Thursday, December 30, 2010

Joe Flacco, The Pro Bowl, Spit and a Commissioner's Goof


The Ravens face the Bengals this week, a team that has had success against the Ravens with Cover 2 looks while rushing only 4 defenders. That has been problematic for Joe Flacco. What can he do to improve against the Bengals zone looks? For that answer we consulted with QB Coach Chris Johnston from CompleteQB.com.

The Cover 2's natural weaknesses are three vertical seams - one outside each of the safeties and one between them. Over the last 30 years, since the Pittsburgh Steelers of the late 70s began tweaking the base Cover 2 formula, defensive coaches have sought to put a combination-type of athlete at the Middle LB position - one like Chicago's Brian Urlacher, for example - to get a deeper pass drop after making an initial run/pass read. This allows the Safeties to play with a bit more width in their half-field assignment. With the middle seam vulnerability at least partially remedied, defenses have evolved to present almost unlimited variations of "underneath" (the area from the LOS to roughly 15 yards downfield) zone coverage and blitz/stunting combinations. That leaves the intermediate range (15-25 yards downfield) area from roughly the inside of the numbers to the sideline as Cover 2's most vulnerable window.

All of that said, Flacco's best strategy for improving vs. today's Cover 2 would be improved accuracy in attacking this area, one attacked most effectively by "comeback"-style routes that break sharply outside of deep Safety coverage and above LB/CB coverage. One of the toughest throws in football, a well-thrown comeback or similar route, is nearly impossible to defend. The built-in bonus here is that Joe Flacco possesses a legitimately big-time NFL arm, and is capable of completing this throw.

Most would agree that Sam Koch is deserving of Pro Bowl accolades and the accompanying Hawaiian vacation. It looks like he’ll get half of that anyway. Koch and his wife were invited to attend the game as guests of Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff. Koch is taking the snub in stride as Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler was named to the Pro Bowl for the sixth time and for the fourth year in a row.

“Lechler’s been there, well-deserving of it,” Koch said. “He’s a great punter. It’s hard to beat out a great punter. He’s got great numbers. I wish we could be there, me and Billy, but the good thing is Billy’s going to be taking me.”

Not so fast Sam. Your travel plans may be disrupted by a trip to Dallas the first week of February.

A player not as accepting of his failure to make the Pro Bowl squad is Le’Ron McClain. McClain ranked first in fan balloting but ultimately lost to Texans’ fullback Vonta Leach after the players and coaches submitted their votes.

“Oh yeah, very disappointed about that, but I can’t do nothing about it,” McClain said. “I got no control over it. My team’s winning now, so I’m just looking forward to the Bengals and getting this 12th win.”

Hey Le’Ron, maybe you can do something about it – like not being so unnecessarily chippy with opponents and/or “accidentally” showering them with saliva.

Don’t be surprised to see the Ravens let McClain go in the offseason. Word is the Ravens inner circle is a bit tired of his act.

Some fans are hopeful that if Marvin Lewis is let go by the Cincinnati Bengals that he might consider a return to Baltimore as defensive coordinator. Not so fast folks!

Lewis is a good guy but highly overrated as a defensive strategist. Think back to the early days of the Ravens from 1996-98 when Lewis commanded a sieve of a defense. The years from 1999-2001 were great but then again so was the talent.

For my money the best D-Coordinator the Ravens have had is Mike Nolan. Look what he did with that cap purged roster of 2002. If the Ravens consider a free agent defensive coordinator (and that’s a big if given John Harbaugh’s close personal relationship with Greg Mattison), Nolan should be the guy, not Lewis.

Some interesting games this weekend with playoff implications and the curious betting lines make these games all the more interesting. It’s hard not to see the Steelers covering a 5 ½ point number in Cleveland. The number opened at 6. But in Vegas when something seems pretty obvious, go the other way.…Those who don’t want the Ravens to travel to Indy to take on their nemesis the Colts, might be pleased to see the number in Kansas City where the Chiefs will host the Raiders is just 3 ½ points. The Raiders may do well as spoilers against their arch rivals. Keep in mind the Ravens nearly lost to a less talented Oakland squad way back in January in a must win situation.

And finally the next time I write about Brett Favre, I hope it’s to announce his retirement – but I’m not holding my breath. That said, I have to chime in on Roger Goodell giving Favre a hall pass on his “sexting” scandal with Jenn Sterger. Favre’s penalty – a $50,000 fine!

To put that number in perspective, that’s a $250.00 fine for someone making $75,000/year. (Favre makes no less than $15 million).

Think about that!

I really don’t give a rat’s you know what about Favre. Once, one of my favorite non-Ravens, Favre wore out his welcome mat with me about three retirements ago.

But this $50K fine for “failure to cooperate” is a little unsettling. What’s to prevent other players in the future to “fail to cooperate” if the anticipated fine ($50K, a new benchmark) is perceived to be a lesser penalty than one that is levied with cooperation?

The Commish goofed here.

He wants to brush Favre and all his B.S. under the carpet but unfortunately it won’t stay there.

Not a chance!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sam Koch snubbed out of deserved Pro Bowl spot


The Raiders’ Shane Lechler is the AFC’s punter in the 2011 Pro Bowl and like other players who have been there before (6 times in Lechler’s case) he’s going back again on reputation. And while he’s not having a bad season, he isn’t as deserving as the Ravens’ Sam Koch.

For me the best punters are those who can shift field position. Now they can do that by knocking the ball into the next county and Lechler has done that his fair share of times.

But shifting field position can be done in other ways through directional punting, punts inside the 20 and inside the 10, enabling the gunners to down the ball or forcing fair catches. All of these things are welcomed by the punt coverage team because each time they happen, the number of collisions drop as do the number of injuries.

This season Koch has 37 punts inside the 20 yard line compared to 26 by Lechler. Since the NFL doesn’t keep a more meaningful stat like punts inside the 10, I went through the grueling manual process to discover that Koch has 21 such punts. That number is the same or more than 18 starting punters’ totals inside the 20 yard line. I didn’t bother to tally up Lechler’s but given his 26 kicks inside the 20, it’s safe to say his inside the 10 number doesn’t touch Koch’s.

Koch has had 74 punts and the return yardage on those punts adds up to 226 or an average of 3.05 yards. Lechler has 72 punts and those missiles have been returned for 380 yards, an average of 5.28 yards. Lechler does have an edge in net yards (40.6 v. 39.0) but that can easily be explained away that Koch is willing to give up net in exchange for field position.

Each punter has had 9 of their kicks downed while punt returners have signaled for a fair catch on 29% (21 times) of Koch’s punts compared to 15% (11 times) for Lechler.

Lechler may have a more impressive resume than Koch, but it’s that resume that will send him to Hawaii this season and not because he was the better punter in 2010.

For my money, I’ll take Sam Koch over Lechler every day of the week and 5 times on Sunday.

Donte Stallworth deserves this year's Ed Block Courage Award


Donte Stallworth is the Ravens’ recipient for this year’s Ed Block Courage Awards. Unfortunately those close to Stallworth are a bit disheartened by the negative feedback directed towards the Ravens’ receiver. Stallworth pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter back on June 16, 2009 and shortly thereafter served a 30 day sentence. He also paid the Mario Reyes family (the victim) an undisclosed sum of money and sat out the NFL's 2009 season.

Admittedly when I first heard of the plea my first response was, “typical entitled athlete.”

I was wrong.

Since Stallworth joined the Ravens I have heard through sources that his attorneys wanted to take the case to trial because they were supremely confident that they would win. Stallworth didn’t want to “win”, he simply wanted to make sure that the Reyes family was taken care of financially because the accident took from the Reyes’ their primary and arguably only wage earner.

I have also spoken to folks with knowledge of the area where this accident took place (McArthur Causeway near Miami Beach) and I’m told that what Reyes did as a pedestrian to force the tragedy could have caught the most lucid driver by surprise and the outcome would not have changed.

To his credit, Stallworth simply wants to do the time – pay his debt to society. He wants to get beyond this unfortunate yet defining accident. There is much more to this story that I cannot share at this time but trust me when I say this, Donte Stallworth is a very good man who is extremely remorseful for an act that could have happened to many of us, myself included.

