Ravens take down Broncos 27-14: Five things we learned

BALTIMORE — Despite allowing the Denver Broncos to score touchdowns on their first two possessions and jump out to a 14-7 lead, the Baltimore Ravens did not allow them to reach the end zone again as Baltimore took down Denver 27-14 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Both teams now hold 2-1 records. With the Bengals losing to the Panthers 31-21 on Sunday, Baltimore and Cincinnati share the lead for first place in the AFC North, followed by Cleveland (1-1-1) and Pittsburgh (0-1-1).

For the Ravens, Sunday’s win over the Broncos could prove to be a valuable win. The Ravens will play four of their next five games on the road. Their next three games are all on the road, and two of them are against divisional opponents – the Steelers and Browns. The Ravens historically struggle away from home but will hold the rest advantage over the Steelers ahead of next week’s primetime classic. The Steelers play the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football tomorrow night in Tampa.

Now that the postgame festivities have wrapped up, let’s take a look at what we learned during Sunday’s win.

1. Ravens are lucky special teams blunders did not prove too costly 

Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and head coach John Harbaugh, formally a special teams coordinator, must have been furious with the unit’s performance in the first half. After the Ravens went three-and-out on their first offensive drive, linebacker Joseph Jones blocked Sam Koch‘s punt before Buck Allen recovered it at the Ravens’ 4-yard line. Then the Broncos scored a touchdown on their very first offensive play as Royce Freeman found a hole and dashed forward for a six-yard score.

With the Ravens leading 17-14 in the second quarter, Justin Tucker came on to attempt his second field goal of the afternoon, a 43-yarder. After the ball was snapped, out of nowhere, safety Justin Simmons appeared behind the line of scrimmage and blocked Tucker’s kick. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. recovered the ball and sprinted to the end-zone for what would have been a 58-yard return touchdown. But, the score was called back due to an illegal block call on lineman Billy Turner.

Denver took over at midfield afterwards, but Tucker should have been awarded another attempt at the kick, because Simmons jumped over long snapper Morgan Cox, which isn’t allowed anymore.

The third and final special teams blunder came on a kickoff in the first quarter when Robinson Daniel was flagged for an illegal formation. These penalties only turned into seven points for Denver, but it’s disappointing for a unit that’s been regarded as one of the best in the NFL during Harbaugh’s tenure. The Ravens waived Janarion Grant on Saturday because of his special teams slip-ups. If this trend continues, the coaching staff will find other options.

2. Buck Allen is a touchdown machine (and a fantasy sleeper)

The running backs took care of scoring all three touchdowns against the Broncos, and Allen accounted for two of them. Joe Flacco connected with Allen for a 12-yard catch-and-run about midway through the second quarter put the Ravens up 17-14. Allen found the end-zone again at the 7:26 mark in the fourth quarter with a one-yard run for the Ravens’ final score.

Allen has accumulated four touchdowns over the first three games of the season, and he’s scored in every contest. He’s only registered 76 all-purpose yards so far, but the coaching staff recognizes his knack for finding the end-zone and has utilized him effectively.

If you’re a fantasy football team owner exploring different options for your flex position, Allen is likely still available in several leagues and could be a steal if picked up.

3. Kenny Young should start even when C.J. Mosley returns from injury 

One of the brightest spots of Sunday’s win over Denver was watching fourth-round rookie linebacker Kenny Young shine in his first NFL start. Young filled in for C.J. Mosley, who suffered a bone bruise in Cincinnati. Mosley practiced on a limited basis last week, but was ruled out shortly before kickoff.

Young didn’t waste any time making his presence felt. He led the team with 10 tackles (eight solo), including one tackle-for-loss. He flies around the field and is around the ball often. He’s easily been the most impressive rookie on defense so far.

It’s no secret that Mosley is in his contract year and, according to reports, has not been approached by the Ravens yet over signing an extension. Mosley is a very intelligent football player. When he’s in the game, he wears the helmet connected to the headsets of defensive coaches who relay the play calls to him. However, there are flaws in his game, particularly in pass coverage. If he doesn’t put together this best season after coming back from this bone bruise, and Young continues to impress in his rookie campaign, paying Mosley could become less likely.

