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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.

Baltimore Ravens 7 Round Mock Draft 2.0

April 2, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Coaching Staff, Free Agency, JOE FLACCO, NFL Draft

During the 2013 offseason, the then World Champion Baltimore Ravens lost nine significant contributors from the team that defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. Aside from Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retiring, other key losses happened in free agency, the cutting process or via trade. The Ravens lost outside linebacker Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns), inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), safety Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia Eagles) in free agency, amongst others.

07_PresserPrimer_news

The Ravens brain trust with Harbaugh & Newsome in the middle

Without these players and for other reasons, the Ravens were unable to return to the playoffs in 2013, becoming the second straight SB Champion not to return to defend their crown. Unable to find a leader to replace Ray Lewis and forced to try to replace the missing pieces, the chemistry never seemed to gel and Baltimore finished 8-8.

The reward for losing talented players, if there such a thing, comes in the form of compensatory picks in the NFL Draft the following season.  The most NFL teams can receive in any one year for the upcoming draft is four and this year, the Ravens received the maximum allotted picks for the losses sustained in free agency last year.

With only four picks of their own heading to Radio City Music Hall in May, the four picks could not have come at a better time for GM Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens. Baltimore was scheduled to select in the first (17), second (48) and third round (79), as well a pick in the sixth round (184). The four compensatory picks now give the Ravens additional picks in the third (99), fourth (134 and 138) and fifth round (175). The compensatory picks cannot be traded and now give Newsome, Erik DeCosta and the rest of the Draft gurus eight selections total in this year’s draft.

Ozzie Newsome, whom many refer to as the Wizard, when it comes to personnel moves and the draft, will make the most of these picks. In fact, the “Wizardry” in how Newsome works the system can be seen in the compensatory picks alone. Ever since the NFL has implemented the compensatory pick system in 1994, the Ravens have led the league in total compensatory picks awarded with 41. The next closest are the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys who each have received 33. It is also important to remember the Packers & Cowboys had a two-year head start, as the Ravens were the Browns in 1994 & 95.

According to Wikipedia, the compensatory process work this way. In addition to the 32 selections in each of the seven rounds, 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.

Newsome is able to gain these picks without losing picks because players cut by teams do not count in this equation and there is a cut-off date for signings to have an impact on the compensatory draft pick formula. According to the formula, the Ravens signed zero free agents that effected compensatory picks. Cut by their prior teams after the deadline, Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and defensive end Marcus Spears were all had without losing draft picks. Inside linebacker, Daryl Smith was signed after the deadline for signings to affect compensatory picks.

Climbing into the head of any General Manager to try to predict what they will do during the NFL Draft is difficult but trying to get inside the mind of a Wizard is a completely different set of circumstances. The thought process can be damn near impossible to predict. Will it be “Best player available” or filling a need—or will Newsome and the Ravens trade back—or even up to get their man?

Newsome, who is listed as the Ravens’ general manager and executive vice president, is directing his 19th draft and if history repeats itself, Ozzie and his staff will select players that will have immediate and long-lasting impact on the Ravens’ continued success as a playoff contender. Who those players will be and even at what positions is what makes mock drafts so much, but mocking the Ravens is work—-

The Ravens and a few of their players are not making it easy to predict how they will draft in six weeks. Undisciplined off the field behavior, as well as the moves the team has made in free agency to this point all factor in the process this offseason. They have re-signed several of their own players, which is an entirely different approach than they executed last season and have added just three players from other teams.

The returning Ravens include OT Eugene Monroe, Jacoby Jones, Dennis Pitta & Darryl Smith. Speaking of Smith, the Ravens signed former Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith, just days after his release in Charlotte. They also signed former Rams safety Darian Stewart and via trade acquired center Jeffery Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fifth round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

With an 8-8 record, one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and a lack of any tangible leadership, the re-signings and outside additions will fix some of these issues but they are not going to fix everything that ailed the Ravens in 2013.

There is still the matter of how the Ravens are going to deal with RB Ray Rice.  Heading into his seventh season in 2014, Rice was arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence on Feb. 15 following a physical altercation with his then-fiancée at the Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. After taking a month to review the evidence, possibly including a video tape, which allegedly shows Rice getting physical with his fiancé, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office announced last Thursday that the charge has been changed to third degree aggravated assault, which is a far more serious charge. If convicted, Rice could get a prison sentence of three to five years, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Ray Rice & Janay Parker-Rice with their daughter

Ray Rice & Janay Palmer-Rice with their daughter

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has said Rice has a future with the team despite his arrest. Rice, 27, signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Ravens before the 2012 season but is coming off his worst season, rushing for only 660 yards and averaging a career-low 3.1 yards per carry.

Regardless of what the happens in a court of law, the Ravens still very much face the prospect of life without No.27 for possibly a quarter of the 2014 NFL season. Rice will likely face a suspension in the court of Goodell—and if history is indeed a good teacher, that suspension could be a minimum of four games. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will allow the law to run its due course but even if Rice somehow gets off in NJ, Goodell has shown in the past his justice under the leagues conduct policy is swift and his decisions are made regardless of verdicts and in the best interest of the league. Battering women does not sit well at any level of any profession or in any part of our society. Just ask Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger about how much the NFL cares about what happens in court when it involves women and abuse—or in Big Ben’s situation—a case that never even made it into court. In 2010, Goodell cracked down on one of the league's stars, suspending Roethlisberger without pay for the first six games of the 2010 season, even though sexual assault allegations against him in Georgia did not lead to criminal charges. Goodell determined that Roethlisberger had violated the NFL's personal-conduct policy and ordered the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback to undergo a "comprehensive behavioral evaluation by professionals."

So, as you see, it’s not just signing free agents and making trades that makes a GM’s life so difficult when the players are off on their own time. Rice is not the only Ravens player to have a run in with the law this offseason. Backup Offensive lineman Jah Reid (Assault) and WR Deonte Thompson’s (Marijuana Possession) actions must also be considered when the Ravens head into next month’s draft. Adding depth or even a potential starter at all three positions (RB, OL, and WR) is a priority for the Ravens.

