NFL Nation: Tyrod Taylor

If the Baltimore Ravens want to add a quarterback who is familiar with Gary Kubiak's offense, they will likely have a chance to do so very soon.

Case Keenum, who started eight games for Kubiak last season in Houston, has been informed that he will be waived by the Houston Texans, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan. Keenum became expendable after the Texans traded for Ryan Mallett.

The Ravens may see Keenum as a better fit in Kubiak's system than current backup Tyrod Taylor. Keenum's familiarity comes from spending two years with Kubiak, who is now in his first season as the Ravens' offensive coordinator.

How much did Kubiak like Keenum? In Week 7 last season, Kubiak went with Keenum as his starter over backup T.J. Yates when Matt Schaub was injured.

In eight starts, Keenum completed 54 percent of his passes for 1,760 yards (average of 220 yards). He threw nine touchdowns and six interceptions for a 78.2 passer rating.

The Ravens are currently going with Taylor as their backup for a fourth straight season, and they are expected to sign rookie sixth-round pick Keith Wenning to the practice squad.

Taylor had a solid preseason, producing points on 12 (four touchdowns, eight field goals) of 21 drives. But he's considered more of a scrambler than a pocket passer. His lack of patience in the pocket and questionable decision-making has frustrated the Ravens in the past.

In the spring, coach John Harbaugh expressed disappointment with Taylor's recent performances. This may have been the reason the Ravens tried to sign Brandon Weeden in free agency. The Ravens then presumably drafted Wenning as the eventual No. 2 quarterback because Taylor is entering the final year of his contract.

How comfortable are the Ravens with Taylor as their backup now? The Ravens' level of interest in Keenum will let everyone know.

The Baltimore Ravens ran over the New Orleans Saints in a 22-13 win Thursday night in the preseason finale for both teams.

Rookie running backs Lorenzo Taliaferro and Fitzgerald Toussaint combined for 191 yards rushing, as the Ravens sat most of their starters. Toussaint, who is likely headed to the practice squad, rushed for 103 yards on 17 carries. Taliaferro, who could be the Ravens' No. 2 or 3 running back to start the season, gained 88 yards on 25 attempts.

The Ravens didn't play their top three running backs: Ray Rice, who will soon start a two-game suspension; Bernard Pierce, who didn't make the trip to New Orleans because of a concussion; and Justin Forsett, who was given the night off.

This marked the first time since 2009 that the Ravens (4-0) finished the preseason undefeated.

Here are some other thoughts in the Ravens' final preseason game:
  • Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor continued to put up points. He led the Ravens for scores on four of five drives. For the preseason, he has produced points on 12 (four touchdowns, eight field goals) of 21 drives. His worst throw was chucking the ball downfield into double coverage and getting it intercepted. Taylor finished 10-of-17 for 105 yards and one touchdown. Two of Taylor's passes were batted down at the line while the Ravens were in Saints territory.
  • It's going to be difficult to keep wide receiver Deonte Thompson off the 53-man roster after he scored a touchdown in his third straight game. He took advantage of a coverage breakdown to catch an 8-yard pass from Taylor in the end zone. Rookie seventh-round pick Michael Campanaro, who had 153 total yards, and Kamar Aiken, who led the Ravens with 57 yards receiving, also are in the mix at wide receiver. Could the Ravens keep seven receivers?
  • Second-year linebacker John Simon was the best player on defense. He set the edge against the run and had a handful of quarterback hits. Simon, a fourth-round pick from a year ago, needed a big game to make the roster. He entered the preseason finale on the bubble and put an exclamation on his strong night with a fourth-quarter sack.
  • Undrafted rookie Tramain Jacobs made a costly mistake when he ran into the kicker. Derek Dimke, who had missed the 54-yard field goal attempt, then hit from 49 yards to end the first half. Jacobs is still likely headed for the practice squad.
  • In the fourth quarter, cornerback Derek Cox, who was signed a day before the preseason finale, made an open-field tackle and broke up a third-down pass while covering the slot. It was impressive for a player who hasn't even practiced with the Ravens.
  • Backup guard Ryan Jensen, who is battling rookie John Urschel for a roster spot, was flagged twice for holding, although the last one was questionable. Still, Jensen needed to shine in this game after falling behind Urschel on the depth chart. Jensen was later hurt in the fourth quarter.
  • Justin Tucker was in midseason form, kicking field goals from 36, 27, 45, 32 and 24 yards. His only mistake was throwing his shoulder into a returner and making a tackle on kickoff coverage. Who cares if the Saints scored a touchdown in a preseason game? The Ravens can't afford to lose Tucker to an injury.

The Baltimore Ravens scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams in a sloppy 37-30 preseason win at the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night.

The Ravens held a 14-7 lead in the first quarter before quarterback Joe Flacco even touched the ball. Touchdowns by outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw (26-yard fumble return) and kickoff returner Deonte Thompson (108-yard return) staked the Ravens to an early advantage.

After shaking off a slow start (1 of 5 for four yards), Flacco finished strong by completing eight of his final 10 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown as the Ravens improved their record to 2-0. His 19-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith put the Ravens ahead 24-10.

