Wednesday, October 25, 2006

CALIFORNIA DAYDREAMING OF THE RAVENS

Recently I made my way out to California for my cousin’s wedding. It was completely California, held at one of the beautiful vineyards in Temecula. Behind that little arch that enveloped my cousin Vince (really) and his lovely bride Jill was part of a lush field of vines pristinely arranged and behind it a few picturesque foothills that helped to accent the valley of grapes.

I looked out at the vines and I thought about the movie, Field of Dreams. “If you build it, he will come.” And then, “ease his pain”, both meaningful statements in that movie. Then my mind drifted from corn to grapes and of course some grapes are purple so naturally I thought of the Ravens.

I always thought “The Big Grape” would be a good nickname for M&T Bank Stadium.

I digress…

“Ease his pain.”

“Ease whose pain?”

Why Brian Billick’s of course.

My thoughts were interrupted and I went on with my day.

Later during the trip I visited the San Diego Zoo and Sea World. I marveled at the animals and the things that the zoologists and biologists and Pavlovogists were able to train these animals to do. The elephants after a few simple prompts were obeying their trainer like a patient under a hypnotic trance.

Whales and sea lions and dolphins were taught to do things that must have taken years to reach the level of perfection that they so easily executed during the exhibitions.

And then I thought of the Ravens again. If a sea otter could fetch and deliver a can of Pepsi on call, why can’t the Ravens run a screen pass?

Monday, October 23, 2006

AMERICA'S PASTIME IS NOW NAP TIME

As a kid, I remember racing home from school in the early fall to watch World Series games. It was a special treat and certainly added some spice to the regular routine of a weekday afternoon.

Even if the Orioles weren’t in the Series, it had an aura about it that made it unique.

It doesn’t feel that way any more. Kids today could care less about the World Series and in many ways, I don’t blame them. It’s just so much different today.

These days, the Orioles are as relevant to the baseball postseason landscape as I am to Angelina Jolie’s Palm Pilot. That certainly has something to do with it.

Then there’s the issue of programming. As a kid, we had The Game of The Week on NBC with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. Today, there are games up and down the dial any day you want them.

As a kid, if someone mentioned steroids I would have likely believed it to be a villain for Johnny Quest. Today, it pollutes MLB.

And now, every World Series game is on at night and it’s not the same. I can remember teachers in my elementary school changing the class schedules and bringing in TV’s on elevated stands to let the students watch the Orioles during the postseason until the school bell sounded. Baseball galvanized the community and then we could always count on our favorites being there year in and year out. That was before the advent of free agency.

Yes things were different back then. We couldn’t wait to run home and catch the end of a Series game. I couldn’t wait for my Dad to come home from work so that I could fill him in on all that had taken place up to the moment of his arrival.

Last night while watching part of the game in a Carlsbad, CA hotel room with my son, I unsuccessfully fought off falling asleep while he toyed with his laptop, relatively oblivious to the Tigers knotting the Series at one.

Baseball is just not what it used to be.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

WONDERING ABOUT THINGS PURPLE & THE NFL


I’ve been wondering about a few things purple today…

I wonder how assistant special teams coach John Fassel feels today after his Dad was dismissed. Imagine working for a company that gave your Dad the boot. Might you question the organization? Might you even wonder if you were next? It must be pretty tough for John to focus and keep a stiff upper lip these days. Fortunately he has a few days off to simmer and he’ll probably remind himself many times as will his Dad that the NFL is a business and these things happen. Still, if it were me, the only way I’d stick around is if my Dad convinced me to stay.

Speaking of staying, I have to wonder too how long Rick Neuheisel will hang around. Neuheisel was to be the offensive coordinator if Jim Fassel moved on to be a head coach somewhere. Well now that he’s moved on, why isn’t he the coordinator? Why should the circumstances be any different? If Fassel took a different job back in the spring, why would Neuheisel be less qualified now to handle the duties of the O.C.? You have to wonder how long the former head coach of the Washington Huskies will be around these parts.

