Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ravens: From first to worst and wishes for 2008

From first to worst…not even the biggest Ravens’ detractors could have predicted the steep downward spiral of the 2007 Baltimore Ravens. A team that many believed had very few holes back in August now looks like a squad that has too many holes to fill in a single off season.

Yet no one can deny that injuries played a major role in the Ravens’ ’07 woes. If key players such as Trevor Pryce, Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle and Todd Heap return from injuries in ’08 and compete the way they have in the past, health alone could solve several problems. That said the Ravens need to be careful and not assume that all of the former Pro Bowlers who ended up on Injured Reserve aren’t nicked up again in ’08.

Speaking of those Pro Bowlers, the Ravens PR Department is notorious for promoting the number of Pro Bowl appearances by their players and they favorably compare that to rosters around the league as if it really mattered. It doesn’t! No one asked me but adding Pro Bowl to a player’s resume means that it will cost more to keep them and that eats heavily into available cap space.

The downside to keeping a roster filled with players having star power is that it thins out the roster. The depth isn’t as talented and if and when those Pro Bowl players fall to injury, the depth is exposed and that is in large part what triggered the Ravens misfortunes in ’07.

Yet injuries alone aren’t the sole culprit for the Ravens miserable performance in 2007. They were sloppy and they lacked discipline. That was apparent during the preseason and the poor execution continued right on through the regular season. Yet the Ravens hold on to the injury excuse as a crutch, a cop-out and the justification for inaction as it relates to Brian Billick’s job stability.

Billick isn’t THE problem, he’s just one of many problems with the Ravens that need to be addressed. With that in mind, here are a few wishes for the Ravens as they kick off their premature offseason and begin making reparations for the start of the 2008 season.

To Steve Bisciotti: A big slice of humble pie, the stones to write off the $15 million still due Brian Billick and Cowboys’ Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett.

To Brian Billick: A comfortable chair alongside JB, Boomer, Marino and Sharpe.

To Terrell Suggs: A healthy Trevor Pryce and the realization that you are NOT a difference maker and that you shouldn’t be paid as one.

To Kyle Boller: A road victory

To Willis McGahee: A chance to stay on the field on third down.

To Troy Smith: Cleats with lifts and a chance to prove yourself behind an offensive line not doing its best impersonation of a New Orleans levee.

Rick Neuheisel: A victory over USC.

Ravens future offensive coordinator: No ball and no chain.

Marshall Yanda: Stamina

Ravens fans: October road game v. Miami and a South Beach dinner consisting of grilled dolphin and blackened tuna.

Rex Ryan: A stud defensive end and another chance.

Bart Scott: An extension and a flashback to 2006.

Jonathan Ogden: September tee time in Vegas. THANK YOU!

Mike Anderson: An answer.

Sam Koch: Improvement inside the 20.

Matt Katula: A rediscovery of your "swing."

Derrick Mason: A third down pass beyond the first down marker.

Steve McNair: Early eligibility for an AARP card.

Ray Lewis: Some healthy dogs in the house and a restructured contract.

Antwan Barnes: More PT

Yamon Figurs: Confidence

Dan Cody: 2 healthy knees for 1 full season

Eric DeCosta: A solid quarterback falling into Round 2.

Ozzie Newsome: Caffeine, it's time to wake up. The 2007 draft is over.

And to all a happy, safe and prosperous 2008. Happy New Year!!!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Suggs' value drops...shots at the Ravens and around the NFL

Terrell Suggs is now one day removed from unofficially becoming a free agent. Ravens’ players and coaches will tell you that Suggs has become a much more well-rounded player over the past two seasons having improved in both run support and in zone pass coverage. The trouble for Suggs is that such improvement and versatility may be more valuable to the Ravens morphing defensive style than other clubs that might be interested in his services. The Ravens would be outright foolish to pay him as an elite defensive end/linebacker after the ’07 season.

Another factor working against Suggs is his apparent need for a wingman to be effective. Suggs was once viewed as a premier pass rusher but this year through 15 games he has only 5 sacks and has forced only 1 fumble, hardly the type of numbers that would inspire any team to ante up Dwight Freeney-like dollars. With Trevor Pryce down for most of ’07 due to injuries, Suggs hasn’t been a difference maker and he is undeserving of difference maker money.

Fans have a lot to get off their chests these days when it comes to the Ravens and this fan is no different. Those who view these pages regularly know that I’ve been beating the “Fire Brian Billick” drum for quite a while. It took me some time to reach this point and now that I have, I’m convinced that Billick needs to go.

I like Brian Billick. The players like playing for him but they like it for the wrong reasons and the culture that he’s carefully crafted during his tenure in Baltimore needs to be changed. There’s too much of a pecking order and there is a severe lack of accountability. Despite the wretched results on the field, Ravens press releases and Billick’s press conferences are all too predictable with him constantly shelling out hall passes to his players even after inept performances.

His approach is exactly the opposite of Bill Belichick’s who regularly criticizes his team even after dominating performances. I’ll let you be the judge of which approach inspires a team to reach down for a little more and find ways to improve.

