Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ray, Ray, Ray...the little things you say!


Ray Lewis’ comments about Adalius Thomas and Brian Billick during his weekly radio program have set off a firestorm of commentary in print, on the web and along radio and TV airwaves throughout the continent. Ray’s words are the things local beat writers dream of during bye weeks.

I have to tell you as a fan of the team and as a fan of Ray Lewis and Adalius Thomas, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed because I thought the two were friends and friends can settle differences, either real or media conjured, with a simple phone call. Instead both took the media bait and chomped down hard.

Sometime between now and the moment the opening kickoff knifes its way through the cold night on December 3rd, Ray and AD will kiss and make up and they will publicly pledge their renewed solidarity and write it all off as a misunderstanding. And while they will likely forgive, will they forget?

It would make for interesting drama if the two actually had to face each other on the field.

AD certainly made a valid point when he suggested that perhaps Ray was the coward given that he went public with his disapproval of Brian Billick’s offense and play calling instead of brokering a behind-closed-doors powwow with Billick. Didn’t Ray in essence do exactly what he accused AD of doing?

That said, maybe Ray publicly calling out Billick is a good thing.

Look the Ravens have miraculously kept the team on the same page since 2000 and that is a credit to Brian Billick. How many other organizations could have successfully navigated away from an organizational implosion when one side of the football is clearly more dominant than the other side year in and year out? How there hasn’t been a mutiny or enough finger pointing to rival an episode of Jerry Springer is pretty impressive.

What isn’t impressive and never has been is the Ravens’ offense under Brian Billick. Billick has always stressed accountability but has he been accountable as it relates to the offense? Over the course of the last 4 ½ seasons the Ravens are dead last in the league in red zone efficiency.

Since Billick arrived the Ravens have been in the top 10 in points scored in the NFL only once, back in 2003 when Jamal Lewis ran for over 2,000 yards. On average they have ranked 17th. What makes that statistic even more staggering is the fact that the Ravens defense has been ranked in the top 3 during five of Billick’s seasons and they’ve been sixth or higher in every season except one – the cap purge season of 2002. Plus they’ve been among the league leaders in defensive touchdowns.

So I ask where is the accountability of this offense? It doesn’t matter if Matt Cavanaugh, Jim Fassell or Brian Billick is calling the plays this team can’t score. Willis McGahee is on pace to approach 1,500 yards rushing yet he only projects to 4 touchdowns!

Can someone please send in the demolition crew in the offseason and raze this thing?

The Ravens scouting department is studying collegiate quarterbacking talent feverishly. What if they land their guy in the 2008 draft? Do the Ravens have the coaching to develop the quarterback of the future? Is their offensive system conducive to successful quarterbacking?

Watch any NFL game that the Ravens aren’t involved in. At some point during the game there will be a receiver on one of the two teams absolutely wide open. When is the last time a Ravens receiver was wide open?

Some may ask why Ray threw his head coach under the proverbial bus because of the team’s offensive woes.

As for me I just ask, “What took so long?”

Monday, October 22, 2007

Adversity Will Reveal True Character of The Baltimore Ravens


If Steve Bisciotti was king and Ravens fans were collectively the queen, the queen would be demanding Brian Billick’s head on a silver platter today.

But that won’t happen nor should it.

What should happen is some real soul searching within the organization from Bisciotti right on down to the intern who cleans adhesive tape and empty containers of deodorant from the sweat soaked locker room floor.

What is going on with this team? Where is the balance that was promised? Where are the explosive plays? Why is it that so much effort is exerted by Kyle Boller to complete a pass to Mark Clayton for a 2 yard loss? Why does this team continue to kill itself with juvenile penalties – the same penalties that were so easily and summarily dismissed during the preseason as timing issues and correctible mistakes?

Why haven’t they been corrected?

Why are we still asking the same questions over and over?

The Ravens just look flat out unprepared. They look poorly coached. They lack focus and they seem almost elementary and basic. Their play is child-like. And when children get out of line or misbehave or don’t do their homework there are repercussions. There’s a price to pay – punishments to be served.

But not with the Ravens…

No, instead the Ravens will pack their suitcases and head for the Caribbean, South Beach, California, back pack through Europe or some other exotic destination so that they can chill – so that they can relax a bit and take their minds off football.

It looks to me that their minds haven’t been on football for quite some time. It’s not time to chill – it’s time to turn up the heat!

But Billick doesn’t bring the heat. What I consistently hear from players about Brian Billick is that he treats them like professionals and that in turn inspires them to support Billick even more and to stick their necks out for him.

Maybe it’s me but I’m not feeling it. I’m not seeing it. The Ravens don’t look hungry. I don’t see a team that plays like professionals. True professional teams don’t average 7.4 penalties per game. True professionals aren’t underachievers.

Obviously the Ravens are a very flawed team. But instead of sticking around and fixing the problems in practice, they are going on vacation. They are hoping that when they get healthy and Coach Billick wipes the crust out of their eyes and gives them all a Tootsie Roll Pop that all the problems will miraculously go away.

Good luck with that…

But Brian Billick can’t suddenly sing a different tune. He can’t crack the whip and make his players practice during the bye like Mike Tomlin did in Pittsburgh. You see this “professional” approach is embraced by the teams’ veterans and if Billick cancels the vacation plans for his players, he risks losing the veterans and if that happens, you know what will hit the fan.

