Baltimore Ravens

Ravens

NFL Team Column
2009 NFL Draft Review
2010 NFL Draft Review

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15 October 2010

Ray Rice Rolls as Ravens Ravage Rival
Game 5: Ravens vs. Broncos
Ravens win 31-17
By John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
After weeks of inconsistency throughout the Ravens, finally all three phases play as one team as Baltimore tromps Denver.  The offense pounded the ball, the defense shut down the Broncos run game and only allowed two big passing plays and the special teams causing a turnover and only allowing 1 kick-return all game.  With the passing game very fickle, but full of potential, the Ravens look to be a solid candidate for AFC supremacy during the regular season.

OFFENSE
For most of these first few games, ultra back Ray Rice has been quiet.  Partially to do with coordinator Cam Cameron’s excitement over having strong-armed Joe Flacco throwing to 4 prior Pro Bowl receivers, and also because the offensive line was not at full strength.  With the Denver defense struggling against the run, Cameron went back to the power run game, which allowed Rice to gain 133 yards and score twice.  Former Pro Bowl running back, Willis McGahee, also had his fun while averaging almost 7 yards per carry and scoring once.

The passing game seemed efficient, but still not up to the level their potential indicates.  Flacco had a solid game connecting on 14 of 25 passes for 196 yards, but he did not seem to utilize his receiving core, rarely spreading it around as Raven fans, and Cameron, had hoped.  His lead receiver, as was in 2009, was Rice with 4 catches out of the backfield.  Flacco has yet to sustain any chemistry with a deep and talented group that was brought in to make this offense more than one dimensional.

DEFENSE
Although Bronco quarterback Kyle Orton seemed to put up good numbers with 314 yards and two touchdowns, what is not in the stats is that 86 yards came from two long completions to journeyman Brandon Lloyd.  With Lardarius Webb still not playing at 100% after hurting his knee last year, and All World safety Ed Reed still out, those two completions, and perhaps many more, may not happen in the near future.

The front seven continue to dominate, as Denver was held to 39 rushing yards and was tackled for loss 4 times.  Not an overly impressive performance, but they stopped the Broncos early enough which forced them to solely rely on the pass for the rest of the game.

Ray Lewis continues to be a Top 3 linebacker, as he led the defense with 6 total tackles as the three man defensive linemen, man handled the Broncos 5 offensive linemen most of the game, constantly making Orton hurry his throws and closing down running lanes.

SUMMARY

Although all 3 phases were involved in this win, they still have not reached their full potential for 60 minutes of football.  With the dominate AFC starting to separate the contenders from pretenders, the Ravens seem to be in the driver seat with a 4-1 record.  With Ed Reed’s expected return versus the Patriots, Baltimore may fight it’s way into the 2010 Playoffs as one of the top seeds in the AFC.

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7 October 2010

AFC North Slugfest 2010: Round One Winner: Ravens!
Game 4: Ravens vs. Steelers
Ravens win 17-14

OVERVIEW
These two teams just epitomize how football should be played.  Tough nosed defenses, smash mouth offenses mixed in with a solid passing game.  The score is indicative of how closely matched these two teams are, although the quarterback for the Steelers was not playing, either was the quarterback of the Ravens defense, Ed Reed.  We shall see how Round 2 ends when these two players are back on the field when week 13 comes around.

OFFENSE
First things first…the once deep backfield of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain use to be the envy of most teams in the league.  Oh how the tides have turned.  With Rice nursing a deeply bruised knee, McGahee looked to step in an show his Pro Bowl type talent…until he took a hard shot and got a concussion.  No problem, McClain has also been a Pro Bowl player and can handle the load, allowing Rice to play sparingly…nope.  McClain, a bowling ball of a runner, seemed to get beat up quickly as he had to leave the game complaining of numbness in his shoulder.

This opened the door for Joe Flacco to continue building his chemistry with his talented receiving group.  With Anquan Boldin working hard, catching a game high 7 catches, and old faithful Derrick Mason stretching the defense with 6 catches for 80 yards, new comer TJ Houshmandzadeh quietly snuck open for 3 catches for 49 yards and the game winning touchdown.  His touchdown catch was not only important because it helped win the game, but also because the route was improvised and Flacco recognized this as soon as Housh made his move.  That chemistry between Flacco and the 3 aforementioned receivers will decide how far this team goes.

Jared Gaither has still not played a down this year, and may not come back for several weeks.  His presence, especially in the run game, has been missed.

DEFENSE
Proving that last week was a fluke, the defense one again stepped up and stopped a very tough Steelers offense.  With constant pressure and forceful gap filling players, the Steelers had to grind out any yardage.

Haloti Ngata led the charge as he collected 11 total tackles, typically unheard of for a nose tackle, and a sack.  As the Ravens consistently crowded the box, almost daring Charlie Batch, the Steelers back-up QB, to throw the ball, this allowed Ray Lewis (9 total tackles) to lead a bend but don’t break style of defense.  Not surprising, but the 15 year vet closed out the Round 1 slugfest with a defensive back type of pass read and a diving, game saving interception.

SUMMARY

Although Cincy has entered the conversation because of the 2009 season, the AFC North crown will most likely be decided between Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  With Baltimore throwing the first knockout punch, they gain a considerable upper hand early in the season.  The offense and defense finally played together, although it was in the 4th quarter, but the potential to see a smooth running offense coupled with a hard hitting defense is intriguing to say the least.

Week 5 brings the Denver Broncos and their complex passing game.  This will be a true test for the DB depleted Ravens.  With a good pass rush, they have a solid chance to dismantling the Broncos confidence before they get into a groove.

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Opposite Day, the Offense Bails Out the Defense
Game 3: Ravens vs. Browns
Ravens win 24-17


OVERVIEW
In a reversal of fortune, the Ravens offense finally came alive for the first time this season.  The timing was impeccable, because the defense looked horrible for the first time all season.  The Browns’ Peyton Hillis ran all over the once vaunted ‘D’ while backup Seneca Wallace completed 75% and threw a touchdown.  Once this Ravens team comes together and play a complete game, they will have a good chance to do some damage.

OFFENSE
Finally! Finally! Finally!  The 2010 Ravens offense has arrived.  With Joe Flacco looking like his former self, the pass game kicked into high gear.  Big off-season acquisition Anquan Boldin earned his big paycheck by snagging 8 balls for 149 yards and three touchdowns.  Flacco spread the rock around very well, as 3 other receivers had four catches.

The run game was very efficient as Ray Rice had 80 yards on only 15 carries, but in order for the Ravens to be successful, they need to become more balanced.  Willis McGahee also contributed 29 yards, but his role will increase as Rice went out of the game with a knee contusion.  The stable of running backs should help the Ravens not miss Rice as much, but Rice is still, or at least should be, the focal point of the offense.

DEFENSE
Walter Payton and Peyton Hillis are not the same running back, but the latter looked like the former versus a defense that is notorious for shutting down runners.  Hillis took his hard charging style and ran over, around and through Baltimore as he gashed them for 144 yards and a touchdown.  He also led the Browns in receptions, with 7 for 36 yards.  Even if you take away his 48 yard scamper (never thought I would use the word ‘scamper’ for a guy that weighs 250 lbs.), he would have had 21 carries for 96 yards…that is unacceptable by most teams standards, but especially for the Ray Lewis led ‘D’.

Dewan Landry had a chance to contribute 9 total tackles and a sack, as Hillis would constantly be pounding through towards the secondary.  Terrell Suggs seems to have left the injury bug behind as he continues to show his pass rushing prowess as he also had a sack, to go along with 8 total tackles.

The secondary during this game was finally exposed, as Seneca Wallace, the 2nd string quarterback thrust into the starting spot, completed 18 of 24 for 141 yards and a touchdown throw to tight end Ben Watson.  Wallace, although a solid fill in, should not have had this much success completing passes as easily as he did.  With depth at cornerback a problem and Ed Reed still on the mend, the pressure up front needs to get back to week 1 & 2 form if they want to win.

SUMMARY

It was odd to see the defense struggle so much, but encouraging that the Flacco to Boldin connection seems to be the real thing.  With how the season has gone so far, the Ravens seem to be on the verge of dominating if they can play all phases of the game during the same game.

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Defense Stands Up, Offense Trips Up, Season Is Up…and Down
Game 2: Ravens vs. Bengals
Ravens lose 10-15


OVERVIEW
The Bengals seems to have the Ravens number, as this makes the 3rd time in two seasons Cincinnati has beaten Baltimore.  The defense was its usual stout self as ageless wonder Ray Lewis led the team with 10 tackles and a sack.  The offense looked confused and un-impressive as they tripped all over themselves for the second straight week. 

OFFENSE
Joe Flacco continues to struggle with his new toys.  He seems to be regressing, after three years of progress.  His 4 interceptions were not entirely his fault, however.  His receivers and he are not on the same page which led to some route confusion.  His stellar offensive line has been anything but stellar.  Finally, we get to Cam Cameron, whom has taken on a Mike Martz complex and forgot that he has 3 excellent running backs, but has chosen to pass every play. 

Getting the run game established is still an important part of the Ravens game plan.  That is how they have always won.  By forcing defenders to creep up in the box, this will allow this talented receiving core to go 1 on 1 with the oppositions defensive backs…a match-up that will be won by the Ravens more time than not.

The receivers were pedestrian at best.  At times they seemed to give up on routes and didn’t challenge the defensive backs.  Outside of Anquan Boldin, who had 5 catches for 35 yards, the impressive receiving core needs to get on the same page as Joe (Not So) Cool in order for this team to score.

Ray Rice needs to get the ball in his hands.  His unique skill-set and impressive vision is something that needs to be utilized early and often.  His 16 carries for 87 yards and 4 catches for 30 yards was impressive, but 20 total touches should be doubled next game.

DEFENSE
For the second straight week, the Ravens didn’t give up a touchdown as a talented offensive Bengals team struggled to get started or maintain consistency.  Lewis seems to will the players around him to play past their abilities, as the defensive backs proved once again by stopping the combo of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco for 7 catches and no scores.  This is even a greater feat considering that All World safety, Ed Reed, has yet to see a down this season.

Once he returns and Lardarius Webb returns to his impressive rookie form, this defense will be scary to face.

SUMMARY

As it was mentioned last week, the 2010 Ravens look like the Ravens of the last decade…defensive dominance and a slow to catch up offense.  This needs to get balanced, and fast, or this team is looking to stay at .500 the entire season.

SUMMARY

Bend but Don’t Break, Defense Prevails in Tug of War Grudge Match
Game 1: Ravens vs. Jets
Ravens win 10-9


OVERVIEW
Two teams cannot be more alike than the Ravens and the Jets.  Part of it has to do with the Jets Head Coach, Rex Ryan, helping instilling that tough bravado in the Jets, as well as the Ravens when he was their Defensive Coordinator.  Both teams like to run the ball, while pride themselves on stopping the run on defense.  Each team believes THEY are the #1 team in the land…and finally, week 1 has arrived.

OFFENSE
The offense was the major focal point this past off-season as the Baltimore brass went out and got quarterback Joe Flacco some toys to play with, including TJ Houshmandzadeh, Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth.  With a very talented offensive line and a stacked backfield, this should be the best offense in Ravens history.  Well, they are on paper at least. 