Instead the playbook will be handled by its author, Brian Billick. But i wonder if the results will be any different. Can a new chef deliver a tastier product using the same ingredients?

Last night while watching the Bears’ comeback against the Cardinals, I couldn’t help but notice how Arizona under Denny Green’s guidance lacks a killer instinct, much like the Ravens lack a killer instinct under Brian Billick. There’s no denying the lineage there…

And by the way, I wonder what’s up with the game of musical chairs being played by Billick, LB Dennis Haley and WR Clarence Moore. If you haven’t heard, Moore is back for more and Haley’s tour on the varsity unit was as fleeting as his namesake’s comet. I don’t get it. Are the Ravens trying to launder players now? Hey if you are going in that direction, maybe they ought to try and pass off Mike Flynn for Steelers’ Center Jeff Hartings.

While we’re on the subject of the Steelers, did you see Troy Polamalu get lassoed by Larry Johnson during his interception return? That hair cost the Steelers’ Safety a touchdown. There was nothing illegal about Johnson’s tackle. Back when Ricky Williams was in the league and sporting his Rasta dreads it was ruled that such lengthy hair is part of the uniform, therefore Johnson’s tackle was legal.

Ever see Polamalu without his helmet on lately?

I wonder why they don't change his name to Troll Polamalu.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

RAVENS TO DEFEAT PANTHERS

Anita Marks asked me while sitting in on her MASN show and after I predicted a Ravens win on Monday Night against Denver if I’ve picked against the Ravens yet this season. The question she was not so subtly asking was really, “Can I letgo of being a fan and objectively predict the game’s outcome?”

The fact of the matter is I did pick the Ravens to lose the opener against Tampa. I was wrong.

I was also wrong on Monday Night when I predicted a 19-13 Ravens win over the Broncos.

But other than that, I have picked the Ravens to win every game.This week is no different.

So why do I think the Ravens will win?

Let’s start with a cursory look at the Panthers.

Carolina has the league’s 23rd best offense and 25th best passing attack. The Ravens are second overall defensively and third best at defending the run and the pass. The Panthers have shown a willingness to maximum protect, holding in 7 blockers with only 3 out in patterns. The thinking is that if given enough time, Steve Smith will find a way to get open regardless of double teaming.

That might be good in theory but the realities of the situation are that the Panthers are a bit nicked up on the offensive line. Jordan Gross has been forced to the left side after anchoring the RT position for 3 seasons. Center Justin Hartwig will try and tough out a groin injury. The Ravens might test his mobility with blitzes up the gut with Bart Scott.The Ravens are also pretty good at bracketing top shelf receivers. Word is that Smith will command the attention of Samari Rolle with top sidehelp from Ed Reed while Chris McAlister marks Keyshawn Johnson. That’s not a bad plan and with little threat at the tight end position, the Panthers won’t be able to keep the Ravens backers honest and Dawan Landry will be able to cheat up in the box to support the run, the strength ofCarolina’s offense.

Unfortunately, that’s also the strength of the Ravens defense.On the other side of the ball, the Ravens offensive struggles are well chronicled and until proven wrong, expect John Fox’ defenders to load up the box. That might put slumping CB Ken Lucas at risk on an island. I’m looking for the Ravens to go at him with some high percentage 3 and 5 step drop passes on first down. Setting up second and 6 or so will keep the ravenous Panther defensive line honest and it will allow the Ravens to open up their play book and get the running game untracked somewhat.

Productivity on first down might also make the Panthers vulnerable to playaction. Linebacker Thomas Davis is a converted safety and has some cover skills but bluffing the run might be all Todd Heap needs to get his 6’5”frame down the seam with the centerfield safety likely looking to support corners Lucas or Chris Gamble.

Here are my keys to the game:
1. Contain Smith…prevent the homerun and protect against double moves
2. Keep Delhomme in the pocket
3. Win first down on offense to help neutralize Julius Peppers and leave the Ravens with options
4. Naturally, protect the football

Do this and the Ravens will emerge victoriously.