Suddenly the magical hold that Billick has on his team that prevents a civil war between the offense and defense will slip through his fingers like a kickoff to Yamon Figurs. And that’s the last thing Billick needs now.

What he needs is balance and balance is the key to consistently competent play in the NFL. The best teams have balance. The Ravens don’t. They’ve beaten the same old formula for success to death: Great defense, manage field position, limit turnovers and Matt Stover.

But the defense isn’t as dominating as it once was. Sure some will point out that they are No. 2 overall in the NFL. The players will be quick to point that out as well and then add that when they get healthy, they should be No. 1 again.

Don’t believe the hype!

Let’s see what they do against the likes of high scoring offenses like New England, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and yes the Cleveland Browns. Those teams collectively average 30.2 points per game. The Ravens highest point production in their last 9 games is 26. They are averaging 17.7 points this year. They’ve only managed to score 30 points or more 4 times over the last 2 ½ seasons.

How will they compete?

Is it as simple as flipping a bye week switch?

Brian Billick better hope so because if the Ravens don’t answer against the Steelers on November 5 it could get real ugly real fast.

I’m tired of the excuses. I’m tired of seeing opposing teams with rookie quarterbacks running a no huddle offense yet the Ravens can’t with all of their veterans. I’m tired of seeing a rookie quarterback use an altered cadence to get the Ravens to jump offsides. I’m tired of seeing Billick clutching that pizza box play chart like a security blanket while bitching and moaning and whining and begging on the sidelines for something positive on the field.

Yet all that aside, Brian Billick’s head on that platter is not the answer – not yet any way. Billick is a very good head coach. He’s just a bad play caller managing a horrific offense despite an abundance of talent in an offensive system that needs to be target practice for weapons of mass destruction.

The Ravens players and coaches need to get up off the ground, dust off, look each other in the eye and be willing to go to war for each other. They need to check their egos at the door and do whatever it takes to fix the problems. They did it last year and they can do it again.

They can, but will they?

They can put those vacation plans during the break aside, but will they?

The players will have to do it on their own. Billick can’t make them do it. It’s the only thing he’s holding on to and if he loses that, he loses the team.

It’s been said often that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. The character of the Ravens’ leaders is now on alert. We’ll see if they step up in two weeks.

Otherwise, the queen might get her wish and that something that the coddled veterans might live to regret in 2008.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Adalius Thomas Throws Ravens Under Bus...Ravens @ Bills = ZZZZZ


How appealing would the Ravens @ Bills game be if you had no allegiance to either team? Not much right? I mean come on, this one is just a notch above airport security checkpoints on the fun meter. Forget the beer, give me an espresso!

Apparently Dominic Bonvissuto of SI agrees. He writes, “The Bills are a lot feistier than their record indicates and the Ravens are a lot crappier than their record indicates. Long way of saying a pretty even matchup.” If you want to check in with Dom, send love letters to
dom.bonvissuto@turner.com.

He does have a point though. The Ravens aren’t very good right now but then again, neither is most of the league. Of course there are the Patriots and the Colts. They are both out there head and shoulders above the rest. Then there are the Cowboys, Steelers and the Jaguars. After that there’s really just a big collection of mediocre teams that are overrated, underachieving or waiting to gel.

Hopeful Ravens fans see their team as the latter and if they get by Buffalo, there’s a chance the Ravens could take the division lead come Monday November 5 when they visit Pittsburgh.

Could it happen? Sure. Will it happen? I doubt it. The Ravens just aren’t getting effective quarterbacking from the injured McNair and the inconsistent Boller. Boller’s struggles on the road are well chronicled and if the Bills can strike deep early with Lee Evans, it will be a slippery uphill slope for the Ravens particularly in front of what should be a hostile crowd that has a score to settle with Willis McGahee.

I don’t like the game…

For what it’s worth I don’t like this coming Monday Night game for the Colts. It has the look of an upset to me. Three words: Maurice Jones-Drew.

During the preseason Jamal Lewis had some unflattering things to say about the Ravens, particularly Brian Billick. Now Adalius Thomas has joined his former mate in throwing Billick under the bus.

"You've got to remember, I'm coming in from Baltimore," says Thomas. "People there wanted the limelight, people sought out the limelight, starting with the head coach. It was a star-studded system. Here it's about as different as you can get. Everybody here shies away from being the star guy. Nobody on this team beats his chest. They just all go about their business. And win."

That’s disappointing coming from a guy who seemed to be the quintessential Raven when he was here in Baltimore. The Ravens through their coaching, development, system and belief in the player most scouts viewed as a tweener, helped morph AD from a sixth round pick into an All-Pro multi-millionaire.

Now that he’s rich and plays for an undefeated team, I suppose he feels a sense of entitlement and can justly make such public accusations. It just doesn’t seem like the AD that we knew and loved when he wore purple.

Hey and for the record here’s the comparison so far in ’07 between AD and his successor Jarret Johnson:

AD: 29 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD, 0 forced fumbles, 5 passes defended
JJ: 24 tackles, 2 sacks, 0 INT, 0 TD, 2 forced fumbles, 1 pass defended

Doesn’t seem to be $20 million plus of difference there to me.

What do you think?

Think Pink ~ Because Life if Important


September 27, 2007 marked the eighteenth anniversary of my Mom’s passing. In some ways it feels like only yesterday that she left us. In other ways it feels like an eternity.

I think about her very often. I wonder how my life would be different if she was still around. I wonder how much different the world might look if she were still part of the state of consciousness that you and I understand. I wonder how she would have impacted the lives of my children and dear nephews. Would their worlds be different? Would they be different? Would I be different?

At times when I go down for the night, I think of a happy moment that Mom and I shared. I smile and I hope that these thoughts that lure me into a state of peaceful restfulness will somehow bring her to me in my dreams. Unfortunately they rarely do.

Those of you that have lost your Mom understand the void that her journey on to the next form of consciousness leaves – a hole in the heart that never fills. Moms are just special. The gift of life that they give to us all is precious and the connection remains forever, certainly long after the umbilical cord is severed.

Mom left us swiftly. She was diagnosed with cancer and within a week she was gone. And while the pain that we endured as a result of her rapid departure was acute, it was of comfort knowing that she didn’t suffer very long. Today along with the many wonderful memories that I’ve been blessed with, I hold on to that because in my mind it was our Maker’s way of saving her from the sometimes torturous and perilous attempts to prolong her life with cancer.

About 10 years prior to my Mom’s passing, she was the happy recipient of a kidney, donated we were told by a young man from Western Maryland involved in a fatal motorcycle accident. Those of you familiar with transplants know that your body is built to fight off foreign matter including donated organs even if the blood types match. Fortunately for my Mom, she never had to weather any type of rejection period. Her body embraced the new kidney like it was her very own.

My Mom enjoyed a wonderful 10 years with that donated organ. Without it who knows what would have happened. What I do know is she was a terrible dialysis patient who was wiped out for the days between her dialysis treatments. Just as she was feeling somewhat human again, it was time for another treatment. That organ provided her a quality of life that she desperately yearned for and that she certainly deserved.

This month, we have been reminded repeatedly that it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and that’s a very, very good thing. If all of us can learn just a little more about breast cancer and if each of us can dig down into our pockets for even some spare change, perhaps it could make a difference in the life of your Mom, sister, Grandmom, daughter, aunt or cousin.

Your efforts dedicated to knowledge and awareness of the disease or your financial contributions to help fund research to cure or curtail its destructive path are so worthy of your time. No one thinks that such grim news will come knocking on the door of their home or that of their loved ones, but every now and then it does.

My Mom didn’t fall to breast cancer but her life was extended in part due to research conducted by the National Kidney Foundation. Contributors like you helped my Mom and our family was blessed with ten more years of quality of life. Thank you.

I hope that in some small way, I can impress upon you that even the smallest of contributions can make a difference in the quality of life of one of your loved ones or the loved ones of those you know.

The gift of giving can be truly amazing particularly when a community is galvanized and they share a singularity of purpose.

To make a difference in the life of another resonates in time.

Trust me, I know.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Ravens Infirmary and McNair's Struggles


The Ravens have been very tight-lipped about the illness that kept Samari Rolle sidelined for a few weeks. Recently John Czarnecki from Fox Sports reported that Rolle was plagued by a heart ailment. One Ravens source, while not revealing Rolle’s true medical issue emphatically denied that it was heart related.

Injuries are a way of life in the NFL. After the first kick of the season, no team is ever 100%. Outside of the injuries that are reported each week to the league, there are hundreds of other minor injuries seldom reported. Chris McAlister has played with a sore knee for a couple of weeks; after each game Haloti Ngata’s knee is about the size of his head – the effects of repeated collisions and bursitis; Bart Scott’s knee has been troublesome for quite a while and is only recently near 100%.

These athletes play with pain. It is a way of life. Some play through it better than others and those that do earn major respect from their peers. They are viewed as foxhole guys who are willing to make personal sacrifices for the overall good of the team.

Steve McNair has earned the reputation of “warrior” during his outstanding career yet one has to wonder if that reputation now works against McNair. He’s older and subsequently when he fights through the pain of one injury and favors other parts of his body, the favored parts begin to break down too. And perhaps for McNair, there’s a feeling that he needs to continue to live up to that reputation.

McNair’s delivery is much different than it was this time last year because of the groin injury. It affects his accuracy and it affects his velocity. To make things even worse, McNair has developed a penchant for unloading the football prematurely and it’s possible that that is his way of avoiding further contact.

Add it all up and it’s easy to understand why he has been so quick to throw short. And opponents have taken note.

Another somewhat disturbing habit that McNair has developed is a very deliberate pace in and out of the huddle. He may be the slowest quarterback in the league from huddle to snap but the quickest from snap to release. The slow tempo reduces time for pre-snap reads on the part of McNair and his offensive line signal caller. It also dictates the snap count. It was very obvious on Sunday that the Kyle Boller-led offense clearly had a better tempo in and out of the huddle.

Despite the more desirable tempo, the red zone efficiency continues to fall woefully short of expectations. The Ravens have scored just six touchdowns in 21 red-zone shots for a 28.5 percent success rate, which ranks them ahead of only the Rams and Falcons.


"It kind of tells you [the red zone failures are] not the quarterback, doesn't it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Not necessarily. It probably tells you that it’s both quarterbacks.

The Ravens QB play in the red zone leaves much to be desired and the organization is painfully aware that the continued failure during scoring opportunities will bite them against the more formidable competition they will face after the bye on October 28.

Don’t be surprised to see the Ravens make a strong play for their QB of the future in the ’08 NFL Draft.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ravens let QB of Future Slip Away?


Many have questioned and continue to question whether or not Kyle Boller can be a consistently successful quarterback in the NFL. However no one questions the five year veteran’s toughness.

