Inside the Ravens with Aaron Wilson

Sunday, November 15, 2009

KEY MATCHUPS: Ravens @ Browns


KEY MATCHUP

Baltimore Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Cleveland Browns CB Eric Wright

Frustrated against the Cincinnati Bengals with three inconsequential catches last week, Mason's return to Ohio on Monday night should be a more productive experience. Mason has generated two consecutive 100-yard games against the Browns' secondary. He caught five passes for 118 yards earlier this season and nine catches for 136 yards last November against the Browns. He has four 100-yard receiving games against Cleveland, and his 73 receptions are the second most he's had against any opponent. His 1,151 receiving yards are his most against any team in his career. Mason also thrives on the Monday night stage, catching 90 passes for the third most among active players. He has scored six touchdowns in 16 Monday night games. The Browns are allowing 238.6 passing yards per game.

KEY MATCHUP

Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Cleveland Browns LT Joe Thomas

Suggs estimated this week that he's playing at 70 percent of his normal capacity. He'll need to be 100 percent against Thomas, a big, technically sound blocker. Suggs, who was signed to a $62.5 million contract, is capable of producing more than his 3 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble. Suggs has played well at times, but the team is seeking more consistency from him as a pass rusher. His run-stopping has been adequate, ranking second on the team with 41 tackles. He just hasn't been as disruptive as he was a year ago and hasn't justified his new contract. The Ravens aren't displeased with Suggs. They just want to see more out of him.

Photo by Sabina Moran

NICKEL PACKAGE: 5 Questions leading into Ravens @ Browns


1. Will the Baltimore Ravens get off to a fast start?

Heading into Monday night's road game against the hapless Cleveland Browns (1-7), the Ravens (4-4) have become notoriously slow starters. They have been outscored 28-3 in the first quarter over the past three games. The Browns, though, could prove to be the perfect antidote to what's been plaguing the offense. The Browns rank last in the NFL in total defense and surrendered a 10-0 lead to the Ravens during the first meeting, a 34-3 blowout. The Ravens' offense just needs to get into a rhythm, and the no-huddle offense could provide a spark.

2. Will the Ravens contain Joshua Cribbs?

The Browns' dangerous return man has averaged 27.3 yards per kickoff return in nine games against the Ravens. That includes a 92-yard touchdown last season against Baltimore. The Ravens did a nice job against Cribbs during the first game and special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg seems to have a good plan for how to keep his former protégé from running wild.

3. How much of an edge does Derrick Mason give the Ravens?

It's a significant one. During his past two games against Cleveland, he has posted consecutive 100-yard games. That includes a 118-yard performance during the third week of the season. Against the Browns, Mason has caught 11 passes of 25 yards or higher. He has 73 receptions against Cleveland, his second-highest total against any NFL team. Mason has caught 90 passes in Monday night games for 1,151 yards and six touchdowns.

4. Will the Ravens win the running game battle?

The Ravens are 4-0 this season when they run the football at least 18 times, dropping the other four games when they don't run the ball at least that many times. The Browns have the 31st-ranked run defense, allowing 170.5 rushing yards per game The Ravens rank 13th in rushing offense, averaging 116.1 yards behind Ray Rice. On defense, the Ravens will have to contend with former Baltimore star Jamal Lewis in their final game against him since he plans to retire. He has been limited to a 65.2 average in four games against Baltimore.

5. Will the Ravens snap their Monday night losing streak?

The Ravens have lost their past five Monday night games with their last Monday night win a 48-3 win against the Green Bay Packers in 2005. The Ravens are 4-7 all-time on Monday night games. They're 4-2 against the Browns in November and 2-0 in Cleveland. This seems like an extremely winnable game. If they don’t win, this season is, for all intensive purposes, doomed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

McGahee doesn't let lack of playing time affect his outlook


OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee has done a commendable job of keeping his frustrations, if they exist, to himself due to his drastically reduced playing time.

The closest that the former Pro Bowl runner has come to taking issue with being phased out of the offense was reminding reporters this week that the Ravens won the first three games of the season as he scored seven touchdowns.

“I got it in me,” he said. “Don’t forget.”

The disappearance of McGahee as far as being a vital part of the offense has coincided with the rise of starting running back Ray Rice, one of the top all-purpose threats in the league.

