Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ravens at the bye: Surprises, disappointments on way to Promised Land


The bye week is a time for healing, resting, reflecting on the season up to the break. It's a time for self scouting and looking for ways to improve individually and collectively to help guide a team to the pinnacle of all sports - Super Bowl Champions.

In retrospect guided by a splash of reality (and borrowing from Denny Green) the Ravens are who we thought they were - a team that can challenge for the title but one certainly not without flaws.

But that can be said for any team in the NFL. There is not a single team without flaws, nor one that can stand up and say, "We are the league's best." If Pete Rozelle was still alive, the league's balance and its parity would be a dream-come-true for him.

So as we marinate in a 5-2 start, a good one by most counts but one with an asterisk for sure as we decompress after squeaking by the winless Buffalo Bills, let's take a look back at the surprises and disappointments along with a few suggestions on how to reach the bright horizon and that promised land...

OFFENSE

Surprise: Dating back to the days of the OTA's in May and June there were lingering worries about the Ravens' offensive line given the health (or lack thereof) of Jared Gaither. The prevailing thought was (and in some cases still is) that by moving Marshal Yanda to right tackle it would represent a downgrade from Gaither or Michael Oher and to make matters worse, replacement right guard Chris Chester would be a downgrade from Yanda. While it's still hard not to support such an argument you can't play a man who is unavailable. In Gaither's absence Yanda has stepped up. Yanda's relative physical shortcomings for the position aside, he makes up for with sound technique, football IQ and attention to detail.

Disappointment: When the Ravens parted ways with Mark Clayton to make way for TJ Houshmandzadeh most believed that the team upgraded the wide receiver corps. But Houshmandzadeh has hardly been an upgrade thus far and despite limited action he leads the team in drops as well as crossing the middle phobia. Let's hope after the bye his walk matches his talk.

The Promised Land: The Ravens defense is no longer what it once was and that will mean that the offense can no longer expect Ray Lewis & Co. to consistently bail them out. They will need to step up in the second half and it all starts with Joe Flacco who needs to get better with his progressions and be more patient and productive against zone defenses.

DEFENSE

Surprise: His lackluster performance against the Bills aside, Lardarius Webb has contributed as a nickel. Many expected him to be unavailable to the team until week 7due to his late season ACL injury in 2009 but his determination has propelled a fairly productive season thus far despite seemingly insurmountable odds. It would surprise no one to see him emerge as a starting corner some time after the bye.

Disappointment: There are a few...Jarret Johnson proclaimed himself fit and recovered from offseason shoulder surgery, an injury that slowed him in 2009. Despite that through 7 games JJ has only 1 sack and recently he's failed to hold down the point of attack on the edges in rushing defense; Terrell Suggs has four sacks, clearly ahead of last year's pace but he's failed to be the impact player he's paid to be and despite his offseason conditioning to recapture that initial burst we've yet to see it; judging from his preseason performances Terrence Cody looked like a player who would make an impact this campaign. Given his very limited playing time (4 games, 1 assisted tackle) his lack of production puts him on this list; Paul Kruger for doing his best Dan Cody impersonation.

The Promised Land: The Ravens need to borrow a chapter from Rex Ryan and figure out ways to dial up pressure despite a lack of a dominant pass rusher. Yes we get that Greg Mattison doesn't have a corner like Darrelle Revis (but then again, Rex Ryan doesn't have one like Revis either this year) but he can't afford to let marginal QB's sit back and pick his team apart (see Ryan Fitzpatrick).

SPECIAL TEAMS

Surprise: Not even close - Billy Cundiff. He's 10 of 12 on field goals and his kickoff depth has been nothing short of spectacular. He leads the league in percentage of kickoffs for touchback (18 of 32) and he has already eclipsed the total of touchbacks the Ravens had as a team in 2008 and 2009 COMBINED. Prior to 2010 Cundiff had only 11 touchbacks in 6 seasons. Hey, is Barry Bonds his neighbor?

Disappointment: Despite the return candidates of Messrs. Carr, Zbikowski, Wilson, Parmele, Stallworth, D. Reed and Miller, the Ravens have struggled mightily to find any rhythm whatsoever in the return game; punt or kick. As a team the Ravens are 23rd in the league on kick returns and second-to-last in punt returns.

The Promised Land: The Ravens don't need to be the best return team in the league but they need to be in the top half in order to win the battle for field position. The defensive shortcomings suggest that they'll need to be supported by a long field. Without improvement in the return game that can't happen.

COACHING

Surprise: Despite having three new starters on the offensive line and a quarterback who doesn't slide to either side effectively to avoid a rush and one who is guilty of holding on to the ball too long, the Ravens have only allowed 10 QB sacks through 7 games. Only 3 other teams have done better. Credit has to go to O-Line Coach John Matsko.

Disappointment: The Ravens hired Ted Monachino who had established a reputation in Jacksonville for teaching pass rushing technique. Judging from severe shortcomings in that area as evidenced by limited to no development in JJ or Suggs, his hiring up to the bye can't be what John Harbaugh bargained for when Monachino was added to the staff.

The Promised Land: As a staff the Ravens need to coach to win as opposed to coaching not to lose. (See New England game)

FRONT OFFICE

Surprise: Ozzie Newsome's decision to go and get Marc Bulger served as a statement that the Ravens meant business in 2010 and they would not concede a season if their franchise quarterback went down. Turning the offense over to Troy Smith would have been a frightening proposition.

Disappointment: None of the Ravens 2010 draft picks has made much of an impact. In 2009 Oher and Webb made an impact; in 2008 it was Flacco and Rice; 2007, Ben Grubbs and Yanda. Who will it be in '10?

The Promise Land: Cross fingers and hope that they can somehow land Shawne Merriman who should be willing to play on the cheap alongside buddy Ray Lewis and resurrect his career. Whether he stays or not afterwards is immaterial and the Ravens shouldn't care if he amounts to nothing more than a hired gun.


Monday, October 25, 2010

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


The Ravens yielded 506 total net yards to a Buffalo Bills team that was ranked 30th in offense heading into the contest averaging just 251 yards, this from a defense that was ranked third overall. The Ravens were the NFL's stingiest team on third down while the Bills' offense was ranked 31st in third down conversions (26.9%) yet the Ryan Fitzpatrick & Co. managed to move the chains 11 of 17 times on Sunday (65%).

Were the Ravens looking too far ahead to their bye week? Did they take the Bills for granted? Are the Bills much better than their 0-6 record or are the Ravens not as good as their 5-2 mark?

The team will have plenty of time to do some soul searching but this one hardly felt like a win. It was more like being pulled over by a State Trooper only to escape with a warning.

Let's hope the Ravens learned a lesson.

THE GOOD: Willis McGahee was able to get some time on the field and one has to wonder just how injured Ray Rice is. He was a step slow v. the Patriots and didn't start against the Bills. McGahee capably stepped up albeit against a weak rushing defense, posting 64 yards on just 11 carries. The bad exchange between McGahee and Joe Flacco could have proven costly so his appearance here come with a bullet...Ray Lewis had 15 tackles and a couple of QB hurries although none of the tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. Lewis was lost in the wash often during the game but he remained relentless nonetheless. His perseverance probably saved the game when he stripped Bills' TE Shawn Nelson in overtime...Cam Cameron responded to criticism with a solid game plan...Billy Cundiff connected on 3 FGA's (41, 48, 38) and added four more touchbacks...Sam Koch had 3 punts inside the 10 yard line...Todd Heap for 2 scores and toughness, fighting off an injury (stinger) to remain in the game.

THE BAD: Despite the stats that might indicate otherwise, Joe Flacco's outing was hardly impressive and he still locks in on his primary receiver and predetermines his throws. Tosses to Todd Heap and Anquan Boldin should have resulted in interceptions if not for Donte Whitner's drop and Boldin's physicality throwing Bills' corner Reggie Corner out of bounds. Whitner's drop should have gone for 6 the other way...The D-Line did next to nothing in either the passing game or against the run...The Kick Return game remains abysmal as Josh Wilson looks nothing like the returner he was in Seattle so far...The Ravens' third down defense was the best in the business heading into the game and they were matched up against an offense next to last in that category. The results were bad irony.

THE UGLY: The tackling in the secondary; the coverage in the secondary; the communication in the secondary; Greg Mattison's defensive game plan.

THE MEGAN FOX ~ Ed Reed...forced fumble to prevent a first down, 2 key picks both of which should have set up scores, although only one did. Something to keep an eye on however...was it a coincidence that the secondary's susceptibility to the long pass happened the day Ed Reed returned? Think back to the first half of the 2009 season. Hopefully Mattison can come up with adjustments on par with those of '09 by November 7. Otherwise his unit could make Chad Henne look like Dan Marino when the Dolphins visit.

Think Mattison can also find the second coming of Reggie White during the bye too?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Remembering the Ravens' Super Bowl Season


On Sunday at halftime the Ravens will honor the Super Bowl XXXV team to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the franchise's inaugural NFL Championship. Like many things in life when considered in retrospect, it seems like only yesterday in some ways, eons ago in other ways.

Throughout my career as an amateur athlete I've had the good fortune to play for a number of champions and when I think back and bask in those relative glory days, I always preferred the pursuit of a championship more so than the actual achievement.
The chase; the game-by-game adrenalin rush; the quest for the ultimate goal were much more fun than the actual award of the coveted prize.

I felt that way during the Ravens 2000 season too...

As fans we thought that the Ravens were building something and that they would soon be a good team when that season opened. We had expectations of improvement on 1999's 8-8 season and we were hopeful that the team could reach the "P" word - the playoffs.

We weathered the storm of those 21 consecutive quarters without a touchdown and we laughed at the "Goof on the Roof" who refused to come down until the Ravens hit paydirt. Yet frustration wasn't far behind that somewhat forced chuckle at our own offensive futility.

After a 5-1 start the Ravens dropped three consecutive games to fall to 5-4 on October 29, 2000. The loss that day to the Pittsburgh Steelers would be their last of the season as they proceeded to string together 11 consecutive wins on the way to a title and the Lombardi Trophy.

What a ride that was!

I remember earlier that season I had decided to go to the Super Bowl with a buddy of mine. In September we booked our flights to Tampa and reserved a room and opted to hold off on purchasing tickets to the game. Our thought was to wait and see who the participants were because small market teams might drive prices down.

As the weeks went by, particularly towards the homestretch of the season it grew increasingly more interesting. Could we be going to a Super Bowl played by our team?

Nah...no way.

Week by week, win by win we pushed closer to an impossible dream, one that became reality on that balmy night of January 28, 2001 in Raymond James Stadium.

We managed to score a couple of tickets to the game and through some clever buying and selling we ended up 20 rows off the field on the 20 yard line - surrounded by Giants fans.

It didn't take long to realize that the sheer will, forcefulness and speed of the Ravens defense would be too much for the Giants. Most of the fourth quarter was anti-climatic. It would be just a matter of time before we were champions.

As that purple and gold and silver confetti cascaded from the sky after the final gun sounded and as that huge inflatable replica of the Lombardi towered at midfield, the surrealism was numbing. Strangers, brought together by the color purple and a common love for a team embraced like brothers. The sense of pride flowed abundantly. One love, one heart.

Jilted by an owner blinded by a fog of alcohol; all those seasons without a team; disrespected by expansion committees; a city lacking identity; suddenly all of it was gone.

Oh how we smiled. We smiled and smiled and smiled. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as we savored every second.

For me that season can never be duplicated because expectations were just blown through the roof. We hoped to make it to the post season, maybe we even thought we could - but never did we ever expect to be the last team standing.

But with the championship came the realization that the ride was over. No more games; no more jubilant gatherings. Yes we achieved the unthinkable but just like all those amateur championship runs I had experienced before the sobering thought of the finality once again embraced me.

I hope on Sunday when they let those dogs out again, and I look out at those 30 or so players who will represent the 2000 World Champion Baltimore Ravens, that somehow I can smile that smile again and once again feel that wonderfully intoxicating surrealism that I felt 10 years ago.

Even if just for one more moment in time...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ravens' rookies MIA


It must be a bit frustrating for Eric DeCosta, Joe Hortiz and the Ravens’ scouts not to see any player from the Draft Class of ’10 making an impact, particularly when they look across the field this past Sunday and see Patriots’ rookies Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on the field contributing for the Patriots.

Kindle is out for the season, perhaps for the rest of his life while fellow second rounder Terrence Cody has only hit the field for about a dozen or so snaps all season. Ed Dickson has made marginal contributions as a second tight end (he really needs some work as a blocker); Dennis Pitta has been pretty stealth; David Reed has contributed on special teams as a gunner; Art Jones has done next to nothing while Ramon Harewood sits on IR.

Cody’s inactivity is somewhat surprising, particularly after a fairly productive camp and preseason. He’s not being worked into the defensive line rotation and you have to wonder why the Ravens are even carrying Art Jones and Lamar Divens on the active roster and/or 53 man roster for that matter. Might their collective inactivity run the tread thin on the proverbial tires of Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, and Brandon McKinney?

"Lights Out" in B'more?


The name of Shawne Merriman has been kicked around a lot recently for obvious reasons. The Ravens need to improve their pass rush, Merriman is from nearby Washington, DC, played for Ralph Friedgen at the University of Maryland and he shares a bond with Ray Lewis.

But does he have game anymore?

Word is the Ravens are interested if he passes their physical and if Merriman is willing to make some financial concessions. The bigger hurdle for both parties however is likely to be Merriman’s inability to pass through waivers. Teams with a worse record than the Ravens 4-2 mark have the option of claiming the former sack master before Ozzie Newsome can even get to the point of contractual discussions and pending physical.

Clearly the Ravens need to do something. The roster is dangerously devoid of pass rushers and the absence of Sergio Kindle is now even more daunting.

Here's a "Tweet" for you Le'Ron...There's no "I" in "Team"


Le’Ron McClain apparently took exception to some fan criticism on his Twitter account after the game in New England this past Sunday and lost his cool, firing back some not-so-flattering commentary about the football IQ of fans. The comments were quickly deleted.

Twitter followers of McClain allegedly blamed the Ravens’ fullback for the loss to the Patriots citing his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in overtime and its subsequent affect on field position.

“That was a selfish play by me,” McClain said. “I put us in a predicament. I ain’t going to put that game on that one call. Stuff happens.”

McClain hasn’t exactly been a model player when it comes to maturity. Besides the mental breakdown in overtime, this summer McClain waged a silly campaign to be featured more as a running back with the hope of a bigger pay day down the road. There have been some whispers in Ravens’ circles that he’s been a bit envious of the carries given to Willis McGahee (clearly this Sunday excluded).

McClain has also been a bit of a trash talker and self-promoter.

“[Rookie Jermaine Cunningham] got a little cheap shot on me,” McClain said. “I was killing dude, all day. I guess he got frustrated and took a little shove, and they saw my shove on him. He was talking all game.”

A rookie got in the head of a two-time Pro Bowler. Think about that…

Hopefully John Harbaugh can reel McClain in but that said, it’s something to keep an eye on and it wouldn’t surprise me if this is McClain’s last season in B’more.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sports talk radio Hee Haw


I’ve never been a fan of 105.7 The Fan’s Bruce Cunningham. Even back in a day when he was on WNST it was solely Aaron Wilson who gave his Saturday Football Show street cred.

That’s not to say Cunningham doesn’t have his loyal following and I suppose that’s good for CBS Radio in Baltimore. I’ve likened Cunningham’s gig to sports radio Hee Haw. I was never a fan of that show either but Hee Haw did have a 10 year run (also on CBS) and an even longer run in syndication.

Cunningham isn’t a flavor for the real sports aficionado. He’s for the casual listener who doesn’t mind him eating his lunch on air and one who is more interested in silly little anecdote’s, Ray Lewis’ favorite color and Motown trivia than real sports talk. The only time that you get any of that weekdays between Noon and 2PM, is when sidekick Mark Zinno interviews an interesting guest or when Mike Preston is actually allowed to talk in between Cunningham’s man-crush schoolgirl giggling over The Sun’s controversial columnist.

Consequently I’ll often pass on the show, opting instead for well, just about anything else.

What might keep me listening to 105.7 between Noon and 2PM?

Two words – Bob Haynie.

Relegating Haynie to pinch hitting and the player shows is a crime. Opting for Cunningham over Haynie in this desirable time slot is the equivalent of playing Marcus Smith over Anquan Boldin; Marty Domres over Bert Jones; Glen Gulliver over Cal Ripken; Wally Pipp over Lou Gehrig.

Have I made my point?


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ravens outcoached in loss to Patriots



Tom Brady is clearly a bit of a pansy. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a great quarterback but there’s no denying he is a spoiled one with a sense of entitlement (see video). But Brady does score the game, set and match in the verbal sparring with Ravens LB Terrell Suggs.

After the 23-20 loss in New England, Suggs had this quip when Brady’s stats on the day were brought up.

“He just better hope he don’t see us again.”

Brady’s response?

“He had his chance,” the quarterback said during his weekly interview with WEEI. “Maybe if he gets another chance he can try to back those words up. You know, we’ve played those guys a lot, and they’ve beat us one time in all the times that I’ve played them.

“They talk a lot for beating us once in nine years.”

Gisele’s other half has a point.

