NFL Nation: Sam Koch

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Elvis Dumervil, LB, fourth Pro Bowl selection: His 17 sacks set a Ravens single-season record and ranks third in the NFL. Only Kansas City's Justin Houston (18 sacks) and Houston's J.J. Watt (17.5) have more. He also has seven multisack performances in 2014, bringing his career total to 29, which is tied with DeMarcus Ware for the league’s second-most since 2006.

Who he beat out: Washington Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan didn't make the cut despite ranking fifth with 13.5 sacks.

C.J. Mosley, LB, first Pro Bowl selection: The first Ravens rookie to make the Pro Bowl, Mosley is the NFL’s only player with at least 115 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions this season. His 122 tackles rank seventh in the league and first among rookies. He is considered the favorite to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and would become the first Ravens player to earn that honor since Terrell Suggs in 2003.

Who he beat out: Tampa Bay's Lavonte David ranks second in the NFL with 141 tackles and has forced three fumbles.

Marshal Yanda, G, fourth Pro Bowl selection: He's the highest-ranked offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. Yanda is a mauling run-blocker and solid pass protector, giving up one sack this season. With Yanda, the Ravens have allowed 18 sacks (second fewest in the NFL) and have averaged 126 yards rushing per game (seventh most in the NFL).

Who he beat out: He's arguably the best lineman in football, so technically he beat out everyone. But Cleveland Browns rookie Joel Bitonio got snubbed after receiving the second-highest grade for a guard.

SNUBS

Justin Forsett, RB: His career season should've been recognized with a Pro Bowl invitation. Forsett ranks first in yards per carry (5.3) and sixth in the NFL in rushing with 1,147 yards. His 14 runs of 20 yards or longer is tied with DeMarco Murray for most in the NFL.

Who he should have beaten out: Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy averages fewer yards per carry (4.1) than Forsett and has scored three fewer touchdowns than him.

Sam Koch, P: He ranks first in the NFL in net average (43.5) and second in gross average (47.4). Koch has also placed 48 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, which is fifth-best in the league. That should've been enough to earn him his first Pro Bowl selection.

Who he should have beaten out: Cincinnati's Kevin Huber ranks behind Koch in both average and net average. Huber has three more punts inside the 20-yard line but he has 16 more punts than Koch.

Terrell Suggs, LB: The six-time Pro Bowl player is still among the top all-around linebackers in the game. Suggs is one of seven players with 50-plus tackles and at least 11 sacks.

Who he should have beaten out: Kansas City's Tamba Hali has totaled six sacks (five fewer than Suggs) and 57 tackles (one fewer than Suggs). Suggs is also the highest-ranked run-stopper at outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus, and Hali is No. 28.

Ravens Camp Report: Day 8

August, 1, 2014
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:
  • It was another sluggish practice for quarterback Joe Flacco. He mishandled a snap from center, and he lost grip of the ball while dropping back (and not getting hit). Flacco did show nice touch on a pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, who found a hole in the zone defense. But Flacco was later intercepted over the middle by Asa Jackson on a poor pass.
  • Punter Sam Koch provided the highlight of the day as a field-goal kicker. With Justin Tucker getting the day off, Koch hit from 60 and 51 yards. After connecting on the 60-yarder, he was lifted in the air by coach John Harbaugh. There's less concern about how the Ravens will fare if Tucker ever gets injured in a game.
  • Linebacker Terrell Suggs has been having a terrific camp, mainly because he's been getting to the quarterback after beating tackles Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner. On Friday, he reminded everyone that he can more than hold his own dropping back into coverage. Suggs drew the assignment of covering Pitta and Owen Daniels, and neither caught a pass on him.
  • Wide receiver Steve Smith was asked by a fan why he wasn't practicing. "I beat the defense up, so they wanted to give me the day off," he said. Along with Steve Smith, Monroe and cornerback Jimmy Smith were given the day off.
  • With Jimmy Smith off and Lardarius Webb still hurt, the Ravens had a much different look at cornerback with the first-team defense. Chykie Brown and undrafted rookie Tremain Jacobs were on the outside, while Asa Jackson lined up in the slot.
  • Schedule: The Ravens have a 10 a.m. ET practice Saturday.
  • Injury wire: Webb (back) missed his sixth straight practice. ... ILB Daryl Smith (groin) was sidelined for a third consecutive day. ... DT Timmy Jernigan (back spasms) and G Will Rackley (head) also didn't practice. ... WR Jeremy Butler (groin) returned but didn't appear to be at full strength. ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list.

Cap increase may save Ravens punter

February, 27, 2014
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It seems like the NFL's 2014 salary cap keeps increasing with each passing day, which could turn out to be good news for Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch. According to ESPN's John Clayton, this year's cap will rise to $132 million per team. That's about $9 million more than it was in 2013 and around $6 million more than projected earlier this winter.

Koch
Koch
The increased room could save Koch, who has been considered one of the Ravens' top three candidates to get released for salary-cap reasons. Cutting Koch would free up $1.6 million in cap space.

Koch's $2.2 million salary is still high for a punter, especially one who ranked 13th in average this past season. But he's been one of the most consistent punters over the years. His career gross punting average (44.8 yards) and net punting average (38.6) both rank first in Ravens history. His 39 punts inside the 20-yard line since the 2010 season are the second most in the league.

