Monday, December 26, 2011

Are the Ravens for real?

Sunday will tell us a lot about the inconsistent AFC North leaders

For all intents and purposes the playoffs start on New Year’s Day 2012 in Cincinnati for the Ravens and in order for them to advance beyond the first round, given the team’s ongoing struggles on the road, John Harbaugh & Co. more than likely need a win at Paul Brown Stadium.

And that won’t be easy!

Consider the following in recent meets with the Bengals:

· The Ravens have lost 5 of their last 6 games in Cincinnati, the only win being a game started by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick who up to that point had only 1 career victory.

· Since 2005 the Ravens have averaged 14.5 points per game in Cincinnati while yielding 15.8 points per game. During those 5 road losses @ Cincinnati since ‘05 the Ravens have averaged just 10.6 points per game while yielding 18.4 points per game.

· Offensively the Ravens have averaged 299 yards per game in the Queen City since 2005. To put it in perspective, this average would currently rank 29th in the league.

· During their last two visits to Paul Brown Stadium the Ravens have scored a total of 17 points.

· Joe Flacco has a career QB rating in Cincinnati of 58.3 and 33.1 over his last 2 starts there.

When the Bengals visited M&T Bank Stadium earlier this year, a game won by the Ravens 31-24, the Bengals racked up 483 net yards of offense and that was without star rookie WR AJ Green. Oh, and let’s not forget a very favorable call overturning a Jermaine Gresham touchdown that probably would have forced overtime and who knows what else.

And now there’s the issue of mounting Ravens injuries and a struggling defense.

The Ravens are built to stop the run and force teams to become one dimensional. But during the last two games teams are averaging 131 yards on the ground and 4.2 yards per carry. That could influence defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to deploy more resources to stop Cedric Benson and free up AJ Green, Jerome Simpson and Jermaine Gresham to see more one-on-one coverage. And let’s not forget that Simpson in 2 career games against the Ravens has averaged 10 catches for 137 yards. Jimmy Smith and Chris Carr might look very inviting to Andy Dalton.

The Bengals survival this season may rest on this game. The playoff implications are huge.

And as in any playoff game to win, teams have to bring their A game for 60 minutes.

Recent history suggests that the Ravens don’t do that in Cincinnati.

On Sunday we’ll find out if they will be contenders or pretenders in the 2012 postseason dance.

At times the Ravens could be better with Ray Lewis on the sidelines

It is unlikely that Baltimore Ravens fans will ever experience another player like Ray Lewis. For 16 seasons the man has delivered while performing at or near the top of his profession.

Ray Lewis is a man of God with deep spiritual and religious principles. They guide him and influence his massive role in the community. Children aspire to be like him.

He is a leader, a motivator of men. He is a role model for his teammates in that he prepares for and studies his next opponent like no other. He is a rare breed – a talented overachiever. He doesn’t take his bountiful athleticism for granted.

Instead he is dedicated to conditioning in order to stave off Father Time and extend an already highly decorated career.

His work ethic is unparalleled.

Add it all up and you can see why Ray, despite participating in the ultimate team sport, has earned special privileges not available to his teammates.

Ray Lewis is the Ravens’ rock star.

Whether he’s participating in a game or not Ray rallies his mates before each game demanding their focus, championing togetherness and challenging each and every one of them to “Dominate your man!”

And at this time of year, when the bumps and bruises, aches and pains are as common a locker room presence as adhesive tape, the challenge to dominate becomes even more daunting. And with each passing season, the Decembers get a little longer and require each player to dig a little deeper into the well of perseverance.

Sixteen seasons, 221 regular season games, 1,997 tackles and countless practices later Father Time is finally catching up and Ray Lewis’ game seems to have fallen off markedly as this season continues.

Has Ray reached the bottom of his well?

Sure, there will be times when Ray will still make a highlight reel play or two. His instincts are unmatched and that alone can give him an edge when competing. But he just can’t consistently get it done anymore. He can’t dominate his man on every play – probably not even on most plays.

Unfortunately for the Ravens they are in many ways trapped by Ray’s desire to compete. He’s earned a level of respect within the organization that will never be extended again to any player – ever! The team is also a bit hamstrung because they don’t have many if any inside linebackers as good as Ray, even at the ripe age of 36.

But that doesn’t mean the Ravens can’t take Ray off the field in certain sub packages.

Since his return to the lineup in San Diego after recovering from a turf toe injury, Lewis has been exposed as an extreme liability in pass coverage and the truth be told, he should NOT be part of any third down sub packages designed to stop the pass.

He doesn’t get to the quarterback as a blitzer.

And in space he looks every bit of his 36 years.

But who’s going to tell Ray? Who is going to remove him from those sub packages?

Answer: Ray should remove Ray!

The man has always implored his teammates to, “Take care of the man next to you!” He has pleaded with them to be willing to do anything it takes for each other.

It’s now time for Ray to practice what he preaches. It’s time for Ray to help his coaches get beyond the rock star treatment and go to them, tell them that the best thing for the team is to pull him in certain third down packages.

Something has to give. Either the coaches need to man up and make it happen or Ray needs to kick foolish pride to the curb and volunteer.

One way or another on third and long, in order for Chuck Pagano’s defense to, “Get off the field”, Ray Lewis needs to get off the field first.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lewis & Levens knew that to play they might pay

NFL players today understand the risks they take when they step out on to an NFL field. Most of them have understood the risks for quite some time. They are accepted as occupational hazards.

There’s nothing new about this and most players are willing to roll the proverbial dice in order to play a game they love while being paid handsomely all the while hoping they never suffer a life altering injury.

This week we learned that the Ravens all-time leading rusher Jamal Lewis along with former Green Bay Packer Dorsey Levens filed a lawsuit against the NFL and NFL Properties in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. The suit alleges that the NFL has known about the potential long-term harm caused by concussions for many years.

Today’s players are bigger, faster and stronger. That isn’t news to you, me or Messrs. Lewis and Levens. We and they have all seen how yesterday’s players like Mike Webster, Andre Waters, Terry Long and of course John Mackey have suffered from dementia, severe depression, some even driven to suicide because they were so mentally tortured.

It’s safe to say that as players continue to develop, the hits will become more vicious and the consequences more serious unless precautions are taken. The NFL is taking those precautions and they continue to explore new and better ways to protect players.

Has Muhammad Ali sued the WBA or WBC?

Eric Lindross hasn’t sued the NHL.

They knew the risks.

Sometimes the precautions aren’t taken until there are casualties.

Like Ali and Lindross these players exchanged the risks for the fame and fortune.

Unlike those greats, Lewis and Levens don’t want to be held accountable for their own decisions.

They deserve nothing more than their pensions and benefits.



Santa Claus visited M&T Bank Stadium on Christmas Eve 2011 and he looked strikingly similar to Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur. The Browns skipper’s inept sideline leadership, play calling and clock management played a huge role in gifting the Ravens a 20-14 victory and keep their 2011 home record at an unblemished 8-0.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

The Ravens jumped out to a 20-0 lead but as they have so often in the past, they took their collective foot off the accelerator and let an inferior opponent back in the game. The Ravens clearly lack a killer instinct and the blame for that falls on the shoulders of three men: John Harbaugh; Cam Cameron; and Joe Flacco.

The team now will travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in a flexed game (4:15 kickoff) to try and secure a first round playoff bye. It won’t be easy. The Ravens have scored a total of 17 points during their last two visits to Paul Brown Stadium during which Joe Flacco has tossed 6 interceptions and posted a putrid quarterback rating of 33.1. The extended forecast for the game is for partly cloudy skies and moderate temps in the 40’s. The Ravens have been installed as an early 3 point favorite.

Now, back to Pat Shurmur and the season of giving...

THE GOOD: Despite resources deployed to shut him down, Ray Rice still managed 135 yards of offense including a 42 yard touchdown reception on a perfectly executed wheel route. Joe Flacco delivered an excellent ball dropping it in a bucket beyond D’Qwell Jackson and in front of the oncoming safety…Flacco looked sharp in the first half although he waited too long to deliver the ball to Torrey Smith who had beaten the corner and the safety on a go route. Flacco had a QB Rating of 133.7 in the first half…Vonta Leach is seemingly growing stronger as the season progresses. The Ravens acquired him with December and January football in mind and their investment is paying big dividends. On one play Leach dropped Browns DE Jabaal Sheard and then continued to release in the right flat to provide a dump off option for Flacco…

Brendon Ayanbadejo was active making two keys plays. He sacked Seneca Wallace after torching the statuesque Tony Pashos off the edge and he was in position to knock Peyton Hillis out of bounds during the Browns final possession to force a key turnover on downs…Bernard Pollard had a plus outing with 8 tackles.

