Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kruger's inactivity is a bit of a mystery

I’m questioned often about the availability of Paul Kruger – check that, the unavailability of Paul Kruger. So far he’s been inactive each game during his rookie campaign and with the apparent lack of a pass rush, many are wondering why he’s nothing more than a spectator.

Making the roster move even more curious is the disappearing act of Demetrius Williams. So far in 2009 Williams hasn’t even sniffed the football, still looking for his first catch. I would even venture to say that the once promising wide receiver has lined up as the fourth receiver in four wide sets less than backup quarterback Troy Smith.

Kruger we’re told isn’t as good a special teams player as Antwan Barnes and therefore until he proves otherwise or someone slips in performance or worse, is injured, Kruger may as well bring his pompoms to the sidelines.

Yet with Williams being an absolute zero and now with the return of L.J. Smith, why not activate Kruger and let him hand the pompoms to Williams. If you really need a No. 4 wideout, then flank L.J. or Heap.

Look I get that the Kruger and Williams play different positions and maybe that knocks the balance of the game day roster slightly out of whack. But c’mom, you and I are just one notch below Williams on the special teams depth chart.

Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg doesn’t even have Williams on the S/T radar screen and you can’t tell me that Williams, a not-exactly-physical offensive player can offer more to his squad than Kruger, a high motor, relentless defender.

Maybe this is all part of the coaching staff’s grand 16 game scheme. Maybe they’d like both Williams and Kruger to have fresh legs at the backstretch of the season. Let’s hope so because no matter how the Ravens want to spin it, as it looks today sitting Kruger and dressing No. 87 makes no sense from this corner.
Photo by Sabina Moran.

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

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco is far ahead of the maturation curve. His advancement as a force in the NFL is a great example of what happens when skill, work ethic, poise and great coaching can achieve…not to mention one of the league’s best and youngest offensive lines…Cam Cameron, coupled with Flacco the ball distribution on offense is outstanding! When you can engage all skill level players, it fuels the will to compete and to excel…Brendon Ayanbadejo, was all over the place and is contributing in a big way particularly in passing sub-packages. He is a liability v. the run but his improved play heightens the competition for Bart Scott’s old job and that bodes well for the team.

THE BAD: The Ravens can get away with 8 penalties for 84 yards against bad teams. Against the Patriots, those mistakes will prove more costly if not corrected…The pass rush is lacking. The Ravens had 2 quarterback pressures against the Browns and 2sacks. Entering the game the Browns had given up 9 sacks in 2 games. The hope here is that Greg Mattison decided to not give the Patriots much to study on film and held back on creative blitz packages.

THE UGLY: The Cleveland Browns, uniforms, head coach, water bottles and the stench they left on the field.

THE MEGAN FOX: Derrick Mason corrals his 800th career catch and also works his way back to an underthrown ball by Joe Flacco and turned it into a 72 yard touchdown. On the day Mason had 5 catches for 118 yards. And the Ravens need Brandon Marshall why?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blogging with the Enemy: Grasso on the Browns

Questions for Pete Grasso who covers the Cleveland Browns for In The Blawg Pound:

1. Did the Browns pick the right guy in Brady Quinn to be their starting quarterback?

Absolutely, they did. I’ve backed Quinn from the beginning, having watched him play four years at ND and carry a team there that really wasn’t that good. I know, given the chance, he can be a great NFL quarterback. The problem is, he hasn’t been given a chance until now, and even then, it’s hardly been fair. First, he has to “compete” for his job and miss out on valuable practice time with the first team unit. Now, after two lousy games, people are questioning whether he has what it takes to win games. I can tell you, he does have what it takes to win games. Unfortunately, he can’t do it by himself — he has no tools on offense with which to work. I doubt any QB in the NFL could win games with no blocking, no running game and only one credible wide receiver. Derek Anderson had his chance — and with more weapons — and couldn’t perform well on a consistent basis. It’s easy to blame Quinn when the offense is so pathetic, but I think people are forgetting that the unit as a whole is lacking.

2. Eric Mangini from the outside looking in seems to be losing his team already. How does he get them back and can he?

The problem with being on the outside looking in — which is all we can do as non-Browns personnel — is that all we know is whatever the media reports. The problem with that is, Mangini is giving the media pretty much nothing to go on, so they’re left to speculate and report rumors as news.Is Mangini really losing his team already? No one knows that except for Mangini and his team, because that’s the way Mangini runs things. If he is losing them — which I doubt he is — then winning will cure all.

3. What newcomers have made an impact for the Browns and who should Ravens fans pay particular attention to among them?

Eric Barton has been pretty good at linebacker, and that’s really not saying much. Really, it’s hard to say if anyone has had much of an impact on the team yet because they’ve been such a boring team in the first two games.Some not-so-newcomers to watch out for would be Joe Thomas. He pretty much shut down Jared Allen in Week 1. If only we had a Joe Thomas for the right side of the line too, then I don’t think Elvis Dumervil would have had four sacks on Quinn.