Now, with a projected $22.1 million in cap space, the Ravens can afford to carry Koch's $2.8 million cap number, which ranks 10th on the team. His cap number also is the eighth highest among punters in 2014.

The boost in the cap may not benefit the other cap casualty candidates on the Ravens. Baltimore can gain nearly $5 million in cap room by releasing linebacker Jameel McClain and fullback Vonta Leach.

McClain is almost a certainty to get cut because the Ravens create $3.2 million in cap space. He made an admirable comeback from a spinal cord contusion, but he doesn't fit in the Ravens' plans. At inside linebacker, the Ravens are trying to re-sign Daryl Smith and they are hoping second-round pick Arthur Brown steps into a starting role this season.

Leach, who represents $1.75 million in cap savings, is expected to get released because of his reduced role on offense. There has been speculation that Leach will return because he played under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak in Houston. But the Ravens need to get more playing time for fullback Kyle Juszczyk, a fourth-round pick from a year ago, and they could run more formations with two tight ends than two running backs.

Last March, the Ravens only released two players: safety Bernard Pollard and guard Bobbie Williams.

Grading the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII

February, 3, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Baltimore Ravens did just enough right Sunday night to hold off a furious comeback by the San Francisco 49ers and win their second Super Bowl title. They made just enough big plays, just enough stops on defense and their free-agent-to-be quarterback likely made himself a pile of money. This is how the 49ers graded out, while this is a look at how it broke down for the Super Bowl XLVII champions in the Superdome:


PASSING OFFENSE

Joe Flacco dominated the first half with three touchdown passes and looked completely comfortable and in control for most of the night. The Ravens' offense in general looked sluggish in the third quarter, but that likely had at least something to do with the fact that a combination of the halftime show, Jacoby Jones' kick return touchdown and the 33-minute power outage kept them off the field for nearly 90 minutes. Once Baltimore was able to get back into a rhythm, Flacco picked up where he'd left off, completing a couple of key passes to Anquan Boldin on the field goal drive that stopped San Francisco's 17-0 run.

RUSHING OFFENSE

When your kicker has the longest run of the night, as Justin Tucker still did well into the fourth quarter, your run game isn't what it ought to be. San Francisco limited Ray Rice all night and forced a critical Rice fumble (off a screen pass) that set them up for a field-goal drive. Backup Bernard Pierce seemed to be more effective than Rice, and for a time it looked as though they could deploy the two in combination, especially when they were up 28-6. But they were unable to sustain anything with the run and had to lean on Flacco and the passing game once the score got close.

PASSING DEFENSE

Really a tale of two games here. The Ravens had Colin Kaepernick flustered in the first half, making him move his feet and prompting him into bad decisions. Ed Reed had an interception, and the Ravens had some important pass breakups in one-on-one coverage. But the third quarter featured too many breakdowns in coverage and tackling as Kaepernick grew more comfortable and was able to find everyone from Vernon Davis to Michael Crabtree to Randy Moss open when he needed them. Ray Lewis was overmatched early in coverage against Davis, and it's possible the Ravens had to sacrifice some pass rush to compensate for that. But they did pick a couple of smart times to blitz, including the play that resulted in Paul Kruger's early sack and the play on which they stopped a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game in the fourth quarter.

RUSHING DEFENSE

You have to grade a run defense on a curve against the 49ers, because there's almost no way to contain Kaepernick for a whole game. Frank Gore delivered some tough, bruising runs during the Niners' comeback, and the long run that set up their chance at a go-ahead touchdown late. But what really hurt was Kaepernick's ability to pick up big chunks of yardage on the edge -- none bigger than his 15-yard touchdown run that cut the lead to two points in the fourth quarter. Haloti Ngata's third-quarter knee injury didn't help matters much either.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Jones' 108-yard kick return for a touchdown that began the second half tied an NFL record and appeared at the time as though it might put the Super Bowl away for good. Jones was good all night on kick and punt returns. Tucker didn't miss a kick, and Sam Koch averaged 47 yards on his three punts and saved a touchdown with a tackle on one of the returns. They almost outsmarted the 49ers into ending the game without having to give them the ball back when they decided not to punt from their own end zone in the final 12 seconds. The Ravens' coverage units struggled a bit, which is the only reason for the minus.

COACHING

John Harbaugh spent the first half coaching circles around little brother Jim with sharp-looking game plans on both sides of the ball. The Ravens' six plays on their first offensive drive were run out of six different formations. Even the decision to fake the field goal that would have put the Ravens up 17-3 late in the second quarter, which seemed foolish at the time, worked out for Baltimore when they were able to force a punt and cash in with a 56-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Jones. You could come up with any number of reasons the Niners got back into it in the second half, but it's hard to figure a way to pin it on coaching.



Did the Ravens run up the score?

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
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BALTIMORE -- The one criticism you could make of the Ravens in their 55-20 win is bad timing.

Holding a 24-point lead (41-17) with under six minutes left in the third quarter, the Ravens raised some eyebrows when they scored a touchdown off a fake field goal. Holder Sam Koch took the snap and ran untouched seven yards to the end zone, much to the surprise of the Raiders and the sellout crowd at M&T Bank Stadium.

