With the Ravens’ defense uncharacteristically struggling through the first four weeks, there has been plenty of finger pointing from fans and the media. Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith have caught a lot of the blame and outside linebackers Paul Kruger and rookie Courtney Upshaw have received their share as well. But one guy that hasn’t gotten a lot of criticism – at least that I’ve heard – is Pernell McPhee. Big things were expected out of the second-year defensive end who was second on the Ravens last year with six sacks and led all Ravens’ rookies with 23 tackles in a part-time role. After the departure of Cory Redding, McPhee stepped into a starting spot but there has yet to be a spike in his production. Through four games, McPhee has a half sack and nine tackles. He was credited with two quarterback hits in last Thursday’s victory over the Cleveland Browns, so perhaps that’s a good sign. The Ravens badly need to get a pass rush from their front four, or specifically from somebody other than Haloti Ngata. Some of that falls on McPhee and the Ravens could also use a little more out of defensive end Arthur Jones and nose tackle Terrence Cody in their roles as well.
Three positive developments recently for Ravens:
1. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe - Remember when there was some talk that he could be on the roster bubble early in training camp? Well, he leads the team with 2 1/2 sacks and he’s second on the team with 25 tackles. The Ravens need him to stay healthy and stay on the field.
2. Running back Bernard Pierce – He rushed six times for 48 yards against the Browns and I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see him worked in the game plan more and more. He certainly hits holes hard and is a tough north/south runner.
3. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin – Everybody loves to focus on what Boldin is not at this stage of his career, but he still has good hands, blocks well down the field and makes clutch catches. Every time the Ravens needed a play against the Browns, Joe Flacco looked Boldin’s way and he delivered.
Three negative developments recently:
1. Personal foul penalties – Browns tackle Joe Thomas did flop on what should have been the final play Thursday, but it still was a needless shove by Kruger and it’s not a stretch to say that it could have cost the Ravens the game. Between that, a big personal foul on Bernard Pollard for fighting after the whistle against the New England Patriots and Cary Williams throwing punches in back-to-back weeks in post-play altercations, the Ravens are going to need to get a handle on the extra-curricular stuff. As it stands, they are tied for the league lead in penalties.
2. Tight end Ed Dickson – Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have done a great job getting everybody involved, but Dickson is probably the one exception. He has five catches for 50 yards in four games and hasn’t been much of a factor in the passing game. Through the first four games last year, Dickson had 16 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown, including five catches in Week One alone.
3. Third and fourth downs – The Ravens are just 17 of 51 (33 percent) in these situations. I don’t have much to add to that other than it’s going to have to improve significantly for the Ravens to get where they want to go.
I wrote today about how the noise level on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, could have an effect on the Ravens’ no-huddle offense. But there’s a way around it that has nothing to do with hand signals or non-verbal cues. It’s called an early lead. The Chiefs’ fan base is a loyal and passionate group. However, there are a lot of unhappy Chiefs fans these days and just yesterday, the Kansas City Star ran a column advocating the dumping of general manager Scott Pioli, coach Romeo Crennel and quarterback Matt Cassel. The Chiefs have given up 77 points in two home games and things got so bad in a loss to the San Diego Chargers this past Sunday that some fans were chanting for third-string quarterback, Ricky Stanzi. My point in mentioning all this stuff is that it probably wouldn’t take that much for the Ravens to redirect the jeers toward the home sideline. A couple of early prolonged scoring drives and a turnover or two would probably do the trick.
Because we are asked about it so frequently, it’s probably worth mentioning again that nothing really has changed with injured linebacker Terrell Suggs. Suggs has declined pretty much all media requests since he spoke to reporters in June, saying that he has no plans to talk again until he’s ready to play. Team officials have maintained throughout that Suggs is making good progress and Ravens coach John Harbaugh last Friday was as definitive as he’s been on the subject, indicating that he expects Suggs will play this season. However, it remains far too early to discuss how healthy Suggs will be, what kind of shape that he’ll be in and whether he’ll be effective or not. Suggs will be on the physically unable to perform list through the Ravens’ Oct.14 game against the Dallas Cowboys. Then, they’ll have three more weeks after that to evaluate his progress and decide whether they’re ready to place him on the active roster or on season-ending injured reserve. So the earliest I would suspect to see Suggs is Nov. 11 against the Oakland Raiders and I stress that would be the absolute earliest. But until he’s back practicing and talking to the media, it’s probably pointless to speculate how much he’ll be able to help the Ravens for the stretch run.
Quick update on several former Ravens who left via free agency in the offseason: Linebacker Jarret Johnson has 10 tackles and no sacks for the San Diego Chargers; Carolina Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura has 17 tackles, two passes defended and one interception, but he’s struggled the past couple of weeks and there are reports that his starting job is in jeopardy; Guard Ben Grubbs of the winless New Orleans Saints has yet to be called for a penalty but he’s given up two sacks in four games; Indianapolis Colts’ defensive end Cory Redding has eight tackles and two pass defenses in three games while his teammate, safety Tom Zbikowski, has nine tackles and one pass defended. Nose tackle Brandon McKinney also followed Chuck Pagano to Indianapolis but McKinney is on season-ending injured reserve. Kicker Billy Cundiff hit the game-winner for the Washington Redskins last Sunday. However, he missed three field goals earlier in the game and is just 6-for-10 on the season.
And finally, I’d like to echo the sentiments of many others when I wish Colts head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano all the best in his recovery from leukemia. All it takes is to be around Pagano for two minutes and you quickly realize why everybody likes and respects him so much and why so many players want to play well for him. I started covering the Ravens after Week One last season and two of the most impressive people I’ve met in that short span are Pagano and wide receiver Torrey Smith. Both obviously in recent days have been hit with some jarring and life-changing developments. They have responded to it with the same toughness and class that they bring to everything else.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun