Thursday, December 31, 2009

Could Eric DeCosta be on the move?

The movers and shakers in this offseason may consist of more than just players and coaches. Other organizations are keenly interested in the Ravens’ Director of Personnel, Eric DeCosta. Earlier this season on our Ravens Rap Show at the Greene Turtle in Ocean City, Maryland, Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti joined us and DeCosta was among the many topics we covered.

In so many words Bisciotti anointed DeCosta as the heir apparent to Ozzie Newsome yet like everyone else, Bisciotti isn’t sure if and when Newsome will step down and consequently he recognizes that the team could lose the talents of his Director of Personnel to another club.

Word is that at least three other teams have approached DeCosta. Last time I checked, there is no front office salary cap. Maybe Bisciotti should ante up and come to some sort of formal agreement with DeCosta before he and Newsome are both gone. That is a haunting thought. Keep in mind that locking up DeCosta could provide stability to the Ravens front office for many years. The 38 year old native of Taunton, MA has worked his way up from a scouting assistant and has been with the club since its inception.

Has the injured Ed Reed played his last game as a Raven?

Ed Reed isn’t the easiest player on the planet to figure out. At times he appears unmotivated. Other times observers aren’t sure if he’s hurt or feigning an injury. Some close to the team surprisingly describe Reed as somewhat of an insecure guy while others question his love for the game.

Some call Reed selfish, often abandoning the team concept due to an apparently insatiable desire to make a play – to be the star.

However no one can question Reed’s accomplishments. Yet since he’s been on the shelf for the past four games nursing a groin injury it’s difficult to argue against the notion that the secondary has played better while Reed embraces the role of sideline cheerleader.

Insiders have suggested that Reed has never fully bought into the Harbaugh way. Given the career longevity of the safety position and Reed’s resume, might the Ravens consider trading the 6-time Pro Bowler? Reed has three years remaining on his current deal with the club and each year hovers in the $6-7 million range. Might that be a bit too rich for the Ravens given their many other needs? Should they part ways, free up a few dollars and gain a pick, a player or both in the process?

Keep this in mind…the Eagles parted ways with Brian Dawkins, a seven-time Pro Bowler who for all intents and purposes was their heart and soul, their version of Ray Lewis. They will only get a compensatory pick in return. Also keep in mind that Ed Reed might want to ditch his current deal in exchange for an upfront bonus considering his lingering injuries over the past couple of seasons.

And finally keep in mind that 2010 is shaping up as an uncapped season which means the Ravens can absorb the unamortized portion of Reed’s last signing bonus without any negative repercussions. Perhaps good old buddy Rex Ryan would be interested.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What exactly does "Play Like a Raven" mean?

Last season John Harbaugh came on to the scene in a way that would make Brian Billick proud. He entered the lion’s den (aka the Ravens locker room) screaming like a banshee looking for that son-of-a-bitch!

That SOB was attitude and discipline – or lack thereof.

The team’s attitude was shaped by the defense and its members essentially ruled the roost. That had to change. The “us” (defense) and “them” (offense) had to go. The special privileges and cliques had to be put to rest. Sound disciplined team football would be the rule.

What’s OUR name?


It worked. The team banded together, played hard-nosed football. There was accountability and they overachieved in large part because they paid attention to detail.

This season Harbaugh’s troops adopted the mantra, “Play Like a Raven.”

Maybe they should stop playing like a Raven because it apparently means making boneheaded plays in close games and generally being an undisciplined and fundamentally inept football team.

During yesterday’s 23-20 loss in Pittsburgh, the more talented team lost.
The more disciplined team won.

Ultimately that is a reflection upon the head coach and at the moment John Harbaugh’s team looks a lot like the Billick teams that melted down against the Lions in 2005 and the Patriots in 2007.

This isn’t what Steve Bisciotti bargained for.

This isn’t why the Ravens’ owner was willing to bite the bullet and pay Billick $5 million per year to go away. He wanted more discipline and a more consistent brand of football to prevent those proverbial windows of opportunity from opening and closing.

Harbaugh’s 2009 version of Ravens’ football is hauntingly familiar. It is nearly identical to the Ravens teams that struggled after good seasons when playing with reckless emotion and swagger meant more than playing smart and focused football.

The penalties, the mental miscues and the carelessness with clock management and timeouts are nearly identical to the Billick teams that lacked accountability. The only difference really is that Harbaugh has the luxury of having Joe Flacco while Billick saddled himself with Kyle Boller.

When will it end?

How will it end?

Harbaugh needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask himself what he’s done differently in 2009 v. 2008. Are they practicing the same way with the same attention to detail? Do they work to mitigate penalties? Are the players being held accountable for repeat offenses? Is the coaching staff as prepared? How can they be more efficient with their sub packages and play calling in order to minimize wasted timeouts?

These things are essential to winning close football games against higher caliber opponents.

Consider the Ravens’ losses this season by three points or less…

Week 5 v. Cincinnati: The Ravens blow the game in the waning seconds after committing a senseless personal foul and an inexplicable pass interference penalty because they failed to comprehend down and distance at a critical point in the game. And it gave the Bengals new life. Result: Bengals 17, Ravens 14.

Week 6 @ Minnesota: Questionable play calling and clock management down the stretch forced the Ravens to settle on a 44 yard field goal attempt to try and win the game. Despite moving the ball almost at will through the air, Harbaugh chooses to run the football on second and 10 with 26 seconds left in the game from the Vikings 29 yard line. But even if you do run it, shouldn’t they have run to an area of the field that the inexperienced kicker Steve Hauschka preferred? By his own admission he had a case of the yips from the left hash. Result: Missed Field Goal and a 33-31 walk off loss.

Week 11 v. Indianapolis: Ravens are leading 15-14 with 9:10 left in the game. Paul Kruger takes down Pierre Garcon for a 7 yard loss leaving the Colts with a 2nd and 17 at the Ravens 48. Haloti Ngata applies a late hit and then gets hit with an unnecessary roughness penalty resulting in a first and 10 at the Ravens 33. The Colts end up with a field goal on the drive to go up 17-15 which eventually would be the final score.

And then there was Sunday against the Steelers…

Each of these losses by three points or less was a winnable game and each slipped through the Ravens’ fingers because of their undisciplined brand of football, both on the field and on the sidelines.

The Ravens can be a really good football team. It’s right there.

You might even say they can be an elite team if they can bring in a stud pass rusher and a playmaking wide receiver. But even if they do there will be more frustrating losses to good teams during close games should they continue with their sloppy, undisciplined brand of football.

And when they do, Bisciotti’s windows will continue to slam shut!

Better watch your fingers Mr. Harbaugh.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ravens @ Steelers: The good, bad, ugly & The Megan Fox

THE GOOD: Ray Rice has 1,952 yards from scrimmage this season and he’ll break the 2,000 yard plateau in Oakland…Joe Flacco wasn’t great but with a little help from his friends (Derrick Mason & Oniel Cousins) he could have been…When he wasn’t busy making a boneheaded play Haloti Ngata was a terror between the tackles. His sidekick Kelly Gregg also continued his late season surge…Michael Oher was very solid limiting James Harrison in the passing game and dominating him to pave the way for Ray Rice…The secondary as a unit was solid.

THE BAD: The $63 million man isn’t heard from until he makes a costly mistake – Terrell Suggs please report to the principal’s office…Domonique Foxworth’s tackling is an issue and if the Ravens face the Patriots in the playoffs just call him Mr. Bubble because Tom Brady will exploit his inept tackling with bubble screen after bubble screen…John Harbaugh’s use of timeouts has become laughable. You have to use that timeout inside of 2 minutes in the first half with the Steelers facing a third and long from their own 3. Not only do you kill the clock but you reset the defense to help force the punt. Instead they lose time, momentum and their heads as they jumped offsides giving Ben Roethlisberger a freebie…Greg Mattison’s decision to run a corner blitz at the end of the first half was exceedingly risky and ill-advised and it resulted in a Santonio Holmes TD reception. If Foxworth can’t tackle wide receivers, why would anyone think he could quickly rush Roethlisberger and take him down? The play lacked timing and was poorly designed…Joe Flacco has to improve in the game’s finer nuances like when to get rid of the ball on fourth down and when to use a free play (when the opponent jumps offsides) to his advantage. Maybe Cam Cameron should sit his star pupil down and force him to watch old John Elway highlights...Derrick Mason's drop -- maybe that will quiet his emotion the next time he whines about not getting a chance to make a play.

