Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 4 2012

As if there was not enough emotion heading into this past Monday night's game against the Patriots after last year's loss, the game was put into perspective early Sunday morning when Torrey Smith's younger brother, Tevin, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Smith was unsure of his game status until just hours before kickoff, when he decided to take the field in honor of his brother. And boy, did he make a difference. With the Ravens down 13-0 early in the 2nd quarter, Flacco looked and found Smith for a leaping touchdown grab that thrust the Ravens right back in the thick of the battle. Flacco would find Dennis Pitta just minutes later to put the Ravens on top. You gotta love the white tight end. Don't leave home without him. The Patriots would rally back, however, and put the ball in the end zone in the final seconds of the half to take a 20-14 lead. At this point, the Ravens defense was being bullied by Tom Brady and the Patriots offensive machine. Brady was picking on Ravens CB Cary Williams from start to finish. To begin the second half, the offense would need to pick up the struggling defense. How about that for a change? The offense put up points early on a Ray Rice score, but would be countered with a TD run from Danny Woodhead. A Patriots field goal gave them a 30-21 lead with an entire quarter left to play.  Joe Flacco would then anchor an eight-play, 92-yard drive to bring the Ravens within just two points. The touchdown went to none other than Torrey Smith, adding to a magical night for the emotional receiver. Here, the Ravens defense finally lived up to their expectations, halting the Patriots and giving Flacco the ball back with two minutes remaining, needing only a field goal for the win. A defensive pass interference deep in Patriots territory set up rookie K Justin Tucker for a potential 27-yard game winner. The kick flew just over the right upright, and the Ravens took away a win.

Player of the Game: Ravens WR Torrey Smith-6 catches, 127 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns

Key Takeaway from the Game: This game easily could have gone either way. While there is some luck involved, credit must be given where it is due. Flacco and the offense picked up where the defense was lacking, and kept the game within reach. Rice lead the way with an up-tempo style of play, and the rest of the team pushed forward for the victory.

Note: This only happens a few times, so I must take a moment to acknowledge it. Go back to last week's blog and look at my prediction for how the game would end.

Tonight, the Ravens will welcome the division rival Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, a team that has started the year with three consecutive losses. This will be the Ravens fourth game in the last 18 days, but will have another ten days off before their next game. The Ravens took both of the games against the Browns last season, but will be facing a new team here this week. 28-year old rookie QB Brandon Weeden has had some trouble this year, throwing 6 interceptions against just 3 touchdowns so far. His fellow rookie, RB Trent Richardson, who was the #3 overall pick in the draft this past April, has had significantly more success than his counterpart. Richardson, who will be facing his toughest defense yet, has over 150 rushing yards with a touchdown and no fumbles. He is a very physical and punishing runner who is not scared of a defense like the Ravens, making this an even more intriguing matchup. On defense, the Browns have had their moments. They are currently leading the AFC with 7 turnovers, though 5 of them came against the Eagles in Week 1. They will be without top CB Joe Haden, however, who tested positive for Adderall. Haden picked off Flacco as a rookie back in 2010. The Browns also have LB D'Qwell Jackson out of Maryland, who has 3 sacks and two interceptions already this year. Jackson will no doubt be in charge of limiting Ray Rice. Look for the Ravens offense to pick on an inferior defense with an aggressive, no-huddle offense filled with play action.

Prediction: Both teams are playing this game on a short week, having played just four days ago. Don't be surprised to see a lot of offense, since the defenses should still be exhausted. But, if the Ravens were to pick a team to play in this type of game, it would be the Browns, a divisional team that you already know much about. It limits the amount of extensive study and video you have to do in preparation, despite the offensive additions the Browns have made. I have the Ravens gaining an early lead and maintaining it, winning 34-13.

Key Matchups for Ravens vs. Browns

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Browns QB Brandon Weeden  Edge: Reed
Analysis: Of Reed's 57 career interceptions, 10 have come against the Browns, more than any other team. Reed should have a field day against the rookie Weeden.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Browns RB Trent Richardson  Edge: Lewis
Analysis: This is just experience over talent. Richardson will be a top back in this game one day, but for now, Lewis will have his number.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson  Edge: Push
Analysis: This will be tightly contested for 60 minutes. Both are poised to out-perform each other, making this a good matchup to pay attention to.