The Jets defense shut down the potentially potent Flacco-run offense, only allowing 282 total yards.  With the war of words flying for months, the Jets proved to be a worthy adversary as the running game was stalled with ultra-back, Ray Rice not having a run longer than 7 yards and only finishing with 43 yards rushing.

The Ravens offense, Flacco especially, looked confused at the Jets multi look defense and variation of blitzes.  If they want to use their new weapons effectively, they need to establish some consistency first.  Anquan Boldin seemed to prove his number 1 receiver status, as he was the bright offensive spot for either team with 110 yards.

DEFENSE
Although the offense got most of the publicity during the off-season, the defense has been, and still is, the heart of the Ravens.  Although several other defenses, including the Jets, are challenging for 2010 supremacy as the #1 defense, the Ravens don’t expect to give that distinction up without a fight.  The Jets offense was stymied all day, as Baltimore held them to 176 of total offense.

With the secondary as the Ravens top concern, they proved to hold their own as they held the top Jets receiver to 18 yards.  A lot of that great coverage stemmed from the constant pressure from the front 7, as they constantly harassed Mark Sanchez.

Haloti Ngata led the charge, as even double teams couldn’t stop him from forcing the Jets offense to scramble.  If the defense keeps causing this kind of pressure and filling gaps during run plays, then their perceived weakness in the secondary can be hidden.

SUMMARY

The new look Ravens seemed the exact same.  They ran an efficient, but bland offense; they played well on special teams and waited for the defense to win the game for them.  It has worked for them in the past, but their potential on offense needs to become a realization for them to grow and succeed in 2010.

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6 August 2010

The Offense in the Off-Season

The Ravens had a successful Off-Season thus far and solidified it by signing Jared Gaither.  Signing Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth was a major upgrade and need for a one dimensional offense.  Now the Ravens, under Cam Cameron’s direction, can take the next step and be a versatile and balanced team.  With one of the best offensive line’s, depth at running back, and weapons at the WR and TE position, 3rd year man Joe Flacco should have his best year as a pro.  Look for the Ravens offense to explode and carry the team in 2010.

Baltimore’s offensive draft picks and undrafted free agents are as follows:

QUARTERBACK (QB)
With Joe Flacco looking more polished coming into his 3rd year as a starter, he now will have more weapons to throw to, which should make him into a star.  Cam Cameron’s offense is ideally suited for Flacco, a young QB that needs to learn how to look long and then check down.  With his quite leadership, cannon arm, and amazing work ethic, look for this year to be his breakout year.

The signing of Marc Bulger was a smart move by the Ravens.  It brings in a true mentor for not only Flacco, but back-ups Troy Smith and John Beck.  Bulger’s toughness and leadership will mesh well with the tough minded Ravens staff.  If Bulger has to step in, he should be able to produce quickly.

The versatile Troy Smith will try for 3rd string consideration.   Smith is one of the better 3rd stringers in the league, after serving as Flacco’s back-up for the past two years.  He also a high upside and watching Bulger and Flacco should only get him better.

UPDATE: John Beck, the former 2nd rounder from the 2007 NFL Draft (by the Miami Dolphins), was traded to the Washington Redskins for cornerback Doug Dutch.

RUNNING BACK (RB)
With a backfield that comprises of 3 current or former Pro Bowlers, the chance of any other running back making the team is slim.  Still, the Ravens love to run the ball and having special teamers that can step in case of emergency is a spot that some of the RB’s in camp have to earn to remain a Raven.

Ray Rice proved to be one of the most complete running backs in the NFL during the 2009 season.  The undersized, but hard charging running back had a NFL 2nd best 2,041 total yards from scrimmage, including 702 yards of receiving.  He looks to have another Pro Bowl year with the receiving core being upgraded, and defense unable to stack the box.

Although he still has starting potential, Willis McGahee is relegated to a 2nd string and goal line RB.  He tied a franchise high of 14 total touchdowns in one season.  He has the speed, size and power to be a dangerous spot starter, if needed, and look for McGahee to continue to rack up the TD’s.

Le’Ron McClain is listed as a fullback, but is versatile enough to carry the rock full time if needed.  While plowing the way for Rice’s amazing rushing yards and McGahee’s touchdown total, McClain is only two seasons removed from being the lead ball carrier himself.  A two-time Pro Bowl FB, McClain probably won’t be a big stat guy, but will make the most of his opportunities as a grinder.

Mike McLaughlin is a rookie free agent trying to make the Ravens as a fullback, after playing his entire career as a middle linebacker.  He is a well respected football player, as evidenced by being voted defensive captain of the BC Eagles twice.  With John Harbaugh as the head coach, McLaughlin may stick around as a valuable special teamer, with the ability to back-up both the MLB and FB positions.

Matt Lawrence is a 3rd year running back that has had some solid success as a special teamer.  Although he has solid size, he does not look to contribute in the crowded backfield, unless injuries occur.

Jalen Parmele is also a 3rd year RB that is a special teamer, but has solid return skills that could give him a leg up in camp.  Parmele showed is toughness in his limited opportunities as a return man and RB, and is a coach favorite.

Lastly, we come to rookie free agent Curtis Steele.  Steele had a very solid collegiate career and has some nice RB attributes and return abilities.  The Ravens may keep him on the practice squad for the 2010 season if he can become a reliable return man and gunner on special teams.

WIDE RECEIVER (WR)
The Ravens most glaring need coming into the 2010 season was at wide receiver, as only Derrick Mason was a productive wide out, with 73 catches for 1,028 yards and 7 touchdowns.  6th year WR Mark Clayton has been serviceable, but is not starter material. 

The Ravens brass took some huge steps in the development of Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense, as they traded for Anquan Boldin and signed Donte’ Stallworth.  The addition of Boldin will be perfect match for a Ravens offense known for its tenacity.  His toughness will help bring the whole team together, as his leadership will blend well with the team mantra, “Play like a Raven Today”. 

Stallworth, although a year removed from football and his personal life still in disarray, brings someone that can stretch the field, opening up short and intermediate routes for Mason and Boldin to work.  If Stallworth can work the slot, he can be a valuable weapon for Flacco.

Of course the biggest off-season transaction was the acquisition of Anquan Boldin.  Boldin not only gives Flacco a legit #1 WR to throw to, but he also will help lead a relatively young offense as it gels.  Boldin will have some running room with Stallworth and Mason around, but won’t have the luxury of Larry Fitzgerald drawing double coverage.  Boldin will be ‘the guy’ the entire season.

Mason is long in the tooth, but also a consummate pro.  He still has the skills to step up when needed, and with Mason and Stallworth being the #1 and 2 options, he can do what he does best and just get open with his supreme route running.

Clayton has had plenty of starting experience, however never proved he can handle the number two role.  Being a back up to Mason will be beneficial, because similar to Mason, he won’t have to carry the load, just run precise routes and be a bail out type of WR.

Rookie David Reed comes in from a spread offense that was run at his alma mater University of Utah.  That comes as an advantage in regards to getting a lot of chances to make plays, however hinders him because he never had to run the full route  tree.  Look for him to perhaps challenge as a return man only at this point.

Justin Harper brings plenty of size to the Ravens’ receiving core.  However, he lost his rookie season to a knee injury and didn’t see much time last year.  If he can stay healthy, he may earn a spot as a practice player, based on his tremendous size (6’3”, 226 lbs.) and deceptive game speed.

Demetrius Williams has always had a great yard per reception average, but has yet to prove he can do it consistently.  With Williams being in the 4th spot, he could really separate himself from the rest of the pack with his experience and quickness. 

Marcus Smith has an uphill battle as he is coming off a lost 2009 season due to injury.  Smith has fantastic hands and leaping ability.  He still is a sloppy route runner and has just above average speed, but has a chance if he is healed from last year.

Eron Riley, a 2nd year player from Duke, is an intriguing young receiver with tremendous size (6’3”, 207 lbs.) and speed (a report 4.36 seconds in the 40 yard dash).  Riley has yet to make an impact and still does not always catch with his hands, which makes him susceptible to drops.  Riley will not be cut due to his amazing potential, but does need to polish every part of his game, including becoming more physical, which is a Ravens staple.

TIGHT END (TE)
Although he showed glimpses of his former self during the 2009 season, Todd Heap is no longer a viable threat.  He was always an adequate block, succeeding with technique instead of tenacity and strength, but it is time to find his replacement.  LJ Smith was an interesting choice, due to this athleticism and his experience, but like in Philly, he just cannot put those two attributes together and was not re-signed this year. 

2nd year player Davon Drew looks like an interesting prospect, as he does everything well, but nothing spectacular.  His role should increase this year, but he is a back-up TE at best. 

There were two rookies selected during the 2010 NFL Draft, in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.  Both athletes are similar in size and will provide the offense with TE’s that can stretch the field.  Although neither are big blockers, they both have solid potential to get better at that, especially with the amazing offensive line the Ravens have.

Dickson will look to challenge as Heap’s successor or back-up, being more of an explosive athlete between he and Pitta.  Dickson can be an explosive over the middle type, and has enough strength to get the blocking portion of his job done well. 

Pitta will probably fall into the 3rd string and/or H-Back role, but will learn how to become a Pro faster if he takes that route.  Pitta was not asked to block very often in the pass-happy BYU offense.  He has a lot of ability and will get some looks during the 2010 season.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (OL)
Although they seem set with young studs like Ben Grubbs, Michael Oher and Jared Gaither, center Matt Birk, although still very productive, is turning 34 during this season and the Ravens really don’t have a back-up plan. 

If Birk can maintain his high level of play and stay healthy, the Ravens lack of depth at center does not appear to be an issue, but will be addressed next season.

Oher could have been Rookie of the Year in 2009, as he excelled at both right AND left tackle spots and dominated against consistent Pro Bowlers such as Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney and Jared Allen.  Oher will get his shot at protecting Flacco’s blind side, as he proved he can handle the pressure last year.  Look for Oher to be the 2nd coming of future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden.

Gaither resigned this season and will again anchor the right side with his surprising athleticism for a wall of a man at 6’9”, 340 lbs.  Gaither had some injury woes, but looks to command the strong side against the best and succeed.

Grubbs has become an absolute mauler in the run game.  He is consistent enough in pass protection to warrant an alternative selection in the 2009 Pro Bowl selection and looks to only get better as he gets more mature.

Marshall Yanda has been versatile enough during his young career to play both tackle spots, but has found his niche as an athletic right guard.  While sandwiched in between Birk and Oher, Yanda can focus on using his aggressive blocking style to round out the best offensive line in the league.

Back-ups Chris Chester, a supremely athletic swing player, tackle Oneil Cousins, whose upside potential is finally being realized and Tony Moll, a versatile and savvy veteran help make the Ravens offensive line one of the best and deepest in the league.

Other backups fighting for a spot, such as rookies Ramon Hardwood and Devin Tyler and veteran David Hale, have a competitive battle on their hands, with at least one of them making the active roster while the other 2 fight for a practice squad spot.

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29 April 2010

Ravens Un-Drafted Free Agent Overview

RODELIN ANTHONY, WR, UNLV
Former WR with a big 6'5" 230lbs. frame with giant vertical leap that is going to shift to tight end.  Very athletic, but has an up-hill battle with two NFL Draftees in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta and veteran Todd Heap in the mix.  He also has had a barrage of injuries and that could hinder him as he learns to block NFL size defensive ends and linebackers.

