NFC South: Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens report card at Bills

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
10:00
AM ET
Grading the Baltimore Ravens in their 23-20 loss at the Buffalo Bills:

Quarterback: As I wrote Sunday, you can't put all of the blame on Joe Flacco. But Flacco was bad. He threw a career-worst five interceptions, and three of them were his fault. Flacco didn't see the defender on two, and he underthrew Torrey Smith in the end zone on another one. Why was he throwing to the shortest player on the field (Ray Rice) in the end zone in the fourth quarter? His vision and decision-making were awful at times. Grade: F.

Running backs: The Bills took Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce out of the game in the first half, and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell did so in the second half. The Ravens ran the ball just twice after halftime. Rice averaged 3.4 yards per carry, and his longest run was seven yards. Pierce gained seven yards on four attempts. You could give the running backs a 'D' for disappeared but that would be too kind. Grade: F.

Wide receivers/tight ends: Smith was the one offensive player who showed up in Western New York. He caught five passes for 166 yards, a 33.2-yard average. Marlon Brown made a tough catch in the end zone, and Deonte Thompson showed the ability to stretch the field. But Ed Dickson and Tandon Doss can't catch. One interception was the result of a pass bouncing off Dickson's hands. Dallas Clark had trouble getting open. Grade: C-minus.

Offensive line: Once again, the line couldn't open any holes for the running backs. This group got smacked in the face physically. The surprising part was the terrible pass protection, which had been decent this season. Flacco got hit 12 times and sacked four times. The line also was flagged four times. It's hard to believe the Ravens won a Super Bowl with essentially this same line. Grade: F.

Defensive line: Arthur Jones got penetration to disrupt some running plays early, and Chris Canty stripped rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. It's tough to remember those moments when the Bills run for 203 yards (3.7-yard average per carry) against the Ravens and do it in between the tackles. The Ravens also allowed their first rushing touchdown of the season. Did Haloti Ngata even play? The stat sheet says he made four tackles, but I can't think of one. Grade: D.

Linebackers: Terrell Suggs was dominant with 17 tackles, one sack and three quarterback hits. Outside of Daryl Smith picking off a deflected pass, this group was awful. Josh Bynes can't cover, and his offside penalty (he leapt over the line before the ball was snapped) was ridiculous. And, just like Ngata, where was Elvis Dumervil? Grade: C-minus.

Secondary: Cornerback Jimmy Smith had a strong game against Steve Johnson (one catch for minus-1 yard), and safety Matt Elam was aggressive in run support early. But losing Lardarius Webb to a thigh injury hurt, and Webb wasn't playing a great game before he was injured. Corey Graham replaced Webb and quickly allowed his fourth touchdown of the season. There were too many times when a receiver was left uncovered, and a more experienced quarterback would have made the Ravens pay. The Ravens have to do better on crossing routes as well. Still, in the end, Manuel completed just 10 passes. Grade: C-minus.

Special teams: Sam Koch averaged 47.3 yards on seven punts, netting more than 52 yards and pinning the Bills inside the 20-yard line twice. Justin Tucker made both of his field goals, from 35 and 24 yards. Thompson had a 34-yard kickoff return, and Doss had a 17-yard punt return. Grade: B.

Observation deck: Panthers-Ravens

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
11:04
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During the pregame show before Thursday night’s game, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said he wouldn’t be surprised if Luke Kuechly wins the Defensive Player of the Year award at some point.

That point might be coming a lot sooner than even Gruden expects. If Kuechly plays all season the way he played in the Carolina Panthers' 34-27 preseason victory against the host Baltimore Ravens, he could be a shoo-in for the award.

Preseason or not, Kuechly turned in one of the most dominating defensive performances I’ve ever seen. He was all over the field from the start, which isn’t unexpected for a guy who was Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. But Kuechly turned in a second quarter that was beyond spectacular.

Kuechly forced a fumble by running back Bernard Pierce. Fellow linebacker Thomas Davis jumped on the loose ball and slid into the end zone to give the Panthers a 21-7 lead with 10:22 left in the first half.

A few minutes later, Kuechly popped the ball loose from Ravens receiver Aaron Mellette and safety Charles Godfrey seemed to intercept the pass. But Kuechly was called for a penalty and the interception was nullified.

It didn’t matter. Two plays later, Kuechly came up with an interception of his own to set up a field goal that gave the Panthers a 24-7 halftime lead.