Todd Heap is clearly one of the elite tight ends in the league – when he’s on the field. Many question Heap’s toughness and his ability to play with pain. Injuries that generally might sideline players for a game or two seem to put Heap on the shelf for several games. That said it’s difficult to question a player’s toughness unless you walk in their shoes and absorb the kind of punishment that Heap has during his career. Years of passes thrown behind him have left Heap looking like the proverbial sitting duck to oncoming linebackers and defensive backs that regularly get clean blind side shots on Heap. Ask yourself this: Have you ever seen a tight end of Heap’s size sent head over heals so frequently by small DB’s like the Ravens No. 1 tight end?

These hits take their toll. They have a cumulative effect and you really have to wonder if the Ravens will get their money’s worth from Heap who signed a seven year extension in ’05 that averages $4.3 million per year and included an $11 million signing bonus. At the time the deal was signed, it placed Heap among the top 15 receiver contracts in NFL history and it was the richest tight end deal in league history. There is no Ravens offensive player deserving of such generosity – NONE! At least not with Brian Billick’s fingers on the offensive control buttons. For some reason, I just had a picture of Wile E. Coyote at the control switch pop into my mind…

How about Terrell Suggs taking a shot at fans who sell their tickets? While I personally would eat the tickets rather than sell to Steelers’ fans, if some of Suggs’ teammates hadn’t sold out against the Colts, maybe the fair-weathered opportunists would be more supportive. Some diehard Ravens fans might have a problem with their fair-weathered brethren but what other voice does any fan have with their team to protest their performance? Staying away, as blasphemous as it may seem to some, sends a message. Will it be heard? Seems to me that Wayne Heuzinga heard a similar message in Miami and responded. Whether you agree with the hiring of Bill Parcells or not, at least the Dolphins organization is admitting the error of their ways and they are trying to correct the problem. Here in Baltimore it seems as though the Ravens prefer to stick their collective head in the sand and hope to one day peak out to find that the proverbial coast is clear. It won’t be.

Other meandering Ravens’ and NFL thoughts…Does anyone think that Rex Ryan will get a sniff from any teams looking for a new head coach after the ’07 season? Personally I think Rex would be a very good head coach -- just not in Baltimore...Is there any other offensive coordinator in the NFL that would take his best player off the field on third down other than Brian Billick? I guess we’ll see the “sure-handed” Corey Ross on third down v. Pittsburgh…Since 1998 the Ravens have drafted the following players in the second round: Chris Chester; Dan Cody; Adam Terry; Dwan Edwards; Anthony Weaver; Gary Baxter and Patrick Johnson. I think they are due to hit on an impact player in Round 2…Don’t you PSL owners and season ticket holders feel fortunate? The Ravens have announced that they will not increase ticket prices in 2008. Is that supposed to excite us? I guess when you compare it to the Orioles who have the stones to increase prices the Ravens want to come off like knights in shining armor. They don’t. The announcement is the equivalent of Sony holding firm on pricing for a Playstation 2…

I’d like to see the Patriots lose in the playoffs but if they are successful and they do reach the unprecedented pinnacle of a 19-0 season, at least we won’t have to hear the blabbering idiocy of Mercury Morris any more…And speaking of idiocy, what about that Goof on the Roof? Perhaps they need to put up another goof on that Canton Station roof only this time, the new goof could raise money to help the poor woman who is short about 40 grand in child support.

And finally, parity has been the goal of the NFL and it was the vision embraced by the late Pete Rozelle. I don’t think 2007 is what the league or the former commissioner had in mind. The league has two premier teams, a couple of decent teams and a collection of really bad teams that make the decent ones appear better than they really are. (Can you say Steelers, Jaguars, Cowboys, Chargers, Packers and Seahawks?) It was obviously a very disappointing year for the Ravens and if not for the Patriots flirting with history, it would be the same for Goodell & Co.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dear Steve...another letter to Steve Bisciotti

Dear Steve,

We once met socially prior to you becoming the 99% owner of the Baltimore Ravens and then again this past November when I sat in on the Ravens Rap with John Gehrig and Bruce Laird at The Greene Turtle in Ocean City. I was impressed with your candor and how unpretentious you were given a man of your success and stature. I’m sure you are guarded on occasion – most men of wealth are. It must be difficult at times to gauge the sincerity of a stranger’s intentions when you interact. Many I’m sure look to profit.

You’ve certainly profited in your life driven by a vision coupled with an amazing work ethic. You now sit among the elite in terms of wealth. Not many can look in the mirror at a billionaire.

Self-made billionaires aren’t very common. Generally speaking, such people are overachievers. Sometimes for overachievers achieving the goal is actually less riveting than the pursuit – so I am told.

It is my understanding that the company we all know today as the Allegis Group had its origins in your basement. You were driven so much that I’m told you would put a suit on just to go into your basement to work – an obvious attempt to simulate a professional work environment. In some ways, it was like a football player putting on the pads and buckling up the chin strap.

Obviously it worked!

