Friday, November 28, 2008

NFL serves up turkeys on Thanksgiving

  • The human body breaks down essential amino acids from food. One such amino acid is tryptophan which enables the body to produce B-vitamin niacin which in turn helps to produce serotonin, a chemical that acts as a calming agent in the brain and plays a vital role in sleep.

    On Thanksgiving the traditional meal includes turkey, a big source of tryptophan which explains in part, the lazy, relaxed state that we all feel on Thanksgiving inspiring a nap or two in between servings.

    That said, I don’t know which is more responsible for my Turkey Day napping, the tryptophan or the NFL. Every one of those games yesterday was a snoozer. On average each of the winners won by a 30 point margin and each game was pretty much over at halftime. The birds weren’t the only turkeys in abundance yesterday. And by the way, isn’t it time the NFL implements a flex turkey schedule for Thanksgiving football?

    A few observations in between naps…

    Jeff Fisher, are you freakin’ kidding me?!? Up by the score of 47-10 with 3:38 to play, Fisher challenged a catch by the Lions’ Calvin Johnson at the Detroit 41 yard line. Nice to see you in the Holiday spirit there Jeff. May snot freeze on your mustache once again this winter and may a 2 x 4 haunt you this offseason…oh and here’s hoping that your offseason comes sooner than later. I’ve officially taken the Titans down from my teams to root for in the event the Ravens end up at home prior to or during the playoffs. Oh and one more thing…Fisher’s challenged failed...he gets a turkey for being one!

    The Jonas Brothers as halftime entertainment? Who does the NFL think is its audience, the demographic tuned in to Hannah Montana? I felt somewhat emasculated watching that! By the way, are female turkeys called "hens?"

    I guess all is right in Philly now as it relates to Donovan McNabb. But just wait until that next interception is "gobbled" up by an opponent. Eagles fans will suggest McNabb again for the carving station.

    Oh and by the way, the Cardinals really could use Terrell Suggs.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ravens need to dial up Cardinals to fill hole at No. 1 WR

During our radio program The X Factor this past Saturday, we discussed the hypothetical offseason tag and trade of Terrell Suggs to the Arizona Cardinals for Anquan Boldin. For many reasons, I think the trade makes sense.

The Ravens impressive scouting department seems to have an innate ability to discover raw talent, particularly at linebacker that fits the Ravens’ style of play and the defensive coaching staff is equally as impressive in developing that talent. They have turned a 6th round pick (Adalius Thomas) and an undrafted free agent (Bart Scott) into Pro Bowlers. Yet at the position of receiver, the Ravens turn first round picks into future disappointments that never approach the scouting department’s originally projected performance levels.

So why not then use the organization’s strength to help fortify one of its weaknesses? Why not bet on their ability to find the next Thomas or Scott instead of the next receiver wearing No. 89 that can’t consistently create separation at the NFL level?

Anquan Boldin will draw attention. He can make the big play and deliver the yards after catch. He is tough and well rounded and can make a play in traffic in addition to being an effective blocker in the running game. Speaking of which, Ravens’ opponents will no longer be able to dedicate so much attention to play inside the box. Boldin spreads the field. He provides options and not only could he make Joe Flacco effective, he also helps Todd Heap and Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton because opponents could no longer commitment the resources to double team these players.

It makes too much sense not to pursue this deal – at least that’s how I see it. But some Ravens’ insiders aren’t as convinced. They think that Boldin benefits from lining up opposite Larry Fitzgerald and from an offense featuring the quick deliveries of Kurt Warner. And while these insiders make a strong argument, how do you then explain away Boldin’s rookie accomplishments?

During his rookie season, Boldin had 101 catches for 1,377 yards and 8 scores while Fitzgerald was a sophomore and Heisman runner-up at Pitt. Throwing the ball to Boldin in 2003 were the not so dynamic pair of Jeff Blake and Josh McCown.

Boldin might not have breakaway speed but he can certainly break away driven by an insatiable desire to compete and a work ethic second to none.

Ozzie, collect call from Mr. Whisenhunt in Arizona, will you accept?

Reed, Ravens' secondary stand out

Without question the standout performance in the Ravens v. Eagles game was that of Ed Reed. He is a gambler and he is a playmaker and sometimes when you put those two together, great things can happen. And on Sunday they did.

Everyone will remember the 108 yard interception return for a back breaking TD to put the Ravens up 29-7. At the time the game was still winnable for the Eagles – an unlikely win but nonetheless, winnable.