I have learned something from this man. Perhaps Sergio Kindle could as well.

Stallworth’s teammates know his story – they know the truth and that’s why he’s this year’s Ed Block Courage Award recipient for the Baltimore Ravens.

And you know what?

He deserves to be.

Congratulations Donte.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

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


This past Sunday I ventured up to New York City to celebrate my birthday with my wife and couple of dear friends. Naturally we had to be situated and comfortable by kickoff and we were told that Johnny Utah’s on 51 Street, a block from 30 Rock, was the place to go for Ravens’ fans.

We arrived around noon and there were only 3 people there and the infamous electronic bull. Unfortunately the 3 people included a bartender, a hostess and a waitress. So that had to be happy to see us!

Ok, so maybe we’re early we thought. The place seemed nice and they had an ample amount of HD screens and HD projection screens but just to be sure, we asked if they would be broadcasting the Ravens/Browns game.

Negative!

We were told that they could only show the nationally televised games. What a waste of HD power.

Quickly we rallied and caught a cab to The Wharf Bar & Grille on Third Avenue between 38th and 38th. I had actually Googled Ravens’ bars in NYC on the bus ride up and found The Wharf Bar but opted for Johnny Utah’s on the recommendation of a Twitter follower. Live and learn I guess…

That said, The Wharf Bar was great – filled with purple and black in a reserved area of the establishment and we had their best bartender – Amy, who was OUTSTANDING. Remember this place if you are in NYC on a Fall Sunday.

I figured I’d share this with you hoping that the story was a bit more entertaining than this week’s game.

THE GOOD: The ageless Derrick Mason is about as reliable and steady as the surf in Ocean City. His fingertip catch off a slant pattern on third and 6 from the Cleveland 46 helped the Ravens keep an eventual field goal drive alive after the Browns had taken the lead 7-0. He later caught a 22 yard pass for a TD despite being mugged by Browns CB Sheldon Brown… Jarret Johnson followed up a nice outing against the Saints with another one in Cleveland showcasing his versatility against the run, pass and when rushing the quarterback… Cory Redding was solid defending the run and continues to improve as the season goes on. On Sunday he regularly had the upper hand in battles against Browns’ tackles John St. Clair and Joe Thomas…Lardarius Webb’s technique seems to be improving with each passing week and despite a lean frame he’s one of the more physical tacklers in the Ravens’ secondary…Joe Flacco hit TJ Houshmandzadeh with a picturesque scoring strike after stepping up in the pocket to avoid oncoming rushers. Flacco also avoided the rush to keep plays alive and kept his head downfield.

BAD: Chris Carr gave up a defendable TD pass to Brian Robiskie off a flea flicker that he had properly read. His ball skills were poor and the mistake costly but he did make up for it later by stripping Mohamed Massaquoi after a catch, enabling Jameel McClain to pick up the forced fumble and set the Ravens up to take a lead they would never relinquish…Flacco shows up here as well for a poorly thrown ball to Anquan Boldin that should have gone for six. Boldin had CB Joe Haden beaten on the play but got a gift from Flacco in the form of a well underthrown pass. He was also guilty of a few poor decisions, holding the ball much longer than he should have and taking unnecessary hits and a sack…Jalen Parmele showed very poor judgment on his only kickoff return following the Browns only TD, taking it 4 yards deep and then trying to make a play against a solid kick coverage team. The end result was an 11 yard line start for Joe Flacco & Co…Cam Cameron needs to get Donte Stallworth involved in the flow of the game before he sends him on to the field to run go routes off a flea flicker. Memo to Cam: I think the league is on to your primitive employment of Stallworth’s talents, i.e. reverses and fly patterns.

UGLY: The Ravens weren’t all that sharp but then again they weren’t all that bad. They simply did what was needed to secure their card in the NFL’s post season dance. Dan Fouts needs some happy pills because he certainly is a miserable analyst for CBS Sports. Maybe he is still jaded after getting the boot off the MNF broadcast all those years ago.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: Ed Reed came up with two interceptions and a big hit on the Browns physical RB Peyton Hillis which seemed to send a message to the beaten back. The only way the Browns had any chance in the game was if Hillis could repeat his performance against the Ravens in Baltimore. Unfortunately for the former Razorback he had more yards in one carry at M&T than he did on the entire afternoon in Cleveland (12 carries, 35 yards.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mt. Cody about to erupt?


Rookie DT Terrence Cody showcased some vast potential during the preseason and then again in Atlanta against the Falcons. This past week in Baltimore against the Saints, Cody was on the field for just five plays. Insiders say that the former Alabama run stuffer was dominant during those five snaps. If you buy into that the obvious follow up question is, “Why didn’t he see the field more?”

Well for one the Saints are first and foremost a passing team and that alone will knock off potential plays for Cody as Greg Mattison opted for more nickel and dime sub packages. Secondly, the Ravens are dealing with the fading star of a very prideful Kelly Gregg, a well-liked, well respected member of the Ravens family. The organization is handling the delicate situation with kid gloves.

That said there’s at least a 50-50 chance that 2010 is Gregg’s swansong season and an even greater chance that he will never be a starter again beyond the ’10 campaign if he does return.

50!


This week is a big week for me. Of course it's a big week for all Ravens fans - a win on Sunday clinches a ticket to the post season dance. But this week is personal.

I'm turning 50!

Fifty!

A half century!

Thirty didn't bother me nor did forty. But fifty fits about as well as those size 30 jeans I wore back in high school.

Friends tell me it's just a number and I've read where 50 is the new 40. But my guess is that those who subscribe to that "theory" are already 50 and I know that my friends and family members who tell me it's just a number already hit the mark. So their credibility is tainted when it comes to "Five-Oh."

Or is that Five Oh No?

My friend Rob Long, upon learning of my age once quipped, "Dude you're old!"

Ouch!

I've never felt old and I don't feel old today although my driver's license tells me otherwise. Maybe I'm really 18 with 32 years of experience...

I used to think guys who were fifty were old. I played fast pitch softball with guys who hit the half-century mark. They seemed ancient relative to my spry 30. Now old guys are 70 and I need to be careful about saying that because my Pop is 75 and he still doesn't think of himself as old.

So feeling good is good and I've been very fortunate in the health department. I've never had any surgery; I've never even had any anesthesia although I hear it's good stuff; and I never needed prescription glasses until this year and even then, only to enhance my viewing pleasure of Ravens' games and my HDTV.

But 50 years is a looooooong time.

To put 50 into perspective, the average cost of a new home in 1960 was $12,700; a gallon of gas was 25 cents; the average new car cost $2,600; John F. Kennedy was elected President; The Flintstones debuted; Chubby Checker started a new dance craze - The Twist; aluminum cans were used for the first time; the Best Motion Picture was the last black and white picture to win The Oscar - The Apartment; and Are You Lonesome Tonight by Elvis Presley was the Number 1 record on the date of my birth, December 23, 1960.

I am a bit comforted by the fact that I share a birth year with Diego Maradona, Antonio Banderas, Hugh Grant and U2's Bono. Those guys don't seem so old. At least they don't to me.

When I ponder the age of 50, in many ways I feel like I'm still waiting to hit my stride, kind of like the Ravens offense in the second half of games. It's as though someday I'll get to where I want to be - that pinnacle of my hopes and dreams and life up until now, has been an ongoing pursuit of whatever or wherever that pinnacle is or rests.

Perhaps that's the rub of 50. Life shouldn't be about reaching out for that brass ring to attain happiness. The pursuit or the journey is fine but that ring shouldn't define you.

What defines you is the person you become along the way.

So who am I? What have I become?

I suppose that's really not for me to judge, is it?

By now I'm sure many of you have concluded, "Lombardi is struggling with some midlife crisis." And by the generally accepted definition of a midlife crisis, perhaps I am.

But being the optimist I am, I'll look at this so-called crisis as more of an awakening and the alarm clock is this number 50. And as that number approaches it has dawned on me that the pinnacle, the brass ring and whatever it is that I think awaits me if I'm fortunate to get there - wherever there is, maybe isn't all that important. The pursuit will continue; it's in my DNA to be driven that way.

Yet in much the same way that The Grinch realized the importance of Christmas and its true meaning, it has dawned on me that having what I want or at least what I think I want - that ring, isn't anywhere near as important as wanting what I already have.