Young has a long way to go before replacing Mosley becomes a real possibility, but his first start could not have gone much better.

4. Run game needs improvement, but balance helps Flacco

By no means was the Ravens’ rushing attack impressive on Sunday. Both Alex Collins and Allen combined for 75 rushing yards and struggled to find open holes to burst through. With that said, it was refreshing to see offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg commit to the run game and at least try to get it going. Flacco operates best when the running game clicks. Even though the Ravens averaged under three yards-per-carry, it took some of the pressure off Flacco.

With a commitment to the run game present, Flacco completed 63% of his passes, threw for 277 yards with a touchdown and did not turn the ball over. Against Cincinnati, Flacco threw the ball 55 times and turned the football over twice while only 22 running plays were called. The offensive line still has a long way to go, but at least the Ravens showed a commitment to running the football.

5. Brandon Carr could be a huge liability against the Steelers next week

Without Jimmy Smith last season, Brandon Carr got exposed against top wide receivers. Carr put together a solid performance with an interception in week one against Buffalo, but since then he’s left a lot to be desired.

In the second half, Case Keenum picked on Carr and it worked out well. It didn’t matter if it was Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, or Courtland Sutton, Carr gave up plays of 22 and 21 yards, as well as plays of eight and nine yards that resulted in first downs. He was also flagged for pass interference which turned into a 17-yard Denver gain.

It’s no secret that the Steelers’ wide receiving corps is loaded with the likes of Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. In a December matchup against the Steelers last season, Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards without Smith in the Ravens’ secondary. It will be hard for Big Ben to match that total, but the thought of Carr covering Brown makes Ravens fans cringe.

Hopefully the Ravens learn from their mistakes and keep Marlon Humphrey on Brown next Sunday. Facing the Steelers offense is daunting enough, but without Smith it’s that much more of a challenge.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun 


Maryland Terrapins vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers: Keys to victory

College Park — A day after Dr. Rod Walters released his findings from his team’s investigation of the Jordan McNair incident, the Terps open up their conference schedule against Minnesota. Once again the Terps will have to look past the emotional distractions and find a way to show up and play football.

The undefeated Gophers are 3-0 with convincing wins in two-out-of-three victories. The Gophers bring a mediocre 83rd ranked offense to College Park led by true freshman walk-on Zack Annexstad. Minnesota also has the 19th overall defense led by linebacker Blake Cashman who to leads the team with 21 total tackles.

Keys to victory:

  1. Commit to the run game: The Terps boast the 27th overall rushing offense and only ran for 132 yards on 31 carries against Temple. When the best weapon you have on offense is the run game, 31 carries is not a commitment. Coach Matt Canada must commit to running the ball in order for the Terps offense to be successful. A strong running game will also open up the passing game. The Maryland running back group is one of the nations deepest and most talented, led by senior Ty Johnson who has only 29 carries on the season but is averaging 6.1 yards when he touches the ball. As a team the Terps are averaging 5.5 yards per attempt, which ranks 27th in the nation.
  2. Start Fast: In the last two contests the Terps have looked flat, lethargic, and the scores showed that. Although injuries were a factor in last weeks 31-14 loss against the Owls. The Terps still allowed a mediocre team to come into College Park and spoil their home opener.  In week two against Bowling Green the Terps were down 10-14 at halftime before waking up and completely dominating the second half by racking up 444 yards on the ground. Maryland would go on to win that game 44-14. Whatever half time speech Coach Canada gave in Bowling Green needs to be incorporated in every pregame. A fire needs to be lit under these men.
  3. Bring the pressure: With the true freshman under center the Terps need to dial up the pass rush. If Maryland can get pressure on Annexstad,  he will be more prone to mistakes. However the walk on quarterback has yet to throw an interception in 79 attempts this season. He has also been relatively unscathed with the Minnesota offensive line allowing just four sacks through three games. The Terps really need to see this “revamped” defensive line take over and dominate like they did against Bowling Green. Defensive Coordinator Andy Buh needs to bring the pressure something the Terps defense has struggled with for the past few years.

