Ravens have always taken pride in having the next man up step up and play well and it appears they have the talent waiting to try. But that philosophy is being tested, as the team hasn’t drafted a Pro-Bowl player since taking Ray Rice in the second round back in 2008 and on defense there hasn't been a Pro Bowler selected since Haloti Ngata in 2006.

Where's the Leadership?

The Ravens have lacked leadership since No.52 played his last game. They tried to correct that this offseason by signing former Panther WR Steve Smith, who may not be as fast as he once was but still plays with a chip on his shoulder similar to the one the Ravens used to possess. Leadership was definitely lacking during this offseason when four Ravens players, including Ray Rice, were arrested and charged with various crimes. Rice was the most publicized as he was seen on TV dragging his unconscious wife out of an Atlantic City casino elevator after allegedly knocking her out while they were inside it. He will likely face an NFL suspension of at least two to three games despite having his case adjudicated somewhat in his favor in the courtroom. Rice was a player that Ray Lewis often mentored in his own home and spent many nights with the former Rutgers star showing the ins and outs of the NFL. While off the field issues happened when Lewis, Ed Reed, and even Anquan Boldin were here, they didn’t happen with this type of regularity and when they did, you better believe Lewis would let the player know personally the effect his actions had on the team. Accountability seems to missing and when you toss in the fact that players like Suggs and Ngata, whom many thought to be leaders, didn’t show up to voluntary OTA’s and one could easily read trouble between the lines. Suggs, who faded badly down the stretch last season and Ngata, who has struggled with injuries and consistency over the past two years, did not attend the voluntary camp but are expected to be at the mandatory minicamp June 17-19. The Ravens 2014 schedule is easier than in years past but keep in mind— this was a .500 team last season. The offense will need to be functioning at a mid-season level to start the 2014 campaign. Baltimore will face three straight AFC North foes before hosting Carolina in the seasons first quarter. Three of the four teams had defenses in the Top 10 last year and Pittsburgh finished 13th. It is possible that the Ravens will have to beat these teams without Ray Rice, who will likely be serving his suspension during this time. In April 2010, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games to start that season. However, the league reduced it to four games but the Steelers still began the 2010 season with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch at quarterback. They went 3-1, losing only to the Ravens at home. Ironically, Pittsburgh went on to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl that season, losing to Green Bay. So, just when we think we know all there is to know, the questions are changed in what can only be described, as the wild world of the NFL. Following the first quarter of the year, the Ravens then visit Indianapolis and if they can survive the first month of play and pick up a few wins in the middle portion — at Tampa Bay, Atlanta, at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, Tennessee — then they should finish strong over the final month. Baltimore will face the Dolphins, Jaguars, Texans, and Browns in the final four weeks of the season. Is There a

Storm Brewing in Baltimore?

dt.common.streams.StreamServer It is fair to say that storm clouds are swirling around this team. They are walking a fine line and I wouldn't be surprised if they finished 4-12 or 12-4. The defense should be better but with all the youth, will need a little time to gel and get acclimated to the speed of the game while playing together. How fast the offense gels in Kubiak's new system, how many games Ray Rice misses due to a likely suspension and whether or not he can bounce back from his worst year are legitimate concerns. When you couple that with the concerns of whether or not the offensive line can rebound, it seems like there are far more questions than answers for the 2014 version of the Ravens–at least to start. I believe the Ravens are one the league biggest anomalies to start the season but we will know pretty fast if this is a team is capable of getting back to the playoffs after being in them for the first five years of Harbaugh and Flacco’s tenure. What frightens me most is what I don't seem in terms of  the passion for the game or the leadership. I was one of those people that believed losing Ray Lewis' leadership was overrated and the team would be fine without him—-I WAS WRONG about the leadership aspect but it was time for him to vacate the playing field. There are also legitimate concerns of whether the team actually has enough weapons at the skill positions to carry them through the difficult stretches that every team encounters during a season. Joe Flacco must return to the above average / very good form that’s seen him win 62 games to start his career, the most of any quarterback in the history of the league to start a career. While I like the Ravens to win a game or two they may not be favored in, I expect them to lose their share of ones they are. It’s always gets darkest just before the dawn and the 2014 season could start dismally before ending on a high note in Baltimore. Expectations are high and fans won’t react well if they miss the playoffs for a second straight season—so prepare, I know I am. Vegas refunds money on a push bet, which this is likely to be after the Ravens miss the playoffs and win eight games for a second straight year..

Baltimore Ravens projected win total: 8 Games. Preseason schedule (All times p.m. ET; home games in caps)

Preseason schedule (All times p.m. ET; home games in caps)

Aug. 7-10 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Aug. 14-18 at Dallas Cowboys

Aug. 21-24 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Aug. 28 at New Orleans Saints

Regular season schedule

Sept. 7 Cincinnati Bengals, 1

Sept. 11 Pittsburgh Steelers (Thu), 8:25

Sept. 21 at Cleveland Browns, 1

Sept. 28 Carolina Panthers, 1

Oct. 5 at Indianapolis Colts, 1

Oct. 12 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1

Oct. 19 Atlanta Falcons, 1

Oct. 26 at Cincinnati Bengals, 1

Nov. 2 at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30*

Nov. 9 Tennessee Titans, 1

Nov. 16 BYE

Nov. 24 at New Orleans Saints (Mon), 8:30

Nov. 30 San Diego Chargers, 1

Dec. 7 at Miami Dolphins, 1

Dec. 14 Jacksonville Jaguars, 1

Dec. 21 at Houston Texans, 1

Dec. 28 Cleveland Browns, 1

 

 

The Baltimore Ravens and Their Wizard–Ravens 7 Rd. Mock: Part 1

March 22, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, NFL Draft

Part 1: The Wizard of Oz, The Other Men in Charge, & How the Ravens Do it, 

You cannot go “Mocking” unless you know the philosophy surrounding the madness and arguably, no other team in the NFL has been, as successful or as unpredictable on draft day than the Baltimore Ravens.ozzie-newsome-draft-newsomeThe Ravens have a “Wizard” in charge of their “War Room” on draft day. Vice President &General Manager Ozzie Newsome knows a thing or two about a thing or two when it comes to the NFL Draft.

Under the guidance of the former Cleveland  Brown and Hall of Fame tight end, the franchise rarely brings home a bad report card from the league’s annual job fair. For every considered draft bust, the Ravens produce at least two or three solid starters. Heading into his 19th draft with the franchise, 13th as the General Manager, Newsome has a formula for success and rarely does he deviate from it. While he is known as the Wizard, Newsome is not alone nor does he deserve all of the credit for all of the success. The Ravens have proven through the years that they possess one of the top front office and scouting staffs, not just in pro- football but also in all of professional sports.

Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, Newsome and his scouting departments have had 18 drafts and selected 18 players in the first round. These picks have earned an amazing 55-combined Pro Bowls, several All-Rookie honors, multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards and two Super Bowl MVP honors.

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

The Ravens do not belong to the National Football Scouting group, which provides member teams a list of and reports on players eligible for the draft. Instead, Newsome, along with Eric DeCosta (Asst. G.M.), Joe Hortiz (Dir. Of college scouting),  and a confirmed 19 full-time members of the personnel department, which does not include the coaching staff, work year round on a proven scouting system that has produced as much in the early rounds as it has in the later rounds of the draft.

Day two and three of the NFL Draft has even greater importance on the future of a franchise and the Ravens have excelled there as well. They have found Pro Bowlers and top notch starters on the second and third day as much as they have the first. Players such as Marshal Yanda (3rd) Lardarius Webb (3rd), Jarrett Johnson (4th), Dennis Pitta (4th), Pernell McPhee (5th), Adalius Thomas (6) and Sam Koch (6) were taken well after the Commissioner was calling names at the podium. Newsome and company also have a knack in signing the right undrafted rookie free agents who also make significant contributions. Mike Flynn (‘97), Priest Holmes (‘97), Will Demps (‘02), Bart Scott (‘02), Ma’ake Kemoeatu (‘02), Jameel McClain (‘08), Dannell Ellerbe (‘09), Morgan Cox (‘10) & Justin Tucker (‘12) all went undrafted and subsequently signed  with and starred for the Ravens.

The Ravens have had 31 different players earn Pro Bowl honors since the team’s inception in 1996. Of those, 16 are homegrown players, 15 drafted, and two signed as rookie free agents. The secret to Newsome and the Ravens success has several key components. It begins with the staff, which has continuity, loyalty and longevity. Most of Ozzie’s staff has been with the team since the franchise started in 1996 or has graduated from the “20/20” club.