JOHN FLETCHER, DL, Wyoming
Very fast defensive lineman (4.8 forty-yard dash) in shorts with a big 6'5" 270 lbs. frame.  He is either going to provide depth at Outside linebacker and/or move to nickel defensive end to utilize his long arms and speed, which he did not do in college.  Not the strongest guy at 270 lbs., but has above average hand placement and awareness.  He must learn to utilize his speed and technique on a consistent basis to make the Ravens active squad.

ALBERT MCCLELLAN, DE, Marshall
Too small for a defensive end at 6'1" 248 lbs., McClellan will try and stick as a special teamer.  He has excellent recognition of plays and a great motor, although he was not the most durable of athletes.  His transition to Inside Linebacker will be something to watch, but he should make the practice squad at the very least.

ASHTON HALL, S, Marshall
Not highly productive as a one year sarter, but was team captain and has great instincts.  Too slow to get any real time at Free Safety, but is being looked at as a special teamer.

CURTIS STEELE, RB, Memphis
Had great production at Memphis scoring 22 touchdowns in two years.  He has solid size (5'10" 195lbs.), but only average speed (4.57 in the 40 yard dash).  Has a knack for finding the end-zone, but is looking at a stacked backfield with 3 Pro Bowl running backs.

MIKE MCLAUGHLIN, LB, Boston College
Fantastic leader and thumper for a 3-4 defense.  Can diagnose plays very quickly and fill holes aggressively.  He is not fast or overly athletic and past injuries may be an issue, but he could find a niche as a nice back-up for years to come.

MORGAN COX, LS, Tennessee
Tall and experienced, but gangly long snapper with average athletic skills.  He is very heady, making the SEC All-Academic Team 3 years in a row.

PRINCE MILLER, CB, Georgia
Very experienced and fast former Bulldog that has value as a punt returner only.  He has good strength, coordination and is aggressive, but doesn't squeeze very well and will get caught on double moves and is a liability down the field. 

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29 April 2010

2010 Ravens Rookie Selection Review: 2010 NFL Draft Recap

The Ravens had another successful NFL Draft, getting players for need and depth!  Although there are a lot of lingering issues with Baltimore’s secondary that were not addressed, most analysts agree that the process of selecting talent from the collegiate draft pool is the ‘How To’ way of doing it.  The Ravens seem to have a membership card to super store by getting good, quality players (Sergio Kindle, an assumed 1st round pick) at a discount price (2nd round contract instead of 1st round).

Even amateur NFL Draft gurus agree that judging a draft sooner than 3 or 4 years is impossible to do, but so far, this class looks good.  If some of the later round projects come through, and their secondary comes back from their 2009 injury and penalty plagued season, this will be a successful class of baby Ravens.  If the secondary struggles or some of the high draft picks fizzle out, then the Ravens will have a lot of explaining to do…let’s wait and see!
Round 2, Pick 11 (43) (From Dolphins through Broncos) - SERGIO KINDLE, DE, Texas (6'3" 250 lbs.)

The Ravens win the lottery with this pick, giving them a dynamic pass rusher that most predicted going within the first 15 picks of the NFL Draft.  With Terrell Suggs on the other side of Kindle, the similarly built athletes can both rush the quarterbacks from the two and three point stance.  Kindle had some injury issues and is still a bit of a ‘tweener, but he fits the Ravens’ scheme and was a great pick if he can stay healthy.
 Round 2, Pick 25 (57) - TERRENCE CODY, DT, Alabama (6'4" 354 lbs.)

Although nose tackle was not a pressing area of need for the Ravens, they stuck with their value board and choose a very talented, albeit one dimensional, run stuffer.  Cody may not have the athletic measurable’s that some teams want in a nose tackle, when you watch him on film, he dominates interior offensive lineman and is a good football player.  With Haloti Ngata on the mend, it’s good to have a solid rotation with Cody and Kelly Gregg.
Round 3, Pick 6 (70) (From Seahawks through Eagles and Broncos) - ED DICKSON, TE, Oregon (6'4" 249 lbs.)

The Ravens get the only offensive position they really needed to complete become balanced on that side of the ball.  Dickson gives the Ravens some depth and athleticism at a position that has lacked both in recent years.  Todd Heap will still be a valuable asset as Dickson and Dennis Pitta (to be profiled later) learn how to play tight end in the NFL.  Dickson is an explosive athlete that can dominate games and gives Joe Flacco a solid red zone threat.
 Round 4, Pick 16 (114) (From Broncos) - DENNIS PITTA, TE, BYU (6'4" 245 lbs.)

Pitta was another value vs. need draft add by the Ravens.   Pitta was an extremely versatile pass catcher for the Cougars.  Although the previous selection of Dickson makes this an odd pick, Cam Cameron will utilize Pitta differently than a traditional TE.  Look for Pitta to be placed in a H-Back type of role or as a traditional fullback when Le’Ron McClain comes in at tailback.

Round 5, Pick 25 (156) - DAVID REED, WR, Utah (6'0" 191 lbs.)
With several defensive backs of value still left on the table, this was an interesting choice.  With a veteran laden WR group, Reed can learn the ropes from wealth of knowledge.  Reed is solid and shifty, two qualities the Ravens like in their receivers.  He is a long shot to get much time as a WR, but could be a great special team’s player in the meantime. 

 
Round 5, Pick 26 (157) (From Cardinals) - ART JONES, DT, Syracuse (6'3" 301 lbs.)


Jones fits more as a 1 technique in a 4-3 defense than he does in the Ravens 3-4 defense.  The assumption is that Jones will be used in a nickel defense, so he can utilize his amazing size and surprising speed and athleticism.  If anything, he is good for depth and has a lot of upside for a 5th round pick.
 Round 6, Pick 25 (194) - RAMON HAREWOOD, OT, Morehouse (6'7" 360 lbs.)

Although Harewood is massive and is still raw, the Ravens seem to be stockpiling depth instead of taking chances on need.  That being said, Harewood is an intriguing prospect with only several years of football underneath is wide belt.  He is as smart as he is big, winning an academic scholarship to Morehouse.  He does not play with the tenacity the Ravens typically like in their offensive lineman, but as a 6th round pick, he is a good value add.

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11 April 2010

Offensive Off-Season Roundup & Potential Draftees

The Ravens had a successful Off-Season thus far and it will be solidified if they sign Jared Gaither to a long term deal.  Gaither is participating in the Ravens Off-Season program, and all signs point to him ree-signing.  There is a contingency plan in place, with Michael Oher, last year’s first round pick, moving to the left tackle spot and versatile lineman Oniel Cousins stepping up to play right tackle.  Signing Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth was a major upgrade and need for a one dimensional offense.  Although I am going to just focus on the offensive needs for now, keep in mind that the defense, still one of the best in the league, is where the draft picks will probably be utilized.

Baltimore’s draft picks are as follows:
Round 1, Pick 25 (25)     
Round 2, Pick 25 (57)       
Round 5, Pick 25 (156)      
Round 5, Pick 26 (157) (From Cardinals)    
Round 6, Pick 25 (194)

WIDE RECEIVER (WR)
The Ravens most glaring need coming into the 2010 season was at wide receiver, as only Derrick Mason was a productive wide out, with 73 catches for 1,028 yards and 7 touchdowns.  6th year WR Mark Clayton has been serviceable, but is not starter material.  The Ravens brass took some huge steps in the development of Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense, as they traded for Anquan Boldin and signed Donte Stallworth.  The addition of Boldin will be perfect match for a Ravens offense known for it’s tenacity.  His toughness will help bring the whole team together, as his leadership will blend well with the team mantra, “Play like a Raven Today”. 

Stallworth, although a year removed from football and his personal life still in disarray, brings someone that can stretch the field, opening up short and intermediate routes for Mason and Boldin to work.  Although a young, developmental WR could be drafted in the later rounds) to learn from all these veterans, this is not a ‘need’ anymore

Potential Pick-Ups in the 2010 Draft: WR Andre Roberts from the Citadel (5th round grade), WR Armanti Edwards from Appalachian State (6th round grade) or Jordan Shipley from Texas (they would have to trade up and get him in the high 3rd round)

TIGHT END (TE)
Although he showed glimpses of his former self during the 2009 season, Todd Heap is no longer a viable threat.  He was always an adequate block, succeeding with technique instead of tenacity and strength, but it is time to find his replacement.  LJ Smith was an interesting choice, due to this athleticism and his experience, but like in Philly, he just cannot put those two attributes together and was not re-signed this year.  2nd year player Davon Drew looks like an interesting prospect, as he does everything well, but nothing spectacular.  His role should increase this year, but he is a back-up TE at best.  Another developmental prospect in Edgar Jones was resigned, but he is primarily a special teamer.  This pick might be addressed in the 2nd round.  Although the stock of this year’s TE class is not as deep as it once was, there are some balanced TE’s that could be worthy of a 2nd round pick.

Potential Pick-Ups in the 2010 Draft:  Jermaine Gresham from Oklahoma (1st/2nd round grade), Rob Gronkowski from Arizona (2nd round grade), Jimmy Graham from Miami (trade down to late 3rd round), Garrett Graham from Wisconsin (5th round grade)

RUNNING BACK (RB)
With a backfield that comprises of ultra-back Ray Rice, Pro Bowlers Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain, they seem all set. 

QUARTERBACK (QB)
With Joe Flacco looking more polished coming into his 3rd year as a starter, and versatile Troy Smith and former 2nd round pick John Beck via for 2nd string consideration, they seem to have a nice stable of prospects.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (OL)
Although they seem set with young studs like Ben Grubbs, Michael Oher and Jared Gaither, center Matt Birk, although still very productive, is turning 34 during this season and the Ravens really don’t have a back-up plan.  As the trend has been in the last few drafts, there is value to be found for centers in the later rounds.  If Gaither does end up not signing with the Ravens, the tackle position will be of need, but with Oher as a Pro Bowl caliber swing tackle, depth at center seems like more of a need.  The Ravens need a technician as a center, which the draft is full of.
Potential Pick-Ups in the 2010 Draft:  Eric Olsen from Notre Dame (5th round grade) or Matt Tennant from Boston College (5th Round Grade)

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17 February 2010

RAVENS ROOKIE REVIEW for the 2009 NFL Draft Class

Round 1 (pick 23) – Michael Oher, OL, Ole Miss (6’5”, 309 lbs.)
Much was expected out of this 1st round pick out, whose life was also made into a movie titled, “The Blind Side”.  He didn’t disappoint.  Oher was thought to be less polished than the other offensive linemen that were drafted in the first round, but had the biggest upside.  He was put to the test at right tackle as up and comer Jared Gaither anchored the left side.  Oher looked like a veteran, as he typified the mauler that right tackles usually are.  He also did well in pass drops, as he held some of the NFL’s elite pass rushers at bay.  Gaither was hurt several times throughout the year, forcing Oher to switch to the left tackle spot.  For most offensive linemen, the switch is like night and day, but for Oher, who played on the left side at Ole Miss, showed his versatility.  Oher should take home the Rookie of the Year hardware for doing double duty and doing it better than most seasoned lineman.  He looks as though he could be visiting the Pro Bowl on an annual basis.

Grade: A
Round 2 (pick 25) – Paul Kruger, DE, Utah (6’4”, 263 lbs.)
The Ravens 2nd round pick was a bit of a project, with the goal to have him playing outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, but also his default position of defensive end in nickel coverage.  Kruger was a quick study, as he contributed in overtime, snagging the game deciding interception the rival Steelers in Week 12.  Overall, he played sparingly, but looked as though the transition is going to be a success.  He finished with that one interception, 12 tackles and 4 pass defensed.  With another year or perhaps two, the Ravens should see him mature into a starter.

