AFC North: Ed Reed

When Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Markus Wheaton for a 47-yard touchdown Sunday in Pittsburgh's 43-23 win, it was yet another example of how teams continue to test the Baltimore Ravens with the deep pass.

This isn't just a recent occurrence. Quarterbacks have been looking for the big play against the Ravens ever since Ed Reed stopped patrolling their secondary. Call it the Reed aftereffect.

[+] EnlargeMarkus Wheaton, Darian Stewart
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesThe Pittsburgh Steelers exposed the Baltimore Ravens on big pass plays Sunday, something that teams have done since Ed Reed left.
For all of the risk-taking and freelancing that Reed did, he struck fear in quarterbacks because of his ability to pick off passes and return them for touchdowns. But there has been no second-guessing for passers these days when throwing deep against the likes of Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Terrence Brooks or whoever else the Ravens line up in the back end.

For comparison:

  • In Reed's 11 seasons, the Ravens allowed 19 completions (tied for the eighth-fewest) and eight touchdowns on passes that traveled at least 40 yards in the air.
  • In 25 games without him, the Ravens have given up 12 such throws (most in the NFL in that span) and six touchdowns (tied for the most).

This isn't to suggest the Ravens should bring back Reed. He showed last season with Houston and the New York Jets that he's not close to being the same playmaker. There's little chance that Reed is going to make a James Harrison-type comeback.

But the Ravens do have to find some solution to stop the deep throws. This season against the Ravens, quarterbacks are 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) on passes of 40 yards or longer for a perfect passer rating (158.3).

And these big plays have come at critical times for the Ravens. There was the 77-yard winning touchdown catch by Bengals receiver A.J. Green in the season opener, and a 53-yard reception by Mohamed Sanu that set up the winning touchdown Oct. 26 in Cincinnati.

The Ravens have tried to find the right combination. Seven players have lined up at safety this season, and five have been on the field for at least 90 defensive snaps.

"The best players play, to me, and the best players are the players who are playing the best," coach John Harbaugh said. "When some player expresses himself as being the best player by how he plays, he’ll be out there permanently. Until that happens, nobody is given anything."

Elam and Stewart are strong safeties who play better when closer to the line of scrimmage. Brooks, a rookie third-round pick, is better in coverage but was inactive Sunday against the Steelers, a week after giving up that pass to Sanu. And Will Hill, who made his first start Sunday, hasn't made the immediate impact that some anticipated.

Harbaugh said his defensive backs aren't being as disciplined with their technique as they need to be. Their eyes aren't in the right spot. They've misplayed balls. They've missed tackles.

"We’re looking for the right combination, but I think that’s a little overrated," Harbaugh said. "I think it’s the best players. You want to play in that secondary? Step up and practice and play well and step up in the game and make plays and be in the right spot. And that’s what we’re looking for guys to do.”

BALTIMORE -- It seemed like old times at Sunday's charity softball game at M&T Bank Stadium, where former Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed heard the familiar chorus of "Reeed" from fans and then sang his beloved rendition of "Two Tickets to Paradise."

This would have been the perfect opportunity for Reed to announce his retirement. He had a shot to call it quits on the field where he set two NFL records for interception returns, picked off 35 passes and captured the hearts of football fans.

Instead, Reed turned out to be another NFL great who is hanging on for too long.

"I know that I can still play," Reed said. "It's just a matter of the right fit. If not, you guys probably never see me again. Ed Reed and Barry Sanders, they did it their way."

[+] Enlarge Ed Reed
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesInstead of retirement, Ed Reed is talking about trying to join a team during the 2014 season.
Memo to Reed: Sanders retired at the peak of his career. Reed is more like Jerry Rice or Deion Sanders, two of the best at their positions who couldn't accept that it was time to retire.

He will long be remembered as the best ball hawk in NFL history, a playmaker who struck fear in the best quarterbacks of this generation. I never saw a player who could turn a turnover on one end of the field into a game-changing touchdown as frequently as Reed.

But he isn't that player anymore. He wasn't close to being that in 2012 or 2013. For a player with such an outstanding football IQ, Reed just can't figure out what many others have already concluded: He needs to walk away from the game.

Reed didn't get the hint when the Ravens let him walk away in free agency. He didn't get the hint when the Houston Texans benched him and then cut him midway through last season. And he didn't get the hint when -- as a member of the New York Jets -- he misplayed the ball on Joe Flacco's 66-yard touchdown bomb in Baltimore last year.

The one realization that Reed has apparently made is he can't play for a full season. That's why he talked about joining a team during the season.

"I'm getting myself back to where there's not questions on my part," Reed said. "I know you guys [the media] may question, but I'm not really worried about that. It's about how I feel."

There's no guarantee that another team will want Reed. He'll turn 36 in September, and it was apparent that he lost a step last season. For Reed's sake, let's hope no team signs him. Nothing can diminish Reed's legacy, but playing another year could lead to more embarrassing moments (and more big-play touchdowns being scored against him).

If Reed does sign somewhere in 2014, he'll be on his fourth NFL team, but his football home will always be Baltimore. On Sunday, Reed signed hundreds of autographs. He even played an impromptu game of toss with one fan in the stands.

While Reed missed the chance to be a "Raven for life" like Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, it's clear that this city still embraces him.

"Just walking into the locker room and talking to coach [John Harbaugh before the game], it definitely brings back memories," Reed said. "Anytime I come into Baltimore, it brings back memories."

