Jacoby: 'Work hard, be hungry and be humble.'
After our victory last Sunday night at the Steelers – and, yes, that is three-straight regular season wins at Heinz Field – Jacoby Jones was asked about what it takes to be on the Ravens.
Jacoby had just returned a punt 63 yards for what was the decisive play in the game. He pondered the question for a moment, and then the first-year Raven, who played his first five seasons with the Houston Texans, said:
"Work hard, be hungry and stay humble."
Man, that made me feel good when he said that. And, I'm sure when Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and the rest of our Ravens family saw the quote, they were proud, too.
We aren't a pretty team. We're a grind-it-out, hit-you-in-the-mouth group. We try to impose our wills with the way we play our opponents. We don't brag. We're not showy –OK, Jacoby's touchdown dances have some theater, but it's done with fun – we don't have players saying, "Look at the name on the back of my jersey."
As Marshal Yanda said this summer: "We are a team that embraces the grind."
We draft and sign hard-nosed players who represent us and a Baltimore area that is hard-scrabbled and proud of all the good things in our community.
We're Not Pretty
I remember standing on the field with John Harbaugh in Oakland for the 2009 regular-season finale. I was staring at the Raiders warming up. They looked good. They were massive. The Raiders draft and sign the biggest, fastest athletes. "Don't look down there," Harbs said. "They look better than us – until kickoff." And John smiled. (And, he was right. We won, 21-13.)
Who would you rather have representing you? A 6-foot-5 guard who weighs 325 pounds and runs a 4.98 40-yard dash, or the short-armed pig farmer from Iowa, Marshal Yanda? You want a big, sleek running back who is faster than anyone on the Ravens, or the 5-8 Ray Rice from the poor side of New Rochelle, N.Y.?
Marshal and Little Ray are our type of guys. Like Jacoby says: "They work hard, they're hungry and they're humble." We don't have a lot of prototypes. We have real players. Ravens players.
How About Our Special Teams?
Among our band of "real players" are a number who are making our special teams, well, special. We all see the guys who handle the ball. And they are a good group: Punter Sam Koch and kicker Justin Tucker, along with long snapper Morgan Cox and Jones. This quartet is among the best in the NFL, including the rookie Tucker.
But* *there are others. How about Corey Graham, who made the Pro Bowl last season as the special teams' designate for the NFC when he played for Chicago? Where would we have been last Sunday night in Pittsburgh without him? He stopped a Steelers' drive with an interception, knocked down a potential touchdown pass in the end zone and jarred the ball from tight end Heath Miller late in the contest. He's fourth on our team in special teams tackles. Running back Anthony Allen, who started the year on the practice squad, is tied for the Ravens' lead with 10 special teams tackles, the same as three-time Pro Bowl special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Cornerback Chykie Brown, a fifth-rounder out of Texas in 2011, has made his mark on "teams" with eight total tackles, seven of those solo stops. "We have a good group that practices hard and takes great pride in trying to help us win," Assistant Head Coach Jerry Rosburg, who coordinates Baltimore's special teams, said.
There's an old adage in the NFL that says if you win two of the three phases – offense, defense and special teams – you'll win. Our special teams are winning, and they are a significant reason why we are 8-2.
Some Stats To Ponder
And* *just how have we won eight of our first 10 – and, if we win in San Diego, we will match the best start (2006) in Ravens history? Some reporters and fans point to our offensive and defensive standing in the league and proclaim: "The Ravens aren't as good as their record."
We rank 21st in offense and 25th in defense among the 32 teams. That doesn't look very good, and those aren't numbers we're bragging about. But* *what's the most important stat there is? Simple answer: points. Well, we're averaging the NFL's seventh most points, while allowing the ninth fewest. Not too shabby.
How about red zone numbers? On offense, we're the seventh-best team in scoring proficiency (i.e. scoring the most touchdowns when we get inside the 20-yard line). Defensively, we're the best team in the NFL at keeping teams out of the end zone once they get into the red zone. And, here's another huge stat: We're second in turnover differential with a 12 mark.
So, guess what? You win the special teams' battle; you don't turn the ball over, but you steal it from opponents; you give up yards, but not a lot of points; and you're pretty good on offense (we're tied with Denver for the most "explosive" pass plays – those 25 yards and longer). Add all that up, and you win a lot of games. We find a way.
Giving Thanks And Making A Difference
After winning at Pittsburgh, we landed at the Baltimore airport close to 3 a.m. Monday. Players reported for meetings and a brief practice at 1 p.m. later that day. We fly to San Diego later this afternoon. And* *what did 25 of our players do last Tuesday on their only day off during a very busy week? They found time to help out in our community.
"These players, these impressive young men who play for our team, made sure that thousands of members of our community – men, women and children – had an opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving," Heather Darney, the Ravens' director of community relations, said. "What's even better, some of our players hosted their own events for those in need and then attended other charity events held by teammates."
Most of these holiday events featured our players buying food and distributing it to those struggling right now. I won't name all of them here, but some guys who do this type of good work all the time are Jameel McClain, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Lardarius Webb, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Joe Flacco, Matt Birk and Ray Lewis.
And* *get this: After attending a hearing on Tuesday regarding his fine and game suspension, which was overturned later that day, Ed Reed headed directly to Booker T. Washington Middle School, where he distributed Thanksgiving baskets to members of that community.
Good guys on a good team. Now, let's go to San Diego and beat those Chargers. Go Ravens!
Talk with you next week,