And what I have is a wonderful family and a group of beautiful people who I can proudly call "friends."

And if that's how I'm defined, well that's alright with me.

Fifty is not going to be so bad.

After all, it's just a number!

"No-call" on Flacco hit could be a blessing in disguise


One play that could turn out to be one of the best no-calls to go against the Ravens took place this past Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium against the New Orleans Saints.

With 2:25 left in the third quarter and the Ravens clinging to a 21-17 lead, Joe Flacco and the offense faced a third and goal from the Saints’ 5 yard line. Rolling out to his right, Flacco was sacked by Jimmy Wilkerson for a 10 yard loss forcing a Billy Cundiff field goal attempt.

However the drive should have been kept alive by a personal foul against the Saints.
Immediately following the sack Will Smith, carried forward towards Flacco by momentum, kneed the Ravens quarterback in the head and then continued to apply pressure with his knee.

Earlier in the game Ed Reed was justifiably called for a glancing blow to Drew Brees’ helmet while trying to strip the Saints QB on a safety blitz. That’s the rule so you live with it and adjust accordingly.

We have all seen how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are beneficiaries of very questionable calls on some extremely incidental contact. I get it, these are your poster boys but let’s keep in mind the rules aren’t in place for certain quarterbacks. They are intended for all quarterbacks.

But let’s get real here…

When a world class 282 pound athlete applies intentional pressure with his knee to the protected temple of a quarterback whose head is sandwiched against the ground, THAT is a bit more severe than a glancing love tap to the noggin of an upright quarterback. Don’t you agree?

Yet the no-call has its benefits.

As we all know the Ravens went on to win the game 30-24. But the fieriness of Joe Flacco (see video below following the play) and the way his team rallied around him may be exactly what the Ravens need as they gear up for the NFL’s second season – the playoffs.

Time will tell but this could be something that John Harbaugh can build upon and it may have awakened a comatose side of Flacco’s personality that could house a 4th quarter killer. It might also rally his offensive line, backs or receivers and inspire them to explode through key blocks, particularly if reminded of this play.

Harbaugh would be wise to remind the team of this great no-call often and borrow from a successful strategy often employed by Brian Billick – an us against the world approach.

It might also give new meaning to the phrase, “Play Like a Raven!”


Steelers and their fans can stop whining


Don't worry, the refs still love you!

For all the Steelers and their fans who want to whine about how the league has it in for them they should be reminded of a few things.

Now I’m not here to list all of the favorable calls the Steelers have been the beneficiaries of over the years beginning with the Immaculate Reception. I’ll leave that up to you below if you choose.

More recent than the infamous Franco Harris catch (or non-catch), a number of calls stand out beginning with a handful of officiating f-ups in Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks and let’s not forget the favorable “re-do” at the Dolphins goal line earlier this season when it appeared as though Miami emerged with the ball following a Ben Roethlisberger fumble.

Let me remind you Western Pennsylvanians that the Steelers took advantage of the lame re-do, kicked a field goal on fourth down and escaped with a 23-22 victory – the difference between a No. 2 seed and a No. 6 seed in the playoffs given Pittsburgh’s recent loss to the Jets.

But even in the loss to Rex Ryan & Co. the game officials at least tried to give the Steelers some more home field edge.

With 11:08 to go in the second quarter v. the Jets, the Steelers had the ball at New York’s 35 yard line. On first down Rashard Mendenhall ran for 9 yards. On the next play Roethlisberger threw incomplete to Mendenhall which would have forced a third and 1.

However, the officials awarded Mendenhall a first down on his 9 yard run (even that was generous) despite being obviously short of the first down. If you want proof, check out this video.

Roethlisberger was sacked on the next play and that should have forced a Steelers’ punt. Instead Pittsburgh was given another shot at a new set of downs and they were successful. Eventually the drive ended with a 9 yard TD pass to Matt Spaeth, knotting the score at 7.

If you want to beat the Steelers, history suggest you have to take out their twelfth man.

He’s the guy wearing a black and white striped shirt.

And for James Harrison, Hines Ward, Ryan Clark and all of the Steelers fans crying another dirty Monongahela River, it’s pretty clear why you all carry around those ugly ass boo hoo towels.

Monday, December 20, 2010

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


On the heels of a very unsettling win in Houston, the Ravens entered yesterday’s game against the Saints with something to prove. Could Drew Brees pick up where Matt Schaub left off (save the walk off Pick 6) and dissect the Ravens soft defense? Would the Ravens offensive line recover from a disastrous performance at Reliant Stadium? How would coordinators Cam Cameron and Greg Mattison respond to their growing mass of critics? The pressure on the team mounted throughout the week despite their 9-4 record and a solid hold on a wild card berth.

John Harbaugh has felt the pressure too. He’s been chippy with the media both locally and nationally and recently took a swipe at critical fans. Word is that after the post game press conference yesterday he went into the team’s shower and exclaimed, “How about them Ravens?”

The team responded enthusiastically with an unintelligible burst of sound.

Perhaps more than the shower heads were letting off some steam…

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco delivered perhaps the finest pass of his career when he connected with Ray Rice in the right corner of the end zone on a 17 yard wheel route. He dropped another pass in the bucket down the right sideline to Derrick Mason for 42 yards. You have to like Flacco’s feistiness too after a late hit wasn’t called on the Saints’ Will Smith following a third quarter sack. Let’s just say Joe accused ref Walt Anderson of maternal fornicating…The offensive line answered their critics and created space for Ray Rice despite the fact that the Saints were selling out to stop the run. The coaching staff was smart to drop the Oniel Cousins Experiment and return Marshal Yanda to the right tackle position. The unit also did a nice job of coordinating their effort in space on screen passes. On the 34 yard Flacco to Ed Dickson scoring connection the offensive front held up well against the blitzing Saints enabling Flacco to deliver a nice ball to his tight end…Cam Cameron called a nice game and if a couple other plays connect, the two red zone failures in the second half may have ended positively and everyone would be exulting Cameron’s praises. Le’Ron McClain’s drop of a would be touchdown and Flacco delivering to TJ Houshmandzadeh a tad late at the 10:14 mark of the fourth quarter could have led to a convincing win. Also Cameron got the mismatch he wanted with Ray Rice and Jonathan Vilma at the 3:04 mark in the fourth but Flacco’s toss was off the mark deep down the middle.

Jarret Johnson chipped in with perhaps his best overall effort of the season. He led the team with 6 solo tackles (7 overall), two for losses. He also had a sack and a forced fumble…Ed Reed has been largely absent in far too many games for a player of his pedigree but he did make a big breakup of a Drew Brees pass intended for Marques Colston for 20 yards at the 2:06 mark of the fourth quarter…The corners (Webb, Wilson and Carr) all played well, particularly Webb…Sam Koch is arguably the game’s best punter and he dropped another pair of wedge shots inside the 10 running his seasonal total to 20. That number is better than the number of punts inside the 20 for half of the league’s punters…Who let the dog out? Dannell Ellerbe made an immediate impact after receiving his parole card from John Harbaugh. The estranged linebacker dialed up 5 solo tackles (6 overall) to go with a sack and a QB hurry…Greg Mattison dialed up the heat with a few new looks in his blitz packages and the team responded well to the assertive play calling against the always tough Drew Brees. If he had more support from his backers and safeties in their pass coverage Mattison could have some game ball consideration.

THE BAD: Dawan Landry has been consistently weak in pass coverage. Look for opposing coordinators to exploit that in the playoffs. His blown coverage of tight end Jimmy Graham for the game’s opening score is a case in point…The Ravens defense also blew a coverage assignment on Graham’s second score (a 1 yard catch) with 25 seconds left in the first half…Cary Williams has potential and could eventually develop into a productive nickel – unless of course he falls out of favor with the coaching staff for boneheaded extracurricular activities such as his jawing and slap fest with Saints’ DB Pierson Priloeau…The blown fourth quarter lead was the Ravens ninth of the season…The team has not scored an offensive touchdown in the second half since Todd Heap caught a Flacco toss in the fourth quarter in Atlanta against the Falcons…The Ravens need to change the way they challenge calls on the field. So far this season they are 1 of 8 and that lost timeout could have been costly…Unfortunately Kelly Gregg’s career is about to touch down like a Fager’s Island sunset.