On Sunday Boller shrugged off an obviously painful knee injury that even forced the convalescing Steve McNair to loosen up on the sidelines. Boller toughed out the injury and took a beating for the team. Leonard Little sped by the lookout blocks of Jared Gaither and Marshall Yanda and tossed Boller around like a rag doll. Imagine for a second if Boller didn’t shrug off his injury and that was Steve McNair back their playing rope-a-dope with Little. Can you say Troy Smith?

Another injured Raven who tried to give it a go against St. Louis and couldn’t hang in with Boller was Todd Heap. Given the sad state of the Rams, one has to question Brian Billick’s decision to allow Heap to test out his sore hamstring. Perhaps it would have been a wiser move to rest Heap against the Rams and maybe even against the Bills this coming weekend if the pesky bite of that hamstring lingered. Now it appears that Heap will more than likely rest against the Bills as the Ravens look ahead to a Monday Night showdown with the Steelers on November 5.

Former Ravens making noise…One week ago Vinny Testaverde sat in his living room and watched SportsCenter highlights around the NFL. On Sunday Testaverde’s performance was among the highlights as he guided the Carolina Panthers to a 25-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The former Raven was 20 of 33 for 206 yards including a 65 yard scoring strike to Steve Smith. Not a bad outing for someone going into the game absolutely cold. By comparison, Testaverde’s long distance dial up with Smith is just 2 yards short of the combined long completions on the season for Steve McNair (30) and Kyle Boller (37). McNair and Boller have 238 combined passing attempts…I wonder if the RB starved Tampa Bay Bucs are second guessing their decision to take a pass on Adrian Peterson. The Vikings’ rookie is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and has been held under 100 yards just once. Peterson has 607 rushing yards on the season and has another 175 by air to go with his 5 TD’s. He is the Vikings offense and somewhere out in Minnesota, Chester Taylor is sulking in between applications of a raw Porterhouse Steak on his black eye courtesy of Erasmus James.

Back in ’05 when the Ravens tried to sneak Derek Anderson on to the practice squad only to be claimed by the Cleveland Browns, I was of the opinion that Anderson was a long-term project that needed more attention than the Ravens had time for. I watched him at practice, repeatedly tripping over his size 17 feet and failing over and over against the Ravens second team defense. The loss in my opinion was negligible.

It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time…I was wrong. To this day I still wait for Anderson to revert back to those clumsy practice habits and validate my opinion but time and again, he proves me wrong. He has grown. He has learned and he has obviously embraced coaching from some other offensive guru. Anderson shows poise in the pocket and surveys the field in a manner that we are hardly accustomed to here in The Land of Pleasant Living. And the proof is there in the numbers.

On the season, Anderson has tossed 14 touchdowns to go with 8 INT’s, 1,496 yards and a QB Rating of 88.9. Comparatively speaking Kyle Boller has never thrown for 14 TDs even when he played in all 16 games back in 2004.

The Ravens opened as three point favorites against the Bills in Buffalo this coming Sunday. Some seem surprised by the number and see it as low. Don’t count me among them. The last time that Kyle Boller won a road game as the Ravens’ starter was on November 14, 2004 against the Jets. Even then had it not been for Herm Edwards typically inept clock management, the Ravens would have lost that game. Instead they survived and won by three, 20-17.

I look for Boller’s struggles to continue on the road particularly behind a young line that didn’t communicate at home very effectively. On the road line calls will be more difficult as will QB audibles and while I hope I’m wrong, I can envision DE Aaron Schobel creating havoc for the Ravens much like Leonard Little did last Sunday. The Bills will feed off the crowd energy and angst directed towards Willis McGahee and I see the Ravens losing a snoozer, 13-9. And that will make for a long two weeks as we await another Monday night roadie in Pittsburgh.

Ravens Getting it Done With Smoke & Mirrors


The Ravens are six games into the 2007 season and in some ways it seems as though they haven’t even started. What it feels like at times is an extended version of the preseason because the team that takes the field down there at M&T Bank Stadium just isn’t the team we all expected it to be.

Sure they’ve had their fair share of injuries which have certainly impacted the season and if the regular season ended today, the Ravens would be a playoff participant. But let’s call out the Ravens 4-2 start for what it is – smoke and mirrors.

When the season started even those entrenched in polar opposite opinions about the Ravens could agree on one thing – the Ravens needed to get off to a good start in light of the brutality that the schedule makers inflicted upon them after their October 28 bye. In order for the Ravens to be a post season participant, a 5-2 start was considered essential.

Clearly after their victory on Sunday the Ravens are positioned to do exactly that. A win in Buffalo against the 1-4 Bills sends the Ravens into their off week at the minimally targeted 5-2. Yet the journey to their 4-2 perch is a bit misleading.

Up until the Ravens game against the Rams, the team was 3-2 while scoring 88 points and yielding 97. They have beaten the Jets (1-5), the Cardinals (3-3), the 49ers (2-3) and the Rams (0-6). If you are keeping score, that’s a combined winning percentage of 29.4% (10-24). Save the Cardinals, each of these teams has fallen well short of expectations yet the Ravens are a dropped touchdown pass, a Matt Stover 49 yard field goal and a missed field goal by Joe Nedney from losing three of those games.

The Ravens have dropped both divisional contests. The Bengals beat the Ravens on opening night and haven’t won since. The surprising Browns are 3-3 and whipped the Ravens 27-13.