4. The Browns traded Kellen Winslow. How is his replacement Robert Royal doing in his place?

I was not a fan of this trade at all. Kellen Winslow was a Pro-Bowl tight end and, really, the only other serious weapon on offense. Replacing him would be tough.Royal had a pretty good game against the Vikings, but was almost non-existent against the Broncos. Quinn likes to use the tight end, and I can only dream about how big Winslow’s numbers would have been with him. Royal, thus far, is no replacement. As the offense gets better (and I hope it does), I think he’ll play a bigger role.

5. The Ravens had their eyes set on Brian Robiskie in the 2009 NFL Draft. How has he performed?

What about fellow rookie Mohamed Massaquoi? Robiskie has been pretty quiet and these crazy OSU fans around here have been crying for Brian Daboll to use the rookie more than he is. Massaquoi, as predicted during the draft, actually seems to be progressing much more quickly than Robiskie. Neither rookie has had much of an impact since the offense has been so anemic, so it’s difficult to truly judge their performances. In the preseason, though, Massaquoi looked very promising.

6. The Browns have thrown out the welcome mat for several wayward former Ravens. Which have you been pleased with and which would you like to return to sender?

Jamal Lewis, while past his prime for sure, has been a valuable asset to this struggling team. I can only imagine how much worse off they’d be without his veteran leadership in the locker room and on the field. I still think he’s got a lot of yardage left in him, if he could just get some blocking.

7. Finish these statements regarding the possible outcome of Sunday’s game:

The Ravens won because … they’re simply a better football team this year.

The Browns won because … something finally clicked with the offense and, perhaps, the Ravens overlooked them as a worthy opponent.

My responses to Pete's questions HERE

Friday, September 25, 2009

The clamoring for a No. 1 WR has calmed yet still lingers

I fielded a ton of questions around the time of the draft, during OTA’s, throughout training camp and the preseason and just prior to kickoff v. the Kansas City Chiefs about the Ravens lack of depth and impact at the position of wide receiver.

Granted the team didn’t come up with that No. 1 go to guy in the mold of Messrs. Moss, Fitzgerald, Johnson & Johnson but these prototypical playmakers don’t exactly grow on trees. The NFL isn’t like Madden 2010. You can’t build your own wide receiver.

So if that playmaker isn’t available, you try to improve your club in other areas and that’s exactly what the Ravens did when they selected Michael Oher. Oher is showing that he not only can hold down his island on the right side single-handedly, he’s enabled Todd Heap to become a bigger part of the passing game. In some respects drafting Oher was on par with getting two players.

Yet I heard folks during the draft say the Ravens should have taken Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt with their original pick at No. 26. Some still beat that dead horse.

One Ravens fan hit me up on Facebook recently even after the win over the Chargers complaining about the team’s lack of explosiveness on the outside.

Having heard enough of it (apparently I don't possess the same high tolerance for repetition as 105.7 The Fan's Anita Marks) I decided to look up the stats through two games of all the rookie wide receivers drafted in the first round in 2009. Those players include: Darrius Heyward-Bey; Michael Crabtree; Jeremy Maclin; Hakeem Nicks; and Kenny Britt. Here are their numbers (catches-yards-TD):

Heyward-Bey: 1-18-0
Crabtree: 0-0-0
Maclin: 2-12-0
Nicks: 2-18-0
Britt: 6-107-0

Instead of moving up and/or drafting any of these players, the Ravens brought in a reclamation project with untapped potential. His name is Kelley Washington who Bill Belichick called one of his best special teams players in ’08. Washington’s numbers you ask…


Oh, and he makes the NFL minimum.

Trust in Oz.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

If only Joe Flacco was around for Brian Billick...

In his last 16 games, Joe Flacco is 13-3 – an impressive mark to say the least. Making that figure perhaps even more impressive is the fact that no other NFL quarterback is better over that same stretch, not even Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Only Peyton Manning can match Flacco’s record.

And while we're on the topic of quarterbacks, ESPN's Mike & Mike had frequent guest and former Ravens' head coach Brian Billick on their program today. Mike Golic asked Billick if QB's like Jamarcus Russell who have accuracy problems can correct those deficiencies at the NFL level.

Billick explained that accuracy is a function of many things and added that there are those who believe that you can correct flaws in accuracy. Don't count Billick among the believers.

"Well no you can't [fix accuracy] or I would not be analyzing games on Fox!"

Surely Ravens fans know all too well the inferences made in that statement...

Frank Walker steps up in crunch time

Ravens nickel Frank Walker was targeted often in the preseason and proved that he is mismatched when taking on speedy receivers with great change of direction skills. Yet there's a reason Walker remains on the Ravens roster -- he does match up well against physical receivers and he proved that once again with a clutch play in the end zone defending WR Legedu Naanee. Walker broke up the would be TD pass with 53 seconds remaining. That single play could prove to be the difference between the Ravens entering post season play ahead of the Chargers or hosting a playoff game v. going on the road.

Will Samari Rolle ever suit up again?

