Friday, October 31, 2008

Ravens @ Browns: Let's get ready to rumble!!!

After talking to a few people in and around the Ravens, the team appears to be taking on the role of underdog heading into Cleveland. Now to some that may seem a bit unusual since the Ravens beat the Browns pretty decisively back in September (28-10) and they are one game ahead of Romeo Crennel’s gang after 7 games. Despite that, odds makers list the Ravens as 1 ½ point underdogs.

The Ravens respect the Browns and believe that they are now the team that many thought they could be at the outset of the season after beating the world champion Giants at home and a tough Jaguars team on the road. They also competed down to the wire with a surprisingly competitive Washington Redskins.

So what has changed for the Browns since they last took on the Ravens on September 21?

Well it appears that the offensive line has settled down. Through the first 3 games the Browns allowed 7 sacks. In the last four they’ve allowed only 3 and that has enabled Derek Anderson to take some shots down field and that’s exactly what everyone expects him to do against a banged up Ravens’ secondary.

And the Ravens know it too.

In his four career games against the Ravens, Anderson has completed 56.8% of his passes for 826 yards, 5 scores and 7 interceptions. He’s also fumbled twice and he’s been sacked 10 times to go with a passer rating of 67.0.

Jamal Lewis has rushed 57 times against the Ravens in 3 games for 212 yards, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and hitting pay dirt twice.

Defensively the Browns are ranked 21st overall and 24th against the run. They defend the pass well as they are tied with the Ravens for 5th in interceptions and they are the league’s 10th best controlling the airwaves.

Not much has changed for the Browns over the past 18 months. The Ravens are very familiar with them and their Dawg Pound home crowd. Conversely, Harbaugh’s bunch has changed far more than the Browns and they planted even more seeds of change last week against the Raiders with their "Suggs Set." The Ravens are no longer a predictable offense.

That said, the Ravens will still try and control this game on the ground – and that’s predictable. It's a successful formula on the road. The Browns will try to control the game by air. That’s predictable too. It could be argued that the winner of this game will be determined by how well the Ravens throw the ball versus how well the Browns run it.

In a way this game is a bit like the Ravens game on the road versus the Steelers. It will be a slugfest. It will be a battle of wills and it will be emotional. The difference this time is that Joe Flacco has a few more snaps under his belt and the Browns, despite their improved level of play are not the Steelers and clearly Derek Anderson is not Ben Roethlisberger.

Oh and if you are the superstitious type, it is Halloween Weekend and we will soon celebrate Edgar Allen Poe’s 200th birthday. Therefore it seems pretty appropriate that the Ravens start their second journey towards 100 wins on Sunday.

When the clock strikes 0:00, the final score will be Ravens 20, Browns 17


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Unhappy secondary could become Ravens' primary concern

Judging from the things we’ve seen and heard around Owings Mills, the bet here is that Chris McAlister will end up on injured reserve within the next two weeks. Body language, rumors, innuendo and the things you read between the lines suggest that McAlister doesn’t really like John Harbaugh and McAlister’s personality isn’t really conducive to eating a little humble pie, buckling up his chin strap and playing football again. Not this year anyway.

Just last week McAlister told reporters that his knee was “excellent.” Want us to read between the lines Chris? Ok, I’ll play. What it says to me is that you are a smart ass!

This behavior is indicative of the unique personality that is Chris McAlister. He’ll reverse field soon, admit that the knee just isn’t 100% and go on IR, officially ending his season and more than likely his career as a Raven.

It is unlikely that Harbaugh will entertain the idea of McAlister returning in ’09 – not with his attitude and not when his release represents an $8 million cap savings which could be used to sign other free agents including a few of the Ravens’ own.

McAlister is on record saying that he would like to extend his playing career by following the career path of Rod Woodson who moved to safety from corner when he no longer possessed the top end speed required for the position. And he could very well do that but it won’t be in Baltimore.

Thanks for the memories…

Speaking of safety, the best in town is Ed Reed, a player most thought would be a life long Raven. And while Reed isn’t quite the malcontent that McAlister is, he isn’t completely buying into the Harbaugh Way. Reed has been hurt throughout the season and isn’t playing consistently well – certainly not the way we’ve come to expect from the All Pro safety. But for the better part of two seasons, let’s face it, Reed hasn’t been Reed.

Ed Reed needs to make plays. He craves it. Consider this quote from the Ravens’ safety:

“I grew up watching Michael Jordan. When his team needed somebody to make a play, he put it on his shoulders and made it. He inspired me. That’s the mentality I take to each game – make a play that will make a difference for my team. When the other team comes to the line, I’m saying to myself: ‘Make a play.’”

So, if that’s Reed’s mentality and more times than not in ’08 he is playing centerfield to protect his injury and to enable the corners to man up, might that not leave him out of position at times? Might that explain why the Ravens have given up so many big plays and then pointed to communication break downs? Does his desire to make a play leave the team vulnerable? And with such pre-snap ambitions, can he fully commit to the concept of “team?”

