Ravens

Quick Links

5 KEY PLAYERS: BALTIMORE

201302011147424720204-p2.jpeg

5 KEY PLAYERS: BALTIMORE

We asked AP pro football writer Barry Wilner to pick five key players for each team in this Super Bowl. You'll want to pay attention to these guys on Sunday.

First, for the Baltimore Ravens:

-JOE FLACCO (QB, JERSEY NO. 5): Flacco is on a personal streak this postseason with eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three games. He outplayed top draftee Andrew Luck, then Peyton Manning, then Tom Brady in leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl. And he's been successful in the playoffs over his five-year career - he has an 8-4 playoff record and an NFL record by leading his team to playoff wins in each of his first five seasons.

-RAY RICE (RB, JERSEY NO. 27): Rice has been the hub of the Ravens' offense throughout his career - a threat to break long gains on runs or screen passes. This season, he rushed for 1,143 yards and nine TDs, caught 61 passes for 478 yards. He has two touchdowns in the postseason.

-RAY LEWIS (ILB, JERSEY NO. 52): Lewis has been the emotional engine for Baltimore his entire career, and retires after this game. Teammate Bernard Pollard calls him ``The Raven.'' Lewis missed 10 games this year with a torn right triceps, but has been sensational in playoffs with 44 tackles. He was the MVP of the 2001 Super Bowl, the Ravens' only championship, and Defensive Player of Year in 2000 and 2003.

-PAUL KRUGER (DE, JERSEY NO. 99): Kruger had a breakout season and has been among the best defenders in playoffs. He led Baltimore with nine sacks and has 2 1/2 in the postseason. He's very disruptive and also can drop into coverage, though that's not his strength. He doesn't get double-teamed as much with Terrell Suggs getting healthier.

-CARY WILLIAMS (CB, JERSEY No. 29): Williams is a very up-and-down defender who has two picks in postseason, including one in the end zone in the AFC championship. A so-so tackler, better as coverage man, yet made 75 tackles during the season. Williams joined the Ravens in 2009 after Tennessee cut him.

- Barry Wilner

---

EDITOR'S NOTE - ``Super Bowl Watch'' shows you the Super Bowl and the events surrounding the game through the eyes of Associated Press journalists across New Orleans and around the world. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

Quick Links

Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

snead-usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Willie Snead has a knack for weaving through a row of linebackers in the middle of the field before making a clutch catch for the Baltimore Ravens.

Such was the case last Sunday against Tennessee, when Snead squeezed between two defenders for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-17 from the Baltimore 15.

"He's on the ground, he makes the catch, he's getting pushed back to the ground, stepped all over, and he just gets up and gives the first-down signal right there in the guy's face," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of competitor he is. He's all ball, all the time."

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome rarely chases restricted free agents, but he made an exception with Snead this past offseason after it became apparent that the receiver's three-year run in New Orleans was done. One of Drew Brees' favorite targets in 2015 and 2016, Snead began last season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He then fought a hamstring injury and finished with just eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

Armed with a two-year, $10.4 million contract, Snead was delighted to arrive in Baltimore last April.

"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth, the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said Tuesday. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."

It couldn't have worked out better for Snead -- and the Ravens.

"To see that you were right, to see all that come together and him play so well, being exactly what you thought you were going to get, is very rewarding," Harbaugh said.

Snead was one of three free agent receivers signed by Newsome in an effort to enhance a passing game that sputtered in 2017. Snead is the possession receiver, Michael Crabtree provides an outside threat and John Brown is the speedster.

Snead and Crabtree are tied for the team lead with 30 catches. Brown has 21 receptions for a team-high 424 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't have the physical ability like John Brown to run by you, and I'm not big and strong like Michael Crabtree," Snead observed, "so I have to work harder than everybody else just to stand out."

That's how it's always been for Snead, who finally finds himself in a place where his talent is acknowledged and appreciated.

"This is a guy that's been doubted his whole career -- high school, college and the NFL," Harbaugh said. "So I'm fine if they keep doubting him."

After starring as a quarterback at Muskegon Heights in Michigan, Snead played three years as a receiver at Ball State before going undrafted in 2014. He finally made it to the NFL the following year.

"Coming out of college, (people said) I left too early, I wasn't ready to play in the NFL," Snead recalled. "And in the NFL, it was, `Is he fast enough to separate? Can he make those plays in clutch situations?' I've always been doubted."

Not anymore.

"I'll tell you one thing, Willie comes Sunday ready to play," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's one of the toughest guys I've been around."

This Sunday, the Ravens (4-2) host the Saints (4-1). Snead insists this wasn't one of those games that he circled on the calendar.

"This is another team. I have to approach it that way just to stay focused," Snead said.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton has seen enough of Snead this season to know he's a threat with the ball, and without it.

"He has a tremendous amount of grit. You see him making plays on third down," Payton said. "He's an outstanding blocker. He'll come across in motion, he'll get to the point of attack in the run game, but he'll also find the holes in the zone and man-to-man coverages."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Snead has no problem mixing it up with anyone, large or small, at any spot on the field.

"He can go inside or outside, but man, he makes some -- scouts call them blood area -- catches," Harbaugh said. "In the middle, that's where he thrives."

MORE RAVENS NEWS:

Quick Links

Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

zadarius-smith-ap.png
AP Images

Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

The defensive performance on display by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in a 21-0 shutout win was flat out historic. So historic that it's earned linebacker Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

A franchise-record 11 sacks were laid on quarterback Marcus Mariota during the Week 6 matchup, with Smith leading the way with three of them.   

So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. As someone who is in the final year of his rookie NFL contract, he's certainly proving he is worthy of getting paid this offseason. 

"It feels great, man. It's big," Smith said of the honor during media availability Wednesday. "I know when I first found out I called my mom and she was already looking at it. But I called her and she was trying to congratulate me and was like 'who would've ever thought the guy that played one year of high school football would be where he at now and making so many goals.'"

But earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week isn't the only goal Smith has in mind. His performance through the first six weeks and assisting the No. 1 ranked scoring defense is just a stepping stone to the ultimate honor.

"I was telling her, 'Ma you know this is a good self-goal but my main goal is to get us to the Super Bowl.'" 

The road to the Super Bowl for Smith and the Ravens continues this Sunday vs. Drew Brees and the Saints. 

MORE RAVENS NEWS: