Friday, November 30, 2007

Ravens v. Patriots...Anything is possible...


We all had high hopes for the 2007 season. On the heels of a 13-3 2006 we were all led to believe that a Steve McNair more familiar with the Billick System and the addition of the versatile Willis McGahee would inspire a potentially more explosive offense. And with the return of 10 starters on defense how could the Ravens fail to defend their AFC North Crown?

Those hopes flamed out like a Mike Tyson comeback.

Steve McNair could use some Geritol.

The defense needs fix-a-flat for all the holes in the secondary.

Ed Reed needs to check into Gambler’s Anonymous.

And the Billick System is about as cutting edge as an abacus and is screaming to be the crash test dummy for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

All this and it’s only the season’s twelfth game.

A look at the remaining schedule and it’s hard to find more than one more win on it. Gee, I bet the Buffalo Bills are pretty happy about getting the Ravens third round pick in 2008.

That said it’s time to pull something out of this season. We waited far too long. We suffered through the insufferable Orioles again and now the Ravens could be staring at a 5-11 finish and a top 10 draft pick.

Who wanted that? Who expected that? Is this what J.O. came back for?

The reality is the dismal finish will probably happen but until it does, there’s no sense wishing the season away. No one is offering a refund because the product that the supplier promised isn’t what it’s supposed to be. It’s time to get something out of the season and that something is a win this Monday Night against the Patriots.

I know, I know…put the crack pipe down…

Look, I realize that there is virtually no chance for the Ravens to upset the Patriots. If the Ravens rush only four against Tom Brady, he can stand there until Mississippi 10 before he’ll have to throw. Can we expect our secondary to stay with Messrs. Moss, Welker and Stallworth forever?

Nope!

If the Ravens blitz Brady, is there anyone out there who thinks he won’t be licking his chops and pick on the islands of Martin, Ivy or Prude?

Negative!

The Patriots could score on each possession and they’ve made it very clear that they will try to do exactly that whenever the offense takes the field.

But…

Remember Buster Douglas?

Remember the ’69 Mets?

Remember Super Bowl III?

How about Rudy?

Winning on Monday is not impossible but it will take a superior effort from the Ravens and it will take a superior effort from the fans.

Together, let’s make a statement. Let’s tell our team that we are behind them and that like some of the players, we view this as our Super Bowl. We can make history. We can be that team that was the fly in the ointment of perfection for the New England Patriots.

For one cool December night before a national TV audience we can be the NFL’s Buster Douglas. But we’ve got to take our best shot and that best shot has to include YOU!

The Ravens are 20 ½ point underdogs. Isn’t that a slap in the face of our city; of our home field advantage? Let’s do what we ask the Ravens to do each week – leave it on the field!

It’s better to have tried and failed than to sit passively and go down without a fight.

Instead of being remembered in 2007 as the NFL city of underachievers, let’s be remembered as the city whose team spoiled perfection for the league’s biggest bunch of cheaters.

Remember the scene when Mike Tyson couldn’t put his mouthpiece back in as he crawled on the canvas? Remember it?

Now picture No. 12 doing the same on the turf at M&T.

Anything’s possible, right?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sean Taylor: Where There's Smoke...

I have to admit that when I first heard of the Sean Taylor shooting incident my immediate thoughts were of his history of off the field problems. I wondered if that past had followed him. I wondered if he still behaved like the thug that his checkered track record suggests.

I then thought, “Well what does it matter now? He’s gone.”

But it does matter. It matters to his friends, teammates and family.

It matters to his 18 month-old daughter.

It matters because Taylor’s death must have meaning and it must teach us all a lesson.

But I wonder if it will. I wonder if we’ll all settle back into our regular routine and forget Sean Taylor in the not too distant future. Will his death be no more than another tragic statistic – another brutal reminder of the violence that still plagues American cities?

I wouldn’t dare profess that I understand our country’s hip-hop culture. I’ve never tried primarily because I despise the violence seemingly endorsed by the lyrics in the music. I despise the hatred and the language splattered all over its rhythms. I think it’s ugly.

I don’t know if there’s a correlation between the “mature” content of that music and violence in inner city communities. I don’t know if the disrespectful nature of its message leads to an undermining of authority figures. But I think it’s safe to say that it certainly doesn’t inspire role model behavior.

We’ve all heard that Sean Taylor had turned the corner. We’ve heard that he had matured and those who knew him best believed that he had changed for the better influenced in no small part by his little girl.

Now that little girl has no Daddy. She has no father figure in her life, at least for now and that could affect not only her but also her children and children’s children. Generations of Taylors might be affected by one senseless act of violence.