THE BAD: The Ravens rushing defense was beaten consistently throughout the divisional contest. Despite keying in on Peyton Hillis, the big bruising back still managed to average 4.7 yards per carry on his way to a 112 yard afternoon. Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody struggled to win at the point of attack and too often looked like they were on roller skates. When that happens it almost always spells trouble for Ray Lewis who managed 10 tackles, few if any of which were at or behind the line of scrimmage. Lewis has also become an extreme liability in pass coverage and he needs to get off the field in obvious third down passing situations…Ed Reed has had a bad season so far and not until his blitz to force Wallace to get rid of the football too quickly on a key third down was he noticeable for anything positive. He was by far the less effective Ravens’ safety yesterday. He and Lewis, sure-fire Hall of Famers, are looking every bit their age as of late...Chris Carr has had a rough season. Yesterday was no different. Always a slow starter, there is little to no evidence thus far this season that Carr can be counted on. If concussed Cary Williams is unable to go in Cincinnati, is anyone confident that he can stay with AJ Green or even Jerome Simpson?

THE UGLY: Let’s start with the uniforms! The last time the Ravens wore that sad purple and black combination was the last time they lost at home – last December to the Steelers in the “Polamalu Game.” Can someone burn that combo?... Ed Dickson doing his best Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran impersonation yesterday…Joe Flacco’s second half – a QB Rating of 4.9 and yes the decimal place is correct…The injuries are mounting. Just when he seemed to be getting his mojo back, David Reed is lost for the year with an ACL tear; Cary Williams and Dannell Ellerbe could both be lost for the Cincinnati game with concussions; Marshal Yanda may have broken a rib or two and experienced trouble breathing…Special teams were horrific save for Shayne Graham. Sam Koch had a bad day; Graham struggled with his 5 kickoffs – only 1 of which reached the end zone (without a touchback) and that will threaten a coverage team that struggles without Cundiff’s touchbacks. Josh Cribbs’ 84-yard jaunt for his 11th career TD return is the third the Ravens have allowed this season for a score. That hasn't happened in nine years. If Cam Cameron is on notice, why isn’t Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg?...John Harbaugh needs to be held accountable for not putting away a staggering opponent. That soft approach is as contagious as a killer approach. Perhaps that in part explains the road struggles against sub .500 teams.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: The Browns initial drive looked like it would go the distance until Lardarius Webb made an excellent interception to reverse the game’s early momentum. Webb had 4 defended passes on the afternoon. On a day when there was little to get excited about other than Rice’s TD catch and the play of Ayanbadejo, Webb’s effort was the best choice for TMFA!

I couldn’t really give this to Pat Shurmur, could I?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Z on TV has no C-L-U-E when it comes to Baltimore sports talk radio

Like many of you I learned yesterday that 105.7 The Fan’s Jen Royle is leaving Baltimore to head back to her native Boston. We wish you the best Jen.

I never really had the pleasure of spending any time with Royle but from what I hear from others who I do know and know Jen, she’s a good girl who was miscast by management at 105.7 The Fan. And she can’t be blamed for that. The blame rests on the shoulders of the station’s management . They know what Jen Royle is and the truth be told, they aren’t always concerned about the quality of their programming – only the profits.

By her own admission on air when she first started covering the Baltimore Ravens, Royle didn’t know much about football or the team. And to put her on air is really an insult to the station’s listeners. But 105.7 doesn’t really care about that if they can finagle a buck.

But even in her comfort zone of baseball, Royle brought little to the table except filler and fluff and to pair her up with baseball minds vastly superior to hers (Bob Haynie and Jim Duquette) only exacerbated the problem and accentuated her deficiencies, particularly for the station’s true customers – the listeners.

The Sun’s TV critic David Zurawik has a different take on Royle’s departure.

“Royle, who has used social media as well any sports reporter in Baltimore, has been a controversial figure, there is no doubt about that. But as was the case with Anita Marks, who left a talk-show post at WJZ-FM last year, gender surely played a role.

Let's be honest, the largely male sports-talk audience here seems to have some real issues with any woman on-air who has strong opinions on sports.”

Hey David Zurawik – YOU ARE DEAD WRONG!

Baltimore sports fans, men and women simply demand competency when it comes to covering their sports teams. And for you to apply a broad-brush stroke like that suggesting that local sports fans have issues with women sportscasters is grossly irresponsible, inaccurate and smacks of a hidden agenda.

Like many columnists for The Sun, your opinion on this topic at best hardly seems pure and at worst is driven by the bottom line of the propaganda engine you work for.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why call that stadium Snapdragon when POS is more appropriate

They say absence makes the heart grow founder and I’m sure many of you have experienced the emotion. On a similar level, sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until you compare your good fortunes to others. Such is the case when comparing M&T Bank Stadium to Snapdragon Stadium (fka Qualcomm Stadium).

Snapdragon is a dump!

First, the tailgate lots make the streets of Bagdad seem like the entrance to an exotic resort. Jersey walls and sketchy fencing partition the lot. And the surface seems to provide evidence that Snapdragon played host to some international terrorist hand grenade chucking contest. And the irony is, unlike M&T the police on hand don’t allow you to drink from glass containers. That’s a bit like Rosie O’Donnell worrying about the color of her mascara.

Ok, so you think you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, eh?

Well entering this relic makes walking into M&T seem like a pleasant and uninterrupted stroll in the park. Getting into the Chargers’ crib is anything but a snap (dragon). To access the field level seats you have to navigate a few flights of stairs down where you will find a dungeon-like concourse that is about as “wide” as the men’s room at M&T. There you feel like you are in the bowels of the stadium where if you really want a beer, prepare to sacrifice about half a quarter of game action.

Here are a few other Snapdragon observations…

· Scoreboard ~ Don’t ever complain (not that you would) about the big boards at The Vault. The pair of boards at the Dragon are about as big as the flat screen I gave my son earlier this year for his college house.

· Ooo That Smell ~ Since beer vendors don’t exist at the Dragon, or ushers for that matter, a few of the Chargers fans nearby opted instead for the Pineapple Express. Hey, maybe it was medicinal Mary Jane?

· The Lighting ~ It felt a little dim to me but maybe that’s a California thing since the Niners had trouble at Candlestick last night. That’s pretty funny, Candlestick.

· The Seats ~ We plunked down a nice chunk of change for lower level field seats, 18 rows off the field behind the Ravens bench at the 45 yard line. But because the seats are set so far back from the field, it’s hard to see much if anything on the far sideline.

· Pumped up Kicks ~ San Diego has a bit of a reputation for not being great supporters of the Chargers. But I have to admit that initially I was impressed with the level of noise in the stadium – until I looked around to see who was generating the noise. Few were doing much cheering – certainly not enough to generate that wall of sound. Color me suspicious but I think big old Snapper is pumping in crowd noise. When the Ravens went into a no huddle “attack”, the noise dropped noticeably and it made me wonder if the noise was on some kind of recorded loop.

Of course none of these things would have bothered me in the least had the Ravens not had it handed to them so convincingly.

Thank you Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers!

Ravens made me don a bag!

On Thursday I traveled to San Diego with my wife and a couple of friends to enjoy the many things the area offers and of course to take in the Ravens v. Chargers contest.

The long weekend was amazingly entertaining. We visited several local spots, took a ton of great pictures, visited with some family and friends, engaged in many side-splitting humorous moments, enjoyed some great cuisine and on and on.

Throughout the long weekend, things happened that we hopefuls took as omens – signs of things to come when the two teams put the ball in the air. The sunsets had hints of purple; a lady arrived in our hotel lobby carrying purple roses; the gift shop had purple hoodies with San Diego embroidered across the chest.

In retrospect maybe I just had my doubts given how ineffective the Ravens have been on the road (now 3-4) and I conveniently interpreted the “signs” in a positive way.