Without over complicating the process, here is my attempt to get into the mind of the Ravens front office, as I try to predict the Ravens entire 2014 NFL Draft:

Picks: Round

1 (17), 2 (48), 3 (79), 3 (99 Compensatory), 4 (134 Compensatory), 4 (138 Compensatory), 5 (175 Compensatory) & 6 (194)

BALTIMORE RAVENS MOCK DRAFT 2.0

Zack Martin

Zach Martin

Round 1 (Pick 17)

Zach Martin, T / G Notre Dame: 6’4” 308 lbs. / 32 7/8 arm length / 9.5” hands

Combine: 40-yard 5.20 / Bench Press 23 (250 lbs.) /

Many mock drafts have the Ravens now looking to draft one of the two top safeties in the draft. Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of CBS Sports NFL Draft Scout have the Ravens taking Ha-Sean Clinton Dix & Calvin Pryor respectively. If the Ravens select a safety, it would be the third time in franchise history that the team has elected to draft a player from the same position in the first round of back-to-back drafts. They drafted Ray Lewis with their second pick of the first round (26) 1996 and then took Peter Boulware with the fourth overall pick the following season. In 1998 and 99, the Ravens used the 10th overall pick in both drafts to sure up the cornerback position when they drafted Duane Starks & then Chris McAllister. Last year, the Ravens selected Matt Elam and it would not shock me if indeed the Ravens took one of the two safeties, especially with James Ihedigbo signing with the Detroit Lions—but the biggest offseason acquisition not mentioned above may be the one that necessitates selecting Zack Martin.

It is no secret former Houston Texans HC, new Ravens offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak, loves the zone-blocking scheme, and it’s no secret that the Ravens tried and failed last season to execute a version of their own. The hiring of Kubiak certainly does not suggest the Ravens will return to the man-on-man blocking schemes of yesterday but instead will stick with the scheme that gave them fits. Free agency tells us that the Ravens want versatility, as Michael Oher is in Tennessee and former TB Buc center / guard, Jeremey Zuttah is now a Raven. Zuttah is not an All-Pro but he is an upgrade over center Geno Gradkowski and he can also play guard. Zuttah was Pro Football Focus' 22nd ranked center last season out of 35 qualifiers. The Ravens' incumbent center, Gino Gradkowski, ranked 35th, according to PFF's grading.

Zach Martin, unrelated to Jonathan Martin by genetics or style of play, is a coach's dream. While perhaps lacking the body type scouts prefer at tackle (where he started 50 of his 52 career games for the Irish), Martin slides well laterally and controls opponents. He is smart, fierce and versatile with excellent hand usage. Martin may not have the ideal size to play tackle but he will work out just fine at right tackle for the Ravens and would be an upgrade over Michael Oher. The Ravens need Martin more than any other player, as his versatility would allow them to make adjustments if they decided that Kelechi Osemele should move to RT. Ozzie Newsome does not have the luxury of trading back to get Martin; the Dolphins will not let him past No.19. That would leave a player like Cyrus Kouandjio as the likely next best option and in my opinion—they would simply be redrafting Michael Oher if Kouandjio were the selection.

If the Ravens are serious about making the zone blocking work and they have to be with Kubiak in charge of the offense, then drafting a safety or WR would be the wrong decision here, especially when you consider the important hole on the right side of the fourth worst offensive line in the NFL last season. Besides, is it more important to protect your $120.6 million investment or find a ball hawking safety–while Clinton Dix and Pryor are solid prospects, they aren't Ed Reed or Sean Taylor and that's the only type of safety that should have the Ravens thinking any other way than right tackle in this draft with this pick. It is possible given his recent legal troubles that Michigan's Taylor Lewan could fall to the Ravens—–either way, Martin or Lewan need to be wearing purple next season and I'm not talking about Minnesota purple.

Carlos Hyde

Carlos Hyde

Second Round (pick 48) 

Carlos Hyde, RB Ohio State 5’11” 230 Lbs. / 32” Arm Length / 9 5/8” Hands

Combine 40 yds. 4.66 / Bench Press 19 / Broad Jump 114” /

Dare to be BOLD—–For whatever reason, the Ravens rushing attack in 2013 has to be considered the root of the offensive evils of last season. Yes, the offensive line was equally inept and the two run hand-in-hand but Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce aren’t the long term answers in Baltimore. Both were affected by injuries and a lack of consistent blocking all season but Rice is entering his seventh season and Pierce is showing a knack for injury and an inability to make the necessary big plays. In addition, Rice's offseason has been marred after being charged with aggravated assault by an Atlantic County Grand Jury on Thursday, following an incident at an Atlantic City casino in February. The Ravens gained a franchise-record low 1,328 rushing yards last season, averaging 3.1 yards per carry with just seven touchdown runs. Rice rushed for just 660 yards for the season, a career low as a starter.

Head Coach John Harbaugh was not bashful about his disappointment in the Ravens running game last season when asked about it at the NFL Combine. "I think the whole thing just needs an overhaul," Harbaugh said at the NFL scouting combine. "It was a myriad of things. We didn't block people well. We didn't move people. We didn't get on people. … Our backs both weren't 100 percent and they didn't make enough guys miss, didn't break enough tackles. So the yards weren't there. We also didn't throw well enough to get people out of single-high, press man [coverage]. We were always pretty much regularly going up against a heavy box, so that compounded a problem. We were probably a throw to set up the run offense the last 11, 12 games and we didn't throw the ball well enough to set up the run. We just didn't get the job done."

The Ravens are going to use either this pick or their third round selection on a RB. Including Carlos Hyde, they met with five of them at the NFL Combine. Hyde, if he is even on the board at this point, would be a great fit in the Ravens offense. Hyde reminds me a lot of a RB that called Baltimore home for six seasons. Jamal Lewis gained nearly 8,000 yards, including a season in which he rushed for 2,066 yards. At 5’11” and 240 pounds, Lewis was a powerful runner could flash the speed when he needed it. Hyde, the Big Ten Running Back of the Year and first-team All-Big 10 pick finished the season with 100-plus rushing yards in nine consecutive games. He finished with 1,508 rushing yards and 15 TD’s—this, after being suspended for the first three games for being a "person of interest" in an assault investigation. NFL.com says, Hyde has outstanding size, explosive power and run strength — can be his own blocker and create his own holes. Punishes linebackers running downhill and usually falls forward. Superb contact balance and finishing strength — does not go down easily and can barrel through arm tackles. Extremely powerful short-yardage/goal-line runner, which the Ravens could use. Remember the Green Bay game? He gets better as the game progresses, wearing down defensive fronts.  Took over the game in the fourth quarter vs. Northwestern (2013) and willed team to victory. He is surprisingly quick in short spaces and can plant hard and go. Is solid in pass protection and can stonewall blitzers in their tracks. Good awareness and anticipation to react to stunts and adjust to movement. Soft hands-catcher.

