Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time for Ravens' DC Mattison to let the dogs out

The Ravens defense has been the subject of much debate not only in Baltimore but throughout the league. A unit that was once the pride of Baltimore and struck fear in the hearts of opponents, particularly rival running backs and quarterbacks now seems very hospitable.

So what’s wrong?

Well the most popular scapegoat is undoubtedly defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Coaches are paid to teach and they are paid to recognize the unique skill sets of their players. It is then their responsibility to put those players in position to make plays. For my money, this is where departed DC Rex Ryan excels.

Clearly Mattison has coaching pedigree and he is admired by those who work with and for him – past and present. Yet the team’s struggles have created some cracks in his resume. His style is far less aggressive than Ryan’s and it just might be that his style isn’t a fit for the Ravens’ defensive personnel. Maybe they are just so accustomed to Ryan’s attacking style that aggression is in their blood – part of their football DNA. You can’t turn a shark into a herbivore.

Ryan was the team’s DC for four seasons and a member of the coaching staff for ten. He understood what worked for his roster – a roster that consisted and still consists of multi-talented players, many of whom are “tweeners” or hybrids and as a result he had the flexibility and ability to dare to be different. His players were proud to be part of a squad affectionately referred to as “organized chaos.”

Today, Mattison’s squad looks more like disorganized orderliness!

An approach that was supposed to stress gap integrity, commitment to assignments and eliminate the big play has for the most part done NONE of the above. The Ravens once had an offense that tipped its hand with personnel groupings. Today they have a defense that does the very same thing and the top end quarterbacks that they’ve faced have recognized this and made pre-snap adjustments to exploit such groupings and weaknesses.

Pre-snap the Ravens were once all over the field. Now they are as still as the statue in Unitas Plaza making it easier on opposing signal callers.

Players are not remaining true to their assignments and part of that could be their built-in and perhaps pent up desire to attack. Terrell Suggs blew his containment assignment on both of Adrian Peterson’s long runs. Ed Reed has often been out of position, perhaps cheating in an effort to make a game changing play. He was extremely pedestrian against the Vikings. Costly penalties born out of frustration could be the result of players pressing.

Maybe the change to conservatism has the defensive players thinking too much. When players spend more time thinking they play slower and that’s a lethal combination in the speedy NFL.

It’s time for Mattison to let his players do what they do; let them ditch the disorganized orderliness and get back to the organized chaos. It’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks – to change a tiger’s stripes. It’s time to unleash the dogs.
And Mattison better do it soon.

There have been rumblings in the locker room about the defense’s conservatism. It’s a bit too soon to call it finger pointing but concerns have been expressed by players like Ray Lewis, Reed, Trevor Pryce and Jarret Johnson. After a few more times when the opposing QB has all day to throw, a few more big plays and another loss do the concerns morph into full-fledged finger pointing and then blossom into borderline mutiny?

Keep in mind (as if you need reminding) it has been the defense that has kept the Ravens competitive for far too long. They have earned the right to voice their displeasure for the betterment of the team but certainly within reason. Egos need to be checked at the door, Mattison’s included and come up with a plan that fits the personality, the talent and style of the team.

The Ravens don’t have to be among the top five defenses to win anymore. But they need to be better. That said is Mattison capable of spearheading the defense’s resurgence? Can the game be too fast for a coach? Does a coordinator go through growing pains at the NFL level similar to a player trying to adjust to the speed of the NFL?

And if the answer is yes, the cold hard question that needs to be asked is, “Why was Mattison even considered for the job?”

On the other sideline this weekend spearheading the Broncos defense is an old friend, Mike Nolan. Nolan was named the Denver defensive coordinator the day after the team hired Josh McDaniels and a week before the Jets named Ryan their head coach. Nolan, a native of Baltimore and someone clearly familiar with the surroundings in Owings Mills would have been an excellent choice to replace Ryan.

Nolan’s defense is second in the league in total defense and they’ve allowed only 66 points all season and he’s getting it done with personnel inferior to the tools with which Mattison has to work. Elvis Dumervil leads the league in sacks and he can credit Nolan with scheming efficiently to position Dumervil’s skill sets to attack the passer. Most of Dumervil’s sacks have come at the expense of tight ends and running backs.