Reed said he won't make any formal retirement announcement if he doesn't sign with a team this year. He talked about simply disappearing from the game.

This is where he is wrong again. When he finally decides to call it quits, Reed should sign a one-day contract with the Ravens and come back to the place where he made so many memories.

Reed needs to take one more bow at M&T Bank Stadium. He may regret not doing so on Sunday.
Offensive tackle Michael Oher signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Tennessee Titans last week, becoming one of a handful of Baltimore Ravens' first-round picks not to remain with the team beyond their rookie deal.

Oher, the 23rd overall pick of the 2009 draft, will be known as a durable yet not dominant offensive tackle during his five seasons with the Ravens.

Let's take a look at where Oher ranks among the Ravens' first-round picks:

1. Ray Lewis, linebacker (1996): He will be remembered as one of the greatest players in NFL history. Few can match Lewis' resume: Two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, two Super Bowl rings, 13 Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl MVP award.

[+] EnlargeOher
AP Photos/David DrapkinMichael Oher has been a durable, if not outstanding, tackle for the Ravens.
2. Jonathan Ogden, offensive tackle (1996): How revered is Ogden? He became the first pure offensive tackle to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility since Jackie Slater in 2001. Ogden went to the Pro Bowl in each of his final 11 seasons in the NFL.

3. Ed Reed, safety (2002): He was the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the first safety in 20 years to win the award. Reed led the league in interceptions for three seasons, and he holds the NFL record for most career interception return yards (1,541) and longest interception return (108 yards).

4. Jamal Lewis, running back (2000): In 2003, Lewis was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year for rushing for 2,066 yards, falling just 39 yards short of the NFL's all-time single season rushing record. He carried the Ravens' offense in the 2000 Super Bowl run and still ranks as the franchise's all-time leading rusher.

5. Terrell Suggs, linebacker (2003): He became the third Ravens player to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year, earning the award in 2011 by leading the AFC with 14 sacks and topping the NFL with seven forced fumbles. Suggs has recorded 94.5 career sacks, which is 24.5 more than any other Ravens player.

6. Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle (2006): A five-time Pro Bowl player, Ngata was considered the NFL's best interior defensive lineman a few years ago.

7. Chris McAlister, cornerback (1999): The Ravens' first shutdown cornerback, McAlister forced quarterbacks to throw away from him for years before a knee injury and off-the-field issues caught up to him.

8. Joe Flacco, quarterback (2008): He led the Ravens to a Super Bowl with a Joe Montana-like run and has produced more wins than any other quarterback since 2008. But Flacco's pedestrian regular-season numbers have stopped him from becoming an elite NFL quarterback.

9. Todd Heap, tight end (2001): Overshadowed by Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates in the AFC, Heap remains the Ravens' all-time leader with 41 touchdown catches.

10. Peter Boulware, linebacker (1997): The 1997 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Boulware finished with 70 sacks (second all-time for the Ravens), including a team-record 15 sacks in 2001.

11. Duane Starks, cornerback (1998): He struggled mightily at times, but he had three interceptions in the Ravens' 2000 championship run including a 49-yard return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

12. Ben Grubbs, guard (2007): He started 70 of 74 games for the Ravens and made the Pro Bowl in 2012, his last season with the team.

13. Michael Oher, offensive tackle (2009): He never missed a start in his five-year career, but he fell short of expectations because of false starts and inconsistent pass protection.

15. Mark Clayton, wide receiver (2005): He never led the team in receiving, and he had nine 100-yard receiving games. His best season was 2006, when he caught 67 passes for 939 yards and five touchdowns.

16. Kyle Boller, quarterback (2003): A flop as a franchise quarterback, Boller had one 300-yard passing game for the Ravens and seven starts where he threw under 100 yards. His five seasons with the Ravens produced a losing record as a starter (20-22) and just one more touchdown (45) than interceptions (44).

17. Travis Taylor, wide receiver (2000): Yes, Taylor is a bigger bust than Boller. The 10th overall pick of the 2000 draft, Taylor eclipsed 60 catches once and produced a grand total of two 100-yard games. If that doesn't convince you, Taylor didn't score a touchdown in his final 22 games with the Ravens.

Note: Safety Matt Elam was left off the rankings because he's only played one season.
Jacoby JonesEvan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJacoby Jones' 66-yard score marked the return of the big play in Baltimore.
BALTIMORE -- While the buzz was about backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor's increased role in the offense, it was starting quarterback Joe Flacco who delivered the play of the game.

His 66-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones in the final seconds of the third quarter put away the New York Jets in a 19-3 victory and added a dimension to the offense that has been sorely lacking.

For 10 games, Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens awaited the return of their deep passing game. It came back on a windswept day at M&T Bank Stadium and came at the expense of one of the greatest players in franchise history: Ed Reed.

"It was probably the play of the game for us," coach John Harbaugh said. "The ball got up there and got caught in the wind. If you saw it, it was being pushed that way. I thought once it got up in the air and the wind got it, I didn't think Jacoby was going to be able to get it. He shifted into another gear and he went and got that ball -- just an amazing play. And then for him to reach out and catch it and keep his balance, just a tremendous, athletic play."

Flacco completed 2 of 3 passes deeper than 30 yards downfield for 126 yards and a touchdown against the Jets, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Entering this game, he was 4-of-17 with an interception on those throws this season.

After the completion to Jones -- which was Flacco's first touchdown on a pass more than 20 yards this season -- the quarterback leapt in the air for a celebratory bump with Taylor and screamed with excitement with guard Marshal Yanda.