Ravens G Marshal Yanda vs. Browns DT Jabaal Sheard  Edge: Yanda
Analysis: Sheard is the top defensive lineman for the Browns, but I believe Yanda has enough to control him and protect Flacco.

Injury Report
T Jah Reid-Calf-QST

LB James-Michael Johnson-Ribs/Oblique-OUT
WR Mohamed Massaquoi-Hamstring-OUT
TE Alex Smith-Head-OUT
DB Ray Ventrone-Hand-QST

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and Go Ravens!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 3 2012

Last Sunday afternoon, the Ravens fell to the Eagles, 24-23, in a last-minute heartbreaker. This brings the Ravens' record to an even 1-1. Despite the Ravens defense forcing 4 turnovers, including 3 in the red zone, the Eagles offense finished when it mattered the most. The first of those red zone turnovers came on the very first Philadelphia drive of the game, when Michael Vick's pass to the end zone fell into the sure hands of Bernard Pollard. The Ravens would give it back, however, when a sack-fumble on Joe Flacco gave the Eagles great field position early in the first quarter. The Eagles would take advantage, as LeSean McCoy scored from just a yard out. Flacco and the offense would respond however, when Vonta Leach ended a 7-play drive with the game-tying score. The Ravens weren't done however, adding a touchdown in the 2nd quarter on a 21-yard pass from Flacco to Jacoby Jones. As the Ravens defense continued to limit the Eagles, the Ravens added to their lead in the final seconds of the first half when rookie K Justin Tucker hit a 56-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 17-7 lead. The Ravens were not able to carry their momentum into the second half, however, and it cost them. The Eagles tied the game in the 3rd quarter with a touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin coupled with an Alex Henery field goal. Another pair of Tucker field goals (51,48) gave the Ravens a 23-17 lead late in the 4th quarter. The lead came with its fair share of controversy, as an offensive pass interference call on Jacoby Jones erased a touchdown that would have given the Ravens a commanding two-possession lead with just four minutes remaining. Looking back at the replay, the contact was going both ways, and should not have been a penalty. The Eagles then drove down the field, and finished with a Michael Vick running TD to give the Eagles the slim advantage. Flacco could not convert on a fourth down later on the Ravens' final drive, and the Eagles earned the W. 

Player of the Game: Eagles TE Brent Celek-8 catches, 157 receiving yards

Key Takeaway from the Game: After using the no-huddle offense to burn the Bengals back in Week 1, the Ravens offense barely went to the no-huddle against the Eagles.We all want to see a consistent Flacco, but these are the defenses he needs to beat. The Ravens did not run the ball nearly enough. Ray Rice was extremely successful on the ground, gaining 99 yards on just 16 carries. But the Ravens continued to go to the pass game, where Flacco went just 22/42. Cam Cameron needs to run the ball more when Rice is having that kind of success.

On Sunday night, the Ravens will be back home to face the 1-1 New England Patriots on prime-time television. This is, of course, the rematch of the game no one in Baltimore wants to remember. Don't worry, I'm not going there. Both of these teams are coming off tough losses, with the Pats losing to the Cardinals at home last Sunday. This will be a homecoming for Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who spent 6 seasons on Bill Belicheck's staff in New England. You can bet he will have a chip on his shoulder. There are few surprises on offense for the Patriots. Tom Brady is the stalwart general under center for the Patriots. His top target is TE Rob Gronkowski, whose role is expected to increase with the injury to fellow TE Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots' newest threat on offense is Brandon Lloyd, who already has 13 catches for over 100 yards on the year. RB Stevan Ridley has provided a threat on the ground for the Patriots, which is just another weapon for defenses to have to worry about. On an interesting note, the Patriots re-signed WR Deion Branch this week to help replace Hernandez. The Patriots also re-signed Branch before the Ravens game back in 2010. In that game, Branch had 9 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in a 23-20 Patriots win. Therefore, look for Branch to have an immediate impact on the Patriots offense come Sunday. The Patriots have improved mightily on defense with the acquisitions of DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont'a Hightower, a college teammate of Ravens rookie LB Courtney Upshaw. NT Vince Wilfork is a perennial threat to blitz the QB effectively, and with some early struggles by Ravens C Matt Birk, he could be a difference-maker. Also make sure to watch out for Ravens S Bernard Pollard, otherwise known as the "Patriots killer." In 2008, Pollard ended Brady's season by tearing his ACL in Week 1. Just a year later, Pollard's hit on Pats WR Wes Welker tore his ACL and ended his season as well. Last year, Pollard's tackle on Gronkowski in the AFC Championship Game sprained Gronk's ankle and made him a non-factor in the Super Bowl two weeks later. Just saying.