That’s scheming. That’s game planning. That’s coaching.

When McDaniels hired Nolan, clearly he placed his feelers out there in advance hence the rapid hire. Why couldn’t the Ravens have placed similar feelers? All things being equal, wouldn’t Nolan choose Baltimore over Denver?

It’s all water under the bridge for sure but one thing is clear, Mattison and the defense have to step it up on Sunday. They have to make a statement. If the results are more of the same – missed assignments and tackles, big plays and big disappointments the heat will really be on come Monday.

Last season the Ravens were 2-3 and faced what many thought was a must win in Miami. They won and set the stage for a journey to the AFC Championship. Tomorrow is a similar game. A win gets the Ravens back on track. A loss will force them to win 7 of their last nine games to have any shot at a post season berth.

A loss like the one in Minnesota, like all three losses may leave John Harbaugh scratching his head wondering if he really made an objective hire when he brought in family friend Mattison.

It’s time to be less hospitable Matti.

It’s time to let the dogs out.

It’s time to unleash hell.
Photo by Sabina Moran

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jim Leonhard may be the most overrated Raven of all time

Former Raven Jim Leonhard is a good guy. He is an overachiever – a guy if you saw him on the street you’d think he was a freshman at Towson University.

He’s smart; he’s tough; a gutsy and effective punt returner and an ok safety.

He’s also one of the most overrated players in Ravens’ history.

Look the guy was quintessential Baltimore. We love the underdog here in B’more because we are an underdog city. We carry a chip on our collective shoulder along with an inflated inferiority complex.

So when the proverbial little engine that could actual does and he wears a purple jersey, we embrace him; we exult him; we place him on a pedestal because he succeeded when no one thought he could.

But if you are really honest about it and set your heart aside for a moment, Jim Leonhard was a guy who made the most out of being in the right place at the right time.

He’s not a very good cover safety; he’s not a very good tackler; he’s not exceptionally fast. What he was in 2008 was Johnny on the Spot! You remember him for his punt return skills, taking over for the passive and underachieving Yamon Figurs. You remember his hit on Alge Crumpler in the Divisional Playoff Game that forced a critical turnover yet you forget about the many missed tackles and how he played “horsey-back” with Brandon Jacobs for 15 yards last season.

When you add it all up, Jim Leonhard was very replaceable.

Adding to the Leonhard folklore are the inadequacies of Dawan Landry and Chris Carr this year. Landry is best when he plays inside the box – check that, he used to be best there. Now he looks lost all over the field, particularly when he’s asked to do what Leonhard did last year in coverage. The guy better suited for Leonhard’s role is Haruki Nakamura.

Nakamura if given the chance will make folks forget about Jim Leonhard the safety.

Hopefully Lardarius Webb will help the Leonhard huggers forget about Jim Leonhard the punt returner.

Until such time, Leonhard will be discussed with glowing terms of endearment even if they weren’t really earned on the field.
Photo by Sabina Moran.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is Greg Mattison to blame for the Ravens' defensive woes?

I don’t pretend to know more about defense than Ravens’ defensive coordinator Greg Mattison nor do I profess to know a lot about him that I haven’t heard from the players, other coaches and front office personnel. They have all given him the thumbs up and these football professionals have all forgotten more about football than I’ll probably ever know.

Mattison or “Matti” as he is affectionately referred to around The Castle, seems like a really good guy with a bright football mind who has clearly earned the respect of his players and for me that goes a long way especially when you consider the ample shoes he's trying to fill.

Last year Matti was an assistant to the owner of those ample shoes, Rex Ryan. Matti was the linebackers coach on Rex's defensive staff and being the sharp guy that he is, I have no doubt that he watched Rex closely and absorbed the exotic nuances of the organized chaos knowing that if Rex moved on to be a head coach elsewhere as anticipated, Matti had an excellent chance of succeeding Rex.

As we know, that’s exactly how it played out.

Yet I wonder like many of you, if he is a student of the game and he studied last year’s defense, why has it changed so much? What happened to the organized chaos? Was it broken? Did it need fixing? The Ravens were after all the No. 2 defense in the NFL.