Were the Ravens guilty of running up the score? Ravens coach John Harbaugh doesn't think so.

"I wish I could say that we stand up there -- and you guys might roll your eyes at this a little bit -- and you feel like the game is out of hand and we don't need those points," Harbaugh said after the game. "When I'm looking at the clock, and I'm seeing 25 minutes left in the game, a lot of things can happen. Turnovers can happen, people can score quick. So, if they're going to give us an opportunity for four points that we normally wouldn't have, we just feel obligated to take advantage of that."

Was it poor taste for the Ravens to run a trick play at that point? Probably. Did they break some sort of football etiquette? Maybe. But it's not the Ravens' responsibility to show mercy to another team. It's like what they say about touchdown celebrations. If you don't like them, keep the other team out of the end zone.

Raiders coach Dennis Allen didn't seem bothered by the fake field goal.

"It's our job to go out there and stop them," he said.

Harbaugh explained that the fake field goal was his call. The instruction to Koch was for him to run it to the left side if the Raiders overloaded on the right side.

"It was in the game plan all week," Harbaugh said. "They gave us the opportunity, and we called it."

Koch said he was unaware if the Raiders players were upset by the play.

"I was too busy doing high-fives and spiking the ball," he said.

BALTIMORE -- My thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 55-20 win over the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: The Ravens (7-2) maintained their lead in the AFC North heading into their toughest three-game stretch of the season (two games against Pittsburgh with a cross-country trip to San Diego sandwiched in between). This was Baltimore's 15th straight win at home -- the longest active streak in the NFL -- and the Ravens made it look easy against an outclassed Raiders team. The Raiders (3-6) has lost all five of their games to the Ravens in Baltimore.

Setting scoring mark: The Ravens set a single-game record for scoring with 55 points. They scored touchdowns on three passes, two runs, one fake field goal and one kickoff. Baltimore's previous best was 48 points. The Ravens had scored 38 points in their previous two games.

Flacco reaching the end zone: Joe Flacco has played his best at home this season, and this was no exception. He threw three touchdowns and scored another on a one-yard sneak. Flacco finished 21 of 33 for 341 yards. It was the 11th 300-yard game for Flacco.

Running it up: The Ravens had a 24-point lead (41-17) late in the third quarter but that wasn't enough for Baltimore. Lining up for a field goal, holder Sam Koch took the snap and ran seven yards untouched for the touchdown. The Ravens were showing no mercy in this one.

Jones establishes NFL record: Jacoby Jones became the first player in league history with two career kickoff returns of at least 105 yards. He returned one for 105 yards to cap the scoring Sunday. Last month against Dallas, Jones returned one 108 yards. He also becomes the first player in Ravens history to have two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the same season and in a career.

Taking it easy: The Ravens treated Sunday's game as an extra bye week. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shoulder) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (abdomen) suited up but they didn't have to play a snap.

Painful outing for Reed: Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed failed to wrap up Darrius Heyward-Bey late in the second quarter which allowed the Raiders receiver to score a 55-yard touchdown. Reed walked off the field holding his right shoulder. It's been an injury that has bothered him for most of the season and led to the Ravens getting fined when they didn't report it on the injury report. The rout allowed Reed to sit out the fourth quarter.

What's next: The Ravens play at the rival Steelers on Sunday night.
We're only a few hours into the NFL's post-lockout world, but we're already getting answers to some key personnel questions we spent the offseason discussing.

Maynard
Maynard
Here is one of the first. ESPNChicago.com cousin Jeff Dickerson has confirmed the Chicago Bears won't re-sign free agent Brad Maynard, their punter for the past 10 seasons. The team informed Maynard of the decision late Monday afternoon in a story first reported by the Chicago Tribune.

This move isn't entirely unexpected, but it's still a bit jarring to see a core member of a special teams juggernaut cast aside. Maynard is 37 and his performance dipped a bit in 2010, but age is relative when it comes to punters and place-kickers in the NFL. A reliable specialist is one of the most underrated comforts in football.

A snippet from our original discussion in March:
It's true that Maynard's 35.2-yard net average ranked 30th among NFL punters last season, but he did drop 24 punts inside the 20-yard line. Veteran savvy and experience are as valuable to kicking specialists as any position on the game, and Maynard's career total of 407 punts downed inside the 20 are the second-most in the NFL over the past 35 seasons.

Still, the Bears have made the decision to move on and assuredly have a priority list for replacements. They have long-time camp leg Richmond McGee on their roster, and ESPNChicago.com offers three veteran possibilities: Sam Koch, Adam Podlesh and Steve Weatherford. Negotiations can begin Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. ET. Stay tuned.
From top to bottom, the AFC North is full of talented players.

Everyone knows household names such as Ray Lewis, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and Chad Ochocinco. But the division also has solid, under-the-radar players who have important roles without the spotlight.

In no particular order, here are five underrated players in the division from last season.