Last week following the Ravens victory over the Broncos John Harbaugh admitted that the victory wasn’t completely satisfying.

"The thing I'm disappointed with is finishing at times, finishing at the half, finishing at the end of the game."

Comments like that would suggest that the Ravens would put forth a more determined effort to finish teams and go for the jugular. Fast forward to the Patriots game and that wasn’t the case.

Joe Flacco said after the game that the Patriots did not present any new challenges in the second half that weren’t there before halftime. Yet offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seemed to attack New England’s defense more passively.

“I don’t think there was anything conservative about in that sense", said John Harbaugh. "I don’t think we executed it. I don’t think we did a good enough job as coaches explaining to our players exactly how to attack it. We say, ‘What can we do better as coaches and players to solve that issue?’ Here’s a team that had two weeks to prepare for us.

"They had some pretty good ideas against us.”

C’mon coach!

I’m ok with Harbaugh spinning it this way to the media but let’s just hope behind closed doors he’s pounding on the conference room table imploring his three of his coordinators to adopt a go-for-the-throat mentality.

The trouble is in the case of Cameron, that it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Cameron’s tendencies as a coordinator for Marty Shottenheimer in San Diego, as head coach in Miami and as a coordinator in Baltimore aren’t exactly those of a killer. Remember Marty Ball? Who do you think was at least a co-creator of that?

This past Sunday the Ravens opted to run out of an empty backfield on third and 1. I think verbally telling the Patriots that Joe Flacco was about to run a sneak would have been more deceptive than what they actually did. At least then the opponents may have believed the Ravens were lying.

What about an audible there or a timeout when it became obvious the play was doomed?

"Audibling is overrated," Cameron said back on October 7. "It’s good to talk about and I could sit here and let you guys think that we do all of this audibiling and how clever we are. It depends on the way teams are playing you.

Cameron would add, “We could, if we choose to, audible with [Flacco] every down. But if it doesn’t fit who you’re playing, then why do it?"

Well Cam when the game is on the line I think it does fit!

How many times did we see Tom Brady audible at the line of scrimmage to check out of a play and take advantage of the Ravens’ dime package with a Danny Woodhead run?

It’s not that hard and to not allow Flacco to develop in that regard is to stymie his growth as a NFL signal caller.

Make room for some Ravens


Reed and Ayanbadejo about to come of PUP list

The Ravens will need to make some roster moves if they plan to activate Ed Reed and Brendon Ayanbadejo from the PUP List. The Ravens have until 4PM on Saturday to make such declarations and don’t be surprised if they use every minute of the allotted time.

The two candidates mentioned most often as roster bubble guys are Jared Gaither and Ken Hamlin. Gaither is dealing with a thoracic disc injury suffered during the first week of training camp and has practiced only once since Aug. 5. The Ravens would clearly prefer to keep Gaither on the active roster because he provides quality depth at an important position.

"I asked him how he's feeling and he said it's unchanged through the weekend," John Harbaugh explained yesterday. "So, that's going to be part of the equation."

The Ravens doctors can’t seem to find anything that should keep Gaither on the sidelines and consequently the team may buy a bit more time with the enigmatic offensive tackle.

The release of Hamlin makes sense with the return of Ed Reed. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg might prefer to keep the former Cowboy but that loss is more than offset with the return of three-time Pro Bowl special teams ace Ayanbadejo.

As for Gaither, don’t be surprised to see the Ravens buy even more time and cut loose Jalen Parmele instead prior to the Saturday deadline. Parmele has hardly been as productive on kick returns this season as he was in 2009 and the Ravens do have Josh Wilson who is more than capable of handling the chore.

Parmele’s struggles don’t exactly attract other potential suitors for his services and if later the team determines that they have no choice but to IR Gaither, there’s a good chance that they will have the option to bring Parmele back.

The NFL just unleashed a beast


NBC analyst and former New England Patriot Rodney Harrison had some interesting things to say regarding the effectiveness of fines in discouraging flagrant helmet to helmet hits. Harrison, once an aggressive hard hitting Pro Bowl safety explained on Sunday Night Football that he used to set aside $50,000 each season for fines that he expected to receive because of his style of play.

The fines he explained, did not discourage his style of play but he admitted that if the element of a suspension was introduced that his dedication to his team and the possibility of a lost game and 1/16th of his annual salary (a game check) would influence him to throttle down on the aggressive hitting.

Current Patriot Brandon Meriweather should be suspended immediately. He leads with his helmet and leaps into defenseless receivers repeatedly. There were at least three situations, arguably four during the Ravens v. Patriots contest on Sunday when Meriweather launched into Ravens. If the connection on Heap was the only evidence of his eagerness to injure opponents, you might simply fine him and hope he learns a lesson going forward. But repeat offenders like him are dangerous and as explained by Rodney Harrison, a fine isn’t enough.

Disagree? Then maybe you should consider this from Meriweather on WEEI Monday via the Boston Herald:

"I was playing aggressive and something happened. I’m going to be aggressive. Point blank. I won't change my game, period. I'm sorry it happened."

Doesn’t sound to me like he’s sorry enough and if this loose cannon isn’t dealt with properly the NFL will have some explaining to do should this reckless player maim another later this season.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Coordinators play not to lose, then lose anyway


It was setting up perfectly. The Ravens were on the verge of improving to 5-1 on the season. They were close to achieving John Harbaugh's trifecta - road wins against the Jets, Steelers and the Patriots. With the not so mighty Buffalo Bills up next on the schedule, the wonderful aroma of a 6-1 start was wafting towards us.

Ah yes, it's getting better all the time.

Three seconds into the final quarter the Ravens took a 20-10 lead at Gillette Stadium.

And then, it couldn't get any worse.

Beginning with Billy Cundiff's ensuing kickoff that ran out of bounds at the 2 yard line giving Tom Brady and the Patriots a fresh start at their own 40, slowly but surely the Ravens tightened. One by one, coaches included, their collective hind parts tightened like a Stewart Copeland snare drum.

Then came a phantom pass interference call against Lardarius Webb.

Six plays later Tom Brady connected with Deion Branch from five yards out to make it 20-17. On the scoring strike defensive coordinator Greg Mattison committed a major tactical error rushing only three from the 5 yard line.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

With the back line as a defender Mattison opted to give one of the game's most poised quarterbacks a coffee break in the pocket to complete a 5 yard pass! That is the equivalent of flunking Football 101.

Fast forward 2 game minutes to the 9:10 mark of Q4 when the Ravens faced a third and less than one from their own 47. Now in similar circumstances in prior games, Joe Flacco has raced his team to the line of scrimmage to get off a quick quarterback sneak. This time, the team chose to huddle up and then empty the backfield.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

No element of surprise.

No keeping the Patriots front 7 honest.

No, instead Cam Cameron decides to tell the entire galaxy that the Ravens were going to run a quarterback sneak.

No surprise, no trace of doubt for the defense, no gain.

Punt.

Seven minutes later after defensive play calling that suggested Mattison was scared to death of Brady, tie game.

In a game where the Ravens played clean, not giving the ball away even once they gave away something worse - the game.

On the death wings of a gutless second half the promise of that wonderful aroma was gone.

And now we're left with the nasty stench - the wretched byproduct of playing not to lose.

We'll likely point back to this game one day in a few months when it's the difference between hosting a playoff game and going on the road.

This one is not going to go away easily.

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


If someone had told me that the Ravens would have 11 fewer penalty yards than the Patriots, won the turnover battle 2-0 and Joe Flacco would post a QB rating of 119.3 v. Tom Brady's 69.5, I would have predicted a double digit margin of victory. As we know, that didn't happen.

They say the numbers don't lie but in Foxborough on Sunday they were Pinocchio.

This game clearly wasn't just one that got away.The Ravens gave it away.

They failed to finish and put away a team that was one more defensive stand away from the nail in the coffin. Interestingly, it was the play calling on both sides of the ball in the second half that reeked of bashfulness more so than the performance of any single player.

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco was 27 of 35 for 285 yards with 2 TD's and no interceptions. At times he does the little things that make a difference in the outcome of a play, as he did when he looked off the safeties to create a throwing window on his TD pass to Todd Heap. But he still clings to his security blanket a little too tightly (the check down pass to Ray Rice) despite having time to throw...Derrick Mason made tough catches throughout the day, chipping in with his first 100 yard game of the season...Sam Koch was a bit too busy but was solid throughout the day averaging 44.9 yards on 9 punts including 5 inside the twenty...underrated Chris Carr had the secondary's first INT on the season and he defended the bubble screen very well.