McGahee has rushed for just 201 yards on 47 carries, less than half the workload of Rice.

Since producing games of 44, 79 and 67 rushing yards to begin the season, McGahee has rushed for 11, minus-two yards, three, minus-one and zero yards over the past five games.

After carrying the football 32 times during the first three games, McGahee has been limited to a total of 15 carries over the past five weeks.

“I’m cool, man,” McGahee said. “I look at it as I’m healthy this year. I have no injuries. My body’s in good shape. You’ve got to turn a negative into a positive.”

Meanwhile, Rice has rushed for 573 yards and five touchdowns on 108 carries while leading the team in receptions with 46 catches for 436 yards and one score.

For the first time this season, McGahee had no touches during a 17-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Ray is doing a great job,” McGahee said. “He gets hot in the game. As long as he stays hot, keep running the ball.”

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron reiterated that the lack of snaps overall have played a role in McGahee’s reduced role.

“Ray Rice is playing so well,” he said. “If Ray were playing poorly, then obviously Willis would play more. We would like to get Willis in there for two series in the first half.

“It’s been a snap issue more than anything. It’s been a Ray Rice level of play issue as well. We like all our backs, and the more snaps we have, the more they all are going to play.”

Despite his lack of involvement, McGahee hasn’t let it affect his positive mindset.

“You grow up, you get older and wiser,” McGahee said. “I’m not out there getting beat up. That’s the main thing.”

Does he expect to be back next season?

“I would hope so, but it’s a business,” he said. “You don’t know how it’s going to go.”
Photo by Sabina Moran

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jamal Lewis' career winds down, will remember himself as a Raven


OWINGS MILLS – Jamal Lewis’ exit strategy from the NFL was about as subtle as his bulldozing , blunt-force trauma running style.


The powerful former Baltimore Ravens running back trampled the notion about having any second thoughts about his decision to retire following this season as if it was a linebacker standing in his way.


So, there’s unlikely to be any turning back for Lewis or last-minute audible as he closes out a strong NFL career on a horrible Cleveland Browns team that has won just one game.
“Just because I’m tired of it, tired of it, and that was my goal and that’s all I wanted,” Lewis told Baltimore reporters during a Wednesday conference call in advance of Monday night’s game in Cleveland. “So, time to move on.”


During his decade in the NFL, Lewis helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl title as a rookie, rushed for 10,456 yards and 58 touchdowns and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year six years ago in Baltimore when he gained 2,066 yards and broke the NFL single-game rushing record with a 295-yard performance.


Lewis emphasized that he made this decision before the season started and not out of frustration about the Browns’ dysfunctional situation. If anything, time to reflect since his abrupt announcement after being routed by the Chicago Bears has only reinforced his decision to quit.
Unlike many NFL players, Lewis is walking away from the game while he’s still able to walk at age 30.


“I’m in good shape, and that’s how I wanted to leave,” he said. “That’s how I wanted to leave, in good shape and healthy so I can be able to go do other things.”


Lewis has been preparing for this day for a long time, saving his money and making more each year with a variety of businesses that includes a successful long-haul trucking operation and an investment firm. It has been estimated that Lewis’ net worth from his businesses is several millions of dollars annually.


Lewis was following his mother’s advice to prepare for life after football, and it’s a sign of growing maturity after being ensnared in a federal cocaine conspiracy case that forced him to serve jail time during his time with the Ravens.


“I’ve set myself up in other things because I knew this day would come, and I knew that I wanted to retire at year 10,” Lewis said. “I set myself up three or four years ago in order to be able to leave the game when I want to.”


When Lewis was let go by the Ravens following the 2006 season, he was admittedly a bitter man.


He lashed out at former coach Brian Billick for not giving him the football and he vowed to prove that the Ravens were making a mistake.


Lewis had feuded with Billick throughout his final few seasons in Baltimore.


Now, that relationship has apparently been repaired with Lewis and Billick exchanging an enthusiastic greeting at the Browns’ training complex earlier this year.


“I don’t have anything against Brian Billick,” Lewis said. “It’s just when I was there things weren’t going the way I wanted them to, and that was just it.


“I don’t think I fit his scheme, and we agreed to disagree. At the same time, I think he was a great coach. He took care of his players, and he had a good philosophy.”