At this time, we don’t know for sure what went down in Sean Taylor’s Florida home. But I think his good friend and former teammate Antrel Rolle has an idea.

"This was not the first incident," Rolle said. "They've been targeting him for three years now."He really didn't say too much [about the targeting] but I know he lived his life pretty much scared every day of his life when he was down in Miami because those people were targeting him. At least, he's got peace now."

Could this robbery/shooting just be a coincidence?

Sure.

But where there’s smoke…

Jason Whitlock from the Kansas City Star nailed it yesterday. If you haven't read it yet, it’s worth the read.

Taylor's death a grim reminder for us all

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Cold December Could Usher in Changes


Moving forward during a season that has yielded unexpectedly poor results, the Ravens might be wise to play their younger and less experienced players. More significant playing time could help the Ravens more accurately gauge the talent level on the current roster, particularly with some marginal and/or unproven players such as Devard Darling, David Pittman, Ronnie Prude, Antwan Barnes and Troy Smith.

Clearly such a strategy makes better long-term sense for the team but don’t expect Brian Billick to cave to such thinking until the team is mathematically eliminated from a playoff berth. However sitting some of the veterans might provide Billick with a built in excuse for what could be the Ravens worst seasonal record since the Marchibroda years.

Many are calling for an immediate change on the Ravens’ sidelines but don’t expect Bisciotti to act on Billick’s fate before the season is out. Insiders have taken note that Bisciotti spent more time than usual on the field prior to the Ravens v. Browns game and word is that Bisciotti will monitor closely how the Ravens play for Billick down the stretch. A team that quits on Billick could determine if his tenure ends as the Ravens’ skipper.

One popular solution that could keep Billick on the shady sideline of M&T Bank Stadium is for him to relinquish complete control of an abysmal offense and allow a new coordinator to handle play calling duties. That might be the only way for the defense to buy into the Billick administration for another season.

Yet that’s easier said than done.

Theoretically it could work but practically speaking, how could a new offensive coordinator function with balance and without interference while still reporting to the man formerly known as “Offensive Genius?”

A similar strategy hasn’t worked for the team 35 miles south on the Baltimore/Washington Parkway.

Why would you expect it to work any better here with a head coach whose ego is infinitely greater than the senior citizen manning the Redskins’ sideline?

The answer is, “It won’t work!”

Pick your poison Mr. Bisciotti.

Tough Decisions in Store for Ravens


As the sun prematurely sets on the Ravens season, many are looking ahead to 2008. Will the Ravens make a run at the playoffs in ’08 or will they set their sights on 2009 and beyond? Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti has stated clearly that he does not intend on operating the Ravens in a cyclical fashion and he wants the team to be competitive year in and year out. Yet he may have to take a mulligan in 2008.

Clearly the Ravens do not have efficient enough play at quarterback to make a playoff push with the current composition of the roster. Kyle Boller while somewhat more polished than in previous seasons continues to show promising glimpses here and there yet seemingly just a few plays later, he reverts back to the same rookie-like mistakes. His performance against the Chargers was a microcosm of his up and mostly down five year career.

Steve McNair is but a shadow of his former self. Once considered a solid caretaker of the football, McNair has given away possessions like a Macy’s Store Santa Claus hands out candy canes.

The salary cap situation might influence the Ravens to look a bit more beyond 2008 while keeping a watchful eye on Bisciotti’s long-term plan. Based upon numbers provided by Profootball24x7.com’s Brian McFarland, the Ravens appear to have just over $110M committed toward the 2008 Salary Cap of $116M. That leaves just under $6M in Salary Cap space to augment the 2008 roster.

What makes that figure even more alarming is that it includes only the 42 players under contract for 2008. Not included in that number are the team’s 4 Restricted Free Agents and 5 Exclusive Rights Free Agents. Those tenders will likely eat up that $6M in cap space, leaving the team right up against, or slightly spilling over the Salary Cap cup when the NFL’s hot stove league kicks off.

Clearly the team’s front office will need to be creative in order to re-sign or franchise Terrell Suggs. From a 2008 salary cap perspective, re-signing Suggs to a long-term deal is fiscally more attractive by leaps and bounds. A new Suggs deal would likely hit the Ravens cap in the 2.5M range, while slapping the franchise tag on Suggs would slap the Ravens back with a cap hit in the $8-10M range.

Perhaps even more disconcerting to Ravens fans is that the projected $110 M salary cap number does not include space to sign the team’s ’08 draft picks. More and more speculation has surfaced that the Ravens are eyeing a quarterback early in the April draft and with history as an indicator, early first round QB’s are not cheap.

