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Baltimore Ravens 2014 Season Preview

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

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

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

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

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gary Kubiak (first season with Ravens)

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dean Pees (third season with Ravens)

Final Numbers in 2013:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Reasons The Ravens Return to the Playoffs:

1. New offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak’s scheme:

Gary Kubiak

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

 

2. QB Joe Flacco

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

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

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

3. Ray Rice Returns to Form:

and more of this....

Ray Rice Returns to Form

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

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

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

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

Three Reasons the Ravens Fail to Make the Playoffs:

The Secondary:

Webb, Smith & Jackson

Smith, Webb & Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

2 The Youth of the Team Fails to Deliver

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

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

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

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

3 The Division:

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

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

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

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction:

Not so Fast Joe

Not so Fast Joe

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

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

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

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

Final Record: 10-6

Second in AFC North (first Wild Card Team)

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.

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Dick Cass, John Harbaugh, Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dennis Pitta..Photo credit Baltimore Ravens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

Terrell Suggs Contract Breakdown

February 18, 2014 in Contract Breakdowns

Name:  Terrell Suggs

Age:  31

Position:  OLB

Awards:  6x Pro Bowl (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013), 2x All-Pro (2008 and 2011), NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2011) and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2003)

Contact Length:  Five years (Four years added to the one year that was already left on his contract)

Terrell Suggs

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Total Contract Money:  $28.5 million

Signing Bonus:  $11 million

Guaranteed Money:  $16 million (Signing bonus and base salaries in 2014 and 2015)

2014 Base Salary:  $1 million

2014 Cap Hit:  $7.8 million (No cap savings if cut, $12.8 cap charge taken)

2015 Base Salary:  $4 million

2015 Cap Hit:  $6.6 million (No cap savings if cut, $6.2 cap charge taken)

2016 Base Salary:  $4.6 million

2016 Cap Hit:  $6.8 million ($200,000 saved if cut)

2017 Base Salary:  $4 million

2017 Cap Hit:  $6.2 million ($1.8 million saved if cut)

2018 Base Salary:  $4 million

2018 Cap Hit:  $6.2 million ($4 million saved if cut)

Other important information:  By signing Suggs to this contract extension, the Ravens save $4.6 million in cap room this season. This should allow them to potentially re-sign LT Eugene Monroe and TE Dennis Pitta. To see my full look at this transaction, click here.

Suggs Signs Contract Extension

February 17, 2014 in Free Agency, News

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

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

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

Terrell Suggs

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Ravens Cap Casualties

January 12, 2014 in Free Agency

With the Baltimore Ravens being projected to have just over $10 million free in cap space this offseason, the Ravens are going to need to free up some room and there are a few prime candidates to be released.

General manager Ozzie Newsome made it known during his end-of-season press conference that the Ravens will not restructure any contracts. This has always been the way that the Ravens have operated over the last few years.

Every season a few players are released to create more cap room and here are the four main candidates this season.

Outside Linebacker Terrell Suggs

2014 Cap Number:  $12.4 million

Cap Room Saved With Release:  $7.8 million

Why He Would Be Released
Also at the press conference, Newsome talked about Suggs, and indicated that he might not return next season. In the last year of a six-year contract, his cap hit is the third-highest cap figure next season and offers the biggest savings if let go of.

At the beginning of the season, the 31-year old looked to be on pace to contend for the Defensive Player of the Year award which he won in 2011. In the first eight games of the season, he had nine sacks, but in the final eight games of the season he had just one. This led to a streak of six-straight games with no sacks for Suggs.

Terrell Suggs

Courtesy of ICON SMI

It wasn't just his performance as a pass-rusher that dipped, as his run defense suffered in the second half of the season as well. Normally a strong run defender, he still played decent, but it was clear he wasn't the same. It has been suggested that he gained weight late in the year and that is a viable reason. He entered the season in the best shape of his life and his performance early on backed that up.

Last season, the Ravens showed that they weren't afraid to get rid of a key player who wasn't willing to take a pay cut in order to improve the team as a whole. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded after an exceptional postseason and he only had a salary of $6 million.

The $7.8 million saved by cutting him would go a long way to being able to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe, tight end Dennis Pitta and any other free agents that the front office may like.

Suggs' disappearing act at the end of the season is a main reason why he could be cut. Combine that with one of the highest cap figures on the team, and he may be gone next season.