THE UGLY: Eleven penalties for 113 yards and the Ravens claim the lead as the most penalized team in the league…Maybe the Ravens should put together a new club called Ngata’s Knuckleheads. Of course the namesake gets Grand Poobah honors for his regular unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and he’ll be joined by future charter members Frank Walker, Suggs and Oniel Cousins…Speaking of Cousins maybe the trainers should have kicked him in that bad leg that sidelined him temporarily instead of helping him. I’m surprised LaMarr Woodley wasn’t doing back flips when he saw No. 64 back out on the field. Not only did Woodley and his merry band of pass rushers regularly whip Cousins, they baited him into losing his mind and costing the team 15 yards and a field goal attempt after he was hit up with a senseless personal foul…The officiating in the NFL is growing increasingly more embarrassing and the league seems to resemble the WWE more and more each week. Maybe Vince McMahon should take over for Roger Goodell.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: I have been critical of this player and for all intents and purposes wrote him off as a has-been. I was wrong. Not only was he outstanding supporting the running game and helping Ray Rice abuse James Harrison, but this week’s MF Award winner clearly made the most of limited opportunities (please explain that Cam) in the passing game scoring on both passes thrown his way. Todd Heap, this MFA is for you!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vick should graciously decline The Ed Block Courage Award

Since I became aware of their mission and purpose, The Ed Block Courage Foundation has occupied a special place in my heart. Every March the foundation rewards a member of each NFL club who in their own unique way demonstrated uncommon determination and perseverance to successfully overcome oftentimes seemingly insurmountable obstacles in order to positively affect his team.

Each of the 32 awards is voted upon by the recipients’ teammates making the honor that much more special. It’s those teammates who witness the struggle behind the scenes and away from the discerning eyes and ears of fans and the media. Honor, quality of character and selflessness are often rewarded and brought to the forefront much to the chagrin of many humble recipients. These are qualities once embodied in the award’s namesake.

Of course I’m referring to Ed Block.

The awarded athletes collectively are the star attraction for the awards ceremony but they for all intents and purposes are second on the bill to the real stars – the children of the Ed Block Courage Houses. One only needs to refer to the core of the organization’s mission statement for proof.

"The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of neglected children and ending the cycle of abuse. The purpose is to raise Awareness and Prevention of child abuse. That objective is coupled with the Foundation's commitment to celebrating players of inspiration in the NFL."

Unfortunately this mission took a hit recently when it was announced that Michael Vick had been voted in as the recipient for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Michael Vick, less than one year removed from prison for inflicting incredibly heinous acts upon defenseless animals will represent the Eagles at the Ed Block Courage Awards here in Baltimore. This is the same Vick who once assumed the alias of Ron Mexico to circumvent a sex scandal; the same Vick accused of trying to board a plane with a water bottle equipped with a hidden compartment allegedly laced with marijuana residue; the former Atlanta Falcons’ player who flipped the bird towards his hometown fans.

And let’s not forget all of the creditors he stiffed.

This is the best the Philadelphia Eagles could do?

Obviously he owes none of them any money.

Keep in mind that this is an award often bestowed upon players, coaches or trainers who have battled cancer; or uncommonly served their communities; or endured excruciating pain to rehabilitate a devastating injury in order to take the field again in a productive way to help and support their respective teams and families.

These are men of honor.

Mike Vick might be rehabilitated but a man of honor?

C’mon man!

Vick has already received awards – a second chance and a new NFL contract. And that’s ok I suppose in this forgiving society but how is that honorable? Did he have any other choice than to suck it up and toe the line of acceptable behavior? Let’s not forget that he had multi-million financial reasons to toe that line and be a conformist.

Should he have been given a second chance?

I think so.

Has he respected this privilege?

So far, so good.

Should he be mentioned in the same breath as previous Ed Block Courage Award winners like Warrick Dunn, Kurt Warner, Priest Holmes, Warren Moon, Chad Pennington, Peter Boulware, and Eddie George and on and on?

Of course not!

If you thought Ernest Byner’s inclusion in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor cheapened that award’s luster, relatively speaking the coveted Ed Block Courage Award has just been dumped on by a truckload of dead dog and puppy carcasses with the news of Vick’s award.

His inclusion taints the award for past recipients and the bar just fell to the floor when considering future recipients. The knuckleheads in Philadelphia just paved the way to the Ed Block Banquet for NFL thugs like Pacman Jones, should the league ever reinstate him. All it will take is one season of toeing the company line, being cordial to teammates, feigning remorsefulness and cashing healthy paychecks on Fridays.

Ed Block must be rolling over in his grave.

Maybe the folks over at the old Courage House should show some courage of their own and rescind this award to Vick.

If not they may render the prestigious award meaningless. And that may prove to be no big deal to the athletes. After all there are plenty of awards to go around.

But it could affect the children of the Courage Houses.

Hasn't Vick done enough damage?

He should either decline the award or maybe the Eagles need to simply claim that they used a Florida balloting system and conduct a re-do.

However they get it done, Vick's award has to be taken from him.

Do it for the kids!

Monday, December 21, 2009

RAVENS v. BEARS: The good, bad, ugly & Megan Fox

THE GOOD: The offensive line showed its mobility on swing passes and counters. Oniel Cousins did a very nice job cutting down the Bears defensive end on a flare from Joe Flacco to Ray Rice clearing a throwing lane for his QB…Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs were also very effective in space…Demetrius Williams’ play over the past two weeks have many questioning the usefulness of John Harbaugh’s doghouse. Regardless of whether or not Mark Clayton returns against the Steelers, Williams has to be part of the game plan…Todd Heap looked much more comfortable flanked outside and starting his routes from an upright position. He must be a central figure in Cam Cameron’s game plan v. Pittsburgh. Heap showcased those solid mitts and nice footwork leading to 5 meaningful catches for 56 yards and two scores…Cameron used Rice and Willis McGahee on the field together and the result was a 28 yard run by Rice on a reverse from the slot receiver position, sprung by key blocks from Yanda and Le’Ron McClain. Would be nice to see more of that…Antwan Barnes was the only defender to consistently apply pressure on Jay Cutler and he showed some versatility on an intermediate out pattern intended for Bears’ TE Greg Olsen…Lardarius Webb’s explosiveness in short spaces is evident in his ability to break on a play. He will be sorely missed…Tom Zbikowski was around the ball a ton although he was slow to break on a potential INT. He is playing more confidently…Kelly Gregg looked like the KG of old…Jarret Johnson’s best season continues despite playing injured…Domonique Foxworth looks like he’s getting hot at the right time. Let’s just hope it isn’t all about Jay Cutler’s obvious deficiencies.

THE BAD: Ray Lewis is often out of position in the middle of the field and he isn’t getting much help from his inside linebacker sidekick either…Punt coverage was uninspired and it cost the team six…The Wildcat Formation wasn’t really necessary and was far less effective than the Ravens’ base offense, not to mention they placed an already banged up Joe Flacco at risk…Matt Katula’s season long slump continues and he cost the Ravens 3…While it’s easy to make this call given hindsight, the decision to play Webb on special teams with the score 31-7 and given the team’s shallow depth at corner may cost the team significantly going forward…

THE UGLY: Webb’s season ending ACL tear…The sequence of downs on offense following the Ravens goal line stand in the second quarter can be described as sheepish offense at best. The meek may inherit the Earth but they won’t win football games…The only time you really noticed Terrell Suggs in a meaningful way came after the Haloti Ngata forced fumble and recovery. Suggs briefly took off his helmet in a celebratory way.

THE MEGAN FOX: Joe Flacco was extremely sharp going 21 for 29 with 234 yards, 4 TD’s and a 135.6 QB rating. He showed veteran poise hustling his team to the line of scrimmage after a questionable completion to Todd Heap along the left sideline. The quick snap preserved the first down and Heap’s 20 yard gain and it caught the Bears slightly out of position on Rice’s ensuing run of 8 yards to put the Ravens at the Chicago 10 yard line…Honorable Mention to the 1,700+ who contributed to clean up M&T Bank Stadium so meticulously that most would barely know the city was pelted with 21” of snow.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bears still in Chicago...Is Monday Night Football a possibility?

The Bears’ charter flight to Baltimore last night was cancelled and with snow predicted to continue here in the Baltimore area until early this evening, might the Bears be a scratch for Sunday? Could the Ravens host a Monday Night Football game?

More here from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Say goodbye to the NFL's salary cap

The NFL has long been lauded for its ability to maintain competitive balance. Each season about half of the previous year’s playoff participants are watching from home. The balance keeps fans engaged and hopeful that during any given season it could be their team that vies for the coveted Lombardi Trophy – unless of course they reside in Cleveland, Oakland or Detroit.

The straw that stirs the drink of competitive balance is without question the salary cap.

Yet with all of its popularity, the NFL’s uncanny ability to nearly insulate itself from a struggling economy, the league’s players and owners seem willing to wave goodbye to the salary cap and enter 2010 as an uncapped season.

Some will say it is nearly unconscionable for the NFL to allow an uncapped season to become reality. But with March 1 (the beginning of an NFL year) just 72 days away, there has been very little discussion about a new collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”).