I’m calling it Ravens 20, Panthers 16.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

FEELING HOT, HOT, HOT

The Ravens offensive line has been the subject of much criticism this season. Some of it is justified and some of it isn’t. In Denver, I think the offensive line did its job. And had Mike Anderson or Musa Smith been on the field to pick up the yardage that Jamal Lewis left on the field, my Report Card grade would have been a B for the unit instead of a C+.

Which of course begs the question, “Why aren’t those other guys seeing the field more?” A similar question was posed to Brian Billick during his press conference yesterday.

"We have a lot of confidence in all our backs," Billick said. "I'm not going to get caught up in who has how many carries. If a back is having a hot hand and running well, then we'll kind of ride that a little bit. But [Lewis] is running hard and he had some good tough runs."

Look it doesn’t take a Ron Jaworski film session to see that both Anderson and Smith were more effective running the ball in limited action than Lewis during his 15 carries, 6 of which went for 2 yards or less bringing his season total to 43 carries of 2 yards or less measured against 88 total carries but who’s counting?

What exactly constitutes a hot hand?

I guess the answer is some unknown figure less than 2.9 yards per carry because that was Jamal’s average on Monday compared to Anderson’s 6.2 yard average and Smith’s 4.7.

Coach Billick further explained, "Each of them deserves to be 'The Guy' and get a lot of carries. We're just looking for productivity. We got some good backs. I know they all want more. The depth of that position is a positive for us. But it is a balancing act."

Wait, I thought you go with the hot hand coach. Why is there a balancing act?

When you’re hot, you’re hot…and when you’re not……well you know…or do you?

Do you really believe this stuff coach or is this just more of the high wire spinning act?

Coach has changed in some ways for the better and I think it shows.

But in other ways, it’s still the same old Brian Billick.

What do you think Paris?

"He's hot!"

WAITING ON MCNAIR

During Brian Billick’s press conference yesterday which for the most part told us very little, he addressed questions about Steve McNair and described how his starting quarterback is still coming to grips with the Ravens offense.

"I think he's getting more comfortable. It is a work in progress," Billick said. "You'd like for it to come quicker and there's a lot of things going on around him. There are some very good things done. There are some things he would tell you that he scratches his head and says, 'Boy, I can't believe I missed that.' We're still going forward with it."

Well coach I’m scratching my head too and wondering what is taking so long? The cynic would ask, “What’s to learn?” when it comes to the Ravens offense? But I won’t take that route. I’ll simply ask, “Might McNair’s learning curve be a convenient excuse for the offensive inadequacies of your team?”

All three of his interceptions on Monday Night were the result of poor decision making. Whether it’s Pop Warner, in the schoolyard, on the sandlot or in the NFL, you don’t throw the ball in places where McNair threw the ball on Monday. I’m sorry but I just don’t think that has anything to do with understanding the intricacies of an offense.

And while we patiently await for your $11 million bonus baby to get comfortable coach and while we all hide behind the smoke and mirrors of a misleading 4-1 record, I’m wondering why the Ravens 12 year vet, multi-Pro Bowler, former Co-MVP QB is taking so long to find his comfort zone while a certain rookie QB in Arizona adeptly runs a no huddle offense.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

RAVENS GO TO 5-0!

I may be proven wrong. Once I thought I was wrong but I was mistaken….

Anyway, I don’t see how the Ravens lose on Monday Night. Sure the Broncos are rested and they are 13-4 after bye weeks and Mike Shanahan is an offensive guru (sorry Brian) and we will be a visitor on Monday Night and the Broncos are balanced and gee whiz they have fast linebackers and Champ Bailey is being pimped like the second coming of Deion Sanders – the Cowboys version and nearly all national experts are picking the Mr. Eds.

So are the Ravens going to lose?

No worries here folks. I’ve got to words for all those national pundits –“Ain’t happenin’!”