Grade: B -
Round 3 (pick 88) – Lardarius Webb, CB, Nicholls State (5’10”, 180 lbs.)

This controversial pick paid off as injuries forced this talented dual defensive back/return man into action early.  Early on in training camp, Webb showed a professional demeanor as he clamored for the attention of veteran superstars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and asked to be mentored.  He must be a fast learner, as he ended his injury shortened season with 47 tackles, 6 passes defensed, a sack and flashed his amazing instincts with only 4 starts.  He also proved to be a star in the return game as he averaged 26.2 yards per kick-return and scored his only touchdown on the season on a 95 yarder.  He does have a long road ahead of him, as his torn ACL puts his return post-surgery sometime in late December.   Still, as far as grades for drafting him in the 3rd Round from little Nicholls State, the Ravens get high marks.

Grade: B+
Round 5 (pick 137) – Jason Phillips, ILB, TCU (6’0”, 236 lbs.)
Although he did not receive any playing time this year, this selection was not wasted, as they drafted him for depth and knew he would take about a year to learn.  Although he may never be a starter, he fits the mold of a Ravens linebacker, with his instincts and toughness been his key attributes.  This gets an average grade, because although he could be a nice contributor in the future, you hope that in today’s NFL 5th round choices have a little more potential beyond being on a kick cover squad.  This Grade could change in two years, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Grade: C-
Round 5 (pick 149) – Davon Drew, TE, East Carolina (6’4”, 256 lbs.)
Drew was drafted for future upside with the aging Todd Heap seeing more doctors than passes during the regular season.  Drew has the smarts and size to contribute as a 2nd or 3rd team TE and has some special teams value.  Drew was cut right before the regular season, and spent some time on the Miami Dolphins before the Ravens snagged him back for their practice squad.  He needs to learn to play faster, but has good mentors in Heap and L.J. Smith to learn from.  Similar to Phillips, we have to wait and see if this ended up being a wasted pick.

Grade: C -
Round 6 (pick 185) – Cedric Peerman, RB, Virginia (5’10”, 216 lbs.)
Although the Ravens have a crowded backfield, Peerman wasn’t a bad choice at the time.  Clearly they took the best player available instead of drafting a need position.  Peerman had some great measurable’s as he ran a sub 4.5 second 40 yard dash at the NFL combine and also put up 27 repetitions of 225 lbs. on the bench press.  He was one of the final cuts, as he fought an up field battle versus 3 Pro Bowl running backs in Ray Rice (2009), Willis McGahee (2007) and Le’Ron McClain (2008 and 2009).  He ended up on the Detroit Lions as a back-up running back which made this a wasted pick however.

Grade: F

Rookie Free Agent Signings


William VanDeSteeg

Linebacker/DE

6’4”, 256 lbs.

Rookie

Minnesota

Dannell Ellerbe

Linebacker

6’1”, 228 lbs.

Rookie

Georgia

Keith Fitzhugh

Safety

5’11”, 205 lbs.

Rookie

Mississippi State

K.J. Gerard

Cornerback

6’1”, 187 lbs.

Rookie

Northern Arizona

Eron Riley

Wide Receiver

6’3”, 200 lbs.

Rookie

Duke

Overview: B-
This was a solid effort from the Ravens during this year’s draft. They didn’t seem to reach for guys and also drafted players that should transition into their system with ease.  A few guys will help this grade if their impending value comes to fruition, especially Kruger who has the most starting potential outside of Oher.  Not drafting a wide receiver is a sore spot that proved to be fatal in the long run.  Finding Ellerbe as a free agent was the steal of the 2009 Draft Class thus far, but there is a lot of football to be played in the coming years.  Still, with Oher locked up and some depth added, this seems to be an above average class so far.

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Baltimore on Baltimore Violence: 1st Ever Baltimore Football Club Beats Up the Current Team.

NFL Playoff AFC Divisional Game: Ravens vs. Colts
Ravens Lose 20-3

By: John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
With blistering winds and snow falling in the Northeastern corner of the United States in 1984, several Mayflower moving trucks were quickly packing up any last remaining evidence that the Baltimore Colts ever existed.  That night changed the course of history for the NFL, as the Colts resettled in Indianapolis.  Flash forward to 1996 when Art Model, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, moved his franchise to Baltimore.  Once there, he renamed them the Ravens after former resident and famous poet Edgar Allan Poe’s famous piece of the same name. 

With both the Colts and Ravens in the AFC, they clash often on the field and with their styles (Colts – polished, air attack vs. the Ravens – mean, smash mouth running attack).  Having avenged an earlier regular season loss to the Patriots, the Ravens looked to do the same versus the Colts who only beat them by 2 points in week 10.  The Ravens fell short of that collective goal and limped out of Indiana and headed home for the winter.


OFFENSE
As was the concern for most NFL experts, the offense just didn’t have enough receiving firepower beyond aging Derrick Mason to keep defenses honest.  The emergence of Ray Rice was a positive, as he led the team in receptions and rushing yards.  The second-year dynamo seemed to single handily keep the offense moving, as he accounted for 127 total yards of the team’s 270 yards, or 47% of the offense.

To the Colts credit, they have a knack for transforming a low rank run defense (this year they were 24th) into a juggernaut every time the playoffs roll around.  They locked down the rest of the Raven’s offense with pressure from their front four and some good zone coverage that only allowed one measly field goal.

Sophomore Joe Flacco ended his up and down season with a fizzle as he only threw for a pedestrian 189 yards and was picked twice.  He still validated his high selection in the 2008 NFL Draft by throwing for 21 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions. 

With wide receivers a plenty in the Free Agent market, Flacco should have a solid number 1 to throw too.  Mason is best when he can be singled on just one corner, and not doubled like he was most of the season.  He still managed to gain over 1,000 yards to compliment his 7 scores.  Help is needed, and Mark Clayton proves not to be reliable enough to be anything other than a third option.

The offensive line is young, with the only exception being center Matt Birk, and looks to be good for quite some time.  They did give up one sack to MLB Gary Brackett, but held All-Pro defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis sackless for the second time this season.

DEFENSE
The defense shot themselves in the foot as usual with penalties, one of which negated an Ed Reed interception.  The Ravens were tops in the AFC this year in penalties, most of which came during crucial parts during the game.

For the most part, they contained 4-time MVP Peyton Manning by making him dink and dunk throughout the game.  Considering that the Ravens defensive backs are missing several starters and their backups due to injury, the secondary played solid.  Reed had interception that counted for the Ravens, but was stripped by emerging wide receiver Pierre Garcon during the return.

Jarrett Johnson solidified his place as a household name after a breakout season for the 7th year linebacker from Alabama.  Johnson stepped up and put the Ravens faithful at ease as sack-master Terrell Suggs was lost for most of the season with several injuries.  Although Ray Lewis may have lost a step, he is still several steps ahead of most defensive players as he led the Ravens in total tackles during the season.  Staying with the linebacker theme, much was expected from 2nd year player Tavares Gooden, whom performed solid, but was hampered by injuries all season long.  Enter Dannell Ellerbe, an undrafted rookie from the University of Georgia that proved that he can handle the ILB position with his instincts and play recognition.  He led the team with 10 tackles versus the Colts.

The front office team seems to scout players pretty well as most of the draft picks in the last several years have made contribution at some point during the season. 

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10 January 2010

Ravenous Ravens Rout in Rematch

NFL Playoff AFC Wild Card Game: Ravens vs. Patriots
Ravens Win 33-14


OVERVIEW

The Ravens only consistency has been inconsistency all season long, but during their 1st round playoff game versus the Patriots, they were consistently good.  With question about how the Pats would survive without wide receiver Wes Welker, there have been more questions about the capabilities of Baltimore’s secondary.  How would these questions be answered?  Baltimore responded with three interceptions, and although Welker’s replacement, Julian Edelman, contributed the only two Pats scores, it wasn’t enough.

OFFENSE

Ray RiceThe Raven’s offense got back to basics, as they utilized the three headed rushing monster of Running backs Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain, which was so successful last season.  With Rice’s Pro Bowl season of 2,041 yards from scrimmage, McGahee was regulated to goal line duty while McClain took on the traditional fullback role of blocking almost full time.  Rice showed his All Pro status, as he opened the game with an 83 yard scoring run.  That touchdown, the 2nd longest in NFL Playoff history, contributed to his 159 yard game total.  Rice added his second touchdown, a one yard plunge, later in the 1st quarter.  Not to be out done, McGahee and McClain combined for 70 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Ravens rushed for 234 yards. 

QB Joe Flacco and his wide-outs should be well rested for next week, as his lead receiver was Mark Clayton with one catch for 17 yards.  Flacco’s stat line was a boring 4-10 for 34 yards with one interception.  With the defense and run game executing to perfection, Flacco merely had to hand the ball off on offense and then watch as the defense dominated.

With the next plane ride to Indianapolis, Flacco needed that rest before he faces a team that features defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.  The Ravens’ offensive line looked great versus the Colts during the regular season, holding both of them without a tackle or sack.

DEFENSE

The beat up secondary looked great with All-Pro Safety Ed Reed healthy and leading the charge.  Reed and his defensive back mates have been destroyed by opposing teams most of the season, while some starters have been placed on Injured Reserve or missed several games.  With their trip to Foxboro, the DB’s had a challenge ahead of them, even without Wes Welker playing.  They answered that challenge with gusto as they intercepted All-Pro Tom Brady 3 times.  Reed snagged the first interception.  Picks by strong safety Dawan Landry and cornerback Chris Carr ensued as the blanket coverage and constant pressure confused and frustrated Brady and his offense.

DE/OLB Terrell Suggs, another constant visitor on the injured list this season, showed his former All-Pro self as he sacked Brady and stripped him of the ball during the Pats first drive.  That fumble recovery led to Baltimore’s 2nd score of the day, giving them a comfortable lead while sending New England into panic mode.
Mr. Raven, Ray Lewis, also help set the tone for the game as he blitzed up the middle and sacked Brady after running over wannabe blocker Lawrence Maroney.  Lewis led his crew in total tackles with 13.

The defense, specifically the secondary again, has another big challenge next week as they face 4-time MVP Peyton Manning and the dangerous Colts.

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6 January 2010

Ravens Run-over Raiders
Game 17: Ravens vs. Raiders
Ravens Win 21-13

OVERVIEW
With the playoffs around the corner, the Ravens had a ‘win and in’ scenario, which they accomplished versus the Raiders, a 5-win team that is last in total offense.  Led by running back Willis McGahee, looking like he did at the U, the Ravens ran for 240 yards against Oakland, but still only won by 8 points.
The inconsistent 2009 season is in the books, with the 2010 playoffs coming up vs. New England, and John Harbaugh had better get his team focused on not committing penalties and getting pressure on Tom Brady.
With this match-up including a Wes Welker-less Patriots in the Wild Card game, the Ravens look to make a run toward its second championship of the decade. 
With that said, let’s read the Ravens recap vs. the Raiders.

