AFC South: Baltimore Ravens

Locker Room Buzz: Baltimore Ravens

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
5:50
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BALTIMORE -- Observed in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 20-17 overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Flacco
Sigh of relief: It was a celebratory locker room following the Ravens' first win since Oct. 6. But, after failing to hold a 17-point lead, the Ravens felt fortunate to pull out the victory. "I don't know if it was as much exciting as one of those where you wipe your forehead and say, 'Whew, Thank God, we got out of this one,'" quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Having said that, it is a big win."

Shaking off the Hail Mary: The Ravens were able to come back to win in overtime after allowing a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown to tie the game at the end of regulation. How was the atmosphere on the sideline? "It's disappointment, but you don't get disheartened," coach John Harbaugh said. "The game is not over. I'm proud of the fact that our guys looked at it that way. It's not something you have to go walking up and down the bench to make the point. We've got leadership all the way across the board. I'm really proud of them."

Looking to be a playmaker: Ravens safety James Ihedigbo didn't mince words when talking about his big game. "I look at myself as a great player, and that's what I aspire to be," he said. Ihedigbo had the first two interceptions of his career before tipping the pass on the game-tying Hail Mary touchdown. But he bounced back in the fourth quarter when he helped slow down Giovani Bernard on fourth down.

Live blog: Texans at Ravens

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
12:40
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Houston Texans' visit to the Baltimore Ravens. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
HOUSTON -- He knew it was coming, this day of public reflection about returning to a place where he spent the first 11 years of his career.

In the midst of telling an assembled crowd that how much he looked forward to being back in Baltimore, Ed Reed slipped in a revealing line.

"Never thought I’d be in these shoes," he said.

He's likely not alone.

On Sunday as the Texans head to Baltimore to try and get their first road win over the Ravens, the team will honor one of the best defensive players in franchise history. Another one of the best defensive players in their franchise history will be on the opposite sideline, though it's still unclear whether he'll play.

To Reed, the situation is just a demonstration of how the NFL works.

"I came into the NFL in 2003 and I was hearing not for long, not for long, NFL, not for long," Reed said. "My locker was by the free agents in that locker room. I watched guys come and go. I didn’t know how I was going to pan out. I saw Peyton Manning get (cut). I knew Joe Montana went to Kansas City. I know Jerry Rice went to Oakland. Played against him in Oakland. I was a huge 49er fan growing up. So I saw a lot of stuff, I knew about the business coming from the University of Miami. That’s the reason why I stayed five years. I didn’t know how it was going to happen.

"After my second contract, I thought I would have been there. But even then, you just don’t know. I kind of knew about free agent stuff when Ray [Lewis] went through it. It’s the business. I learned a lot being around Ozzie [Newsome], talking to Ozzie a lot. You just never know what’s going to happen."
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.

No future in Indy for Delone Carter

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
6:30
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It was time for running back Delone Carter to go. He didn’t have a future with the Indianapolis Colts. Not with Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Colts knew that, too. That’s why they traded Carter, who had fumble issues, to Baltimore for PR/KR David Reed.

Reed only has five catches for 66 yards in three NFL seasons. But he’s totaled 1,510 yards in kick returns. Reed led the NFL by averaging 29.3 yards a kickoff return during his rookie season in 2010. He didn’t return kicks last season.

The Colts' front office deserves credit for being able to trade a player -- Carter -- who didn’t have a future with the organization for one -- Reed -- who will compete for the kick return job. Reed also gives the Colts another body at the receiver spot to look at since nobody has stepped up to be the fifth receiver behind Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill.
Joe Flacco, JJ WattUS Presswire, AP ImagesHow Baltimore's Joe Flacco, left, fares against Houston's explosive J.J. Watt could be key Sunday.


The last time we saw the Texans and Ravens square off, we were watching a divisional-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Terrell Suggs had six tackles and a pass defended as the Ravens' rush linebacker. Houston featured third-string rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback, and his three interceptions -- paired with multiple special-teams gaffes by Texans returner Jacoby Jones -- were big factors in a 20-13 Baltimore victory.

The Texans returned home to rave reviews for their first playoff season but also couldn’t help wonder what might have been if they'd had injured starting quarterback Matt Schaub and played a cleaner game. Baltimore advanced to the AFC Championship Game in New England, where it lost to the Patriots, but a near-catch for a touchdown by Lee Evans could have won it with 27 seconds left and a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff could have forced overtime.

This rematch doesn’t carry the same stakes but could have big implications. The winner will have the AFC’s best record at 6-1.

AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley and AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky will be watching closely.

HENSLEY: I think it's easy to say this is a battle of the two best teams in the AFC. Not really going out on a limb here because the Ravens and Texans are the only teams with winning records in this mediocre conference. I know there are going to be nine games after this one, but this is shaping up to be the Ravens' most important game of the regular season.