A couple of weeks ago, the owners announced that they were pulling part of the revenue sharing arrangement. It was just a very small component of the overall CBA package, but it looked like just another attempt on the part of the owners to gain a strategic advantage over the NFL Players’ Association (“NFLPA”).

Other than that, a couple of months ago, the two sides engaged in some preliminary talks that resulted in an agreement on some very minor issues, but that's been it.

From the outside looking in, it appears as though the owners are attempting to strong-arm the NFLPA. Unless the Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and his constituents relent, the owners seem prepared to settle for the uncapped season.

The popular belief or should I say fear amongst fans is that an uncapped year will usher in free spending similar to that of MLB’s New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, thus snapping in two the straw that stirs competitive balance in the NFL.

But that is NOT the case.

The owners had the vision to include safeguards in the CBA that collectively prevent the spending free-for-all. Ravens24x7's Brian McFarland chronicles these safeguards in an excellent piece entitled “Will an ‘uncapped’ 2010 shift the NFL's balance of power towards the rich?”

Brian also authored another thoughtful piece, “Would the Ravens be better off if 2010is a capped or uncapped season?”

The bet here is that 2010 WILL be uncapped. The owners are simply waiting for the players to blink and it is unlikely that the NFLPA’s newly appointed Executive Director will do that because it could be viewed as a sign of weakness.

Let the stalemate and the uncapped season begin…

Brian McFarland contributed to this blog entry.

Ravens do NOT control their playoff destiny...YET!

The Colts win over the Jaguars dropped Jacksonville to 7-7 on the season and ½ game behind the Baltimore Ravens. Heading into the contest the Ravens held the No. 7 seed in the AFC and as we are all very aware, only six teams go to the post season dance.

Many believe that the Jaguars’ loss gives the Ravens control of their own destiny.

That is NOT the case, not yet.

You see the Ravens need to be concerned about the Dolphins and the Broncos before they can completely control the fate of their 2009 campaign.

If Miami wins their next three games (@ Titans, TEXANS, STEELERS) and the Patriots lose one of their remaining three (@ Bills, JAGUARS, @ Texans), the Dolphins win the AFC East. If the Patriots finish 10-6 (currently they are 8-5) and the Ravens win out, the Ravens lose the spot to New England due to that head-to-head loss back on October 4.

If the Broncos win out (OAKLAND, @ Philadelphia, KANSAS CITY) they finish at 11-5 and one game ahead of the Ravens (10-6) should they win out.

So if you want to throw a little negative karma, bad mojo or put the maloiks on any teams this weekend while you warm those chilly bones, direct it towards the Dolphins and Broncos. Miami is a 3 point dog to the Titans while the Broncos are 14 point home favorites against the Silver & Black.

A loss by either team will THEN give the Ravens control of their destiny.

And wouldn’t that make next week’s game against the Steelers that much more appetizing?


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Might Gaither's time in Baltimore be short-lived?

The topic of flip-flopping the Ravens starting offensive tackles has been kicked around a bit lately and recently Jon Ogden weighed in on the subject in a conversation with The Sun’s Mike Preston.

"I can see them switching because Oher is quicker and they might want to optimize Jared's size and strength," said Ogden. "But for right now, this team is at its best when both are playing well at their current positions."And if they can get a pass-blocking tight end, they could really be on to something special."

As for the idea of moving the two tackles, monetarily it may be best to make the switch sooner than later. If Ogden is right and Oher is the better long term option at left tackle, the Ravens would have a better opportunity to manage the future salary of Gaither as a right tackle, a position that normally commands fewer dollars than left tackles. Plus they will still have Oher locked up for another 4 seasons under the terms of a reasonable rookie contract.

Next year Gaither becomes a restricted free agent. Some believe that the former Maryland Terrapin will receive the 1st and 3rd round tender offer from the club, i.e. $3.043M. That would essentially assure that Gaither remains a Raven in 2010 because it’s unlikely that another team will surrender such picks to the Ravens.

However, another club might cough up a No. 1 pick for Gaither should the Ravens extend only the first round tender to him. One source close to the team has hinted that the Ravens would welcome a No. 1 pick for Gaither. If you think about it, two seasons of above average left tackle play plus a No. 1 pick for a fifth round compensatory pick is outstanding value. And let’s not forget Gaither’s sketchy track record and his less than stellar commitment to football during his college days.

Might a big pay day change the way he approaches the game or his willingness to play with injuries? It bears watching particularly if the coaching staff believes that Oniel Cousins can turn the corner in 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ravens v. Lions: The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox

The Good: Joe Flacco rebounded nicely from a horrific performance in Green Bay. His long touch pass down the left sideline to Todd Heap was a thing of beauty, particularly in the subpar conditions…Speaking of Heap, say what you will about his lack of play-making in the passing game but the guy was lights out on Sunday supporting the run with solid blocking on the edges…Derrick Mason showed again why he may be the toughest Raven pound for pound when he bounced off two Lions’ DB’s en route to a 62 yard TD…Lardarius Webb was all over the place defending 2 passes, making 7 tackles a few of which were in run support and 1 behind the line of scrimmage…Chris Carr continues to improve as a punt returner and is rewarding Jerry Rosburg for staying with him so long in that capacity…Sam Koch continues to bail out long snapper Matt Katula with his very solid hands as a holder.

Bad: The Ravens’ pass rush continues to disappoint. Why Terrell Suggs is asked to play zone pass coverage in the middle of the field on third and 14 is a mystery. C’mon Mr. Mattison, you know better than that, don’t you?...Matt Katula’s snapping slump continues. He should make a sizeable contribution to Sam Koch’s bank account.

Ugly: Troy Smith dancing after his TD run to make it 47-3. Not only was the dance ugly, it was classless as well.

The Megan Fox: This week’s MF recipient is split between the offensive line and the three-headed monster. Everyone on the front line played very well, particularly Ben Grubbs, Marshal Yanda and Oniel Cousins. Cousins’ play has to be considered a very welcomed surprise for the team’s offensive coaching staff. The second year player is raw but has shown impressive progress…Ray Rice, what can you say – he is the Ravens’ single most explosive and dynamic player. Willis McGahee showed patience and good vision while taking advantage of the cutback lanes and Le’Ron McClain’s will to succeed is infectious.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Could the Ravens win the AFC North?

Let’s not get too excited about the Ravens complete dominance over the Detroit Lions, a team one year removed from a 0-16 finish, still in the midst of a 2-11 season in ’09 and winners of just three of their last 37 regular season games.

But, the Ravens did what they had to do and they played hard and hustled to the whistle from the opening kick to the closing gun.

The win left the Ravens at 7-6 and still in the playoff hunt. Most of our collective focus is upon the three other teams that share a common record: Jaguars; Jets and Dolphins.

Yet something occurred to me while watching highlights of the Vikings’ dismantling of the Bengals – could Marvin Lewis’ troops lose all of their remaining games and the Ravens win all three of their regular season matchups on the 2009 schedule?

The Bengals go on the road to play the Chargers in a game that will have major post season implications. The Chargers may be the hottest team in the NFL and they will most likely beat the Bengals. Cincinnati then returns home to host the Chiefs. If the Chiefs can pull the upset, the Bengals will then have to go to the Meadowlands to face the Jets in a must-win situation.

Could the Ravens actually win the AFC North?

Crazier things have happened but if the Ravens win on Sunday and the Bengals lose, add Cincinnati to the mix of teams to watch closely on December 27.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Pass Interference in the NFL

You have to wonder sometimes in the NFL if the punishment fits the crime when it comes to pass interference. Quarterback throws a desperation pass 60 yards downfield, the receiver and defender both make plays on the ball but the official concludes that the defender initiated just a tad too much contact.

60 yard penalty!

Is that fair?

It is if the defender blatantly prevents the receiver from making a play.

But is a ticky-tack foul worthy of such a game altering reward of 60 yards?

Perhaps the league should have levels of pass interference. A blatant penalty is a spot foul while the less severe impediment might simply get a 10 yard penalty and an automatic first down.

Sometimes a penalty is not called at all as in the case of Mark Clayton v. the Packers. Sometimes offensive pass interference is called as in the case of Derrick Mason. For me, if the alleged infraction makes a difference in the outcome of the play it should be called. And using that as the basis for calling or not calling a penalty, it's my opinion that the Ravens were jobbed by the officials on both of these plays.

But that's my opinion.

What's yours?

I'm pissed at the Ravens, how about you?

Most members of the local sports media will tell you that they aren’t fans of the Baltimore Ravens. They detach themselves emotionally in order to remain objective.

I suppose in a way that is somewhat similar to a surgeon who can’t get too close to terminally ill patients for the benefit of other patients who depend on said surgeon’s cerebral clarity.

Unfortunately I’m not one of those locals covering the Ravens who have that ability.