Rushing for 1,132 yards during his final season in Baltimore, Lewis averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.


He persistently complained about the game plan and his lack of involvement.


Does he wish he had finished his career in Baltimore?


“I can’t say that,” he said. “When I did end up getting the opportunity to get out, it was actually good timing for me in my career. I think Baltimore was going in a different direction when I was there.


“I don’t think it suited me, and I didn’t suit them. So, that’s why the decision was probably made. I think that coming here to Cleveland was a good idea.”


Well, perhaps at first as the Browns nearly made the playoffs during Lewis’ first season in Cleveland as he rushed for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns for his highest rushing total since his epic 2003 campaign.


He slumped to 1,002 yards last season and has gained only 349 yards this season with no touchdowns. None of the Browns’ running backs or wide receivers has scored a touchdown.
And in eight games, it won’t be Lewis’ problem anymore.


“As players get further along in their career, they have to make decisions, and you respect everybody’s decision,” Mangini said. “Someone’s choice to continue to try and play or to move on with the next phase of their life is a very personal decision.


“I respect Jamal as a pro. That hasn’t affected his work ethic or approach, and it won’t.”
Regardless of the nature of Lewis’ pending departure, it has been a chaotic, unproductive work environment during his final NFL season.


“If you’re 1-7, hey, there’s a lot they can say,” Lewis said. “I don’t think that the locker room has turned. I don’t think that anybody has turned their back on the situation or anything. We just have to put it all together.”


The Browns’ disastrous season under new coach Eric Mangini has included several controversies, including former Ravens executive George Kokinis’ ouster. Browns management is attempting to prove that Kokinis was fired with cause in order to collect roughly $4 million remaining on his five-year contract.


“It was shocking to me, of course, but it’s a business,” Lewis said. “Of course when things aren’t going right, there are going to be some losses. I think that’s really what he got caught up in.
“I think it was just a bad season or whatever. Nobody has talked about it around here, but the assumption is that we’re having a bad season and things aren’t going the way we wanted it to and there are some casualties.”


Lewis’ warmest memories of his NFL career are from his seven years in Baltimore after being drafted fifth overall in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft out of the University of Tennessee.
He says he’ll look back on his career as being a Raven, not a Brown after spending the past three years in Cleveland.


“A Raven, of course, because that’s who gave me my shot,” Lewis said. “That’s who brought me in. That’s where I pretty much did all my work.


“I have a lot of memories there, a lot of older players that helped me out and brought me in, led me and showed me the way. That’s where I got it from.”


During the Super Bowl season, Lewis spent a lot of time with veteran players like Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, Ray Lewis and Corey Harris.


An impressionable Lewis entered the NFL at age 20 following his junior season, and he learned how to be a pro from deeds and words.


“Just really hanging around those guys and stealing a lot of knowledge that they had,” Lewis said. “I was one of the young guys that would listen. That team really gave me the real meaning of a championship team, and that’s sticking together and everybody being unselfish.”


Lewis is leaving the NFL in rare company.


He’s one of five NFL running backs to ever eclipse the 2,000-yard barrier, including Eric Dickerson, Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson.


What’s his ultimate legacy?


“Basically, a hard worker, somebody that brought his hard hat to every Sunday, just doing my job,” he said. “That’s what I set out to do, and that’s how I want to be remembered. Just a hard worker and somebody who did his job every single day.”


Monday night figures to be an emotional game for Lewis.


On a national stage, he’ll collide with middle linebacker Ray Lewis one more time with the protégé and the mentor clashing just like old times.


“Being able to go out, playing my old team on Monday Night Football, that will be a great one,” Lewis said. “Being that I will be playing these guys for the last time, being able to suit up against Ray for the last time, it’s a good thing. It will be a memorable moment.”


Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Photo by Sabina Moran.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Harbaugh apologizes for stunning criticism of Cowboys


John Harbaugh issued an apology over the weekend to Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones after being quoted in a book that “the Cowboys stand for everything that’s wrong with the NFL,” criticizing the Cowboys for running a “star system” and praising Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid that what his “program stands for is the opposite of what the Cowboys stand for.”

Harbaugh was quoted in a book by Reuben Frank and Mark Eckel called Game Changers: The 50 Greatest Plays in Philadelphia Eagles Football History.