Terrance Brooks

Terrance Brooks

Third Round (Pick 79)

Terrance Brooks, Safety Florida State

Vitals: 5’-11” & 198 Lbs. / 31” Arm Length / 9 Hands
Combine: 4.42 40-yard / 38” Vertical / 119” Broad Jump / 10 Reps Weight Bench

The Ravens are expected to shift Matt Elam from free safety to his natural strong safety position and would like to acquire a play-making centerfielder to work in tandem with Elam, whose strong suits are his tackling and blitzing capabilities. Brooks is a 2013 Second-team All-ACC selection. In addition, he played and started in 13 games, missing one game due to concussion. Brooks' lack of dominating statistics led to his being overshadowed at times but NFL scouts are intrigued with the former cornerback's agility, range and willingness to be physical in run support. Voted to the First Team All-ACC unit by coaches (but only second-team by the media), Brooks' toughness and versatility could lead to a second-day selection in the draft despite few outside of Tallahassee realizing his importance to the Seminoles' undefeated season.

From CBS Sports Rob Rang: While a touch shorter than scouts would prefer, Brooks looks the part of an NFL free safety, boasting broad shoulders, a well-built frame and trim waist. He possesses good balance, agility and straight-line speed, including an impressive burst to close. A former cornerback who is asked to drop down and cover slot receivers, on occasion, demonstrating good balance, fluidity and change of direction for coverage. Brooks is more physical than you might expect given his cornerback background, often dropping down into a linebacker-like role for the Seminoles, which the Ravens will love in a defense that requires versatility and physicality. Long arms and good balance to play off blocks and make plays near the line of scrimmage amid traffic. A big-hitter who seems to enjoy the physicality of the game. Flashes strong hands for the interception, as well as the ability to track over his shoulder (North Carolina State). Good special teams’ player.

CJ Fiedorowicz

CJ Fiedorowicz

Round Three (Pick 99 Compensatory)

CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa

Vitals: 6’6” & 265 Lbs. / 33” Arm Length / 10 ¼ Hands /      

Combine: 4.76-40 yard / 31 ½” Vertical / 25 Reps on Weight Bench

Fiedorowicz showed off his athletic ability at the NFL Combine when he was first among TE’s in the 3-Cone (7.10) & 20 Yard Shuttle (4.26) Drills. Underutilized in the Hawkeyes offense, Fiedorowicz finished the 2013 season with a career-high six touchdowns and was voted First Team All-Big Ten. In need of a TE, the Ravens met with Fiedorowicz in Indy and came away impressed. C.J. won the Alabama Power Most Outstanding Receiver for the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday practices at the Senior Bowl. He has excellent size with a proportioned body and is physical enough to continue developing as a blocker. He demonstrated more suddenness in and out of his cuts that will allow him to get separation when facing man coverage. He is a throwback tight end who blocks and has excellent size at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds and is a sure-handed receiver. Fiedorowicz finished with 91 career catches for 899 yards and 10 touchdowns over his final 30 games of his career, catching at least one pass per game during that span. Dane Bugler of NFL Draft Scout says he shows good versatility, showing the ability to come off a down block to get past defenders as a receiver. Good body control and soft hands for such a large man, traits that have led Washington junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins to earn a lot of attention as a possible first-round pick. Fiedorowicz is not as flashy as ASJ, but he is just as big and fast in a straight-line and is a much more physical and attentive blocker. If Fiedorowicz is as advertised and even the rigid Nolan Nowrocki thinks so (see below), he could be just what ails the Ravens opposite Dennis Pitta. Fiedorowicz tries to pattern his game after New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and if he could provide a third of what Gronk gives to the Pats when healthy, this is a bonafide home run with the 99th pick.

Nolan Nowrocki summary on Fiedorowicz:  Big-framed, linear and dependable, Fiedorowicz looks the part and has balanced skills to be a legitimate “Y” tight end in the pros. Is an asset as a competitive blocker and as a sure-handed receiver. Will be in demand in a relatively thin tight ends class.

Chris Davis

Chris Davis gets ready to tackle James Franklin of Mizzou

Round Four (Pick 134)

Chris Davis, CB Auburn

Vitals: 5’-10” & 202 Lbs. / 31” Arm Length / 9 ¼ Hands: 

Combine/ PD: 4.55-40 yard / 124” Broad Jump / 15 Bench Reps

The Ravens are dangerously thin at the CB position. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are both solid starters but both have been injury prone and been inconsistent with a lack of focus at critical times. You may remember Davis as the guy that cemented his name in Auburn lore with his 108-yard touchdown return off a missed field goal to upset Alabama in 2013. However, he is also a very accomplished cover corner. According to NFL Draft Scout, Davis possesses a compact, well-developed build with light feet, fluid change of direction and smooth acceleration. Alert zone defender with quick-twitch athleticism to break downhill on the ball. Good athleticism for coverage responsibilities, demonstrating the agility and balance to mirror receivers, as well as the straight-line speed to keep up on vertical routes. However, they also point out that he lacks the height preferred in a man-heavy scheme and that he is inconsistent with his physicality as an open-field tackler. He does his share of standing around the pile and will occasionally lunge toward the legs of ball carriers with his shoulder, rather than forcefully wrapping, leading to some missed tackles. He’s versatile—-a compact, physical zone corner with intriguing return skill, Davis will be more challenged by his lack of height and tight hips in the pros. His intangibles, toughness against the run and ability to factor as a punt returner will allow him to carve out a role on a team like the Ravens. I’ve seen Davis as low as a fifth rounder and as high as an early third rounder. This seems to be the more likely landing spot and if he’s there, he’s not a bad catch for the Ravens.

