La Canfora: Ravens Should've Been Sellers at Trade Deadline
The Ravens' trade for running back/wide receiver Ty Montgomery was predominately well-received, as Baltimore was able to acquire a potentially useful piece for its struggling running game while hardly giving anything up (a reported 2020 seventh-round pick).
However, one pundit thoroughly disagreed with the Ravens' decision: CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora. His issue isn't with Montgomery, but rather Baltimore's approach at the deadline. To La Canfora, the Ravens should not have been buying any players, but instead, selling for draft picks.
"At 4-4 and facing a franchise-defining three-game homestand, I can't help but think that, actually, this is almost exactly the same middling football team we have seen in Baltimore since their last Super Bowl win in 2012," La Canfora wrote.
"And if I am correct, and if this is a team again destined to flirt with the playoffs, only to fall just short, then the Ravens wasted an opportunity to vigorously explore compiling desperately-needed draft picks at Tuesday's trade deadline."
To La Canfora, the Ravens have proven too volatile to string together a run of well-played games, especially in the postseason. In his words, "Any team that can go from owning the Steelers in Pittsburgh to losing 12-9 in Cleveland in the span of a week … is by its very nature difficult to figure out."
With that mindset, La Canfora looked at Baltimore's roster, which is laden with talented veterans many teams would covet, and felt the Ravens would've been better off using those players to get draft picks. La Canfora's advised plan for the Ravens was, essentially, to throw in the towel on this season, and start the process of trying to contend as soon as possible.
"An argument could be made that no team had more aging-but-still-possibly-valuable veterans who would have appealed to top-tier contenders," La Canfora wrote. "Don't you think names like Terrell Suggs, Marshal Yanda, Eric Weddle and Brandon Williams (and maybe Jimmy Smith if you only watched 2017 tape) might have elicited some interest with so many teams desperate for pass rush and offensive line help and help in coverage?"
It's an interesting theory, but La Canfora surely understands why the Ravens have more confidence in their team than him.
Yes, at 4-4, the Ravens have little margin for error if they're going to reach the coveted 10 wins, but this team has also shown plenty of signs that it's capable of playing excellent football. The Ravens own the third-best point differential in the NFL, and have the No. 1-ranked defense. La Canfora also thinks the Ravens should have given up on their season before they play any of their home divisional games. Huh?
The Ravens' next two games are considered by many as being the two that will define their season. The first contest is against a Steelers team they've already beaten on the road, in a game where the Ravens are favored by Vegas oddsmakers. Sure, the Steelers are playing better than they were earlier in the year, but why would the Ravens give up on their season before this game is played?
After facing the Steelers, the Ravens have a bye, then host the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals, meanwhile, will host the currently one-loss New Orleans Saints before their trip to Baltimore.
It is important to note that this is almost a completely opposite situation than the one the Ravens faced in Week 2 when they lost to the Bengals. In Week 2, the Ravens had a short week to prepare for the Bengals and had to travel to Cincinnati. This time, they'll have an entire extra week to prepare for the game and get to stay home. Once again, why would you give up on your season before this game is played?
Yes, the loss in Charlotte this past weekend was disheartening. But the Ravens have played some pretty good football at times this season, and are still in the hunt. In fact, if the season ended right now, the Ravens would just barely miss out on the postseason as the No. 7 team in the AFC. That doesn't sound like a team that should be giving up halfway through the season.
According to ESPN, the Ravens' chances of making the playoffs are still 69 percent.
If the Ravens win their next two games, they'll be in the thick of the AFC North race. Undoubtedly, these next two contests will be very tough, but the Ravens have every right to believe they can win. Why would you give up on your season before giving this group that chance?
The Importance of Holding Big Ben to Under 6.5 Yards Per Pass Attempt
Against the Ravens in Week 4, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense really struggled. Roethlisberger finished with 274 yards on 47 passing attempts, which equals 5.8 yards per passing attempt.
As PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz noted, that stat plays into a main theme of the Ravens' recent victories over the Steelers.
"The Ravens are 5-0 against the Steelers since 2013 when they hold Ben Roethlisberger to less than 6.5 yards per pass attempt," Kasinitz wrote.
On the flip side, the Steelers are unbeaten against the Ravens when Roethlisberger exceeds 6.5 yards per pass attempt. So, it sounds pretty simple: just slow down the Steelers' passing attack. But as any football fan knows, containing a wide receiver corps headlined by Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster is anything but easy.
Russell Street Report's Carey Stevenson thinks the Ravens should approach the Steelers with a lot of dime packages like they did in Week 4. That means a heavy dose of safety Anthony Levine Sr., who had a superb game against the Steelers in Week 4, finishing with six tackles, three passes defended and an interception. As Stevenson noted, "It would be unfair to expect Levine to repeat" that performance, but he still believes Levine can make an impact.