Koch
Koch
1. Sam Koch, P, Baltimore Ravens

2010 stats: 81 punts, 43.6 average, 39 inside 20

Analysis: Koch's stellar year was overshadowed by Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff's record-setting season. But Koch joined Cundiff to become the 12th and 13th men on defense with Cundiff's 40 touchbacks, which tied an NFL record, and Koch's 39 punts downed inside the 20. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, who is a former special-teams coach, takes the third phase of the game very seriously, and Koch is a big part of that.

Fujita
Fujita
2. Scott Fujita, LB, Cleveland Browns

2010 stats: 51 tackles, 3.5 sacks

Analysis: Fujita was a solid free-agent signing for the Browns and played nine games last season. But as soon as he got injured in Week 10, the defense lost its toughness and went downhill. The Browns are going through a lot of transition under first-year head coach Pat Shurmur, which includes a switch to a 4-3 defense. But Fujita played much of his career in a 4-3 and should be comfortable going back to that scheme. He's expected to start, along with fellow linebackers Chris Gocong and D'Qwell Jackson.

Redman
Redman
3. Isaac Redman, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 stats: 52 carries, 247 yards, two total touchdowns

Analysis: Two years ago, Redman was a player who would do well in practice and training camp but never got the opportunity in games. Last season the Steelers finally used their best-kept secret, and the undrafted running back was productive in a limited role. Redman averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season while spelling workhorse Rashard Mendenhall. Redman is a very tough runner who moves the chains. He likely will have an increased role in 2011, as Pittsburgh tries to do a better job of keeping Mendenhall (324 carries) fresh.

Wilson
Wilson
4. Josh Wilson, CB, Ravens

2010 stats: 40 tackles, three interceptions

Analysis: Last summer's trade to acquire Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks didn't garner many headlines. But the move turned out to be solid for Baltimore. Wilson got better as the season progressed and eventually replaced Fabian Washington to start nine games. There were some highs, such as Wilson's interception for a touchdown in overtime to beat the Houston Texans, and some lows, such as getting beat on the late touchdown to Roddy White in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. But overall Wilson was Baltimore's steadiest corner in the second half of last season. The Ravens will attempt to re-sign Wilson, who is a free agent.

Shipley
5. Jordan Shipley, WR, Cincinnati Bengals,

2010 stats: 52 receptions, 600 yards, three touchdowns

Analysis: Shipley was taken one spot ahead of friend and former Texas teammate Colt McCoy last year, and both had productive rookie seasons. Shipley is a smart player who, despite his size, is fearless going across the middle. He quickly became a favorite of Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and caught 52 passes. The Bengals may have a new quarterback next season, but Shipley should remain productive in the slot.

Seven-step drop: Underdog Steelers?

January, 24, 2011
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Here are seven notes and observations in the AFC North:

  • Early projections have the Green Bay Packers favored by approximately a field goal over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Expect this to be motivation over the next two weeks for Pittsburgh, which traditionally thrives in the underdog role. I'm a little surprised Pittsburgh will head to Arlington, Texas, as the underdog despite being No. 2 seed. The Packers are playing well as a No. 6 seed, but I think these are two evenly-matched teams. Pittsburgh (14-4) also has been more consistent than Green Bay (13-6) over the course of the season.
  • [+] EnlargePittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau
    Jason Bridge/US PresswirePittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau isn't under contract next season, fueling retirement rumors.
  • On Sunday ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter reported Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's contract expires after the season. This may present a scenario where the Hall of Famer coaches his last game in the Super Bowl. LeBeau, 73, said three seasons ago after turning 70 that he's coaching on a year-to-year basis. There was speculation he could retire after Pittsburgh's previous Super Bowl win following the 2008 season. That likely will start up again next week in Arlington. Expect this call to be totally up to LeBeau, who has been the NFL's top defensive coordinator for a long time and may take some time in the offseason to make his decision. LeBeau loves coaching his current group, and Pittsburgh will re-sign him to an extension in a heartbeat if LeBeau wants to continue coaching. Also, don't believe the hype linking LeBeau to Arizona. That's a pipe dream, at best.
  • Here is an interesting note: The Dallas Morning News reports Cowboys legend Roger Staubach will present the Lombardi Trophy to the winning team following Super Bowl XLV. It's well-documented that the Hall of Fame quarterback had heated rivalries with Pittsburgh in the 1970s, including two Super Bowl losses in '76 and '79. It's already gut-wrenching enough that Pittsburgh, which owns one more Super Bowl title (six) than Dallas (five), can extend that lead on the Cowboys' home turf with a win over the Packers. But for Staubach to potentially hand over another championship to a team he loathed in his playing days would make for another awkward moment for the Cowboys organization.
  • In non-Super Bowl news, quarterback Carson Palmer made big headlines by requesting a trade from the Cincinnati Bengals. Team owner Mike Brown responded by saying he's not going to trade Palmer, which creates an interesting offseason standoff. But you also have to wonder how badly things really are behind the scenes in Cincinnati if Palmer wants out. Palmer is one of the nicest, most honest and optimistic players I've been around in seven seasons covering the NFL. Even when the Bengals have awful years, Palmer is the one player who remains positive that things will get better. But every player has a breaking point and it appears Palmer, 31, has reached his. Cincinnati has yet to make any significant changes that were thought to be in the works after a 4-12 season, and you wonder if Palmer sees where things are heading.
  • But ... let's say Bengals ownership caves in to Palmer's demands. Let's look ahead to what type of trade value Palmer would have on the open market. For starters, he’s not the same Pro Bowl quarterback he once was, but Palmer remains a better option than a lot of players. The contract could be an issue, as Palmer is slated to be one of the NFL's highest-paid players at $11.5 million next season. I also think it hurts Cincinnati's leverage that it’s now public that Palmer is unhappy and wants out. All things considered, I think the Bengals may be able land a second-round pick and perhaps another late-round pick for Palmer.
  • The Cleveland Browns are still suffering for their poor draft in 2009. That's one key reason the team remains in rebuilding mode. Last week I talked to an NFL scout about Cleveland's three second-round picks. The scout said they had a late-round grade on linebacker David Veikune, who was released by the Browns this season, and Brian Robiskie was described as a receiver who can't separate and has a low ceiling. The scout did believe Mohamed Massaquoi could be productive in the right situation and the right system. But Cleveland's lack of offensive identity isn't helping Massaquoi develop.
  • The Baltimore Ravens' quick work to get kicker Billy Cundiff signed to a five-year extension is a good sign. The Ravens have several big free agents, including defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and punter Sam Koch, and they aren't waiting for a new collective bargaining agreement to get started. Cundiff's contract as a kicker was easier than most. So don't expect a much larger deal like Ngata's to be completed any time soon. But the Ravens potentially could get some lesser free agents signed in the next few weeks.