Here are some other thoughts on the Ravens' second preseason game.
  • Injuries continue to give the Ravens reason to worry. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (chest)) and running back Ray Rice (shoulder) both left in the first half and didn't return. X-rays to both players were negative. Without Smith, Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle) at cornerback, the Ravens went with Chykie Brown and Dominque Franks (who was beaten by Dez Bryant on a touchdown) on their first-team defense. That's not reason to worry. That's reason to panic.
  • This was the worst tackling effort from the Ravens in recent memory, especially in the defensive backfield. The first-team defense once again struggled to contain the outside runs and failed to get consistent pressure on the quarterback beyond Pernell McPhee. The Ravens believe they can be a top-five defense. In two preseason games, they don't look like a top-20 one. The defense did get two turnovers: a fumble recovery by Upshaw (on a gift from Tony Romo) and an interception by Brynden Trawick.
  • Deonte Thompson made his strongest statement of the summer to make the team. He's been awful in training camp, and he's the unofficial leader in dropped passes. But he showed off his speed in Dallas, returning kickoffs for 108 and 50 yards. If Thompson doesn't make the Ravens' final roster, another team will look at him for his return ability.
  • The Ravens once again put together a powerful and explosive running game. Bernard Pierce, who started in place of Rice (who is suspended for the first two games), averaged 7.8 yards per carry. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro gained 58 yards on tough running in between the tackles and scored a 3-yard touchdown. The biggest concern is holding onto the ball. The Ravens' running backs fumbled twice for a second straight game. In total, three backs (Pierce, Taliaferro and Justin Forsett twice) have coughed up the ball this preseason.
  • Tyrod Taylor is a great athlete but continues to be a below-average backup quarterback. He finished 6 of 8 for 59 yards, but he missed two big plays. Taylor threw a laser pass high to a wide-open Kamar Aiken in the end zone instead of making an easy lob to him. He also ran out of the pocket when he had tight end Nathan Overbay open downfield. Third-string quarterback Keith Wenning had a rough start, fumbling and getting sacked on his first two drop backs. He completed 2 of 4 passes for 23 yards.

W2W4: Baltimore Ravens

August, 16, 2014
The Baltimore Ravens (1-0) and Dallas Cowboys (0-1) face off in each team’s second preseason game Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

1. Efficiency of quarterback Joe Flacco. In the season opener last week, Flacco looked like a quarterback who had been in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's system for years. He was decisive and precise on his intermediate throws, only throwing one incompletion on five pass attempts. Flacco has never been known as a high-percentage passer. The last time he completed more than 60 percent of his passes was 2010. The expectations for Flacco are just as heightened in the second preseason game, especially with him throwing against the NFL's third-worst pass defense last season. The Cowboys allowed an average of 287 yards passing per game. Flacco is expected to play more than one quarter but not a full half.

2. Cornerback play outside of Jimmy Smith. Everyone knows Smith is the Ravens' top cornerback on the field, and it's not even close. The concern is the drop-off after him. With Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle) both sidelined, the Ravens turn to Chykie Brown to fill in as a starter and safety Terrence Brooks to work at nickelback with the first-team defense. Like most of training camp, Brown struggled in the preseason opener. He was flagged on the first two passes thrown his way. Brooks, who was expected to compete for the starting free safety spot, is now being asked to cover the slot receiver. He has experience playing cornerback at Florida State. Cornerback is clearly the thinnest position on the team.

3. Tyrod Taylor as a pocket passer. After Taylor ran five times in the preseason, it was telling that he rarely took off during team drills since that game. It's obvious that the Ravens want to see what Taylor can do in the pocket. There are questions about his accuracy and decision-making. The Ravens aren't totally sold on Taylor as their backup, which is why they showed interest in Brandon Weeden before he signed with the Cowboys this offseason. Now there are rumblings that the Ravens would pursue Case Keenum if he is released by the Houston Texans after the preseason. Taylor will get plenty of time to convince the Ravens otherwise. He should play the entire second half at Dallas.

Ravens Camp Report: Day 12

August, 9, 2014
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:
  • Joe Flacco carried the momentum from a great season opener with a sharp practice. He continually found holes in the San Francisco 49ers zone, dropping in passes to his receivers. His best pass was a 50-yard completion to wide receiver Marlon Brown after Flacco rolled to his left and threw off his back foot.
  • There were no fights in the first joint practice with the 49ers. There were a few close calls, especially with guard Kelechi Osemele and linebacker Pernell McPhee. My guess is the players were warned about throwing punches after what the head coaches said before practice.
  • Jimmy Smith was the only cornerback who held up well for the Ravens. Smith set the tone in the one-on-one drill against Anquan Boldin, knocking the ball down in front of the former Ravens receiver. When Smith spoke to owner Steve Bisciotti during practice, I couldn't help thinking about the size of the check that Bisciotti will be writing Smith in a couple of years.
  • Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor didn't run in team drills for the first time in recent memory. The only way the Ravens can evaluate how he's progressed as a pocket passer is if he stays in the pocket. Taylor rushed his reads early and had several passes batted down when he tried to dump the ball off. He did finish with two deep throws, hitting Steve Smith (who had to dive for the ball) and Michael Campanaro.
  • Like he's done for most of camp, Osemele was crushing defensive linemen. Osemele knocked 49ers defensive tackle Tank Carradine to the ground three times during one session of team drills.
  • One of the more anticipated matchups didn't go the Ravens' way as Terrell Suggs couldn't get past 49ers left tackle Joe Staley. On the other side, Elvis Dumervil had his way with backup right tackle Jonathan Martin.
  • Cornerback Chykie Brown struggled again after putting together some decent practices. He was faked out early and often, allowing too many easy catches to 49ers receivers.
  • The Ravens started rotating rookie fifth-round pick John Urschel in with the second team at guard. This comes after Ryan Jensen got pushed around in the preseason opener. Jensen missed time in practice after injuring his left knee, but he returned after getting checked out by trainers.
  • Schedule: The Ravens hold their second joint practice with the San Francisco 49ers at noon Sunday.
  • Injury wire: This is the healthiest the Ravens have been since the start of camp. Only four players didn't practice. ... CB Lardarius Webb (back) missed his 10th straight practice. He last practiced July 25. ... G Will Rackley (head) also didn't practice. ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list. ... DE Brent Urban (torn ACL) is out for the season.
Clemens & Mallett & WhitehurstAP PhotosKellen Clemens (L to R), Ryan Mallett and Charlie Whitehurst give their teams a veteran option at the backup quarterback position.
The heavy lifting done, we've reached that point in the NFL offseason when it's acceptable to obsess about backup quarterbacks. And so here we are.