Why He Would Stay
Being in the last year of a contract, the Ravens could easily sign him to a contract extension that would keep him in Baltimore and reduce his cap hit this season. This is likely what the Ravens will try and do with him.

Also, he has been a Ravens his whole career and has been a key contributor for the entire time. The Ravens may not want to get rid of him as they hope he can regain his early season form. When he was playing well, him and Elvis Dumervil formed one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league. (Though the presence of Dumervil can also be seen as a reason why Suggs could leave as the Ravens will still have one of the better pass-rushers in the league on their defense).

It is likely that the Ravens will try and get him to agree to a new contract. That way the Ravens would be able to keep him one of their defensive leaders on the roster and free up some much needed cap room. If he doesn't agree to a new contract, then the Ravens could let him walk.

Inside Linebacker Jameel McClain

2014 Cap Number:  $4.4 million

Cap Room Saved With Release:  $3.2 million

Why He Would Be Released
Part of a three-man rotation at the second inside linebacker spot next to Daryl Smith this season, McClain played in 10 games this season after starting the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List due to a neck injury suffered at the end of last season.

In these 10 games, he recorded 52 tackles and one forced fumble. These stats seem good, but his performance all season wasn't that good. He would get pushed around in the run game and struggled in pass coverage. He has always been a better run defender than pass defender, but he seemed to take a step back this season in both categories.

This performance doesn't warrant the $4.4 million cap hit that he will earn. Cutting him would save $3.2 million and every single dollar counts in terms of the salary cap.

Why He Would Stay
Like Suggs, McClain is in the last season of his contract so he could be extended at a reduced rate. The Ravens could also offer him a pay cut before cutting him.

Other than a contract extension or a pay cut, it is highly unlikely that he will be back. These two options seem unlikely though. The Ravens drafted Arthur Brown in the second round last year so he is the future of the position. They also have Josh Bynes who can play inside linebacker and both of them performed better than McClain this season.

The only way that I see him sticking around next season is if he agrees to return at a reduced rate.

Punter Sam Koch

2014 Cap Number:  $2.8 million

Cap Room Saved With Release:  $1.6 million

Why He Would Be Released
Drafted by the Ravens in the 2006 NFL Draft, Koch has been the Ravens punter ever since and was signed to a five-year contract in 2011 which keeps him in Baltimore through 2015.

This season, his performance punting the ball wasn't as good as the last few seasons as he ranked 22nd in the league in net punt average (38.9 yard average). He also ranked tied for 13th in punts inside the 20-yard line (27), tied for the fifth-most touchbacks, ranked 13th in yards per punt (46.0) and had the third-most punts in the league this season (90).

These stats show that he was an average punter this season. His contract pays him as an above-average punter, so the Ravens need better performance from him based on his contract.

The Ravens could easily spend a late-round pick on a punter or bring one in as an undrafted free agent to take over for Koch or at the very least compete for the job. I see the latter route as the most likely option for the Ravens. They did this with kickers Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker a couple years ago.

Why He Would Stay
Throughout his time in Baltimore, Koch has been the definition of a consistent punter and his stats back this up.

While he had a down year this season, a rookie punter could come in and produce worse than Koch did this season. With head coach John Harbaugh being a former special teams coach with the Philadelphia Eagles before joining the Ravens, he is going to want to have the best special teams unit possible.

His contract is a bit of a detriment, so the Ravens will likely bring in an undrafted free agent to compete with him for the starting job. This wouldn't free up the cap space until after free agency is over, but it would give the Ravens more cap flexibility for the rest of the season and for the following season.

Fullback Vonta Leach

2014 Cap Number:  $2.33 million

Cap Room Saved With Release:  $1.75 million

Why He Would Be Released
Actually released by the Ravens after the draft last year because the Ravens drafted another fullback, the Ravens re-signed him to a two-year deal in July after Kyle Juszczyk, the fullback drafted, failed to impress in mini-camps.

This season, Leach's playing time was very limited as the Ravens' offense spread the ball out more with three wide receiver sets for the majority of snaps. Part of the reason why the offenses spread it out more was because the run game failed to produce so they tried to pass the ball more.

A traditional fullback — a dying bread in the NFL — this left him out of the offense for the most part and had him playing only a few snaps each game. Even when he was on the field, he couldn't spark the run game as the problems extended farther him.