Many are hoping that Samari Rolle will be activated when he is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list after the October 18 game at Minnesota. Don’t count on it. Not much has changed physically for Rolle since he's been sidelined and when you consider his age (33) together with the nerve issues in his neck, his slight build and the fact that he struggles with epilepsy, one source who preferred to remain unnamed said that retirement is more likely for the former Pro Bowler than a return to the playing field.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ed Reeeeeed...where are uuuuuuu?

Many Ravens fans are placing the blame of the Ravens’ defensive lapses on Sunday resulting in 8 explosive plays of 20+ yards and 5 plays of 35+ yards, squarely at the feet of the secondary – particularly the corners.

By their own admission Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington had bad afternoons. From my vantage point, Washington’s was clearly the worst of the two performances.

But that aside, one player who must accept responsibility for a defensive backfield performance reminiscent of the 1996-98 days of Donny Brady and DeRon Jenkins is none other than All Pro Ed Reed. Reed failed to provide over the top coverage in Cover 2 alignments on no less than two of the big Philip Rivers to Vincent Jackson connections of 35+ yards including the touchdown.

Reed did next to nothing in this contest and it’s very difficult to recall a game in which such a celebrated defender was so irrelevant to his team and inviting to the opponent.

If you are wondering if Reed’s disappearing act is unique to Sunday’s game, well stop the cerebral burn now! In 2008, a season during which the free safety was the only unanimous All Pro selection and was given serious Defensive Player of the Year consideration, Reed had only 1 interception and 6 passes defended through the first 10 games.

Maybe he’s just a slow starter?

Photo by Sabina Moran

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

The Good

* The offensive line continues to develop and that’s without their starting right guard. They are equally as effective in pass protection as they are in run blocking and they are developing as a unit in the open field on plays outside the box and on screens. Gaither and Chester do need to clean up on missed blocks during screens that could have triggered big plays.

* Willis McGahee is a new man and has been since the start of training camp. He is healthier in body, mind and spirit and runs with purpose. This edition of Willis McGahee is the one Cam Cameron hoped for when he joined the Ravens and predicted a 20touchdown season.

* Joe Flacco has added a bit of swagger to his Joe Coolness and he is clearly the offensive leader. He escapes pressure, delivers a laser when needed and now sees the entire field and finds third and fourth options. Baltimore, you have a quarterback.

* Special teams played better but there’s still room to improve. Sam Koch was clutch with two punts pinned inside the 5 yard line. Chris Carr was better on kick returns.

* Kelley Washington’s play has significantly diminished Demetrius Williams’ importance on the team. He makes clutch plays and is active on special teams. Maybe D Will should be placed on the inactive list instead of Paul Kruger. He does nothing for special teams and he doesn’t even see the field during rare 4 wide receiver sets.

* Frank Walker was clutch to break up a near game changing TD pass from Rivers to Naanee.

* The red zone defense and offense…can you say 0 for 5 defensively and 3 for 4 offensively; 0 for 4 on goal to go and 2 for 2?

The Bad

* Trevor Pryce suddenly looks old. His patented rip-slap move that was once described as unstoppable is more like a trip-slap now. His football wisdom alone should have proven to be a much greater challenge for the Chargers youthful interior offensive linemen.

* Mark Clayton dropped a pass that would have resulted in a big first down on a second and 13 play from the Ravens own 45 with 5:45 left and clinging to a 2 point lead.

* Steve Hauschka’s kickoffs need to be deeper and better directionally.

* Cam Cameron opting to run outside the tackles and call stretch runs instead of the quick hitters inside the tackles that were consistently productive.

* The pass rush is average at best. Calling Paul Kruger!

* Greg Mattison’s play calling…he had virtually no answers. In a game that was full of explosives from the Chargers, it called for more Cover 2. Ed Reed, where are you?

The Ugly

* The secondary…Foxworth was at least in position to make plays and did so down the stretch when it really counted. But Fabian Washington? Can someone remind 31 that he is in a contract year.

The Megan Fox

Ray Lewis…12 tackles, 10 solo, 3 for losses, game saving tackle, tackle on Sproles at the 4 for a loss on swing pass, pressure on Rivers to force the interception by Landry, play that belies his age. How fitting that Ray receives the first Megan Fox? If you don’t get it, see the pic above.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Stars not aligned for Chargers in today's contest v. Ravens

The Ravens game against the Chargers is very star-studded but unfortunately for San Diego a few of their stars can’t or won’t shine very brightly in this contest.

Jamal Williams…OUT! That’s big. Williams oftentimes commands double teams. His absence allows the Ravens interior offensive linemen to get to the second level more efficiently or provide support on the edges against pass rushing stalwarts Shawn Merriman and Shaun Phillips. Of the two, Phillips is more dangerous right here and now. Against the Raiders Merriman didn’t look anything like the player he was prior to his knee injury.

Filling in for Williams will be an alternating pair of rookies, Ogemdi Nwagbuo and Vaughn Martin.

Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick…OUT! That’s big too because his replacement Scott Mruczkowski has just one NFL start and that was at guard. Mruczkowski will be asked to make line calls against a team that shows many different looks pre and post snap. Good luck there. Rookie starting right guard Louis Vasquez is a bit gimpy and he may give way to another rookie Brandyn Dombroski.