If the current NFL Standings hold true to form by the season’s end, it’s a safe bet that Ozzie Newsome will be on the phone calling in his pick somewhere in the top 10. As it stands today, the Ravens would be on the clock with what looks like the draft’s eighth overall pick.

Teams that would pick ahead of the Ravens if the draft took place today are the Dolphins, Jets, Raiders, Panthers, Falcons, Patriots and Rams. Of those teams perhaps only the Panthers and the Falcons would consider quarterbacks. The Patriots will land a high pick as a result of a trade during the ’07 draft with the 49ers. Keep in mind that the Patriots have always been a friendly draft day trading partner of the Ravens.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thank You



This Thursday we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Contrary to popular opinion, the first Thanksgiving really wasn’t about Native Americans and the Pilgrims bonding and sharing each of their respective delicacies. And I doubt that the Pilgrims had big shiny belt buckles that matched their glossy shoes with smaller matching shiny buckles.

The truth is the Pilgrims sought a new land where they could freely practice their devotion to God and to follow the laws of their God. They recognized that all they had was a gift from their Maker and that they should take the time to be thankful. That is the essence of Thanksgiving.

It still is.

Personally I enjoy the simplicity of Thanksgiving. Families gathering to spend time together and to focus at least for a day upon all that they have instead regretting what they don’t have or fretting over what they aspire to have.

At times we are probably all guilty of feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t have something that we want but don’t necessarily need. And that’s ok I suppose. It is after all the culture that we are brought up in – to achieve something that our parents didn’t. To assist our children to achieve something that we can’t or won’t.

But Thanksgiving is a time to exhale. Look around you. Look at your loved ones. Look at who you are and what you are because of them. Think about what you have instead of what you don’t have.

I remember a couple of years ago on a brisk and refreshingly bright early Thanksgiving eve, I walked outside alone. The air was still and the black sky was littered with twinkling stars. Off above the horizon was the moon peering through a cloud – the only cloud in the sky. The wind was still and every molecule of my breath was clearly visible against the backdrop of the dark sky and barren trees.

It was one of those fleeting moments when everything comes into clear view and you can almost feel a weight unburden your shoulders.

The chill of the night began to grip me and I retreated for the warmth of my sister’s home. Somehow after a peaceful timeout under a dark Autumn sky I felt more appreciative of that home and certainly my sister who has always been there for me – in many ways she’s my Plymouth Rock.

Today as I sit and share this reflective moment with you, I’d simply like to say thanks to you too. Thanks for considering my opinions and for visiting our site. Our journey has exceeded four years now and there’s a long, long way to go. I’m happy you’ve at least taken in part of the journey with us and I'm hopeful that you will stay a little longer.

There are so many that I want to thank for being part of my world and part of the 24x7 world. If you've touched us in even a small way, thank you!

And then there are those whom without we wouldn’t be what we are today and those folks are deserving of mention. Please forgive me in advance if I unintentionally omit anyone.

To our sponsors past and present, thank you. I hope that we’ve helped you in measurable and memorable ways and I hope that we will continue to do so. It certainly won’t be from a lack of effort.

To our staff…thank you for challenging me, inspiring me, amusing me and mostly for knowing me. Your words and your pictures are the essence of our portion of cyberspace and my world has been enriched by your presence. Thank you!

To D3 Corp…you have been to 24x7 what George Martin was to The Beatles. Without you we wouldn't be what we are today. To John, Tanja, Mike, Nikki, Laurie and the rest of the gang...thank you so very much!

To the media members who have outwardly supported us during the past year...Anita Marks, Rob Carlin, Rob Roblin, Marty Bass, Don Scott, Jeremy Conn, Mark Zinno, Steve Stofberg, Matt Zenitz and Paul Mittermeier – thank you! I’ve learned from you all and I hope you’ve enjoyed our acquaintance.

To the Baltimore Ravens organization particularly Eric DeCosta, Bart Scott, Mark Clayton, Jason Brown, Gerome Sapp, Matt Katula, Justin Green, Terrell Suggs, DeMetrius Williams, David Pittman, Kelly Gregg, Gary Stills, Trevor Pryce, Kevin Byrne, Chad Steele, Marisol Renner, Clarence Brooks, Rick Neuheisel, Rex Ryan and Toni Lekas…thanks for taking the time when you didn’t have to.

To Steve Gardner and all of our message board moderators…thank you so much for doing such a wonderful job on what probably seems like a thankless job at times. You have created the best and most intelligent message board and the beauty is you’ve just begun to scratch the surface. Thank you so much!