THE BAD: Surprisingly Ray Rice shows up here. Last season Rice averaged nearly 8 yards per carry on 33 attempts against New England. Today he looked sluggish and left many yards on the field failing to get to the backside of what appeared to be decent zone blocking schemes. He averaged only 3.1 yards on 28 carries. By the way, has anyone seen Willis McGahee? Has Cam Cameron? Today would have been an ideal day to get him the ball because Rice obviously wasn't on his "A" game...Michael Oher had 3 penalties in the game, the second a costly holding penalty in the second quarter that moved the Ravens from a first and 10 at their own 38 to a first and 20 from the 28. Three plays later (and another Oher false start) they punted, failing to capitalize on good field position...Le'Ron McClain was baited into an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the Ravens deep into their own territory in overtime. The Ravens eventually punted and gave Tom Brady good field position to drive the team for the winning FG...Cam Cameron and Greg Mattison were outwitted by the Patriots coaching staff. Belichick and his assistants made the necessary halftime adjustments while Cameron and Mattison adopted the play-not-to-lose approach. Cameron's emptying of the backfield on Flacco's failed sneak on third and less than a yard was inexcusable. Mattison rushing only 3 from his own 5 yard line was even more heinous. And after all the talk about Pats' rookie TE Aaron Hernandez, Mattison had next to no answer for the former Florida Gator (thanks Anonymous). Thankfully he developed the drops late in the game. John Harbaugh needs to take some of the blame for both of his coordinators, allowing his team to play scared and failing to embrace a go-for-the-jugular mentality, something he campaigned for last week. Practice what you preach coach!...Billy Cundiff's kickoff out of bounds after the Ravens had just taken a 20-10 lead shifted the momentum back to the Patriots.

THE UGLY: The Ravens' return game was absolutely horrific. On kickoffs Jalen Parmele was way too indecisive. He doesn't have the speed to be a game breaker and when he doesn't run vertically and with purpose a touchback is a much better option. His game has fallen markedly and his roster spot could be in jeopardy if the Ravens activate both Ed Reed and Brendon Ayanbadejo this week from PUP as expected. Tom Zbikowski and Chris Carr were equally bad as punt returners. Only Carr tried to return a punt and he lost a yard but perhaps more disturbingly, both players allowed catchable balls to hit the field only to bounce much deeper into Ravens territory. Their poor efforts contributed greatly to the Ravens losing the battle of field position badly in the second half.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: Haloti Ngata has been the team's best player since the beginning of the season and today was no exception. Ngata controlled the line of scrimmage posting 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 quarterback hurries and wasn't far removed from an interception towards the end of regulation. He will certainly command more double teams going forward. Let's hope that Greg Mattison has the ability to use that to the advantage of his guys off the edge. But if today was any indication, I'm not holding my breath.

The headlines at 4:30PM today: RAVENS BEAT PATRIOTS, GO TO 5-1


Last year heading into the Wild Card Playoff game v. New England, we heard all the stats that championed Tom Brady’s greatness in the post season at home as well as the playoff record of Bill Belichick. Fortunately for the Ravens’ players they didn’t give a rat’s you-know-what about the stats. They only concerned themselves with the game plan and winning their individual battles.

And they did in convincing fashion!

This year the Ravens for the third time in less than 13 months are heading into Gillette Stadium and for the third consecutive time they are underdogs. No surprise there since so many pundits are spewing all over Belichick’s impressive post-bye record. He’s won 7 straight with an extra week to prepare for an opponent and most of the wins weren’t even close, outscoring opponents on average by more than 18 points.

A closer look however would reveal that following their schedule break the Patriots emerged from their brief respite to take on the Bills in four of those games as well as the Dolphins and 49ers. None of those teams were or are of the Ravens caliber.

Sometimes teams just match up well against you. The Bengals are a nuisance that way for the Ravens and unfortunately for the Patriots, the Ravens are a similar irritant for Brady & Co. Even when the Patriots had superior talent, the Ravens were almost always a play or two from an upset.

Looking back to the horrific 2007 season, one that was a perfect season until the Super Bowl for the Patriots, the Kyle Boller led Ravens were one botched timeout call from Rex Ryan from knocking of New England. Last year they were one dropped pass by Mark Clayton from a comeback victory.

We could dissect this game in many ways but for me, the Ravens win this game because:

• The Patriots’ defense hasn’t improved and last year during 33 attempts Ray Rice average 7.9 yards per carry

• On third down the Ravens converted 19 of 30 times in two games v. New England (63%) while the Patriots were 7 of 22 (31%)

• The absence of Randy Moss frees up an extra defender, forces Brady to sustain drives and given the Ravens success on defense on third down this year (26.6% conversion rate), it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they improve on last year’s third down success v. Ravens

• The Patriots defense is weaker and less experienced while the Ravens offense has improved through the additions of Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh

• The Ravens sacked Brady 6 times last year while the Patriots only got to Joe Flacco twice.

• The Pees Factor: Ravens linebackers coach Dean Pees got to know the inner workings of the New England schemes and personnel as well as anyone as Belichick’s defensive coordinator for six seasons. That can’t hurt!

• The Patriots win during week 4 of 2009 was heavily influenced by penalties and the Ravens have improved markedly in that department

• Other than a great opening half against the Bengals on opening day, the Patriots aren’t the offensive juggernaut that the scoreboard might suggest. They were waxed by the Jets, beat the Dolphins on special teams and were nearly beaten by the Bills who posted 30 points in New England…you know, those Bills ranked 30th in the league on offense.

The only way the Ravens lose this game is if they are undisciplined and commit boneheaded penalties and give the ball away more than they take it away. If they don’t the results could resemble those from last year’s wild card game. That said, I’ll give the Patriots a little more credit than that performance last January.

PICK: Ravens 24, Patriots 20



Friday, October 15, 2010

Us & Them: Ravens v. Patriots



Derek Hanson from the Foxboro Blog recently asked us to participate in an exchange of questions regarding this weekend's contest between the Ravens and Patriots. Even though they talk funny and annunciate "r's" where they don't belong and mysteriously ignore them where they do belong, we agreed. If we win, they send up some lobsta...if they win, they get a crab cake at the Inn-ah Ha-bah.

First Them...

TL: How do the sports media feel about the Randy Moss trade and what do they believe was the rationale?

DH: I think the general consensus among the media and Pats fans is that the Patriots did what they had to do. Both Belichick and Moss have been pretty tight-lipped about what really happened behind the scenes, but given Randy's track record, one can safely assume that things were on the verge of turning very ugly.

The Patriots' 2009 season was submarined due to issues in the locker room and with their young and impressionable roster, the last thing Belichick wants is a major distraction and bad influence on the team. Don't get me wrong, the loss of Moss will hurt, but his role in the team's offense this year wasn't as important as it was over the last few seasons. I think the Patriots will find ways to adjust without him.

TL: How do the fans feel?

DH: I think most fans agree with what I said in the last question. As far as I can tell, nobody is too broken up about the loss of Moss. We saw the writing on the wall last January when he made his comments that "the Patriots don't really pay" and that this would likely be his last year in New England. When you have a player on your team like Moss, you know it's a ticking time bomb. We got three solid seasons from Randy and now it's time to move on.

TL: How productive can Deion Branch be this week? For the balance of the season?

DH: I don't see Branch being a huge factor this week. He has some chemistry with Brady, which will help, but I think it will still take some time for him to get fully up to speed. I think the attractive thing about Branch is that he does possess some knowledge of how things work with Belichick and Brady and so he will be able to contribute quicker than your average receiver over the next few weeks.

TL: Will Wes Welker be less effective without Moss?

DH: I think we'll see less of a focus on Welker now, and more of the "spread it around" type of offense that the Patriots had during their Super Bowl seasons. Welker, Branch, Julian Edelman, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Woodhead are all quick, scrappy players who are tough to cover and tackle. There's the potential that all five of them could be flying around the field at one time, which would be a nightmare to cover for any defense. I think Brady's new favorite receiver is going to be the open one. Welker will still be effective, but may play a larger role in opening up opportunities for other players vs. hauling in 100 catches on his own.

TL: How effective do you expect the rotation of Patriots' running backs be against the Ravens' defensive front seven?

DH: The Patriots are still a passing team first and foremost however, they are at their most effective when they can get a decent running game established. Benjarvus Green-Ellis has really turned it on the past few weeks. I certainly don't think he'll run all over the Baltimore defense, but I do think that he'll be able to take a hit and still pick up some yards. He rarely gets stuffed for little or no gain. If he can do that, the Patriots will be in good shape.

TL: Besides Tom Brady, what are the Patriots' top 3 strengths; weaknesses?

DH: I'd say the team's biggest strength is Belichick. You can hate on him if you want, but the man has put together winning season after winning season, despite losing top tier players to free agency and injury. When all is said and done, he'll definitely go down as one of the greatest coaches ever. I think other strengths include their tight end play, which has really turned around their game in the red zone.