Even last Sunday’s 22-3 win over the Rams is a bit misleading. The Ravens had five interceptions against the hapless and injury decimated troops from St. Louis. Those interceptions on average were returned to the Rams 35 yard line. What did the Ravens do on those five possessions against the philanthropic Rams? They scored twelve points. Twelve points courtesy of four Matt Stover field goals. On their other post interception possession Kyle Boller threw an interception of his own at the Rams 11. Oh and by the way if you are still keeping score, the Rams have the league’s 22nd ranked defense.

The numbers don’t stop there…

How many times does a team that wins by the score of 22-3 gain fewer net yards than their opponent (248 v. 264)? Have the same number of first downs (14)? Have a fewer number of plays (67 v. 63) or a greater number of punts (5 v. 2)?

The red zone inefficiencies continue to mount and now the Ravens are mixing in interceptions and touchdowns negated by penalty. Currently they rank 30th in the league in the red zone ahead of the lowly Rams and Falcons. Even more staggering is the fact that the Ravens woeful ineptness in the red zone is by way of the NFL's worst defenses. The six teams that the Ravens have faced are ranked 28th defensively on average.

How will they manage to score during the second half of the season when the Ravens tackle some of the NFL’s stingiest defenses in terms of points allowed: the Patriots (1), Colts (3), Chargers (11) and the Steelers (5)? After the break the Ravens will face teams with a current collective winning percentage of 58% and teams that can score. Six of their 9 games after the break will be against offenses that rank sixth or better in average points scored per game, including the No.1 (Patriots) and No. 3 (Colts) scoring teams.

The Ravens’ plan is to go to 5-2 and then return from Upstate New York and lick their wounds, enjoy a little R&R, go in for a little Nip/Tuck on their red zone offense and then all will be happy here in The Land of Pleasant Living, right?

Well maybe...provided of course they continue to successfully employ the smoke and mirrors.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ravens Roster Moves That Make You go Hmmm...


Sometimes the Ravens make personnel moves that make you go hmmm. For example, prior to final cut down day, Brian Billick admitted publicly that trimming the 2007 roster to 53 was as difficult as any final cut since he’s been the Ravens head coach. Despite the one-dimensional nature of some players (Figurs, Sams, Anderson and specialists Stover, Koch and Katula) the Ravens decided to keep yet another one dimensional player, specialist Rhys Lloyd.

Through four games, Lloyd failed to be listed among the 45 active players on game day. Lloyd occupied a roster spot despite the fact that the Ravens were ailing on the offensive and defensive lines.

The Ravens did nothing to add to the defensive line rotation. When Dennis Haley was released, I discussed the move with Bart Scott. First Bart was surprised that Haley (a good friend of Bart’s) was let go yet we both agreed it was probably a move to free up a spot to add another defensive lineman until Trevor Pryce was once again healthy.

We were both wrong. The Ravens instead replaced Haley with another LB Nick Greisen.

Hmmm…

Late last week, the Ravens jettisoned Lloyd to clear a spot for WR Matt Willis. Now it isn’t exactly the Ravens M.O. to use five receivers plus a return specialist who can play receiver in a pinch (Figurs) during a single game. Yet Messrs. Mason, Williams, Clayton, Darling, Figurs and Willis were all active.

Willis never played a down in the game – coach’s decision. Figurs did play one down at wide receiver and caught a backwards pass that did exactly that – move the Ravens backwards a yard.

So if Figurs was part of the plan, why the need for Willis? Why an experienced WR at the expense of Lloyd who the Ravens could have used on Sunday given that they lost the battle for field position in the kicking game.

Hmmm…

Yesterday, the Ravens re-signed Lloyd and placed Willis back on the practice squad.

Make sense to you?

Does this mean we’ll finally get to see Lloyd on the active roster?

Maybe, maybe not.

Go ahead, you figure it out.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Ravens Stick Their Heads in the Sand


Last night I was walking along Columbus Avenue in San Francisco’s North Beach area with two friends. And as we decided upon which of the rather eclectic collection of establishments to venture in to, a heated discussion between a couple of over served patrons looked like it might spill over on to the sidewalk that we strolled.

A girl who was with one of the combative guys stormed out using several bowling alley words that can’t be repeated here (think fornicating rectum), but suffice it to say she was tired of someone’s apparent habit of placing himself in the middle of such skirmishes far too regularly.

As the agitated exchange continued (no truth to the rumor that they were discussing the efficiency of the Ravens' offense), a carefree couple, seemingly oblivious to the potential physical confrontation walked right between the combatants. They had obviously had their share of spirited libations. And then something happened that I’ll never forget.

The guy half of the couple that enjoyed their beautiful oblivion began singing…

Turnaround bright eyes, every now and then I fall apart

Turnaround bright eyes, every now and then I fall apart

A Total Eclipse of the Heart?


Are you kidding me?

My friends and I were dying with laughter. Talk about a total eclipse of the tension.

The couple walked away up Columbus and towards Green without a care in the world and completely unaware that their silly intoxication may have prevented an ugly brawl.

So what does this have to do with the Ravens?

Well as I sat here in my downtown San Francisco hotel room this morning editing and posting today’s content on 24x7, I thought back to that scene last night. For some reason last night’s timely rendition of Bonnie Tyler and these comments from Derrick Mason after yesterday’s game just seemed to go together…

"We can't make no excuses," Mason said. "Of course, you want to get touchdowns. But when the day is done, the sun goes down, what do you want? You want to win.

