Ravens news, notes and opinions after the first four games this season

(Algerina Perna / The Baltimore…)
September 30, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

Remember when everybody wanted Juan Castillo run out of town, when the run-game coordinator was a symbol of all that went wrong with the Ravens last year?

This offseason, Ravens coach John Harbaugh changed his title to offensive line coach, and stuck by Castillo, calling him one of the best offensive line coaches in the league. Harbaugh’s faith has been rewarded.

Joe Flacco has been sacked only three times in four games. Only Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who has yet to be sacked, has been taken down less, and the Bengals have played one fewer game than the Ravens.

The Ravens also are eighth in the league in rushing yards per game. It has certainly helped that the Ravens acquired center Jeremy Zuttah, who is a clear upgrade over Gino Gradkowski, and that guards Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda are healthy.

But Castillo has to get some credit for the development of second-year right tackle Rick Wagner, who has exceeded all expectations thus far. Undrafted rookie free agent James Hurst’s readiness in stepping in to play for an injured Eugene Monroe against the Carolina Panthers also speaks highly to the job Castillo has done, considering Hurst looked nowhere near NFL-ready in training camp.

The way Flacco is moving around in the pocket and getting the ball out quick has really helped the offensive line as well, but after absorbing so much blame last year, Castillo should get some credit, too.

** I’m not sure how much longer the Ravens can afford to keep using safety Matt Elam in the nickel back role on third downs.

Word is certainly out that Elam is vulnerable in coverage as both the Cleveland Browns and the Panthers attacked the second-year player whenever possible the past two weeks.

I’m sure Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts will be well aware of Elam’s struggles Sunday.

In fairness to Elam, he had really good coverage on a couple big completions by the Panthers, but Cam Newton made perfect throws. But still, Elam was not playing the ball, and he still looks like he’s thinking rather than just reacting.

Fellow safety Darian Stewart seems to be having the same problem. I’m not sure what the Ravens' options are at this point, but why not get rookie third-round pick Terrence Brooks on the field more, at least in nickel situations?

Safety Will Hill, who has two games remaining on his six-game suspension, also could become a very important player for the Ravens going forward.

** Before and after every practice, you can usually find wide receiver Jacoby Jones catching balls from the JUGS machine.

He’s not the only Ravens player who does this, but with the way things are going, it seems pertinent to point out that Jones works regularly on his hands and trying to become a more reliable and consistent pass catcher.

The problem right now, however, seemingly is with his head, not his hands. Jones appears to be fighting confidence issues after a slew of drops early this season.

His one drop against the Panthers was uncontested and about as a routine of a catch as a receiver will get. Jones wants so badly to make a play – why else would he field a punt on the 2-yard line? – that he seems to be pressing, rather than just being himself and having fun.

It could be the case where Jones makes one big play – whether it’s on offense or special teams – and it breaks the ice a little bit. But how many chances will he actually get?

Marlon Brown was used more as the team’s No. 3 receiver versus the Panthers, and he produced. That probably earned him a bigger role in the offense.

** Great statistic courtesy of Pro Football Focus off the Ravens-Panthers game: The Panthers blitzed Flacco nine times, and Flacco’s quarterback rating on those plays was 158.3.

Against the Panthers, Flacco made same great throws, but I thought the most impressive thing was his blitz recognition and how quickly he was getting the ball out.

It goes back to Flacco saying before the season that Gary Kubiak’s new offense has simplified the decision-making process for him. It clearly shows.

** Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith clearly doesn’t need the motivation, but I wouldn’t worry about him suffering from an emotional letdown with the game against the Panthers in the rearview mirror.

This week, he’ll likely be matched up with the Colts’ top cornerback, Vontae Davis. Smith and Davis got into a post-whistle wrestling match during a preseason game in 2012 and you can bet that Smith hasn’t forgotten.

** Former Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin is making quite an impression with his new organization.

After following Jim Caldwell from Baltimore to Detroit to be Caldwell’s defensive coordinator, Austin’s defense currently ranks No. 1 in the league, allowing only 267.3 yards per game.

No surprises here. Ravens players and fellow coaches raved about Austin, who did a great job helping to develop the likes of Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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