Miami Dolphins Making Moves on Free Agency Day One

Danell Ellerbe has flown the Ravens coup.

Danell Ellerbe has flown the Ravens coup.

If  you thought it was going to be difficult for the Ravens to stay among the league’s elite, things just got worse. One day after trading away Anquan Boldin, they lose the free agent they most wanted to keep in linebacker Danell Ellerbe.  He just signed with the Miami Dolphins. Today he received a 5 year $35 million deal that takes him down to sunny Florida. They should have franchised him…now his 89 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks will be in the AFC East.

Wallace is on his way to South Beach.

Wallace is on his way to South Beach.

Now add to that the Dolphins also signed WR Mike Wallace to a 5 year $60 million deal to leave the Steelers. Right now his agent is with the Dolphins brass to solidify the deal. They gave Ryan Tannenhill a deep threat that should open a few things up for Davone Bess and other underneath receivers. However they signed him for a guaranteed $30 million. Will these moves pan out?? Will the Dolphins make a move in the AFC East?? Don’t forget they are probably going to lose Reggie Bush.

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2013 Baltimore Ravens Preview – A New Frontier

Baltimore's trophy case holding the Super Bowl XXXV & XLVII Trophies along with the AFC Championship units.

Baltimore’s trophy case holding the Super Bowl XXXV & XLVII Trophies along with the AFC Championship units.

When you hold up the trophy at the end of the season, everyone comes gunning for you the following season. However in Baltimore’s case they’re unsure as to who they’re going to be. As the confetti fell, the ink was drying on the retirement papers for Ray Lewis. Friday morning the inked signature of C Matt Birk was scrolled across retirement paperwork as well. Super Bowl XLVII hero Anquan Boldin has said he would retire from the NFL if the Ravens released him. He will not play for another team. Yet a contract restructure should keep his services in Baltimore.

All of this before we find out the fate of S Ed Reed and Linebackers Paul Kruger &  Danell Ellerbe with their unrestricted free agent status. Will one of them be franchised if they sign Joe Flacco to a long term deal or will Flacco be franchised and one of them walk away as a free agent?? Not since the 1997 MLB champion Florida Marlins have we seen defending champion with so many roster questions going into the next season. In that situation they were having a fire sale for half their roster, in this one it’s all the team leaders with half already gone and the spiritual / emotional leader in Lewis already out of the complex. These next few weeks leading into free agency will tell the tale. Who will the 2013 Baltimore Ravens be??

Even as late as this weekend at the combine, they are still negotiating Flacco's contract.

Even as late as this weekend at the combine, they are still negotiating Flacco’s contract.

Quarterback: Well, well, well… Looks like The Chancellor along with LaMarr Woodley had to eat their words when it came down to assessing Joe Flacco’s projected ability to win the big game. Where last year it looked like his career would be defined by the incompletion to Lee Evans in the AFC Championship, a new Flacco emerged gunning his team to a 28-7 3rd quarter Super Bowl lead. Even when things got tight he drove them to the game clinching field goal while eating up valuable time.

He finally came through and out-dueled Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to get to that Super Bowl victory. The traces Flacco’s transformation began in that divisional playoff against Denver.

Last year our CEO challenged that Flacco wasn’t going through his progressions and just dumping the ball to Ray Rice where there were throws down-field that could have been made. For the season Rice was second on the team with 61 receptions. However in the playoffs, Rice only had 1 reception on a screen against the Colts, none in Denver, 3 in the championship against New England, and 4 in the Super Bowl. Three of those were when the 49ers were coming back and he started to regress a bit. Compare that to Boldin’s postseason, 22 rec. for 380 yards and 4TDs, and you could see how his play improved. He jelled with new play calling coach Jim Caldwell in the playoffs to the tune of 11TDs with zero interceptions in the postseason.

Finally, the Ravens are Super Bowl quality at the quarterback position.