Some other observations on the Panthers:
  • Kuechly wasn’t the only defensive star for the Panthers. Cornerback Drayton Florence returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
  • Defensive back D.J. Moore also had an interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
  • Rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, who were quiet in the first two preseason games, had a big impact. Short produced a sack and Lotulelei, who also recorded one, looked good as a run-stuffer.
  • The defense wasn’t the only unit that was explosive. The special teams also came through. Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
  • It’s a good thing the defense and special teams were so productive because the first-team offense didn’t look very good. The Panthers had to punt the first three times they touched the ball and the first offense never got into much of a rhythm. But I don’t think fans should panic about the offense. I think the Panthers are keeping things very basic in the preseason.
  • Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn suffered an apparent hand injury in the third quarter and did not return.
  • Running back Armond Smith was ejected in the fourth quarter for kicking a Baltimore player. That's not going to help Smith's chances of making the roster.

What to watch: Panthers-Ravens

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
11:02
AM ET
Three things to watch as the Carolina Panthers play the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN:

Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. Newton will get his most extensive playing time of the preseason, and the Panthers hope he and the offense can get in a rhythm. Newton has led only one touchdown drive this preseason. Clausen is expected to play with the second team. That’s not a sign that Clausen has a chance to beat out Derek Anderson for the backup job. It’s more of a sign that the Panthers want to take a good look at Clausen before deciding if they want to carry two or three quarterbacks on the roster.

The receivers. Armanti Edwards, Domenik Hixon and Joe Adams aren’t expected to play due to injuries. That means more playing time for Ted Ginn Jr. and David Gettis, who are having strong preseasons and have a chance to be among the top backups at receiver.

Garry Williams. He’s been getting the first-team work at right guard since the team released veteran Geoff Hangartner. Williams needs a strong showing because it still is possible the team could bring in a veteran as other teams trim their rosters.

Observation deck: Falcons-Ravens

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
10:45
PM ET

For the first time in more than a year, the Atlanta Falcons have a real running game.

That became obvious in Thursday night’s 27-23 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Running back Steven Jackson looked like he might provide more than a little upgrade over Michael Turner. Jackson carried eight times for 42 yards while playing less than a half.

The most telling drive of the night featured a couple of nice runs by Jackson and two nice passes from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones, including one for a touchdown.

The Falcons still are going to be a pass-first team, but one of their goals this offseason was to improve the running game. That’s why the Falcons let Turner go and brought in Jackson. He doesn’t have to get 25 carries a game, but Jackson at least gives the Falcons the threat of a running game and that means some balance for the offense -- and less time on the field for the defense.

Some other quick observation on the Falcons:
  • Don't be fooled by the final score. The Falcons dominated the game while the starters were in. Atlanta led 20-7 at halftime, which is all that really matters in a preseason game.
  • Atlanta’s first-team defense played very well, except for one play. The Ravens finished the first half with 131 yards of total offense, but 77 of those yards came on a touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith, who got past cornerback Asante Samuel. But Samuel made up for that by coming up with an interception later in the first half.
  • Defensive end Osi Umenyiora got off to a fast start, pressuring Flacco twice on Baltimore’s first offensive drive, which was a three and out.
  • Wide receiver Roddy White left the game with an apparent foot injury early in the game and did not return. There was no immediate word on the severity of the injury.
  • The offensive line was far from perfect and Lamar Holmes still needs plenty of coaching at right tackle. But the line did a very nice job protecting Ryan for a long time as he found Jones on the touchdown pass.
  • After a rocky performance in the preseason opener last week, backup quarterback Dominique Davis had an outstanding performance in relief of Ryan. Davis completed eight of 10 passes for 98 yards. That showing might be enough to convince the Falcons they don’t need to search for a veteran backup.
  • Cornerback Dominique Franks, who is competing for a roster spot, might have helped his chances with an interception late in the third quarter.

Observations on the Buccaneers

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
10:48
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get back to work Saturday, the special teams meeting isn’t going to be much fun.

Three bad plays on special teams in the second quarter handed Baltimore 17 points as the Ravens defeated the Bucs 44-16 in the preseason opener for both teams on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium.

The chaotic string started when Chris Owusu failed to catch a punt and the Ravens recovered at Tampa Bay’s 20-yard line with 10:42 left in the second quarter. One play later, the Ravens scored a touchdown to take a 7-6 lead.

The woes on special teams continued when Moe Lee returned a kickoff 58 yards and kicker Derek Dimke was flagged for making a horse-collar tackle. That led to a Baltimore field goal.

But the worst was yet to come. With 13 seconds left in the first half Chas Henry had a punt blocked and the Ravens recovered it for a touchdown to take a 24-13 lead into halftime.

Some other observations on the Bucs:
  • There is no quarterback controversy. Josh Freeman led the Bucs to one field goal in limited action and made no major mistakes. Mike Glennon might have gotten the hopes up of some fans when his first NFL pass (to Tom Crabtree) went for 61 yards. But Glennon wasn’t as effective the rest of the way. He completed 11 of 23 passes for 169 yards and one interception. Glennon is not a threat to unseat Freeman as the starter. In fact, Glennon needs to play better than he did to hold off veteran Dan Orlovsky for the backup job.
  • Owusu, who has been performing well in camp, had a tough night. In addition to the muffed punt, he also dropped a pass as a receiver and later left the game with an ankle injury.
  • Backup running back Brian Leonard had a nice 13-yard run in the first quarter. He appears to be ahead of veteran Peyton Hillis on the depth chart. Hillis had to leave the game with a knee injury.
  • Second-year linebacker Lavonte David had a sack on Baltimore’s first drive. David had a strong rookie year, but he can make himself into a Pro Bowl player if he can produce more big plays.
  • Cornerback Danny Gorrer made a nice play and came up with a first-quarter interception. But Gorrer had to leave the game with a groin injury.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are approaching their preseason opener with caution.

Just about every player with any sort of injury will sit out Thursday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Bucs just announced that Darrelle Revis, Carl Nicks, Davin Joseph, Adrian Clayborn, Luke Stocker, Lawrence Tynes, Sean Baker, Erik Lorig, Jacob Cutrera, David Douglas, Derek Landri, Gary Gibson and Aaron Morgan will not be active for the game.

In other news, the Bucs have released cornerback Myron Lewis, a third-round pick in 2010, and signed cornerback Mason Robinson.

Live from Raymond James Stadium

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
5:23
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m in the press box at Raymond James Stadium, where I’ll be covering the exhibition opener between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens.

I also will be watching the game between the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals on my computer.

I’ll break in if there are any significant injuries or any other news out of either game. Otherwise, I’ll be back with observations on the Bucs and Falcons after their games end.

Things to watch for the Buccaneers

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
10:36
AM ET
Three things to watch in Thursday night’s preseason game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens:

1. Mike Glennon. Starting quarterback Josh Freeman is likely to be in and out of the game before you know it. But Glennon will get a lot of snaps because the Bucs want to get a long look at the rookie in game conditions. The Bucs need to see if Glennon is ready to be Freeman’s top backup or if they need to keep veteran Dan Orlovsky around.

2. Da’Quan Bowers. The Bucs placed a bet that Bowers can be an every-down defensive end when they let Michael Bennett depart through free agency. Coach Greg Schiano said recently he wants to see Bowers start stringing together quality plays. After being used mostly as a situational pass-rusher in his first two seasons, this will be a chance for Bowers to show his coach what he wants.

3. The defensive backfield. Darrelle Revis is the prized addition to the secondary, but you probably won’t see him until later in the preseason as he recovers from knee surgery. But this will be the first time free-agent safety Dashon Goldson and rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks wear Tampa Bay uniforms. The Bucs are counting on Goldson and Banks to help a defense that ranked No. 32 against the pass last year.
The Baltimore Ravens waited for quarterback Joe Flacco’s contract to run out and got themselves a Super Bowl title.

Flacco
Ryan
Ryan
That also cost them millions of dollars when they eventually re-signed Flacco to a six-year $120.6 million deal after last season. With Flacco taking up such a big part of the salary cap, the Ravens have seen an offseason purge of other veterans.

The Atlanta Falcons were watching all this and they should have learned something. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is in the exact same situation as Flacco was this time a year ago -- headed into the final year of his rookie contract.

Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, recently said he has “no sympathy’’ for the Ravens losing some veterans this offseason because they could have prevented that by locking up Flacco last year. Linta said the sides were close, but things got held up due to a dispute about $1 million late in the contract. That prompted Flacco to play out his rookie deal and the final season of that undoubtedly drove up his price tag.

The Falcons simply can’t afford to do the same thing with Ryan. They need to get him locked up this offseason.

I think it will happen. General manager Thomas Dimitroff is a smart guy and he’s expressed optimism about getting a deal done. He also has expressed a need to be creative with the structure of Ryan’s contract.

There’s nothing wrong with that. If the Falcons can get Ryan signed for the long term now, they can make the deal relatively cap friendly.

If they wait too long and Ryan goes out and delivers anything close to the season Flacco did, the price tag is going to shoot up on the quarterback and a good chunk of the roster will be forced to leave.
As the full details of Joe Flacco's six-year, $120 million contract come spilling out over the next few days, a lot of people in Atlanta are going to be paying very close attention.

Start with Falcons owner Arthur Blank. Throw in general manager Thomas Dimitroff. And, oh yeah, Matt Ryan and his agents may be paying closer attention to what Flacco got than anyone else on earth.

Ryan
Ryan
Ryan and Flacco have been joined at the hip since they entered the league in 2008. Their careers have had many similarities and it’s a safe bet that Ryan and his representatives will be looking for something similar to what Flacco got.