At the moment, two franchises -- the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings -- are refusing to trade backups to teams where they might have a better chance to play. Their approach, while different in the details, has in a larger sense helped illuminate the smartest approach to the position, one that bucks conventional wisdom but aligns with supply and demand.

The career backup, a veteran who has played enough to prove he isn't a starter but is still valued as a fill-in, should be a quaint notion in 2014. Smart teams are using the spot as a developmental rather than caretaker position, understanding how rare it is to find a veteran backup who can maintain a team's performance when the starter is injured.

Recent history suggests success is far more connected to a starter's durability than the experience level of the backup. Over the past three years, 31 of the NFL's 36 playoff teams have had a 15- or 16-game starter at quarterback. Only three of the remaining five got winning performances from their backups, and all of them -- Tim Tebow (2011), Colin Kaepernick (2012) and Nick Foles (2013) -- were decidedly inexperienced at the time of their ascension.


Which would you rather have as your team's backup quarterback?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,967)

Not everyone will accept conclusions based on a three-year sample size, but if nothing else, these figures help support an intuitive inference: There aren't enough good quarterbacks to go around and you're fortunate to have one. If he gets hurt, your path to the playoffs will be difficult no matter how experienced your backup is. That's the nature of the talent drop-off at this point in league history. Faced with a choice, why not choose the upside of a promising youngster over the low ceiling of a veteran?

Some teams seem to understand the consequence of those facts better than others. The Patriots often are hailed as a model franchise, much to the chagrin of those who wonder what would have become of them if Tom Brady had been drafted No. 198 overall instead of No. 199, but they have been ahead of the curve on this issue for a while. It has been eight years since the Patriots have employed a veteran backup (Vinny Testaverde, a mid-year acquisition in 2006) and they have since backed Brady up with inexperienced youngsters from Matt Cassel to Brian Hoyer to Ryan Mallett.

A traditionalist would argue that the Patriots, a perennial title contender, are better off with a veteran who could presumably navigate them to the playoffs. A realist would wonder if such a player exists. Is there really a net difference between Mallett's experience in the Patriots' system and, say, the experience of Ryan Fitzpatrick -- who has started 77 NFL games but lost 49 of them?

This is not to say a team should make a haphazard, hands-in-the-air decision at such an important position. A young backup must at least demonstrate proficiency in the offense during practice, and it's fair to assume Mallett has convinced the Patriots he could run their plays in a game setting if Brady were injured. Second-round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo hasn't had time to do that yet, which to me explains coach Bill Belichick's reluctance to trade Mallett this spring.

That's a big reason the Vikings haven't parted ways with Christian Ponder, who seems unlikely to start ahead of Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater. Their stance might change as Bridgewater moves through the offseason, but for now Ponder -- like Mallett -- represents a more comfortable option to back up their starter than someone signed off the street. As with other positions, smart teams prefer to develop their own backup quarterbacks.

That's what the Green Bay Packers tried to do earlier this decade with Graham Harrell, and the folly of their shift to veteran Seneca Wallace in 2013 was exposed when starter Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone after a 5-2 start. Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn won only two of the eight games Rodgers missed a part of, and the Packers won the NFC North at 8-7-1 only after Rodgers returned for Week 17.

So what does this mean for the league overall? If you've committed to a starter, as roughly 26 of the 32 teams already have for 2014, it makes sense to prioritize development behind him rather than fool yourself into thinking you can prepare more reliably for his absence.

A Baltimore Ravens fan might be nervous with Tyrod Taylor behind starter Joe Flacco. I wouldn't be any more optimistic with, say, Charlie Whitehurst or Jason Campbell in that role. If Flacco is injured, chances are the Ravens are going to have a much more difficult time making the playoffs. Backups such as Taylor have an upside that might be revealed if and when he replaces Flacco. On the other hand, we have a pretty good idea of the lower bar a veteran would bring in that role.

The same could be said elsewhere. Do you really feel better about the San Diego Chargers' playoff chances with Kellen Clemens than you would if they had drafted, say, Zach Mettenberger? And if it doesn't work out for Jake Locker this season with the Tennessee Titans, why not play Mettenberger instead of hoping that Whitehurst can work magic he hasn't demonstrated in eight previous seasons?