Offensive Backfield: Now if it hit you during the playoffs that Bernard Pierce was getting almost as many carries as Ray Rice you weren’t seeing things. If you go back to the final two games and go through the playoffs, Pierce had 70 car. for 400 yards to Rice’s 108 car. for 521 yards and 1 touchdown. Pierce was the more physical runner as the season concluded and had an eye popping 5.7 yards per carry. He ran with good body lean and fell forward. Yet with Rice with the big contract he’ll get the majority of the carries in the upcoming season.

Bernard Pierce ran hard toward the end of the season averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

Bernard Pierce ran hard toward the end of the season averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

With 1,527 touches in his first five years, the Ravens were coming close to burning Ray Rice out. Truth be told it’s good that Pierce has emerged to take a load off for various drives or even games where they can afford to rest him. As they did in the season finale against Cincinnati. For the season he did rush for 1,143 yards and 9TDs on 257 carries. However they can trim his work load thanks to second year back in Pierce.

They will rely on their running game a little bit more to offset a defense that won’t be as stout as it had in year’s past. The Ravens are in great shape if either were to go down for a stretch in the upcoming season. Depending on how they strategically need to be used to rest the defense.  The Chacellor sees a season where Rice / Pierce should see a 60/40 mix as the runners this season. They may want to re-work his contract but that will be going into 2014. As for now the Ravens are playoff quality at the running back position.

Receivers: Here is where the first of the question marks show up for the Baltimore Ravens. Restrictive free agent TE Dennis Pitta (61 rec. / 669 yards / 7TDs) and WR Anquan Boldin (65 rec /921 yards / 4 TDs) have question marks at the present time. Right now it looks like they’ll be able to re-sign Pitta, whom Flacco developed a bond with, but Boldin is another scenario. From his free agent contract after leaving the Cardinals, Boldin is due $7.5 million this year and the consensus is he’ll be released. Boldin has said if that happens he’ll retire from the game. Although he was clutch in the AFC Championship & Super Bowl, he would be going into his 11th season and gets by on will. He is going to have to take a drastic pay cut to remain a Raven which we think he’ll do. We’ll have to wait and see.

The difference in this team winning the Super Bowl and watching it was Jacoby Jones. While Torrey Smith has emerged as a bonafide playmaker with 8 touchdowns on 49 receptions, it was Jones who was a game changer. When the team needed a charge in the game against Dallas he broke through with a 106 yard kick return touchdown that was the margin of victory that swung momentum in a 31-29 win. When the Ravens took the field in Denver with a little over a minute to go, it was Jones who got behind the defense for the 70 yard touchdown to force overtime. In the Super Bowl when the question was if the 49ers could come back?? Boom he goes 108 on a kick return to boost the lead to 28-6.  He is the missing element that the Houston Texans lost when they let him get away as a free agent.  Jones will have a bigger role this season even with the return of Boldin. Look for Offensive Co-ordinator Jim Caldwell to unleash formations with Smith and Jones in bunch formations often in 2013. If they get Boldin back this is a Super Bowl caliber group. Without they are still playoff caliber.

Michael Oher should return to his native LT spot in 2013.

Michael Oher should return to his native LT spot in 2013.

Offensive Line: This is where the 2013 questions on the Ravens are the loudest. First of which, how do you replace a team leader and center in the retired Matt Birk?? Are they going to come to terms or even re-sign T Bryant McKinnie?? The Ravens had to shuffle Michael Oher from LT to RT and moved rookie RT Kelechi Osemele to LG and insert McKinnie at LT to replace an injured guard. For the season the team was 20th in sacks allowed with 38. There is no way that Osemele didn’t benefit from learning from Birk as he learned a new position on the fly. It takes more than coaching to do that.

This unit paved the way for 444 rushing attempts 1,901 yards and 17 touchdowns. The yardage was good enough for 11th in all of pro football but they could use a little more muscle in the middle. When it came to 3rd or 4th and two or fewer, or even 1st or 2nd down at the goal line, they pushed for a first down or touchdown 58% of the time as compared to 79% on the right. Up the middle is where they can improve on this to keep drives sustained with a younger center. Look for the Ravens to use a couple of draft picks on the offensive line and a pick up or two in free agency at either Center or Tackle. It’s not a given that McKinnie will come back. Until we know what they do once free agency begins we have to give them a below average grade. Replacing a center means to replace the man responsible for blocking audibles. Doubtful they would leave that to a rookie.

