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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)

Ravens Sign Steve Smith

March 14, 2014 in Free Agency, News

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

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

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

Steve Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens March Mock Draft (Pre-Free Agency)

March 8, 2014 in NFL Draft

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

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

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

Taylor Lewan

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens February Mock Draft

February 9, 2014 in NFL Draft

It is now February so it is time for another Ravens' mock draft using Fanspeak's On the Clock Mock Draft Simulator. Each month I post a new Ravens' mock draft. If you want to see how the rest of the draft turned out, click here.

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

First Round: Zack Martin, Offensive Lineman, University of Notre Dame
The number of the Ravens' first round pick is either going to be the 16th or 17th overall, but this has yet to be determined as they will have to flip a coin with the Dallas Cowboys at the NFL Combine later this month. With the Ravens first round pick, I took Martin, a 6'4", 305 pound offensive tackle out of the University of Notre Dame.

Zack Martin

Courtesy of ICON SMI

The starting left tackle for the Fighting Irish, he started a school record 52-straight games during his time at South Bend. A redshirt senior, he was redshirted his freshman year and then became a four-year starter at left tackle. This season he was the anchor of the Notre Dame offensive line. In fact, in the Fighting Irish's Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers, Martin was the MVP of the game. An offensive lineman receiving and MVP award is very rare and shows the kind of talent that he has.

For his NFL career, his position is likely going to depend on what team selects him. He doesn't have the ideal size for the left tackle position in the NFL––key here is his short arm length––though he could succeed depending on the team. If he doesn't play at left tackle, he would move inside to guard where he would be even better. While his qualities don't make him an ideal left tackle in the NFL, they do make him an ideal guard. His athleticism is good and he has a mean streak that sees him finish blocks.

For the Ravens, this pick would make sense as their offensive line was the number one weakness last season. If starting left tackle Eugene Monroe leaves in free agency, then Martin could come in and take his spot. If Monroe stays in Baltimore––as expected––then Martin could play either right tackle or left guard. Most likely, he would play at left guard. This would move Kelechi Osemele to right tackle. He played right tackle his rookie season and moved to left guard for the playoffs of that season and for this season. Martin seems to be a good fit for the zone blocking scheme that the Ravens run. Overall, the Ravens' offensive line needs to be improved this offseason and Martin would be a perfect player for the job.

Second Round: Odell Beckham Jr., Wide Receiver, LSU
In the second round, I continued to add to the offense by taking Beckham. A 6 foot, 187 pound junior, he is rising up draft boards at the moment and I considered him to be a steal here.

Playing in the ever-tough SEC, he caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Five times this season he had games with over 100 receiving yards including a 204 yard outburst on six catches against Furman University. As a sophomore, he added 43 catches for 713 yards and two touchdowns. Contributing right away as a true freshman, he caught 41 passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns. Also a dangerous return man, he averaged 24.9 yards on kickoff returns and 8.2 yards on punt returns in his time with the Tigers.

An all-around receiver, he is an explosive playmaker who can also go across the middle of the field. His speed and quickness are his best assets as he can get in and out of routes quickly and create separation. He isn't just a deep threat with this speed as he has found success with intermediate routes. He doesn't seem to have trouble catching the ball either, which is the most important asset for a receiver to have. On the negative side, he is only 6 feet tall and being 187 pounds, he is a bit small. However, he can add some weight to his frame and his size isn't a major problem.

This pick makes tons of sense for the Ravens for more than one reason. First off, they need help at wide receiver and Beckham can be the man that completes their WR corps. Him next to Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown would be a great, young wide receiver corps. Second, Beckham would more than likely be the best player available on the Ravens' draft board at the time. There is talk right now of him going in the late first round so this pick represents good value. Lastly, his offensive coordinator last season was none other than Cam Cameron. Cameron is a former Ravens' offensive coordinator so he would provide great insight into how Beckham would fit in with the Ravens.

Third Round: Troy Niklas, Tight End, University of Notre Dame
Continuing to build the Ravens' offense, I took another Notre Dame player in Niklas, a 6'7", 270 pound tight end.

As a junior this season, he caught 32 passes for 498 yards and 5 TDs. His best game this season came against the University of Michigan where he caught a career-high six passes for a career-high 74 yards. Along with that, he added one touchdown in the Fighting Irish's 41-30 loss. His sophomore season he caught five passes for 75 yards and one touchdown. As a freshman, the coaching staff moved him to outside linebacker for a season in order to have him see the field. He recorded 20 tackles at that position.

His biggest strength is obviously his size. The prototypical size for a tight end these days, he not only is this big, he uses his size to his advantage not only as a receiver, but as a blocker. He isn't afraid to block and is a physical guy. This is likely due to his season as an outside linebacker. He does a good job making a catch in tight coverage and can pluck the ball out of the air. Not all is good though as he lacks good speed and needs to develop his route running more.

Currently, the Ravens have no tight ends on their roster so a tight end is a must draft at this point. Starter Dennis Pitta is expected to be retained as a free agent, but nothing is a guarantee in free agency. Assuming that Pitta is re-signed, Niklas would be the perfect compliment to him. Pitta isn't a good blocker and is more of a receiver. Niklas can be used all over the field and be used as a blocker more while he develops his route running. Two-tight end sets are an essential part of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's offense. Pitta and Niklas would be a great combination.

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

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

Sixth Round: Tre Boston, Safety, University of North Carolina
With the Ravens final draft pick in this mock draft, the Ravens finally address their defense as they take Boston, a 6'1", 205 pound senior out of North Carolina.

Contributing all four years for the Tar Heels, he had 281 tackles, three forced fumbles and 13 interceptions in his career. His best season was this year where he recorded 94 tackles and five interceptions, both career-highs. As a junior he had 86 tackles and four interceptions, as a sophomore he had 70 tackles, one forced fumble and three interceptions and as a freshman he recorded 31 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception.

Earlier in the draft process, he played in the East-West Shrine Game and performed well in practice and in the game. He showed the ability to play deep safety and make plays in coverage while also being able to defend the run decently. As his stats show, he was a playmaker for the Tar Heels and that is something that can't really be taught to a player. You either have that ability or not.

On defense, the main position that the Ravens need a player at is free safety. Last season Matt Elam was at free safety and James Ihedigbo at strong safety. Both of them are more natural strong safeties so this left the Ravens exposed on the backend. With Ihedigbo a free agent and Elam the Ravens first-round pick last year, it is likely that the Ravens will let Ihedigbo walk in free agency and search for a free safety to play next to Elam. Since Boston would only be a sixth-round selection, he likely wouldn't challenge for the starting job, but he could play on special teams while he develops.

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

Bobby Engram Hired As Wide Receiver Coach

February 6, 2014 in Coaching Staff, News

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

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

Bobby Engram

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Ravens Offensive Coordinator Candidates

January 14, 2014 in Coaching Staff

With offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell being hired today as the new head coach of the Detroit Lions, the Baltimore Ravens need a new offensive coordinator.

This new offensive coordinator will be the third in as many years for the Ravens. Cam Cameron was fired late in the 2012 season with Caldwell taking over. Caldwell then was the offensive coordinator for all of this season.

Here are some candidates to look out for as the Ravens decide who to hire. (Note that the candidates here are listed in alphabetical order, not the order of how likely I think they are to be hired.)

Juan Castillo
The most unlikely on this list is Castillo, in fact, I'm almost certain that he won't get the job, but I want to just quickly discuss him. Spending this season as the run game coordinator, he was recently promoted to offensive line coach for the upcoming season. Due to this title, many people have blamed him for the reason why the Ravens' run game struggled this season. With that being said, it is highly unlikely that he gets the offensive coordinator title as there is talk that some of the players aren't fans of Castillo and that this move would be unpopular in the locker room. Put that all together—plus the fact that he has never been an offensive coordinator before—and it is very doubtful that he gets the job.

Rob Chudzinski

Rob Chudzinski

Courtesy of ICON SMI

As the head coach of the Cleveland Browns this season, the Ravens faced Chudzinski twice this season going 1-1. Soon after week 17 though, the Browns fired him after just one season at the helm (4-12 record).

An offensive coach his entire career, he has spent time as the offensive coordinator for the University of Miami (FL), the Cleveland Browns and the Carolina Panthers. Most recently he was with the Panthers and his offense ranked 12th overall including 16th in passing yards, ninth in rushing yards and tied for 18th in points per game.

Now out of a job, he would be a good fit for the Ravens as he has had success before as a coordinator at an NFL level and has experience within the AFC North. While he has no major ties to the Ravens coaching staff, it wouldn't be unlikely to see him come to Baltimore.