Since the Ravens drafted Juszczyk in the fourth round of the draft, it is highly unlikely that Leach will be back next season. He was only brought back because Juszczyk wasn't deemed ready to play this season, but after a full year in the league, he should be ready to play next season. Also he is a less traditional fullback — one who is a good receiver — so he is a better fit in the new offense.

Add that to the fact that the Ravens can save $1.75 million by releasing Leach, it seems very likely that the 32-year old will be gone next season.

Why He Would Stay
The only reason that I can think of for why he would stay with the Ravens is if Juszczyk suffered a season-ending injury and the Ravens needed a new fullback. With that being said, that is highly unlikely to happen so expect Leach to be released soon after the Super Bowl.

Playoff Spots On The Line: Ravens vs Bengals

December 27, 2013 in What to Look For

With playoff spots on the line for each team, the 8-7 Baltimore Ravens take on the 10-5 Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati where the Bengals are undefeated this season.

Having already clinched the AFC North, the Bengals are guaranteed a playoff spot, but their positioning is still up for grabs. If the playoffs started today, they would be the third-seed, but there is still a chance that they can earn the second-seed and the first-round bye that comes with that. This would happen is the Bengals beat the Ravens and if the New England Patriots lose to the Buffalo Bills. This would put the Bengals and the Patriots at 11-5 and since the Bengals won the head-to-head matchup, the second-seed would go to the Bengals.

Moving to the Ravens, they are in a four-way battle for the sixth and final seed in the AFC with the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Between these four teams, there are 16 different playoff scenarios and seven of them belong to the Ravens. No team controls their own destiny as everyone needs and win plus help to get in.

In order to make the playoffs, the Ravens need to beat Cincinnati and have either the Dolphins (vs New York Jets) or the Chargers (vs Kansas City Chiefs) lose. Another way to make the playoffs would be if the Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers all lose.

The last time that the Ravens faced the Bengals was in week 10 when the Ravens played host. The Ravens jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead and seemed to be in charge, but then the Bengals made a late comeback which was capped by a 51-yard Hail Mary pass which was caught by A.J. Green for a touchdown as time expired. This led to overtime and the Ravens won 20-17 on a 46-yard field goal from Justin Tucker.

1.  Joe Flacco
As always for the Ravens, the play of Flacco, the quarterback, will be important if they are to win the game.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

After winning the Super Bowl MVP in February and signing $120.6 million contract in March, he has underperformed this season. In fact, he set a new career-high in interceptions with 19 (his previous high was 12 which he had done three times). These 19 interceptions are tied for the most in a single-season in Ravens' franchise history. Vinny Testaverde also threw 19 interceptions in the Ravens' inaugural season in 1996.

Currently, Flacco his playing with a sprained MCL in his left knee. This injury was suffered two weeks ago in Detroit on Monday Night Football when he took a low hit just below his knee. Last week against the New England Patriots he wore a brace to protect the knee and the injury clearly bothered him as he went 22-of-38 for 260 yards, zero interceptions and two interceptions. His accuracy was off all night and he should have thrown more than three interceptions. He was especially unable to accurately throw deep passes as he under and overthrew these passes by significant margins.

He will wear the brace on his knee again this week and will take on the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL. Allowing 211.3 passing yards per game, the Bengals are the sixth-best in pass defense, but have suffered multiple injuries at cornerback this season.

In the week 10 matchup, he went 20-of-36 for 140 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 60.0 while being sacked five times. This stat line perfectly sums up his season as there have been great moments and bad ones which is shown by the touchdowns and interceptions. He has also been under pressure a lot of the time as the offensive line has give up 46 sacks this season which is tied for fourth-worst in the league and the five sacks from the Bengals' game show this.

If the Ravens are to win this game and advance to the playoffs, then they are going to need a big game from him. With his bad knee, it is unknown how likely this will be. However, he wasn't listed on the injury report this week.

2.  Pressuring Andy Dalton
At quarterback for the Bengals will be Dalton who, like Flacco, has been very inconsistent this season. When Dalton is good, he is very good and when he is bad, he is very bad.

This was evident during the game against the Ravens earlier in the season as he went 24-of-51 for 274 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 52.2 while being sacked five times. The Ravens were able to effectively put pressure on him and this caused him trouble.