Round Four (Pick 138 Compensatory)

Cody Latimer

Cody Latimer

Cody Latimer, WR Indiana

Vitals: 6’-3” & 215 Lbs. / 32 5/8 Arm Length / 9 5/8” Hands  

Pro Day: 4.39 40-yard (4.43 second try) / 39” Vertical / 126” Broad / 24 Bench Reps

According to the Baltimore Sun, the Ravens sent a scout to evaluate the former Hoosiers standout WR back on March 25. In fact, the Ravens are one of six teams that scheduled him for private workouts. Ravens WR coach Bobby Engram flew to or will be flying to Bloomington to conduct the Ravens private session. Laitmer finished his career with 135 receptions for 2,042 yards and was named second-team All-Big Ten Conference. As a junior last season, he caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns. The Ravens love is size and speed. He was a prep basketball standout; Latimer is a well built, sure-handed and if he develops, could nicely fill the big-bodied possession receiver role the Ravens have relished since the departure of Anquan Boldin. Latimer’s hardwood background is evident in his leaping ability, body control and hand-eye coordination. Although he lacks ideal explosiveness and isn’t smooth is “gear change and flexibility” he will be an effective slant runner and making contested catches to beat zone coverage and could also have a lot of success in the red zone where Joe Flacco likes to loft the ball to his bigger receivers.

Ryan Carrethers

Ryan Carrethers

Round 5 (Pick 175 Compensatory).

Ryan Carrethers, DT Arkansas State 6’-1” 337 Lbs. / 31 ¾ Arm Length / 9 3/8” Hands

Combine: 40 yds. 5.47 / Bench Press 32 Reps /

Carrethers is a two-time first-team All-Sun Belt selection (2012-13). In 2013, he blocked two kicks and led Red Wolves with four sacks. In 2012, he started all 13 games. He is big and thick with outstanding weight-room strength. He squats a small house and maintains low body fat. Has sheer mass and natural girth to dig in and hold his ground vs. double teams. Has a wrestling background and understands leverage. Has two-gap ability and is a heavy tackler. He has a great work ethic, which is part of the “Raven Way”. He is tough and durable and possesses a solid personal and football character. While I just made him sound like the second coming of a top pick, there is a reason he is a projected as a fifth or sixth round selection. He lacks ideal height and has short arms and small hands. He is not very quick at the point of the attack and is considered heavy-legged with limited range. Carrethers needs to improve hand use, quickness, placement and shed timing. He has marginal pass-rush value but the Ravens have found and developed guys with his work ethic. If he is committed, he could have a future in a rotational role.

Matt Patchan

Matt Patchan

Round Six (Pick 194)

Matt Patchan, OT Boston College

Vitals: 6’-6” 302 Lbs. / 33” Arm Length / 9 3/8” Hands

Combine: 4.97 40-yard / 33 ½” Vertical / 22 Bench Reps

With Jah Reid likely on his way out the door and Ricky Wagner & David Mims not quite the answer, the Ravens may take a chance on a quick athletic tackle like Patchan. He would give them depth at the tackle position and if he can stay away from his “X” Games lifestyle and remain healthy, he could prove to be quite a steal in the sixth round. Patchan has been unable to remain on the field, mostly due to a maddening array of injuries. In May 2008, he was shot in the left shoulder, as a bystander at a park in Brandon, Fla. He later injured his left knee in the first of two scooter accidents while at Florida, one of which also led to his being hit by a car. He missed all but the first four games of the 2009 season with a torn ACL (right knee), all of 2010 with a fractured right wrist and all of 2012 with a torn pectoral. However, he looks the part of an NFL offensive tackle. He has broad shoulders, long arms and a trim middle. He has very good initial quickness off the snap, firing off the ball when run-blocking to turn and seal his opponent from the action. Surprising straight-line speed to get to the second level and shows good lateral agility and body control to adjust to moving targets. Originally recruited by the Florida Gators, he transferred to Boston College in 2013 and managed to start all 13 games being voted Second-team All-ACC at left tackle. He blocked for Heisman Trophy candidate Andre Williams, who ran for 2,177 yards. Patchan has been listed as low as priority free agent to an early sixth round selection. If the Ravens or any of the scouts are satisfied with his medicals from the combine, his size, speed and production in 2013 will not see him make it to undrafted free agent status. Do not forget, Ozzie Newsome is not afraid to spend a late round pick on a college player with an injury history or currently coming off an injury. Last year, the Ravens selected DE Kapron Lewis Moore from Notre Dame, who tore his ACL in the BCS Championship game vs. Alabama. Ironically, the Ravens selected Moore with their sixth round pick, the 200th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Draft Breakdown:

Offense: 5 Selections

I have the Ravens filling their need at Left Tackle with Zack Martin in the first round (17) and picking up some depth with Matt Patchan in the sixth round (194). I also have them addressing needs at RB, TE and WR with Carlos Hyde in the second (48), CJ Fiedorowicz in third (99) & Cody Latimer in the fourth round with the 138th overall pick. Hyde would be the big prize for the Ravens in this scenario, as the rushing attack was one of the worst in the league last season. I also believe the Ravens are far more disturbed about what happened in their backfield last season and during the offseason than they are letting on.

Defense: 3 Selections

I have the Ravens addressing their need at safety position with FSU’s Terrance Brooks in the third round (79). The drafting of Brooks would allow the Ravens to move Matt Elam back to his more natural position of strong safety. I also have the purple and black selecting their obligatory defensive lineman in the fifth round with Ryan Carrethers from Arkansas State and with only Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson at corner back; I have the Ravens selecting CB Chris Davis from Auburn. Davis, who is mostly known for his 108-yard return of a missed field with no time left to beat Alabama last season, may not be the CB the Ravens select but they will select a corner and in what could be the surprising pick of the draft for the Ravens, I would not at all be surprised to see Ozzie Newsome take a corner, as high as the second round.

I will update the Ravens Draft Board each week here on Fanspeak until the NFL Draft in May

Along with my own scouting reports of the players, I also used the scouting reports of CBS Sports NFL Draft Scout, ESPN Scouting service and of course, Fanspeaks very own, Stephen Shoup.

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.

Bobby Engram Hired As Wide Receiver Coach

February 6, 2014 in Coaching Staff, News

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

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

Bobby Engram

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens Hire Gary Kubiak As Offensive Coordinator

January 27, 2014 in Coaching Staff, News

After about two weeks of deliberating, the Baltimore Ravens have filled their offensive coordinator vacancy by hiring former Houston Texans' head coach Gary Kubiak.