THE UGLY: The first offensive possession – 3 plays, minus 12 yards…After Michael Oher’s league leading 8th false start a fan shouted, “And that’s why you were adopted!”

THE MEGAN FOX: Success in the post season is often predicated upon a team’s ability to control the football and keep it away from dangerous Super Bowl caliber quarterbacks. The Ravens have struggled nearly all season rushing the football – until yesterday. Ray Rice delivered clutch running plays when needed churning out 153 yards on the ground. He was patient, allowing his blocking to develop and he broke through many suspect tackling efforts from the Saints. Rice also had 80 receiving yards, navigating his way through traffic on screens to go with that picturesque scoring wheel route in the second quarter. Rice also had a 10 yard scamper for a score running off the back side of some great zone blocking from his offensive line.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Deja vu for Bisciott?


During the fall of 2009 we welcomed Steve Bisciotti at the Greene Turtle in Ocean City during our Ravens Rap show. One of the things discussed was Brian Billick’s contract and the financial hit he took by firing the former head coach just one year into his contract extension.

Bisciotti joked, “I didn’t take the hit. My kids did.”

That said I think he’ll do a lot of soul searching and questioning of John Harbaugh before he completes an extension for the three year head coach.

I’ve heard from people in Ravens’ headquarters that the building staff members who aren’t near the top of the food chain at The Castle are not respected by ball coach and his condescending attitude is beginning to wear on them.

Sound familiar?

This is one of the problems that Bisciotti had with Billick.

Bisciotti is a communication freak and constantly encourages the free flow of information and ideas. When those higher up in the food change sport and attitude towards the “lower downs”, it chokes the flow that the Ravens owner nurtures.

Harbaugh deserves his extension but it won’t come without a wakeup call from his boss.

RADIO GAGA @ 105.7 The Fan



Ever since 105.7 The Fan moved Jeremy Conn into the chair opposite Scott Garceau, the show has soared in terms of enjoyment and insightfulness for fans of intelligent sports talk radio. Conn brings preparedness, passion, humor (although at times too far below the belt) and intelligence to Garceau’s program. The pair play off each other well BUT…and maybe this is me BUT the way Conn refers to the Ravens and the Ravens fans as “you guys” really chaps my ass. Conn was born and raised in Baltimore and covers Baltimore sports for a Baltimore sports station and the Ravens are “you guys”? C’mon Conn man! You better recognize! This is your hometown!

The Fan’s Mark Zinno will soon be departing for his second tour of duty in Iraq leaving behind radio sidekick Bruce Cunningham. I’d like to take a moment to thank Zinno for his commitment to country and to those like him who allow the rest of us to sleep under a blanket of security called freedom. It will be interesting to see what 105.7 does to replace Zinno without whom we would be subjected to sports talk radio’s answer to Deputy Dawg. Good luck Mark…return safely, soundly and happily.

For more Rumors & Rants
BANG IT HERE!




Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The "logic" behind the Ravens passive defensive approach



“We didn’t really want to pressure with a 28-7 lead too much in the second half with their receivers, and give them a big play with a one on one coverage situation,” John Harbaugh explained when questioned about the team's passive approach with a commanding lead.

“It’s not something that we felt was smart. Make them go the distance. They converted a couple fourth downs.

“I thought they did a nice job and those were in tight coverage.”

Our message board member NCRaven probably had the best response to Harbaugh's quote when he reminded us of this nugget from the great Samarui:

"Go into battle determined to die, and you will survive. Go into battle hoping to live and you will surely die."

I don’t know what to think about Harbaugh's quote, but when I heard it I couldn't help but to think of this scene from one of my all time favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption.






Tuesday, December 14, 2010

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


The look on John Harbaugh’s face throughout the second half said it all – the Ravens had no answer for the Texans and Baltimore’s skipper knew it. The Texans completely dominated the line of scrimmage after the break and if not for Lady Luck and arguably the franchise’s most important coin toss win in their history, the Ravens would be staring down at an 8-5 record and possibly a downward spiral that could send the season spinning out of control.

That coin toss, the call of “tails” by Houston native Cory Redding, gave a defense running on empty a much needed rest. Had that coin landed with heads up, it may have signaled the beginning of the end of the 2010 campaign.

Time will tell because clearly the Ravens are a flawed team and all of their warts were exposed on the grand stage of Monday Night Football.

THE GOOD: Besides his call on the coin toss Cory Redding clearly played like a man looking to answer the fan fare of his homecoming. He is slowly beginning to shape into the value free agent acquisition the Ravens thought they made this past offseason. He chipped in with 5 tackles, a sack and 3 QB hurries…Lardarius Webb, save for one missed tackle was solid in coverage and he supported the run and the short passing game well with crisp tackling. He dropped the impressive Arian Foster for a 2 yard loss at the Ravens 6 yard line to help thwart a Texans’ drive and force a field goal. Plus he had a couple of key knockdowns on deep passes to Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones.

For a change the Ravens Red Zone efficiency was a perfect 3 for 3. The trouble is it was an area of the field that the offense failed to visit in the second half. The Ravens’ offense could do no better than the Texans’ 38 yard line after intermission…Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs get kudos for effort. Ngata used the short break after regulation to create havoc for two plays and force Matt Schaub to back up in the end zone leading to the walk off INT by Josh Wilson…Special Teams were very solid. Billy Cundiff added 3 to his league leading total of 37 touchbacks while Sam Koch pinned the Texans inside the 10 yard line 5 times. Lardarius Webb is improving as a punt returner while David Reed’s purposeful running as a kick return yielded big dividends – a 103 yard kick return for a score and a 38.8 yard average…The Ravens were disciplined if not effective with only 3 penalties for 15 yards.

Joe Flacco doesn’t do much to reset plays or force opponents to tip their hand pre-snap nor is he what you might describe as a cerebral QB, but in the face of extreme pressure, he deserves credit for completing 67% of his passes and a passer rating of 107.5. You can question many things about Flacco but no one can question his physical toughness. That said he does hold on to the ball far too long.

THE BAD: Jarret Johnson failed to contain on the edges and was overmatched most of the evening…Ed Reed, for a player who is supposed to be an impact player he had little to no positive effect on the game. Reed is too often out of position and was responsible for two of Matt Schaub’s 3 TD passes…Pass protection from Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain was very shaky…John Harbaugh, why not use one of your timeouts at the end of regulation to give your defense the break they were just screaming for? It was on par with kicking over a soldier’s canteen after hours in the dessert…The Ravens had only 2 sacks despite the fact that Schaub dropped back to throw 64 times...HELP WANTED: Ravens strength and conditioning coach...Greg Mattison for choosing to send only 3 or 4 pass rushers. Wasn't it clear that Schaub was only ineffective when backing up or pressured? "7 Mississippi" seemed to be Mattison's play call of choice last night.

THE UGLY: The offensive line was beaten badly all evening. They couldn’t create space in the running game (2.6 yards per carry) and Joe Flacco was sacked or hurried on 14 of 38 drop backs (37%). Schematics, personnel, coaching – it all needs to be put under the scope because this thing is broken…Cam Cameron had absolutely no answer for the Texans’ blitz in the second half, particularly Bernard Pollard who had 8 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Teams will continue to blitz the Ravens until they answer or until Flacco can’t get off the field without a stretcher. What might have happened last night if Mario Williams was healthy?

More Cameron; the decision to throw the football on third and 2 from the Texans’ 44 yard line with 2:54 left in the game was a case of déjà vu all over again. Didn’t they learn from their egregious mistake the week before against the Steelers? The Texans had no timeouts left and for a team that had stressed running the football throughout the practice week, the Ravens’ play call amounts to a choke and a signal that the Texans were kicking the Ravens’ ass at the line of scrimmage…Derrick Mason’s drop of a potential 75 yard TD was painful to watch as was Jarret Johnson trying to chase down Matt Schaub…During the second half and overtime the Ravens were dominated. The Ravens ran 23 plays v. 53 plays for the Texans; the Texans had 20 first downs compared to 5 for the Ravens; Houston put up 301 yards of offense after intermission compared to 71 for the Ravens…Joe Flacco told ESPN during interviews leading up to the game that he is an elite quarterback. Does Joe know what elite means? You be the judge.