We were told to expect less blitzing, better gap control, more discipline and fewer big plays yet through five games the Ravens have given up 19 plays of 20+ yards and 4plays of 40+ yards while QB’s have an average rating of 80.4. Last season the Ravens surrendered 41 plays of 20+ yards and 6 plays of 40+ yards as quarterbacks struggled to reach a 60.6 average rating.

If you project the 2009 numbers out over the course of the season opposing QBs have enjoyed a 33% improvement in efficiency; opponents have experienced the pleasantries of 49% increase in plays of 20+ yards and a whopping 133% increase in plays of 40+ yards.

Is that the discipline and big play prevention Matti sought at the season’s outset?
Might injuries be at play here?

Is it the personnel?

You could argue that the Ravens are more talented in the secondary this season with added depth. The defensive line should be stronger simply with the return of Kelly Gregg, right?

At linebacker the Ravens are missing Bart Scott. Is his absence responsible for this bleeding?

I have refrained from blaming Greg Mattison so far. But if the personnel hasn’t taken a significant hit (it hasn’t) and if health isn’t an issue (it’s not) then from my vantage point there are only a few variables left to explain the team’s defensive inadequacies and they are: preparation/ game plan; proper usage of personnel; comfort level of the players in the new system; play calling and execution. Four of these five are on Mattison.

Is Matti capable of formulating the right game plan at the NFL level? He’s never done it prior to 2009.

Does his more conservative approach sit well with players who are used to being active and aggressive?

Rex Ryan has always been a coach who knows how to utilize the skills sets of his players in the right way. Is Mattison managing his talent properly?

Maybe he’s just not a great play caller. Maybe he tips his hand like a pitcher who tips his changeup and he’s easy to prepare for.

Obviously something is wrong and the common denominator seems to be Mattison.
If it ain’t broke why fix it?

Perhaps it’s time for Mattison to kick a little pride to the curb and dust off the organized chaos before this defense and the season are dusted by Messrs. Favre, Palmer, Manning, Rodgers and Roethlisberger.
Photo by Sabina Moran.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

As NFL trade deadline approaches, will Ravens make a move?

Back in September I posted a blog charting the progress of the wide receivers taken in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft and compared their productivity to that of Kelley Washington. Here’s an update on that comparison:


Darrius Heyward-Bey/5-2-36-0
Michael Crabtree/0-0-0-0
Jeremy Maclin/4-12-187-2
Hakeem Nicks/3-7-121-2
Kenny Britt/5-19-289-0
Kelley Washington/5-17-219-1

This past week the Ravens completed only 4 passes to wide receivers totaling 57 yards and no scores. All five receivers on the roster are unsigned after the 2009 season. Derrick Mason could retire; Mark Clayton said he wants to stay but there are no guarantees that he will; Kelley Washington could stick but again no one knows for sure if he will; Demetrius Williams is as good as gone and might not even last the entire season with the club; David Tyree is here for special teams only and is 50-50 at best to be around in 2010. Add it up and there is the possibility, albeit remote, that the Ravens may have an entire new group of receivers in 2010.

Many have clamored incessantly about the Ravens acquiring a receiver. Some wanted the team to draft a receiver; others said make a trade for Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall. After the Browns traded Braylon Edwards to the Jets and Edwards had immediate success on the national stage of Monday Night Football, others trashed Ozzie Newsome for not making a play for the former Brown, one of the league’s biggest crybabies.

Now the trade deadline is right around the corner (October 20, 4PM Eastern) and it looks like Ozzie will stand pat.

But should he?

I still maintain that the Ravens have enough this year to get on a late season roll and push towards Miami. But with a potential mess brewing at wide receiver for 2010, there’s an interesting player that could be available with little down side – Dwayne Bowe.

Bowe is in his third season. He’s 6’2” and goes 221 pounds. He’s 25 years old and is under contract for a reasonable rate (rookie contract) for the balance of this season and the next two. He was drafted with 2007’s 23rd overall pick. His signing bonus would be absorbed by the Chiefs in their cap structure with the Ravens paying out bargain basement numbers to a receiver who had 86 catches for 1,022 yards and 7 scores in his sophomore campaign.