Look, last year the Ravens lost 12-10 in Denver. Ed Reed wasn’t 100%, Ray Lewis was MIA (maybe cheerleading for a high school team), Bart Scott wasn’t as developed, Haloti Ngata wasn’t a Raven, the Ravens had only 1 safety, Trevor Pryce was a Bronco and he’s now in purple and of course,Steve McNair was in Tennessee.

The game was arguably Kyle Boller’s worst as a pro and Jake Plummer actually had a very good game against the Ravens defense (19 of 33 for 236 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT and a QB rating of 90.0).

And they only won by 2?

Brian Billick had a chance with 2 minutes to go for the kill but opted to kick it way instead of going for the onsides kick despite having only 2 timeouts. Hmm, that’s a topic for another day.

What has changed for the Broncos?

Well, there’s no Gary Kubiak and no Ashlee Lelie but there is Javon Walker.

I’m no math major but when I add it all up, I think the Ravens can overcome those 2 points with all the additions minus Kyle Boller’s quarterbacking version of pin the tail on the donkey, Bronco, whatever.

Here’s how I see it. Some teams match up well against others and I just think the Ravens have the Broncos’ number. The Ravens offense while not prolific will move it in the right direction and show some progress. Todd Heap will actually catch a pass in the first half. Mark Clayton will pickup where he left off last year when he had 7 catches, 105 yards and a score against the Broncos, Mike Anderson will get a few touches and possibly a score and the Ravens defense will bend some but not break often.The under/over on how often Joe Theismann will mention Ray Lewis is 19 and by the way, that will be the number of points the good guys score.

Make it 19-13 Ravens!

Thumbs down to MNF!

I don’t know if you are like me, but I’m not too keen on the Ravens playing on Monday Night Football. It throws my whole week out of whack.

Here it is, a beautiful Sunday morning and it doesn’t even feel like Sunday because the Ravens aren’t playing. Normally by now, I’m making my way to the remote to turn in to the potpourri of pregame shows but today,it doesn’t feel the same and I’m not racing to the tube.

And by the way, Tuesday Morning Quarterback just doesn’t have the same ring to it as the Monday Morning Quarterback. We want to talk about the Ravens game on Monday and then build on it throughout the week as we approach the next game. By the time we reach the Denver game tomorrow night, we’ll have been talking about wild horses for 8 days.

Eight days a week, is way too much to show I care.

Give me my seven days.Hey, we’ll only be talking Panthers for 6. So really, we’re knocked out of whack for 2 weeks So for all of you who don’t think the Ravens get their fair share of national props and all of you who feel slighted if the Ravens aren’t on Monday Night Football, get over it.

And if the Ravens season goes the way we hope that it will, there will be more night games when the league goes to their flex scheduling (Week 10).

Oh the horror.

Sundays are for football and football is life and Monday Night Football messes mine up!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

R.I.P. T.O.

Before the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens I was a diehard 49ers fan. It happened not long after the Colts move and I relished the annual battles with the Dallas Cowboys. It helped to ease the pain of not having a team of my own.

During those 13 or so years, I would venture up to Philly and down to DC to see the Niners on occasion. I may have seen them 5 times and they won every time.

The DC games were a bit more fun. I could cheer for the Niners and talk smack with the Redskins fans and most didn't seem to mind. Philly on the other hand was a different story.

My buddy who would score the duckets for the Philly games warned me, "Leave your Niners swag at home." Initially I laughed it off but he sternly stated, "I'm serious. These fans are nuts!"

And so I left it home.

I remember a Monday Night game when Steve Young lit up the Eagles. It was a complete thrashing but the Eagles fans hung in there. They took to agitating the Niners fans who weren't the recipient of my buddy's sound advice. They would bait them into fights and when the Niner fans could take no more and retaliated, the Eagles faithful joined in on a resounding chorus of "YOU-YOU-YOU-YOU-YOU!"

Sure enough, security would come along and escort the Niner fans out.

A well orchestrated sting!

Terrell Owens' return to Philly made me think of this story and I think he's about to get stung.

