Houston Texans linebacker J.J. Watt has emerged as one of the decade's most dominant NFL defensive players. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year two years ago when he recorded a career-high 20.5 sacks. He's regarded as the frontrunner to win it again this year with 16.5 sacks and five touchdowns, including three touchdown catches as a red-zone tight end along with an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble return for a score.
Jon Meoli hits on 10 stats, notes, and thoughts following the Ravens' 28-13 road win over the Miami Dolphins. Read ahead for notes on replacing Haloti Ngata, the offense carrying this team, and the performance of Rick Wagner and Eugene Monroe.
Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner has earned plenty of praise in his first year as the starter, but faces his biggest challenge to date in Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, who primarily lines up on Wagner¿s side.
The only time reporters typically want to speak with offensive linemen is when things are going bad, like last season when the Ravens had one of the worse running games in the NFL. Times have changed. The Ravens rank in the top 10 in the league in total offense this year.
At every stop in his young football career, undrafted rookie James Hurst hasn't had much time to settle in before being thrust into a starting role. In both high school and college, it turned out he was ready the moment he walked onto the field, and the Ravens are hoping the same proves true on Sunday when he starts in place of left tackle Eugene Monroe, who underwent knee surgery on Wednesday.
Jeremy Zuttah's athleticism in the middle of the offensive line has been key to a much-improved Ravens offensive front that has cleared space for the running game and kept quarterback Joe Flacco untouched in Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But it's moments like that in the meeting room when Zuttah, the de-facto general of the offensive line, impresses them most.
When Ravens starting right offensive tackle Rick Wagner gets into his stance Sunday and squares off with Cincinnati Bengals veteran defensive end Wallace Gilberry, Eugene Monroe fully expects him to be ready.
The Ravens pared their roster down to the NFL's required 53-player limit Saturday, choosing to keep two quarterbacks and seven wide receivers and leaving themselves thin at cornerback and along the offensive and defensive lines.
He walked onto the football team at Wisconsin, his home state university, as a tight end, but outgrew the position and moved to offensive tackle. In a program known for producing NFL offensive linemen, Wagner protected future Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's blind side and created holes for future Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball.
Flacco hasn't played in a preseason finale since his rookie year in 2008 and it's hard to imagine that would change this year, not with the Ravens opening the regular season with three divisional games in a 15-day span.
The Ravens' overhauled offense got positive reviews in what amounted to a sneak preview considering that only a scaled-down version of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's playbook was revealed Thursday night.