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?"


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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ravens Notes & The Inside Skinny

The Ravens play four of their final six games at the comfy confines of M&T Bank Stadium. The two road games are in Houston and Cleveland which carry a combined round trip travel distance of just under 3,100 miles. Two of the last three games are in Baltimore; home games against the Saints and Bengals sandwich a roadie against the Browns. The Ravens should be well rested for the playoffs. Taxing travel and an unfavorable schedule are not valid excuses for any missteps during the balance of the regular season.

Lardarius Webb did not record a defensive statistic against the Panthers. Chris Carr started opposite Josh Wilson while Webb was relegated to about 10 snaps as the nickel. Might the coaching staff be sending a message to the promising second year player or is this simply a case of Carr and Wilson being more deserving. Webb you may recall was a very effective blitzer as a nickel in 2009. This competition will be an interesting one to watch.

In the past the Ravens lacked fire power in the passing game. Might they not have too much? It seems to me that there is an unnecessary amount of attention placed on ball distribution. It might be time for the Ravens to simply go with what is working best and not be so concerned about hurt feelings. For my money, the trio of Boldin-Mason-Stallworth is a more complementary posse than one that replaces Stallworth with Houshmandzadeh.

Much was made on message boards about a confrontation between Joe Flacco and Derrick Mason on the Ravens sideline during Sunday's game against the Panthers. From what we hear, the verbal sparring was born out of competitive frustration - two players challenging each other. I'd be more worried if they didn't care enough. Word is there are no hard feelings stemming from the spat.

Josh Wilson was torched for an 88 yard score by Panthers' rookie WR David Gettis. One source has indicated that just prior to the snap the Ravens changed the back end coverage from Cover 2 to Cover 3. In a Cover 2 scheme, both safeties play deep halves of the field and the corners play shorter zones. In a Cover 3 the corners and the free safety cover deep thirds and the strong safety moves into a short zone. Wilson didn't get "the memo" and played Cover 2 while the others repositioned for Cover 3.

A bad pre-snap communication cost the Ravens 7 and not necessarily a bad play by Wilson.

And now you know the rest of the story.

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

As a fan of the Ravens and as someone who covers the team, it was difficult for me not to take this game against the Carolina Panthers for granted. After all, John Fox & Co. were down to a journeyman quarterback who had been with the team for 11 days and up until yesterday had thrown only 5 more passes in the NFL than me and you. Where have all the quarterbacks gone? Brian St. Pierre? C’mon man!

The Panthers’ offensive backfield was so battered by injury that they were forced to go with a fourth string running back and their defense was among the NFL’s worst defending the run.

To put this all in perspective, think of the Ravens starting practice squad QB Hunter Cantwell and featuring Curtis Steele at running back.

Suffice it to say, this one seemed to be in the bag the moment the Ravens boarded their Baltimore bound flight from Atlanta two Thursday nights ago.

Don’t let the scoreboard deceive you!

This team along with just about every other team in the NFL has flaws and they were on display in Charlotte.

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco threw some very nice passes including his first connection with TJ Houshmandzadeh for a 58 yard scoring strike. He also displayed some nice touch particularly on couple of throws to Todd Heap. He also accurately diagnosed a blitz and hit his hot read Derrick Mason in stride only Mason didn’t finish the play, dropping a pass that had big play potential…David Reed showed explosiveness that has been sorely lacking in the return game and he also pursued well on coverage teams. He will be the reason TJ Houshmandzadeh is a one year rental for the Ravens…Terrell Suggs early on seemed like the only Ravens defender who wanted to make a tackle on Panthers’ RB Mike Goodson who had a career high 120 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Suggs had 7 tackles (3 for losses) a sack and a QB hurry…Todd Heap found open space in the intermediate areas and made the most of it with 69 yards on 5 catches…Dawan Landry was effective as a run blitzer dropping Goodson for a loss on one play and affecting short rushing gains on others.

THE BAD: The Panthers defense is probably an underrated one. When your offense is ranked 32nd in a 32 team league and they only stay on the field 27 minutes per contest, it’s tough not to watch your team defensive stats suffer. Despite it all the Panthers had the 14th overall ranked defense, just a few notches below the Ravens at No. 10. That aside the Panthers were 17th ranked on third down efficiency yet the Ravens did their best to help Carolina improve in that department, converting just 2 of 11 third downs. Equally disheartening is the offense’s inability to produce TD’s in the red zone, failing on all but 1 of 4 tries…The defensive front seven (except for Suggs) struggled to stop the run. Haloti Ngata was barely noticeable, Kelly Gregg mostly invisible and Terrence Cody unable to disengage from blocks. I was reminded of one practice during summer camp when John Harbaugh lost his cool and verbally assaulted the first team defense when Curtis Steele gashed them for first down after first down. Some blame also has to be given to the Ravens linebackers who were often out of position and failed to provide backside support…Tackling remains a problem, particularly on the kick coverage team…The Ravens were unable to establish any rhythm in their rushing attack. For the record, who is the starting back on this team?...It was a concern weeks ago and it remains a concern – this team on all sides of the ball lacks a killer instinct. While the team finally got off to a decent road start they were unable to sustain it.

THE UGLY: Flacco’s pocket presence at times is very Bolleresque. Sometimes the play just isn’t there Joe and you need to cut your losses and throw it away. Instead Flacco too many times takes a sack, loses control of the ball or makes high risk, low reward passes. And c’mon Joe, forgetting the play and dropping the ball on the floor?…Josh Wilson over the past couple of games has been the team’s best corner but he was torched by the Panthers’ rookie WR David Gettis for an 88 yard score.

THE MEGAN FOX: Billy Cundiff leads the league in touchbacks and if not for four more yesterday and 7 of 8 kicks landing in the end zone, who knows how this game plays out with the shoddy kick coverage tackling. Cundiff was also perfect on three FGA’s from 22, 33 and 49 yards.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

End Zone is Dead Zone for Ravens in the 1st Quarter

It's no secret that Joe Flacco is a slow starter and the recent Thursday night game against the Falcons certainly was no different for the Ravens' signal caller. The slow starts are even more pronounced on the road.

Flacco is a rhythmic quarterback and his calm, stoic and sometimes numb demeanor seems to benefit from a more fast paced offensive approach. He looks far more comfortable in the shotgun operating out of a no huddle attack.

Now the Ravens and Flacco defenders might tell you that running the no huddle on the road is a difficult task, particularly in a dome. And while I might agree to a certain extent with that thinking I do believe that it can be done given the proper timing.

Think about this...

Flacco connects with Anquan Boldin for a gain of 15 on third down and the Ravens move the sticks. The first down temporarily aims the mute button at the hometown crowd. The entire offense runs up to the line of scrimmage and then they begin their no huddle attack. The defense is on its heels as is the crowd. Flacco can then begin to find that rhythm and approach his success at M&T Bank Stadium.

Let's face it, Flacco, Cameron and the Ravens need to try something because what they've done during the Flacco Era on the road just isn't cutting it.

Consider this...

* In Flacco's 21 regular season road games the Ravens have scored 56 points in total during the first quarter for an average of 2.67 points

* The Ravens have been shut out in the first quarter in 10 of Flacco's 21 road games and in 8 of the last 11

* During the last 11 road games Cameron's offense has produced a TOTAL of 13 points, 1.18/game

Conversely at home the numbers while not prolific they are certainly better...

* In Flacco's 20 regular season home games the Ravens have scored 106 points in total during the first quarter for an average of 5.3 points

* The Ravens have been shut out in the first quarter in 4 of those 20 home games and only once in the last 13

* Over the past 12 home games the Ravens have averaged 6.4 points in the first quarter

Clearly something has to be done to jump start the offense on the road early in games. Come out firing on all cylinders in a no huddle. Forget about the hometown crowd and those challenges. Seems to me when the fans in the Georgia Dome were at their loudest the Ravens' offense was actually more effective and they helped keep a defense struggling to win on third down off the field.

So come out firing Cam!

What have you to lose?

I mean it can't get much worse than 1.18 points on average in the first quarter, can it?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Team interests > Friendship in the biz of the Ravens, NFL

I wonder if Roddy White had dropped that last pass on Thursday night and the Falcons go on to miss the field goal what the mood would be like now for Ravens fans. One play, not really forced by the defense, and the tenor is completely different and perhaps the angst directed towards defensive coordinator Greg Mattison more tempered.

Mattison is a good guy but I believe John Harbaugh's personal feelings for a man who was on his Dad's staff at Western Michigan University have blurred his view and clouded his objectivity.

Mattison was a successful college coordinator for some very good, even dominant teams but in no way does that prepare him to tackle the talent and parity of the NFL. He will be 61 on Monday.

I've heard the Ravens' DC say that he has no ambition to be a head coach. On one side of the equation, that's a good thing because it suggests he'll be a good soldier and place the team needs above his own.

On the other side, his drive and determination to be great could be questioned. I think some coordinators recognize that they may never be anything more than a coordinator but they also seek to establish a legacy, to be memorable.

Dick LeBeau comes to mind.

There are those who think John Harbaugh will never let go of Mattison. But he should be secure enough in his job to not worry about having a great coordinator. Will Mattison ever be thought of that way?

When the season is over and how the Ravens finish will determine what happens with Greg Mattison. But Harbaugh's commitment to the team needs to outweigh his sense of responsibility to an old family friend when it comes to business. He needs to nurture an environment based upon competition. To do anything less undermines the best interests of the club and the positional coaches who do possess a drive to excel and advance in the coaching ranks.

Sooner or later, they'll exit to a team that rewards results.

This quasi-nepotism can threaten organizational stability.

And that is something I don't see Steve Bisciotti standing for.

He and his "company" aren't built that way.

Friday, November 12, 2010

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

I hate to blame a game on officiating. Many things happen during the course of a game that players can control through execution and carrying out individual assignments. But when a team marches back to take the lead against a tough opponent on the road during a short week and that effort is spoiled by not one, not two, but three questionable calls (video below), it's hard not to have a sour taste . Yes, it's time to move on but before we do, here's The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox.

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco got off to a slow start thanks to the Falcons dominating time of possession and some poor pass protection. But that hardly excuses his throw to TJ Houshmandzadeh on the team's first offensive series. As he does regularly in just about every game, Flacco predetermined where he was going with the football without making proper adjustments post snap. Anquan Boldin was wide open running a seam route parallel to the hash marks. Flacco did respond later on in the second half and rallied the team with 3 scoring strikes. The team is being built around Flacco and his second half effort is what they will need heading down the stretch; particularly given the team's defensive deficiencies. Hopefully this prime time game proves to be a confidence booster for the Ravens signal caller...

Ray Rice was productive with the football both as a runner and pass catcher. It would have been interesting to see what he might have done by ground had the game not gotten away from the Ravens. It didn't look like the Falcons had an answer for No. 27...The Ravens have lacked a fiery leader on offense - not anymore. Anquan Boldin deserves credit for rallying his mates, making tough catches and leveling 300 pound Peria Jerry after a dump off pass to Ray Rice to help spring Rice for the first down (see video below)...

Donte Stallworth looks fresh and fast and hopefully he can translate that burst on the reverses into the passing game...Terrence Cody rebounded from a poor effort v. the Dolphins and was stout against the Falcons running game, contributing in a big way to the Falcons substandard 2.6 yards per carry...Billy Cundiff's kickoffs remain consistently strong chipping in with 3 touchbacks on four kicks...Sam Koch had a great game, averaging 49.5 yards and an average net of 45.5 yards; 3 punts dropped inside the 20...The Red Zone efficiency was awful last week. Props to Cam Cameron and the offense for cleaning that up against the Falcons (3 for 3).

THE BAD: Michael Oher and Ben Grubbs struggled in pass protection, particularly Oher who looked clueless a couple of times while taking on John Abraham...Lardarius Webb had perhaps his worst day as a pro. He was always a step late and at times demonstrated poor technique and positioning His fumble on the punt return also led to 3 points, particularly painful because the Ravens had a rare defensive stand in the first half and they would have had good field position...Dawan Landry isn't a starting safety because he can cover. He's back there because he is supposed to be an enforcer. Real enforcers don't get trucked by backup running backs when given a clean shot...

Who is the imposter wearing No. 95?...Greg Mattison's defensive game plan was questionable. How do you not roll more coverage towards Roddy White? The team's blitzing is also very predictable and Ryan used that against the Ravens making pre-snap adjustments...The first half time of possession was sickening, 21:14 to 8:46 Atlanta...For the fourth time this season the Ravens have allowed a TD drive of 90+ yards, the worst in club history and there have been some pretty bad defenses in the Ravens' history during the mid to late 90's.