Final Word: Ravens-Chiefs

January, 7, 2011
1/07/11
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Wild-card Final Word: NY Jets-Indy | Baltimore-K.C. | N.O.-Seattle | G.B.-Philadelphia

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Ravens-Chiefs wild-card game:

[+] EnlargeBaltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis
David Drapkin/AP PhotosBaltimore's Ray Lewis leads the NFL's No. 5 run defense against Kansas City's Jamaal Charles.
Road warriors: Historically, the Ravens have not been fazed by playing on the road in the postseason. The Ravens (6-3) are tied with the Carolina Panthers (4-2) for the best road playoff winning percentage (.677) since 1960. Baltimore has another tough assignment playing in Kansas City. The Chiefs are 7-1 this year at Arrowhead Stadium, which is one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL.

Stopping Charles: Baltimore also has a tall task of slowing down Kansas City's running game, led by Pro Bowl tailback Jamaal Charles. Charles rushed for 1,467 yards this season and averages an impressive 6.4 yards per carry. Charles rushed for more than 170 yards in a game twice. But Baltimore boasts the NFL's fifth-best run defense, allowing just 93.9 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry. It will be an interesting clash of strengths.

The third phase: An under-rated part of Baltimore's success this season has been its stellar play on special teams. Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff made 26 of 29 field goals and tied an NFL record with 40 touchbacks. Punter Sam Koch averaged 43.6 yards per kick, including 39 punts inside the 20, and rookie receiver David Reed averages 29.3 per kickoff return. Winning the third phase of the game is important in the playoffs and could bode well for Baltimore.

AFC North Pro Bowl candidates

December, 27, 2010
12/27/10
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The votes are in, and the NFL will announce its Pro Bowl team for the 2010 season on Tuesday. The game will be played in Hawaii on Jan. 30, one week before Super Bowl XLV.

Here are some candidates from the AFC North who will receive consideration:

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4)
Baltimore Ravens (11-4)
  • Terrell Suggs, OLB, 65 tackles, 11 sacks, two forced fumbles
  • Haloti Ngata, DL, 62 tackles, 5.5 sacks
  • Ray Lewis, LB, 128 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions
  • Billy Cundiff, K, 24-for-27 on field goals, 38 touchbacks
  • Sam Koch, P, 72 punts, 43.2 average, 37 punts inside the 20
  • Joe Flacco, QB, 3,497 yards, 25 touchdowns, nine interceptions
  • Le'Ron McClain, FB, 14 games, 85 rushing yards, 18 receptions
Cleveland Browns (5-10)
Cincinnati Bengals (4-11)

ESPN.com's Blog Network will have full coverage of the Pro Bowl selections on Tuesday. But in the meantime, have at it. Who deserves to make the Pro Bowl from the AFC North?

Wrap-up: Ravens 34, Texans 28 (OT)

December, 14, 2010
12/14/10
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Here are some thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' exciting overtime victory over the Houston Texans:

What it means: It certainly wasn't pretty. But Baltimore bounced back to beat Houston after an emotional loss last week to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens blew a 21-point lead in the second half to allow Houston to force overtime. But cornerback Josh Wilson returned a 12-yard interception off Texans quarterback Matt Schaub for the game-winning touchdown. Wilson's play made up for the late, controversial touchdown he allowed earlier this season in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. At 9-4, the Ravens currently hold the No. 5 seed in the AFC and remain one game behind Pittsburgh (10-3) in the AFC North division. Baltimore hasn't lost two games in a row all season and improved to 5-4 in regular-season games since 2007 after playing Pittsburgh the week prior.