Over the last few days, it seemed like the Ravens had narrowed their candidates down to two people: current wide receivers coach Jim Hostler and former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

However, last night the Ravens interviewed a "mystery candidate" and this morning it was revealed that this candidate was Kubiak––who was listed as a potential candidate by me along with Hostler (not Shanahan though) when previous coordinator Jim Caldwell left to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions.

Gary Kubiak

Courtesy of ICON SMI

While Caldwell left the Ravens for a head coaching gig, Kubiak joins the Ravens after being the head coach of the Texans for the last eight seasons. As the second coach of the Texans, he led them to their first playoff appearance in team history in the 2011 season. He also led the team to two berths in the Divisional Round of the playoffs including a loss against the Ravens in the 2011 season.

This season was a disaster for him and the team. After barely winning their first two games, the team reeled off 14-straight losses to end the season. Once their record reached 2-11, he was fired. During the Texans week nine loss against the Indianapolis Colts, he suffered a transient ischemic attack (basically a mini-stroke) while walking off the field at halftime. He was able to return later in the season, but missed a few games. In his eight seasons in Houston, he finished with a record of 61-64.

During his time in Houston, his offense ranked in the top five of the league on three separate occasions and in the top half of the league seven times.

Prior to being the head coach in Houston, he was the long-time offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos under head coach Mike Shanahan. With the Broncos, his offense totaled the most total yards during the span that he coached them. They also averaged NFL highs in yards and points per game. He helped coach them to two Super Bowl victories and coached running back Terrell Davis during his MVP season in 1998.

Before that, Kubiak played nine seasons as a quarterback for the Broncos backing up the legendary John Elway. After this, he started his coaching career right away as the running backs coach for Texas A&M––his alma mater. Moving to the NFL after two seasons with the Aggies, he joined the San Francisco 49ers as their quarterbacks coach. In his single season with the 49ers, they won Super Bowl XXIX with Steve Young at the helm. With the 49ers offensive coordinator, Mike Shanahan becoming the Broncos head coach in the offseason, Kubiak left to join Shanahan's staff as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Last week, Kubiak emerged as a candidate for the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator, but a deal wasn't able to be worked out. So not only do the Ravens have a new offensive coordinator, they stole someone that one of their rivals wanted.

Know for his zone-blocking scheme on the offensive line, he is a good fit with the Ravens current offense as they have ran this scheme for the past few years. This––along with his excellent resume––are the two main reasons for this hire.

Suffering a horrific season on the offensive side of the ball, he has some work to do. The Ravens' offense ranked 29th in total yards, 18th in passing, 30th in rushing, 25th in points per game and were last in yards per rushing attempt with a meager 3.1.

While the stats look bad, there are good pieces to work with including the reigning Super Bowl MVP––less than a week left to say this––quarterback Joe Flacco. With the players the Ravens had on the offensive side of the ball, they severely underwhelmed and it will be up to Kubiak to fix that.

Coming to Baltimore along with Kubiak is Rick Dennison who will join the staff as quarterbacks coach. When Kubiak was the head coach in Houston, Dennison was his offensive coordinator. He has never been a quarterbacks coach though as his coaching roots are in the offensive line. Current offensive line coach Juan Castillo isn't going anywhere though, so quarterbacks coach is a good spot for Dennison. He brings good experience to the coaching staff and has plenty of experience with Kubiak.

Another move that the Ravens have made on the offensive staff was announcing that tight ends coach Wade Harman won't return for next season. He is expected to be replaced by former Texans' tight end coach Brian Pariani.

More changes to the staff could be coming, but that is all that is known right now. One name to keep an eye on is Hostler as he was a candidate for the coordinator job, but lost out.

When listing potential candidates for this job, I said Kubiak would be "an excellent addition" to the Ravens coaching staff. This believe holds true almost two weeks later. Of all of the candidates that the Ravens interviewed––less than 15 according to head coach John Harbaugh––Kubiak was the best choice by far. He bring loads of experience to the team as a play caller and is respected around the league.

While the Ravens took their time in selecting a new coordinator, they made the right decision.

Ravens Fail To Make Playoffs

December 30, 2013 in Observations

Just one season removed from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans, the Baltimore Ravens have failed to make the playoffs.

This comes on the heals of a 34-17 loss that dropped the Ravens record to 8-8 for the season. A win in this game would have sent the Ravens to the playoffs as the Miami Dolphins lost to the New York Jets. Since both the Ravens and the Dolphins lost, the sixth seed in the AFC goes to the San Diego Chargers who sneak into the playoffs with a 27-24 win in overtime against the Kansas City Chiefs who rested many starters and will be the fifth seed in the playoffs.

Under head coach John Harbaugh, this is the first time in his six-year tenure that the Ravens have missed the playoffs. The last time they missed the playoffs was back in 2007 when Brian Billick was still the head coach, Steve McNair, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith saw time at quarterback and the New England Patriots were in the midst of their 18-1 season.

Called a Super Bowl hangover, many teams struggle to find success in the season after they win the Super Bowl. The 2006 and 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers along with the 2012 New York Giants didn't make the playoffs the next season after winning the Super Bowl. The last team to repeat as Super Bowl champions were the New England Patriots who won three in four years in the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons.

Trying to avoid the struggles of a defending Super Bowl champion, the Ravens revamped their roster, especially the defense, and lost many players in free agency due to salary cap limitations.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

This seemed like the right idea, but it was to no avail as some fatal flaws killed the Ravens' season — and all of these were evident in the Ravens' loss to the Bengals.

First, and most importantly, is the offensive line. After investing $120.6 million into quarterback Joe Flacco, the offense was expected to perform at a level like they did in the playoffs where he threw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in four games. This was never able to happen however.

Returning four of the five starters from that line in the playoffs (center Matt Birk retired), their performance was expected to be as good as the playoffs, but it wasn't.

The entire run game was switched around by run game coordinator Juan Castillo. It was still a zone-blocking system like before — the changes were just made within the current system. These changes seem to have been for the worse though as the Ravens' run game was the worst in franchise history. Gaining just 1,328 yards on 3.1 yards per carry, the Ravens set new franchise worsts in these two categories by some margin. The previous worsts were 1,589 yards and 3.8 yards per carry, both in 1997. That is a different of 261 yards and 0.7 yards per carry.

In 2012, the Ravens ranked 11th in total rushing yards (1,901) and 12th in yards per attempts (4.3). This year though, they ranked 30th in rushing yards and 32nd (last) in yards per attempt.