Opinion: We have no idea which Terps team will show up today in College Park. Will it be the team that upset the 23rd ranked team in the nation? Or will it be the team that laid an egg at home against a mediocre Temple Owls team? The Terps should win this game at home, but they should have won last week. With NFL talent offensive tackles Damian Prince and Derwin Gray returning this week, a commitment to the run game will put this team in position to win the game. Coach Canada need to see some solid quarterback play from Kasim Hill and Tyrrell Pigrome, or be prepared to move away from the dual quarterback system. To put it simply, the Terps cannot afford poor quarterback play today in a highly winnable game.

Prediction: Terps win 24-17

Image Credit: The Baltimore Sun

REPORT: Orioles plan to dismiss Buck Showalter, retain Dan Duquette after 2018 season concludes

BALTIMORE — With a week left in the 2018 season, the future of the Baltimore Orioles may have just become a little more clear.

It’s no secret that both manager Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette’s contracts expire after the 2018 season wraps up. Showalter led the Orioles back to relevancy after his arrival in 2010, but the wheels have fallen off and the O’s will finish the 2018 campaign with their worst record in franchise history. Duquette pieced rosters together using bargain deals and plenty of Rule 5 picks. Recently, he’s orchestrated several deals in an attempt to rebuild Baltimore’s roster.

Up until this week, talks surrounding both Showalter and Duquette’s status with the ballclub remained silent, as the Angelos family hasn’t made any public statements about the statuses of their manager and general manager. But on Friday, USA Today Baseball Columnist Bob Nightengale began the discussion with a Tweet, released just before 2:30 pm.

Almost a day after Nightengale’s Tweet came out, no additional reports have surfaced and the Orioles have not confirmed anything. Orioles fans will have to wait until additional details are made public, but until more sources confirm it’s hard to wholeheartedly believe that this scenario will play out yet.

If the plan is to dismiss Showalter and award Duquette an extension, it’s not entirely shocking but many Orioles fans won’t approve of it. Many point the finger at Duquette for signing Chris Davis to a $161 million contract, but it was actually majority owner Peter Angelos who deeply desired keeping the former Crusher. While Duquette has used bargain deals to build rosters in previous years, he’s made public comments expressing his interest in using analytics, technology, and international scouting to rebuild the Orioles.

With ownership still heavily involved, there’s a good chance that Duquette’s ability to make decisions is still limited. However, diving into the areas expressed above would certainly yield a higher return than loading up on Rule 5 picks.

As for Showalter, saying goodbye isn’t something that sits well with Orioles fans, but perhaps it’s the right move to make for the franchise. Showalter ended a 14-year losing drought and lifted the O’s to their first American League Eastern division title in 17 seasons. The Orioles led the American League in wins from 2012 to 2016, but things have gotten so bad that Showalter’s all-time record with the Orioles is now a losing one at 666-677. The core of the team that made the postseason three times in five years is gone, and now management is being questioned about the prospects that are now receiving playing time during September call-ups.

One key comment Duquette made over the summer was his intent to make the Orioles a younger ballclub.

“I would expect that the club would take the payroll down next year and the year after and reinvest those resources in younger ballplayers.” – Dan Duquette

Under this circumstance, it would make sense for the Orioles to bring in a younger manager to grow with the young players on the team and work with the front office firsthand to rebuild. The personnel decisions certainly need some work, but a young manager educated in the technological and analytical areas of baseball could pay big dividends for the Orioles.

Showalter is 62-years-old. His managerial career clock is winding down. If he wants to keep managing, he’s better off going somewhere else where he can win a championship in the next five years before calling it a career. Much like Adam Jones, it may be best to depart now for another opportunity at winning. There have been rumors about Showalter moving into a front office role, specifically in player personnel. I’m not against that idea at all, but it appears that Showalter doesn’t get along particularly well with Duquette.

READ: 10 for #10: Reflecting on Adam Jones’ Orioles career: 

Because Duquette started the rebuild, it doesn’t make sense for someone else to step in and pick up where Duquette left off when he’s gotten this far. Duquette’s previous decision-making wasn’t perfect, but he deserves a fair shot at rebuilding the roster like he said he would.

Again, it’s important for Orioles fans to not take anything they see on the internet too seriously before numerous sources confirm the information that Nightengale first reported. The Orioles likely won’t make anything official until the season wraps up, but it appears that management is finally getting the ball rolling in determining the future of the franchise.

Image Credit: Flickr