What I liked: Wilson's pick-six was the biggest play of the season so far for Baltimore, although this game should not have made it to overtime. The Ravens' offense got off to a fast start. The offense was aggressive early and got a touchdown run by Willis McGahee and two touchdown catches by Derrick Mason to give Baltimore a 21-7 lead at halftime. The early lead took some pressure off the defense. There were also no major injuries for Baltimore and several solid individual performances we will get to below.

What I didn't like: Baltimore had a chance to put Houston away in the second half but didn't show a killer instinct. As a result, the Ravens allowed Houston to peck away at the lead and eventually score 21 straight points. Despite a great first half, the Ravens couldn't get anything going on offense in the second half and overtime. Baltimore had several short drives and kept its defense on the field. You could see Ravens defenders were tired in the fourth quarter, as Houston began to earn chunks of yards. The Texans' last two scoring drives went for 99 and 95 yards. The Ravens' pass protection for quarterback Joe Flacco also was shaky for the second straight week, as Houston registered five sacks.

Reed makes history: Ravens rookie David Reed, who had an interesting week, delivered a big play for Baltimore to start the second half. A fifth-round pick from Utah, Reed had the longest kickoff return in Ravens history for a 103-yard touchdown to give the Ravens a 21-point lead. He broke multiple tackles by Houston to get to the end zone. According to reports, authorities raided Reed’s home last week to "investigate potential narcotics activities," police said; at this point, no charges have been filed. Baltimore made the decision to play Reed this week and it paid dividends.

Suggs still sizzling: Baltimore linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs registered at least one sack for the fifth time in six games. Suggs recorded a sack against Schaub in addition to four tackles. Coming off a down year in 2009, Suggs now is playing at a Pro Bowl level and leads the Ravens with 10 sacks.

Kicking game stellar: Baltimore's kicking game continues to excel. Punter Sam Koch pinned Houston inside the 20 five times and kicker Billy Cundiff also added two more touchbacks. Cundiff has 36 touchbacks this season.

What's next: With a short week of preparation, Baltimore has a very tough game upcoming against the New Orleans Saints (10-3) at M&T Bank Stadium. Monday's key win takes some of the pressure off the Ravens for this big game. But they need to play much better for four quarters to beat the defending Super Bowl champions.

AFC North: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
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Baltimore Ravens

Potential unrestricted free agents: DL Justin Bannan, DL Dwan Edwards, CB Corey Ivy, WR Derrick Mason, TE L.J. Smith, WR David Tyree, CB Frank Walker, WR Kelley Washington

Potential restricted free agents: OT Jared Gaither, K Billy Cundiff, S Dawan Landry, CB Fabian Washington, P Sam Koch, OG Chris Chester, QB John Beck, QB Troy Smith, OT Tony Moll, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Prescott Burgess, WR Mark Clayton, WR Demetrius Williams

Franchise tag: None

What to expect: The Ravens have a ton of quality free agents. It will be interesting because Baltimore is the only division team which has to abide by the "Final Eight Plan" for making the divisional playoffs. This will restrict Baltimore from making a lot of moves. Therefore, expect the team to keep most of its key restricted free agents while trying to explore the trade market. On the unrestricted side, the Ravens are negotiating with receiver Derrick Mason and are expected to keep him. But two players who could get some interest in the open market are defensive linemen Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan. Baltimore likes both players but could lose at least one.

Cincinnati Bengals

Potential unrestricted free agents: K Shayne Graham, FB Jeremi Johnson, RB Larry Johnson, DT Tank Johnson, TE Reggie Kelly, OG Bobbie Williams, S Roy Williams, TE J.P. Foschi

Potential restricted free agents: LB Brandon Johnson, LB Rashad Jeanty, OL Evan Mathis, C Kyle Cook, DE Frostee Rucker, CB David Jones, LB Abdul Hodge, QB Jordan Palmer, TE Daniel Coats, DT Shaun Smith

Franchise tag: None

What to expect: The Bengals have yet to announce their tenders, so this list could change by Thursday evening. But traditionally they are not big spenders in free agency and will stay true to that even with an uncapped year. Cincinnati could make one or two decent outside signings that may help the team. Finding a receiver would be the most likely target. The most interesting in-house name is offensive guard Bobbie Williams, who likely will test the market. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer also would like to keep veteran Roy Williams and Tank Johnson. But the team hasn't made a major push for either player before they're let loose Friday.

Cleveland Browns

Potential unrestricted free agents: WR Mike Furrey, TE Michael Gaines, OG Rex Hadnot, CB Hank Poteat, OL Ryan Tucker, OG Billy Yates

Potential restricted free agents: RB Jerome Harrison, LB D'Qwell Jackson, FB Lawrence Vickers, S Brodney Pool, S Abram Elam, DE Matt Roth

Franchise tag: None

What to expect: Cleveland has the money to spend and the biggest talent deficit. So look for the Browns to attempt to make up ground in free agency. Major names like defensive end Julius Peppers and tailback Thomas Jones have been mentioned as possibilities for Cleveland, but that remains to be seen. Internally, the Browns should be interested in keeping Harrison and Vickers in their backfield. Jackson also has value. None of their unrestricted players are priorities for the team and will be allowed to hit free agency.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Potential unrestricted free agents: QB Charlie Batch, LB Rocky Boiman, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Clark, DE Nick Eason, WR Joey Galloway, DE Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, CB Deshea Townsend , FB Carey Davis, OG Darnell Stapleton

Potential restricted free agents: OT Willie Colon, CB William Gay, P Daniel Sepulveda, TE Matt Spaeth

Franchise tag: K Jeff Reed

What to expect: The Steelers are pretty predictable. Pittsburgh intends to keep all of its restricted free agents, get a long-term deal complete with Reed, who has the franchise tag, and let nearly all of their unrestricted free agents test the market. The exception is Clark, who the Steelers targeted as a priority but has yet to reach a long-term extension before Friday's deadline. Negotiations have been ongoing and should go to the final hour to decide whether both sides can come to an agreement or allow Clark to test the market.