Many coaches like the idea of having a "veteran in the room." If it's important enough to them, they should keep three or even four quarterbacks on their roster to accomplish that mission. But if you're committed to your starter, a veteran backup brings false confidence more than anything else. For the most part, Plan B in the NFL means missing the playoffs. You're better off hoping a young player will blossom in that role instead.
IRVING, Texas -- Because Tony Romo is 34 and because he is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, just about everybody believes it is time for the Dallas Cowboys to find his replacement.

ESPN NFL draft Insider Todd McShay said it. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said it. A lot of fans have said it. A lot of others have said it.

If the Cowboys draft a quarterback, then it must be early in the draft. At least, that’s the general philosophy of Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery when it comes to taking quarterbacks.

"I just did a little study. It's very interesting," Emery said in this ESPNChicago story. "That developmental theory doesn't hold a whole lot of water. There's entire classes of quarterbacks, since '06, I went back and looked at from Jay [Cutler's] on -- when people say developmental quarterbacks, OK, so who has gotten developed? There isn't a single quarterback after the third round since 2006 that has been a long-term starter. So you're either developing thirds, and most of them have been wiped out of the league. So to get a quality quarterback, you've got to draft them high. That 2012 class is a blip on the radar that's unusual, highly unusual.

"Most of the starters in this league come from the first and second round. So that's where you need to take a quarterback. So when you talk about quarterback every year, they have to be somebody that you truly believe will beat out the second and third quarterback that you perceive on your roster. And if not, history shows that you shouldn't make that pick."

From 2006 to 2013, there were 59 quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 3-7. Only two are top-end starters: Russell Wilson (third round, 2012, Seattle Seahawks) and Nick Foles(third round, 2012, Philadelphia Eagles). And Foles might have more to prove, but he was Pro Bowl-worthy in 2013.

The best of the rest: Bruce Gradkowski (sixth round, 2006); Matt Flynn (seventh round, 2008); Curtis Painter (sixth round, 2009); Ryan Mallett (third round, 2011); Kirk Cousins (fourth round, 2012). Other considerations: Colt McCoy (third round, 2010); T.J. Yates (fifth round, 2011); Tyrod Taylor (sixth round, 2011).

The odds are stacked against a team looking to develop a quarterback. Teams are not a lock to carry a third quarterback on the 53-man roster these days. The Cowboys have not done it since 2011, when they had Stephen McGee (fourth round, 2009). There just aren’t enough snaps to go around in a season for a quarterback to develop. The pressure on coaches to win means they want guys who can help carry games if a starter goes down, part of the reason why the Cowboys have gone with Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Kyle Orton as Romo's backups.

Maybe the Cowboys will draft a quarterback in the middle to late rounds this week. The odds of him turning into Wilson, Foles or Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000) are remote. He’s more likely to be Andre Woodson (sixth round, 2008), Mike Teel (sixth round, 2009), Jonathan Crompton (fifth round, 2010) or Nate Enderle (fifth round, 2011).
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Baltimore Ravens are looking to add another quarterback, either in free agency or the draft.

Why? Tyrod Taylor has an uncertain future (one year left on his contract), and he hasn't necessarily convinced anyone that he's a proven backup quarterback.

"We've been very happy with Tyrod, and we feel like he has a great future, but we have been a little disappointed how he's played in games certainly," coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. "We feel like he's a lot better than he's showed. I know he feels that way, too. We feel like Tyrod's best football is by far definitely in front of him, but he's only got one year left with us, so we need to add a quarterback into the mix, whether it be offseason or in the draft.”

Taylor has never completed 60 percent of his passes in the preseason and he's lacked consistency in limited action in the regular season. In 13 regular-season games, he has completed 19 of 35 passes (54.3 percent) for 199 yards. He has thrown no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 47.2 career passer rating.

This is why the Ravens expressed interest in former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden before he signed with the Dallas Cowboys. There's not much left in free agency in terms of quarterbacks: Matt Flynn, Luke McCown, Jimmy Clausen, Josh Freeman, Rex Grossman and Dan Orlovsky. It's essentially a list of underachievers.

If the Ravens decide to take a quarterback in the draft, it will likely come in the fifth round or later. ESPN's Kevin Weidl named Pitt's Tom Savage and Georgia's Aaron Murray as developmental quarterbacks who are creating buzz among NFL personnel.

Savage has polished mechanics and one of the strongest arms in the draft class. Murray has impressed scouts with his decision-making and poise in several high-pressure situations.

