What Might Have Been. Ravens Target Dez Bryant Signs With Saints
One of the top offseason targets of the Ravens finally found a home yesterday, as it is being reported that wide receiver Dez Bryant is expected to sign a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints today.
Back in April, Bryant reportedly turned down a three-year deal from the Ravens worth around $21 million. The Ravens had already signed wide receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree, and were looking to add a third to that group. After Bryant turned down the offer, the Ravens signed wide receiver Willie Snead IV to a two-year deal reportedly worth $10.4 million.
Much like Brown, Bryant, a three-time Pro Bowler with the Dallas Cowboys, didn't want to sign a contract that lasted longer than a year because he was hoping his play on the field would lead to signing an even bigger contract this upcoming offseason.
What the Ravens wanted, and what Bryant wanted, simply didn't mesh. Plenty of people had faith he would eventually come to Baltimore, as the Ravens were given the best odds to land Bryant as late as early August.
As NFL Network's Ian Rapoport put it, "Players say all the time it's not about the money…. [Bryant] was looking for the right fit."
As for how the Ravens offense would have been different if Bryant had signed here, the biggest change would have been that Snead most likely would not be here. The team probably would not have wanted to dedicate the cap space to signing both.
Snead currently leads the Ravens with 45 receptions, which have gone for 448 yards. He's on pace to have more catches than Bryant had last season in Dallas (69), and a similar amount of yardage (836), too. Snead has led the Ravens in yardage in three different games, including the team's past two.
Bryant, who just turned 30, also has a lot more tread on the tires than Snead, who is 26 years old.
"The biggest question mark of all with Bryant is whether he has anything left in the tank after his production started to dwindle in recent years while he battled some injuries," ESPN’s Mike Triplett wrote. "There is a reason that no other teams have rolled the dice on him before now: There is no guarantee he will be a difference-maker."
It also probably wouldn't be smart to take whatever Bryant's production becomes in New Orleans, and assume it would have happened similarly in Baltimore. If Bryant had signed with the Ravens, he probably would have been the team's No. 1 receiver in most situations, and drawn a high percentage of coverage.
New Orleans wide receiver Michael Thomas ranks No. 4 in the NFL with 880 receiving yards. His seven receiving touchdowns are tied for second in the league. The Saints also have running back duo Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, who both catch a lot of passes, as well as former Ravens ADD] tight end Benjamin Watson. Bryant will simply be another weapon in the Saints’[add] potent system, rather than being “The Guy” as [NFL.com’s Herbie Teope put it.
"[Bryant] doesn't need to be 'The Guy' in this offense with Michael Thomas shredding secondaries," Teope wrote. "All the Saints need is a threat of another weapon in the passing game, especially with [quarterback] Drew Brees throwing the ball. Think Brees won't spot a mismatch and take advantage of it?"
It's an interesting "what if" that I'm sure Ravens fans will wonder about. Clearly, the front office had faith Bryant could help or they wouldn't have reportedly offered him a three-year contract. No doubt, it'll be a situation Ravens fans keep an eye on throughout the rest of the season.
Covering Short Routes Key to Getting Off the Field
The Ravens rank No. 2 in passing yards allowed per game (205.2). In fact, during their current three-game losing streak, the Ravens have only given up an average of 233.6 yards per game, so it isn't like the defense has been giving up a lot through the air.
One area the team has struggled is getting off the field on third downs. This past weekend, the Steelers converted 10-of-16 third down attempts, a number the defense will definitely want to change.
A big reason for that has been the defense's struggles defending short passes. As Secondary Coach Chris Hewitt said, "When you're playing the type of coverages that we play and people are throwing the ball short and intermediate routes, I equate it to I'll take the paper cut instead of somebody stabbing me in the heart, so I'm not trying to give up any big plays."
"The Ravens have allowed the sixth-fewest number of completions of 20 or more yards and surrendered their first pass play of 40 or more yards of the season against the Steelers on Sunday," WNST’s Luke Jones wrote. "As for needing to avoid third-and-short situations, seven of Pittsburgh's 10 conversions came on plays requiring six yards or less for a first down."
Part of the equation for sure is keeping opposing teams out of those short-yardage situations on second and third down. That being said, the Steelers were able to find success on third downs a variety of ways, but Jones was particularly concerned with how well they did over the middle of the field. It's an issue that Jones feels has happened throughout the season.
"How the middle of the field continues to be such a problematic area for the pass defense when C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Tony Jefferson account for $22.625 million on the 2018 salary cap is a tough pill to swallow," Jones wrote.
Pro Football Focus Ranks Offensive Line as a Top-10 Unit
The offensive line has been an oft-talked about subject recently because of the many injuries the unit is suffering at the moment. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right tackle James Hurst both missed this past weekend's game, which was three in a row for Hurst. Left guard Alex Lewis has also missed time with a pinched nerve, meaning reserves such as Orlando Brown Jr., Bradley Bozeman (also got hurt), Hroniss Grasu and Jermaine Eluemunor have all had to start games recently.
Despite all the different combinations the unit has had to contend with over the past three weeks, Pro Football Focus still rated the group as the No. 9 offensive line in the league. PFF's Michael Renner has been particularly impressed with the play of Brown, who has started the last three games at right tackle, writing he's "looking more and more like a steal with each passing game." Brown, a rookie, was drafted in the third round.
PFF's rankings cover the entire season, not just the group's performance from Week 9. But the Ravens did improve from the last time Renner put together the rankings after Week 6, jumping up eight spots from No. 17.
The offensive line has been criticized for the team's 3.6 yards per carry this season, which is a valid concern for the group. However, the unit has done a good job of keeping quarterback Joe Flacco upright this season. He's attempted a league-leading 379 passes, and has only been sacked 16 times, which is tied for No. 20 in the NFL. By comparison, of the three other quarterbacks that have been sacked 16 times – Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, Washington's Alex Smith and Arizona's Josh Rosen – Dalton has attempted the most passes with 292.
Russell Street Report’s Ken McKusick was critical of the unit's performance against the Steelers though, giving right guard Marshal Yanda the best score with a B-.
Le'Veon Bell Situation Gets Flipped Upside Down … Literally
One of the biggest storylines in the NFL this season has been the holdout of Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell, who did not want to sign a franchise tag tender for the third straight season.
Last night, Bell took to Twitter to vent his frustrations about how the public has judged him during his holdout, but he put his own unique twist on it.
No, there isn't anything wrong with whatever device you're reading this on. Bell sent out the tweets with upside-down text, providing yet another odd twist in one of the longest holdouts in NFL history.
Twitter immediately took notice of Bell's move, and some figured out straight away how he managed to pull it off.
Yes, if you can read what Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer tweeted, the way to write upside down like Bell is to go to UpsideDownText.com. That seems to be the consensus easiest way to do it.
Many have wondered when Bell will return to the Steelers, and he is reportedly in Pittsburgh right now, though it hasn't been made clear if he's been to the team's facility. The Steelers have run the ball well despite Bell's holdout, with running back James Conner ranking No. 3 in the league with an average of 88.2 rushing yards per game.
- The Baltimore Sun’s Edward Lee took a look at how the entire rookie draft class has done thus far this year, selection by selection. This includes defensive end Zach Sieler, a seventh-round pick, who recorded his first NFL tackle against the Steelers. "Obviously, this is a whole new level from college to the NFL, different speeds," Sieler said. "For me, I'm just trying to take every day as I can and absorb as much as I can and just be a sponge."
- In his "32 NFL Observations, Week 9," PFF's Nathan Jahnke highlighted the defense's batted passes ability. "The Ravens defense has tallied 17 batted passes, which is five more than any other defense this season."