Thursday, January 2, 2014
All-AFC North: Baltimore Ravens
By Jamison Hensley
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There can be no complaints from the Baltimore Ravens after placing seven players on the All-AFC North team. This tied the Cleveland Browns for the most representation on the team. Not bad for the defending Super Bowl champions who failed to make the playoffs and finished a disappointing third in the division.
Not surprisingly, five of the Ravens players on the All-AFC North team are on defense. A big reason why the Ravens ranked in the top 10 in defense for most of the year was the contribution from two new veteran starters. Inside linebacker Daryl Smith, who replaced Ray Lewis, filled up the stat sheet with 123 tackles, 5 sacks, 19 passes defensed, 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. Safety James Ihedigbo, a special-teams player for most of his career, stepped up in a starting role to finish second in tackles (101) and interceptions (three).
The Ravens' defense also got a boost from two former draft picks who elevated their games. Art Jones emerged as the Ravens' best defensive lineman, leading that group in tackles (53) and sacks (four). Jimmy Smith made a case for not only being the Ravens' top cornerback but the second best in the division. He held his own this year in matching up with four of the top five receivers in the NFL: Cleveland’s Josh Gordon (first), Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown (second), Detroit's Calvin Johnson (third) and Cincinnati's A.J. Green (fifth). Besides Smith, the only Ravens selection on defense who wasn't a unanimous pick was linebacker Terrell Suggs, who led the division with 10 sacks.
The Ravens' other two players on the All-AFC North team were on special teams. A first-time Pro Bowl player, kicker Justin Tucker made 33 straight field goals this season, the longest streak of the year, and hit three game-winning field goals this season, including a 61-yarder in Detroit. Jacoby Jones was the most dangerous returner in the division, averaging 28.8 yards on kickoffs (fourth in NFL) and 12.5 yards on punts (fifth in the NFL).
The Ravens didn't have any players on the all-division offense, and rightfully so. Baltimore ranked 29th in total yards (307.4), and the rest of the division's offenses finished in the top 20.