Jim Hostler
Currently, Hostler is the Ravens' wide receivers coach and is the only in-house candidate that has a real shot at the job.

The wide receivers coach for the past six seasons, the Ravens wide receivers have had a mixed bag of results in terms of development. Number one receiver Torrey Smith stands out the most in terms of success, but other than that, no receivers have really honed their game with the Ravens recently.

Hostler does have experience as an offensive coordinator, though it wasn't a good one. In 2007, he became the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers and their offense that year was a complete failure. They ranked last in total offense, passing yards and points per game while 27th in rushing yards. Publicly criticized by some players, he was quickly fired after the season was over and soon joined the Ravens.

If the Ravens decide to promote from within, then Hostler is the man. However, based on his prior experience as an offensive coordinator, it seems unlikely that the Ravens will hire him.

Gary Kubiak
Like Chudzinski, Kubiak was a head coach this season (for the Houston Texans) before getting fired. After eight successful seasons with the Texans and a 2-11 record (he was fired with three games left in the season), the team decided to part ways with the coach that brought them to the playoffs for the first time.

Also like Chudzinski, Kubiak has been an offensive coach his entire career. He has 10 seasons of being the offensive coordinator in Denver for Mike Shanahan, he was hired by the Texans to be their head coach. During his time in Denver, his offensive helped lead the way to two Super Bowl victories. He also coached running back Terrell Davis during his MVP season in 1998.

Know for his zone-blocking scheme on the offensive line, Kubiak would fit in with the Ravens current offense as they have ran this scheme for the past few years now. With 10 years of prior experience as an offensive coordinator, he would be an excellent addition to the Ravens staff if they were able to hire him.

Ben McAdoo
*UPDATE*  The New York Giants have hired McAdoo to be their new offensive coordinator. Before this happened, the Ravens did request permission to speak with him, but it seems that was too late.

Having already interviewed for the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator spot and the Cleveland Browns head coaching spot, McAdoo has already made some rounds in a job search.

He spent this season on the staff of the Green Bay Packers as their quarterbacks coach after being their tight ends coach since 2006. The 36-year old is considered to be a rising star on the offensive side of the ball and is likely to become a coordinator at some point this offseason. Being with the Packers since 2006 (when they hired current head coach Mike McCarthy), is a positive as they have developed into one of the better offenses in the league since then. Most of this is due to having one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Aaron Rodgers, but the offensive staff in Green Bay is also top-notch.

Due to connections in Miami (head coach Joe Philbin is the old Packers offensive coordinator), I expect McAdoo to become the Dolphins' offensive coordinator. However, there is a chance this doesn't happen. If that is the case, then the Ravens could interview him for their job.

Al Saunders
A long time football coach, Saunders has been coaching since 1970 and has spent time as a head coach, offensive coordinator and various other coaching positions on the offensive side of the ball.

One of these positions was as an offensive consultant for the Ravens from 2009-2010. In the time with the Ravens, he spent time with quarterback Joe Flacco and Flacco is reported to have really like Saunders during his time in Baltimore. Since Flacco is the Ravens' franchise quarterback, it would make sense that the Ravens would hire someone that would have a good relationship with Flacco as the offense revolves around him now.

Due to this prior connection with the Ravens, expect Saunders to be talked about as a candidate for the job in the coming weeks. The last time that he called plays was in 2011 with the Oakland Raiders where they ranked ninth in total yards, 11th in passing yards, seventh in rushing yards and 16th in points per game. If he does get the job, it is likely that he would keep the same system that the Ravens already have in place.

Norv Turner
An experienced play caller, Turner is likely one of the favorites to get the job with the Ravens. He spent the last season as the offensive coordinator under Chudzinski for the Browns.

This past season, the Browns ranked 18th in total yards, 11th in passing yards, tied for 27th in rushing yards and 27th in points per game. However, the Browns' offense lacked a starting-caliber quarterback this season and had holes at wide receiver and running back. Considering the players that they had, he did a good job with the offense.

Ever since 1991, he has been a head coach or an offensive coordinator in the NFL, so he brings a lot of experience to the table. He also runs a variant of the offense that the Ravens currently run so the transition to his offense shouldn't be too hard. One of the main components of his offense is the deep pass and the Ravens have a perfect quarterback for that system in Flacco who has one of the strongest arms in the entire league.

Overall, I would say that Turner is one of the leading candidates for the Ravens job in this very early stage of the process. He has been linked to the job in the past and would be a good scheme fit for the Ravens.