Facing a second and goal from the one foot line, I would have bet the house on Andy Reid calling a quarterback sneak in that situation. A touchdown and a potential two point conversion could have brought the Eagles to within seven at 22-15 with over 7 minutes left in the game. We all know now that he didn’t do that and the chalk bet every day of the week and on Sundays is Ed Reed over Kevin Kolb.

But that play aside, Reed’s other interception was just as impressive had he not capped his return off with a boneheaded play that could have been very costly. That said had the struggling Donovan McNabb taken over at his own 3 yard line, the Quintin Demps kickoff return probably never happens.

But Reed’s play on Sunday was about more than just those interceptions. He made a play on a blitz in Eagles territory when he tipped a McNabb pass that was nearly intercepted by Samari Rolle. Later, his inside penetration on a Sav Rocca punt forced a double team that cleared the way for Jameel McClain’s blocked punt.

Maybe Ed Reed is healing. Maybe he’s coping with the pain better. Maybe he’s figured out how to manage the discomfort and pick his spots. Whatever the case, if Ed Reed returns to form on a consistent basis, it bodes well for the Ravens’ ailing secondary.

Besides Reed and a standout performance from Jarret Johnson, perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the Ravens’ win was the improved play of the secondary. Samari Rolle and Fabian Washington were very good in coverage and even when the Eagles were able to make a catch, the two were in position to minimize the damage and help their team get off the field on third down. If they can continue that kind of play, it allows Corey Ivy and Frank Walker to do what they do best (be effective nickel and dime backs) and it also may boost Rex Ryan’s confidence to crank up the heat level on opposing QB’s with his exotic blitz packages.

The Ravens offense, especially the running game hit the wall a bit on Sunday against a tough Eagles’ defense. It seems that each week Cam Cameron has done a pretty decent job determining which of his backs is best equipped to exploit the weaknesses of opposing defenses. Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain have all had their fair share of success. It was apparent early on Sunday that the flavor of the day should have been McClain with battering mate Lorenzo Neal yet Cameron didn’t seem to pick up on it.

The Ravens ran often on first down and looking back you have to wonder why. On 21 first down plays the Ravens totaled 33 net yards. That is not going to get it done when facing a team like the Eagles who blitz regularly and get to the quarterback as well as any team in the league, particularly on second and third and long. With the running game not on all cylinders, maybe the approach should be to set up the run with the pass. I’m sure they can manage more than 33 yards total on all first down plays doing so.

I noticed that the Ravens were not as quick to the line of scrimmage this week and it could be argued that against a shifty, moving and aggressive Eagles defense, a premium should be placed on giving Joe Flacco more time to survey the field and get comfortable with his pre-snap reads. This game almost begged for the no-huddle Flacco is comfortable with to mitigate defensive coordinator Jim Johnson’s sub packages and unorthodox schemes designed to confuse the rookie.

This win was about as unattractive as a 36-7 win could be. But that said, we’ll take it.

On to Cincinnati…

Ravens atop Eagles' Christmas List

Years from now, perhaps even later this year folks might look back at the score of the Ravens v. Eagles game played on Sunday at The Vault and consider it a blow out. It was hardly that. A better description might be an early Christmas present from Andy Reid to his protégé John Harbaugh.

The 29 point scoring differential in this 36-7 Ravens win was the widest margin of victory for any win during Week 12 of the NFL season. Yet at the half it was 10-7 where it remained until 6:05 of the third quarter when Jameel McClain blocked a punt through the end zone for a safety and a 12-7 lead.

With 14:57 left in the game, Matt Stover’s 42 yard field goal made it 15-7. Not until Joe Flacco connected with Mark Clayton on a 53 scoring strike with 11:39 left did you get the sense that the Ravens had this game under control.

Up to that point, the Eagles never really threatened offensively. But then again the Ravens weren’t exactly a model of offensive efficiency. The feeling throughout M&T prior to Clayton’s TD was that the game could be decided by one big play.

The Ravens had far more opportunities for the big play. Nearing the season of giving, the Eagles gave and gave. There were the 5 turnovers, the decision to replace Donovan McNabb with an inexperienced QB in Kevin Kolb who was forced to take on one of the game’s best defenses on the road and with only one running back healthy enough to stay in the game – the ailing Brian Westbrook.

The Eagles were all like little green-clad elves and their skipper, sans the big white beard, looked and acted like ole St. Nick.

And it twasn’t even the night before Christmas.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ravens Roundup: Team leaves NY with more than just wounded pride

The Ravens sure can talk a tough game about how they would match the physicality of the Giants running game but unfortunately the only tough thing the Ravens brought was their talk. The Ravens defensive front did not get the push they normally get and that prevented their linebackers from getting clean shots at ball carriers.