So why would the Chiefs give up on young receiver with ample upside?

From what I hear, Chiefs’ head coach Todd Haley doesn’t like Bowe and would like to move him. The Chiefs have won 2 of their last 19 games and Haley is still looking for his first win. Given the price that the Jets paid for Edwards (two relative stiffs, a third and a fifth), the Ravens just might be able to land Bowe without giving up a No. 1 pick.

But even if Bowe does cost a No. 1, he’s proven that he can play at the NFL level. There’s no guessing and wondering like there was with Darrius Heyward-Bey. The guy can play. If the Ravens draft in the bottom third of the 2010 NFL Draft as expected and a player like Bowe was on the board and knowing that he can perform at the pro level, wouldn’t he be a solid use of a pick in the 20’s? Given that the team has no receivers signed beyond 2009 wouldn’t he solve a need?

When need and best player available collide like they did when the Ravens selected Michael Oher, you jump on it.

Trading for Dwayne Bowe should be no different if KC is willing.

Mr. Haley, Mr. Newsome calling from Baltimore on line 1…

HELP WANTED: Team in Baltimore seeking a pass rush

The Ravens' pass rush hasn’t exactly taken pressure off the secondary. While the number of sacks is on par with 2008, the number of pressures has fallen off and that creates opportunities downfield for big time signal callers like Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Brett Favre. Trevor Pryce appears to be aging rapidly while held regularly – not exactly a successful recipe when pursuing the quarterback.

Terrell Suggs is finding it difficult to fight through double teaming and very little if any heat comes off the opposite edge unless the Ravens blitz. It might be time for Mattison to get more creative with a mix of the team’s best speed rushers like Jameel McClain, Antwan Barnes and Paul Kruger.

Speaking of the defensive front, it has become painfully obvious that Kelly Gregg is not the player he once was. The explosiveness that enabled him to be an effective two-gap tackle commanding attention and freeing Ray Lewis to make tackles at or near the line of scrimmage has all but disappeared. Take away Gregg’s effectiveness and Bart Scott’s willingness to take on pulling guards and fullbacks to keep Lewis clean and it should surprise no one that the Ravens’ defensive leader is making more and more of his tackles down field.

Lewis is an instinctive and well-prepared player with top end speed for his position but he has never been a technically sound linebacker when it comes to shedding blocks. Take away some of that speed and take away the effective interference and Lewis’ play is closer to average than Pro Bowl-like.

Back to Gregg for a moment; don’t be surprised if you start seeing more and more playing time for Kelly Talavou and/or Bryant McKinney in the Ravens’ rotation at defensive tackle.

Ravens' corners taking undeserved heat for secondary woes

The Ravens’ corners have been unjustly criticized by fans and media members as the biggest culprits in the downfall of the team’s defense. If anything the Ravens are better at corner today than they were this time last season. At this stage in his career even if healthy Samari Rolle is not the corner that Domonique Foxworth is. Fabian Washington is playing better than he did in ’08 and he’s supporting the run better. Frank Walker is also further along at this stage of the season than he was during the club’s 11-5 ’08 campaign.

The team’s secondary troubles really stem from Dawan Landry’s cover skills or lack thereof and nickel back Chris Carr’s lack of top end speed (4.65-40). Landry is built to support the run and play up inside the box. The trouble is defensive coordinator Greg Mattison isn’t using Landry that way. The team would be better off handing Landry’s job to Haruki Nakamura, a player much better suited to assume Jim Leonhard’s role while Carr’s duties should go to promising rookie Lardarius Webb.

Carr is a favorite of secondary coach Chuck Pagano going back to their days together in Oakland. He’s a battler and a hustler but has to cheat to stay with receivers and given the yellow laundry directed his way this season the cheating won’t come easy. Opposing offensive coordinators have taken note. Percy Harvin must be salivating.