“That was something that I’m disappointed with myself,” Harbaugh said. “ What I tried to do with that quote was say something real positive about a guy that I have tremendous respect for, Andy Reid, and try to explain in some way what he’s done there to make the Eagles so successful over the years.

“It really reflects some of the things we’re trying to do here, to build that same kind of a run of success. It was last March, and I think I went overboard. I had a chance to have a conversation with Jerry Jones over the weekend and express those thoughts to him that in no way, the way that quote read, is how I feel about the Cowboys organization.”

Harbaugh said he wasn’t misquoted, though.

“When I read it, I’ll be honest with you, I was shocked,” he said. “It stunned me, and I was disappointed that that would be attributed to me. I’m not saying I didn’t say it or anything else. I’m just saying I was disappointed that it came out that way, and that’s my fault.

“So, it just doesn’t reflect how I feel. I’ve got tremendous respect for them, and after having had a chance to talk to Jerry Jones for the first time, it’s even a hundred times more than that, than it was before.”

Reed this: Ravens have tackling issues


TACKLING ISSUES: Ed Reed uncharacteristically missed three to four tackles, and his nerve impingement that affects his neck and shoulder seems to be rendering the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year into a one-armed free safety.

Reed did strip the football away from Chad Ochocinco, but he also missed several arm tackles.

“I haven’t talked to Ed about those three tackles yet, those three opportunities,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’s tackled very well this year up until this game. From my understanding, the neck is as good as it’s been in two years, but I think it’s a factor. It’s not a dangerous type of thing where he’s at risk or he wouldn’t be playing.

“He’s worked extremely hard in the weight room. He’s as muscled up as he’s been in the last two years since we’ve been here. I’m sure he’s disappointed with those three tackles. Those are tackles that you normally see him make.”

After the game, Reed attributed the missed tackles to trying to strip the ball instead of wrapping up.

Is there anything fundamentally that Reed can do differently while protecting his injury?

“There are a lot of coaching points we put in there,” Harbaugh said. “There are certain techniques and fundamentals that go into it that you expect to see applied. Ed knows what those are. We talk about them all the time. We expect to be a good-tackling defense.”
Photo by Sabina Moran

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who will play next to Ray Lewis?

Tavares Gooden and Dannell Ellerbe split time at inside linebacker fairly evenly with Ellerbe recording three tackles and Gooden credited with two stops.

“That’s two good, young linebackers,” Harbaugh said. “I think Vic Fangio’s done a great job with those guys. They’re playing next to Ray Lewis at a high level, both of them in different situations. Watch Tavares Gooden running down the field on kickoff coverage, it’s fun to watch. And watch Ellerbe block on the kickoff return that went for a touchdown. It’s defense and it’s special teams, and they’ve done a good job.”

Meanwhile nickel back Chris Carr recorded the first sack of his career against the Broncos.

“That’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to blitz,” he said. “I feel like I’ve played well. I’ve been taking a lot of pride in that. I haven’t gotten much credit in the media, but that doesn’t bother me. I feel like I’ve been doing my job.”

Frank Walker still in Ravens' plans?

Harbaugh addressed cornerback Frank Walker being a healthy scratch as he was deactivated for the first time this season after struggling in single coverage during the fourth quarter of a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

“He’s a big part of our team,” he said. “Frank knows how we feel about him. You try to put the 45 guys up in any given week that you feel like give you the best chance to win and do the most for you.

“In this game, based on the packages, we thought we were going to see, that’s what we chose to do. Frank Walker is another competitive guy. He’s a really good player, and he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing. He knows that.”

What's up with Haloti Ngata's ankle?


Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata’s sprained right ankle isn’t believed to be serious after X-rays were ruled negative Sunday.

Keeping in line with his stance on not detailing players’ injuries, Harbaugh declined to give an update on Ngata.

“As with all injuries, we’ll have an injury report on Wednesday,” Harbaugh said. “So, we’ll see.”

Ngata was able to walk after the game after having his ankle re-taped twice, but didn’t return to play after leaving the game with 10 minutes left in the third quarter against the Broncos.

Ngata’s durability is impressive with a current streak of 55 consecutive starts since being drafted in the first round three years ago.