The truth be told Reed isn’t worth the money the Ravens are spending on him right now. If he can’t buy into “team” (I suggest that Ray Lewis b---- slap him a bit) and if he can’t get on board the Harbaugh Way 100%, then it might be time to move him too. Think it’s a crazy suggestion? Then answer this, how many playoff games have the Ravens won with Ed Reed?

Answer: The same amount that they’ve won with you and me.

Moving on a free agent who has been out there quite a while is Ty Law. If the Ravens consider themselves a serious playoff contender, might he not help? It very well could be that Law is too long in the tooth to contribute but might he not be worthy of a look?

A player the Ravens did give a look to is RB Marcus Mason who they picked up from the Redskins. Mason is said to be a decent special teams player with upside at running back. Now I realize the Ravens are pretty set at RB with the three headed monster but why not move Mason to the active roster – one that includes Edgar Jones who is a transitional tight end (who seems to contribute nothing but penalties to the box score) and WR Ernie Wheelwright (who can’t even get on the field despite the team’s problems at receiver).

Oops, too late now…the Jets just signed Mason to their active roster.

And we never even got to know you Marcus.

Happy trails….
Photo by Sabina Moran

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cam Cameron brings winning mentality to Ravens offense

I’ve dialed in to some of the sports talk shows around town and I get a sense that some hosts and listeners believe that the so-called “Suggs Package” was a knee jerk reaction/response from the coaching staff to appease Terrell Suggs. Some have even suggested that Suggs isn’t alone as it relates to his opinions about Troy Smith as the team’s starter and that the coaching staff brilliantly squelched further unrest within the locker room by simultaneously inserting Joe Flacco and Smith into the game.

That’s bull!

A more settled locker room and an appeased Terrell Suggs are simply convenient byproducts of a bigger plan. These offensive sub packages weren’t drawn up overnight. This is the NFL and drawing plays in the dirt just doesn’t work. Execution is key and to execute properly requires practice.

The truth be told, these packages were in the works long ago and the only thing that prevented us from seeing them sooner was the illness of Troy Smith.

Now the Ravens have established some new looks. Call it trickery, gadgetry, creativity, whatever – the bottom line is that it makes opposing defenses think a little longer before reacting to an offensive play unfolding in front of them. And once they hesitate to think, it slows down the reaction speed and that paves the way for separation. With separation comes a greater degree of offensive success.

This is all part of a philosophy of “play to win” that the Harbaugh regime embraces versus the ultra conservative “manage the game” approach of the Billick coached teams.

Since he took over the reigns as defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan has done his best to utilize the talents available to him to achieve the greatest good for the defense. Prior to 2008, the Ravens offense never seemed willing to do that. That has now changed.

"[Cam Cameron is] scouring our whole football team," Harbaugh said. "I guess the cat is out of the bag for our opponents, but we've got a package. Maybe they'll see it, maybe they won't, but he's amazingly creative in matching personnel to scheme. That kind of stuff makes it more fun for the players. It gets them more involved."

This in part explains the inclusion of Haloti Ngata at tight end in goal line sub packages.

On Sunday Cameron pointed out, "If you practice it and never call it, the players just lose interest," Cameron said. "We've got to coach it, and the players execute it."

The changing philosophy has energized the entire team. Going forward the attack mentality could place opposing defenses on their heels and if that happens, the Ravens could take more commanding leads in games like they did on Sunday. And then that helps the defense because it forces opposing offenses to become more one dimensional.

Some have complained that about the 43 yard pass play to Joe Flacco from Troy Smith on Sunday. A few complaints have centered upon what some feel are unnecessary health risks for the starting quarterback. Others have wondered why the Ravens showed the play against an obviously inferior opponent during a game that was well in hand.

From this keyboard, I see it just the opposite…

First, if you never throw it to Flacco when he lines up on the flank, then defenders will ignore him and that leaves 11 defenders to stop 10 offensive players. Now that Smith and Flacco have connected, Flacco needs to be accounted for.

As for showing it against the Raiders when the game had seemingly already been won, why not do it then? If it fails, there’s nothing lost and they’ve still planted the seed. Now you can bet that Romeo Crennel is spending valuable prep time creating ways to thwart a play and a sub package that the Ravens may not even show again on Sunday.

While watching Joe Flacco survey the Raiders’ secondary for what seemed like 30 seconds before he connected on a 70 yard scoring strike to Demetrius Williams, I couldn’t help but think about Kyle Boller. If placed in that same situation, Boller would probably have pulled the ball down and run out of bounds for a 4 yard gain.

That said, where is Kyle Boller these days?

Will we ever see him again?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Earnest Byner needs to step up and take his own placard down from Ravens' ROH

Dear Earnie,

I’m writing this letter to you in an attempt to appeal to your sense of reasonability and your assumed appreciation for the history and tradition of the National Football League.

Back in 2000 during halftime of a game between the Ravens and the Browns, you became the first inductee into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor. You later admitted, "That [award] was a tremendous thrill. My legacy was the tie between two cities."