Once, while reading John Feinstein’s book Next Man Up, I was moved by your recollections of your childhood, your fond memories of your Dad despite losing him at the very young age of 8. Somehow, your Dad already knew you well. He knew that the letter he left behind to you and your siblings would make an impact and hit its intended mark. I’m sure you have it memorized but for the benefit of others your Dad wrote:

“I know how good you all are. I truthfully never met children I was ever more impressed with than you. Of course I’m terribly prejudiced and filled with love for you. As a selfish man, I hope you will remember me with love and I hope that in some way I have been important in helping form your character and outlook on life. The love and affection you have given me is beyond my ability to describe, but somehow I’m sure you’ll find out what I mean.”

Somewhere your Dad Bernie is smiling. You’ve likely accomplished more than even he could have imagined in his wildest of dreams. You are the quintessential overachiever.

How ironic is it that after reaching the pinnacle of your profession, that you now own a NFL franchise that is characterized as underachieving? Given the character your Dad described and that which you’ve developed, that can’t sit well with you. You are handsomely paying several players with Pro Bowl on their resumes. Your payroll is near the top of the league yet your team sits at the bottom of the AFC North – a team that just lost to the winless Miami Dolphins. That has to be gnawing at the fabric of your soul.

What will you do? Can you change the mindset of underachievers? Can that be accomplished with Brian Billick on the sidelines? Does his message reach his players? Can he inspire them any longer? Is the team hiding behind its injuries as a shield against the sharp blade of failure? Which is the aberration, the 2005 and 2007 seasons or 2006?

You have invested heavily in Brian Billick and the returns since you anted up are miserable. Have you experienced that before? What did you do then? Did you cut your losses or were you patient? Did the patience pay off?

Being a native of the area, you should know what makes a Baltimorean tick. We love an underdog because we can relate to them. We are all underdogs with a collective inferiority complex brought about by Philadelphia to the north, DC to the south and the Colts to Indianapolis. We don’t take kindly to the fat cats, the Peter Angelos types of the world. We’re all about the Michael McCrarys, the Artie Donovans, the Tony Siragusas, the Kelly Greggs and the Steve Bisciottis.

We gravitate to people and athletes that seem real to us.

What is happening to our football team is unreal.

Our expectations and probably yours haven’t been met. There was never a question as to whether the Ravens would make the playoffs in ‘07. The question was how far could they advance into the playoffs? Along with your staff, you seemingly made the necessary adjustments to correct the woes of 2005. Yet the woes have returned, screaming into our collective face – nose to nose.

Fans feel slighted. After swallowing some hefty ticket price increases they are now wondering what your return policy is.

Next Sunday the Ravens will play their final game of the season, hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. Do you know how humiliating it will be after the agony and torture of this season, to sit there while 20,000 Steelers’ fans wave their Terrible Towels? The humiliation will be worse than any Orioles game at Camden Yards invaded by Yankees’ or Red Sox’ fans because with the Orioles, we expect it.


Because we expect better from our Baltimore Ravens.

Let’s be real Steve, the Ravens are hanging by a thread. The fans know it, the media knows it, Ozzie knows it, Brian knows it, Ray knows and so do you. We’re all wondering how it happened – how such a talented collection of athletes with so much promise on paper could never deliver on the field of play. We scratch our heads wondering how a hapless team like the Dolphins led by a quarterback who ended up on the Ravens’ scrap heap could put up Marino-like numbers against our once proud defense. How could a team with such impressive resumes suffer a meltdown against the Colts here at home, terribly embarrassed by the franchise that once ripped out our hearts?

This can’t be what you bargained for – such an undisciplined team, is it? That’s not how you are built. Overachievers are abundantly disciplined.

So where do we go from here? Do you stick your head in the sand and hope that Billick has another magic wand stuck in his thesaurus? I understand the value of patience. I understand that sometimes investments take time. I also understand the concept of compounding a mistake and God knows I hope I’m wrong, but sticking with Brian Billick is doing exactly that.

Today we are in the midst of the Holiday Season – for many the most wonderful time of the year. It is the Season for giving and it is also the time to reflect upon the year that has past and the one that awaits. I hope that Brian Billick returns and does his part to restore a winning atmosphere. I also hope to be a billionaire like you but I accept that that will never happen just as you should accept that winning consistently will never again happen with Brian Billick leading the charge for the Ravens.

This isn’t 2000 anymore. This isn’t even 2002 or 2006 anymore. This is almost 2008 and if you roll the dice with Billick and that gamble fails, your suffering will be greater than the mistake you made when you awarded Billick last year with a four year extension. If you made a bad investment would you put more money into it? Of course not! So why do it now?

The best franchise in the league places the team over the individual. They foster an atmosphere that prioritizes the greatest good for the greatest number. As a whole they are stronger than the sum of their parts. As a team, the New England Patriots have achieved what a collection of under achieving fat cats can’t because the fat cats think it’s just a business and they ask, “What’s in it for me?”

When Adalius Thomas left for New England, he recognized the cultural differences of the two teams immediately – so much so that the normally politically correct AD couldn’t refrain from spouting off about the team-first mentality of the Patriots versus the me-first mentality of the Ravens.

That’s what you need to strive for and you know that. Perhaps you’ve grown too close to the players and the team and as a fan of the game and as a man who has come to know the players arguably too well, it has dulled your senses; it has challenged your objectivity and your decisions are now questionable.