I tried decompressing over the past 15 plus hours to calm down and attain that clarity so that I might deliver lucid thoughts. You can evaluate my lucidity for yourself but I’m here to tell you that I have not calmed down.

I am pissed off!

The question I have is, “Why isn’t anyone over at One Winning Drive pissed off?”

The Ravens have struggled mightily to get off to a fast start over the course of the last 7 games. So, on their first offensive drive last night they are in the red zone with a first and 10 from the Green Bay 17. On the very next play, Ray Rice coughs it up. Green Bay takes over.

“It’s my fault,” Rice said. “I’m not known as a fumbler. I protect the ball well. It’s something I’ll get corrected.”

No worries. Back to the drawing board and do better next time, right?

Willis McGahee gets tripped up rather easily on a first and goal at the one with the Ravens trailing 24-14 and 9:46 left on the game clock. This is the guy who is supposed to have a nose for the goal line yet he bounces his run outside and is upended after a toe tap from Charles Woodson.

“He came through and tripped me up,” McGahee said. “It was a great play. He’s a Pro Bowler.”

Next play, Joe Flacco flushes out of the pocket, rolls right, sets and lobs a pass across his body and towards the middle of the field in the end zone to Demetrius Williams. Put a little mustard on it and Williams just might have a touchdown. Instead the result is an inexcusable red zone interception.

“It was a stupid decision and a worse throw,” Flacco said. “It was second down so you don’t really need to make a play there.

“You can give yourself another shot on third down and still kick a field goal. I didn’t set my feet, I didn’t get enough on the ball and I underthrew him.”

Why are these guys not more emotionally committed?

How can they so cavalierly discard these major blunders?

“We are fighting for our lives right now, but we are still breathing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We are still alive. I think our character and heart will show through as we finish up the season.”

You mean like that unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that Derrick Mason chipped in with while your team trailed 17-14 at the start of the fourth quarter? You remember, the foul that forced Sam Koch to punt from his own end zone don’t you coach? Didn’t Aaron Rodgers & Co. start that drive from YOUR 49?

Oh and four plays later it was Packers 24-14, ring a bell?

Is that the character and heart you are talking about?

“That shouldn’t happen,” Harbaugh said. “You keep your poise, you come off the field. You’re upset about it. Derrick has to keep his poise, come off the field and not compound the problem. We tell our guys, ‘Something happens, don’t compound the problem.’”

Well based on that level of passion and emotional involvement from the ball coach I bet Derrick Mason didn’t get his chocolate pudding on the plane ride back to Baltimore.

Where is the sense of urgency?

How about some accountability?

“The penalties have to improve,” Harbaugh said. “There were too many penalties. Obviously it was a two-way deal. The game was called a certain way."

Coach this has been going on the entire season. Your team is next to the bottom of the league in number of penalties and penalty yards. With 12 games in the bag, do you have any idea when exactly we can expect the improvement?

Where is the discipline?

Penalties and regular bone-headed mistakes from players like Mason, Flacco, Haloti Ngata even Ray Lewis.

These aren’t Mighty Men coach, this is a mighty mess!

You know as a fan of this team and with the access to information that I’ve been granted and certainly appreciate, I will often refrain from second guessing some questionable organizational moves. My rationalization is simple – these guys know more about football and certainly more about what is best for the Baltimore Ravens than I do.

I hear the front office folks talk about their players and coaches like proud parents.

I’ve heard the coaches heap praise upon Ozzie Newsome and his staff and proclaim them the best in the business.

How then do you explain a 3-6 record over the past nine games?

Even lowly teams like the Chiefs, Bears and Seahawks have better records during that stretch. In fact, the team many once considered the worst in the league (Oakland Raiders) has the same record over the last nine games as the Ravens!

Why has this team slipped drastically to the 15th ranked offense in the league?

Where is the ball distribution?

How can the coaches justify not getting the ball into the hands of Kelley Washington more frequently?

Where is the pass rush?

If the Ravens have talented players and coaches why don’t they have the results to match?

Clearly the front office has some explaining to do.

They brought in a nickel back and return guy in Chris Carr and gave him money that could have been Jim Leonhard’s. Didn’t secondary coach Chuck Pagano see enough of Carr in Oakland to realize he doesn’t have the prerequisite speed for those duties?

The Ravens re-signed Samari Rolle who hasn’t sniffed the field since the Divisional Playoff Game against the Titans last season. Why? Was this some sort of payback to Rolle for some behind the scenes favor?

Domonique Foxworth has hardly given the team their money’s worth and is at best a No. 2 corner but more realistically a nickel. We heard about what a great job he did against Larry Fitzgerald in the playoffs last year but if he was really that good, wouldn’t a post season participant like the Falcons fight a bit harder to keep him?

LJ Smith, an All Pro on the NFL’s All China Doll team is brought in to be a backup to Todd Heap, a player who isn’t exactly a model of health. Didn’t John Harbaugh see enough of Smith’s act in Philadelphia to know that the oft-broken winged Eagle would hardly fly as a Raven?

And what do you think about the team gifting Terrell Suggs with the most lucrative linebacker contract ever? Oh sure, we get that Suggs is a multi-talented linebacker who can support the run and MAYBE give you 8-10 sacks per year but was the Brink’s Truck really necessary? Is he THAT much of a difference maker?

“We’ve done this to ourselves”, said Jarret Johnson.

“Across the board, we didn’t play well enough to win. We need to win four games.”

Maybe Double J should have just stopped at, “We’ve done this to ourselves across the board.”

And maybe that’s why no one is really all that pissed off.

They have ALL wet the bed over at One Winning Drive.

The players, the coaches, the scouts, the front office – everyone needs a Huggie.

And since they are collectively to blame, why point fingers? Just keep it on the down low, say we’ll get ‘em next time and everyone goes home unscathed – for now anyway.

Many give props to owner Steve Bisciotti for not meddling and I must admit I’m one of them. But maybe it’s time that Bisciotti blows a gasket. Maybe he needs to collect his coaches, front office and team captains and have a come to Jesus meeting about what the flip is going on and why this alleged collection of talent is so mediocre.

That shower scene with baseball bats from Bull Durham comes to mind.

This ‘09 season is officially on life support and the pulling of the plug isn’t far off.

Unlike that surgeon, it’s time for Bisciotti to get emotionally involved.

He doesn’t have to meddle, but he should be pissed off just like me and you.

And just like me and you, he should want some answers.

Not tomorrow, not after this week’s game against the Lions – RIGHT NOW!

Unlike that horrific two minute offense at the end of last night’s debacle, there needs to be a sense of urgency. Because that sense of urgency just might be all that a mediocre team like the Ravens needs to actually get a post season dance card in this very mediocre NFL.

IMAGINE: Remembering John Lennon

Some people have a favorite number. Me, I like the number 8. It has balance and even when knocked on its side, it resembles the symbol for infinity. Good karma there in that number 8.

I also have a favorite word -- imagine. The two are actually woven together, at least in my mind. The number eight with its balance and the word imagine which offers infinite possibilities. Those three syllables strung together open up a world for hopes and dreams.

I remember pondering hopes and dreams back towards the turn of the new millennium. At the time there really wasn`t a significant other in my life and my plan as New Year`s Eve and Day approached was to simply be with my children. I thought about the moment when Y2K would finally arrive. I wasn`t worried about all the then anticipated computer crashes when the numbers rolled to 2000. I was more concerned about the song I would be listening to at the exact moment of 12:00:00 January 1, 2000.

Of course it had to be a Beatles song, but which? There are so many. In My Life? Maybe. Let it Be? Possibly. And then it struck me. It struck me like instant karma.


Yes it had to be Imagine! What possible better choice could there be than the greatest anthem of all time? What could possibly be better than the anthem of possibilities heading into a new millennium?

So there I was as the clock struck 12, holding each of my children, staring towards the Inner Harbor sky bedazzled by celebratory light and listening to those simple yet magical chords and those words of hope:

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one


It`s a moment I will cherish always.

After I put the kids to bed, I sat alone on my couch, looking out towards the water and the lights again. There was a peacefulness about that night that I`ve never known before or since. I thought about that moment with the kids and John Lennon. I thought about the joy that he brought into my life and into the lives of millions around the globe. And then the peacefulness of the moment was disrupted by thoughts of the tragedy that took him from us.

On that night of December 8, 1980, I remember being in the kitchen preparing for an exam the next morning. My Dad was in the basement watching Monday Night Football. I recall hearing the voice of Howard Cosell while studying. It was more background noise than anything else that was easily blocked out until I heard those words, "John Lennon shot." Those words exploded through the background noise and gripped my consciousness like a steel trap.