But they sure did seem to be everywhere.

And so were Ravens fans.

I was very proud of how well represented Baltimore was. The tailgate lots were filled with purple as fans proudly sported their colors. The parties outside the stadium were off the hook high voltage (Chargers pun intended) and the expectations soared as fans discussed the possibility of hosting an AFC Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium.

Everyone thought that Sunday night would be a night to remember.

And it was but for all the wrong reasons.

We sat behind the Ravens bench, lower level 6, around the 45 yard line. I watched the team on the sideline and there was very little positive energy, only frustration. Cary Williams was pulled from the game and there seemed to be some jawing between him and Chuck Pagano. Williams sulked on the end of the bench while I did pretty much the same from my seat.

It was obvious to me that the Ravens had no answer for the Chargers – they were so well prepared for the Ravens in all phases of the game and when they took a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter, you could just sense that the Ravens had no chance.

What a buzz kill!

You know one of the risks you run when you visit another team’s stadium as a fan is a loss and when it happens and you are wearing your colors, it’s an invitation for ridicule.

“Thanks for visiting and leaving your money behind.”

“Ray Lewis is an old man.”

“Suggs looks like he was out too late last night.”

“Your quarterback sucks!”

Reality began to sift in and I went into decompression mode. Suddenly my team and yours went from the driver’s seat to road kill; from the No. 1 seed to wild card status. It then seemed possible that the Ravens could sweep their division and still lose it.

I wonder how often that happens.

We had plans for a big post-game celebration. My cousin who is a native of San Diego County visited us in the Gaslamp District for dinner. I was hardly the best of company. I tried to put a positive spin on things but I couldn’t really find one. Our team was just spanked in all phases of the game.

Descriptions like “frauds” and “posers” parted my lips angrily and rather easily.

A great meal at Lou & Mickey’s tempered my mood a tad, followed by my little numbing go-to after dinner drink – Black Sambuca. Almost fittingly, my cousin, a Chargers fan who clearly seeing my agony was a much more gracious winner than I ever could have been, had a White Sambuca.

The metaphor didn’t escape me – the good guys and the bad; the winners and losers.

As we paid our check to leave, our waitress came out with a bag for a friend’s leftovers. But I had other plans for that bag.

After punching out a few holes in it so that I could see without walking into a wall or worse, an errant Billy Cundiff kick, I walked down Fifth Avenue wearing it over my head, complemented by my Ray Lewis jersey. Ravens fans that passed by gave me consolation punch shakes and hugs. A couple posed for pictures. Another said, “My God did we sh*t the bed or what?”

Those fans, the bag and the laughter surrounding it all from my wife, cousin and friends helped me to move on (and now with perfect knowledge so have the 49ers). I even wore my colors out of the hotel Monday morning and on to the plane. It’s water under the bridge and time to move on.

Maybe the loss was a blessing in disguise. Perhaps it helps to temper and make more realistic our expectations. It’s hard to put a lot of stock in a team as inconsistent as ours.

I’ll try and remind myself of that because my devotion to this team coupled with their Jekyll and Hyde ways is enough to make a Fruit Loop out of me.

My wife already thinks I’m half way there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is There a Toe Monster at M&T Bank Stadium?

First Ben Grubbs; then Ray Lewis; and now Lardarius Webb. Each of these key Ravens players has been slowed by turf toe. Some think that turf toe is the result of banging the big toe into the front of a shoe resulting in a swollen toe and a hideous blood blister under the big toenail.

That’s not the case otherwise modern medicine would allow for swelling reduction, perhaps cutting out the nail and soon thereafter a player could be back out on the field.

So what exactly is turf toe?

According to, “Turf toe is a sprain to the ligaments around the big toe joint, which works primarily as a hinge to permit up and down motion. Just behind the big toe joint in the ball of your foot are two pea-shaped bones embedded in the tendon that moves your big toe. Called sesamoids, these bones work like a pulley for the tendon and provide leverage when you walk or run. They also absorb the weight that presses on the ball of the foot.”

Ben Grubbs is back. Ray Lewis appears to be back but unfortunately it appears to be exit stage San Diego for Webb.

Generally speaking fans want to know three things when it comes to turf toe:

1. What causes turf toe?
2. Does the artificial turf increase the chance of occurrence?
3. How long is the average healing process?

Here are the dummied down answers (mostly for me)…

1. If a player is tackled or forced forward while the toe stays flat to the ground and it forces bending of the toe beyond the normal range of motion, the toe is compromised – hyperextended, leading to ligament damage.
2. Artificial turf has less give and consequently it increases the risk of such hyperextensions.
3. Two to three weeks of rest and perhaps extended time for physical therapy in order to re-establish strength and stability.

The Ravens appear to have taken extra precautions with Ben Grubbs who missed 6 games while resting 7 weeks, including the bye. Ray Lewis has missed 4 games but is expected to return to the field on Sunday against the Chargers. Lardarius Webb? Who knows, time will tell. But the guess here is that if he does miss against the Chargers, the Ravens may rest him against Cleveland and if a bye seems probable, they may give him off against Cincinnati and the first round bye week

Let’s hope the M&T toe monster has had his fill.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Will You be California Dreaming?

Each season I take a look at the Ravens schedule and select an away game, sometimes two and try and figure out a way to rally my wife and a few friends for a Ravens Roadie. It’s not all that hard – kind of like convincing a sailor to pay a visit to the gentlemen’s club after months at sea.

Naturally our roadies are destinations that are either south or west. You see as I get older (it beats the alternative) the more averse I grow to cold weather.

So off we go to San Diego this Thursday morning to help paint the town purple!

San Diego and the surrounding area offer a ton to see and do and while I’ve had the pleasure to visit SoCal fairly often (I once worked for a company based in Long Beach), I know I’ll be like a kid on Christmas morning.

So many things to do and so little time…

The plan is to go to the no huddle offense and score at will. I’m hoping to see Ravens fans in bars, hotels, restaurants and of course on the tailgate lots. I want to capture all the moments in pictures and video and I’m hoping you will be part of that.

Let us know your plans.

Where will you be? What will you do on game day? After a hopeful win?

Like Tom Petty once sang – I NEED TO KNOW!

If you are looking for a place to hang with birds of a like feather try Dirty Birds in Pacific Beach. They are offering 20% off your tab this Thursday through Sunday if you are a Ravens fan and present a valid Maryland driver’s license. This isn't happy hour! It's happy long weekend!

Dirty Birds features the No. 10 ranked wings in America as determined by Yahoo Sports and and they are the ONLY true Ravens bar in the San Diego area, not some poser national chain that is simply selling out on their hometown team.

Just tell everyone that owner Leigh Gibson invited you!

How can you not root for Tim Tebow?

Without a doubt Tim Tebow is a major lightening rod and strangely enough, a polarizing one at that.

And I wonder why.

In Tebow we see a man of strong faith and spiritual conviction. He willingly accepts blame and enthusiastically distributes credit. He lacks prototypical NFL quarterback talent yet he continually finds a way to get the job done in Denver and is 7-1 as a starter.

So what’s wrong with that?

Why aren’t we as Americans universally behind Tim Tebow?

This great country of ours has been built upon overachievers pursuing a dream. Why then can’t a winning quarterback be built the same way? And how Tebow wins today doesn’t necessarily mean that he plans on winning the same way in the future. By his own admission he is a work in progress – one who I might add is progressively working!

The hate makes no sense – unless of course the strength of Tebow’s faith leaves those who lack such convictions feeling a bit insecure.

But his faith should be inspiring not intimidating. Driven by faith Tebow will be a great teammate; an outstanding role model for children; and for the doubters it will propel his work ethic providing the fuel to enable him to reach his fullest potential.

Anyone who hates THAT has issues.

If you aren’t inspired to root for Tim Tebow, you are simply uninspirable.

I have no idea where it will end for Tebow. Conventional thinking suggests his bubble will burst at some point. Actually I tend to agree with that yet I hope he proves me wrong.

In the meantime, count me among those who will cheer him on throughout his journey hoping that his bubble survives. Unless of course along the way there's an encounter with the Baltimore Ravens.