Now you must admit and understand that the Ring of Honor is a prestigious award. It is intended to honor Ravens of the past who performed on and off the field with distinction. Please allow me to be perfectly frank here Earnie, your career as a Raven was hardly distinguished. And as the inaugural inductee, you should represent the standard upon which all future inductees are measured.

Let’s talk about measurements…

During your two seasons as a Raven, you rushed for 947 yards, had 398 yards receiving and you scored five touchdowns in 14 total starts in 1996 and 1997. As of this writing, your rushing totals don’t even place you among the top 5 Ravens’ of all time despite the franchise’s short history.

This past Sunday, Willis McGahee moved into fourth place on the team's all-time rushing chart (1,558 yards) one notch above Bam Morris (1,511 yards). Jamal Lewis (7,801), Priest Holmes (2,102), Chester Taylor (1,599) and even Errict Rhett (1,032) have more rushing yards as members of the Baltimore Ravens. Of those six only Lewis is expected to be a ring inductee.

You know as well as I do that your inclusion in that ring was yet another example of Art Modell’s sentimentality and philanthropic tendencies. In an obvious moment of weakness he honored you for your commitment to his organization for time served in Cleveland and in Baltimore. You even admit that your inclusion in the ring ties the two cities together. But Earnie, let’s be honest here, those two cities don’t care about sharing connectivity. Actually they would probably prefer to untie any ties that bind them.

You didn’t ask me, but I think Mr. Modell should have given you a nice watch and said thank you. Instead, we are all reminded of his egregious error every time we look at the Ring of Honor.

Yesterday, Jonathan Ogden, arguably the greatest Raven of all time was honored and placed among your distinguished brethren. Yet with you as the standard, how is that an honor? It isn’t your fault that you are up there among them but really isn’t Ogden placed in your company of honor about the same as Joe Flacco being named MVP of a high school all-star game?

I don’t mean to diminish your accomplishments as a professional football player. You had a fine career with the Redskins and Browns. You were a Pro Bowler in ’90 and ’91 while you were with the Redskins, won a Super Bowl while wearing the burgundy and gold and you were even named one of the 70 greatest Redskins of all time. That you deserved! The Ravens Ring of Honor you do not deserve and I’m sure if you’ve given it any thought, you’d admit it too.

Future generations of Ravens fans will remember Jon Ogden. They might even remember Michael McCrary or Peter Boulware. But they will only remember you as an inductee who doesn’t belong, if at all.

So how can this be corrected? How can future inductees feel a greater sense of accomplishment? Surely if your 947 yards serve as the measuring stick, how soon will it be before they run out of placard space down there at M&T Bank Stadium?

Steve Bisciotti won’t take down your name. That would be a slap in the face of a man he respects and admires – namely Art Modell. Mr. Modell would never take it down. He wouldn’t want to embarrass you and he’s simply just too kind and considerate of a man.

So really Earnie, it’s up to you. You should volunteer to have your named removed from the ring. Instead of being looked upon as an undeserving and almost laughable member of that ring, you could be viewed as a very reasonable man with such an appreciation of the league’s history and tradition that through your voluntary removal from the ring you would be viewed by all as incredibly selfless.

You would be remembered for your dignity.

By definition honor is a token of esteem paid to worth; a mark of respect.

How ironic is it that you would be viewed as more honorable by removing your name from the Ring of Honor?

But you know what Earnie? That is exactly what would happen.

So from my vantage point it really boils down to this – keep your name in the ring and be the butt of jokes or remove it and earn the respect that you will never realize as an undeserving inductee.

The choice is yours and yours alone.

I hope you make the right one.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Harbaugh might be smarter than you think in handling of Cmac

After such a big win on Sunday on the road – and let’s face it the road hasn’t been kind to the Ravens, our collective focus this week is upon off the field babbling and whining instead of the developments between the lines. Fault abounds for the distractions but none of it is anything that another win or two can’t cure. Time will tell.

But let’s face it, Chris McAlister’s pouting was predictable. Terrell Suggs verbal stumblings and bumblings were not a surprise. And John Harbaugh’s handling of the media was fairly appropo for a rookie head coach. That said, Harbaugh’s responses to the drama are far more intriguing than the immaturity of McAlister or Suggs.

On the surface, it looks like Harbaugh hasn’t been very forthcoming. First he pointed at McAlister’s health as a reason for the benching against the Dolphins yet admitted that CMac had a very good week of practice. McAlister was not listed on the injury report submitted to the league on Friday and I’m sure the watchdogs that observe the injury report gamesmanship exhibited often by Bill Belichick raised an eyebrow or four over this controversy.

Then Harbaugh danced around the McAlister issue and the watchdogs claiming that the team simply wanted to field its best 11 players on defense to thwart the Dolphins various personnel packages. If true, Harbaugh is essentially saying that Frank Walker is a more productive player than McAlister.


Suddenly John Lennon’s song Mind Games is playing in my head.