I don't see the Ravens going with a rookie as the primary backup to Joe Flacco. But, if they take a quarterback in the draft, it could be a case where a prospect is groomed to take over the No. 2 job in 2015 from Taylor.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- All of the AFC coaches met with reporters Tuesday morning, and here are the highlights of the hour-long breakfast with Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh:
  • Harbaugh acknowledged he was surprised when owner Steve Bisciotti offered him a one-year contract extension last month.
  • Ray Rice was as heavy as 217 pounds last season, according to Harbaugh. The Ravens would like Rice to be around 207 pounds this season. Harbaugh reiterated that Rice "will be part of our team."
  • Harbaugh was very strong on three player arrests in a month span were "unacceptable."
  • Jeremy Zuttah, who was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has been brought in to be the starting center. Harbaugh talked with Gino Gradkowski, last year's starter, to break the news.
  • The plan is to start Kelechi Osemele at left guard, which is where he is most comfortable. But, depending on what the Ravens do in the draft, Osemele could still play right tackle.
  • As of right now, Rick Wagner would start at right tackle. Wagner was a fifth-round pick from last year. Of course, the draft could change this.
  • Asked how the Ravens would replace defensive tackle Arthur Jones in the starting lineup, Harbaugh talked about starting Brandon Williams alongside Haloti Ngata at defensive tackle. He also mentioned using Kapron Lewis-Moore as well.
  • Harbaugh has been "disappointed" in how backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor has played, but he said Taylor's best football is ahead of him. Given that Taylor has one year left on his contract, the Ravens are looking at quarterbacks in free agency and the draft.
  • Joe Flacco has workouts scheduled with his receivers, but Harbaugh doesn't know when they will occur.
  • Harbaugh said the Ravens aren't done in free agency. "I think we're actively engaged with a number of guys, some on our team and some who are free agents," he said.
  • In terms of tight ends, the Ravens have Owen Daniels and Ed Dickson on their radar.
  • The Ravens are looking to extend the contracts of cornerback Jimmy Smith and wide receiver Torrey Smith. The team will pick up the 2015 option on Jimmy Smith in May.
  • Harbaugh is in favor of expanding the replay system. He likes Patriots coach Bill Belichick's proposal of having everything subject to a coach's challenge.
  • The Ravens haven't talked to inside linebacker Rolando McClain about a potential return. Harbaugh, though, said he would welcome McClain if he can help the team. It depends on how hard McClain is working and how much he has matured, Harbaugh said.
  • Harbaugh said the Ravens will have a tougher and more physical training camp this year because his players are younger.
  • The seventh-round pick acquired from the Miami Dolphins in the trade for offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie is for the 2015 draft, Harbaugh confirmed. It was originally reported it was for the 2014 draft.
When Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was asked if it was fun splitting out as a wide receiver, he gave an honest answer. He also gave the right answer.

"I want to line up behind center," Flacco said after the Ravens' 19-3 win over the New York Jets on Sunday.

The Ravens showed unpredictability when they put athletic backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in shotgun or pistol formation a handful of times. On those plays, Flacco lined up on the outside as a receiver.

After the game, Flacco was candid in saying, it's "fun for a little bit, but that’s it."

There should controversy if Flacco said anything different. You want your quarterback to have this attitude. You want him to believe he's the best option under center. And, make no mistake, Flacco should be the quarterback when the Ravens are facing third-and-10 or a deficit with two minutes left in the game. He has the better arm and has more experience. In case it slipped your mind, Flacco was holding up the Lombardi Trophy nine months ago.

This is kind of the same situation from a year ago when Flacco was asked if he was the best quarterback in the NFL. Flacco was right to say that, too. No matter what you or I think, Flacco should believe he's the best quarterback in the league.

As I wrote Sunday night, I can see how Flacco could take the increased snaps for Taylor as a slap in the face. He signed a $120.6 million contract to be a quarterback, not a decoy or spectator. But this is more a knock against the Ravens' running game than passing attack.

There was no confidence that the Ravens could get anything going on the ground against the NFL's top-ranked run defense. Taylor did provide a spark and produced a 17-yard run, the longest of the game for Baltimore.

The Ravens have to get creative on offense if they want to win. Look at the points scored for the past six games: 17, 16, 18, 20, 20 and 19. So, using more of Taylor shouldn't suggest he's supplanting Flacco. It's an indication that the 30th-ranked offense is willing to do whatever it takes to get better.

NFL Week 12 Sunday Studs and Duds

November, 24, 2013
So on Sunday, I tried to explain a tie to a 6-year-old.

Six-year-old: Did the Vikings lose?

Me: No. They tied the Packers.

Six-year-old: Oh, so both teams won?

Me: No. They tied. They finished with the same score.

Six-year-old: But no one lost. Doesn't someone have to win?

Me: You would think, so, huh? Hey, look! Dora is on!

Week 12 brought us a tie, a bloated logjam of bad AFC teams and even more fun. Kissing your sister never seemed like a better option. What follows are the highlights and lowlights of nearly seven hours of watching and chatting about Sunday's games.


1. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback: Guess which quarterback has the NFL's highest number of game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime during the past three seasons? Darn. I think I gave it away. Per ESPN Stats & Information, it's Romo, who now has 11 such drives after leading a 58-yard march late Sunday afternoon to lift the Cowboys to a 24-21 win over the New York Giants. The victory put the Cowboys into a virtual tie with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East; the Cowboys have a heavy advantage in early tiebreakers. Sunday's final drive included completions on all three third-down passes. There is no doubt that Romo has made some high-profile, late-game mistakes in his career -- even this season -- but they shouldn't overshadow the good work he has done during the same span.

2. The little things, Carolina Panthers: You could point to any number of reasons that the Panthers pulled off a 20-16 victory at the Miami Dolphins, but did you catch what happened right before halftime? It was the kind of sequence that usually elicits a note at the time but rarely compels a lookback. With eight seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Panthers lined up at their own 43-yard line. There figured to be time for one more play, and quarterback Cam Newton tossed a short pass for receiver Brandon LaFell. Suddenly, LaFell was sprinting down the right sideline with tight end Greg Olsen waving him on. LaFell and Olsen both appeared to be watching the scoreboard clock. LaFell stepped out of bounds with one second remaining after a 29-yard gain. Twenty-nine yards in seven seconds! The play got Graham Gano on the field for a 46-yard field goal. As a result, the Dolphins were playing for a touchdown instead of a field goal on their final possession. Sometimes, it's the little things.