Prediction: There is no shortage of intrigue coming into this game. Both teams have their own beef with each other, and much of it will be solved on the gridiron. There is nothing more pleasing to the Ravens defense than seeing Brady eating grass, so expect a lot of blitzing. After a less-than-impressive performance in Philadelphia last weekend, this is a chance for the Ravens D to re-establish their place as one of the best defenses in the league. Flacco had one of the best games of his career last year against the Patriots defense, and will look to continue that success. In a comforting change of pace, I have Justin Tucker kicking a game-winning field goal in the final minutes of the game to give the Ravens a 23-20 win.

Key Matchups for Ravens vs. Patriots

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady  Edge: Push
Analysis: Both of these players will be in Canton when their time comes. Brady will burn Reed on some plays, and Reed will burn Brady right back. This will be fun to watch.

Ravens LB Jameel McClain vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski  Edge: Gronkowski
Analysis: This one isn't even close. Gronk is arguably the best TE in the league, and if McClain can limit him even a little bit, this matchup will be considered a Ravens victory.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Patriots LB Brandon Spikes  Edge: Rice
Analysis: Rice is too fast and too elusive for an inconsistent linebacker like Spikes. Spikes will have a few nice plays, but the unseen mistakes he makes will open up some holes for Rice.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Patriots CB Devin McCourty  Edge: Smith
Analysis: With the exception of the first play against the Bengals, Smith has been a non-factor so far for the Ravens. A matchup against a cornerback like McCourty spells out a breakout game for Smith.

Injury Report
T Jah Reid-Leg-DBT

TE Aaron Hernandez-Ankle-OUT
DE Justin Francis-Ankle-OUT
RB Shane Vereen-Foot-QST
G Logan Mankins-Hip-QST
WR Brandon Lloyd-Thigh-QST

Well, that's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report. See you next week and go Ravens!

NOTE: Early Sunday morning, Torrey Smith's younger brother Tevin was killed in a motorcycle accident. Smith left the Ravens' hotel to be with his family, but word is that he wants to play tonight against the Patriots. John Harbaugh said that it's Torrey's call. If he is on that field tonight, he'll be playing with a heavy heart. My prayers and condolences are with Torrey and his family. RIP Tevin Smith.
UPDATE: Torrey Smith has re-joined the team and is expected to play tonight against the Patriots

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 2 2012

It has been a great week to be a Ravens fan. Last Monday night, the boys in purple took care of business with a commanding 44-13 win over the visiting Bengals. All of the hype surrounding the revamped Ravens no-huddle offense came to fruition, as Joe Flacco led the way with 299 passing yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens set the tone for the game on the very first play from scrimmage, when Flacco found Torrey Smith downfield for a 52-yard gain. Later on the drive, rookie K Justin Tucker connected for a 46-yard field goal to put the Ravens on the board. And on the very next Ravens drive, Ray Rice burst up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown. After Mike Nugent put the Bengals on the board, Flacco stepped back a threw a beautiful 34-yard pass that landed perfectly in Anquan Boldin's hands for a touchdown. However, BenJarvus Green-Ellis's 6-yard TD run on fourth down cut the Ravens lead to 17-10 at halftime. When another Nugent field goal cut the lead to 4, Joe Flacco and the Ravens had had enough of the nail-biting. Flacco tore up the Bengals defense, eventually finding Dennis Pitta on a perfectly-placed pass to the end zone for a touchdown. In the final moments of the third quarter, with the Bengals trailing 27-13, Andy Dalton's pass was tipped into the hands of Ed Reed, and returned 34 yards to the house for the Ravens score. With that pick-six, the 7th of his career, Reed moved into first place in career interception yards with 1,497. The Ravens defense continued their domination in the fourth quarter, and Rice's second TD run of the game, followed by another Tucker field goal, put the icing on the cake for a convincing Week 1 win.

Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-21/29 for 299 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns

Key Takeaway from the Game: For the first time in our franchise's history, the Ravens offense is setting the tone for the defense. When the offense was in sync, the defense followed suit. Contrary to what we are used to seeing, the Ravens offense stayed calm when the defense was panicked. With a defense such as the Ravens', fans should be ecstatic that an explosive offense finally has their back.

Next Sunday, the Ravens will cross into enemy territory, when they take on the 1-0 Philadelphia Eagles in the City of Brotherly Love. Lincoln Financial Field in Philly has a reputation for being one of the nastiest and toughest atmospheres to play in, so the Ravens will have their work cut out for them. Last week, the Eagles limped out of Cleveland with a 17-16 win over the Browns. Eagles QB Michael Vick threw 4 interceptions against a below-average Browns defense. The Ravens secondary should have some fun in store for Vick, who is known for his legs much more than for his arm. The Eagles ground threat doesn't stop with Vick, however. RB LeSean McCoy has long been compared to Ray Rice, and for good reason. McCoy rushed for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. He and Rice both had career years last year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them both get a lot of carries on Sunday. McCoy will surely test a Ravens run defense that struggled at times last week. However, the Eagles are known for their below-average offensive line, which has not been able to open up significant enough holes for Vick and McCoy. If the Ravens can limit McCoy, the secondary could have a field day with Vick's struggling arm. On defense, the Eagles possess one of the better defensive lines in the game. DEs Jason Babin, Trent Cole, and Cullen Jenkins will put the pressure on Flacco early. He will need to stay poised in the pocket in order to avoid mistakes in the Eagles secondary. CBs Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will make Flacco's job even tougher on Sunday. After a disappointing year in 2011, the Eagles defense still has the opportunity to be one of the best in the league, and following an offensive explosion by the Ravens last week, they will get their first big test of the year Sunday.

Prediction: This will be a game of answers to some of the biggest question marks for both of these teams. Can the Ravens run defense stop one of the best backs in the league? Does the Eagles defense have what it takes to stop a high-powered offense? Can Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense continue their success? All will be answered come Sunday afternoon. In a highly-contested "Battle of I-95," I have the Ravens taking down the Eagles, 27-17.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Eagles
Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Eagles WR DeSean Jackson  Edge: Webb
Analysis: Jackson is a perennial threat to break open a big play, but his lack of self-control gives the talented Webb a small edge.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy  Edge: Push
Analysis: Lewis looked as good as ever Monday night, but he did miss a few tackles. McCoy's speed and ability to break tackles will be prove to give Lewis one of his biggest tests of the year.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha   Edge: Asomugha
Analysis: Despite Smith's speed, Asomugha has proved himself as one of the best cover corners in the game today, and will limit Smith's big play ability.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans  Edge: Rice
Analysis: Ryans, a former Texans LB, is used to facing top-notch backs. However, Rice's speed and versatility will allow him to get past a slower and less athletic DeMeco Ryans.

Injury Report
T Jah Reid-Leg-OUT
C Matt Birk-Thigh-QST
S Ed Reed-Thigh-QST

WR Riley Cooper-Collarbone-OUT
WR DeSean Jackson-Hamstring-QST
WR Jeremy Maclin-Hip-QST
CB Curtis Marsh-Hamstring-QST

Well, that's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and Go Ravens!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 1 2012

Before we get to the good stuff, let's take a quick peek back at what has gone down since the Ravens fell to the Patriots last January. First, we'll look at the new Ravens that were selected in the 2012 NFL Draft:
Round 2: LB Courtney Upshaw-Alabama
Round 2: G/T Kelechi Osemele-Iowa State
Round 3: RB Bernard Pierce-Temple
Round 4: G/C Gino Gradkowski-Delaware
Round 4: S Christian Thompson-South Carolina State
Round 5: CB Asa Jackson-Cal Poly
Round 6: WR Tommy Streeter-Miami
Round 7: DE DeAngelo Tyson-Georgia

Undrafted Rookies to Make the Team: 
K Justin Tucker-Texas
RB Bobby Rainey-Western Kentucky
WR Deonte Thompson-Florida

These three players worked especially hard to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Tucker beat out veteran K Billy Cundiff to earn the starting kicker role. Rainey earned a spot as the 3rd string running back behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Thompson took advantage of injuries and a lack of depth to earn a spot as a special teamer, as well as an added receiver when needed.