Monday, December 12, 2011


The Baltimore Ravens v. the team formerly known as the Baltimore Colts. Just the mention of the game in years past was enough to raise the collective blood pressure of Baltimore area fans. Mix in the Colts 8 game winning streak against the Ravens and you might expect a pretty tense atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium.

Not yesterday, not the entire week leading into the game. No one was worried and with good reason.

The 2011 Colts stink!

It is mind boggling how much a difference one player makes to a franchise but let’s be honest here, the Colts are a team in decline even with Peyton Manning behind center.

This game wasn’t as close as the score and the Ravens for most of the second half were in cruise control. It seemed a bit like the varsity taking it easy on the JV team.

THE GOOD: Ray Rice was elusive and decisive. He showed great vision on his 6 yard TD scamper in the second quarter and he was patient and explosive when needed when executing screen passes and while positioning himself for Flacco checkdowns…Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith continue their purposeful downfield blocking…Except for a couple of breakdowns during which he predetermined where he was going with the ball despite coverage (see: the interception by Joe Legefed and the dropped potential pick 6 by Antoine Bethea) Joe Flacco had a solid day that could have been even better if not for some effective (albeit illegal) arm barring on Torrey Smith. Flacco used cadence to his advantage. Let’s hope that is a sign of things to come. Flacco was also effective extending plays and ad libbing…Lee Evans sideline grab was a thing of beauty.

Cory Redding is playing near Pro Bowl level. Let’s not forget that Redding was once the Lions’ franchise player. He has been miscast for years and is now finding his place with the Ravens. His day included 3 tackles for a loss, a sack and a QB hurry…Jameel McClain had arguably his best overall game as a Raven leading the team with 8 tackles, 1 for a loss and he was much better when dropping into coverage…Bernard Pollard had his first interception as a Raven but perhaps even more impressive than snaring a Dan Orlovsky overthrow was his coverage throughout the game. Granted Orlovsky won’t be confused with Philip Rivers but Pollard’s 3 passes defended cannot be overlooked…Terrence Cody was stout at the point of attack…Sam Koch tilted the field in the Ravens favor averaging a net of 45.7 yards on his 3 punts…The Ravens were on pace to set a franchise record for fewest yards allowed with 91 surrendered with 2:18 remaining until the Colts' final drive of 76 yards…Lardarius Webb and the punt return team seem to be developing a little rhythm now. That couldn’t come at a better time.

THE BAD: The coach's decision to keep Ray Rice in the game at the end only to be pounded into the line and burn clock against a soon-to-be 0-13 team made no sense. Ricky Williams should have been the workhorse there and Anthony Allen should have been active for the very same reason…Flacco and Cam Cameron need to do some clean up in short yardage situations. The Ravens didn’t have a checkout answer when a fourth and 1 play at the Colts 42 with 9:58 left in the game was doomed from the start. The Colts had 11 attacking the LOS and Ray Rice yet Flacco still went with the play.

THE UGLY: The Ravens entered the game yielding 31 yards on average on kick returns. The Colts entered the contest averaging just 17.9 yards per return. Against Jerry Rosburg’s kick coverage unit the Colts averaged 30 yards per return. That’s just unacceptable. Playoff games are often determined by turnovers and big plays in the return game. It’s time Rosburg cleans this up and gets the right personnel on the field.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: Despite being hog-tied, handcuffed and the recipient of more hugs than Boo-Boo the Bear, Terrell Suggs managed to get 3 sacks and force 3 fumbles (all recovered by the Colts). He very easily could have had 5 if the man hugs weren’t so plentiful. Suggs also added a QB hurry and 2 other tackles for a loss. No other premier pass rusher holds down the edge on running plays the way Sizzle does. He should get serious consideration for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.

MEGA(N)BYTES: By the time the Ravens tee off against the Chargers on Sunday Night Football in America, the Chargers could be eliminated from playoff contention. Their best hope for a post season appearance is if they can win the AFC West but if the Broncos beat the Patriots in Denver (New England is favored by 6) on Sunday afternoon and the Jets can go into Philly and take care of the Eagles (The Toe Monster is a 3 point dog), Rivers & Company’s fate may be sealed. For the record the Ravens are now listed as 2 1/2 point favorites over San DiegoTerrell Suggs now has 13 sacks on the season and that represents a career best. The Ravens all-time record is 15 thanks to Peter Boulware’s terrific 2001 season…Second round pick Torrey Smith caught his 6th TD of the season against the Colts and that marked Joe Flacco’s first career TD pass against Indy. On the season Smith has 37 catches for 693 yards, averaging 18.7 yards per catch. Smith is well on his way to the most productive rookie season in team history. Comparatively speaking the numbers from first round picks Travis Taylor (28 catches, 276 yards, 9.9 avg, 3 TD’s) and Mark Clayton (44 catches, 471 yards, 10.7 avg, 2 TD’s) pale in comparison.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Summer Tradition Fades Away

A very good friend of mine, when measuring the importance of tried and true customs once told me, “Tradition doesn’t graduate.”

That poignant statement hung in the air for me for a few moments. And when it finally soaked in, I knew he was right. All of those traditions passed down from generations; family gatherings; friends hoisting a memorial toast at a special happy hour; the list could go on. But each and every one has significance and these traditional events help sustain and honor the memories. Tradition allows them to echo in eternity.

Tradition doesn’t graduate.

If only the Baltimore Ravens shared that conviction with my friend, there would be happier fans in Ravens Nation today.

Yesterday we learned that the Ravens would not host their training camp at McDaniel College in 2012 and from the looks of it, training camp outside of the team’s headquarters in Owings Mills is a thing of the past and apparently that tradition has graduated.

“In 1996, Westminster was the best place for us to have training camp,” general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome explained. “How teams conduct training camp today is vastly different. Our football needs and requirements are different. The absence of two-a-days, how much space we need for the players and the meetings, the limited number of practices allowed by the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement), the importance of having an indoor field when the summer storms come – all of that and more football-influenced factors, had me recommend to Steve (Bisciotti) and Dick that we hold camp [at team headquarters].”

The backlash from the fans, particularly those who made the trek to Westminster a traditional summer event is predictable and arguably warranted. Those who depend upon the economic boost provided by the McDaniel College camp will be hurt financially and forced to adjust.

Most will argue that the move was driven by greed but the Ravens say no.
“This is not a financial decision,” team President Dick Cass pointed out. “Because of our training camp sponsors and partners, we did not lose money going to Westminster.”

According to the team, this really boils down to what they believe is best for the players and coaches to prepare for the season.

Both Newsome and Cass point to the following as the driving forces behind the decision:

Cass and Newsome pointed out a number of issues that provoked the Ravens to make this decision:

• Facilities at the team’s Owings Mills facility are conducive to the best practices, especially in bad weather when the team can quickly move inside without losing the limited practice time. The team’s state-of-the-art weight room, conditioning machines and medical/training areas are significantly better.

• Ravens have outgrown the Best Western Hotel. “There aren’t enough rooms for our players, coaches and staff. Nor are there rooms for the individual position meetings that are an everyday part of football preparation,” Cass noted. (Each year the Ravens have added trailers to hold position meetings and use as office space for the staff.)

• Technology requirements, including computer and video, have changed dramatically in recent years. Capacity at the hotel is not compatible with team needs.

• The new CBA limits teams to one practice per day, and the efficiency provided in Owings Mills with meeting space, fields and video and IT operations allows the team to maximize the preparation for the season.

Still the fans will be disappointed – some bitterly. You can count team owner Steve Bisciotti among them.

“We completely understand that this takes away an important part of our connection with our fans. I regret that,” Bisciotti continued. “Hopefully, we can find other ways to continue this outreach. We’ll have more to say on this as we develop these programs.”

Let’s give this time to marinate. Let’s see how the club engages the community with these new programs and determine if such new programs coupled with what’s best for the team justifies this gut-wrenching decision.
Old treasured traditions cast aside aren’t easily forgotten.

It’s hard to watch them graduate.

But maybe new programs lead to new traditions.

And maybe the people will come with newfound smiles.

Time will tell.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ravens should keep Ray Lewis on the bench

Towards the end of the Special Sound FX featured on NFL Network which showcases the Ravens v. 49ers Thanksgiving game, John Harbaugh while pacing the sideline and Ray Lewis nearby asks rhetorically after David Akers tied the game at 6-6, “Where else would you rather be?” Ray Lewis replies, “On the field.”