In your businesses, accountability is crucial. It is also crucial in the NFL. The Ravens are not accountable for their errors. Billick fosters that culture. He enables it and as much as he talks about accountability he doesn’t practice it. Even you Steve don’t seem to be enforcing it with your head coach or your GM who remains suspiciously on the side lines through all of the turbulence brought on by this tumultuous season.

It’s time to wipe the slate clean. It’s time to stop blaming injuries for your miserable season. Injuries are a way of life in the NFL and it’s a measure of a successful organization in how they deal with injuries and other forms of adversity that separate them.

The injuries aren’t going away particularly when you consider that the age of the key players (McNair, Heap, McAlister, Pryce, Rolle, Ogden) who suffered or are suffering through those costly injuries.

In your other businesses, you’ve managed them in a way that focuses on increasing shareholder value and customer satisfaction. Keeping Brian Billick will do neither for the Baltimore Ravens.

I know it’s the season for giving so instead of embracing the thought that it isn’t festive to give Brian his walking papers, look at it as a way of giving your customers, the fans of Baltimore some hope. Brian will be fine. He’ll go on to TV for a year and another team will pick him up – a team that won’t consider his message so stale. You know, like the team you now own!

The time has come Steve…

As I write, I’m reminded again of Al Pacino’s speech in Any Given Sunday. Here’s an excerpt from it:

“You gotta look at the guy next to you. Look into his eyes. Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You are going to see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows when it comes down to it, you are gonna do the same thing for him.That's a team, gentlemen and either we heal now, as a team or we will die as individuals. That's football guys. That's all it is.

Now, whattaya gonna do?”

We’re waiting Steve…

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,

Tony Lombardi

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is Bisciotti part of the solution or problem?

For the longest time I was a big supporter of Brian Billick. In 2002 he skillfully led the Ravens and kept a salary cap ravaged team competing throughout the season, hanging on to playoff hopes through 15 games.

In 2006 he responded to Steve Bisciotti’s woodshed beating from 2005 and guided his club to a 13-3 regular season.

And of course his defining season – 2000. Then he was masterful in the way he handled the touchdown drought, successfully keeping his team together. And who could forget the proverbial bullet he took for Ray Lewis when the national media did its best to dredge up the murder trial that took place less than one year earlier?

But today’s Brian Billick has outworn his usefulness. His message is lost on his players and nowadays they openly disrespect his decision making while on the field and along the sidelines.

Veteran players will tell you how great it is to play for Billick yet what would you expect them to say? During the twilight of their careers, why would players like Trevor Pryce and Gary Stills and Mike Flynn say anything but positive things about a man who helps sustain their careers and place millions more in their pockets?

That is not the way you want your football team managed Baltimore. The situation is toeing the line of the fat cat style embraced by Orioles’ management in the late ‘90’s and it is a recipe for mediocrity if not disaster.

Billick’s decision making is too influenced by fear. He’s afraid to reprimand the veterans or call them out publicly. He’s afraid to challenge the team’s veteran leadership, continually massaging their egos with expressions like, “he played very, very well” when we all know “he” didn’t. Or Billick will mention his high degree of comfort with the team’s collective character yet they throw in the towel against the Colts.

And then there’s the fearful play calling, time management and decision making that unfortunately has become a staple of Brian Billick’s.

Steve Bisciotti has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want to manage the team through short cycles of windows of opportunity opening and closing. He prefers instead to keep that window permanently wedged open but under Billick’s guiding hand, one has to wonder if that window might remain permanently shut.

Off the record players are suggesting that they aren’t buying into Billick’s message any more and the doubters appear to be growing. So what will happen if 2008 gets off to a slow start? What will happen if Kyle Boller is Billick’s man under center again?

The NFL has changed since Super Bowl XXXV. It is a league far more offensively oriented. The Billick formula doesn’t work any more and unless he can think outside of his own heavily armored box or stretch the parameters or pacing or metrics of his deeply entrenched management style, at worst he will continue to fail in Baltimore and at best the team will experience the up and down seasons like they have since 2004.

There’s little evidence suggesting that Billick will change and that is something that Bisciotti is obviously banking on again.

The Ravens’ owner has a chance to be part of the team’s solution by admitting Billick’s four year extension was a mistake. Instead Bisciotti is closer to becoming part of the problem. Billick has shown his stubbornness far too often over the years, particularly in 2007. Is that stubbornness contagious? It’s beginning to look a lot like Bisciotti is pulling an Angelos and wants to prove the world wrong by sticking with Billick and hoping that his coach can turn it around.

But that is a dangerous proposition.

What if he doesn’t turn it around?

There will be fewer fans attending. Fewer concessions sold; fewer corporate sponsors and advertisers; fewer t-shirts and hoodies and hats sold as a result of waning interest and the lack of national exposure. Once again M&T will be invaded by Steelers’ fans as Ravens PSL owners look to salvage something in the way of personal gain as tickets will surely flood Ebay. M&T will then become the equivalent of Camden Yards during an O’s v. Yankees or O’s v. Red Sox.

Is all this worth sacrificing just because there’s 15 million more out there due to Billick over the next three years? Isn’t it time for Bisciotti to cut his losses?

