Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ravens Coddle Veterans

Think back to high school for a moment and remember your senior year. You probably had some cupcake electives to choose from to set up your course curriculum for your high school swan song. You wanted to cruise through that year. After all you were one of the top dogs in school and you had waited three years for the opportunity to lollygag.

Sound familiar?

Well the NFL’s version of that cupcake course curriculum is the Baltimore Ravens. Veterans love to play for Brian Billick. They love the facilities and they love the way that Billick and the organization coddles them. It’s like a convalescent home that helps extend careers.

Trevor Pryce knows it. By his own admission he has said that the Ravens way will help prolong his career enabling him to make millions and millions more. Had he stayed in Denver, he’s said that he might be retired by now.

Yet it makes you wonder about the mindset of the team. Do the Ravens foster fat-cat thinking? Does it help explain why Brian Billick led teams are so up and down?

At halftime during the Ravens v. Bengals game, the featured entertainment was the high school quarterback challenge. Does anyone here think that Steve McNair could actually win that challenge if he competed?

Despite the woefulness of the Ravens offense, Willis McGahee has been a glimmer of hope and clearly the silver lining in Baltimore’s points challenged offense. It’s no small coincidence that when McGahee carries the ball more than 20 times the Ravens are undefeated. They’ve lost each time he fails to hit the 20 carry mark. I get that they want to preserve him and not beat him into the ground like they did with Jamal Lewis, but could someone please explain why McGahee comes out on third down? He’s their best offensive player right? Why take him off the field?

Hey Brian, if you want to preserve him, take him out every now and then on first down and let Musa Smith or Mike Anderson carry the rock. Taking McGahee out on third down is like the Red Sox pinch hitting for Big Pappy when a runner is in scoring position.

A lot of folks have clamored for the Ravens to turn over play calling duties to offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel. Isn’t it time that Brian Billick hands over that play chart that he totes around like a pizza box? Maybe Billick can deliver that delectable prize to the Pizza John’s fan of the game this Sunday. Really though, could it get any worse than 7 points against the Bengals? Try something! Anything! You need to figure out a way to score points no matter how unconventional it may be.

That said, one has to wonder how much confidence Billick has in Neuheisel.

"If the first inkling that I get that there's a better way to go about [play calling], I'll make that change in a New York second. I'm going to put this team in the very best position I can as the head coach each and every Sunday as we go forward."

So, if the Ravens have only scored 28 points in total over the past three games and a Neuheisel guided offense can’t do better than that, why is he an offensive coordinator?

Perhaps the Ravens offensive ineptitude is really all on the play of the quarterback. Dating back to the regular season finale against the Bills in ’06 (8 games), Steve McNair’s average quarterback rating is 69.3 including 7 interceptions and only 2 touchdown passes. His eight lost fumbles in those eight games don’t even factor into the horrific QB rating. Not exactly a great return on an $11 million signing bonus.

The guess here is that the Ravens will cut ties with McNair after this season and spread his cap hit over the succeeding two seasons. The Ravens offense led by Anthony Wright in 2003 was more productive than the offense with McNair under center and that offense include “juggernauts” like Travis Taylor, Marcus Robinson and Frank Sanders.

McNair certainly looks beaten physically and mentally. He flat out looks old although there’s no truth to the rumor that he will be the 2008 spokesperson for AARP. More disturbing perhaps than McNair’s molasses like movements is the fact that he’s mentally down-trodden.

“I don't know what the coaches are going to decide [about his playing status]. If they decide to go with Kyle, fine. I'll probably agree with them."

Not exactly the mojo you want your franchise QB to be sporting now is it?

Clearly McNair gift wrapped an excuse for the Ravens to bench him with that statement. So why the suspicious shoulder subluxation injury? Although I must admit that a subluxation sounds kind of serious. Sort of like Michael J. Fox losing that flux capacitor for his DeLorean.

With each week that goes by, Terrell Suggs is one step closer to becoming a free agent. Yet this season hasn’t been a ringing endorsement for Suggs’ potential at the negotiating table. The Ravens were wise to not rush to Suggs’ agent and serve up Dwight Freeney money to the 25 year-old two-time Pro Bowler. As of now Suggs ranks 51st in sacks in the NFL and while he is certainly a vital cog in the Ravens’ defense, clearly a Freeney type deal that includes $30 million in guarantees could hardly be described as fiscally responsible if you are the Ravens.

It is often pointed out that Trevor Pryce’s absence has hurt Suggs and that is a notion that is barely debatable. Pryce clearly helps Suggs’ productivity. But do the Ravens want to pay a player as the best at his craft when that player requires a strong wingman to be at his best? The bet here is that the Ravens pull out the dreaded franchise tag on Suggs in ’08.


John in Westminster said...

I think there's a rather large grey area when it comes to how hard teams should practice in training camp and throughout the season. Parcells made an interesting comment early in the season after the Cardinals win that the Ravens looked tired in 4th quarter which is why teams were coming back on us. However, taking it easy on players can pay off later in the season as they are fresher.

In contrast, Marty Schottenheimer (sp?) was notorious for very physical practices in training camp and throughout the season and that wear and tear could be a reason for his lack of success in the playoffs. I do wonder if the easier Billick training camp could be the reason for more injuries in season because players bodies aren't truly in game shape.

Anonymous said...

As far as Suggs and the "dreaded franchise tag" goes -- without trying to minimize the impact of laying the tag on any premiere player -- OH WELL. When the Ravens want to play the "it's just business" card, everyone's supposed to accept that. But then when they want to play the "we want to be seen as nice guys and don't want to lay the tag because it ticks players off", we're supposed to accept that too. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of all the Ravens BS. Make a reasonable offer to Suggs; if he accepts it, fine. If not, lay the tag and be done with it. End of angst.

Harryos29 said...

Harry o 29 Nov 17th
First, Great Blog by Tony. You said all of the things that my buddies and I email each other about all week. My main issue is BILLICK. He has grown Stale. The Bill Walsh book that has been talked about so much lately over the radio, where he wrote "the msg from the same manager becomes stale after 10 years. Well...isn't Billick getting close to year 10??
And Billicks statement, that "if I see a better way to go about this offense, I'd change to that way in a New York Second" ..First, he wouldn't know a good Offensive plan if it landed down from the SKY out at one-winning-drive in owings mills.
If I'm the Owner, I review the rest of the games this year. If the offense does not score more TD's, then Billick must go. He clearly (I hate to use one of his terms) took all of the responsibility for play calling when he dumped Jim Fassel last year. WHO ELSE could be responsible for this horrendous play calling??? He also pulls MAGAHEE out on 3rd downs. What????? He is the best pass catching RB in the league. Why did they pay him $40 Million Dollars? I think it was Tom Matte who said this week... "I'd run Willis like a Rented MULE".. and old comment that speaks for itself.
As for the cupcake practices, I am not smart enough when it comes to football to say whether Schottenheimer is correct or Billick is correct. Frankly, I don't care which method is used, JUST WIN BABY!