My guess is that the Chargers will go to a lot of no huddle to simplify those looks, limit the Ravens’ sub packages and try to wear down the Ravens’ defensive linemen.

Ladainian Tomlinson…OUT! This is another big loss despite the fact that LT isn’t the LT of old. He runs extremely well inside the tackles and today’s sit down represents the first time Tomlinson will miss a regular season game and only his second missed start overall. That puts more pressure on Darren Sproles and I just don’t see the Chargers giving him the rock more than 20 times if that much. The diminutive back has another 14+ games ahead and the Chargers will want to preserve their dynamic weapon.

That means the Ravens get to say hello to Michael Bennett. Bennett is a decent back who catches the ball well but he’s still not on par with an aging LT.

If the Chargers have a chance in this game, it will come down to Philip Rivers. He’ll need a stellar performance and he often provides that at Qualcomm Stadium where he holds a 22-5 record (although 3 of those losses were in 2008).

So with that in mind, here’s what I expect to see today…

· Terrell Suggs will remind Marcus McNeill that he’s got a sore ankle as he “o-lays” Suggs on his way to Rivers.
· The Ravens interior defensive line will be a nightmare for the Chargers. Expect big games from Ngata and Pryce.
· As mentioned, no huddle offense from the Chargers and many 3 stop drop plays from Rivers. Don’t be shocked to see Jarret Johnson banging on receivers at the line of scrimmage. The Ravens have done that in the past with big play receivers like Vincent Jackson.
· Play action from the Ravens on first down looking for Heap. The Chargers have struggled defending tight ends and their linebackers will be geared to support the run with their ailing front.
· Flacco has done well on the road with a 90+ QB rating and he’s handled the pressures of a big time road game. He’ll hurt a suspect Chargers secondary.
· The only way the Ravens lose this game is if they lose the turnover battle by -2 or more.

The Bolts don’t have enough juice in this one…call it Ravens 23 Chargers 17 after they pull it closer with a late score.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Meet the Donald Trump of Baltimore

Some have called him loud, some say he’s arrogant while others might say abrasive.

And now we can add yet another to the rather extensive list of descriptive terms defining a local sports talk host/entrepreneur – the Donald Trump of Baltimore.

I kid you not, this is how Nestor Aparicio, the media pioneer of WNST (his words, not mine) describes himself.

Aparicio skirted his abysmal radio ratings in a recent interview with Press Box by saying he doesn’t care about ratings. The response was akin to an adolescent boy who gets dumped by a girl and then claims he never liked her anyway despite the teary red eyes that suggest otherwise.

Why does Aparicio say he doesn’t care?

Well the majority owner of WNST believes the future of broadcasting is in the web according to the Press Box interview and at this very moment the world according to Nestor is moving towards cars equipped with internet radio access.

And while I don’t necessarily disagree the flaw in Aparicio’s thinking is at least two-fold:

1. He apparently believes his ratings deficiencies are solely tied to the inadequacies of the WNST signal; and

2. His isn’t the only web company/radio station in town that has or will have internet broadcasting capability. In fact, any radio station can stream their broadcasting to the web – and most do!

Ultimately content is king and what Mr. Donald Trump Baltimore fails to consider is that other web companies not currently heard on the radio will enter the mix of consumer listening options once the average car does receive and project the internet feed. When that becomes a staple of Americana the technology will change the playing field markedly.

Aparicio’s chest pounding aside, at the end of the day it isn’t just the mechanism through which information is delivered – it’s the quality of the information. WNST’s ratings have fallen off because the quality of the programming has dropped precipitously due to the station’s Paul Bunyan-like ax to grind with the Orioles and the steady parade of talent that has walked out the door never to return.

Who could blame them?

Forgetting his cry-me-a-river blathering for a moment, Aparicio wants to champion himself as a free voice unencumbered by the responsibilities tied to being the flagship of a major league team.

“The stench of censorship is alive and well in Baltimore,” Aparicio said in the Press Box interview with Dave Hughes. “If I had the Orioles rights, I couldn’t do that.”

Of course that’s an easy position to assume if you’re Aparicio considering that WNST’s chances of landing the Orioles are far less likely than a Jackson 5 reunion with Michael.

The danger in all of this for WNST (a station which by the way I once highly touted for its grit and determination) is that they bank on the auto internet technology before consumers are ready to embrace it. It took quite a while before digital television was accepted and satellite radio wasn’t exactly an overnight success. Just ask former XM stockholders.

Perhaps WNST should do us all a favor and go back to what they used to do best. Clearly the local sports talk market despite its power boost by 105.7 The Fan is hardly abundant in thoughtful, entertaining radio.

Abandoning traditional radio too quickly before internet radio is a standard option in automobiles and then admitting it on the airwaves could make loyal WNST sponsors squirm.

And unfortunately for WNST those sponsors just might turn the tables and point their fingers at Mr. Donald Trump Baltimore and say, “YOU’RE FIRED!”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

INJURY UPDATE: Ravens v. Chargers

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Tom Zbikowski were sidelined for the entire practice due to concussions.

And free safety Ed Reed was limited with a concussion of his own.