There wasn't much change in the personnel though as both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce returned at running back after successful years and four of the five linemen returned.

Change quickly happened though as Rice injured his hip causing him to miss only one game, but the lingering effects of this injury impacted his performance.

On the offensive line, left guard Kelechi Osemele made it through seven games before being placed on injured reserve due to a back injury that required surgery. He was replaced by backup center A.Q. Shipley. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie — re-signed to a two-year contract in the offseason — struggled and was eventually traded to the Miami Dolphins after a replacement, Eugene Monroe, was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars. At center, Gino Gradkowski struggled to make a positive impact in his first season as a starter. His play improved a little bit at the end of the season, but he still graded out as one of the worst centers in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Right guard Marshal Yanda had offseason shoulder surgery and this seemed to impact his play in the beginning of the season. He didn't play bad, but it looked like the bad performances around him dragged him down a bit. Right tackle Michael Oher was inconsistent all season and struggled with penalties.

In pass protection, the offensive line struggled the most with blitzes. So many times there was an unblocked defender in Flacco's face right after the snap. This comes down to communication on the line and with Flacco as to who is going to be blitzing and what protection scheme should be used on this particular play.

Against the Bengals yesterday, Flacco was getting absolutely beaten up. Already playing on a sprained MCL in his left knee, the last thing that he needed was to be hit. The Bengals defense registered two sacks and seven quarterback hits, along with numerous other pressures. After one hit, CBS showed a replay that zoomed in on Flacco's face and you could see him screaming in pain and holding his left knee. On another play he slammed his right arm into the ground hard and injured his right shoulder. He never missed a snap, but it got to a point where backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor started to warm up and the announcers where talking about potentially putting him in to replace Flacco.

For the season, the offensive line allowed 48 sacks which is tied for fourth most in the league. Last year, the line allowed 38 sacks in the regular season and six in four playoffs games. Not shown in the sack numbers are the numerous hits, pressures and hurries allowed by the line.

The line also had a league-high 28 false start penalties which are a sign of lack of discipline and are very easy to avoid.

Due to a change in system, injuries and overall poor performance, the Ravens' offensive line failed to create holes for Rice and Pierce to run through and failed to give Flacco sufficient time to throw the ball. The performance off the offensive line was one of the main reasons that the Ravens were able to win the Super Bowl last season, but it is also one of the main reasons why the Ravens won't be making the playoffs this year.

The other problem that plagued the Ravens' offense was, well, a lack of offense. In their last three games (against the Detroit Lions, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals) the offense scored two touchdowns. Two. In their last 42 drives of the season, the Ravens offense scored two touchdowns.

In these three games, kicker Justin Tucker made nine field goals, but that still only bring the Ravens to 42 points or 14 points per game. That isn't going to cut it in the NFL nowadays.

When your offense is performing as poor as that, the team does't deserve to be in the playoffs and the Ravens know that.

Moving to the defensive side of the ball, the team was up and down all season. At times the pass rush was one of the best in the league and at times it didn't show up (they finished with 40 sacks, tied for 16th in the league). Against the Bengals, the Ravens didn't record a single quarterback hit, let alone a sack.

There were times when the defense couldn't force a turnover if the opposing team wanted to turn it over and then there were times like yesterday when they intercepted four passes.

The defense could perform well the entire game, but when a stop was needed near the end of the game, they couldn't provide one.

Early in the season the defense was one of the best in the league in the red zone, but they struggled over the last few games. For the season they finished eighth in the league in red zone scoring percentage (touchdowns only) at 48.78 percent. Over the last three games though, they allowed a whopping 87.5 percent of red zone trips to end in touchdowns — easily the worst in that time frame.

Some times the defense would be able to wrap up the ball carrier for little or no gain. Other times they would either not get off blocks, over pursue the ball carrier or just straight up miss the tackle.

Overall, the 2013 Baltimore Ravens football team was defined by inconstancy. At times they looked capable of defending their Super Bowl title and making it back to the big game, but at other times they looked like a team that needs serious change in the offseason. When you put that together, you get a team that is just average. The Ravens 8-8 record showcases just than and they have one more chance to be right in the middle of the pack, as pending a coin flip, the Ravens' will pick 16th in the NFL Draft — right in the middle.

Patriots Dominate Ravens

December 23, 2013 in Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens Win In Crazy Finish

December 9, 2013 in Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the negative side, he had one drop.

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

Jacoby Jones
Death, taxes and explosive plays from Jones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith finished second on the Ravens with seven tackles.

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

James Ihedigbo

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens Escape With Thanksgiving Victory

November 29, 2013 in Observations

In a thriller of a game, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 22-20 on Thanksgiving night. Entering the game, both teams were 5-6 so the win brings the Ravens to 6-6 and the loss drops the Steelers to 5-7.

A typical Ravens-Steelers game, this was physical throughout and went down to the wire. Nine out of the last ten games have been decided by three points or less now including five straight.

Just 90 seconds into the game, the first fight broke out and there were three total in the first quarter alone. Eventually things settled down, but a few minor scrums still broke out.

The Ravens struck first with a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith six minutes into the game and carried a 10-0 lead into halftime. The Steelers came alive in the second half for three touchdowns including one with one minute left in the game. In order to tie the game, the Steelers needed a two-point conversion, but wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders dropped the pass.

Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are now 8-1 at home on national television and they are now 12-4 when scoring first against the Steelers.

Joe Flacco
Leading the Ravens to victory was Flacco, the much maligned quarterback. After weeks of sub-par play, Flacco produced arguably his best performance of the season.

He went 24-of-25 for 251 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions (neither team had a turnover) and had a quarterback rating of 98.6.

Known for having a strong arm, Flacco has excelled at throwing deep passes in his career. These deep passes helped key the Ravens Super Bowl run last season. However, he had struggled with these passes this year.

Against the Steelers, he started off the game with an under thrown deep pass to Jacoby Jones on the first offensive play for the Ravens. After this though, Flacco was on target for the rest of the game and threw his best deep passes of the season.

Later in the Ravens' opening drive, he hit Smith deep for a gain of 54 yards putting the ball at the Steelers' one-yard line. On this pass, Flacco hit Smith right in stride. Three plays later, Flacco threw a perfect pass to Smith in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Ravens a lead that they would never surrender — though the game was close throughout.