To borrow from Billick, clearly that would be the prudent thing to do – unless of course Bisciotti knows something about Brian Billick that the rest of us don’t know.

Let’s all hope so.

Ravens outdone by their fans in Miami

Can we consider the loss to the previously winless Miami Dolphins to be the low point in the history of the Baltimore Ravens? It’s really hard to think of another more embarrassing moment.

Sure there were those woeful games during the Marchibroda era but then the expectation level for the team was nowhere near what is was at the start of the ’07 campaign. Expectation clearly is a measuring stick for disappointment and after a 13-3 season in ’06, few if any ever expected the Ravens to be visiting South Florida this past weekend sporting a 4-9 record. Consequently the disappointment has reached unprecedented levels.

And that is the story of the 2007 season for the Ravens – a season during which anything that could have gone wrong almost did.

The loss to the Dolphins is hopefully rock bottom and in a way that may be just what the doctor ordered. Perhaps the entire organization needs to stare into the abyss and each individual member needs to determine what can be done to fix a team that suddenly has an alarming number of holes.

Ravens fans in Miami didn’t seem all that upset by the loss. Perhaps they’ve grown accustomed to losing. If you think about it the team is fortunate (or unfortunate depending upon your perspective) to be 4-10. Take away a dropped pass here and there and the Ravens could easily be sitting at 2-12 right now.

The Buffalo Bills who probably thought they would be receiving a low third round draft pick in the Willis McGahee trade are undoubtedly having a private chuckle over the Ravens’ misfortunes. Who could blame them?

Yet McGahee is one of the few bright spots for the Ravens this season. Given an offense that brings about as much firepower as a Red Ryder BB Gun and the high level of transition on the Ravens’ offensive front, McGahee’s accomplishments are just short of a modern day miracle. When we look back upon this season when it is thankfully over, McGahee will be considered one of the few Ravens who actually performed as expected.

But back to Miami…

What wasn’t expected on Sunday was a Ravens’ loss to the winless and hapless Dolphins. What will make this an even more embarrassing loss for the Ravens particularly as time goes on is that they will be remembered in perpetuity as the team that enabled the Dolphins to escape a winless season. And they did it behind the quarterbacking prowess of yet another Ravens’ reject, Cleo Lemon.

It didn’t have to be that way.

Most coaches will tell you that you play for the win on the road and the tie at home to force overtime. Brian Billick, just as he’s done so many other times in so many situations bucked conventional wisdom and went against the grain.

Down by 3 with 0:12 to go from the Dolphins 1 foot line, Billick opted to kick the field goal on fourth and goal. A 4-9 team with nothing to lose plays for the tie on the road.

"I know this: had we gone for it, if they could have snuck a 12th man onto the field, all 12 would have been up in the gaps and sold out totally for the run," Billick said.

"That's from our analysis. I guarantee it, knowing Dom Capers, that's exactly what they would have done. Not a commentary on us offensively or on the line or the ability to run the ball, but they were going to shove everybody in there."

And fans have three more years of this cowardly decision making to look forward to?

What kind of message did he send to his team?

The message that reverberated like a hymn throughout Dolphins Stadium just after the game ended was Miami Dolphins, Miami Dolphins…

The fans were jubilant and it had the feel of a playoff victory. The Dolphins faithful got what they deserved. Fans who sit through a 0-13 season and still show up in support deserve to be rewarded and the great Greg Camarillo did exactly that when he scampered past Ed Reed and Jamaine Winborne after snaring a short slant pass and taking it 64 yards for the winning score.

Folks that enjoyed the trip to Miami will probably get a chance to do it again next year. If the Ravens finish in last place in the AFC North (and there’s little reason to think they won’t) they will travel to take on the Dolphins again in ’08. Other non-divisional road games in ’08 include Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas and the NY Giants.

Let’s just hope that next year the Ravens are as ready to travel as their fans who showed up in numbers nearly 10,000 strong in Miami.

Here's to a better 2008 season under your Christmas tree this year.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bringing Back Billick Makes the Ravens Average at Best!

So Brian Billick is returning to guide the Ravens sideline in 2008 if you believe some pretty reputable sources. Well there goes one Christmas present for me.

But hey, Steve Bisciotti is a pretty smart guy right? Self-made billionaires aren’t lucky right? But they do make mistakes and this one to me looks like a doozy!

The team is souring on Billick. Ever watch a Ravens’ sideline during a game? Despite the weekly struggles, do you ever see Brian Billick huddle with his offense? Ever see him really coach them up, ask what they are seeing out there or gather their valuable input?

Neither have I…

Sometimes I wonder who it is that he’s talking to on that headset of his. Ever wonder if that thing is just a prop?

And we’re bringing this act back for another go at it? Well fa la-la la-la!

On the first day of Christmas Bisciotti gave to us,
Billick and a new thesaurus

Who knows, that thesaurus might come in handy. After all the spinning that Billick will do defining and redefining the parameters and the profiles and the dynamics of the 2008 season we might need one. But if yours doesn’t arrive in the mail with an invitation to add your name to the waiting list for more season tickets (a list which by the way is certain to get smaller), don’t worry. Let me translate all the hot air for you now. It goes like this…

Blah, blah…blah-blah, blah-blah-blah.