Asked if the celebration was the result of waiting for a completion like that all season, Flacco said, "I don't think it was that kind of feeling. It was just like 'Yes, we got a touchdown.' It wasn't anything like 'Oh, I've been looking for that,' or 'We haven't done that in a while.' That wasn't why. That didn't creep in at all. It was really just excitement because it was a tight game, we hadn't put the ball in the end zone yet, and we were able to do it right there."

The Ravens' second longest pass play of the season was the result of Jones beating Reed, who played his second game in Baltimore after 11 seasons with the Ravens. With rookie cornerback Dee Milliner playing off the line, Jones had a free release and blew past Reed in the center of the field. Jones caught the ball at the Jets' 15-yard line and beat Reed to the end zone.

It was redemption for Jones, who didn't hold onto the ball in the end zone after taking a hit from Reed earlier in the game.

"To play against Ed and to be able to do that, that's one of the greatest safeties to play the game, and to get respect from him … It's a good feeling," Jones said.

Jets coach Rex Ryan said no one should point the finger at Reed.

"I'm not going to pin it on any individual, certainly not on one guy, certainly not Ed Reed," Ryan said. "He'd probably be third on that list, if you want all honesty."

Five years ago, Reed would've picked off a pass like that and ran it back for a touchdown. He just doesn't have the same recovery speed at 35 years old.

"We knew they were going to take a shot. They had the wind at their backs," Reed said. "So we knew they were going to throw deep. Jacoby made a play. He adjusted to the ball really well. I probably should have grabbed him and took the penalty, but he was the one that made the play."

Two of Flacco's passes accounted for nearly half of his 273 yards passing against New York. In addition to his touchdown toss to Jones, he hit Torrey Smith for a 66-yard completion in the third quarter.

The throw to Smith was Flacco's best of the game because it hit Smith in stride when he had a step on cornerback Antonio Cromartie. It was also different from his touchdown pass because Jones was Flacco's first read.

"[Smith] wasn't necessarily my first guy, but I thought I'd give him a quick peak before I got into my actual progression because he was pressed," said Flacco, who was 17-of-26 with one touchdown and one interception. "I thought I could get a good look to see if Torrey beat him [his defender] off the ball. I thought he beat him off the ball, so I just gave him a chance, and Torrey made a nice catch on that one. It worked out well."

If the Ravens can continue to have success throwing the ball deep, this offense will finally strike some fear in opposing defenses.

Will Joe Flacco challenge Ed Reed?

November, 22, 2013
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Lost in the dropoff in the Baltimore Ravens' running game this season has been another sharp decline on offense -- the deep passing game.

Last season, Joe Flacco was the best big-play quarterback late in the season and in the playoffs. Now, he's among the worst at getting the ball 20 yards downfield.

The lack of explosive plays is a major reason why the Ravens have the third-fewest yards on offense this season.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens haven't been clicking on deep throws this season.
"It’s the hardest ball to complete," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "Obviously, it’s been frustrating, but if we get a couple of those to go in a game like we did in the past, it will do wonders for our team.”

In order to get the deep passing attack back on track Sunday, Flacco and the Ravens have to get the ball past a former teammate. Safety Ed Reed is now playing centerfield for the New York Jets.

Should Flacco challenge Reed? If he watched the Jets' game film against the Bills, he knows he has to test Reed. Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel threw 34- and 43-yard scoring passes, and Reed was late with deep help on the latter touchdown.

Jets coach Rex Ryan said allowing big pass plays has been his team's "Achilles heel."

Getting the ball downfield hasn't been a strength of the Ravens this season, which is surprising considering how Flacco played in the postseason. The Ravens haven't had their intermediate and red-zone targets (Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta), but they still have the same fast receivers with Smith and Jacoby Jones.

Last season, in six games with Jim Caldwell as the offensive coordinator, Flacco completed 50 percent of his passes (19 of 38) that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. He threw five touchdowns and no interceptions for a 135.4 passer rating.

This season, in 10 games with Caldwell calling the plays, Flacco has connected on 21.7 percent (10 of 46) of those throws. He has thrown no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 47.8 passer rating.

What's the difference between last season and this season?

“Oftentimes, you can’t pinpoint exactly what it was," Caldwell said. "We’ve taken a few shots here and there. We just haven’t been able to connect as often as we like, and that’s something that we continue to work on. Obviously, we think we do have speed. [We have] a quarterback that has a strong arm with speed that can stretch the field, not only vertically but horizontally as well. We continue to work on it; we continue to try to get better. It’s not quite where you want to be yet, but we continue to work on it.”

Flacco is the only quarterback in the NFL this season who has thrown at least 19 passes longer than 20 yards and doesn't have a touchdown on one of those deep throws. Even Jets rookie Geno Smith has three touchdowns on passes that have been in the air for at least 20 yards.

"We have guys on the outside that can do that and can get deep, and we have to do our job and take those chances," Flacco said. "We probably haven’t been taking as many as normal, and we probably haven’t been as successful as we normally would be when we do. That’s kind of how we’ve been with every facet of our game this year."

It's not for a lack of trying. Flacco's 46 passes over 20 yards is the sixth-most in the NFL. But his 21.7 completion rate on those passes ranks 33rd in the NFL. Only Manuel and Josh Freeman have struggled more in completing deep passes.