THE MEGAN FOX: That second half following David Reed’s electrifying 103 kick return was so ugly that Megan Fox nearly left Reliant Stadium before the game was over. Fortunately for all of us she (he) didn’t. Josh Wilson supported the run; he broke up a couple of big passes and despite being the beneficiary of Kevin Walter’s knee hitting the sideline on a would be TD pass, he kept battling and made a huge play when it was so desperately needed – a walk off pick 6.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What's in store for the Ravens O-Line?


Last year, Michael Oher looked like a steal when drafted No. 23 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. This season he has struggled often at left tackle and he is the team’s most penalized player. He’ll need to answer his critics with a turnaround in his performance. In 2009 the team boasted and expressed surprise about how Oher was available so late in the first round. This season some are looking at players like Clay Matthews, Vontae Davis and Hakeem Nicks and they wonder aloud how those players might look in purple.

As for the rest of the offensive line, look for the Ravens to stick with Oher at left tackle and augment the line in the draft on the right side. Word is the Ravens would like to add a right tackle or guard depending upon the availability of players on their draft board. The team is said to be very pleased with the play of Marshal Yanda at right tackle but would prefer to move him to guard where they think he has the potential to be an All Pro.

The time will come in 2011 or 2012 to move on from Matt Birk. Insiders believe that Chris Chester can be a very good center against a 4-3 defense but they have concerns with him against a 3-4 and that’s an alignment synonymous with Dick LeBeau’s defense in Pittsburgh. Therefore don’t expect the Ravens to hand that job over to the 2006 draft’s 56th overall pick.

Ray Lewis coming throught the tunnel


Baltimore Magazine had a feature recently allowing its readers to get a feel for what it’s like to be a Raven. They asked Ray Lewis what it felt like to come out of the tunnel during pregame introductions.

“I pray all the time. That’s my time alone. The crowd is crazy, but I give God every piece of my energy, because I know what I’m about to go do to my body. I really go into my own zone when I’m there to completely be free. That’s the way I play. I don’t like nothing else outside of the pure moment of the competition.

"When they introduce me, you can’t hear, but that’s the electricity that’s going through the building. It’s just like ‘boom!’ ’cause everybody’s screaming so loud. I never plan it. It’s only in the moment. I deal with God directly, so when he gives it to me, I give it to [the crowd]. That Sunday will never be again. That’s what I always relay to them. I don’t care what you do, don’t hesitate on nothing, just play the game out, let the game take care of itself, because once this game is over, it’s over. That’s why it has to be about that moment. Whether it’s a game, whether it’s business, whether it’s kids, whether it’s life, it’s always that moment that you gotta be prepared.”

Other players feature in this interesting
Baltimore Magazine piece include: Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, Haloti Ngata, John Harbaugh, Terrell Suggs and Anquan Boldin.

The violence of the game is often understated and fans don’t see what these players go through during the days following a game to restore their bodies. Ray’s comments remind us of that.

Friday, December 10, 2010

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL Q&A: Ravens @ Texans


Covers.com reached out to me recently to do a little Q&A on the Ravens Monday Night battle against the Texans.

The Ravens' disappointing offense seems to be taking the brunt of the criticism following last week's loss to the Steelers. Baltimore has a lot of talent on its offense but owns a middle-of-the-pack attack. If Cam Cameron asked you, what would you suggest to improve this underperforming unit?

1. Improve on third down: John Harbaugh recently pointed out that the Ravens' failures in that department stem from too many third and long situations. For me that means Cameron needs to be more productive on first down. Short passes early in the down and distance sequence can be an extension of the running game which by the way is struggling. This allows Cameron to open up the playbook when he's in second and 5 and third and 2 situations. Set up the run with the pass and watch the league's 18th ranked third down offense improve.

2. Slow down the defense: One of the best ways to exploit defenses is to get them to play slower. They'll play slower if they have to think more. Less predictable formations and sub packages with a few gadget plays will force a defense to hold their ground for a split second longer and those split seconds are often the difference between a failed or successful play.

3. More Willis! McGahee is a very capable blocker and as such there's no reason not to have him on the field with Ray Rice at times. His presence places more pressure on a defense than Le'Ron McClain. I'm not suggesting that McGahee become the team's fullback, but instead become a more utilized multi-dimensional talent.

4. Unleash Flacco! It's time for the Ravens signal caller to grow up. He has 49 career starts under his belt (5 playoff games) and it's time for Cameron to trust in him some more, allowing him to use audibles in order to make the proper presnap adjustments.

5. We Like to Move it Move it: Get the plays in more quickly...The Ravens don't leave much time for presnap adjustments. When Flacco finally gets to the LOS, he usually only has time to set the offense and then run the called play and sometimes those plays are doomed from the start. Watch how the better QB's get to the line early, bark out false snap counts to get the defense to commit or show where the blitz is coming from. That allows the QB and the offensive line to adjust and improve the play's chance for success.

6. More no huddle: Flacco is a rhythmic passer and he seems to find his groove more quickly operating a no huddle offense.

7. Mix it up: Change up personnel groupings in short yardage situations...The Ravens have failed miserably in situations where they are 3rd or 4th and 2 or less, converting less than 40%. Why not feature a jumbo package with Le'Ron McClain as a tailback and Haloti Ngata as the fullback. Bring in two tight ends and don't be afraid to loosen the defense up when in such a sub package by throwing out of that formation as well. Remember, the more the defense has to think, the slower they play and the better chance for offensive success.

8. Get hot in the red zone...The Ravens are 25th in the league in red zone scoring. That's completely unacceptable with the talent they have. Too often the Ravens run to the middle in the red zone and throw to the outside. The most successful red zone teams seem to do the opposite in the red zone -- throwing to the middle and running to the edge.

Last season, the Ravens were at the top of the league in takeaways per game but they've fallen nearly to last in the league in this category this season. What gives?

The Ravens at the moment are -2 in turnover ratio good for 16th best in the league. It's not as though the offense is giving it away more but rather a case of the defense not forcing turnovers the way they have in the past. Part of this can be attributed to Ed Reed missing the first 6 games of the season. Part of it can also be explained away by a poor pass rush. Reed is now back while defensive coordinator Greg Mattison seems to have found his groove in dialing up a more threatening pass rush thanks to Terrell Suggs who has been a beast over the past few weeks and to Jarret Johnson's improved health.

Which matchup (offense or defense) do you expect the Ravens to try and exploit most often against the Texans?

I expect the Ravens to attack the Texans' weak secondary. They are 31st in the league defending the pass and I fully expect Cam Cameron to test them on Monday with a steady diet of Boldin-Mason-Houshmandzadeh-Stallworth. If the Ravens can successfully neutralize Mario Williams, I expect a big day from Joe Flacco. Fantasy players with Anquan Boldin on their rosters will be rewarded.

Who are the Ravens worried about stopping more on Monday - Andre Johnson or Arian Foster?

Both are huge threats but Johnson isn't exactly healthy so my bet is that they are more concerned about Foster. Winning first down and keeping Foster in check early in the down and distance sequence can take away the threat of play action and allow Terrell Suggs to pin back his ears and put Matt Schaub to the test and hopefully on his back.

Final score prediction:

The Ravens haven't been successful putting teams away and that's always a tough task on the road on Monday night and this time against a well rested team. Some might say they beat up on the Panthers (37-13) but that score isn't indicative of how close to the vest the Ravens played the game. With less than 4 minutes the score was 20-13 before a field goal and a couple of defensive pick 6's. I expect more of the same on Monday, with the Ravens struggling to put away Houston yet ultimately succeeding.

RAVENS 31 TEXANS 24

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Talking Texans


The Texans lost to the Eagles in Philly on Thursday December 2. They fought back to take the lead after three quarters (24-20) but ultimately relinquished that lead falling 34-24. The Texans are 5-7 on the season with four of their wins coming at Reliant Stadium, including impressive wins over Tennessee (20-0 on 11/28), Kansas City (35-31 on 10/17) and the Colts, 34-24, on opening day (9/12).