Expect the Ravens to try and bring the pressure again this week with various looks and alignments to confuse him. The Ravens Defense has been at its best when running an aggressive defense. When they shift to a conservative zone defense, opponents have had success. This is what happened when playing the Bengals earlier in the season. In the first half, the defense was blitzing way more than in the second half. Dalton had much more success in the second half when the Ravens were running the conservative style defense.

Two players that have had success blitzing this year for the Ravens have been middle linebacker Daryl Smith and strong safety James Ihedigbo so expect them to come blitzing early in the game.

Getting the five sacks of Dalton in the week 10 matchup were defensive ends Arthur Jones and DeAngelo Tyson (one apiece) and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil who had three. Jones is questionable with a concussion this week and hasn't practiced all week so it is up in the air if he will play of not. If Jones can't play, then Tyson would be trust into a bigger role and he has impressed this season and is beating out third-round pick Brandon Williams for playing time right now. Dumervil is second on the team with 9.5 sacks this season, but has gone three games without a sack.

Playing opposite of Dumervil is Terrell Suggs who leads the team with ten sacks. Recently though, he has struggled to put pressure on the quarterback as he has one sack in the last seven games. This one sack came last week against the Patriots.

Despite being able to sack him five times in their prior matchup, the Bengals actually have a good offensive line and they have allowed only 29 sacks this season which is tied for fourth-best in the league.

In order to stop the Bengals' offense, the Ravens will need to apply pressure on Dalton to force him to make quick decisions which can lead to turnovers.

3.  Torrey Smith and A.J. Green
The best receivers for their teams (Ravens and Bengals respectively) both Smith and Green could be looking at big games on Sunday to finish off the regular season.

Starting with Smith, he leads the Ravens in all receiving statistics except touchdowns. He has 62 catches for 1,101 yards and four touchdowns on 131 targets. Entering the season he was mainly used as a deep threat, but he has developed into a more rounded receiver this season.

After a hot start to the season where he went over 80 yards in the first five games (92, 85, 92,166 and 121 yards). Since then though, he has topped 80 yards once and that was against the Steelers in week 13. Against the Patriots last week, it took until the third quarter for him to record a catch.

When the Ravens faced the Bengals earlier in the season he had five catches for 46 yards and one touchdown.

With his 1,101 receiving yards, he is just 100 yards away from the franchise record for most receiving yards in a single season. Michael Jackson set this record of 1,201 in 1996 — like Testaverde. If Smith's recent production holds true, he will be held just short of this record. However, expect the Ravens to target Smith often during this game as he is their most explosive receiver.

Switching to Green, he leads the Bengals in all receiving categories and is near the top in these categories for the entire league. He is tied for fifth in catches (94), third in targets (170), fourth in yards (1,365) and tied for eight in touchdowns (10).

Against the Ravens in week 10 he had eight catches for 151 yards and one touchdown. This touchdown came on a Hail Mary as time expired in the fourth quarter and forced overtime. He was able to catch the ball after Ihedigbo tipped the ball up right to Green.

With 97 more targets than the next receiver on the Bengals, he is by far Dalton's favorite target this season. This isn't just a one season thing either as Green averages 9.78 targets per game in 46 career games (him and Dalton came into the league together in 2011) and had 70 more targets than other receivers last season and 12 more in his rookie year.

Covering him for the Ravens will be a combination of Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Smith has really improved this season and held Calvin Johnson — one of the few, if not the only, wide receiver better than Green — in check two weeks ago. Therefore, expect Smith to align over Green more than Webb. The Ravens don't usually rotate their cornerbacks based on receiver, they usually just keep them on a certain side, but they would be wise to keep Smith on Green.

4.  Ravens' Offensive Line
As mentioned a little earlier, the Ravens' offensive line has had trouble this year with pass protection, but they also have struggled to create holes in the run game.

Michael Oher

Courtesy of ICON SMI

There has been some change throughout the season on the line as starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie was traded away after the Ravens traded for Eugene Monore. Left guard Kelechi Osemele has missed most of the season with a back injury and has been replaced by A.Q. Shipley. Center Gino Gradkowski was the only new starter coming into the year, but the turnover on the left side has changed that. The right side of the line has stayed the same all season with Marshal Yanda at guard and Michael Oher at tackle.

Starting with pass protection, the line has allowed 46 tackles which is tied for fourth-worst in the NFL. The line has struggled the most with blitzes and the Bengals took advantage of this the last time these two played. Backup linebacker Vincent Rey had three of the sacks and defensive end Carlos Dunlap had two. These blitzes usually resulted in unblocked pressure on Flacco and there is not much that he can do when a defensive player has a free run at him.