I think the Ravens were testing McAlister. Clearly he had an atrocious game against Marvin Harrison who has lost more steps than Warren Sapp on Dancing with the Stars. Rumors have surfaced that McAlister’s attendance wasn’t exactly stellar during team prep meetings leading into the Colts’ game. There have been reports of scantily dressed women waiting to pick up tickets from McAlister for the Dolphins game followed by reports of him violating team dress codes.

So, on the heels of a poor performance and a season to date where McAlister looks like he’s lost a few steps of his own mixed in with a few shenanigans that don’t sit well with coach, the Ravens decide to embarrass McAlister.

Sometimes children need to be treated as such.

Perhaps the test has a more macro objective. Maybe the Ravens were toying with McAlister to see if they really want to bring him back at all in 2009. Or maybe they are taking a whack at his market value to pave the way to a salary cut next season when McAlister is due $8 million in salary. Or maybe McAlister isn’t in the team’s plans at all in ’09 and they will look to cut him loose and give his $8 million to a truly elite corner.

(Side bar: Due yourself a favor and check out my colleague Brian McFarland’s piece on the
Ravens salary cap picture for 2009. It’s the home run the Rays needed last night.)

Look McAlister has little leverage here. He knows he can’t make $8 million in 2009 anywhere other than Baltimore. When his agent reminds him of that, maybe then McAlister will buckle down because clearly something is awry. Why else do you sit a player who is your best corner when your secondary is injury riddled and you are facing a must win game on the road?

Maybe Harbaugh and Rex Ryan as well thought the timing was right to send McAlister a message. Maybe they weren’t too concerned with the Dolphins going deep when their quarterback (Chad Pennington) makes Steve McNair’s fastball look like that of John Elway. And maybe they aren’t too concerned this week either when the Ravens face league’s 27th ranked passing attack.

Surely McAlister’s blood will boil and he’ll reconnect with the team because he has no choice. Eventually the Ravens might use the reconnection to their advantage when they take on opponents that possess respectable vertical games featuring dangerous receivers who can stretch the field. They will have effectively painted McAlister in a corner and his only way out will benefit the team.


Maybe that Harbaugh isn’t such a rookie after all.

But then again, maybe I’m giving him far more credit than he deserves.

Time as it usually does, will tell…

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Suggs claims Ravens have a bounty on Hines Ward

If you are reading this column, chances are you really don’t like Hines Ward. You might respect him, you might even like him if he was on your team but since he’s not, it’s really easy to hate on Ward.

He plays hard, he’s a solid team player, supports his coach and counsels struggling teammates and he is about as indestructible of a receiver as there is in the NFL particularly when you consider his physical style of play. He’s on the opposite end of the receiver spectrum from former Raven Clarence Moore.

But Ward walks a fine line and pushes the envelope of what is legal and steps well beyond the boundaries of sportsmanship.

Defensive players are fined when they intentionally hit a defenseless opponent. Sometimes they are fined if they inadvertently crush an offensive player (
see Anquan Boldin). Yet time and time again, Hines Ward runs past defenders to feign a pass route only to come back and blindside them on running plays.

Is the NFL suggesting that defenders are less important by not penalizing such actions? Is the competition committee condoning “Jacked Up” defenders but not receivers crossing the middle?

It would be one thing if Ward was guilty of the blind side shot once or twice but this has become as big a part of the Steelers’ offensive attack as cut blocking is to the Denver Broncos. It blurs the lines of legality and it threatens careers.

What if Ward crushes Bart Scott again and blows out his knee? How many teams do you think will line up to sign Scott when he becomes a free agent? How does that impact his ability to support his family? What if Ward blindsides Ed Reed again and the neck and shoulder nerve impingement becomes so severe that he is forced into retirement?

These players need to get the cash while it’s available to them and that is a small window. That’s why it is no surprise to hear Terrell Suggs state that the Ravens have an open bounty on the head of Ward. has received an audio tape of the interview heard on the syndicated sports talk show
2 Live Stews. During the interview, Suggs fires two missiles. The first has to do with the bounty on Ward that according to PFT was put in play when the Ravens traveled to Heinz Field on September 29.

Might the “alleged” bounty have influenced Jarret Johnson’s personal foul on Ward out of bounds on the Ravens’ sideline?

The bounty remains outstanding and it will undoubtedly provide bulletin board material and edgy game officials when the Steelers visit on December 14. When they do according to PFT, Suggs said, “We’ve got something in store for him.”

The other missile fired by Suggs during this interview has to do with Ravens’ starting quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco according to Suggs, “should get some playing time, but I think Troy [Smith] should be the starter.” He added, “[Flacco] started out hot, [but] I mean we played two teams [ Cincinnati and Cleveland] at the bottom of the league in defense, so everybody was going all crazy about him.”

Whether or not Flacco should be the starter is certainly a debatable topic. I’m of the opinion that he should remain the starter and the team should build towards the post season in 2009. Besides at this point, who knows where Troy Smith will be next season? The club’s investment is in Flacco.