OFFENSE
As aforementioned, McGahee ran all over the place, as he rushed for 167 yards.  He also ran for 3 touchdowns, which pushed his total touchdown count to 14, which is 3rd best overall among the 2009 NFL leaders.  Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice broke the 2,000 yards of total offensive threshold, which placed him second among running backs in total yards.
The passing game was not used as much, with the above runners successfully marching up and down the field.  Still, Joe Flacco’s receivers were shut down by a surprisingly efficient Raiders secondary.  Although the run is Baltimore’s identity, the inconsistency in both Flacco and his WR’s make the success in the playoffs that much harder to gauge.  With Todd Heap starting to re-emerge as a receiving threat, Derrick Mason and his group need to utilize the minimal opportunities afforded to them to make big plays.  In this game, they missed on their opportunities, but have shown signs in recent weeks that they are capable to do so. 
Getting Jared Gaither back should also help protect Flacco versus the multiple look Patriots defense.

DEFENSE
The defense still looked beat up, as the Raiders passed for 282 yards.  Baltimore’s run defense shut down Oakland and their trip of running backs, which was a good sign. 
Although still without star Ed Reed, other players have stepped, such as rookie linebacker Dannell Ellerbe with his first career interception.  Ellerbe also recovered a fumble in the 4th quarter.
The secondary had struggled all year long, with starting corners Fabian Washington and rookie Lardarius Webb out for the year with knee injuries.  2nd year safety Tom Zbikowski has been playing well while Reed recovers, but with Reed’s return, the secondary got that much better.  His comeback is even more timely in order to defend against Tom Brady and Randy Moss. 

The Ravens’ Comedy of Errors not so Comedic
Game 16: Ravens vs. Steelers
Ravens Lose 20-23

OVERVIEW
With AFC North rival Steelers coming into town, the Ravens were looking to lock up the wild card spot.  As usual with Pittsburgh, the game came down to the wire, although Baltimore had several chances to end the game before it got out of hand.  Two touchdowns were negated by the yellow flag, while another prevented a game changing interception.  With penalties and miscues a plenty, the Ravens playoff berth may be out of their hands.

OFFENSE
This offensive recap portion of every week seems to start the same way, with Ray Rice consistently carrying the team, but it always ends the same way, inconsistent play from the rest of the offense.  Rice, who was named a Pro Bowl reserve, rushed for 141 yards, breaking the Steelers 32 game streak of not allowing a 100 yard opposing runner.
Normally reliable Derrick Mason, who has been breaking records all season long, had one moment of his career that he rather forget.  The man who recently caught a Ravens’ record 3rd straight 1,000 yard season, dropped the go-ahead touchdown during the first play of the fourth quarter.  He still had 7 catches for 77 yards, but Todd Heap stole the show with both of his grabs counting as touchdowns.
 The young, but talented offensive line struggled without starting left tackle Jared Gaither, as they collectively gave up 4 sacks.

DEFENSE
The defense, still playing without starting linebacker Tavares Gooden or star Ed Reed, stepped up, limiting the Steelers to less than 100 yards rushing.  They also had 4 sacks, with pressure being provided by a very aggressive blitzing style.  Baltimore, as perusal, shot themselves in the foot. They lost one interception touchdown return to a penalty and another potential interception that would have given the Ravens one last shot at the end zone.  The encouraging note would be that the Ravens were clearly the more talented team, but they still have yet to live up to their talent consistently.

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21 December 2009

Snow More of a Challenge than Bears

Game 15: Ravens vs. Bears
Ravens Win 31-7

OVERVIEW
With over 1,700 people at M&T Bank Stadium working around the clock to combat the 2 feet of snow, the game was pushed back from a 1 pm (EST)  start to a 4:15 pm (EST).  By the time the game rolled around, the field looked as though it had not been touched by any snow.  The biggest challenge of the day seemed to be making the field playable, and not the actual game as the Ravens destroyed the Bears, 31-7.
With the Broncos and Bengals losing on Sunday, but the Steelers winning, the chase for the Wild Card spot is still on.  The Ravens are in full control of their destiny as they finish up the regular season.

OFFENSE
With the Ravens practicing their running game the previous week vs. Detroit by racking up 274 yards and 4 touchdowns, it was the passing games turn vs. the Chicago Bears.  Joe Flacco took to the air early and often as he completed 21 passes for 234 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Tight end Todd Heap looked like his former Pro Bowl self as he caught 2 touchdown passes from Flacco. 

WR Derrick Mason, as usual, led the Ravens with 6 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown.  Mason’s assault on the record book has been equally as consistent, as he is the leader among active wide receivers (WR) with 10 consecutive seasons with at least 60 receptions.  He is also 2nd on the active WR list for consecutive games played, trailing only Indianapolis Colts WR Reggie Wayne.

The running game looked solid as Rutgers’ alumni Ray Rice gained 87 yards on the ground.  The running attack seemed to get a break with Flacco and his receivers easily gaining ground against a beat up Bears’ secondary.

Rookie Michael Oher continues to impress at left tackle, switching from his right tackle spot as Jared Gaither recovers from injury.

DEFENSE
Jarrett Johnson continues to impress as the 7th year linebacker picked off NFL interception leader, Jay Cutler.  Johnson’s second interception and 6 sacks are both career highs.  Another Raven linebacker also did well, as Mr. Raven Ray Lewis led the team in total tackles with 9 and had a sack. 

The Ravens picked off 4 total passes from the Bears quarterbacks, with Domonique Foxworth snagging two.  Foxworth and the other defensive backs are going to need to step up as rookie Lardarius Webb seems to be lost for the season with a knee injury.  Webb was already filling in for injured cornerback Fabian Washington, who is also out with a knee injury.  Getting Captain Ed Reed back will help some, but the overall play of the DB’s is going to have to improve.

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19 December 2009

Harlem Globetrotters (Ravens) vs. Washington Generals (Lions)
Game 14: Ravens vs. Lions
Ravens Win 48-3

OVERVIEW
You do not get too many lay-ups in the NFL, but this was clearly a game that the Ravens had in hand before they stepped on the field.  With the Wild Card race coming down to the wire, Baltimore pounded the hapless Lions into submission early and often.  With another weak NFC North team, the Chicago Bears, limping into Maryland, the Ravens look to close the gap on AFC Wild Card leading Denver Broncos.


OFFENSE
The fickle offense got back on track by pounding the ball with budding superstar Ray Rice.  Rice racked up a career-high 166 yards on only 13 carries and added 53 yards in receiving.  The former 3 headed monster of Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain combined for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns, reminiscent of the 2008 Raven running backs.

Joe Flacco also seemed to regain some of his earlier season form, as he efficiently passed for 230 yards and a touchdown on 13 completions.  Derrick Mason lived up to his billing as Flacco’s go-to receiver, as he caught 5 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.

For the Raven’s wildcard hopes, this ‘practice’ game seemed to remind Baltimore what they are capable of, when they execute and stop shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.

The offensive line also looked great as Oniel Cousins started his first career game at right tackle and held his own.  With Cousins filling in his spot, Michael Oher once again took over left tackle duties for the injured Jared Gaither and looked impressive.  NFL Offensive Rookie MVP’s usually go to skilled position players, but Oher should be a high consideration with his consistence at two different tackle positions.

DEFENSE
The defense looked equally as impressive during this ‘scrimmage’ as rookie Lardarius Webb lead the team in solo tackles with 7 as he continues to show great promise.  2nd year safety, Tom Zbikowski, notched his second interception in as many games while filling in for All-World safety, Ed Reed.  Ray Lewis and company only allowed 229 yards of total offense as the Lions squeaked 3 points past them for their only score.

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9 December 2009

Battle of the Penalty-Makers
Game 13: Ravens vs. Packers
Ravens Lose 14-27

OVERVIEW
The two most penalized teams in the NFL didn’t disappoint on the Monday night stage as they combined for 310 yards full of miscues, which is 2nd all time in total yards for one game.

The freezing conditions seemed to favor the Raven’s and their run game, while neutralizing the talented receivers of the Packers.  All World safety Ed Reed and sack master Terrell Suggs didn’t play in this game, which only added to the pressure of this prime time game.  Alas, the Ravens secondary continued to struggle as Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdowns and the Ravens. 

OFFENSE
The offense was stuck in neutral again, as even second year wonder, Ray Rice couldn’t break free against the Pack.  Rice, 2nd in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage, was held to 71 yards total.  He was keyed on the whole game, forcing Joe Flacco to put the game on his shoulders.  Flacco’s sophomore slumps continues, as he threw three interceptions to a defense that is without cover corner Al Harris and pass rusher Aaron Kampman for the season. 
Before the season began, the receiving core did not look imposing, with only aging veteran Derrick Mason being a viable threat.  This has added to the offensive woes as the inconsistency, outside of Rice and Mason, has been holding this team back, as evidenced by just 72 yards in the first half.  Todd Heap showed back up on our radar screens after being invisible for most of the season, leading the team with 5 catches for 52 yards.

DEFENSE

Like the offense, there has been a glaring need in the secondary, as they continue to give up big plays and are the most penalized pass interference group in the NFL. Despite the score, the defense played fairly well with All-Pro’s Reed and Suggs out for the game.  All 14 of the Raven’s points were off of Green Bay turnovers. 
Notre Dame product Tom Zbikowski started for Reed and had a solid outing, collecting his first career interception along with 4 tackles.  Jarrett Johnson, having the incumbent removed after his stellar season thus far, snagged his 1st interception of the season.  Johnson also has 45 tackles and 6 sacks going into the last few games.  With Suggs on the mend, he is going to need to keep his level of play up, while rookie Paul Kruger continues to develop. 
The run defense looked solid, as they held Ryan Grant and the Packers under 100 yards.

Colts Edge Out Ravens
Game 12: Ravens vs. Colts
Ravens Lose 17-15
By John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
The undefeated Colts keep on finding a way to win in this defensive slug fight.  In the end, Peyton Manning and company did just enough to surpass the Ravens, handing them their 5th loss of the season.  The inept offense leaned on their talented defense, but couldn’t seal the deal and Ed Reed fumbled away any last second heroics he tried to create.

OFFENSE
The story of the last several games has been the anemic offense, with only RB Ray Rice contributing consistently and effectively.  The game vs. the Colts was no different, with Flacco throwing a costly interception during their last offensive series.  With 2:49 to go in the game, Flacco tried to hit wunderkind Rice over the middle, but clutch linebacker Gary Brackett jumped in front to all but seal the victory.   The offensive firepower that looked so promising in the first few weeks is officially gone, with only Rice and occasionally Derrick Mason, who ravaged the Colts depleted secondary for 9 catches and 142 yards, contributing. 
The offensive tackles looked promising as rookie right tackle, Michael Oher and 3rd year left tackle Jared Gaither, stopped one of the fearsome tandem defensive ends in the business in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.  Freeney and Mathis have combined for 18 sacks, yet they didn’t even have a single tackle vs. the two young offensive linemen.  With the youth at the bookends, the Ravens seem to be set for quite some time.