3. St. Louis Rams running game: Those who watched the Rams' 42-21 victory over the Chicago Bears saw a respectable running game pummel the Bears' horrendous running defense. Because we're in the holiday season, I decided to classify the Rams running game as "Stud" rather than the Bears defense as "Dud." Trust me, it could have gone either way. The Rams rushed for a stunning 261 yards, including 213 before contact. The latter number is partly a reflection of their blocking but mostly the Bears' really poor fits. Injuries have decimated their front seven, and over the past five games, they are yielding 5.9 yards per rush, including 4.1 yards before contact. Opponents have scored nine touchdowns and haven't lost a fumble over that span. The Rams took full advantage Sunday.

4. Ken Whisenhunt, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator: It is pretty clear that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has resurrected his career this season. Rivers entered Sunday with the NFL's fourth-best QBR, and his winning touchdown pass Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium capped a 392-yard, three-touchdown, zero-turnover game. You and I both know that elite quarterback play draws the attention of everyone in the NFL. So who gets credit for Rivers' renaissance? Rivers, of course, and surely new Chargers coach Mike McCoy has played a role. But I submit Whisenhunt as a less-obvious recipient. Whisenhunt's work with Rivers and the Chargers' offense has reminded us how good he had the Arizona Cardinals going as head coach when he had competent personnel at quarterback. There will be more than a few NFL teams searching this winter for an offensive-minded head-coaching candidate with a history of elevating the play of quarterbacks. At this point, it's difficult to know how Whisenhunt couldn't qualify as a strong candidate for one of those jobs.

5. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos running back: Sunday night's game between the Broncos and New England Patriots was complex and nuanced. But let's not allow the Broncos' big early lead, the Patriots epic comeback and a dramatic overtime to overshadow a career night from Moreno. He finished with a career-high 224 yards, including 190 before overtime, on 37 carries -- and with not so much as one run of 20 yards. (His longest was 18.) Amazingly, it was only the fifth 100-yard game of Moreno's career. The only time a player has rushed for more yards against the Patriots was in 1973, when O.J. Simpson put up 250 yards for the Buffalo Bills.


1. NFC North: For most of the season, the running joke has been that no team wants to win the NFC East. Well, how about the NFC North? On Sunday, none of its four teams won -- and two were playing each other! That's right. When time finally ran out Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings were tied at 26. The Bears' loss to the Rams dropped them to 6-5, and the Detroit Lions couldn't beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field. The Lions are in the best shape of the lot, given their relative health, the tiebreaker situation and their remaining schedule. What's most amazing, however, is that the Packers are 0-3-1 since Aaron Rodgers broke his collar bone, and yet, they remain in the thick of the race. If they can manage to win Thursday at Ford Field, and if the Bears lose Sunday at the Vikings, the Packers would have sole possession of first place in the division! Honestly, a 9-7 record -- or even 8-7-1 -- could clinch the division title for someone.

2. AFC playoff race: We might have to update this mess weekly as a regular reminder of how uninspiring the first round of the postseason could be in the AFC. As of Sunday night, 11 of the 16 teams in the conference had losing records. Six of them were 5-6 and thus technically tied for the No. 6 playoff seed. If the season were over, the Tennessee Titans would win the tiebreaker, according to's updated playoff standings. The Titans reached 5-6 after winning their first game (in four starts) with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was a come-from-behind victory over, yes, the 4-6 Oakland Raiders. There are some who think the 5-6 Pittsburgh Steelers will emerge as a genuine playoff team -- i.e., one with a winning record -- but I'm not holding my breath.

3. The Wildcat: Can we declare the end of this fad? Please? Watching Sunday's game between the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens served as a reminder that there are few truly unique ideas in the NFL. The Jets used Josh Cribbs in the alignment to some success, even getting a 13-yard completion to quarterback Geno Smith, but let's face it: More than anything, the Jets were covering for Smith's near-complete inability to run their conventional offense. As Jets reporter Rich Cimini noted, they have scored one touchdown in their past 31 possessions with Smith at quarterback. The Ravens, meanwhile, tried jump-starting their struggling offense by using backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in a similar manner. Taylor gained 7 yards on four carries, and starter Joe Flacco made clear he disapproved of the plan. There is a difference between being innovative and cute; one is valued and the other is a cliché. The Wildcat has descended into the latter category.

4. Worst first-place team, Indianapolis Colts: Although they are 7-4 and are maintaining a comfortable two-game lead in the AFC South, the Colts hold a peculiar distinction: They have been outscored by opponents this season. That's right. Their 40-11 loss to the Cardinals means they have allowed 260 points and scored 253 in 11 games. That's pretty rare for a team that, at this moment, holds the No. 3 seed in the AFC. They've been blown out in two of their past three games, and over that span, they've faced a combined halftime deficit of 72-9. Without quarterback Andrew Luck's pair of fourth-quarter comebacks, the Colts would be under .500 this season.