I ran down the stairs, stopping halfway and looked towards my Dad hoping that somehow he would tell me that I hadn`t heard what I thought I heard. The sullen look on his face told me all that I needed to know. I waited with hope -- a hope that proved to be fleeting when Cosell announced:

"An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City, John Lennon outside of his apartment building on the west side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all of The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival."

I retreated to my room. Once there, I reached for my Beatles' albums and the headphones and listened. I don't recall hearing anything. I just wanted to go to a place where John was still alive -- in his music. I was numb and couldn't cry. The surrealism of the night wouldn't allow me. Did this really happen?

Was it in a dream? Was it just a dream?

The next day, I had that exam. I didn't take it -- didn't go to school. I sought the solace of my room and John's music. Reality set in and the tears came.

The dream was over. What could I say?

But the music lives on and therefore in my mind and in my heart so does John.

Today I will make my annual trek up to Central Park, today being the twenty-sixth anniversary of John's departure to another form of consciousness. I will visit his memorial park, Strawberry Fields where I'm sure I'll hear more of his magical words:

"Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see..."

Thanks will always shine on like the moon, and the stars and the sun...

Ravens @ Packers: The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox

THE GOOD: Kelley Washington’s ability to make plays. Why he isn’t in the mix more given the team’s lack of playmaking at the WR position should be studied on Unsolved Mysteries…Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg and Dwan Edwards run defense…Cary Williams punt coverage…Lardarius Webb’s continued development and his explosiveness on kick returns.

THE BAD: The pass rush is weak, predictable, vanilla and mostly ineffective. The Ravens were able to muster 1 sack and 2 quarterback hurries against a team that had surrendered 44 sacks in 11 games despite Aaron Rodgers dropping back to throw 41 times (including the Trevor Pryce sack)…The kick coverage was substandard and trying the pooch kick on consecutive kickoffs wreaked of desperation…Domonique Foxworth’s downward spiraling season continued in full force. He can’t cover and he can’t tackle…Dawan Landry was extremely slow to react to a pass thrown in front of him to TE Jermichael Finley that set the Packers up with a first and goal on the 2 and ultimately a 10-0 lead…Matt Katula snaps on field goals continued a season long slump from a guy who previous to 2009 had been money…Ben Grubbs, Jared Gaither and Michael Oher all struggled in pass protection. They get Oscars for their performances as bull fighters…The coaching staff needs to be held accountable for the team’s overall lack of discipline and attention to detail. Their sluggishness in and out of the huddle offensively prevents them from making pre-snap reads and adjustments. They only need to look at how the Packers manage their dummy snap counts where they can read the blitz and organize the pass protection accordingly.

THE UGLY: Joe Flacco was horrific and his digression is shocking. He made poor decisions, poor throws and his nonchalant approach is negatively impacting the offense’s tempo. He predetermines where he is going with the football and his slow approach to the line doesn’t allow enough time to adjust. All three interceptions were very rookie-like and his swing pass to Ray Rice in the right flat for a loss of 7 was ridiculous…Ray Rice’s fumble on the Ravens’ opening drive on first down at the Packers’ 17 yard line…Derrick Mason’s offensive pass interference followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty early in the fourth quarter after the Ravens had rallied to close to 17-14. Sam Koch was ultimately forced to punt from the end zone and that lead to excellent field position for the Packers. They subsequently drove the ball 49 yards in 4 plays to extend their lead to 24-14….Mason and Todd Heap both dropped passes for significant gains, the last of which should have been a touchdown…Screen passes have digressed significantly as teams key on Ray Rice…First down performance was abysmal. Of their 25 first down plays 13 went for no gain, negative yardage or an interception. That places an unnecessary burden on the passer and the pass protection on second and third down…The Ravens managed only 185 net yards of offense v. 135 yard of penalties to go with 4 turnovers and a near 11 minute deficit in time of possession – not exactly a recipe for success…The Ravens are 0-7 v. the NFC North on the road… The Ravens dropped to 5-8 all time on Monday Night Football, including a 2-6 record road record.

THE MEGAN FOX: You know things didn’t go the way of the Ravens when the MF Award Winner is punter Sam Koch. Despite the frigid conditions Koch posted an average net of 45.4 yards on five punts plus he was superb catching and placing some errant snaps from long snapper Katula.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Green Bay's defense a fraud...Ravens to win at Lambeau

To say the least, this Monday Night matchup against the Packers is a very interesting one. First props to all the Ravens fans who have made the journey to the frozen tundra. Last night I received an email from one such fan (Ray Schissler) who enjoyed the coziness of a Green Bay area pub called the Tilted Kilt with about 100 Ravens’ fans AND Jon Gruden in attendance.

Bring home a “W”!

Tonight marks the first time EVER that Green Bay has hosted a Monday Night game in December. Go ahead, lay on the conspiracy theory about how the authors of the NFL schedule put the screws to the Ravens. Adding to the conspiracy, this marks the fourth time this season that a team enters a contest against the purple and black well rested. The Ravens have faced three teams coming off byes and Green Bay has been kicking back since Thanksgiving. Some might say even before that since their “competition” on Thanksgiving Day was the Detroit Lions.

The Packers enter the contest as the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL. Coincidentally this marks the third consecutive game that the Ravens have faced the NFL’s best defense. The Colts and Steelers were both ranked No. 1 entering their respective games against the Ravens.

Defense unfortunately for those of us who have developed an appreciation for such things, is on the decline. There are no dominant defenses in the NFL anymore. The league’s rules committees and pansy officials have helped usher in that trend! Green Bay’s defense is no exception. Nobody asked me but I think they are a fraud.

Before this weekend’s games, the Packers’ opponents were a combined 52-69 (.430). Their wins have come against teams with a combined 23-54 (.299) and only 1 opponent that they defeated has a winning percentage above .500 (Dallas Cowboys).

During their last four games the Packers have surrendered 20 points per contest. Now on the surface that doesn’t seem so bad but three of their opponents (Detroit, Tampa, San Francisco) on average are ranked 28th on offense. Last time I checked there are only 32 teams in the league.

Plus the Packers yielded 38 points to Tampa. Green Bay’s generosity contributed to Tampa’s only win thus far in the 2009 campaign.

Aaron Rodgers miraculously is a hot QB. He’s been knocked to the turf with ball in hand 44 times this season. That’s gotta hurt. Plus his guys up front are nursing injuries of their own. Who’s protecting whom?

The Packers do protect the football. They are plus 17 in turnover differential, far and away the league’s best in that category. They are ball hogs as well, holding possession on average 33:26 of every contest they’ve played and during the last four games, that figure has jumped to 37 minutes. To put that in perspective, the Pack has had the ball nearly a full quarter more than their opponents during those contests.

And THAT is why their defense is No. 1! If you aren’t on the field, opponents don’t accumulate offensive yardage. Pretty simple formula don’t you think?

Unfortunately for Green Bay they will be without plus defensive contributors DE Aaron Kampman and CB Al Harris both lost to injuries for the season.

This is a VERY winnable game for the Ravens.

In many ways, this game reminds me of the team’s December road trip in 2008 to Dallas. Few gave the Ravens a chance in that one. But they stuck with the run and eventually put the game away on the legs of Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. They also won the turnover battle during the evening of Texas Stadium’s final curtain call. I am expecting similar results tonight.

Over the course of the last five games, the Ravens have given up on average 11.5 points per game. While their defense hasn’t been stellar, they have for the most part limited big plays. They have also slowly rediscovered something that will help them tonight – the three headed monster of Messrs. Rice, McGahee and McClain. I think they’ll ride that monster to victory tonight.

Tonight’s winning recipe:

Break even on the turnover war.

Don’t allow Green Bay to control the clock.

Win on first down.

Set up the run with the pass.

Keep the penalties in check (special teams’ violations cost the team 125 yards of field position last week v. Steelers).

End result: Ravens 24, Packers 20 and a happy night in the Land of Pleasant Living…

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Do the numbers favor the Ravens over Packers?

Here’s an interesting tidbit served up by our site’s historian Kurt Backert…

The last time a Baltimore NFL team beat the Packers in Green Bay was December 7, 1968. The Ravens will play the Packers in Green Bay on Monday Night, December 7, 2009, exactly 41 years to the day since that victorious day.

Coincidentally the day is Pearl Harbor Day commemorating the lives of those taken on that horrific day in 1941. Once again the number 41 surfaces. One of the players playing in the game who has played for both clubs is the Ravens’ No. 41 Frank Walker.

The Pearl Harbor catastrophe took place 68 years ago.

And remember the last time Baltimore won in Green Bay, 1968.

Just sayin’…

Monday, November 30, 2009

To say the Ravens are slow starters is an understatement

If you think the Ravens are pretty predictable on their first offensive possession, then you would be absolutely correct!

I thought Ray Rice would take a handoff and go relatively nowhere to start the game for Cam Cameron’s unit. Unfortunately I was right – Ray Rice up the middle for a gain of 1. Too familiar if you ask me!