The holes were gaping and the Ravens inside backers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott had to shed blockers often while in pursuit of Messrs. Jacobs, Ward and Bradshaw. The Ravens looked tired and sloppy defensively and abandoned gap assignments regularly. Jacobs’ big first quarter run and Bradshaw’s fourth quarter gallop were made possible in large part by over pursuing LB’s Jarret Johnson and Lewis.

John Harbaugh made an interesting statement after the game. When asked about his team’s defensive performance the rookie head coach said, "The Giants had three big runs [Jacobs, 36; Bradshaw, 77; Ward, 22]. You can take away anybody's run and say it would've been a tight football game."

Gee, that’s like saying Jeremy Guthrie could have won a game for the Orioles if you take away those three big home runs.

Speaking of Harbaugh, he’s done a great job so far this season yet he continues to be hesitant to use the red flag and he’s made some questionable decisions to punt when a fourth down attempt in an opponent’s territory was the more logical choice.

During the fourth quarter with the Ravens down by the score of 27-10, Harbaugh opted to punt from the Giants’ 39 yard line instead of attempting to convert on fourth and 10 with 14:42 left in the game. The punt landed inside the Giants’ 20 but bounced forward. The Ravens ultimately downed it at the 21 for an 18 yard net punt. The punt looked like it hit the ankle of one of the Giants’ players before Brendan Ayanbadejo downed it. The officials stopped play during the change of possession for a TV time out and given the game situation, the Ravens should have challenged the ruling on the field that the Giants player did not inadvertently touch the ball. They did not.

Among the Ravens' inactives were Antwan Barnes and Marcus Smith. The coaching staff is apparently losing confidence in the once promising Barnes. As for Smith one has to wonder if he’ll ever be active again this season. The receiving corps seems very thin yet Smith still can’t sniff the field.

The Ravens left Giants Stadium with more than just their pride wounded. The team’s offensive line took a few nicks. Adam Terry tweaked his recovering left ankle while Jared Gaither hurt his shoulder and is questionable for the upcoming game against the Eagles. Insiders were impressed with Gaither’s gutty performance, playing most of the game with the injured wing against a tough Giants’ defensive front.

Gaither’s focus and determination have been questioned often but his efforts Sunday left observers hopeful that the former Terp’s maturation process has begun to accelerate.

Terrell Suggs was MIA for most of the day. Suggs has had a very good season to date and has certainly made a strong case for a lucrative contract extension. That said, Suggs will be a very interesting offseason topic. Clearly the Ravens could use a No. 1 receiver and the Arizona Cardinals have two of them in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Plus they have a developing speedster on the outside in second year receiver Steve Breaston who has 48 catches for 642 yards and a score.

The Cardinals could use a defensive stud like Suggs and the two-time Pro Bowler would probably welcome a tag and trade scenario that would return him home to the Phoenix area provided he could reach agreement on a new contract. Given the probable contract squabbles that lie ahead for Boldin particularly when considering the team’s investment in Fitzgerald, there could be some very strong synergies between these clubs to make a Suggs for Boldin deal.

The Ravens have been reluctant to part with their home grown players yet they will have to do some serious off season soul searching if the Cards will entertain such a trade. The Ravens will have to ask themselves if accepting a lesser player than Suggs on the outside of the Ravens defensive front seven is worth improving the offense dramatically with the addition of Boldin. Boldin could make Derrick Mason more effective and eventually he could pave the way for Mark Clayton to eventually pay dividends on the Ravens’ investment in him. And without a doubt, Boldin would make Joe Flacco far more dangerous in the passing game.

As much as I like Suggs, I’d drive him to the airport if the Ravens could pull off that deal.

This week the Ravens host Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles. In the Eagles’ 13-13 tie against Cincinnati this past Sunday, McNabb was unaware that the game was over when the Bengals failed to kick the field goal as time expired in overtime.

"I didn't know that," said Philly signal caller. "I've never been part of a tie. I never even knew it was in the rule book. I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to get out there and try to drive to win the game. But unfortunately with the rules, we settled with a tie."

Let’s hope that McNabb masters the Ravens defense the way he has the rule book.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How far have the Ravens come?

Today’s game against the Giants is a great barometer for the Ravens. Playing against the world champions on their home field in less than ideal conditions will indicate both how far they’ve come and how far they have to go.

Dialing back to the preseason, no one expected what the Ravens have delivered – not after watching an offensive line that seemed in tatters, a very unsettled quarterback situation, a questionable secondary with a plethora of injuries and a rookie head coach. To their individual and collective credit so far, they have delivered.