Monday, October 12, 2009

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

The Good: Michael Oher started his first NFL game at left tackle and made the transition seamlessly. He handled NFL sack leader Antwan Odom the entire game, holding the Bengals’ QB killer to 0 sacks and 2 tackles…Ray Rice had another productive afternoon both running and as a receiver gaining 69 yards on the ground and another 74 yards by air including a 48 yard TD reception – a little swing pass that looked dead on arrival yet Rice somehow kept his balance and took it to the house…Jarret Johnson has been the team’s steadiest defender all season and Sunday was no exception. Perhaps Greg Mattison could use Johnson as an example to the rest of his unit when preaching how to play smart, tough and disciplined football…Contrary to his opposite side counterpart, Fabian Washington was solid in coverage.

Bad: If you think that five games is a pretty decent body of work to evaluate a player’s performance, then you would have to agree that Chris Carr has been a bust. He plays scared as a returner and has bad instincts as a defender. Down the stretch in yesterday’s game, Carr and Ed Reed bracketed Chris Henry along the sideline with Carr responsible for the short space and Reed deep sideline. Palmer still completed the out pattern when he had to with only 48 seconds remaining. Carr also committed a penalty on the Bengals final drive and followed that play up with soft coverage on Chris Henry for an 8 yard gain just prior to the 2 minute warning. He then was tripped up by the turf monster when covering Andre Caldwell a few ticks prior to the Palmer to Caldwell game winner…Domonique Foxworth looked a bit lost all afternoon and quit on the long completion to Chris Henry after realizing he was being flagged for downfield contact…Dawan Landry is having a very subpar year and it might be time to find his replacement. Just prior to the game winning touchdown, Landry had a great opportunity to break on a ball thrown right in front of him to TE Daniel Coats. Instead he just stood passively in the end zone. Landry isn’t making tackles and he isn’t covering. It’s about time for Landry to sit…

Joe Flacco had no rhythm, looked out of synch from the start, forced a ball in the red zone and was intercepted taking away a valuable 3 points and then missed a wide open Mark Clayton on a fly when facing a 3rd and 10 from the Bengals 49 with 2:28 left in the game. Given that he’s now an accomplished second year signal caller, this was arguably Flacco’s worst effort as a pro…Ray Lewis is the defensive leader and should know better than to be overly aggressive in crunch time. His hit on Chad Johnson was completely unnecessary and helped the Bengals win. Not one of Lewis’ tackles was for a loss and several were well downfield. He is suffering from Kelly Gregg’s poor play…Gregg no longer has that quick first step and without gaining that leverage he is pushed around rather easily. That allows opponents to double up on Haloti Ngata which makes him less of a force. The run defense is very overrated at this point.

Ugly: The Ravens are playing a very undisciplined brand of football and that flies in the face of what John Harbaugh stands for. They are the most penalized team in the league and until they clean it up, the striped shirts will continue to make calls against them…Harbaugh and his staff were badly outcoached particularly Cam Cameron. The Bengals were determined to prevent the big play and to stuff the run. We heard time and time again during the preseason how the Ravens need to attack the intermediate area between the hash marks. The Bengals challenged Cameron and Flacco to do that and they backed down and ultimately the offense failed.

The Megan Fox: I have been critical of Ed Reed’s play so far this season, saying in so many words that he doesn’t even look like he wants to be on the field. Yesterday he was one of just a few Ravens who came to play. He looked like the All-Pro he was down the stretch in 2008. He supported the run, made a tackle for a loss, he stripped Chad Johnson to force a turnover as the Bengals were driving late in the second quarter and of course his Pick Six. Hands down Ed Reed was yesterday’s player of the game.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on his team and the NFL

Last week on Ravens Rap Steve Bisciotti was our special guest and he was very forthcoming. Among the things we learned…

ON BRIAN BILLICK ~ Bisciotti was originally hesitant to fire Billick because of all the money owed him and the negative repercussions in the media surely to follow if he cut Billick loose despite a $20 million golden parachute. Since these were the overriding reasons for KEEPING Billick, he knew he had to swallow humble pie and make the move because clearly those are not compelling reasons for retaining a coach…Bisciotti said that Roger Goodell questioned how he might absorb the loss of the $20 million, Bisciotti quipped, “I did’t lose any money. My kids just lost part of their inheritance.”