Success Breeds Success:

The “20/20” group includes members who started with the Ravens as young assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. The term “20/20” refers to hiring “20-year-olds for $20,000.” “Actually, the guys started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them,” said Newsome. The process is really quite simple but it involves the hard work of everyone. The Ravens have eight scouts assigned to every part of the country during college football season. They have an additional eight player personnel directors and of course, it’s all tied together through Ozzie Newsome, as well as Assistant GM Eric DeCosta.  

DeCosta and the Ravens’ directors of college scouting, Joe Horitz, are perfect examples of what makes the Ravens so successful in the front office. They have been with the organization for a combined 34-years and began of course, as members of the prestigious 20 / 20 club.

Once the Ravens define a player as a “draftable” talent, head coach John Harbaugh and his staff are assigned to add more study, which could include visits and workouts with some of the players. According to Newsome in the teams media guide, “Another advantage we have is that many of us have worked together or known each other for a while, so we scout the scouts and coaches. We may have a scout or coach who has proven he really knows how to spot talent at a certain position. That opinion carries more weight when we’re finalizing the board.”hi-res-168103308-head-coach-john-harbaugh-of-the-baltimore-ravens-speaks_crop_north

Newsome encourages all scouts and coaches s to have strong opinions. “We have very open dialogue. We want everyone’s opinion, especially from the scouts who have looked at the players the longest. I think another strength of our room is that we respect and listen to each other,” Newsome says. Success breeds success and while a great many of the Ravens scouts began in the 20 / 20 club and have stayed, many have gone on to have successful careers elsewhere because of what they learned from Newsome and the “Raven Way”.

The current director of the Senior Bowl in Mobile Alabama, Phil Savage, is one of those examples. Savage began, as one of those 20 / 20 guys, with the Cleveland Browns in 1991 and worked his way up the ladder in the front office as a scout and personnel evaluator with the Browns, eventually following Cleveland's former owner Art Modell and the rest of the front office to Baltimore in 1995. Savage then played an important role in the drafting of 10 Pro Bowl players, including Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden and future HOF linebacker Ray Lewis. Ironically, Savage would go back to Cleveland,as their General Manager, in 2005. However, following a poor 2008 season, Savage was fired.

The Highest Rated:

Newsome always talks about taking the “highest-rated player on our board” when it comes time to select a player. The Ravens’ history proves that. When they had a Pro Bowl left tackle with Tony Jones, Baltimore selected Jonathan Ogden, who was the first pick (fourth overall in ’96) in team history. When they had Pro Bowl players like Priest Holmes and Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens selected Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap in the first round. “When we have grades that are even, we sometimes select the player in the area we have the greatest need,” Newsome notes. “But, our confidence in our staff and the process we use make draft days easy, exciting and fun. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. The hardest work is done year round prior to the draft.”

Wizardry Extends Beyond Draft:

Heading into this year’s draft, the Ravens currently only have five assured picks in Rounds 1 (No. 17), 2 (No. 48), 3 (No. 79), 6 (No. 178,) and this past week received a seventh rounder in return for the Bryan McKinnie trade to Miami. This additional pick essentially replaces the seventh-round selection that the Ravens traded to the Indianapolis Colts last offseason for center-guard A.Q. Shipley.

The five picks would be the fewest in any draft in franchise history, which is not a good thing when you consider how deep this draft is. This year’s crop of players looking for NFL employment is considered by many to be one most well rounded NFL Draft classes in years. Fortunately, for Ravens fans, Newsome is the master at collecting compensatory picks and that is a good thing this year.

9037295_600x338Compensatory picks are picks teams receive in addition to their selections in each of the seven rounds. A total of 32 compensatory picks are awarded to teams that have lost more or better compensatory free agents than they signed in the previous year. Teams that gain and lose the same number of players but lose higher-valued players than they gain also can be awarded a pick, but only in the seventh round, after the other compensatory picks. Compensatory picks cannot be traded, and the placement of the picks is determined by a proprietary formula based on the player's salary, playing time, and postseason honors with his new team, with salary being the primary factor. So, for example, a team that lost a linebacker who signed for $2.5 million per year in free agency might get a sixth-round compensatory pick, while a team that lost a wide receiver who signed for $5 million per year might receive a fourth-round pick. All compensatory picks are awarded at the ends of Rounds three through seven. If fewer than 32 such picks are awarded, the remaining picks are awarded in the order in which teams would pick in a hypothetical eighth round of the draft (These are known as "supplemental compensatory selections"). Compensatory picks are awarded each year at the NFL annual meeting which is held at the end of March; typically, about three or four weeks before the draft.