Now many of us have postseason expectations and today we will see if they have what it takes in ’08 or are they simply a steady and climbing work in progress that could be a postseason participant in ’09?

On the surface the Giants have few weaknesses. If they have an Achilles’ Heel, it is their secondary which at the moment is a bit banged up. Plus their vulnerabilities have been masked by an outstanding front seven and a creative defensive coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo. This will be Joe Flacco’s biggest challenge of the season, particularly if his go to guy Derrick Mason isn’t very effective due to his separate left shoulder.

While the Ravens are on defense, this is a clear and present case of strength against strength. The Giants’ 3 headed monster of Jacobs, Ward and Bradshaw in the backfield have averaged 5 ½ yards per carry. When asked about these backs, Ray Lewis had more to say about the gaping holes created by the Giants’ offensive front than he said about the proficiencies of the trio.

It’s an overused cliché but this game more so than any other the Ravens have played will be won and lost in the trenches. How the Ravens handle the offensive and defensive lines of the Giants will weigh heavily in the game’s outcome. This should be a classic heavyweight battle.

From my recliner, the keys to a Ravens victory are as follows:

1. Win first down on both sides of the ball. Offensively that means throwing on first down to set up the run and to open the playbook. Defensively, it means taking away the Giants strength – managing the clock and the game on the ground.

2. Keep Todd Heap involved. That will command attention for the linebackers and safeties and it will help to open up opportunities in the running game and outside the hash marks.

3. Bracket Plaxico Burress. This guy has to be ready to explode mentally. Think about this – Kareem McKenzie gets to play today despite his DUI on Thursday while Burress lost two paychecks for showing up late to a meeting after taking his kids to school. He could be taken out of this game mentally so it might be time to get physical with the spindly receiver.

4. Chris Chester and Ben Grubbs – Chester has played better this season but today he faces a formidable 4-3 defense. He needs to be physical. Grubbs has struggled in pass protection. If the Giants get pressure up the middle, this game could be over early.

5. K Steve Houschka: He made a difference last week and he’ll need to do the same this week. The Giants have a solid special teams unit and the Ravens will have to match their efficiency on the road. Field position will be critical as both teams battle the crosswinds of the Meadowlands.

Can the Ravens get it done? Yes. Will they? I don’t see it. I just think that there are too many things weighing against the Ravens: three consecutive road games; world champs; terrific front four taking on a nicked up offensive line; vulnerable secondary. I’m calling it 27-17 and you all know that I hope I’m dead wrong.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ravens @ Giants: Blogging behind enemy lines Part II

In Part II of Blogging Behind Enemy Lines, Giants' blogger Dan Benton tackles my questions for him...

1. Knowing what you know about the Giants if Ravens’ defensive coordinator Rex Ryan called you and asked how the Ravens should attack their offense in order to win and you were paid handsomely on the down low, what would you tell him?

Well, that depends. Would I be paid before or after I offer up the information? If paid before hand, I'd just make up some random nonsense, cash a check and enjoy a Giants victory. However, if I was to be paid afterward, I wouldn't tell him anything. I am a Giants addict through and through; there is no price-tag on a Giants win orloss. I live and die by Big Blue and would prefer a victory over nearly anything else in our known universe.

2. What about Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron? Who is the weak link on the Giants’ defense?

If you're asking me what I'd tell him, the answer is the same. He would get nothing ... NOTHING! Ha ha. But seriously, there is no real weak link on the Giants defense. I'm sure some "experts" would claim it's their secondary, and to some extent, that may be somewhat true, but New York is as well-rounded as any team in the league. They havevery few weaknesses at all and no one person can be referred to as their weakest link.That said, there are a few things some players don't do as well as others. For instance, Antonio Pierce is a bit suspect in coverage, and the inexperience at the safety position is a tad concerning at times.

3. Has Tom Coughlin ever had a penalty called against the Giants that he agreed with?

Of course not ... and why would he? The Giants are regularly on the end of poor calls or no-calls, so when the flag is thrown on them, the immediate response is "why us and not them"?That and the fact that such a disciplined team cannot possibly be guilty of committing a legitimate penalty. I mean, come on, we're not the New England Patriots here.

4. Now that the dust has settled, if you could have your choice of the top three QB’s drafted in 2004 (Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger) which would you choose?