Defensive Line: For years The Chancellor has said that Haloti Ngata is the best defensive lineman in the NFL. Never was it as evident as in the Super Bowl a month ago. The comeback by the 49ers coincided with his leaving the game with an injury. Up until that point the 49ers were unable to sustain the run on the front side of their read-option. Once he went down you saw the Niners mount their comeback and Frank Gore gained the majority of his 110 yards rushing.

In 2012 Ngata made his presence felt again with 50 total tackles and 5 sacks while making his 4th straight Pro Bowl. However you have to worry about the mileage on Ngata’s knees now that he’s turning 30. It’s also time for Terrence “Mount” Cody to start performing like the high draft pick he was out of Alabama. He only started 3 games and had 25 total tackles yet is about to become labeled as a “bust”. Having been beat out by a 33 year old journeyman in Ma’ake Kemoeatu. The Ravens gave up a lot of yards against the run in 2012 and these guys were allowing offensive linemen to get out on linebackers as Baltimore finished 20th against the run.

The Ravens need to make a move here in free agency or the draft. Without a great camp it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cody be released. Lets face it the line in Baltimore is there to stop the run more than rush the passer but they can’t give ground and need to get off blocks. There Cody has struggled. They have to get younger and healthier on the line. If not they will be really beat up toward the end of last season. Right now the Ravens are average on the defensive line.

They need to re-sign Paul Kruger.

Can the Ravens retain Paul Kruger??

Linebacker: Did you ever think that we’d ever say the Ravens are weakest at the linebacker position??  Well with Paul Kruger, Danell Ellerbe both about to test the free agency market. That leaves Terrell Suggs as the lone cornerstone linebacker on the roster and let’s face it, he was a shell of his former self. He was only getting a quarterback pressure once every 14.5 rushes. That is not enough. Not for a former defensive player of the year. He came in with 8 games to go and only had 2 sacks on the season and 23 tackles on the year. Last year teams were able to block him one on one.

The most important re-signs are Kruger and Ellerbe. Kruger had 42 tackles, 6 passes defensed, and 9 sacks. Even in the Super Bowl when San Francisco made it in close to the goal line in the second quarter, Kruger made the sack to force SF to kick a field goal. He made plays from the outside. Ellerbe (89 tackles / 4.5 sacks) on the inside is crucial to maintain some continuity along with Jameel McClain 78 tackles. This is another place where the team may make a move to pick up a free agent linebacker and draft someone for the middle.

We see them re-signing Ellerbe and re-signing Kruger is a wish. They do have Shaun Phillips (Chargers), Anthony Spencer (Cowboys), Dwight Freeney (Colts), and possibly Osi Yumeniora (Giants) could be situational pass rushers if they can’t bring back Kruger and they await Suggs to get to full strength. With the questions they have at linebacker we have to say this group is below average if they don’t get Ellerbe back.

Secondary: Here is another position where the Ravens come in less than they were a month ago.  The looming loss of future Hall of Fame S Ed Reed is a big loss. However there are two safeties in Dashon Goldston (49ers) and William Moore (Falcons) are available for less money. At SS Bernard Pollard is ready to be a pro bowl player after last year’s 99 tackles 2 sacks, and an interception. They may lose CB Cary Williams who wants more than the 3 yrs and $15 million dollar contract that is being offered. The truth is LarDarius Webb and Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham are solid enough at the corner position. They are very good cover corners but they need to get more interceptions. Webb is their best corner but he is coming back from injury. If they can solidify the FS this group can be Super Bowl caliber. If they need to draft a FS they will drop down to playoff level at best…

Overall: Where other prognosticators are saying the Ravens have a legitimate chance to defend their Super Bowl title isn’t looking at projecting out to next year. This team is going to miss the leadership of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and C Matt Birk beyond what can be quantified. This team hasn’t had to motivate itself or get emotionally ready to play for the last 17 years. The coaching staff and the team will search to find those next leaders. This team had lost 4 out of 5 coming down the stretch before Lewis brought the team motivation with his retirement announcement. They do have holes in their defense and in the first year without a strong defense, The Chancellor doesn’t think the offense is ready to pick up the slack. The Ravens will really slip this year and they may be a 7-9 or an 8-8 team. They won’t come close to getting back to the Super Bowl.