Let's all join hands and let out one big collective Charlie Brown, “UUUUUUUUUUGGGGHHHH!”

So far we haven’t heard from Steve Bisciotti directly but higher ups in the organization suggest that Billick will return and I suppose they can’t really say that without Mr. B’s approval. So he must have given it right?

But why can’t we hear it from Mr. B.? What’s the big deal anyway? We already get that he isn’t a meddlesome owner. Why the big taboo when it comes to addressing the media? Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to address his customer base and explain why he’s sticking with Billick?

Wouldn’t you like to know why he’s sticking with an average coach who has seemingly lost his team? Wouldn’t you like to know why Bisciotti thinks that years of offensive ineptitude and abysmal clock management will suddenly disappear? Wouldn’t you want to why he believes that Billick can suddenly shape a team screaming for discipline when they apparently don’t respect him?

Sure the players like Billick because he sends them on a mid-season vacation, hands out lollipops after a tough loss and wipes the crust out of their eyes when they appear to be a little tired.

It isn’t working Mr. B.!

Since the Super Bowl season the Ravens are 60-53 and 1-3 in the playoffs. They are 23-23 over the last two plus seasons and it’s been 2,160 days since the Ravens actually won a playoff game.

Are we ok with being average Mr. B.? C’mon now you can’t be. You didn’t get to where you are in life by settling for average. Your team payroll isn’t average. Your ticket prices aren’t average. So why settle for an average head coach?

As of late there have been hints that the Ravens will bring in a new offensive coordinator. Big deal! If Danica Patrick came over to my place to drive my broken down Pinto, what kind of performance would you expect from its rusty frame and shoddy chassis? Forget about that Lamberghini in New England, could she even keep up with the shiny new Camry in Cleveland even if Stevie Wonder was behind the wheel?

And who is to say the Ravens can even recruit an innovative coordinator? Why would said coordinator be certain that Billick wouldn’t interfere? Why would he come knowing that Billick is on shaky ground? Why would he be eager to arrive when all he has to work with is a broken down Steve McNair, a consistently inconsistent Kyle Boller and the inexperienced Troy Smith?

Oh, so you think the Ravens will be drafting their next franchise QB, eh? If you are Eric DeCosta, would you want to place your first round pick and your reputation in the hands of Brian Billick? Billick hasn’t exactly been a model mentor for quarterbacks. I can think of one rookie QB who left Baltimore in ’05 and is about to lead his team into the playoffs and bears the initials D.A.

When the next “franchise” QB arrives, can we be assured that he isn’t D.O.A.?

Despite it all, Billick will be returning.

"From a general standpoint, I think my record speaks for itself," Billick said earlier this week. "It has been a tough year clearly, but I don't know how dramatically I've changed. If I was a good coach last year when we went 13-3, how is that different now one year later?"

That thud you just heard was the sound of heads hitting the sand in Owings Mills.

Call me masochistic, but something tells me that a Miami meltdown by the Ravens might be the best thing for the organization. It might also be the best reality check for an owner who fortunately has made no public statement at this time about Brian Billick’s future. So maybe there's a little time and a bit of an exit strategy there.

It would be great if Billick proves me wrong. I would welcome the taste of leather if miraculously he waves his magic wand and vocabulary at the team and they respond. I'm just not sure it's possible. I'm more convinced that it's not.

But one thing I do know for sure -- it will be no less than 2,500 days between playoff wins by the Baltimore Ravens and that is unacceptable.

Well, maybe not if your name is Steve Bisciotti.
Photo by Sabina Moran

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Billick at root of Ravens' problems

The culture at One Winning Drive has deep roots. So do weeds and the way I see it, the Ravens need to be weeded out.

For years some observers of the team were of the opinion that the Ravens fostered a Mafioso-like culture and the resident Dom Corleone was and is Ray Lewis. And while that might be a rather bold opinion it is certainly interesting and it also might help explain why accountability at the Ravens headquarters is about as abundant as tax breaks for the middle class during the O’Malley Administration.

Who is to blame for the Ravens’ struggles?

Well if you listen to the rhetoric and borderline propaganda that Brian Billick dishes out each week, you might think the team is 9-4 instead of the embarrassing 4-9. How many times during this painful seven game losing streak have we heard him say that a player is playing “very, very well?” I wish Brian Billick had been my Quantitative Analysis professor back in college.

Defenders of Billick will say that he takes a bullet for his players at any time and at all costs. And the truth be told, he does! But why? Why not place blame where it needs to be placed? Why not say that Steve McNair stunk up the joint or that the secondary coaches should have been more prepared against the Colts and more aware of Samari Rolle’s shoulder injury?

The first step towards improvement is to identify the mistake and then work towards remedies. Yet each week Billick makes excuses for himself and a team that judging from the Sunday night embarrassment against the Colts has mailed it in.

"I think our guys gave it all they had," Billick said during his Monday press conference. "That's always a very subjective thing. No one can ever question the courage of a player. Now, is the energy level there?