To Aaron Wilson…your professionalism, intelligence, work ethic and talent are inspiring. We are thankful to have you as a contributing member of our team and please don’t forget about us when the big boys come calling.

And finally to my family and many friends…thank you for your support, your encouragement, your understanding and for your belief in this little project. Thanks for offering your arm when it appeared I might stumble. Thanks for encouraging that next step when my feet were weary. I love you all more than you know!

And thanks to all of you for indulging me if you’ve read this far and for sharing in my Thanksgiving, my favorite of Holidays.

In closing, I’ve always believed that Thanksgiving is the true starting point of the Holiday Season. I’m reminded of a line from the movie Scrooged. It comes from the film’s star Bill Murray and in my opinion it captures the essence of The Season.

"It's Christmas Eve. It's-it's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we-we-we smile a little easier, we-w-w-we-we-we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be."

May this spirit capture you throughout The Season beginning with today.

Thank You!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ravens QB of future returns to town?


Derek Anderson heads back into town with the Cleveland Browns riding a wave of confidence. And why not? Anderson has adapted well to the Rob Chudzinski offense (by way of San Diego and Cam Cameron) in Cleveland and his performance has helped the Browns to bring Brady Quinn along slowly. Anderson is a restricted free agent after the ’07 campaign and more than likely the Browns will tender him no less than the mid tender offer assuring the Browns of a No. 1 pick as compensation if the Browns choose not to match another team’s offer for Anderson.

All eyes will be on the former Oregon State teammate of Dwan Edwards this week at M&T and with each of his accomplishments, Ravens fans will undoubtedly fret even more over the potential QB of the future who got away. Yet one has to wonder if Anderson would have progressed in Baltimore the way he has in Cleveland. There’s little evidence to believe that he would have and it calls into question the Ravens’ ability to develop quarterbacks. Do they have the coaching staff – have they ever had the coaching staff to help quarterbacks improve?

The answer is a resounding “no” and that has to concern Eric DeCosta as he and his staff of scouts pour over hours of film studying quarterbacks in the draft. Their reputations are on the line and one has to wonder that if this current coaching staff remains in tact will DeCosta & Co. be willing to risk a first round pick on a quarterback who might morph into Kyle Boller, The Sequel.

Ravens Coddle Veterans


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

Sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Can Ravens' Offense Grow if Billick Stays?

We’re all tired of it. Week in and week out for longer than we all care to remember, the Ravens defense is left to pick up the broken pieces left behind by a completely dysfunctional offense.

Over and over we write and discuss the same things.

When will it end?

We all fret the results of this season, particularly on the heels of a 13-3 year in ’06. With Steve McNair having one full campaign under his belt in the Ravens’ system, we were promised a more productive offense – one that would be more dynamic and vertical with varied sets particularly with the addition of the versatile Willis McGahee.

Today such thoughts are no more than empty promises as Brian Billick and the Ravens cling hopelessly to a season that someday in retrospect will look worse than the 2005 season – one that ended with the infamous woodshed beating of Billick by Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti.

How long before the collective patience of the Ravens defense breaks and they start to dress down the offense publicly? How long before the coaching staff realizes their jobs are at stake; that their families are at risk? Might they leave for more job security elsewhere?

You have to wonder if the defensive coaching staff has had it with their offensive counterparts. Could there be resentment? Might Rex Ryan be simmering privately over the bumbling idiocy of the Ravens’ offense? Might it cost him head coaching considerations during the upcoming offseason?

Clearly the Ravens offensive system is flawed. And the flaws are not unique to 2007. It’s been flawed for years. How many teams have to exert so much effort to complete a pass for a gain of one and almost have it intercepted? How many other teams never spring their receivers completely open?

I can’t think of any, can you?

What is going on?

"I really don't have an answer for you right now," Brian Billick said after the embarrassing loss to the Bengals. "We have to go back and analyze it and see if we can come up with a better answer than what we've come up with previously."

Do you feel like you are in a time warp after reading that?

Haven’t we been hearing Billick regurgitate these same words since the second game of the preseason?

Look this is no newsflash – we all know that the common denominator through years of offensive futility is Brian Billick. One of the reasons that Billick took over the play calling last year was to clearly point the finger of praise or blame in the proper place as it relates to play calling. There’s no longer any question over whether it is Billick, Cavanaugh, Fassel or Neuheisel using the Magic 8 ball to come up with the next play. Billick wants us to know it’s him making the calls.