Eli Manning, without a doubt! I was a fan of him then and I'm more a fan of him now.I've said time and time again that Big Ben is overrated, and now that the Steelers are aging and falling apart, you're getting to see exactly what he's made of. Meanwhile, Rivers has been solid, but unable to get the job done with one of the most talented teams in the NFL.Then you look at Eli and all he does is win. And in a league that lives by the motto "what have you done for me lately," you could not ask for a better asset than Eli.Statistics aside, he's as clutch as they come. And I would rather have a "W" than a 300 yards, four touchdown loss any day.

5. History tells us that the Giants generally don’t fare well against Baltimore teams in meaningful football games. How will the Giants do this time against the team representing Charm City?

If this were the 2006 Giants, I would probably concede to a loss this Sunday. But things have changed and although I remain cautiously optimistic each week, it's still optimism ... something many Giants fans aren't use to.A lot of people are overlooking the Ravens, claiming their last four games have been against Junior Varsity teams. And while that may be the case, a solid running game and a dominating defense are all it takes to win in this league.This game will be a knock-down, drag-out fight right until the very end. But after nearly having several strokes, I think the Giants will walk away with a narrow three-point win.

Ravens @ Giants: Blogging behind enemy lines

New York Giants' blogger Dan Benton for (no not the Chinese food ingredient) reached out this week to engage in what he referred to as "blogging behind enemy lines." Dan threw out 5 questions about this week's Ravens @ Giants contest and I returned the favor. First Dan's questions and my answers...

1) Although you're a fan of an AFC team, I'm sure you get a healthy dose of the NFC. Are you one of the few who actually believe the Giants are for real, or do you think they've lucked out since December of last year?

When a team plays well in the trenches as the Giants do and they can run the football like they do particularly on the road, that team is for real. I will say that I’m not as impressed with Eli Manning as many of the national media folk are. I think he’s been good but I hardly think he was deserving of the SB MVP. In my opinion that should have gone to Justin Tuck. Manning can be rattled and when he is he will force throws and make big mistakes. The Ravens are counting on that Sunday.

2) Looking ahead to Sunday, what concerns you most about the New York Giants?

The defensive front is very strong and I think they will force Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco to make mistakes. The Ravens aren’t the picture of health on the offensive line and as a result, I see this as a bit of a mismatch.

Also, the Ravens’ secondary is very banged up and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has preferred to drop LB’s into coverage to help versus blitzing the quarterback. It worked against the Texans and Sage Rosenfels but I don’t see it working against the Giants.

Finally, this is the Ravens third consecutive road game and their fifth in their last six games. That will take a toll even though it’s a short train ride to the Meadowlands.

3) In what area, if any, do you think Baltimore can expose New York?

Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has had a hot hand lately. He’ll try to keep the Giants off balance with play action, some deep strikes downfield and with some gadgetry courtesy of his version of the wildcat featuring Troy Smith.

That said I don’t see many weaknesses with the Giants. I think the only way to beat them is to outslug them in the trenches, out execute them or force Manning into mistakes like the Browns did.

4) What happens when Brandon "The Beast" Jacobs meets Ray Lewis in the hole?

You better hold your ears and make sure the children turn their heads away.

5) Prediction time! How many points will the Giants win by this Sunday?

Oh you are a confident one there Dan aren’t you? As you should be… I think the Ravens will compete particularly if Joe Flacco doesn’t morph into a turnover machine against the onslaught of the Giants’ pass rush. In the end, I think a balanced Giants team will prevail, 27-17.

For my questions and Dan's answers go HERE

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Sipping the purple Kool-Aid

Today during The X Factor on Fox 1370 Sports Radio the conversation between me and my co-host Shan Shariff eventually touched down on the Ravens and their playoff aspirations. Shan adamantly stated that the Ravens will not be among the post season participants while explaining his belief that the Ravens need to build towards the future.

I stopped Shan during his explanation because I just as adamantly believe it is far too premature to count the Ravens out. First of all, the NFL is a very watered down product, particularly the AFC. It’s almost mind boggling how quickly the AFC has fallen behind the NFC after several years of dominance. So with such an unstable conference and given the Ravens position among the top 6 seeds in the AFC at present, why should the Ravens be counted out?

Just about that time we were up against a commercial break so we decided to revisit the topic after the break and go through the balance of the Ravens schedule. Shan had the Ravens winning this week against the Texans but he has them losing against the Giants, Eagles, Redskins, Steelers and Cowboys and settling on an 8-8 finish.

I on the other hand have them losing only to the Giants and the Cowboys the rest of the way and walking away from their final regular season contest against the Jaguars with a record of 11-5.

Wow, 11-5. Now that’s optimism and after reaching that conclusion I realized the bar at the purple Kool-Aid stand was open a bit too long and I was over served.

