|Steve Smith declares his respect for Darrelle Revis before expected showdown||01.07.15 at 7:10 pm ET|
BALTIMORE — Depending on what Steve Smith does this weekend, we may look back at him as last offseason’s great what-might-have-been.
It’s easy to forget that before signing with the Ravens, Smith drew the interest of the Patriots. But a scheduled visit to Foxboro never happened, because Smith never made it out of Baltimore.
He signed a three-year, $11 million deal, and on Saturday the 35-year-old projects to be a pivotal player in a playoff showdown against the Patriots. He’ll probably spend most of the game matched up with All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.
“One, I think with the flights there was a little bad weather,” Smith said. “Two, this was my first time being a free agent. Everything was new to me. I really went in everywhere not thinking about what was lined up, but taking one trip at a time and going with my gut and experiencing being a free agent for the first time.”
His gut led him to Baltimore and he has no regrets. The longtime Carolina Panthers standout finished his 14th season with 79 catches for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns. He emerged as Joe Flacco‘s favorite target and picked up the slack for the slow-starting Torrey Smith.
He’ll face his greatest challenge of the year in Revis, the league’s best shutdown corner. Smith scoffed when asked, “Is Revis is still Revis?”
“Is Revis still Revis?” he repeated incredulously. “I think his ID and social security number say he’s still Revis. He’s a great corner. I don’t think you get a one-year deal for $10 million for being a slouch. Revis can play. He’s a great corner. He’s a corner you’ve got to prepare for and watch film. You can’t just walk in thinking, ‘Oh.”’
Informed that Revis had referred to him earlier Wednesday as “electrifying,” Smith jokingly patted himself on the back and exclaimed, “Thanks, Revis!” Then he got serious.
“I think that’s a great compliment,” he said. “I’ll take that. I respect the heck out of him. I don’t anticipate any nonsense and he doesn’t anticipate any with me. It will be a great veteran game. On the run plays, I’ll look out of for him, he’ll look out for me.”
BALTIMORE – Former Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees laughs at the notion that he has some kind of hex on the Patriots based on his experience in the organization.
Now the defensive coordinator for the Ravens, Pees will try to devise a scheme to stop the Pats this weekend in Foxboro. If he succeeds, it won’t be because he coached in New England from 2004-09.
“I don’t think I know them as well as everyone thinks I know them,” Pees said. “I’ve been gone five years. I think there are two guys on the defense who was there when I was there — [Vince] Wilfork and [Rob] Ninkovich. Every year the offense is different with those guys, depending on the running back, the wide receiver. This isn’t [Deion] Branch and [Randy] Moss and those guys. It’s just different. People talk about my familiarity. It’s just the fact that I know coach [Bill] Belichick and the coaching staff, and half of those guys are gone. It’s been so far removed, it’s just different.”
Pees touched on the difficulties of game-planning for the Patriots, who are as unpredictable offensively as any team in the game.
“I’ve seen them go five wides and no huddle for a whole game,” he said. “I’ve seen them go three tight ends for a whole game. You’ve got to get ready for everything. That’s why they’re good. That’s why they win every year. They do a great job with whoever they have.”
And the one constant, of course, is Tom Brady.
“No. 12 is still the main cog,” Pees said. “He makes it go. But he’s done it with all kinds of different offenses, really. They ran the ball well on us last year (in a 41-7 victory), but we’re not the same team either.
“Hey, we’re playing the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”
|Do Ravens cut block? Bill Belichick: ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’||01.06.15 at 10:10 am ET|
FOXBORO – Bill Belichick is pretty familiar with the Ravens’ offensive game plan, as he’s faced Baltimore offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak on a number of occasions at Kubiak’s previous stops, which have included Denver and Houston.
One of the fundamental elements of a Kubiak offense is a zone-blocking run scheme, which calls for occasional cut blocks on the part of the offensive line. Cut blocking isn’t wildly popular among defensive linemen, as it calls for offensive linemen to go low to take out the legs of a defender.
Belichick was talking about the Ravens zone-blocking scheme when he was asked if “they cut.”