Draft Watch: AFC North

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:00
PM ET
NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Baltimore Ravens

Busts: The Ravens have one of the most consistent front offices in the NFL, so you have to look all the way back to 2005 to really find an underperforming first-round pick in Mark Clayton. The receiver has shown flashes with several big games in Baltimore. But Clayton never developed the consistency to become a No. 1 receiver. In the second round, linebacker Dan Cody was another miss in 2005. His career never got off the ground, because he couldn't shake the injury bug. Also, it's too early to determine the status of 2009 second-round pick Paul Kruger. But the linebacker/defensive end was mostly a non-factor in his rookie season. Gems: Baltimore has several contributing players that were found in the late and middle rounds. Most recently, 2009 third-round cornerback Lardarius Webb looks like a potential starter and has the ability to return kicks. Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain was another great, under-the-radar pick in the fourth round in 2007. Starting left tackle Jared Gaither was found in the supplemental draft in 2007 and started 26 games the past two seasons. Other key contributors include starting safety Dawan Landry and punter Sam Koch, who were fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2006, respectively.

Cincinnati Bengals

Busts: It's well-documented that Cincinnati doesn't put nearly the same resources into scouting as most teams, and it shows in their list of draft busts. Eight players the Bengals selected in the first three rounds since 2004 are no longer with the team. Several -- such as first-rounders Chris Perry and David Pollack and second-rounders Odell Thurman and Kenny Irons -- are out of the NFL. Most recently, the career of 2009 No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith got off to a poor start. But he has time to turn things around. Receiver Jerome Simpson, who was a second-round pick in 2008, is running out of chances and may not make the 53-man roster next fall. It's difficult to maintain a steady level of success when you're missing this often in the first and second rounds. Gems: Seventh-round pick Chinedum Ndukwe was not highly touted out of Notre Dame but continued to make plays for the Bengals until coaches had no choice but to play him. Defensive tackle Domata Peko was a fourth-round pick in 2006 who developed into one of Cincinnati's most important players. Last year's sixth-round pick, tailback Bernard Scott, showed flashes as a rookie.

Cleveland Browns

Busts: The Browns are on their third regime in three years. With that kind of turnover, you can expect a lot of misses in the draft as the team continues to switch philosophies. The Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel era began in 2005 with receiver Braylon Edwards and safety Brodney Pool. Edwards didn't live up to expectations and was traded to the New York Jets last season. Pool likely will be let go to free agency. It has been three years, and we still don't know exactly what to make of 2007 first-round pick Brady Quinn. The new regime led by Mike Holmgren doesn't seem too impressed, as the team continues to explore its options at quarterback. Receiver Brian Robiskie and linebacker David Veikune, both second-round picks in 2009, also need to step up for Cleveland in 2010. Gems: Starting fullback Lawrence Vickers, a sixth-round pick in 2006, was another great find. He paved the way for Jamal Lewis to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2007 and 2008. Vickers also helped tailback Jerome Harrison (862 rushing yards), another late gem, put up career highs last season. Most recently, 2009 fourth-round pick Kaluka Maiava may turn out to be a decent linebacker from the middle rounds.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Busts: Similar to the Ravens, the Steelers do not make a lot of mistakes at the top of the draft. Six of Pittsburgh's past seven first-round picks are starters. That includes quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu, receiver Santonio Holmes and tailback Rashard Mendenhall. Pittsburgh has had some issues in the second round. In 2008, the Steelers were hoping Limas Sweed could be the big receiver they were looking for, but that hasn't panned out. In 2004, second-round cornerback Ricardo Colclough had zero starts in four years before being released. Gems: Last year's third-round pick Mike Wallace already is a significant addition to Pittsburgh's offense. His deep speed was needed, and he had 39 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. Pittsburgh also has been fortunate to find starting offensive linemen late in the draft. Offensive tackle Willie Colon and guard Chris Kemoeatu were taken in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. Dennis Dixon, who was taken in the fifth round in 2008, also could develop into a solid backup quarterback.4933687

Hot Button: AFC North

February, 12, 2009
2/12/09
12:26
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The top issues facing each team in the division:

Baltimore Ravens

 
  James Lang/US PRESSWIRE
  Ray Lewis is one of many high-end free agents the Ravens could have testing the market this month.
Primary issue: Baltimore has arguably the most high-profile list of in-house free agents in the NFL this offseason. Therefore, the biggest issue for the Ravens is keeping their own players.

Center Jason Brown and linebackers Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs lead an impressive group set to hit the open market at the end of the month. Other key players include safety Jim Leonhard, punter Sam Koch and restricted free-agent safety Dawan Landry.

It will cost the Ravens too much money to keep all of these players, so expect some to get paid elsewhere.

Solution: The Ravens are expected to offer significant contracts to Lewis and Suggs. That's a good place to start. From there the team could allow everyone else to test the market to determine their value.

Secondary concern: After retaining their own free agents, the Ravens' next concern is getting better at receiver and cornerback. The team lacks depth at both positions.

Baltimore is expected to release former Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister to save $8 million off its salary cap for next season, hurting its depth. There also isn't much talent behind Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason at receiver.

Solution: The Ravens can use their first-round pick to improve one of these two positions, while addressing the other later in the draft or via free agency.


Cincinnati Bengals

 
  Nelson Chenault/US Presswire
  Carson Palmer's recovery from elbow problems is a primary concern for the Bengals.
Primary issue: The Bengals are stuck in between the past and future and need to focus on rebuilding before making another playoff run.

For instance, players such as receivers Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh represent a core that made the playoffs three years ago. Both are over 30 and probably will be better fits on other teams at this point. Houshmandzadeh is an unrestricted free agent and Ocho Cinco could be trade bait for a contending team. From there, the team can start the rebuilding process.

Quarterback Carson Palmer also needs to come back healthy next season from elbow trouble. He will remain the cornerstone of the franchise, but Cincinnati needs to begin putting younger and better pieces around him before it's too late.

Solution: Make changes and get Palmer healthy. The Bengals can win four games next year without Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh. It's time to build a new core while Palmer still has good years left in him.

Hot Button Archive
Kuharsky: AFC South
Yasinskas: NFC South
Seifert: NFC North
Walker: AFC North
Sando: NFC West
Williamson: AFC West
Graham: AFC East
Mosley: NFC East

Secondary concern: Although this also could be listed as a primary concern, it is very important that the Bengals nail the draft this year.

Cincinnati's scouting staff is one of the smallest in the NFL and it has been reflected in its draft record over the years. Head coach Marvin Lewis has never had an A-list draft in his six seasons in the Queen City. It's hard to compete in the AFC North when teams like the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are consistently hitting on their picks.

Solution: There is no easy answer to drafting well other than to improve the scouting. Perhaps helping the Bengals this year is the fact their coaching staff ran the Senior Bowl, giving the team more insight into this year's class.


Cleveland Browns

 
  AP Photo/Mark Duncan
  Eric Mangini has to evaluate the Browns roster quickly to prepare for next season.
Primary issue: With a new coach in Eric Mangini and new general manager in George Kokinis taking over last month, the Browns are in full evaluation mode of their roster. Mangini and Kokinis have to decide which players are worth keeping and can fit into their system. Among the many questions is whether the unproven Brady Quinn should remain the team's starting quarterback? Or should there be an open competition between Quinn and former Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson? The Browns could also look to trade Anderson.

There also are other talented players such as receiver Braylon Edwards, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. and running back Jamal Lewis that the new regime needs to make decisions on.

Solution: If the Browns decide to rebuild, trading many of these veterans for draft picks might be the most attractive option for Mangini and Kokinis. New regimes rarely keep all the same players who got the previous regime fired.

Secondary concern: Cleveland's inability to bring in Kokinis much earlier puts the team behind in terms of draft plans.

Much of the college scouting knowledge for the Browns rested with former general manager Phil Savage and his staff. But most of those people are gone.

Kokinis' background is with pro personnel, so even the GM will have to be a quick study over the next two-plus months. Mangini also will have a lot of say in getting the type of player he wants.

Solution: Cleveland can do nothing else besides work extra hard during the combine and interview process to make up for lost time. As a result, the Browns might have to accept the hits and misses in their first year.


Pittsburgh Steelers

 
  James Lang/US PRESSWIRE
  Ben Roethlisberger has taken many hard hits over the past few seasons, forcing Pittsburgh to re-examine their offensive line.
Primary issue: Coming off a 12-4 regular season and its sixth Super Bowl, Pittsburgh doesn't have many holes. But its biggest glaring weakness remains the offensive line.

This is a great time to address the much-maligned unit because the Steelers will have four key pending free agents on the line. Among them are starting guard Chris Kemoeatu, starting tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon, and former starting tackle Marvel Smith, who played in only five games because of a back injury. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has taken a pounding the past several seasons, as evidenced by his recent admission of playing the Super Bowl with fractured ribs. The Steelers have put off acquiring linemen for too long and now is the time to address that need.

Solution: Pittsburgh will not allow all of its in-house free-agent linemen to leave. But it will say goodbye to some and upgrade the rest of the positions via the draft and free agency.

Secondary concern: The free-agent class of 2010 could be brutal for the Steelers. So expect them to take a hard look at several key players a year early.

Veterans like tight end Heath Miller, receiver Hines Ward, safety Ryan Clark and defensive player of the year James Harrison all have expiring deals at the end of next season. The Steelers usually allow their players to fulfill their contracts before re-negotiating, but they will probably make a few exceptions this offseason.

Solution: Of the bunch, Harrison is the only surefire player to get a raise and early extension. He is grossly underpaid for his level of production. Everyone else might have to wait until next year.

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