Last season the Patriots were constantly settling for field goals once they crossed the 20 yard line. This season, thanks to their ability to play big and bang around in the end zone, they're routinely picking up seven points. As for a third strength, I'd say that this team is fairly young and explosive across the board. They're quickly turning into a team known for their quickness, big hits, and play-making ability. This was also something sorely lacking last season.

As for weaknesses, I'd say the Achilles heel at the moment is their cornerback play. Devin McCourty has looked strong for a rookie, but he's still a rookie. Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington have found themselves abused on more than one occasion as well. Two other weaknesses would be their running game and lack of a true #1 back, as well as well as their ability to get a strong pass rush going.

TL: What is the weather forecast and what conditions in your opinion favor the Pats; work against the Pats?

DH: It's supposed to be sunny and windy in the 60's. I'm not sure that weather will play much of a roll, but if I could pick the conditions, I'd go with something similar to the torrential rain we saw on Monday night. With the ball being slick, I think that Brady might hold an even bigger edge over Flacco and could tilt the game in New England's favor.

TL: Does Gisele wear a Brady jersey during games like Jessica Simpson used to do for Romo?

DH: I actually don't ever recall seeing shots of Gisele or any of Brady's former girlfriends during the games, so I really wouldn't know the answer here. My guess is that a #12 jersey isn't Gisele's style.

TL: NFL rules state that players whose hair reaches down to their jerseys can legally be tackled by their hair. Do you think the game officials would let the Ravens get away with that one with Shaggy Brady? Should Brady get a haircut? Is it true that windblown hair caused his auto accident?

DH: I'd love to see the Ravens try to go at Brady's hair. That would almost be guaranteed to be a free 15 yards! In all honesty, I'm starting to feel Brady's hair. Early on it was very Justin Bieber-ish. I think we've now reached the length where he has legitimate long hair like a WWF wrestler and he's starting to look less like a Swedish speedo model and more like a tough guy.

TL: Finish these sentences...if the Patriots win, they'll do so because (and outscoring the Ravens is not an acceptable answer)...if they lose it's because they failed to (and outscoring the Ravens is not an acceptable answer)

DH: If the Patriots win, they'll do so because Benjarvus Green-Ellis was able to establish some sort of running game and open up the passing attack, and because the defense made some big plays to force turnovers.

If the Patriots lose, it's because they allowed Brady to fall under pressure and get hit a lot, thus slowing down the passing game, and because the secondary got torn up by the Ravens' receivers.

TL: What will be the final score?

The Patriots have been scoring 30+ points in every game this season. I think the Ravens will end that trend with their D. My confidence level isn't overly high here, but I can't go against a Belichick-coached team coming out of a bye week. I think we'll see some big plays again on defense and special teams by the Patriots that will determine the game.

New England 27, Baltimore 24








Now Us...

DH: What were the main things (positive/negative) you took out of Baltimore's 31-17 win over the Denver Broncos last week?

TL: The win was a relatively easy one and the outcome was hardly in doubt from the very start. The plusses were multiple headlined by a dominant performance by the offensive line and the inside-the-tackles running of Ray Rice. The Ravens corners also played very well.On the downside the Ravens' safeties failed to sufficiently defend the deep ball against Kyle Orton who burned them twice on long tosses to Brandon Lloyd. Also Joe Flacco continues to struggle to get to his second read particularly if his check down receiver (usually Rice) is covered.

DH: How do you think the secondary has played without Ed Reed for the first five games of the season?

TL: The Ravens are ranked second in pass defense and their defensive line has failed to muster much pressure. Put that together and it suggests that the Reed-less secondary has covered well.

DH: Before the Week 2 loss to the Bengals, I heard Bob Holtzman say that Joe Flacco told him that there is not one go-to receiver in this offense? Do you think that has a negative impact on this passing attack or is it something Flacco can develop over the course of the season?

TL: Bob Holtzman is wrong. Anquan Boldin is the go-to-guy and as the season progresses teams will roll coverage towards him and it will open things up for Todd Heap, Derrick Mason and TJ Houshmandzadeh. Housh's game winning TD catch in man coverage is a perfect example of how the attention given Boldin, opens things for the other pass catchers.

DH: What do you make of Joe Flacco's progression over his 3 year career? Do you think he can become an elite QB within the next five years?

TL: I think Joe can be an elite QB within the next 2 years once he gets used to connecting on his second and third reads. There are few better at delivering the ball when that first read is open. When it isn't, that's where Flacco struggles. If he improves in that area, he'll be mentioned in that second tier of signal callers but I doubt that he'll approach the status of a Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Drew Brees.

DH: As of right now, is this the best team in the AFC? Are they the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year?

TL: Like every NFL team the Ravens are not without flaws. If they don't improve at getting to the quarterback and if Flacco reverts to turning the ball over the way he did earlier in the season, the Ravens will not go deep into the post season. It isn't often that a team is minus 6 in turnovers and is 4-1. If they correct that and pressure the passer slightly better, they could be alive in February. That said to label anyone the best now is about as useful as the many power ranking that aren't worth the server space they occupy on websites throughout the world.

DH: What is your prediction for the Patriots the rest of the season? What are your thoughts on the Randy Moss trade to Minnesota?

TL: I think the Patriots are a year away from making a deep push into the post season. They'll get there and the experience will bode well for their youthful roster going forward but right now I think there are too many holes in that defense.As for the Moss trade, I think one could argue that the move suggests that Bill Belichick might agree with my outlook for his team. You can't say they are better without Moss. Deion Branch is a decent receiver but he's not Randy Moss. Belichick did the Ravens and all AFC title contenders a favor by trading him away - at least for this season.

DH: How much do you think revenge plays a factor in this game after Baltimore's 33-14win at Gillette Stadium last year in the Wild Card playoffs?

TL: Revenge is overrated and sometimes a smart team can use those emotions against an opponent to get them to bite and move them out of their assignments and off landing marks. I have to question a team's will if they need revenge to play better.

DH: Who wins this game on Sunday and Why?

TL: Oftentimes matchups dictate the outcome. While lesser teams beat up on the Cincinnati Bengals the Ravens struggle against them. For me it's about winning and losing matchups - individual battles. I think the Patriots are a good matchup for the Ravens. Even when the Ravens have lost in recent years to the Patriots with seemingly far less talent, they've been in the mix and a play away from winning. This game will be no different. It will be entertaining but in the end I see the Ravens winning a close game, snapping another streak (as they did in last year's divisional playoff game) for Belichick and Brady with home regular season wins and wins after a bye.

Ravens 24, Patriots 23

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Smile a little while...


When we first launched this site, it looked a lot different than it does today. Comparing the then and now of Ravens24x7.com would be like comparing the Love Me Do Beatles to the Sgt. Pepper Beatles.

Yet while we look different and more sophisticated, the mission hasn't changed and that is and always will be to bring Ravens coverage to you from a fan's perspective. Sure our reach has expanded and our tools are more cutting-edge but our daily goal will always be to reward you with fun and enjoyment each time you are kind enough to visit our site.

We are in the business of "feel good." We want to be an escape for folks - an escape from monotony and a chance to delve deeper into your passion for the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL.

But we don't want to stop there.

You know I pay little attention to the daily news because it depresses me. I don't want to hear about murderers and rapists and drugs and thieves. I prefer to surround myself with positive people who find the silver lining in problems and view adversity as an opportunity to get better.

Maybe that's Pollyanna but I don't care. It's the way I choose to wake up, do my job, live my life and retire at night.

And that's why from time to time you'll see a human interest story discussed here in this column. Maybe bad news sells but by all means sell it somewhere else. I'll take "feel good" any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

This approach has helped to pave the way for me to meet some wonderful people whose stories are quintessential chicken soup for the soul. I'd like to share another bowl of that soup with you today.

This serving is about a little girl, today a diehard Ravens' fan who adores Joe Flacco - the daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Michael Riskin who as you might guess are also Ravens' fans now raising another future member of the purple and black brigade, their 3-year-old son Dylan.

Here is the story of Rachel Riskin as told by her mom Brandy...

On September 18 2006, my 3 year old daughter Rachel woke up at 5am screaming of a terrible headache. Anxious and upset, I took her to Franklin Square Hospital, where they did a CT scan of her head. It showed a large brain tumor on her cerebellum, which is the brain's center of balance. We were immediately transported by ambulance to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

We were told that Rachel would need brain surgery to remove the tumor, and that Dr. Ben Carson was going to be her surgeon. The tumor was causing an excessive amount of fluid to build up inside her brain and they made it clear that she needed to have the operation right away.