If you are in the line that believes the play calling is inadequate (and you thought airport security lines were long) then you want change. But can there be change there without a change at head coach? If the results remain the same should Billick relinquish play calling duties, won’t the finger of blame still point back to Billick?

There needs to be a clear detonation of this offensive system. It needs to be nuked.

Can Billick do that? Can he step aside and allow a fresh offensive mind to come in and completely take over the offense? And if he does, is Billick then even more vulnerable? What if the new offensive guru actually lives up to the billing and gets the offense going? What can Billick hang his hat on then, organizational skills for $4.5 million per?

We all want the offense to change but before it does given the dynamics of the Ravens coaching staff, a change at the top almost seems inevitable if in fact Steve Bisciotti actually wants his team to score more than 7 points against the league’s 31st ranked defense.

If not, maybe Billick stays.

The next seven weeks might not be enjoyable for Ravens’ fans but they should be interesting. In 2005 Billick had to choose between fielding the best team to win despite the absence of playoff hopes, or allowing his younger players to gain valuable experience. For the most part he stuck with the vets.

But Jonathan Ogden will almost certainly retire. Mike Flynn might follow suit. Is it not time for Jared Gaither and Chris Chester to take over? What if such moves trigger more losses? Will a weaker record weaken Billick’s chances to survive? And if he does survive, what happens then?

It’s a vicious circle and it keeps the Ravens unbalanced. One year they are good and riding high on the hog. The next they are underachieving. It’s as though Billick manages better when expectations are low and worse when they are high. Has he created a fat cat environment in which some veterans only perform to their skill level when they are beaten down and their backs are to the wall?

The bottom line is that the Ravens have far too much talent to be such an inconsistent participant in the post season. And since you can’t change all the ingredients (aka players), you may want to change the straw that mixes those ingredients.

"The only way you can [maintain confidence] is to work through it," Billick said recently. "There's no other formula for it. You go about your work and see if you can find some kind of combination, isolate what it is that's going on, and work forward, individually and collectively."

Perhaps this is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy for Billick.

Perhaps he’s no longer part of the “combination.”

Perhaps a mutually amicable split is in order.

After all does anyone doubt that irreconcilable differences abound?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bisciotti hesitant to remove Billick...Ravens in trouble v. Bengals


Brian Billick has fallen under heavy fire this season and many are calling for a change. Recently I spent a little time with Steve Bisciotti and clearly he isn’t happy with the team’s performance but cautions that a change at the head coaching position might leave the team reeling a bit when the things that Billick does well become noticeable, possibly leaving the club exposed.

That said Bisciotti explained that Billick “signed up” for the job and he is fully aware of the criticisms that come with the territory. Bisciotti also added that he did not think that Billick would be a better head coach if he relinquished play calling responsibilities.

This week the Ravens take on the Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens opened up as 5 ½ point favorites and that line now sits at four. Samari Rolle is out again and Chris McAlister will probably be listed as questionable. Throw in Ed Reed’s concussion and sensitivity to light and one would have to think that Carson Palmer and his dangerous posse of receivers have to be licking their chops.

Despite being carted off the field on a stretcher, Chad Johnson has practiced this week and he will go. T.J. Houshmandzadeh has had some lingering knee problems but he will go as well. And then there’s the troubled Chris Henry who will be returning from an eight game suspension. Henry has been practicing with the club for two weeks so he’ll be ready as well.

Will the Ravens be ready?

If they don’t run the football effectively, the Ravens will fall on Sunday. They know it, we know it and so do the Bengals. Do you think Steve McNair scares anyone anymore?

Bengals 23, Ravens 16

McNair gets testy...Play calling the same regardless of QB


The normally laid-back Ravens’ quarterback showed a few ruffled feathers on Wednesday while addressing his critics.

"Look what kind of career I've had, I don't let people tell me, outside this organization, I'm not capable of playing or I don't need to be playing. For what? They ain't never played the position of the quarterback. They never go through the things I go through, mentally and physically.

"How are you going to tell me I'm not able to play? I know what my body can do. My teammates know what my body can do and I know what I can do on the field."

Maybe McNair should have said, “I know what I used to be able to do on the field”?

McNair says he’s healthy. Brian Billick says McNair is healthy. And if that’s true, then McNair is done because his anemic performance on Monday was anything but healthy. In fact, his play has been rather unhealthy for a measurable amount of time.

Maybe McNair’s testiness on Wednesday is a good thing. Maybe he’ll amp up his play a bit. Personally I’m tired of hearing how they will work on the offense and work it out and get it right. I’m tired of hearing that there’s time and that there’s no need to press the panic button.