Jim Zorn
Up last is Zorn who has spent some time on the Ravens staff before and has been involved involved with football at a professional or collegiate level since his playing career started in 1975. He then started coaching in 1988 after he retired.

With the Ravens, he spent one season (2010) as the team's quarterbacks coach. In this season, Flacco had probably his best season to date has he threw for 3,622 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, completed 62.6 percent of his passes and nada quarterback rating of 93.6. He set career-bests in yards, touchdowns, interceptions and quarterback rating. While the yards record has been broken and interceptions tied, his touchdowns and quarterback rating have never reached the same level again.

Flacco and Zorn had a good relationship and it is reported that Cameron had Zorn fired because he didn't like how close Flacco and Zorn had become. Because of the success that Flacco and Zorn had together in 2010, Zorn could be a top candidate for the offensive coordinator job. He has never been an offensive coordinator at an NFL level, but he has been a head coach for two seasons and a quarterbacks coach for numerous years. He has been around the NFL for long time and was able to get Flacco to produce arguably his best season as his quarterbacks coach.

Ravens January Mock Draft

January 4, 2014 in NFL Draft

The Baltimore Ravens season is over so it is time to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Each month I will post a Ravens' mock draft using Fanspeak's On the Clock Mock Draft Simulator. If you want to see how the rest of the draft turned out, click here.

Please note that while the Ravens only have four picks here, they are likely to get a few compensatory picks from free agency losses last offseason. Also, they will be getting a draft pick from the Miami Dolphins from the Bryant McKinnie trade, but this pick hasn't been announced yet. This is likely to be a sixth or seventh-round pick.

First Round: Eric Ebron, Tight End, University of North Carolina
The number of the Ravens' first round pick is either going to be the 16th or 17th overall, but this has yet to be determined as they will have to flip a coin with the Dallas Cowboys at the NFL Combine in late February. With the Ravens first round pick, I took Ebron, a 6'4", 245 pound tight end out of the University of North Carolina.

Eric Ebron

Courtesy of ICON SMI

A junior, he has already declared for the draft (the deadline is Jan. 15). After a good sophomore season with 40 catches for 625 yards, he had a breakout season this year for the Tar Heels. He recorded 65 catches for 973 yards and four touchdowns. His best game came against the University of Miami (FL) when he had eight catches for a career-high 199 yards. In his bowl game — the Belk Bowl vs the University of Cincinnati — he impressed with seven catches for 78 yards.

His size creates major mismatches for defenses as he is too big to be covered by a defensive back, yet to fast for a linebacker. This athletic ability is what sets him apart from other tight ends in the draft. Players like this have become more and more popular in the NFL today. He has shown the ability to run a variety of routes including the popular seam route for tight ends. His blocking needs work like almost all college tight ends, but he has potential and would be a decent blocker from the outset.

For the Ravens this pick would make sense as they have no tight ends under contract for next season. While it is likely that Dennis Pitta — the starter and quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite target — will return, the Ravens need weapons for Flacco and two tight end sets are very effective. The Ravens tried to do this with Pitta and Ed Dickson, but Dickson's inconsistent play saw the end of the effectiveness of this. Adding Ebron would allow the Ravens to start to use these formations more effectively and would give Flacco another player to throw to — something that has to be a priority for the Ravens this offseason.

Second Round: Kelvin Benjamin, Wide Receiver, Florida State University  
In the second round, I continued to add to the offense by taking Benjamin, who like Ebron, can create mismatches for Flacco as a receiver. He is only a redshirt sophomore, so he might not declare for the draft, but since he will be 23-years old in February, it is likely that he will declare for the draft this year, especially after his big year.

For the number one ranked Seminoles, he has caught 50 passes for 957 yards and 14 touchdowns. As a redshirt freshman he caught 30 passes for 495 yards and four touchdowns. His best game of the season came against the University of Florida when he caught nine passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns helping Florida State blowout their in-state rival. He has yet to play his bowl game as the Seminoles face the Auburn Tigers in the National Championship Game on Monday Night. Be sure to watch for him (number one is his jersey number).

He creates massive mismatches via his size. At 6'5" and 234 pounds, he has the size of Calvin Johnson — the best receiver in the NFL right now. Benjamin is an absolute handful for a cornerback to cover as no cornerback can match this size. While he isn't fast, he is great at coming up with jump balls and is a major weapon in the red zone. He is a raw prospect, but he has the body and potential to become a great receiver in the NFL.