But all that aside, the Ravens have an opportunity to move to 4-3 this weekend when they take on the Raiders at home. The team then moves on to road games against the Browns, Texans and Giants which really elevates the importance of this weekend’s game against Oakland.

Do the Ravens need these distractions perpetuated by Suggs?

In case you are wondering, bounties are illegal in the NFL. Surely Roger Goodell is listening and Suggs’ comment could bring unnecessary attention and become a major distraction during game preparation for both the players and coaches. And Suggs wonders why the league and its officials might be a little twitchy with the yellow laundry as it relates to the Ravens?

Is Suggs really this dumb?

Isn’t publicly admitting on sports talk radio that there was/is a bounty on Ward akin to describing the sexual preferences of your ex-girlfriend with your wife?

And to make matters worse, might Suggs’ comments about Troy Smith undermine Flacco’s progress? Might his thoughtless blathering create a divide in the locker room just when it appears that the offense is beginning to take shape?

And this guy has a radio show?

I bet the PR staff at 1 Winning Drive will be on the edge of their seats listening to this week’s edition of “Uncensored” radio.

Who knows, maybe he’s trying to force the hand of Ozzie Newsome and he really doesn’t want to return to Baltimore after all in 2009.

He just might get his wish.

Or worse, he might get it from Hines Ward.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ravens v. McAlister: Who's lying now?

There’s an interesting little soap opera developing at One Winning Drive and the protagonist and antagonist are John Harbaugh and Chris McAlister, respectively.

Now McAlister’s history naturally locks him in as the villain. He’s the guy who regularly loses his mind on the field and he has been the author of some of the team’s most untimely personal fouls in the club’s history. Mix in the little visit to Tijuana back in 2003, an averted DUI in Virginia and possession of marijuana charges that were dismissed and the detective in all of us would find McAlister guilty before proven innocent.

So the picture of him standing on the sidelines on Sunday fully dressed, seemingly healthy and ready to play in Miami just screamed the question, “What kind of trouble did CMac get into last night in South Beach?”

The answer from what I’ve been told is, “None!”

The decision to not start McAlister has to do with his precipitous drop in game speed that was exposed by an aging Marvin Harrison who by no strange coincidence went back into hibernation against the Packers this past Sunday (2 catches, 11 yards).

Making the soap opera even more interesting is McAlister’s unwillingness to admit that his knee isn’t healthy. If it isn’t healthy, why not just say it? Does he think that if word gets out it might make him a more inviting target? Clearly Peyton Manning viewed him as such.

But why not come out with it Chris? Man up! Really, what’s the big deal?

Instead McAlister describes a knee that forced him to the sidelines most of camp and the preseason as “excellent.”

Meanwhile a team dying for competent play at corner benches a Pro Bowl DB who deems himself fit to play. It doesn't add up.

Someone is lying.

While McAlister’s unwillingness to admit his ailment is puzzling, it would be even more puzzling for a team that needs an accomplished and healthy corner to sit him down in favor of one of the most desirable welcome mats for wide receivers in the NFL (Frank Walker).

Count me among those who think CMac’s pants are on fire in more ways than one.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Baltimore's feeling like deja vu all over again

Let’s put things in perspective…the Ravens are far from a good team and say what you want about the close losses to the Steelers and the Titans, at the end of the day, they were losses and the Ravens simply do not have what it takes to compete with good teams. Truth be told, they look like a minor league squad and at best they are in the upper echelon of the bottom third of the league.

I’ve got my whipping stick out and it’s time for a few beatings…

Cam Cameron – what kind of game plan was that? Now I get that the game escaped you rather early but why would you even consider running east and west? The Colts are light but fast so why not go directly at them? Running laterally allowed the Colts to utilize their speed and they did. You need to do better. The Ravens’ running game was supposed to set the tempo and it did – for the Colts.

Willis McGahee – can he possibly be any slower to the hole. I’m sorry folks but McGahee looks like a guy who is happy to collect a paycheck and not one hell bent on winning. I don’t think he wakes up in the morning on game day thinking Super Bowl. I just don’t see the passion, commitment and attention to detail. He is a prototypical underachiever.

John Harbaugh – he looked rather chump-like when splitting hairs over 2 seconds on the game clock as the contest approached the 2 minute warning in the fourth quarter while down 31-3. You need to learn to cut your losses coach. Who looks like the bigger rookie at this point, Harbaugh or Joe Flacco?

With all due respect to Derrick Mason, what do the Ravens’ receivers get paid for? On the game’s second offensive play, Flacco was flushed right and had a chance to survey the field for what seemed like an eternity. Nothing! Just about any other team given that much time will hurt an opponent? Not the Ravens. They throw it out of bounds.

Something has to be wrong with Todd Heap and I was happy to see Harbaugh bending his ear after his rather lame attempt to make a play on a Flacco throw. Sometimes your playmakers have to step up. Heap bears no resemblance to a playmaker these days and this was supposed to be an offense that featured tight ends.

