Flacco Hasn't Sold Elite Status … Yet
We're halfway through the contract season of quarterback Joe Flacco, whose agent wants to prove the fifth-year veteran is among the top five at his position and should be paid that way.
With eight games under his belt, has Flacco made the case that he belongs in elite company?
"I don't think he's totally sold it," said ESPN's Chris Mortensen. "[H]e's got a contract year and he's kind of bet on himself here. He could have had a deal signed I think right before training camp and he's basically said, 'You know what, I'll play this season.'"
The Ravens are sitting atop the AFC North with a 6-2 record and nobody can claim, like they have in years past, that Baltimore is winning because of a dominant defense. No, in 2012, it's the offense that has led the Ravens, not the 26th-ranked defense.
Another popular way critics like to take credit away from Flacco is by saying the run game carries the offense. But the loud complaints thus far this season about Rice not running enough, and Rice himself saying Flacco is driving the car, proves the quarterback is leading the offense. The Ravens passing offense is ranked slightly higher (15th) than the rushing offense (16th).
However, the fifth-year quarterback's play has been up and down – especially when he is on the road. Completing 165 of 276 passes, his completion percentage (59.8) is below where Head Coach John Harbaugh would like it to be.
"Oh yeah, we talk about being closer to 70 percent," Harbaugh said Monday. "That's where we want to be. We don't want to be around 60 percent. We're capable of being better than that. That's kind of what we're talking about in the second half of the season that has to improve."
Flacco started the season off with a bang in three of the first four games, throwing for 299 yards (vs. Bengals), 232 (at Eagles), 382 (vs. New England) and 356 (vs. Cleveland). But his production tapered off after that, only breaking the 200-yard barrier once in the next four games.
He knows he needs to be more consistent, and that's his goal in the second half of the season.
"I think we started off pretty good. [I've] been a little bit disappointed on where we have been headed more recently, but I think since we've been on the bye [we] have looked at some of those things," Flacco said. "Going out there on a consistent basis and doing those things are what we are looking to do here on out."
But even after picking apart his first eight games, here's the thing about Flacco's "eliteness." Regardless of what he has or hasn't done so far, his status will be determined in the postseason.
"I really think the proof is in the playoffs," Mortensen said. "He gets this team to the playoffs; he gets them to the playoffs again.
"[But] he's got to get to the Super Bowl for I think people to truly acknowledge that he belongs with those elite guys. And oh by the way, he'll also be paid rather handsomely if he does that."
Ravens Trying Everything … Upshaw Playing DT
Well, nobody can say that Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees isn't being creative. He's trying anything and everything to help his struggling unit improve.
That includes moving rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw to the interior line, where he got a handful of snaps in the Ravens substitution packages in Cleveland last Sunday, according to CBSSports.com.
"We're trying to put the best guys on the field in a situation, like we talked about before, where we can put guys and utilize them the best," Pees said.
The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Upshaw is known for his pass-rushing and edge-setting abilities and doesn't have the typical size of an interior lineman. So matching up against 300-pound offensive linemen without a lot of space to use his speed can be difficult.
But that's why he's only used on the inside in certain sub-packages.
"You're not going to put them in there where there's a lot of power football or anything like that," Pees said. "But if you can figure out the situations based on their personnel, how to match up best, then yeah, a lot of guys can do it."
Injured Ngata: 'I Can't Do What I Want'
It was stunning to look down Sunday's stat sheet to find that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata hadn't notched a single tackle.
Ngata is dealing with injuries to his shoulder and knee, and he revealed Thursday how much the ailments are affecting his play.
"Now, it's limiting me," Ngata told The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson. "I just can't do what I want to do most of the time."
Asked if taking a week off would help him heal and play better, Ngata dismissed the idea. He also doesn't see surgery as the remedy.
"Nah, definitely not," he said. "It's too important to win games. I think it will heal in time. I don't think I'll need surgery. It's just limiting me."
Learn This Name: Taiwan Jones
Who the heck is Taiwan Jones, you ask?
He could be the Raiders' starting running back who hopes to give his young career a jolt by having a big day against the Ravens' 28th-ranked run defense.
With starter Darren McFadden and backup Mike Goodson questionable for Sunday's matchup – both have high ankle sprains and neither has practiced this week – the speedy second-year back looks to be the next man up, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Jones has one carry so far this season that went for two yards.