On September 19, the very next day (which also happened to be my 26th birthday), Dr. Carson spent 9 hours removing the tumor from my daughter's brain. Surrounded by family and friends, my husband and I anxiously awaited news from the operating room. When the surgery was over, Dr. Carson came into the waiting room to speak with us. He gave us the great news that he was confident that he'd removed the tumor completely. He then told us he was very sure that it was cancer. I'll never forget the shocked silence that overcame all of us. It felt like no one was able to speak, or move, or even begin to grasp what that could mean.

And I was 4 months pregnant with our second child.

The next few days were a surreal whirlwind of emotion. Chemo. Radiation. Cancer. The pathology report came back as a Medulloblastoma, a very highly aggressive form that spreads quickly. They did an MRI of her entire spine, which showed that the disease had already spread. This put her in the "Stage 4" category, which meant that we were going to be fighting for her life with everything we had in us.

Dr. Carson also informed us of something else we hadn't expected.

Children who have large tumors removed from the base of their brain sometimes develop a condition called Posterior Fossa Syndrome. Rachel lost her ability to talk, or walk, or sit up, or even hold her head up by herself. She had to relearn everything, just like an infant going through the stages of development. From holding her head up, to sitting up, to taking first steps all over again.

Not a single word came out of her mouth for almost 3 months. We spent over 2 months as an inpatient, getting chemo at Hopkins and rehab at Kennedy Kreiger Hospital. Her little body was trying so hard to recover, and yet became sicker and sicker from the chemo.

She lost all hair, and had many complications from the intensive high doses of the chemo. My husband and I spent so many nights taking turns sleeping in hospital beds next to our daughter. I became increasingly uncomfortable with my growing pregnant belly. But it didn't matter, she needed me and I needed her.

The left side of her face had become paralyzed after her brain surgery. During the operation some important nerves in her brain had been damaged in order to remove all of the tumor. We had so much hope that as she recovered, her facial movement would come back. It never did.

Starting in late 2007, she began a series of "smile surgeries", performed by a plastic surgeon at Hopkins. She's had tiny nerves and muscles removed from her leg and transplanted into her face - all in hopes that her smile would come back.

We were so blessed in so many ways. We had one of the best surgeons in the world for Rachel's brain surgery, who successfully removed the entire tumor in her brain. We've had amazing and wonderful oncologists, who we will be forever grateful to.

After 2 rounds of chemotherapy, she had a clean MRI, the smaller spots on her spine had disappeared. Three more rounds of harsh chemo and 6 weeks of radiation, and we were done with her treatment. Frequent MRI scans over the past 3 years have all been clean.

We have had so much support from our family and friends. My husband and I were able to be there for her, and for each other, and for our newborn son. It is the hardest thing we've ever been through.

But she's here, and she's tough.

Today she is 7 years old and a 3 year cancer survivor.

She has come so far.

She goes to school, has friends, and adores her little brother. She's a persevering, sassy, and fearless little girl, with a heart of gold.

She is beautiful.

She is innocence.

She is strength.

And her smile is coming back. She's here with us, and she's starting to smile again. I couldn't ask for anything more.

"You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have." - Anonymous

You know in football and in life we admire athletes and/or determined people who weather their personal "storms", stare adversity in the face, swear that they won't let it beat them and then emerge triumphantly.

We learn from them and we hope that they represent men and women of character who children aspire to be like.

In the case of Rachel Riskin the child is teaching us all.

One day, I hope to be just like her.


NOTE: If you would like an opportunity to meet this inspiring little girl, please join us at Liberatore's in Perry Hall on Wednesday, October 27 at 7PM. There she will share her story in person in a little Q&A that will undoubtedly warm your heart. Thank you!

Monday, October 11, 2010

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


THE GOOD: The three-headed monster was in full force against the Broncos 213 yards. Ray Rice (133 yards) was outstanding between the tackles while Willis McGahee (67 yards) took advantage of a worn out Denver defensive line and recovered from a slow start. Le’Ron McClain (13 yards) racked up a few tough yards in short yardage and deep red zone carries but was more instrumental leading the way for the tailback tandem…The offensive line is meshing nicely as Marshal Yanda grows more and more comfortable at right tackle…Haloti Ngata shrugged off a leg injury sustained as a tight end on an out route prior to the first defensive snap (in Cam Cameron’s offensive goal line sub package). He continues his dominance at the point of attack with two tackles for losses…Fabian Washington was busy with 5 tackles and 4 passes defended. Secondary mate Lardarius Webb like Washington wrapped up well after short receptions by Denver receivers who are known for adding substantive yards after catch.

THE BAD: Dawan Landry bit on a hitch move from Brandon Lloyd and blew his deep half Cover 2 assignment paving the way to Denver’s first touchdown…Tom Zbikowski does little over the middle to discourage opposing quarterbacks from visiting his area of the field. One more game and he'll be relegated to special teams…The Ravens’ pass rush is non-existent and if they are going to have a chance against Tom Brady in New England this coming weekend, Greg Mattison is going to have to dial it up a notch.

THE UGLY: Cameron’s short yardage offense has been extremely lackluster this season, particularly during the last two games in red zone situations. The ending to the Ravens initial drive was embarrassing. The short yardage package lacks an identity and the performances and play calling appear timid.

THE MEGAN FOX: Special Teams…Sam Koch netted 38.5 yards on his four punts while Billy Cundiff hit 5 of his 6 kickoffs into the end zone. Demaryius Thomas unwisely decided to return one of Cundiff’s kickoffs after catching it 6 yards deep. He was knocked out of the game after a vicious hit by Ravens reserve LB Jason Phillips. The two coverage units helped to control field position and neutralize a dangerous Denver weapon in Eddie Royal.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Ravens in a great spot as they turn season's quarter pole



The Ravens 3-1 start is pretty decent start under any circumstances but even more impressive when you consider that:

* Three of the first four games have been on the road

* They've played without the services of Pro Bowlers Ed Reed and Brendon Ayanbadejo and at least Reed is expected to return by October 24 (the first game either is eligible to come off the PUP List)

* Starting offensive tackle Jared Gaither has missed all four games

* Of their 2010 draft picks only David Reed has had a marginal impact

* The passing game has been inconsistent (Joe Flacco ranks 25th in the league with a passer rating of 70.5)

* The running game is ranked 23rd in the league

* Starting corners Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb are just beginning to round into playing shape

* Speedster Donte Stallworth lies in wait and should return in a few weeks

* The pass rush is rather anemic producing just 7 sacks in four games

* The return games have yet to get untracked (ranked 29th in punt returns and 24th in kick returns)

* The Ravens are dead last in the league in turnover margin with -7

What this all says to me is that the Ravens are collectively resilient and they have the will to overcome adversity. Perhaps they can't correct all of these issues yet all are correctable with the possible exception of Jared Gaither who is plagued by a hard to diagnose back injury.

The schedule sets up well for the Ravens during the month of October and early November which presents perhaps the least amount of travel of any team in the NFL. This week the Ravens host the Broncos then head to New England on October 17. They follow that game up at home on October 24 and then comes their bye on October 31. Following the bye the Ravens then host the Miami Dolphins.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Introducing the Baltimore Ravens Fan Zone phone app


We are so pleased to introduce to you our free Baltimore Ravens Fan Zone phone app for Droid users. Our goal in creating this app with the very capable guidance from our web developer D3 Corp was to provide Ravens fans with a portable tool that will allow them to stay in touch with the Ravens at all times.

We also designed it to help our customers promote their businesses in a state-of-the-art way.So what does Baltimore Ravens Fan Zone include?

Ravens Blogs/Commentary: These buttons provide you with access to our award winning, Ravens-centric original content. We cover the Ravens from A to Z and offer insight into X's & O's, insider information, salary cap analysis and the latest news. In a nutshell we have the Ravens completely covered through the eyes of fans with one caveat - we are fans with access to the team. If you are looking for propaganda you won't find it here.

In The Press: If our coverage of the Ravens isn't enough for you the In The Press button on our Baltimore Ravens Fan Zone phone app delivers Ravens news, information and commentary from other local and national media sources including: The Sun, BaltimoreRavens.com, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo, ESPN, National Football Post, CBS Sportsline, Fox Sports and Pro Football Talk. With In The Press, you no longer need to surf the web for Ravens News. We do it for you.

League News: Why stop at Ravens news? If you are a fan of the Ravens you are a fan of the NFL. League News brings the buzz around the league into one convenient landing spot - League News.

Forums: You can read and/or participate on our very popular Message Board Forums which consist of the most diehard of Ravens fans who enjoy a challenging albeit respectful debate.

Deals: Why carry around coupons? Our sponsors are providing deals to our phone app subscribers. You can dial up sponsors by location or look at all the deals to determine where you want to go and what offers you'd like to take advantage of. We are adding to the deals on a daily basis. Just hit the Gold Zone button, pull up the deal you want, punch up the Gold Zone Card which is free to all app users and start saving!