"Is the passion there? Is the fight to the end there? That's a tough thing to fight through, particularly under those circumstances. But I don't see anybody on this team not give it their all."

Let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings now. ‘Tis the season, right?

And if we take Billick at his word, there will be more of this next year because old ball coach says he’s coming back. I wonder if Steve Bisciotti has ever seen Groundhog Day?

Speaking of Groundhog Day, isn’t every game with Kyle Boller under center like déjà vu all over again? Haven’t we seen enough of his act to know that he is at best an above average back up in the league? After 5 seasons, don’t the Ravens know all they need to know about Boller?

If so, why is Billick again going against the grain, drawing his little line in the dirt and sticking with Boller for the balance of the season? Why not hand it over to Troy Smith? Isn’t this the same head coach who once handed over the reigns of his offense during more meaningful games than these to the great Stoney Case?

I rest mine…

But back to this cultural issue in Owings Mills…

While Ray Lewis may or may not be The Godfather, the Ravens can’t afford to lose him. But it is time to lose the enabler of this culture devoid of accountability. It’s time to weed the garden starting at the roots.

And when you find the roots you will find Brian Billick.

Then start ripping.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Said the billionaire to his bad head coach
Do you see what I see?
Interceptions flying everywhere
Do you see what I see?

A flag, a flag
Sailing through the night
For false starts to the left and right
For false starts to the left and right

Said the bad head coach to the billionaire
Do you hear what I hear?(Do You Hear What I Hear)
Ch-chinging in my pocket billionaire
Do you hear what I hear?(Do hear what I hear?)

5 Mil, 5 Mil
For the next 3 years
It’s a noose as big as the sea
It’s a noose as big as the sea

Said the bad head coach to the EVP
Do you know what I know(Do You Know What I Know)
In your castle walls EVP
Do you know what I know(Do You Know What I Know)

A loss, a loss
It’s really getting old
But I still get my silver and gold
But I still get my silver and gold

Said the bad head coach to people everywhere
Listen to what I say(Listen to what I say)
It’s Boller under center every game
Listen to what I say(Listen to what I Say)
It’s Kyle, It’s Kyle
Playing quarterback
And guess what…I am coming back!!!
Yes you know that I’m coming back!!!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Billick Nearing the End in Baltimore?

A few weeks ago as the Ravens prepared to get away from the game and take a little R&R during their bye week I mentioned to Bart Scott that Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin, despite the Steelers fast start, made his team practice during Pittsburgh’s bye week. I then asked Bart what he and his teammates would do if Brian Billick did the same to the Ravens.

“We might have to kill him”, Bart exclaimed.

Of course the reply was in jest but the meaning wasn’t lost. Bart went on to explain why it was different for Tomlin than for Billick. He said that if Billick was a new head coach, they may have begrudgingly accepted such a coaching decision.

That thought hung in the air awhile for me. I wondered who was really running the team.

Is Brian Billick too familiar to his players? Has he given the team so many liberties over the years that he’s reached the point of no return? Have they become the equivalent of spoiled children?

Clearly the defense has carried Billick’s teams throughout his tenure. Could he ever consider alienating them? Wouldn’t that be the equivalent of biting off the hand that feeds you?

Of course it would and the Ravens’ defenders are smart enough to know it. They control Billick and he has little to no recourse particularly when his claim to fame is on the offensive side of the football and that side is perpetually sub-standard. How else can you explain away his passiveness when his defense melts down?

From what I’ve been told, Ed Reed now heavily influences when he’s going to return a punt. Shouldn’t that be the other way around? What other coach would stand aside and allow Reed to influence these decisions and then watch without mustering the slightest whisper as Reed takes care of the football the way Britney Spears takes care of her kids?

Reed’s teammates don’t seem to mind his carelessness after a turnover or during punt returns. They justify the behavior as opportunity cost because he’s considered a playmaker. Like it or not, you take the good with the bad with Reed – at least according to them.

Does it have to be that way?

No, but Billick has no leverage and he’s beyond the point of controlling it.

Ray Lewis called out Billick publicly, criticizing the wretched play calling in key situations. How does Billick respond?

“There’s frustrations and I don’t know that he’s not right,” said Billick.

Billick added, “I certainly don’t find any fault with Ray being honest and straight-forward."

Then coach you shouldn’t mind this bit of honesty either – your players don’t respect you! They might like you, particularly when you roll the red carpet down Easy Street for them but they don’t respect you.

Did you see Corey Ivy jumping up and down in front of you, blaming you for Rex Ryan’s costly time out that prevented a turnover on downs?

No respect.

The inmates are running the asylum.

The children are reprimanding the parent.

And the sad thing is it will not change as long as Billick is around.

The only thing that could possibly change this dysfunctional team is if by some miracle Brian Billick can finally assemble an offense. But after nine years of nothingness on offense despite a stellar defense, what makes anyone think that it will ever change?

Brian Billick is a smart man. Few would argue that statement. But nine years is a substantive body of work and if after all that time a smart man like Billick can’t get it done on offense then it becomes painfully obvious to everyone except Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti that Billick is not capable of getting it done. Offensive design is clearly not a core competency of Brian Billick’s.