“Is the Pope Catholic? Yeah, they cut,” Belichick said. “The same offense they ran in Denver, the same offense they ran in Houston, it’s the same offense Kubiak runs in Baltimore. All the characteristics from those other teams are the same characteristics in Baltimore.”
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|John Harbaugh: ‘Honor’ to face Patriots in divisional round||01.05.15 at 7:38 pm ET|
There were nothing but nice words coming out of Baltimore Monday as the Ravens got to work preparing for the Patriots and the divisional playoff contest Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
“They’re tremendously well-coached, very well-balanced,” Harbaugh said. “They play complementary football as well or better than anybody in football year-in and year-out, and especially this year.
“All three phases are Top 10-, Top 5-type units. They’re good up front on both sides. They have playmakers, skill guys everywhere [and a] great quarterback. They can run the ball; they can throw the ball. You never know what you’re going to get from coach Belichick scheme-wise. So, it is just a huge challenge for anybody going in there in the playoffs.”
For two teams not in the same division, the Patriots and Ravens are frequent dance partners. Prior to this year, the two teams met five times between 2009 and 2013 — this game will mark the fourth postseason contest in six seasons between Baltimore and New England.
For Harbaugh, the fact that the Ravens have an extensive history against the Patriots in Foxboro is a positive.
“It’s always a plus to have played in a building before,” Harbaugh said of New England. “It seems like we play there a lot. It’s always nice to know your surroundings, and that helps us. Beyond that, the guys who had experience playing against the Patriots will be able to lead the way a little bit. They are the same coaching staff, the same principles that they are built on in all three phases, so that helps to some extent.”
Harbaugh said Monday he’s been impressed by just about every aspect of the Patriots this season.
|5 things you have to know about Ravens||01.04.15 at 9:54 am ET|
Here are five things you have to know about the sixth-seeded Ravens, who will face the Patriots in the divisional playoffs next Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
They have struggled to stop the pass.
The Ravens do have a fearsome pass rush — Elvis Dumervil had 17 sacks this year, and Terrell Suggs had 12 — but many teams have been able to beat them because of their issues in the secondary. Over the course of the regular season, the Ravens were 23rd in the league with 249 passing yards per game allowed, 22nd in completion percentage allowed (64.2) and 19th in opposing passer rating (90.6). In all, the Ravens yielded 300 or more passing yards on five occasions. As we saw Saturday night, Baltimore does have the sort of pass rush that can make life difficult on an opposing quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times by the Ravens, including twice by Dumervil), but a secondary that’s struggled with health and other personnel losses could have some issues with New England’s passing attack. The Patriots will likely try and utilize several different options in hopes of slowing the Baltimore pass rush, including an extra offensive lineman (possibly Cameron Fleming), more sets with multiple tight ends and putting a priority on quarterback Tom Brady getting the ball out as fast as possible to intermediate targets like tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. Look for the quarterback to have a quick trigger this week.
Conversely, the Ravens’ defense does a pretty good job against the run.
Baltimore has been pretty stout against the run over the course of the regular season — the Ravens yielded more than 100 yards on the ground five times, and two of those came in the final two weeks of the season as they were trying to survive without vaunted defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, who was suspended for failing a PED test for what he said was Adderall. Suggs is underrated as a run stopper, and C.J. Mosley has also proven himself to be valuable when it comes to slowing down opposing backs. The Patriots are likely to run the ball just enough to keep the Ravens honest on Saturday.
Justin Forsett is underrated as a feature back.
Forsett won the starting job after Ray Rice was released, and he had a very impressive season. The Cal product, who ended the season with 235 carries for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns, basically came out of nowhere to become the only running back in the NFL to finish with at least 1,200 rushing yards and average at least five yards per carry (5.4). The 5-foot-8. 197-pounder struggled at times down the stretch and had just 16 carries for 36 yards on Saturday against the Steelers, but will get the bulk of the work if the Ravens try and beat the Patriots on the ground next Saturday in Foxboro. In terms of the rest of their offense, we know that quarterback Joe Flacco is the sort of signal-caller capable of getting on a postseason run, especially when the Ravens hit the road. (His seven road playoff wins are the most by a quarterback since the 1970 merger.) Flacco set career-highs for regular-season passing yards (3,986) and touchdowns (27) this year. When he does throw, he’ll look for veteran receiver Steve Smith Sr. (79 catches, 134 targets, 1,065 yards, 6 TDs), Torrey Smith (49 catches, 92 targets, 767 yards, 11 TDs) and tight end Owen Daniels (48 catches, 78 targets, 527 yards, 4 TDs).