Compensatory picks have been very important during the Ravens draft history. In fact, it is important to note that since 1996, Baltimore has received 37 compensatory choices. That is the most during that span with Packers having the second most with 30. According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN, the Ravens will get the league-maximum four compensatory picks in this year’s draft and will now be able to save face with nine total draft selections.  The exact placement of those picks will be determined next week at owners meetings. The four players the Ravens will get compensatory picks for are Ed Reed, linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams.

Here is where the genius of Newsome really shows through. He collects these picks without losing picks. The big name players the Ravens signed last off-season in Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Michael Huff and Marcus Spears, will not count against them because all of those free agents were released. Compensatory picks are only for players who leave after their contracts have ended.

What should the Ravens receive for those four players—according to Hensley, the best-case scenario is that they receive one in the third round (Kruger), two in the fourth round (Ellerbe and Williams) and one in the fifth (Reed). The worst-case is two in the fourth one in the fifth (Williams) and one in the seventh (Reed). Remember the Ravens do not currently own any picks in the fourth and fifth rounds because they traded them to the Jacksonville Jaguars for left tackle Eugene Monroe.

Not Always a Success Story: 

Once the NFL Draft is complete, experts evaluate every team and hand out grades. The Ravens typically receive grades of an “A”, possibly a B+ but if you go back and look at some drafts, they wouldn’t exactly receive such a high grade if you waited a year to grade them. That’s the nature of the beast in the “War Rooms” on drafts days. Player may look and grade out as top tier talent but fail to become a bust.

Last April's draft received a grade of “B” or higher by many experts but looking back on it now, you couldn’t possibly think to give it anything other than, at best, a C to C-. Safety Matt Elam, whom the Ravens selected with the final pick in the first round had the best season of any draftee but as expected Elam struggled at times and didn’t exactly make anyone forget about Ed Reed. The next three draft picks LB Arthur Brown, DT Brandon Williams and LB John Simon didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Brown and Williams are expected to have much bigger roles this season and Simon, who was a standout at Ohio State, didn’t see the field much at all in his rookie campaign.

Until the drafting of Joe Flacco, every QB selected by the team was a bust and Newsome and company have yet to hit on a wide receiver that has significantly contributed to the team for any length of time. Many would consider Ozzie’s biggest offensive bust to be QB Kyle Boller, whom the Ravens selected in the first round with the 19th overall pick in 2003 after trading away their first round pick to New England the following year to move up and get him. kyle boller

WR’s Travis Taylor, who was taken in the first round back in 2000 and a Newsome scouted player, as well as a more recent Newsome selection, WR Mark Clayton (Round 1- pick 22- 2005) were both first round flops. This draft is loaded with wide receivers so The Wizard, a Hall of Fame pass catcher himself, has a chance to redeem that knock on his scouting eye.

In the end, The Ravens are truly one of the league’s best on draft day. Chris Mortensen of ESPN says of Newsome and the Ravens front office, “There’s a saying within the Ravens that goes, ‘In Ozzie we trust.’ The reason for that is his track record is tremendous. He has a philosophy, he stays true to it, and they’re not going to deviate from that. If the No. 3 player is the No. 3 player, and he’s on the board, that’s the guy they’re taking.”

With that in mind—-it’s off to part two and the Ravens seven round mock—-In part 2 I will provide you with the most comprehensive Ravens Mock Draft on the web or in any magazine. Thanks to the top Draft scouting sources, which includes Fanspeak.com and the work of Stephen Shoup, I was able to compile a ton of great information, as I predict all nine selections in the seven round draft.

 

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.

07_PresserPrimer_news

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 Re-Sign Monroe

March 11, 2014 in Free Agency, News

With free agency starting up today, the Baltimore Ravens made a move to keep one of their own players, left tackle Eugene Monroe.