The Ravens’ secondary is clearly banged up but who could expect them to make a rapidly declining Marvin Harrison look about 5 years younger? Chris McAlister looks slow and he bites on a double move more than a school of starving piranhas bites on an exposed pound of flesh. Sorry folks but Ed Reed continues to abandon his back end responsibilities preferring instead to take foolish risks. At the end of the day, it makes Reed look like one of the league’s most overrated players.

What was Rex Ryan thinking? Corey Ivy man-to-man on Reggie Wayne, are you kidding me? What’s next, Frank Walker on Andre Johnson?

Hey Yamon, your hamstring hurts right? Figurs has no burst, doesn’t follow his blockers and makes bad decisions. Where is Lamont Brightful when you need him?

Reality check time folks – all those early season win projections of 7 or less…don’t toss them out. At this point 7 wins looks like a Super Bowl win!

As if things couldn’t get any worse, arguably the most productive offensive lineman the Ravens have is now done for the season. The Ravens are hopeful that Marshal Yanda will be able to recover from a torn PCL, MCL and ACL in time to be ready for summer camp ’09.

It was a bad day in Indy, a really bad day. After some initial hope that things would be different than the late Billick years, it’s hard to find much that has changed. Perhaps even Peyton Manning thought Billick was patrolling the Ravens’ sideline too when he took a shot downfield late in the game with the Colts holding a commanding 31-3 lead.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like 2007.

Ravens @ Colts: A simple path to victory

The Ravens @ Colts just doesn’t seem to pack the venom that it once did. While some still can’t get over the Colts’ move to Indianapolis it seems that the majority has and it’s probably about time. The Colts have been in Indy for 24 + years now and in another 8 years this incarnation of the Colts will have been in Indy longer than they were in Baltimore.

Still, it’s tough to look at those colors and horseshoes without regrets…

Been there, done that, let’s fast forward to today’s game against Tony Dungy’s crew…

For me this game boils down to one question: Who will be more dominant, the Ravens’ running game against the league’s worst rushing defense or Peyton Manning’s aerial assault against a banged up Ravens’ secondary? This decides the game. All of the other allegedly insightful bantering amounts to nothing more than over analyzing. This is where the game will be won and lost.

Last week I begged the Ravens to take some shots downfield. This week, I will beg them not to. Pound the rock, pound the rock, pound the rock…and mix in some play action for short to intermediate throws and keep the clock chugging along.

Le’Ron McClain weighs as much as the heaviest Colts’ defensive lineman. That qualifies as a mismatch, don’t you think?

Pounding the Colts’ defense into submission rips out their collective heart, keeps Peyton Manning off the field and it quiets a hostile hometown crowd looking to witness its first victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.

On the other hand, there’s Manning and he is getting back into shape and that could spell doom for a Ravens’ secondary that couldn’t keep the mighty Kerry Collins in check with receivers that might sit pretty low on Hereford High School’s depth chart.
Frank Walker today to Peyton Manning is the equivalent of Christmas morning to a 7 year old. And ultimately, that mismatch will be the difference. They might contain Manning for a while but in the end, he’ll finish a big play or two that will weigh heavily in the game’s outcome. I just can’t see this limited secondary of the Ravens keeping Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez out of the end zone. I also think Joseph Addai will be a factor in the passing game.

Oh and by the way, I hope I receive hundreds of comments on this blog post criticizing my mental capacities and whacked perspective on this game. I’ll happily accept a double serving of humble pie on this one. That said I can’t help but conclude that around 4:15 PM today, we’ll all be pondering the third consecutive game that got away as Manning guides a late scoring drive to clinch the victory. Colts 20, Ravens 16.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

WARNING TO RAVENS' FANS: 'Rome wasn't built in a day.'

While watching the Ravens v. Titans on Sunday from my chair in Section 101, I had flashbacks to previous Ravens’ meltdowns against the New England Patriots last season and against the Detroit Lions a few years back.

The Ravens, particularly the defense, play with so much emotion, effort and intensity that it is so difficult for them to ratchet down the adrenalin when a call doesn’t go their way. Of course that is the professional thing yet in the past such professionalism has often escaped the Ravens’ defense.

Professional quarterbacks and offensive coordinators will use that raw emotion against their opponent to get them to over commit or to sell out and when they do, their flank is exposed and defeat isn’t far behind.

We were led to believe that the Ravens would become a more professional and disciplined team under John Harbaugh. So far that hasn’t happened – at least not to our collective level of satisfaction.

As the game unfolded, the tension grew and the Ravens seemed to unravel and lose their poise – a development that didn’t go unnoticed by Ravens’ fans. I lost my poise too and my football Tourette’s kicked in again.

Seeking sensibility, I was engaged in a text exchange with a friend close to the team. And after trading several text messages his last read, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

It was then that I realized the excitement and competitiveness of the team over their initial three games heightened my level of expectation to the point where I expected the seemingly rapid development and maturation process to continue to accelerate.

The mini-meltdown was sort of a speed bump for me. It reminded me that there’s still a lot of work ahead and suddenly, my level of expectation dropped precipitously.

