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Patriots DBs wary of Ravens' long-ball potential

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Patriots DBs wary of Ravens' long-ball potential

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Patriots have cut down on the long completions they allowed early in the season. The Ravens keep making them.

On Sunday night, New England's progress will be tested against Baltimore's strong-armed Joe Flacco and his speedy receivers in the AFC championship game.

Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib saw just how dangerous the Ravens' deep passing attack can be in their 38-35, double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos in last Saturday's divisional playoff game.

``That game summed it up, man,'' he said. ``They started the game taking shots and they ended the game taking shots. So that's what you're going to do against guys like that, play that deep ball.''

On the Ravens' second series against the Broncos, Flacco threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith. On their last series of regulation, he heaved a 70-yard score to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left.

That was the Ravens' longest completion of a season in which Flacco keeps connecting with targets far downfield. He has completed passes to receivers 13 times on gains of 40 yards or more. The Patriots, meanwhile, had just five completions to receivers that picked up that distance - and two were caught by players now on injured reserve.

``We can't allow them to just throw the ball over our heads,'' safety Devin McCourty said. ``The biggest thing is understanding how strong Flacco's arm is because I think we already know how fast some of the receivers are over there. So it's just being aware and making plays down the field.''

They Patriots (13-4) didn't do that very well in the first half of the season. They allowed 21 completions that gained at least 25 yards in their first eight games. A season-high five came in a 31-30 loss to the Ravens in Week 3.

They lowered that to 15 in their last eight regular-season games. Talib, who played in the last seven after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, helped.

``He's a good football player, good teammate,'' coach Bill Belichick said. ``He's very well respected because of his professionalism. He studies hard and prepares well. He's tough. He competes well, both in practice and on Sundays. Smart kid. I like him. The team likes him. He's a good guy to be around.''

His addition allowed the Patriots to move McCourty from cornerback, where he struggled at times, to safety, where he's solidified the secondary.

But the Ravens (12-6) have hurt teams with the long ball all season - from their very first offensive play. That was a 52-yard completion from Flacco to Smith that started a 44-13 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals.

``One of (Smith's) biggest strengths is his speed,'' McCourty said. ``If you give him a step or two, it will turn into three or four. You just have to be aware of how fast he is.''

Two weeks later against the Patriots, Smith caught passes of 38, 32 and 25 yards, Jones had receptions of a 41 and 24 yards and Anquan Boldin added a 24-yarder. And in the final minute, McCourty was penalized for defensive pass interference, moving the ball 27 yards to the Patriots 7-yard line. Two plays later, Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 31-30 win as time expired.

Flacco will be facing the Patriots for the third time in the postseason and sixth time overall. So he knows how Belichick likes to defend Baltimore's passing game.

``They're going to probably come up and put pressure on our receivers,'' Flacco said. ``They always, throughout the years, like to get up and not allow our tight ends and our inside guys to get off the ball very well and play over the top of the outside guys.

``We'll see if they match (cornerbacks) on Torrey or Anquan or anything like that. I think they've let up some yards in that area, but at the same time, they do a good job of playing very well and playing some man (coverage) underneath.''

As usual, Belichick is sure to change some defensive tactics and show Flacco something he hasn't seen from the Patriots.

Whatever that is, he'll still have Smith, Boldin and Jones to run under his deep throws.

``They have some great receivers over there, guys with speed,'' Patriots safety Steve Gregory said. ``Flacco has a big arm. He makes good decisions with the football. So they have the ability to beat you in many ways and, definitely, over the top is one of them.''

Flacco had 40 completions of at least 25 yards, tying Denver's Peyton Manning for the most in the NFL this season.

Smith caught six of at least 40 yards, Jones did it four times and Boldin three. Even the tight ends got into the act with Dennis Pitta scoring on a 61-yard pass play and Ed Dickson making a 40-yard snare.

So when Belichick was asked if the Ravens throw the ball deep as well as any team the Patriots have faced, he answered simply and quickly:

``Yes.''