Most of the passes that Flacco threw looked sharp and were on target for the most part. This is something that he has struggled with all season.

Earlier this week, he talked about how he didn't like the Wildcat offense where backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor came in that the Ravens ran against the New York Jets last week for a few plays. This sent him out to wide receiver where he just stood there. Unsurprisingly, there was none of this against the Steelers and Flacco performance was enough so that it wasn't needed.

Channelling his inner Taylor, Flacco scrambled for a gain of nine on third and eight. This kept a drive alive and moved the ball to the Steelers' 16-yard line and led to a field goal for the Ravens.

Torrey Smith
Going up against the Steelers' number one cornerback Ike Taylor all game long, Smith was still able to have a good game — though he made a few mistakes.

Totaling 93 yards, Smith caught six passes on 10 targets.

Torrey Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with the good, he got the Ravens going early in the game with a 54-yard catch on the Ravens' opening drive. On this play, Smith ran a post route and split the cornerback and safety to get open. He was tackled at the one-yard line. A few plays later, he caught a slant on third and goal from the seven-yard line and scored the Ravens' only touchdown of the game. Taylor shaded Smith to the outside knowing that he had help to the inside in the form of a defensive lineman. Smith created separation from Taylor at the line-of-srimmage and Flacco's pass was just passed the outstretched arms of the defensive lineman, giving the Ravens a touchdown.

Only one catch (a four yard screen pass) didn't go for a first down or touchdown. The other two first downs both came on third and eight where he ran shallow crossing routes — one for a gain of eight and the other for 10.

He also drew a 26-yard pass interference call on Taylor giving the Ravens the ball at the Steelers' 27-yard line.

On to the bad, Smith dropped two easy passes. The first was an out route that would have gone for a gain of about eight yards. The other drop came on a crossing route inside the Steelers' five-yard line. He tried to make a sliding catch, but couldn't haul it in. Both times, Flacco's pass his Smith right in the hands.

For the second game in a row, he was called for a false start. This can't happen to wide receivers — especially at home. In fact, the Ravens had a total of five false starts.

Jacoby Jones
Now that Jones is fully healthy after spraining his MCL in week one, he is providing a constant big play presence for the Ravens like he did last year.

Early in the game, he left with a knee injury, but he quickly returned.

On offense, he caught four passes for 53 yards on seven targets and two of these catches went for first downs. The first was a gain of 10 on a curl route and the second was a gain of 34 on a crossing route. On the latter play, Flacco had all day to throw the ball as the offensive line provided great protection. Jones started out running a crossing route, but once he reached the middle of the field, he reversed to head back to the sideline to try and get open when he saw that Flacco was still looking to throw the ball.

An excellent return man, Jones' big play came on a kickoff return. The kick was near the far sideline and he took it up this sideline and received good blocking. Importantly, this kickoff was from the Steelers' first touchdown so he made sure the Ravens — not the Steelers — have the momentum. He was caught from behind at the Steelers' 27-yard line and this field position led to a 38-yard field goal.

Right before he was caught from behind, Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin stepped in the way of Jones on the field. This subtle  step from Tomlin caused Jones to move a little to the inside of the field (he was running right down the sideline) and he was then caught. (The play can be viewed here.)

An official was right there, yet he didn't flag Tomlin for interfering with the play — which he clearly did. This should be a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Also, the officials can award a touchdown to the team that was interfered with if they feel the interference from the sideline stopped a touchdown from occurring. The NFL has already announced that they will investigate the play. It is likely that Tomlin will be fined for his actions as he looks like he intentionally did this.

Offensive Line
Allowing two sacks, the Ravens' offensive line looked good (with one exception) last night in pass protection. Running the ball, the Ravens suffered the same problem as they gained 74 yards and averaged three yards per carry.

The one exception was right tackle Michael Oher who allowed one sack and had three false starts. His sack came on a second and nine where the Steeler beat him to the outside and slapped Oher's hands away. The hit on Flacco forced a fumble which right guard Marshal Yanda was able to recover. A few plays later the Ravens kicked a field goal so this recovery from Yanda saved three points.

Oher's three false starts at home are inexcusable. The crowd is quiet at home so the snap count is audible, yet he jumped three times. Each of these false starts came in key situations. The first was with less than a minute left in the first half. After the penalty, the Ravens ran the clock out to halftime after looking like they would try and get some points. The second game in the red zone and the third came inside the Steelers' 25-yard line.

An impending free agent, Oher isn't making a case to stay in Baltimore. Left tackle Eugene Monroe is also a free agent and the Ravens likely won't be able to pay both of them. Monroe had another solid game last night and play a more important position than Oher. Right now, it looks like the Ravens will attempt to re-sign Monroe and not Oher.

Left guard A.Q. Shipley was also called for a false start.

Terrell Suggs
Going up against the Steelers backup left tackle for most of the game, you would have expected Suggs to have a big game. Especially as it was against the Steelers, a team he historically plays well against.

Heading into each game against the Steelers, he is the player who hypes the game up the most, yet he was invisible for most of the game. In the box score, he recorded one tackle and one quarterback hit. I can't remember the tackle, though I do remember the quarterback hit and it didn't force Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw before he wanted to.

With 15.5 career sacks of Roethlisberger, Suggs has the most of any player on Roethlisberger, but he wasn't able to take him down last night. I had him down for one pressure all night long. It did look like he was held a couple times that weren't called though.

Still, as the Ravens best pass rusher, Suggs needs to show up in these games. He should feast off a patchwork offensive line like the Steelers had last night. He now has gone four straight game without a sack.

Elvis Dumervil
Playing across from Suggs at the other outside linebacker position (during mostly passing downs) is Dumervil.

While he didn't play as good as he should have, he played better than Suggs — though that isn't saying much.

He had three tackles and one of these was a run stop for no gain that he shared with defensive end Arthur Jones.

Rushing the passer, Dumervil had two pressures based on my count. One of these pressures forced a bad pass from Roethlisberger which went for an incompletion.

On a third and seven, Dumervil jumped offsides which gave the Steelers a new attempt which they converted. The Steelers' drive kept going, but they were eventually forced to punt.

Going up against a weakened offensive line, he, like Suggs, should have had a better night then he did.