Fan Pics: Our fan photo galleries have always been one of our most popular features. Now you can not only access the most current gallery with the Baltimore Ravens Fan Zone phone app, you can also add pictures to it. Take pictures with your Droid and upload them to our site. Once approved your photos become part of our fan photo gallery.

Schedule: Don't have a Ravens schedule with you? Well you always will have one with you as long as you have your Droid. Just hit on our Schedule button and you are in touch with all upcoming Ravens games as well as the results from games already played.

Ravens24x7.com Website: This button serves as a bookmark for you to access our award winning site and browse around at your convenience. Ravens24x7.com, all Ravens all the time and without a doubt it and the Baltimore Ravens Fan Zone phone app are for those who bleed purple.

Just go to your Droid "market", search for Ravens Fan Zone and you'll find us.

Download it today!

Did I tell you that it's free?

We invite you to put the app through the paces and by all means if you are aware of businesses that may wish to be part of the Gold Zone, drop us a line at 410-870-2128.

Ravens lose Pryce, need to lose empty backfield too


As time goes by it appears more likely that the Ravens dangled Trevor Pryce expecting Rex Ryan to take the bait. The team views Pryce as a player with rapidly diminishing skills and if they didn’t see him that way, why part ways with a player who has had 26 sacks over the past four seasons particularly considering the team’s inability to generate a consistent pass rush? When you also consider that Pryce’s spot was taken by safety Ken Hamlin and the Ravens activated more defensive linemen than usual against the Steelers it suggests that Pryce was hardly priceless and very expendable.

Back to the pass rush, Greg Mattison’s unit hasn’t been able to strike fear in the hearts of opposing signal callers. But despite the absence of an upfront push the team’s pass defense is ranked No. 1 in the league after four games by a comfortable 20+ yard average. So much for the secondary being the team’s Achilles’ heel.

One area that the Ravens need to clean up is their short yardage offense. Emptying the backfield on third and short is flat out ridiculous. Spreading teams out is one thing. Tipping your hand exposes your quarterback particularly against a dangerous pass rush like that of the Steelers.

Ngata, Yanda deserving of big pay days


Haloti Ngata had his best game as a pro and there have been many. He usually plays very well against the Steelers and on Sunday he was the most disruptive force on the field for either team. His effort was a continuation of what so far is an outstanding season for the former Oregon Duck. Some in the media and most fans wonder aloud, "Why are the Ravens waiting to lock up Ngata to a long-term deal?"

The Ravens would love to do exactly that but it won't be easy. But as it turns out, inking Ngata to a long term deal presents hurdles outside of the collective control of the Ravens and Ngata's agent.

Why?

Blame it on the Uncapped Year.

The CBA Rules as they relate to the uncapped year contain a provision that is going to make it difficult for the Ravens to give Ngata the contract extension that he deserves.

One of the Uncapped Year rules is the 30% Rule which places a limit on contracts renegotiated and/or extended during the Uncapped Year. Basically, a contract that was signed during a Capped Year (for Ngata, 2006) can be renegotiated and extended during the Uncapped Year, but only if the player's "salary" increases annually by no more than 30% of his 2009 "salary."

For the purposes of the 30% Rule, "salary" is basically base salary plus option bonus prorations.

Ngata's 2009 salary was a little under $2.4M, so that means that the most Ngata could make (signing bonus excluded) is as follows:

2010: $3.12M
2011: 3.84M
2012: 4.56M
2013: 5.28M
2014: $6M
2015: $6.72M

While those numbers are certainly nothing to sneeze at, they only total just over $29.5M, and usually you would expect higher base salaries for the kind of deal that Ngata will command.

So, in order to balance that out, the Ravens would have to give Ngata a huge, upfront signing bonus because signing bonus money is not considered as part of the 30% calculation.

The Ravens have always preferred to split bonus money into a signing bonus in year one and an option bonus in year two (and sometimes a little in year three, as well). But, in Ngata's case the 30% Rule would force the club to give one upfront signing bonus of $35-40M to balance out the relatively modest base salaries shown above.

The Ravens would probably not be that averse to giving a huge bonus to Ngata - he's certainly not someone the team would have to worry about with regard to off-field issues - but it's also an issue of just how much money the Ravens can spend at this point in real world dollars and cents.

During offseason, the Ravens paid a $23M option bonus to Terrell Suggs and have also paid close to $22M in other bonuses to Domonique Foxworth, Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin, Michael Oher, Derrick Mason and Cory Redding. That's a total of $45M in bonus money paid to just 7 players. As a point of reference, the Ravens spent $112M on their total payroll (all salaries and bonuses) in 2009.

With the possibility of a work stoppage in 2011, it remains to be seen if the Ravens even have the necessary cash flow to take on another bonus - especially one of that magnitude.

Another player that the Ravens will need to extend is Marshal Yanda. Yanda is currently playing under the terms of his restricted free agent deal and is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2011 barring any unforeseen terms in a new collective bargaining agreement that might restrict his financial freedom.

Yanda is a Pro Bowl caliber guard now playing at a high level as a right tackle. The former Kirk Ferentz protégé is a perfect example of how a player short on physical tools can be extremely productive through preparedness, effort and attention to technique.

Coaches were extremely impressed with Yanda's effort against Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley and with that kind of productivity the team is in no rush to bring back Jared Gaither. It could even persuade the team to IR the enigmatic tackle to free up a roster spot should his back issues continue.


Brian McFarland contributed to this blog.




Monday, October 04, 2010

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX: Ravens @ Steelers



COMING OF AGE GAME FOR JOE FLACCO

It's far too early in the season to label any game a must win but if you were forced to do so, Sunday's contest between the Ravens and the Steelers might fit the bill for the purple and black.

A loss would have dropped the Ravens to 1-2 in the division and 2 games behind the Steelers who will get a big lift from Ben Roethlisberger. The suspended signal caller returns to the field for Pittsburgh in Week 6 following the Steelers bye week.

But this 17-14 win for the Ravens was more than just a way to keep pace with their bitter rivals. The win removed a big monkey from the Ravens' backs by winning for just the second time in eleven tries at Heinz Field. It also may be remembered as a coming of age game for Joe Flacco. For the first time in his career Flacco engineered a game winning drive at the end of a game on the road and against a playoff caliber opponent. That four play, 40 yard drive could prove to be the experience Flacco needed to take him to the next level in quarterbacking competency.

THE GOOD: Flacco had a couple of shaky moments when he fumbled after holding the ball too long and a head scratching interception. But other than that Flacco looked smooth, delivered on time and his pump fake and strike to TJ Houshmandzadeh for the game winner is a play likely to become a bookmark in the career of No. 5...Houshmandzadeh shook off an early drop that could have given the Ravens a key first down to haul in Flacco's pass to produce the game's final score. His head fake on the play influenced CB Bryant McFadden to bite allowing for a gaping window for Flacco to deliver the ball successfully...Houshmandzadeh's wide receiver mates Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin were also productive with 6 and 7 catches respectively. Mason made a great acrobatic catch along the left sideline for a first down and Boldin leaped high on one of his grabs, corralled it and then had the presence of mind to reach behind the sticks for another first down...Lardarius Webb is recovering from his ACL injury nicely and made a key strip in the end zone of a would be TD pass from Charley Batch to Mike Wallace...The offensive line as a unit deserves mention while Marshal Yanda is deserving of individual praise handling the always dangerous LaMarr Woodley...Ray Lewis rebounded from a poor outing against Cleveland last week and put the exclamation point on the win with a diving interception of a Batch pass...Cam Cameron's playing calling early in the contest was outstanding.

THE BAD: Cameron's play calling in the second half was questionable at best. He didn't take any shots down field early in the down and distance sequence despite the ample time the offensive line provided Flacco. He also got away from what was working in the first half opting instead to run the ball most first downs. The short yardage and goal line play selections are screaming for improvement...Todd Heap dropped a big gain down the middle, probably due to the menacing presence of Ryan Clark...Tom Zbikowski is a rather lackluster punt returner. He lacks the speed to get outside yet continues to try. The team likes his sure hands but sure hands alone aren't good enough. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg needs to give someone else a shot.

THE UGLY: The turnovers have to stop. Fortunately neither cost the Ravens yesterday thanks to a resilient defense and an inaccurate kicker. It isn't often that a 3-1 team is -7 in turnover differential.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: Haloti Ngata racked up a game-high and career-high 11 tackles to go with one sack, two tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. He also crushed Rashard Mendenhall for the hit of the day. Ngata usually shows up big against the Steelers and this time, he was nothing less than a beast for Steelers' offensive line.