"I think that’s something we work on," coach John Harbaugh said. "To analyze it and put the reasons out there wouldn’t really help us as a football team. We’ll let people figure that out for themselves. Our task is to get better at it. You need big plays -- that’s for sure. You need big plays. You need chunk plays in the run game, you need over-the-top pass plays, and you need catch-and-run pass plays. Those are things that make the difference for you."

Double Coverage: Jets at Ravens

November, 22, 2013
Muhammad Wilkerson and Ray RiceGetty ImagesMuhammad Wilkerson's Jets stuff the run, but Ray Rice will be coming off a 131-yard performance.

The Baltimore Ravens play host to the New York Jets in a showdown that has more meaning than another reunion with safety Ed Reed. These teams are battling for the final playoff berth in the AFC, even though neither has a winning record. Welcome to parity in the NFL.

The Jets (5-5) currently hold the second wild-card spot, based on a tiebreaker with Miami. The Ravens and five other teams with 4-6 records are one game behind the Jets in the playoff race.

Here's how Jets reporter Rich Cimini and Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley see this Week 12 matchup unfolding.

Jamison Hensley: The unbelievable stat with Jets quarterback Geno Smith is the 20 turnovers. How much of those interceptions and fumbles can be blamed on him? And, even though he is expected to start, what are the chances he finishes the game?

Rich Cimini: Smith’s 20 turnovers lead the league. If you’re keeping score at home, it’s 16 interceptions and four lost fumbles. I could go on and on with statistical stuff, but the bottom line is he’s making poor decisions. He’s not reading safeties well. He tends to throw late. At times, he "leaves the game plan," according to the coaches -- meaning he forces things, especially late in games. He doesn’t handle adversity well. If he struggles early, there’s a good chance it’ll be a bad game. That said, he’s a rookie with intriguing physical skills. He has a terrific arm. The Jets aren’t ready to write him off, but it’s getting down to crunch time and they can’t survive if the turnovers continue. Matt Simms has finished the past two losses, both blowouts. If Smith is a train wreck in the first half, it wouldn’t shock me if Rex Ryan turns to Simms again.

What’s wrong with Joe Flacco? I mean, 13 interceptions. That’s Geno-like.

Hensley: Rich, that's the most surprising part of Flacco's season. You can debate whether Flacco became an elite quarterback by leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl, but what Flacco has always done since coming into the league in 2008 is protect the ball. He'd never thrown more than 12 interceptions in a season before throwing his 13th this season -- and it's still November. There are a lot of factors for the increase in turnovers, starting with a routinely collapsing pocket, but I don't think he will throw an interception Sunday. Flacco typically plays better at home and has thrown just of his two interceptions at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. Another reason is that the Jets don't pick off passes, at least not this season. Their five interceptions are fewer than all but four teams in the NFL.

Of course, that could change with Reed in the Jets secondary. Reed returns to Baltimore for the second time since leaving the Ravens. He goes to the Jets after being a nonfactor in Houston. After seeing Reed play one game, what kind of an impact might he have with New York? Is the Jets' pass defense still vulnerable?

Cimini: Surprisingly, Reed started in his Jets debut and played 59 of 67 snaps on defense. Playing mostly as the single-high safety, he had no virtually no impact against the Bills. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes, but he also didn’t have any plays on the ball. They had him blitz twice, the first time ending with a long touchdown pass over Dee Milliner in zero coverage. Reed was late in deep coverage on a 43-yard touchdown pass over Antonio Cromartie, but it wasn’t an easy play, as he was coming from the opposite hash. I liked the Reed signing. The price was right and, in time, I think he’ll help with their issues on deep balls. The real problem with the pass defense is the cornerback play. Milliner is experiencing rookie growing pains, and Cromartie is having a disappointing season.

The Ravens are familiar with Jets coach Rex Ryan, who was Baltimore's defensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008. Is there still any carryover from Ryan's days with the Ravens to this season's defense?

Hensley: The tradition of getting after the passer and showing no fear in the red zone remains strong with the Ravens. Like Ryan, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will come after quarterbacks, whether it's with a safety or cornerback Lardarius Webb from the slot. The Ravens have had at least two sacks in 18 straight games, the NFL's second-longest streak since 1990. This defense also is stingy when backed up to its own end zone. The Ravens are the NFL's top-ranked red zone defense, giving up a touchdown just 32.1 percent of the time from inside their own 20-yard line. This is a big advantage for Baltimore because the Jets are tied for 22nd in red zone offense, reaching the end zone just 50 percent of the time.

Going back to Ryan, the Ravens are 2-0 against their former defensive coordinator. How would you evaluate his performance this season?

Cimini: All things considered, I think Ryan is doing a nice job. Despite having a turnover-prone rookie at quarterback, the Jets are still in the thick of the wild-card chase. Sometimes, I wonder how he’s doing it. The Jets have the worst turnover margin in the league (minus-14) and the second-worst points margin (minus-85), yet they’re 5-5. The primary reason is the defense. Ryan lost his best player (Darrelle Revis) and integrated seven new starters -- no easy task. They have the No. 1 run defense in the league, thanks to a young and promising line. I think Ryan needs to win at least two or three more games to keep his job. A win over his old team would really help his cause.

But it’s always tough to knock out the champ. Do you think the Ravens have enough heart to get back in the race and defend their title?

Hensley: Honestly, it's not about heart, because the Ravens play hard. It's more about their ability to weather the storm, which was literally the problem last week with a tornado watch in Chicago. The Ravens have come up short late in games because the other team has been making the plays and the defending champions have not. It's why the Ravens are tied for the league lead with four losses by a field goal or less. They have to figure out a way to put away teams in the fourth quarter. If they don't do that Sunday against the Jets, the Ravens' hopes of repeating will be over.