The result of this game could become a tiebreaker for home-field advantage or a first-round bye at the end of the season. The Ravens, who have won a league-best 14 consecutive games at home, don't want to go on the road in the playoffs. The Ravens' mindset is that they won't have to come back to Houston this year if they win there Sunday. What's the mindset of the Texans after what happened in Houston last Sunday night?

KUHARSKY: Because the Texans are so young, they've played a lot of "biggest games in franchise history." This is certainly the newest one to top the list. Their critics look at the 5-1 record and see wins over mostly softies and a pasting by the Packers on Sunday night. A victory over the Ravens validates everything they've done and regains a firm hold on Best in the AFC. A loss would create some serious concerns. They do have the cushion of playing in a terrible division they simply can't lose. But Baltimore has been an obstacle and ended the Texans' last season in the playoffs. If they meet again with such high stakes, they don't want to be traveling.

It might be a good time to draw the Ravens, too, right? I know Ray Lewis wasn't what he has been, but their first game without a leader like that and without an underrated, great corner like Lardarius Webb may make them a bit more susceptible, no?

HENSLEY: This is the most vulnerable I've seen the Ravens' defense in 13 seasons. Lewis wasn't playing like the Lewis from 10 years ago, but he was still an above-average linebacker in this league. The Ravens have given up more than 200 yards rushing in each of the past two games, and losing Lewis only makes that run defense shakier. Dannell Ellerbe, who has made seven starts since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2009, will take Lewis' spot.

Though the Ravens will miss Lewis' leadership, the bigger loss is Webb. He was emerging as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. His nine interceptions since the start of the 2011 season was tied for the league lead. So, the Ravens have taken shots to both their run and pass defenses this week. How do you see the Texans attacking the Ravens' defense Sunday?

KUHARSKY: Although they might not run first chronologically Sunday, the Texans are a run-first team. Everything they do offensively is keyed on the one-cut-and-go running of Arian Foster, who did great work running for 132 yards in that playoff game on Jan. 15. They send him left most often now, because Duane Brown and Wade Smith are steadier blockers than the guys on the right side, where they have two new starters who aren't even full time.

Spinning off that run game, we'll see play-action heavy with bootlegs and rollouts. It's always remarkable to see Owen Daniels out in space awaiting a Matt Schaub pass. Andre Johnson is certainly dangerous too, though they've not been able to feed him the ball as much as usual. He hates the talk that he's getting older and slowing down, but he hasn't looked like the same player so far this season. Two weeks ago, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie really smothered Johnson. I figured Webb would be a guy who could do similar work. If AJ sees someone like Cary Williams instead, it could be a different story.

Speaking of Schaub, let's turn to quarterbacks. He has been quite efficient this year, doing what Houston needs and not getting caught up at all in his numbers. I came into the season not sold on Joe Flacco and thinking the Ravens didn't have the right guy under center to become an offensive team. But he has done some very good work in the games I've seen and started to change my opinion. Even minus Brian Cushing, the Texans' front throws a lot at a quarterback. Green Bay might have exposed some coverage deficiencies. How's Flacco at assessing such things on the fly and taking advantage?

HENSLEY: Flacco's biggest improvement this season has been his ability to audible at the line. The Ravens are using the no-huddle more than any other time in Flacco's five seasons. It's not to the point of being Peyton Manning, but Flacco is constantly changing the play at the line. Flacco, who ran the no-huddle during his college days, is comfortable with this. He has wanted to have more control of the offense and he's now getting it.

A lot of credit goes to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, who is familiar with this style from his days with the Colts. Flacco makes his mistakes when he gets pressured. His pocket awareness has improved and he can scramble for yards. But Flacco will rush and make poor throws when a defender is in his face. Left tackle Michael Oher (four sacks) and rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele (three sacks) have struggled at times keeping rushers away from Flacco. Is there any chance the Ravens slow down J.J. Watt and Houston's pass rush?

KUHARSKY: It sure seems like the key to the game for me. Watt is going to get his at some point, and it's not just sacks. Watch how he'll stop rushing when he knows he's not getting there and time his jump to bat down, or even pick off, a pass.

And although the numbers of the other guys aren't in his stratosphere, Brooks Reed, Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin are very effective rushers who will have a bearing on Flacco's pocket comfort. Force some mistakes with that rush, and I like Houston's chances. Get stonewalled and fall victim to the ball coming out super-fast, and I feel differently.

One note about the quicker Ravens offense: With Cushing out, Brice McCain, the nickelback, will have a bigger role in covering players such as Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta on routes. If the Ravens run hurry-up or no-huddle, they can potentially trap the Texans in base if they want McCain off the field. I am eager to see whether they try that. The Texans are obviously are familiar with Jim Caldwell's no-huddling.

How about special teams? Tell me how Jacoby Jones is now reliably explosive? The Texans have some serious special-teams issues.

HENSLEY: Jacoby Jones has been one of the bigger surprises this season for Baltimore. The Ravens were looking to upgrade the return game this offseason and failed to sign Eddie Royal or Ted Ginn in free agency. That's why they jumped on Jones when he was cut by the Texans. He has been average as a punt returner (9 yards per return), but he really keyed the win over the Cowboys on Sunday. His 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which tied an NFL record, was the big play in that game.