“You can beat us up in the paper all you want. I guarantee you that you enjoy the win more than you enjoy the losses. The only thing you remember is the 'W.' Everything else is history."

And while Mason’s words might comfort him when he has to sit down and study the ugliness that has become the Ravens’ offense, to me these words are nothing more than Mason’s own beautiful oblivion. Like that couple last night who walked right through harm’s way without a care in the world, Mason and his offensive mates are all ok I guess, just as long as the Ravens win.

“You don't always win pretty, we rarely win pretty, but this was a just get it done win” said Mark Clayton in his 24x7 blog. “You have no idea how important this was. We have a six-hour flight in front of us and I can't imagine what it be like on that plane with an L instead of a W. The atmosphere will be a lot looser, guys will be laughing. Everything will be better, the food, the movies, everything because we won.”

This was the San Francisco 49ers that they beat! Not the Steelers, not the Patriots, not the Colts and not the revitalized Chargers. This was the Trent Dilfer lead 49ers! Take your collective heads out of the sand. Scoring nine points when you have the ball for 38 minutes of game clock is alarming particularly against a bad team like San Francisco.

Does anyone here think the Ravens have a shot at beating good teams if they continue down this offensive path that detours at the 20 yard line?

Ray Lewis’ pointing finger is twitching folks. And if this offense doesn’t get it right soon, that finger is going to hit a few targets and when it does there will be no one turning around with bright eyes and then Baltimore it will fall apart.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Trent Dilfer Steps up in More Ways Than One


Back during the Super Bowl season, I remember a late night in Canton during the week between the AFC Championship win against the Raiders and Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa. I happen to be in Cosmopolitan’s at the time and I received a call from some friends who had just ventured from there across the street to Looney’s.

“Tony, you need to get over here”, I was told.

My friends aren’t in the habit of delivering false alarms so I asked no questions and took a short stroll across the Canton Square.

When I arrived at Looney’s I noticed a big white stretch limo and when I opened the door, I saw Trent Dilfer holding court, surrounded by several of his teammates, my two friends and one of Looney’s owners Steve LiTrenta.

LiTrenta offered encouragement as the Ravens prepared for XXXV and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, he said, “The Ravens better win!”

You see LiTrenta had just invested a few thousand in the Ravens. He plunked down his Benjamins with Towson Travel (a nightmare he would later regret) to see the Ravens take on the Giants at Raymond James Stadium.

Dilfer shrugged off LiTrenta’s comments and with a delivery laced with bravado that would make the boldest of NBC’s birds proud, he bragged that he was spending about $20,000 to take his family back to the town where Dilfer cut his NFL teeth.

Those comments lingered for me and they sullied Dilfer’s reputation, at least in my eyes. He had just kicked LiTrenta’s financial commitment to the team to the curb. He pounded his chest in the proverbial sense like an 800 pound gorilla despite that fact that in the grand scheme of things and as a percentage of discretionary income, LiTrenta probably invested much more than Dilfer.

A few months later Dilfer was justly removed from the Ravens starting QB job, a move that triggered non-stop whining from Dilfer for years. He cried a river from Baltimore to Seattle to Cleveland and then to San Francisco about how Brian Billick took away any chance he and the Ravens had of repeating as a Super Bowl Champ.

Then suddenly yesterday the whining stopped.

"I want to use this opportunity to publicly apologize to Brian for that bitterness," Dilfer told Baltimore reporters. "I'm going to make a point to see him on Sunday. He's been the man in this deal and I haven't. He's been the adult.

"I've been the childish one, and I want to end that right now. I still strongly disagree with it, but there's a difference in disagreeing with a decision and letting that decision bring bitterness in somebody."

Now that was the last thing I expected to hear. I expected more whining, more bitterness and more publicly delivered angst towards Brian Billick, as though he really needs more of that these days.

Instead, Dilfer didn’t just have a slice of humble pie…he ate the whole thing!

My years of jadedness towards Dilfer ended as abruptly as his whining. He made me realize that I was wrong for carrying those feelings about him based upon one sly remark seven years ago.

Dilfer stepped up and faced the music while admitting to the world that he was wrong and that he needed to grow up. If he was going to teach his child about responsibility and offer her wisdom from his own experiences, well then he just better practice what he preaches.

"I think I've grown up as a man. You're always trying to get better. Here I am six years later and I wasn't able to let something go. This is as much to stretch me as a human being and to not be hypocritical in my parenting."

He admitted to being a hypocrite and in the process my respect for this man just made a missile-sized hole in the roof. Perhaps Dilfer parented all of us a bit, certainly me. He reminded us that it’s ok to admit a mistake – we all make them, and then take the measures to correct them.

Hopefully Brian Billick and the Ravens were listening too.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ravens Have a Simple Plan to get Back on Track


While Brian Billick spins his tales with the hope that they somehow mask the team’s problems, the players are acutely aware of what they need to do to right their purple vessel that is seemingly suffering from a malfunctioning rudder.

But the corrections won’t happen overnight. The problems won’t magically disappear when Billick and his troops step foot upon the hallowed grounds of the stadium formerly known as Candlestick Park. The ghost of Bill Walsh will not descend upon Billick’s pizza box play chart and illuminate the correct play to call.

What the team is hoping to do is correct their flaws over the course of the next three games and beat each of their suspect opponents enabling them to head into the bye at 5-2 and no worse than a game back of the Steelers. That is a simple and sensible plan.