Saturday, October 02, 2010

Ravens roster moves raise questions


A lot of attention and opinion has been directed towards the Ravens recent release and Jets subsequent signing of 35-year-old defensive end/tackle Trevor Pryce. Local critics of the move are miffed that the Ravens let a player go who over the last 4 seasons has racked up 26 sacks. The move is a bit disturbing to some considering the inability of Greg Mattison’s unit to muster any kind of pass rush.

Clearly Mattison needs to go back to the X’s and O’s board to concoct a pass rush but let’s be honest here – Pryce looks done. Yet I’m sure Rex Ryan will go out of his way to see that Trevor appears successful in New York. Sacks and QB pressures are an easy stat to measure. Getting trucked by opposing offensive linemen on running plays is oftentimes missed by the average fan or not even picked up clearly by the typical TV angle.

But coaches know and that’s why Pryce is gone.

Coaches probably also know why Pryce’s roster spot was given to recently waived veteran safety Ken Hamlin. For me that was the more interesting move of the two.

Now the Ravens will tell you that bringing back Hamlin was their plan all along.

The question is, “For how long?”

Is Hamlin simply a physical presence in the running game that Mattison would like to employ against the Steelers? Have they gone sour on Tom Zbikowski when facing physical opponents after the former Golden Domer was used a crash test dummy by Browns’ RB Peyton Hillis?

It’s not as though the team is lacking in safeties given a roster that consists of Zbikowski, Dawan Landry, Haruki Nakamura and Cary Williams who can double up as a safety. Ed Reed will return in 3 weeks.

Is Hamlin simply an insurance policy or bridge to get to Reed?

Sunday should provide some insight.

After all inquiring minds want to know, right?

Flacco needs to dial up a "W" in Pittsburgh


I have been very critical of Joe Flacco's performances against playoff teams - some say overly critical but I don't make up the putrid numbers. The statistics are history and they speak for themselves.

Many will say that Flacco's struggles are part of the growth process and that most quarterbacks' numbers slump in the playoffs due to the level of competition. To that extent I fully concur. Peyton Manning's ascension to the game's best didn't happen without failure. It's how a player responds to failure and deals with adversity that fuels growth or lack thereof.

On Sunday against the Steelers Joe Flacco will surely face adversity. He'll have to deal with a hostile environment; jet engine decibel levels; a sloppy field; and of course the menacing presence of Messrs. Harrison, Woodley and Polamalu.

Flacco is 0-3 in Pittsburgh. He's had some shining moments but they've been outnumbered by the forgettable ones. But let's hope Joe hasn't forgotten.More than anyone else on the field Sunday, Flacco's play will determine the game's outcome. Getting his team out of the huddle quickly; pre-snap adjustments; fluctuating cadence; quick snaps to prevent the Steelers from disguising and feigning coverages.And of course protecting the football!

Flacco doesn't have to wow us with stats against the Steelers. He just needs to be productive on first down and not lose the turnover battle. More so than any other team in the NFL this season, the Steelers prey on turnovers and in Pittsburgh Flacco has been philanthropic.In his three losses at Heinz Field Flacco is 42 of 86 for 499 yards with 3 TD's and 4 interceptions (one a Polamalu pick 6 in the AFC Championship) for a QB rating of 59.2.

Adding insult to injury Flacco has fumbled 3 times, losing two.THAT has to change!Now I'm not one to buy into the Brian Billick/Rex Ryan philosophy that the quarterback must be the supreme protector of the football - the flawless administrator of a dummied down offense.

I think your quarterback has to be a playmaker.That said, in this game with Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines, Flacco doesn't have to be a playmaker but rather a caretaker to win. It may be a boring brand of football but effective nonetheless. Escaping from the Land of Yinzers with a "W" sets up the balance of the schedule tremendously well.

Every season has its unique set of ebbs and flows, peaks and valley. A win in Pittsburgh would be pivotal even this early in the season. And the burden of that victory rests on Flacco.

Two weeks ago he had his worst professional outing.

Last week he rebounded against the Browns.

During his career the Steelers have been perhaps Flacco's biggest nemesis. The numbers don't lie. Hopefully he'll respond again.

They say that the night is at its darkest just before the dawn.

Let's hope that Bengals' game was Flacco's darkest moment and that the dawn and brighter days lie in wait for Flacco and the Ravens on Sunday at Heinz Field.

What a pivotal moment that would be.

What a way to respond to adversity.

What a way to fuel Flacco's growth and the success of the Baltimore Ravens in 2010.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Can't Play Like a Raven? Then go play like a Jet!


Jealousy and envy are dangerously negative emotions and they can tear at the fabric of any relationship. It seems to me this is exactly the kind of baggage Bart Scott is carrying around these days and for many it has severed heartstrings - heartstrings tied to the fans of the Baltimore Ravens.

Bart has for a long time carted around a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder for Ray Lewis. He believes that he did all the dirty work and Ray got all the glory. Someone please tell Bart that Ray accomplished just a few things prior to his arrival in 2002 as an undrafted free agent.

Obviously this resentment has reared its ugly head in the Jets' locker room. Where else do you think this tidbit delivered by Kris Jenkins before opening night originated from?

"I just hope [on Monday night] [Ray] doesn't hide behind the other linebacker that's taking all the hits for him."

I must admit that my exposure to Bart and the person I thought he was left me with the belief that he was grounded and would never go "big time".

I was wrong and that's too bad.

Now he trashes the very organization that discovered him; gave him a chance to succeed and the ability to provide for his family in ways never before imaginable. Last season Bart told the world that Rex Ryan was the real head coach of the Ravens in 2008 - not John Harbaugh. On Thursday he shared his feelings with the New York Daily News on the Jets recent acquisition of former Raven Trevor Pryce.

"I think [the Ravens] had every intention of bringing him back, but we beat them to the punch," Scott said. "That just shows you how much love people have for Rex. He's willing to leave a football team that's competing for a playoff spot-possibly a Super Bowl spot to come to another one because of his relationship with Rex. I'm sure they had every intention of bringing him back on Monday. But he picked Rex."

"There was only one team that could possibly pull this off," Scott added. "And we pulled it off."

Bart didn't stop there...

"[Trevor Pryce is] a grown man. He gets to go wherever he wants to. It ain't my fault that he likes me more than he likes you. It's his decision. You get jealous when a chick picked your friend and didn't pick you?"

And according to Bart there are more Ravens just like Pryce ready to take the Amtrak Express from Charm City to the Big Apple.

"I guarantee you that there's probably [Ravens] in the same spot right now jealous as hell. Trevor probably gets texts like, 'Man, come get me too.' I guarantee you there's at least 15 other players over there that's praying to God that they get released for a half a day too, so they can come over here. They won't admit it. But I guarantee you."

Bart is either stupid, heartless, unappreciative, possesses an inflated sense of self-entitlement, has large stones that are somehow blocking blood flow to the brain or he's just sucking up to Rex Ryan so that he can see his inflated contract to its very end.

Maybe it's all of the above.

Maybe he just can't help himself and Rex Ryan's rebel cowboy ways simply enable these behaviors in Bart.

And now that Pryce is gone, he seems to have quickly jumped on the Bash Baltimore Bandwagon.

Reduced primarily to a pass rushing specialist, Pryce expected even fewer snaps because in his estimation the Ravens struggled on first and second downs.

"We couldn't stop water from running," he said. "We had some stuff to work out."

No argument there!

The Ravens struggled to stop the run against the Browns particularly when defensive coordinator Greg Mattison used pass rushing sub packages on second and third and long.

Guess who was on the field then?

Pryce has fallen well short of the mark in run support as evidenced by his 1 tackle in 3 games. And while the Ravens have publicly stated that they wanted to bring back the specialist, the truth is they really didn't care if someone else picked him up because he's done next to nothing this season and is a shadow of the player the Ravens brought to Baltimore in 2006.

Don't think for a second that Ozzie Newsome was duped. Maybe, just maybe the Ravens knew all along that Rex Ryan would scoop up on Pryce and they were doing the 35 year old tackle on the distant back slope of his career a discreet favor. Pryce believes the Ravens took "a calculated risk" by releasing him

He may be partly right.

It could have been calculated.

Perhaps this was all a grand scheme on the part of the Ravens' front office to cut an unproductive albeit popular player without backlash in the locker room.

Whatever the case, the Ravens aren't all too bothered by the loss of a player destroyed recently by the Browns' offensive line while the Jets predictably believe they've scored on another washed up veteran.

"We saw it as an opportunity - a window, maybe," Rex Ryan said. "As soon as we saw that they released him, we, of course, got a little excited about it. At first, I was like, 'There's no way he was released.'"

Way!

Good luck in New York Trevor.

Thanks for the memories.

And by all means have Bart and Rex keep a few seats warm for future Harbaugh flunkies.

We hear that's the place where aging veterans in need of some TLC want to be.