Yesterday I did something that I rarely do – I stayed at home and watched the game.

No section 107 seat, no press box, just my living room.

And I must admit that there are certain advantages to that viewing chair. I can rewind, freeze, slo-mo and all of the wonderful amenities provided by my DVR. I can also access the internet on more than one computer if I choose. So gifting away my tickets to my son and his friend had its privileges.

With that in mind I decided to do a little surfing on to see what Cameron has called in each of the team’s 11 games on the very first play of the game.

The 11 snaps in question have produced 26 yards, i.e. 2.36 yards per play.

Three of those plays were passes, one of which was incomplete. Those three plays produced 21 yards or seven yards per throw.

The eight running plays have produced 5 yards – FIVE (that’s 0.63 yards/carry if you are keeping score)! Four of those yards were churned by Joe Flacco on a scramble. So that leaves seven plays from running backs producing 1 yard – ONE! (If you are still scoring this, that’s 0.14 yards/carry.)

Now over the course of the last 6 games, Ray Rice has been the ball carrier on the Ravens’ first offensive play 6 consecutive times. Those 6 runs have produced minus 1 yard.

Think it’s time for a change?
Photo by Sabina Moran

The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco wasn’t great…yes he needs to finish his deep throws – the 54 yard completion to Mark Clayton should have been a touchdown. And yes he missed some throws badly, looking a bit skittish at times in the face of a brutal Steelers’ pass rush. But to register a 100+ QB rating against a tough defense without throwing a pick despite 5 sacks and constant pressure qualifies as a good performance in my book…Speaking of Clayton, he stepped up and got involved early. His fumble aside the oft-criticized wideout made some plays in the passing game and with a little more pass protection, he may have hauled in another deep ball for a score. He found the separation that had been missing from his game…The running attack was very solid against the league’s top ranked rushing defense. The 3-headed monster put up 132 yards against a stingy team that had yielded less than 70 such yards per contest prior to last night…Haloti Ngata was stout against the run and contributed on offense at the goal line with a crushing block paving the way for the Willis McGahee’s TD run in the first quarter…NEWSFLASH: Chris Carr can return punts. Let’s hope this was a building block for him and not simply an indictment upon the Steelers’ subpar punt coverage…Paul Kruger’s interception had me wondering if he could play tight end. The game changing catch had to have impressed Todd Heap…Dwan Edwards, 8 tackles and sheer hustle. The man has a motor and is arguably the team’s most improved defender…Lardarius Webb is looking like the real deal. Another year of coaching and an offseason in the weight room, this guy could be in line for a trip across the pond in February, 2011.

THE BAD: Some Ravens need to play smarter and not let the adrenalin take over their minds. Tom Zbikowski and Ngata at times got caught up in the heat of the moment and it cost the team penalty yards. Ngata is a repeat offender and he needs to reel it in…Ray Lewis looked very pedestrian shedding blocks and when teams run right at him…The Ravens missed tackles, Chris Carr and Jarret Johnson come to mind…Tavares Gooden needs to contain. He gets washed out inside the tackles too often…Ben Grubbs allowed Lawrence Timmons to come in untouched for a sack while Le’Ron McClain and Ray Rice each missed blocking assignments failing to pick up blitzing backers…Greg Mattison was outcoached and didn’t take advantage of Dennis Dixon’s inexperience. The all-out blitz that he dialed up that resulted in Dixon’s waltz into the end zone forced the former Duck to his strength – his right, and not against his body. I’ll give Mattison a pass on the lack of containment on that play and say that a player blew an assignment…John Harbaugh mismanaged timeouts again. His team should have been ready to go on fourth and 5 after the 17 yard completion on third down. Had they failed on the fourth down conversion, Harbaugh would have had only 1 timeout to save his offense some time on the clock.

THE UGLY: Penalties on returns negated great field position too often…Domonique Foxworth was owned by Santonio Holmes. Had Ben Roethlisberger started, it would have been sub-ugly…The blitz on Dixon’s TD run…Chris Collinsworth supporting a very ticky-tacky defensive holding call against Haloti Ngata. The flag seemed almost premeditated. Can’t Troy Aikman take Collinsworth’s place?

THE MEGAN FOX: Ray Rice, the man makes something out of nothing and chipped in with 155 yards of offense against a tough, amped up Steelers defense. His catch and run on the fourth down conversion with 3 minutes and change left in the game was really the pivotal play of the game.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NFL Injury reports can be deceiving

NFL injury reports list four categories: Probable; Questionable; Doubtful and Out. Conventional thinking suggests that Probable equates to a 75% chance of a player playing, Questionable 50%, Doubtful 25% and Out 0%.

However, a study of injury reports over the past 10 years conducted by the Ravens front office kicks such conventional thinking to the curb. What they have discovered at the Castle in Owings Mills is that while the traditional barometers may intend to gauge the probability of an injured player playing, the actual results are far different.

Players listed as Probable suited up 95% of the time; Questionable 53%; Doubtful 7% and Out 1%.

Fantasy ballers and those inclined to wager should take note…

Don't count on Suggs playing v. Pittsburgh

John Harbaugh has shown a great deal of gamesmanship when it comes to Ravens injuries and addressing questions about the physical well being of his team. He consistently serves up empty answers and such questions regarding the team’s highest paid player are no exception.

Harbaugh insists that Suggs status is week to week and somewhere in his words of nothingness you will hear something about him being hopeful that Suggs will play against the (fill in the blank) and then we’ll get, “We’ll find out on Sunday.”

If Suggs plays on Sunday against the Steelers I will be borderline shocked. No one in the Ravens’ camp is providing anything definitive about Suggs’ injury but the body language and between the lines reading suggests that he will miss 3+ games.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ravens v. Colts: The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox

The Good: The Ravens defense stepped up after a shaky start and forced three turnovers. They did a nice job of keeping Peyton Manning off balance and at times they were in his head. A often criticized secondary held their own and outside of a blown coverage in the end zone, they kept the dangerous Dallas Clark under wraps…Ray Rice chipped in with another 100+ yard effort from the line of scrimmage (135 yards) and Derrick Mason, despite a drop had a solid game (9 catches, 142 yards). The two combined for 277 of the team’s 354 net yards of offense…John Harbaugh’s challenge following Lardarius Webb’s fumble on the Ravens’ initial kick return changed the game’s momentum in a big way. Replays were hardly conclusive and there didn’t seem to be enough evidence to overturn the fumble called on the field. Despite the odds, Harbaugh got his way…Ray Lewis’ hit on Santi at the 1 to force the fumble/turnover…Billy Cundiff’s overall effort, 5 of 6 FGA’s…Sam Koch’s hands, among the best in the business as a kick holder. He has bailed out long snapper Matt Katula regularly during the 2009 campaign. Sunday was no exception.

The Bad: Joe Flacco had plenty of time to throw most of the afternoon yet seemed to continually lock in on Derrick Mason or check down prematurely to Ray Rice. He also delivered the ball late to Derrick Mason on no less than three occasions. Flacco is far too dependent upon Rice and Mason. Twenty-six of his 34 throws were intended for one or the other…Cam Cameron’s short yardage sub packages are very subpar. He needs to utilize his roster better and take advantage of size matchups when they present themselves. The inability to score a touchdown after a first and goal from the 1 is inexcusable…Chris Chester doesn’t generate any offensive push. It’s time to replace him with Marshal Yanda…Ray Lewis, your jock is still on the 1 yard line following Joseph Addai’s 5 yard TD run…The run support from the Ravens’ corners and nickel backs was awful.

The Ugly: Haloti Ngata’s unnecessary personal foul cost the Ravens field position. Instead of a 2nd and 17 from the Ravens 48 the Colts were handed a first and 10 at the Ravens 33 leading to a Matt Stover 25 yard field goal. Those 15 yards and the down ultimately were the difference in the game...Joe Flacco’s interception toss to Gary Bracken was a fundamentally flawed play. He predetermined where he was going with the ball prior to the snap and ignored an open Derrick Mason running an intermediate out. Harbaugh wasted a time out with 2:19 to go and that cost the Ravens 47 seconds on the game clock…The short yard/goal line offense was anemic…Red zone efficiency on offense cost the Ravens dearly and of course, Cundiff’s missed 30 yard FG.

The Megan Fox: It’s not often that Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis go through an entire game without a tackle, sack or quarterback hurry between them but that is exactly what happened on Sunday. The credit goes to Jared Gaither and Michael Oher who combined easily score this week’s Megan Fox Award.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ravens news, notes & an old friend pays a visit

Quarterbacks are so overprotected in today’s NFL that the integrity of the game – the game that the founding fathers of the league envisioned, is now seriously being challenged. NFL analysts have suggested without a trace of sarcasm or tongue-in-cheek intent that quarterbacks should be considered down after a two-handed touch.