Harbaugh: “Oh yeah, sorry man!”

But it begs the question, when will Ray Lewis get back on the field?

I don’t know about you but I’ve had my share of ankle and toe injuries as it relates to the Baltimore Ravens. Knock on wood, things could be far worse but these nagging injuries that just won’t go away just seem to linger.

• Lee Evans injures his ankle area in the preseason and so far has missed 7 games
• Jimmy Smith suffered a high ankle sprain during the season’s opening kickoff against Pittsburgh and missed the rest of that game and 4 others
• Ben Grubbs struggled with turf toe and missed 6 games

And now the turf toe monster has bitten the team’s leader Ray Lewis.

But there are plenty silver linings gleaned from all of these injuries.

• Evans’ injury gave Torrey Smith more playing time than ever imagined and his productivity has exceeded expectations in his rookie season and the maturation process has accelerated
• Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb have shaped into a formidable cornerback duo in Smith’s absence and with his return, the secondary’s depth grew deeper
• The next man up after Grubbs was Andre Gurode and while he certainly had his fair share of struggles, Gurode’s time on the field in a Ravens uniform allowed the 5 time Pro Bowl center a chance to develop rapport with his O-Line mates and re-experience guard play

Which brings us to Ray Lewis…

With Dannell Ellerbe down v. San Francisco, Albert McClellan got the call to fill Ray’s shoes and if the Ravens are smart, they’ll keep McClellan or even a recovered Ellerbe on the field in place of Ray for the next two games.

If the team and more specifically the medical staff learned anything about any of those aforementioned injuries, exercising on the side of caution and providing extra rest pays dividends. Lee Evans made a huge play against the Niners and should be another vertical threat for Joe Flacco going forward; Jimmy Smith gets to grow as a nickel without the pressures of being a starting rookie corner.

It is no small coincidence that the offensive line play has picked up measurably since Grubbs’ return and there are no apparent lingering issues with the turf toe. The team podiatrist was spot on. The extra rest helped and the same prescription should be extended to Ray Lewis even if he is chomping at the bit.

Sit him against Cleveland and the winless Colts and have him ready for the late December stretch run. To give in to Ray’s angst to get back to where he wants to be – “on the field” given these next two very winnable games would be a mistake.

We’d all hate to hear that, “sorry man” again from Harbaugh – particularly if it is in response to Ray’s season coming to a premature end due to one nasty toe that simply needed a little R&R.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

THE GOOD, BAD, UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX: Ravens v. 49ers

Thanksgiving is my favorite of holidays. Just the thought of this day of thanks stirs up warm tinglies as families gather to spend time together and to focus at least for a day upon all that they have instead of regretting what they don’t have or fretting over what they aspire to have.

There’s a calm about Thanksgiving. It’s like calling a timeout in the game of life. Thanksgiving allows you to exhale; to look around you and at your loved ones; consider who you are and what you are because of them.

It’s serene and pure in its beautiful simplicity.

And this Thanksgiving was the most beautiful of all. And the game time pleasantry of 53 degrees for a November 24, 2011 8:29PM kickoff certainly added to it.

Before moving on to the game I have a confession…I am a 49ers fan. No they aren’t my number 1 and anyone within earshot of me on Thursday Night knows for certain who is. But when the Colts left Baltimore, I became a 49ers fan. The 80’s and 90’s 49ers were easy to root for and I couldn’t help but gravitate to a quarterback with a smallish frame and somewhat limited physical skills who was a winner. Joe Montana reminded me of Johnny U in many ways.

So I quietly pull for the Niners except when their success negatively impacts the Ravens.

You see unlike too many Baltimore citizens who adopted different teams when the Colts left town, I immediately dropped the Niners to No. 2 in the pecking order – and it’s not even a close second. Civic pride means a little more to me than those sellouts who remain Colts or Steelers fans.

Just sayin’…

Now, let’s get it on!

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco threaded a few important passes into some tight windows. His two tosses to Dennis Pitta, one to Ed Dickson and a slant to Torrey Smith immediately come to mind. Flacco managed the game well and did not predetermine his throws and force passes into places he should not. His deep post to Torrey Smith was spot on and hit the arm-barred rookie in stride resulting in a 50 yard penalty…The offensive line was outstanding in pass protection and they kept their signal caller clean all night. It is no small coincidence that this unit has been markedly improved since the return of Ben Grubbs…Vonta Leach on separate occasions annihilated the 49ers highly touted inside linebacker duo of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman…

Lardarius Webb is becoming a playmaker and he’s steadily improved his technique throughout the season. That improvement was on full display as he blanketed the much bigger Braylon Edwards to intercept an Alex Smith toss near the end of the first half…Bernard Pollard was a great pickup by Ozzie Newsome and what he lacks in pass coverage is more than made up for by the impact plays he does make and his menacing enforcer-like presence between the hash marks. He led the team with 8 tackles…Lee Evans made only 1 grab for 8 yards yet its importance cannot be understated. Evans caught a third and 7 pass a few yards short of the sticks yet he did his best LaGarrette Blount impersonation and drove defender Carlos Rogers forward and beyond the first down marker. The effort kept what would eventually be the game’s only touchdown drive alive…Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano was masterful with his personnel groupings and protecting a thin group of inside linebackers.

THE BAD: It seems almost a weekly occurrence that something or someone that special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg touches ends up here. The kick return teams and kick coverage teams continue to struggle and in a game where field position was critical, Rosburg’s units did little to tilt the field in the Ravens’ favor. Ted Ginn, Jr. averaged 31 yards on 3 returns and by now Rosburg must be holding his breath each time Billy Cundiff fails to nail a touchback…David Reed dressed on Thursday night and again he showed up on film for all of the wrong reasons. This time he was deeked by punt returner Ginn and consequently failed to find a perfectly placed punt by Sam Koch and pin the Niners inside their own 5…The Niners conversion of a third and 17 from their own 26. OUCH!

THE UGLY: Cam Cameron’s short yardage and red zone offense continue to be putrid. Over the course of the last two games the Ravens are 2 of 9 attempts when facing a third and 2 or less. And in the red zone against the 49ers Cameron’s crew ran 12 plays in total for a net of just 17 yards. The quarterback draw call was a joke and detected before the snap by Patrick Willis. Flacco running the ball is akin to Robert Plant playing lead guitar for Led Zeppelin. And while the Ravens pattern of following up a successful second down pass play with a quick QB sneak to convert a third and 1 or less is usually a plus tactical move, not having a plan B when the defense has that scouted out is rather embarrassing. When it was obvious that the Niners had the play snuffed, Flacco stood behind center looking like a child in a shopping mall who couldn’t find his mother…The 12 men on the field penalty against the Ravens defense AFTER a timeout on fourth and 3 at the Ravens 40 with 0:23 on the clock is inexcusable.

THE MEGAN FOX: The defensive front four was outstanding. They held Frank Gore who had been averaging close to 100 yards per game to 39 yards on 14 attempts. And they were absolutely menacing to Alex Smith who was sacked 9 times and hurried 12 other times. That accounts for nearly two-thirds of Smith’s 33 drop backs. Haloti Ngata had 2 sacks and 2 hurries and the underrated Cory Redding had 2 ½ sacks to go with 4 QB hurries. But the game’s MF Award Winner has to be Terrell Suggs not only for his production (3 sacks, 3 hurries, 1 forced fumble) but also for his on the field leadership given the absence of Ray Lewis. It was a T-Sizzling Thanksgiving.

In closing and getting back to what an absolutely memorable day this was, I’ve always believed that Thanksgiving is the true starting point of the Holiday Season eventually culminating for me with the spirit of Christmas. That spirit, regardless of your religious convictions is captured in the closing scene from the movie Scrooged starring Bill Murray. It absolutely represents the core of any faith.

This year, given how so many families have struggled, so many have lost loved ones to tragedies, even casualties of war, Murray’s message resonates perhaps even more today than when the show hit the big screen in 1988.

Watch the clip below.

Feel it.

May it put a little love in your heart, capture it, nurture it and replenish it and your spirit today, during The Season and every day of your life.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Is Joe Flacco a "Franchise Quarterback"?

Well to answer that question we have to define what one’s interpretation of the word “franchise” is in the description of “franchise quarterback.”