ON REX RYAN ~ Rex was never really a serious candidate for Billick’s vacated spot. While Bisciotti believed that Rex would be a good head coach in the NFL and he expressed sincere happiness for Rex’ success in New York, he felt that the Ravens needed a complete change and that Rex was a big part of a team that was dominated by defense. For Rex to usher in a needed cultural change would be too tall a task. The Ravens needed new blood.

ON HIRING BILLICK’S REPLACEMENT ~ Jason Garrett was the team’s first choice but when it became apparent that Garrett was leveraging the Ravens and the Falcons to improve his position with the Cowboys, he called Ozzie Newsome at 1:30 in the morning to have him make the call to get John Harbaugh in town. Judging from the things Bisciotti shared, Harbaugh was the preferred choice for many in the organization.

ON THE IMPACT OF HARBAUGH ~ Had Harbaugh not been the head coach, Rex Ryan would not have stayed around in 2008 and Cam Cameron would have opted to sit out the season and collect a paycheck from the Dolphins. Harbaugh changed the way both highly regarded coordinators viewed the job openings. Bisciotti emphasized that Harbaugh was the only head coach that Cameron would have served under in ’08.

Bisciotti said that in many ways Harbaugh reminds him of himself and that he carries a chip on his shoulder. He added that Harbaugh can be a bit corny at times with his clich├ęs and expressions. He thought that Harbaugh’s dubbing of the final 53 man roster as the “53 Mighty Men” would be laughed at by the players but to his surprise and delight, the players fully embraced it.

ON DRAFT DAY 2008 ~ Bisciotti really wanted the Ravens to make a play for a quarterback. The Ravens had Matt Ryan slightly ahead of Joe Flacco but Ozzie and Company did not want to make the investment to move up to get him. Bisciotti wanted Ryan yet relented and gave way to his personnel guys. Bisciotti mocked himself saying that if he had had his way, the Ravens would be coached by Jason Garrett and quarterbacked by Matt Ryan and they would have lost money and draft picks in the process.

ON BILLICK v. HARBAUGH ~ The differences between a Harbaugh practice and that of Billick are huge according to the Ravens’ owner. Billick wanted to get through practices injury free and they were conducted in a way that would preserve players for game day. If it rained Billick brought the team inside and if they played on the road in front of a typically hostile crowd, Billick was not a big believer in piped in music and background noise to simulate the atmosphere. He thought that would simply disrupt the concentration at practice…Harbaugh often practices at full speed to simulate game conditions, preferring to fail in practice than on game day. Harbaugh doesn’t hesitate to practice in bad weather and he welcomes the piped in high decibel levels in order to prepare his team for game conditions. The speed of practice was one of the first noticeable differences Bisciotti detected between a Billick v. Harbaugh led squad.

ON THE CREATURE COMFORTS OF M&T BANK STADIUM ~ For those of you wondering about changes to M&T Bank Stadium…if you are waiting with baited breath for escalators to the upper deck, it’s not going to happen. They do plan on continually refining the bathroom queuing and they are looking into adding more TV’s in the future both in and around the bathrooms. New large screen HDTV’s will be available for the 2010 season.

Generally speaking Bisciotti said the lifecycle of a stadium in the NFL today is 30 years. He would like to extend that by working closely with the Maryland Stadium Authority in a proactive way to provide the best creature comforts for the fans and to extend the stadium’s longevity.

ON THE FUTURE OF TV AND THE NFL ~ Bisciotti is a member the league’s executive broadcasting committee, exploring new ways to offer value to their sponsors. He said that the notion of pay-per-view for each NFL game in the future, something predicted by some in the media will never happen. He said that with the growing interest in the number of cable companies seeking to broadcast the NFL that he could anticipate game broadcasts being part of premium cable packages but pay-per-view on a game by game basis would not work.

You can hear the interview in its entirety here at our Ravens Rap Webcast Link.

NOTE: we had some technical difficulties with the video portion, the audio is fine.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Beyond a reasonable doubt refs affected outcome of Ravens @ Patriots

"I want the penalty called. I want 15 yards. I don't care if they hit me or not. That's an advantage for our offense. You just want to make sure the refs . . . I go hug the refs before the game, and ask about his kids and stuff like that. I'm trying to get him on our side."