5. Worst team in football, Houston Texans: Is there any other way to view the Texans after they lost at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars? Both teams are 2-9, but the Jaguars have won their past two, and the Texans haven't won in more than two months. (The 2-9 Atlanta Falcons were at least competitive Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints.) They couldn't score a single touchdown against a Jaguars defense that was giving up nearly 32 points per game before Sunday. This season has turned into an unmitigated disaster, one that has raised the question of how aggressively owner Bob McNair will act. With every passing week, the chances grow that the Texans will open 2014 with a new coach, general manager and quarterback.

BALTIMORE -- One of the more uncharacteristic trends this preseason for the Baltimore Ravens has been Joe Flacco's turnovers.

He has been intercepted four times in six quarters of work. He's been picked off in every game. Flacco threw an interception on his first drive of the preseason. He threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. He threw an interception in the red zone. In total, he's averaging one interception every 10.5 pass attempts.

Are the Ravens worried about this unexpected development?

"Joe is not one to throw interceptions, as we all know," coach John Harbaugh said after Thursday night's 34-27 loss to the Carolina Panthers. "We’ll be concerned about them -- Joe more than anybody. We’ll take a hard look at it with Jim [Caldwell, offensive coordinator] and [senior offensive assistant] Craig Ver Steeg. We’ll assess where we’re at with him."

Flacco's handful of interceptions are more surprising than troubling. This is the same quarterback who wasn't picked off in his final six games last season, a streak of 195 passes. In four postseason games, he put up Joe Montana-like numbers of 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The increased number of turnovers in the preseason isn't a sign that Flacco has changed. It's evidence that the receivers around him have.

Flacco knew he could throw passes in tight spots to wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta. It's a trust that was built up in throwing to those players for three years. Flacco isn't going to have that same familiarity with his receivers after three preseason games. Three of his targets on Thursday night -- wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight ends Dallas Clark and Visanthe Shiancoe -- weren't in a Ravens uniform when training camp began.

And, when analyzing each interception, you can blame miscommunication or a receiver not fighting for the ball as much as Flacco. The interception that falls on Flacco's shoulders was the one where he stared down Shiancoe in the red zone on Thursday and was picked off by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

"A lot of that is [that] he’s trying to get a feel for guys," Harbaugh said. "I can’t say if everybody was exactly where they were supposed to be on the routes or not -- that’s the stuff we’ll look at. Joe will be the first to take responsibility -- he has always been that way. I don’t expect that to be an issue this year, but we’ve got to make sure it’s not."

Here are some other notes from the Ravens' third preseason game:
  • Halfway into his postgame news conference, Harbaugh said, "I'm waiting for the Jimmy Smith question. You got one for me?" Harbaugh was referencing the cornerback who was criticized last week for struggling against Atlanta. After a cameraman played along and asked the coach about Smith, Harbaugh said, "Jimmy Smith played very well. He was physical at the line. They’ve got excellent receivers over there, and I think he did a nice job. Thanks for asking.”
  • Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor went to the locker room in the fourth quarter with a head injury. "He went through the concussion protocol there, so we’ll just have to play that one by ear," Harbaugh said.
  • Harbaugh declined to say whether he saw any separation in the battle at wide receiver. Undrafted rookie Marlon Brown has made a strong case to make the team, leading the Ravens this preseason with six catches. "We have a bunch of guys that are probably going to play very well in this league over the next few years," Harbaugh said about his receivers. "They aren’t going to all be here, but they’re going to play somewhere, and I’m really kind of happy where we’re at with those guys. You probably saw today the things we’ve been seeing in practice for the last few weeks, and I’m glad you got a chance to see those things.”

Here are some thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 44-16 preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium:
  • As far as the first-team offense goes, it was a forgettable performance. Joe Flacco went 7-of-9 for 57 yards in one quarter of work. His worst throw was getting the ball late to Jacoby Jones on the sideline, where it was intercepted by former Ravens cornerback Danny Gorrer. The offensive line didn't open many holes for Ray Rice (7 yards on three carries) and let an unblocked Lavonte David sack Flacco, while left tackle Bryant McKinnie was standing and blocking no one).
  • Two newcomers on defense, defensive lineman Chris Canty and inside linebacker Daryl Smith, made great first impressions. On the first three plays of the game, Canty pushed his blocker back (which led to a 1-yard loss on a run), hurried quarterback Josh Freeman into an incompletion and then sacked Freeman on third down. Smith was everywhere in that first quarter and displayed great awareness when he jumped on an inside screen pass.
  • There were two injuries of note, but it appears neither is serious. Backup running back Bernard Pierce limped off the field after scoring a 20-yard touchdown and didn't get another touch the rest of the game. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who is fighting for a starting job, appeared to hurt his ankle late in the second quarter. Because it occurred with less than two minutes remaining, Thompson made sure he got off the field so the Ravens wouldn't be charged with a timeout. Asked about the injuries after the game, coach John Harbaugh told reporters, "We're looking pretty good right now."
  • Wide receiver LaQuan Williams made a strong case to make the team. Williams knows he has to to have a presence on special teams and he came up big, recovering a fumble of a muffed punt return and recovering a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown. He also caught a 21-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
  • Nothing was cleared up in the Ravens' competition for the No. 2 receiver spot. Thompson had one catch for 5 yards, and Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss both didn't make a reception. Jones couldn't hold onto a Flacco pass on third-and-2 in the first quarter.
  • Based on the limited action for the first-team defense, it looks like Courtney Upshaw will play outside linebacker on running downs and Elvis Dumervil will come on the field for passing situations. Dumervil, the team's biggest free-agent pickup, is regarded as one of the top pass-rushers in the league.
  • The Ravens obviously want to give a lot of work to backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who hasn't seen much playing time in the regular season in his two previous seasons. He completed 13 of 23 passes (56.5 percent) for 154 yards and two touchdowns. His last touchdown pass, a 21-yarder to Aaron Mellette, showed nice touch. Taylor also ran for 27 yards.
Leading up to the start of the NFL draft (it's only 10 days away), the AFC North blog will evaluate each position and where it stands as a need for each division team. Let's start with the quarterbacks, which is an intriguing draft talking point in the AFC North.