The next three opponents are the 49ers, Rams and Bills who on offense rank 32nd, 29th and 31st respectively. On defense these three teams also reside with the bottom feeders with respective rankings of 20th, 24th, and 32nd.

And as inviting as that appears to a team like the Ravens with their fair share of flesh wounds, the team recognizes that it’s important for them to adhere to the age old cliché, “one game at a time.”

“This is a must win”, said Bart Scott when discussing this Sunday’s game against the 49ers. “We recognize that a win in October is equally as important as one in December.”

The wins in December will be much more difficult to come by – just take a look at the schedule.

For those that believe that the schedule makers were unkind to the Ravens, you’d better think again. The way the team is struggling this schedule is nothing short of a gift from above. A record of 5-2 heading into the October 28 bye would place the Ravens on par with the ’06 season.

The time, experience and hopeful wins leading up to the bye will allow the maturation process of the young offensive line to unfold paving the way for them to mesh even more as a unit. The time will provide for the further development of Antwan Barnes who has shown flashes of promise as a speed rusher. And of course the time will help Trevor Pryce, Jonathan Ogden and to a lesser degree Steve McNair and Samari Rolle to heal.

With a slightly more seasoned Barnes and the return of Pryce, Terrell Suggs will be set free from his sentence of constant double teaming. Suddenly a rather dormant pass rush might pack a punch once again.

On offense J.O.’s possible return and the valuable experience gained by his younger colleagues might help to open the team’s playbook more and it could translate into greater red zone efficiency.

And wouldn’t the possible aligning of these developments come together at the most perfectly dramatic and opportune time – under the bright lights of Monday Night Football on November 5 in Pittburgh against the Steelers for the divisional lead.

That’s the plan, one game at a time.

And it starts against Trent Dilfer and the 49ers on Sunday.

Bart Scott is right, this is a must win.

If the Ravens can’t take down their 35 year old former teammate who has a 61.6 quarterback rating over the course of the six seasons since he left Baltimore and who happens to be guiding the worst offense in football, then the Ravens really don’t deserve much this season now do they?

Win Sunday and let the plan unfold.

Lose Sunday and watch the season unfold.

It’s really that simple.

Billick Cops Out!


Brian Billick would like you to believe that if the Ravens took away four plays where the defense failed (4 plays, 180 yards) the outcome of the Ravens v. Browns may have been different.

What a pathetic cop out!

And if Armando Benitez didn’t give up all those homeruns back in 1997 ALCS the Orioles may have won the World Series that season.

Look, big plays are a part of sports and when you connect on a few you score…you win…you take the lead…and perhaps even sit on it. Perhaps the Browns could have produced more if they didn’t go conservative.

Big plays have been the Achilles’ Heel of the Ravens defense for a few years. That needs to be fixed. Particularly with their offense. It’s no different than a pitcher who throws a great game but then suddenly gives up a three run jack. That one bad pitch changes the game, just as one big play in football can change the game.

Billick’s tap dancing around his red zone play calling inefficiencies is equally as pathetic of an argument as his big play theory. It's another cop out. He claims that they’ve tried it all and has concluded that the answer to their red zonitis is to improve their ability to pound it in.

Look, the Ravens' red zone play calling consists of about five plays: a fade; a lob to the tight end; a swing pass to a running back; an in route short of the sticks and of course pounding it behind Jason Brown. If you know it and I know it, don’t you think opposing defensive coordinators know it? When it’s Ravens’ week, DC’s can take off half the week. What’s to prepare for?

I don’t mind the in route short of the sticks. I just don’t like it on THIRD DOWN!

Billick seems to so easily dismiss the red zone ineptitude and explains it away by saying that Steve McNair has been outstanding moving the football and the chains outside the red zone. Borrowing from a baseball analogy again, isn’t that the same as celebrating a collection of singles even though you can’t deliver an RBI?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ravens Face Must Win in City by the Bay


It seems that the Ravens have at least one of these types of games annually – losing to a team they are supposed to beat. Such was the case in Cleveland. It’s as though they just show up at times and punch the clock. It’s as though they think that through their mere presence alone, something will happen given the massive collection of talent that they have and one of their playmakers will eventually take control of the game.

The trouble is, not many of their playmakers are really making plays. Not Terrell Suggs, not Ray Lewis, not Steve McNair, not Mark Clayton, not Bart Scott and not Chris McAlister.

It’s interesting that for years the Ravens defense has made up for the inefficiencies of its offense. They have carried the team and for the most part, there has seldom been any public finger pointing despite the lack of balance between the offense and defense.

But like the cracks that are beginning to surface in the Ravens defense, there are hints that the team’s solidarity is beginning to weaken, starting with the face of the Ravens, Ray Lewis.

“It’s a team sport,” Lewis said. “Trying to be political. Trying to always say the right thing. Sooner or later, you get tired of making excuses. This is the NFL. You’re going to give up points. It happens. But you have to ask: Is it the defensive side?”

Yesterday I wrote in this very column that the Ravens are beginning to resemble the 2005 squad – a talented team that severely underperformed. That season they fell apart. Rumors surfaced about Lewis’ disdain for Kyle Boller and Brian Billick’s seemingly undying support of his young quarterback.

Then Lewis suffered a severe hamstring injury in Chicago that would sideline him for the season. It was a mysterious injury that was allegedly treated by Lewis’ own doctors and not those affiliated with the Ravens medical staff. The hamstring was said to have nearly torn from the bone yet word surfaced that Lewis practiced with the team just after sustaining the injury. Still he never played another down after Chicago.