PITTSBURGH — While most of the talk in the Ravens locker room following their 30-17 win over the Steelers on Saturday night revolved around the AFC wild card round victory, some discussion involving the Patriots couldn’t be helped.
With the Patriots having already lost one AFC championship game in Foxboro to the Ravens, while narrowly managing a victory in another, the showdown between the teams at Gillette Stadium (Saturday, 4:35 p.m.) surfaced plenty of emotion and analysis even moments after the win at Heinz Field.
Here are some of the Ravens’ comments Saturday night regarding their next playoff foe, the Patriots:
“We’re going to enjoy this plane ride home, but we all know who we’re dealing with next.”
“Everybody knows the history with these two teams. We’re going to play a football game. It’s the Ravens vs. the Patriots. Everybody knows the storylines. We’re going to save that. Right now it’s still Ravens, Steelers and we’ll see you all next week.”
“We all know the matchup the NFL wants to see. Something for the TV, for the sponsors. We’ve got faith in ourselves and Ravens Nation and we’ll see if we can disrupt some people’s plans.”
“I have to go watch some film and be prepared. [Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner are] two great corners. Me and Revis has played against each other, he’s done a very good job so I anticipate watching a lot of film like I did this week and being prepared and ready.”
“That’s been my experience since I’ve been here. That’s just the way it is. If you want to go to the Super Bowl, you have to go through the Patriots first.”
“From an emotional point of view, for the guys who have played in Foxboro, I’m not going to say can give you an edge but it gives you a sense of comfort where you’re not really shaken by the fans or how loud it is because you’ve been in that situation and you’ve had experience. For guys who have played in Foxboro I feel like they will be more comfortable. It won’t be one of those situations where they freak out or freeze up.”
“We just have to go out and play our game. Play like Ravens. A lot of energy and just try and get after people. That’s all we can do. They’re a well-coached team. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”
|Ravens upend Steelers, will face Patriots in divisional playoffs Saturday in Foxboro||01.03.15 at 11:25 pm ET|
Here come the Ravens.
Baltimore went into Pittsburgh and knocked off the Steelers by a 30-17 count Saturday night in an AFC wild card contest. With the win, the Ravens advance to the divisional playoff round and a matchup with the Patriots Saturday at 4:35 at Gillette Stadium. It will mark the fourth time in the last six postseasons the Patriots and Ravens will renew their playoff feud, a stretch that includes a pair of AFC title games. (Baltimore has won two of those previous three contests.)
Joe Flacco ended up 18-for-29 for 259 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Meanwhile, veteran receiver Steve Smith Sr. had five catches on seven targets for 101 yards, and tight end Owen Daniels added four catches on five targets for 70 yards.
The Steelers were without their No. 1 offensive option, as running back Le’Veon Bell went down with a knee injury in the regular-season finale against the Bengals, and Pittsburgh struggled to find offensive rhythm for much of the evening. The Steelers, who were the seventh-highest scoring team in the league over the course of the regular season, had just one touchdown on the night as they saw their year come to a close. Ben Roethlisberger finished 30-for-44 for 327 yards and one interception. He was picked off twice and sacked five times in the loss. Antonio Brown had nine catches for 117 yards for the Steelers, who end their season with a 12-5 record.
At the start, it was a typical AFC North rockfight — tough, physical football with points at a premium. There was only one first half touchdown, that coming at the end of an impressive eight-play drive that culminated in a 5-yard run from Bernard Pierce to give Baltimore a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. Other than that, there were three field goals from the Steelers and one from the Ravens, which left it 10-9 at halftime.