Here's a city that threw snowballs at Santa Claus.

I would not want to be Terrell Owens this week.

Not only did he diss Philly, destroy the Eagles 2005 season and throw the exulted Donovan McNabb under the bus, he became a member of the team Philly fans despise the most -- the Dallas Cowboys.

Around here, it's not too uncommon to see a t-shirt that says, "Pittsburgh Sucks!" In Philly Eagles fans proudly where t-shirts that say, "F--- Dallas!" with the blanks appropriately filled in.

Remember when Michael Irvin's body was motionless upon The Vet's rock hard surface? The Eagles fans roared with approval. A football game is a war for Philly fans. There's the Eagles and there's the enemy.And at the moment, there is no bigger enemy to these raucous fans than Terrell Owens.

It's great theatre for sure and I for one am happy that the Ravens aren't playing opposite the Eagles v. Cowboys this week. If Santa got snowballs, I shutter to think what the Philly faithful will do to T.O. especially in a Dallas uniform. Surely Owens' head will be on a swivel and whether it's due to him lacking the stones to fight it for four quarters or if it's due to a headhunting, crowd pleasing Brian Dawkins hit, I think the odds of T.O. playing the entire game are pretty low.

Somehow, that hand will start hurting.

Hide the pain killers!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

HAYNESWORTH & HENRY DESERVE LENGTHY TIME OUTS

I’m sure that by now you’ve all seen or at least heard of the classless, despicable and cowardly act of Albert Haynesworth – a head stomp on a defenseless and helmet-less Cowboys offensive lineman Andre Gurode who was lying on the ground on his side.

After the game, Haynesworth was remorseful and expressed regret as to how he disgraced the Titans, the NFL and his family.

While listening to Haynesworth, I have to admit that I felt a little compassion. His remorse sucked me in. His body language and facial expressions suggested a man filled to the brim with regret. The shame of it all – I felt for this guy who happens also to be a pretty good ball player. What a contrast from the lunatic that screamed obscenities at Coach Jeff Fisher only hours before.

Later I heard that Haynesworth has a history past transgressions including road rage and showing up after practice with a pipe to take on one of his teammates at the University of Tennessee. My compassion was fleeting and dissipated. This guy is a time bomb and the NFL did the right thing – hit him in his wallet for 5 game checks. So the next time Haynesworth considers something so cowardly, maybe he’ll think about his children that he feels so badly for because they bear the Haynesworth namesake. Maybe he’ll even think about Gurode’s family who “escaped” with 30 stitches.

But I doubt it. Guys like Haynesworth need help. They need psychological counseling. Maybe he even needs to be medicated! What if the next time he’s even more infuriated and really unleashes the fury of a 320 pound cannon ball knee to someone’s head?

Haynesworth claims he’s not a dirty player and maybe he’s not. But does his penalty equate to the violation? It might but the NFL shouldn’t stop there. They should force him into counseling or force him out of the league. It’s as simple as that.

And then they shouldn’t stop there. The league should turn their collective attention towards Cincinnati and Chris Henry, another time bomb ready to go off. What if he gets behind the wheel again for a little joy ride with some more under aged girls? What if one of those girls was your daughter or worse, suppose his impaired driving kills one of them or an innocent bystander on a street corner?

Do it now Mr. Roger Goodell and your cronies before it’s too late. Chris Henry at best deserves a severe punishment and at worst, he should lose the privilege of playing in the National Football League.

TIME TO TAKE THE BALL FROM JAMAL

When Jamal Lewis was pitter-pattering back in 2003 no one seemed to mind. Two thousand sixty-six yards has a way of making folks overlook the backfield shuffle when the productivity is there. Since that season, Lewis has a total of 2,180 yards in 31 starts. Suddenly the pitter-pattering is a problem.

The truth be told, the pitter-pattering is Lewis way of keeping his legs churning while he reads the blocks in front of him in order to determine where he can maximize the results of the play. Some backs wait or slide – Jamal does the Curly shuffle.