The Cleveland Browns are the only AFC North team without an established starter, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the other division teams use a mid-to-late round pick on a quarterback. While I list the Browns as having the biggest draft need at quarterback, you can make a case for the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers being No. 2.

This is the ranking in terms of needing to draft a quarterback:

1. Cleveland Browns: I don't see Cleveland taking a quarterback with the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns, though, could take one as early as the second round if they trade back in the first round and acquire a pick in the second. Cleveland has taken an up-close look at most of the top quarterbacks, from Geno Smith to Matt Barkley to E.J. Manuel to Ryan Nassib. All of the options are open for the Browns, who can draft a quarterback to compete with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell or select one to develop behind them.

2. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have Josh Johnson and John Skelton as backups to Andy Dalton. I wouldn't say they are set at quarterback. Johnson and Skelton have a combined 8-14 record as starters. The Bengals have worked out Manuel and Nassib, which shows they're doing their homework on some of the top quarterbacks in the draft. Still, it would be a surprise to see Cincinnati draft a quarterback in the first three rounds. The Bengals may take one in the middle rounds if the right quarterback is there.

3. Baltimore Ravens: This may raise some eyebrows because the Ravens have gone with Tyrod Taylor as the backup to Joe Flacco for the past two seasons. There has been a sense that the Ravens would like to upgrade the backup spot. Baltimore brought in Curtis Painter to compete with Taylor last offseason. Taylor also didn't instill confidence in a sporadic performance in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati. The Ravens have multiple picks in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. In other words, they have enough to take a flier on a quarterback.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers have been questioned in recent years about when they're going to draft a quarterback to develop behind Ben Roethlisberger. With Roethlisberger turning 31 last month, those questions will only increase. The Steelers created some buzz when they had dinner with quarterback Tyler Bray before attending his pro day. Pittsburgh is set at backup quarterback after signing Bruce Gradkowski this offseason. The Steelers, though, can draft a quarterback to compete with John Parker Wilson for the No. 3 spot.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each AFC North team needs to address the quarterback position.

Baltimore Ravens: The biggest issue with Baltimore is whether it will reach a long-term deal with Joe Flacco by Monday or use the franchise tag on him to keep him off the free-agent market. If the Ravens use the tag, it will likely be the exclusive one to stop Flacco from negotiating with other teams. It's safe to say the Super Bowl MVP will remain the Ravens' starter in 2013. There is more uncertainty with the backup spot. Tyrod Taylor has been Flacco's backup the past two seasons, but there was a sense that Baltimore tried to upgrade the spot when it signed Curtis Painter last offseason. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Ravens used a late-round pick on a quarterback or signed a veteran free agent to compete with Taylor again. The backup quarterback position hasn't been an important spot for the Ravens because Flacco hasn't missed a game in five NFL seasons. UPDATE: The Ravens and Flacco agreed to a long-term deal Friday night.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals can't be happy that Andy Dalton had four interceptions returned for touchdowns last season and flopped in the playoffs for a second consecutive year. But Cincinnati still has confidence in Dalton and isn't expected to bring in anyone who will threaten his hold on the starting job. There is a decision to be made at the No. 2 spot because Bruce Gradkowski is a free agent. The Bengals will probably look to re-sign Gradkowski, who is familiar with Jay Gruden's offense. If the team decides to go in a different direction, the Bengals could add another veteran backup (which has been head coach Marvin Lewis' preference) or use a late-round pick on a quarterback.

Cleveland Browns: This is the one starting quarterback job that is up in the air in the division. The Browns' new regime will have a competition in training camp, but Brandon Weeden is still considered the favorite to remain the starter. There's a chance that the Browns will trade for Patriots backup Ryan Mallett, a rumored favorite of vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi. Cleveland, though, would prefer not to give up a draft pick after using a second-round one on wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft. And it doesn't sound as though the Browns intend to draft a quarterback like Geno Smith with the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns can provide some competition for Weeden by signing the Dolphins' Matt Moore or the Saints' Chase Daniel out of a weak free-agent class.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As long as Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, there's no question that he's the starting quarterback. Roethlisberger, though, hasn't played a full season since 2008, which puts more emphasis on the backup position. This could be the year when the Steelers look for a younger quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds to develop. Zac Dysert, a Miami (Ohio) quarterback like Roethlisberger, is expected to go in the fourth or fifth round. The Steelers went with more experienced backups last season in Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, both of whom are free agents and whose returns are uncertain. Batch is 38 years old, and Leftwich is not durable. Even if there was a better free-agent backup available, Pittsburgh doesn't have the cap room to sign him.