Folks it’s time to press the panic button!

The Ravens have far too much offensive talent to muster up 104 yards of offense and five first downs. Isn’t THAT reason enough to press the panic button? If it were me, I’d be pressing it, hammering it with a mallet and pounding my helmet into it because time is running out. If McNair’s performance was genuinely a healthy one, then it’s time for him to step aside. And not that he’s the answer, but at the moment Kyle Boller clearly looks like the lesser of two evils when it comes to quarterbacking choices for the Baltimore Ravens.

On Tuesday Mark Clayton joined us on The Hot Sauce with Bart Scott and I asked Clayton if the play calling is any different for Boller than for McNair. In so many words Clayton said that the plays are the same for both signal callers but that Boller’s hyperkinetic personality motivates him to take more chances down field than McNair might.

Maybe McNair could use some Red Bull.

Naturally Clayton said nothing about McNair’s measurable decline in velocity.

I also asked Clayton about pre-snaps reads and calls and if the Ravens inability to get to the line of scrimmage sooner under the guidance of Steve McNair limits their pre-snap options.

Again to paraphrase Clayton’s response, both the QB and the receivers have to read the defense and then process which option in the route tree is best given the look the defense is showing. Of course the trick is to understand that a defense’s pre-snap look isn’t always what they’ll see once the ball is snapped.

Let’s face it, each play is like a move on a chess board. But one has to wonder why it is that all other teams seem to find a way of exploiting certain coverages to spring a receiver wide open and the Ravens can’t. Might a quicker pace to the line of scrimmage, enable McNair to check out of plays altogether? It’s a bit of a rhetorical question yet that is something that the McNair led offense chooses to ignore play after play after play.

Ravens Defenders Flagged for Unnecessary Bravado


Don’t be surprised if Samari Rolle never plays another down in the NFL. Sources close to the team have indicated that Rolle’s medical condition is potentially career threatening primarily because doctors have not yet been able to properly diagnose the ailment. Last Thursday Rolle had a big setback that quickly forced him on to the injury report despite having played well and without medical incident against the Bills.

That said given the mystery shrouding Rolle’s condition, the team would be completely irresponsible by playing him and possibly risking further damage. The team is far more concerned about Samari Roll the man than Samari Rolle the cornerback. We all should be and our thoughts and prayers go out to him.

Much has been written and discussed about Ravens’ defenders being very demonstrative after plays despite being dominated on the scoreboard by the Steelers last Monday Night. Critics say that the behavior makes the players, team and organization look rather foolish when considering the big picture. Don’t count me among those critics – not on this topic anyway.

Look, these athletes are among the best in the world at what they do. Each and every play they compete and if they aren’t ready to compete on every down at an optimum level, they are at risk. They risk further embarrassment or perhaps even more importantly they risk injury if they aren’t completely focused.

Down 35-0, 35-7 or 38-7, who among us would not have a difficult time focusing 100%? Yet they must in order to win their individual match-ups. If Bart Scott needs to bark at the opponent to maintain his focus when his team is being annihilated so what? Don’t you want him to win the next down and the one after that? Would you rather he sheepishly tuck his tail and play like a beaten man; a man devoid of pride?

I’d much rather have a player that still cares despite the score. I’d rather have a proud player who perhaps wants to set the tone for the next encounter with his opponent. And if playing that way requires yapping at the opponent or pounding one’s chest then so be it. Regardless of the score last Monday night, the silver lining in that performance in my opinion was the heart with which the defensive front seven played throughout that game despite being abandoned by the secondary and despite the ineptitude of the Steve McNair led offense.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ravens Toe the Line of an Implosion


The only thing uglier than the Steelers throwback jerseys on Monday night was the play of the Baltimore Ravens. Once again in front of a national audience the Ravens embarrassed themselves and the city that so passionately supports them.

ESPN was unmerciful in their criticisms of the Ravens, particularly Steve Young and Tony Kornheiser. And really if you check your purple goggles at the door it’s hard to blame them.

The Ravens had 15 days to prepare for their arch-rival in a pivotal game with major post season ramifications. And if you think that it’s too early to think post season, you haven’t been paying attention. The defending AFC North Champion has now lost to each divisional foe.

Instead of being rested, sharp and prepared the Ravens looked more like a team that collectively punched the clock. The only thing they did right against the Steelers was show up on time.

Maybe they shouldn’t have.