The Ravens are 3-0 all time against the Texans, producing a 2-0 mark in Houston. Baltimore last faced the Texans in 2008, with the Ravens emerging 41-13 in Houston.

The Texans offense is led by QB Matt Schaub who ranks in the NFL’s top 10 in completions (258), attempts (403), completion percentage (64.0) and yards (3,089). He has also thrown 17 TDs to just 8 INTs. RB Arian Foster leads the league with 1,230rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs. The Texans’ 16 rushing TDs are also an NFL high. WR Andre Johnson is one of just four players in 2010 to surpass the 1,000 receiving yards mark (1,018) and has 71 catches with 5 TDs.

On defense the Texans are a bit leaky, allowing a league-high 298.3 passing yards per game and 27 TDs, while the run defense ranks 10th, permitting just 101.4 yards per game. Although Houston’s 19 sacks are the league’s fourth-fewest, DE Mario Williams has accounted for 8.5 QB drops this season.

Here’s a video featuring the Houston Chronicle’s widely respected John McClain covering the issues the Texans have faced and what they’ll need to do to compete with the Ravens on Monday Night.




Ravens Rants: Blowing off a little steam!



HEAD & SHOULDERS & FORCED FUMBLES ~ The more I think about the Ravens failure to kill the clock late in the fourth quarter when facing a second and 5 with 3:22 left in the game, the more I think Cam Cameron was just plain arrogant in his play calling. The way the Ravens’ defense was playing, you have to run the ball there to kill some clock and if not AT LEAST you make sure you get a hat on their best playmaker, Troy Polamalu. The Steelers were desperate to create a big play and the Ravens teed it up perfectly!

NO ONIEL, NO OLE’ ~ Why wasn’t Oniel Cousins in the game for more snaps to help support the running game (or lack thereof)? Instead they ask Ed Dickson to do something he does rather poorly (blocking) against the very formidable James Harrison and Lamar Woodley?

JUST HIRED & GETS A PAID VACATION ALREADY? If you sign a fullback, why not use him? The Ravens did that last week with Jason McKie. Why bother signing the guy if you aren’t going to play him? The guy is a nine year vet and if he isn’t good for a dozen plays even if it is his first week, what’s the point? My guess is that they’ll release the guy sometime within the next 2 weeks.

86’d BY 83 ~ Back to Dickson, it is pretty obvious judging from the number of times Joe Flacco targeted tight ends that Todd Heap was a huge part of Cam Cameron’s game plan against the Steelers. But when the reliable Heap left the game with a hamstring injury, Cameron should have adjusted. That play in the right corner of the end zone on second and goal at the 6 at the 7:28 mark of the third quarter amounted to nothing more than a wasted and hurried play. And from the looks of the team’s second to last offensive play when Dickson made a tough catch and tried to roll out of bounds, the pitch and catch combo obviously were on different pages. That was another wasted first down opportunity.

No More Popcorn for Flacco


Ever wonder what these coaches do with Joe Flacco all week, particularly during film sessions? I know I do! He has not improved at all with the game’s little subtleties, the nuances that often separate average quarterbacking from above average to excellent quarterbacking.

Flacco doesn’t get to the line early enough to survey or to use false snap counts to get the defense to commit pre-snap so as to allow the line to reset their blocking assignments. Even Brian St. Pierre did that to the Ravens in Charlotte a few weeks back. Let the man grow up and let’s not even go to the lack of audibles, you know…those things that Cameron called overrated.

I’m fighting these thoughts and the obvious parallels, but has anyone noticed how Drew Brees’ and Philip Rivers’ careers soared when they no longer worked with Cam? Coincidence? Maybe…

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Shine on John Lennon, shine on...


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.

For me it had to be something from The Fab Four but the challenge was to choose the right one. Which would it be? There are so many. In My Life? Maybe. Let it Be? Possibly.

But then it struck me. It struck me like instant karma.

Imagine!

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 this tour de force 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

Imagine.

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 suddenly 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 sat in our 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 which was easily blocked out until I heard those words:

"John Lennon shot."

Those words exploded through the background noise and gripped my consciousness with the force of 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."

Almost without hesitation and as if guided by some spiritual force I retreated to my room.

Once there, I reached for my Beatles' albums and the headphones and listened.

I don't recall hearing anything really. 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?

Tens of thousands will descend upon Strawberry Fields in Central Park, NY on December 8, 2010 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of John’s senseless slaying. This year I’m unable to make the journey – at least physically.

Thanks John for inspiring so many in so many ways and for challenging us all to imagine the possibilities.

Your spirit will forever shine on… like the moon, and the stars and the sun...


Monday, December 06, 2010

The Good, Bad, Ugly and The Megan Fox: Ravens v. Steelers



This was a playoff game and the spoils for the winner – control of the AFC North. The game played out as many thought it might, a physical closely fought battle between archrivals that harbor a respectful disdain for each other.

Point blank the Ravens should have won the game.

They failed because the Steelers’ have a prime time quarterback who steps up and consistently makes big plays when they’re needed most, particularly in the series between these clubs. Joe Flacco is a primetime wannabe who has shown signs of stepping up to the level of some of his more accomplished peers but the fact is he’s just not there yet. His short-hopped throw to a wide open Ed Dickson to seal the Ravens’ fate on Sunday Night is all the proof you need. He had an opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and came up as short as his errant pass.

THE GOOD: While he struggled at times, Joe Flacco did make some outstanding throws unfortunately none of them took place when the Ravens failed on three consecutive pass attempts from the Steelers’ six yard line…Save for one missed blocking assignment on James Farrior, Ray Rice was very good in pass protection checking Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu at different times throughout the game…Anquan Boldin played like he had a score to settle with the team he lost to in Super Bowl XLIII chipping in with 5 catches, 118 yards and a score…

Jarret Johnson had another fine effort with solid outside containment and occasional pressure…Cory Redding finally turned in the type of performance (6 tackles, 1 sack) the team expected when they signed him this past offseason…Haloti Ngata continues to build a case for All Pro consideration. He manhandled the Steelers’ offensive line the entire game…Marshal Yanda continues to deliver on the offensive line no matter where the Ravens position him. On Sunday he even provided support at left tackle in a couple of unbalanced formations…Billy Cundiff, whatever vitamins you are on keep it a secret. His amazing string of touchbacks continues despite blustery conditions that weren’t very inviting.

THE BAD: Ed Dickson struggled with his blocking assignments and made no one forget Todd Heap when he dropped a perfectly thrown pass from Joe Flacco that could have gone for a 30+ yard gain…Haruki Nakamura cost the Ravens twice – once when he mugged Heath Miller negating a sack of Ben Roethlisberger that would have forced the Steelers to punt from inside their own 18. On the same drive he came in untouched on a blitz dialed up by Greg Mattison but Roethlisberger easily avoided Nakamura and connected with Emmanuel Sanders for 28 yards to set up a field goal…Josh Wilson’s open field tackling was uncharacteristically poor and Dawan Landry failed to make a rather easy tackle on Isaac Redman and his inability to do so led to the game winning score…

Brendon Ayanbadejo’s false start on an aborted first quarter fake punt negated what would have been a significant gain by upback Nakamura…Cory Redding took the Roethlisberger bait (the hard cadence) and committed a neutral zone infraction that kept a Steelers’ scoring drive alive…Michael Oher’s play of late is more reminiscent of Orlando Brown’s and not Jon Ogden’s. His holding and false starts are unfortunately becoming the norm rather than the exception…Ed Reed, what are you thinking about with your unnecessary gambling on that punt return near your own goal line? If a rookie had done that, well you know…

THE UGLY: The Ravens had this game won if they only played for 60 minutes. Cam Cameron’s pull in the reins style is growing old to watch and word is it is wearing thin on the players as well. How long before this spills over to the defense? Cameron has a history of backing off and playing not to lose. Sunday was no different. The Ravens offense failed to capitalize on great field position. Twice the Ravens started drives just on their side of midfield and both times they were three and out. In the third quarter after a 67 yard pass play to Donte Stallworth to set a first and 10 at Pittsburgh’s 27, the Ravens punted 3 plays later after the Steelers pushed them back to the 43. The three successive pass plays after the Ravens had it first and goal from the 6 were the epitome of ugly. The first two were low percentage tosses, one to a rookie tight end who obviously isn’t in synch with his quarterback.