With 41 sacks on the season (tied for 11th best in the league), the Bengals have a formidable pass rush which the Ravens' line will have their hands full with.

Last time against the Bengals the Ravens averaged 2.8 yards per carry and this falls to 2.25 yards per carry on rushes from running back Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce and fullback Vonta Leach. All game long, these backs had no holes to run though agains the now sixth-best run defense in the league (99.8 yards per game and four yards per carry).

These run game woes are likely to continue for the Ravens in this game as the run game hasn't improved since then. The pass protection has improved over the last few weeks so it will be interesting and very important to see how the Ravens' offensive line holds up — especially with an injured Flacco at the helm of the offense.

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.

Can The Ravens Stop Peterson: Ravens vs Vikings

December 7, 2013 in What to Look For

In a battle of the two purple teams in the NFL, the 6-6 Baltimore Ravens will host the 3-8-1 Minnesota Vikings. The Ravens enter the game having won three of their last four including two straight. The Vikings have won two of their last four and have also had a tie in this stretch.

Being from different conferences, the Ravens and Vikings only play once every four years. The last time they faced off was in 2009 back when Brett Favre was the Vikings quarterback. Favre and the Vikings won 33-31 at home when Steven Hauschka missed a 44-yard field goal as time expired for the Ravens.

With a win this week, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco he will set the record for most wins in the Super Bowl-era by a quarterback in their first six seasons. Currently, he has 60 wins which is tied with Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

1.  Containing Adrian Peterson
First off, there is no stopping Peterson, you have to contain him. As the best running back in the NFL, he is a force to be reckoned with and at times, he is the only weapon on the Vikings' offense.

Last year, he was coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in week 16 of the previous year. Despite this injury, he bounced back and had one of the best seasons ever for a running back. On 348 carries, he gained 2,097 yards (six yards per carry) and had 12 touchdowns. He was nine yards away from breaking the single-season rushing record which was set by Eric Dickerson in 1984 with the Los Angeles Rams when he ran for 2,105 yards.

This year, Peterson has fallen back to earth, but he is still the NFL's leading rusher. He also leads the league in attempts (261), touchdowns (10) and yards per game (100.7). Over the last few weeks he has been bothered by a groin injury which has him listed as questionable this week. (He will play despite this injury though.) With this nagging injury, he has rushed for 146 and 211 yards over the last two games so this injury clearly isn't effecting him that much.

A physical runner who possesses good speed, he has averaged 3.1 yards after contact this season. To put that in context, the Ravens as a team are averaging 2.9 yards per carry.

Trying to slow Peterson down will be the Ravens Defense who have a top-tier run defense this season after struggling last year. They ran sixth in total rushing yards (1,201), fifth in yards per attempt (3.7), first in rushing touchdowns allowed (two) and sixth in yards per game (100.1).

Despite having a good run defense, the Ravens are going to have their hands full trying to stop Peterson. He is the clear cut number one running back in the league, and despite their highly ranked defense, the Ravens have had some trouble stopping the run this season. They allowed 120 yards to Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy and 93 yards to Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell.

All game long, the Ravens are going to stack the line-of-scrimmage with extra defenders to focus on stopping Peterson. The key to stopping him is to not miss tackles as yards-after-contact is where he excels, as shown by the 3.1 yards after contact this year.

In order to stop the Vikings offense, Peterson must be slowed down. He is their only major weapon on offense and can constantly make teams pay. Teams can strategize to stop him and he can still go off for 200 yards. If the Ravens can limit him to just over 100 yards, then the defense will be successful and the Ravens will likely win.

2.  The Return of Dennis Pitta
A key component of the Ravens' offense last year was Pitta, but he has yet to play in a game this season due to a hip injury suffered in training camp this season.

Early in camp, Pitta dislocated and fractured his hip after going up for a catch and falling on his hip. He was initially ruled out for the season, but the Ravens placed him on injured reserve with a designation to return right before the season started.

He has been practicing for a few weeks now as he gets ready for his return. It is likely that he will make his first appearance of the season against the Vikings. The Ravens will have until 4pm today to activate him.