It's beginning to feel like safety Ed Reed hasn't really left M&T Bank Stadium.

Reed signed with the New York Jets on Thursday, meaning he will play in Baltimore for a second time this season. The Jets play at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 24.

He was with the Houston Texans when they lost in Baltimore, 30-9, in Week 3. This could be Reed's final game in Baltimore, given the decline of his play.

This isn't the first time the Ravens have met a former player twice in the same season. In 2011, wide receiver Derrick Mason played in Baltimore for two games. Coincidentally, Mason played for the Jets and Texans.

Reed, who was released by the Texans on Tuesday, becomes the fifth notable ex-Raven to reunite with Rex Ryan in New York. Here's how those players have fared in Ravens North:

Bart Scott, linebacker: A four-year starter who averaged 75 tackles per season.

Jim Leonhard, safety: A three-year starter who totaled three interceptions and 15 passes defensed.

Trevor Pryce, defensive end: Played in 10 games but started none. Managed four tackles, one sack, and one safety.

Mason, wide receiver: Caught 13 passes for 115 yards and no touchdowns. Released after playing five games.

Wake-up caw: More Ed Reed reaction

November, 13, 2013
Ed Reed hasn't played for the Baltimore Ravens for nine months, so I understand if some scoff at the attention the future Hall of Fame safety is getting on the Ravens team page. But Reed will be remembered as one of the greatest players to play for this franchise, which makes his release Tuesday newsworthy in these circles.

Some have speculated that the New York Jets could show interest in Reed because of the ties with Rex Ryan. If that happened, Reed would play in Baltimore again this season, when the Jets visit M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 24.

Let's take a look at the reaction and opinions on Reed ...
  • Mike Preston, of The Baltimore Sun: Reed should retire after taking the Texans to the bank ($5 million guaranteed).
  • John Eisenberg, of the team's official website: It would surprise me if Ravens decided Reed could help them in 2013. Doesn't play offensive line.
  • Childs Walker, of The Baltimore Sun: Reed couldn't call out the Texans' coaching staff and not expect consequences. He lost his "great player privileges."
  • Morgan Adsit, of Fox 45 in Baltimore: Don't hold your breath, Ravens fans, unless Ed Reed grows five inches, gains 100 pounds and is suddenly an offensive lineman. Not gonna happen.
  • Pete Prisco of CBS Sports: Ravens are spot-on about Ed Reed. ... Old and slow.

And here's the rest of your wake-up caw:
  • Eisenberg, from the team website, points out that the Ravens find themselves in the thick of the playoff race because of the mediocrity in the AFC. "They certainly haven’t wowed anyone, including themselves, and they know they need to play better to make good things happen," Eisenberg wrote. "But when you step back and put their season in context, measured against the competition, they’re far from buried and gone."
  • Jeff Zrebiec, of The Baltimore Sun, explains why safety James Ihedigbo has become a leader on defense despite joining the team less than 15 months ago. "Go back and watch a replay of how he reacts to the Hail Mary play," Zrebiec wrote. "Ihedigbo knew he made a mistake on the A.J. Green 51-yard, game-tying touchdown as time expired and didn’t need a reminder. However, when fired-up cornerback Jimmy Smith launched a verbal tirade in Ihedigbo’s direction on the sideline as the Ravens prepared for overtime, Ihedigbo didn’t return the verbal fire, get in Smith’s face or add to the scene. He took it, let cooler heads prevail and then went out and made a play to get the Ravens the ball back."
  • Clifton Brown, of Comcast SportsNet, tackles the question of whether Joe Flacco can raise his play down the stretch. "The Ravens need Flacco to throw more accurately and to make better decisions than he has the past two weeks," Brown wrote. "For the Ravens to play their best football, they will need better football from Flacco."
  • The Press Box takes a look at how the Ravens stack up in the AFC playoff race.

Ravens shouldn't bring back Ed Reed

November, 12, 2013
The Baltimore Ravens should bring back safety Ed Reed -- but only for a one-day contract when he decides to retire.

Anything more than a sentimental reunion would be a bad move for the Ravens. Reed, who was reportedly released by the Houston Texans, is old and slow. He doesn't have an interception or a pass breakup this season. He had 16 tackles in seven games and lost his starting job in Houston. It's wishful thinking that Reed could help the Ravens. It says something about where Reed is as a player this year when the Texans decide to part ways with him 10 weeks into the season after giving him $6 million guaranteed.

The Ravens have moved on from Reed, just as they have with Ray Lewis. Baltimore is starting rookie first-round draft pick Matt Elam and veteran James Ihedigbo, who has been one of the bigger surprises on defense this season. If the Ravens are adding a safety, it would be someone who can play special teams and add depth in the defensive backfield. They're not going to pay Reed just for his leadership.

Reed will go down as the third-best player to ever suit up for the Ravens, behind Lewis and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. The Ravens showed him a sign of respect by not giving out No. 20 to any player this year. That doesn't mean they should re-sign him. The last memory of Reed in a Ravens uniform should be of him hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans.

The Ravens made some questionable moves in the offseason, like signing safety Michael Huff and defensive lineman Marcus Spears. Baltimore has since released both. But not outbidding the Texans for Reed was the right call. And it's the right call not to bring him back, unless it's for him to officially end his career as a Raven.