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Super Bowl XLVII Preview:….And The Winner Is??

Super Bowl XLVII

Super Bowl XLVII

Three nights from now, the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens will try to get some sleep knowing their lives will be different by the end of Sunday night. The boy-hood dream of becoming a Super Bowl champion will be realized by one group where the other will be roped off as the trophy presentation begins.  What color will the confetti be as the league assembles the champion’s podium??

For the most part the sporting world wants to know why Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers is not nervous. Its relatively easy, he’s playing the same offense he did in college. Under normal circumstances a young quarterback is spending his time learning a new offense along with learning the pro game. This game will be decided by the read option and the execution of it. Can the Baltimore defense squeeze this play down and minimize it’s effectiveness??

As we told you in the Ray Lewis Super Bowl preview article….this is the key to this game: In the Ravens defense, when they see this play, Lewis needs to stay on Frank Gore and the outside guys in Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, and Bernard Pollard have to be there to hit Kaepernick early to get his attention. Lewis out in space would definitely be a liability at this time. He, Haloti Ngata, and Terrence Cody have to take care of Frank Gore at the point of this play.

Dannell Ellerbe, Haloti Ngata, and Paul Kruger are as key as Ray Lewis in Super Bowl XLVII

Dannell Ellerbe, Haloti Ngata, and Paul Kruger are as key as Ray Lewis in Super Bowl XLVII

If the Ravens can prove to use the front 3 to eat up the blockers and limit Gore’s effectiveness on the read option, Lewis will be able to scrape from inside out if Ellerbe and Kruger can keep containment. This will have to be later in the game once the read option has been neutralized up front. This game may be won or lost on this premise. Lewis needs to flow from his Inside Linebacker position to the cut back point of this play with containment. If the 49ers can stretch the outside, Lewis will not be able to make it to that point to stop Kaepernick.

One wild card the 49er offense can play is RB LeMichael James, he lends a cutback ability and a bounce in or out of a running play that might be harder for Lewis to track. However will he be in enough plays to be that effective a decoy and make that much of an impact on this game. One of the 49er’s strengths is their offensive line. The movement they got on BJ Raji of the Packers in the divisional round was embarrassing. They moved him from left to right where RT Anthony Davis, and Guards Mike Iupati, and Alex Boone rooted him out of there playing too high. This group can move and they can block. If ever there was a game where Terrence “Mount” Cody needs to hold ground next to Haloti Ngata, this is it. Our CEO has often said Ngata is the best defensive lineman in the NFL for his ability to take on double team blocks low, defeat them and make the tackle in the backfield, while keeping blockers off Ray Lewis. Even if he doesn’t make the tackle, occupies the double team allowing Lewis to make the tackle, he’s done his job. Anything more is extra. Understand that Ngata had 50 tackles and 5 sacks from the interior. That is down from 2011’s 64 tackle performance but still enough to make his presence felt this Sunday.

The best linebacker on the field for Super Bowl XLVII won't be Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis. It's Navorro Bowman.

The best linebacker on the field for Super Bowl XLVII won’t be Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis. It’s Navorro Bowman.