After giving Flacco a $120.6 million contract in the offseason last year, the Ravens need to provide him with weapons on offense to help him succeed. The lack of playmakers on the offense was evident this season, so adding players like Ebron and Benjamin is a must in the offseason. Adding Benjamin would give the Ravens a receiving corps of Torrey Smith and Benjamin on the outside with Marlon Brown in the slot. It would also make the Ravens a very tough team to guard in the red zone as they would now have Benjamin and Brown as big receivers for jump balls and Pitta has shown an ability on these passes as well.

Third Round: Calvin Pryor, Free Safety, University of Louisville
With receivers for Flacco taken care of with the first two picks, Pryor would be a good addition in the third round as the Ravens are lacking a true free safety.

A junior who has already declared for the draft, he had 75 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles this season with six tackles in the Russell Athletic Bowl in the Cardinals 36-9 dismantling of the University of Miami (FL). A three-year starter, he has seven career interceptions and eight career forced fumbles. At 6'2" and 208 pounds he has the size to play safety effectively in the NFL.

He has the ability to play as both a deep safety in coverage in come up into the box and defend against the run. This is important in the Ravens' defense as they run many different schemes. His best ability is in coverage as he good speed and ability to read-and-react when the ball is in the air. This allows him to effectively play as a single-high safety and makes him a weapon in two-deep coverages.

This coverage ability is something that the Ravens' defense lacked this season. With Matt Elam at free safety and James Ihedigbo at strong safety, they were really playing to strong safeties. This left the Ravens exposed on the backend. With Ihedigbo a free agent and Elam the Ravens first-round pick last year, it is likely that the Ravens will let Ihedigbo walk in free agency and search for a free safety to play next to Elam. By taking Pryor, this would round out the Ravens secondary, as free safety is their biggest need, and would provide the Ravens with a great, complimentary safety combination.

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

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

Sixth Round: Wesley Johnson, Offensive Tackle, Vanderbilt University
With the Ravens final draft pick in this mock draft, the Ravens take Johnson a redshirt senior offensive tackle from Vanderbilt.

A four-year starter, he has only been called for two holding penalties in his career. He has also allowed just 7.5 sacks. At 6'5" he has the height of a NFL tackle, but weighing 295 pounds, he needs to add some weight. In his time at Vanderbilt, he has started at all positions on the offensive line expect left guard, while spending most of his time at left tackle. Today he will play in his final collegiate game, the BBVA Compass Bowl against the University of Houston (number 67 is his jersey number). This game will be his 51st consecutive start — more than any active player in the SEC.

As a team leader, he is sure to interest the Ravens who have shown that they like to draft players like this. He also looks to be a good fit in a zone-blocking scheme due to his athleticism, another thing that would make him a good fit in Baltimore. Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have also shown a likely towards offensive linemen who can play multiple positions.

The Ravens' offensive line needs help and they likely won't wait until the sixth round to address it. However, with no compensatory picks included in this mock, this is the first lineman they take. With right tackle Michael Oher expected to depart in free agency, Johnson could come in and compete with Ricky Wagner, a fifth-round pick last year, for the starting job. Depth is also a need and a good backup can play multiple positions and Johnson has that ability.

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

Baltimore Ravens Season Awards

December 31, 2013 in News

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

Most Valuable Player

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

Justin Tucker

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

Offensive Player of the Year

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

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

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

Defensive Player of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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

Marlon Brown

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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

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

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

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.

Ravens vs Bengals Injury Report

December 27, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Torrey Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Doubtful
CB Asa Jackson (Thigh)

Questionable
LB Elvis Dumervil (Ankle)
DE Arthur Jones (Concussion)
WR Torrey Smith (Hamstring)
C Gino Gradkowski (Knee)
RB Ray Rice (Thigh)

Probable
LB Albert McClellan (Neck)

Bengals

Out
CB Terence Newman (Knee)

Doubtful
TE Tyler Eifert (Neck)
DT Devon Still (Back)

Questionable
LB Vontaze Burfict (Concussion)
TE Jermaine Gresham (Hamstring)

Probable
DE Carlos Dunlap (Illness)
LB James Harrison (Concussion)
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Ankle)
LB Vincent Rey (Ankle)
OT Andre Smith (Ankle)
TE Alex Smith (Concussion)