DEFENSE
The defense looked fantastic as they only gave up 17 points to the Colts.  Of course the Baltimore faithful would love to see shutout’s every week, but versus Peyton Manning and that dangerous offense, holding them to that low of a total is impressive.  Let’s not forget that the Ravens were also playing without Terrell Suggs, their sack master.   The two points they lost by this week could have been changed if he had been pressuring Manning, who was un-sacked all day.  Safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry both came up with interceptions against the 3-time MVP as future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis recorded his 14th career fumble just as the Colts’ Tom Santi was about to score.  One more note to mention is that cornerback Fabian Washington looks to be out for the season, as he got carted off the field with a presumed tear in his ACL after his tackle on the Colts’ Joseph Addai.  Look for talented rookie Lardarius Webb to step up in his absence.
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Ravens Steal Away Victory from the Steelers
Game 11: Ravens vs. Steelers
Ravens Win 20-17 (in Overtime)
By John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
It was once said that getting a win, regardless of how ugly, is just as sweet because win’s are hard to come by.  This was the case in this smash mouth grudge match between to perennial powerhouses from the AFC North.  With Cincinnati most likely winning the division, the Ravens and Steelers are each fighting for a Wild Card Playoff spot.  With this win, the Ravens move closer to securing that spot.

OFFENSE
The Ravens’ offense finally broke out of their slump, amassing 393 yards of total offense, which is the most yards the Steelers’ have given up this season.  Quarterback Joe Flacco torched the Troy Polamalu-less secondary for 289 yards, including a 10 yard scoring strike to Derrick Mason.  Wide-out Mark Clayton, having a very see-saw year, broke out against Pittsburgh with 7 catches for 129 yards. 
The Ravens’ were not all smiles as the offensive line, once holding both Greg Mathis and Dwight Freeney tackle and sack free, gave up 5 sacks to their AFC North rival.  This seems to be the story of the season for Baltimore, with one position playing excellent one week, and then horrible the next.  Ultra-back Ray Rice contributed 155 of total offense, keeping pace with the league leaders in the category.

DEFENSE
The defense was flying around everywhere, making solid plays and jarring tackles.  Lardarius Webb got the starting nod and proved to be ready for the prime time spot light.  Without pass rushing specialist Terrell Suggs, the defense blitzed often, trying to rattle first time starter Dennis Dixon.  Although they did not get a sack, they still got enough of a rush to cause Dixon to throw errantly, only completing 46% of his passes.  However, he did manage to score two touchdowns against Baltimore, including a 33 yard strike to WR Santonio Holmes. 
Pittsburgh seemed to know the defensive game plan, as they consistently got out of tough jams.    With injuries to Prescott Burgess, Suggs and Antwan Barnes, Rashard Mendenhall pounded away at the depleted defense as he rushed for 95 yards.  In the end, the Ravens’ zone blitz paid off as Ray Lewis and Dominique Foxworth overloaded one side of the line, forcing Dixon to throw the ‘hot’ route slant.  As the ball was released, rookie Paul Kruger jumped in the passing lane and snagged his first interception to set up the overtime win.
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Ravens “Lay-Up” Game Gets Contested
Game 10: Ravens vs. Browns
Ravens Win 16-0
By John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
This was supposed to be the game that the Ravens figured out their problems and steam rolled past the Cleveland Browns easily.  This was not the case as it took the defense to score for the purple birds to secure a win. 

OFFENSE
The Ravens still cannot seem to get back on track as it took them until the 3rd quarter to score on the hapless Browns.  Joe Flacco was efficient, but in-effective as he was 13-18 for only 155 yards, 41 of which came on a deep completion to wide out Derrick Mason.  Joe Cool has looked like Average Joe as his sophomore season has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride.  Ray Rice continues to be the savior on offense as he rushed for a tough 89 yards on 20 carries and the games only offensive touchdown.  The bottom line is that the Ravens are not getting it done.  Their 28% 3rd down conversions vs. a one-win team should serve notice that Cam Cameron and the ‘O’ need to get back to basics.

DEFENSE
Lardarius Webb continues to shine as he registered his first career sack and helped in the return game with a 31 yard kickoff return.  Looking at the stat line of the game, including a Dawan Landry interception return for a touchdown and Jarrett Johnson, Ray Lewis and Webb getting a sack a piece, seems great, but let’s not forget how truly woeful the Browns offense is.  The fact remands that the once feared ‘D’ needs to play more consistently if they hope to earn the wild card playoff spot.  With Terrell Suggs banged up and now the season ending injury of safety Haruki Nakamura, it’s only going to get tougher from here.
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Ravens Swept in AFC North Battle
Game 9: Ravens vs. Bengals
Ravens Lose 17-7
By John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
The once inept Bengals beat the once heavily favored Ravens for the second time this season, inching further ahead toward AFC North domination.  The Ravens also seem to keep shooting themselves in the foot, as they continue to lead the NFL in penalties.  With Cedric Benson gaining over 100 yards for the second time this season, the Ravens are in panic mode as their playoff hopes dwindle. 

OFFENSE
The offense is struggling to find their identity.  Last year, the rushed the ball and controlled the clock.  This year, at least in the beginning, Air Flacco and company tore through the first few games.  The last several games however, the Cam Cameron coached players seem lost, not putting up points until the second half.  The lone score came from mini-workhorse Ray Rice, who seems to be heading from part time back to superstar.  His 5th straight game over 100 total yards was in vain as the offense was held to 3 first downs in the 1st half.  Rice led all Ravens with 8 catches for 87 yards and rushed for 48 yards on only 12 carries.  No one else of note did much beyond the second year back from Rutgers.

DEFENSE
The defense just can’t seem to find their rhythm as they allowed a season-high in yards given up with 235.  Raven killer Benson burned the defense, again, gaining 117 yards along with 1 touchdown.  He join’s Steelers great Jerome Bettis as the only back to rush for 100 yards or more twice in the same season in Baltimore Ravens history.  The Ravens defense is use to setting records, not having them broken against them.  One bright spot was rookie Lardarius Webb, who seems to be excelling in his limited role, had 6 tackles (one for loss).  Look for Webb to step up more as the secondary struggles.
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Ravens Get Back to their Winning Ways
Game 8: Ravens vs. Broncos
Ravens Lose 30-7
By John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
The undefeated Broncos got a reality check vs. the John Harbaugh ‘mad as hell and not gonna take it’ Ravens.  This surprise Denver team that has been hanging by the skin of their teeth finally met their match in a revitalized Baltimore team focused on reaching their potential.

OFFENSE
Technically Lardarius Webb plays defense, but he falls under the offensive category because this rookie took the halftime kickoff 95 yards for his first career kickoff.  This was the spark the Ravens offense needed to explode on Josh McDaniels’ formally unblemished team.  Ravens’ mainstay offensive threats Ray Rice and veteran Derrick Mason showed up to showcase their skills as they each scored a touchdown.  Rice proved to be the work horse that he once shared with Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee.  His 3.7 yards per carry are nothing to get excited over, but he proved his durability with 23 carries.  Joe Flacco was very efficient, going 20-25 for 175 yards.  The Ravens started slowly as usual, but exploded in the 2nd half with 24 points.  Another plus was the Ravens offensive line that held lead sacker, Elvis Dumervil, in check all game long.

DEFENSE
The Ravens defense took a potent Broncos and made them impotent.  The Broncos only score came off a penalty plagued drive that ended in a Knowshon Moreno 1 yard touchdown.  Penalties aside, the Ravens kept the pressure on the Denver offense all game.  Ball hawk Ed Reed showed his all around safety skills as he destroyed Moreno on a flair pass, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Terrell Suggs, putting him 2nd all time on the Ravens franchises list.
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Ravens Refocus on Ruptured Record
Game 7: BYE
By John L. Clarke
OVERVIEW

After being considered one of the best teams in the NFL for the first 4 weeks, the Ravens have fallen from grace as they entertain a 3 game losing streak.  The Ravens’ need to refocus their efforts, particularly in the secondary and their offensive play calling which seems to have been suspect over the last three weeks.  
We all knew the secondary was going to take a hit with newer cornerback’s covering receiver’s.  None of them seem capable of making the big play, which is needed in this risky blitzing defensive team.  More zone coverage’s could help with the problem, although one corner really needs to step up and start challenging bigger receivers, i.e. Asante Samuel, Cortland Finnegan and Antonie Winfield.

I like Cam Cameron, the offensive coordinator, and think he is doing a good job, but the Raven’s have a little bit of an identity crisis, as the team that has always been a run first squad is no dependant on throwing the ball to an average receiving core.  He seems to be abandoning the run early, only using it on 2nd downs.
Once these two issues, and the penalty bug that seems to have hit them hard, are cleared up, the Ravens have the talent to win their AFC North division, although the Super Bowl Champion Steelers and the surprise Bengals are lurking.

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Purple on Purple Violence as Ravens Lose 3rd Straight
Game 6: Ravens vs. Vikings
Ravens Lose 31-33
By John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
The Ravens mounted an amazing comeback, scoring 21 points in the 4th quarter, but can’t finish the job as Steve Hauschka missed the game winning field goal.  Ray Rice also proved in the loss that he can handle the load as he ran, blocked and caught like a seasoned veteran.  The defense, not as dominating as it use to be, game up it’s second consecutive 100 yard rusher in as many games.

OFFENSE
Rice showed one of the top defenses in the NFL that he is mature beyond his years as the second year back had a great day running and receiving.  With only 10 carries, rice managed 77 yards and two touchdowns.  He also led the team with 10 receptions for 117 yards. 

Willis McGahee, once a premier running back, was held to only 7 carries as Rice continues to carry the offense.  Not to be forgotten is Joe Flacco, having his best day as a pro by throwing 385 yards and 2 touchdowns, and more importantly, no interceptions vs. the vaunted Viking defense. 

Other than Rice’s catching skills, Flacco favorite Derrick Mason hauled in 7 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.  All of these stats look great, but mind you the offense was stuck in neutral as the Ravens ‘O’ until after halftime, managing just 3 points before the kick off in the 3rd quarter.  As aforementioned, Hauschka missed the game winning field goal as the purple birds from Baltimore came up just short of handing the purple warriors from the State of 1000 lakes.

DEFENSE
Where do we start?  Brett Favre was 21 for 29 with 3 touchdowns for 278 yards, Adrian Petersen ran for 143 yards and the Vikings put up 33 points.  Not exactly the type of outing Baltimore fans are use to seeing from their ‘D’.  Someone needs to remind the defense that “Play like a Raven” means that they need to get back to that stingy defense that hated given up a yard.  They have the talent to do it and they have the right scheme to utilize the talent, but they have not figured out how to maintain their intensity and composure game to game. 

They had moments of greatness versus Vikings, particularly in the second quarter as they kept them out of the end zone, but obviously one quarter needs to become 4 if the Ravens want to break this slump.  Getting a healthy Terrell Suggs back into the fold will be a plus for the Ravens getting closer to the ‘Ravens Way’ we are use to seeing.

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Cedric Benson: From Bust to Beast As He Snaps Ravens Record
Game 5: Ravens vs. Bengals
Ravens Lose 14-17
By John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
Wait, what?  The Bengals who spend more time in jail than on the playing field won?  Cedric who, from where, ran for how many?  These were just some of the questions that were asked after the Ravens second straight defeat at the hands of in-conference rival from Cincinnati. 

OFFENSE
Joe Flacco continues to show that he’s still developing as he threw two interceptions vs. the revamped Bengals defense.  He finished with 22 completions for 186 yards, although 48 of those yards and his lone touchdown came from super mighty mouse Ray Rice, as he took a short dump pass and shifted his way through the black and orange for a 48 yard score.   Rice keeps looking more and more like a feature back, as he rushed for 69 yards on only 14 carries, but the offense was stagnant most of the game.  Mark Clayton who continues to improve every season, moved into 3rd place on the Ravens All-Time receiving yardage list, surpassing Qadry Ismail.