Well ladies and gentlemen, we're back. The football season has officially begun, and your Baltimore Ravens will begin their season in front of a national audience on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Now, a further look at what your 2012 Ravens team will look like on the field. Here are some of the players who the Ravens lost to free agency over the off-season, as well as their new team:
LB Jarret Johnson-Chargers
G Ben Grubbs-Saints
DE Cory Redding-Colts
Redding will join former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who is now in his first season as Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Now, here are some of the additions made to this year's Ravens team:
WR/KR Jacoby Jones
CB Corey Graham
S Sean Considine
Jones is not expected to have a big role in the offense, but he is a big threat on special teams as a punt and kick returner.
Last year, Ravens LB Terrell Suggs won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. During the off-season, Suggs tore his Achilles while working out, and is now out indefinitely. He isn't expected to return until November. Filling his place as outside linebacker and pass rusher will be a committee of Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan, and Courtney Upshaw. LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed, the longtime cornerstones of the Ravens defense, are back again this year. Much has been said about Ravens QB Joe Flacco, who, after struggling throughout last season, had a career game in New England. Many have questioned his consistency, but there's no doubt that he can do big things when he is clicking. We often see Flacco get rattled under pressure. In a season with a tough schedule, Flacco especially needs to step up this year and lead the Ravens offense. He will have the support of RB Ray Rice, the undisputed focal point of the Ravens offensive strategy. Rice had a career year in 2011, and will look to continue his progress this season. WR Torrey Smith, a rookie last year, will continue to be Flacco's main downfield threat. Anquan Boldin will be a key short yardage receiver, as well as tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who will both return from injuries in the coming weeks.

The Bengals finished 9-7 last year, earning themselves a Wild Card berth before losing to the Texans in the AFC Wild Card Round. Their impressive season came as a result of great quarterback play from Andy Dalton, a rookie last year. Dalton and fellow rookie, WR A.J. Green, quickly established themselves as a combination to fear in the years to come. Green's size and ability to haul in any ball in his vicinity makes him one of the best young receivers in the league. The Bengals lost RB Cedric Benson over the off-season, but signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a similar style back, who will start on Monday night. On defense, the Bengals are led by DT Domata Peko, who has had his way with the Ravens offensive line in the past. He will need to be controlled in order for Joe Flacco to be comfortable in the pocket.

Prediction: Both teams have the opportunity to make a statement on national television here in Week 1. The Ravens will try to show that their aging defense still has its intensity against an explosive Bengals passing game. If the Ravens secondary can slow down A.J. Green, the lack of further support in the passing game should limit Andy Dalton's production. The Bengals will try to show that 2011 was not a fluke, and that Dalton and Green will not fall into a sophomore slump. Ultimately, both teams will be on an emotional high on the gridiron Monday night. In a battle that will be decided late, I have the Ravens winning, 23-17.

Key Matchups for Ravens vs. Bengals:
Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green  Edge: Push
Analysis: These are two top class players at their respective positions. All I can say is that it will be fun to watch.

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Bengals QB Andy Dalton  Edge: Reed
Analysis: Reed's instincts and experience will once again general the Ravens secondary. He'll take advantage of every mistake the young Dalton makes.

Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Bengals DE Domata Peko  Edge: Peko
Analysis: Peko has shown great consistency in getting to the quarterback. Birk won't be able to control him for all 60 minutes.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Bengals LB Rey Maualuga  Edge: Rice
Analysis: Despite Maualuga's athleticism, Rice's speed and breakout ability will thrust him forward to another Pro Bowl-caliber year.

Injury Report

CB Asa Jackson-Illness-QST
T Jah Reid-Leg-QST

Player-Injury Status
CB Dre Kirkpatrick-Knee-OUT
DE Carlos Dunlap-Knee-OUT
RB Bernard Scott-Hand-OUT

All of Ravens Nation is in mourning this weekend. Former Ravens owner Art Modell passed away Thursday morning at the age of 87. An NFL visionary, Mr. Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996, and was a majority team owner until 2004. From experience, Mr. Modell was a kind, generous man, and he will be missed greatly by the entire NFL community. Please keep Mr. Modell and his family in your thoughts and prayers as you enjoy the first weekend of NFL football in 2012.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, have a great week and Go Ravens!