How ex-Ravens are faring this season

October, 25, 2013
With the Baltimore Ravens on their bye, it's a good time to check out how the key members of last season's Super Bowl team are faring with their current teams. A special thanks to the team reporters who provided their assessment of the ex-Ravens. I then give my take on whether the Ravens miss these players.


A look at the numbers: Boldin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick. The wide receiver ranks 19th in the NFL with 495 yards receiving. He has 34 catches and two touchdowns. Boldin made an immediate splash with 208 yards receiving in the season opener, but he's come back down in the next six games.

Bill Williamson, 49ers reporter: With Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out, Boldin is the 49ers’ only legitimate threat at receiver. He will be even more dangerous when Manningham and Crabtree return and he sees fewer double-teams.

Do the Ravens miss Boldin? Yes. Even though they miss tight end Dennis Pitta more, the Ravens could use Boldin on third down and in the red zone. Marlon Brown has stepped up, but Joe Flacco had a certain trust with Boldin.


A look at the numbers: Ellerbe signed a five-year, $34.75 million contract with the Miami Dolphins that included $14 million guaranteed. The inside linebacker ranks third on the Dolphins with 40 tackles. Ellerbe has no sacks and no passes defensed, but he has recovered two fumbles. He's missed one game this season with a shoulder injury.

James Walker, Dolphins reporter: Ellerbe has been a mostly good addition for the Dolphins. He's taken to his new role as a leader and defensive playcaller, leading the Dolphins in tackles before his shoulder injury, but he has struggled at times against the pass.

Do the Ravens miss Ellerbe? Yes. But it's not like the Ravens had the salary-cap room to match the Dolphins overpaying for Ellerbe. He would be an upgrade over Josh Bynes as well as Jameel McClain, who is 10 months removed from a spinal-cord contusion.


A look at the numbers: Kruger signed a five-year, $40.5 million contract with the Cleveland Browns that includes $20 million guaranteed. The outside linebacker has had more penalties (two) than sacks (1.5). His 19 quarterback hurries lead the Browns, and his eight missed tackles are tied for the most on the team.

Pat McManamon, Browns reporter: Kruger has been solid but not spectacular for the Browns. The main issue: His sack numbers are not what he or the team had hoped for. Through seven games, Kruger has 1.5 sacks, and he admits that's not enough. Especially for a guy paid as handsomely as he was in the offseason.

Do the Ravens miss Kruger? Not at all, especially after Elvis Dumervil fell into their laps. Dumervil has 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and seven quarterback hits.


A look at the numbers: Pollard signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Tennessee Titans after being cut by the Ravens. The strong safety leads the Titans with 47 tackles. He also has two interceptions and three passes defended, and has even blocked a kick.

Paul Kuharsky, Titans reporter: Pollard has been great for the Titans. He's been the sort of outspoken leader they needed, and he's backed it up with solid play. The Titans have schemed in a way that's kept him out of difficult coverage situations, and he's been good in pass defense.

Do the Ravens miss Pollard? Yes. James Ihedigbo has exceeded expectations, but Pollard brought a level of intimidation that the Ravens' defense misses. You have to wonder whether the Ravens' run defense would be better with Pollard and whether receivers would think twice going over the middle with him in the defensive backfield.


A look at the numbers: Reed signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Houston Texans that included $6 million guaranteed. The free safety missed the first two games of the season with a hip injury, and he doesn't have an interception or a pass defended this season. He ranks 13th on the Texans with 14 tackles.

Tania Ganguli, Texans reporter: Reed has not yet made the kind of impact many expected from him. He wants to be tested more than he has been -- he's only been targeted three times by quarterbacks this season.

Do the Ravens miss Reed? For the short term? Probably. In the long term? Probably not. Quarterbacks likely wouldn't test the Ravens deep as much with Reed playing center field. But the Ravens will be better in the future with Matt Elam, a first-round pick who is learning on the job this season.


A look at the numbers: Williams signed a three-year, $17 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles that includes $10.5 million guaranteed. The cornerback has two interceptions and five passes defended this season. He's allowed two touchdowns and has been flagged for four penalties.

Phil Sheridan, Eagles reporter: Williams got off to a bit of an odd start, missing some voluntary workouts for personal reasons (and famously saying he was picking out sconces for the home he was building), then fighting with Riley Cooper in practice. But he brings that same attitude to the field, which has helped give this rebuilding Eagles defense a personality. He hasn't been great on the field, but he's been good and getting better as the defense in front of him becomes more competent. Mostly, I'd say he's a guy who knows what it's like to be part of a winning, intimidating defense, and that's in short supply around here.

Do the Ravens miss Williams? Hard to say. Once again, this is a case where the Ravens couldn't have come close to matching the offer from the other team. Even if the Ravens had Williams, I'm not sure he starts. Lardarius Webb was going to reclaim his starting job, and Jimmy Smith was going to start because it was time to see if he was worth a first-round pick.

Locker Room Buzz: Baltimore Ravens

September, 22, 2013
Observed in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 30-9 win over the Houston Texans:

Growing pains: The Ravens only managed 236 total yards, including 10 in the first half, but there is no sense of panic on offense. "I keep saying it, we're a young team and we got a lot of new guys over there and we're real slim at the running back position today," said quarterback Joe Flacco, who didn't have running back Ray Rice (hip) in the backfield. "So, we're going to have some growing pains throughout the first couple of weeks. I said all along the biggest thing is: Can we win games while we have those? So far, the last two weeks, we haven't been great but we've managed to win football games. I think that's a sign of a pretty good football team."