Some use it as a synonym for elite and if that is your preferred context for the term, then no, Joe Flacco is not elite and I don’t ever see a day when he will be elite which in my opinion, means a top 5 QB in the league.

Elite quarterbacks don’t become elite overnight. They work at perfecting their craft through film study and refining the finer points of quarterbacking. Aaron Rodgers over the weekend informed the ESPN broadcast team during production meetings that to be an elite QB you have to want to be great. And wanting isn’t just saying it. It means putting in the work to become elite.

How quick is their release? Do they possess good ball handling skills? Are they leaders and do they move their team to and from the huddle with precision and purpose? How do they process post snap adjustments by the defense? Do they throw to spots before the receiver arrives? Do they use cadence to create advantages for the offense?

I don’t see Flacco doing many of these things and for me that means he isn’t driven to become great. Placing blame on his coaching is fair but I also think Flacco needs to take some of those things upon himself and from where I sit, I see no evidence that suggests he does. From my vantage point there isn’t much progression from Joe since his rookie season. There’s some but not 60+ starts worth of progress.

Now if your definition of franchise quarterback means a long-term solution at quarterback for a team, then yes Joe Flacco is a franchise quarterback. He can provide years of above average quarterbacking and at times flirt with the label of elite. But consistency is Flacco’s Achilles’ heel and in my opinion consistency in excellence is a pre-requisite for elite.

There is a silver lining in not having an elite quarterback. A team doesn’t have to invest so much of its cap resources in one player and should that player go down as in the case of Peyton Manning who covers up for many of his team’s inadequacies, there isn’t a total collapse. Plus it has been proven that through solid drafting and strategic free agent signings that an above average QB is good enough to win a championship.

As for re-signing Flacco, I do think the Ravens will do that and they’ll pay him commensurately. During our Ravens Rap program in Ocean City earlier this month, Steve Bisciotti when asked what it might take to sign Flacco -- $40-45 million guaranteed, Bisciotti’s replied, “It won’t take that much.”

Stay tuned and keep an eye on what happens with Matt Ryan’s contract situation. That could be an effective gauge for what it will take to extend Flacco.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Time for Harbaugh to man up!

Whether it’s sports or business or even at home one of the more important things that a teammate, co-worker or family member should possess is accountability.

Everyone makes mistakes and the only way any of the above gets better as a unit is to identify, admit to and work to correct those mistakes.

Humility is an understated quality. Some are afraid to admit mistakes because they believe it represents weakness which ultimately leads to disrespect. It’s quite the opposite if you ask me. Having the guts to man up and admit the error of your ways and commit to correcting them shows far more character than sticking your head in the sand and pretending the screw ups either didn’t happen or fail to acknowledge their occurrences.

What does that accomplish?

We’re all very well aware of the puzzling dearth of touches for Ray Rice during the team’s 3 road losses. In Tennessee Rice had 18 chances to advance the ball (13 rushes, 5 receptions); in Jacksonville the number fell to 13 (8,5); and then this past Sunday the number again hit 13 touches (5, 8).

Harbaugh vowed after the debacle in Jacksonville that Rice would run it more but that hasn’t really happened.

Down by 12 at half to the 29th ranked offense in the league that puts up an average of 16 points a game, the Ravens ran the ball just once – ONE TIME in the second half during the 34 offensive snaps taken after intermission.

During his weekly Monday presser a chippy John Harbaugh defended the team’s decision to shut down the rushing attack.

"I don't know how you would do it any differently," Harbaugh said. "We were in a situation where we lost two possessions. When you don't have very many plays, it's hard to build up your running game. And when you're down, you've got to throw it to get back in the game.”

Down 12 coach to the Seahawks…THE SEAHAWKS and TAVARIS JACKSON! And you are really trying to justify 33 throws v. 1 run?


No one is buying what Harbs is selling and let’s just hope he’s more humble in front of his players.

After the game Ray Rice declined interview requests, saying he would reserve his comments until Wednesday. "I don't want to say the wrong thing right now.”

Naturally everyone is blaming the play caller Cam Cameron. Did Cameron miss all those open receivers? Did Cameron drop all those passes? Did Cameron fumble 2 kickoff returns? Did Cameron fail to force a punt when the Ravens had the great Tavaris Jackson on the ropes facing a first and 20 from his own 10 yard line?

Rhetorical questions for sure and I’m not here to defend Cameron’s play calling or his handling of Joe Flacco. There’s plenty of blame there.

But if John Harbaugh is more involved in the offense this year as he promised during the offseason it stands to reason that if Cameron truly was directing the offense and ignoring his playmaker running back that Harbaugh at any time could step in and say, “Hey Cam, we need to get the ball in Ray’s hands.”

So if we’re to take Harbaugh at his word – that he’s more involved in the offense and that he believes the game situation necessitated the play calling that went down, then the Ravens are in trouble.

If he’s just giving lip service to the media and in turn the fans, then he’s disrespectful and is lacking in accountability.

And if he delivers this same insulting spin to his players and means it, how can he ask them to be accountable when he is not?

Monday, November 14, 2011

THE GOOD, BAD, UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX: Sleepwalking in Seattle

This just in from Forrest Gump: “The Baltimore Ravens are like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re gonna git!”

And that pretty much says all you need to know about this 2011 John Harbaugh squad through Week 10.

They’ve lost to two of the league’s worst teams, the Jaguars and Seahawks who entered each contest with five and three game losing streaks respectively. These are teams that the Ravens are supposed to control. They should be dictating the game but instead these teams despite their inadequacies are able to neutralize Cam Cameron’s primary offensive weapon – Ray Rice and dictate to them. In these two losses combined Rice had 13 rushes for 55 yards. COMBINED!

Now that’s not to point the finger solely on Cam Cameron but clearly the Ravens abandon the run far too early and you have to wonder why. Teams that are successful on the road travel well because they play good defense, protect the football and control the clock with an effective rushing attack – see San Francisco 49ers circa 2011. Yesterday the Ravens did none of that.

Yesterday the Ravens were hardly Sleepless in Seattle. The really never woke up.

Let’s get to it – there’s plenty of blame to go around…

THE GOOD: The many Ravens fans who made the long trip out to the Pacific Northwest for the game. CBS spent a good deal of time focusing on you. The Ravens should consider reimbursing you for that unpleasant exclamation point to end your journey…Ed Dickson (10 catches, 79 yards, 2TD’s) and Dennis Pitta (4 catches, 49 yards) continue to impress in the clutch. Can we now do away with all of the Joe Flacco excuses about not having Todd Heap around?...The O-Line in Pass Pro ~ Joe Flacco threw the ball 52 times and was sacked only once. He was given ample time to set and throw despite the Seahawks knowing that the Ravens would be chucking it to get back in the game. And through it all the pass protection held up well…Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb both answered with a couple of passes successfully defended in key situations, particularly challenging when the opposing QB is not under duress.

THE BAD: Joe Flacco’s inconsistencies continue. He missed open streaking receivers twice in the first quarter (Boldin, Smith) running 9’s down the right side line. He also was high and wide too often while trying to operate the 2 minute offense at the end of the first half. Later he inexplicably misfired to a wide open Dennis Pitta. Too many times he threw that ball when and where he wasn’t supposed to and was very fortunate only to have been picked off once. Flacco’s passer rating continues to tumble and he currently sits at No. 26 in the league…Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith didn’t help matters much. Both dropped key passes to stall drives…The offensive line provided little to no push in the ground game and it could explain why Cam Cameron quickly abandoned it. But as Pete Carroll’s coaching staff proved, sometimes you just keep feeding “The Beast” as they did with Marshawn Lynch. The Ravens ran 66 offensive plays and could only find 5 to hand it to Ray Rice?

