Ravens Adjust On The Fly
Life is a series of adjustments.
And, that's really visible in the NFL, especially for the Ravens.
I remember the good old days – nine months ago. Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome hosted a one-day meeting that included all of our coaches, medical staff and scouts. Every player on the roster was reviewed thoroughly, and strengths and weaknesses of the Ravens were discussed honestly.
What came out of that meeting, plus a subsequent summit in Florida with Steve, Oz, John Harbaugh and Dick Cass, was a list of priorities:
- Re-sign potential free agents Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe (along with Daryl Smith and Jacoby Jones)
- Find a play-making receiver
- Add depth to the offensive line
- Improve the depth at inside linebacker
Included with these discussions were certain "knowns." We were convinced we would have one of the strongest pair of starting corners in the NFL with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.
Everyone was confident that Ray Rice would have a bounce-back season after an injury-bothered 2013 campaign. The same conviction was expressed about Bernard Pierce.
There was expressed enthusiasm about second seasons for Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams, Kyle Juszczyk and Rick Wagner. (Indeed, this group has taken a huge leap, including Brown, who was beaten out for a starting spot by the remarkable C.J. Mosley.)
And Then You Adjust
Let's see what has happened so far. Pitta and Monroe, of course, earned large new contracts and helped us get off to a strong start. Now, Pitta (hip) is out for the season, and Monroe (knee) has missed the last two games and is not expected to play this Sunday in Tampa. Steve Smith Sr. is that play-making receiver and is a difference maker.
Newsome and Co. did add depth to the O-line, trading for center Jeremy Zuttah, who is playing at a high level and has shown to be a leader among that group. Mosley was drafted in the first round and is the talk of the league right now. A year ago, this inside 'backer chased running backs from Mississippi, LSU and Auburn, and now he's making 14 tackles, intercepting one and causing another in a game at Indianapolis.
When we got to training camp, and our depth at defensive line was so spectacular, other teams called us for trades. Second-year defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore was dominant in July and early August. He then tore an Achilles and was done for the season. That certainly hurt, but 2014 fourth-round pick, defensive end Brent Urban from Virginia, had defensive coaches tittering: "He's going to help us now. He'll play a lot of downs for us."
Urban was then placed on injured reserve in August with a knee issue.
And when our football folks weren't showing glee with Mosley's arrival, they were saying privately: "If Timmy Jernigan had been our first-round pick, we'd be happy." Jernigan, the second-round defensive tackle from Florida State, has missed our last three games with a knee injury and won't play in Tampa.
All that defensive line depth that highlighted our first month of camp practices … gone, just like that. Against the Colts, defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi and defensive end Lawrence Guy played significant roles for us. We recently claimed Bilukidi from the Bengals and signed Guy after the Chargers released him two weeks ago.
Did I mention reliable defensive end Chris Canty missed last Sunday's game after having surgery a week ago to help heal an infection in his arm?
Webb missed three games with a back issue – and, just when we thought we'd have our original group of corners back, Asa Jackson (toe) was put on IR, with a designation for return.
We're Still Standing
Despite all of this, we stand at 3-2, which is essentially the second-best record in the NFL right now. That doesn't mean much. There are seven NFL teams with just one loss, including the AFC North-leading Bengals. (There are 11 teams with 3-2 records.) All of us are adjusting, some better than others.
Sure, we're a little banged up heading to Tampa, but as Buck [Showalter] of the O's says: "We like our guys."
If I told you in early February that we'd have a [running] back with the best per carry average in the NFL after five games, you would not have guessed it would've been Justin Forsett. But his 5.9 yards per rush is tops.
Pitta's gone, but here's a bow to Ozzie and friends for the signing of two-time Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels.
We might be short on corners right now, but Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees has found ways to use the athletic pair of Elam and Terrence Brooks (3rd-round, '14), both safeties by trade, to help control receivers.
DeAngelo Tyson has stepped up at multiple spots in the D-line, while outside linebacker Pernell McPhee is playing at a high level both as a linebacker and lineman. Now, we don't have an interception by a D-back yet (we missed three last Sunday), but Haloti Ngata has two.
We're adjusting. Finding ways.
The cavalry will come. Monroe, Canty and Jernigan are working hard to be back as soon as they can. Will Hill, a safety who started 10 games for the Giants a year ago and played very well for us in the preseason, is eligible to practice and play next week.
In the meantime, John Harbaugh and the assistants keep grinding, teaching and scheming as our player personnel group keeps the "next men up" up lists vibrant. ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, who has covered the Ravens for 14 seasons, wrote last week that, "This has been the most impressive start to a season in the Harbaugh era. … The Ravens have proven to be resilient under him."
"The NFL season is about managing the ups and downs and being the best at making adjustments," Joe Flacco said on Wednesday afternoon. "I think we have a great team in terms of doing that. I think that's why in December we've always been around and had a chance to break through into the playoffs. And I think we will continue to do that."
Hear, hear Joe!
It's a play we would all be talking about if it worked, but it was still pretty amazing. Second-and-10 from the Colts' 36, 49 seconds left in the game, Ravens trailed by seven (20-13). [Colts Head Coach] Chuck Pagano sent five rushers at Flacco, with the last being the free safety with an open lane to our quarterback. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman came hard, almost untouched, and flushed Joe to his left.
Under deafening noise, I was standing at the 32. Joe came sprinting toward me with Freeman in hot pursuit. Talk about running for your life – or the Ravens' life in this game! All the while, Flacco had his eyes downfield as he sprinted away from the charging 'backer. Freeman dove, and I heard the smack of his hand on Flacco's right arm. Almost instantly, the Colts' defender swiped at the feet of big Joe. I saw it and heard the click as Joe's heels collided from the force.
Almost without breaking stride, Flacco heaved the ball 67 yards down the field before his momentum took him out of bounds. Remember, Joe was in a full sprint, had his arm hit and was tripped. He couldn't set his feet, flip his hips or rear back – and the ball fell just three yards from Marlon Brown inside the 10-yard line. Talk about athletic ability and presence of mind.
I asked Craig Ver Steeg, our senior offensive assistant, how many NFL QBs could make that play. Ver Steeg: "None that I can think of."
Let's get more big plays from Joe and the offense in Tampa. (Lovie Smith's team won in Pittsburgh two weeks ago and had an 11-point lead in New Orleans last Sunday before losing in overtime. They're improving quickly.) Let's beat the Bucs!
Talk with you next week,