Joe Flacco and Dennis Pitta

Courtesy of ICON SMI

While he will probably play tomorrow, he will most likely play on a limited basis in certain formations and be on a snap count. His surgically repaired hip can feel fine in practice where there is no contact, but practice doesn't simulate the hits that he will receive in game. It will be key to see how his hip responds after taking a hit right to it.

Since being drafted by the Ravens in 2010, he has developed into Flacco's favorite target and his best friend. He has become Flacco go-to-target and his security blanket. Without Pitta on the field this year, Flacco has struggled at times as he has been working with an inexperienced receiving corps.

The only good to come out of this has been Flacco's development with wide receiver Torrey Smith who has developed into a complete receiver this year and has been Flacco's main target all season.

With a healthy Pitta on the field along with Smith, Flacco would be more comfortable and see more success.

Temper your expectations for this week though as Pitta hasn't played in a game since the Super Bowl in February and will be a bit rusty.

3.  Deep Passes
When the Ravens' offense is at its best, they are completing deep pass for long gains and touchdowns. This was a key component of the offense last year and helped spark the Ravens' Super Bowl run.

This year however, the Ravens have struggled to complete deep passes. Flacco had 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions on deep passes last year and this year he only has one touchdown and five interceptions. This one touchdown came two weeks ago against the New York Jets on a 66-yard pass to Jacoby Jones. With just one touchdown pass on deep passes, Flacco is lat in the league in this category.

The main reason for Flacco's touchdown-interception ratio being completely flipped around this year is his accuracy on deep passes. His accuracy percentage on deep passes is 28.6 percent according to Pro Football Focus. This percentage ties him for 22nd in the league with Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

With two deep threats playing wide receiver, Smith and Jones, the Ravens should be throwing deep multiple times each game. Smith and Jones have elite speed at the receiver position which allows them to beat cornerbacks and get behind safeties.

One potential reason for the lack of a deep passing game is because of an injury to Jones. He sprained his MCL in week one and missed four games. In his next five games, he played but looked to lack some of his usual explosion that he has a receiver and as a punt and kickoff returner. Over the last two weeks he has had big games. Against the Jets he had four catches for 103 yards and one touchdown and added 108 yards on five punt returns. Against the Steelers he had four catches for 53 yards and returned two kickoffs for 104 yards including a 73-yard return.

Over the last two weeks, the Ravens have made deep passes a more important part of their offense just like it should be. One of Flacco's best attributes as a quarterback is his strong arm (one of the best in the league) and the Ravens have the receivers to take advantage of this. Expect the Ravens to attack a weak Vikings' secondary with deep passes.

4.  Pass Rush
A key part of the Ravens' defense is the pass rush and that pass rush has struggled over in two of the Ravens last three games.

Starting three weeks ago against the Chicago Bears, the Ravens were able to record two sacks, but they were for a total loss of one yard. Both of these sacks came when quarterback Josh McCown started to scramble and he was caught at the line. The field at Soldier Field was muddy due to bad weather and this neutralized the Ravens' pass rush. Against the Jets two weeks ago, the Ravens dialed up blitzes and were able to sack rookie quarterback Geno Smith three times. Last week against the Steelers weren't able to record a sack on Roethlisberger despite going up against a line full of backups.

One of the main reasons the Ravens have had trouble rushing the passer has been a lack of impact from their best pass rusher Terrell Suggs. During the first eight games of the season, he had nine sacks and looked to be on pace to compete for the Defensive Player of the Year award. However over the next four games he has totaled zero sacks. Not only that, he has been making less tackles as he has averaged two tackles over the last four games and was averaging 7.5 per game in the first eight games.

Rushing the passer with Suggs is usually Elvis Dumervil who has 9.5 sacks this season. This week though, he is doubtful with a sprained ankle so it is unlikely that he will play. This is a blow to the Ravens' pass rush, but since he is just used as a situational pass rusher, he was likely to see limited snaps this week due to the presence of Peterson.

Despite their recent struggles, the Ravens rank tied for fifth in the league in sacks with 37. On offense, Minnesota has allowed 34 sacks which is the 22nd best in the league. Going up against a line that is in the bottom half of the league in pass protection, the Ravens should call more blitzes to try and create pressure.

The Vikings will be starting Matt Cassel at quarterback as Christian Ponder is out with a concussion. Cassel is an experienced veteran, but the Ravens' defense has been at its best when being aggressive and blitzing, not when sitting back in zone and rushing three of four people.