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Important 2018 offseason dates for Baltimore Ravens

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USA Today Sports

Important 2018 offseason dates for Baltimore Ravens

Mark your calendars now because the Ravens are already gearing up for their 2018 season.

From the Pro-Bowl all the way to the start of the regular season, here are the key dates.

January 28th: Pro Bowl, Orlando, Fla. 

Safety Eric Weddle, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley will all be in attendance. In addition, Suggs and Weddle were named starters. The game will take place at Camping World Stadium. Kickoff is at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN.

February 3rd: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2018 Class announced

This will be a very important day for Ray Lewis and the Ravens organization as Lewis waits to here if he will be sealed into football history, one day prior to Super Bowl LII. 

February 5th: Waiver system takes effect

The waiver system allows players' contracts or a club's NFL rights to a player available to other clubs in the league. Upon doing this, the other 31 teams can place a claim to obtain him or waive their chance. During this 24- hour period, once a club waives a player it can not take the player back or change his status. Assignments are based upon draft order until the third week of the regular season. If a player does not get claimed, he becomes a free agent. 

February 20th:  First day to franchise or transition tag a player

February 27th- March 5th: NFL Scouting Combine, Indianapolis, IN

This seven day period will be crucial for General Manager Ozzie Newsome to get a good look at potential Ravens.

March 6th: Deadline to franchise or transition tag a player

March 12-14th: Teams are allowed to contact and negotiate with agents of players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents

March 14th: Start of new league year at 4:00 p.m. ET

At this time, all 2017 player contracts expire meaning teams can begin seeking and signing free agents. Ravens free agents include Mike Wallace, Benjamin Watson, Ryan Jensen, Terrance West, James Hurst, Michael Campanaro, Steven Johnson, Ryan Mallet, Brandon Boykin, Crockett Gillmore, Brent Urban and Luke Bowanko.

March 25-28th: Owners Meeting, Orlando, FL

April 16th: Voluntary OTA's can begin

April 20th: Deadline for restricted FA's to sign offer sheets

April 26th-28th: 2018 NFL Draft, Arlington, TX

The Ravens will be heading down to Arlington, Texas in hopes of picking up their next franchise player. Positions needed include wide receiver, tight end, quarterback and outside linebacker.

May 4-7th or 11-14th: Potential three-day rookie minicamp

May 31-June 2nd: Ravens Beach Bash, Ocean City, MD

July 16th: Deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player 

Mid-Late July: Training camp begins

August 2nd: Hall of Fame Game, Canton, OH

August 4th: Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Canton, OH

Again, keep this date marked as it could be the day Ray Lewis is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

September 6th: Start of regular season 

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Don Martindale promoted to Ravens defensive coordinator

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USA Today Sports

Don Martindale promoted to Ravens defensive coordinator

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh has promoted linebackers coach Don Martindale to defensive coordinator, assuring a seamless transition in the wake of Dean Pees' retirement.

Martindale has been coaching Baltimore linebackers since 2012. The 54-year-old was the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos in 2010.

After Pees ended his six-year run as the Ravens' defensive coordinator on Jan. 1, Harbaugh said he wanted to maintain continuity with his new hire.

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"I'm a believer in this system," Harbaugh said last week. "This system has been something that's been developed for a long period of time, and we have worked really hard every single year to make it better."

Martindale has been part of that process. He coached the Ravens inside linebackers from 2012-15 and spent the past two seasons as the team's linebackers coach.

In announcing the move Tuesday, Harbaugh said Martindale's "aggressive mentality will serve to take our defense to new levels."

Harbaugh said Martindale "knows the ins and outs of what we have been about on defense and has been an important contributor to our success on that side of the ball."

Also on Tuesday, Harbaugh promoted Mike Macdonald to linebackers coach and Sterling Lucas to quality control defense.

The 30-year-old Macdonald joined the Ravens in 2014 as a coaching intern on defense. He served as a defensive assistant in 2015 and 2016, and this season was the defensive backs coach. Baltimore led the NFL this season with 22 interceptions and forced a league-best 34 turnovers.

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