After all that “preparation” the Ravens mustered up 104 net yards of offense (slightly outdistancing their 85 yards in penalties) and five first downs – both team records in offensive futility. Take away Willis McGahee’s 33 yard TD run and you’ll find an offense that produced 71 yards on their other 50 plays – 1.42 yards per play on average. Steve McNair
had the fewest yards passing in NFL history (63) by a quarterback that completed 13 passes. And the vaunted Ravens’ defense tied a team record with five touchdown passes allowed.

This is a team that regularly boasts about its collection of Pro Bowlers. On Monday they were simply bowled over producing the largest margin of defeat in the nine-year Brian Billick era.

Yet what should be a devastating loss that amounts to a bitter pill to swallow, doesn’t seem so bad if you listen to the coaches and players.

"[The players are] going to be disappointed and they're going to be embarrassed," Billick said. "But this team has a lot of faith in itself. And they'll get ready for the next opponent."

You mean like they did for the Steelers coach?

Steve McNair was flat out awful. It might be time to check his birth certificate because he moves and throws like a man who just might be eligible for Social Security benefits. But McNair isn’t pressing any panic buttons. After all, you have to give the other team credit right? They get paid too, right?

"We played against a good defense”, said McNair. “That's how it happened. It's not the end of the world. It's not a time to panic. But there is a sense of urgency."

A sense of urgency? Now that’s pretty funny coming from a guy whose walk to the line of scrimmage triggers flashbacks to Dawn of The Living Dead.

What do you think coach?

"I wouldn't begin to know how to characterize this," Billick said. "You have days like that. I won't try to justify it or try to explain it. You just can't do the things that we did."

Yeah, no kidding!

Let’s face it, this season is kissing up against the brim of an implosion similar to that of 2005 and the finger of blame might soon get busy in Owings Mills. Clearly there’s plenty of it to go around.

The Ravens are far too talented to perform as they have. Maybe the mix of talent is wrong. Maybe Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta have delivered the groceries for Billick and his staff but they can’t blend them the right way. Is there a new chef in the house?

This week the Bengals come into town and when Carson Palmer sits down to watch the tape of Monday night’s game, he’s going to feel like a sailor at a Victoria’s Secret convention.

On the heels of the Bengals come the surging Browns followed by the Chargers, Patriots and Colts. A month from now the much anticipated 2007 season could look like a mushroom cloud and when it does it will be interesting to see who the survivors are.

Meanwhile if you are looking for a silver lining in this looming cloud think about this – at least you won’t have to shell out money during the Holiday Season for playoff tickets.

Until then, do yourself a favor and seriously drop your expectation levels for the 2007 season. It might help to cushion the pending fall and help you to enjoy the remainder of the season albeit in a very tempered way.

Why get too upset about it?

After all it’s not the end of the world, right?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Around Baltimore & The NFL

The Ravens were notified by the league that the 34 yard pass interference penalty against Samari Rolle during the Ravens @ Bills contest was a big fat mistake. Replays showed that Rolle’s coverage on the play was nearly text book. The back judge was sent to his room with no dessert. The Ravens were sent home with a loss.

Plays like this one need to either be reviewed by replay or they should not be spot fouls. Clearly the crime didn’t fit the punishment. Perhaps more teams should pay attention to officiating crews that call ticky-tack fouls like that and take advantage of it. Why not? What’s the alternative for the Ravens, another third down throw short of the first down marker?

ESPN 1300’s Damon Yaffe was stiffed by the fledgling indoor football team the Baltimore Blackbirds…at least according to Yaffe. No surprise there if you pay any attention to the local rumor mill. Word is the team was financially strapped from day 1. Hopefully rational heads will prevail and Yaffe will get the dough he’s entitled to.

That said, Yaffe (aka “The Bulldog”) apparently likes to get into character and takes himself a bit too seriously. He “bites” callers who disagree with him or those who make points that he believes are invalid and then delivers a complimentary dial tone to the caller.

Recently he discussed the value of fullbacks in the NFL and opined that the league’s defenses have adjusted to the position so well that the usefulness of the position is in decline. I wonder if LaDainian Tomlinson would agree. Fullback Lorenzo Neal had something to do with Tomlinson’s NFL record 31 TD’s in 2006, don’t you think?

But back to Yaffe’s bite…

On more than one occasion 24x7 has felt the pinch of those canines too as our integrity has been openly questioned on air by Yaffe. Recently he claimed that I suggested that he was demoted by the Blackbirds. First of all, I have as much interest in what he did or didn’t do for the Blackbirds as I do in the dietary supplements he used to peddle – in other words none! I don’t care if he was demoted or promoted. I have more interest in whether the traffic light on Harford Road and North Avenue is functioning properly than in Yaffe’s burgeoning career as a football coach.