THE UGLY: The officiating was awful in the fourth quarter and very one-sided (see video below). The Falcons had only 1 penalty for 5 yards compared to 6 for 51 for the Ravens. Adding insult to injury, Roddy White during his post game interview admitted to shoving Josh Wilson (as if we didn't already know that). The league makes the players more accountable for their physicality. When will they make the game officials more accountable for their inadequacies?

THE MEGAN FOX: Terrell Suggs WAS the Ravens' pass rush. He recorded both sacks and all four of the team's QB hurries. It would be nice if Suggs could somehow channel that newfound determination stemming from the wretched face masking penalty on a regular basis. Maybe he should watch The Waterboy and see referee Ron Winter's face every time he looks at a quarterback. Some of you may remember that it was Winter who flagged Suggs last season for brushing Tom Brady's knee.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Terrell Suggs has been the target of much fan criticism for a few reasons: 1) The Ravens struggle to get to the quarterback and Suggs is considered to be the premier Raven to get there; and 2) No. 55 is the highest paid Raven. Mix the two and you get a fan base wanting more. Many will go so far to say that they wish Suggs was more like Dwight Freeney. Be careful what you wish for.If you take in an Indianapolis Colts game, you will notice that Freeney is often off to the sidelines early on downs. Now it could be argued that the Colts are simply trying to keep Freeney fresh in order to get to the quarterback more effectively or it may be concluded that Indy views Freeney as a liability when defending the run. Perhaps it's both.

Draw your own conclusions but before you do, consider that the two have the same number of sacks (5) through 8 games; Freeney has forced more fumbles (3-1) and defended more passes (2-1) while Suggs has far more tackles (34-13).Freeney is obviously flashier and more fun to watch but the numbers hardly suggest the Colts' DE is better. You might even make the argument that Freeney has more explosive pass rushing teammates thus making his job a bit easier than Suggs'.

HURT SO GOOD...Last season Jarret Johnson's play made many who missed Adalius Thomas forget about the versatile former Ravens' backer. JJ played through a shoulder injury and had a career high 6 sacks, 2 interceptions and 4 passes defended. This season JJ came in healthier and most expected an even more productive campaign from the two-time captain of the Alabama Crimson Tide. It's not happening and there is concern within the Ravens' inner circle.Johnson has often failed to hold down the edge against the run and he's just not the playmaker that he was in '09. His ineffectiveness places an even greater burden on Terrell Suggs.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ravens defense lacks TNT

The Ravens have struggled to generate a pass rush and to do so, Mattison will need to get creative and he'll need to do it quickly as the Ravens prepare for Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. Ryan is a very proficient quarterback in the Georgia Dome (13-1) and if given ample time to throw, he can and probably will pick the Ravens defense apart. But if Mattison can get Ryan to move from his spot and force him to back up, the Ravens could produce turnovers. Ryan doesn't have Joe Flacco-like arm strength and if he throws off his back foot, ball hawk Ed Reed just might be able to make a big play.

One of the ways the Ravens were successful in '09 in forcing QB hurries was by blitzing Lardarius Webb from the nickelback slot. It may work to the Ravens advantage to let Webb work from that position during obvious passing situations and move the underrated Chris Carr to corner. Webb has an explosive first step and is a far more threatening blitzer than Haruki Nakamura.

SPEAKING OF EXPLOSIVE FIRST STEPS...We all remember Kelly Gregg's ability to anticipate a snap count, use great technique while borrowing from his collegiate wrestling days and knife his way into the offensive backfield to disrupt plays. That appears to be a thing of the past as Gregg's effectiveness is diminishing rapidly.

Not helping matters much is the ineffectiveness of Terrence Cody. So much time and attention has been given to Cody's conditioning and it now appears as though the first year player has hit the proverbial rookie wall early. After the long collegiate season at Alabama followed by the Scouting Combines, Pro Player Days, etc, Cody looks like he's out of gas on the field. We are seeing none of the promise that he exhibited during the preseason. Brandon McKinney, a healthy scratch this past Sunday, has been much better.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Washington's slump spells opportunity for Mr. Wilson

Fabian Washington’s slump at corner is on par with a golfer who can’t get off the tee or a hitter who bails on the slider. He’s a train wreck right now and for his and the club’s sake, Greg Mattison should try and restore his confidence in nickel or dime situations. Josh Wilson is the superior player at the moment and he plays with far more confidence plus he’s a much more technically skilled tackler than Washington who as of late grabs more air than he does ball carriers.