I’m now back to comparing this Ravens team to the one in 2002 and 2003…maybe even that of 1999. Back then they delivered excitement, competed regularly and captured our attention. Any post season aspirations while certainly welcomed were considered a bonus.

I can now take in the 2008 season with a little more clarity and I’m sure I’ll repeat my friend’s words regularly.

They might help me to keep my sanity and from the couch when it’s time to go to sleep.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Ravens defense of verge of being exposed?

This past Saturday on our radio program The X Factor heard on Fox 1370 Sports Radio, I suggested that the Ravens sit Ed Reed. The rationale was pretty simple – Reed is playing hurt and is a non-factor inside the box as a result. The Titans have no real vertical game and consequently I rationalized, they will lean on the run to beat the Ravens. Therefore, why not play someone more interested in making tackles than Reed.

As it turned out, the Ravens were able to stop the Titans’ running game despite Reed lining up 30 yards from the line of scrimmage for most of the contest.

While watching the game, it suddenly dawned on me that Kerry Collins exposed the Ravens. No he didn’t come in to M&T Bank Stadium and light up the Ravens’ secondary but something happened during the game that was pretty clear to me and if it was clear to these untrained eyes, it has to be clear to opposing offensive coordinators studying game film.

When Fabian Washington left the game, suddenly the Titans passing game went into attack mode. Most offenses will attack the weakest link and not surprisingly, the Titans targeted Frank Walker. Fortunately for the Ravens, the Titans’ receivers remind no one of Reggie Wayne or even Reggie’s sister for that matter.

In Walker’s defense he played well and the Titans’ receivers didn’t inflict the damage. That pain arrived courtesy of the Titans’ tight ends – players that Ed Reed wants no part of given his physical shortcomings.

Look I don’t profess to know what neck and shoulder nerve impingement feels like. I don’t know how sharp and pronounced the pain becomes when Reed thrusts his shoulder into a 260 pound tight end with a full head of steam. What I do know is that if he can’t make those plays Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore will see it and he and Peyton Manning will beat the Ravens secondary like a drum with Dallas Clark unless Rex Ryan adjusts.

But will Rex have the horses to beat the Colts?

If Fabian Washington sits this one out in Indy, it could be a long day for the good guys. Their only saving grace might come in the form of a Colts’ run defense that is the league’s worst and the Ravens successfully keep Manning on the sidelines by pounding the light Colts’ D with a heavy dose of a freight train named McClain.

Then Reed might create some problems out there on the centerfield warning track should the Ravens grab the lead.

This past week, I begged for the Ravens to take a shot down the field. This week, I’ll beg just as adamantly for them not to. Take the crowd out of the game and beat the Colts’ will to compete into submission by keeping it on the ground.

And all that just might be possible if Washington is on the field.

He’s the wild card. With him, the Ravens have a chance.

Without him, well let’s just say if you have Peyton Manning on your fantasy football roster his success might help ease your pain – you know, assuming that’s your sort of thing…

The X Factor can be heard on Saturdays from 10am to Noon on Fox 1370 Sports Radio in Baltimore and also on the web at

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Ravens to beat's a simple game

The Ravens host the Titans today at M&T Bank Stadium and it doesn’t take long to realize that the strength of each of the respective offenses will go toe to toe with comparable to even more impressive strength from the opposing defense.

Both offenses set up the pass with the run. Neither the Ravens nor the Titans field an imposing vertical threat and it isn’t very often that the Ravens can say that their stable of receivers is superior to that of their opponent. So the winner of this game will be the team that runs the ball more effectively right?

Well now there’s some unique and insightful analysis, eh?

This isn’t rocket science. All 70,000 plus people in attendance today and those watching and listening to Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots bring you the game on CBS will know that the Titans will jam the box and force Joe Flacco to beat them. Rex Ryan will look to choke off rookie RB Chris Johnson and preserve the Ravens’ streak of 22 consecutive games of limiting opposing rushers to less than 100 yards.

So the winner of this game comes down to who plays better, Joe Flacco or Kerry Collins, right?

Not necessarily.

The Titans have perhaps the most imposing group of defensive down linemen in the NFL spearheaded by Albert Haynesworth. They are menacing and will create havoc in the backfield. And make no mistake about it, if the Ravens fail on first down, they will lose the football game.

So the key in my opinion will be to slow down the Titans’ defensive front and the way to do that will be to use screen passes and the no huddle attack. Screens force these linemen to stop and think. They also make the linemen waste energy. The no huddle limits substitutions. If the Ravens can drain the collective tank of energy from that front four and make them think more, they will slow them down and that will buy Joe Flacco an extra second or two to make plays downfield. Flacco has shown amazing poise for a rookie in the no huddle and given his collegiate experiences running the no huddle from the gun, Cam Cameron would be wise to place his rookie signal caller squarely in his comfort zone.

The Titans have been riding the hot hand of Chris Johnson, a runner that I compare to Willie Parker. The darting speedsters don’t seem to play all that well against the Ravens defense. They tend to string plays out along the perimeter and the Ravens are quick to the ball and often make plays outside the numbers. They will gang tackle and hit Johnson hard and eventually wear out his competitive will. And that will leave it up to Collins to make plays.