The San Francisco 49ers front seven is as good as the Super Bowl has seen in the last ten years. Their linebackers are better than that Tampa unit that won Super Bowl XXXVII. Navorro Bowman just may be the best linebacker in the NFL although Patrick Willis gets most of the ink. If you’re not a Taylor Blitz Times regular it may come as a shock to you that Bowman has been  an All Pro now for back to back seasons even though he just made the Pro Bowl for the first time. Coaches and those that know like The Chancellor of football know this tackling machine can play the run (144 tackles) or the pass. It was Bowman that knocked down the 4th and 4 attempted pass to Roddy White at the end of the NFC Championship Game. He is going to be all over Ray Rice in this football game, whether its a flare pass or run. Willis will be there along with DT Justin Smith (64 tackles) to keep Raven rushing attempts to minimal gains. Watch for RB Bernard Pierce #30 to get a series or two as the lead back if Rice is ineffective early. The 49ers front seven is hard to crack.

Which brings us to the passing attack and the way that Super Bowl XLVII will be won. Coming into this game we have two front sevens playing heads up football but what about the back seven?? The 49ers passing game saved the day with the re-emergence of TE Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game. The question was was it a new wrinkle in the offense or an aberration. On a whole is the passing game enough to carry the 49ers to victory on a team that just made Peyton Manning and Tom Brady look pedestrian in back to back playoff games on the road?? The Ravens picked off those two Hall of Famers 5 times combined while on the road. Now they face a quarterback in his 10th start with Hall of Fame S Ed Reed lurking back there disguising his coverages. We don’t see it.

Ed Reed's crafty play at safety is a wildcard in Super Bowl XLVII. He will force Kaepernick into one mis-read interception in this game.

Ed Reed’s crafty play at safety is a wildcard in Super Bowl XLVII. He will force Kaepernick into one mis-read interception in this game.

The other hot hand in these playoffs is Joe Flacco. He’s passed for over 800 yards and 8 touchdowns in the three playoff games leading to this one. He has found the most success in the three receiver sets which have simplified his reads. One of the changes to the Ravens offense that no one is talking about is the firing of Cam Cameron and the play calling of former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell. He used to shape the game plan for the Colts also so he knows what to call having participated in Super Bowl XLI & XLIV. Through this play selection, Flacco has been confident and delivered the football to TE Denni Pitta, WR Anquan Boldin, and WR Torrey Smith. Boldin provides a power mismatch on the outside with his experience but it’s his muscle in the slot that showed in the playoffs. He just bullied Patriot DBs when the ball was in the air.

In the end, the Ravens will force Kaepernick to win this game passing, unfortunately the Ravens should have the lead from being successful passing the football first, winning the game 31-27. The Baltimore Ravens will be the winners of Super Bowl XLVII

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NFL Week 11: AFC North -The Defense Rests…Literally

The glue to this year’s defense…Larry Foote

At one point last year the AFC North featured four of the top five defenses in the NFL. This year however has seen a reversal of that trend as only the Pittsburgh Steelers have maintained solid defensive play. For some teams you want to say it’s due to injuries or free agent losses yet the Steelers have been afflicted with the same things yet have stayed productive on that side of the ball.

Didn’t this team lose James Farrior, Aaron Smith, and William Gay in the offseason?? Then you factor in the 10 games lost due to injury to two former NFL Defensive Player of the Year recipients in Troy Palamalu (7 missed) and James Harrison (3 missed)?? Then you had FS Ryan Clark miss the 1st game due to sickle-cell complications against Denver. What is keeping this defense together??

Enter Larry Foote. The Steelers lost him too… back in 2009 when he played that season for the Detroit Lions. He almost signed with Arizona and former Steeler assistant now head coach in Ken Wisenhunt, for 2010 when Pittsburgh righted a wrong and brought him back. He started for the two winning Super Bowl teams while finding a role on the one that fell to the Packers in XLV. His best year was 2005 when he had 102 tackles and 3 fumbles to help he and Jerome Bettis play Super Bowl XL in their hometown of Detroit.  For 2012, he’s amassed 64 tackles, 3 sacks, forced 2 fumbles while recovering 2 more. He’s on pace for 114 tackles, 5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. If this keeps up, you have to include him in defensive player of the year discussions. This inspirational play is what leads the #1 defense in football into a pivotal match-up with the 28th ranked Ravens who are missing theirs.