DEFENSE
The heart and the soul of the team since its inaugural season saw it’s streak of 39 straight games without giving up 100 yards to an opposing rusher broken with Benson running through gaping holes all afternoon.  Benson, looking more like the Texas Longhorn record breaker instead of the former first round bust, gashed the Ravens for 120 yards.  Although defensive stud Ed Reed returned his 45th career interception for a touchdown (6th return for a touchdown in his career), the defense failed to shut down Carson Palmer on the game’s final series of the game.  The Ravens defense still had a chance to stop Cincinnati, as the game came down to the deciding 80 yards for 1st place in the AFC North.  Aided by 3 defensive penalties, Palmer and company marched down the field in just 11 plays, with wide receiver Andre Caldwell finding the end zone to cap of a close fight.  Game, set, match…the Ravens have a larger mountain to climb, but they have the tools to climb back into the AFC North fight.

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Patriots Shoot Down Ravens in AFC Supremacy Hunt!
Game 4: Ravens vs. Patriots
Ravens Lose 21-27
By John L. Clarke

Overview
They had to lose sometime right?  In the end of this AFC slugfest, the Patriots came out victorious.  The game had gone back in forth, as the defense gave up a few big plays, but for the most part, held the Patriots in check.  Unfortunately, those big plays ended up being the deciding factory for the loss.  Besides getting handed their first loss, the Ravens lost special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo for the season and watched Jared Gaither leave on a stretcher for the game.

OFFENSE
Joe Flacco seemed to finally look mortal as he threw an interception and was only 2-6 on the final drive (although Mark Clayton notoriously dropped the 4th down conversion).  He still did complete almost 60% of his passes for two scores and 246 yards.  Pretty darn good numbers for it being his worst game of the season thus far.  The run game was ever steady moving the ball, although some (including me) worry that coordinator Cam Cameron has been too reliant on the pass.  With the offensive line mauling the opposition and the running backs pounding through the holes, he should be running the ball more to control the clock.  Allowing the Pats to have Brady, Moss and Welker to have 34 minutes to score is explained by the 17 total rushing attempts the Ravens had.
Another positive note was the play of rookie Michael Oher, whom replaced Gaither at left tackle and did an amazing job.  Although Gaither is expected back, it was nice to see Oher get some left tackle time in and do well.

DEFENSE
The defense remains the heart of the team, scoring for the 2nd straight week, although it wasn’t enough to secure a win.  The pass rush got to Brady 3 times for sacks, one of which produced a fumble that turned into a score.  Outside Linebacker Jarrett Johnson continues to impress, as he leads the team in sacks and added another one in this game, while Ray Lewis led the team in tackles. 
The secondary did not have an interception this week, but kept the passing game in check, minus Moss’s score.  The defense kept their streak going of holding the opposition to under 100 yards rushing, although the Pats are not a running team.  The defense looks to rebound vs. the fickle Bengals in a division game next week.

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Derrick Mason Joins the 800 Catch Club
Game 3: Ravens vs. Browns
Ravens Win 34-3
By John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
Every division game is important and there are upsets every week…but let’s face it, the Browns didn’t stand a chance.  While optimism ran high for the Dawg Pound faithful when Bill Mangini, er, I mean Eric Belichick, whoops, I mean that coach whom was an extra on the Soprano’s was hired, they are now functioning in an optimism-free zone.  The Raven’s dismantled the Browns, with the only Browns score stemming from a free-bee pass penalty which allowed them to get within field goal range. 

OFFENSE
Joe Flacco continues to get better, as he surpasses his two-game old career-high with 342 yards passing, including a beautiful 72 yard scoring throw to Derrick Mason.  Mason also joined an elite group of wide receivers, as he caught his 800th ball during the game…only 7 other active players’ can say that.   He finished with 5 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.
The running game still appears to be resting up for the long haul as they efficiently rushed for 142 yards on 28 total carries from the running back core.  McGahee seems to like his new role of touchdown maker as he scored twice, and starter Ray Rice scored his first TD of his young career

DEFENSE
The Ravens intercepted both Derek Andersen and Brady Quinn a total of 4 times.  Special teams Pro Bowler Brendon Ayanbadejo showed off his linebacking chops, as he had one of those interceptions and a sack on the day.  The defense only surrendered 11 first downs during the game as the held the opposing rusher to below a 100 yard’s for the 38th straight game, and is looking to extend that streak to 39 with the next opponent in the pass happy Patriots.

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Ravens DB’s, “Since When Do Tree’s Play Receiver?”
Game 2: Ravens vs. Chargers
Ravens Win 31-26
By John L. Clarke

OVERVIEW
The Baltimore Ravens improved to 2-0 by hanging on to a close victory versus the San Diego Chargers.  Although the Ravens made the big defensive play (thanks to ageless-wonder Ray Lewis) to preserve the victory, some are concerned about the defense.  The offense looked very balanced and cool as Joe “cool” Flacco held everyone together with his leadership.

DEFENSE
Fans and analyst alike seem to think that the defense, for the first time in Ravens’ history, will be holding back an offense that seems to be clicking earlier than expected.  With all the hub-bub about the closer than normal Chiefs vs. Ravens score in week 1, and the career passing day from Phillip Rivers, I can understand why there are concerns. 

Not to fret Raven fans, the defense may not be as dominant as it has been in years past, but they are not as bad as people think they are.  I reviewed their game and most of the yards accumulated were great, high throws from Rivers’ to his 6’5” receivers (hence the tree reference in the title).  They’re only a hand full of corner’s that can make a play on taller receivers consistently, and the Raven’s don’t have any of them.  With the kind of pass rush the Raven’s generate, the 5’10” cornerbacks are left alone to fend for those jump balls. 

The good news, about this situation?  There are not that many teams that have 6’5” receivers on their roster’s and the one’s that do will have Ed Reed jumping in to help.  With Strong Safety Dawan Landry playing mostly in the box, Reed is set to roam and help the corners, although he was in man coverage most of the time vs. the Charger’s.  The Raven’s will start deploying some more nickel packages, which should allow the ball-hawk Reed to roam centerfield and help his fellow defensive back’s with those jump ball’s.

Onto the rest of the game, in which the run defense held the opposing runner (albeit without center Nick Hardwick or All-Pro LaDainian Tomlinson) to below 100 yards rushing for the 37th straight game.  That is unbelievable in this fickle free agent market that see’s players and coordinators come in and out of the Raven’s franchise.

OFFENSE
QB Joe Flacco’s sophomore slump will have to wait another game to start.  With the three headed monster of team leading rusher Ray Rice, NFL rushing TD leader in Willis McGahee and bulldozer Le’Ron McClain churning out yards, the brittle passing game has found its legs.  Derrick Mason is proving to have made a great decision by un-retiring and Mark Clayton and Todd Heap seem to have gone back into time to regain their former selves.  Sustainability is the question within the passing game, but so far it looks like this nice balance is here to stay.

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Don’t Let the Score Fool Ya, Ravens Dominate!
Game 1: Ravens vs. Chiefs
Ravens Win 38 – 24

OVERVIEW
Although the Ravens beat the hapless Chiefs by only 14 points, they could have won by 28 points, which is what most expected them to win by.  An interception return by un-consistent Derrick Johnson for a score and a blocked punt for a score is where 14 of 24 points got on the board.  Every phase of the game is important, but I don’t see the Chiefs making those plays again if they had to do it again.

OFFENSE
Quarterback Joe Flacco was suppose to just hand off the ball and throw a few passes and then grab a Gatorade right?  Well, the 2nd year man ended up showing why this kid from Delaware was drafted so high, as he threw for 307 yards along with 3 touchdowns, all to different receivers.

The vaunted run offense was not forgotten, as the trio of monster running backs accounted for almost 200 yards.  Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain will be counted on more than they were on Sunday, but the strong showing of Flacco makes this Ravens offense scarier than expected.  The only question that presents itself is, “will Flacco suffer a sophomore slump?”

DEFENSE
Once again, the Chief’s offense did NOT put up 24 points on the Ravens.  The consistently sturdy Defense only allowed a total of 188 yards…and that includes the tough 50 yard reception that Mark Bradley hauled in with Fabian Washington draped all over him.  Jarrett Johnson rounded out the defensive butt-kicking with his second sack of the game late in the 4th quarter.  

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18 September 2009

Off-Season Update of the Baltimore Ravens Offense

Offense:
The run-first mentality the Ravens have had through the franchise’s history will remain with John Harbaugh and Cam Cameron as coaches. 

Wide Receivers:
With veteran Derek Mason’s un-retirement, Joe Flacco can breathe easy with his favorite target returning.   The Ravens still need address the #1 wide receiver (WR) spot with Mason most likely retiring, for good, after this season.  Even with Mason’s return one of the younger WR needs to step up THIS season in order for the Ravens to keep defenses honest.  Mason had twice as many catches and yards as the other starting WR, Mark Clayton.  An upgrade is needed.

Clayton is going to be sidelined most of training camp and the pre-season with a bad hamstring.  Hamstring injuries are strange things, with some people recovery quickly while others struggle for months.  He has had trouble with this hamstring before, which indicates it may nag him all season long.  He needs to emerge as a ‘go-to’ receiver now more than ever as this former 1st round pick has not lived up to the hype and is in his final year of this contract.

Perhaps a short term solution in free agent veteran Marvin Harrison would allow younger WR’s, such as Yamon Figurs and Clayton, to learn for a few more seasons.  Starting a young WR with the plan to develop him on the fly is an option, but with a young QB, a veteran may be more useful.   Figurs has plenty of speed, but has been used as primarily a return man.  He needs to learn a lot of the nuances of route running, catching and a host of other refining qualities, but he has a shot.

Two receivers’ to keep an eye on are Kelley Washington and Demetrious Williams.  They may challenge for the 2nd spot with Clayton’s absence.  Washington has the size and savvy to be a viable threat over the middle and in the red-zone.  Williams has been very injury prone, but has a lot of speed and ability.  He may be better in the slot, however.  Washington may have the edge, because Coach Cameron likes short routes and bigger targets like Washington are better suited for Cameron’s style of offense. 
Some other receiver’s of note are 2008 NFL Draftee Marcus Smith and Justin Harper .

Tight Ends:
Oft-injured tight end, Todd Heap, has a running mate in former Eagle L.J. Smith.  Although Smith never lived up to his athletic hype, he gives the Ravens much needed depth as well as a bail out target for 2nd year quarterback, Joe Flacco.  Heap CAN be dangerous with his 6’5 frame in the middle and in the red zone.  Flacco can start his 2nd year off with a bang with Heap healthy.  Cameron loves designing pass plays for his tight ends, as evidenced by a former Kent State basketball player turned All-Pro named Antonio Gates.

Offensive Linemen:
The offensive line proved to hold its own, considering the retirement of future Hall of Fame left tackle, Jonathan Ogden following the 2007 season.  Replacing him, as any front office can do when a Hall of Famer retires by drafting the best available tackle in the draft.  Michael Oher, the hulking tackle from Ole Miss, fell perfectly into the Ravens lap.  He fits their temperament, their style of run blocking and has enough veterans around him to really harness his natural ability and mold it into an unstoppable offensive lineman.  Oher’s learning curve will be increased due to Center Matt Birk taking the place of Jason Brown, whom left for St. Louis this past off-season. 