"Pittsburgh will no doubt be more prepared for Levine and the dime in this one but if Levine is able to trick Roethlisberger a few more times on Sunday it would bode well for the Ravens in what is essentially a must-win game," Stevenson wrote.
There's also another receiver the Ravens will have to contend with on Sunday in Justin Hunter. Hunter wasn't used very much in Week 4 in favor of rookie James Washington, who has made just five catches this season. In recent weeks, the Steelers have given more snaps to Hunter, who at 6-foot-4 and with 4.4 speed, could be quite a handful.
"Hunter has the ability to make plays downfield," Stevenson wrote. "They had a couple missed opportunities in their week 8 win versus the Browns and I'm certain they'll look to go back to that well if given the opportunity."
Stevenson also thinks more dime packages will be necessary despite the emergence of running back James Conner. Against the Ravens, Conner had just nine attempts for 19 yards. Since that game, Conner has averaged 5.7 yards per carry and 122 yards on the ground per game.
"[Defensive tackles] Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce only played two snaps together in that week 4 win, that's a number that will obviously need to rise," Stevenson wrote. "But much like in my Saints battle plans, I'd much rather be vulnerable to James Conner versus a top-tier run defense than to be vulnerable to Big Ben and his cast of receiving weapons."
Want to Learn How to Start 168 NFL Games in a Row? Brandon Carr Has You Covered
It's not surprising how often NFL players miss games due to injury because of how physical football is.
Cornerback Brandon Carr sets a completely different precedent, however. He's started 168 straight NFL games, the longest for a defensive player, and the second-longest in the NFL behind Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
"I think it's a combination of a lot of things, some things I can't control," Carr said Wednesday to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec. "Somebody up top is looking after me. But at the same time, I take pride in just taking care of my body 365 days out of the year. It's nonstop."
Zrebiec profiled an average in-season week for Carr, and unsurprisingly it involves a lot of massages, acupuncture and even some laser treatments. He has his own team of personal trainers and physical therapists who he works with, in addition to the care he gets from the Ravens.
"I've learned to invest in my body," Carr said. "You see the guys, like [retired linebacker] James Harrison, and how they train… You get out what you put in."
The Ravens have to be excited about Carr's availability this season as other cornerbacks have missed multiple games this year. Jimmy Smith missed the first four games of the season through suspension, and Marlon Humphrey didn't play the last two weeks with a thigh injury.
Not only has Carr been available, but he's also played at a high level, registering 23 tackles and an interception. According to Pro Football Focus, he's allowing catches at a rate of one reception for every 15.3 targets, which is No. 13 in the NFL.
"Carr has fortunately been a bright spot in the outside cornerback spot and has been allowing few completions over the past two games," Russell Street Report's Mitchell Wolfman wrote. "Carr has also has had the best ball skills of all the CBs as he now leads the group with eight pass breakups this season."
For Carr, the key is being diligent about his process throughout the week. "Sunday, that's the real work day," he said. "That's when we go and collect our harvest."
Steelers Safety Believes Ty Montgomery Can Make an Immediate Impact
When asked if he'll be able to make an immediate impact against the Steelers this Sunday, Montgomery didn't give away a whole lot. He simply replied, "I'm just going to do whatever is asked of me."
Though Montgomery didn't reveal much, Steelers safety Morgan Burnett firmly expects Montgomery to make a difference on Sunday.
"He's a smart guy," Burnett said. "He's a smart guy and he can pick things up quick."
Burnett played with Montgomery for three years in Green Bay, and wasn't just impressed with his smarts.
"He can make plays for you, whether that's him running, taking a handoff or him going downfield catching the ball," Burnett said to PennLive's Jacob Klinger. "He has that pedigree in his background."
Burnett went on to say, "he's an explosive player and he's got playmaking ability in him, so he's a good football player."
This will be the first time Montgomery and Burnett will face each other in a game. From the sounds of it, Burnett will be sure to let his current teammates know what his old teammate is capable of.
- Guard Bradley Bozeman's charitable organization, the "Bradley and Nikki Bozeman Foundation" was profiled in The Baltimore Sun by Peter Schmuck. The foundation focuses on the issue of bullying in schools, and Bozeman recently went to a couple different elementary schools in the Pikesville area to talk about it. "It's your life and you only get one of them," Bozeman tells the kids. "You don't want to let somebody else determine whether you enjoy it."
- Quarterback Joe Flacco was included in CBS Sports' Joel Corry's list of 11 quarterbacks who could change teams in 2019. Corry views the drafting of quarterback Lamar Jackson and Flacco's salary cap hit as two possible reasons why Flacco may no longer be a Raven after this season. "The Ravens would have a $16 million cap charge in 2019, a $10.5 million cap savings, by releasing or trading Flacco next offseason."