Remember the movie “Ghost” where Patrick Swayze could enter and take over the body of the living? I’m thinking that for Greg Mattison and Chuck Pagano. Too often yesterday Pagano unnecessarily gave mad respect to a quarterback (Tavaris Jackson) who has proven nothing in the NFL. The Seahawks offense heading into the game was ranked 29th overall and they had allowed the second most sacks (29) in the league. Despite those telling stats Pagano had no answer and the Ravens put Jackson on the ground only once. Pagano’s unit had a chance to get the ball back for the team’s offense with plenty of time and good field position when Seattle had it first and 20 on their own 10 but they let the great Tavaris Jackson off the ropes…

John Harbaugh needs to be a beacon of objectivity on the sidelines and if he can’t be he needs to entrust someone who can. A head coach has to strip down the emotion and make decisions from a mind set of clarity. Harbaugh’s feeble challenge of a first down at the 2 minute mark cost the team a valuable timeout. How he chose to handle a kickoff from the 50 down by 5 with just under 6 minutes to go (Cundiff registered a touchback) was essentially a gift to the Seahawks. There were other more challenging and creative options available to take advantage of that prime kickoff LOS. Then after the Seahawks took possession they were flagged for a false start to set up a first and 15 at the 15. After an incomplete pass Seattle was flagged for illegal motion. Why take that penalty? Isn’t 2nd and 15 in that spot more desirable?

Chris Carr seemed to be chasing receivers with the ball all day. Isn’t it time for a little more Jimmy Smith?…Jameel McClain couldn’t cover a corpse with a blanket…Ray Lewis was pretty much owned by Marshawn Lynch and yes Jarret Johnson, that is your jock out there on the 42 yard line.

THE UGLY: Many are quick to criticize Cam Cameron but for me the worst coordinator on the team’s coaching staff is Jerry Rosburg. His return teams lack cohesiveness and don’t seem to have a plan, particularly the kick return team that seemingly meanders around aimlessly. David Reed’s decision making has been questionable as a returner as of late and his ball control speaks for itself. Why he was even allowed to go back on the field is a mystery and it’s pretty bad when taking a knee in the end zone is your most productive option. The coverage teams were beaten to the punch by the Seahawks and they simply looked like they wanted it more. From top to bottom Rosburg’s men stunk. From Morgan Cox to Billy Cundiff to even the usually reliable Sam Koch who “booted” a 28 yard punt from his own 14 to set up another Steven Haushka field goal. This was a mess of epic proportion! …”Hello Bryan, Bryan McCann. Hey this is Ozzie Newsome. How are you my friend?”

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: Subbing for Megan today is Roseanne Barr and the RB goes to, who else, David Reed.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

ESPN Sells Out Again!

Every now and then I try to put on my objective journalistic ball cap and remove emotion with the sole intent being to achieve clarity of thought and unbiased opining. But then I remember that we are a fan site and that it’s not only ok to wear your heart on your sleeve, it’s preferred.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t offer quality and objectivity. It just means that with the delivery the tenor is a little more celebratory after a win and little more painful after a loss.

That’s our M.O.

It’s what we are supposed to do.

But how do you explain ESPN’s blatant selling out to the Terrible Towel-a-ban?

Here they are, the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader” trumpeting the horns of “Towel Around the World”, a blatant attempt to jump on the world’s biggest bandwagon – Steelers Nation. They are supposed to be a beacon of objectivity but instead they are ESPN: (An) Extraordinary Sports’ Prostitution Network.

They are the ultimate sell outs and I so wish they we all had a worthy alternative.

Sure NFL Network is great for the NFL but c’mon CBS or Fox or NBC – can’t you guys come up with an alternative to television’s street whores? (With all due apology to the world’s oldest profession.)

I’m sure Steelers fans are smiling and laughing over this one.

Go ahead ESPN, keep feeding the Towel-a-ban. One day you’ll hang from those towels and we can call you EPSN, Entertaining Pittsburgh Steelers Nation (only).

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Introducing "Do what you love, love what you do"

For many years and as recently as 2005 I worked as an Account Executive for commercial finance companies offering equipment financing solutions for mid-sized to Fortune 500 companies. It was a great career that provided challenges and lifelong friendships. Yet the job wasn’t really the one I had envisioned for myself during my formidable years.

But sometimes life can get in the way and as you take on more debt and obligations you are forced to think rationally, logically and you seek paths from point A to B to C and so on and so forth. Logic stymies imagination which in turn makes the realization of dreams that much more of a long shot.

Many of us learn that the hard way and looking back I wish that I hadn’t been in such a hurry to advance from point to point. But it’s water under the bridge and as a father the best way to utilize my experiences is to churn them into lessons for my children.

Since this side of their toddler years I’ve always told my kids to pursue an education because it gives you options. But when you finish with your education, before you burden yourself with debt and other obligations, pursue a career you love so much that you’d almost do it for free. If you can make that happen, you’ll never feel like you’ve worked a day in your life.

Eventually “Do what you love and love what you do” became my personal credo.

Professionally speaking I may have talked the credo but I certainly wasn’t walking it. In many ways I thought it was too late.

Then one day I woke up after having gone through several company acquisitions that impacted my job and decided to kick logic to the curb and start practicing what I was preaching.

Soon thereafter was born.

Our site has gone through a few face lifts over the years and we’re continually refining it to make it better for our customers and our sponsors. That will never stop. And as we have morphed into something bigger and better almost always there were two prevailing thoughts guiding our direction:

1. We never wanted to lose our fan flavor – after all we are fans and we wear it like a badge of honor; and

2. One day we will take this 24x7 template and apply it to all 32 teams

It absolutely made sense but how and when tempered the ambition for awhile.

But not anymore!

With all the pride and passion in my being, along with my two outstanding partners we present – a collection of 32 NFL fan sites all designed in essentially the same way.

Our job now is to go out and find fans, both bloggers and even 24x7 operators in each of the league’s cities to bring their own local flavor to their town’s 24x7 the way we hope we’ve done with

Maybe those fans are armchair quarterbacks who want to share their opinions; maybe they are those callers to sports talk radio; maybe they’re college students or recent grads looking to expand their resumes.

Some of our writers just do it for the “love of the game.” Others get their blogs sponsored and earn some extra cash for their opining. Now we’re hopeful that there are still others who will want to shape their livelihoods around the NFL.

The job is mobile, it can be run from anywhere, AND it channels your passion for football in a profitable way that never, ever feels like work.

I should know, I wake up early each day eager not because I have to but because I want to. The difference is invigorating. I’m now living the life I described to my children.

Perhaps you or someone you know can too.

If any of this interests you drop a note to Tony at:, “Where football isn’t just a game!”

Thank You Smokin' Joe!

As a kid I looked up to my Pop. I still do. I remember way back when the way we used to take in the games together given the relatively limited technology available to access the sporting world.

Memory lane includes summers with extension cords, rabbit ear antennas and tin foil to take a portable black and white TV on to the patio to watch O’s games; listening to Chuck Thompson and Vince Bagli on WCBM, hanging on their every word as the Colts competed to pull off another win; trying to work through the fuzzy static on Channel 20 in my parent’s bedroom – the best vantage point in the house to soak in the signal and take in the Bullets game.

“Bullseye!”, exclaimed Jim Karvellas.

And then there was professional boxing.

Boxing seemed like a very macho sport for men only. Moms in the neighborhood didn’t care much for it but the Dads embraced it with the same affinity that they did basement poker games with their buddies and cheap cigars.

Some might go to closed circuit events which in those days seemed very pricey. Others would tune in by radio, waiting with baited breath for post round updates.

My earliest recollections of these days included the combatants Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

I didn’t quite get the name of Ali, particularly when Dad would refer to him simply as “Clay.”

The political and religious aspects of Ali’s new name didn’t resonate with me. I remember not understanding them but given the context in which he was described, I sensed that he was a polarizing figure. For reasons that have nothing to do with politics or religion I may have picked Cassius Clay as my guy. I just thought the name was cool. But Muhammad – I couldn’t relate to. It sounded to me like a name I’d heard in my Catholic elementary religion class.

My guy was Smokin’ Joe Frazier.

Smokin’ Joe would bob and weave like a malfunctioning piston. He didn’t talk as much as Ali preferring instead to let his left hook do the talking. And boy did it make a statement to those who felt its wrath.

Joe won that first epic battle with Ali. I remember Dad talking about how both fighters spent days in the hospital after their match. Their heads looked like warped melons. These men were then modern day gladiators. And it was hard not to at least in some way idolize them.

Boxing back then seemed to have more dignity than today. It almost had a higher social status vibe about it than other sports. Maybe it was the exclusivity of it that made it appear that way. And it was real unlike my other Channel 20 favorite – the roller derby or even WWF (which never appealed to me).