Blank’s the one who ultimately will have to write the check and Dimitroff’s the one who has to structure the deal (and make sure it keeps enough room for the Falcons to sign other players in future years). The only real argument that Blank and Dimitroff can use is that, unlike Flacco, Ryan hasn’t won a Super Bowl.

But I don’t think the coach and general manager will even go there. The lack of a Super Bowl is a touchy subject for the Falcons and nobody blames Ryan for the fact Atlanta doesn’t have a championship. In fact, Blank and Dimitroff have made it abundantly clear they believe they can win a Super Bowl with Ryan.

They want to sign the quarterback to a long-term contract extension this offseason. The parameters already are in place. They’ll have to pay him like a champion.

They’ll have to pay him like Flacco.

Would Ed Reed fit with Saints?

February, 4, 2013
2/04/13
11:57
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Now that the Super Bowl is over, it’s time to start thinking about the offseason.

Free agency doesn’t start until mid-March, but we might as well start the speculation process. And we might as well start it with an intriguing piece of speculation.

Actually former New Orleans quarterback and current WWL Radio host Bobby Hebert started it when I joined his show last week. Hebert asked for my thoughts on the Saints pursuing Baltimore safety Ed Reed, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.

Even though we still don’t know who New Orleans’ defensive coordinator will be or exactly what the defensive scheme will be, there are a lot of reasons why adding Reed would make sense.

First off, he’s a Louisiana native and he might be attracted to the possibility of finishing his career at home. Second, Reed looks like he still has something left in the tank physically.

But, perhaps most importantly of all, Reed would bring swagger and leadership to a defense that was horrible last season.

While the other three NFC South teams like to build through the draft and don’t often bring in players in their 30s, the Saints have shown a past willingness to go in the other direction. In 2009, they brought in veteran safety Darren Sharper and he helped get them a Super Bowl title.

The Saints need a lot of other pieces to fix their defense. But adding Reed, even if it’s only for a year, might help speed up the process of improving the defense.
NEW ORLEANS -- I’m officially inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

It was a lengthy, but smooth, process getting in. As you would expect, security is very tight and very thorough.

Gates won’t open to fans for a few more hours. But the area around the Superdome already was packed as I came in on a media bus.

I’ll check back in here if there are any notes or news on the NFC South. But we’ve got plenty of pregame stuff going on over our main NFL page and plenty of ways for you to interact. We’ll start our Countdown Live chat an hour before the game.

Also, we’re running a slideshow over on the NFL Nation blog. I encourage you to snap some pictures from your Super Bowl party or whatever festivities you’re having. Send them to my Twitter account (@espn_nfcsouth) and the best will be selected for the slideshow.

Gearing up for the Super Bowl

February, 3, 2013
2/03/13
10:24
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- After a week of hype, Super Bowl Sunday finally is upon us.

I soon will get ready to make my way to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. As you might imagine, New Orleans is more than a little congested and I want to get into the stadium early and get set up.

There probably won’t be much in the way of NFC South action today. I’ll be helping out with our coverage of the 49ers and Ravens. We’ll have tons of coverage throughout the day, so just keep an eye on our main NFL page.

And join us for the Countdown Live chat that will be running throughout the game (as well as an hour before and an hour after).

Enjoy the Super Bowl.

Cam Netwon: 'Year of the Ray-ven'

February, 1, 2013
2/01/13
1:17
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton made his Super Bowl prediction Friday with a witty tribute to one of the game’s elder statesman.

“I think it’s the year of the Raven," Newton said. “When I say Raven, I’m putting the Y after the Ra, Ray-ven."

That’s obviously a reference to Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who said he will retire after Sunday’s game.

Newton made the comment during a news conference for Gatorade Sports Science Institute in which he discussed how he’s using nutrition to make sure he gets the most out of his performance.

I got some one-on-one time to discuss football with Newton, and I’ll be back with the highlights of what we talked about in a bit.

'Cajun Cannon' picks the 49ers

January, 29, 2013
1/29/13
12:46
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- I caught up with former New Orleans and Atlanta quarterback (and local radio host) Bobby Hebert during the San Francisco portion of Super Bowl media day.

I talked to him about matters involving a couple of projects that will run later in the week. But I also asked him for his prediction and thoughts on the game. I can share that part with you now.

“A lot of Saints fans are cheering for the Ravens,’’ Hebert said. “They view Baltimore as a blue-collar port city like New Orleans.’’

Although Hebert is deeply rooted in New Orleans, he’s taking a different route than the locals.

“But I personally know (San Francisco coach) Jim Harbaugh from when he was at the University of Michigan and I was playing for the Michigan Panthers,’’ Hebert said. “The Lions wouldn’t let us use their facility, so we went to Ann Arbor. So I know Jim and I just think the 49ers are the better team overall. I think it will be a close game because we usually have close Super Bowls here. I’ll take the 49ers by a field goal.’’

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