"I've still got a slight headache, nothing too bad," Zbikowski said. "It's my first one. That's something you can't mess around with.

"It's not like a hamstring. It's something you don't want to be taking a chance with. It's not like the brain is something that can grow back."

Suggs is also dealing with a chest injury.

Meanwhile, starting inside linebacker Tavares Gooden participated fully in practice days after spraining his right knee against the Kansas City Chiefs. A magnetic resonance imaging exam confirmed that there was no ligament damage.

"Everything is cool," Gooden said. "Nothing is out of the ordinary or torn. I'm just getting back into a running mode. I'm not sure about Sunday yet. I'm going to get some more treatment and practice and see how it feels. I always think I'm playing.

"I got hit in the back of the knee on one of those little nerves on a kickoff return. It's kind of like hitting a funny bone. I sprained a little something. I'm fine. I'm just trying to see how I'm going to feel out there."

Tight end L.J. Smith (pulled hamstring) was limited as he returned to practice for the first time since getting hurt last month.

"I'm definitely feeling a lot better," Smith said. "I'm going to test it out and see what kind of progress I've made. Hopefully, I can push it and I'm trying to get up to game speed as much as I can. I don't want to do anything crazy, but you've got to push it."

Smith was unsure about whether he'll be able to play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, but said he would prepare as if that's going to be the case.

"I would say it's possible," Smith said. "I just can't have another setback. I'll know by Friday if I'm going to be able to play. I feel good now."

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata’s sprained ankle and knee injury are coming around.

Ngata has been bothered by a bursa sac problem with his knee that occasionally swells up.

“I first had it two years ago,” he said. “I just have to wait for it to heal up. It’s an old injury."

Mason still dishing out verbal retaliation to K. Johnson

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason wasn't done inflicting verbal punishment on former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

Not by a long shot.

In the wake of Johnson's recent criticism of the Ravens' wide receiving corps, Mason attacked the ESPN analyst immediately Wednesday before he could even be asked a question during a press conference.

"Damn Keyshawn Johnson, because I heard he said something else," Mason said. "Keyshawn knows where I'm at. He knows where the Ravens' facility is at. So, if he wants to hash this out man to man or you want to stack up numbers man to man and talk about it, we can do that.

"Remember, Keyshawn, you were a number one pick in the draft and I was a fourth-rounder. And our numbers still pretty much stack up. Let's go."

The reason behind the drama?

During a conference call on Sept. 2, Johnson said, "You want a bum, you pay a bum," in a reference to the Ravens' receivers.

They also drew criticism from former NFL receiver Cris Carter, an ESPN analyst like Johnson.

And Mason took it personally. He does appear to be enjoying the confrontation, though.

"I like it, it's fun," Mason said. "It's really fun. You're supposed to be building people up. A lot of people could have called him a bum, but they chose not to.

"If you understand what it takes to play at t his level, then you won't disrespect a player like that because you know that these guys are working hard. If you're playing at this level, you can play regardless if you're a first-stringer or a third-stringer."

During an 11-year NFL career, Johnson caught 814 passes for 10,571 yards and 64 touchdowns.

Mason has only been a starter since the 2000 season after initially working as a kick returner and reserve receiver for the Tennessee Titans. He has caught 747 career passes for 9,500 yards and 49 touchdowns.

Even though Johnson's comments were directed toward the Ravens' entire position group, Mason took it as an affront on his body of work.

"I took it as a personal shot, because I'm the elder statesman in the group," he said. "I know the other guys. They're not going to say anything. It's like attacking me. You just don't do that. If you're going to attack the bunch, you're attacking me and I'm going to come back at you."

Photo by Sabina Moran

Ravens prepare to defend Chargers' lethal 1-2 punch

OWINGS MILLS -- There's the prolific nature of San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, a textbook package of skills built around electrifying moves and surprising power.

And then there's the multi-dimensional game of Chargers halfback and kick returner Darren Sproles, Tomlinson's understudy whose short stature and elusiveness in the open field in every phase prompted the team to designate him as their franchise player.

Even if Tomlinson is limited due to an ankle injury suffered Monday night against the Oakland Raiders, the Baltimore Ravens' defense is aware that it faces a daunting assignment in trying to contain the two versatile runners on the road Sunday.

"The bottom line is you prepare for both of those guys," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "You get kind of the best of both worlds. Both of them are slash running backs. They really want to get the ball into those guys' hands. So, it's going to be great task for us."

Sproles piled up 246 all-purpose yards against the Raiders, scoring the game-winning touchdown on a five-yard scamper in relief of Tomlinson with 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

"Their last drive, Sproles really took control of the game," Lewis said. "Our job is to make sure he doesn't get started."

Against Oakland, Sproles rushed for 23 yards, also totaling 43 yards and returning kickoffs and punts for a total of 180 more yards.

It was the second game-winning touchdown for Sproles out of the past three games, including an AFC wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts where the 5-foot-6, 185-pounder registered a thrilling 22-yard touchdown run in overtime.