Daryl Smith
Part of the Steelers' game plan must have been to attack the Ravens' middle linebackers in coverage as Smith allowed four catches, Josh Bynes allowed five and Jameel McClain allowed one.

Of the four passes that Smith allowed to be completed against him, one went for a first down and one went for a touchdown. On the touchdown, the Ravens were in zone coverage and Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket to the far sideline. Smith shifted to that side in his zone, without knowing that Sanders was behind him running the other way trying to get open. Roethlisberger saw Sanders open was threw it to him for a touchdown.

Late in the third quarter, Smith had man-coverage on Steelers' running back Le'Veon Bell who ran a wheel route from the slot while the outside receiver went inside to try and get Bell open. Smith stuck with Bell the whole way and his tight coverage forced Roethlisberger to throw to far in front of Bell for an incomplete pass.

Smith's coverage has been his best attribute this season as he is one of the best middle linebackers in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus.

In run defense, Smith hasn't been as good and he got blocked out of the way on two important runs last night. The first was a 43-yard run by Bell, the longest run the Ravens have allowed all season. Smith got caught up in the middle and was on the wrong side of the hole when Bell ran though it. On Bell's one yard touchdown run, Smith got blocked out of the way, allowing Bell to get in untouched.

Finishing with six tackles, Smith had a decent game with a few bad plays and some good ones.

James Ihedigbo
Leading the Ravens with 10 tackles was Ihedigbo, the starting strong safety who has enjoyed a great season (seventh best safety according to Pro Football Focus) after not starting at all last season.

Early in the game, he was blitzing often to as the Ravens played a more aggressive style of defense. In the second half of the game though, Dean Pees, the Ravens' defensive coordinator, called a much more conservative game. Most plays saw just a four man pass rush (that generated no pressure) and had the other seven defenders drop back into zone coverage. This has happened many times this season and the defense has always had more success when playing aggressive.

In pass coverage, Ihedigbo had a great game. He allowed one catch to be completed against him (a gain of four on second and two) and broke up two passes.

The first of which came on a second and 10 from the Ravens 27-yard line. Roethlisberger threw to his receiver who was open running a corner route to the near sideline. He lofted a pass up and Ihedigbo made a leaping pass deflection as Roethlisberger just under threw the pass. If Ihedigbo doesn't make that play, the Steelers' receiver walks into the end zone for a touchdown.

With the game on the line and the Steelers on the Ravens' one-yard line with a third and goal down eight points, Ihedigbo made a great play to force fourth and goal (which the Steelers scored on). The Steelers ran a short pass play to the near sideline and Ihedigbo had the fullback in coverage. Roethlisberger threw to the fullback, Will Johnson, on a quick out route and Ihedigbo hit Johnson as soon as he caught the pass, forcing an incompletion.

This performance against the Steelers by Ihedigbo is another example of the great season that he is having.

Cornerbacks
An overall good performance by the Ravens' cornerback helped slow the Steelers' offensive. The Steelers did seem to try and target the middle of the field more where the cornerbacks weren't.

Lardarius Webb allowed three catches for 23 yards and one first down. The first down that he allowed was a gain of eight on third and five.

On the play, he missed a tackle that would have brought down the receiver short of the first-down marker. Later in the game he was flagged for defensive holding in pass coverage on a play where the pass didn't go to his receiver.

As always, he was active in the run game. He recorded a run stop for a loss of two on the Steelers' second offensive play. He also had a run stop for no gain when the Steelers had first and goal from the Ravens' one-yard line with the game on the line.

Jimmy Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Over the last few weeks, Jimmy Smith has really stepped his game up and has had great coverage and this game was no different. He allowed one pass to be completed against him and that was a wide receiver screen which he stopped for a two-yard gain.

His one pass breakup came on a back-shoulder fade — a pass that is very difficult for a cornerback to defend. Wide receiver Antonio Brown had the ball for a split-second but Smith ripped the ball out of Brown's hands as they was falling to the ground.

On the second and goal play after Webb's tackle, Smith came up in run support and tackled Bell for no gain. This play was initially ruled a touchdown, but was overturned as Bell's helmet came off before the ball was in the end zone. Both Bell and Smith left with likely concussions after this play and never returned.

Allowing the touchdown pass on fourth and goal was Corey Graham. For the game, he gave up three catches for 25 yards. Two of the catches went for first downs and the other was the aforementioned touchdown.

On the touchdown, Graham lined up against the outside receiver and Webb had the slot receiver. At the snap, the outside receiver ran a slant and the inside receiver ran a quick out the try and clear space for the slant. Seeing the route combination, Graham switched to the outside receiver and expected Webb to do the same to the inside receiver. However, Webb stuck with the inside receiver. I don't know who was to blame, but a miscommunication like his can't happen on the most important play of the game.

Other than this play, Graham had a good game. He had a nice pass breakup on a deep pass and had good coverage on another that forced an incompletion. Like Webb and Smith, Graham got involved in run defense and stopped a run for a loss of one.

Seeing a couple of snaps due to injury was the fourth cornerback, Chykie Brown. When Graham went out for a play due to a likely stinger, Roethlisberger targeted Brown on a deep pass. Brown tried to press the wide receiver at the line-of-scrimmage, but he completely whiffed and the receiver was open and picked up 19 yards.

With Smith out after the second and goal play, Brown came in to replace him. He wasn't targeted on the third and fourth down passes, but he was on the two-point conversion. Roethlisberger threw a quick fade to Sanders in the corner of the end zone and Brown had tight coverage. Sanders had the pass hit him, but he dropped the ball giving the Ravens the victory.

Justin Tucker
Already named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November before the game, Tucker continued to shine as he scored 16 points for the Ravens.

Connecting on five field goals and one extra point, Tucker was perfect on the night. Adding the four field goals he had last week, he has nine field goals in this last two games.

By making five field goals, he tied a Ravens record for most field goals made in a game. Matt Stover did this four times and Billy Cundiff did it twice.

Tucker's five field goals came from 43, 34, 38, 45 and 48 yards out. His first field goal gave him 23-straight field goals made which gave him sole possession of the second longest streak in Ravens history. Stover has the record at 36-straight.

Currently he has 27-straight field goals made which is the longest such active steak in the league.

The only negative on the night for Tucker was a kickoff out-of-bounds that helped lead to the Steelers' second touchdown.

In a game that was decided by two points, Tucker was huge for the Ravens.