These are the words of Tom Brady shared on Wednesday as the media dug a little deeper into the alleged favoritism towards the league’s reigning Miss NFL. Let’s hope the league’s officials read his quote. Now that the secret is out Tom, I wonder if your pet zebras will now see your feigned chumminess for the phony gamesmanship that it is…

You can’t really fault Brady for his Oscar-caliber performances but you can call him stupid for admitting to them. Yet the real fault here lies with the officiating. I get the rules – like them or not they are the rules. If you need to protect quarterbacks then do it – ALL QUARTERBACKS. There’s a reason that the league chose not to fine the Ravens’ players this week – they were right to voice their frustrations!

And for those of you that want to criticize the Ravens for complaining about the officiating, how about YOU get over it! By voicing their opinion the Ravens just made the NFL world a better place for all future 2009 opponents of the New England Patriots and that could be a could thing for the purple and black.

If you are among the many that take Ray Lewis’ and Ed Reed’s complaints as whining then try and place yourself as close to their shoes as you can. Imagine for a moment that you put in a week’s worth of work and preparation for a big presentation only to have unfair subjectivity keep you from the success you deserve. Might you complain a bit about the sequence of events leading up to the failure just moments after the said failure occurred?

And if you didn’t complain, maybe your employer picked the wrong person for the job.
Some might say this topic is old but let’s break out the wrench and dial back the hands of time just a bit here and revisit a few key calls…

Call No. 1: The Patriots are facing a third and 9 from their own 37 down 7-3. Brady short-arms a pass to Ben Watson that falls incomplete yet the drive is kept alive thanks to a ticky-tack penalty against Haloti Ngata whose forearm grazes Brady’s helmet. Brady falls to the ground like he’s been hit by a bus. Yellow laundry flies and the drive remains alive.

Call No. 2: Five plays later the Patriots fall well short of a first down after a failed third and two conversion attempt. The mark on the field is so clearly short of the marker that Stevie Wonder (with all due respect) could have been in the crowd signaling fourth down. Yet the officials grant Bill Belichick’s request for a measurement.

Neither Belichick nor Brady even watches the measurement. Both obviously know they are short but they successfully bait the officials into what amounts to a free timeout during which they collect their thoughts and opt to go for it on fourth down. They convert. Two plays later it’s Patriots 10 Ravens 7 after a questionable touchdown by Brady who was arguably short of the goal line.

Call No. 3: Ensuing drive – the Ravens first of the second quarter. After three plays that gained 4, 22 and 12 yards respectively the Ravens face a first and 10 from the New England 38. Joe Flacco throws a deep post to Derrick Mason which was defended by rookie Darius Butler. Clearly Butler interfered yet there was no call. Want proof of the interference? Look at the picture above.

The Ravens were forced to punt.

Do you think if that had been Domonique Foxworth climbing Randy Moss’ back in Boston that laundry would have littered the goal line?

Call No. 4: Fast forward to the 5:16 mark of the second quarter. The Patriots face a second and 11 from the Ravens 43. Terrell Suggs beats his man but gets hit by a second offensive lineman. His momentum carries him towards Tom Brady’s knees yet through pure athleticism he redirects his body in a way to avoid a serious lower leg collision with Brady. Unfortunately he still grazes the quarterback’s knee. The referee staring right at the play does nothing until the Golden Boy throws a mini tantrum and then gets the desired flag. Two plays later, Sammie Morris carries it in for the score – Patriots 17-7.

Four calls resulting in a 21 point swing.

And let’s not even drill down on the Illegal Contact call against Chris Carr despite contact being initiated by Wes Welker and then later in the game Derrick Mason collides with Leigh Bodden in a much less violent collision than the Carr-Welker confrontation – a collision which by the way was initiated by Bodden more than 5 yards down field. Yet Mason is flagged.

Oh and then there’s the terrible spot after the failed fake field goal giving the Patriots a first down before the penalty essentially giving them a free pass to kick a field goal – another 3 point swing.

So for those of you who say get over it, stop whining, the referees didn’t make a difference – SHUT UP!