That is not the problem!

The problem is the burst that follows his read – a burst that just doesn’t seem to be what it once was.

It isn’t uncommon for backs to suddenly hit the wall. And yes Lewis has had his fair share of injuries and off the field issues. But maybe that’s part of the wall. He’s a one dimensional back with a ton of wear and tear who now lacks confidence in the passing game and the team is extremely hesitant to throw the rock to him. And maybe that affects his mojo during the game.

That and the 8 and 9 in the box that the Ravens offensive masterminds still can’t seem to loosen. You’d think they were trying to split an atom!

This is nothing new. Defensive coordinators may as well take the week off when they play the Ravens. Jamal is in the game, run. Snap count is on one. Now it’s second and nine. Kill McNair.

Isn’t it time to give other teams more to think about? Isn’t it time to give Musa Smith and Mike Anderson more snaps? All of this spin doctoring from Brian Billick about the number of snaps available for Smith and Anderson are limited is just that – spin! The reason there aren’t more running plays is due to the Ravens’ inability to get it done on first down. They leave themselves with second and long far too often.

This past Sunday, they managed 25 total yards on their first 16 first down plays. You don’t need a calculator to figure out that that stinks!

Give Smith and/or Anderson the ball. Let’s see what they’ve got.

Can the running game be much worse?

Cup of Joe anyone? The New Monday Night Football

Something tells me that I’m in the minority here, but I actually enjoyed the old Sunday Night Football broadcasting crew of Mike Patrick, Paul McGuire and Joe Theismann. Initially, I didn’t like them and that feeling was driven by my underlying contempt for Theismann. After all, he was a Redskin and his games were shoved down our throats on Sundays here in The Land of Pleasant Living.

But when I got over the silly bias and the fact that I’m a native Baltimorean and it is my inalienable birthright to detest things about DC (after all, I genetically inherited a B’more inferiority complex, you know?), I grew to like Theismann. And I wished that the Sunday Night crew would do the Monday Night games that we now watch on ESPN.

Oh well….

Anyway, my feelings towards Theismann were aided by an event that I was part of back in 1995. Then I worked for a subsidiary of Bell Atlantic and Theismann was our guest speaker at a sales conference held in Panama City, Florida during Spring Break. How’s that for a conference location?

Anyway, after a night out of “team building” until the wee hours of the morning, Theismann was scheduled to address our group of approximately 150 strong the first thing the next morning….or should I say, uh, in a couple of hours.

A grabbed a cup of Joe (pun intended) and made my bleary-eyed way down to one of the ballrooms for Theismann’s presentation. I was ready. I was going to ask him about changing the pronunciation of his name to match that of the Heisman Trophy. What a blabbering phony he was.

During the first 5 minutes of his speech, I listened as Theismann humbled himself before all of us. He talked about teamwork and about recognizing individual strengths and weaknesses and pulling together as one. You know the old “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” theory.

“Maybe he’s not so bad”, I thought.

And then he did it. Before our entire gathering in so many words he admitted how egotistical it was of him to change the pronunciation of his name. And then I thought, “I actually like this guy.”

After his speech was over, I had a chance to talk to Joe (notice he’s Joe now) and he actually seemed to listen. We talked about Bert Jones and that Monday Night game in Baltimore when Jones’ arm was practically hanging yet he managed to make some miraculous throws to help the Colts win.

I then did the previously unthinkable – I had a picture taken with Joe with our arms around each other.

Maybe I was out too late the night before…

Anyway, all that aside, I was thinking last night while watching the Eagles move up and down the field on the Packers and wishing that Steve McNair could throw the ball like Donovan McNabb, that Theismann (notice we aren’t as chummy anymore) is actually the weak link in the trio of he, Mike Tirico and Tony Kornheiser. I think he’s trying too hard to be as good as the 90’s John Madden and now Troy Aikman.

He’s not.

You know I never used to like Troy Aikman either, because he was a Cowboy and I liked the Niners.

Wonder if Aikman does any public speaking?