Cameron’s decision to go with a three step drop throw on 2nd and 5 with 3:22 to go from the Ravens 43 while holding a 10-6 lead was a bit oxymoronic. Cameron has called off the dogs in the past to go conservative and when a conservative run was in order to burn up more clock, the Ravens gave the Steelers an opportunity to produce a big play, something they prey upon. To burn the clock down to 2 minutes with two more runs and then send in Sam Koch to punt from a favorable spot on the field would have pinned the Steelers deep in their own end. Given the way the Ravens defense was playing, taking it the length of the field for a touchdown would have been extremely difficult even for the dramatic Roethlisberger…

Cameron chose to completely abandon any attempt to establish a running game. The Ravens signed FB Jason McKie this week but chose to put him on the inactive list. And the point of the signing was? With the ability of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee to pass protect, why not try both in the backfield at the same time?

Hey Chris Collinsworth, nice to know you bleed black and gold. Maybe you are still afraid of the Steelers…Ravens Marketing Dept., your purple towel idea was a joke to begin with. Copying a lame prop from your archrival and then choosing a color that doesn’t stand out but simply blends in with the purple clad fans? What were you thinking? And to make matters worse, many fans didn’t even get one because the stadium attendants handing them out didn’t care if you helped yourself to 1 or 20. Not only that, it made entering the stadium a colossal cluster you-know-what. And one more thing, if you want to showcase Toyota products (and we love Toyota), put them on the field along the sidelines not in Unitas Plaza where they only made the queuing even more cumbersome.

THE MEGAN FOX: It has been quite some time since we’ve seen such a dominant performance against the Steelers like the one that Terrell Suggs delivered on Sunday. Nearly single handedly he forced Pittsburgh into settling for a field goal after the 28 yard completion from Roethlisberger to Sanders set up a first and goal at the two. Then just before the game winner to Redman, Suggs nearly brought down and stripped the Steelers’ signal caller. He was menacing the entire night both in run support and in his relentless pursuit of Roethlisberger. He had 1 ½ sacks, 5 quarterback hurries and 5 tackles, 3 of which were for losses. There’s little doubt that the best player on the field Sunday night for the Ravens was No. 55.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Flacco set to take a big step tonight


Joe Flacco took a huge step in his career when he rallied the Ravens in Pittsburgh to beat the Steelers 17-14 during Week 4 of the 2010 season. And count me among those who believe that game winning pass to TJ Houshmandzadeh with 34 seconds remaining will take Flacco to a new level when he takes on the Ravens arch rival.

The signs have been there. Since the 2009 season Flacco has stared down the Steelers 3 times and he’s produced a QB rating of 89.3 and if not for Derrick Mason’s drop of a perfectly thrown pass last December 27, he would have a 94.5 rating. Taking that a step further, if not for the drop Flacco would be riding a 3 game winning streak against the Steelers.

Tonight’s game against the Steelers sets up nicely for the Ravens signal caller and this could be the game that tilts this rivalry in favor of Baltimore – if Flacco protects the football.

During his career, Flacco has lost 7 fumbles. Three of those turnovers were at the hands of the Steelers.

It seems that every time these teams hook up at least once during the game, Flacco will hold the ball a bit too long – the equivalent of football chum in the water for the sharks named Harrison and Woodley. It’s a rather disturbingly bad habit that Flacco has developed. If he can avoid such mental breakdowns, cut his losses and throw the ball away and avoid such game changing plays, this game might actually be a convincing win for the Ravens.

Cut your losses Joe and you’ll add one to the “L” column for the Steelers.

Ravens 23, Steelers 17

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Dirty Finnegan, Whining Hard


Andre Johnson is said to be a mild-mannered guy who respects the game, coaches and teammates. And for the most part he respects his opponents – unless that opponent is Cortland Finnegan.

Finnegan is said to be a player who is engaged in the community and a giving person off the field. But when Finnegan steps between the lines a switch is flipped and his version of Mr. Hyde is unleashed. It’s then that he morphs into a punk and a hot head.

And he gets dirty!

Just ask his peers who voted Finnegan the league’s sixth dirtiest player last season. You have to wonder where he’d rank in 2010. According to ProFootballTalk.com Finnegan aspires to be named “the” dirtiest player in the NFL.

Can this guy really be that stupid?

Perhaps the most endearing thing Finnegan has done in recent years is the way he laid out Hines Ward during the 2008 season (pictured).

Speaking of Ward and dirt, last year’s Sports Illustrated dirtiest player poll placed the Steelers all-time pass catcher at the top of the list. Now Ward is quickly becoming one of the league’s biggest whiners too, hence the alias, Whines Hard. Check out this VIDEO.

I don’t know about you but I find it amusing that one of the biggest cheap shot artists in league history is concerned about player safety. And he has the stones to call the league’s ivory tower a bunch of hypocrites?

C’mon man!

Will someone wearing purple PLEASE Cortland Finnegan his ass up on Sunday Night!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Coming up short in short yardage…


The Ravens have struggled to convert on third and fourth and short this season and they’ve looked out of synch and confused when trying. During the 2010 campaign the Ravens have attempted to convert on third and fourth down with 2 or less yards to go 30 times and they’ve been successful just 13 times (43%). They’ve lost yardage on such plays twice and produces no gain on ten tries. Their biggest gain was 23 yards (a connection between Joe Flacco and TJ Houshmandzadeh) and their worst effort, a 14 yard loss at home against the Broncos on fourth and goal. Overall they’ve averaged 1.83 yards on these 30 attempts.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Will Someone Let the Dogs Out?


We are all too painfully aware of the tirelessly overplayed song, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" Perhaps a welcomed sequel might be, "Will Someone Let the Dogs Out?"

Why?

Well, let's just say I'm beginning to wonder if John Harbaugh's doghouse has been overbooked lately. How about we hang a "No Vacancy" sign on that Puppy Palace, eh?

Last year Dannell Ellerbe exceeded expectations with his play alongside Ray Lewis to close the 2009 season. The position seemed to be Ellerbe's to lose as the team headed into summer camp. Yet it never played out that way. Almost from day 1 of camp, most of the first team reps went to Jameel McClain.

McClain is a guy who has seen hard times. He's persevered and emerged on the plus side of life. As an undrafted free agent he beat the odds, just as he beat homelessness as a youth. It's a great story no doubt but the story doesn't assure great or even competent play as Lewis' sidekick.

McClain has disappeared at times, hardly what you seek in a linebacker whose job is to rack up tackles after super-sized D-linemen eat up blockers. When he does make a play, McClain is sure everyone in the stadium is aware. He'll celebrate more demonstratively than the Hall of Famer he plays beside.

The point here however isn't to beat up on McClain. He's simply an average player being asked to deliver Pro Bowl-like performances because that's what the Ravens are accustomed to from the position.

But it's just not happening.

And this makes the outcast treatment of Dannell Ellerbe that much more puzzling.

When will the guy get a bone?

How long before he convinces ball coach that he's learned a lesson?

You can almost hear Ellerbe's plea now: "I will learn to love special teams, I promise coach!"

If you are a Ravens player and somehow slip into Harb's Barkhouse, it's the equivalent of a bitter ex-wife becoming your boss and guess what? You're not coming out for a long, long time - even if it hurts the team.

And this isn't just about Ellerbe. We've seen it with Willis McGahee as well and we've seen it with departed DE Antwan Barnes. Barnes we learned didn't embrace his special teams role either and consequently, he too earned a suite in the Puppy Palace and ultimately he was flea-marketed for a 7th round pick from the Eagles despite the fact that the Ravens are severely deficient in the pass rushing department.

Boy we sure did need that Lamar Divens now didn't we? He's been active for all of 2 games this season without a measurable stat. He has some special teams upside, right?

And how about that Brandon McKinney - a healthy scratch in the last four games.

Meanwhile we see Barnes in high profile games against the Patriots and Colts play like a menacing presence as a situational substitute. Couldn't he have helped the Ravens just a tad more than Divens?

Ah, but see, there's this doghouse thing going on.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a Harbaugh guy but that doesn't mean I'm drinking the Kool-Aid. He's hardly infallible and these faults coupled with some other questionable choices (Prince Miller over Bryan McCann and placing his only fullback on special teams) have done little to help the club.