Overly inflated fines are being levied by the league for little love taps to the helmet. Just ask Haloti Ngata who made that mistake against league princess Tom Brady.

Now those roles have been reversed.

On Monday Night Football before a national audience (at least those who were enjoying some form of energy drink and were still awake), Brady Quinn took an unnecessary shot at Terrell Suggs knee after Quinn tossed a pass that ended up in the wrong hands – those of Ravens nickel back Chris Carr. The blow will put Suggs on the shelf for at the very minimum 2 weeks but more likely it will be 4+ weeks. The injury puts a serious dent in the Ravens’ playoff chances, a team already struggling to rush the passer.

Cheap, unnecessary, a foul born out of frustration and arguably malicious intent…

Is Suggs’ knee any less valuable than Quinn’s? If Suggs took that shot at Quinn while he was in the pocket and as defenseless as Suggs was on the interception return, wouldn’t he receive a major fine?

Quinn’s fine should be no less.

And he better keep his head on a swivel the next time he shows up at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens lost another valuable contributor to injury on Monday when special teams ace Haruki Nakamura went down on the opening kickoff after suffering a broken ankle. Although no official word has come down yet, Nakamura seems destined for injured reserve which would then free up a roster spot for the Ravens.

Will they promote a practice squad player or might they scour the waiver wire to fill the 53 man roster spot to be vacated by Nakamura?

Here’s a suggestion – Lorenzo Neal.

Cameron's Crew has struggled to find an identity on offense and many have suggested that the team revert back to the three-headed monster approach with Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. The trouble with that approach is that McClain no longer has the lead blocker that he had in 2008 with Neal.

Granted it is difficult to justify taking carries away from Ray Rice at this point. But if the Ravens are successful at developing an offensive identity and that is one of balance, it may be wise to have the jumbo style backfield to grind it out late in games during the cold, inclement weather months while featuring McClain and Neal. Of course this is all predicated upon Neal being in decent shape.

Even if the Ravens don’t bring back Neal, Cam Cameron would be wise to get the ball in McClain’s hands more frequently. The 2009 Pro Bowl fullback has been very productive as a pass catcher and his efforts with the ball have often moved the chains and sustained drives. If the Ravens can feature McClain as a receiver more, opposing defenses will be forced to assign additional resources to defend him and that could free up slot receivers or tight ends over the middle.

Speaking of tight ends, it is borderline mind boggling how Cam Cameron can’t find a way to get Todd Heap more involved in the offense and producing more explosive plays. Cameron had a high degree of success with Antonio Gates in San Diego and Heap has often represented a mismatch when flanked outside of the tackle box. Equally surprising is Cameron’s inability to incorporate LJ Smith into the game plan. Smith is an athletic receiver and along with Heap they would pressure opposing safeties and linebackers and force defensive coordinators to account for the potentially dangerous duo. That could help free up space on the outside for Joe Flacco who very clearly prefers to throw the ball outside of the hash marks.

Early in the season the Ravens did an excellent job of spreading the ball around on offense. That keeps all players engage, alert and contributing with more enthusiasm. Lately players like Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington have disappeared.

Kelley Washington is a big target who possesses solid hands and athleticism. It’s time the Ravens handed him the No. 2 receiver position over struggling Mark Clayton. Washington’s size is more conducive to throws inside the hash marks and he increases the margin for error. Slightly errant throws like the somewhat high pass to Clayton on a slant against the Browns that should have gone for a touchdown (thank you very much ESPN for the lame replays) would be less challenging for Washington. His size also helps in tight coverage against smaller defenders. Clayton can’t enjoy that kind of advantage because of physical limitations.

Matt Birk seems to be struggling. Word surfaced during the game in Minnesota that his pre-snap movements were tipping pass plays and placing unwelcomed stress on the offensive line. Some have opined that he continues to tip plays. While that could be true, the Ravens offensive line has just played poorly as of late, particularly inside the tackles. Perhaps a line-up change is in order. Marshal Yanda could and should be the next man up.

And finally, the Colts visit Baltimore again on Sunday and the fan experience is almost always surreal. Those of us who were Baltimore Colts fans are still left somewhat breathless when the day’s enemy is wearing the colors we collectively loved. For my money, they are the league’s best uniforms.

Over time, the level of surreal has lessened but this week I expect it to perhaps reach unprecedented levels when Matt Stover takes the field wearing his traditional No. 3 and sporting a horseshoe on his helmet.

A Raven from the beginning, seeing Stover on the visitor’s bench could hurt like hell, particularly if his foot puts a dent in the Ravens’ playoff aspirations.

Hey Ravens fans...curb the enthusiasm

The Ravens offense has scored exactly zero offensive touchdowns in the first half over the course of their last five consecutive games, including a game against the lowly Cleveland Browns whose defense ranks dead last in the league. That is substantive enough data to sound the alarms.

Ravens fans should heed the call.

This week the Ravens will take on the Indianapolis Colts, a team that has taken 6 straight from the good guys. Clearly they have the Ravens’ number and there’s little evidence that exists to suggest the Colts won’t make it seven in a row.

The Ravens have struggled mightily against good quarterbacks and on Sunday they will face arguably the league’s very best in Peyton Manning. The primary culprit for the Ravens failure against the upper echelon signal callers is directly tied to their inability, unwillingness or some combination thereof to place pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Face Kyle Orton and the Ravens unleash the dogs and then convincingly knock off a previously unbeaten team. Go up against Brady Quinn and the Ravens suffocate the Browns and force them to spend the entire game in their own territory en route to a shutout victory. But face Philip Rivers, Brett Favre, Tom Brady or Carson Palmer and the Ravens go conservative, play soft and allow these relative NFL surgeons to carve up their soft white underbelly, aka their secondary.

It’s then that the Ravens are forced to play catch up and that is a daunting task for an offense that looks like the cast of The Living Dead moments after the opening kick cuts through the stadium air.

Playing from behind pushes the Ravens away from balance in their offense and it forces them to throw. Growing increasingly one-dimensional as the games unfold makes speed rushers like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis even more dangerous. It doesn’t take a visionary to picture such contests quickly getting away from the Ravens who lack the explosive players to get them back within striking distance.

To add insult to injury the Ravens will be without the services of their best pass rusher Terrell Suggs for a month or more after absorbing a cheap and unnecessary shot from Brady Quinn.

Where will the pass rush come from?

After Peyton Manning and the Colts (who are remarkably a very slight underdog this week against the Ravens) John Harbaugh’s troops will take on Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers twice within a matter of five weeks. Can you see them jumping out to a quick lead and then turning Messrs. Harrison, Woodley and Timmons loose? That’s about as predictable as an ear to ear grin from Hines Ward after absorbing a big hit.
The post season is clearly in jeopardy.

To get there conventional wisdom suggests that it will take ten wins. That said you may recall that the Patriots were on the outside looking in during the 2008 post season and they finished with 11 wins.

Ten wins for the Ravens is an uphill climb on a slippery slope. Assuming that they can take care of business against the NFC North contingent of the Packers, Lions and Bears plus the dysfunctional Raiders, they will need at least one win during those three contests against the Colts and Steelers.

I just don’t think it’s in the cards. Even if the defense can step up to the challenges presented by Manning and Roethlisberger, Flacco & Co.’s inability to establish any offensive consistency or an identity offers little hope. The uninspired play, the inability to throw the ball between the hash marks and the lack of explosiveness leaves them at risk.

Whatever happened to spreading the ball around, something they did quite successfully early in the season? Did they abandon that or was that early success simply a reflection of the weak defenses they took on during the first three weeks?
The offensive line is now beginning to show weaknesses and they are breaking down regularly. How long before Flacco breaks down – literally?

Some may object to this picture of gloom and doom for a season that once held such high expectations. But for me those high hopes came crashing down after the team’s second loss to the Bengals. That was a brutal and cruel reality check that sent my expectations crumbling. And in a strange way, it had helped me to see this team for what it is – a flawed team that needs another explosive player on both sides of the ball.

A flawed team that at best is only slightly above average.

The epiphany of sorts has helped me to keep my disappointments in check. It helped me to watch the ugliness in Cleveland unfold with no noticeable signs of change in my pulse or blood pressure.

A self-professed lunatic who suffers from football Tourette’s when watching the Ravens is now suddenly a voice of reason.