Wilson looked very solid on Sunday against the Dolphins and demonstrated great technique defending a go route against the much taller Brandon Marshall in the Ravens’ end zone. He should and will get the start on Thursday night.

Wilson arrived in Baltimore via a trade with the Seattle Seahawks. The former second round pick cost the Ravens a conditional pick (4th or 5th round) based on the number of starts in 2010. From what we’ve learned even if Wilson starts the remaining games this regular season, he will not reach the number required to give Seattle a fourth round pick. Therefore the cost for Wilson is a fifth and that could prove to be a very worthwhile investment for the Ravens this season.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Ravens' McClain is spitting, er spinning out of control

When he was at the University of Alabama, Le’Ron McClain had 37 carries for 170 yards – in his entire 4 year career as a member of The Crimson Tide. Not one game; not one season; FOUR seasons!!!

So to plot that out, in 36 collegiate career games McClain averaged 1 carry for nearly 5 yards. Clearly the Ravens didn’t think they were drafting Adrian Peterson in 2007 when they put the card in for McClain.

Fast forward to the 2008 season when McClain was called upon to be the Ravens’ workhorse. Willis McGahee was uncomfortably relegated to John Harbaugh’s doghouse and Ray Rice wasn’t exactly the picture of health that season in part stemming from an inhumane workload during the ’08 summer camp.

It was then that the Ravens may have created a bit of a monster.

Yes McClain was successful as a featured ball carrier. He rumbled and bumbled for 902yards on 232 carries including 10 for scores. He was a bruiser and together with fullback Lorenzo Neal, McClain spearheaded a punishing ground attack.

The carries led to name recognition and that in turn paved the way to a Pro Bowl nomination as the AFC fullback for the then second year player.

As so often is the case, once a player makes his way to Honolulu and just so happens to play of position that isn’t so high profile, another nomination follows.

Reputation counts!

But McClain didn’t get anywhere near the number of carries in ’09 that he racked up in ’08. In fact he carried the rock 186 fewer times. The two-time Pro Bowler wasn’t happy.

So heading into the 2010 summer camp, McClain began a self-promoting campaign for more carries and blasted it out on his Twitter account and he developed complimentary tee shirts: McClain4RB.

No one was impressed.

Why would offensive coordinator Cam Cameron feature McClain when he has Rice and McGahee in his ground attack arsenal? Besides, McClain doesn’t have the luxury of a lead blocker as he did in ’08 when Neal led interference for him. Many who campaign for the three-headed monster often forget that missing ingredient.

The Ravens want McClain to do what they drafted him to do – flatten linebackers for their tailback.

Apparently McClain wants something else.

Maybe he’s heard the whispers about his position becoming obsolete.

And speaking of whispers, a few have heard that McClain is an unwilling lead blocker for McGahee because he believes McGahee is getting the carries that he deserves.

Remember the Pro Bowls.

Remember the McClain4RB campaign.

Remember the costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Patriots.

Remember the alleged Twitter F Bomb barrage following that game directed towards fans who blamed him for the Patriots' loss.

Now this alleged spitting incident that McClain denies.

"Nah, I didn't spit on him. That's crazy. That's not my game. I'm Le'Ron McClain, man. Le'Ron McClain don't spit on another player. But I will block you. Four quarters. That's a fact."

Not many team oriented guys refer to themselves by name or in the third person. And coupled with this behavioral trend, McClain’s priorities in a team sport are a bit whack if you ask me.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and within McClain there appears to be a firestorm brewing.

Maybe he can hock one and put it out.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

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

Whenever you don't punt in an entire game, chances are your team is on the plus end of the scoreboard. The Ravens didn't punt. This game wasn't as close as the scoreboard indicates and even the scoreboard wasn't kind to the Dolphins.