"He's the guy that's moving the ball for them to a large extent in that game," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Sproles. "He's a big threat. He's a north-south guy. He's a big accelerator, and he runs through arm tackles.

"He doesn't mess around too much. He gets the ball north and south fast, and they block really well for him. So, the return game, our coverage units are going to be really stressed."

Sproles' combination of quickness and lack of height makes him a tough challenge.
Especially for tall defensive linemen like Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce. Maintaining an athletic position and keeping the outside containment is pivotal.

"What you don't want to do is lose gap control," Pryce said. "If you stay where you are no matter where the ball shows up and try not to do too much, you have a chance. I've played against L.T. many times.

"Even when you think you have a chance, you really don't. He's a special back. Sproles, I don't know much about him, but watching him on tape is like watching a Madden game. It's interesting, if nothing else."

At 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, Pryce is 11 inches taller than Sproles and 105 pounds heavier.

For a man of Pryce's dimensions to get down to Sproles' level, he has to lower his center of gravity and practically get parallel to the ground.

"It's a lot harder, because you have to leave your feet to dive at him," Pryce said. "You can't squat that low. The bigger you are, the harder it is to tackle a small back. The lower he gets, the lower you have to get. By that time, you're sitting on your behind.

"They're strong. Shorter guys are always strong because they're compact. You wouldn't be so surprised on how strong they are, but when you see a guy like Sproles run through tackles, it's not foreign to us. We see it all the time."

Tomlinson is regarded as one of the NFL's top running backs in league history, rushing for 11,815 career yards and 127 touchdowns in nine seasons. He has also caught 511 passes for 3,802 yards and 15 touchdowns.

However, the 30-year-old former NFL Offensive Player of the Year was held to 55 rushing yards on 13 carries against Oakland.

He lost his first fumble in over 900 touches when he got hit after catching a shovel pass against Oakland, incurring the injury on that play.

Tomlinson didn't practice Wednesday, but Chargers coach Norv Turner said during a conference call that he's regarded as day to day at this point.

Regardless of the injury, the Ravens regard Tomlinson and Sproles as extremely similar weapons.

"They're the same two people," Lewis said. "If you're playing a totally different back, a bruiser and then a quick slasher [it would be different]. Both of those guys are slashers, both of them are game-breakers.

"They just really want to get the ball in their hands. From there, they run the same type of plays with them. They don't really change their package at all."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ravens to reach for Baskett?

If you are hoping that the Ravens land recently released Eagles’ wide receiver Hank Baskett, don’t hold your breath. Due to the team’s success in 2008, twenty-five other teams are ahead of the Ravens in the pecking order to claim Baskett off waivers.

But here’s the good news/bad news on that…

Baskett comes with a $1.5millon price tag if claimed. It’s possible that all 32 teams will pass on that number for a player who has to learn a new system and one who has to work his way up the depth chart. Most teams will peg him as a fourth or fifth receiver and $1.5 million is a steep number for such a player even if he is a solid special teams contributor.

However, if Baskett clears waivers and is free to talk contract with any team, the Ravens would be interested. John Harbaugh is familiar with Hugh Hefner’s ex-girlfriend’s husband and from what I’ve been able to determine, Baskett’s value is considered to be on par or slightly more valuable than Demetrius Williams as an overall player. Keep in mind Williams offers nothing to special teams.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

McAlister returning to NFL? If so New England seems like a logical fit

"I will be back in full force on Sept. 15. I can't say what team yet, but I will be playing again."

Those are the words of Chris McAlister according to

It’s interesting that a player of McAlister’s ilk has had to sit around and stare at the telephone waiting for a call. Clearly there’s more to CMac’s story and the shocking lack of interest in his services than just a recovering knee.

McAlister has had his share of off the field issues and in deep dark corners of meeting rooms in Owings Mills, there were whispers of ongoing issues. Perhaps the whispers are no longer secrets and the word is out.

Let’s just say McAlister likes the night life and leave it at that.

But for the right price and the right team, CMac is a low risk acquisition now that the season is under way. If McAlister is right, the team he signs on will likely only offer the veteran minimum and they can cut him loose at any time without paying another dime beyond his then most recently completed game. He can be had for a short-term rental.

After watching the Patriots last night, a team with needs at corner, Boston just might be the new home for the former career-long Raven. Bill Belichick has embraced other teams’ malcontents and stacked the deck in his favor while doing so. He nailed Randy Moss for a fourth round pick and somewhere along the line Moss bought in and the Patriots are a better team as a result.

The same could happen for the Patriots with McAlister.

One slip up – one way too late night down in the pubs around the Faneuil Hall area and Belichick can cut CMac in an instant and not lose a thing. Yet the upside could be substantial.

Some might wonder why the Ravens don’t embrace a similar approach with McAlister but that would never work. The strategy in order to be effective requires a change of scenery.

For the Ravens, ship No. 21 has sailed.

Good luck with the cheaters and see you on October 4...

Baltimore Ravens: When will Paul Kruger see the field?