The only reason the Ravens turned to Jones on kickoffs was because rookie Deonte Thompson fumbled a kickoff the week before. If you think about it, it's kind of funny that Jones got his chance to be explosive because another player couldn't hold onto the ball, especially after Jones' problems fielding kicks in the past. But that really hasn't surfaced so far with the Ravens.

Baltimore's coverage teams are both ranked in the top half of the league, which is a big improvement from last year. In 2012, the Ravens allowed three touchdowns on returns. Another improvement is at kicker. Rookie Justin Tucker has made 12 of 13 field goals this season and has hit both attempts beyond 50 yards. If this game is close, the Ravens have a lot of confidence in Tucker to make a pressure kick. So, what are the issues with the Texans' special teams?

KUHARSKY: Well, Trindon Holliday was absolutely electric as their returner in the preseason. But it didn’t carry over and they gave up on him. You saw Holliday playing for the Broncos on Monday night. Keshawn Martin is the man now. The team averages only 9.8 yards a punt return and 18.5 yards a kick return.

Their average start after a kickoff is the league’s worst -- the 17.7-yard line. Their coverage isn’t that bad -- it’s 31st in the league instead of 32nd. Opponents start at the 26.9-yard line.

Donnie Jones is a middle-of-the-pack punter in net average. Shayne Graham has been good on field goals, hitting 11 of 12, but is tied for 24th in touchbacks playing at home in what amounts to a domed stadium.

It’s gambler’s logic that the Texans are due to break through against the Ravens. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. If they don’t and Jacoby Jones has something to do with it, it’ll hurt a little bit extra.

It’s certainly no stretch to predict we’ll see these teams facing off again in the playoffs. In what round and where is the question, and Sunday’s winner will lead the race to be in position to host.

In advance of Jaguars at Ravens

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
7:14
PM ET
The Jaguars kick off in Baltimore against the Ravens in just a bit.

Jacksonville has played well in getting to 2-0 in the preseason, and after a week with a lot of back and forth in the media between the team and holdout running back Maurice Jones-Drew and the announcement that the Jaguars would play a home game in London for four consecutive seasons starting in 2013, they’ll be happy to get back to football.

We know preseason football results are meaningless.

But a third victory for Jacksonville would sustain some momentum, and it wouldn’t hurt the vibe about the team at home or nationally.

The Jaguars have scored on their opening drives against the Giants and Saints, and they’d certainly like to keep that streak alive. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s been very impressive outside of a fumble in the first game, and the team would love for him to build on that against another quality defense.

Monitor his protection. The Jaguars are still down two starters on the line, as left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Will Rackley are out.

On defense, Rashean Mathis plays for the first time in the preseason. It will be his first action since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in November. He and Aaron Ross are competing -- one will be the second starting cornerback, the other the nickel corner. The other starter at corner, Derek Cox, is among the players sitting out tonight injured.

The Jaguars, once deep at linebacker, will be without two players expected to start when they crafted their roster. Clint Session might not ever make it back from lingering concussion symptoms from the 2011 season. And Daryl Smith is out tonight with a groin injury.
INDIANAPOLIS — Outside of the Super Bowl, the hot topic in town is what the Indianapolis Colts will do with quarterback Peyton Manning. Former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders gives his take of the situation from a player's perspective:
"I'm tired of you guys misconstruing it and start badgering a guy for holding out and trying to make a dollar when he finally gets leverage. But you never say nothing about these teams when they're allowing these guys to go year after year with contracts. No one says anything. The money isn't guaranteed. Now, it just so happens one of our most heralded players and he's getting caught up in business. They say it's about his health and his family situation. No, you're worried about $28 million that he's got coming.

"Any team would be a good fit for Peyton. He can make Slippery Rock go to the BCS. That's who he is."
INDIANAPOLIS — Outside of Super Bowl, the hot topic in town is what the Indianapolis Colts will do with quarterback Peyton Manning. Former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick expects the Colts to release the four-time NFL Most Valuable Player:
"I think we’re seeing the tell-tale signs of [Manning getting released]. The outside observers are saying, ‘Give him the money and draft Andrew Luck.’ That’s easy to do when it’s not your $28 million. Even the club said it’s not about the money. Are you kidding me? It’s always about the money. I question the intelligence of an organization that tries to parlay this in both instances. It’s tough decisions, but we’re headed clearly in that direction.”

Countdown Live: Texans-Ravens

January, 15, 2012
1/15/12
11:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the playoff match up between the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. See you there.

Video: Bloggers' first look at Texans-Ravens

January, 8, 2012
1/08/12
10:05
AM ET

An early look ahead to where the pressure will fall in the Texans-Ravens game on Jan. 15.

Monday Night Live: Ravens-Texans

December, 13, 2010
12/13/10
6:00
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the "Monday Night Football" match up between the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans.

Contribute your thoughts and questions starting at 8 p.m. ET. See you there.

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