During the 2006 offseason, Lewis complained about the team’s direction and on a national stage provided by ESPN, Lewis said if the Ravens weren’t going to use him properly and get him the support he needed, then they should “let me go.”

Now here we are just about two years later and the similarities between the situations are eerily similar.

Back in 2005, the Ravens went into Chicago with a 2-3 record hoping to pull to an even .500 mark on the season. The slop of Soldier Field was matched only by the sloppy play of the Ravens. They fell to 2-4 and had to win the final two games of the season to cap the campaign at a mark of 6-10.

Brian Billick’s job was in jeopardy and if not for a lack of desirable available replacement candidates, Billick may have been terminated. Of course he was not and the team rebounded extremely well in ’06 finishing at 13-3.

Many praised Billick for placing the team above his personal feelings including several of the players. If Billick was willing to fire a dear friend for the benefit of the team, then the team would be willing to go to war for Billick. The move was successful on many fronts.

The Ravens improved offensively even though the red zone difficulties continued. In fact since 2003 the year Billick anointed Boller his starter the Ravens have been a bottom feeder in red zone efficiency:

2006 (.423/28th)
2005 (.381/28th)
2004 (.500/20th)
2003 (.420/29th)

So far this year they sit at No. 27.

Was the offensive improvement in ’06 coincidental? Did Billick really make that much of a difference? Would the improvement have occurred naturally as a byproduct of Steve McNair’s familiarity with the offense?

Possibly.

Yet by the end of 2006 the offense stalled again and it looked very much like the Fassel led offense and the Cavanaugh led offense. And that hasn’t changed even a little bit in 2007.

The one thing that has changed is the defense. Adalius Thomas is gone and Trevor Pryce is down. Offenses are rolling attention now towards Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Bart Scott and the result is a lack of pressure on the quarterback and more pressure on a banged up secondary. Billick’s offense simply can’t pick up the slack.

The promised explosives have not been delivered and if Lewis’ comments are any indication, this team could be closer to implosive than explosive.

TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK.

The Ravens are flirting with disaster.

Make no mistake about it, Sunday is a must win for the Ravens against the Trent Dilfer led 49ers.

If you think I’m overreacting and painting an unnecessary “sky is falling” scenario, then just wait until Monday if they lose.

Ravens Problems Mount...Billick Needs to Ditch the Pizza Box




Last week Brian Billick was all too quick to whip out his impressive 50-1 record when leading by 14 points or more in a game. We all know why that is. It’s no secret that Billick rides his defense the way the Lone Ranger used to ride Silver. No one could blame him for that.

But now the Ravens Lone Ranger is putting on too much weight and the burden is weakening Silver’s giddy-up. It’s time for him to drop some of the baggage. It’s time for Billick to manage the game in its totality and not bury his face in a play chart that he totes around like it’s a pizza box.

And in the case of a coordinated offense with cheese, Billick doesn’t deliver.

The Ravens ran 12 plays in the red zone against the Browns. Those plays totaled 38 yards, an average of 3.17 yards. Six of those yards came on a pass play to Derrick Mason on a third and eight. Once again, short of the sticks – short of expectations.

Willis McGahee, a player that has a nose for the goal line and is clearly one of the most productive players on the field sits for the most part in favor of Musa Smith when in the red zone.

Most teams, particularly those teams that feature backs with cut back abilities like McGahee, run outside the hash marks with pitches and stretch runs much more regularly than the Ravens. The truth be told, the Ravens rarely run it outside the hash marks in the red zone. Yesterday they ran it three times inside the 20, all three runs behind Jason Brown producing a whopping 8 yards.

The Ravens say they’ll look at the problems, see what needs to be corrected and then move on to the next game.

Gee, if it was only that easy.

The Ravens are the league’s 27th best (or 6th worst depending on your perspective) red zone offense in terms of producing touchdowns. And these disturbing numbers were produced against the league’s 25th ranked defense on average, three of which rank in the league’s bottom seven (Jets 26th, Bengals 30th and Browns 31st.)

We were told repeatedly that the Ravens would be more explosive offensively. That they would feature multiple sets and varied looks and some even said Mark Clayton could approach 100 catches this year. Does that include the balls he catches in practice?

Even more disturbing is the carefree approach to the losses.

"I just didn't play my man. He made the better play." Chris McAlister on being torched by Braylon Edwards

"The officiating matched our play." ~ Brian Billick on his failure to toss the challenge flag in time

"Our main focus going into next week and the rest of the season is the red zone. We just have to concentrate more and ... we have to put [more] into the game plan." ~ Steve McNair on the obvious

"What happens when you get your butt whupped like that, you try to correct it and move on to the next game. There's no magical answers than that." ~ Brian Billick on mending the problems

I want it to hurt a little more. I want them to feel backed into a corner. I want them to come out fighting for every yard. I want them to want to beat their man on every single play.

I’m not feeling that. Instead I see finger pointing from Billick at the officials and from Ray at coaches and teammates. How about a look in the mirror guys? All we really want is accountability.

Look, many of these same issues were apparent last year when the Ravens struggled in a couple of games following their 4-0 start. This season they don’t have the luxury of such a start and therefore the sense of urgency needs to be greater and that has to come from Billick.

Firing the play caller last year worked. Maybe it could work again but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

You have heard of that snowball in hell right?

That snowball could be the Ravens’ season if they don’t turn it around in San Francisco. And that one won’t be a walk in old Candlestick Park.