They did make a difference and none of these pivotal calls went the way of the visitors – calls that added up to 24 potential points.

These calls weren’t the only reason the Ravens lost because despite it all they still had control of the outcome near the end.

But make no mistake about it, those calls absolutely contributed to the loss.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Monday, October 05, 2009

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

The Good

Derrick Mason continues to show toughness, leadership and the ability to move the sticks. If Joe Flacco was able to deliver a couple of balls in a more timely fashion, Mason could have posted another 100 yard receiving game…Joe Flacco although shaky at times looked like a seasoned veteran running the 2 minute offense down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Not only did Flacco move the team efficiently, his poise and clock management were nearly perfect. In a manner which belies his experience, Flacco was on the verge of not only taking the lead from the Patriots, he also played defense by leaving little time for Tom Brady had the Ravens scored and kicked the ball away.

Jarret Johnson is the defense’s most consistent player contributing a sack and a big tackle for a loss while shrugging off a painful shoulder injury…Dwan Edwards’ constant hustle was rewarded when he recovered Tom Brady’s fumble in the end zone…Props to Terrell Suggs for making a big play when the team needed it…Kick coverage improved markedly.

The Bad

Sure we can make excuses for Ed Reed and his neck/shoulder never impingement but the bottom line is that Reed rarely seems in position to make the game altering plays that were once a trademark. At this point in the season Reed could be described as one of the league’s most overrated superstars…Reed’s sidekick Dawan Landry played soft and Brady exploited the big gap between the hash marks beyond the linebackers and in front of Reed and Landry…Tackling by Landry, Edwards, Dannelle Ellerbee, Tom Zbikowski, Ray Lewis and Brendon Ayanbadejo was suspect…Cam Cameron’s game plan was very questionable. He ignored the run despite the Patriots completely selling out to get to Flacco and the apparent ability of the offensive line to create space for Ray Rice during limited opportunities. You would think the Ravens would want to lean on their ability to run to wear down the Pats and keep Brady off the field. On third and fourth and short, why not use Le’Ron McClain?...Penalties were ridiculous and yesterday’s lack of team discipline was reminiscent of a Brian Billick team.

The Ugly

Mark Clayton had three chances to make a significant play and missed on all three – let’s just say he struck out in a big way. The officiating was horrific. They looked confused and out of place. Their protection of league princess Tom Brady was a joke even allowing Brady to make one of the roughing the passer calls himself. Their handling of the Patriots’ fake field goal and the succeeding events was very minor league. The sequence should have ended in a turnover on downs. Instead the Patriots put another three spot on the board...Add Chris Carr's return skills to the mix hear as well.

The Megan Fox

Ray Rice touched the ball 16 times and averaged nearly 10 yards per touch. If only Cam Cameron would have seen him in the same light.

4-0 Starts slips through the hands of Clayton, Ravens

Just when you thought all of the talk had died down about the Ravens lack of playmakers at wide receiver, Mark Clayton chokes in a clutch situation. Despite some questionable play calling by Cam Cameron, untimely penalties, poor tackling, soft play from the safeties, Tom Brady’s 72-1 mark when leading after three quarters and wretched officiating that swung in favor of the home team, the Ravens had a chance to win.

And they should have!

Clayton’s game ending gaffe wasn’t his only missed chance to make a play. On two separate fade routes, Joe Flacco tossed high arching beauties with perfect touch that Clayton wasn’t able to finish. Yes, each was a tough catch but after 5 seasons in the league, you expect your 2005 first round pick to catch one of those balls.

To make matters worse, Brandon Marshall made a big time play in a clutch situation in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys to send the Broncos to 4-0.

Of course the Ravens will spin the loss in ways that divert attention away from Clayton. Flacco wasn’t exactly stellar (although I’d say he continued to grow) and stars like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed didn’t exactly shine. Oh and guys, you need to put this game behind you and get off the officials. Leave that up to the media and the fans and refocus on the Bengals.

Yes the Ravens can win without the Brandon Marshalls of the world and they will.
Yet Clayton’s misfortunes help to bust open an old can of worms that we all thought was comfortably tucked away on the shelf.