Collins does throw a nice deep pass if the Ravens allow him to sit comfortably in the pocket he will take his shots down field. That said, I don’t see it happening. First, Collins’ weaponry on the outside is very limited, even more so by the knee injury to Justin Gage. Plus I think the 12th man makes a difference today. Ravens’ fans cherished the bitter rivalry with Tennessee and the years removed from the old AFC Central hasn’t dimmed the memories all that much.

After today, M&T will only see the Ravens play once during the next six weeks. I think the hometown crowd makes a big difference and provides the energy that the team’s defense craves. And once they embrace that energy Kerry Collins will become the proverbial chum in waters invested by the sharks in purple.

By 4:30 today, Ravens’ fans will be basking in the glory of a 23-13 Ravens victory.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ravens in Review

Emotion played a big role in the game particularly with Yamon Figurs. Some after the slugfest have wondered if Figurs was even ready for the game given his hamstring issues and apparent lack of burst against the Steelers. Figurs’ excitability seemed to get in the way of his sensibility when running out of the end zone on two separate occasions leaving his rookie quarterback with starting points of the 17 yard line and the 12 yard line respectively, on the Ravens’ first two possessions...The Ravens need someone to stretch the field and that player could be Figurs. But to be effective, he’ll need to make some underneath catches in order to get opponents to respect something more than his speed. During training camp, Figurs showed improved hands and toughness in traffic.

Mark Clayton is really struggling and it is apparent in his body language. It might be time to drop him on the depth chart and see what Demetrius Williams can do as a starter. The opportunity costs aren’t great. Clayton has only 5 catches for 35 yards through three games and hasn’t caught a touchdown pass in 21 months…Also slumping is Todd Heap. Clearly his chances were limited in Pittsburgh because he was asked to help out in pass protection on the Steelers’ quick OLB James Harrison. Last year the AirTran spokesperson in Baltimore was Steve McNair. This year it is Todd Heap. Is there a Madden cover-like jinx going on here with AirTran? Hey Joe Flacco, just say no to AirTran when they come calling in 2009…

The clock management at the end of regulation was in this writer’s opinion very Billick-esque and very unacceptable. With the ball on their own 17 yard line and 1:40 to go in regulation, the Ravens had 1 timeout to move the ball into position to set up Matt Stover for a game winning field goal. Up to this point, Joe Flacco had answered with flying colors questions about whether he could hold up under the extreme pressures of the Monday night spotlight. He did and the coaches erred by not letting him go the distance. On the road you play to win not for the tie. Why risk losing the coin toss and allowing Pittsburgh a chance to win it in OT without ever touching the football? The Ravens eventually had to burn their timeout because Le’Ron McClain went down with an injury after a short run but if Cam Cameron had attacked, that injury doesn’t even happen. They should have taken a few safe shots down the field with max protection. Derrick Mason was finding space in the Steelers’ secondary at will and wasn’t it then about time to see if Todd Heap could get a favorable match up outside the numbers? Big time props to Mason by the way.

Ed Reed is obviously far from 100%. Playing centerfield is one thing to keep him out of harms way and limit his on field collisions. Playing on the warning track is another. He has whiffed on two open field tackles this season that have resulted in easy scores by the opponent. The Ravens defense has given up 2 touchdowns so far during the ’08 campaign, both on passing plays when Reed had a chance to make a tackle and failed. One Ravens’ insider has compared Reed’s willingness to play hurt to that of Peter Boulware’s. You may recall the retired Raven playing effectively with his arm in a sling. But Boulware didn’t avoid collisions and let’s keep in mind, Reed’s position is called “safety” for a reason.

In the past it has been a fairly safe bet that the Ravens would put a 3 spot on the scoreboard whenever Matt Stover lined up from 40 yards in. I don’t know about you but lately, I’m not exactly brimming with confidence when Stover takes the field. His timing seems to be a bit off, much like that of a golfer that just can’t get his hands right either snapping the wrist too soon or leaving them open and blocking through impact. Stover’s relatively easy kicks on Monday were overly adventurous for my liking.

Has Tony Kornheiser become the modern day Howard Cosell? While I enjoy Kornheiser’s writing and ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, his commentary on MNF is the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. Just prior to Jeff Reed’s walk off field goal in overtime, the Ravens, like other teams in similar situations, called for a timeout before Reed’s initial attempt to try and disrupt his timing. Kornheiser called the move “cheesy.” Hey Tony, you want cheesy? Try looking in the mirror at that nasty comb over dude!...Props to ESPN for a solid telecast and very good statistical graphics.

GAME BALLS: Joe Flacco, Le’Ron McClain, Derek Mason, Haloti Ngata and the entire corps of linebackers.

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: Kelly Gregg...don't be surprised if he makes his 2008 debut as early as this week.

Hey, anyone seen Kyle Boller lately?

Photo by Sabina Moran