Birk’s must regaled Harvard alumni status has always made him the teacher of younger linemen.  Although he is 32 years old, he still has several good years.  Birk has more of a tackles body, but has enough finesse to pull, trap and get to the second level.    His wide frame will also be valuable with the Ravens facing stout nose tackles in the 3-4 base defenses throughout their conference and the NFL. 

The all important guard play is a staple of any power rushing team and the Ravens have a good pair in Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester.  Chester may have a lot in common with his new line mate Birk, as Chester is currently enrolled in the highly prestigious Wharton Business School program. Chester also brings a lot of athleticism to the position, as he bounces between guard and tight end since high school.  He has excellent feet and uses good leverage. 

Grubbs was a highly touted offensive lineman that was drafted in the 1st round in 2007, who also had a brief stint as a tight end.  While at Auburn, he developed into a powerhouse lineman, earning team and national honors along the way.  He parlayed those awards into bigger ones, as he was honored by the NFL on several All Rookie teams.  His intensity and run blocking skills kick start the power running game for the Ravens, as a lot of up the middle runs come behind him.

The Ravens have some solid depth on the offensive line as well, with hold over’s David Hale, Marhsal Yanda and Oneil Cousins can swing from Guard and Tackle with little drop off.

Overall
The strength of the team remains running the ball between the tackles and stopping the run of the opposition.  Flacco’s growth as the franchise quarterback will be challenged this year by the publicity he and fellow 2nd year player Matt Ryan has received.  Flacco has a target on his back and only marginal receiver’s outside of Mason, but the 3 headed monster running game and offensive line should power through their schedule.

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13 July 2009

Off-Season Update of the Baltimore Ravens Defense

Defense:

This Ravens off-season has been one of great change, as several key people on the defense have left, opening up huge holes on that side of the ball.  3 of the starting defensive players are not going to be on the 2009 roster and there will be a new defensive coordinator calling the shots this year as Rex Ryan has taken over as the New York Jets head coach.  Greg Mattison takes over the defensive play calling after successful stints at the University of Florida and the University of Michigan.

Inside Linebackers:
Ageless Ray Lewis has settled his contract dispute and will remain a Raven, conceivably until the end of his career.  Although he has lost a step, he still can command a huddle, the locker room and most importantly, the gap he controls. 

With Bart Scott also headed to the Jets, that leaves a vacancy next to team icon Lewis at the inside linebacker position.  Tavares Gooden, a 2nd year player from Lewis’ alum, the University of Miami, is the front runner to fill that void, although he was lost for much of his rookie year with a hip injury. 
Also watch for rookie’s Dannell Ellerbe and Jason Phillips to see some time on the inside.  Both have athletic limitations, but make up for it with toughness and instinctive play.  Lewis and Gooden should be on the field a lot however.

Outside Linebackers:

Jarrett Johnson, the incumbent at outside line backer (OLB) is a heady and scrappy defender, whom will serve as mentor for the younger generation of OLB’s, namely Antwan Barnes, and Paul Kruger. 

Kruger’s name will be mentioned later in the defensive linemen conversation, but he may be in contention to see some significant OLB time in a pass rushing role. 
Barnes has shown flashes of ability, but still needs work.   Kruger has a great first motor and plays fast, but in control.  He does not have a lot of experience as a stand-up rush LB, so his learning curve will determine his position and playing time.
Brendon Ayanbadejo is versatile enough to move inside, although he is small for the position.  He is also the team’s best special team’s tackler.  Expect him to do what he does best…spot start, block and cover on special teams and provide depth.

Terrell Suggs is still in contract negotiations with the team after being franchised, however he will still be a pass rushing force.  Suggs contract will get worked out, as the Ravens realize how valuable and rare his pass rushing skills are.  Suggs versatility is also something to be appreciated, as he never has to leave the field, often reverting to DE during long passing downs.  Prescott Burgess seems poised for a breakout season after slowly earning more playing time in the past couple of years, before he went on injured reserve last year.  He has the size and pedigree to spell with Johnson or Suggs and hold his own.

Defensive Backs:
The team let go former starting cornerback Chris McAllister, but got speedster’s Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr via free agency to compete opposite Fabian Washington for the spot.  Both Foxworth and Carr have a legitimate shot at being a productive defensive back, as they both have blazing 40 yard dash times of 4.2 seconds from their NFL combine days just several years back.
Samari Rolle continues to provide leadership to this young group, as the team re-signed him just several weeks after releasing him.  With his age (33 when the season starts) and illness (epilepsy), he is going to be a spot starter at best at this point.  He still excels in zone coverage and will most likely come in on Nickel packages and push Carr or Foxworth over to the slot corner.

Strong Safety Dawan Landry returns after suffering a spinal cord injury. He looked great during OTA’s as he has gotten more chiseled by dropping about 8 lbs. and adding a little extra speed.  His physique was never an issue, but his re-commitment to returning speaks volumes about his desire to compete at a high level.  If he is not able to continue to progress as he has been throughout his career, a pair of young safeties will be waiting in the wings to get some more game action. 

Both Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, from the 2008 draft class are very talented players that fit the athleticism and ferocity that the position requires.  Nakamura was running with the 1st team during Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and looked athletic; although Tommy Z. had several interceptions during drills that made him stand out. 

Also entering the defensive back competition is Lardarius Webb, a rookie from Nicholls State.  He played cornerback in college, however he projects at free safety because of his superior ball skills, but only average back pedaling technique.  He has had a troubled past, but he has acknowledged his previous immaturity, and has locked onto being a professional.  He constantly follows Ed Reed around, the best safety in football, asking questions, and tries to meet with Ray Lewis as much as possible to discuss the nuances of playing the Ravens brand of defense.  He is the wild card in the secondary.

Speaking of Reed, very few other players, regardless of position, are as instinctive and hard working as he is.  When Sports Illustrated surveyed 32 players from the AFC North on whom they think is the best all around player, 14 of them voted for Reed.  The 2004 Defensive Player of the Year looks to have another great year roaming center field.
Defensive Line:

Always an intriguing group for the Ravens, the run stopping nose tackles seem to have more depth this year with the return of Kelly Gregg.  The big guy is coming off knee surgery, but seems to have recovered nicely and looks to once again be a big part of the line.  Teaming with Haloti Ngata and Justin Bannon, the Ravens have the best depth and talent at that position.  Ngata is in the top tier of nose tackles within the league, with his massive size and great technique.  Gregg is the fierce mountain in the middle that leaves offensive linemen hating their jobs, while Bannon really came on last season and seems to have made the consistent rotation.

The defensive ends are not as deep or menacing as their line-mates are.  With aspiring screenwriter Trevor Pryce on the downside of 30, the other ends need to step up and produce more sacks.  Pryce is still a great leader and can dominate if he avoids injury.  Rookie Paul Kruger still needs to be given a permanent position to excel.  He impressed coaches from a defensive end position, but probably has a more balanced future as an OLB.  For his first year, he may be situational.  That still leaves depth and quality issues outside of Pryce.  The new defensive coordinator’s son, Bryan Mattison, may excel due to his extensive knowledge of his father’s defensive scheme.  Rookie Will Johnson, sort of a defensive tackle/end ‘tweener, will have a real shot of seeing playing time due to his size and pedigree.

This group has the most potential to get better with the elder Mattison coaching.  His defensive line had always had success in pressuring the quarterback…just ask current Ravens Quarterback Troy Smith whom faced Mattison’s d-line during the National Championship game back in 2006.

Overall:
The Raven’s have always prided their selves on being a defense first kind of team.  Although they still need an influx of youth, they are transitioning nicely from “older” to “younger” with several key back-ups learning from some of the game’s bests. 

Look for the new wave of linebackers to catch on quickly and be coached up for this season, and more importantly for the season’s to come.  Every level of their defense has a mentor and a mentoree, from Pryce to Kruger, Lewis to Gooden, Suggs to Barnes, Rolle to Washington, Reed to both Zbikowski and Nakamura. 
If Mattison’s sticks to what works from the Ryan coaching days, he should succeed early and often. The AFC North boats the Super Bowl champions, and 2 Ohio teams that are due to break out eventually.  Injuries could derail this team, but overall, the defensive is still to be feared.

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27 April 2009

2009 NFL Draft Class

Round 1 (pick 23) – Michael Oher, OL, Ole Miss (6’5”, 309 lbs.)
The Ravens have always been a running team and proved it last year by finish 4th in the NFL in 2008.  The Ravens found their replacement Jonathan Ogden, a sure fire first ballot Hall of Fame left tackle, potentially in Oher.  Most people had him coming off the board in the teens with several offensive line challenged teams possibly reaching for him.  The Ravens are once again going to dominate the run game if Oher’s production starts to match his potential.  He could be a steal if that happens sooner than later.

Round 2 (pick 25) – Paul Kruger, DE, Utah (6’4”, 263 lbs.)
Kruger is a bit of a mystery.  He was away on Mission work for 2 years and his body of work is productive, but short lived.  He does have the size and motor to succeed as a strong side outside linebacker in a 3-4.  He has a good chance to be the primary back up for incumbent Jarrett Johnson during his rookie campaign if he is a quick study.

Round 3 (pick 88) – Lardarius Webb, CB, Nicholls State (5’10”, 180 lbs.)
With some good veterans at corner back, the Ravens took a gamble on a kid whom is talented, but troubled.  Webb got dismissed from Southern Mississippi after a promising redshirt sophomore year which led to his Nicholls State enrollment.  Although he has excellent ball skills, his style of play is better suited for free safety due to his size and average backpedaling skills.  Webb could become a factor on special teams as a gunner/return man.

Round 5 (pick 137) – Jason Phillips, ILB, TCU (6’1”, 240 lbs.)
Phillips belongs as a Raven.  This was a great pick in terms of value to skill ratio and also addresses some depth issues Baltimore has at ILB with the loss of Bart Scott to the NY Jets.  Phillips has a high football IQ and is tough which fits in nicely with similarly attributed teammates.  Although he probably will not be a starter during his career, he is a capable backup and can fill in when needed.

Round 5 (pick 149) – Davon Drew, TE, East Carolina (6’4”, 256 lbs.)
Another good depth pick with his receiving skills being above average and his ability to understand zone coverage even better.  He does not have great straight line speed to separate and although he has some nice girth, he will need to improve on his technique in the blocking game.  Drew is a good 3rd string tight end to have around for goal-line situations.   He may move to a H-Back type of player which would increase his playing time since Le’Ron McClain is more of a power tailback than fullback.

Round 6 (pick 185) – Cedric Peerman, RB, Virginia (5’10”, 216 lbs.)
Although the Ravens have a crowded backfield, Peerman was a good selection.  Clearly they took the best player available instead of drafting a need position.  Peerman has some great measurable’s as he ran a sub 4.5 second 40 yard dash at the NFL combine and also put up 27 repetitions of 225 lbs. on the bench press.  He also has very good hands for the passing game as Cam Cameron likes to utilize his running backs a lot.  He does have some durability issues and he needs to work on some fumbling concerns.  Although the 3 running backs in the Ravens stable are good, he may force the team to carry four running backs come Week 1.

Overview:
This was a solid effort from the Ravens during this year’s draft. They didn’t seem to reach for guys and also drafted players that should transition into their system with ease.  Not drafting a wide receiver is a sore spot that needs to be addressed, perhaps with short term answer Marvin Harrison still out on the market.  Still, with Oher locked up and some depth added, this seems to be an above average class.