RAVENS NOTEBOOK: Rex picks the Ravens

Street Talk RAVENS NOTEBOOK: Rex picks the Ravens

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OWINGS MILLS – New York Jets coach Rex Ryan picked the Ravens to defeat the Patriots.

“First off, the Ravens are going to win this game,” the former Ravens defensive coordinator told WFAN. “The only way you’re going to beat New England is if you have a great defense. The Ravens had beaten New England before with a dominant defense. We beat New England three times but we did it creatively, a different type of defense, (Brady) wasn’t comfortable.

“Pittsburgh, was more physical than New England. That’s why they won. The Ravens, in my opinion, are going to take a similar approach to how the Giants played them. Meaning, they’re going to rush four guys on them, I truly think they’re going to rush four. I think Terrell Suggs might be the difference in this game. I don’t know how many guys can block Terrell Suggs. I’ve got the answer: none of them. So I think Suggs is going to be huge but they’ve got to be physical. And the Ravens’ offense does have to show up. They have to protect the football."

ED REED IS PROBABLE, RAVENS HEALTHY: The Baltimore Ravens are unusually healthy for this time of year, at least judging by their official injury report.

Only one player is listed and that’s Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed, who’s probable for Sunday’s AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.

He was upgraded to full participation Friday after being limited Wednesday and Thursday.

The eight-time Pro Bowl selection has a sprained left ankle. A former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Reed is also dealing with a painful nerve impingement in his neck and a shoulder problem.

“Injury-wise nothing new,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Everybody looks fine. It’s 100 percent a blessing. It’s great.”

The Ravens have a few other nagging injuries, but nothing serious.

That includes offensive tackle Michael Oher (knee), inside linebacker Jameel McClain (sprained medial collateral ligament) and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (strained right quadriceps). And defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is dealing with a lingering thigh injury.

The Ravens are expected to have cornerback Chris Carr active after he was a healthy scratch in the AFC divisional playoff win over the Houston Texans.

They might have as many of their defensive backs active as possible.

“Yeah, absolutely,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “Because they’re going to be running around and you’re going to need as many as you can. If they allow you to get some extra guys on the field, it’s always good to have those guys up.”

Meanwhile, the Patriots removed quarterback Tom Brady from the injury report altogether.

Brady missed practice Wednesday with a reported sprained AC joint in his left, non-throwing shoulder.

He participated fully the past two days.

Offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back, foot) is the Patriot in the most danger of not playing.

He was listed as questionable along with 13 other players.

The Patriots make it a habit to list more players as questionable than necessary to try to confuse opponents about who will actually be available to play.

Also listed as questionable: wide receivers Wes Welker (knee) and Deion Branch (knee), safeties Patrick Chung (knee) and James Ihedigbo (shoulder), offensive tackle Nate Solder (concussion), tight end Aaron Hernandez (concussion), linebackers Dane Fletcher (thumb), Rob Ninkovich (hip), Brandon Spikes (knee) and Tracy White (abdomen), defensive lineman Kyle Love (ankle) and Pro Bowl offensive guard Logan Mankins (knee).

Three players are probable for New England: cornerback Kyle Arrington (knee), center Dan Connolly (groin) and wide receiver Matthew Slater (shoulder), and all participated fully.

TIGHT END EVOLUTION: Reed is prepared for anything when it comes to the Patriots’ athletic tight ends, Dan Gronkowski and Hernandez.

They combined for 169 receptions, 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.

Gronkowski and Hernandez represent the new breed of tight end in the league along with New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham: big, fast and sure-handed.

“They’re more athletic,” Reed said. “Guys have just gotten more athletic at the position. That’s what has been looked for. You see receivers converted to tight ends. You take guys like Jimmy with the Saints right now, just more athletic guys, bigger guys, taller guys, big guys with basketball bodies. That’s what, I guess, teams are looking for that they need.”

LEGACY: Reed is expected to eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He has 57 career interceptions, more than anyone in the NFL since he entered the league in 2002. And his 1,463 interception return yards are also the most in that span.

Does Reed consider his legacy?