Cleaning up penalties: Something was said at halftime, presumably directed at the offensive line, after the Ravens were flagged eight times in the first half. The Ravens committed just two penalties after halftime. Most of the problems were with the offensive line, and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie had two facemask penalties. "Sometimes against a good front, that stuff comes up but we don't need to do that," coach John Harbaugh said. "Our offensive line is tood good to have to resort to those techniques. The guys did a good job of cleaning it up."

Paying no attention to Reed: The return of Ed Reed to Baltimore was a big storyline heading into the game. But he was a non-factor in the game and in the minds of the Ravens. "We broke the huddle on the first play of the game and I saw him," Flacco said. "And from then on out, I didn't pay too much attention to him. On a couple of plays, I tried to give him a double couple look offs. I purposely, though, didn't pay too much attention to him after that first play."

Ed Reed Watch: No. 1 moment

September, 22, 2013
In honor of Ed Reed making his possible return to Baltimore on Sunday, the ESPN Ravens team page is counting down the most memorable moments for the former Ravens safety all week. Because Reed built a career off the "pick-six," I thought it would be appropriate to list his top six performances. Here is No. 1 ...

No. 1: Making history again -- the 107-yard return

Date: Nov. 23, 2008

What happened: Reed eclipsed his previous NFL record by a yard on a fourth-quarter runback that led to a 36-7 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles. With the Ravens ahead 22-7, Reed picked off Philadelphia backup quarterback Kevin Kolb in the end zone and immediately broke up the sideline. Reed made his first cut back to sidestep Kolb and then pushed running back Brian Westbrook off to the side. He eluded a diving tackle by lineman Todd Herremans, leaving one more Eagle to beat. After faking out tight end Brent Celek at the Philadelphia 20-yard line, Reed jaunted the rest of the way for his 10th career touchdown. It wasn't as dramatic as his previous record return -- that one sealed a win over Cleveland -- but this comes in ranked No. 1 because it's tough to top history.

What Reed said: "We're on a mission. It's to get to the next level and the playoffs. I'm not satisfied until we get to the Super Bowl and win it."

Stat to remember: 1,541 -- Interception return yards by Reed, the most in NFL history. It's 58 more yards than Rod Woodson, who ranks second on the list. Reed has averaged 25.3 yards per return.

Ed Reed Watch: No. 4 moment

September, 19, 2013
In honor of Ed Reed making his possible return to Baltimore on Sunday, the ESPN Ravens team page is counting down the most memorable moments for the former Ravens safety all week. Because Reed built a career off the "pick six," I thought it would be appropriate to list his top six performances:

No. 4: Stealing a win from the Redskins

Date: Oct. 10, 2004

What happened: The Ravens needed a spark in a regular season game at Washington. Reed delivered it three times. He scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery after stripping quarterback Mark Brunell on a safety blitz, stopped Clinton Portis for a two-yard loss on a third-and-1 on the next series, then threw a block that sprung rookie free agent B.J. Sams for a 78-yard punt return -- all in a 2 1/2-minute span in the third quarter. As a result, the Ravens rallied from a 10-0 halftime deficit to score 14 points without their offense taking the field.

What Reed said: "Don't quit. That's what we preach to each other. We stuck together as a team, and we fought hard for 60 minutes and prevailed in the end."

Stat to remember: 10 -- Touchdowns that Reed scored at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. He reached the end zone only three times on the road: a touchdown off a blocked punt in Arizona (2003), this fumble return in Washington (2004) and a punt return for a score in Cincinnati (2007).
Ed Reed, Ray RiceGetty ImagesEd Reed returns to Baltimore for the first time as a Texan, while Ray Rice looks to improve from his slow start.
Sunday's AFC showdown between the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens features the return of safety Ed Reed to Baltimore. Reed went to nine Pro Bowls during his 11 seasons with the Ravens and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. He has missed the first two games of the season because of his surgically repaired hip and would make his Texans debut if he plays.

While there will be plenty of attention placed on the reunion with Reed, this game will factor into how the balance of power in the AFC shakes out. The Texans (2-0), one of five undefeated teams in the AFC, are the first team since the merger in 1970 to win each of their first two games of a season on the final play of the game. The Ravens (1-1), the defending Super Bowl champions, are trying to get back on track after getting routed by the Denver Broncos and struggling to beat the Cleveland Browns.

Texans team reporter Tania Ganguli and Ravens team reporter Jamison Hensley discuss how this emotional and pivotal game will unfold.

Hensley: The big storyline heading into this game is whether Reed will play. Like Ravens coach John Harbaugh, I would be surprised if Reed sat out this reunion game. But it was only three years ago when Reed underwent a procedure on his hip while with the Ravens and missed the first six games of the season. When Reed returned, he picked off two passes in his first game and eventually led the NFL in interceptions despite playing just 10 games. If Reed plays, how much of an impact can he make in his first game with a new team and a new defense?

Ganguli: Anything can happen when Reed plays. He’ll have a lot of free rein when he returns, as he’s helped not just his teammates but also given coaches advice. The Texans are being cautious with him. He had a blood-spinning procedure done three weeks ago that has a range of results in patients. Reed said it helped his hip feel better. He also said this hip injury feels more mild than the surgery he had three years ago. He practiced more last week than he did before the Texans’ season opener against the San Diego Chargers, so he is progressing toward playing.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak said last week that if Reed does play, the Texans don’t plan on starting him in his first game back. They’ll use him in certain defensive packages and continue to start Shiloh Keo. Asked about it this week, though, Kubiak said he would listen to Reed’s evaluation of his health.

Reed isn’t the only legacy gone from the Ravens’ defensive roster. How has that changed Baltimore’s defense?

Hensley: The two longtime faces of the Ravens defense will be there at M&T Bank Stadium, but both won't be wearing purple. Reed is on the other sideline, and Ray Lewis will be inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime. The Ravens have seven different starters from the defense that lined up against -- and got beaten up by -- the Texans last October.

The biggest improvement has been the Ravens' run defense, especially with Daryl Smith in the middle. This is key because the Ravens gave up 98 yards and two touchdowns to Arian Foster in the last meeting.

Baltimore also upgraded its pass rush with Elvis Dumervil, but there are questions in the secondary. The Ravens have already benched cornerback Corey Graham and safety Michael Huff and replaced them with cornerback Jimmy Smith and safety Matt Elam.

Talking about new looks, how much has rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins -- whom the Ravens liked in the draft -- helped the Texans passing game?

Ganguli: Hopkins had a breakout game in Week 2, catching seven passes for 117 yards and scoring the game-winning touchdown. He wears size 3X gloves, only one size smaller than J.J. Watt, who is four inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than Hopkins. Those big hands give him the confidence to catch with his hands and not worry about bringing the ball into his body. Because of that, Hopkins is excellent on contested catches.

Getting to the heart of your question, though, Hopkins’ impact will be big this season. He finally gives the Texans a complementary threat to Andre Johnson. Quarterback Matt Schaub became more confident in Hopkins through the game, especially when Johnson left with a concussion and he had to. That trend will continue during the season. The Texans threw to Johnson more than all their other wide receivers combined last year, and that will surely change this season.

Sticking with offense, what would be the impact of not having Ray Rice if his injury prevents him from playing?

Hensley: Rice injured his hip toward the end of the Ravens' not-so-thrilling win over the Browns. He will likely be questionable for Sunday's game against the Texans. He's always been a big factor in the Ravens offense. Rice was one of three running backs last year (with Doug Martin and C.J. Spiller) to produce more than 1,000 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving. The Ravens are 37-6 when Rice gets at least 15 carries.

The problem is the offensive line hasn't opened many holes for Rice, who is averaging 2.9 yards per carry. Backup running back Bernard Pierce has been the more physical back and has broken more tackles than Rice this season. The Ravens need to establish the run because they've lost too many weapons -- wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded, tight end Dennis Pitta is on injured reserve and wide receiver Jacoby Jones is sidelined -- to rely solely on the passing game. Any chance the Ravens' ground game can come to life against the Houston front seven?

Ganguli: The Texans’ front seven has played inspired football in spurts this season, especially inside linebacker Brian Cushing, whose play is showing just how much he missed being out there for most of last season. The Texans gave up an 80-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers but contributed to the biggest comeback in franchise history by allowing just 10 yards the rest of the game. In Week 2, Chris Johnson had only five rushing yards in the third quarter and 19 in the second half.

On one hand, the Texans defense hasn’t put together a complete game yet. On the other hand, it's been excellent with halftime adjustments. Even if the Ravens get going early, there’s a strong chance that won’t last.

A big part of that is Cushing, who has resumed his position as a leader on the defense. We talked about the on-field differences on the Ravens defense, but has anyone filled the leadership void?

Hensley: The Ravens' leadership in the past came from the veterans, like Lewis, Reed and Boldin. This team is going to rely on the likes of Terrell Suggs, Dumervil and Lardarius Webb. Suggs has taken over Lewis' role as the vocal leader, and I can see Webb becoming a more behind-the-scenes influence like his mentor Reed. The Ravens offense has strong character players such as Rice and wide receiver Torrey Smith.

Suggs and Dumervil have made a similar impact on the field. Last year against the Texans, Suggs played his first game since tearing his Achilles. Now, fully recovered, Suggs looks even better than before because he is in the best shape of his career. Dumervil has been just as disruptive and destroyed right tackle Mitchell Schwartz last week. They've each had a sack in the first two games. How are the Texans tackles going to hold up against these Ravens' edge rushers?

Ganguli: That will be an interesting thing to watch in this game. Derek Newton is new as the Texans’ starting right tackle this year, and left tackle Duane Brown thinks he could be a game-time decision after suffering a turf toe injury against the Tennessee Titans. Losing Brown would be damaging to the Texans, who rely on him to win one-on-one matchups. Another matchup to watch is the kicking game.

Hensley: One of the biggest surprises last season was the consistent kicking from Justin Tucker, who hit 30 of 33 field goals. The biggest surprise Sunday was Tucker's inconsistency, missing twice wide right after only missing once in Baltimore as a rookie. Tucker isn't worried, and a short but strong body of work doesn't have the Ravens panicking either. But given all the injuries on the Ravens offense, they can't afford for Tucker to be off his game. It seems like the Ravens aren't the only team having a problem with a kicker.

Ganguli: Randy Bullock has struggled in his first two games, making only one of five attempts. They haven’t been easy attempts, none shorter than 40 yards and three longer than 50, but the Texans know he has the leg for making those. It might help his confidence if he was put in the position to kick shorter field goals. Though fans are upset, the Texans aren’t giving up on him. Why would they? He’s only two games into his NFL career, having spent his rookie season on injured reserve.