Many (myself included) have said that Trent Dilfer did not win Super Bowl XXXV. He was simply along for the ride. Yet the Ravens summarily dissed Dilfer the following season, the first time in NFL history that a Super Bowl winning quarterback did not return to his team the following year to defend the title.

Who’s to say that Brian Billick wasn’t along for the ride as well? As time goes on it’s looking more and more like he wasn’t much different than Dilfer. Despite a defense that is almost annually in the top 5, Billick has won but one playoff game since Super Bowl XXXV.

Against the Patriots on Monday Night, Billick had a solid offensive game plan and it took Belichick about 50 minutes of game time to adjust. And when he did, Billick lacked the courage to counteract the Patriots defense selling out. The Patriots committed their resources to stopping Willis McGahee. They dared the Ravens to try and put the game away with Kyle Boller play action passes. They double dog-dared them as Belichick sent his safeties knifing through the line like kamikazes with complete disregard for the pass.

They dared and Billick got scared. A 4-7 team with absolutely nothing to lose got scared. How ridiculous is that?

Supporters of Billick will say that Bisciotti simply needs to force an offensive coordinator and offensive system down his head coach’s throat. But can that work? It hasn’t worked too well 35 miles down the street for the Washington Redskins and Joe Gibbs. That’s not saying that it can’t work but can Billick really embrace that concept?

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

Billick said in so many words just a few seasons ago that the coaching cycle almost necessitates change after seven years or so. Perhaps his fate will be somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Steve Bisciotti has stated on several occasions that he does not want to guide the Ravens through a series of opening and closing windows of opportunity. He wants to develop consistent efficiencies to produce consistently positive performances. He wants an elite team.

To get there he’ll need an elite coach.

Elite coaches win more than one playoff game in seven seasons. Elite coaches know how to put teams away. Brian Billick is not an elite coach.

Billick defenders will point to the success of the 13-3 2006 season and say that 2007 is an aberration. Maybe the real aberration was the 2006 season.

The cycle has ended and it’s time to move on.

The time has come to replace Brian Billick and reclaim the asylum.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Is The NFL Becoming the WWE?

We Baltimoreans have often behaved with and we have been justly criticized for harboring an inferiority complex. Turn on the Weather Channel, and you will see and hear the extended outlook for Philadelphia and DC. Your favorite musical recording act is on tour and what do they do? They pass on through B’more only to be seen at toll booths.

Win the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl MVP isn’t on the Wheaties box. Reigning Super Bowl Champs are supposed to host the first Monday Night Football game the following season, right? Not if you are the Baltimore Ravens.

Watch the MNF pre-game show last night and what is discussed ninety-percent of the time – the visiting New England Patriots.

No worries Baltimore – we aren't alone. Every city has to deal with it because the truth be told, the Patriots are the NFL’s darlings!

Only 12 of the league’s 32 teams are playing above the mediocre .500 level so it’s easy to understand why the networks are all starry-eyed over the Patriots and their quest for perfection in 2007.

They have the pretty boy quarterback with a super model on one arm and an actress on the other. Said QB is having a record season and is dismantling defenses at an alarming rate in a seemingly effortless way. Would it surprise anyone if you were told that Chris Berman or Phil Simms or Tony Kornheiser sleeps beside a Tom Brady collectible doll?

Well after watching Monday’s Ravens v. Patriots game, would it surprise any of you if Walt Anderson’s officiating crew did the same?

The home team Ravens were penalized 13 times for 100 yards while the visiting Patriots were flagged four times for thirty yards, mostly inconsequential penalties (officials ignored the consequential holding penalties). Ravens' dime back Jamaine Winborne was called for holding yet the yellow laundry wasn’t thrown until the fourth quarter fourth down pass to Ben Watson sailed incomplete. The alleged penalty occurred just beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage.

And then there was the Jabar Gaffney gaffe…

Down by four with forty-four seconds remaining the NFL darling hit the nearly forgotten Gaffney in the left corner of the end zone which would eventually become the winning score. Replays showed that Gaffney did not have clear possession of the football yet the officials ruled that there was not conclusive evidence to overturn the call on the field.

What a joke!

I’ve seen official replay reviews last much longer when forward progress has been challenged. This was THE deciding play in the game and the officiating crew gave it about as much consideration as you and I might consider an optional root canal.

Is the NFL morphing into the WWE?

Has greed kicked integrity to the curb?

The undefeated season sells tickets; it captivates an audience; it lures sponsors with deep pockets and it feeds the networks’ infatuation with the NFL’s most infamous cheaters – the New England Patriots.

Ever wonder why the NFL destroyed all evidence of cheating by the Patriots? Ever think, “Wow, they got rid of all that spying film pretty soon?”

Well maybe that film was damning enough to question the game’s integrity.

Maybe those three point wins in three Super Bowls could have been aggressively challenged had the evidence remained in tact. And what might that have said about the league? Where would the billion dollar television contracts have gone? Might Vince McMahon have replaced Roger Goodell?

If anyone is to beat the Patriots, they better not let the game come down to a call by the officials because if they do, they will lose every time. The Patriots are paying the bills right now for the NFL. You know it, I know it and Patriots opponents better know it too!