Shan and I both agreed that the swing games that proved to be the difference in our respective forecasts are the Eagles, Redskins and Steelers. I have the Ravens sweeping those games while Shan has the Ravens dropping each of them.

At this point in the season who knows which of us is right – probably neither of us but that said, I’m ok with the purple libations. Line ‘em up bartender! What the hell! I believe that John Harbaugh and the Ravens are building something here – this year! And I believe that they are slowly rounding into a complete team. And I’m banking on Jerry Rosburg whipping his special teams into shape and that Rex Ryan will somehow come up with a formula to mask the team’s inadequacies in the secondary. Hey what’s Ty Law up to these days? Hopefully not 250 pounds.

Bartender, RavenBomb for my friend Shan – that’s Blueberry Van Gogh vodka with a Red Bull.

You can get those at The Manhattan Grill you know…where I’ll be guest bartending on November 17 during Monday Night Football.

Anybody else want one?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Might DeAngelo Hall end up in Baltimore after all?

It seems that whenever another NFL team jettisons a well known player, that player becomes the topic of talk radio and message board threads. Usually Ravens fans will debate the ways in which Ozzie Newsome should pursue such players and how the proposed acquisition might strengthen the team. Today’s flavor of the week is DeAngelo Hall.

Earlier in the week I suggested that Hall would not be a fit for the Ravens. He has struggled with the Raiders in press coverage and his experience suggests that he is better suited to a Cover 2 style of defense.

But the topic of Hall just won’t go away and will likely linger as long as Hall remains a free agent. So I decided to explore the idea a bit more with sources close to the team and the responses were interesting.

First, Hall was referred to as MeAngelo Hall because of his pattern of selfishness. His history suggests that he’s more interested in stats and he’s had some run-ins with assistant coaches as well. And although he isn’t really a thug off the field in the mold of Chris Henry or Pacman Jones, he’s not exactly a choir boy.

When I asked how Rob Ryan (Rex’s brother) felt about Hall, let’s just say the response wasn’t very flattering. I also remembered that Ravens’ special teams coach Jerry Rosburg had some exposure to Hall in Atlanta. I was told his feelings somewhat mirror those of Rob Ryan.

But that aside, the Ravens do believe that Hall can cover well despite his recent struggles in Oakland. Hall has been targeted by Raiders’ opponents not because he is a slumping corner. He is simply a more inviting target than Nnamdi Asomugha who is playing lights out.

The Ravens believe that playing with Ray Lewis humbles younger players like Hall who will turn 25 later this month. They believe that he would toe the line and contribute to a secondary that could use some help. They also believe that Hall would be nothing more than a short-term fix for the balance of the year with no commitment at this time beyond 2008 – much like a Manny Ramirez acquisition by the Dodgers. Hall would be viewed as a hired gun of sorts.

The team wants to be careful not to take on additional long-term expenses with Hall because the Ravens are much more interested in re-signing their home grown talent. The big question is, will Hall be willing to accept a contract for the balance of ’08 with no promises? Given the number of teams that will likely line-up to inquire about Hall’s services, the answer is probably no.

Don’t expect the Ravens to be aggressive in the Hall sweepstakes. They will not set the market but rather lurk in the bushes and wait to see if Hall slips to them. They might then sell Hall on the values of playing in the Ravens’ system and even if he doesn’t stay with the team beyond ’08, the experience could position him for another big pay day down the road.

Hall in Ravens’ purple could happen, but it will have to happen on the Ravens terms and that isn’t very likely.

Just remember Ozzie’s credo, “right player right price.”

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Just say no to Ed Reed

Given his neck and shoulder nerve impingement that has really put a cramp on his playing style and effectiveness in 2008, I was somewhat shocked to see Ed Reed on the field set to return a punt against the Browns this past Sunday.

I get that Reed is a playmaker and has shown in the past that he can break a game open with his ability to navigate through the ensuing chaos of punt coverage teams. But from my vantage point it looked to me like Yamon Figurs was getting a little rhythm going and he needs to do that. He needs to recapture the mojo he found in the back half of the 2007 season and bring it back to life in ‘08. That makes the Ravens a better football team.

Reed, particularly with the plethora of secondary injuries the Ravens have, has to stay on the sidelines during punt returns. Not John Harbaugh, not Rex Ryan nor Jerry Rosburg can cave in to the requests, begging and pleas of Reed to get in the game to return a punt. It’s just not worth it and to do so shows weakness from the coaching staff and serves as a reminder of the later stages of the Billick era when the inmates ran the asylum – you know, in a figurative sense.