One of the surprise scratches from Sunday’s game against the KC Chiefs was Paul Kruger. The 2009 second round selection by the Ravens has raw skills, good athleticism, a relentless motor and he had a decent preseason. Given that the team’s opponent Sunday was just a few months removed from a 2-14 season and they started a backup quarterback, one might think that this game would have been an opportune time to get Kruger’s feet wet.

It didn’t happen.

Count me among those who thought the move to deactivate Kruger was a bit puzzling. When I told one Ravens official that I was surprised the response was, “you shouldn’t be.”

The choice to deactivate Kruger comes down to special teams and the player who got the nod over the former Ute was Antwan Barnes who by the Ravens count had 3 special teams tackles. Apparently the victim of playing on a very deep front seven, Kruger will have to outplay Barnes in practice if he wants to make his regular season debut anytime soon.

The only other way Kruger gets to step between the lines is in the event of an injury.

Those who compare Kruger to former Raven Dan Cody will be quick to point out that it took the injury prone former Oklahoma Sooner several games before he graduated from the inactive list.

Wonder if Kruger can play tight end?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ravens v. Chiefs: It's going to be ugly

This week during the Ravens Rap, aired each Thursday from The Greene Turtle in Ocean City, host Michael Popovec opined that the Ravens really don’t know what to expect today when they host the Kansas City Chiefs.

Mike supported his position by pointing towards the recent and sudden dismissal of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey and the fact that new franchise quarterback Matt Cassel has missed many repetitions since Gailey’s departure due to a knee injury suffered on the third play of the game against the Seahawks on August 28.

Adding to the mix of mystery is head coach Todd Haley’s unknown brand of Chiefs’ offense. There’s no game film to study; no tendencies to lock in on; no indication of what the Chiefs will due given the variety of down and distance scenarios Greg Mattison and his defensive squad will encounter.

Sure Mattison can look to the offenses run by Haley in Arizona but really is that an accurate barometer? Haley packed his bag and sung “I’m going to Kansas City” several months ago and in tow with him was his Cardinals playbook and we all know that AZ could put points on the scoreboard, right?

No doubt, but unfortunately for Haley Messrs. Warner, Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston didn’t sing that same song and board that KC bound plane with him. The Chiefs won’t have Warner at the offensive controls practically inviting the blitz so he can deliver on time passes to his unmatched posse of receivers. Instead they will field a gimpy Cassel, a lanky Brody Croyle or the team’s 2007 7th round pick from Coastal Carolina, Tyler Thigpen who has a whopping 15 games of NFL experience.

Ok, so let’s quickly recap…new team, new offense, unsettled QB situation, offensive coordinator fired two weeks ago, no Warner & Co. With all due respect Mike, I know exactly what we can expect from the Ravens v. Chiefs contest today – a dismantling.

It won’t matter who is at quarterback for the Chiefs. They will need to run the football and it won’t happen and when it doesn’t the unfriendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium will wreak havoc on whoever is standing under center. The Chiefs are a team one year removed from allowing 37 sacks and sacking opposing QB’s only 10 times, an NFL worst. They ranked 31st on defense last year, 30th against the run and 28th against the pass. On offense they were 24th overall. Add it all up and KC was 2-14.
Has that much changed?

And what has Haley done before? He’s entering M&T wearing two hats – head coach and O-Coordinator in his head coaching debut.

Ever see a head coach look like a deer in headlights?

This will be a feeding frenzy for the Ravens’ D and those red Chiefs’ jersey will look like blood to the sharks wearing white. It won’t even be close. Today’s opener will be a leisurely affair for Ravens’ fans – about as nail-biting as an Orioles game against the Kansas City Royals in late August.

You may as well refer to Haley’s crew as the Kansas City Crash Test Dummies. This team stinks!

John Harbaugh will call off the dogs by about 3:30 in a game that will amount to a mercy killing. The Ravens defense scores, Joe Flacco inspires fans to dream of Miami and the Ravens enjoy a casual walk in the park while they chat about a west coast trip to San Diego over cups of cold Gatorade while enveloped in a power fan-blown cool mist on their comfy sideline.

Ravens 38, Chiefs 6

Thursday, September 10, 2009

There's a reason the Ravens kept Frank Walker

Many have questioned the team’s decision to retain DB Frank Walker but the fact is the team does like the reserve’s tenacity, toughness, willingness to play injured and his locker room presence. He is viewed as a backup nickel or dime behind Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb. Walker was exposed at corner against speedier foes but the team placed him there during the preseason simply to get in the work. They will be reluctant to use him on the edge during the regular season. Look for “The Talker” to be used in the slot and be asked to out-physical opponents.

One last whisper on Walker…the Packers, Walker’s former employer, actually inquired about the feisty DB before settling on Derrick Martin according to a source. Let the debate begin…

So why exactly did the Ravens hire LJ Smith?

Many are questioning the Ravens signing of LJ Smith. The oft-injured former Eagle is a player that John Harbaugh was very familiar with prior to the signing and was definitely dialed in to Smith’s apparent affinity for the injury report. Yet Ozzie Newsome pulled the trigger on Smith anyway.

Why you ask?