It is a five-year deal worth a total of $37.5 million with $19 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $11 million. This is an average of $7.5 million per season. When all contract details are known, I will post a contract breakdown.

He came over to the Ravens in a mid-season trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars this past season. The Ravens gave up a fourth and a fifth round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Eugene Monroe

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Once he came over in this trade, he helped stabilize the Ravens' offensive line which suffered through a bad season. Protecting quarterback Joe Flacco's blindside, Monroe gave up just five sacks this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 12th best offensive tackle (10th best left tackle) in the NFL this past season. In 2012 he graded as the 15th best offensive tackle (10th best left tackle).

Re-signing him was the Ravens' number one goal heading into free agency over the last few days. They had already re-signed tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year deal earlier this month.

Keeping Monroe is a very important to the Ravens' offense. Since Hall-of-Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden retired after the 2007 season, the Ravens have struggled to find a replacement for him. Monroe is the best left tackle to play for Baltimore since Ogden, so it was important for the Ravens to retain Monroe.

A few days ago, it looked like he wasn't going to re-sign with the team. They were reported to be too far apart in contract negotiations and the Ravens let the franchise tag deadline pass without placing their tag on him. However, over the last day or so, other teams needing a left tackle keyed in on other targets leaving him for the Ravens.

Overall this is a good deal for the Ravens. They needed to keep Monroe as their offensive line was a mess last season and he was a bright spot. Getting him for $7.5 million over five years is a plus for the Ravens as well. He is one of the better left tackles in the league and they re-signed him to an affordable deal.

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.

Ravens Re-Sign Pitta

March 1, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Yesterday, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they had re-signed tight end Dennis Pitta.

An impending free agent, he has signed to a five-year deal worth $32 million with $16 million guaranteed. This pays him as a top-10 tight end, which he is. At this point in time. all the other specific details of the contract––signing bonus, yearly cap hits, etc.––are unavailable, but when they are, I will post a contract breakdown. Expect his cap hit this season to be between $3-4 million. Cap hits in the first year of contracts are usually much lower than the average per year value of the contact, which in the case is $6.4 million.

Drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the 28-year old (29 at the start of the season) has quickly developed into quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite target.

Off the field, the two are best friends and on the field, this relationship carries over. Flacco's favorite receiver to look for is Pitta. This is one of the reasons why Flacco struggled this last season as Pitta missed the first 12 games with a hip injury.

Dennis Pitta

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Early in training camp, Pitta landed badly on his hip after making a leaping catch. In doing so, he dislocated and fractured his hip. At the time, it was thought that he would be out for the season. However, just before the season began, the Ravens placed him on injured reserve with a designation to return. This allowed to to return later in the season and he didn't have to take up a roster spot while recovering.

When he finally returned in week 14, he had an instant impact catching six passes for 48 yards and one touchdown in a 29-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

He finished the season with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown.

His best season came the year before when the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. For the season, the sure-handed Pitta had 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. In the postseason, he added another 14 catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns, including four catches for 26 yards and one touchdown in the Super Bowl.

Not run blocker by any means, he is a pure pass-catching tight end––something that has become more and more common over the recent years. He spends a lot of his time lined up in the slot a receiver to create mismatches over the middle of the field. This led to speculation that he could have been ruled a wide receiver if the Ravens placed the franchise tag on him. Thanks to this new deal though, that won't be necessary.

New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to utilize tight ends and two tight end sets in his offense. While he has remade his offense to better fit the Ravens, expect Pitta to be a key component of this offense.

Currently, Pitta is the only tight end under contract with the Ravens right now, so more work is needed at this position. However, the main goal was to re-sign him and that has been accomplished.

It may look like he is overpaid a bit, but consider two things: he is Flacco's favorite target and tight ends are becoming more important to offenses every year. Even at $6.4 million per year, Pitta is only in the top-10 for tight ends in terms of average value of the contract. He is certainly a top-10 tight end the NFL and is worth more to the Ravens than any other team.

Entering this offseason, the Ravens had two priorities. One was to re-sign Pitta and the other was to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe. Now that Pitta has been re-signed, the Ravens can shift their focus to Monroe. If a deal can't be reached with him, then a possibility is to use the franchise tag on him. The deadline for this is Monday and it would cost the Ravens $11.7 million this season.