Here’s a guy that talks about integrity then assigns anonymous comments on my blog to me and labels them as flawed reporting lacking in integrity.
(see link)

I’ll let you be the judge. In the meantime, I feel like I need a shower stooping to these depths but when your integrity is erroneously called into question, you need to bite back.

Now can someone please pass me the mouthwash?

Almost four years ago (it seems much longer) the Orioles announced the hiring of Lee Mazzilli. One of the other candidates vying for the position at the time was Terry Francona. Francona lost out and now just a presidential term later, he has two rings and an 8-0 record in the World Series.

More recently Joe Girardi spurned the Orioles hoping for a better opportunity. He got his earlier this week as the new Yankees’ skipper.

With about 9 minutes left to go in the fourth quarter against the Redskins last week, the Patriots faced a fourth and goal from the 2. The Pats went for it and converted on a Tom Brady TD pass making the score 45-0. Belichick must be feeling pretty invincible these days but don’t be surprised if he raises the ire of one too many overzealous defenders who might throw caution to the wind in pursuit of Tom Brady. Then what?

The Patriots take their act of perfection to the RCA Dome in Indy to face the other act of perfection in ’07, the Indianapolis Colts. In the AFC Championship Game last season under the same roof, the Colts battled back from a 21-6 halftime deficit to win 38-34. The Patriots couldn’t stop the Colts on third down in the second half as Indy converted 6 of 7 third downs due in large part to their ability to run the ball effectively in key situations. The Colts had 93 net rushing yards after the break as center Jeff Saturday controlled the interior line of scrimmage. Don’t be surprised to see more of the same.

Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel has had a banner season so far and won his first AFC Defensive Player of the Week award last week during the aforementioned thumping of the Redskins. In addition to his 13 tackles, 3 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles Vrabel also caught a touchdown pass. Now I don’t know about you but when No. 50 checks in down inside the 5 yard line as an eligible receiver, you better put a body on the guy. Since 2002 Vrabel has eight catches to his credit for a grand total of 11 yards. All eight catches have been for touchdowns.

Check this out from SI’s Peter King, perhaps the country’s biggest Patriots’ apologist:

The Ravens travel to Pittsburgh for a key divisional battle with the 5-2 Steelers this weekend. Though it may be a little early to label any game a "must win," this one may just be that for the Ravens. After Pittsburgh, Baltimore hosts their other division rivals — Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Everyone looks at Sunday's game against the Colts as the biggest challenge in the Patriots' bid for an undefeated season. Agreed. But the other game that has a chance to be competitive -- notice I didn't say "the game they have a chance to lose?'' -- is the Monday-nighter on Dec. 3 at Baltimore. No team gets up for a prime time, national TV game like the Ravens.


Has King been paying attention to the results of those prime time games? The Ravens might get up for them, but they don’t put up during them.

The Steelers cut former second round pick Ricardo Colclough this week. The cornerback was selected by Pittsburgh in 2004. There’s always a danger in selecting and projecting players from small schools like Tusculum into the NFL. Apparently the Steelers saw enough despite the high price of a second round pick. Might the same be in store for the Ravens’ David Pittman, a third round pick out of Northwestern State. Word is that the Ravens defensive coaches aren't very thrilled with the second year CB. FYI, the Browns picked up Colclough on waivers. Who among us would be surprised if they did the same with Pittman if he too is cut loose?

The NFL fined 49ers kicker Joe Nedney $7,500 for flashing the finger that universally does not represent peace, love and happiness. Nedney flipped the bird to a heckler at Monster Park during the Niners loss to the Saints. Ravens fans certainly have a warm spot in their hearts for the former temporary Raven who missed a game winning field goal in San Francisco to the delight of the many Baltimore fans in attendance.

"I should've counted to 10 and taken a couple deep breaths. A comment was made to me at the wrong time and I lashed out, and now I've financially paid the consequences," Nedney said.

The line on the Ravens @ Steelers opened at 7 ½ points and in some betting houses the line has climbed to 10. That could be cause for concern to Ravens’ fans. Pittsburgh lines generally seem to be a bit slanted towards the Steelers with the hope that a higher line will entice more money to go against them thus leveling out the distribution of wagered funds. Still, the line is big and while there is really no compelling reason to pick the Ravens straight up other than their complete domination of the Steelers last year, if Rex Ryan can answer the Steelers’ no huddle and clog Ben Roethlisberger’s passing lanes during his 3 and 5 step drops, I’ll go with the good guys – Ravens 19, Steelers 17.