“I don’t think that stuff will hit home until I am done playing,” Reed said. “When I’m done playing, it will probably hit home more, but right now, I’m just loving and playing this game with my teammates. All of this talk about this and that stuff is irrelevant, because everybody has their own opinion. Not everybody likes Ed Reed.”

Reed, 33, has a knack for finding the football and baiting quarterbacks into miscues.

“I’ve just been playing football for a long time,” Reed said. “I’ve been playing football since I was a little kid, so it’s just some natural blessings that God has blessed me with to get to the ball and understand what I’ve been doing over the years.”

GETTING SUGGS UNTRACKED: Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs led the Ravens with a career-high 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles during the regular season.

However, he was shut out against the Texans and has only one sack in the past four games.

Suggs has three sacks and two forced fumbles in his past three games against Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light.

“Obviously, you know with [linebackers coach] Dean Pees having this experience up there, he knows first and foremost that the first thing [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick went in and talked about with the offense, he says, ‘No. 55 is a game wrecker, and we can’t let him wreck the game. So, we’ve got to make sure we know where he is every snap, and we’ve got to take care of him,’” Pagano said. “So we know that, whether they keep one of those guys in to chip him before they release a back or a tight end, and slide the protection to him, we’ve got to come up with some things to try to negate that and help him.”

Pagano said he doubts the Patriots will do much in the way of single-blocking schemes against Suggs.

“If they do, that’s great for us,” Pagano said. “I hope that’s their plan, but I don’t believe that to be true.”

LEFTY PUNTER: The Ravens brought in left-footed punter Phil Azarik to prepare for the lefty boots of Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko.

The Ravens have done this several times this season to get ready for the different spin from lefty punters.

Mesko averaged 46.5 yards during the regular season with 24 downed inside opponents’ 20-yard line.

“They have had a great year,” Ravens special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “They have been really solid in their coverage game all year long. Their punt team, even though they have not used it very much, has been very much a weapon for them.”

Meanwhile, kicker Stephen Gostkowski has connected on 28 of 33 field goals.

“Stephen Gostkowski is a Pro Bowl kicker and he is back from his injury and kicking the ball well on kickoffs and also making about 85 percent of his field goals,” Rosburg said. “Their special teams have been a real positive for their club. We talked to our guys this week about, this is a playoff game.

“We have to win this game. Our challenge is to try and win the special teams field position battle, because when you are playing football in January in New England, that is going to be an issue, and we have to hold up our end.”

SKATEBOARD QB: There’s a funny story about Flacco this week that doesn’t have anything to do with Ed Reed.

Flacco acknowledged to NFL Network that he tried to skateboard during the Ravens’ first-round playoff bye. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt.

A concerned neighbor spotted Flacco, though, and called Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome

“I’d never been on a skateboard in my life, so I was literally riding it about 10 feet down my driveway just to see if I could stand on it and stay upright," Flacco said. “One of my neighbors must have called in looking for Ozzie Newsome and left a voicemail on his secretary’s phone saying, ‘Hey, man, you got to let Joe Flacco know we’re trying to win the Super Bowl around here! He’s at home riding a skateboard. Somebody’s got to let him know what the deal is.’”

QUICK HITS: The Patriots auditioned several defensive backs this week, but haven’t signed anyone as of Friday. They often make last-minute roster moves on Saturday, though. The Patriots tried out cornerbacks Ricky Price, Ryan Hill, Dominique Harris, Antareis Bryan and Mikail Baker. … After a week dominated by talk about Reed’s negative comments about quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens maintained a loose atmosphere in the locker room. “They’ve been great, they’re loose, they work really hard on preparation,” Harbaugh said. “I am really proud of our guys. We have had a great year that way. Our guys work really hard at practice, they work really hard in the meeting room, they study their opponent, they help each other. Coaches get information that is pretty special, as far as studying opponents and stuff. That’s the big reason why we’ve had the success we’ve had.” … Former Ravens backup quarterback Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State who played in the UFL last season for the Omaha Nighthawks, has signed a reserve/future deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors. 

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