Go figure…

Maybe you should consider the same.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ravens shutout Browns: The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox

THE GOOD: Lardarius Webb is a player. He’s explosive and impactful and it’s time he starts to return punts and don’t give me this, “He’s a rookie and we don’t want to overburden him.” It’s as simple as this: Look up in the air, see ball, catch it, run to daylight…Ray Lewis was solid with 7 tackles, a sack, another QB hurry and 2 passes defended…Le’Ron McClain pancaked at least two Browns (David Bowen and Kamerion Wimbley) to spring Ray Rice on a couple of runs plus he made the most of limited touches as a receiver, moving the chains twice…Coverage teams were very solid and they bottled up Josh Cribbs for the most part…Props to Greg Mattison’s unit, they played with intensity and they were fast to the ball. The deepest ending point for any Browns drive was their own 46. Mattie should be as bold against good quarterbacks. They attack the bad ones and play on their heels against good ones…Trevor Pryce is more effective rushing the QB from the defensive tackle position particularly on the weak side. Pryce was able to record a sack on Brady Quinn despite Mattison sending only 3 rushers after the Cleveland QB…The Ravens running game from the shotgun is effective and they should employ it more regularly.

THE BAD: Chris Chester and Ben Grubbs looked lost at times and both erred leading to sacks on Joe Flacco…Cam Cameron’s game plan was suspect again. During the few shots from behind the quarterback that ESPN blessed us with during the broadcast, we could see Ravens receivers blanketed all over the field. ESPN perhaps realizing that the viewing audience would be lame for this unappealing matchup must have spared some expenses. Replays were rather limited and they seemed more interested in trips down memory lane with Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski…Staying with Cameron, when will he start incorporating Todd Heap more into the offensive game plan? Wasn’t the tight end an integral part of his success in San Diego. Seems to me Cameron helped shape a former hoops player into an All-Pro Tight End…Trevor Pryce, your sack celebration is ugly and looks like a seizure…Chris Carr, please retire from returning punts…Joe Flacco, despite what the stat line says (QB rating of 98.1) you looked like a deer in headlights far too often. On a key third down in the second quarter (third and 2) Flacco completely missed seeing a wide open Kelly Washington crossing the middle. Despite all of the emphasis during OTA’s and camp to throw the ball between the hash marks, Flacco still looks uncomfortable doing it…Third down conversions were an embarrassing 4 of 14 against the league’s worst ranked defense…Substitutions were sloppy on both sides of the ball and the Ravens were hit with 2 penalties for too many men on the field…Tavares Gooden suffered another concussion and the bet here is that his propensity for such injuries will unfortunately end his career prematurely despite the promising physical skills if this continues…The coaching staff has to do something to jump start this team early in games, particularly the offense. If they continue to come out this flat against the Colts, Steelers and even the Packers, they can forget postseason play.

THE UGLY: The game itself was about as entertaining as a documentary on the manufacturing process of synthetic turf. That game has the dubious distinction of being the only NFL game the entire season to be a scoreless tie at halftime…Mark Clayton’s drop of a slightly high throw from Flacco on a slant pass was even more proof that the team’s 2005 first round pick is not a playmaker. The perfect call and read only to be undermined by poor execution…The team’s use of their timeouts in the first half was purely amateurish as was John Harbaugh’s challenge on Cleveland’s first play from scrimmage following a 13 yard run by Jamal Lewis. Harbaugh thought Lewis fumbled and it wasn’t even close…Steve Hauschka, his name is now a verb – a synonym for miss as in, “Holy s*^t he Hauschka’d it again!” The caucasion answer to Baby Face has been released by the team.

THE MEGAN FOX: For weeks I have beaten up on this week’s award winner for missing tackles, lack of aggressiveness and obvious weaknesses in pass coverage. And while I recognize that the Ravens were playing the hapless Browns and seemingly incompetent Brady Quinn, my choice for this week reportedly was in risk of losing his job to the injured Haruki Nakamura. Perhaps that was Dawan Landry’s wakeup call. The oft-criticized strong safety played aggressively, tackled confidently and wasn’t caught out of position. His four tackles (one for a loss), 1 pass defended and another that he intercepted for a score added up as one very solid game – in fact a thing of beauty, like the namesake of this award.

Suggs out indefinitely

Sources close to 24x7 are telling us that Ravens' star linebacker Terrell Suggs will miss time due to a knee injury sustained in last night's game against the Browns. Brady Quinn hit Suggs after an interception in what can be described (at the very least) as unprofessional behavior but more appropriately labeled, "cheap and dirty play."

No official word has been delivered at this time (2:37PM) by the team.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Browns fans should hope the team moves...AGAIN!

Cleveland fans have always been rather miserable and since the Browns left in 1997 and became the Baltimore Ravens, the misery has intensified.

The Browns go through head coaches and GM’s like David Duchovny goes through women.

Tonight the “brilliant” fans of Cleveland are staging a protest of sorts (assuming they can actually organize one) and may abandon their seats prior to the opening kickoff just to send a statement to management that they’ve had enough.

You know this got me thinking…

Under Randy Lerner, the Browns will probably never amount to much. After the way they’ve treated coaches, players, locker rooms (staph is as common as the common cold in Cleveland Browns’ facilities), executives, etc. who would want to work there?

Maybe the best thing for Browns fans is if Lerner moves the team to Los Angeles and then the mayor and the fans can jump up and down and whine like a 2 year old who just had his lollipop eaten by the dog. They will whine until they are granted ANOTHER expansion franchise.

Why not Browns fans?

After all, you’d stand a better chance of making the playoffs as an expansion team than you do with the collection of misfits that now call themselves the Cleveland Browns.

Just sayin'...

Smug Belichick does Ravens a favor with boneheaded call

Like most of you I looked forward to the Patriots @ Colts on Football Night in America. Granted I dislike both teams, the Patriots for their smugness, arrogance and above the law status and the Colts for obvious reasons.

For me, it’s hard to really get into a game unless there’s an edge. Fortunately I don’t lean on gambling for that edge so I create one by determining how the game’s outcome could benefit the Ravens. I concluded that the best outcome was a Colts win. I know, I know, I can hear the cries of blasphemer now but let’s set emotion up on the shelf and look at this objectively.

The Ravens are never going to catch the Colts and they probably won’t catch the Patriots in terms of having a better overall record and the associated benefits that might go along with that.


You never know how the playoff dance card will shake out so it’s best to root against the teams closer in the standing to the Ravens and let those division leaders run away and hide, right?

Now I can’t envision a scenario in which the Ravens knock the Colts from the ranks of the unbeaten. That said, I’d rather play them after they score an emotional win that they might savor a bit too long on a short week. I’d rather they live high on the hog than arrive in Baltimore loaded with fire and brimstone and holding only a 1 game edge over the Patriots and the Bengals for conference supremacy and home field advantage throughout January.

This Colts win helps the Ravens from that perspective in my opinion, so thank you very much Mr. Belichick.

In case you fell asleep last night and missed the dramatic ending, the Patriots faced a fourth and 2 from their own 28 holding a 34-28 lead with 2:08 to play. The Patriots called timeout, their last after unnecessarily burning one before the first snap of that series of downs.

Now with no timeouts left and the Colts with only 1, Belichick huddles with his GQ QB and then decided to go for the first down.

They failed.

The Colts took over on downs and proceeded to run through the Patriots’ defense like a hot knife through butter while working every possible second off the clock leaving next to no time for a Brady miracle.

Either Belichick’s arrogance got the best of him or he had little confidence that his defense could contain Peyton Manning for 70 yards and less than 2 minutes to go. You have to wonder what the Patriots’ defense thinks about Hoodie’s lack of confidence. Former Patriot Rodney Harrison was spot on in his post game assessment.

“It was a really bad coaching decision by Coach Belichick,” said Harrison. “I’ve got all the respect in the world for him, but he has to punt the ball and the message that you sent in the locker room is, ‘I have no confidence in my young guys on my defense.’”

Here’s a sampling of a few other responses to Belichick’s gaffe:

“It was an opportunity to win the game and that's all you can really ask for as an offense. It was Coach being aggressive and I love that about him. If we gain seven more inches, it's a great call.” ~ Smug, Jr. Tom Brady.

"I like the swagger of a head coach who believes in his personnel. I'll take that swagger of a coach any day." ~ Deion Sanders (who apparently doesn’t recognize the fine line between swagger and stupidity)

"This decision was ludicrous." ~ ESPN's Trent Dilfer

"This was as bad as anything the Red Sox ever did. Had it been a playoff game, it would be right up there with Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, Aaron Boone, and History Derailed in Glendale, Ariz. And Bill Belichick played the part of Grady Little.” ~ Patriots’ hugger Peter King

“Everyone was surprised. Fourth down in their territory, you know, they got a lot of confidence in their offense. But we got a lot of confidence in our defense. We took that as a slap in the face. It was a slap in the face, and Melvin stepped up and made a good play.’’ ~ Colts safety Antoine Bethea

“If you play defense, you’re going to take offense to that.’’ ~ Colts defensive end Robert Mathis

At the end of the day, Belichick’s boneheaded decision helps the purple and black and consequently, it was a good Football Night in America here in The Land of Pleasant Living.