THE GOOD: Cam Cameron called a nice game and he was effective getting many different players involved in the offense...Joe Flacco show efficiency delivering for his coordinator and spread the ball nicely. He was sharp for the most part, save an ill advised out to Anquan Boldin that should have resulted in a pick 6 by Sean Smith at the 2:59 mark of the third quarter with the Ravens leading 20-10. If Smith finishes that play, who knows how the game ends. It was yet another example of Flacco predetermining his throws. Flacco was much more patient on screens and it paid handsome dividends...Willis McGahee ran hard and with purpose. He showed patience while weaving his way through the Dolphins' defense...Haloti Ngata delivered a statement to the Dolphins offense to open the second half when he dropped Ricky Williams in convincing fashion for no gain. Ngata added another sack and two QB hurries...Josh Wilson subbing for the badly slumping Fabian Washington demonstrated great technique while covering the much taller Brandon Marshall on a go route down the left sideline. He had an interception and 3 passed defended during the second half. He was also effective on special teams...Props to TJ Houshmandzadeh on his downfield blocking and to Derrick Mason for once again proving that he's no ordinary 36-year-old wide receiver.

THE BAD: The left side of the defensive line was destroyed by the Dolphins offensive line early in the contest as Ronnie Brown found inviting holes to navigate. Jarret Johnson was particularly weak on contain. He's just not the player he was in 2009...The short yardage offense is a wreck and is screaming for repairs. A 6-2 team should not be ranked 26th in the league on third and one with the weapons they have. Cameron must clean this up...The offensive line struggled against the Dolphins athletic front in pass protection, particularly Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda. Yanda had fits with Cameron Wake...Fabian Washington was awful and deserved the benching. His confidence appears shattered and that's not what the Ravens need heading into Atlanta. His performance, coupled with Josh Wilson's plus effort, makes one wonder if Washington will ever start another game for the Ravens. He's a free agent after the 2010 season...Sam Koch, one of the league's best holders dropped a perfect snap from Morgan Cox on a field goal attempt...Le'Ron McClain...shut up and let your play do the talking...Terrell Suggs, act like you've had a sack before.

THE UGLY: The Ravens red zone offense was a pathetic 1 of 7 (14%). They were unorganized and the collective body language of the unit suggested a lack of commitment and physicality inside the Dolphins' 20. On nine first half red zone plays the Ravens managed an anemic 4 yards - TOTAL. Adding to their red zone woes were 3 penalties for 20 yards, a wasted timeout following a delay of game and a muffed hold on a FGA. Makes you wonder what they were doing during the bye in this area.

THE MEGAN FOX: During the Patriots and Bills games, Ray Rice looked sluggish and lacked his usual burst and dazzling change of direction skills. The bye week rest agreed with Rice and that burst was in full bloom against the Phins. Miami head coach Tony Sparano's plan was to commit the resources to take away Rice and McGahee and let Flacco beat him. Maybe the Dolphins' linebackers didn't get that memo. While they did a decent job of bottling up Rice on the ground (22 rushes for 83 yards) they had no answer for No. 27 in the passing game (7 catches for 97 yards), nor McGahee for that matter. Welcome back Ray!

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Ravenstown, Baltimore's Hometown

A few months ago a friend of mine Jon Petrelli asked me to post a great little tune of his on my Facebook page to help spread the word about "Highlandtown." It's a catchy song that serves as a nostalgic jaunt down memory lane for both Jon and those of us with roots in that charming Southeastern Baltimore community.

When I heard the record it was hard for me not to imagine a similar one, perhaps even a musical sibling of sorts entitled Ravenstown. Jon immediately liked the idea and then asked me to develop some lyrics. Very excited by such a new challenge I dived right in and handed them over to Jon the next morning.

But when he tried to match the lyrics and the tune together, the vibe wasn't right because it was too close to his touchtone creation, Highlandtown.

If Ravenstown was to have a life, it had to take on a different form.

The song had to be about not only football, but also a sense of community. We wanted a Hallmark sound card of civic pride.

You see both Jon and I strongly believe that football and music can inspire people to put aside their differences. Even if only for a few moments in time we can create communal ties that bind and allow them to conquer frictions that sometimes fray those ties.

If you think back to the season of 2000 and Super Bowl XXXV, our community experienced a togetherness that hadn't been seen or felt for years in Baltimore thanks to the success of the Ravens.

All those years without a football team...

All those rejections by the NFL's expansion committee...

All of former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's "Build a Museum" cynicism...


The Ravens brought us together and gave us a reason to shout.

Now, borrowing from your collective purple passion, civic pride and Baltimore's insatiable desire to channel energy through music we give you another reason to shout for the next 3 minutes and 15 seconds...RAVENSTOWN