Oakland is thin at the position, but Head Coach Dennis Allen said the team wouldn't look for outside help because they "have guys in house that can step in."
The Ravens hope to prove him wrong.
Week 10 Picks: Raiders vs. Ravens
The pundits below are all in agreement – the Ravens will beat the Raiders Sunday.
Oakland has lost each of its last seven trips to the Eastern Time Zone, and if its run defense doesn't figure out a way to slow running back Ray Rice, it could be eight.
ESPN.com: 12 of 12 pick Ravens
Yahoo! Sports: 3 of 3 pick Ravens
SportingNews.com (Vinnie Iyer): Ravens 34, Raiders 17
"After being lit up by Ray Rice doppelganger Doug Martin at home, the Raiders must contend with the actual Rice after a long trip. This is where the Ravens will get Joe Flacco and the passing game going again. Former AFC North foe Carson Palmer will try his best to keep up, but it will be hard without Darren McFadden."
FoxSports.com (Peter Schrager): Ravens 24, Raiders 20
"Oakland's been outscored 88-24 in the third quarter this year and is 30th in the league in rushing yards. Darren McFadden's doing his annual 'miss a few games/frustrate fantasy owners' injury sabbatical and Marcel Reese now appears to be the focal point of the offense. I like Reece as a fullback, but he's not exactly Marshall Faulk. The Ravens haven't looked all that impressive in any of their eight games this year and are still 6-2. They'll be 7-2 after this one. It won't be easy — it never is — but they'll figure it out."
CBSSports.com (Pete Prisco): Ravens 30, Raiders 27
"This is a long trip for the Raiders, which is tough. But it's even tougher when your defense can't stop anybody. Baltimore's offense hasn't been great, but they get it going here. The Raiders won't be able to keep up."
SI.com (Peter King): Ravens 34, Raiders 17
"Can't get past one fact: the Raiders are 0-7 in their last seven trips to the Eastern Time Zone. Last ET win was two coaches (Tom Cable) and three years ago."
ProFootballTalk.com (Mike Florio): Ravens 31, Raiders 14
"The Raiders aren't as bad as you'd think, and the Ravens aren't as good. Look for Baltimore's decimated run defense to thrive against Oakland's decimated running game, and for the Ravens to do enough to fend off the Steelers as a pair of games against Pittsburgh loom on the schedule."
ProFootballTalk.com (Michael David Smith): Ravens 35, Raiders 31
"For a 6-2 team, the Ravens have a lot of question marks, especially on their aged and injured defense. But the Raiders have even more problems on defense, and I like Baltimore to win a high-scoring game."
Over or Underrated?
ESPN's Matt Williamson released his midseason top 50 NFL players, naming four Ravens to the list.
His colleague, Jamison Hensley, disagreed with two, saying Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata were overrated.
No. 23 Terrell Suggs
Hensley: "Overrated. While I wouldn't have Suggs this high right now, he has a better shot at making a significant impact in the second half of the season than Polamalu."
No. 27 Ray Rice
Hensley: "This is about right for Rice, although I expect him to be ranked higher by the end of the season. The Ravens are going to give the ball to Rice more in the second half of the season."
No. 29 Haloti NgataHensley: "Slightly overrated. It's commendable that Ngata is playing through shoulder and knee injuries. But you can tell that he's not the same player. Not sure if he'll ever be able to get healthy this year."
No. 36 Marshal YandaHensley: "This is about right. Yanda is among the best guards, if not the best guard in football, right now. But I can understand the argument of not putting guards high on the list."
- Despite a sore ankle that has kept him out of practice this week, guard Bobbie Williams said he'll likely play Sunday. "I expect to be out there," he said Thursday. "I'm just going to keep getting the ankle right, doing what we can. We [are] just going to take it day-to-day." [CSNBaltimore.com]
- Despite the current one-game lead the Ravens hold in the division, Clark Judge doesn't see them as the best. "Conventional wisdom tells me the Pittsburgh Steelers, not the Baltimore Ravens, are the team to beat in the AFC North," the columnist wrote. [CBSSports.com]
- Relaying calls to the Ravens' defense falls on the ears of Jameel McClain. [The Baltimore Sun]
- @artj97 [Art Jones]: sometimes you wonder why do bad things happen to good people. I hate cancer. it's took my sister and grandmother. @CaseyCares [Twitter]