That said, inserting Reed in key return situations could weaken the resolve and confidence of Figurs. The Ravens can’t afford the reincarnation of Lamont Brightful. A Ravens’ team with an injured Reed and a shaky Figurs is far less productive than one with Reed in the secondary (despite his conservative play) and a more confident Figurs.

Harbs, next time just say no to Reed!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ravens should take a Hall pass

Clearly the Ravens have needs in their defensive backfield and some believe that DeAngelo Hall could help. What isn’t so clear is if the Ravens will be players for Hall’s services now that he has been released by the Raiders as reported today by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Any team can now put a waiver claim in for Hall. The team with the worst record placing a claim will be awarded the Pro Bowl corner. If no team places a claim on Hall and he clears waivers, he becomes a free agent and then any team can negotiate with him.

Yet there are risks associated with a claim for Hall. While he could be perceived as a relative bargain given that the acquiring team is really only liable for the remainder of his $1 million 2008 base salary, acquiring Hall through waivers carries an injury guarantee. Hall has option bonus money due to him to the tune of $16.5 million and that money is guaranteed even if he suffers a career threatening injury. This is the motivating factor behind his release by the Raiders. Oakland’s 2-6 start and Al Davis’ failed on the field investments certainly are contributing factors as well.

As a result of this $16.5 million risk, the guess here is that Hall will clear waivers and if he does clear, Ozzie Newsome could make the call to Hall.

That said Hall won’t come cheaply. Hall has a decent resume and he is young, celebrating his 25th birthday later this month. The Ravens two most pressing needs in the offseason will be corner and wide receiver. If the Ravens believe that there is not a corner of Hall’s ilk when they expect to make their first pick (probably a mid to late first round selection) then they could make a play for the former Raider/Falcon.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath if you are hoping to see Hall in purple and black. Hall has struggled in the traditional Raiders’ press coverage. He was more successful in Atlanta’s Cover 2 scheme. Like his brother Rob, Rex Ryan demands solid man cover skills from his corners. The Ravens interest in Hall will likely last about as long as a phone call between the Ryan brothers if that.

If the Ravens want to look at a Raiders’ corner, they should wait to see what the market will bear for pending free agent Nnamdi Asomugha. Shedding Samari Rolle’s and Chris McAlister’s 2009 salary could pave the way for some Aso consideration.

I say take a Hall pass for now...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Upon further review...Ravens @ Browns

Steve Hasler per usual does a great job today in breaking down and grading the Ravens’ performance. And while it was an exciting game and a very impressive coming of age performance by Joe Flacco, there are a few observations I’d like to share and I invite you to do the same.

In no particular order, here goes…

I like the gadgetry because it forces opponents to spend preparation time defending it and it makes defenses play a bit slower because they have to think more. But yesterday, the Ravens were a little too cute at times for my tastes. On third and 1 at their own 32 with the score tied at 27, the Ravens ran Ray Rice and failed. They then tried to draw the Browns offsides with a hard count. It failed and it cost the Ravens 5 yards and while that might not seem like much, Joshua Cribbs was killing the Ravens yesterday and at the time, I thought the 5 yards seemed big in a tie football game with 11:08 to play. Where was Le’Ron McClain on that third and 1 attempt?

When Ray Rice broke off that 60 yard run down to the Cleveland 3 yard line, I’m sorry but that situation called for smash mouth football. I almost hoped that it would take the Ravens three McClain rushing attempts before they got in the end zone just to take time off the clock. If you want to throw it there, try the fullback or Todd Heap, assuming of course Heap could remember the snap count.

My colleague Steve Hasler was very kind with his special teams grade in my opinion. Let’s face it, they stink-stank-stunk! The tackling was pathetic and they too got a little too cute against a beast of a returner. If you are going to elevate a kick off specialist to the active roster as the Ravens did this week with Steve Hauschka, why not use him against arguably the conference’s best special teams player in a stadium that is traditionally difficult to kick in?

Did John Harbaugh lose his red flag? With the way this team wastes time outs, you have to wonder if that red flag is lost or simply stuck to Harbaugh’s pocket. On three different plays the Ravens could have challenged calls. If you have Tivo or DVR, watch the alleged Edwards TD catch. The ball is clearly not in either player’s possession but if anything, of the two Frank Walker has more control than Edwards. And note the look of surprise in Edwards’ face when the official signals touchdown…With 6:17 left in the third quarter officials ruled that Jason Wright had scored when replays showed that he had not. CBS was awful in replaying the short catch and run and that might have something to do with the Ravens’ hesitancy to throw the flag…A challenge was arguably warranted on the Ray Rice 18 yard scamper to the Browns’ 2 which was ruled out of bounds. The single replay we observed was clearly inconclusive. Again CBS dropped the ball.

Romeo Crennel should get a game ball from the Ravens. What game was he watching? Why allow his offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to waste snaps and series sending Jamal Lewis into a wall of Ravens’ defenders while Derek Anderson was carving up the Ravens linebackers and while Fabian Washington was giving Braylon Edwards no less than 10 yards of cushion. If I’m an opposing offensive coordinator looking at Rex Ryan’s crew, forget offensive balance – throw the ball!

Crennel and Chudzinski must have forgotten that it was daylight savings time. Their clock management was abysmal and why Crennel opted to decline a Ravens holding penalty in the first quarter paving the way to Matt Stover’s 41 yard field goal is a mystery. Some coaches should remain coordinators and Crennel is one of them.

Open it up! Last week we witnessed the unveiling of the gadgets. This week we witnessed the unveiling of the Ravens vertical attack – yet another seed to plant in the mind of opposing defensive coordinators. Flacco connected with Mark Clayton once but the two times the deep pass failed, both could have been and should have been scores. If Clayton goes up with both hands on the first of three end zone throws directed his way, it’s six. If Flacco puts some air under the third scoring shot, it’s six. Message to the rest of the NFL – you better loosen up on the coverage.

Clearly Derek Anderson is a lightning rod for Browns’ fans particularly with the most popular Brown in town waiting in the wings. With the game well within reach, Browns fans turned on the play calling and on the performances of Anderson and Edwards in a big way, cascading the stadium in a chorus of boos and chants for Brady Quinn. When the teams returned for the second half the seats more than half empty and when the Browns were down by 10 the hometown crowd turned their backs on the team and walked out.

Derek Anderson will go down as the goat but Braylon Edwards was every bit as big of a goat.

It’s nice to be playing meaningful football at the halfway mark and tonight if it means a Washington win, I will happily sing the Redskins fight song and then take a long shower to cleanse myself.

Let’s call that taking one for the team.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Blogging with the enemy Part II: Ravens @ Browns

As we did earlier in the season when the Ravens and Browns went at it on September 21, 2008, Browns blogger Pete Grasso and I traded questions about our respective teams. You can find my responses to his questions here. Pete’s answers to my questions are ready right now…

1. Derek Anderson has been up and down throughout the season yet Romeo Crennel has stuck with him. Is that simply blind faith in Anderson or is Brady Quinn just not ready?

Well, I don't think it's because Brady's not ready. I believe he is. I think Romeo is sticking with Anderson simply because he's stubborn. I honestly don't think the Browns know what they're doing at quarterback. What does Anderson have to do to be yanked? Sure, he's shown small flashes of good play, but overall he's terrible. He is not the long-term answer at quarterback - as I've been saying since last season. Romeo, I'm convinced, is NOT a head coach and he's clinging dearly to his job. I don't think he likes being told what to do, or admitting maybe he could be wrong, and so he's sticking with DA simply because he's stubborn.

2. Will the real Cleveland Browns please stand up! Which team is the real Browns...the one that played the Giants or the one that played the Ravens back in September?

Sadly, what you see is what you get with the Browns. The real Browns are both the team that lost to the Ravens and the team that beat the Giants. They're both the team that lost a winnable game against the Redskins and the team that held on to beat the Jaguars. Bottom line is, the real Browns are inconsistent and, until they play consistent, hard-nose football every week, they're not going to be very good.

3. How important is Sean Jones to the Browns defense and do you expect him to have an immediate impact on Sunday?

The defense has been steadily improving all season. I don't know how much of an impact Sean Jones will really have Sunday. I think the Browns biggest problem on defense is the linebackers. They stink.

4. Will Kellen Winslow be a Brown in '09?

I hope so. But, witnessing how apt this organization -- and city -- is to letting superstars go, I wouldn't be surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised.

5. How do you see the AFC North shaking out come the end of December?

Hard to say. The way the Bengals are playing, I don't see them being able to win more than a game or two, much less a divisional game. You know my thoughts on the Browns, which is I have no idea what to think. I think today’s game will show us a lot about what we can expect. If the Browns can pull it out, they'll be 2-2 in the division with Cincy and Pittsburgh left to play the last two games of the season. If the Ravens win, it's up to them to take the division away from Pittsburgh, at which point I expect a lot of Ravens fans to be cheering for the Browns in Week 17.