The Ravens ranked 28th in defense?? We wouldnt’ lie to you but first the tale of the tape:

North Division

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

HOME

ROAD

DIV

CONF

STRK

LAST5

Baltimore Ravens Ravens 7 2 0 .778 254 196 5-0 2-2 3-0 6-1 W2 4-1
Pittsburgh Steelers Steelers 6 3 0 .667 207 177 4-0 2-3 1-0 3-3 W4 4-1
Cincinnati Bengals Bengals 4 5 0 .444 220 231 2-3 2-2 1-3 2-5 W1 1-4
Cleveland Browns Browns 2 7 0 .222 169 211 2-3 0-4 1-3 2-5 L1 2-3

Going into this pivotal game between the Steelers and Ravens is how quietly Pittsburgh has won 5 of their last 6. Slowly they have crept into contention. The offense revised by Offensive Co-ordinator Todd Haley was starting to make waves and then… the Roethlisberger injury. The good news is, it happened during the game where Byron Leftwich was able to knock off some rust. Wide out Antonio Brown is out for this one and Leftwich needs to be patient and lean on his running game and defense.

Has there been a more deceiving 7-2 team than this year’s Baltimore Ravens?? Yes we know they have won 6 of their last 7, but against who?? That isn’t entirely fair either, this team did beat New England and found a way to win against Dallas 31-29. However we have to be honest in assessing their season may have peaked at that point.

Since that October 14th win they have lost Ray Lewis to a tricep injury that will sideline him until the playoffs. Then in a big game on the road against the team they knocked out of last year’s playoffs, Houston drew and quartered them 43-13. In light of last week’s 55-20 blowout of Oakland, the Texans game is more of an indicator of how strong they are at the present. On the road this team is averaging only 15 points and their two road wins came courtesy of Cleveland and a lackluster 9-6 win over the Chiefs.

If this game were taking place in Baltimore, we believe the outcome would be different. However these two play again in three weeks at the “Big Crabcake” which give the Steelers more urgency to win this one at home and we think they will.

The downfall of the Ravens defense is as big a story this season as Peyton Manning bringing life to the Broncos offense. Haloti Ngata, long since thought to be the best defensive linemen in football, is dinged up yet playing at a high level still. His 31 tackles and 3 sacks are a season’s worth for other interior linemen. If Dannell Ellerbe can make a few more splash plays he could help lead the Ravens to an upset in Pittsburgh. On the season he has 60 tackles and 3.5 sacks yet won’t get recognition with such a low defensive ranking or we’d be asking “What is the glue holding together the Baltimore defense?” now wouldn’t we?? He is to the linebackers what SS Bernard Pollard is to the Ravens secondary: They both live in the shadows of future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and possibly Terrell Suggs. This game is where Ellerbe and Pollard (69 tackles) need to make some turnovers happen. Between them, only 1 interception, no forced fumbles, & no fumble recoveries or these two would be recognized among the best defenders in the league this season.

One ace up the Ravens sleeve is Jacoby Jones. He hasn’t been here for all the Ravens v. Steelers games for the past decade so he hasn’t been burdened with past big game losses. His explosiveness on kickoffs (14 returns / 540 yards / 2TDs) has been a welcome addition to a team that depends too much on Ray Rice on offense. Also Joe Flacco, in a contract year, has been dismal on the road. Look at these stats: 71 of 136 for 719 yards, 3TDs and 4 interceptions. He’s only completing 52% of his passes when he constantly checks down to Ray Rice?? It’s not like he’s faced the 1985 Chicago Bears. He faced the 11th ranked Chiefs and couldn’t muster a touchdown in a 9-6 win and only threw for 153 yards with one touchdown against the 24th ranked Browns. Now he’s supposed to go into Pittsburgh on a Sunday night against the #1 defense in football?? Last time we saw him against the #2 defense Texans he was sacked for a safety as the Ravens lost by four touchdowns. Again we say “in a contract year”. The Ravens should go shopping for a quarterback after this season because this isn’t leadership. Everyone talks of Michael Vick regressing, what is this?? Its been masked by the Ravens record but that should get exposed in Pittsburgh. Stay tuned.

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