No one is perfect and therefore there's room for improvement for everyone.

For Harbaugh a good place to start might be a fall cleaning of the doghouse.

Here poochie, poochie, poochie!

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


The Ravens faced off yesterday against a Tampa team with an identical 7-3 mark prior to kickoff. Not long thereafter it was clear which team was more talented. It just took a while before the disparity in skill level showed up on the scoreboard.

The 17-10 win keeps the Ravens technically in first place over the Steelers (also 8-3) given their victory in Pittsburgh in Week 4. As if this rivalry needed more drama, this Sunday Night sets up as a pivotal brawl - for all intents and purposes a divisional championship game.

It's difficult to predict what you will get from the Ravens. They seem to do only what they need to do to win and last night was no exception. After staking a 17-3 halftime lead, the Ravens failed to score again and once more they failed to put a team away.

Let's get to it...

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco was 25 of 35 for 289 yards and 2 scores. His only interception was a clear case of waiting far too long to deliver the ball to a wide open TJ Houshmandzadeh. If not for Derrick Mason successfully wrestling one pass away from Bucs CB Aqib Talib the game could have turned in Tampa's favor. But give Flacco credit for some beautiful throws (particularly threading the needle on the Mason score) and for recognizing a break down in the Bucs coverage on the 65 yard connection to Todd Heap...Mason had a solid effort save for one drop but let's give him his due for a productive evening (8 catches for 87 yards and a TD) and a clutch "defensive play" on Talib...Ray Rice had a productive night and was one bad officiating call away from a 200+ yard outing...Despite looking lost at times in coverage Jarret Johnson turned in a very solid game holding down the edge and penetrating the Tampa backfield fairly regularly. Johnson had 10 tackles...Josh Wilson is about as sure a tackler that the Ravens have. He was solid in coverage when tested and supported both the run and the bubble screens very well...The defensive front did a nice job containing LaGarrette Blount for most of the game, limiting him to 55 yards on 13 carries...Chris Carr is a quietly steady performer and Sunday was no exception...The Ravens continue to get plus performances from Sam Koch and Billy Cundiff. One leads the league in punts inside the 20 while the other sets the pace with touchbacks.

THE BAD: As mentioned the Ravens lack a knockout punch and they allow teams that they should put away to hang around. Unless that changes it will haunt them in January and the brunt of the blame here goes on the coaching staff, particularly Cam Cameron who notoriously eases off the throttle and for John Harbaugh who allows it to happen. It's borderline criminal that Cameron doesn't involve Boldin more in the passing game...The pass protection from Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice needs to improve. Their failures led to two sacks...Sacks were an issue. Some of the blame falls on Flacco for holding the ball too long. Perhaps that's why play-by-play TV announcer Sam Rosen referred to Flacco as Joe Sacko during the broadcast...The officiating crew seemed lost at times. Despite Raheem Morris' meltdown over a pass interference call against Myron Lewis, the officials got it right. The same can't be said for a very questionable "Blocking Above the Waist" penalty against Anquan Boldin negating a 76 yard catch and run touchdown from Flacco to Rice and Barrett Ruud's mugging of Todd Heap that should have produced another first down and helped keep another second half drive alive in Tampa territory.

THE UGLY: Injuries to Michael Oher and Le'Ron McClain could be very costly to the Ravens if either or both are unable to go Sunday night against the Steelers. Neither had a particularly effective game prior to their respective departures. Dawan Landry suffered what appears to be a mild concussion. Time will tell if the hard hitting safety will be able to go against Pittsburgh.

THE MEGAN FOX: Tough to come up with a truly standout performance in this rather boring game but let's give this week's nod to Todd Heap for hauling in an extremely timely 65 yard TD pass, something you rarely see from a tight end.

That was an invisible piano he was carrying on his back while plodding down the field, wasn't it?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lets' focus on the winning and ditch the whining!


It was difficult to find comfort in the Ravens performance against the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday. Once again they failed to put away an inferior team. The defensive scores at the end of the game for me were on par with the Orioles scoring 2 game clinching runs because the Yankees committed a couple of throwing errors.

It felt a bit empty and I know many of you feel the same way.

After decompressing, marinating in what was against the Panthers, I took a step back and looked at the big picture and then reflected upon my own preseason projections.

Most of us will look at the Ravens schedule before the season kicks off and project wins and losses. I had the Ravens going 11-5 and I can tell you without a smidgen of hesitation that I plotted the Ravens exact course to 7-3 back in August.

I think the Ravens are in a good spot.

No they are not setting the world on fire and they are clearly a flawed team.

But what team among the teams with winning records isn’t a flawed team?

Isn’t it better to sit here at 7-3 and say with absolute certainty that the Ravens have yet to play their best football in 2010? There are no style points awarded by the NFL. A win is a win is a win. We only need to look back to the 2000 season for proof of that.

Do you think that 15-10 win over Jacksonville during the Super Bowl season was a thing of beauty?

What about that 10-3 loss to the Redskins or the 13-7 win over the hapless Arizona Cardinals?

The Ravens were flawed in 2000 and they are flawed now but in the end, it doesn’t matter how pretty a team is standing. What matters is that they ARE standing.

Can the Ravens get better? ABSOLUTELY!

Will they? Well that remains to be seen but if they do, anything can happen because the NFL today is about as mediocre as I can ever remember. No team is dominant and more than ever before the overused cliché “Any Given Sunday” resonates.

Three weeks ago the Patriots were waxed by the Cleveland Browns. Today they are considered the league’s best team after wins against the Steelers and the Colts. How will they be considered two weeks from now?

We don’t know.

What we do know is the Ravens are in the mix, they can get better, there’s no team they can’t beat and they control their own destiny.

The Ravens are where many of us thought they’d be – even hoped they’d be.

So in this the season of thanks, let’s be thankful we are winning and stop all the whining!



A Great Raven's career winds down


My first memory of Kelly Gregg dates back to summer camp 2001 when he inadvertently ended Jamal Lewis' sophomore NFL season after he submarined the Ravens tailback and tore his ACL. The darting move would be one that would define Kelly Gregg's career.

Undersized but stout, Gregg borrowed from his wrestling skill set to gain leverage against much bigger opponents. He established the leverage through a combination of great technique, timing and quickness. How else can you explain why Gregg, perhaps the slowest man on the field in a foot race was able to once catch the fastest (Mike Vick) and then body slam him to the turf?

Bart Scott told me often when I hosted his show back in 2007, the Ravens defense starts and ends with Kelly Gregg. Perhaps Bart overstated Gregg's importance a bit but the message was clear - that disruptive and relatively pint-sized defensive tackle ignited the Ravens defense, formerly known as organized chaos.

Gregg joined us down at Della Rose's in Canton for one of Bart's shows. The shows ran from 6-8PM and I would arrive to set up and do some pre-show prep at around 5:30. Almost always Bart arrived fashionably late and as the torturously underachieving season progressed, his tardiness grew increasingly exaggerated.

But Gregg arrived before I did during his guest appearance. I went to the bar where Kelly was enjoying a burger and a Budweiser before we started the show. He is exactly the type of person you would expect him to be: down-to-Earth, unpretentious, polite, funny, engaging and happy-go-lucky. He is the little engine that could; the underdog who succeeded. He is exactly the type of athlete, like the Art Donovans and the Tony Sirgusas before him, that Baltimore embraces and endears itself to.

It's been a great run for this overachiever, one that should have included at least one Pro Bowl nomination. But that was never to be and it never will be. I doubt that bothers Kelly at all. He'd probably prefer to have a beer in an Edmond, Oklahoma neighborhood tavern than fly to Honolulu anyway.

Unfortunately for Kelly and Ravens' fans, the 11 year vet appears to be nearing the end of the road. That powerful, menacing presence in opponent's backfield just doesn't have that quick first step any longer and without it, he's unable to gain the leverage that made him so successful against the behemoths he's faced. Today more times than not, he's gobbled up by larger foes.

Whatever happens from this point forward, Ravens fans can and will always be thankful for Gregg. They will always remember fondly Baltimore's Buddy Lee - No. 97 on the scorecard and No. 1 in the hearts of many here in Ravenstown.