The Ravens believe that they can get 8-10 games out of Smith in 2009 and that when he plays he will give the team another receiving weapon. When he’s practiced, Smith has been productive. Throw in the $1.5 million bargain salary and the Ravens concluded it was worth the risk. That said the team was hopeful that TE Quinn Sypniewski could contribute but unfortunately, he ended up on injured reserve and now his knee injury is viewed as career threatening. Look for the Ravens to make a move on a tight end soon.

Ravens to bring back Drew?

The Ravens cut two 2009 draft picks this past week with the hope that the pair would clear waivers enabling the team to sign Davon Drew and Cedric Peerman to the practice squad. Unfortunately the best laid plans failed as both were claimed by the Dolphins and Browns respectively.

Drew however has since been cut loose by the Dolphins and is again a free agent. Look for the Ravens to reclaim Drew, sign him to the practice squad and teach him a bit of a lesson. The rookie tight end, considered by most as a project, showed promise during the OTA’s this spring but reported to camp this summer out of shape and did next to nothing during practices. He’ll likely take the practice squad spot currently occupied by fellow tight end Issac Smolko.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Could the inactive list block Stover's return to the Ravens?

I have blogged in the past about the lunacy of the NFL’s inactive list. It’s a joke and in my mind there’s no other way to look at it.

Those who defend it will tell you that it’s the league’s way of creating competitive balance on game day. I say it’s a way of rewarding cheap, mediocre scouting departments that can’t provide competent depth to their rosters (see the Cincinnati Bengals).

Back to that competitive balance “concept” again...

The idea I’m told is to help teams field 45 players who are relatively healthy. Each roster throughout the league will have players on their 53 man roster who are injured but not necessarily injured enough to place on injured reserve. Trimming to 45 players on game day theoretically preserves competitive balance – the thinking being that it’s easier to field 45 relatively healthy players than it is 53.

Sorry, I’m not buying…

Injuries are part of the game and this inactive list has no place IN the game.

If we consider the team nearest and dearest to our heart, the Ravens have an embarrassing excess of riches at linebacker and arguably on the defensive line as well. The problem is they can’t keep them all and as a result the team will have to part with some decent players. That’s not exactly a bad problem but here’s the rub for me…

When John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome along with the coaches and scouts pair down their roster to 53 by this time next week, the 45 man game day roster will influence their 53 man roster decisions. And there’s one move they are likely to make that could have lasting negative implications – keeping only 1 kicker.

So far the battle between Steven Hauschka and Graham Gano is pretty close. Most say Hauschka has the edge yet from the practices I observed, Gano looked best and in my opinion he has greater upside. That said, neither is handling the pressures of the competition all that well and if you can’t handle that kind of heat, how can we be confident that they can deal with the pressures of hitting a game winning field goal on the road in the cold during the playoffs?

The answer is we can’t!

Enter Matt Stover…

If the Ravens could field 53 players on game day, there’s little doubt that the team would keep the distance kicker and have Matt Stover around just in case that aforementioned pressure kick becomes a reality. And chances are if the Ravens are in the thick of it in December as most observers think, that pressure kick is as certain as Brett Favre changing his mind.

But the inactive list notwithstanding, shouldn’t the Ravens consider both kickers anyway? Detractors will say that the team needs the depth on special teams but if your deep kicker can put the ball in the end zone with his kickoffs on a consistent basis like Gano can, doesn’t that take the pressure off special teams?

Eventually the Ravens will have to develop a young kicker. Matt Stover was once a young kicker. Why not do so while an insurance policy wearing No. 3 is sitting on the bench?

The Ravens could send out Gano for kickoffs and any field goal attempt beyond 40 yards. They could test Gano’s ability to perform under pressure gradually, say against weaker opponents or in non-conference games. Then next year, the team would be able to cleanly and confidently sever the Stover cord.

Can they really afford to make that cut now?

Is that player who might make 10 special teams tackles over the course of a season really as important as a kicker who can nail a pressure packed 38 yard field goal on the road in Pittsburgh?

Can’t they find someone else on the roster to make those 10 special teams tackles? Wouldn’t it be easier to find THAT player than a kicker with ice in his veins?

Quite naturally the Ravens don’t want to release a player that could potentially be the next Adalius Thomas or Bart Scott and consequently they are more likely to lean towards keeping one kicker instead of two. And if they are going with one kicker, it won’t be Stover – at least not to start the season.

Speaking of which, the Ravens host the Chiefs on Opening Day and chances are that game won’t come down to a field goal hence no need for Stover. It’s unlikely that Ozzie Newsome will let Stover’s cell number escape his reach until he’s very comfortable or until Stover is picked up by another team.

If Stover remains unclaimed it behooves the Ravens not to sign him prior to Opening Day. That way should they need Stover later on he would likely only be paid the prorated portion of the NFL minimum ($835,000 for players of Stover’s tenure) and they could release Stover at any time without having to pay him for the entire season. That is a cap friendly arrangement.

Now if the NFL would come to their collective senses and blow up the inactive list rules, this decision might not be so difficult for the Ravens.

But that won’t happen thanks to midget-minded owners with dusty wallets like the Bengals’ Mike Brown.
Photo by Sabina Moran.