Whatever the reason, I know that even today when I hear the name Joe Frazier that somehow, it inspires a smile or at the very least it reminds me of a childhood memory that reconnects me to people, places and things that have come and gone.

And in these busy days, the cerebral respite is welcomed.

Thanks once again Smokin’ Joe for the ride down memory lane.

You will be missed.

Monday, November 07, 2011

THE GOOD, BAD, UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX: No. 5 Carries Ravens to Victory!

Ok I have to admit to an affliction that I’ve had for about 16 years which at this point has no cure and it may be worsening. It’s called Football Tourette’s.

Whenever the Ravens play the Steelers the conditions are nearly perfect for the syndrome’s side effects to really rear their ugly heads. If you need a visual, think back to the movie A Christmas Story and the father’s inability to control his knee-jerk profanity when his furnace acts up.

This is why I turned down several offers to go to take in the game at various establishments around town. I didn’t want to put myself or even more so my wife in an inevitably embarrassing position.

And so I watched from home determined not to allow the relentless persistence of my FT to win. I tried and tried despite the temptations. Yet the syndrome’s will was too strong despite my determination and eventually I succumbed to its force.

The caving was akin to the Steelers’ defense when facing a force named Flacco last night in Pittsburgh.

Despite several key dropped passes and the team’s inability to get a ground attack going, Joe Flacco stood strong, confident and focused and eventually he finished off a 13 play, 92 yard drive capped by a 26 yard scoring strike to Torrey Smith with 0:08left on the game clock.

Flacco has had his critics and I’ve been among them. But on this cool evening on the shores of the Monongahela River, Joe Cool finally put the team on his back and carried them to victory against a formidable opponent.

THE GOOD: Terrell Suggs was kept in check for the most part but if anyone for a second sees him as simply a pass rushing specialist, that serves only to cheapen his true status as a complete defender. As he has been so often in the past, Suggs was a thorn in Ben Roethlisberger’s side, intercepting a pass deep in Ravens territory to thwart what at worst looked to be a game tying drive to start the second half…Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb were generally in the right area. Williams had a couple of nice passes defended and Webb was excellent in run support. Given the ample time that Roethlisberger had to throw this pair did a nice job particularly when you consider that one safety spent most of his time near the box (Bernard Pollard) and the other (Ed Reed) might as well have been on a Coast Guard Long Range Interceptor II patrolling Three Rivers…

Dennis Pitta was clutch hauling in 5 catches (all for first downs) and having a sense of where he needed to be to convert the drive sustaining plays…Ben Grubbs’ return to the lineup was huge and he provided stability to pass protection missing on the left side since his toe injury first became an issue…John Harbaugh’s challenge of a play ruled a Hines Ward catch on the field was surprisingly successful and forced the Steelers to settle for a field goal and not a fourth and 1 conversion attempt deep in Ravens’ territory…Give Cam Cameron props for moving Anquan Boldin into the slot area and away from underrated CB Ike Taylor. Taking on William Gay, Boldin was able to corral 4 passes for 51 yards during the 92 yard scoring march…David Reed was more decisive as a kick returner this week and Billy Cundiff was clutch with a half ending 51 yard field goal to push the Ravens out in front 9-6…Torrey Smith was plus while showing character and responding to adversity in the clutch.

THE BAD: Chuck Pagano’s second half game plan was one lifted from Greg Mattison’s playbook. Playing with a lead the Ravens have been successful attacking opponents. Instead Pagano seemed fearful of the big play ability of Mike Wallace and the conservative approach opened the door for Roethlisberger to make plays on second efforts. The pass rush in the season opener almost single-handedly ushered in a win; the lack of one nearly ushered in a loss yesterday…The Ravens running game struggled. The Steelers were prepared for the stretch runs and zone blocking and the Ravens couldn’t answer. Twenty-seven rushes for a 2.5 yard average isn’t going to win you many games on the road…Joe Flacco obviously is a better quarterback from the gun and in a no huddle. Why it takes desperate times for desperate measures to break out that part of the playbook remains a mystery…Those bubble screens are missing the bubble (blocking). How about redesigning those Cam and get some blocking out there in space?

THE UGLY: Torrey Smith is an incredible man with off the chart character. If not for the game winner that character would have been severely tested this week because his game was a model of extreme inconsistency. His drops and holding penalty nearly did the Ravens in.

THE MEGAN FOX: Watch and listen to the national sports pundits when the topic of Joe Flacco comes up and common themes surface – inconsistency and an inability to will his team to victory. Consistency happens over time and Flacco still has some work to do there. But yesterday in Pittsburgh Flacco was a prime time quarterback against an elite rival on a national stage in hostile enemy territory. Despite a struggling running game and receivers who just couldn’t seem to make clutch catches (other than Pitta) Flacco was unflappable and determined. He doesn’t talk much, doesn’t spread blame or take credit. His words on this night at Heinz Field were not his sword – his perseverance and big right arm were. Time will tell how much the Ravens offense grew on November 6, 2011 in Pittsburgh but if this season ends with the Ravens making a February trip to Indianapolis, this night for No. 5 just might be the one that the critics point to and say, “This is the day it all changed for Flacco.”

And just maybe that Football Tourette’s will be cured.

Monday, October 31, 2011

THE GOOD, BAD, UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX: Ravens v. Cardinals

So will the real Baltimore Ravens please stand up? Are they the team that opened the season in dominating fashion against the archrival Steelers or are they more like the team that looked dazed and confused in Jacksonville last Monday night?

Yesterday against the Cardinals in their own crib, they were a little of both while providing little evidence to dispel their burgeoning reputation as a Jekyll & Hyde squad.

THE GOOD: Let’s hope that Joe Flacco provided enough evidence to Cam Cameron to convince him to use the shotgun and no huddle offense more regularly. Looking back on Flacco’s career his best performances seem to take shape when running a no huddle. Unfortunately, the Ravens rarely employee the approach unless they are desperate (see Falcons and Vikings on the road). Flacco is a rhythmic passer and the no huddle obviously helps him to find that rhythm. The up tempo approach also seems to help the offensive front provide adequate time to throw as the no huddle serves up a secondary benefit of wearing down opposing pass rushers. Flacco’s second half QB rating was a solid 94.0…Terrell Suggs was menacing contributing a whopping 13 tackles, 4 of which were for losses, a sack and 2 QB hurries…Paul Kruger chipped in with 2 sacks and 2 QB hurries…Bernard Pollard is a menacing presence when he can play close to the line of scrimmage. He had 5 tackles plus a sack and a QB hurry…Chris Carr’s return provided a boost to the secondary. It was good to see him contributing and getting back in the flow. He’ll be counted on in situational sub packages against the Steelers’ speedy receiving corps…Vonta Leach was a wrecking ball in short yardage and goal line situations.

THE BAD: Joe Flacco’s first half at home against an inferior opponent…Torrey Smith dropping a pass in traffic leading to an easy and potentially devastating interception…The offensive line, particularly the left side. Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode looked like they dressed up as zombies for Halloween…Jarret Johnson was unusually weak holding down the edge against the run.

THE UGLY: No matter how you dress it up, losing to a (1-5) team at home by the score of 24-3 U-G-L-Y, for this there is no alibi…Special teams were anything but. The coverage was shoddy, tackling pathetic and the plan of attack suspect. It’s difficult to understand why David Reed insists on coming out of the end zone when he accepts a kick 7+ yards deep particularly when you consider that teams have to run 5 fewer yards to make the tackle. Reed lacked purpose and failed to follow the little blocking provided. Jerry Rosburg’s return teams (both kick and punt) seem to be missing a plan and if there is one it’s either poorly executed or they need a new one. It sort of reminds me of watching 6 year olds playing soccer. Both teams just follow the ball all over the field like honeybees...The penalties (11 for 99 yards) were ridiculous and the Ravens better clean that up before heading into Heinz Field on Sunday night.

THE MEGAN FOX: Sometimes you throw to excellent receivers that aren’t really open because you know that at best they can make a play or at worst they will become an effective defender if the pass is poorly thrown. Anquan Boldin is one of those guys. Boldin was targeted 12 times and hauled in 7 of those Flacco tosses for 145 yards, 80of them coming on one 88 yard drive to close the deficit to four (24-20) in the third quarter.